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1. Cynsational News, Giveaways & Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cynsations is now on summer hiatus until early fall 2016. In the meantime, keep up with children's-YA literature, writing & publishing news at facebook and Twitter. Thanks for your readership and support! Note: Please hold off on sending correspondence, interview/post materials & queries until after June 1.

Congratulations to Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks and Colin Bootman on the release of Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

As Dr. Blalock’s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien’s name did not appear in the report.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.

More News & Giveaways

Women Swept 2015 Nebula Awards by Andrew Liptak from io9. Note: The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy went to Updraft by Fran Wilde (Tor); see link for honor books.

Congratulations, Supriya Kelkar, winner of the New Visions Award given by Tu Books, the middle grade and young adult imprint of Lee & Low! Peek: "The New Visions Award honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market." Cheers also to honor winner Alexandra Aceves and finalists Elizabeth Stephens, Hilda Burgos, and Alex Brown. Note: The Lee & Low New Voices Award is now open for submissions.

Continuing Belpré’s Legacy of Lighting the Storyteller’s Candle by Sujei Lugo & Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek: "...Belpré was telling, writing, and performing stories that centered Puerto Rican culture and folklore, that she created a space at the NYPL and made Puerto Rican children the center of it, and that she was committed to making books available to children. In this way, Belpré led her own revolution." See also part 2.

Book Prices & The Value of Writing by Porter Anderson from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We’re in a world now that thinks it can write just as well as you can. It doesn’t need your book. It can write its own. It can publish it. And it can lowball it on Amazon, leaving your would-be readers clicking right past your beautiful books."

Author Interview: Carries Jones & Time Stoppers from The Launch Pad. Peek: "She has mechanical skills. She only passes out when faced with trolls. She boasts. She’s tough. She’s totally not me. She was so much fun just because she would say things that overly polite Carrie Writer Person would never think of saying."

Towards a Common Understanding of Native Peoples in the U.S. (or, Why Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr. Needs a Note to Readers) by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "I'm hoping that Little, Brown (the publisher) will include a Note in the next batch, providing a 'do not use this book as an activity for which kids pick a Native American name,' an explanation for why that is not a respectful activity, and a bit of information about Native naming."

P.J. Lynch is Ireland's New Poet Laureate from The Guardian. Peek: "He was born in Belfast and has illustrated over 20 beautiful books."

Gutsy, Funny, and Flawed: Angela Cervantes on Crafting Strong Latina Characters by Ruth Quiroa from School Library Journal. Peek: "Research was important because I felt a duty to be a voice for these kids who actually have to face what Gaby is going through. I wanted to be true to them as much as possible."

Fallow Fields — An Argument for Letting Your Creativity Rest by Kristan Hoffman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "By trying to grow too much too fast, I was depleting my soil of nutrients, attracting pests and disease, creating an unruly, inhospitable chaos — not to mention wasting my own precious energy." See also Step Away from That Keyboard by Donna Janell Bowman from Emu's Debuts.

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with M.T. Anderson by Julie Bartel from The Hub. Peek: "I first realized how differently the idea of 'student' plays out in different cultures. In ours – even more now than when I was in college – the student is first and foremost constructed as a consumer. We invite them to understand themselves in that way. They become thinkers despite the role we groom them for. And that’s a tragedy."

Did you know Beethoven Loved Maracroni and Cheese? Kathleen Krull on Writing Biographies from Lee Wind from SCBWI. Peek: "After you've soaked up all your information, don't use it all. Being selective is the magic key. Use only the most savory, cream-of-the-crop stuff, plus the facts that move your narrative along."

My "Gay Agenda" as a Children's Author from Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Peek: "At first I thought, no, I wasn't doing that. I was just writing the best book I possibly could. Then I thought, of course I was doing that."

Cynsational Screening Room




Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano, is Erin in North Carolina.


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Reminder: Cynsations is now on summer hiatus until early fall 2016. In the meantime, keep up with children's-YA literature, writing & publishing news at facebook and Twitter. Note: Please hold off on sending correspondence, interview/post materials & queries until after June 1.

Thanks for your readership and support!

Congratulations to the finalists for Austin SCBWI's 2016 Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award: Amy Reynolds, Aimee Thomas, Kris Kukendell, Christine Alderman, Eileen Manes, Salima Alikhan, Heather Helene, Gogi Hale, Karen Santhanam, and Jeff Anderson!

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez and Lily C. Buday, winners of the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarships

Personal Links

AFCC

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2. Call for Applications: Cynsations Intern

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Applications are invited for an intern to assist in the production of Cynsations and associated web-/social media for summer-fall 2016.

Duties would include assistance with:
  • coordinating, conducting and formatting interviews, guest posts, announcements and giveaways that tie into the children's-YA literature, writing, illustration, publishing, educational and gatekeeper communities; 
  • promoting all of the above; 
  • updating Cynthia Leitich Smith's Children's Literature Resources and related social media channels.

The internship is non-paid, however, the intern would be offered:
  • two critiques of a full (or partial, if more developmental assistance is needed) novel; 
  • six critiques of two picture books each; or 
  • some combination of the above to be agreed upon on an individual basis. 
In addition, the intern would be promoted across the platform. Note: realism and fantasy, children's-YA fiction writers only. No currently enrolled MFA students.

The position is ideal for children's-YA writers who are not-yet-published but have been steadily writing and pursuing craft-building opportunities (such as SCBWI or Highlights workshops, a completed MFA, writers.com classes, etc.) or writers with a history of publication who're looking to shift age-level and/or genre focus, want to take craft to the next level, and/or are interested in building social media skills.

Between June 1 and June 30, please email cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith.com with a 500-word statement of interest that touches on:

  • commitment to the youth literature, its conversation and community;
  • study in the craft of writing for young readers;
  • social media savvy.

Please include relevant links. Connections and/or interest in diverse (defined broadly) youth literature also is especially welcome and should be mentioned. Thank you for your consideration!

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3. Giveaway: Signed Copy of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little Brown, 2016). Obtained from BookPeople. Cynsations sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. 

Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie's lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales's striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.

See below the book trailer, followed by the giveaway entry form. See also Towards a Common Understanding of Native Peoples in the U.S. (or, Why Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr. Needs a Note to Readers) by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

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4. Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on the Behind the Scenes Scoop at SCBWI Bologna

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every second year the SCBWI hosts a booth at the Bologna Book Fair...the biggest children's books exhibition and rights fair in the world. It's all about rights and networking and for SCBWI members who are at Bologna a home away from home!

Bologna, with its five halls of publishers and their books, can be mind boggling for the first-time visitor.

This year the SCBWI hosted a spectacular booth with eye-popping panels, and it was double the size of our previous booths. We were able to showcase our PAL member's books along with information on the rights available for each; to hold portfolio critiques; and display the finalists (and hold public voting) for our Bologna Illustrator's Gallery in a comfortable and very appealing environment.

The digital catalogue and also the Bologna Illustrators Gallery are now online, embedded in the SCBWI Bologna site showcasing our members' works to the world.

Our Dueling Illustrators was also once again a huge hit!

For an inside look at the 2016 Bologna Book Fair check out:


and the Publishers Weekly article

Already planning has begun for our next SCBWI Bologna appearance which will be in 2018. Once again we will have our Bologna Illustrators Gallery contest, the digital catalogue of all the PAL books displayed, portfolio critiques, as well as a whole lot more.

Cynsational Notes

More on Chris Cheng
With more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children's literature.

He conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds an M.A. in Children's Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children's Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

A recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award for services to children's literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of children's literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children's-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher.

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5. Guest Post: Lee Wind on Little Pickle Press’ 7 Steps To Changing Children’s Publishing… And Our World

Little Pickle's first book
By Lee Wind of Little Pickle Press
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Little Pickle Press is an award-winning creator of high quality, high impact media and products for children and teens.

From our founding in 2009, we’ve done things differently. Here are seven steps we’ve taken to lead—and BE—the change we want to see:

1. Be Responsible.

Print all titles, not just the environmentally-themed ones, on recycled paper, with soy inks, in the Americas.

And lose the dust-jacket on picture books. They’re not kid-friendly, or necessary.

2. Make every project count.

“Media For A Better World” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a guiding principle.

From Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, one of our growth-mindset picture books, to Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food, a chapter book highlighting the challenges – and triumphs – of an 8-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome, to Breath To Breath, a powerful YA novel-in-verse inspired by the true story of a survivor of child abuse, every Little Pickle and Relish Media story makes a difference for the better.



3. Give Back.

Forge partnerships with organizations that promote the same values we do in our titles.

Like how we donated 15% of net sales of What Does It Mean To Be Kind? print books to the Great Kindness Challenge, along with thousands of e-books to schools who participated in their spread-the-kindness challenge. And how 15% of net sales of our Farm2Table app go to KaBOOM!, to support their efforts to bring active play into the lives of kids growing up in poverty in America.

Teaming Up: What Does It Mean To Be Kind? written by Rana DiOrio and illustrated by by Stéphane Jorisch, three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General Literary Award for Children’s Illustration, and The Great Kindness Challenge that reached over 5 million students!
Farm2Table is an iPad adventure that helps kids explore where their food comes from. It’s based on The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen, written by farmer and agriculture writer Diana Prichard and illustrated by Heather Devlin Knopf. For this app, we teamed up with KaBOOM!, who believes that “cities need to be designed with opportunities to play everywhere.” Patrick would certainly agree!


4. Innovate.

We’re early adopters of technology, focused on what can make things better. Even our submission platform with Authors.me changes the game, with an eye to empowering authors throughout the submission process.



5. Be Kind.

It’s our mission: “Little Pickle Press is dedicated to creating media that fosters kindness in young people—and doing so in a manner congruent with that mission.” And kindness, as our founder Rana DiOrio explains, “is not simply being affable. …We define ‘kindness’ as treating others as one would wish to be treated in similar circumstance, and we consider it the foundational concept upon which civilization was built and the key to society’s future.”

So when we heard about Library For All, and how they’re using technology to spread literacy in Rwanda, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, and Mongolia, we donated our entire digital library to the cause.

Students reading Library for All titles in Cambodia

6. Walk the walk.

From who we partner with to the wheat straw paper in my printer, as a B-Corp, everything we do and every decision we make is driven by sustainability, and the question, what’s going to make our world a better place for us all?




7. Be Grateful.

What we’re doing is working. We’ve won awards (85 so far), and our titles have gotten some great reviews (Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s said What Does It Mean To Be An Entrepreneur? “inspires young dreamers to find the courage to be doers.”)



Maybe most of all it’s hearing from kids, teens and their caring adults about how our stories have made a difference to them that lets us know we’re on track.

Comments like this one about our picture book Ripple’s Effect, from John A.,

“Just recently I was chatting with a first grader about his experience being bullied. It's hard to get over those kinds of hurdles as a child. What a great book for kids who are smart, fun, and joyful except when they are around ‘sharks.’

"Every child can be a great influence but the power of a positive kid in the midst of adversity can change lives. Children's literature needs this book. I'm glad it's here.”



And we’re grateful for the opportunity to share with you.

As a thank you, for the next month, please use the promo code CYN35 at checkout on our website to receive 35% off your entire purchase.

Students reading Library for All titles in Cambodia

Cynsational Notes

Lee Wind is the Vice President of Digital, Communications and Community Engagement at Little Pickle Press.

Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons), written by Jodi Carmichael, is a nominee for the Mantioba Book Awards’ John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Writer.

