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1. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member Uma Krishnaswami on the release of Book Uncle and Me, illustrated by Julianna Swaney (Groundwood, 2016)! Note: so far, the book has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews. From the promotional copy:

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.

But what can she do? The local elections are coming up but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote!

Still, Yasmin has friends — her best friend, Reeni, and Anil, who even has a black belt in karate. And she has grownup family and neighbors who, no matter how preoccupied they are, care about what goes on in their community.

Then Yasmin remembers a story that Book Uncle selected for her. It’s an old folktale about a flock of doves trapped in a hunter’s net. The birds realize that if they all flap their wings at the same time, they can lift the net and fly to safety, where they seek the help of a friendly mole who chews a hole in the net and sets them free.

And so the children get to work, launching a campaign to make sure the voices of the community are heard.

An energetic, funny and quirky story that explores the themes of community activism, friendship, and the love of books.

More News & Resources

Author Interview: Deborah Hopkinson by Megan Smith from ALSC Blog. Peek: "There were many stories I could have told of other sailors and submarines, but I feel the ones featured help convey what it was like for the young men who went to war in the Silent Service."

Looking for a job in children's-YA literature? Paper Lantern is hiring a full time marketing assistant in New York City and The Horn Book is hiring a full time assistant/associate editor in Boston.

Picture This Diversity Inforgraphic: Follow Up from Sarah Park. Peek: "Since September 14, the blog post has had over 36,000 views; my initial tweet made over 17,000 impressions; my Facebook post was shared over 10,000 times..." See also A Joyful Diversity Collection by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly.

Missing From the Shelves: Book Challenges and a Lack of Diversity in Children's Literature, a dedicated issue from PEN America. Peek: "...an examination of current patterns of challenges to children’s books reveals that a large portion relate to children’s and young adult books that are either authored by or are about people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or disabled people (referred to in this report as 'diverse books')..." See also School Library Journal on Self-Censorship.

Magazine Credits & Book Submissions? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "If you’re a debut novelist, you can stand to cite evidence of your chops and professionalism."

10 Tips for Writing Through Family Stress by Barbara Claypole White from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Control your social media. Don't let it control you."

Children & Young Adult Books Featuring a Child with an Incarcerated Parent: a bibliography compiled by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape.

The Sibling Reality: When Picture Books Stop Being Nice and Start Getting Real by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "...picture books that pick apart the nature of sibling relationships in interesting ways. I don’t mean fighting. I mean that crazy pushmepullyou of loving each other to the extreme mixed with scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs annoyance."

How I Got Into Publishing: Luana Horry, Editorial Assistant at HarperCollins Children's Books from CBC Diversity. Peek: "It felt important to me to build a career in an industry where I could make a difference in the lives of children like my niece, who deserve better than a peripheral reading and cultural experience."

Become a Story Genius: How Your Character’s Misbelief Drives The Plot by Lisa Cron from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "What readers are wired to come for is insight into what people do when push comes to shove and, most importantly, why they do it. We’re looking for inside intel into human nature, the better to navigate this scary, beautiful world ourselves."

The Cooling Off Period: Handling Manuscript Feedback Effectively by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker.com. Peek: "After one-to-three days, I've had time to process the suggestions logically, rather than react emotionally." Note for #ownvoices writers: Take the time, set aside your ego, and thoughtfully consider feedback. But don't bow to direction that minimizes your identity-grounded sensibility and/or literary traditions in favor of the reader's. (Time and again, I've seen mentees struggle with these dynamics.) With agents/editors, proactively and professionally engage in the conversation, explain where you're coming from and why. Anyone who's a good match will be open, appreciative and respectful of your perspective. (Ideally, get feedback and discuss prior to signing with an agency or signing a publishing contract to get a feel.) I've been blessed with insightful and sensitive editors at HarperChildren's and Candlewick as well as my rock-star agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. I personally know many terrific editors and agents. They're out there. Keep submitting!

The Powerful Role of Coach in the Latinx Community by Claudia Meléndez Salinas from Latinxs in Kidlit. Peek: "They’re not just coaches: they’re role models, mentors, friends. They’re the glue of after-school programs, the difference between wholesome entertainment and life in the streets."

Interview with Zetta Elliott from Rich in Color. Peek: "I don’t think about book sales that much; I want the books to exist and to be available to those who are looking for mirrors (see below). I’m leading more workshops on indie/community-based publishing these days, and that makes me feel visible and valued because I’m showing other aspiring writers how to make their own books outside of the traditional system."

Author Cori McCarthy Discusses Her Book Being Optioned by Beth Bacon from Digital Book World. Peek: "As someone with a screenwriting degree, I feel uniquely qualified to say to Sony, 'I think you should hire a screenwriter.'"

Alert! A New Kind of Bigotry: One-Star Reviews on Goodreads by Lee Wind from SCBWI. Peek: "The review copies aren't out yet. But suddenly the book's Goodreads account had more than 1,500 ratings of the book. The book that almost none of them, unless they were personal friends with the author, could have possibly read." Note: hateful online harassment, targeted at female children's-YA authors, especially those who're women of color, is becoming increasingly frequent. Not all of us go public with our stories. Please show kindness toward one another within our children's-YA literature community. Watch out for each other out there.

Banned Books Week Roundtable: The Evolution of Censorship by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "I try to balance writing about controversial issues by writing with young people’s best interest in mind. That is, I always try to approach these topics honestly, but also respectfully and responsibly."

This Week at Cynsations

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More Personally

People keep asking how my new book is coming. I'm so honored by the enthusiasm! Let me assure you that a YA manuscript will be zinging through the Internet to Candlewick Press on Monday morning. I know, right?

I'm in the last stages of polish for the first-round submission, which--for me--means a writer friend (in this case, Sean Petrie) is reading aloud the whole manuscript, start to finish. Then I'll key in changes and put together a note for my editor. (You should hear him do voices in dialogue; hilarious!)

On Twitter @CynLeitichSmith, I mentioned doing the read aloud and got a few questions and comments in reply. So here the scoop:

By the time a manuscript reaches submittable level, I've read it so many times that I tend to see what I meant to write, what makes the most sense, to the point that my mind's eye will fill in missing words. Also, hearing another writer read the text will alert me oddities of cadence or awkward language. What's more I benefit from hearing the reader's emotional reaction, word by word and page by page, over the course of the novel.

I highly recommend doing this twice during the novel-writing process. Before initial submission and after revising informed by the editor's feedback, right before you turn in.

What else? My other highlight of the week was a Q&A with William Shatner, followed by a showing of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" last Friday night at Austin's historic Paramount Theater.

Mr. Shatner was engaging and funny. He spoke at length about his experiences working with and his admiration for Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban (and his pecs).

He seemed a bit embarrassed by his early overacting on the small screen and explained it as a byproduct of his stage training. He'd been used to projecting to a live audience rather than for a camera that would magnify his every word, gesture and expression. Which makes total sense.

He likewise felt the need to apologize in an affectionate way for the special effects of the film as compared to today's standards. But then he fully embraced the suggestion that the overall effect was "charming," that what the crew had been able to do, given the limits of the era was "inspiring." I strongly agree.

What else? I am still thinking about a link I featured last week, We Are Still Here: An Interview with Debbie Reese from NCTE. More specifically, about this part:

"Tim Tingle (he’s Choctaw) talks about visiting a school in Texas where he read from his outstanding book about the Trail of Tears, How I Became a Ghost. The teacher apologized to him, saying that she had to teach kids that Choctaws are extinct because that is the answer they’ll need on a test she has to give them."
Tim and I are both Native authors, Texas authors. I greatly value him and his books. Please take a moment to visit Choctaw Nation.You'll find a great people with a past, a present and a future.

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2. New Voice: Christian McKay Heidicker on Cure for the Common Universe

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christian McKay Heidicker is the first-time author of Cure for the Common Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Jaxon is being committed to video game rehab...ten minutes after he met a girl. A living, breathing girl named Serena, who not only laughed at his jokes but actually kinda sorta seemed excited when she agreed to go out with him.

Jaxon's first date. Ever.

In rehab, he can't blast his way through galaxies to reach her. He can't slash through armies to kiss her sweet lips. Instead, he has just four days to earn one million points by learning real-life skills. And he'll do whatever it takes—lie, cheat, steal, even learn how to cross-stitch—in order to make it to his date.

If all else fails, Jaxon will have to bare his soul to the other teens in treatment, confront his mother's absence, and maybe admit that it's more than video games that stand in the way of a real connection.

Prepare to be cured.

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

John Cusick
This all began when I told my agent, John Cusick, that I’d write a YA book about a kid committed to video game rehab. His excitement was infectious, and I got that fluttery feeling of embarking on a new adventure. Of darkness unlit. Of stones unturned. Of all the little surprises that come with blindly slashing out with my pen and hoping for the bloody best.

That fluttery feeling vanished when I realized I hadn’t played video games for years, let alone had any clue what it was like to be addicted to them.

In order to survive as a freelance writer, my entire life had become carefully structured to eliminate time-wasters. I worked all possible hours, filled my downtime with reading, exercising, eating healthily, and not buying expensive things like the next generation of PlayStation or Xbox. I had become completely unversed in the world of video games and unhealthy amounts of playing.

I realized if I tried to write a book about video games, I’d out myself as a fraud. I’d make out-of-date gaming references, the community would eat me for breakfast, and I’d become next on Gamergate’s death list. (Now that I know a thing or two, I can confidently say that many gaming references do not go out of fashion, and that being on Gamergate’s threat list is actually a good thing.)

Let’s face it. As novelists we’re all impostors. We don’t really remember what it’s like to have that first kiss. We’ve never reached to the back of the wardrobe and in place of fur felt pine needles. Our goal is to seem the least impostery as possible. To convince the reader that this stuff is legit.

Christian's office & Lucifer Morningstar Birchaus (aka writer cat)
Still, the idea was good. Video game rehab? I’d never seen that before, and that’s a rare thing in any medium. So I needed a plan. My plan was this: get addicted to video games.*

So out with work!

Sod off, schedules!

Be gone, exercise routines!

Forget healthy eating and gluten intolerance. Forget that coffee turns me into an absolute monster and dairy turns my insides into the Bog of Eternal Stench!

I bought myself a month and turned my life into that of a sixteen-year-old video game addict on summer vacation. I drank coffee from noon (when I woke up) until three in the morning when I went to sleep. (My character drinks energy drinks, but one can only go so far, dear reader.) I slept too much. I didn’t exercise. Sometimes I put whiskey in my morning coffee. I only read gaming news, but only if I really felt like it and only if I had to wait for a game to download.

Mostly, I played video games. I played a lot of video games. I continued to play throughout the duration of writing the book, but in October 2012, I played so much it would have made the characters in my book quirk their eyebrows.

I was trying to get addicted. All of my dopamine release came from beating levels, leveling up characters, downloading DLCs. When I went to the bathroom, I brought my iPad with me and played Candy Crush. (Considering what my new and worsened diet was doing to my digestion, I played a lot of Candy Crush.)

I beat Dark Souls. I beat Sword & Sworcery. I played Starcraft and Hearthstone and Diablo III. I bought a Nintendo 3DS and played through all the Mario and Zelda games I’d missed out over all the years. (Definitely the highlight.) I got lost in world after world, and adulthood as I knew it became a faint haze around an ever-glowing screen.

