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1. SCBWI Bologna 2016 Author-Illustrator Interview: Doug Cushman

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

Since 1978, Doug Cushman has illustrated over 130 children's books, 30 or so of which he wrote as well. 

Among his many honors, he has gained a place on the New York Times Children’s Best Sellers list and on the 2003 Children’s Literature Choice list.

The first book of his popular beginning reader series featuring Aunt Eater (HarperCollins, 1987) was a Reading Rainbow Book. 

He has received a National Cartoonist’s Society Reuben Award for Book Illustration, the 2004 Christopher Award for his book illustrations, a 2007 and 2010 Maryland Blue Crab Award and the 2009 California Young Readers Medal.

He illustrated the best-selling “Can’t Do” series, including What Dads Can’t Do (2000) and What Moms Can’t Do (2001) for Simon and Schuster. 


His recent titles include Pumpkin Time! by Erzsi Deak (Sourcebooks, 2014), Halloween Good Night (Square Fish, 2015) and Christmas Eve Good Night (Henry Holt, 2011), which received a starred review from Kirkus. His first book of original poems, Pigmares (Charlesbridge, 2012), was published in 2012. 

He has displayed his original art in France, Romania and the USA, including the prestigious Original Art, the annual children’s book art show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. 

He is fan of mystery novels and plays slide guitar horribly. He enjoys cooking, traveling, eating and absorbing French culture and good wine—even designing wine labels for a Burgundy wine maker—in his new home in St. Malo on the Brittany coast in France.

Welcome Doug! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about illustration and the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG) at the Bologna Children's Book Fair.

You have had a long career in the children's publishing industry, illustrating both your own stories, as well as the stories of other writers. Do you have a favorite medium for illustrating children's books?

I love watercolor with pen and ink. There is so much expression one can have using ink line with the occasional “happy accidents” in watercolor. Pretty much all my books have been rendered in those two mediums.

It was more controlled in the beginning, but I’m trying to loosen up now. For a couple books I did everything: writing, watercolor illustration and hand-lettering the display type and entire text including the copyright. I even simulated aged, yellowing, lined notepad paper with watercolor, hand drawing each blue line on every page of the book.

My philosophy is: do whatever it takes to make the book work.

Has that changed over the years?

Moving to Paris loosened me up a bit. A few years ago, I rendered three books in acrylic, something I’d wanted to do. I love the bright colors and thick brushstrokes. I even added some collaged elements as well.

But, for me, the medium I use depends on the story. The technique I use to illustrate a book must complement the heart and soul of the story. An illustrator should never force his style on a text.

I’ve discovered digital painting recently. There’s a lot one can do with it. I’m having a grand time playing with my Wacom tablet, but I believe my training as a traditional artist has held me in good stead. Knowing the craft of drawing and painting has always helped me out with a multitude of problems! Yet, the story always dictates how I approach the way I draw my pictures.

So it varies from project to project. What influences your choice of style and medium for a given project?

Rackham
Shepard
The story is always the first thing that defines my approach to a project, even when I’m the author. An illustrator must read what’s between the lines as well as what’s on the page. The author is telling a certain story, the illustrations must work in harmony with the text.

A good example is The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908). The master draftsman Arthur Rackham illustrated one (1940) edition.

He's a brilliant illustrator, one of my favorites. But his style was so wrong for the atmospheric and slightly goofy story (Toad driving a car!). He was perfect for Grimm but not for the animal denizens living along side an easy, flowing river. E.H. Shepard’s illustrations are spot on.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as children's book illustrator?

Patience! Flexibility and a thick skin are paramount as well. This is a tough business. So many books are being published every year. But there’s always room for someone with a different voice, a unique way to look at the world.

Be aware of the trends but never be a slave to them. Follow what interests you. It may take longer but in the long run your work will be more sincere and that will catch the attention of editors and art directors. Honesty always shines through.

As writers, we talk a lot about voice, both the voice of the character, as well as our own authorial voice. Do illustrators have a voice as well? What about individual projects, or even characters?

Absolutely, illustrators have a voice. Like writers, it’s the way we see life.

In my case, I see the silliness, the zaniness in the world and through my characters, both human and animal. I’ve been told that one of the qualities people like about my work is the expression on my characters.

That’s part of my voice, my way of interpreting a text and the world in general, that internal struggle, waiting to get out. It’s like being an actor; artists must get inside the skin of the characters they’re illustrating, feeling what they feel. But, as I said earlier, the voice of the illustrator shouldn’t interfere with the voice of the author. They need to play off of each other, work in tandem together.

As a judge for the BIG, what makes an illustration stand out to you?

The BIG is a show of illustration, not just an exhibition of pretty pictures. I’m looking for art that is not only drawn and painted well, wonderfully composed and executed, but also tells a story.

I confess that much of what I see in the grand Bologna Book Fair judged art shows are marvelous paintings but they don’t tell any stories. We’re talking about book illustration here, art that serves a purpose. In many ways it’s harder and a much higher calling than easel painting.

I want to see something that dives deep into a story and tells me something in a way I haven’t seen or thought of before.

Why do you think participation in illustration showcases such as BIG is important for illustrators?

Exposure is one factor. Getting noticed. Working for a specific purpose is important as well. I’ve submitted illustrations to many judged shows with very specific criteria; size restrictions, medium, subject matter, etc. I haven’t always been accepted, but in the process of working on these pieces, I’ve learned something and expanded my working methods.

In almost every, case these pieces have always been the most popular and the most “Wow!” paintings in my portfolio. Picasso said a studio should be a laboratory.

I think shows like BIG can be a way to experiment with new ideas and techniques. Who knows? You may stumble across a way of working that may change your artistic career.

You have been to the Bologna fair on several occasions. How has your experience of the fair changed over the years?

I’m not sure that my experience has changed that much. But that’s not to say I’m bored!

It’s always exciting to see what’s being published around the world. I expect to see new things and I’m rarely disappointed. Of course digital publishing has grown since I started going to the book fair so it’s much more influential.

Through the years I’ve met more editors, art directors and illustrators so I know more people and it’s always fun to renew old friendships. And, of course there are the restaurants that I go to on a regular basis.

Over the years I’ve become friends with one of the owners. Now, that's really exciting!

What are your "must-do's" when you are there?

It can be overwhelming for a first timer. My suggestion is to wander around and “absorb” what you see, not seeking out anything specific. Take notes, jot down what strikes you.

If you open yourself to everything, you’re guaranteed to see something you would have missed if you were focused on a certain goal. I love wandering the “foreign” stands (foreign to this American, at least). There is so much creativity happening all over the world. I confess, working mainly in the American market, it’s easy to become too provincial in my thinking.

Any first time fair attendee should see as many books in as many stands that are not her market. It’s a real inspiration.

Also, as a “must-do”, I try to make a trip to Florence, only 40 minutes away by train. It’s every artist’s heritage, birthplace of who we are. It’s a lovely town chockablock with history and art (with some nice markets and restaurants!) It’s well worth a day off from the fair or staying the extra day.

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary!
Will you be in Bologna in April?

Definitely plan to go. I missed it last year and feel the need to return.

Will you be participating in the ever-popular Dueling Illustrators event at the SCBWI booth?

Yes and it’s always great fun. In past years I was teamed up with Paul O. Zelinsky, which is always a great thrill, and honor.

Thank you Doug! I look forward to seeing you in Bologna in April.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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2. Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan (Sky Pony, 2017). From the promotional copy:

A funny middle grade mystery adventure complete with an unconventional knight, a science experiment gone awry, a giant spider, and a boy to save the day!

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. 

Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. 

The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidentally transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. 

After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversize arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Congratulations on your upcoming release! What do you think of your new cover?

I love it! Huge thanks to Sky Pony and my editor, Adrienne Szpyrka, for capturing the humor of the book while at the same time working in two prominent elements – the giant tarantula and a journal detailing a trip to South America.

The tarantula is Henry Hewitt’s problem and the journal is the key to figuring out what to do about it, which he must do to save his friend and protector, Sir Richard Blackstone.

More specifically, how does the art evoke the nuances of your book?

We wanted the journal to feel Old World, hence the faded brown, as this story takes place in the late 1700’s English countryside.

Sky Pony’s designers had the genius idea of having the tarantula holding the journal to tie it all together. The red and yellow lettering really pop and signal the lighthearted tone.

I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Isn’t it every middle-grade writer’s dream to have a cover with a tarantula on it?

I know it has always been one of mine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Doan has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning series The Berenson Schemes (Lerner).

Operating under the idea that life is short, her occupations have included: master scuba diving instructor; New York City headhunter; owner-chef of a restaurant in the Caribbean; television show set medic; and deputy prothonotary of a county court. She currently works in social services and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

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3. Don Tate & Phoebe Wahl Win Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

By The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
from Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced the winners of the 30th annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.

Each year, a new writer and new illustrator are celebrated. The 2016 award ceremony will be held April 7 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The winners receive a gold medallion as well as an honorarium of $1,000.

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday! So we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

“The Keats Archives at the de Grummond Children’s Collection is a happy reminder of the joy that Ezra’s books have brought to readers and the impact they have had on children’s book makers.

"Once again, we see that influence in the work of this year’s EJK Book Award winners. We are confident that they’ll join the long list of illustrious past winners whose books continue to delight and make a difference,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Lois Lowry, two-time winner of the Newbery Award for Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994), will present this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards. Michael Cart, columnist/reviewer for Booklist and a leading expert on young adult literature, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new writer is:

Don Tate for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree)

In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read, but George Moses Horton loved words too much to be stopped. He taught himself to read as a child and grew up to be a published poet, while still a slave.

Writing about slavery for young readers is challenging but important, and Don Tate succeeds brilliantly, in an engaging, age-appropriate and true narrative.

Tate said, “Three years ago, I won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award, one of the proudest moments of my career. I never imagined being considered again… this time [for] the top award. There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats. When he chose to picture brown children in his books, he chose to acknowledge me. I wasn’t invisible to him.

"As a creator of color in a field that sorely lacks diversity, it can be easy to sometimes feel unseen. This award serves as a reminder to me that I am not invisible and that my work matters.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new illustrator is:

Phoebe Wahl for Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra)

Sonya’s dad presents her with three baby chicks to care for, and she does her job well, providing food, shelter and lots of love as they grow into hens. Then one night, Sonya discovers that one of her hens is missing! But as her father explains, the fox stole the hen because he loved his kits and needed to feed them.