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6. Hallmark Great Stories Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Hallmark Great Stories Award will recognize and celebrate the power of storytelling by honoring new children's picture books that celebrate family, friendship and community and that exhibit excellence in both writing and illustration.

Annual nominations will be reviewed by a multi-disciplinary panel of esteemed judges. For the inaugural year, judges include Betsy Bird, Alfredo Lujan, Alan Bailey and Cheri Sterman.

Eligible books include those published by publishers in the United States between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016 and must be entered into the competition by the publisher. The inaugural winner will be announced in March 2017.

The winning picture book's author and illustrator each will receive a special award medal and $5,000. If the author and illustrator is the same individual, the cash prize is $10,000. In addition to traditional distribution, the winning book will be available in Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide.

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7. Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Turning The Bright Idea Of Creating A Legacy Award Into A Reality

Betty with the 2016 award recipients
By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bright ideas are wonderful things. They spark imagination, energy, and excitement. That’s good, right?

Executing ideas and fulfilling their promise takes a lot of hard work. The more excitement the better because, along the way, you will learn a lot and some of that knowledge will be hard won.

In 2012, I had a bright idea to create an award in honor of the oldest member of Austin SCBWI community: Betty X. Davis who, at the time, was a stalwart ninety-six years old. She joined the first year Austin started an SCBWI chapter twenty years ago. She has cheered and supported all of us at our book launches, read manuscripts for school writing contests and been a thoughtful critique partner.

Really, in terms of support, Betty X. Davis is a pillar of our community. Why not create an award in her honor? I had never done it before but how hard could it be? People do it all the time, right?

By the time you finish reading this post, hopefully, you will be a whole lot smarter about creating honorary awards.

Maya, grade 3
Because I knew Betty would definitely have an opinion about this award, I took her out to lunch. I will admit that I had my own notion about what this award should be. I wanted to offer a scholarship in her honor to, say, a writing retreat or an SCBWI conference or workshop.

“Boring,” she said and dismissed my idea with a wave of her hand. Then she leaned in, “But I will tell you what I would like.”

Uh-oh. I knew right then that whatever came out of Betty’s mouth was going to have to happen. After all, it’s an award to honor her, right? Now I would have to obey her wishes.

What Betty wanted was an annual writing contest for youngsters. You see, what is important to Betty is encouraging young people to write. She believes that a love of writing and reading is essential to a well-lived life. If people wrote more letters to the newspaper, the world would be a better place. If people wrote kind thoughts to one another, the world would be a better place. If people wrote good books with exciting characters, the world would be a better place.

So for Betty, creating a contest that would encourage young people to write and award them for their efforts was absolutely essential.

Frankly, this idea looked like a lot of work: creating a submission system, reading manuscripts, choosing winners. The Austin SCBWI membership is entirely volunteer-based. We are writers and illustrators and many of us have day jobs and families.

Creating a contest looked like a big job that no one, including me, had time to execute. But I knew I wasn’t going to walk away from that lunch without saying yes to her.

While I was feeling a little daunted, Debbie Gonzales, the Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time, jumped in. “No problem. Let’s find an organization which already has a strong outreach with kids and who can easily corral the submissions.”

Fortunately Austin has two very good organizations which fit that description: BadgerDog and Creative Action. Both were willing.

“Partnering with like-minded organizations not only builds community,” says Debbie. “It ignites enthusiasm with the donors and creates a domino-effect of good will.”

With Debbie as my partner in award creation, we turned our attention to funding the award. What would the contest winners receive for their efforts? And who was the contest open to? Even if we gave a blue ribbon and a certificate to the winners, these items cost money.

Austin SCBWI is not a wealthy organization. It couldn’t fund an annual reward. It has to be self-supporting. Fortunately, Betty has a large loving and supportive family and they were willing to seed the award for five years.

“No matter how much trouble it takes to establish an award like Betty’s Young Writers of Merit Award,” says Debbie. “It is worth every turn and twist along the way because young lives are changed when their voices are recognized and celebrated.”

Gabrielle, grade 11
Once we had the seed money commitment, it was time to get busy implementing the award. We joined forces with Creative Action, which has a huge presence in Central Texas schools. Currently they employ eighty teaching artists and serve sixty five schools in three districts. They reach twenty thousand students in forty elementary schools, eleven middle schools and fourteen high schools.

We decided to give an award to one student at each of these school levels: elementary, middle and high school. The three winners would each receive a personalized writing journal and a certificate. The elementary and middle school winners would receive a gift certificate to BookPeople, Austin’s independent bookstore, and the high school winner would receive $500 upon matriculation to college.

Betty was not keen to attach a monetary prize to the award. The journals, gift certificates were fine. But money? “What did money have to do with the joy of writing?” she wondered.

I convinced her that a monetary award to a high school senior on their way to college, would be really meaningful and give the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award a bit of heft and prestige.

“Oh I suppose that’s all right,” she said.

From that initial lunch with Betty to the first presentation of the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award at the annual Austin SCBWI conference took seven months. It was fast but bright ideas can have a limited shelf life. They need to be acted on when the enthusiasm is high.

Current Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor Samantha Clark agrees, “It's a lot of work to put these awards together, and it makes it a lot easier if you're really dedicated because you believe in what you're doing.”

Samantha has been instrumental in getting information about the award up on Austin SCBWI website, creating a donation button making it super easy to contribute and thanking all of the donors.

For the past three years, Betty X. Davis has presented the Young Writers of Merit Award to a diverse group of students from a wide variety of schools, including Austin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Garza Independent High School, Westlake High.

This year, at one hundred years young, she will present the elementary award to Maya McNeil, a third grader at Ridgetop Elementary; Keelin Bell a sixth grader at Dailey Middle School and Gabrielle Lewis, a junior at Meridian High School. Once again thanks to the vision of Betty X Davis, young writers will have their voices recognized and celebrated.


Finally, here is quick list of helpful things to remember if you wish to create an award in someone’s honor. Thanks to writer Sarah Azibo for contribution to the list.

Her expertise in this area comes creating many such awards both on her own and through the Denver Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise, which helps set up legacy gifts as well as provide a not for profit tax umbrella.

The Austin counterpart is the Live Oak Foundation. Many cities have these foundations.

Keelin, grade 6
  • Secure seed money for the award. It takes a while to build momentum until people remember to give on their own. If you are creating a mentorship award, secure commitments for a few years of mentoring.
  • Take time to develop a strategy for the fund.
  • Create a tracking system to manage donations.
  • Designate one person (a bit removed if fund is in memory of a dear one) to be the administrator of the fund.
  • Determine who, what, when, where funds are given as specifically as possible from the start.
  • Envision ways to keep the fund alive and actively growing with continued donations.
  • If it’s not managed through an organization, set-up a separate checking account for the fund.
  • Title the fund so that people know who and what it supports.
  • Thank all donors with a personal touch.
  • Never toil in isolation. If your award is meant to benefit a group of people, reach out to other organizations, which can share the labor and the benefits.
Cynsational Notes

Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author from Cynsations. Peek: "Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel--all of those teachers showed up."

Photographs by Sam Bond Photography; used with permission.

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8. Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Open Expectations: Preparing for an Artist’s Residency: Internal Logistics

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I headed to my first writer’s residency at The Ragdale Foundation at the end of March with an imagined vision of open space, open time, and what I call “open expectations” – no finish line, no deadline, no shoulds or have tos about the challenging revision of my middle grade novel in verse or the small community of artists of which I’d be part.

I knew from experience that gentle, heartfelt, positive guidelines were my best bet for flourishing as a writer and a person. I told myself to:

  1. Trust my needs, my rhythm, what I and my story feel each step forward needs to be, and connect with others as I need and want to, but without pressure that I have to.
  2. Keep my brain open to surprises of all kinds and embrace, enjoy, tolerate, readjust as needed.
  3. Let the residency change me – openness to writing and human surprises has often had this lovely effect on me.

It worked. From a writing and a community perspective, the residency was extraordinary. Among the many meaningful incidents were these:

  • When I’d inserted eighty new verses into my then-current draft, half-hoping for a wonderful and well-organized draft, I found instead an incoherent, fragmented story. At dinner, as we all casually talked about our first day, I said my next days would be dismantling my book, and was glad I had the floor space and time to do it. The luxury of seemingly endless hours was going to be a gift.
  • As I went through the days, dismantling, reassembling, and readying myself for a deep and intense revision, I realized something all of us seemed to say in our end-of-residency summary: It’s not just the number of hours I have, it’s how the hours and the lack of distracting responsibilities allow my brain to open and blossom. I discovered, with this undistracted time, the capacity to work deeply and intensely, giving my unconscious mind the freedom to feed me creative solutions.
  • Many days, I lost any sense of what time it was, whether or not my phone and computer were collecting texts and emails, and occasionally even whether or not I was hungry. My lovely little room, walks on the prairie (even in the snowstorms of a Chicago spring), and conversations with new colleagues fed a brain that seemed wonderfully open to the world, and to my own unconscious.
  • One night early in the residency, instead of returning to work, I decided to join several colleagues to listen to another’s discussion of her volunteer work in a Michigan hospital, gathering bedside stories from in-patients. She played several of the stories for us. I was riveted. I heard an urgency in all the short, impromptu stories. The patients have to choose only one story to tell, my colleague said. I had a visceral response in my chest, home of where my feelings tell me things. One story. Only one story. I have to write Reeni’s story as if it is the only one she gets to tell. That’s where I will find the urgency. And maybe I will find her voice. 
  • The next day I began, sitting on my pillow on the floor with paper and pencil. If it was Reeni’s last day on earth, how would she tell the story? And then I found her voice.

It would have been enough to do the kind of deep writing I did from that day on. But going into the residency with my three guidelines enabled me to do and experience more than that.

I discovered that I am a writer who is able to spend many hours a day working if given the opportunity. That I am a writer who can find and stay in deep connection with my unconscious for more than a few moments at a time. And that I could also enjoy the deep pleasure of becoming part of a supportive, smart, funny, and all-around extraordinary, group of fellow artists.

In my life as writer, therapist, wife, mother, friend I’ve repeatedly found that while attitude is not everything, it is quite a bit. When I enter an experience with gentle and positive expectations, an open mind, and the ability to respond to surprises of any nature, I free myself again to grow, change, and continue the adventure of living.

It’s not necessarily easy. But it’s always worth the effort.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

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9. Guest Post: Jennifer Swanson on Nonfiction Picks Up STEAM!

By Jennifer Swanson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

If you’ve been to a bookstore lately, you may have noticed the STEAM-y new trend in nonfiction children’s books.

No, I’m not talking about romance novels, it’s STEAM—Science Technology Engineering Art and Math. From picture books to middle grade, to YA, STEAM topics are hot right now.

The STEAM books can include biographies and histories of scientists, artists, and engineers, but also topics that range from the simple:

Miranda Paul’s book Water is Water (Roaring Brook, 2015). It gives a beautiful and lyrical explanation of the water cycle for young readers.

To the complex:

Nancy Castaldo’s book, The Story of Seeds: From Mendel's Garden to Your Plate, and How There's More of Less to Eat Around the World on Seeds (Houghton Mifflin, 2016), talks about the genetics of plants.

And my own Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge, 2016) which introduces the reader to the cutting edge science through high performance sports.

So, how do you jump on board this STEAM-y trend?

Here are a few tips:

1. Ask questions like a kid.

Kids are naturally inquisitive. They are always asking how things work, why things happen, and where things come from.

