Friday, February 17, 2017

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

45 Books to Counter Islamophobia Through Stories from Kita B World. Peek: "...we invite you to fight fear with knowledge. In the same spirit of solidarity, we ask - can you help us take these books to as many children as possible in homes, schools, libraries and communities? We are a small team but with these resources, we are offering you a way to have conversations about diversity, address fears, and create a sense of belonging and respect as we all raise the next generation of leaders."

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016 from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, analysis of approximately 3,400 children's books published last year. Peek: "Two broad categories--Asian/Pacifics and Latinos--saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both 'by' and 'about.' The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped. Those mixed numbers reflect our mixed feelings: It’s both an both an exciting and frustrating time for multicultural literature advocates."

Nine Statistics That Writers Should Know About Amazon from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Since 2013, the traditional book publishing industry has enjoyed about a 3% increase in print book sales. However, print book sales have grown largely because Amazon sold more print books."

On the Use of Sensitivity Readers in Publishing by Christine Ro at Literary Hub, including perspectives from writer Becky Albertalli, reader Sangu Mandanna and publisher Stacy Whitman of Tu Books at Lee & Low. Peek: "Whitman advises authors to plan enough time with sensitivity readers early enough in the writing process so that major developmental changes can be made if needed. Otherwise, a sensitivity read could become a bandage, applied retroactively, when preventive medicine would have been more appropriate."

Day 13: Ibi Zoboi at the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Why not a blockbuster book featuring a black girl that not only saves herself or her community, but saves the world? How about a love story featuring two black characters where no one dies?"

Want to raise empowered women? Start in middle school by Phyllis Fagell for the Washington Post. Peek: "It’s important that parents encourage girls to take credit for their work....girls worry about coming across as arrogant and just want to fit in, but the problem is that they start to believe their own rhetoric and experience self-doubt."

Priscilla Chaves and the Art of Designing Book Covers by Sarah Johnson on Through The Tollbooth. Peek: "...I research ideas and look for images and typography that will work well on the cover."

Brazos Valley Blooms: Celebrating Our First 25 Years Creating for Kids from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 4 in College Station, Texas.

Not Writing for Writers by Allie Larkin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Many of the writers I know have hobbies and habits that fuel their writing either directly or indirectly. And, because I love talking to writers about how they tick, I reached out to some friends to ask how their non-writing time fuels their writing."

Long-awaited Philip Pullman series The Book of Dust revealed by Heloise Wood for The Bookseller. Peek: "Pullman said the book was neither a prequel or a sequel. 'In fact, The Book of Dust is… an ‘equel’. It doesn’t stand before or after His Dark Materials, but beside it,' he said. 'It’s a different story, but there are settings that readers of His Dark Materials will recognise, and characters they’ve met before.'

Cynsational Awards

Congratulations to NAACP Image Award winners Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Lee & Low, 2016) and Jason Reynolds As Brave As You (Simon & Schuster, 2016). See also, Black Scientists who Changed the World by Gwen Glazer, a biography list from the New York Public Library.

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Giveaway





More Personally


With my literary agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Wow! What a whirlwind week! I'm home again, after a wonderful time visiting second graders in conjunction with An Open Book Foundation, dining with my VCFA family at AWP, and touristy trips to the National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space Museum, and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Social Media panel with Martha Brockenbrough, Travis Jonker & Matthew Winner 
From there--after two Delta flights cancelled for weather--I hopped onto Amtrak for the 18th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, where I spoke at a a PAL program session on Career Building, participated in a panel on Social Networking, and led a workshop on writing diverse characters and topics. It was a wonderful experience all around, filled with learning, inspiration and connecting with old and new friends. See my tweet deck for quotes and more photo coverage.

Thanks to Open Book, VCFA, SCBWI, and everyone who attended my programs! See also Twitter Highlights & Resonate Moments of #NY17SCBWI by Lee Wind and Cynthia Leitich Smith & Ellen Hopkins Workshop by Martha Brockenbrough from The Official SCBWI Blog

Now, I'm happy to be reading for my graduate students and rebooting my life here in Austin.

In other news, Bethany Hegedus will mentor the winner of the 2017 Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. Critiques submitted for the annual Austin SCBWI conference are considered by conference faculty who nominate a manuscript for the award. The nominated writers make up the finalists announced at the conference. Finalist manuscripts are then submitted to Bethany, who will choose the winner.

