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1. BLP, Blood, and the ACLU



My publisher, Black Lawrence Press, has announced that for every book they sell through their website from now through the end of the year, they will donate $1 to the American Civil Liberties Union.

I will match this for my own book, Blood: Stories, meaning that every copy sold through the BLP website will also send $2 to the ACLU.

I'm an ACLU member, and pleased with this choice of an organization to support because so many of BLP's authors are among the groups targeted by harassment, civil rights violations, and hate crimes — all of which are on the rise and likely to continue rising.

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2. Dear Michael (a letter to Michael Grant about GONE)

November 17, 2016

Dear Michael Grant,

Our conversation yesterday at Jason Low's opinion piece for School Library Journal didn't go well, did it? I entered it, annoyed at what you said last year in your "On Diversity" post. There, you said:

Let me put this right up front: there is no YA or middle grade author of any gender, or of any race, who has put more diversity into more books than me. Period.
Then you had a list where you were more specific about that diversity. Of Native characters, you said:
Native American main character? No. Australian aboriginal main character, but not a Native American. Hmmm.
You do, in fact, have a Native character in Gone. I'd read it but didn't write about it. So when you commented to Jason in the way that you did, I responded as I did, saying you'd erased a Native character right away in one of your books. With that in mind, and your claim that you've done more than anyone regarding diversity, I said you're part of the problem. You wanted to know what book I was talking about. Indeed, you were quite irate in your demands that I name it. You offered to donate $1000 to a charity of my choice if I could name the book. You seemed to think I could not, and that I was slandering you. 

In that long thread, I eventually named the book but you said I was wrong in what I'd said. So, here's a review. I hope it helps you see what I meant, but based on all that I've seen thus far, I'm doubtful. 

Here's a description of the book:
In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young. There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: on your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else. . . .
Chapter one is set at a school in California. It opens with a character named Sam, who is listening to his teacher talk about the Civil War. Suddenly the teacher is gone. It seems funny at first but then they realize that other teachers are gone, and so is everyone who is 15 years old, or older. In chapter two, Sam, his friend Quinn, and Astrid (she's introduced in chapter one as a smart girl) head home, sure they'll find their parents. They don't. 

Partway through chapter two, you introduce us to Lana Arwen Lazar, who is riding in a truck that is being driven by her, grandfather, Grandpa Luke, who is described as follows (p. 19-20):
He was old, Grandpa Luke. Lots of kids had kind of young grandparents. In fact, Lana’s other grandparents, her Las Vegas grandparents, were much younger. But Grandpa Luke was old in that wrinkled-up-leather kind of way. His face and hands were dark brown, partly from the sun, partly because he was Chumash Indian.
At first, I thought, "cool." You were bringing a tribally specific character into the story! If he's Chumash, then, Lana is, too! There's whole chapters about her. She's a main character. But, you didn't remember her. Or maybe, in your responses at SLJ, you were too irate to remember her?

Anyway, I wasn't keen on the "wrinkled-up-leather" and "dark brown" skin because you're replicating stereotypical ideas about what Native people look like.

As I continued reading, however, it was clear to me that you were just using the Chumash as decoration. You clearly did some research, though. You've got Grandpa Luke, for example, pointing with his chin. Thing is: I've been seeing that a lot. It makes me wonder if white people have a checklist for a Native character that says "make sure the character points with the chin rather than fingers."

Back to chapter two... Grandpa Luke pointed (with his chin) to a hill. Lana tells him she saw a coyote there and he tells her not to worry (p. 20):
“Coyote’s harmless. Mostly. Old brother coyote’s too smart to go messing with humans.” He pronounced coyote “kie-oat.”
Hmmm... Grandpa Luke... teaching Lana about coyote? That sounds a bit... like the chin thing. I'm seeing lot of stories where writers drop in coyote. Is that on a check list, too?

Next, we learn that Lana is with her grandpa because her dad caught her sneaking vodka out of their house to give it to another kid named Tony. Lana defends what she did, saying that Tony would have used a fake ID and that he might have gotten into trouble. Her grandpa says (p. 21):
“No maybe about it. Fifteen-year-old boy drinking booze, he’s going to find trouble. I started drinking when I was your age, fourteen. Thirty years of my life I wasted on the bottle. Sober now for thirty-one years, six months, five days, thank God above and your grandmother, rest her soul.”
Oh-oh. Alcohol? That must be on the checklist, too. I've seen a lot of books wherein a Native character is alcoholic.

Lana teases her grandpa, he laughs, and then the truck veers off the road and crashes. Grandpa Luke is gone. Just like the other adults. Lana lies in the truck, injured. Her dog, Patrick, is with her. The chapter ends and you spend time with the other characters.

His being gone is what I was referring to when I said that you erased him. At SLJ, you strongly objected to me saying that. You interpreted that as me saying you're anti-Native. You said that "every adult is disappeared." That you did that to "African-Americans, Polish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans..." Yes. They all go away in your story, and because they do, you think it is wrong for me to object. That's when I said to you that you're clearly not reading any of the many writings about depictions of Native people. It just isn't ok to create Native characters and then get rid of them like that. Later in the SLJ thread, you said:
"I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It's a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series." 
Really, Michael? That's pretty awful. I hope someone amongst your writing friends can help you see why that doesn't work!

Lana is back in chapter seven. A mountain lion appears. Patrick fights it and it takes off, but Patrick has a bad wound. Lana drifts off to sleep again, holding Patrick's wound to stop the blood. She wakes, part way through chapter ten. Patrick isn't with her but comes bounding over, all healed! Lana wonders if she had healed him. She glances at her mangled arm, which is now getting infected. She touches it, drifts off, and when she wakes it, too is healed. Next she heals her broken leg. All better, she stands up.

So---Lana is a healer, Michael? That, too, is over in checklist land (Native characters who heal others).

In chapter fifteen, Lana and Patrick set out to find food and water and hopefully, her grandfather's ranch. After several hours of walking in the heat, they find the wall that is an important feature of the story, and then, a patch of green grass. There's a water hose and a small cabin. They drink, and she washes the dried blood off her face and hair.

In chapter eighteen, Lana wakes in the cabin, and remembers the last few weeks. She remembers putting the bottle of vodka in a bag with "the beadwork she liked" (p. 203). My guess, given that her grandfather is Chumash, is that the bag we're meant to imagine is one with Native beadwork designs on it.

Lana hears scratching at the door, like the way a dog scratches at a door, and she hears a whispered "Come out." Oh-oh (again), Michael! Native people who can communicate with animals! That on the checklist, too? Patrick's hackles are raised, his fur bristles. They finally open the door and go out out but don't see anyone. She uses the bathroom in an outhouse. When Lana and Patrick head back to the cabin, a coyote is standing there, between the outhouse and the cabin. This coyote, however, is the size of a wolf. She thinks back on what she learned about coyotes, from Grandpa Luke (p. 207):
“Shoo,” Lana yelled, and waved her hands as her grandfather had taught her to do if she ever came too close to a coyote.
It didn't move, though. Behind it were a few more. Patrick wouldn't attack them, so, Lana yelled and charged right at them. The coyote recoiled in surprise. Lana was a flash of something dark, and the coyote yelped in pain. She made it to the cabin. She heard the coyotes crying in pain and rage. The next day, she found the one who she'd charged at (p. 207):
Still attached to its muzzle was half a snake with a broad, diamond-shaped head. Its body had been chewed in half but not before the venom had flowed into the coyote’s bloodstream.
What does that mean? Does Lana's healing power mean snakes will defend her? Or, that she can summon them to help her? Or is the appearance of these snakes just coincidental and has nothing to do, really, with Lana?

In chapter twenty-five, two days have passed since Lana's encounter with the coyotes. Lana and Patrick eat the food they find in the cabin, and learn that it belonged to a guy named Jim Brown. He has 38 books in the cabin. Lana passes time reading them. At one point, she realizes there's a space underneath the cabin. In it, she finds gold bricks. She remembers the picks and shovels she saw outside, and the tire tracks leading to a ridge and thinks that, perhaps, Jim and his truck are there. She fills a water jug, and the two set off, following the tire tracks.

In chapter twenty-seven, Lana and Patrick reach an abandoned mining town. She look for keys to the truck they find, and, they peek into the mine shaft. Suddenly they hear coyotes. It seems Lana can hear them saying "food." Lana and Patrick enter the mine, but the coyotes don't follow them. Then, one of them talks to her, telling her to leave the mine. They rush in and attack her but then stop, clearly afraid themselves. She's now their prisoner. They nudge her down, deeper into the mine. She senses something there, hears a loud voice, passes out, and wakes, outside.

In chapter twenty nine, the coyotes push her on through the desert. She thinks of the lead coyote as "Pack Leader." He's the one who speaks to her. She asks him why they don't kill her. He says (p. 326):
“The Darkness says no kill,” Pack Leader said in his tortured, high-pitched, inhuman voice.
That "Darkness" is the voice she heard in the mine. It wants her to teach Pack Leader...  She asks Pack Leader to take her back to the cabin so she can get human food there. Later on, Darkness speaks through Lara.

Ok--Michael--I've spelled out how your depictions of Lana fail. There's so much stereotyping in there. I gotta take off on a road trip now. I may be back, later, to clarify this letter. I think it is clear but may be missing something in my re-read of it. If you care to respond, please do!

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


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3. Thursday Review: CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge

This scary cover almost made me not want to read it.Synopsis: I’m a huge fan of Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night books, so I was eager to check out this one—another middle grade fantasy. It’s hard to talk about this one without giving away... Read the rest of this post

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4. Beware of Exploding (Numbers of) Nutcrackers

nutcracker-1It sort of feels like someone took a starting pistol and called out to the universe, “Nutcracker picture books!  On your mark . . . get set . . . . GO!”  And off they went!

2016, for whatever reason, has turned out to be a VERY Nutcracker heavy year.  If you are unaware or only vaguely familiar with what The Nutcracker is, I will sum up.  In 1816 Prussian Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffman wrote an odd little children’s story called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.  It was this wild bit of imagining about a girl who receives a nutcracker from her uncle and the fantastical story that ensues.  There’s even a story within a story, which concerns the tale of the Princess Pirlipat and the nut she had to eat to break a spell.  It’s good and trippy.  There was even a version of it illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

In time this story was adapted by Alexander Dumas into merely The Nutcracker.  And from that tale we get the two-act balled choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Tchaikovsky.

nutcrackerballetFor a long time the ballet was done exactly the same way every year.  Then people started to get creative.  In 1983, Maurice Sendak (who had four years before adapted Where the Wild Things Are to the stage) designed the set for the Pacific Northwestern Ballet’s production of Nutcracker.  It was a massive hit partly, as Maria Popova puts it, because it embraced, “Hoffmann’s essential weirdness”.  Looking at the art Sendak did for the accompanying book, one really wonders why he never illustrated Struwwelpeter at any point in his career.  But I digress.