Tap into your kid-side and find a topic that you’re curious about. Then dig deep and look for the cool aspects of it. Kids love trivia. See if you can find something that will make your reader say, “Hmmmm…. I didn’t know that.” Or “Wow! That’s so cool!”

For example: Your brain can store up to 2.5 petabytes of knowledge—That’s like 300 years of T.V. shows!

2. Think like a kid

Kids want to understand so when explaining things, break complex ideas into simple ones. The best way is to use kid-friendly examples, something that taps into the knowledge they have.

For instance, instead of saying something is 10meters tall, say it’s 3 stories high.

One hundred twenty yards becomes as big as a football field.

A nanoparticle is 100,000 times smaller than the edge of a piece of paper.

3. Talk like a kid

Use kid-friendly language. Activate your words! Use short sentences to amp up the excitement or tension. Use longer sentences for explanation to make sure your readers understand the concepts you want to get across. Then mix things up. Put short sentences after long sentences. Add endings like, “Now that’s tiny!” or “Bet you didn’t know that.” It makes your tone more exciting and conversational.

4. Be gross like a kid

Sometimes the best way to capture your reader with science is to gross them out. They are, after all, kids.

For example: Did you know that in one day, your feet can produce more than 1/4th of a gallon of sweat. (P- Ewww!)

5. Tap into a kid’s imagination

Children have very vivid imaginations. By using fun rhyming, rhythmic language, and amazing descriptions, you will grab their attention and get them to think. You can also fill your book with awesome illustrations and photographs to get your reader to visualize what is happening in the book.

Following these tips may help you to STEAM into nonfiction with your own books!

Cynsational Notes

Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and the author of over twenty-five nonfiction and fiction books for kids. She is the author of Brain Games (NGKids, 2015) and the forthcoming Super Gear. Her book How Hybrid Cars Work (The Child’s World) received a starred review from Booklist and also a Top 10 Books for Youth 2012 Award from Booklist Online.

Several of Jennifer’s other books have received “highly recommended” reviews from the National Science Teacher Association, as well as School Library Journal. Her favorite saying to her students is to “notice the science all around you.”

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10. Author Interview: Louise Hawes on The Language of Stars

By Louise  Hawes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of The Language of Stars by Louise Hawes (McElderry, 2016):

Sarah is forced to take a summer poetry class as penance for trashing the home of a famous poet in this fresh novel about finding your own voice.

Sarah’s had her happy ending: she’s at the party of the year with the most popular boy in school. But when that boy turns out to be a troublemaker who decided to throw a party at a cottage museum dedicated to renowned poet Rufus Baylor, everything changes. 

By the end of the party, the whole cottage is trashed—curtains up in flames, walls damaged, mementos smashed—and when the partygoers are caught, they’re all sentenced to take a summer class studying Rufus Baylor’s poetry…with Baylor as their teacher.

For Sarah, Baylor is a revelation. Unlike her mother, who is obsessed with keeping up appearances, and her estranged father, for whom she can’t do anything right, Rufus Baylor listens to what she has to say, and appreciates her ear for language. Through his classes, Sarah starts to see her relationships and the world in a new light—and finds that maybe her happy ending is really only part of a much more interesting beginning.

The Language of Stars is a gorgeous celebration of poetry, language, and love.

What was your initial inspiration for The Language of Stars?

In 2008, I stumbled on a newspaper article about a group of Vermont teenagers who'd been caught throwing a party in the historically preserved summer home of Robert Frost. They'd vandalized and set fire to the place, but few of them were over eighteen.

A resourceful judge, who couldn't send them to jail, sentenced them to something some of them may have enjoyed even less—they had to take a course in Frost's poetry!

As soon as I read this, my writer's "what-if" machinery kicked in: what if, I asked myself, the poet in question weren't Robert Frost, but an equally famous, Pulitzer-prize winning, world-renowned Southern poet, someone who made his home in North Carolina, where I live? What if, unlike Frost, who'd been dead for decades when the vandalism happened, my fictional southern bard was still alive when young party-goers destroyed his house? And what if he decided to teach those kids himself? What if one of those students was a young girl who showed a natural ear for poetry?

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

It was a long gestation period! First, I needed to find my narrator, who turned out to be sixteen-year old Sarah Wheeler, a character who came to me almost immediately, but whose voice and interior life took me months of free writing to uncover.

Next, I read all the biographies on Robert Frost and everything he ever wrote (including some pretty awful plays modeled on seventeenth-century court masques!). After that, free writes helped me hear the voice of Rufus Baylor, my book's poet, who shares some life experiences, artistic convictions, and teaching approaches with Frost, but whose personality and poems are all his own.

Next, it was time to write a draft, submit it to my agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, and then tighten and re-think major aspects of the book. (No, great agents don't line edit; but yes, they do ask crucial questions about readership and story!)

When it was time to submit, I found out the hard way that a YA novel in which an octogenarian is a major character is not an easy sell! I also learned to treasure the judgement and eye of the brilliant editor (Karen Wojtoyla at Margaret McElderry) who trusted my book enough to acquire it and to ask me to rewrite it. Again?!

Grand total?

Seven years from inspiration to completion! Which may be why, in comparison, the year between signing and publication seems to have flown by!

What were the major challenges (research, craft, emotional, logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet
You've named the usual suspects, Cyn. Research and craft, as well as sustaining emotional and artistic investment through so many years, most of them without a contract—all of it was far from easy. But the thing I found most difficult and at the same time most rewarding, was combining the three formats I wanted the novel to include.

First, Stars is written mostly in prose; it's not a novel in verse. Second, of course, it also features poetry. I mean, hello? Most of the major characters in the book have chosen to study poetry rather than do hard time!

Lastly, because my narrator, Sarah, is a wannabe actress whose role model is Sarah Bernhardt, and because she and her mentor, Rufus, hear the whole world talk, talk, talking to them, I've also included play scripts that feature an on-going dialogue between things and people.

In the vibrant and highly auditory place Rufus and Sarah inhabit, grills sputter, furniture squeaks, sand crabs burrow, seagulls squeal—not just as background noise, but as active, contributing participants. Fun? Yes. But challenging to write!

Talk to us about your audition to read the audio edition of the book for Brookstone.

I have a theater background, so I asked my agent to write an author audition into the audio contract for Stars. After all, I reasoned, I had been a national finalist in the National Academy of Dramatic Arts competition; I had endured NYC audition rounds, portfolio in hand; and colleagues and students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts had listened attentively to my readings from each draft of Stars. Who was better suited to bring the audio book to life?

A lot of people, it turns out! Blackstone Audio required a short five-minute sample—a cinch, right? It took me days to come up with that recording, but it took the company's studio director exactly three hours to respond to my emailed mp3.

What he told me, kindly but firmly, was that audio listeners have well-developed tastes and high expectations, the least of which is that a teenage narrator's voice will sound as if she's between the ages of 14 and 20. To soften the blow, and because I did have prior recording experience, he asked if I would help him select our reader from among their final candidates.

Here's the humble pie part: the part where I tell you that any one of their top ten voice actors were about 900 billion times better qualified to read my book than I was!! Yes, I got to make the final call: Katie Schorr is a full-time actor, an all-round stage talent, and gives one of the most nuanced, sensitive readings I've ever listened to on audio. I can hardly wait for everyone to hear it!

What's new and next in your writing life?

A lot! Current works in progress include The Gospel of Salomé, YA historical fiction about the young woman the new testament credits with having danced off the head of John the Baptist; Love's Labor, an adult novel about an aging playwright; and Big Rig, a brand new middle-grade novel.

In addition to working on my own projects, I'm also cooking up another Four Sisters Playshop with my three sisters—a painter, a musician, and a film-maker. We'll be exploring a new theme in August 2017: Death, Cradle of Creativity. We hope to share writing, movement, music, sculpture and painting with participants, and in the process destroy a lot of stereotypes about death and aging!

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11. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The One and Only Ivan: Meet the Author Book Reading from TeachingBooks.net. Peek: "Katherine Applegate introduces and shares some of the backstory for creating The One and Only Ivan."

Empowering Parents to Increase Literacy in the Home by Sarah Walzer from Lee & Low. Peek: "...by age 3, low-income children have heard 30 million less words than their middle income peers, so we know that too many children do not experience the quality verbal interaction they need to succeed. Parent (primary caregiver)-child interaction is critical to closing this word gap and preparing children for school."

Lifting the Cone of Silence: ALSC Awards & Confidentiality by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal. Peek: "...it would be fascinating to know the details of how a book ends up an award winner – you know, the other books that were in consideration, how the voting went – that kind of thing. One the other hand, it could potentially turn the awards into something else." See also For Librarians: How Do You Raise Awareness of Summer Reading in Schools by Amy Koester from ALSC Blog.

Agent Interview: Ronnie Ann Herman by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: "The Herman Agency is definitely a boutique agency and will remain as such. My daughter, Katia, has joined the agency and is representing middle grade and YA authors."

Writing When It's Not Like a Movie by Joe Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Not only do I not see movies as I write, I can’t visualise, well, anything. At all. I don’t even dream in pictures. I have absolutely no concept of what it would be like to see things that no one else can see."

Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings. Peek: "Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule of thumb, told me, 'You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.'"

A Cure for Writer's Block? A Deadline. by Carla Killough McClafferty from Teaching Authors. Peek: "The challenge is figuring out which idea is the right idea to become my next book. Is the idea marketable? Has the topic been written about thousands of times? Are there any books on the topic? If not, why not? And is this a subject I can think about every day for the next several years?"

Six Rules That Keep Critique Partnerships Golden by Dee Romito from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "If there’s something you don’t understand or you feel like something’s missing or unclear, ask about it. Writers are sometimes too close to their own work to see it."

Story-to-Contract & Cherokee Children's Writing: Interview with Traci Sorell by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."

The Heart of the Story from Janet Fox. Peek: "Here’s an exercise I’ve used to understand what drives me, what desires I have and therefore what desires will rise through my work and reach readers."

Use Guest Blogging to Promote Your Book by Beth Hayden from Jane Friedman. Peek: "By offering popular bloggers a guest post, you’re giving them something valuable (high-quality content) instead of asking for a favor (asking them to review your book). You’re considerably more likely to get a positive response than if you’re just requesting their attention and time."

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Illustrator Susan Guevara by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Latinx in Kidlit. Peek: "The prevalence of these fashion statements today despite their negative associations and Soto and Guevara’s representations of these markers in their stories are indicators of resistance against dominant narratives."

Don't Accidentally Give Your Characters a Time Out by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Where do these well-developed, story-specific characters go, and how do they keep themselves busy, when they’re not in the current scene?"

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome by Margaret Dilloway from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I was extremely shy. The kind of shy that isn’t cute bashfulness, but extreme social anxiety. People mistook me for being extremely aloof, even snobby."

Ninth Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards Winners Announced During the 97th Annual Children’s Book Week from CBC Books. Peek: "Readers across the country voted on a diverse selection of titles for children and young adults that ranged from a picture book about a shark that’s afraid of the dark to issue-driven stories including a novel about a young transgender girl."

Also Known As by Pseudonymous Bosch from The New York Times. Peek: "...as much as I owe to my pseudonym, lately I find that it fits less than perfectly, like an old suit that I’ve outgrown."

Author Interview: Kimberly Reid on Perfect Liars from Lee & Low. Peek: "...we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine."

Cynsational Screening Room

Treat yourself to Pat Mora's 2016 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. See more information from Ruth E. Quiroa from School Library Journal.



Check out the book trailer for Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales (Little Brown, 2016). See more information from Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes. See also Debbie Reese's related thoughts at American Indians in Children's Literature.