Reminder: Entries are still being accepted for the Katherine Patterson Prize, being judged this year by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Deadline is March 1.

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen Rabakukk


The Lego Batman Movie helped me get in touch with my inner child.
Personal Links

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest Post: Crossing the Bar: Or a YA Fiction Writer Tries Out Adult Non-Fiction

By Marianne Monson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Up until the publication of my most recent book, Frontier Grit: The Untold True Stories of Pioneer Women (Shadow Mountain, 2016), I’ve primarily considered myself a young adult fiction writer.

When my editor asked me to take on this project, I protested that I wasn’t a historian, but she insisted that she wanted the book to have a strong narrative voice. The concept she proposed was a collection of pioneer biographies with particular relevance to contemporary society. I accepted the project with the caveat that I be able to define a “pioneer” as a historical woman who explored beyond the boundaries of her own culture, thereby allowing the inclusion of Native American and Mexican American perspectives, which don’t often appear in a genre dominated by westward expansionism.

Though I have always been fascinated by pioneer history and had written two historical fiction novels set in the time period, the transition from YA novel to adult non-fiction required adjustment. Surprisingly, one of the least painful aspects was being required to document my sources. I’ve long wished for an uncluttered way to do exactly that in a young adult novel, so the ability to use a footnote without interrupting the text offered great relief.

Donaldina Cameron House, built in 1874
as the Presbyterian Mission Home 
Inevitable gaps in research proved more problematic, however. In a novel when I come across something research can’t resolve, I invent an informed, likely detail to suit the story’s needs; this practice is not so encouraged in adult non-fiction, of course. Faced with occasional contradictory sources, I took refuge in explanatory footnotes where I simply explained the varying points of views.

One challenge I didn’t expect was that writing about real women left me with a daunting awareness that I was presenting a person’s life. Though I tried my best to be true to the facts, I also wanted to stay true to the values that each woman herself found most important. For example, as I struggled to fit the lengthy, incredible life of Donaldina Cameron (a woman who fought the sex trafficking of Chinese girls in San Francisco for forty years) into one chapter, I initially included a fair amount about her love life (because, hey, for both YA and adult readers, romance is fun). But as I worked my way through revisions, I found myself paring back the romance, and then paring it back once more.

Bricks twisted by fire
With additional room in the chapter, I was able to include the story of an abduction of one of Donaldina’s girls by a criminal ring aided and abetted by local officials instead. Though I have no proof, I believe Donaldina would have been pleased with my revision. After all, in her older years she loved to tease, “I am glad I did not settle for matrimony. If I had my life to live over again, I’d do it the same way. Only I’d be better prepared.”

I also wrestled with trying to understand how the voice of the book would be different targeting adult readers, rather than young adults. During the course of researching Donaldina’s chapter, while considering this question, I visited the building where she lived and worked for forty years. The bricks of the building’s façade are warped and twisted, charred remnants of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906—a fire Donaldina braved twice—once to bring her girls to safety, and once, later, when she returned to rescue their records.
Some buildings are haunted by the presence of the lives they once housed, as if portions of their being has seeped into the very walls. The Cameron Home is such a place. Walking across scratched hardwood floors; marveling at the secret cupboards where girls were hidden for their protection; walking the length of the stage where young actors once performed plays for Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt—all of it was like spending an afternoon in Donaldina’s presence.

As I strived to listen to the silent spaces between the walls, in order to tell her story with greater truth, I grew aware of the myriad ages who had lived within that space, and the concern over the lines between young adult, fiction, and non-fiction at last dissolved. Left behind was simply an awareness of story and the storyteller’s duty to reveal it—a reminder to tell each tale in a way that the intended audience, no matter the age, is beckoned close to the fire.
Cynsational Notes

Marianne Monson is the author of nine books, including a picture book about fairies, a YA novel, a chapter book series, and the recently released: Frontier Grit: The Untold True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women. She teaches Creative Writing at Portland Community College.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Author Interview & Giveaway: Sebastian Robertson on Writing His Father's Rock and Roll Biography

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

My love of music outweighs my love of the written word. So, I am delighted when I find children’s
book biographies written about any of my favorite musicians. I rush to devour them and learn more about the creative geniuses whose beautiful lyrics and magical melodies have lifted my spirit or given me comfort throughout my life.

