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1. Cynsational News, Giveaways & Summer Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thanks so much for being a Cynsational reader! 

I appreciate your enthusiasm for and interest in the world of books for kids and teens.

Breaking news: Effective immediately, Cynsations is going on summer hiatus until September. 

In the meantime, you can keep up with children's-YA books news on my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

See y'all in the fall!

More News  

Recommended on the We are the People List
We're the People Summer Reading List of 2015 from Facebook. Peek: "Are you looking for books to add to your summer reading list? Ones written or illustrated by Native Americans or people of color? Ones that include characters that are Native? People of color? Disabilities? LGBTQ? Take a look at these!" Note: Download a PDF (list of titles; annotated list) to take with you to the store of library.  See more information about the list from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature.

Romanticizing Mental Illness by L. Lee Butler, S. Jae-Jones and Alex Townsend from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Ideally there would be plenty of stories within and outside of the perspectives of mental illness. Because lots of outsiders don’t really relate until they hear a story from the outside perspective."

Mary E. Cronin's Workshop on Gay (LGBT) & Questioning Characters in Middle Grade from Lee Wind at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "There may be GLBT people in the character’s family, or they may have no role models or reference points at all. These factors will have a huge impact on a character’s trajectory."

The Mystery of the Hardy Boys and the Invisible Authors by Daniel A. Gross from The Atlantic. Peek: "If writing seems like a lonely profession, try ghostwriting children's books."

How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along."

What Makes a Picture Book a Mega Hit? by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "With that in mind, today I’m going to talk about some of the top picture book blockbusters to come out in the last ten years. Please note that I’m avoiding picture books with TV or other media tie-ins. These are the folks who got where they are on their own merits."

Interview: Jackie Morse Kessler on the Riders of the Apocalypse Series by Katherine Locke and Alex Townsend from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "I’m a former bulimic, and I still have self-image issues. The protagonist Lisabeth is inspired by someone I knew when I was younger; she’d been a very close friend, and she was the one who introduced me to bulimia." Note: This series is highly recommended.

The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...she still feels the pain associated with the loss of her esteem and will subconsciously take steps to meet that need or make sure that it isn’t threatened again. Maybe she’ll throw herself into education, sports, or the arts as a means of gaining recognition for herself, since she feels unable to compete physically."

Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: A Parent's Abandonment by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge."

One Tweet Reminds Us Why Judy Blume Was the Sexual Revolutionary We Needed by Kate Hakala from Connections.Mic. Peek: "The children and teens of Blume's books didn't only normalize sexuality for so many young kids, they illuminated the more embarrassing, secret parts of sex — the blood, the touching — that many readers were too afraid to bring up in school or to their parents."

Industry Q&A with Charlesbridge Editor Alyssa Mito Pusey from CBC Diversity. Peek: "When I was recently looking up Asian and Asian American biographies, I was shocked all over again at how little there is out there—Lee & Low seems to be the only publisher consistently putting out these books."

Children's Book Council to Receive BookExpo America's Industry Ambassador Award by Yolanda Scott from CBC Diversity. Peek: "While this is the first year that the award is being bestowed on an organization in place of an individual, BEA show organizers note that the Children’s Book Council’s work is both personal and special for its dedication to fostering literacy, diversity and education, making it eminently qualified to receive the award."

Case Cracked: The Process of Editing Mystery Novels by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "...we discussed how the inciting incident—the moment that gets Claire to veer her course to investigating whether her father and her stepdad ever knew each other—might be complicated and how those complications would have a ripple effect that would improve multiple other plot points, and increase the pacing." See also: Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Valynne E. Maetani by Stacey Hayman from VOYA.

The Godzilla Effect: How Climaxes, Twists, and Turning Points Work (and How They Don’t) by Harrison Demchick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "The climax, then, is the inevitable result—eventually, the effect—of that incident two hundred or three hundred or however many pages ago. It needs to be an organic development of the story."

Six Tips from Six Years of School Visits by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "If you’ve got multiple books, don’t assume that your host wants you to focus on your newest one. Your host might not know much about it, and in fact may have led their students to expect something else."

Breaking Barriers: Alvina Ling, Editor-in-Chief of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers from TaiwaneseAmerican.org. Peek: "...ideally we have a nice balance between books that may have award potential, and books that are more commercial and have bestseller potential (although books that are both are even more ideal!). We also don’t want to have all fantasy books or all historical fiction, for example, so I help guide our acquisitions process and identify needs and gaps to our editors to keep in mind as they are reading submissions and acquiring."

Cynsational Awards

2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winners from School Library Journal. Peek:

"The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (Simon & Schuster) has won the 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for best picture book, while Katherine Rundell’s Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Simon & Schuster) took best fiction title and Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Russia (Schwartz & Wade) was named best nonfiction book." See honor books and more information.

2015 South Asian Book Awards:

See honor books and more information.

Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a set of signed books by Claire Legrand was Christina in Kentucky.

See also a giveaway of an author- and illustrator-signed copy of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate (Eerdmans, 2015) from Fat Girl Reading.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

My Memorial Day view of Highway One; hang in there, Texas & Oklahoma!
At "Pretty in Pink" with authors Cory Putnam Oakes, P.J. Hoover & Mari Mancusi at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.
Happy Summer! Congratulations to spring 2015 graduates!

As all y'all can tell from my events listed below, I'm going to be coming and going for the next few months. I hope to see many of you on the road or here in Austin, and online you can catch up with me at my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

So embrace the summer. Read, write, illustrate, champion books for young readers, and with each new day, remember to be the heroes of your own life stories.

Thanks again for being Cynsational readers! 

Link of the Week: How Insane Amount of Rain in Texas Could Turn Rhode Island Into a Lake by Christopher Ingraham from The Washington Post.

Central Texans! Summer Road Trip Release Party: Join Margo Rabb (Kissing in America) and Liz Garton Scanlon (Great Good Summer) at 2 p.m. May 30 at BookPeople in Austin.

Personal Links

Now Available!

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.
Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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2. New Voice: Laura Woollett on Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Laura A. Woollett is the first-time author of Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Chicago Review Press, June 1, 2015). From the promtional copy:

Big Top Burning investigates the 1944 Hartford circus fire and invites readers to take part in a critical evaluation of the evidence

The fire broke out at 2:40 p.m. Thousands of men, women, and children were crowded under Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s big top watching the Flying Wallendas begin their death-defying high-wire act. Suddenly someone screamed “Fire!” and the panic began. 

By 2:50 the tent had burned to the ground. Not everyone had made it out alive.

With primary source documents and survivor interviews, Big Top Burning recounts the true story of the 1944 Hartford circus fire—one of the worst fire disasters in U.S. history. 

Its remarkable characters include Robert Segee, a 15-year-old circus roustabout and known pyromaniac, and the Cook children, Donald, Eleanor, and Edward, who were in the audience when the circus tent caught fire. 

Guiding readers through the investigations of the mysteries that make this moment in history so fascinating, this book asks: Was the unidentified body of a little girl nicknamed “Little Miss 1565” Eleanor Cook? Was the fire itself an act of arson—and did Robert Segee set it? 

Big Top Burning combines a gripping disaster story, an ongoing detective and forensics saga, and World War II–era American history, inviting middle-grades readers to take part in a critical evaluation of the evidence and draw their own conclusions.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Laura at the circus
When I wrote the first draft of Big Top Burning, a nonfiction account of the 1944 Hartford circus fire, I had only dipped a toe into the giant pool of research that was to inform the final book.

I began the project in graduate school as an independent study in writing nonfiction for young people. That summer, I researched and wrote the entire first draft!

Of course, this was before I was married, before I owned a house, and before I had a child. My research consisted of reading the three (at the time) nonfiction books for adults on the subject, and reading every newspaper article on the fire from 1944 to date that I could find – mostly from the "Hartford Courant" and the now defunct "Hartford Times."

The best thing I did was to interview a few survivors of the fire. They’d been children at the time and were so gracious in sharing the stories of their narrow escapes.

The interviews were gold. However, the newspaper articles, while primary sources, often held inaccurate information. The disaster happened quickly, and as reporters rushed to get information to the public, all sorts of false information found its way into their stories. And the adult books were secondary sources. I needed to form my own conclusions about the tragedy and the mysteries that surrounded it.


Then in 2009, I won the SCBWI Work In Progress grant for nonfiction, and that gave me the inspiration to keep going and to dig deeper. I used the money to travel to Hartford where I discovered the extensive circus fire archives at the Connecticut State Library. I spent several weekends at the library, diving into boxes of police records and witness statements, looking at crime scene photos, and even listening to a tape-recorded interview with the suspected arsonist, Robert Segee.

I’d be immersed for five hours at a time, and when I left I was exhausted, hungry (no food allowed in the archives area), and feeling victorious every time. I truly felt like a detective, collecting the clues to form a complete picture of the events that happened at the circus that day. Thank goodness for the librarians who collected and cataloged boxes and boxes of materials on the circus fire. It’s really due to them that authors like me are able to write such complete accounts of the tragedy.

As I continued to revise and send my manuscript to various agents and publishers, I interviewed more survivors. Interestingly, they seemed to appear wherever I went.

At the Boston Public Library, a gentleman who saw my research materials spread out on a table stopped to tell me his tale of survival. When my father was recovering from heart surgery at Hartford Hospital, he discovered his roommate was a survivor. My high school chemistry teacher (who always told us to keep our backpacks out of the aisles) shows up in one of the photos in my book. And I was able to interview my fifth grade teacher, who had been in the hospital having his tonsils out when they brought the first burn victims in.

I feel honored to be entrusted with their stories and proud to have written a book that will pass on the story of the Hartford circus fire to future generations.

Memorial to the Hartford circus fire victims, built on the former circus grounds. The bronze medallion indicates the location of the center pole of the big top tent.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

When I sent out my manuscript on submission, I had done my research. (I’m a member of SCBWI after all!) I began by querying agents who represented nonfiction authors, and I looked specifically at those who had worked with narrative nonfiction for older readers. I got some great feedback but no takers.

I turned to querying editors directly, trying all my contacts through writer friends and through SCBWI. Still lots of lovely rejections.

But I had my eyes open. I snoop in the backs of books to find out the names of the author’s agent and editors, which are often listed in the acknowledgements. I read quite a few blogs about writing and books for kids and always make note of agents or editors who publish work similar to mine, or work I think I’d like to write in the future.

It was on Cynsations that I found a New Voices post by editor Susan Signe Morrison, who with author Joan Wehlen Morrison, wrote Home Front Girl (Chicago Review Press, 2012), a diary of everyday life of an American girl growing up in the years leading up to WWII.

Because the book was for an older audience, nonfiction, and about the same era as mine, I thought I’d query her acquiring editor, Lisa Reardon at Chicago Review Press.

Two months after my query, Lisa sent me an offer letter.

After this experience I truly believe that if you write a good book, you will find a home for it—you just have to keep your eyes open and stay persistent. I wrote the first draft of Big Top Burning in the summer of 2005 and just a mere ten years later, I’m incredibly proud of its debut in 2015!

Cynsational Notes

For more information on the Hartford circus fire, visit circus fire historian, Mike Skidgell.

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3. Giveaway: Kissing In America by Margo Rabb

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that's still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who understands Eva's grief.

Unfortunately, after Eva falls head over heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the West Coast to see Will again.

As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls "gorgeous, funny, and joyous," readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all its forms. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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4. Guest Interview: Helen Wang on Children's Book Translation

Wenxuan's Bronze and Sunflower, translated by Wang
By Avery Fischer Udagawa
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What do old coins, the British Museum, and Chinese novels have in common?

Helen Wang.

Wang is Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum and also translates Chinese literature into English. Among her works are the middle grade novels Jackal and Wolf by Shen Shixi (Egmont, 2012) and Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan (Walker Books, 2015).

Wang has discussed these books in a virtual school visit, an essay, and an in-depth chat with Playing by the Book. Bronze and Sunflower is current Book of the Month at A Year of the Reading the World.