The circle of life is gently and exquisitely depicted in Wahl’s rich and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations of a multicultural family’s life on a farm.

Wahl said, “Keats’ work stands out as some of the most impactful of my childhood. I can directly trace the roots of my obsession with pattern, color and my use of collage to my affinity with the lacy baby blanket in Peter’s Chair. Keats inspired me to create stories that are quiet and gentle, yet honor the rich inner lives of children and all of the complexity that allows.

"I am humbled to be associated with Keats’ legacy in being presented with this award, and I am so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the children’s literature community for this show of support and encouragement.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winners are:

2016 New Writer Honors


Julia Sarcone-Roach for The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, also illustrated by Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)


Megan Dowd Lambert for A Crow of His Own, illustrated by David Hyde Costello (Charlesbridge)

2016 New Illustrator Honors


Ryan T. Higgins for Mother Bruce, also written by Higgins (Hyperion)


Rowboat Watkins for Rude Cakes, also written by Watkins (Chronicle)

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Criteria

To be eligible for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the author and/or illustrator will have no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

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4. Video: Authors Phil Bildner & Chris Barton, BookPeople Buyer Meghan Goel on Modern First Library

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Kidlit TV:

"BookPeople, the leading independent bookstore in Texas since 1970, is proud to announce the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. This initiative is all about pairing beloved picture books that will never go out of style along with other favorites that reflect the diverse, global society of the 21st century.

"Author Phil Bildner interviewed award-winning author Chris Barton and BookPeople's head buyer, Meghan Goel about the Modern First Library -- learn how you can start one of your own!"

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5. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Emma at her launch party signing Jan. 30 at BookPeople in Austin
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Emma Virjan on the release of What This Story Needs Is a Hush and a Shush (HarperChildren's, 2016)! From the promotional copy:

What this bedtime needs is a pig in a wig, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and going to sleep with her pink teddy bear.

All Pig wants to do is sleep, but the farm animals are keeping her awake! Will she ever find some peace and quiet?

More News & Giveaways

Diversity in Reviews: Behind the Scenes with SLJ's Gatekeeper by Kiera Parrott from Reading While White. Peek: "How do I, sitting in a potentially powerful and privileged spot within the publishing ecosystem, ensure that our reviews not only shine a light on a diverse array of authors, illustrators, and subjects, but also surface stereotypes, cultural inaccuracies or insensitivities, or other problematic elements in text or illustrations?"

What Does Children's Literature in India Look Like? by Apoorva Sripathi from The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Peek: "Indian titles attempt to rethink stereotypes with relevant story lines, inclusion of words from regional languages (example, amma and appa instead of Mum and Dad), and scenes set in the Indian milieu."

Reconciling the Tug-of-War Between Teaching and Writing by Ryane Nicole Granados from Women Who Submit. Peek: "Being a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes means I have to train those around me to respect my time, and I have to learn to ask for help when the craziness of the world comes careening down upon me."

¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest from Lee & Low. Peek: "Next I prepared all the shades of acrylics that I would need for the spread and stored them in small clear jars. Each section of a color required several thin coats to achieve the rich look I was looking for."

The Older Writer by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...my first few years as a published writer, the roller-coaster feeling of that time, the steep learning curve, the need to make both business and artistic decisions without fully understanding what they meant, I think I had career hopes and ambitions that were rather different from my current ones."

Author Spotlight: Katherine Catmull from The Writing Barn. Peek: "...publishing is not an endpoint but the art of a long process."

Reflecting on Representation: Zetta Elliott and Edith Campbell from Zetta Elliott. Peek: "If there are 3000 novels published for young readers in the U.S. each year, then should we really be celebrating the publication of 30 Black-authored novels? And of those 30 authors, only two were making their debut in 2015?" See also Where Are the Diverse Children's Books? Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and Matt de la Pena by Tracy Mumford from MPR News.

SCBWI Bologna Interview Series

Martha M. Rago
Martha M. Rago, executive creative director for Random House/Golden Books, will be participating in the upcoming SCBWI Bologna Showcase at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. She will be offering one-on-one portfolio critiques for illustrators who sign up in advance.

Stay tuned to bologna.scbwi.org for dates and times of the illustrator portfolio critiques and more information about the SCBWI Showcase at the Book Fair.

  

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways



More Personally

In the past week, I had the honor of participating in conversations about topics dear to me.

I joined Daniel José Older and Sabaa Tahir in answering questions on Diversity in YA Fantasy from Maggie Reagan from Booklist. Peek:


"The fantastical veil gives these kids the necessary distance, the perspective to relate and care. This is true for teens who we’d consider underrepresented in youth literature. It’s also true for those who see protagonists like themselves all the time. All of them need to see that diverse characters, diverse people, can be heroes that everyone cheers."
Shifting to format, see Writers on Writing: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Short Stories from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek:


"My top pick would be Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005), with the caveats that I’m among the contributors and that I dearly wish there was a more current collection of shorts by Native authors."
Today, by 5 p.m. central, apply for the Austin SCBWI Scholarship for Creators of Diverse Characters.

Personal Links

LEGO Unveils Its First Disabled Character

Typewriter Rodeo: Valentine Poems
This Is Your Child's Brain on Reading
Rare Wild Jaguar in Arizona
#Women Not Objects
Lost Lion Population Found in Ethiopian Park
Linda Hogan Wins Thoreau Prize for Nature Writing
The Art of the Perfect Book Cover
Feral Hogs Spotted Near Round Rock (TX) Outlet Mall
U.S. Generals Want Women to Register for Draft
Why Aren't More Black Students Identified As Gifted?
BookPeople Hiring Director of Marketing and Publicity 
Discussion Guide: Watch Out for Flying Kids: How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community by Cynthia Levinson
Want to End Prejudice? Watch a Sitcom


More about children's author Crystal Chan

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6. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Susan Eaddy

Photo by Peter Nash
By Patti Buff
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Susan Eaddy works in her attic studio writing picture books and playing with clay. She was an art director for fifteen years, during which time she won international 3D illustration awards and a Grammy nomination. 

She lives in Nashville, Tenn.; and is the regional advisor for the Midsouth chapter of SCBWI and a co-organizer of the SCBWI Bologna Book Fair

Her illustrated books include Papa Fish’s Lullaby by Patricia Hubbell (Cooper Square, 2007) and My Love for You is the Sun by Julie Hedlund (Little Bahalia, 2014). Her latest picture book, Poppy’s Best Paper, was released by Charlesbridge in July 2015.

She loves to travel and has used the opportunity to do school visits anywhere in the world from Taiwan to Alabama to Hong Kong and Brazil.

Hi Susan! Thanks for participating in the 2016 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair interview series.

With much more focus on diversity in children's books than has been in the past, how important of a role do you think book fairs like Bologna play in introducing young readers to children from other countries and cultures?

I think that book fairs like Bologna offer hope and understanding for our future. It creates the opportunity to come together from all over the world and find common ground in stories.

Children can only benefit from books translated into their native language to both learn about new cultures or to find that other cultures are very much like their own. With this experience, they see that kids from all over have similar feelings and experiences.

Any tips for new visitors to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair?

First of all, the SCBWI booth is your hub, and home away from home. You’ll be surrounded by friends you’ve never met before. To maximize your opportunities:

  • Apply for a personal or regional showcase with Chris Cheng.
  • Schedule portfolio reviews.
  • Bring promo materials.
  • Read the program.
  • Attend the talks.
  • Network!

Getting Around: Being the worrier that I am…I like to figure out where I am going via Google Maps the day before I need to be somewhere.

Since wi-fi is not always available on the streets, I take a screen shot of the map I need when I am connected, and can then access it through my phone or iPad photos whether I am connected or not.

Get city and bus maps at Tourist Info in the Neptune Fountain Piazza. Buy bus tickets there or at the Tabachi (the little kiosk).

Budget Tips: Have breakfast bars with you at all times. There are food stands at the Fair, but they are pricey and packed, and often a breakfast bar will get you though the day. Then you can splurge a bit on the dinner meal.

Some lodging comes with a modest breakfast, but if you have the option of declining breakfast for a price break, do so. You can generally get a cappuccino for much less and chomp on your breakfast bar.

If you have an apartment, buy groceries and make lunches, even some dinners.

But do eat out when you can. This is Italy! Home of spectacular food. Share a room, a taxi, a bottle of wine.

Do keep all receipts, again, remember this is a business trip.

Those are some great tips. You really are a pro. You’ve done a lot of traveling over the years, China, Italy, and Brazil. As an illustrator, how does seeing different cultures influence you?

I love getting a peek at different cultures when I travel, and specifically I love visiting the schools. One of the things that strikes me most, is how universal kids reactions and questions are.

I have had the same questions from kids in Hong Kong as I've had in Brazil. ("How long does it take you? Why clay? How much money do you make?")

Kids' artwork and enthusiasm are so similar in every culture I have seen. And since so much of my presentations are visual, language does not impose a huge barrier.

In 2015, you officially stepped onto the writing side of picture books with the release of Poppy’s Best Paper. First off, congratulations! And secondly, what particular challenge surprised you when you took off your illustrator’s hat and switched it for an author’s hat?

Thank you! I have lots of memories and ideas from my childhood.

I began writing because most art directors told me that my clay artwork was a tough fit for other people's manuscripts and that I should come up with my own stories.

As I began to write, the stories that unfolded were more complex than suited my illustration style, and the irony is that my own manuscript of Poppy's Best Paper was not a good fit for the clay!

I tried to illustrate Poppy in clay many times, until finally my agent intervened with the suggestion of using another illustrator.

Brilliant! Rosalinde Bonnet's illustrations made all the difference in the world.


Sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what the project needs. So glad that worked out. 

I’m just fascinated by your illustration method of first drawing an outline then filling it in with clay. Do you see the image with color before you begin or is that something that changes as the page progresses?

I start with a color palette that interests me, then I explore it further in the computer or with colored pencil, working on top of copies of my original sketch. Often colors are changed a bit in the clay stage, but I try to have the colors worked out before I mix them in clay.




I can imagine mistakes can be costly. After your artwork has been published in a book, how do you preserve it and are you allowed to sell it?
 
I save my artwork in pizza boxes and other flat boxes and have my studio knee wall space filled with them. The sad thing is that if I am using plasticine, it is not a permanent medium and they can never displayed in any way but on a tabletop under glass.

