Thursday, April 27, 2017

Edward Gets Messy Wins Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

Compiled by Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Penguin Young Readers, the Children's Book Council, and Every Child a Reader announced yesterday Edward Gets Messy by Rita Meade, illustrated by Olga Stern (Simon & Schuster, 2016) is the winner of the first Anna Dewdney Read Together Award.

This award is to be given annually to a picture book that is both a superb read-aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.

The award commemorates the life and work of author/illustrator Anna Dewdney and celebrates her commitment to reading with young children and putting books into as many little hands as possible.

Rita Meade,
photo by Michael Bialaszewski
Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Rita is a contributor to BookRiot and formerly hosted the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly bookish advice show.

Her writing has appeared in American Libraries Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Wire, and more.

Rita also reviews children's books for School Library Journal, occasionally writes about library-related things on her blog Screwy Decimal, and even less occasionally sings with a librarian band, Lost in the Stacks.

Olga Stern is a passionate illustrator and visual development artist. She loves using her imagination to create new worlds full of colorful environments and characters.

Olga Stern
When Olga is not drawing, she is off surfing somewhere around the globe. She currently lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

In Edward Gets Messy, a very particular little pig discovers the joys that come with getting messy in this sweet and fun debut picture book.

Edward the pig never pets friendly dogs on the street. He never, ever eats food that spills or splatters. And he never, ever, ever uses markers or glue sticks or paint. They are just too messy.

But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward's perfectly neat little head? Well, it might just turn out that getting messy has its upsides, too.

Copyrighted interior illustration by Olga Stern, used with permission.
Meade and Stern will share a prize of $1,000 from the Children's Book Council, and Penguin will purchase and donate 250 copies of Edward Gets Messy to a school, library, or literacy organization chosen by the award winners. There will be a ceremony to honor Edward Gets Messy at the
Brooklyn Public Library's Bay Ridge Branch at 10:30 a.m. May 4.

Anna Dewdney was the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of Llama Llama Red Pajama (Penguin, 2005). Other award-winning books in the Llama Llama series include Llama Lama and the Bully Goat (Penguin, 2013), Llama Lama Time to Share (Penguin, 2012), Llama Llama Misses Mama (Penguin, 2009), Llama Llama Holiday Drama (Penguin, 2010), and Llama Llama Mad at Mama (Penguin, 2007). She was also the author/illustrator of Nobunny's Perfect (Penguin, 2010), Roly Poly Pangolin (Viking, 2010), and Grumpy Gloria (Viking, 2006).

Anna worked as a rural mail carrier and taught at a boys' boarding school for many years before becoming a full-time author and illustrator. A committed advocate of literacy, she spoke regularly on this topic and published articles in the Wall Street Journal and other outlets. Her essay, How Books Can Teach Your Child to Care, garnered national attention in 2013.

Penguin Young Readers Group is one of the leading children's book publishers in the United States. The company owns a wide range of imprints and trademarks including Dial Books, Dutton, Grosset & Dunlap, Kathy Dawson Books, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Workshop, Philomel, Puffin, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Viking, Razorbill, Speak, and Frederick Warne.

Every Child a Reader is a 501(c)(3) literacy charity dedicated to inspiring a lifelong love of reading in children and teens across America.

Their national programs include Children's Book Week, the longest-running literacy initiative in the country; the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards, the only book awards chosen by children and teens; and the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature program in partnership with the Library of Congress.

Individual and corporate donations, grants, and the CBC support Every Child a Reader.

Every Child a Reader works in partnership with the Children's Book Council, the nonprofit trade association for children's book publishers in North America.

The CBC offers children's publishers, from smaller independent presses to large international houses, the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, diversity in employment and books, literacy advocacy, and partnerships with other national organizations.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Author Interview: Courtney Stevens on Faith in Lit & Life

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Courtney Stevens to discuss her upcoming YA novel, Dress Codes for Small Towns (Harper Teen, August 22, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends...and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.

Billie McCaffrey is always starting things. Like couches constructed of newspapers and two-by-fours. Like costumes made of aluminum cans and Starburst papers. Like trouble. 

This year, however, trouble comes looking for her. 

Her best friends, a group she calls the Hexagon, have always been schemers. They scheme for kicks and giggles. What happens when you microwave a sock? They scheme to change their small town of Otters Holt, Kentucky for the better. Why not campaign to save the annual Harvest Festival we love so much? They scheme because they need to scheme. How can we get the most unlikely candidate elected for the town’s highest honor?

But when they start scheming about love, things go sideways.

In Otters Holt, love has always been defined one way—girl and boy fall in love, get married, buy a Buick, and there’s sex in there somewhere. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple. Can the Hexagon, her parents, and the town she calls home handle the real Billie McCaffrey?

Could you tell us about Dress Codes for Small Towns? What inspired you to write this book?

Hmm. 80's movie antics plus 90's rom-com heart plus a faint Women’s March beat?