Helen Wang e-conversed with me for Cynsations about how she came to translate, and about the challenges of rendering two very different middle grade titles.

How did you cultivate the skills needed to translate from Chinese?

I did a B.A. in Chinese at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in the 1980s. I’d done French, German and Spanish A-levels in secondary school, and was thinking about archaeology or art history, but ended up doing Chinese instead. As for translation skills, those came later. I translated some short stories in the early 1990s, but then started working at the Museum and earning a Ph.D. (in archaeology) and having a family and didn’t really have time for translating fiction until a few years ago.

Translation is different from research or everyday communication in another language. Recently, I was one of the judges for the U.K.’s Writing Chinese Translation Competition, and there were 88 entries! The best were those in which the translators had got inside the story and understood exactly what the author was trying to do, and then conveyed this in sharp, crisp English in a consistent and appropriate style. It takes time and effort to get to that level and to maintain it.

Let’s talk about your middle grade novels. Jackal and Wolf is a 282-page novel focused on a female jackal. Her prey alone includes crab, cobra, swan, deer, muntjac, bharal, chicken, boar, partridge, rabbit, mouse, frog, porcupine, gazelle, and vole—and these are just some of the animals in the book! Did you spend lots of time researching animal names, traits and terms in order to translate it?

Cover art by Chen Wen
I did spend some time on the animals, trying to find out precisely what kinds of noises they make and double-checking that I was using the right verbs for the various actions. A good friend who knows a lot about wild animals read through an almost final draft and made some very helpful suggestions.

Did you find you had to add details about less-known animals, or were the fascinating explanations part of Shen’s original? (“Now snow foxes are smaller than jackals, and don’t have their sharp claws or teeth, nor their courage.”)

It’s very much Shen Shixi’s style to explain these things as he goes along. I don’t think I added any details. If anything, I reduced them a bit, to prevent repetition and to avoid saying that the females of a species were “always” smaller and weaker than the males, for example. I toned these down because it’s not “always” true, and because the impact is probably more sexist in English than Shen consciously intended in the original Chinese.

In Jackal and Wolf, the jackal Flame forms a bond with a sworn enemy: a wolf named Sweetie. What did you think of the ties and interactions in the story?

Although this is an animal story, and there are plenty of episodes and descriptions of animal life, there’s also a lot of human behaviour in the story too. Some of the fighting scenes are quite graphic and intense, but it was the psychological behaviour that I found more disturbing, especially where Flame tests a potential suitor.

How did Jackal and Wolf come to be published? Will more of Shen Shixi’s works be translated?

Egmont had a project to publish Jackal and Wolf —and another book, An Unusual Princess by Wu Meizhen, translated by Petula Parris Huang—in eight different languages and to launch them at the London Book Fair in 2012, when China was guest of honour. So Petula and I translated from Chinese into English, and our English versions were then translated into Russian, German, Polish, Turkish, Czech, Swedish and Bulgarian. I don’t know of any plans to publish more of Shen Shixi’s animal stories in English, but he’s written a whole range of bestselling animal books. It would be wonderful to see them translated.

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan is set in rural China as well, but features humans: a boy and girl coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution. How did the translation come about?

Cover art by Meilo So
Bronze and Sunflower is a modern classic in China, and the French edition was very well received. Walker Books won a PEN Translation Award to publish it. The PEN awards support the publishers: when publishers apply to English PEN for an award, they have to submit a copy of the original book, which is then read by an expert in the source language, who writes a report to the English PEN committee, who choose which titles to support. So, a huge amount of work went into the English PEN endorsement on the front of Bronze and Sunflower! Someone recommended me to Walker Books, probably because they knew I had translated Jackal and Wolf.

Bronze and Sunflower unfolds in a small village called Damaidi, and begins when a city girl, Sunflower, needs a country boy, Bronze, to save her from danger. Bronze is mute yet possesses vast knowledge and strength. Was it hard to render him faithfully without seeming to overdo it?

When I first read the book, I was more concerned about Sunflower being too good than about Bronze’s credibility. Sunflower is a sweet-natured child and almost too kind, helpful and thoughtful to be true, especially when we consider the trauma she’s experienced in her short life: her mother died of illness, she was uprooted with her father to move from the city to the countryside, her father is presumed drowned but his body is never found, she has to wait under a tree being gawped at by the entire village until Bronze’s family eventually takes her in, and so on.

Bronze may be the only son of the poorest family in the village, but his family is incredibly strong and resourceful. Instead of going to school, he has spent his formative years with his grandmother, a very determined old lady, and as soon as he was old enough, he was out grazing the family’s water buffalo. He’s used his eyes and his ears and knows his environment better than most of the villagers.

This novel, too, must have required research—on everything from the feel of reed shoes, to the look of cogongrass, to the appeal of arrowhead corms. How did you explore new objects and concepts?

It’s brilliant to be able to go online and look things up. Google Images is a godsend! For things that are completely new to me, I’ll play around online and do quite a lot of cross checking to make sure I’ve understood. If I can’t work it out for myself this way, or if I don’t feel I’ve understood it properly, then I’ll ask for human help.

Helen Wang
For example, when a photographer comes to Sunflower’s school in Damaidi, and she knows the family can’t afford to buy her portrait, she tries to hide her disappointment behind a little song. This song is essentially about a married woman with an elaborate hairstyle, and an unmarried girl with a childish hairstyle, who are role-swapping and having fun. But there are so many complex cultural references packed into the four lines!

I found lots of amazing pictures of Chinese hairstyles with elaborate names (e.g. these), but it would have been impossible to explain them in four short rhyming lines in English. I must have tried a hundred variations. None of them worked. To keep the song short, I needed to cut some of the detail.

But I needed to know how far I could go. If the song was as well known as a nursery rhyme in English, then I needed to know which parts I absolutely had to keep. So I asked around, and I learned that it was more of an obscure old song than a popular nursery rhyme. I grew confident enough to improvise a song that would work in a similar way for the English reader—without drawing undue attention to the complex historical terms for hairstyles.

What was it like to translate suffering in the story: a locust plague, near-starvation?

My main concern was to convey in English what Cao Wenxuan was saying in Chinese. Those particular scenes brought home how cut-off the villagers were and how self-reliant they had to be. They were also a poignant reminder that this is what famine is like for people across the world when crops have failed.

You carve out time for translating children’s books from a busy life. What do novels in translation bring to young readers of English?

Good novels are good novels whichever language they were originally written in! But the world is a much more diverse and contemporary place than most English-language bookshops and libraries suggest. Young people all know this, and it’s wonderful to see campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks gathering pace. I translate children’s books in the hope that it makes a difference, and also because I enjoy it!

Cynsational Notes

Helen Wang maintains a profile page at Paper Republic and co-tweets with translator Nicky Harman as ChinaFictionBookClub: @cfbcuk.

Avery Fischer Udagawa contributes to the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog and is SCBWI International Translator Coordinator. She translated the historical middle novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani.

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5. New Voice: Stefanie Lyons on Dating Down

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Stephanie Lyons is the first-time author of Dating Down (Flux, 2015). From the promotional copy:

At Café Hex, Samantha Henderson can imagine being the person she really wants to be. 

It’s her place to daydream about going to art school and getting away from her politician father. It’s her place to imagine opening herself up to a new kind of connection, away from her family and the drama of high school.

Enter X—the boy she refuses to name. He’s older, edgy, bohemian . . . in short, everything she thinks she needs. 

Her family and friends try to warn her that there may be more to him than she sees, but still she stays with X, even as his chaos threatens to consume them both.

Told in waves of poetry—whispering, crashing—Dating Down is a portrait of exhilaration and pain and the kind of desire that drives a girl to risk everything.

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?

I did struggle with how much to tell. My story is about a girl who spirals downward while in a bad relationship. It’s odd because—as far as the drugs and partying—I didn’t feel I needed to censor. But the sex, well, that was the part I wrote around for many edits until finally realizing it just wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t go there. So I did. And it hasn’t been a problem out in the real world with readers.

I guess my new mantra is anytime I take off my seventeen-year-old hat and put on my writer’s hat, I’m doing a disservice to the story.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

My MFA made all the difference. I was a sponge while I was at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Time there is an endless source of creative inspiration and information: The lectures and discussions. Talking about books. Why you did or didn’t like a particular one. Turning something in on a monthly basis and knowing someone’s on the other side ready to read it and help you make it better.

All these things gave me “aha” moments. And the people I met were super talented and supportive. I didn’t just gain a degree, I gained lifelong writing friends.

As for advice for other MFA students making the transition, I’d definitely say, know that when you’re creating something that is the creative process. Once you create it and turn it over to an agent or editor that is the business process.

The creative process is personal. The business process isn’t. Learn to separate the two and you will have a much easier time.

Ruby is a vital part of the creative process.

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6. Cover Reveal & Interview: Author Ashley Hope Pérez & Editor Andrew Karre on Out of Darkness

By Ashley Pérez and Andrew Karre
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner, Sept. 2015):

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history— as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

The starred Kirkus review of Out of Darkness called it “a powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism,” and Elizabeth Wein, best-selling author of Code Name Verity, had this to say: “The beauty of Pérez’s prose and her surefooted navigation through the dangerous landscape of the East Texas oil field in the late 1930s redeem the fact that anyone who dares read this agonizing, star-crossed love story will end up in about six billion numb and tiny pieces. Absolutely stunning.”

Read on for a conversation between Ashley and her editor, Andrew Karre, who is now executive editor of Dutton Books for Young Readers. 

Ashley and Andrew talk about book covers, challenging boundaries in YA, what happens in the woods of East Texas, and the author-editor collaboration that made Out of Darkness possible.

Ashley Hope Pérez: Since this is also the cover reveal for Out of Darkness, can we start there? I love that we arrived at this design. What do you think it signals to readers?

Andrew Karre: I think it does the jobs of a book cover very well: it is visually arresting from the shelf, and it rewards deeper looks after you’ve read on in the book.

The image of the braid is lovely and intriguing, but once you’ve read the book, the layers begin to emerge.

I also love the uncomfortable separation in “Darkness.” It is not a comfortable cover—and it shouldn’t be.

AHP: I love that you mention the absence of comfort—right now I’m writing an article about the role of discomfort in YA reading experiences. So let’s linger for a moment on the topic of narrative elements that don’t sit easily with readers’ expectations.

Your particular vision of YA—which I’ve always taken as being focused on engaging or deconstructing various ideas of adolescence—gave me license to write the book without worrying about fitting it to a particular YA mold. You’ve never been interested any kind of filter for writing “at” teen readers and instead have gained this incredible reputation as an editor for choosing unusual, boundary-pushing works.

Did Out of Darkness give you a chance to scratch anything off of your boundary-pushing bucket list?

AK: I definitely got to put a check in the box labeled “historical YA that portrays teenagers acting on recognizable sexual appetites.”

AHP: Glad to have helped on that front. I think I was at least a little bit influenced by the workshop on sex in writing that you and Carrie Mesrobian did with teens last year and the insights that came from that.

I took a few items your compelling piece and the list Carrie compiled, and I thought about how they intersected with the private worlds and identities of my characters.

Portraying teen sexuality as a real part of the past was one of the contributions I wanted to make in Out of Darkness.

This is in addition to my general adamancy about the fact that teens are sexual people regardless of how they act on that fact. I find it maddening when people assume that the relative silence around sex in times past somehow amounted to a magical chastity or innocence among teens. That’s an assumption that especially gets applied to women in depictions of the past, I think. I enjoyed researching sexual matters of the period from the book.

AK: I distinctly remember my own delight at discovering some vintage condom packaging.

The kind of tins that held condoms in the 1930s. Image from www.collectorsweekly.com.