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaway


The winners of A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders were Laura in Indiana, Heather in Washington, Rachel in Texas, Lynette in Massachusetts, and Carlos in Kansas.

More Personally

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Cate Berry on the sale of her debut and sophomore picture books at auction to Donna Bray at Balzer + Bray!

I'm off this weekend to the 2016 Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference! I look forward to sitting down one-on-on to discuss manuscript critiques and participating in the agents' panel. Note; I still have a couple of 10-minute spots available for $30 career consultations.

For me, highlights will include incoming faculty members art director Kristen Nobles of Candlewick Press and fellow VCFA faculty member Will Alexander!

Thanks to Alison DeLuca for raising awareness in Book Diversity, Goodreads & Native American Representation from Girl Who Reads. Peek: "Publishers need to realize how many Native writers and artists there are. Those authors should be on bookshelves. Children who think Peter Pan's Tigerlily is an authentic characterization need an alternate and accurate view."

Personal Links

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12. Guest Interview & Giveaway: Translator Cathy Hirano (Pre AFCC 2016 Con)

By Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Alexander O. Smith and Avery Fischer Udagawa
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This month, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore will feature Cynsations’ own Cynthia Leitich Smith speaking on “The Irresistible Fantastical Supernatural: Writing a World that Beckons.”

Also featured at AFCC 2016 will be Cathy Hirano, a leading translator of Japanese children’s literature into English. Hirano’s translation of the middle grade realistic novel The Friends (by Kazumi Yumoto) won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and a Mildred L. Batchelder Award. Her translations of the YA fantasy novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi won the Batchelder Award and a Batchelder Honor, respectively, and paved the way for Uehashi to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. This honor is often dubbed the Nobel Prize for children’s literature.

In addition, Hirano translated a YA fantasy novel by Noriko Ogiwara that went out of print, but drew such a fan following that it was republished with a sequel. The results are Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince.

Members of the SCBWI Japan Translation Group have admired Hirano for years. Three members of the group—Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Alexander O. Smith and Avery Fischer Udagawa—interviewed her for Japan-focused publications and here combine their efforts in a “pre-AFCC 2016 omni interview.”

To learn more about the topics discussed in this piece, please follow the links below it to the three source interviews. And don’t forget to enter the Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit giveaway!

Avery Fischer Udagawa: Cathy Hirano, you work as a translator in fields such as anthropology, sociology, architecture and medicine, and you live in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. Where did you grow up, and how did you come to study Japan and Japanese?

Cathy Hirano
Cathy Hirano: I grew up in Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg and came to Japan in 1978 when I was 20. I was not directly interested in Japan at the time but was invited by a Japanese-Canadian friend. My image of Japan was of a highly populated, highly polluted country that manufactured cars and cameras—not a very attractive picture. I had very little idea of Japan’s history or culture and saw traveling here as a stepping-stone to other countries in Asia, and then to the rest of the world.

But my interest in Japan and the Japanese language began as soon as I arrived in Japan. I got lost in Tokyo on my second day here and realized that if I did not acquire reading, writing and speaking skills, I would be lost forever in more ways than one.

I studied for a year in Kyoto at a private language school called Nihongo Kenkyu Center. It was very small with creative teachers who were always experimenting with new methods. I fell in love with kanji [ideograms] at that time. The concept that a “letter” could be a picture with meaning was fascinating. To help memorize them, I used to make up my own stories about how each part of a kanji combined to make the meaning of the whole. In 1979, I went on to study anthropology at International Christian University in Tokyo, which had a fantastic Japanese language program.

How did you discover and cultivate your skills as a translator?

I think it was my Japanese teachers in Kyoto and at ICU who first pointed out to me that I had some ability in this area. Reading has always been a great source of pleasure, inspiration and comfort, and when we had to do translation exercises in class, I wasn’t content with just a literal translation. I had to play with it until it sounded as natural and literary as the Japanese.

Cultivating my translation skills was very much a hit-and-miss, learning-on-the-job experience. I was hired as a translator by a Japanese engineering consulting company after I graduated.

I didn’t know any other translators when I started out, and as far as I knew there were no courses in translation. So I read as much as I could in English about whatever subject I was translating to get a feel for the right language, consulted the Japanese engineers I worked with frequently to make sure I understood, used the dictionaries and references in their library and got native speakers (including my father, who is an engineer) to read what I had written and give me feedback.

This is still the approach I use today for any type of translation. The only difference is that with the Internet, I no longer need to accumulate reference books and dictionaries. Thanks to email, I also have an extended network of friends and relatives, both Japanese- and English-speaking, who I can consult for different subjects.

You have translated a number of picture books—most recently Hannah’s Night by printmaker-illustrator Komako Sakai, for Gecko Press—as well as novels. What attracted you to children’s literature?

I fell into children’s literature entirely by accident. A friend and fellow graduate of ICU who worked in publishing asked me to review English-language children’s books for possible translation into Japanese, a dream job for someone who loves reading. She would give me a stack of books, and when I had finished reading them I would meet her in a coffee shop and tell her what I thought.

She then began asking me to translate Japanese picture books for promotional purposes. My publications of picture books started out as byproducts of the promotional translation: English-language publishers liked the translations and asked for permission to use them.

Meanwhile, when my friend’s company published an award-winning novel by Noriko Ogiwara, I agreed to read it and write a summary. This was followed by a request for a sample and finally to translation and publication of Dragon Sword and Wind Child. This then led to translating three novels by Kazumi Yumoto for Farrar, Straus and Giroux—including The Friends.

Alexander O. Smith: An essay you wrote for The Horn Book about The Friends has become a classic description of Japanese-to-English literary translation. To follow on that discussion, how do you position yourself as translator with regards to the work, the author, and your audience?

I think that my approach as a translator differs significantly for bread-and-butter translation and for literature. With the former, I am more objective. I keep a clear picture in my mind of the target reader and I focus on conveying the intent and meaning of the Japanese rather than on the style, sometimes extensively editing and rewriting the original.

With literary translation, however, I find the translation process more personal and subjective. The author has written the book for me and I’m translating it so that others can enjoy the same experience. In the initial stages in particular, I don’t worry about the readership and instead focus far more on the author, on his or her style, choice of words, rhythm—on the voice. I’m quite faithful to the original.

It is only when I go back and reread it, that I regain some objectivity and become rather ruthless. But I am still trying to convey an experience rather than just content or meaning.

Misa Dikengil Lindberg: Your first novel translation, of Dragon Sword and Wind Child, got republished with a sequel after it fell out of print. How did that come about?

I loved Noriko Ogiwara’s Magatama series and was therefore very disappointed when Dragon Sword and Wind Child went out of print.

Then my daughter grew up and fell in love with Ogiwara’s books as a teenager. Searching the Internet, she found that the English translation had received nothing but five-star reviews on Amazon. She also found used copies selling for up to five hundred dollars and one young reader who had made a website dedicated to the book. This person had even typed the entire out-of-print English translation to put on the site! I was stunned. People had actually liked the book as much as I had!

I contacted the Japanese editor to see if there was a possibility of re-doing it, although I knew most American publishers would be reluctant to publish a book that hadn’t done well before. The editor, who also loves the book, began putting out feelers.

Although we did not know this, around the same time, VIZ Media had decided to branch out into publishing translated Japanese literature and was looking for good Japanese books. One of their editors had read Dragon Sword and Wind Child when she was young and loved it.

When the editing team tried to get a copy of the English translation for review, they found that the majority of library copies had been stolen, which actually made them more interested in the book, indicating as it did how popular the book was. They eventually got a copy and decided to republish it. The original English-language publisher agreed to give them the right to publish it but not the rights to my translation. When the VIZ editor contacted the Japanese publisher, she put them in touch with me and they asked if I would “re-translate” it. Of course, I was thrilled!

Alexander O. Smith: What was it like revisiting the first volume fourteen years after your first translation? 

It was fun, embarrassing, unnerving, confirming. I started by reading it aloud to my kids and their cousins, who by then were in their mid and late teens. They loved it, thank goodness! But they also had some good laughs about some of my word choices while I found myself cringing in places where the language I’d used was stuffy and stilted.

I then went through the translation line by line against the Japanese and caught things I had missed or misunderstood—not as many as I had feared, but still. After rewriting all the trouble spots, I did a final pass through the whole book.

Although it was embarrassing to see the mistakes I had made, it was also confirming to see that I have evolved somewhat as a translator in those 14 years and that I still love to escape into Ogiwara’s world!

How was it to do the sequel?

In a nutshell, the knowledge that people were waiting to read Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince is what kept me going. Readers have power!

Misa Dikengil Lindberg: Nahoko Uehashi’s ten-volume Moribito series, about the adventures of a young female bodyguard, is the winner of numerous literary awards and has become hugely popular in Japan, even spawning anime, manga, and TV series. How did you first encounter Uehashi’s work?

Japanese and English covers
My first exposure to Ms. Uehashi’s work was in 2004, when I was asked to do a summary and sample of Beyond the Fox’s Flute. I was attracted by Uehashi’s writing style and by the fictional world she created. Around the same time, a Japanese friend told me about her Moribito series, and I found it intriguing that a children’s fantasy series was so popular even with people my age (fifty).

Before I had a chance to read the series, however, the Japanese publisher contacted me to do a summary and sample translation of the first book for overseas promotion.

This led to publication of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and later Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Arthur A. Levine Books.

How closely did you work with your editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, Cheryl Klein? What were some of the problems you worked to overcome?

Cheryl Klein is the most thorough editor I have ever worked with. She edited the translation as if it were a new manuscript submitted by an English-language author, which made some of her suggestions extremely radical. As Ms. Uehashi is also one of the most thorough and involved authors I have ever worked with on a translation, the result was definitely a team effort.

Probably the biggest problem was fitting the history of New Yogo (the fictional empire in which the story takes place) into the book in a more natural way.

When I first read Moribito in Japanese, the history stuck out awkwardly in the third chapter, slowing everything down. Until that point, the action is fast-paced and the story gripping. Then suddenly the text switches to an unnamed narrator, jumps back in time, and then jumps back to the present again.

It’s quite abrupt and would have sounded unnatural in English. So when I did the initial sample translation, I took it out (with the author’s and publisher’s permission) and tacked it on as a prologue with a note explaining that this would need to be solved during the editing process.

After playing with several ideas, the three of us finally agreed that the history basically belonged in its original location but that English readers needed more of a transition to ease them into it and keep them from getting impatient during that section.

Ms. Uehashi rewrote certain parts of the history, replacing the unnamed narrator with the more personal voice of Shuga, one of the Star Readers. So the English version is actually different from the Japanese but still written by the author.

Alexander O. Smith: The Moribito series and the Magatama series are interesting to me in that they both fit snugly within a very western fantasy genre and yet their stories and worlds are influenced by Asian history and myth. How did you navigate the process of bringing these worlds into English without losing the flavor of the original? Were you inspired, stylistically or otherwise, by any other books in English?

A hard question! For me, it’s a very intuitive process and I’m never sure if I really have succeeded in keeping the flavor of the original. One thing I try to do is read the translation out loud once I get it to a more polished state. That helps me see whether it “feels” the same.

What I’m looking for at a gut level is whether the English grabs me in the same way as the Japanese. To me, Uehashi’s voice is fast-paced, powerful, compassionate, clear and deceptively simple. Ogiwara’s voice, though just as powerful, is completely different. Her rich, lyrical images and sweeping descriptions vividly convey the emotional atmosphere. She has a knack for capturing a focal point or detail that draws in the reader and for mirroring the inner worlds of her characters’ minds and hearts in the outer world. However, this style, which is very Japanese, is less compatible with the English language than Uehashi’s.