I do have some framed and saved that way, but I don't sell them. I also use some polymer clay which is more permanent, but I don't sell those either. Since the end product is ultimately a photograph of my clay, I do sell large prints of the work.



Pizza boxes. I love it! What question have you never been asked on an interview or school visit, but wish to be?

Hmmmm.... How old do you feel, or rather, what is your mental age?

I think ten years old is the age I identify with most. I still think like a ten year old. I'm forever trying to figure the world out and gain experiences by feeling my way through while keeping that sense of wonder. I rarely feel like an expert, but in a way that feeds the creativity.

That's actually why I enjoy clay so much, because I don't know how to do it! Every illustration becomes a discovery process. With lots of skills, ten year olds are still trying to do things in their own way with exuberance and angst, and most are not yet jaded.

Ten is my favorite age, too. And finally, what are you working on now? Any surprises you can share with us?

I am thrilled to say that my editor and I are working on a new Poppy book! In this second book, Poppy faces sibling rivalry with not one but two adorable additions to the family.

We'll see if Poppy can learn to share the limelight!

Congratulations! Can’t wait to find out. Thank you so much for stopping by, Susan. I wish you a lovely time at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Cynsational Notes

Patti Buff
The tenth out of eleven children in a family that took in hundreds of foster kids, Patti Buff found solitude in reading at a young age and hasn’t stopped. She later turned to writing because none of her other siblings had and she needed to stand out in the crowd somehow.

Originally from Minnesota, Patti now lives in Germany with her husband and two teenagers where she’s also the regional advisor of SCBWI Germany & Austria. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her YA novel Requiem, featured in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology.

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

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7. Author-Teacher Interview: Esther Hershenhorn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Esther, welcome back to Cynsations! What’s new in your writing-teacher life?

I’m happy to report: the teaching part of my teaching-author life is taking off in all sorts of new directions this year, literally and figuratively. I continue to teach writing for children workshops at both the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio and Chicago’s Newberry Library, where I’ve taught since 2001 in alternating seasons.

However, this April and May I’ll be facilitating a Writers Group at the Writer’s Studio for middle grade and young adult novelists. This June I’m introducing a new hands-on workshop in which writers use common marketing tools to create a GPS to guide their final submission-worthy revisions.

Both institutions bring me stellar students from all walks of life, so committed to telling their stories to children they wring me out like a sponge.

I love it and remain “Jewish-Mama proud” as they fully immerse themselves in learning and honing their craft.

Come July, I’ll be flying northeast to Landgrove, Vermont, where I’m honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s venerable Manuscript Workshop from July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn.

I’m back in Chicago July 23 through Aug. 3, again honored, this time to facilitate a writing for children workshop, along with Joan Bauer and Sara Holbrook, in Judson University’s Doctoral program.

We’ll spend time on campus grounding the soon-to-graduate Doctorate in Literacy candidates in the Children’s Book World’s story-telling opportunities and possibilities; we’ll then retreat to a northern Michigan resort where we’ll work one-one-one with our writers to help each ready his or her manuscript.

How exciting that you’ll be leading the Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont! Would you please tell us about the history of the program?

The one-and-only Barbara Seuling - children’s book author of more than 60 titles, illustrator, former children’s book editor and esteemed children’s book writing teacher, founded The Manuscript Workshop in New York City in 1982, moving it to Vermont in 1992 and then to the Landgrove Inn these last few years.

That’s Barbara Seuling, the expert author, as in How To Write A Children's Book and Get It Published (Wiley, 2004), Barbara Seuling, whose dedication to craft and children’s literature as well as to her students and fellow children’s book creators is known to all in the children’s book world.

I’m mindful I’m stepping into some mighty huge shoes.

An early brochure’s cover quote underscored Barbara’s heart and the workshop’s intent: “Spread your writer’s wings…and discover how high you can soar.”

Countless working writers who attended the workshop and retreat have indeed flown high, connecting with fellow writers, learning new skills and polishing their work.

The good news is: my heart lies with Barbara’s; the workshop’s intent remains the same.

The small (up to eight writers) week-long workshop continues its tradition of offering insightful, informative and inspiring one-to-one student-teacher connections.

Morning sessions include hands-on writing exercises and instruction on craft – story and its structure, format and genre considerations, the young reader’s needs.

Afternoons are set aside for individual writing and/or re-visioning of manuscripts, optional special interest sessions or free time.

Evening sessions focus on readings of the day’s work and guided critiques.

Throughout the week, focused food-for-thought conversations at meals highlight the writing process, paths to publications, writer’s tips and sustaining the creative spirit.

Appropriately enough, manuscript workshop founder Barbara Seuling ices the week’s cake with a guest speaker visit.

How about your personal philosophy of teaching? What should your students expect from you?

As corny as it sounds, like Barbara I do things “the old-fashioned way” – up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart.

In my humble opinion: each of us has a story and the right to tell that story. It’s my job, as well as a privilege, to help the writer do just that if children are his or her audience. I do indeed invest in that story – in its construct, its telling, its place within the body of children’s literature.

But as important, I also invest in the writer. Knowing what our characters want/need/wish for and why isn’t enough; we need to know our own what's and why's. As Marion Dane Bauer taught me, the writer needs to be somewhere in his story if it’s to re-sound in the reader’s heart.

This was a truth that came late to me in my own path to publication, a career that – proudly - earned me the title “The Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.”

Again, it might sound corny, but I do my best to give my students and the writers I coach what I needed while out and about on my own writer’s plotline: I needed someone seeding me, feeding me, cheering me on, believing in my story, believing in me.

Like the earlier-mentioned Jewish Mama, I’m tough – because children deserve the very best, I nurture and I take enormous pride in the strides my students and coached writers – my “storied treasures” - continue to make.

One of the great lures of any workshop is the location. How would you describe it?

I cannot tell a lie: I’ve yet to visit the Green Mountains in person!

However, I’m counting the days ‘til I arrive.

Paging through Vermont travel guides and scrolling down the pages of online Vermont websites, I know what awaits me: majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, picturesque valleys and verdant forests, scenic roads, hiking trails and quaint charming towns. “Idyllic” is the word most travel writers choose to describe the Green Mountain State.

Tom and Maureen Checchia, proprietors of the historic Landgrove Inn, known, incidentally, for its award-winning meals, describe their country inn and town as “authentically Vermont.”

The truth is: a whole lot of magic can happen when we leave our known and familiar writing rooms, when we take ourselves and our stories to new places and spaces and surround ourselves with like-minded, like-hearted folks who share our passion.

Tell us more what you’re doing in your writing life.

Ah! The author part of teaching-author.

Alas, when I do claim writing time between my teaching and coaching, my work, like my teaching, has taken off in new directions, literally and figuratively. Now, when I do write, I’m usually writing nonfiction.

I found this funny at first, since I was somewhat reluctant to join my fellow TeachingAuthors bloggers, certain the writing would not fulfill me as my fiction did. (How wrong I was!)

I also found my reluctance ironic. I minored in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication and cut my writer’s teeth working for a local newspaper, then educational text book publishers.

Researching and writing S is for Story, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear, 2009) turned me around 360°. The writing itself, straightforward and concrete, came so naturally, lost as I was in that creative flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi advocates.

Recently I began blogging for the American Writer’s Museum, scheduled to open in Chicago in late 2016/early 2017.

Given my love of Chicago and All Things Children’s Book, my posts have featured Shel Silverstein (“A Chicago Gift Named Shel”), L. Frank Baum (“Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan!”) and The Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature project (“Dear Author”). Future posts will feature Gene Luen Yang (the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature), the Walter Dean Meyers Award and a favorite author’s upcoming 100th Birthday.

Currently, I’m working with a graphic designer to create a new alphabet book concept.

And that one middle grade fictional character whose story grabbed my heart a life-time ago?

Fortunately, she’s making herself known on a daily basis.

How would you say your journey has evolved over time?

Leo the Late Bloomer and I have much in common.

For starters, like most beginning children’s book writers, I had no idea I was embarking on a journey, and a Hero’s Journey, to boot.

I was simply writing a picture book to be published in time for my son’s third birthday. It would be easy. It would be fun. And how nice that while doing so I could realize my childhood dream of seeing my name on the cover of a children’s book. I mean, I did teach fifth grade, right? I did write for newspapers, yes? I did write text books.

Fast forward lots of years dotted with lots of rejections and “oh, no!” Moments, past lots of twists and turns, not to mention lots of mentors and allies. To my amazement, as story helps the reader discover/uncover/recover his story, writing – and revising - my never-published picture books and middle grade fiction helped me discover/uncover/recover my story. I’d finally found my voice. I could speak from the heart. Published picture books soon indeed followed.

But wait! Just as the hero surprisingly returns with something so much better than what he first sought, I did too.

Once published, I went on to become a teacher and coach of children’s book writers.

In Elizabeth Strout’s new novel My Name is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016), the title character and narrator shares remembered advice from a famous author whose writing workshop she’d attended. “You will have only one story,” Sarah Payne told the class. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

I agree.

I’ve come to see that all of my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, picture book or novel, and all of my characters from Lowell Piggott to the referenced and cited children’s book creators in S is for Story, tell the reader: you matter!

Which is just what I tell my students and writers.

In so many inevitable yet surprising ways, I now understand my story may well be helping other writers tell their stories.

I look forward to doing just that July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

Through February, The Inn offers a discount for accommodations. You can email Tom Chechhia at vtinn@sover.net.

Interested writers can also email me their questions at esthersh@aol.com.

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8. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Author Interview: Kathleen Ahrens

By Patti Buff
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Kathleen Ahrens was born in the suburbs of New York City and aspired to be an astronaut and to live in a skyscraper. Poor eyesight led her to forgo the first dream, but her move to Hong Kong allowed her to finally fulfill the second.

As a child, she read constantly — often in very dim lighting — leading to her poor eyesight, and she could often be found with a book in one hand and a dictionary in another, now clear precursors of her love of both literature and language.

Her favorite subject in high school was Latin, but her aptitude in math led her to enter the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a computer science major, later switching to a degree in Oriental Languages after she grew bored writing computer programs that mimicked war scenarios.