AHP: As do I… I think you gleefully tweeted a link to this article full of handy details about prophylactics of the past. For me, beyond the period particulars, there was also the pleasure of thinking about logistics for my characters. The woods in East Texas are notorious for being where you go to do things you don’t want others to know about, but I loved the chance to also show it as a space where a particular kind of possibility unfolds: an interracial love with a definite sexual intensity.

Although I didn’t want to idealize the physical aspect of Wash and Naomi’s relationship, which has an intensity that can be parasitic on their emotional connection at times, there’s also a sweetness to what they give each other.

So, we did some important work around the idea of teen sexuality in days gone by. What other boundaries do you see Out of Darkness testing?

AK: Well, the book pushed a bit at my personal definition of YA, which is novels about people experiencing the various social constructs of teenageness. For example, I don’t think Wash and Naomi are teenagers in the sense of your typical YA character. Because of their races, they’re not afforded the leisure we associate with teenagers. They are adults in many significant ways, but they do overlap with modern teenage-ness (in the form of all the white high school kids) and I found this deeply fascinating and illuminating. Your execution of these characters casts a bright light on the white privilege at the heart of that teenage-ness.

I also saw that you had set yourself an enormous challenge with the character of Naomi’s stepfather Henry. The book would fail if you let him simply be a racist monster. You had to make him a deeply flawed human who behaves monstrously—a considerably taller order and one that makes the book harder for some readers, though I think ultimately more satisfying.

AHP: I remember several important conversations with you that helped me to find and capture the humanity, however distorted, in Henry. I went through a similar process to uncover the complex character of the pastor who initially encourages him to bring the kids to East Texas and then has to buoy him up repeatedly in the role of father. The evolution of characters is more memorable, maybe, but the editorial back and forth was just as critical to the development of the narrative and stylistic choices that make this book what it is.

You’ve managed to be my ideal reader three times now. Each time we’ve worked on a book, the questions or challenges you presented me with opened the right doors for me in revision so that I could help the story grow into what it was supposed to be. Dark magic aside, how do you do that?

AK: I have no idea, but it’s my only useful skill, so I’m glad it works. Good editing is about building a little space where an author’s best work can happen. (And it has to be a little space, because books don’t happen by committee.) The minimum qualifications are understanding, nurturing, and—when necessary—reminding the author of the original vision.



AHP: That little space is a gift to writers. I think you must also have a kind of special sight that allows you to see submerged possibilities, both in a manuscript and in the writer herself. I feel like this was especially true in how you responded to Out of Darkness. I mean, it was such a different case from What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012)(both Carolrhoda Lab), both of which are contemporary realistic fiction and arrived to you somewhat resembling their final form. And then there was Out of Darkness…

AK: Out of Darkness is the best of what can happen when an author and an editor have a good working relationship. Honestly, if at any point after our first two books you’d told me about the school explosion and your eagerness to use it as an entry point for a story about race and class and love and family, I would have been in. I knew we could work well together, and I wanted to do so again.

At least 294 people were killed in the New London, Texas, school explosion. Chaos after the explosion and the destruction of all school documents made an exact count impossible. Image from the London Museum archives.

AHP: It’s true that you didn’t even flinch when my agent sent you a manuscript that filled a ream of paper. Or at least you didn’t let on that you flinched. I think the first complete draft weighed in at 200,000 words.

AK: I’m glad that you sent those 200,000 words. Even though I knew we were years away from a book, the scale of that draft gave me a sense of how committed you were to a project somewhat more ambitious than our first two. And I knew you would match my effort, so I didn’t worry about how much work it would be or whether you were prepared to explore some difficult places.

AHP: There was some serious cutting, reshaping, and expanding that happened over those years… and a ton of collaboration to develop the vision for what the novel would become. Did your expectations evolve over those years we went back and forth?

AK: I don’t think my expectations evolved much, given how high they were to begin with. This is a book that could obviously only exist on a fairly significant scale and scope.

As you know, I dearly love short, circumscribed stories of unusual individuals. This was never going to be such a book—or maybe better said it was several such books tightly braided together and making a still greater whole. My job was to see that from the beginning and work like hell to make sure we never compromised. (We didn’t.)

AHP: I’m grateful for that. I felt all along the way that I had just enough space to grow to be the writer who could handle whatever challenge we’d set for a round of revision.

Looking back, I realize that you probably read this manuscript at least five times as we were working through that process. Am I some kind of crazy outlier, or do you find yourself going through comparable iterations with other authors?

Ashley’s writing process. Crucial tools: writer’s notebook, Scrivener, paper, pen, scissors, and tape.

AK: You’re not a crazy outlier, except perhaps in terms of length of first draft.

With some authors, I’ve gone through more drafts, others fewer. Ideally, they all get a similar level of attention, but sometimes that attention takes different forms.

AHP: You also do this thing where you don’t force a change but you plant a seed that makes it possible for me, on my own, to wholly embrace that change. That probably happens dozens of times in a book, but I distinctly remember at one point discussing the author’s note for Out of Darkness.

There was this line in it that more or less sounded to you like an apology for the intensity and tragedy of the novel, and you gave me the courage to cut it. I think you said something like, “you shouldn't apologize for making your readers feel deeply.”

AK: The longer I do this, the more I’m convinced that the only reliable indicator of a book’s durability and quality is whether it elicits strong feelings in the reader. Whatever those feelings may be, if they are present, then the book is doing something right.

I get more upset by indifferent reviews than I do by strongly negative ones. A.S. King and I were talking just a couple weeks ago about a Goodreads review for her first novel, where the reviewer thinks she’s angry at the book—thinks she’s writing a bad review—but by the end of the review both of us agreed that the reviewer got exactly what we’d hoped from the book: very strong feelings. We didn’t take issue with a single point from the review.

Polite people generally apologize for causing emotional distress in others, so I’m never surprised to see a line like the one you cut. But I always try to remind the author that emotional distress is what the reader is paying for.

AHP: There’s an intensity and darkness to Out of Darkness that connects it to The Knife and the Butterfly, but I also feel like both novels leave room for hope, too. Does that resonate with you? Or do you see the works differently?

AK: I do absolutely find a hopeful quality in all your books. It’s hard earned and never more so than in this book. Brokenness and injustice are things I find in your work, but you also have a faith in human resilience that balances the brutality. That’s hope.

AHP: Hope is a thing with me. It’s literally my middle name, so how could it not be?

There are some books, like Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2014), that are so full of promise and hope that you can’t miss it. I mean, that’s a novel set in the 1980s where two gay, Mexican-American boys discover and embrace their love for each other in part because of the support they receive from their parents. Ben finds ways to tell stories that get to the heart of growth and healing without being sentimental.

In Out of Darkness, I’d say that the possibility for hope depends on a certain kind of commitment from the reader. Or maybe what the novel does is create an appetite for hope—an authentic desire for life possibilities that go beyond what the characters achieve. My characters improvise wholeness, cobble together a family, but it can’t hold.

AK: There is something so, so gorgeous in the magical little family Wash, Naomi, Cari, and Beto make for themselves. Yes, it cannot possibly survive, but the short spring of that incredible family is unbearably and eternally beautiful.

Sabine River and the East Texas woods where Wash, Naomi, and the twins improvise a family. Image by Michael Gras.

AHP: That does sound like grounds for hope. Readers might only wish for things to be different for Wash, Naomi, and the twins as they’re reading, but maybe that wish can turn into something like a broader awareness that an unconventional family can have a rightness to it that is just as fundamental as any biological family. That’s one possibility I see in the novel when I think about it as a reader or lit professor rather than a writer. I try not to do that too much because it’s not the lit professor in me who runs the show when I’m writing.

My academic work has a place in my heart and my brain, but the novels I’ve written take up a lot more space. They’re like houses I once lived in but have had to leave behind. Each one is unique, and I have a distinct sense of what it felt like to be inside them, what the building and repairs and maintenance cost me.

I have favorite spaces, too, passages that, at least in my imagination, are where I felt most at home as a writer, most myself.

Is there anything comparable for you when you think about the books you’ve edited? What’s their afterlife like?

AK: I find myself remembering the process more than the book itself. I mean, I can recall the books as needed, but the pleasant memories that come unbidden are more about the experience of working on the book—the editing on my own, the phone conversations, the emails, the lunches. It’s as close as I get to old army buddies.

AHP: I look forward to reenlisting for another tour of duty. I’ll take the pen over the sword any day.

Cynsational Notes 

Find Ashley online at www.ashleyperez.com, where her blog is full of writerly and readerly insights, or at www.latinosinkidlit.com, where she’s part of a team of bloggers working to get the word out about awesome kid lit by Latina/o authors or about Latina/o experiences.

Follow her on Twitter (@ashleyhopeperez) and on Facebook.

Also follow Carolrhoda Lab on Twitter (@CarolrhodaLab) and Facebook for news and reviews of Out of Darkness and other fantastic Carolrhoda Lab titles.

Andrew Karre keeps us all entertained and informed from Twitter via @andrewkarre.

Librarians, bloggers, booksellers, reviewers, and teacher types: don’t forget to go to netgalley.com by the end of July to request an advance read of Out of Darkness.

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7. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, Nov. 2015). From the promotional copy:

In this exhilarating time-travel adventure and sequel to Chronal Engine, Max Pierson-Takahashi and his friend Petra find themselves whisked back to the treacherous, dinosaur-packed Cretaceous Period.

Soon they discover they have more to worry about than dinosaurs when they encounter a girl from the 1920s with a revolver and one thing on her mind—to avenge the death of her father, Isambard Campbell, whom she believes was killed by Max.

Meanwhile, Max’s then-thirteen-year-old uncles, Nate and Brady, have inadvertently time-traveled from 1985 and have problems of their own as they face mosasaurs, tyrannosaurs, and other dangers. The two pairs must not only fight for survival, but join forces to find their way home to their respective decades. Mind-bending time twists and white-knuckle encounters with deadly creatures plus a realistic peek into the age of the dinosaurs make this a perfect choice for anyone looking for a survival story with nonstop action.

Congratulations to Greg, whose novel Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014) has been nominated for the Rhode Island Children's Book Award!

More News & Giveaways

Bombing Through It by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The actual process of getting the story down on paper has a unique intimacy and particularity. Stories are organic. You’ve got to let them grow as you write, even if you’ve already built a trellis."

The Symbiosis of Science & Poetry by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "...people who feel uncomfortable with science often feel very comfortable with language arts, so a poem might be the perfect way to introduce a science topic."

How to Read with Rising Kinders and First Graders This Summer by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "...the ultimate goal here is to show our beginning and soon-to-be readers how reading can be a joyful, positive experience. This mindset will set them up for the best start to their school journey." See also Let the Summertime Reading Hoopla Begin by Frances Lee Hall from ReaderKidz.

Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award Contest from Lee & Low. Peek: "The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

Depression Has No Straight Lines, Only Lies by Kelly Jensen from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "Depression feels like it needs a cause or a destination. The truth is, though, that depression is chemical; it’s a brain misfiring and miswiring in ways that don’t have an easy-to-point-to reason for happening."

Nancy Sondel's 13th Annual Pacific Coast Children's Writer Workshop & Retreat will take place Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 in Santa Cruz, California. Faculty: HarperCollins executive editor Kristen Pettit and agent Stephen Barr of Writers House.

Writing During Summer Travels by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You may have activities planned (or planned for you) that don’t seem to show any gaps of free time. If so, look again."

Cynsational Giveaways


Don't miss the Kissing In America (by Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 2015)) Audio Tour & Giveaway!

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig (HarperCollins) with Emma J. Virjan & Greg Leitich Smith.
The lovely & brilliant author-illustrator!

Congratulations to Varsha Bajaj (Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood (Albert Whitman, 2014)), SCBWI's Crystal Kite winner for the Texas/Oklahoma region! See the full list of winners.

Congratulations to Vicky Lorencen for signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin for signing Vicky!

Personal Links

TX/OK Crystal Kite Winner!