The Sendak production ran with the Pacific Northwestern Ballet until 2014 when it finally ended its run.  Weep not, little children, if you feel you might have missed a chance to see a true children’s book master’s hand on a Nutcracker production.  I come with tidings of great joy.  Here in Chicago the Joffrey Ballet is presenting from December 10th-30th a production of The Nutcracker choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, with puppets by Basil Twist and costumes and sets by Julian Crouch and our very own Brian Selznick.  Marvelous, no?  The show will this time be set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair.  Just bounce that thought around your noggin for a while.

nutcrackercomesOn the book side of things, stories about the Nutcracker are abundant.  Last year we saw a couple come out, as well as a nice behind-the-scenes story by Chris Barton called The Nutcracker Comes to America.  That may well be the only nonfiction title related to The Nutcracker you’ll find on your shelves, by the way.

This year Nutcrackers have multiplied like so many Mouse King heads.  I have found six for starters.  Yet for all that they’re now common, writing this book is an incredibly difficult affair.  The struggle each one of these books is figuring out how to tell a story that is both familiar to those kids who are either in the ballet or have seen it, and also has some relation to the original source material.  To put it plainly, there have been mixed results.

The Nutcracker by Grace Maccarone, ill. Celia Chauffrey

nutcracker5

This is one of those books that certainly feels as though it was created to appeal primarily to those kids that get to act in a production of The Nutcracker as party guests and mice.  The entire trip to the Land of Sweets is kept incredibly short.  All told it’s a pretty rote retelling of the ballet specifically.  Perfectly decent but not a top pick.

The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet, ill. Valeria Docampo

nutcracker4

Apparently an entire ballet company is capable of writing a book together.  Here the fact that the show IS a ballet is never forgotten (the cover makes that much clear).  Yet the name of our heroine isn’t Clara, as most productions of The Nutcracker name her, but Marie.  That’s her name in the original Hoffman book!  Yet the book itself acts as a younger introduction for kids to the show.  The kind of title you’d read to a five-year-old who was about to go and see their first performance.

The Nutcracker by Kate Davies, ill. Niroot Puttapipat

nutcracker1

Just a quick note here.  Remember how I said that in the original Hoffman story there was an odd little subplot involving a character with the name Princess Pirlipat?  How likely is it that a Puttapipat would illustrate a book that originally contained a Pirlipat?  The editing gods work in mysterious ways.  This is one of the lovelier Nutcrackers out this year and for good reason.  The silhouettes are delicate and delightful and the small pop-up details even nicer.  Both the original Hoffman and the subsequent Dumas stories have been combined here to try and bridge the gap between ballet and text.

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger

nutcracker2

It’s not entirely fair to include this since this is technically a reprint, but the original has been unavailable for years.  This is Hoffman’s original story but instead of Sendak’s art you have Zwerger’s.  She doesn’t necessarily tap into the oddities of the text, but she has the dreamlike aspects down pat.  A lovely one.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, retold by Renate Raecke, ill. Yana Sedova

nutcracker3

I think that when it comes to the story and the mix of text and image, this may well be the most successful.  Like the Puttapipat version it does a good job of building a bridge between the ballet and the original story.  It also, as you can see here, is has some of the best art.  This is my own personal pick of the lot.

E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker by Jack Wang and Holman Wang

PrideAndPrejudice_COV_FnCrx.indd

Aww. The latest from Cozy Classics. I couldn’t finish this post without paying tribute to this one.  If you know a kid in a production of this show, just get them this book.  It’s quick.  It’s cute.  And it does a darn good job of showing a ballet slipper in flight in felt.  And what more, I ask you, do you really and truly need in this life but that?

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5. Review of the Day: Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

fivechildrenwesternFive Children on the Western Front
By Kate Saunders
Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-553-49793-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Anytime someone writes a new prequel or sequel to an old children’s literary classic, the first question you have to ask is, “Was this necessary?” And nine times out of ten, the answer is a resounding no. No, we need no further adventures in the 100-Acre Woods. No, there’s very little reason to speculate on precisely what happened to Anne before she got to Green Gables. But once in a while an author gets it right. If they’re good they’ll offer food for thought, as when Jacqueline Kelly wrote, Return to the Willows (the sequel to The Wind in the Willows) and Geraldine McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet. And if they’re particularly talented, then they’ll do the series one better. They’ll go and make it smart and pertinent and real and wonderful. They may even improve upon the original. The idea that someone would write a sequel to Five Children and It (and to a lesser extent The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet) is well-nigh short of ridiculous. I mean, you could do it, sure, but why? What’s the point? Well, as author Kate Saunders says of Nesbit’s classic, “Bookish nerd that I was, it didn’t take me long to work out that two of E. Nesbit’s fictional boys were of exactly the right ages to end up being killed in the trenches…” The trenches of WWI, that is. Suddenly we’ve an author who dares to meld the light-hearted fantasy of Nesbit’s classic with the sheer gut-wrenching horror of The War to End All Wars. The crazy thing is, she not only pulls it off but she creates a great novel in the process. One that deserves to be shelved alongside Nesbit’s original for all time.

Once upon a time, five children found a Psammead, or sand fairy, in their back garden. Nine years later, he came back. A lot has happened since this magical, and incredibly grumpy, friend was in the children’s lives. The world stands poised on the brink of WWI. The older children (Cyril, Anthea, Robert, and Jane) have all become teenagers, while the younger kids (Lamb and newcomer Polly) are the perfect age to better get to know the old creature’s heart. As turns out, he has none, or very little to speak of. Long ago, in ancient times, he was worshipped as a god. Now the chickens have come home to roost and he must repent for his past sins or find himself stuck in a world without his magic anymore. And the children? No magic will save them from what’s about to come.

A sequel to a book published more than a hundred years ago is a bit more of a challenge than writing one published, say, fifty. The language is archaic, the ideas outdated, and then there’s the whole racism problem. But even worse is the fact that often you’ll find character development in classic titles isn’t what it is today. On the one hand that can be freeing. The author is allowed to read into someone else’s characters and present them with the necessary complexity they weren’t originally allowed. But it can hem you in as well. These aren’t really your characters, after all. Clever then of Ms. Saunders to age the Lamb and give him a younger sister. The older children are all adolescents or young adults and, by sheer necessity, dull by dint of age. Even so, Saunders does a good job of fleshing them out enough that you begin to get a little sick in the stomach wondering who will live and who will die.

This naturally begs the question of whether or not you would have to read Five Children and It to enjoy this book. I think I did read it a long time ago but all I could really recall was that there were a bunch of kids, the Psammead granted wishes, the book helped inspire the work of Edgar Eager, and the youngest child was called “The Lamb”. Saunders tries to play the book both ways then. She puts in enough details from the previous books in the series to gratify the Nesbit fans of the world (few though they might be) while also catching the reader up on everything that came before in a bright, brisk manner. You do read the book feeling like not knowing Five Children and It is a big gaping gap in your knowledge, but that feeling passes as you get deeper and deeper into the book.

One particular element that Ms. Saunders struggles with the most is the character of the Psammead. To take any magical creature from a 1902 classic and to give him hopes and fears and motivations above and beyond that of a mere literary device is a bit of a risk. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve not read “Five Children and It” in a number of years so I can’t recall if the Psammead was always a deposed god from ancient times or if that was entirely a product from the brain of Ms. Saunders. Interestingly, the author makes a very strong attempt at equating the atrocities of the Psammead’s past (which are always told in retrospect and are never seen firsthand) with the atrocities being committed as part of the war. For example, at one point the Psammead is taken to the future to speak at length with the deposed Kaiser, and the two find they have a lot in common. It is probably the sole element of the book that didn’t quite work for me then. Some of the Psammead’s past acts are quite horrific, and he seems pretty adamantly disinclined to indulge in any serious self-examination. Therefore his conversion at the end of the book didn’t feel quite earned. It’s foolish to wish a 250 page children’s novel to be longer, but I believe just one additional chapter or two could have gone a long way towards making the sand fairy’s change of heart more realistic. Or, at the very least, comprehensible.

When Ms. Saunders figured out the Cyril and Robert were bound for the trenches, she had a heavy task set before her. On the one hand, she was obligated to write with very much the same light-hearted tone of the original series. On the other hand, the looming shadow of WWI couldn’t be downplayed. The solution was to experience the war in much the same way as the characters. They joke about how short their time in the battle will be, and then as the book goes along the darkness creeps into everyday life. One of the best moments, however, comes right at the beginning. The children, young in the previous book, take a trip from 1905 to 1930, visit with their friend the professor, and return back to their current year. Anthea then makes an off-handed comment that when she looked at the photos on the wall she saw plenty of ladies who looked like young versions of their mother but she couldn’t find the boys. It simply says after that, “Far away in 1930, in his empty room, the old professor was crying.”

So do kids need to have read Five Children and It to enjoy this book? I don’t think so, honestly. Saunders recaps the originals pretty well, and I can’t help but have high hopes for the fact that it may even encourage some kids to seek out the originals. I do meet kids from time to time that are on the lookout for historical fantasies, and this certainly fits the bill. Ditto kids with an interest in WWI and (though this will be less common as the years go by) kids who love Downton Abbey. It would be remarkably good for them. Confronting issues of class, disillusion, meaningless war, and empathy, the book transcends its source material and is all the better for it. A beautiful little risk that paid off swimmingly in the end. Make an effort to seek it out.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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6. Fusenews: Some remedies are worse than the disease itself

Happy day after the day after Thanksgiving.  Today I’m going to start you off on serious news story and that will pretty much set the tone for the day.


 

hatespeechI live in Evanston, IL.  It’s home to Northwestern University and like a lot of college towns it’s a pretty liberal place.  We sit just north of Chicago.  We’re are ethnically and economically diverse.  We like to think we live apart from the rest of the world in a little bubble.  We don’t and it behooves us to remember that.  Unfortunately, we can be reminded in rather horrible ways sometimes.  Last Monday evening one of my librarians discovered that a number of books on Muslim topics had been defaced with hate speech, swastikas, and offensive comments.  Seven were specific to Islam.  One of them was Glenn Beck’s It Is About Islam.  The community responded swiftly and wonderfully, but it’s become a very big story.  I’m replacing the books now.