To give one example, Uehashi’s battle scenes are graphically detailed. You know exactly when and how each bone is broken, whose bone it is and what it feels like (ouch!!). This brings home the reality of life for the bodyguard Balsa.

As for what books inspired me during the translation process, I actually strive not to be influenced stylistically by other authors so that I can remain true to the original. At the same time, however, I do read books in the same genre because exposure to good English helps me avoid an excessively literal translation.

While translating the Moribito books I found myself rereading Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series. I think what appealed was their common themes such as the search for meaning, the painful journey of self discovery and acceptance, and the fact that their voices both evoke the oral tradition of story-telling.

When translating Ogiwara, on the other hand, I was drawn to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Again, it wasn’t the style but the story’s epic nature and the use of humor to lighten a serious tale that resonated.

Avery Fischer Udagawa: Are you at work on any children’s or young adult projects now?

Yes, I am getting a start on The Beast Player (Kemono no soja), a fantasy novel by Andersen laureate Nahoko Uehashi.

Cynsational Notes: Interviewers & Source Interviews

Misa Dikengil Lindberg is a freelance writer, editor and translator. She translated the new adult novel Emily by Novala Takemoto and the story “The Dragon and the Poet” by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), one of Japan’s most beloved writers, for the anthology Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Her full interview with Hirano, Young Adult Fantasy in Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano, focuses on Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.

Alexander O. Smith is the translator of thirty novels from the Japanese, including Brave Story and The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and the Guin Saga series by Kaoru Kurimoto. He is also known for localization and production of video games, and is co-founder of publisher Bento Books. His full interview with Hirano, Catching Up With Cathy Hirano, focuses on Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince.

Avery Fischer Udagawa translated the middle grade historical novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani. She serves as SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator and SCBWI International Translator Coordinator. Her full interview with Hirano, Children’s Book Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano (PDF, pp. 7-9), focuses on ways to get started in translation.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a hardback edition (now a collector’s item) of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano.

The design of this volume is described here by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books: Behind the Book: Moribito Guardian of the Spirit.

See also: Moribito: Editing YA and Children’s Literature in English Translation: An Interview with Cheryl Klein by Sako Ikegami (PDF, pp. 4-7.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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13. Guest Post: Amy Bearce on The Woes (& Wows) of World-Building

By Amy Bearce
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Confession: I have a terrible time with world-building. So, naturally, I consistently write fantasy, where world-building is critical.

You gotta be kidding me! Credit: Pixabay, mintchipdesigns, CC0

In real life, I’m not very observant about the space around me. I notice people’s emotions, but not what they are eating or what they are wearing. But in writing, all those little details make a place come alive. And in a fantasy story, they are even more important because readers must trust you to be their guide through an unknown world.

Right this way, please. Credit: Pixabay, InspiredImages, CC0

My first book, Fairy Keeper (Curiosity Quills, 2016), and the sequels are set in the world of Aluvia, full of magical creatures and beasts. Through writing these books, I’ve learned a lot about how world-building works best for me. When writing about a fantastical world, the phrase, “Write what you know” now has yet another meaning for me. One way to create new magical creatures is to extrapolate what you know from the real world and tweak it.

My fairies were inspired by bees and have a lot in common with them. My merfolk are bioluminescent like deep sea squid and jellyfish, and in book 3, dragons are awakening from a long hibernation like giant wild bears with wings (and flames.)

As a girl of the plains, I had to watch a lot of documentaries to get a better idea of what was in the deep ocean. As it turns out...pretty amazing stuff! Credit: Pixabay, emdash, CC0

Originally, I had only considered fairies. But as I wrote about my fairy keeper character, soon I had merfolk and dragons and fauns…and had to decide details about each of them. It became apparent that while my world had magic, it was pretty broken. My magical creatures were less magical than many of their traditional representations. But I didn’t start off knowing that. Essentially, world building sneaked up on me.

This stealthy kitty is hunting dragons, mermaids, and fairies. Credit: Pixabay, rihaij, CC0

Others writers build an encyclopedia of knowledge first. Google “World-Building Tips” and you will receive an avalanche of questions to answer.

How do people live here? What foods do they eat? What is their religion? Have there been wars? What economic system is used?

Here’s my secret: I hate those questions worse than a pop quiz in math. They almost hurt to ponder.

My expression when trying to answer “world-building questions.” Credit: Gratisography, CC0

I don’t know most of the answers until they suddenly appear in my story. I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it. I do it because creating details about a new world does not come naturally to me. But when my character is walking from point A to B, as I’m writing, my mind fills things in, and it mostly works. Mostly.

There always comes the moment my husband reads it and says, “Hey, these parts don’t make sense.” And he’ll be right. So I change things.

The cost of this build-as-you-go approach means that I often end up with a draft full of contradictory information. There’s a lot of clean up involved. I’m sure it would be easier to build the world before writing anything. But for me, it’s exactly that little stuff that trips me up. Every. Single. Time.

World-building: My own personal banana peel. Credit: Pixabay, stevepb, CC0

The good news is that if I can create an imaginary world with consistent magic rules and an actual map inside the book, you can, too. Don’t let overwhelming questions stop you. Try writing some scenes and see where they take you.

 Be patient, keep writing, and don’t be afraid to change things if you need to. Turn your woes to wow! After all, you are the master of your universe! Own it! Write it! And have fun with it!

Sing it with me: “I’ve got the power!” Credit: Pixabay, Skitterphoto, CC0

Cynsational Notes

Amy Bearce writes stories for tweens and teens. She is a former reading teacher with a Masters in Library Science.

As an Army kid, she moved eight times before she was eighteen, so she feels especially fortunate to be married to her high school sweetheart. Together they’re raising two daughters and are currently living in Germany, though they still call Texas home.

A perfect day for Amy involves rain pattering on the windows, popcorn, and every member of her family curled up in one cozy room reading a good book. Her latest release is Mer-Charmer (Curiosity Quills, 2016).

From the promotional copy:

Fourteen-year-old Phoebe Quinn is surrounded by magic, but she can't muster any of her own. Her sister is a fairy keeper. Her best friends are merfolk. And all she does is dishes and housework.

When Phoebe finds out a terrible sea creature is awakening that preys upon the gentle merfolk, she resolves to help them, even though it means risking her life deep in the ocean.

Beneath the waves, Phoebe learns she’s more like her sister than she realized. The merfolk are drawn to her, and she can sense the magic of the sea all around her. Magic is finally at her fingertips, but that’s precisely why the stirring dark power under the waters decides it wants her most of all.

Now she must not only help the peaceful merfolk escape this ancient enemy, she must master her out-of-control powers. If she fails, she will die, and darkness will rise to enslave the merfolk once more. But embracing her full power could cost her the very people she loves the most.

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14. New Voice: Kurt Dinan on Don't Get Caught

Educator's Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kurt Dinan is the first-time author of Don't Get Caught (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016). From the promotional copy:

10:00 tonight at the water tower. Tell no one. -Chaos Club

When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him?

After all, he's Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He's Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it's also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust...

Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security "catches" them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. 

It's time for Rule #7: Always get payback.

Let the prank war begin.

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

Having a full-time teaching job, papers to grade, and four children under the age of ten, let's just say that writing time (or any free time for that matter) is pretty sparse. So basically, I'm a anytime/anywhere possible type of writer.

I write in the mornings before my students arrive, on my lunch break, in the fifteen minutes before I head home to get the kids, during my kids' practices, or in the time after the kids go to bed if I'm not too tired and my brain is still functioning.

It can be a very piecemeal process, but I'm not too hard on myself and have a very realistic goal--500 words a day. When I get that finished, I don't stress out about my writing the rest of the day.

That's nice in that it allows me to focus my efforts and energy in other places they are needed.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Follow @kurtdinan on Twitter
Other writers have good-naturedly ribbed me for having a secret "in" to the world of teenagers, and I suppose I do. I'm surrounded by them all day, and I hear their conversations, their worries, their humor, etc. I get to use all of that when I'm writing.

Being a writer has helped me immensely in the classroom though because kids love my honesty about how hard writing can be, about revision and brainstorming techniques I've learned, and about how you want to write something you're proud of, not just something you've finished.

 Basically, I'm not just someone forcing them to write, I'm someone going through a lot of the same struggles they are, and a lot of them appreciate that.

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15. Interview: Author Carole Boston Weatherford & Illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford

By Carole Boston Weatherford
& Jeffrey Boston Weatherford

From Carole

Set during World War II, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Atheneum, 2016) follows the training, trials and triumphs of the U.S. military's first African American pilots.

The book pairs my poems with scratchboard illustrations by my son, Jeffrey Boston Weatherford.

The title is our first collaboration and Jeffery's publication debut. The book, which includes a detailed timeline and links to primary sources, connects to both the language arts and social studies curricula.

You Can Fly had a long incubation period. The egg may have been laid during a family trip to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. The earliest version of the text was for a picture book written in second person.

After I was unable to sell that manuscript, I sat on the egg for a few more years. Then I began re-envisioning and reshaping the manuscript as a poetry collection for middle grades-up. I switched the point of view to first person under the title "The Last Tuskegee Airmen Tells All." Still not satisfied, I changed to third person. Finally, I settled on second person.

Around that time, Jeffery came on board. During a summer internship in children's book illustration, he created digital art to accompany my poems. We sold the package, but just before the book was about to hatch, the flight got cancelled.

Carole & Jeffery in 2000
I began to wonder if the book would ever leave the nest. I continued to revise the manuscript and to add poems. Jeffery and I decided to scrap the digital art in favor of scratchboard illustrations.

Armed with a revised manuscript and sample drawings, we sold the package to Atheneum.

In the subsequent year, Jeffery completed the illustrations and I added a few new poems.

In mid-April, Jeffery and I received our comp copies.

Our first book together finally has wings.

Fly, little book, fly!

Author & Illustrator Interview

Jeffery and I recently interviewed each other about You Can Fly.

Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book?

Carole: The Tuskegee Airmen's saga moved me personally. It is powerful—historically, politically and emotionally. I thought the story begged for a poetic treatment.

Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did gaming influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?

Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies. I played everything from Halo to Call of Duty.

Jeffery: When did you first notice my artistic talent?

Carole: Your kindergarten teacher prodded you to finish coloring and work up to potential. By third grade, I was concerned that you were doodling planes, cars, weapons and anime characters in your notebook rather than paying attention.

Around middle school, I realized that your drawings were good. I put you in studio art classes, starting with cartooning. By high school, you were taking private art lessons with the assistant principal who became a mentor.

Carole: What is your favorite illustration from the book?

Jeffery: My favorite is of the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It's a closeup scene from their historic rematch.

Jeffery: What's yours?

Carole: The one where two planes on a mission have bombed an enemy aircraft. The explosion is so animated; like a comic book.

Jeffery: What is your favorite poem from the book?

Carole: It's "Head to the Sky," the first poem in the book and also the first that I wrote—early on when the project was envisioned as a picture book. "Head to the Sky" reflects the power of a dream fueled by self-determination.

Carole: Tell me about your first flight.

Jeffery: I had a window seat and was looking outside. As the plane sped down the runway, I said, "We're blasting off!"

Carole: That was hilarious. Well, your career as a children's book illustrator is off to a flying start. How did it feel when you first saw the printed book?

Jeffery: Like a child at Christmas.