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.
Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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8. Guest Post: Amy & David Axelrod on The History of Magic & The Bullet Catch: Murder by Misadventure

See facebook page, excerpt  & educator guide.
By Amy Axelrod & David Axelrod
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When we began, we knew that we wanted to write a novel about a down-and-out magician during World War I.

We knew the setting would be New York City and that this washed-up magician, who we named Barzini, would be involved with a roster of famous illusionists of the time. And finally we knew we would have a young protagonist, named Leo, whose life would serendipitously change from being a petty criminal to a stage magician.

Both of us had interest in the history of stage magic and its legendary personalities. The early 1900s was an exciting and innovative period in the history of magic. But it was also a time of intense competition, jealousies and theft.

When trying to come up with a plot for the book, we kept circling around one magician in particular: Chung Ling Soo.

He was an American named William Ellsworth Robinson who masqueraded as a Chinese conjurer and became a world-wide sensation. His signature illusion was the bullet catch, which would ultimately kill him during a performance. Chung Ling Soo became Barzini’s nemesis, and Leo became entangled in their rivalry.

Writing an historical novel is like being on a treasure hunt. One clue leads to another and another.

We read and cross-referenced many Internet sources, biographies on Houdini and books on illusion written by magicians of the golden era.

Chung Ling Soo (Ransom Center, U.T., Austin)
One particular gem was a book written by Harry Houdini in 1906. The Right Way to Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals, was intended to be a handbook educating the public on the ways of criminals. Instead, it read as a primer on how to commit crime, and was taken out of print. This book proved helpful when creating Leo, a pickpocket, and his gang of thieves.

We also researched the magicians’ collection and Houdini’s private scrapbooks at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Other books used in researching The Bullet Catch (Holiday House, 2015):

Jay, Ricky. Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. New York: Warner Books, 1986.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001.

Celebrations of Curious Characters. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books 2011.

Steinmeyer, Jim. The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer. Boston: de Capo Press, 2006.

Cynsational Notes 

Follow Amy @amy_axelrod & David @chunglingwho at Twitter

Amy Axelrod has written many picture books, including The Pigs Will Be Pigs Math Series (Simon & Schuster), and the middle-grade novel Your Friend in Fashion, Abby Shapiro (Holiday House).

David Axelrod works in publishing and has written numerous YA novels under pseudonyms.

Read more about their research and collaboration at Amy's blog at Goodreads.

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9. Guest Post & Giveaway: Sarah Frances Hardy on Writing a Companion Picture Book

By Sarah Frances Hardy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


My third picture book Dress Me! (Sky Pony, 2015) is a companion book to last year’s release Paint Me! (Sky Pony, 2014).



When I was thinking about what my next submission to Sky Pony would be, I sifted through my pile of finished, sort-of finished, and not-at-all finished manuscripts.

I had a longer manuscript for a dress up book that was giving me trouble, but I liked the concept of a girl trying on different outfits and personalities, so I talked through it with my agent.

She suggested that I keep the “me!” theme going and write a companion book to Paint Me! using some of the elements from my longer (and quite honestly, not working) dress up book.

Brilliant!

But it was tricky to do ...

My first attempts too closely mirrored Paint Me!. The rhythm and structures of the stories were almost identical, and my main character, although different looking, struck many of the same poses as my main character in Dress Me!. The two stories were just too much alike. I had to figure out how to echo my original story while making a fresh and new narrative.

And that was the biggest challenge ... making it the same but somehow different! It wasn’t enough to give the main character different words and a different color hair. She had to be a unique person with her own problems and interests.

And the ultimate conflict of the story had to be completely different, but structurally it I wanted it to happen at a similar place in both narratives.

In Paint Me!, a little girl begins the day painting a portrait of her dog and gets a little out of hand. As she skips through the book trying different colors, she calls out the name of each color ... “Yellow me! Red me! ... etc.” The conflict happens when the main character spills paint everywhere and falls down in a giant messy pile yelling “Mom--meeee!”.


As easy as it would have been to have my main character in my companion book fall down in a pile of clothes and yell “Mom-meee!”, I couldn’t do that. It would’ve been lazy and unimaginative--pretty much the exact same book done over again. And who wants to read that?

So ... in Dress Me! my main character tries on lots of different outfits, careers, and (yes) a mustache ...


before trying out the ultimate Diva garb complete with a pink boa and tiara.


“So NOT me!” she yells. The structure and language of both books are the same, but the conflict and character tell a different story.

Different ... but the same.

Plus, I managed to get in a bit of a feminist message, making my book a little different from most of the stereotypical “girl” dress up books out there. My main character in Dress Me! explores who she can be instead of how pretty she can be.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Dress Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy (Sky Pony, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10. Giveaway: The Neptune Challenge by Polly Holyoke

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy of The Neptune Challenge by Polly Holyoke (Hyperion, 2015) along with a glass dolphin pendant and earrings. From the promotional copy:

Genetically engineered to survive in the ocean, Nere and her friends are recovering from their long, treacherous journey to refuge and settling in at Safety Harbor. 

Despite its name, plenty of dangers still lurk just outside the colony's boundaries.

When two among them are kidnapped, the remaining Neptune kids and their loyal dolphins must set out on a mission even more perilous than their first: infiltrate the kidnapper's fortress to save their friends and steal away a vital scientific secret that may save the world and its oceans.

Fighting terrifying mutated creatures and teens, will the Neptune kids find a way to save their friends, themselves, and their underwater world? The stakes couldn't be higher in this thrilling sequel to the award-winning The Neptune Project.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

A 2014 Texas Library Association Bluebonnet Author Polly Holyoke


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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11. Guest Post: Kristi Helvig on Incorporating Science Into Science Fiction

By Kristi Helvig
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the great things about writing science fiction is that you get to make up a lot of stuff.

You can create new worlds, new languages, and even new life forms. From the androids in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) to the self-aware computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), an author’s imagination can exceed the limits of what science can do in a given time period.

Yet, as authors, we can’t insert these fantastic elements willy nilly into the story without respecting the basic laws of science.

While some science fiction writers are, in fact, scientists, most of us are not. My Ph.D. in clinical psychology helps quite a bit when exploring character motivation but isn’t so useful when I need to know how a planet’s distance from the moon impacts its rotation speed.

So how does a writer incorporate scientific aspects into their fiction? A little research goes a long way. For instance, if you’re writing a time travel novel, you might want to investigate things like black holes, event horizons, or even string theory. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963) is pure fiction, but wormholes (similar to the tesseract in her story) are real.

The key is not to bore your reader with pages and pages of theories and expositions about the science involved with your story. If it’s fiction, you just want to sprinkle in enough research that your premise is believable.

For my first book in the series, Burn Out (Egmont/Lerner), I had to find a plausible reason that our sun could burn out early. Only by contacting an astrophysicist at a respected university did I find my answer, and luckily for us, it’s unlikely to happen.

In the sequel, Strange Skies (Egmont/Lerner), the new planet of Caelia has only four hours of light (called light breaks instead of “day”) followed by four hours of dark. I had to contact an astrophysicist again for questions I had about planet size and rotations speed, along with making sure that my freshwater oceans were possible.

Oftentimes, reading scientific articles and watching documentaries is enough, but I believe that contacting experts is a necessity in many cases.

It’s always interesting to see life imitate art—I’m still waiting for the flying cars in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997)—but I had something cool happen with my series.

In Burn Out, the bio-weapons protected by my main character, Tora, are keyed to her individual energetic vibration, meaning that no one else can fire them.

Right before the book was published, which was several years after it was written, my agent sent me an article about guns being developed that would only fire for their specific owner. It’s often a circular relationship, where the science initially serves as a basis for a more advanced idea in science fiction, and then when science advances, that idea can come to fruition years later—such as the advanced crime software in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" (2002).

The takeaway here for writers is that as long as you follow basic scientific laws in your sci-fi novel, the sky (or galaxy) is the limit!



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12. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Activity Pages & Teacher Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Emma J. Virján on the release of What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig (HarperCollins, 2015). Peek:

What this story needs is a pig in a wig, on a boat in a moat with a frog, a dog, and a goat on a log. . . .

As a panda in a blouse, a skunk on a trunk, and more hop on board, it becomes clear that what this story really needs is a bigger boat Join Pig on an exciting boat ride as she discovers that life is more fun with friends in this fantastic funny read-aloud with cumulative text from author-illustrator Emma J. Virján.

Note: Central Texans! Join Emma in launching the book at 3 p.m. May 16 at BookPeople in Austin.

See also Interview: Author-Illustrator-Designer Emma J. Virján from Cynsations. Peek: "Community plays a huge, supportive role. I'm fortunate to live in Austin, where there is a fantastic, loving, talented kid lit community. I'm also a member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and The Girllustrators."



More News & Giveaways

The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Whatever the wound, the result is an all-consuming fear that if the character does not protect himself, this situation (and resulting emotional pain) will happen again." See also How to Uncover Your Character's Emotional Wound by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers.

Meeting People on Twitter: Hanging Out & Getting Found by Annie Neugebauer from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...if you’re newer and/or interested in broadening your following, the most sure-fire way to get discovered is to find others and engage with them."

Turning Prisons into Reading Centers by Deborah Jiang-Stein from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A baby’s early experiences shape his or her brain’s architecture, building either a strong or a fragile foundation for life, learning, and health. Adverse early experiences and deprivation can impact a baby’s brain development for an entire lifetime, and positive learning experiences can set the path for self-esteem and possibility."

Author Alicia Potter & Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Adi Rule from VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "I had kittens who stayed under the bed for two weeks, kittens who’d run and hide whenever I moved, and one who growled the entire time he was eating. But their metamorphosis was so gratifying and poignant to me."

What Are The Great Children's Literature Writing Retreats? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "...when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff. Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food." See also Elizabeth on In Search of the Elusive Lesbian Mom.

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer from CBC Diversity. Peek: "With nine million Americans identifying as more than one race, with one in every seven marriages being between spouses of a different race or ethnicity, and with the number of mixed-race babies soaring, the demand for more of these stories is growing."

New Literary Agent: Noah Ballard of Curtis Brown Ltd. in NYC from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Noah mainly represents books geared toward adults, but is open to YA and middle grade that breaks the mold."

Are They LGBTQIA? Let Your Characters Tell You by Karen Sandler from Gay YA. Peek: "I have yet to write a “gay character” during that initial process. Why not? Because I don’t know them that well. Most people don’t walk up to total strangers and blurt out, “So, are you gay, or straight?” I have to get to know my characters as I write my book just as I become acquainted with an actual person in real life."

When Life Imitates Art...Or What Hurricane Irene Taught Me by Tamara Ellis Smith from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "Am I more suited to tell a story about flood victims because I have experienced a flood? Yes. Am I still a middle class woman who could borrow money from my family when I lost so much in that flood? Yes."

Writing After Major Losses by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I had symptoms of 'writer’s burn-out': by-products of prolonged stress. It can be treated. Each symptom stifles a writer’s creativity in a specific way and needs a specific remedy."

Children's & YA Book Awards

2015 Jane Addams Book Awards: Winners & Honorees by the Jane Addams Peace Association from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Note: special congrats to pals Duncan Tonatiuh and Deborah Wiles.

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Finalists from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: " The Awards are produced by Latino Literacy Now, an organization co-founded by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler, and co-presented by Las Comadres para las Americas and Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. The Awards themselves will be June 27 in San Francisco as part of the ALA Conference."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) is Donna in California.

See also Interview & Giveaway: W. Nikola-Lisa's The Men Who Made The Yankees (Winner of the SPARK Award) by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "Before the crash of 2008, I had published 21 trade children's books over a 25 year period. ...everything stood still. ...mid-career authors; they're not always first in line: they often have to stand in line behind new talent, marquee authors, and celebrities."

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Austin's own Cate Berry has been admitted to the VCFA Writing for Children & YAs program.