And guess what? It was hard.

You’d think it would be easy doing as little as humanly possible, only filling one’s time with video games.

Video games are fun. Many are designed to keep you falling into them again and again, to captivate you enough to stick around for hours on end. But I had so carefully trained myself to not be that way so I could write.

During this indulgent month of October, I felt lazy. I felt sick. I felt jittery and uncomfortable in my skin and a little voice inside my head kept saying, “No, no, no. Stop doing nothing. You’re dying.”

I was disgusted with myself. I liked the games I was playing, but they didn’t bring the same satisfaction of selling a short story.

Like I said, it was really hard. But it was nothing compared to what I was going to embark on next.

I ended my month of terror with a bang. On Halloween night, at 11:56 p.m., I drank four shots of whiskey and became a vomiting sprinkler on my friends’ front lawn. (Apologies, Alan and Alan).

My girlfriend at the time drove me home and poured me into bed. I slept for thirteen hours. . . and when I awoke late afternoon on Nov. 1, I began something new. I didn’t put on the coffee pot. I didn’t boot up the PlayStation to see if any system updates needed downloading. I didn’t bring the iPad to the bathroom.

Instead, I entered Phase 2 of my research.

The character in my book was going to rehab, where all creature comforts would be taken away from him. And so I spent the entirety of November without sugar, caffeine, music, phone, books*, internet*, or of course, video games.

I called it my no-nothing November.

(Er, no stimulants, at least. But that isn’t quite as catchy.)

After surviving a two-day hangover unaided by stimulants of any sort, I crawled out of bed . . . and I went out into the world. I ran in the morning. I talked to people at coffee shops while sipping herbal tea. I took ukulele lessons. I learned how to cross-stitch. I cleaned Alan’s and Alan’s puke-covered lawn (just kidding I didn’t; I just realized this would have been a nice thing to have done (sorry again, Alans)). I studied life without my nose buried in a book.*

And mostly, I wrote. I wrote about a kid who had all of his comforts taken away and was forced to earn points through a sort of gamified therapy. I don’t know if any of this actually worked or not . . . I’m not sure if it really added anything to the book.

So, um, take that into consideration before flying off the rails for your own book.

*I use the term "addicted" lightly. Read Cure for the Common Universe for a full explanation.

**The most difficult, by far.

***I also didn’t surf the internet, save my email—for emergencies and so I wasn’t fired from my job.

****Ug, this is starting to sound like some sort of new age instruction manual, which I swear it is not; I just wanted to see what it would be like to be the character in my book.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

@cmheidicker on Twitter
Video games are the fastest growing medium in the world, so it’s pretty difficult to remain relevant when writing about current games. Fortunately, there’s a persistent spine in gaming (your Blizzards, your Nintendos, your Easter eggs). I tried to focus on those mainstays and accept the fact that no matter what I did I would probably piss off and please an equal number of gamers.

If I had attempted to copy the language of gamers verbatim, I would have set myself up for failure. (Although having a game-addicted roommate during the edits of this book definitely helped me sprinkle in some legit jargon.) That’s why I like to follow the Joss Whedon rule of leading the charge on language instead of attempting to copy it.

For the dialogue, I ended up stealing a lot of hilarious lines from my friends—truly iconic things that I lifted straight out of real-life conversations and put into the text. During a rousing game of racquetball, a friend aced me, stuck his racquet in my face, and screamed, “Nobody puts princess in a castle!” A barista once mentioned how stepping on a LEGO was a lot more rage inducing than playing Grand Theft Auto. And a previous student told me about a—ahem—particular sensory combination involving Nutella. I blushed . . . and then I stole it.

I stole all of these with everyone’s permission, of course.

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3. Guest Interview: Marcia Lynx Qualey on #WorldKidLit Month

#WorldKidLit Month image (c) Elina Braslina
By Avery Fischer Udagawa
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

September is #WorldKidLit Month, a time to notice if world literature is reaching kids in the form of translations.

(See this Book Riot list of 100 Great Translated Children’s Books from Around the World.)

Leading the effort are Cairo-based writer Marcia Lynx Qualey, translator Lawrence Schimel, and Alexandra Büchler of Literature Across Frontiers.

I was fascinated that Qualey, a journalist for The Guardian and other outlets, takes such interest in children’s literature. She answered my questions for Cynsations by email.

As a journalist, why have you made #WorldKidLit Month a special project?

Marcia Lynx Qualey
Many of the books I see promoted as “Middle Eastern literature” for children—indeed, almost all of them—are books written by Westerners and set in the region. Just so, we have floods of books by soldiers, aid workers, and journalists who spent some time in Iraq, for instance, and almost none by Iraqis.

Writing about other places is valuable, yes, but it’s another thing entirely to listen to the stories—the cadences, the art, the beauty—coming from another language.

I find it limiting and echoey to read the narrow band of “our own” Anglophone stories. We can offer our children much much more: more joy, and more ways of seeing.

What would you like the children’s literature community to gain from this annual event?

Just as with #WiTMonth (Women in Translation), I think it’s key to start with recognition—to recognize that we don’t translate much from around the world. We translate a bit from Western European languages, where publishers have connections, and that’s great. But the literature currently translated from the great Indian languages, from Chinese, from Turkish, from Farsi, from Eastern European languages, would fill a few small shelves. These literatures could give us so much!

I’m grateful for the bit translated from Japanese literature, which has been feeding our children’s imaginations in new ways. (And our grown-up imaginations, too.)

What was your own experience of literature as a child? Was your whole world represented in stories you read?

The world outside was a mysterious and scary place, difficult and sometimes painful to understand. But the worlds as presented in my books were so tangible, they really belonged to me, they could be read and re-read.

As for translations, I particularly loved folktales from around the world, and cherished not just Italo Calvino’s collection (which I read until it fell to bits), but Norwegian and Japanese and Arab and other folktales. The folktale is a wonderful global form where there has been much sharing from language to language, culture to culture.

Have you translated any literature for children?

Not in any serious or systematic way; just helping translate picture books for a friend. I would love to, but interest in Arabic kidlit has been vanishingly small.

What currently available Arabic>English kidlit translations would you recommend?

There are precious few, while children’s books translated into Arabic are many. (There are books from French and Japanese, for instance, that I know and love only in Arabic.)

You can get a translation of pioneer illustrator Mohieddine Ellabad’s The Illustrator’s Notebook, and The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine (Faten, in the original, translated by Fatima herself), and Code Name: Butterfly by Ahlam Bsharat, translated by Nancy Roberts. I would love you to read Walid Taher’s award-winning Al-Noqta al-Sooda’, but alas there is no translation!

Cynsational Notes

Marcia Lynx Qualey blogs at Arabic Literature in English.

Avery Fischer Udagawa contributes to the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog and is the SCBWI International Translator Coordinator.

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4. Author Interview: Monique Gray Smith on My Heart Fills With Happiness & Advice for Beginning Writers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today I'm honored to feature Monique Gray Smith, "a mixed heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent" and the author one of my favorite new titles--my official go-to gift book for 2016.

What put you on the path to writing for young readers?

I never set out to write for young readers and to be honest, I never saw myself as a writer.

When Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience first came out, it was marketed to adults, but then it won the Canadian Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.

This award sends 2500 copies of the winning book to schools and programs across the country, and all of a sudden, Tilly was in the hands of young people, in schools, classrooms and friendship centres and it became a YA book.

Congratulations on the release of one of my favorite new titles, My Heart Fills with Happiness, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016)! What was your original inspiration for this title?

Thank you for your kind words about My Heart Fills. Working with Julie was a true privilege. We spoke on many occasions about the message and illustrations; it was a beautiful collaboration.

My Heart Fills with Happiness was inspired when I was facilitating a workshop on our history and resilience at an Aboriginal Head Start program.

At lunch, the children joined us and I witnessed a Kookum (Grandma) sitting in her chair and her grandson came running over to her. He stood in front of her and she took his face in his hands and his whole body changed. His shoulders went back, his chin came up and his eyes lit up.

What I saw was the way she looked at him with such love filled his heart with happiness. This got me thinking about what fills my heart and our hearts as human beings. A couple weeks later, I was visiting with five of my dear friends and as we were talking, the book came.

Literally, in one quick write, it was done. Only one line has been changed. My next children's book, called You Hold Me Up has also been inspired by Aboriginal Head Start. This is such a powerful program in our country and now has been running across our country for over 20 years and has 50,000 graduates. Culture and Language as well as Family Involvement are two of the six components of this program and as a result it is a significant aspect to the healing of Residential Schools in Canada.

What were the challenges between spark and publication, and what lessons were learned along the way?

This book was a gift from the Ancestors, I know that with every fibre of my being, Cynthia.

Her first book!
As I said above, there was only one line change and in the end there were three publishing companies that wanted to purchase it.

There were some miscommunications with the design between myself and Orca Publishing and as a result I think we have both learned the importance of ensuring connection throughout the project.

I know that this is a new way of relationships between author and publisher, but in these times of reconciliation, it is critical we work together instead of the publisher having all the power and decision making.

What did Julie Flett’s illustrations bring to your text? (Full disclosure: I'm a fan.)

Oh Julie! As I said above, it was a privilege to collaborate with Julie. When Orca informed me it was going to be Julie Flett illustrating My Heart Fills with Happiness I literally did a happy dance in my office. Not only do I admire Julie's contribution to literature; both as an author and illustrator, but I also have profound respect for her as a human being.

I think Julie's illustrations bring the words alive. The way she was able to capture the tender nuances on facial expressions and body postures is precious!

And the cover, I have had numerous girls say to me, "look, that's me on the cover." I think that says it all! When a child sees themselves on the pages it is incredibly affirming for them and in some ways, their right to be seen.

We all need to be seen and heard, but for generations literature has not only not seen us as Indigenous people, but especially not Indigenous women and girls.

Let me simply say, Julie's illustrations make this book what it is!

You also are the author of Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience (Sononis, 2013). Could you tell us a little about this book?

Tilly is loosely based on my life through Tilly's journey and the characters she meets they tell aspects of our history as Indigenous people in Canada. It weaves together some of our traditional teachings, culture and ways of being.

It also speaks to my personal journey of alcoholism and recovery and the beautiful relationship Tilly has with her alcohol & drug counsellor, Bea.

How have you grown as writer over time? 

Oh yes, I am still growing...and to be honest, hope to never stop growing. I am not a trained writer, so I need exceptional editing support.

One of the aspects where I feel I have grown the most is being willing to let the story flow through me.

I used to want to interrupt and pause the story, but now I close my eyes and type away or I share what I'm thinking into my phone. Especially dialogue between characters, that seems to come to me in the place between wakefulness and sleep.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Pay attention. Notice your surroundings, the mannerisms of individuals, the ways people speak, how the light looks on the land at different times.

I'd also say, put yourself out there: let others read your work, send it in to contests, send it to publishers. And remember, you will get on of three responses. Yes. Not yet. Or I have something even better in mind.

View of Gonzales Bay from Monique's office
How about Native American/First Nations authors?

Our people are craving to read our stories and stories that they can see themselves and their lived experiences in. Write them, share them. And if writing them isn't necessarily comfortable, talk them.

On most phones, there is the microphone app on email, if you record your story and then send it to yourself by email it will come as text and voila, you have your first draft.