Currently a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she is the director of the International Writers’ Workshop, she is also a fellow in the Hong Kong Academy of Humanities, and the international regional advisor chairperson for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Hi Kathleen! Thanks for stopping by the blog to discuss the upcoming Bologna Book Fair

With much more focus on diversity in children's books than has been in the past, how important of a role do you think book fairs like Bologna play in introducing young readers to children from other countries and cultures?

The fact that buyers can walk from one hall to another and see and acquire books from all over the world is very important — without Bologna it would be much harder to know of and gain rights for books from outside one’s own geo-political boundaries.

In addition, while most everything is available on the internet nowadays, it’s still people who connect their friends to books they find at the fair and introduce people who buy and sell rights to each other. These connections happen quite naturally in Bologna, which make it that much more likely that the books from one country may make it to the shelves of another country.

One thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve traveled is that so many publishers in countries outside of the U.S. bring in (and translate) books from all over the world. I’ve yet to see that kind of cross-cultural diversity in U.S. bookstores, even in independent ones, mainly because the U.S. publishers are simply not buying (and translating) that many books from other countries.

Part of that has to do with the fact that US has its own rich publishing environment, but part of it seems to stem from the assumption that U.S. children will not read translated books. This assumption needs to be tested by regularly putting the very best of literature translated from other languages into the hands of readers in the U.S.

Any tips for new Bologna visitors?

I highly recommend the museums in Bologna, including the Archaeological Museum of Bologna and Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (Mambo). My favorite is the Museo Civico Medievale because it contains artifacts that show medieval life in Bologna, including funerary monuments and tombs for professors, some of which have engravings that show teachers lecturing to students. Perhaps because I am a university professor myself, I find these representations fascinating, especially as the scene is still a familiar one in universities today.

One tip if you visit the museums: there are audio recordings are very well done and worth the cost of renting if available.

Great tips. I’ll be sure to check them out. Your picture books (Ears Hear and Numbers Do, both co-authored by Chu-Ren Huang, illustrated by Marjorie Van Heerden) are bilingual in English and Chinese and feature an Asian setting. How hard was it to cross both cultures in one project?

The challenges for these two picture books was in the language. I like to say I “co-argued” these books with my co-author, who also happens to be my husband.

We were adamant about having the text read naturally in both languages and yet still be clear translations of the other language. So sometimes my husband would come up with a line that sounded great in Chinese, but awkward in English, and vice versa.

Another challenge was that the editor wanted the text and illustrations explained, as she was afraid that the minimal text and illustrations with fantastical elements might be confusing.

This is not something that is usually done in picture books published in the United States, as the reader is free to interpret the text and illustrations as he or she wishes.

We compromised by providing commentary and questions in the back of the books to assist the adult reader in interpreting the text and illustrations. I think it worked out well in the end because it helps parents see that it’s okay to stop and discuss a text during a reading, and that there is no single correct interpretation. For parents who are unfamiliar with reading to young children, or who feel that a book should have a particular overt message, it’s important to let them know that multiple interpretations are fine.

‘Multiple interpretations’, which in themselves are another form of diversity. Very cool. Your other writing projects, including the one that won the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award are more western based. What are some of the challenges of writing for children in your adopted country and writing for your homeland audience? And how do you keep up to date with teens from the other side of the world?

The biggest challenge is the same for any audience — namely, getting what is in my head down on paper. I can sit at the computer and see the scene perfectly in my head. I can hear the dialogue and smell the freshly-shampooed hair of a character. But all that needs to be translated to the page and that’s part of the challenge and excitement of writing.

In terms of keeping up with teens in the U.S, I know enough to know that I could never keep up. But I also know that, as Doreathea Brande said, “If a situation has caught your attention…[if] it has meaning for you, and if you can find what that meaning is, you have the basis for a story.”

That’s what I’m doing when I write — I’m finding that meaning. And when someone reads what I’ve written, they’re creating their own meaning based on what is going on in their lives at that particular point in time. So to my mind, it’s not so much keeping up-to-date as being curious and open to meanings in everyday situations and figuring out how they might intersect with universal themes and current issues that are of interest to readers.

You are extensively published in the academic world, which requires a fair amount of research. Do you apply the same research techniques to your fiction? If not, how do they differ?

Hong Kong at night
In my linguistic research, I set up a hypothesis and then test my hypothesis by gathering linguistic data through experiments or through analysis of linguistic patterns in that corpus.

When I write creatively, I utilize the internet, the public and university library, newspapers, published diaries, etc. in order to get background information for my story — the details that make a scene come alive for reader.

In the former, I’m testing hypotheses; in the latter, I’m gathering information. However, they share a similarity in that I also need to gather information before I test a hypothesis — I need to see what other conclusions researchers have before I start my own research. So I’m pretty good at locating and sifting through information — I used to do this on 3 x 5 inch note cards. Now I use Scrivener and Mendeley to stay organized.

And finally, what are you working on now? Any surprises you can share with us?

I’m working on a YA novel about two sixteen-year old half-sisters meeting up at a summer camp for the first time in ten years — one has been waiting for this summer for ages, while the other has been doing everything possible to avoid it.

What’s at stake is not only the relationship between the two of them, but also the main character’s relationship to her mother, who left her at an early age and later died while serving in Iraq.

That sounds amazing – and powerful. Hope to be able to read it soon. Thank you so much for stopping by, Kathleen. I wish you a lovely time in Bologna.

Cynsational Notes

Patti Buff
The tenth out of eleven children in a family that took in hundreds of foster kids, Patti Buff found solitude in reading at a young age and hasn’t stopped. She later turned to writing because none of her other siblings had and she needed to stand out in the crowd somehow.

Originally from Minnesota, Patti now lives in Germany with her husband and two teenagers where she’s also the regional advisor of SCBWI Germany & Austria. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her YA novel Requiem, featured in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology.

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

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9. Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover of The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat (Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks, 2016). From the promotional copy:

All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when an enchanting song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. 

A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offers to help, and she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl that’s not quite solid, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

Tell us more about your cover. How did it feel to see it for the first time?

It was a total thrill! When I opened the box of galleys that my publisher sent me, it seemed like the books were absolutely glowing. The cover art makes me want to dive in and see what is behind that door. I hope kids will feel the same way.

The girl on the cover is the main character, Izzy, who journeys into Faerie to find her little sister and bring her home. The three animals are the Changeling children who help her.

The Changelings are shape shifters who can make themselves look like almost anything for a short while. But they can only truly “Change” into a handful of forms – like the stoat, butterfly, and badger on the cover.

The little flying fairies are Pollenings. They play a very tiny, but important, part in the story. (And they make honey that goes great with pancakes!)

What was it like to see your characters depicted on the cover?

I actually didn’t think the cover would feature the characters at all, so it was such a wonderful surprise to see them in the first draft! When I got my first look at Izzy, I thought the artist captured her perfectly. She looks curious and thoughtful, and is having a very human reaction to all the magic around her – a mix of awe and nervousness! I’m sure most of us would feel the same way if we stumbled into Faerie.

I think it was a very wise decision on Sourcebooks’ part to have Izzy be the only human face we see on the cover. The artist could have drawn all the Changelings in their child forms, but I think that would have taken some of the fun away from readers being able to imagine them for themselves.

Tell us more about the cover design process. Where you involved?

The artwork and design were done completely without me – thank goodness! But my editor and art director did ask me for input on the characters, and we went back and forth several times to make sure the details were right and the cover was being true to them.

I am really lucky to have been involved as much as I was. I know that’s not always the case for authors!

I learned so much about covers during this process and the heavy lifting they have to do. The cover has to draw a reader in, give them a feeling for the writing and the story, but without giving too much away. Everything, from the font to the color palette, to the way the art wraps around to the back, contributes to that sense of wonder you want readers to have – before they even start reading.

The cover for The Changelings doesn’t depict an exact scene in the book, but I think it does everything you want a cover to do!

Oh, and there is a secret hidden in the cover as well. But you will have to read the book to figure it out!

Cynsational Notes

Christina Soontornvat spent her childhood in small Texas towns, eagerly waiting for the fairies to come and kidnap her. They never came, but she still believes magic things can happen to ordinary people. When not writing, Christina hangs out in science museums and takes care of her own little goblins-ahem- children. She lives in Austin, Texas. The Changelings is her first novel.

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10. Former Editor Stephanie Fretwell-Hill Joins West Coast–Based Red Fox Literary

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Former editor and foreign rights manager Stephanie Fretwell-Hill has joined boutique agency Red Fox Literary.

"Stephanie approaches the children's book business with the same thoughtfulness and concern for authors and illustrators that we at Red Fox Literary strive to be known for," says agency co-founder Karen Grencik.

Fretwell-Hill began her publishing career in 2004 at Walker Books Ltd. in London, where she sold foreign language rights for projects by legendary artists such as Helen Oxenbury and Lucy Cousins. Though she worked across a broad range of territories including Eastern Europe, and Spanish speaking countries across the world, she specialized in developing new markets, selling the first Walker Group titles into Russian and Arabic territories.

In 2011, Fretwell-Hill joined Atlanta-based Peachtree Publishers, where she edited board books through young adult titles. Her acquisitions received such honors as YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, Parents' Choice Awards, and numerous starred reviews.

"She has a careful and well-considered approach to editing, plus an excellent eye for illustration," says co-founder Abigail Samoun.

For Fretwell-Hill, becoming an agent is the culmination of ten years' experience in children's book publishing. Her new role combines the buzz of sales and negotiation with the creativity of editing and acquisitions, but mostly hinges on building strong relationships. "I'm really looking forward to working closely with authors and illustrators," she says. "Kind, passionate, and creative people are my favorite part of this business."

Red Fox Literary, founded by Grencik and Samoun in 2011, was recently named one of the top ten children's book agencies ranked by Publishers Marketplace sales.

The agency represents over eighty authors and illustrators, including Dan Krall, Julie Falatko, Lee Wind, Sarah Watts, Masha D'yans, Hannah Harrison, Miranda Paul, and other stand-out talent.

In 2014, Red Fox brought on board award-winning blogger Danielle Smith, who recently signed National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

2015 saw the agency's clients receive nearly a dozen starred reviews on titles such as Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) (Viking), One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Millbrook/Lerner), and Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter (Christy Ottaviano/Holt).

"We're delighted to have Stephanie become the fourth agent at Red Fox," says Samoun.

Stephanie Fretwell-Hill will be open to submissions for six months. Interested authors and illustrators can send art samples, complete picture book text, or the first three chapters of a novel to querystephanie@redfoxliterary.com.