When I began Dress Codes, I described it as "Ferris Bueller meets 'The Breakfast Club'" for lines like this, “The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends—a pixie, a president, a pretender, a puker, and a douchebag—and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.”

Now, I usually describe Dress Codes as sexually fluid "Footloose." Preacher’s daughter. Reluctant small town. A pack of kids to change their hearts.

My inspiration was walking barn beams and climbing on top of old elementary schools and wearing my older brother’s clothes. You know, #girlstuff.

Is Otters Holt similar to the town you grew up in?

If you picked up Matchbox car sized Bandana (my hometown) in the palm of your hand and plucked it down alongside the Kentucky Dam, you’d have Otters Holt. Well, if you added a forty-foot Molly the Corn Dolly roadside attraction. And I personally think you should.

Bandana (Courtney's hometown)
Faith is a subject that doesn't show up very often in YA books, especially books that explore the gray areas of love, gender and sexuality. How did you create the delicate balance in exploring those subjects?

I’ve spent nearly all my adult life working with teens and here is what I’ve learned: every young adult has a spiritual life. Some exercise that life through churches or organized religion; some through atheism; some through questions brought up reading The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead, 2004) or playing Grand Theft Auto or watching footage from the news.

So, very basically, I love to include faith because students are thinking about it.

As for the gray areas, I have two beliefs that guide my writing. One, people are never ever just one thing. And two, it is not my job to draw conclusions—for the church or this generation—but to love them enough to have the conversation.

What appeals to you about writing for young adults?

Young adults will always be the next generation of world changers. Writing for them gives me a chance to partner with them, which I consider a privilege and an honor.

What are the craft challenges of writing for this age group?

Writing is gloriously, wonderfully hard, regardless of audience. I am currently drafting an “adult” book and there appear to be very few, if any, challenges that aren’t present in both crafts.

I like to say that I write coming-of-truth novels rather than coming-of-age novels. So, the thing that makes the adult book “adult” is the protagonist comes of truth in adulthood rather than in her teen years.

With either audience, the bar is the same: write something that makes a reader love reading more today than they did yesterday.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

I’m mostly in it to see how many tattoos I can inspire.

No, seriously, there is a moment near the beginning of every draft when I realize Why I’m writing the book I’m writing—the reasons do vary widely—and I feel like I’m doing what I was made to do in the universe.

That deep connection of purpose and intention fuels my career and joy.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I often say, I type sitting down, but I write standing up.

If you want to know when and where I type: in my personal office on long binges that rival a Netflix addiction of Stranger Things.

Next writing episode starts in 15, 14, 13, 12 …

If you want to know when and where I write: when I’m rock climbing, or walking The Narrows in Utah, or assembling scaffolding to cover a skylight at church, or asking a librarian if I can drive my sports car through the hallway of a school, or walking 1,000 miles last summer, or planning how I will build a 40-foot roadside attraction in my yard, or ….

Next life episode starts in 15, 14, 13, 12 …

When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?

Looking back, I can see several cairns that marked my path:
  1. Joining SCBWI as a baby writer
  2. Meeting my critique partners
  3. Swapping from fantasy to contemporary (but back to fantasy soon.)
  4. Prioritizing the continual study of craft
What are you working on next?

My next book (working title: BOOM), my fourth contemporary novel with HarperTeen, follows four teens who are the soul survivors of a bus explosion.

Cynsations Notes

Courtney “Court” Stevens grew up among rivers, cornfields, churches, and gossip in the small town south.

She is a former adjunct professor, youth minister, and Olympic torchbearer. She has a pet whale named Herman, a bandsaw named Rex, and several novels with her name on the spine: Faking Normal (Harper Teen, 2014),  The Lies About Truth (Harper Teen, 2015), and the e-novella The Blue-Haired Boy (Harper Teen, 2014).

As an educator and author, she visits schools, designs retreats, and teaches workshops on marketing, revision, character development, and Channeling Your Brave. She also likes chips and queso and feels deeply sorry for the lactose intolerant.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Author Interview: Anne Marie Pace on Writing Gothic Picture Books & Vampirina on TV

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today we welcome Anne Marie Pace to discuss her latest picture book, Vampirina At The Beach, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, April 2017) and it's forthcoming animated series on Disney Junior. From the promotional copy:

When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.

With her signature poise, Vampirina gears up for a festive time at the beach. 

Keeping her ballet lessons in mind, Vampirina demi-plies on a surfboard, leaps for a volleyball, and finishes each competition with style, even if she doesn't always come out on top.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

More than anything else, writing is like solving a puzzle for me, finding the right words to snap into the right place to communicate what I want to say in the right way. 

You know how when you’re working a jigsaw puzzle, there’s this huge jumble of pieces waiting for you to build the outer edge and then fill in the middle section by section? At first it feels overwhelming but the more you do, the faster you can move, and it becomes really satisfying to begin to see the art. 