 

It’s almost here!  New York Public Library’s list of 100 children’s books is about to be officially released.  Recently renamed 100 Best Books for Kids (an unfortunate moniker but NYPL is very keen on the word “Best” these days) it has an interesting selection.  Odd choices too, like the fact that some of the nonfiction picture books in with the picture books section and some are in the nonfiction section.  Some titles I haven’t heard of too, so I’m super excited to look into those.  I did that list for something around 5-6 years, so my love for it is strong.  Additionally, there’s a new list of 50 YA books on there as well.  Win-win!


 

The Term “Graphic Novel” Has Had a Good Run. We Don’t Need It Anymore.  I have no horse in this race. Glen fails to mention libraries in the piece, which I don’t think is his fault.  He’s just ill-informed.  Getting comics into the mainstream meant getting libraries on board, and the term “graphic novel” was very useful when it came to justifying such a book on our shelves.  We still use it.  Maybe it’s outdated.  I dunno.  I could go any which way.  Still, until comics are used regularly in schools without massive quantities of eyebrow raising, I’ll not believe that comics have “arrived” quite yet.


 

The Undies are here!  The Undies are here!  If you haven’t voted over at 100 Scope Notes for the best case cover of a picture book in 2016, now is the time.


 

691. That’s how many children’s authors and illustrators signed The Brown Bookshelf’s Declaration in Support of Children.  In it, it states, “we will create stories that offer authentic and recognizable reflections of themselves, as well as relatable insight into experiences which on the surface appear markedly different.”  On the librarian side of the equation, bloggers like Roxanne Feldmann have published things like A Commitment to Social Justices and Compassion.  In the comment section Bob Kanegis posted the 1955 dedication written by the United Nations Women’s Guild in their book Ride With the Sun: An Anthology of Folk Tales and Stories from the United Nations.  It read:

The Children’s Charter
“There shall be peace on earth; but not until
Each child shall daily eat his fill;
Go warmly clad against the winter wind
And learn his lessons with a tranquil mind.
And thus released from hunger, fear, and need
Regardless of his color, race or creed,
Look upwards, smiling to the skies, His faith in man reflected in his eyes.”


 

badlittleRelated.  A not-really-a-children’s-book children’s book is coming out from Abrams called Bad Little Children’s Books by Arthur C. Gackley.  You’ve seen this kind of thing online before.  They take Little Golden Book styled illustrations and covers and then put some snarky comment with them.  This just collects a whole bunch of them.  No doubt some of you will receive it this holiday seasons from relatives who think, “You like children’s books therefore you will find this hilarious.”  And it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning except for one cover in there that sort of moves it from mildly amusing to not amusing at all.  One of the parody covers is called Happy Burkaday, Timmy. Accompanying it is a picture of a little girl in a burka holding a bomb.  So.  That.  Now you know.  Thanks to Sharon Levin for the info.


 

Let us turn our eyes to happier news.  When the Wichita, Kansas chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Wichita Police Department held a mutual cookout, this captured the attention of the publisher Tanglewood.  So moved, they decided to partner with libraries in some fashion.  They donated 250 copies of The Kissing Hand to libraries that agreed to host an event in a community where gun violence had occurred.  Then library partners were encouraged to work with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter (or similar organization) and the local law enforcement so both groups would have an equal part in delivering the donated books into the community.  “Library partners were encouraged to work with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter (or similar organization) and the local law enforcement so both groups would have an equal part in delivering the donated books into the community.”  Curious?  More information here.


 

Vicky Smith recently alerted us to an interesting topic.  While at the Maine Library Association conference she attended a workshop about the, “critlib movement in Maine. If you’re not familiar with critlib, it’s an attempt to marry critical race theory with librarianship in a pretty fascinating way. It encourages librarians to examine the ways the discipline privileges the dominant culture – for instance, Library of Congress cataloging places queer topics, consensual kink, and child sexual predation in the same conceptual bucket.”  FYI.


 

Daily Image:

I couldn’t say it better than Cameron Suey did.  “Damn, Aesop is subtweeting America, hard.”

hawkpigeons

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7. #andnowwewrite

Over on the readergirlz facebook page, we are sharing the thoughts of YA writers post U.S. election, 2016. Feel free to add your views as well. #wethepeople #inked #andnowwewrite #love.

Onward, rgz. Read, reflect, and reach out! ~Lorie Ann Grover


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8. Something’s Coming . . . I Don’t Know What It Is But It Is Gonna Be Great!

The title of this post isn’t entirely accurate.  I know perfectly well what’s coming.  Tomorrow starts off a magnificent run of Best Books lists.  Yes, starting December 1st I will begin running the 31 Days, 31 Lists streak.  I even have a catchy visual to go with it!  Check it out:

31days31lists

You’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the coming month.

The premise behind all this is simple.  For each day in December I will run a “Best Of” list of some sort.  The reason for this is that I’ve read so many books this year that it seems a shame that I only review roughly one a month.  This will be a way of celebrating everything I’ve failed to properly praise.  Also, some lists are more useful to folks than others, so why not provide a variety?  Here’s the schedule:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

Now the caveat.  I say I’ve read a lot of books for kids this year.  This is not an untrue statement.  However, I am no longer on NYPL’s 100 Books committee and I no longer have travel time to devote to books.  That means that my knowledge of longer nonfiction and novels is very limited.  I will strive to make it clear that those lists are limited only to what I have seen.  And, of course, being only one person I can only vouch for what comes my way.  There are definitely going to be gaps, but I refuse to include any book I haven’t read personally.

So get ready for an interesting test.  How will it go?  Will I be able to keep the pace?  Will be choices be slapdash crazy?

Stay tuned . . .

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9. Bookstore Love

Events in Saskatoon and Winnipeg now just a happy memory, but I did leave signed copies behind for anyone who might be interested. Thanks to my publisher, Groundwood Books for sending me west. Big thanks to McNally Kids for being fabulous hosts!






A photo posted by McNally Robinson for Kids (@mcnallykids) on






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10. Out of the Past



In the archives of the New York Times, materials about Germany and the rise of the Nazis to power are vast. It would take days to read through it all. Though it would be an informative experience, I don't have the time to do so at the moment, but I was curious to see the general progression of news and opinion as it all happened.

Here are a few items that stuck out to me as I skimmed around:

1932
7 February

10 March


29 May



12 June


1933

8 February


9 February


29 February


5 March

7 March


11 March

12 March

13 March

16 March


19 March



22 March

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11. Guest Post: David Jacobson on Trusting the Illustrator & the Publishing Process

By David Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For the last eight years, I have worked for a small Seattle book publisher called Chin Music Press.

I've done everything from fact checking and copy editing to developmental- and line-editing, from setting up book tours to reading through the slush pile (a task I actually enjoyed).

But during all that time, my name never appeared on the cover of a book.

That changed this September with the release of my first title, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A picture book, it's both biography and anthology of a much-loved Japanese children's poet, whose work has yet to be introduced to English-language readers.

Becoming an author, I learned, is a humbling experience. I had to endure the red-penciling of my not-so-flawless prose (something I used to dish out myself), and the frustration of waiting for each cog in the publishing machine to take its spin—editing, illustrating, book designing, leveling, printing, marketing, reviewing, even mailing—as deadlines came and went.

The experience opened my eyes to the anxiety authors feel as they lose more and more control over their creation, something that had not really dawned on me despite my years working in publishing.


As a staff member at a publisher, I had dealt with authors who continued to rework small details of their text until the bitter end, who agonized over each cover illustration, or who fretted over how their book page appeared on Amazon. Indeed, the degree to which authors continued "meddling" in their books sometimes affected how well we worked with them.

But being on the author side of the equation taught me just how important it is to give up control, regardless of the anxiety it might cause. That was particularly true of my interactions with Are You an Echo? illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.

David
When it came time to decide which cover to use, I requested multiple cover sketches, asking for one thing after another to be changed. But I couldn't get satisfied.

 Finally, since I was unsure of how to proceed, I asked our book designer Dan Shafer for advice. He recommended limiting how much I was trying to steer the illustrator. Illustrators, he said, do their best work when they have freedom to react to the text in their own way.

Ultimately, I left Toshi to his own devices and he ended up producing a glorious painting of Misuzu and her daughter at sunset.

We went with that.

During my time at Chin Music, there have been many occasions when interactions between writer and editor, or writer and designer have produced unexpected results.

Current author A. V. Crofts tells of her own positive experience of letting go how she thought the cover of her book should look. In another of our titles, Todd Shimoda's Oh! a Mystery of Mono no Aware, book designer Josh Powell brilliantly conceived of the idea of printing the entire book (both text and illustrations) in shades of black-and-white except for the very end.

Photo credit below.
Though initially intended to reduce the cost of the book, his solution resulted in a final explosion of color that dramatically enhanced the conclusion.

Writing is often thought to be a solo activity where one can wield total control over ones craft.

Oddly enough, its twin, publishing—the business of connecting writers to readers—is more of a team sport, requiring the combined input of different players with different skills and sensibilities.

So, as an author, don't try to control everything in your book. Find really good people to join your team. Then let your editor, illustrator, designer, or translator bring something of him or herself to the process.

The result may surprise you.

interior illustration from the book
Cynsational Notes

Photo of Misuzu, Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko's Work.

Review of the Day: Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson from Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "I hope that the fame that came to Kaneko after the 2011 tsunami will take place in America, without the aid of a national disaster. And I hope that every child that reads, or is read, one of her poems feels that little sense of empathy she conveyed so effortlessly in her life."

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12. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Courage, Connection & Hope: Interview with Gae Polisner from Book Club Advisor. Peek: "...a video interview on the power of literature, how The Memory of Things was created, and the impact of a national tragedy on a generation."

Finding the Lost Voices in YA Historical Fiction by Pia Ceres from Lee & Low. Peek: "Using the framework of the past, the genre challenges consumerism, individual sovereignty, justice – salient subjects that adolescents actively question and explore."

When It's Okay to Listen to Your Inner Editor by Sara Letourneau from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...ask yourself, 'Will this improve my WIP? Or am I beating myself up?' You might already know the answer subconsciously."

Ambelin Kwaymullina: Thoughts on Being an Ally of Indigenous Writers from Justine Labalestier. Peek: "I believe supporting others requires a rights-based, strength-based approach. Rights-based, in that I recognise that the denial of anyone’s rights, and the diminishment of anyone’s humanity, diminishes and denies my own."

Author Interview: Dr. René Saldaña Jr. from Houston Public Media. Peek: "The saga of children Mickey’s age attempting to come to the United States without their parents is sad yet intriguing. Could there be a connection between the unaccompanied minor children and the mysterious Natalia?"