From the promotional copy:

I WANT YOU! says the poster of Uncle Sam. But if you’re a young black man in 1940, he doesn’t want you in the cockpit of a war plane. Yet you are determined not to let that stop your dream of flying.

So when you hear of a civilian pilot training program at Tuskegee Institute, you leap at the chance. Soon you are learning engineering and mechanics, how to communicate in code, how to read a map. At last the day you’ve longed for is here: you are flying!

From training days in Alabama to combat on the front lines in Europe, this is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the groundbreaking African-American pilots of World War II.

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16. Video: Grace Lin on Windows, Mirrors & Children's Books

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

"What your child reads sets the path for their own self-worth as well as how they see others. Grace Lin is a children's book author/illustrator whose book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown), received the Newbery Book Honor. She shows how the books that are not on your child's bookshelf are just as important as those that are.

"Grace is an author and illustrator of books for children and teens. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was a NY Times Bestseller and a Newbery Honor Book. Ling & Ting, was honored with the Theodor Geisel Honor.

"Grace's books typically focus on the Asian-American experience. She believes, 'Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.'"

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17. Guest Post: Mary E. Cronin on Writing Children & Teens with LGBTQ Parents

Mary E. Cronin and Bonnie Jackman
By Mary E. Cronin
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Life is just different for kids of LGBTQ parents.

They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and hetero-normative language on a daily basis.

My wife Bonnie Jackman and I shared sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict for writers in "Re-imagining Families: Writing about Characters with LGBTQ Parents" at the New England SCBWI Conference on May 1.

Here are a few points from our presentation:
  1. Kids of LGBTQ parents have to explain their existence all the time. Who's your real mom? Where's your dad? What do you mean your dad’s a she? There are many dissonant moments our kids deal with as a matter of course in their daily lives. How does this affect their character, their quest, their relationships, their resilience? This is rich material for character development.
  2. In a diverse country such as ours, with LGBTQ rights and protections shifting in real time, geographical setting is critical to any story with LGBTQ characters. Setting can be an antagonist, a support, a mix of the two. Think about where your character/family lives and consider the political/social climate for LGBTQ people there. There are wide variations, and it will have an impact on the landscape of your character and his/her family.
  3. How “out” is the family? Are the parents activists, or do they tend to be more low-key? Where are their children on this spectrum? Age is critical here. A kindergartner may delight in having her two moms come into the classroom for a celebration; an older kid might ask to be dropped off two blocks from school.
  4. Writing about LGBTQ-parented families gives us the opportunity to portray socio-economic diversity. Not all “gay families” have furniture from Pottery Barn and lots of disposable income, as often portrayed in mass media. Consider widely-known statistics about women’s earning power in the U.S. in relation to men’s, and then think about the impact of that on families parented by two moms. Trans adults are at a greater risk of discrimination at the workplace; this may impact a family greatly.
  5. School is a place where kids of LGBTQ parents may experience all kinds of dissonance. Mother-daughter book clubs, father-daughter dances, forms with mother/father blanks on them, questions and misunderstandings from teachers, administrators, the school nurse… this is rich territory to explore in character development. How does your character respond to these “micro-aggressions,” when the world around them seems to constantly make hetero-normative assumptions?
  6. Statistics have shown that same-sex couples (with or without children) are much more likely to be interracial or inter-ethnic. This presents writers/illustrators with the opportunity to portray very diverse families and to consider the concept of intersectionality.  

Our New England SCBWI session was dynamic, punctuated by great questions, comments, and resource sharing.

Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I brought the craft perspective to the conversation.

It was a fun and lively session, and I’m happy to share the high points with Cynsations readers.

Cynsational Notes

For more insights, Mary recommends:


See also Mary’s blog.


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18. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Illustrating Lonnie Johnson's Story: Whoosh! from Don Tate. Peek: "...unlike many other subjects I’ve written and/or illustrated about...Lonnie Johnson is still living. He lives and works today in Atlanta, Georgia, at his company, Johnson Research & Development Co. For that reason, being just a phone call or email away, I thought illustrating his story would be easier. Well, it was. And it was not." See also Don Tate on Whoosh! Researching & Texting with Lonnie Johnson.

Writing Suspenseful Fiction: Reveal Answers Slowly by Jane K. Cleland from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Writing that engenders reader questions creates suspense."

Writing as a Small Sturdy Boat by Bethany Reid from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "What does writing feel like to you?"

Vulnerability by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "It will get the reader on the character’s side. Just like in real life, in fictional life, an apology or owning up to a mistake go a long, long way."

Linda Camacho: Agent Looking for Diversity from Lee Wind at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?  Peek: "I’d love a fantasy set in a non-European setting and, of course, a story featuring a plus-size protagonist (contemporary is fine, but bonus points for another genre!)." See also New Literary Agent Alert: Alexandra Weiss of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency by Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest.

Teamwork: Pictures in My Head by Ann Rider from The Horn Book. Peek: "Do I always see pictures in my head when I read a picture-book manuscript? Yes, pretty much. If I don’t, it is often a sign that I might not be the right editor for the text. " Note: "Ann is an executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt."

10 Favorite Titles of American Indians in Children's Literature by Debbie Reese from VOYA. Note: Honored to see Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001) included in such distinguished company.

Writing from Color and Native Voices: "This contest will feature queries and the first 300 words of completed, polished manuscripts written by Native authors and authors of color. The entry window will be open from 12 a.m. (midnight) Eastern June 12 until 11:59 p.m. Eastern that same day."

Author Interview: Anne Bustard from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "I love Hawaii. So it was incredibly difficult for me to cast it as the antagonist at the beginning of the novel. I was most relieved when that changed by the end." See also SCBWI Student Memberships.

SpeakLoudly: Book Banning & Justifications by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "...confronting difficult topics and situations in books is so much safer than having to confront them in real life. In addition, books can be a comfort in a time of grief or distress."

Diversity 102: Ageism in Children's Literature by Laura Reiko Simeon from Lee & Low. Peek: "As increasing numbers of people live healthy, vibrant, active lives ever later in life, we need more of these types of picture books that reflect the true gamut of roles older adults play in our society."

Umaking the White Default: Writing About Race by Vicky Smith from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: "...I’ve felt more and more that naming race and identity is one of the duties of a reviewer. Parents and caregivers of children of color want books that reflect their children, as do librarians and teachers serving children of color." See also Vicky on The Road to Heck: Misreading Race in a Children's Book from Kirkus Reviews.

Author Interview: Julie Berry on The Passion of Dolssa from Sarah Johnson at The VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "I’ve seen a handful of bloggers say things like, 'Julie Berry is unafraid to make her characters suffer.' Another curious accolade. Is sadism a superpower? I know what they mean, though, and I guess I’ll take it."

Most Diverse? Verse! Five Easy Steps for Promoting Diversity with Poetry by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Poetry is the ideal vehicle for promoting diversity in children’s literature.I It can be read in just a few minutes, but holds great depth, beautiful language, and much feeling."

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways


More Personally

Happy Children's Book Week! Between the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference, the Asian Festival of Children's Content, VCFA grading and working on my novel, May is jam packed. Fortunately, I have a lot of help.



Personal Links

Definitions: "Native Americans" vs. "People of Color"
M.T. Anderson on What's Next?
Off the Reservation: A Teachable Moment 
Using Family Diversity & Structures to Teach Empathy

Learn more about the AFCC

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19. Video: Author-Illustrator Marla Frazee

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Marla Frazee from Adam Goodwin on Vimeo.

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20. 2016: SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Paul O. Zelinsky

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois; the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. 

As a sophomore at Yale College, he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children's books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field. 

He now lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.

Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995).

Spring is the season of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, so I thought I would focus on the business side of illustration today. Can you tell us about how you as an illustrator are selected to work on a picture book project?

Other than through the occasional subliminal suggestion I plant in the illustrations of my published books (painting “HIRE ME!” upside down in the trees outside of Rapunzel’s tower and so on), I don’t know how I get chosen.

My work looks awfully different from book to book, but I imagine that an editor or art director who ends up contacting me is thinking of one look in particular, and they might mention that to me, though they may not end up getting it. Also, from my third book on, I have tended to keep working with people I’ve worked with before, so those publishers know more what they’re getting into. On my end, what happens is that I get a call or an email. 

Could you describe your involvement in the process, from the time you are contacted about a new project, through the creation of the illustrations, to the finished book?

I usually want to stick my nose into all stages of the creation and production processes, but as I try to do it in a nice way and, I hope, not out of a personal need for control but in the spirit of collaboration, I’ve rarely had trouble.

So it usually begins for me when I get a phone call or email from a publisher, either asking if I’m available or just sending a manuscript, and I can sometimes tell pretty quickly if I think it’s a good idea for me on or not. Sometimes I don’t know and I mull.

My first criterion (and I’m sorry if this seems pompous) is whether the story makes me think that our overcrowded world, with no shortage of books in it already, would be notably worse off without this new addition. (Which is sort of like saying how much do I like it, but not quite). Then I imagine what kind of art I’d like to see illustrating the manuscript and at that point I can usually tell whether I’d get excited by the prospect of trying to make that kind of art.

Then, if it’s a go, come all the stages you probably know about in the making of an illustrated book. If it’s a picture book, that means breaking the manuscript up into pieces that fit in a 32- or 40-page book (publisher tells me what’s possible)—not a simple job if you want to do it right.

At the same time, I try to imagine the best size and proportion for this book, long before having any idea of the content of its pictures. Then with text decided for each spread I’ll very, very crudely rough out an array of thumbnail sketches, trying to establish the dynamic of the storytelling through the pictures, the content and composition of each illustration.

After or during that time, I’ll be casting around for what the characters should look like, and I’ll be thinking about the style I want the drawings to display. This is intimately connected to the choice of medium, so I’m thinking about that, too, and probably doing a lot of testing on scratch paper.

If I get the thumbnail sketches working, I’ll go to a full-sized, or at least not-so-little dummy, in black pencil, with text placed on the pages.

The dummy can be very rough, too, and I am generally willing to risk showing it to the publisher even before, say, I have any idea of what the characters will look like.

I like feedback, and things like pacing can be judged without other important features yet in place. I might also put the pictures together with text in InDesign, at least as a preliminary version before the art director gets to work on it.

When the designer does join in, I’ll want to be part of her or his process, too. Then there is research, refining sketches, working out color, checking with editor and art director all along, and working and working and working on finished art.

How involved is the art director or author in determining the style of the artwork for a particular project?

The style of my artwork has to be determined by me, to the extent that I can control it. I think the author should have a role in choosing an illustrator, and if there’s a wish to have the book look a certain way, that could be part of the manuscript’s presentation to me at the outset. But in fact this rarely happens. I think publishers are interested in seeing what I come up with.

It has happened that after seeing what I come up with, they aren’t convinced. Then it becomes a conversation, or a discussion, or a debate, in which at the end everybody needs to be on the same side. And I can be convinced that I was wrong, at least if I was wrong.

Do you ever revise your illustrations based on feedback from the art director or for other reasons?

I make lots of changes based on suggestions. Art directors and editors I work with often have great ideas that I didn’t think of, or can point out features in my drawings that I then realize were not so great. I believe we are all devoted, at base, to creating the best possible book. So if I’m given a suggestion that I don’t feel good about, I will say why, and another conversation can begin.

I will try to convince the other parties that I have important and valid reasons for seeing things my way, or point out (if it’s the case) that their suggestions might have problems they may not be considering, and at the same time they’ll do the same to me.