I am honored to shine Cynsations’ spotlight today on Sebastian Robertson (Mohawk/Cayuga), a children’s book author, musician and composer doing that work.

Sebastian has written about rock and roll legends - including his father, Robbie Robertson, the award-winning lead guitarist and primary songwriter for The Band. In Rock and Roll Highway (Henry Holt, 2014),

Sebastian chronicles his father’s musical path as a child playing guitar with his First Nations relatives in Canada to playing on the road professionally by age fifteen. The picture book biography also talks about Buddy Holly’s advice for Robbie, recording and touring with Bob Dylan, and having The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, filmed by Martin Scorsese.  

Sebastian graciously agreed to share thoughts about his work and give away two signed copies of Rock & Rock Highway to Cynsations’ readers.

What excites you about writing children’s literature? 

As a teenager I taught Mommy and Me classes and felt a really strong connection with the kids. It wasn’t just a job it was a passion of mine for many, many years. In fact, it was through my experience teaching that the idea for Legends, Icons and Rebels was birthed.

Monitoring how the children reacted to and engaged with the music that we would play during class time was a lot of fun, especially when I could get them grooving to some James Brown or Aretha. Tapping into a mind that isn’t jaded or isn’t already made up is probably the most exciting aspect of writing for children.

Which do you enjoy writing the most – fiction, nonfiction, picture books, novels or something else? 

At this point, my three works consist of non-fiction with a focus on music and history. It’s just where I’ve ended up. I didn’t strive for this specific type of storytelling but it’s most certainly a good fit for me. I do have a couple fiction ideas up my sleeve that I’m pretty excited about, though.

What was it like writing about your father’s life in Rock and Roll Highway? 

It was a blast. It kind of took me back to a more child-like place as if I were doing a book report on my dad. We would meet for lunch and I would ask him all kinds of questions.

When I was near completing the book I realized how important this interviewing process was so I asked the publisher if I could include a short Q&A in the back of the book. They agreed, and if I could convey any message through that book, it would be for children to interview their parents.

As parents we sometimes forget relatable details that I found extremely interesting. Little things, like who was your best friend, what was your favorite thing to eat and how much homework did you have?

Tell me about the relationship between writing books and music in your life? 

The relationship has become that I’m always looking for a musical angle to tell kids about in my books. It’s what I do and it’s what I know so coming from a place of that much passion feels very intuitive.

What is your writing process?

I try not to think too much. My truth is that more often than not, my first idea is the best one. For instance, in Rock And Roll Highway, my first thought was to mirror The Last Waltz and begin the book at the end of the story. It felt right, I got a charge from it so away I went, full steam ahead. That and a lot of staring at a blinking cursor.

What has been the most challenging part of being a writer?

The balance between my music career and my writing career can make things difficult. Time management! I wish I was more disciplined.

An indigenous writer? 

Being indigenous has provided more opportunities for me at this point. It has opened up the world of possibilities creatively. After collaborating with my dad on Hiawatha And The Peacemaker (Abrams, 2015), I am now looking at writing more books based on my heritage.

The importance of indigenous culture is not a priority in our country, which is a travesty. Without sounding grandiose, if I can contribute on any level to bringing this culture more to the forefront it will be an incredible success for me.

Have you seen your writing evolve over the years? 

Most definitely, I’m not as terrible as I used to be.

What are you writing now? 

I have two books I’m currently developing but I’ve gotta’ keep ‘em on the down low. One is a non-fiction inspired by my First Nations background and one is a fiction idea that is based in music. Who would’ve guessed?

Sebastian Robertson,
photo by David Jordan Williams


Cynsational Notes

Before Rock and Roll Highway, Sebastian Robertson co-authored Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World (Tundra Books, 2013), with his father, Jim Guerinot, and Jared Levine. It introduces young readers to 27 pioneering musicians and singers across several genres of music and includes two CDs with a classic track from each artist with the hardcover version.

When he’s not writing children’s books, Sebastian works as a composer and songwriter. He has written music for many major television series, ads, video games and films. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.

Although Traci Sorell had heard many of Robbie Robertson’s iconic songs with The Band, she did not know of him until she bought his 1994 third solo album, Music for the Native Americans, which is still one of her favorites. Since then, she has enjoyed sharing his music and Sebastian’s books with her family and friends.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Guest Post: Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick on Co-Writing Picture Books

By Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick
Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick

for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“Writing is a solitary occupation and one of its hazards is loneliness.” – Joyce Carol Oates

“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement.” – Will Self

“Writing is an antisocial act.” – Martha Grimes


Writing.