Quiet but busy week! I finished my fourth round of packet grading for VCFA and began catching up on correspondence, blogging and event preparation. As you can see from my schedule below, it's going to be a summer jam packed with travel, teaching and speaking!

Personal Links

Cover Reveal!

Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.
Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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13. Jumpstart and Candlewick Press Partner to Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record®

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

National Early Education Organization and Children’s Book Publisher Join Global Movement to Shine a Spotlight on the Importance of High-Quality Early Learning with 2015 campaign book Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

Jumpstart, a national early education non-profit organization, and Candlewick Press, an independent children’s publisher, have announced their partnership in honor of the 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record, a global campaign that generates public support for high-quality early learning and highlights the importance of building children’s vocabulary and love for reading.
On Oct. 22, children and adults worldwide will take action by participating in the world’s largest shared reading experience, known as Jumpstart’s Read for the Record. Since 2006, the campaign has mobilized over 14.5 million people and has kept the world reading record for the most people reading the same book on the same day.

Each year, Jumpstart selects one children’s book as the catalyst for Read for the Record to bring together schools, libraries, communities, and businesses. Jumpstart is honored to embark on a new partnership with Candlewick Press and is proud to announce that award-winning picture book, Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, has been selected as this year’s campaign book.

Jumpstart President & CEO, Naila Bolus, quotes, “During the first years of life, children from low-income communities hear roughly 30 million less words than their more affluent peers. Jumpstart is working alongside Candlewick Press to combat this word gap and increase every child’s vocabulary and love for reading and learning.” Bolus continues, “We could not be happier to celebrate this momentous 10th year with our partners at Candlewick Press and look forward to making Oct. 22, 2015 a day to be remembered.”

Special edition copies of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available through the Jumpstart website at readfortherecord.org. Each special edition features reading tips, vocabulary words, and extension activities provided by Jumpstart’s team of early education experts. Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available in both English and Spanish and pre-orders of the special edition are available now.

Karen Lotz, President and Publisher of Candlewick Press, says, “We are thrilled to partner with Jumpstart in this challenge to bring attention to children’s literacy issues and to connect with readers around the world in a global reading of Not Norman. The 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record is a time to celebrate all that the campaign has accomplished, and to look ahead to its future successes. Candlewick is especially proud to join forces with Jumpstart for this landmark year, as Not Norman also celebrates its 10th anniversary.”

To learn more, register for the campaign, and to pre-order your copy of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, visit readfortherecord.org.

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Kelly Bennett; see also Kelly on That Last Revision

About Jumpstart

Jumpstart is a national early education organization working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart provides language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all children. By participating in Jumpstart’s year-long program, children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path for lifelong success. Since 1993, Jumpstart has trained 36,000 college students and community volunteers to transform the lives of 76,000 preschool children nationwide. Follow @Jumpstartkids on Twitter.

About Candlewick Press

Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For over twenty years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators. Candlewick is part of the Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books U.K. in London and Walker Books Australia, based in Sydney and Auckland.

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14. New Voice & Giveaway: Maggie Lehrman on The Cost of All Things

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maggie Lehrman is the first-time author of The Cost of All Things (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

What would you pay to cure your heartbreak?

Banish your sadness?

Transform your looks?

The right spell can fix anything…

When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden — and sometimes dangerous — connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy. Part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama, The Cost of All Things is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

When I started writing The Cost of All Things (way before it had a title, even), the only thing I knew was that Ari had chosen to forget her boyfriend Win, who had died. I wrote nearly a hundred pages from just her point of view as she attempted to navigate the world without part of her memory.

Then I started my final semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts with Tim Wynne-Jones as my advisor.

Tim took a look at this 100 pages and got very concerned. How could I convey anything about Win, about Ari herself, if she doesn't actually remember him? How is the reader supposed to understand this world or connect to the characters?

I knew Tim was right, but I didn't know what to do about it. Switch to an omniscient third person? Start the story earlier?

Give up, cry, take a nap?

So I put the story aside for a year as I worked on other things, and when I came back to it, I started thinking about the other people in this world, and how they would be affected by Win's death.

Partly just for me, I wrote in other voices, basically starting the story over from the beginning. And as the other characters' wants and needs came into focus, I knew their stories were an important part of Ari's, even though she might not know it (yet). The interconnectedness of these characters became a driving force of the book. How does one person's actions affect the others? What do they uncover, the closer they get?

At an early point, there were as many as seven or eight points of view. But I fairly quickly narrowed it down to the four in the book: Ari, Markos, Kay, and Win, all in first person.

I've read interviews with Jandy Nelson where she talked about how she wrote the absolutely brilliant I'll Give You the Sun (Dial, 2014), which has two first-person narrators: she drafted straight through with one voice, and then straight through with the other, interspersing them later.

I couldn't do exactly that, as these four stories were meant to ping off of each other and loop around, but I did find myself going on a run of three-to-four Markos chapters in a row, and then catching up with a handful of Ari or Kay chapters, and then a whole mess of Win scenes. (Win was easier to write straight through because his chapters were all, by necessity, flashbacks.)

This meant I had a big jumble of scenes and plots in no particular order, which led to a lot of sorting and finessing after the first couple of drafts. Hence the Big Plot Wall, or what was affectionately known in my apartment as the Serial Killer Wall, named after the obsessive charts you see on TV in the homes of serial killers and those who hunt them.

The Big Plot Wall
Each of the four characters' stories are so personal, and they're each so blinded by their own perspective (at least in the beginning) that first person always made the most sense to me. They deal with pain in different ways, which I found I could express in first directly -- as well as show how much of the story was about who knew what secrets when.

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?

Tumblr & Twitter
My glimpse of this world began very small, with Ari and the spell she chose to take to forget Win.

I like to understand the characters before I do any larger-scale thinking about themes, or I can get bogged down with expressing ideas instead of exploring human behavior.

I completely understood why one girl would choose to eliminate the source of her pain -- isn't there something we all wish we could forget? -- and that moment of empathy made me want to know more about Ari and what happened to her. And so I had to dig in to the glimpse and expand it beyond Ari.

If Ari can take this spell, what else is true about this world? How does the magic work? What are its costs?

Once I started thinking about those questions -- how spells were made and taken and paid for, what the consequences would be, who took spells and why -- I started to see the types of parallels you could make to the real world: spells were shortcuts, a way to avoid moments or situations that might be difficult or painful. They gave you what you wanted, but what you wanted isn't always what you needed. There were parallels to performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, cheating, plastic surgery, and more.

This is not to say that using spells was always a bad idea; like in the real world with medical decisions or pain relievers or other important means of self-care, sometimes a spell could be a healthy choice. Hekame (what I called the practice of magic in this world) wasn't good or bad on its own, but could be used for good or bad based on the decisions of the characters. And it always has consequences.

As a side note, for a fascinating and very different way of looking at some of the same questions, especially when it comes to memory, I'd check out the excellent More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015). Part of the reason I love fantasy/science fiction (as it is in Adam's case) is that writers can answer similar questions in totally different ways.

I've always been fascinated by the way fantasy heightens and reflects the real world. Ursula K. LeGuin said that fantasy stories "work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter."

Hekame was a way for me to talk about choices and consequences, things we in the real world have to face constantly, without having to name each of the parallels. There's room for the reader to fill in their own experience and intuition.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: continental U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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15. Interview: Author Erin Hagar & Illustrator Joanna Gorham on Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

By Erin Hagar & Joanna Gorham
For Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures is by Erin Hagar and illustrated by Joanna Gorham (Duopress, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Julia Child knew how to have fun, and she also knew how to whip up a delightful meal.

After traveling around the world working for the U.S. government, Julia found her calling in the kitchen and devoted her life to learning, perfecting, and sharing the art of French cuisine.

This delicious, illustrated middle-grade biography is a portrait of the remarkable woman, author, and TV personality who captured our hearts with her sparkling personality. “Bon appétit!”

What about Julia's life most resonated with you?

EH: Julia didn’t find her true passion until she was almost forty. She worked hard at all the other jobs she had, but it took a long time to find the job that didn’t feel like work. I worry that today’s kids are pressured to excel at such a young age. I hope Julia’s experience speaks to them, as well.

JG: To achieve all that Julia did, she had to have courage, creativity and the willpower to withstand failure if things didn’t go as planned. I hope I can have the same strength that she showed throughout her life.

Julia Child, First Bite by Joanna Gorham, reproduced with permission.

How was this process different from other projects you've worked on?

EH: I also write (but don’t illustrate) picture books. Folks like me are supposed to stay the heck out of the illustration process so the illustrator can add his or her creative genius to the work.

With this book, I was asked to help to map out what the visual sequences would include and provide visual information from my research. At first, I felt very hesitant about this, but that’s what the project and the timeline demanded. The beauty of the illustrations, however, is all Joanna. I don’t take one ounce of credit for that.

storyboard

JG: When I illustrate magazine articles, I’m looking to show details about the character that tell the viewer more than what’s in the text, while capturing one moment in time. In the Julia book, the chapters show an evolution of Julia’s life.

What were some of the biggest revisions you made?

EH: Cutting, cutting and more cutting. I don’t remember most of what was cut (which means the edits were absolutely necessary) except for this one thing: There’s a long, convoluted, and funny story about how Julia flunked her final exam from Le Cordon Bleu. Word count got the best of us, so I’ll save it for school visits, I guess!

JG: Showing Julia change over the years and making sure she still looked like the same person was a challenge. I didn’t want to exaggerate her age to get the point across that she was aging, but she couldn’t look like she was thirty throughout the book. I painted and repainted her face a lot.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Erin Hagar
EH: Describing the cultural landscape of the 1950’s and '60’s in a child-friendly way was tough for me. Today, there’s a broader conversation about food and cooking than there was back then.

Also, kids today can watch an entire channel devoted to food and cooking. There were only three national channels during Julia’s time.

JG: The timeline, for sure.

After I finished an illustration, I sent it to the art director, who reviewed it with the Erin and the publisher, sent it back for revisions, and then it was sent it to the designer to include in the book.

My job was to try my best to keep up with the schedule.

What is your favorite illustration in the book?

EH: The cover of the book really knocks my socks off, but the illustration of Julia holding her cookbook for the first time is my favorite.

This is my first book, so I can totally relate to the mix of emotions Joanna captured so beautifully.

@Joanngorham
JG: Julia’s recreated kitchen in the Smithsonian. Her own kitchen was such a personal part of her. Cooking wasn’t just a job, but a passion she took home after work.

The little girl is so excited to experience the intimate setting where Julia shared so much of herself with thousands of museum guests.

Cynsational Notes

Erin Hagar writes fiction and nonfiction for children and teens. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She has not yet trussed a chicken, but makes a mean molasses cookie. This is her first book.

As a child Joanna Gorham traveled all over the world. She found a love for food, exploring, and storytelling. Now she tells her own stories through her watercolors in children’s books and family magazines. She recently won two of Applied Arts Magazine’s Young Blood Awards, for the brightest up-and-coming talent. You can find her painting in a little red cottage on an island in the Pacific Northwest.

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16. Video: Hello from the 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Happy Monday! Couldn't make it to the Bologna Book Fair? Need a smile?

Watch this video. It won't take long, and you'll feel happier and more connected to the big, wide world of children's literature.


Hello from 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair... by snottypig

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17. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon on the release of her debut novel, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane, 2015)! From the promotional copy: 

Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to find Ivy's missing mom and say good-bye to the space shuttle.

Ivy Green's mama has gone off with a charismatic preacher called Hallelujah Dave to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. At least that's where Ivy and her dad "think" Mama is. But since the church has no website or phone number and Mama left no forwarding address, Ivy's not entirely sure. 

She does know she's missing Mama. And she's starting to get just a little worried about her, too. 

Paul Dobbs, one of Ivy's schoolmates, is also having a crummy summer. Paul has always wanted to be an astronaut, and now that NASA's space shuttle program has been scrapped, it looks like his dream will never get off the ground. 