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11. In Memory: Andrea Cheng

Learn more from Lee & Low.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Andrea Cheng by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly.

"Children’s book author and educator Andrea Cheng, whose books often focused on intercultural and intergenerational relationships, died on Dec. 26, 2015 following a long illness. She was 58.

"Cheng was born in El Paso, Tex. in 1957, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. The family soon moved to Cincinnati where Cheng and her two siblings grew up in an extended family, which she described on her website as 'three generations under one roof.'”

From The Cincinnati Enquirer:

"In lieu of flowers or food, donations may be made to either the Andrea Cheng English as a Second Language Scholarship at Cincinnati State (online or checks to Attn: Cincinnati State Foundation, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, ATLC, Room 352, 3520 Central Parkway, Cincinnati OH, 45223), or to the Cincinnati Public Library (online or checks to 800 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH 45202). Please note that the gift is in memory of Andrea Cheng."

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12. In Memory: Larry Romans

By John L. Amundsen
Program Officer,
Outreach and Communications ALA Office
for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) family, along with all of ALA, are saddened to learn of the death of Larry Romans, director at large of the GLBTRT on Thursday.

His service to the Library community was vast; Larry served on the GLBTRT Executive Board for six years and had been a member of GLBTRT since 1984, when it was then known as the SRRT Task Force on Gay Liberation. He served on the ALA Executive Board from 2007-2010 and served with distinction on ALA Council for over 24 years. He was the the chapter councilor for Tennessee for eight years and was finishing his 16th year as an at large councilor at the time of his passing.

While on ALA Council, Larry was a forceful advocate for equality, within and beyond the Association. He worked with ALA staff to make its conferences more welcoming and inclusive environments for all, through ensuring that conference cities implement sensitivity training for employees in serving transgender attendees and sponsored a resolution opposing marriage inequality.

He often chaired ALA’s Resolutions Committee and was an informed participant whose opinions were valued. He helped many newly elected ALA Councilors find their way and their voice to speak their passion. Larry was a master of parliamentary procedure to follow in meetings. He could always be depended on to know who to talk to on specific issues.

Children's Award Winner
YA Award Winner
Through the generosity of Larry, and his husband Mike Morgan, the Stonewall Book Award Endowment fund grew significantly, with Larry and Mike donating over $75,000, including a $15,000 challenge match in 2014.

Endowing the Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, which was named for Larry and Mike in 2012, was a highlight of his career.

“Larry Romans’ thoughtful and invaluable contributions to elevating GLBT literature; to the advancement of The American Library Association; and to librarianship will not be forgotten,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “Larry will be missed and always in the hearts of his friends, colleagues, and those that look to the Stonewall Book Awards - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award - for quality titles regarding the GLBT experience.”

Larry was a dear friend to many and will be remembered for his kind soul, gentle manner and deep wisdom. The GLBTRT membership and Executive Board will miss his counsel, his warmth and his friendship.

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13. Telling Better Stories: Writing Diverse YA Fantasy

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Of late I had the honor of joining Daniel José Older and Sabaa Tahir in answering questions on Diversity in YA Fantasy from Maggie Reagan from Booklist. My thoughts included:

I’ve had students ask me, “How do I write this without freaking out the white folks?” And yet authors hold back at the peril of young readers. Those who share our perspectives go invalidated, and those who don’t are never exposed and enlightened.

I also noticed a Freudian slip in my comments, and I'm inclined to leave it be. I refer to some allied librarians, insistent on telling (rather than sharing) stories of Native people as stock characters uniformly suffering from alcoholism on reservation. But telling is what I really did mean. There aren't Native children's-YA writers crafting fiction along those lines.

Yet I'm told, time and again, that this stereotype is the single story that resonates. It's come up to stand alongside the "romantic, New-Age-y" stereotype and "historical savage" stereotype. Together and separately, these persistent tropes negate respect, nuance, complexity, humanity, and back to the focus of article, the potential for Native-inclusive children's-YA fantasy done right.

It's disheartening to refute, coming from allies. So, if you count yourself among them, please know that you are appreciated. But also be careful of assumptions, however benevolently intended.

See Telling Better Stories: Writing Diverse YA Fantasy.

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14. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What's Trending? What Is, What Was, What's Soon to Be in Kid Lit by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Note: a quick cheat sheet for those seeking savvy.

Current Representations of American Indians in Children's Literature by Natasha Gilmore from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The population numbers are small, which means traditionally published books are poised to make a big impact not only to represent children accurately, but educate non-Natives about the population as well."

Why Editors and Agents Stop Reading by Paula Munier from Jane Friedman. Peek: "...connect each scene, as readers need to know what the protagonist’s motives are, and what he wants in every scene." See also What About A Novel Sweeps Us Into Its World by Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed.

Characters Who Are Too Casual by Mary Kole from KidLit.com. Peek: "...a character who doesn’t care as much as they could. They are too casual. There are two ways to be too casual..." See also "Slight" - What Does an Editor Mean? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes.

Engaging Audiences Through Twitter in 15 Minutes a Day by Kirsten Oliphant from Jane Friedman. Peek: "...you’ll need to set up lists and populate them with relevant people." See also Be Real: A Social Media Strategy That Works by Martha Brockenbrough from SCBWI Insight.

On Behalf of Late Bloomers by Mary E. Cronin from Project Mayhem. Peek: "They are content to act their age (and may even act a bit younger), and they are not in a rush to get to the next developmental stage."

Child Soldier & The Refugee Experience by Nicole Martin from ALSC Blog. Peek: "These books may not only be sought out by children who identify with such experiences, but may also be of interest to curious readers who want to better understand what it may mean to be a refugee."

Writing Collaboratively: Can You Check Your Ego at the Door? by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "...we've all heard the disaster stories from other writers. So how do you know if it's going to work?"

So You Want to Work in Publishing: Advice from a Chronicle Books Editor by Ariel Richardson from Chronicle Books Blog. Peek: "...landing your first internship or your first job can be tough! I’m hoping these tips will help you out on your path."

Four Tips for Writing Nonfiction Plots by Kathleen Merz at From the Editor's Desk. Peek: "...you can’t be afraid to cut out the material that isn’t necessary.... How do you know, though, what’s important enough to keep?"

Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results from Lee & Low.  Peek: "Our Diversity Baseline Survey took a year to complete. The results include responses from eight review journals and 34 publishers of all sizes from across North America."

Picture Book Literary Agents and What Excites Them by Tara Lazar from Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). Peek: "Picture book writers eager to be represented scour the web for info about the tastes and preferences of kidlit agents. Well, stop searching and look no further." See also Industry Q&A with Agent Brooks Sherman from CBC Diversity.

Library of Congress Selects Graphic Novelist Gene Luen Yang as Ambassador for Young People's Literature by George Gene Gustines from The New York Times. Peek: "...he found his wife, Theresa, a development director for an elementary school, a tremendous resource. ...he was inspired by her program for encouraging students to read and write in different genres and that she was enthusiastic about the ambassadorship."

Grow Reader Empathy By Showing Your Protagonist's Vulnerable Side by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The willingness to be vulnerable...is about saying, 'this is who I am. I am sharing this real self with you.' It is self-acceptance and courage at the highest level, the purest form."

Cover Design 101: A Sense of Mystery by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "The challenge in all YA book design is to create a cover that looks like it belongs in the YA section, but doesn’t look too much like the rest of the YA section. And to do that, you need a good designer."

How to Be a Great Art Ally by Cecil Castellucci from The Crush Library. Peek: "It is getting harder and harder for everyone who isn’t in the top 5% of their industry to get the word out about work they are doing."

Surviving Failure and Rejection by Barbara O'Neal from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "It’s cheeky of us to imagine that we can sit around making things up and people will want to read them, but you know—that is the job."

Cynsational Awards

Check out 2016 Book Awards Roundup: APALA, Amelia Bloomer Project, Other Non-YMA Awards by Briana Moore from School Library Journal and Winning the Newbery When Diversity Matters by Pat Encisco from Latin@s in Kidlit.

Then watch this energetic and amusing 90-Second Newbery introduction, performed in song by authors Nikki Loftin and James Kennedy.



Cynsational Bibliographies


This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


More Personally

With my VCFA summer 2015 advisees at Sarducci's in Montpelier, Vermont.
I've returned home to sunny Austin from the VCFA MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults winter residency. See The Life Cycle of an MFA Residency by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly.

As always, the residency was a wonderful experience but a full-to-bursting one. Consequently, I'm in catch-up mode--responding to emails, coordinating my schedule with events agent Carmen Oliver of The Booking Biz, and updating my web site and social media platform.

What else? Violent Ends: A Novel in Seventeen Points of View (including mine), edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015) was named a New York Public Library Top 10 Best Book for Teens. The chapter I contributed was titled "All's Well."

Violent Ends also was named to the CCBC Choices List 2016, along with Things I'll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015), which includes my short story, "Cupid's Beaux."

Meanwhile, I had the honor of hosting Native Voices Roundtable: Sharing Stories and Talking Back (part 1 and part 2) at We Need Diverse Books. Featured contributors: Tim Tingle; Yvonne Wakim Dennis; Debbie Reese; Julie Flett; Eric Gansworth; Naomi Bishop; and Joseph Bruchac. 

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to contribute to the conversation? See Cynsations Call for Interviews, Guest Posts, Giveaways, Book Trailers & More? 

Links of the Week: 1000 Black Girl Books; Publishers Weekly Seeks Reviewers



Personal Links

White Rhinos Closer to Extinction
Woman with 1,000 Cats
Barbie's Got a New Body
Multi-racial Identity 
"Super Earth" Discovered 14 Light Years Away 
Lizzie Kelly Makes Horse-Racing History
Plans for Underwater "Oceanscraper"
"Star Wars" Monopology Game to Add Rey
Protecting Asia's Snow Leopards 
Students' Research Could Become Cherokee Biographies
Why Gigantopithecus Became Extinct
Alex Espinoza Interviews Joy Castro
Joy Castro on Racial & Ethnic Justice in the Creative Writing Course
Disney Princesses Speak Less Than Men in Their Films
Connecting Through Kids' Books: A Prison Writing Project
Destroying The Death Star Would Trigger Economic World Crisis

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15. Guest Post: Shelley Pearsall on The Importance of Vision

from the real Hampton's Throne
By Shelley Pearsall
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I worry a lot about vision.