Your Two Plots by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Depending on how self-aware your characters are and how distracting your action is, you can hide how your internal story develops until the end."

See also Islam in the Classroom
Books in the Home: Mommy, Do I Have White Skin?: Skin Color, Family, and Picture Books by Julie Hakim Azzam from The Horn Book. Peek: "We’re surrounded by images that tell us mothers and children should look alike. Adoptive, interracial, and intercultural families do not have what Christopher Myers called in his essay 'Young Dreamers' an 'image library,' a robust visual archive that reflects and validates their existence."

SCBWI 2016 Winter Reading List: "Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List. The Lists will be published bi-annually, in the Summer and Winter." Note: I was excited to learn about some new (to me) Texas authors from the list, and that's saying something because one of my personal commitments is to keep up with new voices, especially in my home state.

The Slush Pile Myth by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "...there is a myth that circulates about the children’s book that is plucked from the pile and subsequently reaches hitherto untold levels of success. I know of only three instances where this happened, and I wanted to just give them a quick glance today."

Crossing Borders by Reyna Grande from Latinxs in Kidlit. Peek: "It saddens me to see that the world—instead of tearing down border walls—is actually building more of them. There are more border barriers today than ever before. In 1989, there were only 15 border walls in the world. Today there are more than 63, and counting."

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Screening Room




More Personally

Thank you to everyone at McAllen Book Festival and McAllen (Texas) Public Library for a wonderful event. Here are a few pics from the author party last Friday night.

A.G.  Howard & Beth Fehlbaum
With Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Carolyn Dee Flores & Kelly Starling Lyons
Thanks also to Michael Hays, Lee Francis IV, Debbie Reese, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, and everyone who turned out last night for the "Indigenous Voices in MG" #MGLitChat on Twitter.

I have signed on to A Declaration in Support of Children from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators, do publicly affirm our commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death." See also Hundreds of U.S. Children's Authors Sign Petition to Tackle Racism & Xenophobia, Hundreds of Children's Authors Pledge to Combat Bigotry and What Do We Tell the Children?

Cynsations will be on hiatus next week while those of us in the U.S. contemplate gratitude. 

Personal Links

Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!

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    13. Books from my Bookshelf - Tale of a One-Way Street and other Stories


    In this collection of eight original stories, Joan Aiken takes us on a journey to a land where all the magical things that only seem to happen in dreams really happen. 

    The stories are: Tale of a one-way street, The lions, Bridget's hat, The goodbye song, The queen of the moon, Clean sheets, The alarm cock (not clock!) and The tractor, the duck and the drum. The illustrations are all by Jan Pienkowski. 

    Image above from THE ALARM COCK 

    Once there was a shop with a sign over the door that said, VINE, WOLF, AND PARROTT, HELPERS. If you opened the door and went in, you saw the Vine right away, for it grew out of the floor and up the walls of the little shop, so the whole room was lined with leaves, and clusters of flowers hung from the ceiling.... A sign over the counter said, No fee unless satisfied.  Payment in kind Accepted. We help you with all your problems!

    Image from TALE OF A ONE-WAY STREET 

    They saw a great forest of pipes, each pipe mended in a different way. They saw streams and fountains of letters and numbers sparkling in the purple rays of the sun, making hundreds and thousands of different words, giving the answers to any number of sums...

     Image from THE LIONS

    At each corner of the little park, facing inwards so that they could see on another comfortably, crouched four stone lions. One had moss growing on his tail. One had a swallow's nest of straw built between his ears. One had a broken paw, where a boy had thrown a brick. And somebody had written I LOVE FRANK on the fourth lion ...

     Image from BRIDGET'S HAT

    "Now," he said. "Pay careful attention. The diamond that fastens your right-hand boot is a very old and precious one; it is called the Eye of the Desert, and has the power to take you wherever you want to go, if you step out with your right foot first, and wish at the same time. Is that clear?


    A second image from BRIDGET'S HAT

    Image from THE GOODBYE SONG

    But one night, out of the depths of her worry, she dreamed a song, and the next day, when she woke up, she remembered the words of it, and the tune.  These were the words:

    Road, river, mountain, sea,
    Bring my boys safe to me
    Earth, air sun, moon,
    Bring my sons back soon
    Luck, chance, wish, will
    Keep them safe from all ill.

    Black and white image from BRIDGET'S HAT

    Image from THE QUEEN OF THE MOON

    Tansy walked along the side of the field till she came to a little stream. She built a dam out of sticks and mud. Then she built an island out of stones, and put smaller stones and earth on top. Over the earth she laid green moss, and then she picked moon daisies and stuck them into the moss. They looked as if they were growing...

    Image from THE TRACTOR, THE DUCK AND THE DRUM

    So Euan wrote to his Aunt Bertha:  Dere Ant Birthday I shd bee verry great full if u cd send mee a track tor I can ride on wat goes chug chug chug & a drum I can play on wat goes rub a dub dub & a duk to swim in my barf wat goes quak quak quak.

     Image from CLEAN SHEETS

    So Gus had to go to bed, but he took the leaf with him. And lying in bed, holding the leaf scrunched up in his hand, he remembered floating down the Colorado river in a canoe past great golden cliffs. He remembered scoring the winning goal in an ice-hockey match. He remembered getting into the pilot's seat of a small aeroplane he had been given. Then he went to sleep ...



    I’m so happy I stumbled across this beautifully illustrated book in a local charity shop.  I love the intense colours and the silhouettes by Jan Pienkowski, plus the stories are fun and imaginative.  This from the introduction:

    What very strange creatures you are apt to meet if you dare to go the wrong way up a one-way street. What splendid things you can remember, even if they didn't happen (like the zebra you got for your birthday or all the doughnuts in the world which you ate without being sick), if you hold the leaf of a memory tree in the palm of your hand. What a peculiar muddle your presents can get into when your birthday cake is baked with a wishing spoon, and what magical rewards come your way if you save the king of grasshoppers from drowning in your porridge.  

    Tale of a one-way street
    Joan Aiken with pictures by Jan Pienkowski. 
    Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd. 1978

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I’m going to leave you with a funny story as told by our daughter in law Karen.  She is talking about her youngest daughter (our granddaughter) Lilly.  

    ... Lilly decided to help me with the washing ... after loading the washing machine I said ok now shut the door like you are really cross, meaning slam it shut … as she slammed the door she yelled "I am sick of this".   

    Tada!!  Thank you Lilly ... please take a bow!



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    14. 2017 Picture Books I’m Really Looking Forward To

    Ending on a preposition and regretting nothing.

    Here are the 2017 books I’ve seen that I’ve found positively delightful.  These are all completely and utterly worthy.  Put them on your To Be Read list today:

    Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel

    babysfirstwords

    I like a good book for the little littles where the fact that a kid has two dads is part of the equation but not the focus.  Additionally, there’s a stay-at-home dad here that’s awesome.


     

    Home and Dry by Sarah L. Smith

    homedry

    A peculiar little book, but I was very fond of its love of all things soggy.


     

    Mrs. White Rabbit by Giles Bachelet

    mrswhiterabbitIt is French.  It is funny.  You will enjoy it.  Particularly the Alice in Wonderland in-jokes.


     

    My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

    mybeautifulbirds

    A Syrian refugee picture book done in an entirely different medium – clay!


     

    Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmett, ill. Poly Bernatene

    princeribbit

    Look. Any book that teaches kids to read everything critically is a necessary purchase in my book. Plus this is from the guys that brought us The Princess and the Pig, so that’s awesome right there.


     

    Rabbit Magic by Meg McLaren

    rabbitmagic

    Books with tons of tiny details hidden within the pages are easy sells.  I love the delicacy of the art here.


     

    There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, ill. Laurel Molk

    theremightlobsters

    At first it just looks like a story about a dog overcoming fears, but the text reads aloud particularly well.


     

    Tony by Ed Galing, ill. Erin E. Stead

    tony

    I won’t!  I won’t fall in love with this adapted poem about a boy and his love for the milkman’s horse!  I won’t, I say!  I . . . oh, darn it.  Too late.


     

    The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

    alfredfiddleduckling

    Ering tends to write longer picture books.  This was has more heart in its little finger than most books have in their whole bodies.


     

    Waiting for Pumpsie by Barry Wittenstein, ill. London Ladd

    waitingpumpsie

    Kids could easily get the impression that after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier it was smooth sailing for African-Americans in baseball.  This book shoots down that myth elegantly and well.


     

    When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, ill. Kim La Fave

    whenraincomes

    Remarkably dramatic for something so short.


     

    XO OX by Adam Rex, ill. Scott Campbell

    xoox

    The return of Scott Campbell!  The pairing of Adam Rex!  And I’m calling it now: The most fabulous romantic pairing of 2017.

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    15. New Voice: JoAnne Stewart Wetzel on Playing Juliet

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    JoAnne Stewart Wetzel is the first-time novelist of Playing Juliet (Sky Pony, 2015). From the promotional copy:

    Beth Sondquist, 12 1/2, secretly dreams of playing William Shakespeare’s Juliet. 

    When she learns the children’s theatre in her town is threatened with closure, she and her best friend, Zandy Russell, do everything they can to save it. 

    But since Beth keeps breaking one theatre superstition after another in the process, she may never get onstage again.

    Quotes from Shakespeare bookmark each chapter and foreshadow the next plot twist as a multicultural cast of kids fights to keep their theatre open.

    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?

    I love to revise. When I started my first novel, Playing Juliet, I worked on the first chapter for months. It was polished and perfect before I went on to the second chapter.

    But by the time I had finished the first draft, the characters had changed, the plot had changed and I had to throw the whole first chapter out.

    When the draft was finished, a New York editor read the first ten pages at a SCBWI conference. Of course I was expecting her to offer to buy it on the spot (don't we all) or at least to ask to see the full. Instead, she said she didn't find my main character, Beth, charming.

    Charming? A 12-and-a-half-year-old narrator focused on getting onstage while her costume was falling apart had other things to worry about besides being charming. But I read over the chapter carefully. While Beth's focus was appropriate, was she a little self-centered? What if I had her do something for someone else?

    Inspiration! Just So Stories, Palo Alto (CA) Children's Theater
    I added exactly six sentences to an early scene that showed the cast waiting in the wings to go on. Beth notices that a younger actor playing a mouse is nervous, remembers that it's the Mouse's first play and that she'd seen her reapply her make-up in the dressing room at least four times.

    Though they have to be very quiet backstage, Beth whispers, "Great nose." and outlines a circle on her own.