With writing, the pieces are words, and you aren’t limited to 500 or 1000—you’ve got tens of thousands, and you get to design the outer edge and you get to create the picture. I find picture books very rewarding because every word—every piece—matters so much.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I don’t have a set schedule the way some authors do. I heard Eileen Spinelli say at Chautauqua years ago that she taught herself to “write in the cracks” of the day, and that’s something I’ve worked on being able to do. 

I can see the appeal of setting aside a block of time daily in which you devote yourself to your writing, but with four kids (even though they’re pretty big now), I’ve never been able to count on that time, so it’s better that I simply write when I can, rather than assuming that a particular time of day when I must work will be available to me. 

I’m not saying there are never days when I sit and write for hours, because there are, but it’s not a regular thing for me the way it is for some writers.

And I mostly write these days on my green sofa. There’s room for my two cats and two dogs to sit with me, and it’s rather peaceful. They are with me as I type this.

Could you tell us about your new release?

Vampirina At The Beach is the third in the Vampirina Ballerina series. 

Vampirina and her family hit the surf in what I’ve referred to from the beginning as “Monster Mash meets Beach Blanket Bingo.” I even watched a lot of Annette Funicello videos on YouTube to get in the beach party mood while I was writing. 

LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are phenomenal in this book. The pages are chock-full of surprises for kids to find. And our first editor, Kevin Lewis, whom we dedicated the book to, is honored in the illustrations as Vampirina’s new friend, so it feels special in that way, too. I’m so tickled Uyen thought of that. 

Then again, I’m always tickled at the wonderful elements she brings to each book in the series.

What appeals to you about writing gothic picture books?

I’ve thought a lot about this because I’m not really a fan of vampire movies or books, or in fact, any kind of scary element (although my TV viewing does include a couple of police procedural dramas, so maybe real life is scary enough for me). 

So why vampires? Five of the six birthdays in my family fall in the autumn months, so as a mom,
October was always a very stressful month, with several birthday parties (even though I throw pretty casual, at-home parties) and four Halloween costumes to create for my kids. So I think Vampirina Ballerina has been a way for me to enjoy the Halloween season that I never enjoyed when my kids were little!

Anne Marie's kids and few of their friends from a long-ago Halloween
Of course, now I’m getting to know Vampirina outside of her Halloween-y self, and that’s even more fun.

What are the craft challenges of writing a series like this?

There are a few craft challenges that come to mind. 

Of course, you want each book to be as inviting to children as the first. Subsequent books need to carry a sense of the familiar without being a complete retread. 

Uyen suggested early on that Vampirina grow not only in the course of a story, but over the course of the series, so the theme of making friends has carried throughout. 

In the first book, she feels like an outsider; in the second, she learns that she can trust her friends to love her for who she is; and in the third, she befriends someone who fears being seen as an outsider. 

The biggest challenge for me with the text is that a lot of the humor comes from puns and words with multiple meanings and I don’t want to be repetitive with either vampire/monster words or ballet terms. Especially with the vampire terminology, I need to be very careful not to cross the line into anything scary. But I want the language in each book to stay fresh.

Image from Disney Junior
Tell us about the Disney series. When will it be broadcast? How involved are you?

The Disney Junior series debuts this fall. I don’t know an exact date, but I follow Chris Nee, the executive producer, on Twitter, and at one point, she said it would be before Halloween. 

Actually, almost everything I know, I know from Twitter. I am not involved at all in creating the show—Uyen and I do our thing, Disney Junior folks do theirs—so I am watching it unfold like a fan. 

I know Chris said there is a “dream cast” so I’m anxious to know whose voices we will hear in October. A lot of the creative people involved have also worked on the award-winning Doc McStuffins, so I feel confident that the property is in the best of hands.

Cynsational Notes

Anne Marie Pace is the author of Vampirina Ballerina (Disney-Hyperion, 2012) and Vampirina Hosts a Sleepover (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), both illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Publishers Weekly gave Vampirina Ballerina a starred review. Peek: "The underlying messages are familiar: there are no shortcuts to achieving an ambitious dream, and persistence and a sunny outlook (even when one is a creature of the night) pay off. But seldom have these lessons been expounded with so much charm."

Anne Marie's other books include Pigloo, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Henry Holt, 2016) and A Teacher for Bear, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Scholastic, 2011). Forthcoming is Groundhug Day, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Disney-Hyperion, December 2017) and Busy-Eyed Day, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband and four teenagers. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Author Interview: Jenn Bishop on Stormy Middle Grade Emotions

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Jenn Bishop to talk about her upcoming middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road (Alfred A. Knopf, June 13, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie; she’ll wear her beautiful new dress, she’ll hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. 

Most importantly, she’ll finally leave her tiny elementary school behind for junior high. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead–and then the power goes out. 

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? 

While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. 

Now that she has no choice, is she ready for it?

What inspired you to write this book? Have you experienced a tornado?

Much like Maddie, the main character in 14 Hollow Road, as a kid growing up in Massachusetts, about the last weather disaster I expected to experience in my home town was a tornado.