Although Ivy and Paul are an unlikely pair, it turns out they are the perfect allies for a runaway road trip to Florida--to look for Mama, to kiss the Space Shuttle good-bye, and maybe, "just maybe," regain their faith in the things in life that are most important.

More News & Giveaways

How To Meditate When You're Too Busy to Meditate and Why You Should Care With Leo Babauta by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fears are based on fantasies (I want to be an amazing writer who impresses everyone!) and the worry that they won’t come true. The antidote, in my experience, is to let go of the fantasies and just be present in the moment."

I Am So Over Writing About "Strong Girls" from Kirby Larson. Peek: "Every time I write the words, 'strong girl' or 'strong woman,' I am implying that the default state of the female of the species is weakness. And I, of all people, know first hand that nothing could be further from the truth."

Rewriting Again...and Again from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...the scariest question of all, was I using the quick-in, quick-out of verse as a way of avoiding exposing my own vulnerability?"

A Bi-cultural Narrative by Kim Baker from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "...people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.)."

A Plea for Anger by Susan Vaught from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...positive, healthy things to do with anger, like exercise, or write a fiery speech or even an entire book, make a video, paint it out, write a bill to become law, walk away from a toxic person or situation, protest injustice–the list of healthy ways to spend anger is pretty limitless. Put it to work."

Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary): Agent Looking for Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "As a Londoner for most of my life, I come from one of the most racially diverse cities on earth. My sons went to schools where white kids were often in a minority and there was a huge racial mix. They had friends from all over the world, many were from first or second generation immigrant families, and my sons’ circles included Hindu, Muslim and Jewish children/teens." See also Survey Seeks to Shed New Light on Publisher Diversity by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.

Change by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every change, big or small, knocks us readers off balance which in terms of emotional craft is good. Shake us out of our fog and our hearts open. We’re free to feel."

Illustrator Shadra Strickland Takes Us Behind the Art of Sunday Shopping from Lee & Low. Peek: "The most challenging part of making the art for Sunday Shopping, was making sure that all of Evie and grandma’s 'bought' items were consistent in all of the small paintings. I had to draw the same small bits of paper in every scene as the wall of items grew and grew." See also Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award from Lee & Low. Peek: "...given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

A Writer's Flexibility by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...life has a way of twisting itself into a pretzel. Your well-planned life (and those of loved ones) takes many unexpected twists and turns. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And if you’ll bend a bit, the writing life allows you to be flexible as well, so you can keep your career and your sanity both."

Will Awards Net More Author Visits? by Kim Norman from Cool School Visits. Peek: "I’ve always thought perhaps it would, so I posed the question to teacher and librarian friends on Facebook."

When Your Scenes Is Dragging: Six Ways to Add Tension by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whatever issue it is that your characters are arguing about– try to raise the stakes as much as you possibly can, so that the pressure on them to make the right decision is that much greater."

Finding the Humor: Jokes in the Midst of Tragedy by Rochelle Deans from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "When you're working with heavy themes, the most important thing to remember is that to your characters, there is no overarching theme. There are the present circumstances and what they're doing about them, nothing else." See also Send in the Clowns by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Authors.

Muslim Representation in YA Lit by Kaye M. from School Library Journal. Peek: "Muslims are a beautiful example of diversity, in ethnic background and in practice, denomination and interpretation. The essence of our faith rests in diversity and universal humanity, on bonding through similarities instead of being forced away from each other due to perceived differences." See also #WNDB Chat on Religious Diversity Storify.

An Indigenous Perspective on Diversity in Young Adult and Children's Books in Australia by Ambelin Kwaymullina from The Wheeler Centre. Peek: "In relation to greater publication of Indigenous works, there is not only a lack of opportunities for authors, but a critical lack of Indigenous editorial expertise."

Bid on critiques by top children's-YA literature agents and editors to benefit Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal for the Arts and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways



The winners of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) were Karen in New York and Jenn in Wyoming.

More Personally

Celebrate Children's Book Week with Eternal (Candlewick)!
The highlight of the week was the launch party for Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) at BookPeople in Austin!

By Cakelustrator Akiko White
With Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Meredith Davis, Debbie Gonzales, Lindsey Lane & Varsha Bajaj
Debbie, debut novelist Anne Bustard & Lindsey
I'm delighted to announce that Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio is in the midst of redesigning my official author website. Look for a more streamlined, device friendly and definitely updated site soon.

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez on her New Visions Award honoree from Lee & Low and on signing with Linda Camacho from Prospect Agency. Cheers also to New Voices Award winner Axie Oh and Award honoree Andrea Wang.

Congratulations to Children's Choice Book Awards Teen Choice Debut Author Jennifer Mathieu (The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook))! See more on the winners.

Interview with YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from T.A. Maclagan. Peek (to debut authors): "You are courageous. You are living your dream. Breathe, breathe, breathe and laugh as much as you can."

Personal Links
Learn more!

Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.



Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from June 8 to June 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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18. The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award To Celebrate 20th Anniversary

Courtesy of Jesse Gainer
Director, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award will be celebrating its 20th anniversary Sept. 25 and Sept. 26. In addition to showcasing exemplary Mexican American children’s and young adult literature, the program strives to share examples of powerful ways to engage young people in culturally responsive teaching and learning with the award winning literature.

The main events include a conference from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 25 and a Mexican American literature fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

Rivera Award Conference

The conference is an opportunity for educators and others who are interested in Mexican American children’s and young adult literature to meet and discuss critical topics in the field with award-winning authors and illustrators as well as leading scholars in the field. Fourteen authors and illustrators who have won the Rivera Award in the past ten years will be featured speakers at the conference. The cost is $25 ($10 for college students) and includes lunch and registration materials. Register now at: riverabookaward.org

Rivera Award Literature Fair

The literature fair will include a book parade, presentations by the authors and illustrators, literature-inspired presentations by students, music and dance performances, and many hands-on activities for the whole family. It will take place at the San Marcos Public Library and San Marcos Activity Center. The fair is free and open to the public.

If you would like to bring students to share original works inspired by their study of Rivera Award books, or if you would like more information, please contact Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu).

More on the Anniversary Celebration!


Participating Authors and Illustrators

Winners of the Rivera Award from 2006-2015

Works for Younger Children Category (age birth to 12 years)

  • Winner 2015 : Duncan Tonatiuh for Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez’s and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Abrams);
  • Winner 2014: Duncan Tonatiuh for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (Abrams);
  • Winner 2012: Winifred Conkling for Sylvia and Aki (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2012: Duncan Tonatiuh for Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (Abrams);
  • Winner 2010, Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales for What Can You Do With A Paleta? (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2008, Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt);
  • Winner 2006, Susanna Reich & Raúl Colón. José! Born to Dance (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2001: Amada Irma Pérez and Maya Christina Gonzalez for My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito (Children’s Book Press). Note: Amada Irma Pérez will represent the first decade of winners.

Works for Older Children Category (age 13-18 years)

  • Winner 2015: Isabel Quinteros for Gabi: A Girl in Pieces (Cinco Puntos);
  • Winner 2014: Susan Goldman Rubin for Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People (Abrams);
  • Winner 2013: Guadalupe Garcia McCall for Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low);
  • Winner 2011: Alex Sanchez for Bait (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2009: Carmen Tafolla for The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans (Wings);
  • Winner 2009: Benjamin Alire Sáenz for He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2007, Juan Felipe Herrera for Downtown Boy (Scholastic).

About the Award

Texas State University College of Education developed The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.

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19. Guest Post: Mary Amato on Behind the Scenes of the Art in Good Crooks

By Mary Amato
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What if a brother and sister had parents who were raising them to be crooks? And what if the kids wanted to say goodbye to their life of crime and become…good?

Mom and Dad would be horrified if they found out! The kids would have to do their good deeds in secret!

As soon as I came up with this idea for a chapter book series, I couldn’t wait to get cracking. After much scheming and some critical feedback from my editor, I figured out the voice and overall structure and decided to call the series: The Good Crooks Books (Egmont). My editor loved it and wanted to nab an illustrator right away.

Lots of editors and publishers dislike author involvement in finding or choosing an illustrator. Since publishers are the ones paying for the book to be produced, they are definitely in the driver’s seat. In my case, I had a long-term relationship with my editor, and so she kindly asked if I wanted to give any suggestions for illustrators or for styles of illustration.

Copyright Ward Jenkins
As if on cue, I had just received the monthly magazine from my professional organization, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The cover was illustrated by a guy named Ward Jenkins. I was drawn to the art and impressed by what the artist had to say about his process in the profile.

I checked out Jenkins’s website. The multitude of characters in his viewable sketchbooks gave me the ability to spy on his range as well as spot characters that I could imagine sneaking onto the pages of The Good Crooks Books.

Quickly I emailed my editor: I think Ward Jenkins could pull off this job!

The editor and her team looked at Ward’s work (as well as other illustrators). They sent him my draft to read and asked him to draw a few quick sketches. Hired!

Copyright Ward Jenkins

While I put finishing touches on the manuscripts for the first two books in the series, Jenkins drew sketches for the covers and for the spot illustrations inside.

Just as I had to revise my writing, Jenkins had to revise his sketches, based on feedback from the publishing team—and from me, too. This is not common. Often, authors are not given the chance to see sketches for fear that they will be too picky. It’s kind of like the “too many cooks in the kitchen” rule. Authors can make the process difficult by being unrealistic or demanding.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

If given the chance to see art, I try to keep my comments focused on whether or not the images are accurate. Sometimes, an illustrator will forget an element or a fact in the text and then create an illustration that does not match what’s happening. For example, if the author says the kids are wearing hats and carrying flashlights and then the illustrator shows them bare-headed and bare-handed, the reader will sense, even on a subconscious level, that the picture isn’t true to the book. Big inaccuracies do happen, and they can be distracting to the reader.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

Thankfully, Ward did a great job and any little glitches we did find were corrected. I loved seeing his illustrations progress from sketches to final art. He captures such a range of facial expressions and body language. And, he has a fantastic sense of humor!

Now, both Ward and I have the great thrill of seeing Good Crooks stealing spots on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Cynsational Notes

Mary Amato is the author of fifteen books for children and young adults. Her latest: Good Crooks Book Three: Sniff a Skunk! (Egmont, 2015) is the third in The Good Crooks series.

Ward Jenkins is an illustrator and animator. 

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20. New Voice & Giveaway: Sarah McGuire on Valiant

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarah McGuire is the first-time author of Valiant (Egmont/Lerner, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.

Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes far more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.

But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine, Valiant richly reimagines "The Brave Little Tailor," transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I think it came in stages for me. I was one of the lucky writers included in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees, and for six months, we worked though my novel. I think my biggest takeaway was tackling the middle of the novel and keeping it from sagging.

Even though I had to slide that novel, under the metaphorical bed, I had a much better understanding of story structure. And I used it in Valiant, making sure I had a tent pole of tension to hold up the center of the story.

My next jump was in a Highlights Workshop with Patti Gauch. She taught (among other things) about going far enough emotionally, about reaching a transcendent moment of fear or hope or joy. She taught me to watch for those places in the story that already meant something to me. I learned to circle back to those places and dive into the emotion of that moment.

I think as writers, we're afraid of our emotion in a scene seeming cheesy or overwrought. And from that place of fear, we keep our emotion on a tight rein. I would have said I was being subtle, but the truth was that I was scared– scared of purple prose and people laughing at over the top scenes. When I was afraid, and didn't go far enough, my writing came across as insincere or insubstantial.

And ... here's the secret: it was. I was too scared to reveal the substance of that emotion. I was too afraid to be truly sincere. My fear of emotional triviality actually made my writing trivial.

But now I'm all better.

Ha.

Of course, I still work at this. And I still don't get it right the first or second draft. Or the third. And when I do finally go far enough, I have to loop back a few days later to trim and shape and make sure there's nothing in the writing of that moment that would keep a reader from going far enough. But I'm getting better at it. And knowing when I don't go far enough is half the battle, right?