    Sometimes it only takes six sentences. When the book was published, the review in the School Library Journal began "In this charming story featuring a relatable narrator and action-driven plot..." A blurb by the author Miriam Spitzer Franklin ended by saying the book "introduces a protagonist who will steal your heart as she chases after her dreams."

    Another reader pointed out that while Playing Juliet started with lots of references to the superstitions around MacBeth and ended with a production of Romeo and Juliet, a few of the earlier chapters had almost no reference to Shakespeare. Was there a way to weave him into the rest of the book?

    There was no room to introduce another play into this middle-grade story but I'd always loved reading books with epigraphs. Could I find enough quotes from Shakespeare's writings to serve as appropriate epigraphs before each chapter?

     I used the Open Source Shakespeare search engine, typed in a word like "jewel" or "duchess" and got a list of all the appearances of these words in his works. The perfect epigraph kept jumping out at me.

    For the chapter in which the kids are looking for a lost diamond bracelet, I quoted "Search for a jewel that too casually Hath left mine arm" from "Cymbeline."

    "What think you of a duchess? have you limbs to bear that load of title?" from "Henry VIII" made the perfect epigraph for the chapter in which Beth is asked if she can cover the part of a Duchess for an actor down with the flu during the run of "Cinderella!"

    Joanne & daughter seeing Royal Shakespeare Co.
    I was excited when an editor told me she'd brought the manuscript to committee, even when she added that they'd like to see a rewrite. They were uncomfortable with a scene in which Beth and two of her friends sneak out at night to break into the Children's Theatre.

    I loved that scene. It was scary and exciting and the kids had the best of intentions. But I could make the plot work without it, so I took it out.

    That editor didn't take the book. The next two editors it was sent to both commented that they felt the story was too quiet.

    I put the scene back in. It wasn't necessary to the plot but it was vital to the development of the characters, for it showed what they would sacrifice to save their theater. The book sold right after that scene was restored.

    I've brought all of the lessons I learned writing my first novel to the next one I'm currently working on. I'm going to finish the whole manuscript before I start to revise.

    I will honor each critique I get, and find a way to solve any problem that's been identified. It could lead to a much richer book and may only take six sentences. But I will also evaluate how the changes have affected the story and if they don't help, I'll change it back.

    Post-contract Revision Process

    Sis-in-law, Elephant Cafe, Edinburgh
    When Julie Matysic at Sky Pony Press acquired the manuscript, she sent her editorial comments to me in a Word document. I had the chance to approve, change or comment on the suggested changes. Most of the revision was copy edits and most of the time I couldn't believe I'd let such a glaring grammatical error slip through.

    But one set of edits I disagreed with. I had capitalized the names of all the characters in the two plays that are performed in the book. The copy editor kept all the proper names—Juliet, Romeo, Cinderella— as I wrote them, but changed all the animal characters—the cat, horse, mice—to lower case.

    I decided to email Julie to ask if I could change them back. She said yes, and suggested that since many of the parts were names that would not normally be capitalized, I make up a list of all the characters for the copy editor to work with. I'm so glad I asked for clarification.

    Remember that you and your editor are working toward the same goal: to make your manuscript great. And you know she has impeccable taste: she picked your manuscript to publish.

    Post-contract Bonus

    Julie suggested I do a mood board for the cover. I'd never heard of this but she explained that all I had to do was open a PowerPoint file and create a collage using the covers of books that I like then include a second page with a written explanation of why I had chosen the images. It might be the font, the color, the mood or a combination of all three. When it was done, she would send the collage to the artist creating the design to use for inspiration.

    It was so much fun to search through online bookstores to find covers I liked. Beth, my 12-year-old heroine, is threatened with losing the children's theater she has been performing in for years, but I didn't want the cover to be sad.

    I wanted it to be a reminder of what Beth loves about theater, about being on stage and what she will lose if her theater closes.

    The mood I wanted was joy, the joy of acting, of being onstage. The covers that showed images of flying, fairies, a figure with fantastically long fingers, captured the unlimited world the stage offers.

    Because so much of the story takes place in a theater, I was drawn to covers that featured theater curtains opening. Three of the twelve covers I chose had a frame of red theater curtains and two others repeated that shape and color in the clothing of the women depicted: a partially open red coat, billowing red bell bottoms. That rich red set the color pallet that dominated my collage.

    When Julie sent me the final cover, I opened the attachment with some trepidation. Up popped a design with a frame of rich red curtains opening onto a dark background that showcased the title of the book. And my name was in lights, just like on a Broadway marquee.

    I loved my cover. And the Children's Books manager at Keplers, my local independent bookstore, told me the cover was so effective, the book was jumping off the shelves. My mood board had worked.

    How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

    Shakespeare puppets & stamp for JoAnne's signing
    When the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it was devoting 2016, the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, to celebrating him and his work, I knew I had a great tie-in with Playing Juliet.

    When I was in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer, I took a lot of pictures of the buildings that were standing when Shakespeare lived there to use on my web site and in my talks.

    I also bought three Shakespeare puppets: a regular hand-puppet for most of my presentations, an elegant figure in a cloth-of-gold costume to use with a sophisticated audience and a finger puppet, because sometimes a smaller figure will just work better.

    When I got home, I ordered a Shakespeare stamp to use at my book signings. After all, the Bard wrote all of my epigraphs.

    I've struggled to get my web pages up. I have now checked off a web page for myself, with all of my books on it, and a web page for Playing Juliet with links to 13 Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know as well as links to photos of Shakespearian sites at Stratford-upon-Avon.

    I've got an author's page on Amazon and Goodreads and SCBWI. I did a Launch Page on the new SCBWI web program. This all took a very long time.

    Author/illustrator guest book, New York Public Library
    Kepler's Bookstore, has been a great help. They invited me to have my book launch party there, which, on their advice, was held a week after the pub date because every now and then, books are delayed. The copies of Playing Juliet arrived on time but I was happy to have the extra week to prepare for the talk.

    Kepler's is still supporting me. Want a signed or inscribed copy of my book? Just order it online from them.

    I worked with my publicist at Sky Pony Press to have her send copies of the books to the winner of the giveaways I ran on Goodreads and to my alumni connections.

    This resulted in a featured review, with a color picture of the cover of the book, in the ASU magazine, which is sent to 340,000 people.

    So far I've spoken at an event at our local library, at my grandsons' school in Ghana, and sold copies at our regional SCBWI conference. I'll be talking at other schools in the fall. When I was in New York City recently, I introduced myself to the librarians at the Children's Room at the New York Public Library, and was invited to sign the guest book they keep for visiting authors and illustrators.

    And online I've been invited to do an interview on Library Lions and Cynsations.

    I've been enjoying the process, but it takes a lot of time and I'm impatient to dive into my next middle grade.

    the Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana
    What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

    Start early. Well before your pub date, get your author's pages up on SCBWI, Amazon and Goodreads. Figure out how the book giveaways on Goodreads work, and think about posting one before your book is out. Don't wait until your book comes out to publicize any good news about it.

    Jane Yolen wrote the most incredible blurb for Playing Juliet, saying "I couldn't stop reading," but I waited until the book came out to share it with everyone. I'm not making that mistake again.

    My next book, My First Day at Mermaid School, is a picture book that will be coming out from Knopf in the summer of 2018 and Julianna Swaney is bringing her amazing talent to the illustrations.

    Cynsational Notes

    Waylon, writer cat
    JoAnne's other publications include:
    • Onstage/Backstage, with Caryn Huberman (Carolrhoda, 1987); 
    • The Christmas Box (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); 
    • and My First Day at Mermaid School, illustrated by Julianna Swaney, (Alfred A. Knopf, Summer, 2018).

    In Playing Juliet, Beth continually quotes the web page, "13 Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know," which can be found on www.playingjuliet.com. This site also includes photos of Shakespearian sites in Stratford-upon-Avon (see below). 

    Cynsational Gallery

    View more research photos from JoAnne.

    Shakespeare's Childhood Home
    Shakespeare's Childhood Bedroom

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    16. Review of the Day: Snow White by Matt Phelan

    snowwhiteSnow White: A Graphic Novel
    By Matt Phelan
    Candlewick Press
    $19.99
    ISBN: 978-0-7636-7233-1
    Ages 9-12
    On shelves now

    I’d have said it couldn’t be done. The Snow White fairytale has been told and retold and overdone to death until there’s not much left to do but forget about it entirely. Not that every graphic novel out there has to be based on an original idea. And not that the world is fed up with fairytales now (it isn’t). But when I heard about Matt Phelan’s Snow White: A Graphic Novel I was willing to give it a chance simply because I trusted its creator and not its material. The crazy thing is that even before I picked it up, it threw me for a loop. I heard that the story was recast in 1920s/ early-1930s Depression-era New York City. For longer than I’d care to admit I just sort of sat there, wracking my brain and trying desperately to remember anything I’d ever seen that was similar. I’ve seen fairytales set during the Depression before, but never Snow White. Then I picked the book up and was struck immediately by how beautiful it was. Finally I read through it and almost every element clicked into place like the gears of a clock. I know Matt Phelan has won a Scott O’Dell Award for The Storm in the Barn and I know his books get far and wide acclaim. Forget all that. This book is his piece de resistance. A bit of fairytale telling, to lure in the kids, and a whole whopping dollop of cinematic noir, deft storytelling, and clever creation, all set against a white, wintery backdrop.

    The hardened detective thinks he’s seen it all, but that was before he encountered the corpse in the window of a department store, laid out like she was sleeping. No one could account for her. No one except maybe the boy keeping watch from across the street. When the detective asks for the story he doesn’t get what he wants, but we, the readers, do. Back in time we zip to when a little girl lost her mother to illness and later her father fell desperately in love with a dancer widely proclaimed to be the “Queen of the Follies.” Sent away to a boarding school, the girl returns years later when her father has died and his will leaves all his money in a trust to Snow. Blinded by rage, the stepmother (who is not innocent in her husband’s death) calls in a favor with a former stagehand to do away with her pretty impediment, but he can’t do the deed. What follows is a gripping tale the seven street kids that take Snow under their wing (or is it the other way around?), some stage make-up, a syringe, an apple, and an ending so sweet you could have gotten it out of a fairytale.

    snowwhite1Let’s get back to this notion I have that the idea of setting Snow White during the Depression in New York is original. It honestly goes above and beyond the era. I could swear I’d never read or seen a version where the seven dwarfs were seven street kids. Or where the evil stepmother was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Snow’s run from Mr. Hunt is through Central Park through various shantytowns and he presents the stepmother with a heart that’s a pig’s procured at a butcher. Even making her glass coffin a window at Macy’s, or the magic mirror an insidious ticker tape, feels original and perfectly in keeping with the setting. You begin to wonder how no one else has ever thought to do this before.