Blizzards: been there, done that. Hurricanes: yup. But a tornado?

Well, in June of 2011, a series of strong thunderstorms rolling across western and central Massachusetts spawned an EF-3 tornado.

Tornado damage near Jenn's home the following winter
I was living in Boston at the time, but my parents still lived in my childhood home, and I remember getting a call from my mother. Apparently while my dad was in his office in Springfield, he saw the funnel cloud forming over the river. There were a lot of frantic phone calls that afternoon between the three of us, as it was clear that a tornado was on the ground, taking essentially the same path my dad was taking home from work.

While most homes in Massachusetts do have basements, we do not have tornado sirens, so you really have to stay on top of severe weather yourself. My dad made the smart choice to pull off the road and stop in at my grandmother's apartment.

Meanwhile, as my mom huddled in the basement with her cat, the tornado, still a mile-wide at the time, crested the top of the hill where I lived and crossed my street about a half-mile from my parent's house.

When I return home for a visit, I'm still startled every time to see how bare the top of the hill is now.

While the events of that day certainly served as inspiration for the book, I think I was equally inspired by my own memories of junior high.

It's such a fraught age, filled with so much change and uncertainty: shifting friendships, crushes, cliques--all while your body is managing mood swings and hormones and growth spurts. I joked that 14 Hollow Road was basically a tornado of tweenage emotion.

What appeals to you about writing middle grade?

Everything?! The funny thing is that I came into writing middle grade almost accidentally.

I started out writing YA, having been a teen librarian, and only decided to try out middle grade on a whim while a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and fell in love with it.

I love the brevity of middle grade -- the economy of prose and storytelling and audience expectations that put middle grade in that 40,000 to 60,000 word sweet spot, instead of 80,000 plus, like most YA these days.

I love the audience -- school and Skype visits with 4th-6th graders are so much fun. There's such an energy to that age.

It's still okay to be yourself and unabashedly love things-- the self-consciousness of the teen years is only just starting to arrive. Most of all, when I think of middle grade, I think of the stories that made me a reader. The books that I read at that age held such a power over me. And the truth is, they still do.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

The surprise of it, I think.

There are good surprises--and occasionally bad surprises--but I think the one constant in the life of an author is that you can't really predict much.

While that can be terrifying for some, I've been trying to appreciate the positive aspects of it. Your next creative idea could come from the place you least expected it.

What are you working on next?

Weirdly enough, I've been trying my hand at writing picture books!

I don't know where this will lead, but I've spent the last month intensely reading and studying them and it's been such a breath of fresh air.

If you want to see the world from a new angle, try reading 100 picture books aloud in a month. I guarantee it will change you.

Cynsational Notes

A Booklist review of 14 Hollow Road said, "Bishop nails the tween voice: Maddie is a realistic heroine who deals with typical middle-grade problems amidst disaster, and she navigates upheavals with occasional grace and more frequent missteps. Tornado or not, growing up is a tempestuous business."

Jenn Bishop grew up in a small town in rural Central Massachusetts.

A lifelong reader, she was formerly a youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 

Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives in Cincinnati, where she roots long-distance for the Red Sox. Her debut novel, The Distance To Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) was described as a "piercing first novel" by Publishers Weekly.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

The Changing Face of Family by Natasha Friend from CBC Diversity. Peek: "The traditional definition of family as a married mother and father and their children living under the same roof is woefully outdated, not to mention exclusionary."

A New Voice in Kid's Books by Melanie Kletter from Time For Kids Magazine. Peek: (Hena Khan) "....I had heard of resistance to mosques being built in communities, and some vandalism at mosques. It was an important theme that I wanted to address. But I didn’t want the book to be only about that. I wanted a character that readers could relate to and get to know and love."

While We're On the Subject of Shame by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "We want to feel good now. We want to avoid what's making us feel bad (being ashamed of not working harder and longer, for instance), and we want to avoid it right away. Which usually means doing something easier and more fun than staying on task with our work."

Deprogramming Caution by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "....certain types of occupational training, especially training connected to professions like law and medicine, invite caution and steadiness, making it harder to enter the entrepreneurial mindset or take creative leaps."

Wrap It Up by Dave King from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "If it feels at all contrived, your readers will lose their suspension of disbelief.  This is most critical with your ending."

Trees, Forests, and Human Myopia by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: "Trees support one another. Some are bullies and others are loners. They have friends; they feel loneliness and pain. They communicate through networks of roots. It’s a compelling argument to rethink how we have been looking at nature for over a century...."

Dedicated Middle School Collections in the Public Library: A New Trend? by Christina Keasler from School Library Journal. Peek: "Many librarians now see the importance of providing safe places that are a haven for students in those formative years after elementary school but before high school."

Women Write About Family, Men Write About War by Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So from New Republic. Peek: "In the world of writing, gender bias has come to be seen as particularly entrenched, and in 2009, VIDA...began what they called 'the count.' The results...Men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review."