As a forty-something woman (okay, close to fifty), my vision seems to be diminishing on a daily basis. Cheap pairs of Walmart reading glasses are scattered through every room in my house – and still, I can’t seem to find a pair when I need them.

But I worry more about the vision of the next generation. Not their eyesight as much as their ability to see the possibilities in things. Their creative vision. The desire to look around, notice stuff, and wonder about it…

On a recent train ride into New York City, I sat next to a twenty-something woman who checked her iPhone every three minutes without fail. In between, she dozed. But she never once peered through the window next to her seat. Not one single glance.

How could she ignore the outside world so completely, I wondered? How could she be content to miss everything zooming by? Wasn’t she curious about something beyond her tiny screen – the people on the platform, or the bustling neighborhoods, or heck…even the random stray cat on the random gritty windowsill?

Maybe I’m on this vision kick because I’ve spent so much time lately thinking about the idea and writing about it.

My new novel, The Seventh Most Important Thing (Knopf, 2015) is about the importance of vision…of being able to see the possibilities around us. Written for ages 10 and up, the novel follows the unlikely friendship between an angry, young teen named Arthur Owens, and a solitary trash picker named James Hampton.

Without spoiling too much of the story, I can tell you that James Hampton is a man who truly sees the possibilities in what everyone else overlooks or discards. Vision is vital to his work -- things like used light bulbs, foil, coffee cans, and cardboard boxes become something entirely different in his hands.

Since the idea of looking below the surface of things is so central to the story, I designed the plot and the characters as a series of layers too. The deeper that readers delve into those layers, the more surprises there are. What they think they know at the beginning of the book, may be much different than what is true at the end.

Writing the novel has caused me to focus more on “vision” in my work with student readers and writers in schools. On a recent school visit, I held up a silver CD disc and asked the audience what it could be…

from the real Hampton's Throne
“A CD disc” was the first answer.

(It is always the first answer.)

“I’m not asking what the object is,” I countered. “I’m asking what it could be….”

Eventually, the ideas began to flow: angel’s halo, crown, spectacles, flat donut, steering wheel, one of Saturn’s rings…

So, here’s my challenge for you today: Put away the technology for a few minutes. Look at an everyday object nearby.

Really notice all the details.

Let your mind roam. Think of all the creative possibilities it could be and give your own “vision” a chance to soar.

Oh, and if you are on a train, at least look out the window and notice the cat…

Shelley's writing space


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16. Guest Post & Giveaway: Lisa Papademetriou on Finding the Right Perspective: A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

By Lisa Papademetriou
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One day, I was at the grocery store with my daughter when I spotted a crazy man in the car beside ours.

Zara was very small, perhaps three years old, she watched while he sat in his car, talking to himself, as I unpacked the groceries.

When I finally sat behind the wheel, I tried to ignore the man, fearing that she would be frightened or concerned.

Instead, she looked at me and explained, “He’s praying.”

When I looked again, I realized that she was right. The man had on a skullcap—he was in his car, praying to Allah. When your religion calls on you to pray five times a day, sometimes the best, most private place is in the car.

My daughter knows that because her grandmother is an observant Muslim, and has prayed in our car on numerous occasions. To Zara, this is perfectly normal. This is the essence of point of view.

Three years ago, I began work on A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic (HarperCollins, 2015). The story is about two girls—one in Texas, one in Pakistan—who each find a copy of a magic book.

Thematically, I was writing about the way in which stories unite us, so the dual setting and protagonists were very important to me. My husband is from Pakistan, and we travel there fairly often. I had been hoping to write the story from the point of view of someone like my daughter, who is very familiar with the culture.

But an early reader felt that, despite the compelling Pakistani setting, Leila’s point of view simply didn’t feel convincing. This reader told me that I needed to discover the story that was in my own heart. Put another way, I had to find the common ground between Leila’s perspective and my own.

I am a Greek American, but I am far more American than Greek. When I traveled to Greece as an adult, people could tell right away that I was Greek. But when they discovered that I didn’t speak Greek, they were disappointed.

“That is a shame,” a cabdriver in Thessaloniki told me, frowning.

Yet, in the iconography of the Greek churches I visited, I would see faces that looked like mine. In many ways, Greece felt like home to me, but it also felt intensely foreign.

This is also how I exist among my in-laws when I visit Pakistan—they accept me as family. In fact, they sometimes accept me so thoroughly that they forget that I don’t speak Urdu, or know what holiday we are celebrating, or even have any idea what clothes are appropriate for different occasions. To them, these things are all second nature, while for me, they are constant sources of confusion and gaffes. I belong, and yet I don’t.

These were the experiences I drew on when I created Leila’s character in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic. She is a Pakistani-American girl, but she is far more American than Pakistani. She is trying to navigate the space in which the culture is her heritage, but it is not familiar. Like me, she is an insider-outsider.

Acknowledging my own perspective helped guide me toward the story I could most authentically tell. Happily, a number of reviewers who are also Americans with family outside of the United States have noted that Leila’s story arc feels relatable and familiar.

I started by writing about the ways in which stories can connect us to one another. In writing the story of my heart, I learned how true that is.

Cynsational Screening Room


The Story Behind the Story: A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic from PixelEdge on Vimeo.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou (HarperCollins, 2015), plus a special handwritten letter from a character in the book. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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17. Giveaway: Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed, (optionally) personalized copy of The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull (Dutton, 2016). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America only.

From the promotional copy:

And sometimes the Strange came to visit Clare, and dreams walked through her waking life.

Clare Macleod and her father are returning to Ireland to the house where she was born: a house under a green hill, with a tree inside it.

Inside the tree, she finds long-forgotten companions of her childhood: a world made of living lights, and a boy named Finn.

But unless Clare and Finn can defeat an ancient, furious foe, their two worlds will be ripped apart, severing the human world from art and dreams forever.

An adventure story about finding the courage to make—to write, draw, invent, dream--and the courage to throw yourself on what you fear and let it bear you up, the way the wind bears up the birds.

There is no safety, and so we must touch and be touched, and we must fall and fly.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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18. Cynsational Return: Welcome to 2016

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations!

I look forward to sharing information and inspiration about youth literature and publishing throughout 2016 (find out more about contributing to the blog).

This spring I'm also excited about the paperback release of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2016) and appearances that include "In Reality and Fantasy: Diversity Done Right -- with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith", in conjunction with North Texas SCBWI, March 19 at the Latino Cultural Arts Center in Dallas, the Texas Library Association Conference in April in Houston and the Asian Festival of Children's Content at the National Library in May in Singapore.

But first here's a quick peek at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults winter residency in Montpelier.

My workshop co-leader An Na


Books by visiting author-illustrator Shandra Strickland

By visiting faculty Nova Ren Suma and visiting author Kirby Larson

Alumni Anne Williard and Margaret Turner White before their graduate lectures.

In his lecture, faculty Tom Birdseye quotes Rita Williams-Garcia.

Faculty William Alexander and David Macannis Gill

Congratulations to the Inkredibles -- Winter 2016 graduates!

See more photos on my Tweet deck @CynLeitichSmith or #vcfawcya.

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19. Book Trailer: My Dog Is The Best by Laurie Ann Thompson and Paul Schmid

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for My Dog Is The Best by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Paul Schmid (FSG, 2015).

From the promotional copy:

What do you get when you combine one energetic, enthusiastic little boy with his sleepy but tolerant dog? Unconditional love. 

Using simple words and spare illustrations, My Dog Is the Best celebrates the special bond that exists between a young child and a beloved family pet. It's the heartwarming story of two best friends. . . told by a boy with a very active imagination.



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20. Guest Interview: Author Eric Pinder on Writing Picture Books & How to Share With a Bear

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Eric Pinder is the author of four picture books and four adult nonfiction books. His most recent release is How to Share With a Bear, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015). From the promotional copy:

The perfect thing to do on a chilly day is to make a cave. But comfy caves never stay empty for long….

What can you do when a bear takes over your cave? Try to distract him with a trail of blueberries? Some honey? A nice, long back scratch? 

How to Share With a Bear is a story about how although it’s not always easy, sharing with a sibling can be the most fun!

Congratulations on How to Share With a Bear! Tell me about the inspiration for this story.

Being a kid should automatically count as credit toward getting a degree in architecture, because we’ve all made blanket forts and blanket caves as kids. What’s more fun? I think every uncle, aunt, parent, and babysitter has had to master the architecture of a blanket cave at some point, too. Often it’s a collaborative effort, in the same way that reading a picture book is a shared experience.

For How to Share with a Bear, I had the blanket cave setting in mind from the start. The word “cave” got me thinking about real caves, and what you might find in one. That led naturally to a bear.

How or when did you make that leap in your imagination from bears being scary creatures that could eat you to being a cuddly companion?

William Faulkner’s “The Bear” was an early influence, even before I started writing for children. And no one gets through high school without seeing Shakespeare’s bear chase characters right off the stage. So we have this perception of bears as big and scary, but in childhood we’re also familiar with Fozzy Bear, Yogi Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and our own teddy bears.

Hear the word “bear” and you don’t know at first which you’re going to get: the terrifying grizzly or the funny, cuddly kind of bear. The very word “bear” creates uncertainty, all on its own.

Uncertainty creates tension and suspense. And suspense makes readers keep turning the pages. We have these two dueling, conflicting perceptions of bears lodged in our minds from an early age, and I think the subtle tension that evokes is what makes bears so great for storytelling.

Cat in the Clouds, If All the Animals Came Inside, Share with a Bear... I'm sensing a theme with animals and nature.

One of my earliest favorite memories is camping with my dad in Baxter State Park on a rainy afternoon when suddenly a moose stuck its head right into our leanto to say hi. I didn’t have that day in mind when writing If All the Animals Came Inside, but now that I think about it, that memory must have been an influence all along.

I know you spend a lot of time outdoors and have even written some books for grownups on that subject. Can you tell me what prompted you to write for children and what has been the biggest challenge in crafting stories for young readers?

One day a strange thing happened: Everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Their houses were suddenly full of books by Seuss and Boynton and Silverstein. I’ve always liked poetry, and writing picture books is similar; they’re both read aloud—performed—so the sound and rhythm of each word and syllable matters. It’s almost like writing a song. Reading those old favorite books on friends’ shelves and hearing them performed out loud reminded me of how much fun they are. I had to start writing some of my own.