I would also remind you of the importance of ceremony when writing. I find it helps ground me and opens me for the story to come through me. Offerings of gratitude help me every single day, not only when I am writing, but every day.

I would also say read as much as you can and raise up and talk about those you are reading.

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5. New Voice & Giveaway: Maria Gianferrari on Penny & Jelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog Becca as her muse.

Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (2015) led to Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016)(both HMH Books). 

Maria has seven picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books for Young Readers, GP Putnam’s Sons and Boyds Mills Press in the coming years.

Could you tell us about your writing community--your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional, craft and/or professional support?

In the spirit of my main character, Penny, an avid list maker, here are my top five answers:

1. Ammi-Joan Paquette:

I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.

She’s made my writing dream come true!!

2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):

I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.

Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!

We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!



3. Emu’s Debuts:

Like many other writers, I’m quite a shy and introverted person. If you’ve seen that classic hamster ball cartoon about introverts, that’s me! Having a book debut is extremely intimidating.

I was so lucky to have joined the ranks of Emu’s Debuts, so named for clients and debut authors affiliated with Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA).

The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus.



4. Tara Lazar:

Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), throughout the year.

When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.

5. Kirsten Cappy of Curious City:

Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.

Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.

I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

1. Write What You Love:

Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.

My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for "Highlights."

Well, "Highlights" rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.

The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.

Several revisions later, it won a Letter of Commendation for a Barbara Karlin grant from SCBWI; many more revisions later, it was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press. And I am so in love Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations. They are absolutely stunning!

2. Read. Read. Read:

Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.

One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.

Consider joining founder Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo, where picture books are studied as mentor texts. Get ready to dig deep!


3. Don’t Give Up!

Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.

Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.

And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!

(See #1 again)

4. Play and Experiment:

To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.

Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?

I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!

5. Reach Out:

Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.

There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns and Sylvia Liu. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen’s title, above all, Take Joy!

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone's socks off, Penny's having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that's unlike any other.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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6. Author Rita Williams-Garcia & The Surely Do Dancers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

CSK Author Award Acceptance Speech by Rita Williams-Garcia from The Horn Book. Peek:

"...upon occasion, our histories are bound by peace and wonder as people of the planet Earth, looking up as we did on one night in the summer of 1969.
"In spite of some current rhetoric, very few of us on this soil can claim a separate and sole history. We are a joined people. Let’s keep looking up."

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7. In Memory: Lois Duncan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lois Duncan, died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Lois Duncan Obituary: Bestselling author of fiction for young adults, including the thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer by Julia Eccleshare from The Guardian. Peek: "She was born Lois Duncan Steinmetz in Philadelphia, and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. Lois wanted to be a writer from childhood, and submitted her first typed manuscript to Ladies’ Home Journal when she was 10."

Obituary: Lois Duncan by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "After attending Duke University for a year... She entered her YA project Debutante Hill in Dodd, Mead & Company’s Seventeenth Summer Literary Contest and earned the grand prize: $1000 and a book contract."

Lois Duncan, 82, Dies; Author Knew What You Did Last Summer by Daniel E. Slotnik from The New York Times. Peek: "Though her books had their share of violence, Ms. Duncan said she was 'utterly horrified' when she saw the [1997] film adaptation of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which...turned her novel, about a group of teenagers desperately trying to conceal an accidental killing, into a horror tale in which the same teenagers are systematically dispatched by their hook-wielding victim." Note: To clarify, I heard Lois speak about this at an SCBWI conference. It wasn't the violence per se but rather the way it was trivialized for cheap thrills. Her novel had a strong moral center that was absent from its film adaptation.

I Know What I Read That Summer by Carmen Maria Machado from The New Yorker. Peek: "Her prose is unfussy and clean. She centered her books on young women, and her writing considers themes that have come to obsess me as an adult: gendered violence, psychological manipulation, the vulnerability of outsiders."

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8. Cynsational News & Resources

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Interview: Guadalupe García McCall: Remembering What Has Endured, What Has Been Lost by Justin Barisich from BookPage. Peek: "It takes a lot of courage to let the world see your heart, to lay it down on the ground in front of the enemy and say, 'This is it. This who I am. This is what I’ve got,' and that is what Dulceña does."

How to Find and Reach Influencers to Help Promote Your Work by Angela Ackerman from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Because if you truly appreciate what they do, you will naturally want to help them further succeed. And while of course you hope they’ll return the favor, that’s not your endgame. Creating a relationship is."

Seven Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science by John Paul Titlow from Fast Company. Peek: "In the face of a major loss, our brains often explore new creative outlets as part of the 'rebuilding' process of our lives, especially as our perspectives, priorities, and ways of thinking about things shift around. " Note: the observation about teachers at the end of the post does not apply to me.

Ten Tips for Video-Chat School Visits from Christine Kohler. Peek: "Although my stress-level skyrocketed that morning when my PC’s operating system corrupted, I thought other authors might benefit by what I did in pre-planning to ensure 'the show must go on,' and on schedule."

Children's Literature as a Vehicle for Peace by Summer Edward from Medium. Peek: "Is social justice an elite weapon to be wielded in the hands of a few acclaimed activists or is it a human imperative to which each individual is called?"

Series Beginnings by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "By providing this context but weaving it into the first few chapters of the story, you will be welcoming your existing readers back into the story while simultaneously giving new readers a chance to catch up. All without info-dumping."

Interview: Dean Gloster on Dessert First by Adi Rule from VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "...with all the intensity of residency, my constantly emailing documents to myself to print out in the library, and my mostly using my VCFA email address, I actually missed the message from the editor saying they were buying my book...."

No One Gets a Pass When It Comes to Writing Multicultural Books from Grace Lin. Peek: "I get a fair amount of flack for portraying light-skinned Asians or Asians in the stereotypical haircut of heavy bangs."

What I Leaned About Publishing an #OwnVoices Book with a Latinx Heroine by Valerie Tejeda from Bustle. Peek: "I've learned a lot about what it means to be an #OwnVoices author — the good, the bad, the ugly — but here are a few things that have stuck out to me the most..."

Four Ways "Stranger Things" Gets Middle Grade Right by Mary E. Cronin from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Kids are the stars of this show, and middle grade writers can draw much inspiration from it. Here are four ways that the creators of 'Stranger Things' totally nail middle grade...."

Give Your Characters Roots by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Growing up in Mordor gives you a very different outlook on life than growing up in New England."

What's In a (Character's) Name? by Olga Kuno from Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Coming up with just the right name can be daunting. I’d like to share some ideas on how to simplify the process."

Winnie The Pooh Makes Friends with a Penguin to Mark Anniversary by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek: "Sibley, who was asked to write a new Pooh story to mark this year’s anniversary, said that the photo of the author and his son with the penguin toy came to mind while he was 'pondering what other toys Christopher Robin might have owned but which were never written about'."

Native American Contemporary YA Novel
We Are Still Here: An Interview with Debbie Reese from NCTE. Peek: "I wish that teachers would do all they could to push against that monolithic 'primitive' and 'uncivilized' depiction that is so pervasive and damaging to our youth, but all youth, too, who play and learn alongside our children."

Why I Write About the Immigrant Experience by Reyna Grande from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I read and I read, though I’d always felt a void—a yearning, a missing piece that I desperately wanted to find. What I wanted most of all: to not feel invisible."

How to Write a Latinx Character & Other Questions by Yamile Saied Méndez from The Che Boricuas= A Puerto Rican + An Argentine + 5 cute kids. Peek: "...this list isn't all inclusive. I just wanted to show all the aspects in which culture affects a person. The ways in which it will affect your character. The reader will notice if the only thing the writer did was slap a Spanish-sounding name and dark skin on a character."

Black Girl Magic: Black Girlhood, Imaginations and Activism by Dhonielle Clayton from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "I hope a new generation of black girls can cling tight to the novels of the ladies below and start to find themselves in interesting and dynamic new media. I know that if I had had even a few of these books and role models, the teenage me wouldn’t have felt so invisible."

Share Your Voice by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "A voice without action, is silence. In that silence is the potential where you could be connecting with people who will be moved by your stories."

Cynsational Awards

The 2016 Kirkus Prize Finalists: "Winners in the three categories will receive $50,000 each, making the Kirkus Prize one of the richest annual literary awards in the world."

Little, Brown Launches New Award for Illustrators by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Caldecott Medalist and five-time Caldecott Honor artist Jerry Pinkney will act as a judge and the inaugural artist mentor for the first annual Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award, recognizing new illustration talent and encouraging the development of high-quality picture books that resonate with readers of diverse backgrounds."

Ann Bausum
Children's Book Author Ann Bausum Wins 2017 Nonfiction Award from the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Peek: "In recognition of her 14 nonfiction books and the way her work has enriched the minds of our children and the life of our nation, Bausum has been selected to receive the 2017 Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award. The award is presented annually to an author for a body of work that has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children."

Congratulations to Don Tate, recipient of the Illumine Award for children's literature from the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation!

Reminder: The deadline for the Lee & Low New Voices Award is Sept. 30.

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

My heart is heavy this week, Cynsational readers. I was saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Ernie Bond of Salisbury University. He was a tremendous educator, and I am grateful to him for his support of inclusive children's-YA literature. Moreover, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a high school friend and classmate has taken her own life "after a long battle with PTSD, depression and anxiety." Please continue to support teachers, support teens and consider donating to the Lane Marrs Memorial Fund.

The Link of the Week: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "...it is basically common knowledge among minority authors that including more than one minority identity in a book is a huge risk for your career. In the real world, plenty of individuals deal with more than one minority identity at the same time, every day." See also Kick off Bisexual Awareness Week with 12 2016 YA Books by Dahlia Adler from Barnes & Noble.

Personal Links

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9. Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Hands-On Research & Getting Out of Your Character's Way

By E.M. Kokie
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the flap copy of Radical by E.M. Kokie (Candlewick, 2016):

Preppers. Survivalists. Bex prefers to think of herself as a realist who plans to survive, but regardless of labels, they’re all sure of the same thing: a crisis is coming. 

And when it does, Bex will be ready. She’s planned exactly what to pack, she knows how to handle a gun, and she’ll drag her family to safety by force if necessary. 

When her older brother discovers Clearview, a group that takes survival just as seriously as she does, Bex is intrigued. While outsiders might think they’re a delusional doomsday group, she knows there’s nothing crazy about being prepared. But Bex isn’t prepared for Lucy, who is soft and beautiful and hates guns. 

As her brother’s involvement with some of the members of Clearview grows increasingly alarming and all the pieces of Bex’s life become more difficult to juggle, Bex has to figure out where her loyalties really lie. In a gripping new novel, E. M. Kokie questions our assumptions about family, trust, and what it really takes to survive.

Determined to survive the crisis she’s sure is imminent, Bex is at a loss when her world collapses in the one way she hasn’t planned for.

Before writing Radical, I had never touched a gun. I had never wanted to touch a gun.

But in the early drafts I was struggling to get to the heart of my main character Bex. Then I realized I hadn't really thought about how Bex would feel about guns. It was a blind spot caused by my own discomfort with guns. Once I had that realization I could see all the ways I didn't yet know Bex.

Bex wouldn't just shoot or possess guns. She would have spent most of her life shooting them. They would be part of her family tradition, part of her social life, and part of her identity. She would love her guns. She would be proficient. She would be responsible in their care and maintenance.