Two Booksellers Set Date for Inaugural Texas Bookstore Day by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Texas is increasingly becoming more relevant to the national bookselling scene, and several independent bookstores are slated to open in the state this summer....Interabang Books in Dallas.... and a second branch of Deep Vellum Books in Grapevine."

On SCBWI, Advice for Authors and Illustrators by Guiseppe Castellano from #ARTTIPS. Peek: "If you think SCBWI is just a bunch of grandparents painting bunnies, you are sorely mistaken. Attendees at SCBWI conferences are comprised of authors and illustrators of every talent level at almost every point of a career."

How to Support An Author or Illustrator's Book If You Can't Afford to Buy It by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: "Post a photo of the book in the wild....Make your post more personal by taking a selfie of you holding the author's book, or another reader with the book -- photos with people in them always get more Like-love."

Congratulations to the Finalists for the SEE-It Graphic Novel Award from EBSCO and the Graphic Novel Committee of the Children's Book Council!

This Week at Cynsations
More personally - Cynthia

Cynthia is currently on deadline, polishing her contemporary realistic YA manuscript for Candlewick. It is tentatively scheduled for release in fall 2018.

Cynsational Events

Cynthia is a faculty member for the Highlights Foundation Workshop: The Joke's On You! The Scoop on Humor for MG and YA writers, Oct. 12 - 15. She will teach with author Uma Krishnaswami, writer-poetic-comedian Sean Petrie and Curtis Brown Ltd. agents Ginger Knowlton and Elizabeth Harding. Note: this program is: (a) a rare opportunity to gain insights from top writing teachers and Curtis Brown vice presidents: (b) both for comedy writers and those writing more serious works that include some comic relief.

More Personally - Gayleen

I made a quick trip to the Texas Library Association conference yesterday.

It was far too short, but I had the chance to say hello to a few friends I hadn't seen in a while, including my agent mates, Tim Tingle and Jessica Lee Anderson. We're all represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Agency.

Tim's How I Became a Ghost (RoadRunner Press, 2013) remains one of my favorite MG novels and I'm eagerly awaiting When a Ghost Talks, Listen (RoadRunner Press, Sept. 2017).

I know I'm going to be up late reading the advance copy of Jessica's Uncertain Summer (CBAY Books, Sept. 2017) - it's about searching for Bigfoot....Tim's story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories (Crown, 2017) was "Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains." I'm beginning to feel a little Sasquatch peer pressure here.

Personal Links




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Video: Celebrating Día with Pat Mora

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations



El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), commonly known as Día, is a celebration every day of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.

Visit author Pat Mora's website for a Children's Day, Book Day Planning Booklet.

To find a Día celebration near you (or to list your own) visit Together with Día!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Story Begins

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, July 4, 2017) is now available for pre-order. From the promotional copy:

From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.

For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.

For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.

For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?


Featuring: "Dreams to Write" by Cynthia Leitich Smith



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Author Interview: Marianna Baer on the Twisty Turns of Becoming a YA Author

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We welcome Marianna Baer to talk about her new YA novel, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn (Amulet, April 2017). From the promotional copy:

Quinn Cutler is sixteen and the daughter of a high-profile Brooklyn politician. 

She’s also pregnant, a crisis made infinitely more shocking by the fact that she has no memory of ever having sex. Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father’s campaign for Congress. 

Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers’ home, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah. Quinn’s desperate search for answers uncovers lies and family secrets—strange, possibly supernatural ones. 

Might she, in fact, be a virgin?

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I never grew out of my childhood love of picture books and novels for kids/teens, but it wasn’t until my 30s that I discovered my passion for writing them—through a somewhat circuitous route!

In college and after, I was all about visual art—I both made art myself and was the director of a gallery in New York City. On a bit of a whim, I took a class in editorial cartooning at the School of Visual Arts

At the end of the semester, the teacher asked if I’d considered illustrating children’s books – he thought my style would lend itself well to them. Despite my love of children’s lit, this possibility hadn’t occurred to me before. Taking his advice, I moved onto classes in illustrating kids’ books, taught by the wonderful Monica Wellington (a mentor to many in the field).
One of Marianna's illustrations

Monica had us write stories so we could practice illustrating complete narratives. 

After the class ended, I continued writing and illustrating book dummies. I still didn’t consider myself a Writer—I just wanted to have dummies to show publishers my illustration abilities. 

To strengthen my stories, I took an online class in writing for children of all ages. At the end of the semester, the teacher told me she thought my YA voice was particularly strong and that I should give a novel a try. 

Uh…what??? I had never considered myself capable of writing a novel. But, hey, what did I have to lose? I came up with an idea and started writing a draft.

And I never looked back. As much as I loved picture books and considered myself a visual artist, writing YA felt like coming home. (Not to mention that novels are easier than picture books. After 15 or so years of trying, I still haven’t written a great picture book!)

So, long story to say that while I always loved literature for kids, my path to writing for young readers was shaped by following my interests, listening to teachers, trying new things, and staying open to where I was led.