Right.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

Photo by Chris Anderson
I found that stories and math (among other things!) shaped Valiant's world.

Let's start with stories. When we think of world building, we often think of government, architecture, all the minute details of daily life. But we forget that we view our own world through the lens of story.

For instance, going off to pursue a dream is most mostly viewed as proper independence in America. In our stories and movies, it's often rewarded. But in other cultures, such independence might be viewed as destructive and selfish.

Anyway, once I realized I'd be writing a story about giants, I knew wanted to work within the stories we all know about giants--even if we don't think we know them. So I did an informal survey of Western myth, folk and fairy tales. Whether it was a titan of Greek mythology or the giant who ground bones to bake bread, giants were brutes who could only be overcome by some form of trickery.

(I found one story of a smart giantess: Oona, the wife of Finn MacCoul. But she defeats another giant through (you guessed it!) trickery. The only story I could find in which someone beat a giant through a straightforward attack was David and Goliath.)

So I had stories where giants were 1) the enemy, 2) stupid, and 3) sometimes ate humans. It seemed only right that the humans in my novel would have similar stories (and thus views) of giants.

David and Goliath, by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)
But things got interesting when I looked back through that same story-lens. Given those stories, how would giants view humans? As unreliable tricksters who used their wits to overcome and kill giants.

So within the giantish world, the most powerful giant might not always be the strongest, but the one who couldn't be fooled.

For me, that was when things got interesting. So I wrote Valiant with the idea that I had two cultures with the same set of stories, but who viewed those stories from two very different perspectives.

I also used math to build my world. (Such a whiplash-inducing change from stories, isn't it? But bear with me.) I was thinking about volume.

Let's say you have a cube that measures one inch on every side. It's volume is length x width x height, or 1 x 1 x 1, which equals 1 cubic inch. If I had a cube that was six times the size of the first cube, 6 x 6 x 6, its volume would be 216 cubic inches.

So–and this is an oversimplification– if a giant was six times as big as a human, he could weigh roughly 200 times more. And he'd need a lot more food than six humans.

Where might giants living in the stony Belmor Moutains find food? And how could they travel the great distance they did in Valiant? I discovered some of my favorite details about the world of the uten by exploring that. What started as mathematical ended with one of my favorite scenes.




Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA/Lerner, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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21. Guest Post: Tara Altebrando on My Life in Dioramas

Learn more!
By Tara Altebrando
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I remember the day I finished my first middle-grade novel, The Battle of Darcy Lane (Running Press, 2014), pretty vividly. I sat there for a minute, stared out the window of my office, and thought: "Now I need a new middle-grade idea."

So I started to root around my brain for inspiration by asking myself the question, "What do I like?"

I'd recently become a little bit obsessed with terrariums, but (understatement alert) I didn't think that terrariums would really appeal to young readers.

Then I remembered a shoebox diorama I made when I was ten years old. It was an Olympic year and I made a tobogganing scene. (I must have been assigned tobogganing because I'm pretty sure I would have chosen figure skating if it had been up to me, but no matter.)

I remember exactly how that diorama looked when it was done; how proud of it I was, how mesmerizing I found it; I remember an afternoon I spent working on it at my friend Tracy's house; I remember the materials I used.

I remembered, that day in my office, that I freaking love dioramas.

A minute later the title My Life in Dioramas (Running Press, 2015) popped into my head…so I wrote it down and then started to cast about for the story.

The House That Inspired the Novel
My husband and I had recently bought a vacation house—an old farmhouse in upstate New York and I had become entirely smitten with the place. It made me happy just to be there--watching the stream in the backyard run, listening to the neighbor's cows moo, staring at knots in the high wood-beam ceilings, listening to wind chimes on the back porch.

As silly as it may sound, I ached for the house when I wasn’t there.

So into my brain walked Kate Marino. Twelve years old and living in a big red farmhouse that she adores. It is her Xanadu (so of course that movie makes an appearance in the book because I love it more than even terrariums!) and then her parents announce that they have to sell it.

I decided that Kate would set out to sabotage the sale and that she would start making dioramas of the house. First just one, for a school project. Then a second, because her first one was late and she doesn’t want her grade to suffer. But then she just keeps going and going…capturing scenes from her childhood.

Basically, she catches diorama fever. Which is currently on the loose in my own home, big time. My daughter is in second grade and studying landmarks: Boom. She’s suddenly making a Coney Island diorama.

Coney Island diorama

A group of wonderful girl filmmakers, Teeny Tiny Filmworks, went crazy with the diorama-making for my book trailer and I’m surrounded by those dioramas now. I’m collecting materials for a diorama I plan to make of me doing a signing in my local bookshop…so that I can bring it to my signing in the bookshop.

This fever, it’s contagious! In fact, in coming weeks I’ll be sharing dioramas that author pals of mine have made for me of scenes from their books. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t throw out any shoe boxes. You never know when you’ll need one!

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22. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)(Cinco Puntos, 2013) won the children's division of the Oklahoma Book Award. Note: Finders Keepers by Roy Deering (RoadRunner) won the YA division. See more information about the Oklahoma Book Awards. See also A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.

Nikki Garcia, Assistant Editor at Little, Brown: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...deciding to be an editor was much easier than actually convincing someone to let me be one. Once I was finished with my classes, I hit the pavement and had an informational interview with anyone who’d meet with me."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry: Musicality by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...having an ear for pitch; being able to hear parts, as opposed to only melodies; being able to recreate a piece of music once it has been heard; having a basic understanding of music theory."

Be A More Productive Writer While Also Achieving Balance by Jordan Rosenfeld from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Intentions are daily motivators in small, manageable pieces; they spur you into action and carry out your tasks on the way to your goals."

The Top 20 Middle Grade Agents by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report all of their sales to Publishers Marketplace. See also Darcy on the Top 20 YA Agents.

Autism on the Page series
Happy Endings and Overcoming Autism by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "In this trope, autism is the bad guy, the obstacle to be overcome. It’s not seen as just a difference, but as something to be fixed and mitigated in a way that other, supposedly 'normal' character traits aren’t."

Native American Representation in Children's Literature: Challenging the "People of the Past" Narrative by Julie Stivers from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "No books by non-Native authors were set after 1950, whereas 75% of books by Native authors were, with 2/3 of books written by Native authors set in present day."

Caitlyn Dlouhy Gets Imprint at Atheneum by Natasha Gilmore from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing will launch a new imprint under Atheneum Books, called Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, helmed by the editor of the same name who has worked with such authors as Laurie Halse Anderson, Ashley Bryan, David Small, and Sharon Draper in her 16 years with the company. Dlouhy was previously v-p and editorial director at Atheneum."

Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal. Peek: "The vast majority of reviewers for School Library Journal (SLJ) are white (88.8 percent) and female (95 percent), according to a recent survey by the magazine."

10 Books by Asian-American Authors by Audrey from Rich In Color. Peek: "...with Asian-Pacific American Month around the corner..."

What Is Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day)? 5 Questions for Pat Mora by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "Día strengthens communities because it brings diverse children and families together to celebrate all our children and to connect them to bookjoy. Día is a year-long commitment to share literacy creatively with culminating celebrations held in April on or near April 30th."

Green Earth Book Awards

2015 Green Earth Book Award Winners Announced from The Nature Generation:



Picture Book: The Promise, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick).

Children's Fiction: Deep Blue, written by Jennifer Donnelly (Hyperion).

Young Adult Fiction: Threatened, written by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic).

Children's Nonfiction: Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Annie Crawley (Millbrook).

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman (Candlewick).

See honor books and more information, including synopsis of each book. 

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

It's a short week at Cynsations, as I'm off to Saratoga Springs today!

Congratulations to Debbi Michiko Florence for signing with Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Tricia on signing Debbi!

Highlights of my week included finally meeting in person this gorgeous, brilliant & inspiring author-actress-singer-filmmaker, who I first met online back in 2007 on MySpace--lucky me!

Florida YA author Shayne Leighton at 24 Diner in Austin.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

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23. New Voice: Reem Faruqi on Lailah’s Lunchbox

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Reem Faruqi is the first-time author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, illustrated by Lea Lyon (Tilbury House, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. 

When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won't understand why she doesn't join them in the lunchroom. 

Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. 

This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon's vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Trying to write and mothering young children can be very tricky! I have a two-year-old and four-year-old and have learned that you get better at working through interruptions. When I’m writing, I’m usually receiving interruptions from my children to take them to the bathroom, for another snack … the list goes on!

When my four-year-old is at school, I have my interruptions cut in half with just my two-year-old's needs. That's when I feel I get the most writing done.

I do try to write sometimes at night when the children are asleep and find it semi-successful. I find I work best during daylight. I love natural light and find it conducive to working and getting my ideas flowing.

At night, it is easy to feel tired after a busy day!

When I quit teaching to stay home with my children, I wrote a lot of children's manuscripts when my first child was a baby. She slept a lot during the day so I enjoyed getting that time to write.

Those stories didn't make it in the publishing world, but through them I now found a stronger voice that works for me.

"Writing" her name with Webdings
I do think it's important though to rest when your children are resting as that time is precious and when your mind is rested, it is easier to write. Sometimes whole stories will pop in my head when I am doing something random like getting my children ready for bed. It's as if I can visualize the story, the words, the illustrations, but sometimes when I sit down at the computer, it is frustrating when that story disappears! But if it's a good story, I believe it will resurface.

The title for my story, Lailah's Lunchbox, popped into my head when I was cooking: I thought it would be fun to write a Ramadan story about a child who "forgot" their lunchbox every day during Ramadan. I wrote the title on a sticky note and put it away for some time before coming back to it.

For those trying to write and raise children, I would tell them there is no such thing as having it all! You may have a great manuscript you’re working on but you will be eating left-overs for dinner for the third day in a row and children that need a bath! Or you may be itching to write a story, but find yourself caught up in bathing children, cooking food, laundry, dropping and picking up children from school, etc!

Something has got to give way when you write. Sometimes I may be caught up in a story and look around at my house and children and think What Happened?!

This happened when I was writing once!
 At those times, find reassurance in your words that you have just worked on and know that because of entropy, your house will continue to keep getting dirty. Putting your words out there takes work and in due time your work will pay off!

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I got a flurry of emails until the "Yes" email!

I made a list of six agents and six publishers to send Lailah’s Lunchbox to. I mailed the manuscripts on May 30 and tried to distract myself with other things. On June 16, I received an email with the subject ‘Your Manuscript’ in my inbox. That was enough to make my insides leap!

The email was from Fran Hodgkins, the Director of Editorial Design at Tilbury House, saying I had sent my manuscript to their old mailing address and that it had been re-routed to their new address.

This is the wrong address for Tilbury House!

Fran said she enjoyed reading it and was sharing it with the co-publishers, Jon Eaton and Tris Coburn, as well as Audrey Maynard, the editor. She went on to say my story was a unique take on Ramadan and she was glad I thought of it. She wanted to know if I had received a response from any other publishers as yet.

I wrote back saying I hadn’t heard a response yet and then went on to forward the email to my aunt who was the person who had encouraged me to send in Lailah’s Lunchbox. She was just as excited as I was!

I checked my email a lot that week but no response. A week later I followed up with Fran asking if she had any response from her co-publishers to which she responded that they were meeting the next day to discuss my story.

I didn’t hear anything from them the next two days. Then on June 24, Tilbury House Publishers followed me on Twitter (@ReemFaruqi). At this point, I started to get more hopeful.

I couldn’t wait anymore so emailed Fran to see if there was any updated to which I got the yes email on June 26:

I was going to wait and have our children's book editor call you, but I'll take this opportunity to say that we really like your manuscript and would like to publish it.

I'm CCing Audrey on this email, as she is the one who'll be working with you closely and our publisher, Tris Coburn, will be in touch to talk terms.

If that all sounds good to you, let me know....