    You’d also be forgiven for reading the book, walking away, giving it a year, and then remembering it as wordless. It isn’t, but Phelan’s choosy with his wordplay this time. Always a fan of silent sequences, I was struck by the times we do see words. Whether it’s the instructions on the ticker tape (a case could easily be made that these instructions are entirely in the increasingly deranged step-mother’s mind), Snow’s speech about how snow beautifies everything, or the moment when each one of the boys tells her his name, Phelan’s judiciousness makes the book powerful time and time again. Can you imagine what it would have felt like if there had been an omniscient narrator? The skin on the back of my neck shudders at the thought.

    For all that the words are few and far between, you often get a very good sense of the characters anyway. Snow’s a little bit Maria Von Trapp and a little bit Mary Poppins to the boys. I would have liked Phelan to give her a bit more agency than, say, Disney did. For example, when her step-mother informs her, after the reading of her father’s will, that her old room is no longer her own, I initially misread Snow’s response to be that she was going out to find a new home on her own. Instead, she’s just going for a walk and gets tracked down by Mr. Hunt in the process. It felt like a missed beat, but not something that sinks the ship. Contrast that with the evil stepmother. Without ever being graphic about it, not even once, this lady just exudes sex. It’s kind of hard to explain. There’s that moment when the old stagehand remembers when he once turned his own body into a step stool so that she could make her grand entrance during a show. There’s also her first entrance in the Follies, fully clothed but so luscious you can understand why Snow’s father would fall for her. The book toys with the notion that the man is bewitched rather than acting of his own accord, but it never gives you an answer to that question one way or another.

    snowwhite2Lest we forget, the city itself is also a character. Having lived in NYC for eleven years, I’ve always been very touchy about how it’s portrayed in books for kids. When contemporary books are filled with alleyways it makes me mighty suspicious. Old timey fare gets a pass, though. Clever too of Phelan to set the book during the winter months. As Snow says at one point, “snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful . . . This city is beautiful, too. It has its own magic.” So we get Art Deco interiors, and snow covered city tops seen out of huge plate glass windows. We get theaters full of gilt and splendor and the poverty of Hoovervilles in the park, burning trashcans and all. It felt good. It felt right. It felt authentic. I could live there again.

    We live in a blessed time for graphic novels. With the recent win of what may well be the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award, they are respected, flourishing, and widely read. Yet for all that, the graphic novels written for children are not always particularly beautiful to the eye. Aesthetics take time. A beautiful comic is also a lot more time consuming than one done freehand in Photoshop. All the more true if that comic has been done almost entirely in watercolors as Phelan has here. I don’t think that there’s a soul alive who could pick up this book and not find it beautiful. What’s interesting is how Phelan balances the Art Deco motifs with the noir-ish scenes and shots. When we think of noir graphic novels we tend to think of those intensely violent and very adult classics like Sin City. Middle grade noir is almost unheard of at this point. Here, the noir is in the tone and feel of the story. It’s far more than just the black and white images, though those help too in their way.

    snowwhite3The limited color palette, similar in many ways to The Storm in the Barn with how it uses color, here invokes the movies of the past. He always has a reason, that Matt Phelan. His judicious use of color is sparing and soaked with meaning. The drops of blood, often referred to in the original fairytale as having sprung from the queen’s finger when she pricked herself while sewing, is re-imagined as drops of bright red blood on a handkerchief and the pure white snow, a sure sign of influenza. Red can be lips or an apple or cheeks in the cold. Phelan draws scenes in blue or brown or black and white to indicate when you’re watching a memory or a different moment in time, and it’s very effective and easy to follow. And then there’s the last scene, done entirely in warm, gentle, full-color watercolors. It does the heart good to see.

    The thing about Matt Phelan is that he rarely does the same story twice. About the only thing you can count on with him is that he loves history and the past. Indeed, between showing off a young Buster Keaton ( Bluffton) and a ravaged Dust Bowl setting (The Storm in the Barn) it’s possible “Snow White” is just an extension of his favorite era. As much a paean to movies as it is fairytales and graphic novels, Phelan limits his word count and pulls off a tale with truly striking visuals and killer emotional resonance. I don’t think I’ve ever actually enjoyed the story of Snow White until now. Hand this book to graphic novel fans, fairytale fans, and any kid who’s keen on good triumphing over evil. There might be one or two such children out there. This book is for them.

    On shelves now.

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    17. Cybils Speculative Reader: ON THE EDGE OF GONE by CORINNE DUYVIS

    Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! Many readers know author Corinne Duyvis from... Read the rest of this post

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    18. In Memory: Yumi Heo

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Obituary: Yumi Heo by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "[Henry] Holt’s Laura Godwin shared this remembrance:

    'Yumi was extremely gracious, enthusiastic, and inquisitive,' she said. 'I loved the way she incorporated ‘mistakes’ into her art rather than erasing or deleting them.
    "If she drew a squiggle where she hadn’t intended, it would show up in the final art as a tree or a rabbit or whatever struck her fancy. She was part artist, part magician—and always an inspiration.'"
    Yumi Heo Memorial Fund from Go Fund Me. Peek:

    "Please show your support in honor of internationally loved children’s book author and Illustrator and creator of Polka Dot Penguin Pottery, Yumi Heo.
    "Your support will help continue two of Yumi’s dreams, the steady training of her daughter as a professional figure skater and the founding of a scholarship program to help students in Korea who have big dreams and little resources."

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    19. Walking and Talking with . . . Grace Lin!

    Steve Sheinkin is back with his beloved series!  If you’re unfamiliar with it, Steve has a conversation with an author of books for kids or teens and then plucks from it the best parts.  So in spite of the fact that he has a brand new book out in early 2017 (Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team) he still took time to give us this great discussion with Grace Lin.  For the full list of interviews, see the links at the bottom of this post.

    Enjoy!

    gracelingracelin2

    Catch up with the whole series!

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    20. Monday Poetry Stretch - Diminishing Rhyme

    The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, contains a number of prompts and writing exercises, including this one entitled Emotion/Motion/Ocean/Shun. Here's what Susan Mitchell writes:
    If you read the title of this exercise aloud, you will hear a quadruple rhyme. But if you examine the words themselves, you will notice that there is something special about this rhyme scheme. The sound shun is contained in ocean, the sounds of both shun and ocean in motion, and shunocean and motion can all be folded into emotion. Such a rhyme scheme, which incidentally was favored by the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert, is called diminishing rhyme because the rhyme words get smaller as you move from emotion to shun. But I prefer the term nesting rhymes because the words nest one inside the other like Russian wooden dolls.
    Here is an example of this form from the George Herbert poem "Paradise".
    I bless Thee, Lord, because I grow
    Among the trees, which in a row
    To Thee both fruit and order ow 
    Read the poem in its entirety
    So, that's it. Your challenge is to write a poem that uses diminishing rhyme. Won't you join us? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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    21. Elsewhere Around the Kidlitosphere...

    I haven't been producing a lot of new content (or stringing together coherent sentences) over the past week, so instead of a regular blog post I thought I'd do a quick roundup of other online stuff I've been doing:I donated to the Sierra Club... Read the rest of this post

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    22. 31 Days, 31 Lists: 2016 Great Board Books

    31days31listsWe kick off our 31 Days, 31 Lists at the lowest age level imaginable.  Finding quality board books for babies and toddlers is a challenge.  It’s not enough to simply have thick pages.  You need to be able to engage the interest and attention of someone who is still developing their visual and auditory processing skills.

    That said, there is a belief amongst some people that board books are for babies alone.  Not so.  As the mother of a very active 2-year-old I can attest that one is prone to sighs of relief when he is in a room alone with a board book as opposed to a picture book with oh-so-tearable pages.

    On this list today I am including a range of board book ages, as well as books that fall under the board book banner because they are big and thick and have pop-up elements or tabs, but are not a standard board book size.

    Think I missed something brilliant that came out this year? If it’s an adaptation from a longer picture book you’ll find that list here tomorrow.  Otherwise, leave me a comment.  I loved these, but I am not a committee.


     

    2016 Board Books: For Babies

    Blue and Other Colors with Henri Matisse

    blueothercolors

    When I was a kid I had this pack of playing cards with famous pieces of art on each one.  That was pretty cool.  These days even the babies are getting colorful books from the masters.  Some of these books don’t make a lick of sense, but this one does.  Matisse’s bold blocks of color are just right for developing brains.  A book that goes beyond its concept.

    Hat On, Hat Off by Theo Heras, ill. Renne Benoit

    hatonhatoff

    Babies like babies.  And after encountering this adorable one, you’ll like them too.

    Lions Roar (and others in the series) by Rebecca Glaser

    lions-roar

    I have no idea if this Amicus series has a name.  All I know is that the books (which in 2016 included Monkeys Swing, Elephants Spray, Giraffes Stretch, and more) are a HUGE hit in my home.  Animal sounds + full color photographs of those animals is a winning combination.

    Noisy Baby Animals by Patricia Hegarty

    noisybabyanimals

    What is the sound of a thousand librarians cursing my name en masse?  Ah yes.  There it is.  I know it well.  This book probably won’t be beloved to those with an MLIS degree when it’s IN the library (bit on the noisy side, it is) but I am all for books that cheat.  Hey, man.  If it takes crazy sounds to get a baby to love books, I say go for it.  And you have to admit that Tiger Tales does it well.

    Peek-a-boo by Ruth Musgrave

    peek-a-boo-2-618ifegy0cl

    When in doubt, go with the photographs.

    Stanley’s Colors by William Bee

    stanleyscolors

    There were a couple Stanley board books released this year, but of those titles this was my favorite.  Possibly because it also involved vehicles.  A twofer!

    The Wheels on the Bus by Yu-Hsuan Huang

    wheelsonthebus

    Not many board books out this year allowed you to sing.  This is one of the few, and while it is far too short for a truly satisfying read, it’s interactive, bouncy, and colorful.  Sort of like a Bizzy Bear book with a song.

    One, Two, Three Mother Goose by Iona Opie, ill. Rosemary Wells

    onetwothree

    If it is important to you to introduce your children to nursery rhymes as soon as humanly possible, Wells is the way to go.  Some folks may opt to wait on this until their children are toddlers, but either way this is an essential part of any kid’s library.