In the end, with very few, minor exceptions, I don’t think any book I’ve worked on has left anybody feeling that the wrong path was taken.

What is the typical timeline, from receiving a commission, to submitting the completed artwork to the publisher?

I’ve rarely managed to finish illustrating a book in less than a year. That has been about the average, I think, but I’m usually not able to start work on a manuscript right when I receive it, so it’s hard to pin down the time it takes when I’ve got a couple of projects waiting to be begun for a couple of years, and I’m already thinking about all of them a little.

You have said in the past that you have created many of your picture book illustrations using oil paints. When that is the case, how is the final artwork submitted to the publisher?

Art that isn’t digital to begin with needs to be scanned, and it is still the case that publishers use scanners or cameras of a higher quality than almost any individual illustrator would have access to.

I’ve talked to some younger illustrators who scan their reflective art and deliver electronically, without even considering that they could or should deliver the actual art on paper. That is really the preferable way to go. Oil paints have the reputation of not drying, but my oils are usually dry within a day, or at least dry to the touch. There is an additive you can put in your painting medium to speed the drying, and if I’m running very late I will sometimes mix in a little more of this desiccant, or I will avoid painting with pigments I know are slow-drying and favor the faster ones, if possible.

Although I won’t scan my own oil paintings (my scanner picks up reflections on oil paint’s shiny surface for every little textury bump in the paper), I’m not above asking for the high resolution files that the publisher gets from their scanner, and sometimes even before first proofs, going in digitally to fix things I didn’t manage to do correctly in the art.

After a book is released, what kinds of promotional activities do you as the illustrator engage in to support its release?

The more the merrier, I say. I’m on Twitter (@paulozelinsky) and Instagram (paulozelinsky) anyway, and while I don’t like self-promotional posts, when a new book is coming out, there is plenty of interesting information to share. I go on Facebook, too, but only privately for my personal account. I would prefer that people I don’t know personally “Like” my Facebook author page.

Z Is For Moose fabric, suitable size for quilt
I’ve had some ideas for contests and a raffle for prints of the cover art of a book. Sometimes the publisher has given me great support and help. But I’ve also done a raffle or two on my own.

In general I do these things because they seem like cool things to do; I don’t know if they have in any way helped sales—in fact I doubt it. Also, I like to create a repeating design based on almost every new book, and have it printed on fabric (at spoonflower.com). People can purchase it on their own, by the yard (though they don’t), and I can have some of made into a shirt or a vest (which I do). Not so long ago I couldn’t decide on color choices in one of these patterns, so I conducted an online vote; that was fun.

An additional layer of attention has sometimes become available to me that would be harder for most illustrators to garner, in that a few of these larks I’ve gone on were interesting enough that Publishers Weekly has written about them, or the Horn Book. But only after a friend pushed me into asking these journals if they’d like to write about it.

I’ve made ties that go with my books, as well as shirts and a couple of vests, and I wear this special apparel (in moderation!) whenever there’s an appropriate event.

And yes, school visits are great. I love to do them with or without a new book. There is nothing better than to see groups of children appreciating the very things you spent so much time and effort on in the solitude of your studio, a year or more earlier.

When it comes to visiting schools I tend to be passive, waiting to be asked, but it’s not out of line to approach and let schools know you’re available if they’re interested. School visits not related to a book tour are a source of income; as part of a book tour, arranged by an independent bookseller, I’m happy to give one presentation to a school, but not the three or four I’d give if it were a paid arrangement.

Are there some new releases we should look out for?

Actually, no. It will be a long time before anything new comes out. After the recent Toys Meet Snow, it’s going to be quite a while until the next thing.

But one brand-new release that is partly mine is the 75th anniversary edition of Make Way for Ducklings. I was very honored and excited (you can imagine) to be asked to draw a pictorial map of Boston that would be included with the book and a CD recording in a boxed set. That edition is just out now, I think.

I had a wonderful time researching what Boston looked like in 1941 (if felt like detective work), and illustrating parts of the story in the appropriate parts of my map, which is really an aerial view as much as it is a map. My drawing didn’t reproduce every single building in and around Beacon Hill, and I had to squash some blocks down in size for the picture to fit the proportions of the paper, but it’s pretty faithful to reality, I’d say.

You’re going to be one of our dueling illustrators at the SCBWI booth at the 2016 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. How often have you visited BCBF?

Publishers always told me, when I asked about Bologna, that going there was not something I would want to do, or should. It was only for brusque, publisher-to-publisher deal-making and if I went I would be in the way.

I first came to Bologna anyway in 2006, because after planning a family trip to Venice, I decided to look up the Bologna fair and discovered that it started immediately after we were going to leave Venice, and Bologna was an easy train trip away. And then a friend told me that SCBWI was holding a full-scale pre-conference in Bologna on the weekend leading up to the fair. I was able to get a spot on a panel, and then when I asked publishers again, they told me I should go after all, and helped me find a hotel room (almost impossible just a month before the fair). And I enjoyed it tremendously!

So after that first wonderful time there, I’ve been going back almost every other year, and continuing to enjoy it tremendously. Where else can you see virtually every children’s book published in the world in the previous year? I see a lot of editors that I know, as well as the great SCBWI community, so it’s an occasion to hang out with friends, and I must say that eating is a large part of the pleasure.

I think the Bologna fair has been changing, and now you see a greater presence of book creators among the sub-rights sales force and the editors. Mostly these are just people coming on their own, but now very occasionally they are even being sent by their publishers.

SCBWI isn’t putting on Bologna pre-conferences any longer, but they have an active booth at Bolognafiere every other year. Of course my favorite activity is the dueling illustrators tradition, which is huge fun. And this year the booth is bigger than ever before.

How can visits to fairs such as BCBF benefit an illustrator’s career?

I haven’t used my trips to the fair in a practical or useful way from the point of view of career-helping. But I’ve seen illustrators come away with publishing deals: it can happen though I’m not positive how it’s done.

SCBWI itself can facilitate this, because you can arrange for a period of time when you sit in the booth and basically represent your books to passersby like all of the other publishers with booths there.

There’s also a wall at the fair for illustrators to put up their promotional cards, and publishers look through them (although there are so many cards by the end of the fair that it seems like an awfully long shot).

European publishers set up periods for open portfolio-viewing, and illustrators line up with their work in hand, to be seen by an art director in the flesh.

Do you have any advice for a first-time visitor to BCBF?

If you have published already, and are thinking of visiting Bologna, definitely ask for advice from your U,S, publisher. If you have ever had a book picked up by a foreign publisher, it would be a great thing to arrange to meet that publisher’s representatives in Bologna. This will make you more of a real person to that publisher rather than just a subsidiary right they purchased.

SCBWI offers various good opportunities to get your work seen, so definitely arrange your visit with SCBWI in mind. Even if you’re not trying to network or push your career forward, hanging out (and eating out!) with SCBWI folk is reason enough to make the visit a fun time. Many but by no means all of them are of US origin, but they live all around the world.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Bologna, apart from visiting the BCBF?

Did I mention eating? Well, other than that, Bologna has some fantastic museums. Besides the main art museum (the Pinatoteca) there is a fabulous Medieval museum.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a museum devoted entirely to the generally under-appreciated painter Morandi, although I think it may be closed temporarily and its collection shifted to the Modern Art Museum. There is plenty more to do in Bologna, and don’t forget about the eating.

People say that Bolognese food is the best in Italy, and although that kind of claim is sort of meaningless, it is probably also true.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It was great to see you at the Book Fair. I really enjoyed watching your duel with Doug Cushman at the SCBWI booth during the fair!

Thank you! The pleasure is mine.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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21. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Jane Addams Award Winner
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the Bank Street Awards, Green Earth Book Award, Edgar Awards (for mysteries) and Jane Addams (Peace) Children's Book Awards! Note: Cynsations would normally feature more coverage than a link on each, but we're cruising toward summer hiatus and the schedule is packed. Click for more information!

Adding an Emotional Stance by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Don’t just settle for describing something or someone. It’s in how you describe them that the reader will be able to read the narrator’s attitude and emotion toward them. It’s all about context, folks!"

Children's Literature and the Censorship Conversation by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "While challenges to books can often result in increased sales, the authors and editors on the panel agreed that it’s certainly not the expectation or the intent of the author that a book will be deemed objectionable."

Hannah Gomez & Allie Jane Bruce on Jewishness & Whiteness from Reading While White. Peek: " You are more educated in Judaism than I, and you’ve spent much more of your life practicing Judaism than I have. And yet, I’ll bet if we stood next to each other and asked 10 people 'which of us is Jewish?' 9 of them would point to me."

How to Weave a Message Without Pummeling Your Readers by James Scott Bell from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The engine of a story is characters in crisis exercising strength of will. True character is revealed only in a high-stakes struggle." See also Why Authors Should Use Instagram by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.

Recruiting Diversity: A CBC Panel by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Assuming that talented, diverse employees are recruited into publishing industry jobs, fostering a welcoming environment for individuals of different backgrounds is the next step."

How to Share Your Protagonist's Deepest Feelings With Readers by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...readers have probably never been terrorized by a serial killer, vampire or demon in their own lives, but they know what it is to feel terror."

Author Interview: Elaine Scott from Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Peek: "People rush to post their pictures of super moons, crescent moons, lunar eclipses, etc. on social media. It's still perceived as something beautiful and a tad mysterious."

Luck and Talent by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: "I queried the right agent at the right time – or maybe the wrong one, because that book never sold and that agent – a respectable one with a respectable agency – left the business."

LGBTQ Books for Middle Grade Readers by Kelly Jensen from BookRiot. Peek: "It’s less about the physicality during those years than it is about the mental grappling with forming one’s identity."

Children's Editor Dick Jackson Turns Author by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Selling eight picture books in a short span would be a phenomenal accomplishment for any writer, but Jackson’s feat is even more astonishing, because for the past six years he has been expending considerable effort just to stay healthy."

Why Host an African American Read In? by Angie Manfredi from Reading While White. Peek: "No one assumes only White people will want to read Shakespeare or, say, Emily Dickinson. We are taught those works are universal, they are for everyone. But too often, racism tells us that books by Native people or POC are only for the members of those groups."

On Writer's Block from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "The problem with speaking of writer’s block is that by giving it a name—and who is more prone to naming than writers?—we give it an authority it doesn’t deserve."

Author Interview: Trent Reedy & The Last Full Measure by Robin Herrera from VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: "One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books. This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel."

Cynsational Screening Room



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, illustrated by Ken Min (Little Pickle, 2016), signed by Emma were Pat in California, Ann in South Carolina, and Suzanne in California.

More Personally

Nose, meet grindstone! This week I focused on event preparation, finishing up my critiques for the Austin SCBWI Writers and Illustrators Working Conference and getting organized for my class and presentations at the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore.

That said, the SCBWI Bologna interview series is now available in its entirety. It's especially recommended to illustrators and those who love picture book art, but also, everyone who considers themselves (or wants to be) part of the international conversation of children's literature and publishing.

Especially to my fellow U.S. readers, it's too tempting to think in an insular manner. But the tradition and future of books for young readers are both anchored in the world market.

Speaking of which, look for an interview with me and my AFCC fellow YA Fantasy workshop leader Gabriela Lee in the May issue of Singapore's Child magazine.

Personal Links



http://afcc.com.sg/

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22. New Voice: Kathryn Tanquary on The Night Parade

Discussion Guide & Common Core Teacher Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kathryn Tanquary is the first-time author of The Night Parade (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016). From the promotional copy:

"I thought you might sleep through it." The creature smiled.