What inspired you to write this book?
 

I saw the Virgin Mary.

Well, sort of. There was this girl I used to see running in the park near my house, and something about her intrigued me. She looked like a “good girl” who was dealing with some difficult things behind the façade of perfection. 

Around that same time, I saw a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met. And it was the girl from the park! Caravaggio’s Virgin Mary from 1610 looked exactly like her. 

I thought to myself, “Aha! So that’s what the ‘good girl’ is dealing with!” A contemporary virgin pregnancy in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

I knew it was a book I wanted to write.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

Ha! This question made me laugh, as an easier one to answer would be “What wasn't a challenge in bringing the text to life?”

Everything was a challenge! Finding the right point of view, figuring out what the character would do in this very strange situation, crafting the mystery, handling the religious aspects thoughtfully…

So, yes, I’m actually going to answer the alternate question, “What wasn't a challenge?” 

What wasn’t a challenge in bringing this book to life was maintaining my interest in the story. 

It was nine years from conception to publication, and while I wasn’t working on it that whole time, there were many years of labor and many challenges involved. And I can’t think of a moment when I lost my sense of engagement with the story. 

Sure, there were times when I wanted to give up because I felt like I couldn’t do it. But I never lost the desire to get the story out of my head and onto the page. 

I can’t say I love every single word in the book – I’m the type of writer who will lie in her grave wishing she could edit the words on her headstone – but I do love the story.

I understand you already knew your editor before she acquired The Inconceivable Life of Quinn? What was it like working with a friend?

It was great!
Marianna with editor Maggie Lehrman

I knew Maggie from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both got our MFA in writing for children and young adults. 

Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t nervous that having a previous friendship with my editor might cause sticky situations. But, in any case, the nerves would have been misplaced. 

Knowing Maggie made me comfortable communicating with her, helped me trust her advice (because I already knew how smart she was), and generally made me feel that my book was in very, very good hands.

And can I just give a shout out to the entire team at Amulet/Abrams? 

During the whole publication process, I felt like they cared so much about the book. For example, not only is the cover the most gorgeous cover ever (thanks largely to the illustration by Christopher Silas Neal), but the book is beautiful without the jacket, too! 



And instead of using black ink in the interior, they used deep blue! I will never stop being amazed by how beautiful the whole thing is as an object. 

 

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

This is all very common advice, but it can’t be said enough:

1. Read! Read widely and voraciously in your genre—classics and contemporary, best sellers and award winners, books recommended by librarians and booksellers.... 

When you fall in love with a book, tear it apart. Figure out why you love it. Analyze every aspect. If it’s a picture book, type out the text to see what that reveals. If it’s a novel, type out a scene to feel the rhythm of the prose. 

I think reading widely and critically is the single most important thing a beginning writer can do.

2. Get feedback on your stories. Not from your kids and family members. Or, at least, not only from them. Find other writers in your area or online and join a critique group. Take a class if you can.

3. Know that the process of writing and revising a book, and the process of getting published, can take a verrrrrrry long time. Don’t be in a hurry. It’s like any skill—you need to put in the hours to get where you want to be. 

In some ways, no matter what happens in your career, your pre-publication days of experimentation and learning will be glory days—enjoy them!

Cynsational Notes

Marianna Baer received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a BA in art from Oberlin College.

She also attended boarding school, where she lived in a tiny dorm called Frost House, the inspiration for her first novel, Frost (Balzer & Bray, 2011). She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, the setting for The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.

Publishers Weekly gave The Inconceivable Life of Quinn a starred review. Peek: "In a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel, Baer tackles the illusiveness of memory (especially in regard to trauma), media firestorms, fear of the unknown, and the complexities of faith, without ever turning didactic or allowing Quinn’s story to fall into melodrama."


 


Monday, April 17, 2017

In Memory: Patricia C. McKissack

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Patricia C. McKissack, honored children's author from Chesterfield, dies at 72 by Jane Henderson
from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Peek: "...'I think my mother died of a broken heart.' Fredrick McKissack Jr. said his mother and father were 'best friends and partners.'”

Before becoming an author, Patricia earned a master's degree from Webster's University and taught English at a junior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri.

In a 1998 story by Renee Stovsky from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Patricia said frustration over lack of information on poet Paul Laurence Dunbar to share with her students fueled her drive to write children's books. Peek: "I realized then that if someone didn't start preserving these stories, an extremely important part of our heritage could be lost forever."

Not surprisingly, Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Poet to Remember (Children's Press, 1984) was one of her first published books. Dozens more quickly followed.

Before long, Fredrick left his civil engineering job to work on books with Patricia. Together, the McKissacks published more than 120 children's books on a wide range of topics from African history and customs to supernatural stories.

In For the McKissacks, Black is Boundless, Barbara Bader wrote for the Horn Book about the couple's prolific list. Peek: "The McKissacks do think big. 'We’re Kennedy products,' Pat McKissack has said — idealists and optimists."