     

    2016 Board Books: For Toddlers

    Baby Loves: Aerospace Engineering!/Quarks! by Ruth Spiro, ill. Irene Chan

    babylovesaerospace

    babylovesquarksOkay now.  Before you start with the eye rolling, hear me out.  Have you ever actually read these books?  I know they look like a science-y version of Cozy Classics or other adult concepts siphoned down to board book formats.  Go into them, though, and they’re clever.  Just big concepts made palatable.  The titles may have a shock effect, but the contents are worth considering.  Plus we don’t have much in the way of science-related board books AT ALL these days.

    Box by Min Flyte, ill. Rosalind Beardshaw

    box

    I gave a copy of this to my child’s daycare and they were quick to tell me that it was the hit of the room.  It’s the size of a regular picture book but the contents and tabs make it quite certainly toddler fare.

    Clive and His Babies by Jessica Spanyol

    clivebabies

    Awwww, yeah!  Clive is my new favorite stereotype-busting preschooler.  You play with those babies, Clive!  Go, man, go!

    Crocopotamus by Mary Murphy

    crocopotamus

    Did they ever come up with a name for these books?  Which is to say, the kind where you can flip the front and the back to come up with different combinations?  Whatever the case, this one took a little getting used to, but once the kids grasped the concept they really ran with it!

    Give and Take by Lucie Felix

    givetake

    The most ambitious board book on this list.  I have little doubt that its pieces will disappear almost instantly upon a first read, but if you want to present someone with a board book that wows and impresses them, this is the one you pick.

    I Dare You! by Nicole Maubert

    idareyouThis turned out to be an EXCELLENT preschooler readaloud around Halloween.  I think it truly won me over when I had to put my hand in a crazy creature’s mouth.  Still get shudders just thinking about it.

    Little Chickies / Los Pollitos by Susie Jaramillo

     littlechickiesA bilingual, interactive, accordion board book?!?  That’s like striking gold!  This Spanish/English combo pack is extraordinarily rare, and then to find that it’s hugely engaging to kids one-on-one or in groups just tips it over the top.

    Look, Look Again by Agnese Baruzzi

    looklookagain

    Plays with perceptions, assumptions, and predictions.  Awfully pertinent stuff in 2016, wouldn’t you say?  You can never teach it too early.

    Love Is a Truck by Amy Novesky, ill. Sara Gillingham

    lovetruck

    Love IS a truck!  At least it is to my son, and this book is right on the money.  There’s a companion title called Love Is a Tutu, but I’m Team Truck.  It’s great to see Sara Gillingham bringing out a new book or two too.

    Maisy’s Moon Landing by Lucy Cousins

    maisymoon

    One of those picture/board book combos.  Did I say science was lacking in the board book category?  Maisy has always been on hand to battle that problem.  This is one of the simplest moon landing stories I’ve ever seen, but I kind of adore it.  Nothing wrong with a little Maisy when the book’s as well-constructed as this.

    Music Is by Brandon Stosuy, ill. Amy Martin

    musicis

    One of the trendier board books out there (check out those headphones if you don’t believe me) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great.

    My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, ill. Julie Flett

    myheartflls

    I don’t normally go in for the feel good board books out there, but this one’s special.  Smith and Flett have gotten it right.

    Once Upon a World: Cinderella by Chloe Perkins, ill. Sandra Equihua

    cinderella

    There are a couple titles in this series so far.  Of them, this is probably the most successful.  I would have loved a bilingual or Spanish version as well.  Perhaps something for the publisher to think about in the future, eh?

    Peekaboo Pals: Opposites by Gareth Lucas

    peekabooopposites

    Again, there were a couple books released in the “Peekaboo Pals” series this year.  Of them, this was the strongest.  It came up with a couple opposite examples that I haven’t seen done to death before.  No mean feat.

    Shapes by John J. Reiss

    shapes

    I believe that this is a reprint, but I think it belongs here.  Check out those vibrant hues!  Now good luck getting to sleep tonight.

    Tinyville Town: I’m a Firefighter / I’m a Veterinarian by Brian Biggs

    Print

    tinyvillevet

    These are fabulous!  They go through each occupation’s day from sunrise to sunset.  Though, if I’m going to be honest here, I’m pretty much just biding my time until the next in the series comes out: Librarian.

    To the Rescue by Kate Riggs, ill. Nate Williams

    totherescue

    Really visually striking.  Not just for those kids already into firetrucks ,that’s for sure.

    We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp, ill. Julie Flett

    wesanghome

    Flett’s having a good year!  And like My Heart Fills With Happiness, this book features a cast of First Nations children.


     

    Interested in the other upcoming lists of this month?  Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

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    23. Announcing the Ultimate End of the Year List Sequence: 31 Days, 31 Lists

    The Best Books of the Year lists are beginning to come out right around now. First we saw the Publishers Weekly List. Then the School Library Journal List was presented as part of a live feed on Kidlit TV.  The New York Times released their Best Illustrated list for the year.  Soon enough the other review journals will get on board, as will Brain Pickings with their annual picks of eclectic, original, artistic books.  Marjorie Ingall will do a list of the best books of the year with Jewish themes and characters for Tablet Magazine, the New York Public Library will release their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, and on and on it goes.

    I love lists.  They make me happy. I enjoy few things quite as much as debating the relative merits of one book or another with colleagues. But since I left NYPL I’ve just been making my own little lists.  It’s fun but a little lonely.  To keep myself in the game I also decided to read every single picture book in 2016 and I think I came pretty close.  But what should I do with all this knowledge?  I’m not going to review every single amazing book I saw, that’s for sure.

    That when this crazy idea slapped me upside the head with a rubber chicken.

    What if I were to do not one list for 2016.  Not two lists.  Not three.  What if I were to do one list for every single day in December?  A list every day!  It would have to be called . . . .

    31 Days, 31 Lists!!

    Oh yes!!  And here’s how it’ll go.  Each day in December this site will produce one list.  Sometimes it’ll be a list you’d be able to find elsewhere (best picture books, nonfiction, etc.).  Sometimes it’ll be a list you might need but wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere (picture book readalouds, picture books with photography, etc.).  And sometimes it’ll just be a trend I’ve noticed.  All these books will be 2016 publications.

    Sound like fun?  Here’s the schedule:

    December 1 – Board Books

    December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

    December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

    December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

    December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

    December 6 – Alphabet Books

    December 7 – Funny Picture Books

    December 8 – Calde-Nots

    December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

    December 10 – Math Picture Books

    December 11 – Bilingual Books

    December 12 – International Imports

    December 13 – Books with a Message

    December 14 – Fabulous Photography

    December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

    December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

    December 17 – Older Picture Books

    December 18 – Easy Books

    December 19 – Early Chapter Books

    December 20 – Graphic Novels

    December 21 – Poetry

    December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

    December 23 – American History

    December 24 – Science & Nature Books

    December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

    December 26 – Unique Biographies

    December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

    December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

    December 29 – Novel Reprints

    December 30 – Novels

    December 31 – Picture Books

    I don’t pretend that these lists will be complete or that they won’t miss some great publications out there.  However, I will at least be able to highlight all those amazing books I’ve seen this year that I wasn’t able to review.  And believe me when I say that 2016 was a doozy of a year when it came to fine and fabulous publications.

    I cannot wait.

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    24. The Slush Pile Myth

    Kids who love books sometimes find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to determining their future career.  For some, the choice boils down to librarian or a publisher.  Librarianship lacks the sophistication and potential glory of publishing, but feeds very well into a certain type of person’s need to work on a grounded level with members of the immediate public. We don’t make the big bucks but we have our own levels of influence, often directly, with our patrons.  Publishers, in contrast, often don’t make a lot of money for a very long time, yet they have the potential to shape the hopes and fears and dreams of children through the products they produce.  They get to return home on Thanksgiving and answer questions about what they do by saying, “Oh.  I’m in publishing.”  It just sounds cool.

    But there is one aspect of publishing that I no longer envy.  I did once, when I was young.  Foolishly, I would dream of someday digging through one on my own.  It would be like panning for gold, right?  One conveniently forgets how rarely those who pan actually find said gold, of course.

    I am referring of course to the infamous “slush pile”.  For publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, the slush pile is where those manuscripts sit for a while.  It looks a little something like this:

    slushpile

    My librarian instincts make me think about how satisfying it would be to cut that pile down, but realistically I know that there’s a reason that the job is often given to new hires and interns.

    Still and all, there is a myth that circulates about the children’s book that is plucked from the pile and subsequently reaches hitherto untold levels of success.  I know of only three instances where this happened, and I wanted to just give them a quick glance today.  On a percentage basis, when you compare the number of manuscripts that become hits vs. those that don’t get published at all, the likelihood of a book finding a home in the hearts and minds of children everywhere is akin to that of winning the lottery.  And yet . . . and yet . . .

    Here are the three successful slush pile stories:

    Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site! by Sherri Duskey Rinker

    GoodnightGoodnight

    This book has been on my mind a lot lately.  Not just because my son absolutely adores it, but also because the sequel, Mighty Mighty Construction Site, will be coming out in 2017 (and it’s a proper sequel with lots and lots of female construction equipment characters in it too, I’ll add).  I was at dinner with a friend the other day when she mentioned off-handedly that the original book had been a slush pile find.  What?  Really?  That sounded like a lovely rumor more than anything else.  So I did a tiny bit of internet digging and lo and behold found this Author Spotlight interview with Ms. Rinker.  In it she says the following:

    “I guess the great thing about my submission to the infamous ‘slush pile’ at that time was that I honestly didn’t know any better. I made a long (VERY long) list of publishers who accepted slush and just started working down the line.”

    Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site would go on to become a hugely successful New York Times bestselling picture book.  All the more impressive when you learn that she submitted the manuscript to only one publisher.

    Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

    goodmasters

    One forgets that occasionally Newbery Award winners are slush pile finds.  Yet if I’m going to be completely honest, this is the only case I know of personally.  Before you go about assuming that the book was plucked from obscurity and then immediately won its author the honor that was her due (and rightly!), please remember that, as BookPage reported, it, “was plucked out of a slush pile by an assistant at Candlewick Press in 2000 and finally published seven years after the author submitted it.”  Clever assistant, that.  Between its discovery and its publication Ms. Schlitz would publish other books with Candlewick, like The Hero Schliemann (still one of the more delightful and underrated biographies out there for kids).

    And finally, one of the most famous slush stories:

    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

    HarryPotter6

    In this case we actually know the name of the woman who found Rowling’s manuscript in the pile at the Christopher Little Literary Agency.  Bryony Evens (a name that sounds like it would fit in at Hogwarts rather well) conducted an interview once where she said the manuscript originally caught her eye because it had an unusual “clamp binding”.

    This actually doesn’t really fit our trends here, since Rowling was applying for an agent and not sending directly to a publisher, but that’s neither here nor there.