Saki's voice was little more than a whisper. "Sleep through what?"

It leaned over. She stared into its will-o'-the-wisp eyes.

"The Night Parade, of course."

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother's village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family's ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth-or say goodbye to the world of the living forever...

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Though my protagonist certainly isn’t the most “edgy” in terms of behavior, she does start the story with a pretty big chip on her shoulder.

Saki’s act of rebellion is the catalyst that sets off the main events of the plot, so it had to be significant enough to provoke consequences without losing too much sympathy for her character.

To find this balance, her motivation was the key. From the beginning, Saki is a flawed hero with a lot of internal conflict; she’s trying to manage a toxic adolescent social life and her own need for acceptance from her peers, so it’s understandable when she caves to some of that pressure and makes a few bad decisions.

Making a big mistake may seem like the end of the world to a lot of people—and Saki certainly thinks so in the story—but I decided right from the concept stage that I wanted to deconstruct that idea. A lot of the books I read growing up had a protagonist with a very strong sense of self, but Saki doesn’t have that yet. Her weaknesses are very human, and sometimes even a little petty. She’s still getting to know the person she’s becoming and that’s okay. Another key theme of the story is forgiveness, and Saki’s journey is all about second chances.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

Writing longhand in Osaka
The theme certainly evolved as the characters found their voices, but a sense of duality was there from the very beginning: city and country, young and old, modern and traditional, humans and spirits.

Anytime these things are put side-by-side there’s a tendency to pit them against one another. Go one step further and people start to separate themselves based on these perceived qualities.

One of the major themes of Saki’s story is finding the balance. Part of her journey towards self-discovery is recognizing that she can be dynamic and adaptable, and that she can inhabit more than one world at a time. In a world that seems increasingly divided in its thinking, I believe that’s a quality we should all aspire toward.

On a more concrete level, the story speaks to the issues of age, multi-generational families and tradition. Saki understands on some level why some of the rituals her family performs during the Obon holidays are important, but until she has an experience of her own she doesn’t feel as connected to the tradition.

Younger generations worldwide are facing similar experience gaps. The world we live in now is simply not the same as the world our parents and grandparents grew up in, so unless we invest some of our time in communication there is a lot we risk losing. Fittingly, this was one of the themes that took the longest to mature.

In both fantasy and reality, understanding the past is usually the surest way to help prepare for a brighter future.


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23. Guest Post: Skila Brown on Having Fun With Writing

By Skila Brown
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Skila Brown is the author of verse novels Caminar and To Stay Alive, as well as the picture book Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks, all with Candlewick Press. 

She received an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.

We all reach a point when writing doesn’t feel very fun. Maybe because we’ve read too many rejection letters. Or maybe because we’ve revised so much we can’t recognize our story. Or maybe because we’re under a deadline and the pressure to finish takes away all the enjoyment.

October, 2016
But remember why we started doing this? It wasn’t because we wanted to get rich quick. (Ha!) Or because it was the only job we could do. Or because anyone was making us write. It was because it was fun.

The art of creating story was fun. We became writers because we like telling stories—we like making up details, researching history and narrating events. All of that was fun.

Six years ago, I got serious about becoming a writer and applied to an MFA program. When I got a call from the admissions office saying, “Hey – we’re doing this intensive picture book semester and we have room for one more student. Would you like to try it?”

I thought, That could be fun. And I soon found myself immersed.

Six months of reading almost nothing but picture books. Dozens of picture books. Hundreds of picture books. Rhyming ones, silly ones, concept books, fairy tales. Biographies, bedtime stories, wordless books and—poetry.

The thing about sitting down at the library and reading through a knee-high stack of poetry books is that after reading a dozen, two dozen, I started to see really fast what makes a certain one good. I really liked the ones that were centered around a theme, with varied types of poetry and bonus little nonfiction facts sprinkled on top.

 I should try to do that, I thought. Being enrolled in a class that expected me to produce many picture book drafts in a short period of time didn’t let me dwell on whether it was a good idea or not. It just demanded that I try it out. That I play with it.

And I did. It was fun to research shark breeds and learn about sharks I’d never heard of before. (Hello, cookie-cutter shark!)

I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching sharks swim and thinking about their rhythm and shape and how that would feed into a poem. It was fun to learn new stuff. And it was really fun to try my hand at writing all different types of poems.

To challenge myself to make sure the next one didn’t rhyme or the next one was a concrete poem or the next one was a haiku. Not all of the experimenting worked. But every bit of it was fun.

As writers we need to remember what drew us to this field to begin with and do whatever we can to find the fun again. Here are 4 quick ways you can find the fun in writing this week:

  1. Be a spy. Go outside and find an animal or a plant and just sit and watch it for 10 minutes, writing down whatever comes to mind. See if you can take that and shape it into a poem when the time is up. 
  2. Play a game. Find a Mad Libs. Caption a funny photo.  
  3. Have fun with first lines. Opening sentences can be really fun to make up. Write a list of ten of them and then send the list out to your critique group. Let them vote on one that you’ll turn into a short story. 
  4. Write something that is completely out of your comfort zone. If you normally write YA contemporary, try writing a scene of a middle grade historical novel. Write the end of a story. Write in second person. Do something new and fresh that shakes it up a little in your routine.

It’s worth it to take a break from the WIP and play a little. Remembering what’s fun about writing will improve your energy level on your current project.

But that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it’s fun.

Cynsational Notes

Educator's Guide
Skila's new book, Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks, was illustrated by Bob Kolar (Candlewick, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Fourteen shark species, from the utterly terrifying to the surprisingly docile, glide through the pages of this vibrantly illustrated, poetic picture book.

These concrete poems about a selection of sharks will tickle the fins of many an aspiring marine biologist. —Booklist

All in all, it’s a book that ought to leave many readers fascinated—and perhaps a little unsettled—by the diversity of sharks that exist beneath the waves. —Publishers Weekly

An inviting format to spark shark discussions. —Kirkus Reviews

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24. Author Interview: Donna Gephart on Lily and Duncan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations
ajudd@penguinrandomhouse.com

From the promotional copy of Lily and Duncan by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2016):

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

How would you describe your body of work for young readers? Are there themes you frequently revisit, and if so, what about them fascinates you?

I write for the lonely child I was when I visited the Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia, looking for a friend inside the pages of a book. I often write on the themes of loneliness and feeling like you don't quite fit in. My books broach difficult topics, like bullying and grief, but always, always conclude on a hope-filled note.

Congratulations on the release of Lily and Duncan! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks! I write about the genesis of both Lily's and Dunkin's story in the author's note at the back of the novel. Lily's story stemmed from an unforgettable documentary I saw about a trans girl, and Dunkin's story emerged from a promise I made to our older son, who deals with bipolar disorder.

What was the time between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I saw the documentary that inspired me to write the novel in 2012. Recently, I was looking through my mountain of notes for the project and discovered that in 2012 I had written the ending of the novel . . . and that ending remains unchanged from the version that comes out May 3. It took all the time in between to figure out how to get to that ending — lots of research and deep thinking.

Would you elaborate on your research process?

I spent years researching this novel — talking to experts, watching documentaries, reading books, articles, memoirs and novels, etc.

How did you approach balancing the characters as joint heroes of the story?

This novel is told in alternating perspectives from each of the two characters. I had such familiarity with the mental health piece of this novel that I needed to remind myself to make Dunkin's story as strong as Lily's. When a reviewer recently said Dunkin's story almost eclipses Lily's, I know I have succeeded.

In this dual narrative, each character has a unique voice and tells their story from that very personal perspective. I felt this was the best way to get readers inside the heads and hearts of each character as they navigate very difficult terrain in their eighth grade lives.

What were the other challenges (literary, logistical, emotional, etc.) in bringing the story to life?

This was a difficult story to write because of the emotional intensity of each character's journey, but it was a story I felt strongly needed to be told to help encourage empathy and understanding and end stigma.

What advice do you have for authors in approaching stories with similar elements?

It's important to research thoroughly and tell the emotional truth. And don't forget the humor. Humor has a way of shining light in the darkest of places.

Your co-protagonists are in eighth grade, and the book is marketed to ages 10+. This developmental/literary category sometimes gets lost between middle grade and YA. 

Why should we pay more attention to tween-agers and books that reflect them?

Tween-agers deal with some difficult issues before the adults in their lives are ready for them to do so. I've already had teachers and counselors from elementary and middle schools tell me that students from their schools were transitioning. I know when I was teaching writing to young people, these tween-agers were dealing with some very difficult things that most adults would never have imagined.

It's important that these books be available for those young readers who need them — which is all young readers, to increase empathy, understanding and kindness.

The more we know, the better we do.

What do you do when you're not reading or writing?

Taking long walks, jogs or bike rides in nature always renews me. I love coming across wild turkeys or peacocks strutting around. And I enjoy cooking (and eating!) creative vegan meals. One of my favorite YouTube channels is Cheap, Lazy Vegan.



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25. Guest Post: Greg Leitich Smith on Hapa Characters: Asian-White Biracial Representation

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As with a lot of aspects of creative media these days, Disney movies have been criticized for their lack of diversity.

While such criticism is necessary, I think it’s important as well to give praise where it’s due and acknowledge things done right.

So I want to hand it to Disney for featuring resonant Asian-white characters in several of its recent animated movies, something you rarely see in any media.

The characters Hiro and Tadashi from "Big Hero Six;" Wilbur Robinson from "Meet the Robinsons;" and Russell from "Up" are all Asian-white (this in a field that's largely #whitewashedOUT, and note that all of these films were financially successful).

One of the things about these portrayals that I particularly liked, too, was that while the characters are clearly the products of their backgrounds, their ethnicities were not the be all and end all of their existences.

In other words, they are fully developed characters – persons – with individual wants and needs that have nothing to do with their heritage.

Being of German and Japanese descent myself, I tend to notice this sort of thing.

Portraying Asian mixed-race characters as mainstream with idiosyncratic wants and needs is something I've striven for in my books.

My first novel, Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo, pokes some fun at the “caught between two worlds” motif: Shohei O’Leary (one of three co-protagonists) is of wholly Japanese descent and has been adopted by parents of Irish descent. Still, he is first and foremost a kid who has to deal with his specific wacky parents.

By Blake Henry from Chronal Engine
In Tofu and T.rex, the protagonist, Hans-Peter Yamada (whose family owns a German delicatessen and butcher shop), has to deal with a vegan cousin who comes to live with them.

Although both Shohei and Hans-Peter are Japanese American, their ethnicity informs their background rather than wholly defines it (like their being Chicagoans informs their backgrounds rather than wholly defining them).

Similarly, the protagonist, Max Takahashi-Pierson, and his siblings in Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time (both Clarion) are, like Hans-Peter, hapa. They're Asian and white. (Their friend Petra is Mexican-German American.)

Max is focused on surviving encounters with Tyrannosaurus rex and surviving being caught between the contemporary world and the world of dinosaurs (literally),  as opposed to being "caught between two [ethnic] worlds."

This is all to say, when it comes to animated hapa boys: Good job, Disney.

Now about live-action kids, other identities-intersections, and hapa girls...

Cynsational Notes


Check out the educator guides for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time. See also the Chronal Engine Activity Kit.

Greg is currently booking for fall 2016 and the 2017-2018 school year. Contact The Booking Biz to invite him to your event.

Greg uses the term hapa to refer to someone of biracial (Asian) heritage. He learned it from his mother, who is Japanese-American, originally from Hawaii.

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