In order to understand Bex, and to write her with any kind of accuracy and credibility, I needed to understand guns.

I started with online and print research -- reading about different kinds of guns, popular makes and models, shooting ranges and training programs, and eventually gun laws and the tradition of gun ownership within families and communities.

Then I moved on to watching online videos about everything from training techniques and amateur shooting videos, to videos about comparing models, and cleaning and maintaining firearms. I was fascinated by the many videos of girls and women shooting guns, and handling knives, bows and arrows, and other weapons.

But reading and video research could only take me so far. I needed to understand the tactile and visceral details of how a gun felt in my hand, the heft, and texture, and kickback. The tang in the air after shooting. The smell and feel of cleaning different models. I needed to have a vocabulary and understanding that gave her character depth and provided context for the plot.

But I also needed to get inside of how she would feel, physically and emotionally, about her guns and while she was shooting.

For Bex, shooting guns would be about more than fun or competition or even defense. It is part of who she is.

I was lucky to connect with some people who let me shoot their guns on their property, in an outdoor setting with a dirt berm and a pond, much as I pictured Bex and her brother shooting in their woods.

We started with a small, light gun that even felt small in my hand, and then worked up to larger and more powerful firearms. Then I got a crash course in cleaning and maintenance, sitting on the side of a porch, much as Bex does in the book.

I left with all these sensory details, insights into how shooting could be fun and cause a sense of competition or accomplishment, and bruises in several places.

Even the ride out to the shooting site on a homemade cart attached to an ATV unexpectedly informed the setting and context for my story.

During the writing process, I also reached out to some firearms experts online to answer questions and to seek input for crafting certain plot elements and scenes. And once Radical was in the last stages of the editorial phase, my publisher hired one of those experts to perform a content read to make sure we got the details right.

The research didn't change my mind about my own potential gun ownership, or how I would feel about having a gun in my home. But it did help me better understand Bex and her world, and, hopefully, helped me craft more organic and believable characters and scenes.



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10. Guest Post: Roxie Munro on KidLit TV

Roxie Munro & Julie Gribble shooting Ready Set Draw!
By Roxie Munro
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In August of 2014, I traveled from my Long Island City studio to downtown New York City, lugging KIWiStorybook frames and rolled-up giant walk-in picture books, about to be the first author interviewed for the media start-up, KidLit TV.

The film crew, lighting technician, makeup artist, sound engineer, and Julie Gribble, founder, and interviewer Rocco Staino, of School Library Journal and the Huffington Post, were ready.

Four hours later we had a wrap, edited into a lively eight-minute piece, which aired that November, launching one of the most original concepts in the world of children’s literature in years.

That popular interview feature of KidLit TV is called StoryMakers. Every month Rocco chats with several prominent authors and/or illustrators, like Paul O. Zelinsky, Pat Cummings, Hervé Tullet, Sophie Blackall, Tim Federle, Mo Willems, Rosemary Wells, and Aaron Becker. We get a peek into their creative process - making mistakes (and fixing them!), creative tricks and habits, childhood inspiration, and exciting news about upcoming projects.

Although most of the content is accessible to any literate person, there can be a lot of fun esoterica. For example, librarians may talk about how award committees work or recommend seasonal books; for the 2015 StoryMakers Holiday Special, Maria Russo (New York Times), John Sellers (Publishers Weekly), and John Schumacher (Scholastic) discussed their favorites with Rocco. Other children’s literature movers and shakers are featured, like Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, talking about founding SCBWI, and Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman discussing censorship.

Jerilyn Williams of TLA interviewed by Rocco Staino
Aimed specifically at children is the Read Out Loud show where authors engage kids with lively readings from their books. On Ready Set Draw!, illustrators inspire viewers to do art and show details on how to draw characters from their books. Dan Yaccarino taught kids how to make Doug from “Doug Unplugged”; Nick Bruel drew Bad Kitty; I showed children how to draw the owl from “Hatch!” and how to make a maze.

Children send in their own drawings based on the videos, and KidLit TV posts them online in their new Fan Art Gallery section, using #ReadySetDraw to share fan art.

KidLit Radio is launching podcasts for children, filling an important niche. Radio is as popular as ever, and podcasts are gaining ground. Audio is an important medium – many children learn, and are entertained, by listening. Recently Barbara McClintock and Peg + Cat creators Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson did podcasts.

KidLit TV also covers events under their Red Carpet feature, like the Eric Carle Awards, interviewing such luminaries as Jerry Pinkney, Roaring Brook’s Neal Porter, and Hilary Knight. The most recent Field Trip is a six-minute video of the 4th Annual 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, with uber librarian and reviewer Susannah Richards doing the interviews, including one with Steve Sheinken about his process and his next book.

Founder Julie Gribble & Dan Yacarrino
All of this content is found on the main KidLit.TV site; there’s also a robust social media presence and an extensive YouTube channel. It’s the go-to place for kid friendly videos about favorite authors and illustrators, book-based crafts and activities, and to check out content dear to the hearts of children’s literature aficionados. Not to mention how to draw a Great Horned Owl!

So how did this come about? Well, multiple Emmy-award-winner and Stony Brook Children’s Literature Fellow, Julie Gribble, who worked in the television industry for years, founded KidLit TV to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives– it’s the first online resource of its kind for kids, parents, librarians and teachers. She’s an author in her own right, with Bubblegum Princess, illustrated by Lori Hanson (NY Media Works, 2013)(based on a true story about Kate Middleton) and another picture book out soon.

Julie’s KidLit TV family of teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and tech folks are all deeply committed to working together to bring great books to kids.

Cynsational Notes

Roxie Munro, Julie Gribble, and Sarah Towle (Time Traveler Tours & Tales) will be doing several pro-grams, including “Promoting your Library Community through Social Media & New Technology: Cutting-Edge Techniques,” at the Texas Library Association Conference in April 2017 in San Antonio.

In addition, Julie and Rocco Staino are doing a KidLit TV presentation. KidLit TV will cover the conference, doing author and librarian interviews, live-streaming events, and attending award presentations. Come visit Booth 2301!

And Roxie has contributed a piece to TLA’s Disaster Relief Coloring Book, which will be available at the Conference.

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11. Scholastic Book Club to Offer Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Scholastic Book Club will soon be offering my debut tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, as a diversity selection through book clubs.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins and Listening Library, 2001)(ages 10-up). Available as an unabridged audio download. From the promotional copy:

The next day was my fourteenth birthday, and I'd never kissed a boy -- domestic style or French. Right then, I decided to get myself a teen life.

Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn't know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his.

It's been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia's Indian Camp in their mostly white Midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again -- at least through the lens of her camera.

Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved She wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?

In a voice that resonates with insight and humor, Cynthia Leitich Smith tells of heartbreak, recovery, and reclaiming one's place in the world.

Cynsational Notes

Rain Is Not My Indian Name was an Oklahoma Book Award finalist and earned Cynthia the title of 2001 Writer of the Year from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

“Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself. What’s amazing here is Rain’s insights into her own pain, and how cleanly she uses language to contain it.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It’s Rain’s story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her ‘patch-work tribe.'”
 — School Library Journal

“…readers will feel the affection of Rain’s loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.”
— Publishers Weekly 

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12. New Voice: Hannah West on Kingdom of Ash and Briars

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hannah West is the first-time author of Kingdom of Ash and Briars (Holiday House, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular and wholly original debut.

Bristal, a sixteen-year-old kitchen maid, lands in a fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she has elicromancer magic in her blood. Elicromancers are an ancient breed of immortal people, but only two remain in Nissera after a bloody civil war. 

Bristal joins the ranks of Brack and Tamarice without knowing that one of them has a dark secret . . . Tamarice is plotting a quest to overthrow the realm’s nobility and take charge herself. 

Together, Bristal and Brack must guard the three kingdoms of Nissera against Tamarice’s black elicromancy. There are cursed princesses to protect, royal alliances to forge and fierce monsters to battle—all with the hope of preserving peace.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Boy, am I the right person to ask about revisions. When I started querying, I was fresh out of college with no industry knowledge (I studied French) and had a manuscript so thick it could have knocked someone out, no hard cover needed.

Hannah West
After my not-yet agent, Sarah Burnes, initially showed interest, she gave me some revision advice and passed on the manuscript. I made the cuts that she suggested, and continued querying and receiving requests from other agents.

It didn't occur to me until a few months later that Sarah might actually be open to seeing the revision even though she didn't explicitly request an R&R.

I'm so glad I thought of that! We ended up signing with a plan to continue revising it pretty heavily (read: cut left and right). We did three rounds, I believe, and then I did a few more with my lovely editor after signing with Holiday House.

I think a huge amount of cutting can be a dangerous thing, as it can really throw off the pace - such a delicate thing to begin with. But I am so so pleased with the result of talented professionals putting me through the ringer. It's so worth it. The story itself is essentially the same, which goes to show you how many unnecessary words were lurking in that initial submission.

For debut authors, I would say never be too protective of the draft that you submit. It's actually really freeing to put yourself in the hands of professionals, and if you're a gifted writer, you can work in their suggestions while still retaining your voice and the aspects you love about the story.

Never react to a hard critique on the spot. Take time to think about it, and you'll usually find that you agree, or can at least envision a compromise that will improve your work.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

This brings me to the other Sarah in my life - the one who lives in rural Arkansas with nary a strong internet connection, eating 'coons for supper (okay, maybe the last one only applies to her church potlucks).

Having a critique partner is a wonderful thing, but having a CP-best-friend is even better. Querying and revising and waiting was a hard phase for me.

I was fresh out of college with only a part-time job, living with my parents, so I had a lot riding on getting an agent and pressing onward (who doesn't?).

In the hardest moments, Sarah was there, reading my revisions and offering encouragement even though we live in different states. (I hadn't met her yet when I submitted my abominably large manuscript, so she's off the hook).

Cynsational Notes

Hannah "lives in the Dallas area with her husband, Vince, and their rambunctious blue heeler, Robb. She proudly writes articles about sustainable living and home renovation for Modernize.com."

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13. Publisher Interview: CEO Nancy Traversy of Barefoot Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by two young moms working from home with the dream of creating beautiful books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations."

There's been an ongoing conversation about diversity in children's literature. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Children's publishers, and the media industry as a whole, have a huge responsibility to create diverse, inclusive content for kids. Barefoot Books has always been committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion; but our mission, and the task of nurturing empathy in our children, has never felt more urgent than it does today.

As our culture faces what President Obama has called an "empathy deficit," it's important for us to work hard to do better by our children. All children deserve to see themselves, their families and their experiences represented in the books they read. They also need to see and understand others, in order to develop empathy, and grow into compassionate, responsible global citizens, prepared to thrive and contribute in their communities and in professional and academic spheres in the 21st century.

Our children look up to us; they're listening to our conversations, soaking in and internalizing our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others. It is now more important than ever for parents, educators and caregivers to share diverse and inclusive books with the children in their lives and to start conversations about empathy and compassion.

How is Barefoot Books responding in terms of diverse representation on your list?

This month, we are particularly excited to be introducing what is perhaps our most meaningful, and certainly most timely, publication to date, The Barefoot Book of Children, which empowers caregivers and educators to start important conversations with children about diversity, inclusivity and acceptance.