Solitary, lonely, antisocial – except for when it’s not.

Erin, Audrey and Liz at the Writing Barn
Most of us choose to write partly because we don’t mind (read: are desperate for) some alone time. But even antisocial writers wearing sweats and old socks know that sometimes, two heads are better than one.

A few years ago, we were agent-mates with a mutually gushy appreciation for each other. Before long, we became accountability and commiseration partners. Then one day, our agent (Erin Murphy) said something about the two of us having a book baby together, and we were off to the races.

A lot of collaborators are married folks who write together over the kitchen table. Our method is more platonic and long distance. Wondering how that works?

Well… here are a few FAQs!

Do we use Google Docs? We do not.
Do we use the edit mode in Word? We do not.
Do we hash out each and every change over the phone? Nope. We don’t do that either.

This is what we do do:

We know for sure Matt did all the illustrations
One of us gets a brilliant idea and tosses it out to the other over email. It’s generally received with great enthusiasm because we’re game like that. Next comes maybe a title and a few lines in a Word doc – a beginning. And from then on, we’ve both got full-on freedom to make of the manuscript what we will. We take turns adding, omitting, and rearranging lines and phrases – without permission, explanation or conversation.

It’s kind of mad-cap. It’s kind of brutal. It’s kind of fun and insanely liberating.

Several days or weeks later, twelve or twenty-two drafts later, we have this shiny new thing that is neither hers nor mine, but ours.

And here’s one of the great and unexpected results of this practice: Somehow, we both find it easier to love that final product – maybe because we’re a little less hard on each other than we are on our own solo selves, maybe because someone else did half the work, or maybe just because we had such a good time all the way along.

Even still, lots of our originally brilliant ideas end up on the cutting room floor. Which is why we’re particularly tickled to be celebrating the debut of Bob, Not Bob (Disney-Hyperion, 2017), illustrated by Matthew Cordell today. (Dear Substitute, illustrated by Chris Raschka, follows next year, also from Disney-Hyperion).

Now, who wrote what bits of those books – or what bits of this post? We wish we could stay to reveal that but we’ve got to back to our solitary, antisocial efforts now.

Thanks for having us!

Cynsational Notes

Bob, Not Bob received a starred review from Publishers' Weekly. Peek: "Scanlon and Vernick
understand the way that being sick makes kids need comfort that they don't usually need, how it makes them unrecognizable even to themselves, and the comfort a mother's presence brings. Every page offers a giggle."

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World (Simon & Schuster, 2009), illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer (Simon & Schuster, 2015). She is a poet, teacher, and presenter at schools, libraries and conferences and a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Colorado and Wisconsin, and now lives with her husband and two daughters in Austin, Texas.

Audrey Vernick is the author of books for young readers, including the award-winning Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team (Clarion, 2012), illustrated by Steven Salerno and the acclaimed novels Two Naomis (Balzer + Bray, 2016), co-authored by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Screaming at the Ump (Clarion, 2014) and Water Balloon (Clarion, 2011). She has also published more than a dozen picture books and speaks at conferences and elementary schools around the country. She lives near the ocean in New Jersey with her family.




Monday, February 13, 2017

In Memory: Anna Dewdney

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Anna Dewdney Dies; Author of 'Llama Llama' Books Was 50 from the New York Times.

Anna illustrated a number of books in the 1990s, then became an author/illustrator with the publication of Llama, Lama Red Pajama (Viking, 2005). Since then, Llama Llama and his Mama have appeared in 18 additional titles and sold more than 10 million copies. A Netflix series based on Dewdney's books is expected later this year.

Publishers Weekly shared thoughts from Jen Loja, president of Penguin Young Readers, "The entire Penguin Young Readers family is heartbroken. And as we grieve, we also celebrate Anna's life, in dedicating ourselves to carrying forward her mission of putting books into as many little hands as possible. We will miss her so, but consider ourselves to lucky to be her publishing family and her partner in her legacy."

Anna recently completed Little Excavator (Viking), which will be released June 6, 2017. 

In 2013, Anna wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal: How Books Can Teach Your Child to Care. Peek: "When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her a love of language," she wrote. "We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human. When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else's eyes."

Anna requested those wishing to honor her should read to a child.


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