Writing for any age group is challenging. The biggest challenge with picture books is appealing to two different audiences at the same time: the grownup reading the book, and the child listening to them read. Re-watching Sesame Street recently made me appreciate how well they often write on two levels like that. One Sesame Street skit features a bear who is a writer. The bear’s name is Flo. It took me a second to connect the dots: Flo Bear, i.e. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary. Clever joke! That second level of understanding flew completely over my head when I saw skits like that as a toddler, but it didn’t confuse or distract me, either. Watching it as a grownup, it made me chuckle.

What's your process like? Do your stories simmer in your head for a long time before you sit down at the computer?

I leave a plate of cookies next to my laptop overnight and hope that elves will write the story for me. Then I get up the next morning, eat one of the stale cookies, mutter about elves, and start typing away on my own. To force myself to make time to write, I’ll put background music on the CD player and make a rule: no checking email or playing Scrabble or anything else but writing until the music stops. Usually the first half-hour is agonizing, but then I’ll get momentum.

Sometimes a single sentence or an opening scene will simmers for months before the rest of the story appears. At other times, like a gift from the Muses, a whole first draft will appear on the page in one sudden creative burst. But that’s rare. I should probably bake more cookies for the Muses.

You also teach creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Does that also feed your creativity?

The best way to describe teaching is “exhausting but rewarding.” Lesson prep and commenting on student stories is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Sometimes a student’s story or poem will be so good that it makes me grin the whole time I’m reading it. Just being part of a community where everyone loves books, talks about books, and asks smart questions about books on a weekly basis sparks creativity.

Of course, there are times when I wish I’d assigned less homework. (Right now, my students are probably saying, “Yeah, us too.”) It takes energy and time to critically read and edit dozens of pages of stories by others between classes, and that does leave less time and energy for your own creative work. It makes sticking to a regular writing schedule, even if it’s only an hour a day, extra important.

For most teachers the summer—blissful, leisurely summer—is the most productive season for our own writing. But the books we read and the classroom conversations we have during the rest of the year definitely fuel new writing projects.

I frequently see Facebook posts of you selling books at Farmers Markets. Tell me more about this unique venue choice.

A middle-schooler at an author event said, “Hey, my mom runs the farmers’ market. You should sell your books there.”

That’s not a venue that would ever have occurred to me, but, being a starving writer in need of money, I filed the idea away and gave it a try.

The first day I sold $200 worth of books. People like getting signed copies. Even on rainy days when I sell nothing, it’s still fun to meet and talk to people. You can tell who the teachers and school librarians are.

The best part is seeing kids who really love books. A beginning reader at one market slowly read If All the Animals Came Inside aloud to his grandma, pausing every now and then to say, “Did you write this page and this page?” and “What the heck’s a yak!?” It was like listening to a funny DVD commentary for my own book. Halfway through, he told me, “You’re actually doing a really good job writing this. So far.” Kids are the bluntest and best of literary critics.

At some markets I’m the only writer there, sandwiched between vegetable stands, maple syrup, and corn on the cob. Other towns combine farmers’ markets with craft fairs, so there are painters, wood-carvers, and photographers there, too.

One tip for doing book-signings at venues like this is that it helps to have at least three or four different books on your table. People like to see a selection and be able to browse. I’ve seen authors with only a single title at their table, and they’ve struggled. The more covers you have on display, the more eye-catching your table will be.

What's coming up next?

Another picture book with Stephanie Graegin, How to Build a Snow Bear, is coming in 2016, and The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban, in 2017. The latter has animals but surprisingly no bears, which may be a first for me.

I also just finished a big revision of a creative nonfiction manuscript about adventures in teaching. That one does have bears, and wolves, and even a camel. So I guess I’m not done writing about animals just yet.

I read about the bats being cut from How to Share With a Bear - any plans for bat inclusion in future books? Or do you have something against bats?

I love bats! They eat mosquitoes and have sonar as a superpower. Sometimes a scene, like the one with the bats, is good on its own, but the story as a whole is stronger without it.

I save deleted scenes and pruned sentences in a folder called “Scraps.” Sometimes they’ll get used or adapted later in a different story.

Cynsational Notes

Both Eric and Gayleen are alums of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program and graduated in the Winter 2011 class known as the Bat Poets.

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21. New Voice & Giveaway: Christine Hayes on Mothman’s Curse

Mothman Selfie Sheet
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christine Hayes is the first-time author of Mothman's Curse, illustrated by James K. Hindle (Roaring Brook, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. 

But when she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. 

A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

I so envy writers who are able to follow a set routine. That would be the ideal. I’d love to be more productive, more disciplined! But the truth is, while I try to spend time every day writing or revising, I often end up staring at the computer screen, reworking the same passage over and over, or finding jobs to do around the house that could easily wait.

If I go several days without any forward writing progress—and to me that can include blogging or marketing efforts—then I become anxious and unsettled.

Christine's work space
I find I have to set small, measurable goals and break big projects up into bite-size pieces to fool myself into not feeling overwhelmed. I’ll mark a deadline on the calendar, then work backward to determine how much I have to get done each day. Even imaginary deadlines can be valuable motivators!

Then I try to follow through in unconventional ways, mixing up my routine from day to day. I’ll work a few days at home at the kitchen table, another day sitting in the car at the park, another at a local café. On a few occasions when I was facing critical deadlines, I checked into a hotel to sharpen my focus and cut down on distractions.

For first drafts, I get the most done with a notebook and pen, writing things out by hand. Later, as I type what I’ve written, I’m able to self-edit, adding or cutting as needed. It’s an effective way to shape the story early on.

For the next round of revisions I often print out a chapter at a time and use a red pen to mark it up. Sometimes there are only a few usable sentences left per page once the ink dries. It’s tough to watch the word count shrink, but satisfying to see those few sentences that are able to withstand a more intense level of scrutiny.

As far as making a manuscript competitive—polished, professional—I think it’s a dichotomy. You can’t compare your work to others, because you will always feel like you fall short.

Christine's pottery collection
I love the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I see this with my kids all the time. If I were to give them each a cupcake, they’d be happy for a minute or two, but they would inevitably notice that a sibling has more frosting or less frosting or a better color of frosting or whatever. As adults, we never quite grow out of this.

At the same time, you should be reading every day—books both in and out of your genre, news articles, magazines, something. Not to compare, but to fill your mind with words of all kinds, drinking in what’s beautifully done, learning lessons from work that’s perhaps less polished, clichéd, poorly paced, etc.

Set a high standard for yourself. Maybe six months ago you wrote something and said, “This is my best work.” But then you write something new and when you revisit your earlier work you realize that you’ve grown as a writer. It’s a beautiful and amazing process.

I struggle with procrastination and self-doubt. I also tend to overthink, to tinker with passages too much, but at some point I have to stop fussing and just let go. The gauge for me is feeling like it’s the best I can produce in that moment in time, until my agent or editor gently points out the many ways a piece can be improved!

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal since grade school. As a young teen, I would check out stacks of ghost story anthologies from the library. I had mostly given up on kids’ novels at that point. I found it so disappointing when I would choose a book that seemed like it was about a ghostly mystery, only to discover that the “ghost” was a fake, dreamed up by the bad guy to hide some evil plot. I craved books that celebrated the unexplained.

One book I do remember falling in love with was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963). Though not precisely a paranormal story, it was full of wonder and possibility.

I had the same teacher, Mrs. Tapscott, for both fourth and fifth grades. She read to us every day, and one of the books she read was A Wrinkle in Time. She had this sweet southern voice, and she had no patience for kids who thought they were too cool to listen during reading time.

She also read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin, 1937), The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Avon, 1969), and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Dutton, 1959). She was an incredible lady.

I also remember seeing commercials for a series of Time Life books called Mysteries of the Unknown. I wanted so badly to own every volume. A few years ago I found one at a garage sale for a dollar. Of course I snapped it right up! Isn’t it funny, the things we carry with us from childhood?

Outside of books, one specific influence that stands out in my memory is the show “In Search Of,” hosted by Leonard Nimoy in the late 70s/early 80s. Each week they would explore an aspect of the unexplained: the Bermuda Triangle, aliens, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster. I ate it up.

Then, of course, were the slumber parties where we watched movies like "Psycho" and "The Lady in White." It was delicious, that shared feeling of fear: hiding behind our pillows, imagining footsteps outside the window—because in fact we were perfectly safe. We were seeing new facets of the world, exploring what it meant to be brave.

I think spooky books are appealing because they offer adventure, escape—a vicarious experience in a parallel world. They allow kids to view fear through a lens that hopefully makes their real-world problems a little less scary, a little easier to face.

These days I love "M Night Shyamalan" movies and the show "Supernatural." I even watch the occasional episode of "Ghost Hunters." My husband teases me about my “creepy side.” But I’ve never enjoyed slasher movies or anything gory, especially zombies. They give me nightmares!

It’s probably why I write middle grade. I love a good scare, but nothing graphic. I think what you don’t show can be even scarier than spelling out the grisly details. The movie "The Village" comes to mind here. It wasn’t well-received by critics, but it created an almost tangible atmosphere on the screen. It had gorgeous, enticing cinematography, a washed-out color palette with hints of red (“the bad color”), and an epic soundtrack. I thought it was beautifully done.

I’m also fascinated by old things and abandoned places. Every broken-down barn or rusting piece of junk tells a story. You can almost feel the history there as you imagine the ghosts that might be lingering. It’s my go-to source for inspiration.

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22. Guest Post & Giveaway: Greg Leitich Smith on Time Travel & Tracking Dinosaurs

Borrowed Time launch party at BookPeople in Austin
By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There’s a line from the first "Jurassic Park" movie to the effect that the place has all the problems of a major theme park and a major zoo.

I sort of feel the same way about writing time travel fiction: You have all the major problems of historical fiction and all the major problems of science fiction/fantasy.

And in writing a dinosaur time travel novel, I found, to my surprise, that of the two, the more problematic one has been the historical – dinosaur -- aspect.

We are seeing new discoveries and new interpretations of dinosaur behavior and evolution almost weekly. In publishing, of course, there can be up to a two-year lead time from a sale of a manuscript to its publication. A lot can happen in that time.