We worked with a team of both U.K.- and U.S.-based diversity and inclusion experts to represent a wide range of children as accurately as possible; and the result, with meticulously researched hand-painted art by award-winning illustrator David Dean, is a playful, powerful and thought-provoking celebration of both the big ideas and everyday moments that reveal our common humanity and tie us all together.

At Barefoot, we've always been passionate about celebrating diversity of all kinds in our books: it's one of our core values and central to our mission as a company.

We began nearly 25 years ago by publishing myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from all over the world.

We started to introduce children to other cultures more overtly with our "Travel the World" series by author Laurie Krebs, which includes titles like We All Went on Safari, We're Sailing to Galapagos and Up and Down the Andes, all with fascinating additional information about people, cultures, history and more.

However, we aim to celebrate more than just cultural diversity. Many of our picture books - such as Mama Panya's Pancakes and The Girl with a Brave Heart - immerse readers in the experiences of children from around the world and also foster compassion for others.

From The Animal Boogie, which has sold well over two million copies, and our other other best-selling singalongs, to The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which was written by the author for her brother who has autism, our books strive to offer positive, strong, relatable characters to children who may feel different from others.

We also strive to introduce children to other faiths and religions with books like The Wise Fool, a light-hearted introduction to Islamic culture; and The Mountains of Tibet, a gentle story from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

A couple of years' ago, we published My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words, which depicts a multi-racial family in a contemporary urban setting - "Richard Scarry for the 21st century". We worked with Beth Cox, founder of Inclusive Minds, to ensure that we accurately represented people of all races, cultures, abilities and lifestyles.

This book is now available in bilingual Spanish/English and French/English versions.

How about diverse voices (AKA authors) and visions (illustrators)? Do you have a message for those children's book creators?

Being inclusive means relating to each other in ways that give a voice to everyone - and that means publishing books not only for all children, but by a wide range of creators!

When introducing children to cultures from around the globe, it's vitally important to ensure that they're getting an accurate perspective from the authentic voice of a local creator.

From the very beginning, we've commissioned authors and illustrators from all over the world, including Tehran-born Israeli pop star Rita Jahanforuz, author of The Girl with a Brave Heart; Lebanon-born Wafa' Tarnowska, author of The Arabian Nights; and Mexico-born Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Sand Sister.

We continually strive to find contributors who can provide that authentic voice and vision; it's a core part of our editorial conversation.

How are you doing outreach to Native children and children of color?

Barefoot is unique in the publishing industry because of our emphasis, not only on creating beautiful books, but also on growing a vibrant community of people who share our core values. We sell our books to schools, libraries and independent retailers as well as through our passionate network of home-based sellers called "Ambassadors" who are united by our mission to share diverse, inclusive and inspiring books.

Many of our Ambassadors use their businesses to give back and raise funds to promote causes that are important to them. Some are involved in promoting literacy in various underserved communities whose children have historically been underrepresented in children's books, including children of color. We are so proud of the incredible work our Ambassadors are doing to advance our mission to share stories, connect families and inspire children.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

For nearly a quarter of a century, Barefoot has been creating beautiful books for children that nurture creativity and compassion, and that celebrate diversity in all its forms. Discussions about race, diversity and inclusion are happening everywhere - in homes, in our children's schools, even in their playgrounds.

Books offer an essential and accessible resource for parents and educators to kickstart crucial conversations about these important topics with our children.

Since our founding in 1992, Barefoot has put nearly 20 million books into the hands of children and we would love to make that 100 million!

We believe the time is ripe to build some real momentum and create a movement of people who want to change the conversation and start to create a more accepting, inclusive world for our children.

Find more diverse and inclusive books. Explore our free tools to help start conversations with children about diversity and inclusivity.

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14. In Memory: Joyce Carol Thomas

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joyce Carol Thomas, Berkeley children’s author, dies at 78 by Shradha Ganapathy from The Daily Californian. Peek: "Celebrated local children’s author Joyce Carol Thomas — a poet, playwright and winner of the National Book Award — died Aug. 13 at Stanford University (Medical Center)."

Obituary: Joyce Carol Thomas by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Thomas was born on May 25, 1938 in the small town of Ponca City, Okla., where she lived until the age of 10. Her family then resettled in rural California where Thomas learned various farming chores and would work long summers harvesting crops alongside Mexican migrant workers from whom she learned to speak Spanish and developed a love of the language."

Joyce Carol Thomas, Who Wrote of African-American Life, Dies at 78, by Daniel E. Slotnick from The New York Times. Peek: "Ms. Thomas wrote mostly adult plays and poetry before the publication of her first young-adult novel, Marked by Fire, in 1982. It won the National Book Award for children’s fiction in 1983."

Prize-winning author Joyce Carol Thomas dead at 78 by the Associated Press from The Times Free Press. Peek: "Other works included Bright Shadow, Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and The Blacker the Berry. Thomas was also a three-time nominee for the Coretta Scott King award for outstanding children's books by an African-American."

Joyce Carol Thomas, children’s author who accented black rural life, dies at 78 by Matt Schudel from The Washington Post. Peek: "Although she had lived in California since she was 10, Ms. Thomas found a never-ending source of literary inspiration in the rural fields and small towns of her native Oklahoma. She sought to draw portraits of black life different from stories in modern urban settings or in the time of slavery."

In Memory: Joyce Carol Thomas by Edith (Edi) Campbell from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "Ms Thomas taught for more than two decades at the University of California Santa Cruz, University of Tennessee and at Purdue University. She is survived by children and grandchildren. And, her books."

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15. Cynsational News & Resources

New Infographic of CCBC Publishing Statistics by David Huyck
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the new infographic Diversity in Children's Books 2015 by David Huyck.

We have made very modest gains, but as Sarah Hannah Gomez has pointed out, it's important not to compare it to the 2012 graphic and gauge progress that way.

The math is different. In the original graphic, those books starring non-human characters were subtracted and then the percentages were calculated. This time, non-human characters are included. So, look at the new graphic as its own baseline.

Please also note that this infographic reflects inequities in books about various communities. There also is under-representation among children's-YA book creators and throughout the publishing industry.

See also A Close Look at CCBC's 2015 Data on Books By/About American Indians/First Nations by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature and It's Official: The U.S. Is Becoming a Minority-Majority Nation from U.S. News.

 More News

13 Picture Books That Celebrate Hispanic Heritage by Wesley Salazar from Brightly. Peek: "Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15 and what better way to celebrate Hispanic culture and history with kids than with picture books?" See also Why Write About Luchadores? by Xavier Garza from Latinx in Kidlit.

#OwnVoices Review Series from Reading While White. Continues through the month of September. Peek: "We want to shine the spotlight on some of the amazing books that have been written by authors and artists of color and Native authors and illustrators." See also YA Fantasy by Women of Color by Nicole Brinkley from YA Interrobang.

The Importance of Storytelling in Turbulent Times by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...if you can cause even a few to confront their fears in a more honest way; provoke just one of your fellow humans to renew their belief in the power of kindness and love over resentment and hate—well, isn’t that worthy of our diligent effort?" See also Invented Expressions & Linguistic Holes by David Corbett from Writer Unboxed.

Gene Yang Issues "Reading Without Walls Challenge" by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Instead of leading readers to books in the same genre or format, Yang is spearheading the Reading Without Walls Challenge, a program designed to help readers find books they might otherwise never choose on their own."

Religion & Careers in Publishing by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...religion is rarely discussed as a daily component of individuals’ lives, but becomes relevant during holidays or during moments of contention. Instead, he suggests, workplaces can and should remain open to and cognizant of how a person’s faith plays a role in their lives on a regular basis."

A Wave of 9/11 Novels for Young Readers by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek: "Many worried that the material was too traumatic for young readers, and feared that parents and teachers would be skittish about engaging with the subject. Others thought using the attacks as a plot device might seem insensitive and exploitative." See also 9/11 Survivor Bethany Hegedus Releases Children's New Book from KXAN.

Author Cori McCarthy Shares Her Book Marketing Strategies by Beth Bacon from Digital Book World. Peek: "My publicist put in motion programs that my publisher doesn’t have the time or the budget to do. We hadn’t quite reached Air Force or Navy families, so I opted to promote to this audience myself."

Hunting Down Holes in Your Story by David H. Safford from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Does time pass with realistic pacing and flow?"

Roald Dahl at 100: Why His Legacy Lives On by Jennifer Sheehy Everett from Bayside Parent. Peek: "Magic comes, however, when the put-upon child characters demonstrate strength, courage, and smarts beyond their years to conquer the parents, aunts, teachers, principals, etc. who mistreated them."

Off the Cuff, But On the Record by Liz Spayd by The New York Times. Peek: "Kim and a few other authors retreated to a small room in the hotel for what was billed by the conference hosts as an 'artist-only' private conversation over cocktails. But four days later, Kim found herself quoted in The New York Times"

Among 100 Great Translations
100 Great Translated Children's Books from Around the World by M. Lynx Qualey from Book Riot. Peek: "September is #WorldKidLit Month. This is a month to celebrate, discover, and discuss the state of literature for children and teens in translation."

The Power of Myth in Fiction & Life by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The creation and establishment of family myths are usually not intended to deceive or manipulate, but to protect and edify. But they are always untruths. And they are fascinating in their power."

Modern First Library: Divya Srinivasan on Mama (Amma) from BookPeople's Blog. Peek: "The text refers to Little Owl’s mother only twice in the book, and it would have been obvious who Amma was. No one had told me not to use the word." See also Asian American YA Authors Roundtable by Wendy Xu from Angry Asian Man.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

This week I've been Writing Teacher Cyn. My VCFA students turned in their second packets, and I've been reading and responding to their critical and creative writing. Fellow faculty Liz Garton Scanlon joined me one morning, which was a treat. Meanwhile, Cynsations intern Gayleen Rabakukk is continuing to update the listing of Texas Children's & YA Authors & Illustrators. Please comment with a website URL if you see anyone missing.


My new favorite TV show is "Supergirl." I love the reinvention of Cat Grant--Calista Flockhart is fantastic in the role--and James Olsen in particular. I like that it's a show centered on sisters and friendship, that it's funny and tender, with a fully rounded strong female lead and mentor.


Personal Links

Now available (Charlesbridge, 2016)!

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16. Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Flaws: Fatal - Or Not

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Has the wisdom of time and life positively affected my ability to write flawed characters? Or is it the other way around?

I muse about this during an early summer morning’s coffee and writing time.

In much younger days, a painful flaw in a friend’s makeup would end the friendship. I could not tolerate – or truthfully, did not know how to negotiate the waters of – imperfection.

I don’t mean to imply that some relationships, whether romantic or friendship, never change beyond repair, or don’t have some Shakespearean-level fatal flaws. Some people come and go in our lives, as we come and go in theirs.

In retrospect, I believe flaws frightened me. You can guess at the multiple reasons, but there it was: a problem, a serious bump, a major difference in opinion or belief used to pose a threat to the relationship itself. I did not have the courage to stay for discussion, argument, confrontation. I did not believe in my own value in such a confrontation.

I did not know the inherent beauty of flaws.