    The thing about these stories is that often when they’re reported not much is made of the editors’ contributions prior to publication.  The bones of a great book might have been there, but it was how the book was shaped by multiple hands prior to publication that’s of particular note.  I think it’s safe to say that none of these books would be the classics we know today without that invaluable editorial input.

    Any other slush pile stories come to mind?  I’m sure there are some famous books out there I’m just not thinking of.  Lay them on me!

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    17 Comments on The Slush Pile Myth, last added: 11/28/2016
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    25. Author Interviews: Kate Hannigan & Janet Fox on Facts in Historical Fiction

    By Gayleen Rabakukk
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    My current work in progress is a middle grade historical fantasy set in 1903. 

    Delving into the past has made me think about how history is presented in novels and the balance between real and imaginary. 

    For more insight on that topic, I turned to the authors of two of my favorite recently published books, focusing on process.

    Kate Hannigan’s The Detective's Assistant (Little, Brown, 2015) is based on the extraordinary true story of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. It won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award in 2016.

    Was there a particular item, fact or event that sparked the idea for The Detective's Assistant?

    KH: I was researching a story about camels in the American West in the 1850s when I came across a single nugget about Kate Warne. I read how she walked into Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in downtown Chicago, and he had assumed she was there for a secretary position. But she talked her way into a detective’s job, convincing Pinkerton she could “worm out” secrets from the wives and girlfriends of the city’s crooks and criminals.

    Stumbling on this little gem, I was hooked! I dropped that camel story and ran with Kate Warne!

    At what point did you start researching that? Did you start drafting a story first, or did you do research up front?

    Kate's model for her main character
    KH: I’m kind of a nutter about gathering facts. My background is newspaper journalism, so maybe that’s to blame. But I wanted to know all I could about Kate Warne, Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Lincoln during this part of American history.

    The biggest research was around understanding the Baltimore Plot, which is the pivotal part of the story — the plot to assassinate Lincoln before he could be sworn in for his first term.

    So the whole process was immersive. I dove in deep before writing a single word. Once I felt like I had the facts, then I began my story.

    Did you continue doing research as you were writing?

    KH: I’m still doing research! And the book published over a year ago! But I love this story so much, I can’t not learn more about it. I do school visits all the time, and I talk to students about it. So it’s very much in the front of my mind.

    As I was writing, I would come across a question — my characters are walking down the street in 1860 Chicago, so what were they walking on? How comfortable would a train ride be in 1860? Would we ride on upholstered seats or hard wood? — and drop down another rabbit hole.

    Research is never ending with historical writing!

    Were you surprised by what you learned doing research? Did any unexpected finds end up becoming significant parts of the story?

    KH: If you’re writing historical fiction, you’re probably a pretty huge history nerd. So digging up a juicy nugget can be a thrill! And I dug up so many!

    I enjoyed researching and writing this story to a ridiculous degree!

    My characters live in a boardinghouse, so getting that setting right was foremost in my mind. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) and Sister Carrie by Theodore Drieser (1900) (which was set a bit later but still illuminating nonetheless), just to get a sense of language of the times.

    But I also plunged into nonfiction about the era, and I found a particular book about boardinghouses that was helpful. It described how incredibly cheap the managers — usually women — had to be to keep these places afloat. They were notorious for serving terrible food, which I thought could be played for a lot of humor in my book.

    And this is what led to the chapter about Nell and the other residents eating a questionable meat for dinner, and Mrs. Wigginbottom getting shifty when there is talk about the orange tabby cat going missing.

    Your book mixes well-known historical figures (Abraham Lincoln) with lesser-known, yet real individuals (Kate Warne) as well as completely fictional characters.

    Tell us more about balancing the fact and the fiction – did you lean heavily on things the historical figures actually said? Were there some details you changed for the sake of the story? Were there some fixed points you felt couldn’t be altered?

    KH: Fact and fiction! This balance kept me up at night! I agonized over being true to the players and what was on record as having happened. I visited Kate Warne’s grave site here in Chicago more than a few times, and I deeply desired to do right by this woman.

    But I also worried about the reader, and I wanted to make sure that the story I was telling would hold the interest of a 21st-century American kid. So it was agony!

    Pinkerton had written about the cases that involved Kate Warne, so of course I wanted to nod to those. But I took artistic license and shuffled their order, so that the culminating case is the saving of Lincoln’s life. I needed to put them in a different order to serve my story, and I had to come to terms with that decision. It took me a bit though.

    Do you feel authors writing for middle grade readers have a greater obligation to present an accurate picture of a historical time period, than those writing YA or adult fiction?

    KH: I very much believe authors for young readers have a greater responsibility to get historical fiction right. Because history is all new to this audience — this might be their first introduction to the Civil War, to Abraham Lincoln, to the Underground Railroad.

    And if we make history engaging for them, we’re opening the doors to more exploration of our past, to creating more history lovers.

    It’s a responsibility I take pretty seriously. Which is why I tend to research my books to death!

    Have you gotten any feedback from history or social studies teachers? Or any school visits or other presentations aimed specifically at the history aspect?

    KH: Yes! And it’s been so great! I’ve gotten tremendous feedback from teachers and librarians.

    The Civil War hits with fifth-grade curriculum in many schools, so The Detective's Assistant has been on reading lists around the country. I’ve done Skype visits as well as in-person school visits, and the response from young readers has been mind-blowing!

    The New York Historical Society included it in their family book club, the Global Reading Challenge in Chicago listed it among their 2016 books, an entire fifth-grade in Dallas read the book as part of their Civil War history unit. It’s been wonderful to share the story with so many kids!

    Was there anything you found while doing research for The Detective's Assistant that will find it’s way into your next book?

    KH: Answer: I’ve been bitten by the research bug, and specifically, research into amazing women and people of color forgotten by history. So my next book is focused on World War II women beyond Rosie the Riveter. I can’t say there’s any overlap with the Civil War era, but the passion I feel for dusting off these remarkable players from the past and sharing them with a whole new audience, that definitely has carried over. It’s kind of become my mission!

    The Detective's Assistant is realistic historical fiction, do things change when the story includes more fantasy elements? For that aspect, I asked Janet Fox, author of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle similar questions.

    Was there a particular item, fact or event that sparked the idea for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle? (what was it?)

    JF: Yes! I was mucking around on the internet when a friend posted a picture of an object the like of which I'd never noticed before. It was an 18th century German chatelaine. I thought it was peculiar, and I had to find out more about it, so I googled and discovered that this chatelaine was an offshoot of the more practical set of keys - to the chateau - worn at the waist.

    I learned that chatelaines had evolved from keys to practical items, like scissors and coin purses, to charms. This chatelaine was all charms, and they were so odd that a story began forming in my mind almost right away.

    At what point did you start researching that? (i.e. – did you start drafting a story first, or did you do research up front?) 

    JF: Once I'd learned what a chatelaine was I began writing almost at once. Within a week of seeing the image, which is the same as the image that's in the novel, I'd completed the first 40 pages of what would become the novel. That's generally the way I work. I have to discover who my main character is and what her problem is before I can begin to flesh out the story, and research is part of that fleshing out.

    Did you continue doing research as you were writing?

    JF: Yes - once I have a handle on my protagonist and what the story is generally about I tend to blend research with writing. For example, as soon as I decided to set the novel in Scotland, I took a pause and did a bunch of research on Scotland. That's almost always how I work - I write first to discover what I need to know more about. But it all starts with the character and her problem.

    Were you surprised by what you learned doing research? Did any unexpected finds end up becoming significant parts of the story?

    JF: Not really - at least, not in this story. But read on - there's a relevant answer to this in your last question.

    Your book mixes actual events and places completely fictional – and fantastical - events and characters. Tell us more about balancing the fact and the fiction? Were there any fixed points you felt couldn’t be altered? (why?)

    JF: I felt it was very important to be true to any factual details. For example, I had to learn what I could about enigma machines, about the inner workings of clocks, about movements and activities in the North Sea during that part of World War II, and so on.

    That's where I really pay attention to accuracy - when I'm weaving facts into fantasy I want those facts to be right. In that way the reader more readily suspends disbelief for the fantasy elements.

    Do the fantastical elements have a historical influence?

    JF: In a way. My grandparents were Irish and English, and I heard many stories growing up about the fantastical beliefs they carried with them from home, things like the stories my grandfather told me about "the little people." And Celtic and pagan practices have a basis in history and yet are mystical or fantastic in nature. To me, there's always a kernel of truth in a fairy tale.

    Do you feel authors writing for middle grade readers have a greater obligation to present an accurate picture of a historical time period, than those writing YA or adult fiction?

    JF: I think any writer writing for any audience has an obligation to be accurate when it comes to historical detail. But I do think that the vulnerability of the younger reader requires a special adherence to accuracy. These are readers who will feel cheated if I give them information they later find to be false. They are also readers more likely to believe whatever you tell them, and I would hate to plant falsehoods in their minds.

    Have you gotten any feedback from history or social studies teachers? (or any school visits or other presentations aimed specifically at the history aspect?) 

    Dunrobin Castle, Janet's inspiration, located in Scotland
    JF: Not yet, although I would love to present something about the specific history aspects of the story.

    I'm fascinated by World War II (and as we can see by the large number of middle grade novels out the past couple of years set during the war, so are others.)

    The Blitz alone was a big deal, and I've given talks at bookstores at which adults have come forward after to tell me that they or their aunt or their father was sent out of London - and that's why they're in America today.

    Was there anything you found while doing research for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle that will find it’s way into your next book?

    JF: Since Kat is clever with clocks, I did a bit of clock research and uncovered a rare old timepiece called a "Death's Head" watch. After further research I discovered that one of owners of one of the most bizarre of these was the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots. Well, that didn't feel accidental. As you can imagine, that watch is the centerpiece of my sequel.

    chatelaine
    Cynsational Notes

    Janet Fox on Blending History with Fantasy from Cynsations. Peek: "Whether writing historical fiction or fantasy, the objective of suspension of disbelief can only be accomplished if the world-building is sound. In historical fiction, that means lots of research to get interesting tidbits right. In fantasy, it means crafting an environment in which those interesting tidbits feel right."

    Gayleen Rabakukk holds a master of fine arts in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She co-moderates the middle grade book club for Austin SCBWI and loves making discoveries – both on and off the page.

    Always eager to track down a story, she has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and freelance writer. Gayleen is married and has two caring and outspoken daughters. Their Austin, Texas home is filled with books and rescue dogs. You can find her online at  or on Twitter @gayleenrabakukk

    Congratulations to Gayleen on recently signing with Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Agency!

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