In 2014, Frederick and Patricia McKissack received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association.

Patricia's The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, 1992) won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1993 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. The same year, Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman (Scholastic, 1992) co-authored by Frederick and Patricia also received the Coretta Scott King Honor Award.

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman also received the Boston Globe-Horn Book award for nonfiction. The McKissacks delivered the acceptance speech together. From Patricia: "Like most children of my generation, I was not introduced to African-American heroes through textbooks. History in the 1950s didn’t contain much information about African-American contributions....but we got our history in other ways." She explained how her Sunday school teachers combined spirituals and Bible truths. "We decided to use that format and begin each section of our book with a spiritual..."

Her Horn Book essay with Fredrick, You Can Be President, explores the magical things that can happen at family dinner.

In A Literary Love Story's Final Chapter, Kenya Vaughn from the St. Louis American wrote,"the couple decided that little black boys and girls deserved positive images of themselves and a broad scope of their people’s rich history as they turned the pages of books. The McKissacks knew that these words would be critical in shaping what they think, feel and know about who they are..."

In Rocco Stanio's article from School Library Journal, Jacqueline Woodson said of Patrica, "She was lovely and groundbreaking and doing the work that set so many of us in motion."

Patricia McKissack, Prolific Author Who Championed Black Heroes, Dies at 72 by Sam Roberts from the New York Times. Peek: "Ms. McKissack, who grew up in the segregated South and was the only black student in her sixth-grade class, wove the back-porch fables she remembered from childhood together with her own personal anecdotes (including a false accusation of thievery and a dinner at a whites-only restaurant) in fictional narratives."

Remembering the Life and Writing of Famed St. Louis Children's Author Patricia McKissack aired on St. Louis Public Radio. St. Louis librarian Jennifer Ilardi talked about Patricia's impact on her life. "...I’m biracial and finding other books that represented my father’s side of the family was tricky. Books are windows, mirrors, and doors....I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have access to these type of books and her books when I was a child."

In reviewing Patricia's most recent book, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, January 2017), Roger Sutton from the Horn Book called her "children's book royalty and storyteller supreme" and described the book as "a rich compilation."

The Horn Book called Patricia's death "a huge loss to the children's literature community."

Edith Campbell had a moving tribute to Patricia on Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "I’ve learned that we are all libraries, each carrying in us the stories that make us unique. And yet, there are those who are more than that; they’re the people who create the stories that express our shared identities, that inspire us to be more than we’ve planned for ourselves and who question."



Friday, April 14, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

The Power of Representation by Ellen Oh from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "In books, you can be anything you want. A rock star, an astronaut, a warrior queen.... Books allowed me to escape from the hardships of real life....But I didn’t know that it also helped me develop a complex. You see, all I ever read were books about white kids."

The Convenient Indian: How Activists Get Native Americans Wrong by Melanie Benson Taylor from the Los Angeles Review of Books. Peek: "Indians have been in all the headlines about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline....The narrative here is so timeworn as to be banal: every epoch of American history has featured the callous removal of indigenous obstacles to the expansion of corporate capitalism."

Angie Thomas Says The Hate U Give, Proves There's a Market for Books With Black Characters by Victoria Sanusi from BuzzFeed. Peek: "'Publishing does have a diversity issue...It's easier for a young black boy in America to pick up a gun than to find a book where the main character is a young black boy and that's a problem.”

Dhonielle Clayton on How The Belles Allowed Her to Explore Teen Issues by Nivea Serrao from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: "I write about things that bother me and this is something that Teenage Me was very bothered by: my body, it’s limitations, and why it didn’t look like magazines. I wanted to talk about a world where if you could change yourself down to your bones, what would it be like and what could you do?"

Children's Institute Talks Diversity and Numbers by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “'We believe our work with We Need Diverse Books, the Children’s Book Council, and the Children’s Institute sponsors, whose event scholarships help broaden participation, is working toward the important goal of greater diversity.'”

Cover Reveal: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "...apparently during World War I it was believed that if you painted a ship in a dazzle pattern it could make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the correct range, speed, and heading. In other words, the perfect subject for a work of nonfiction by Chris Barton."

Terry Pierce and Mama Loves You So! by Adi Rule from The VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: "My son Greg, and a song, were the inspiration. I got the idea when he was a baby (he's now 32!).....after hearing the song 'Longer,' by singer Dan Fogelberg, I thought that someone should write a children's book using nature as a metaphor to show a mother’s love for her baby."

Third Person Narration: Using the Zoom Lens by Sarah Callender from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Likewise, in fiction with third person narration, we have control over the distance between the narrator and the reader. Sometimes we want to snuggle the reader inside the head of a character. Other times, like when I am trying to work in a coffee shop, a more distant narration is preferred."

The Importance of a Strong Opening Scene by Hallie Ephron from Jane Friedman's Blog. Peek: "Your opening scene can be long or short. It can be action packed, or moody and rich in description, or skeletal and spare....Regardless of what’s in that scene, the reader should have some idea of what the novel is going to be about after reading it, or at least have a good sense of the theme. Most of all, when they finish, readers should be eager to keep reading."