I then took the next 20 minutes to celebrate. I couldn’t believe that I finally got a Yes!

My two-year-old had just gone down for a nap so I couldn’t tell her and I had to celebrate semi-quietly. My husband was teaching so couldn’t phone him up to tell him. My four-year-old was at school so couldn’t tell her either.

So I just jumped around for a minute before calling my aunt who was just as excited as I was, and then my mother who knew when I told her to “Guess What?” that I’d gotten a book deal offer! I wanted to email Fran back with a hundred exclamation marks saying:

THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But once I’d composed myself, I wrote:

Hi Fran,

Thanks for the quick reply. I couldn't wait long enough for the editor to call me. Yes, this sounds amazing and I so excited!

Looking forward to talking with Tris Coburn.

Reem

Within the next few days, I spoke with the publisher Mr. Tris Coburn and Ms. Audrey Maynard, the children’s book editor. It felt surreal to be talking to people whose names I had admired.

That night I went over to my mother’s house and we had a cozy family dinner to celebrate!

Editing time!


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24. New Voice: Danica Davidson on Escape from the Overworld

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Danica Davidson is the first-time author of Escape from the Overworld (Skyhorse, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Stevie, who comes from a long line of Steves, doesn't feel as if he fits in the Minecraft world. His father is great at building and fighting off zombies, but Stevie struggles in these areas. 

One day, when Stevie is alone in the field trying to build something new that will impress his dad, he discovers a portal into a new world.

Stevie steps out of a computer screen and into the room of eleven-year-old Maison, a sixth-grade girl who loves to build and create, but who is bullied and made an outcast by her classmates for not indulging in activities deemed "cool." Stevie is shocked by how different this world is, and Maison takes him under her wing and teaches him all about her world. The two become friends, and Maison brings Stevie to school with her.

Stevie is horrified to see there are zombies in the school He realizes that when he opened the portal, this allowed zombies to also enter the new world. More and more creatures are slipping out by the second, wreaking havoc on a world that has no idea how to handle zombies, creepers, giant spiders, and the like. Stevie and Maison must put their heads together and use their combined talents in order to push the zombies back into Minecraft, where they belong. 

As Stevie and Maison's worlds become more combined, their adventure becomes even more frightening than they could have imagined.

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

I’ve always loved writing — I still have stories I dictated to my parents when I was three, or little notebooks I wrote in when I was so small I had to follow my mom around and ask her how to spell each word.

This continued on throughout the years, with me starting to write multiple novels in middle school. I like to write in a private area, usually with music playing. The music varies depending on the type of scene or book I’m writing.

For my book Escape from the Overworld, I got the contract before I’d written the book and the publisher wanted a quick turnaround of about six weeks.

There was definitely a moment of, “Six weeks – what have I gotten myself into?” But then I made myself plan.

Working as a journalist has taught me that you sit down and you write your project; if breaking news is happening, your editor is not going to care if the Muse isn’t inspiring you that day.

I’d turned in a synopsis for the book, which is what led to the contract, so I spent the next week figuring out in my head the details of the scenes. The main characters are eleven, so I reread some writings I did at eleven to help me get back in the voice. The week after that, I made myself write at least 2,000 words at day on the manuscript before taking any breaks. I wrote more on the weekend or if the words were flowing extra well that day.

In one week, I had my rough draft of about 20,000 words. I gave it to some friends to help me edit (warning them it was called a rough draft for a reason), and waited till I got their edits back before I returned to the manuscript. Once I got their thoughts, I started my revisions and I made my deadline.

There were a number of things that were important to me while writing. I know some people might be quick to dismiss it as, “Oh, it’s just a Minecraft book,” but I wanted it to be more than that.

Since I notice a lot of Minecraft books (or even just adventure books in general) are male-dominated, I made sure my protagonists are male and female and on equal footing. I take on issues like bullying and the fears of going to a new school. I made the shop class teacher female, because I know many people would unconsciously picture a shop class teacher as being male. Both the main characters are from single-parent households, since I wanted to show that’s normal for many kids and nothing to be ashamed of.

Learn more!

As a result of my bullying and girl-power angles, the book has been included in an anti-bullying, girl-empowerment program called Saving Our Cinderellas that aims to inspire young girls of color in cities around the country. I want the book to be fun — I end almost every chapter with a cliffhanger for a reason — but I also hope it can inspire young readers and touch them emotionally as well. It's my goal to write all different types of books for all different ages.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

This is kind of a trick question for me, because writing is my full-time day job, but it’s journalism.

Hear me out.

My fantasy was to publish novels and become a professional writer that way, but as many writers know, that’s easier said than done. When I was in high school, I had to start earning my own money because of financial and family issues. Like many a naive young writer, I submitted stories to "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places. And like many a naive young writer, I have some fabulous rejection letters from the "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places.

I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I started out smaller, writing for local newspapers. Once you’ve published things professionally, other places will take you more seriously. I would take samples of my published work and send them to bigger and bigger places.

Porthos
My interest in anime and manga had me writing about the subject for local papers, and then I used that to get me in Anime Insider, which led to Booklist, Publishers Weekly, CNN, The Onion, Los Angeles Times and other places. (I know this sounds really quick, but I can tell you it actually took years, and I got many rejections in the meantime.)

I even found opportunities to write the English adaptation of Japanese graphic novels for the publishing company Digital Manga Publishing.

At first I was working other part-time jobs to supplement my income, but within a few years I became a full-time writer. Every single day I wrote articles and sent out more submissions.

I began to be known as an expert on manga and graphic novels, and this led me to writing for MTV, which at the time had me reporting on superhero comics being made into movies. I love writing for MTV News, and now I cover social justice issues for them, which means I write about things like philanthropy, activism and advocacy with causes that matter to young people. I was part of a small group of MTV writers to receive a Webby Honor for Best Youth Writing.

All of this helped me hone my craft, get my name out there, and pay the bills.

When I got my agent not long ago, he was very impressed to see a twenty-something who’d sold more than a couple thousand articles to big-name places.

Then while he was shopping around a YA series of mine, Skyhorse Publishing approached me, wanting a manga art guide. Of course I was thrilled and grateful! Next they asked me if I could write some sort of Minecraft book, which led me to pitch Escape from the Overworld. The manga book will be out soon, and I just finished my rough draft for my sequel to Escape from the Overworld, which has the planned title Attack on the Overworld.

I still haven’t been in "The New Yorker," but that’s okay.

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25. Guest Post & Giveaway: Claire Legrand Announces Some Kind of Happiness

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By Claire Legrand
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I will always remember the first time I had a panic attack.

I was in fifth grade, in the middle of a math lesson, and I don’t remember what triggered the attack, although I assume it had something to do with the fact that I was in the middle of a math lesson. Numbers never came easily to me, and even at a young age, I was hyper-aware of that fact, and embarrassed by it.

So I asked to be excused and hurried to the restroom. I hid in a stall and sat on the toilet, shaking. I was flushed all over, sweating like you do when you wake up from a nightmare. My skin crawled, and I couldn’t stop scratching it. I couldn’t breathe.

I thought maybe I just had to throw up and then these feelings would go away, but I couldn’t, and they didn’t.

With no idea what was happening, I huddled there, terrified and alone, for as long as I felt I could get away with it. I thought I was going to burst out of my skin.

That was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.

I will always remember playing in the woods behind my grandma’s house. Now, the trees aren’t quite as tall as they once were, the woods not as deep. Now, I can see reality through the leaves—other houses and other streets, power lines. But growing up, it was an endless wonderland, a neverland, a paradise for me and my cousins.

"My cousins and I hung this sign at the entrance to our clubhouse."
We explored it for hours and days, months and years. We grew up there, shaping it to fit our games of runaways and witches, Peter Pan and Robin Hood.

We built a clubhouse and gathered moss to make potions. We crawled into the green hollows beneath bushes and whispered about where we would go next—other kingdoms, other forests. We stayed out past sundown, the windows of my grandparents’ house glowing with lamplight.

We were never afraid of the dark, not in that place. It was ours, after all. We had made it.

To us, that world seemed full of magic.

I have always wanted to write a story about that place, as I remember it. To capture it forever in the pages of a book.

I’ve always wished that my scared, ten-year-old self could have found a book on the library shelves that told the story of a girl like me. Who got scared like I did, and sad like I did, for no particular reason. A book that could have helped me understand what was going on inside me.

I hope that, through my next book, Some Kind of Happiness, I’ve accomplished both of these things. It’s the story of eleven-year-old Finley Hart, who knows she should be happy. She has a good life, a loving family. Some days she is happy. Some days, though, she’s not. She gets scared for no reason she can pinpoint, and sad, too. She feels tired and heavy. She loses herself to inexplicable panic.

"The tree named 'Mother Octopus'"
Whatever is wrong with her, she wants to hide it from the world, and especially from her parents. They have their own problems to deal with, and she won’t be another one.

To cope, she creates the forest kingdom of the Everwood and writes about it in her beloved notebook. Only in the Everwood does she feel in control. Only there does she feel safe.

While spending the summer at her estranged grandparents’ house, Finley draws her cousins and the wild boys next door into the world of the Everwood—but when the days spent exploring in the nearby forest reveal buried family secrets, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur, and Finley must find the courage to bring darkness into the light—both her own darkness and that of the family she has come to love.

I’m so excited to announce that Some Kind of Happiness is set to release May 2016 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This is my third middle grade novel, and perhaps my most personal one. It’s a story about secrets, family, and friendship, adventure and summertime, mental illness and the power of imagination.

I hope you love it as much as I love it—and even more than that, I hope it finds its way into the hands of kids who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression but didn't yet know how to describe what they were feeling. Like me, maybe they only know it as a nameless, lonely weight on their shoulders. Maybe it scares them, or embarrasses them. Maybe they try desperately to hide it.

I just hope that maybe, as they go on this adventure with Finley, they’ll find words to articulate those feelings, and that weight will start to feel a little bit lighter.

For more on the look and feel of Some Kind of Happiness, be sure to check out the book’s Pinterest board—and for a brief, exclusive excerpt from the book itself, read on!

Excerpt

Once there was a great, sprawling forest called the Everwood.

It was not the kind of forest children played in.

It was the kind of forest most people stayed far away from, for it was said to hold many secrets, and not all of them kind.

According to rumor, the Everwood could be both beautiful and foul, vicious and gentle.

"We were in our own special world."
It was home to astonishing creatures and strange, solitary people—some of whom were born in the Everwood, and some of whom wandered inside, whether they meant to or not. No one in the Everwood got along, for they had no ruler to bind them together, no neighborhoods or cities. They lived like wild things and kept to themselves.

Or so the rumors said.

Most people were afraid to enter the Everwood, but some brave souls made the journey anyway: Adventurers, witches, explorers.

They never returned.

Perhaps the wild creatures who lived in the forest had trapped them there. Or maybe the Everwood’s secrets were so enchanting that those who made it inside did not care to leave.

Everyone who lived near the Everwood knew it was protected by two guardians, who were as ancient as the Everwood itself. Throughout their long lives, the guardians had learned how to read certain signs—the wind in the trees, the chatter of the Everwood creatures.

One summer, not so long ago, something happened that would change the Everwood forever.

The ancient guardians determined that soon, a terrible Everwood secret—one they had kept hidden for years—would come to light. And if this happened, the guardians read in their signs, the Everwood would fall. They would no longer be able to protect it. Its secrets and treasures would be laid bare. Its people would be turned out into the cold, wide world.

There was hope, however. A small, cautious hope.

The guardians could read this hope, slight as it was, in their signs. It was as clear to them as though it were a page in a book:

The Everwood, if it were to be saved, would need a queen.

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win a signed set of books by Claire Legrand: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster, 2012), The Year of Shadows (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Cabinet of Curiosities (Greenwillow, 2014), and Winterspell (Simon & Schuster, 2014). U.S. only. Author sponsored.

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