I could spend time regretting the relationships that I left behind – the ones, that is, that could have benefited from conversation that pushed each of us to accommodate the other’s differences and flaws. But instead I devoted effort to accepting my own and others’ flaws, and developing the capacity to, more times than not, gently nudge myself past the historically embedded impulse to head the other direction. In life, I’ve learned that flaws, disappointments, failures are part of the tapestry.

Appreciating, although not always loving, has made for a better life story.

So as a writer, you’d think that I’d “get” the need to make my characters imperfect, create their flaws with a more complete understanding that this is part of what makes them human, engaging, and even universal.

But it’s always a struggle. I want to idealize them. In first drafts, or even in the daydreams that happen before the first drafts, deeper imperfections, the roiling internal conflicts that make us human, are absent.

I steer myself deliberately into the “deep” later on. And more often than not, it will take repeated efforts to comb away my idealizing vision of a girl, her family, her friends, until they all become flawed.

Not fatally, but naturally. Like most of us.

Decades ago, when I read and fell in love with so many magnificent middle grade novels, I participated in an online “chat” (no visuals in those days, just typed questions and responses) with Katherine Paterson. As a new-ish writer for children, I typed in a question:

How did you create a character with so many flaws that we still fall in love with by the end of the first page?

 Ms. Paterson’s answer was simply stated, but profound. The typed words appeared on my screen:

Because I love her.

I knew how important these words were, and also knew that it might take me years of practice to fully understand.

In fact, as I’ve worked on multiple revisions of my middle grade novel in verse, it has seemed that I created the love by creating flaws. As I made everything and everyone less perfect, I grew fonder and fonder of them, and of the story.

We know the flaws of being human make for better characters, and a deeper story. They also probably make for a better life.

Or the other way around.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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17. Cynsational Summer Awards Roundup

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Boston Globe-Hornbook Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature: "Winners are selected in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction. Two Honor Books may be named in each category."



The National Book Awards Longlist: Young People's Literature from The New Yorker. Peek: "...a novel in verse about a twelve-year-old soccer nut, an illustrated adventure story that draws on Chinese folklore, a work of nonfiction about a woman who survived the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki, a surreal love story involving rumored witches, and a graphic novel about the civil-rights movement co-written by a sitting U.S. congressman."

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award: "This year’s winner is Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir written by Margarita Engle, published by Atheneum...."

Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Peek: "NCTE honors Matt de la Peña for his courage in standing up for intellectual freedom with the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award, given for de la Peña’s efforts to fight censorship not only through his words but also through his actions."

Willa Award Finalist
Willa Award Winner and Finalists from Women Writing the West. Peek: "Chosen by professional librarians, historians and university affiliated educators, the winning authors and their books will be honored at the 22st Annual WWW Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Oct. to Oct. 16..."

Carter G. Woodson Book Award and Honor Winners: "NCSS established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards for the most distinguished books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States."

Lammy Award from Lambda Literary. Peek: "Exciting news for Alex Gino and all of us who want this beautiful and important story of a transgender child in 4th grade to get into the hands of everyone who needs it."

NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children: "...established in 2014 to promote and recognize excellence in the writing of fiction for children. This award recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder."

Parents Choice Book Awards: "Parents' Choice Foundation, established in 1978 as a 501c3, is the nation’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys."

Finalists Announced for the 2016 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards"The winners of the English-language awards will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at The Carlu in Toronto on November 17, 2016. The winners of the Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at Le Windsor in Montreal on November 1, 2016. Overall, $135,000 in prize monies will be awarded."

International Latino Award (Chap Book)
2016 International Latino Book Awards: "...now the largest Latino cultural Awards in the USA and with the 257 finalists this year, it has honored the greatness of 2,171 authors and publishers over the past two decades. These books are a great reflection that books by and about Latinos are in high demand. In 2016 Latinos will purchase over $675 million in books in English and Spanish."

Writers' League of Texas Book Award Winners, Finalists and Discovery Prize Winners: "With over 1,200 members statewide and growing, the Writers’ League of Texas is a vibrant community that serves to educate and uplift Texas writers, whatever stage they may be at in their writing careers. In addition, the WLT offers valuable service to communities across the state with free programming in libraries and local schools."

Cynsational Notes

Submissions Guidelines Walter Dean Myers Book Award for YA Lit from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "A submission must be written by a diverse author and the submission must be a diverse work. If a work has co-authors, at least one of the authors must be diverse..." Deadline: Nov. 1.

Lee & Low New Visions Award: "Manuscripts should address the needs of children and teens of color by providing stories with which they can identify and relate, and which promote a greater understanding of one another. Themes relating to LGBTQ+ topics or disabilities may also be included." Deadline: Oct. 31.

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18. Guest Post: Denis Markell on Once You've Found Your Story, How Do You Tell It?

By Denis Markell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As an aspiring writer for children, one of the many dividends of marrying my beautiful and gifted wife Melissa Iwai...

(am I right or am I right?)

was finding someone to collaborate with on picture books.

Seeing as I knew she was an extraordinary illustrator, this was to be expected.

What came as a surprise, however, was how deeply her personal experience as an Asian-American woman in America and the history of her family would affect me and my other work as well.

As a Caucasian, It was quite an education for me to see firsthand the tiny slights and assumptions that she would deal with on a daily basis on the streets of New York.

Because of this, I felt that when I finally wrote my first middle grade novel it would involve the Asian experience in our country in some way.

One of the family stories I learned from Melissa, was of her uncle, Takateru Nakabayashi, who had taken the American name of his favorite Jesuit teacher, brother Nicholas.


Uncle Nick, as he was always called, had been a member of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, the all Nisei army brigade who had fought in Europe in World War II.


I was dimly aware that such a unit existed, so I did some research and found that there are some quite wonderful books which chronicle the story of these amazing men, who fought for their country so bravely while their fellow citizens, whose only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, languished in internment camps.

But it was a story woefully untold for middle grade readers.

Now I had my subject, but how to tell their tale in such a way that it would reach the largest audience? Nonfiction?

There are gifted writers such as Candace Fleming and Steve Sheinkin who can bring history to life with the drama and craft that enthrall young readers, but that’s not really my strength. I’ve spent years as a comedy writer in other fields, and humor and fiction are more where I’m comfortable.

Historical fiction? While I could have set the story in the 1940s, I wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to kid readers today, so involving a young Asian-American boy in today’s world felt right. By now we’d had our son, and as he grew older, I observed his fascination with computer and video games. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a way in!

Maybe I could hook kids with an adventure, one involving computer games, puzzles and suspense. I could weave the story of Melissa’s uncle throughout, using him as a character and the clues could relate to the 100th Battalion.

If I could pull this off, my readers might get a history lesson without even realizing it! Of course, there would be enough there for teachers to expand on and amplify, if they wished to use my book in the classroom. But my goal was to tell the story with lots of humor and keep the kids laughing as they learned.

Finally, to honor my half-Asian son (who still faces many of the same micro-agressions his mother does), I decided to make the protagonist hapa, as half-Asians are called within the community. Note: for positive examples of hapa characters in Disney films please read this excellent post.

So now I knew what the story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it. I rolled up my sleeves (okay, I pushed up my sleeves. I wear sweatshirts) and started to write. Click Here To Start was the result.

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19. Cynsational Fall 2016: AFCC & VCFA Reports

En route to the VCFA Steampunk Shakespeare party.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations!

Now, in its twelfth year, this blog is an upbeat, nurturing source for conversations, for sharing resources and for celebrating literature for young readers.

The big-picture goal is to offer substantial children's-YA writer, artist, and book-lover takeaway, and for both the heart and mind.

The content encompasses all literary age ranges, genres, and formats for kids and their champions. It advocates diversity, defined broadly, and always has.

Want to join in? Those interested in contributing a New Voices or New Visions interview (for trade published debut authors and illustrators; there are other options for indie authors), a guest post, a book trailer, a resource or news item, should contact me at cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com.

Busy summer?! Not to worry. Over the next couple of weeks, Cynsations will catch you up on summer of children's-YA literature highlights while also moving forward with the community.

More personally, a major event during my blogging vacation was the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore.  I had the opportunity to speak on writing YA fantasy, participated in several panels (trends, censorship, etc.) and co-taught an all day writing workshop with the delightful and brilliant Gabriela Lee from the English department at the University of the Philippines. I also had a lovely dinner out with the SCBWI international crowd. I learned a great deal about the larger world of youth literature, and Cynsations will certainly include materials to raise awareness of the international world of children's-YA books, their creators and publishers.

At Singapore National Library: The author in the maroon T-shirt is Cynsations reporter Christopher Cheng!

I also returned to my Vermont College of Fine Arts family. We welcomed new visiting faculty Daniel Jose Older, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Linda Urban. Our visiting authors were Maggie Stiefvater and April Pulley Sayre, and I had the honor of leading a workshop with David Maccins Gill.

Congratulations to the summer 2016 graduating class!

Through all that and beyond, I've been working on my upcoming realistic contemporary YA novel, tentatively titled "How to End a Date" and currently scheduled for fall 2017 from Candlewick. It'll be my first Native point-of-view novel since my debut, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins) back in 2001, though I've published Native work for younger children and YA short stories.

It'll also be my first realistic contemporary novel for upper-level teens. Having written seven prose genre benders (with a multitude of fantastical elements), I tend toward streamlined prose and fast pacing. Because, after all, I've usually had all that world building--magic and creatures--to weave in without going heavy on the exposition. So, this has been a very different creative experience and, in many ways, a more personal one, too, as my loose inspiration is quasi autobiographical.


Cynsational Notes

My official author website, including Children's-YA Literature Resources, was redesigned by Square Bear Studio. Content is being steadily updated. Please see Awards for Children & YA Literature By State and let us know if you can point to any additional listings.

Will with Liz Garton Scanlon & Tim Wynne-Jones
Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million." Contributors: Will Alexander, Crystal Chan, Kekla Magoon, Jo Whittemore, and Yvonne Wakim Dennis.

Back to School: MFA Day One by Rebecca Grabill, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven from The Mitten. Peek: "The biggest reason I felt I needed an MFA program was that I was painfully unaware of gaps in my knowledge. In essence, I didn’t know what I didn’t know." -- Anita Pazner (VCFA)

VCFA Graduation Speech from William Alexander. Peek: "Make time. Break time. Punk time. Smash ornate pocket-watches and teach their pieces new rhythms to please the ear."

VCFA Brings Writing Programs to Underserved Kids by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...to encourage underserved kids from ages six to 18 to write. VCFA alums will work with existing writing programs like 826 to give them an opportunity to expand their writing workshops. As part of the initiative, alums will also visit the children of migrant farmers and others for whom author visits are rare in order to nurture a greater diversity in potential young writers."

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20. Summer Children's-YA Lit Diversity Conversations

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Over the summer, the children's-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.

Mirrors? Windows? How about Prisms? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "...cultural content in children’s books needs to be woven into the story so the authors intention is not stamped all over it." See also Uma on Tolstoy Was Not Writing for Me.

Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The "Other" and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: "Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma."

Diversity in Book Publishing Isn't Just About Writers -- Marketing Matters, Too by Jean Ho from NPR. Peek: "For past projects, she has researched segmented audiences ranging from retired African-American women's books clubs, South Asian soccer organizations, Trinidadian-interest media outlets both stateside and abroad, to extracurricular programs geared toward South Bronx teens."

Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "...that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others."

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: "We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?"