The Most Common Entry-Level Mistake in the Writing Game by Larry Brooks from Jane Friedman's Blog. Peek: "By far the most common entry-level mistake in the writing game, the thing that can get a perfectly good story rejected by an editor on the first page, is overwriting: a writing voice that is laden with energy and adjectives, that tries too hard, that is self-conscious in a way that detracts from the story...."

Q&A With Rebecca Van Slyke by Deborah Kalb from Book Q&As. Peek: "I love playing with words, and I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl. Putting the two together just seemed natural! I was on a road trip over the mountains when the phrase “word wrangler” popped into my head....Her name, Lexi, came easily: it’s Greek for word!"

Is Your Character's Face the Window to Her Soul? by David Corbett from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "To know the face is to know the person. Our faces are the roadmaps of our lives—they reveal our lingering innocence and hard-won experience, our openness and suspicion, our capacity for laughter, our bitterness, our anxiety, our lightness of heart."

Planning the Perfect Love Triangle by Roz Morris from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Consider why the lovers are attracted. For the cheating character, it’s usually something missing or unsatisfied. What does the lover add? It might be a dash of excitement or danger in a life that’s become too routine, but it might be the other way round."

The Do's and Don'ts of Query Letter Writing by Mark Gottlieb from Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog. Peek: "A query letter that reads well is usually a good indication to the literary agent that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the literary agent to request a manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy, were the publisher to acquire the manuscript via the literary agent."

Learning to Outsource and Then Let Go by Sharon Bially from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "...I’m convinced it’s incredibly important for writers to learn to let go. True, as writers we value our solitude and the control we have over our work. But for our work to have broader appeal, to speak broadly to readers and to transcend our immediate networks, we will have no choice but to outsource at least certain core tasks at some point.  After all, it takes a village to create a great book and bring it out into the world."

Illustrator Catia Chien On Failing by Mel Schuit from All The Wonders. Peek: "In early 2012 my life fell apart. I guess you can say it was a long time coming. I was raised in an emotionally and physically abusive family....I was working, illustrating two children’s books simultaneously. And I was trying to carve out some kind of life for myself. I was spread thin."

How Are Children's Publishers Talking About President Trump by Paula Willey from School Library Journal. Peek: "Only with a vast amount of context, much of which requires sophisticated analysis, can these elements be faithfully explained. Further, Trump’s public record is typified by negative, disputed, and sometimes vulgar statements. How do you fit that into 32, 60, or 100 pages using a low unique word count?"

Teaching a Novel by Teri Lesesne from Professor Nana's Blog. Peek:"...when I read a number of tweets and posts about 'teaching' a novel, it simply set my curmudgeon teeth on edge. I teach students, not novels. My children's lit class reads ore than 75 books a semester. The YA class reads about 25 books. I do not teach any of them. Students read the books. They respond to the books on a blog they create. They tie in other books, trailers, and the like. I do not take any title and 'teach' it.

Bookshare's Free Ebook Library Making a Difference for Students with Print Disabilities by Omar Gallaga from the Austin American Statesman. Peek: "...before technology such as Bookshare, schools typically had the option of setting up a reading-disabled student with a 'buddy reader' student assistant, or sending the student to a content-mastery room, isolating them from the classroom. 'Bookshare has allowed those students to be back in the classroom.'”

Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Bank Street Children's Book Awards! The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones by Wendelin Van Draanen (Knopf, 2016) received the Josette Frank Award, Ada's Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and March by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf Books, 2016) and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda, 2016) won the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) won the Claudia Lewis Award. See also, the complete list of  Best Children's Books of the Year.

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Screening Room



More Personally - Cynthia

How blessed am I? Last weekend, I had the opportunity to keynote at two diversity-focused children's-YA literature/writing conferences--the Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State in Ohio and Kweli: The Color of Children's Literature in Manhattan (NYC). At both, I spoke on my journey as a Native author, the importance of #ownvoices, writing across identity elements and how the conversation of books has evolved over the past twenty years.

Thank you so much to my hosts, especially those of you who came through with delicious dining and warm outwear for this naturalized Texan who'd forgotten about April snowstorms. Most appreciated!

Now, I'm joyfully polishing my YA novel in progress for my mid-May deadline. At this point, it's mostly a matter of line-level work, though I have expanded a few scenes. Huzzah!


Carole Boston Weatherford & Don Tate at the Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State University.

With Native writers and illustrators at Kweli: The Color of Children's Literature Conference in New York.

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen

At last week's Austin SCBWI meeting, I was honored to see the F&G's (folded and gathered) of Paige Britt's upcoming picture book, Why Am I Me? illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (Scholastic, September 2017). 

Several months ago, I had a writing meet-up with Paige and saw a few digital copies of the illustrations. That made it even more exciting to witness the next step in the publishing journey of this story.  

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