For example, there is a dinosaur called Tsintaosaurus – long thought to have had a single horn coming out of its head like a unicorn. In 2013, however, a study was published that concluded that the “horn” was placed in the wrong position and Tsintaosaurus didn’t resemble a unicorn at all. Any manuscript set for publication that featured the unicorn became instantly outdated.

Sometimes, though, the science is less settled, as in the case of Nanotyrannus. Nanotyrannus is a name that was assigned to a specimen of a dinosaur that resembles Tyrannosaurus rex but is somewhat smaller (Hence “nano”). Although some of the evidence is ambiguous, some recent analyses suggest that Nanotyrannus was just a juvenile T.rex.

(That said, there are new specimens that some paleontologists believe may prove the existence of Nanotyrannus that have yet to be fully examined).

So, what’s an author to do?

Do your research until it hurts. For me, this involves getting as many primary sources as possible. In the case of paleontology, this means journals such as PloS One, Cretaceous Research, and the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

I tend not to trust media reports of new discoveries but sometimes they link to or you can infer a link to the original article. Most articles on the new discoveries will have a recap of past thinking on an issue.

Know your point of view. Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012) and Borrowed Time (Clarion 2015) both feature a small tyrannosaur the point-of-view protagonist Max calls Nanotyrannus. Max does mention the ambiguity in the naming (because he’s slightly pedantic), but nevertheless continues to call it Nanotyrannus throughout.

Why? Well, first, “Nanotyrannus” is kind of a cool name and continually referring to the animal as “the juvenile T.rex” would’ve been clunky. Also, he didn’t have the wherewithal to perform an analysis of the creature to determine what species it actually was...

Don’t be afraid to make an informed judgment call – in fiction, at least, there’s room for poetic license. And, besides, the science might catch up to you. Both Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time feature a variety of dinosaurs of differing sizes in the dromaeosaur family (These are the “raptor” dinosaurs made familiar by "Jurassic Park").

In the location and era the book is set, however, the bones of only small raptors have been recovered, although there are some ambiguous teeth believed to be from larger raptors. Consequently, in the books, I feature different-sized species of raptor. And recently, paleontologists announced the discovery of Dakotaraptor, a giant-sized “raptor” dinosaur – somewhat larger than the raptors from "Jurassic Park" -- from the same era in which my books are set.

What’s a reader to do?

I tend to be the type of reader who gets annoyed by factual errors. They trip me up and make me less trusting of the author and less willing to suspend disbelief. So here’s my strategy:

Whenever I pick up a book for the first time, I always look at the first publication date (often the copyright date). I had assumed that everyone did this or learned to do this, and was surprised when I was informed this was not so.

But the original date of publication will give you a heads up on the mindset of the author, the era in which he is writing, and what facts are known (or should have been known) to him or her at the time.

For example, Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrayal of sluggish and scaly dinosaurs in The Lost World (published 1912) is very different from the active and intelligent predators in Michael Crichton’s Lost World (1995). But I’m willing to accept Conan Doyle’s portrayal because of the era in which he was writing. (I’m also willing to accept Crichton’s featherless raptors because his book was published prior to the discovery that raptors had feathers).



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win signed copies of Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (both Clarion). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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23. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Sharon Gibney by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "As a teen, I didn’t see very much at all being written about mixed race identity — particularly in fiction that teens are reading. And I definitely didn’t see transracial adoption being dealt with in a nuanced, complex way that felt real to me as a young person living through that experience."

Writing Enslaved Narratives by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...as a kid, I never saw that depicted in books, so I didn’t know. Had I known, I might not have felt so ashamed every time the topic of slavery came up in sixth-grade history class." See also Writing About Family & Freedom by Kelly Starling Lyons.

Best Policies for a Streaming Author Visit from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Streaming visits allow authors to connect with more readers and are easier on your budget- sometimes your author will even speak for free!"

Adventures of a Debut Author: A Tweet Cheat Sheet from Debbie Gonzales. Peek: "Check out how easy it is to support a friend in 140 characters or less." See also Five Ways to Use Instagram as an Author by Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine from Jane Friedman.

Interview: Kevin Henkes by Roger Sutton from Media Source. Peek: "I do love the time between when I've finished a book and when that book comes out in print. I use that time to come up with an idea for the next book, so I don't mind it being stretched out."

Call for Nominations: 28 Days Later from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Nominations are now being accepted for our ninth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month showcase honoring emerging and established children’s book creators and their amazing literary contributions."

Parrotfish Needed an Update: The Rapidly Changing Language of Transgender Awareness by Ellen Wittlinger from The Horn Book. Peek: "I’ve known for several years that there were words in the book no longer considered correct and, in fact, that there was one word currently deemed offensive." See also Recommended Books on Transgender Lives and Telling the Stories of the Transgender Community by Gwen Glazer from the New York Public Library.

Five Things I Learned on Deadline by Chandler Baker from Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest. Peek: "It’s easy to panic on deadline. In fact, panic is the default. Sometimes I think I live in a perpetual state of panic with a little voice in my head screaming in terror."

How to Decide How Many Point of View Characters Our Book Needs by Marcy Kennedy from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "One technique we can use for figuring out what’s best for our individual story is to write down all the potential point-of-view characters we might want to use, and then ask ourselves the following questions."

"Reading Aloud Binds Us Together in Unanticipated Ways" by Kate DiCamillo for The Washington Post. Peek: "I wanted to let people know that we can all — young and old — connect more deeply through stories. But oddly, what happened is that as I worked to deliver the message, the message was delivered to me."


This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann are Jess in Ohio and Donna in California.

More Personally

Greg with cakelustrator Akiko White.

Last Sunday Greg Leitich Smith successfully launched Borrowed Time (Clarion, 2015) to a standing-room-only crowd at BookPeople in Austin. See Greg's event report.

See also Borrowed Time Mixed Paleontology and Fantasy by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "...a slam-dunk for dinosaur aficionados and will appeal as well to those who are fans of literary time travel and outdoorsy adventure."

Effective immediately, Cynsations will go on winter holiday hiatus while I update my official author website for a 2016 relaunch. Keep up with children's-YA book news and resources at Twitter @CynLeitichSmith and facebook.

Congratulations to Neil Shusterman, winner of the National Book Award in Young People's Literature, for Challenger Deep (HarperCollins)!

Congratulations to the WNDB Inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant Recipients!

Thank you to Kim Bogren for recommending my picture book Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) at Words Reflected.

Link of the Week: Perfect Websites for Shopping for Book Lovers & Geeks by Naomi Bates from YA Books & More.


Personal Links

Slippery Words Talks to Violent Ends Contributors
Texas Book Festival Seeks Literary Director
Things I'll Never Say: Author Roundup
How "The Hunger Games" Changed Hollywood 
Open Letter to Teachers About Images of American Indians
Singapore: Lights for the Deaf & Rings for the Blind

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24. Cynsational Holiday Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Effective immediately, Cynsations is on winter holiday hiatus while I update my official author website for a 2016 relaunch. Keep up with children's-YA book news and resources at Twitter @CynLeitichSmith and facebook.


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25. Cynsations Call for Interviews, Guest Posts, Giveaways, Book Trailers & More

2016 Holiday
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy New Year!

Cynsations will officially return from winter hiatus in late January.

In the meantime, consider this an invitation to query me about potential future interviews, guest posts, giveaways, book trailers, and more.

Cynsations was launched in 2004 and is considered one of the flagship blogs of the children's-YA literature industry and community.

The national Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, School Library Journal, The American Library Association and Writer's Digest have recognized it for its large, consistent readership and/or quality. On a less formal basis, the blog is assigned in various children's-YA literature classes and cited in academic papers and both national and university critical review publications. Where the number of active blogs (and readers) has slowly decreased across the board, Cynsations continues to attract a steady increase with each passing year.
 
Cynsations' audience is made up of a spectrum of devoted readers from children's-YA literature core community as well as layperson fans and young readers--especially teens with a strong interest in reading and writing. The tone is upbeat. Sensitive topics are welcome. Profanity is not.

Posts should be inspirational or informational with real writer/illustrator/reader/gatekeeper takeaway. My focus is the children's-YA book market only, by which I mean the international market with an emphasis on North America. While I agree that many books published for grown-ups may be enjoyed by teens, they are outside my area of concentration.

2016 Holiday
Interested contributors (or their representatives) should contact cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com to discuss possibilities.

Posts are scheduled on a rolling basis once all text, links and images are received (in the same submission) and approved.

I reserve the right to edit, largely for consistency of style, however no additions will be made without express approval of the contributor. I seldom decline a post, though it has happened, either because the topic was not a fit or the overall quality fell short. I do occasionally ask for minor revisions.

Traditionally trade published debut children's-YA authors, illustrators and author-illustrators are eligible for the New Voices/Visions interview series. These posts involve a choice of available questions and a request for a couple of tie-in images in addition to book creator(s) photo(s) and book cover. Independently published debuts also are eligible, but require a more extensive vetting process.

I also routinely feature interviews with more established children's-YA book creators as well as agents, editors (corporate and independent), translators, critics/commentators, marketing/publicity/PR professionals, book event planners, teachers, librarians, university professors of library science and education, creative community and conference/workshop leaders, MFA educators and administrators, literacy and literacy nonprofit advocates, diversity advocates, children's-YA literature bloggers, and other book lovers/leaders of all stripes.

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (Austin, Texas)
These interviews can be long (two-part), short (two thoughtful questions and answers) and various lengths in between. They may be conducted by me or another member of the youth literature community. For example, authors may interview each other, especially if they have, say, books with related topics or set in the same historical time period or featuring the same diversity element. A new author may interview her writing mentor (or vise versa). An established author may interview his agent (ditto). An up-and-coming illustrator may interview her art director (capiche?). The combinations are endless.

Guest posts may be submitted by those in the above mentioned categories as well. These should run approximately 500 words.

Topics related to the craft of writing, techniques of illustration, the creative life and heart, the business of publishing, and literary diversity--defined broadly--are especially welcome.

Pitches may also be submitted for a week-long or occasional series of posts on, say, YA horror or children's poetry or the faculty of an upcoming workshop or winners and honor recipients of a particular award.

In addition, the blog also features book trailers, cover reveals and giveaways for new releases as well as links to quality content similar to its own (including links to reader/teacher guides and classroom activities and various online tie-ins (like, say, an interactive map of a high-fantasy setting).

Thank you for your consideration. It's an honor to participate in the conversation of books for young readers. I look forward to rebooting in a few weeks.

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