Children's Books and the Color of Characters by Kwame Alexander from The New York Times. Peek: "They all believe I am writing about them. Why is this so much harder for the grown-ups? Is race the only lens through which we can read the world?"

On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: "...we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we're invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they're not majority white."

When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses from NPR. Peek: "Here is a not uncommon experience. Writer Emily X.R. Pan was told by the white writers in her workshop that the racism in her story could never happen — though every incident had happened to her."

There Is No Secret to Writing About People Who Don't Look Like You: The Importance of Empathy as Craft by Brandon Taylor from LitHub. Peek: "The best writing, the writing most alive with possibilities, is the writing that at once familiarizes and estranges; it’s writing that divorces us from our same-old contexts and shifts our thinking about ourselves and the world around us."

How Canada Publishes So Much Diverse Children's Literature by Ken Setterington from School Library Journal. Peek: "Considering that the entire Canadian market is about the size of the market in California alone (roughly 36 million), publishers must rely on sales outside of the country."

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million."

Cynsational Screening Room



Related Links

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21. Cynsations Intern: Gayleen Rabakukk on Writing Communities

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I'm honored to announce that Gayleen Rabakukk has been chosen as the summer-fall 2016 Cynsations intern. Thanks to all who applied!

Here's more from Gayleen:

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“You mean you both just sit there and write? On different things? And don’t talk?”

“Yes,” I tell my non-writing friends.

I realize how odd that may sound. There was a time when I would have thought it was strange, too. For many years, I’d done all my writing alone. I’d published lots of newspaper and magazine articles, exploring topics ranging from exotic pets to forensic science.

Eventually, I felt the pull to make something that would last longer than the weeks a magazine article is around, so I tried my hand at adult mysteries, (one of my favorite genres) and eventually young adult novels.

Looking for help with the transition from journalist to novelist, I became active with the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. (OWFI), volunteering at their annual conference and serving on the board as a grant writer. After a few rejections, I decided instead of guessing what “narrative voice” and “connecting with the character” meant, I would go back to school and really learn how to write for children and young adults.

Sharon
I applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts, doubting that this Oklahoma journalist would be accepted.

When I got a call from Sharon Darrow one afternoon welcoming me to the program, I couldn’t believe it!

My initial residency was filled with firsts: first time in New England, first time my nostrils froze, and the first time I really had deep, serious conversations about writing.

Rita & Gayleen
I ended up in a small workshop led by Tim Wynne-Jones where I learned about objective correlatives and adding layers of meaning to your writing. I learned so much I thought my head would explode.

That feeling continued, to varying degrees, throughout my four semesters. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

Each semester I had a new advisor. Jane Kurtz, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Rita Williams-Garcia and Franny Billingsley taught me how to write, how to read, and how to apply what I learned to my own work.

I squeezed writing and reading children's literature into every spare moment I could find: audio books during my daily commute, writing on lunch breaks and in the evenings, reading on the treadmill. Fortunately, my youngest learned how to cook, otherwise my family might have starved while I was a grad student.

After graduation, I tried to stay on track, but the writing demands of my day job had increased and I didn’t have as much time for children's books. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma wanted me to write a book about the art collection at the Oklahoma Judicial Center. It would definitely be published, and in a format that would be around for a long time. This was what I had set out to do so many years ago: create work that would last longer than a magazine article.

Almost immediately after that project ended, another one came along: the Oklahoma County Medical Society was looking for a writer to document their history. Once again, it was a book that would definitely be published, with guaranteed monetary compensation.

It wasn’t children's literature, but it would prove that I could generate steady income as a writer (at least during that year-long project.)

I learned so much writing those books: from research techniques to the dynamics of working with a collaborator, yet something was missing. I wanted to recapture that sense of camaraderie I’d felt in Vermont.

Most of my writing efforts up to that time had been solitary. Sure, I had writer friends and occasionally exchanged manuscripts with several of them.

I paid my membership fees to OWFI and SCBWI, but I had never really embraced the idea of being part of the “writing community.”

After all, I told myself, writing is a solitary pursuit – I’m the one putting words on the page, no one can really help me with that. Vermont was a magical Brigadoon: like-minded writers all gathered on a hilltop for a fortnight. That sort of thing just didn’t happen in the real world.

Meredith & Gayleen
Then a geographical shift led me to a paradigm shift. Last July, my family and I moved to Austin, Texas and I quit my day job. This put me in close proximity to Meredith Davis, a fellow VCFA classmate and other alums. The first time she suggested we get together to write, I was a little skeptical, but I gave it a shot. I said “yes” and apparently, that’s all it took for me to realize the benefits of writing in a community.

Now these group writing times take precedent on my weekly calendar. Sometimes it’s just Meredith and me meeting at a coffee shop, other times it’s an organized potluck retreat with half a dozen writers. At the end of the day, it’s still just me putting those words on the page, but I’m learning that spending time with other children's writers provides a creative energy that recharges my batteries and keeps me coming back to the page, day after day – long after I’ve left the coffee shop.

It’s enormously increased my productivity: in the last year, I’ve worked through two complete revisions of a middle grade steampunk manuscript, drafted a new middle grade mystery, started a new historical manuscript and finished a nonfiction picture book.

In an effort to draw others into this awesome community, I recently began co-moderating the middle grade book club for our SCBWI chapter. Our goal is “reading for writing,” so we analyze and discuss character motivations, plot and point of view in depth. It all takes place on Facebook, which means I get to work it into my schedule wherever it fits, instead of trying to make it to a meeting at a certain time.

There are several book club members I’ve never met in person, but we’re connected through our book discussions, and I continue to grow in both my knowledge and passion for children’s literature.

Some days I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with readers, but I’ve learned a lot about the importance of connecting with a community. Writing discussions aren’t just reserved for snowy hilltops, they can happen in coffee shops, libraries and even on Facebook.

You just have to say "yes."

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22. Cynsational News & Resources

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yowza! It's no small task to catch up Cynsational readers on a summer of children's-YA writing, literature and publishing conversations.

More update posts will follow over the next several days--focusing on gender, the LGBTQIA community, and recent awards.

But for now, we've categorized the posts by topic and offered brief peeks so you can identify those that are the most interesting, useful and inspiring to you.

Authors & New Releases

Interview: Amanda West Lewis on The Pact from Open Book Toronto. Peek: "If we drench their lives in a poisonous ideology, and give them no chance to develop a sense of empathy, they will grow up believing in only their own version of truth and act accordingly. But how much blame can you ascribe to the child you’ve raised to hate?"

An Asian American Reader Looks for Herself in Books by Kat Yeh from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "There would be another rather large space of time before Asian authors would come into my life again. When my daughter came to reading age, I was excited to discover a new generation of books that now included Asian American authors and characters."

On Being an Aging Children's Author from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "When I began to publish forty years ago, I wasn’t the brightest star on the horizon, but my work got noticed. I wrote on the cutting edge, topics few other writers for young people had dared touch at that time: alcoholism, sexual molestation, religious abuse, mental illness, homosexuality."

Interview: Jessica Shea on A Tyranny of Petticoats by Lynn Miller Lachman from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "My only directions were that each story had to feature an American girl at some point in history, and that the setting had to be important; the story needed to feel as though it could not take place anywhere or any-when else. I urged them to think diversely in terms of race, sexuality, historical era, geographical area, and class."

Interview: New Voices Winner Sylvia Liu from Lee & Low. Peek: "The first draft was told mainly in dialogue, and one of my critique mates encouraged me to incorporate more lyrical language."

Interview: Julius Lester by Marissa Moss from Ingram Library Services. Peek: "I grew up in a slum neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas in the 1940s. By the time I was 9, three children I’d known had been killed, one of whom was a girl I used to walk to school with whose robe caught fire as she walked by the pot-bellied stove in the kitchen."

Bookselling

The Return of the Children's Specialty Bookstore by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Many are small, less than 1,000 sq. ft., but they are already starting to have a large presence. Two-year-old Second Star to the Right was named 2016’s best Denver bookstore by Denver A-List...."

Disability

Introduction to Disability Terminology by Corinne Duyvis and Kayla Whaley from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Much of our everyday language is casually ableist, and this translates to ableist language in novels, whether the novel features disabled characters or not."

DK Launches Braille Line of Picture Books from Children's Book Council. Peek: "...includes board and nonfiction books, pairing braille and textured images with printed text to make stories accessible for both sighted and visually impaired readers."

Wheelchair Users in Fiction by Kayla Whaley from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "a congenital disability.... If the character was born with the condition and using a wheelchair is simply a normal part of their life, where’s the drama?" See also Corinne and Kayla on The State of Disability on Book Covers and Corrine on Navigating Criticism and Discussions of Disability Representation.

Faith

The Things They Carry: What Muslim YA Needs from Samira Ahmed. Peek: "They carry the lightness and beauty of youth and hope and dreams and the infinite possibilities of a nation that endeavors to be a more perfect union."

Author Visits, Marketing & Social Media

21 Ways to Fund Author Visits by Carmen Oliver from The Booking Biz. Peek: "Schools that are faced with tight budgets might have limited opportunities for author visits, but there are ways to gain the needed funds so your school can take advantage of this huge benefit. Following are some ideas and links that teachers, librarians and writers have offered to help you fund author visits."

The Art of the Middle School Presentation by Laura Martin from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: "Middle school kids are a breed of their own. They can be intimidating, rowdy, and down right mean if you let them, but they can also be the best possible audience for a writer."

On Social Media and Not Feeling Social from Lisa Schroeder. Peek: "When all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix and eat ice cream but you make yourself go to the computer because that is what a writer does for crying out loud? It's difficult to find anything left after that to put out into the world."

Taking the Pain Out of Assembly Introductions by Alexis O'Neill, reflecting on advice from Janet Wong at SchoolVisitExperts.com. Peek: "...while I’m always happy to listen to a recap of my honors and my literacy committee work, kids might find it a little boring—and long."

Agents, Submissions & Publishing

Believing After 10+ Rejections by Carmen Oliver from Highlights Foundation. Peek: "I have two controlling beliefs: Every good manuscript finds a home. Writing is a journey."

Between Offer and Acceptance: A Checklist from Janet Reid, Literary Agent. Peek: "...you should be able to ask questions of any agent making the offer. You can say "hey look, I don't know much about this, and I want to be careful" and have that respected."

Querying: What to Leave Out by Rochelle Deans from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Let the words of the plot and characters tell us about your theme instead of spelling it out."

Literary Agent Interview: Linda Camacho by Mary E. Cronin from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Characters have to be sympathetic in some form. They don't necessarily have to be likable, but there has to be a way for me to connect with them."

Why Having a Book Go Out of Print Was a Pretty Great Thing After All by Camille DeAngelis from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "At the time, going out of print felt like the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to me, and yet it was, in a very real sense, a privilege. I began to face my sense of entitlement: the idea that because I’d put in the work I deserved to be rewarded for it."

The Craft of Writing & Illustrating

All the World's a Book: Acting for Writers by Allie Larkin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Even if you have no desire to stand in the spotlight, taking a community acting class, or doing some time in summer theatre could be a helpful boost to your writing." See also The Art of Giving and Accepting Critiques by Kim English from Query Tracker Blog.

Creating Mood in a Scene Using Light and Shadow by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...people tend to respond to light in a feral way: well-lit areas are deemed safer, putting us at ease, while darker spots have more weight and feel heavier both on the body and the spirit."

Setting Up Crossfire Dialogue on Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory from David Macinnis Gill. Peek: "This is how Laurie Halse Anderson handles multiple speakers on in scene."

Lovingly, Stridently, Unapologetically: The Adverb! by Colin Dickey from Slate. Peek: "It should come as no surprise that the writers who most strenuously cavil against adverbs are themselves habitual users of them." See also In Defense of Cliches by Jo Eberhardt and Actively Defending the Passive Voice by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed.

Six Tips to Keeping Your Character in Character by Catherine Linka from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "If the character has never left a poor village, they shouldn’t compare the forest to a cathedral."

Language Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Sarah Hannah Gomez from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "I convened this panel of authors to talk about how they approach language in their books, and how they approach language in their lives. From growing up bilingual to holding hybrid languages in your head to using bits and pieces of other languages in their writing, these writers had a lot to say."

Dropping Threads in Your Writing by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "They speak in musical metaphors and seem to see the world through a "Beautiful Mind"-esque musical lens. Until this fades from the manuscript about a third of the way through. And music doesn’t really factor into the plot itself."

Why Create Picture Books? by Laura McGee Kvasnosky from Books Around the Table. Peek: "They played without amplification. Raw, pure stuff. Heaven should sound so good." See also Picture Book Thumbnail Templates for Writers and Illustrators from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at InkyGirl.com.


Five Things Novels Taught Me About Writing Picture Books by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: "One reason novel writers leave out backstory is that they trust their readers to pick up allusions and make connections. But can you do that when writing for very young children?"

Writing Homeschooling in Middle Grade Books by Joy McCullough-Carranza from Project Mayhem. Peek: "There are many stereotypes and misperceptions about homeschooling that sometimes find their way into published books. Here are a few to avoid...."

Writing Middle Grade Horror Or Why Books Aimed at Children Can't Be Washed in Blood by David Neilsen from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: "...they still harbor the slightest belief that there may, in fact, be monsters living under their beds. Not that there aren’t, mind you, but the older kids are armed with much heavier and thicker books and can take out a seven-tentacled-horror at fifteen paces without even bothering to stop and Tweet about it."

Master Teacher Liz Garton Scanlon on Writing


Writing With All the Feelings by Liz Garton Scanlon from Two Writing Teachers. Peek: "These are not easy-to-embrace emotions we’re talking about, especially if they roll out in the form of a four-year-old having a total conniption in the paint aisle at the Home Depot. And I’m speaking from experience here." See also Liz  on Say More With Metaphors from Teachers Write and Mining The Setting: In the Canyon: How Setting Became Story from Beth Anderson, Children's Writer.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

See Christina Soontornvat at 3 p.m. Saturday & Bethany Hegedus at 2 p.m. Sunday. at BookPeople in Austin.
The biggest news at Cynsations is new intern Gayleen Rabakukk! Welcome, Gayleen!

I'm writing, writing, writing--today with Jennifer Ziegler and Sean Petrie in my living room. That happens a lot here, writer friends coming over to work on manuscripts, side by side. It's a way of navigating the writing life that Gayleen talks about in her post on writing communities.

As for the larger world, please see Three Things You Need to Know About Indigenous Efforts Against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Taté Walker from Everyday Feminism. Peek: "If you’re into solidarity—or clean drinking water, at the bare minimum—the Native nations in Standing Rock need your body, and/or your dollars, and/or your platform to uplift our efforts and our messaging."

See also 59 Books by Native Writers in 59 Minutes for #OwnVoices One-Year Anniversary by Debbie Reese from Storify.


"The Joke's on You!" Join me, Uma Krishnaswami and Sean Petrie from Oct. 12, 2017 to Oct. 15, 2017 at The Highlights Foundation workshop on writing middle grade and YA humor. Peek: "In this hands-on workshop designed for intermediate-level writers of middle grade through young adult, participants will use a range of classic and contemporary published work as well as workshop manuscripts to study the many ways in which humor operates in the form of the novel."

Personal Links

See Harold Underdown's Review

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23. Summer LGBTQIA in Children's-YA Lit Roundup

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Writing LGBTQ Picture Book Lit in 1989 Versus Now (AKA Heather Has Two Mommies and Morris Has a Dress) by Mark Joseph Stern from Slate. Peek: "Some schools want it to be more of a broad anti-bullying story. Rather than Morris being himself and the dress being a part of him—which is the message I’m hoping people get from it—they want the book to be about how Morris just likes to dress up for fun." See also Lesléa Newman and Christine Baldacchino.

LGBT Lit for Children and Teens Comes of Age by Ryan Joe by Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Characters are increasingly certain of who they are, so there’s less drama around the search for identity. This assuredness is evident even in some middle grade novels and picture books."

Latinx Gay YA by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Gay YA. Peek: "Clearly, gay youth are more than their coming out experiences and there is certainly a need to see gay characters live lives that represent that. However, these stories continue to be extremely valuable for Latinx communities."

2016 American Library Association Rainbow List: "a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18."

Transgender Characters Come of Age in YA Lit by Jocelyn McClurg from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "LGBT issues have found a home in books for young readers in recent years, but only now are fictional trans stories reaching critical mass."

Promoting LGBTQIA + YA: A Publicist's POV by Jamie Tan from Gay YA. Peek: "I first wanted to see where this book came from, and if the book was as close to Pat’s heart as it seemed, before doing my duty as a publicist and seeing if I could encourage Pat to talk about these themes in a personal way." See also Pat Schmatz.

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24. Summer Girls & Women in Children's-YA Lit Roundup

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

How "Girl Books" Could Save the World (Or at Least Help Out) by Jen Malone from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "Guess who’s not being exposed to these main characters? Boys. That’s a problem, because their female counterparts are only too happy to read books featuring male central characters, meaning those girls’ empathy for and understanding of the opposite gender grows, while the reverse isn’t necessarily happening."

Teen Girls Have a Right to Roam, Too by C.J. Flood from The Guardian. Peek: "Was it responsible, I asked my publicist and editor, to show teenage girl friends creeping from their bedrooms after dark, to wander their home turf in the moonlight?"

On Gendered Book Covers and Being a Woman Designer by Jennifer Heuer from Lit Hub. Peek: "What topics are women interested in? All of them. How about that book about sports (and not just one about a female athlete)? History (not just one about suffragettes)? A crime thriller (not just one with “girl” in the title)?"

The Heroine's Journey: How Campbell's Model Doesn't Fit by B.J. Priester from Fangirl. Peek: "Putting too much weight on old myths with antiquated, if not downright misogynistic, attitudes toward women will only reinforce sexist limitations from a sexist time in human history."

Girls Growing Up in Middle Grade Fiction by Yamile Saied Mendez from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...here are some titles that have used this time in a girls life as an opportunity to create memorable characters and premises."

The Problem with Female Protagonists by Jo Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I took my son by the hand and went to find out whether his assertion that we mostly (because “always” was clearly an exaggeration) read about female protagonists was true." See How I've Helped Teach Boys That Girls Are Boring an Unimportant by Kasey Edwards from Daily Life.

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25. New Voice: Sonya Mukherjee on Gemini

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sonya Mukherjeeis the first-time author of Gemini (Simon & Schuster, 2016). From the promotional copy:

In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.

Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins, Clara and Hailey, have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence and they’re slowing becoming more apparent. 


Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. 

As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.

Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it.


What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

This is cheating a bit, but my answer has to be Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Random House, 2006). This is a book that I studied and contemplated until its ideas sank in, and it helped my writing more than anything else that I’ve read.

The basic idea is one that’s seeped into the culture in the last few years, but as far as I know, it all stems from Dweck’s work: Some people have a fixed mindset, in which they assume that their intelligence, talent, and personal qualities are mostly immutable, while others have a growth mindset—an assumption that all these qualities can be changed and meaningfully improved with effort. With the fixed mindset, you hear feedback as a reflection on your immutable qualities. With the growth mindset, you hear feedback simply as useful information. And the growth mindset is the one you want.

When I read this book, I realized that I’d always had a fixed mindset about writing. Whenever I received criticism or rejections, I worried that I wasn’t a good writer and never would be—which made it harder to get back to my writing, and harder to learn from the criticism. Whenever I received praise or other kudos, I became hopeful that maybe I had talent after all.

It was a roller coaster, and just like a real-life roller coaster, it made my stomach hurt and got me nowhere.

But Dweck makes it clear that just as you can grow your intelligence, grow your talent, and grow your compassion, you can also grow yourself a growth mindset. That’s the whole point: Believe you can change, and you really can.

Still, change wasn’t easy. For me, the hardest part, but also the most important, was when I realized that in order to be less hurt by criticism, I would also need to be less delighted by praise.

They were two sides of the same coin, and there was just no way to have one without the other. I needed to hear both positive and negative feedback as potentially helpful input that I could use to improve my work, and nothing more.

In short, I had to give up caring about whether I had talent.

This change in mindset allowed me to take in tougher feedback with much less discouragement, and it allowed me to become much more merciless in cutting and overhauling my manuscripts. It also meant less time wasted on feeling bad about criticism and rejections, so I could get back to work sooner.

I’m not claiming to be fully reformed, but I think I’ve come a long way, and I think it’s made a huge difference to the quality of my writing.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

The truth is, although I haven’t been a teenager for quite a while, I never really changed the way I talk.

When I’m at my most relaxed, I still use pretty much the same speech patterns, the same sarcasm, and the same words I used then. I was never one for the most faddish slang, so I didn’t say “rad” as a teen, and I don’t say “bae” now, but I’ve been overusing “awesome” and “cool” the entire time.

Gemini was originally all in Clara’s point of view, and her voice was the first thing that came to me and drove the book forward, so it wasn’t something I struggled to find. But it was basically just a relaxed, uncensored version of my own voice, mingling with some of the thoughts and perspectives and worries that I had as a teen.

Hailey’s voice was added much later in the process, and hers was a bit more challenging, because I wanted her to feel distinct from Clara. They have two different personalities, but because they’re twin sisters who have never been apart, they also have a lot of similarities.

Since Hailey has a harder, tougher edge than Clara, I decided that she would tend to speak in somewhat shorter sentences, with shorter words, and with some mild swearing that we don’t get from Clara. I made her less inclined toward metaphors and other writerly ways of saying things; she’s more direct and literal.

With both of them, though, there was an element that I think must resemble what Method actors do, in imagining themselves into a character. I just tried to be this person and see things through her eyes, and let the voice flow from there.

For writers whose natural voices are more formal or mature than mine, I would suggest that you still just lean into whatever voice comes naturally to you, and allow it to be what it is.

I doubt that trying to consciously imitate younger people’s speech patterns would ever work very well, and I don’t think it’s necessary. There are plenty of great books for young readers that don’t have an obviously teen or kid-sounding voice.

Read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, 2009) or The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown, 2008). These books have pretty formal-sounding narrative voices, and they’re fantastic, and young readers love them.

Granted, they’re in third person, but who says you have to write in first person?

And then again, if you want to write in first person and still give your narrator a more formal style, who says you can’t do that?

Kids and teens have all kinds of voices, and their slang doesn’t necessarily need to be on fleek. (Which MTV tells me is out anyway. “On fleek” was so 2015, apparently.)

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