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16176. Rousseau's Reality - An Angel in Venice

Merry Jesters by Henri Rousseau (1906) Philadelphia Museum of Art
(Venice, Italy) Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) never traveled to the lush jungles of Mexico except in his own mind, although he claimed he had fought during the French invasion of Mexico under Napoleon III in 1863. Rousseau was called Le Douanier, which means customs officer, although he was not a customs officer -- for nearly 22 years he was a lowly municipal toll collector on goods that came into Paris. Wilhelm Uhde, the art collector and critic who would become a significant figure in Rousseau's career said, “Rousseau had been next to worthless in the service. ...His job had been to hang around the quai like a watchman, keeping an eye on the barges.”

Girl with a Doll by Henri Rousseau (1904-05) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
Henri Rousseau was an ordinary man who had Walter Mitty dreams of becoming an famous artist. He had a wife, Clemence, whom he adored, and six children, only one of whom survived childhood. After nearly 20 years of marriage, Clemence, too, died of tuberculosis. During Rousseau's lifetime, he was mocked by the critics, and shunned by the establishment, but finally embraced by Picasso and the avant-garde the way young people adopt an eccentric old man, like a pet -- his naive ignorance made them laugh. Unlike most critics, real artists look at the world through the eyes of heaven, and the young avant-garde appreciated the primitive spirituality that radiated from Rousseau's work.

The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau (1907) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
What Henri Rousseau had was an obsessive belief in his own great talent. He once told the young Picasso: "You and I are the two most important artists of the age - you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one." He never achieved the success he craved during his lifetime, but after viewing Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, home to Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, his astounding declaration of assurance rings true.

Black Spot by Wassily Kandinsky (1912) Hermitage, St. Petersburgh
It was only after he died that Rousseau became the leader of a school of art, his "Archaic Candor," paving the way for magic realism. The mostly self-taught artist became known for his naive, childlike depiction of reality. It was not possible to stick a label on him and file him into a category -- there was no one like him. Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, whose work is represented in the exhibition Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico thought that Rousseau's spiritual greatness and strength derived precisely from his formal limitations. Kandinsky bought Rousseau's The Poultry Yard and exhibited it in the first Blaue Reiter show in Munich in 1911, after Rousseau was dead.

The Poultry Yard (1896-98) Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
I have been pondering for days who Rousseau reminds me of, and it finally hit me: the angel, Clarence, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Clarence is an Angel, Second Class who has been passed over for his wings for more than 200 years. Clarence's boss, Joseph, says to the head angel, Franklin, that Clarence has "the I.Q. of a rabbit," and Franklin replies, "Yes, but he's got the faith of a child -- simple." To me, the enormous faith that Henri Rousseau had in his own artistic ability made him an Angel, Second Class; his paintbrush earned him wings. Even though he claimed to have fought in the Aztec jungles, in reality he found his inspiration at the botanical gardens in Paris, the stuffed wild animals at the natural museum, pictures in magazines and the zoo.

Myself, Portrait-Landscape (1889-90) Prague National Gallery
Although Rousseau excelled at art and music as a young boy, he started painting later in life, quitting his government job as a toll collector at the age of 49 to devote his life to art. He was born in Laval on May 21, 1844, a medieval town with a castle, lush woods and rivers, the first boy in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys. Rousseau's father ran a hardware store, as did his grandfather; his mother's grandfather was a major in the Marching Regiment with Napoleon in Spain, and was later knighted; his mother's father was a captain in the Third Battalion. His father had lifelong financial problems, and lost their home when Rousseau was eight-years-old.

The Carriage of Father Junier (1908) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
At age 18, Rousseau worked for a lawyer in Angers, where he had moved with his parents, a town about 45 miles away from Laval. Together with two younger friends, he was caught stealing 15 or 20 francs and some stamps from his employer. He joined the army, hoping to avoid a jail sentence, but still ended up behind bars for a month. (We can imagine that even back then young men who got into trouble were urged to join the army, especially if their grandparents had been in the military.) Two battalions of his regiment did go to Mexico under Napoleon III to set up Maximilian as the Emperor, but Rousseau never left France. The stories of the returning soldiers set his imagination on fire, but he led an ordinary life, playing the saxophone in an infantry band. When he was 23-years-old, his father died. Rousseau left the army and moved to Paris; his widowed mother was still in Angers. He found a job as a bailiff's assistant.

In 1869, Rousseau married his landlady's 19-year-old daughter, Clemence, whose father, too, had recently died after gambling all his money away; her mother was a seamstress. When Prussia invaded France in 1870, he signed up to be a simple soldier, but was soon exempted. His first child died in infancy during the Siege of Paris in 1871when people were starving; in fact, only one of his six children would survive childhood.

The War - The Ride of Discord  (1894) Musée d'Orsy, Paris
The devastation of Paris and the effects of war left a deep impression on Rousseau which would later be expressed in his paintings. In February 1872, at age 27, Rousseau began working for the customs office, collecting tolls on goods that came into Paris, a government job he would keep for almost 22 years. About that time he started painting in his spare time, certain he had the talent to become an academic painter without studying at an academy. He tried to enter a painting in the official Salon in the Palace of the Louvre, but was rejected. In 1884, his friend and neighbor, Auguste Clement, got him a permit to study and copy in museums like the Louvre, and Rousseau taught himself to become an artist.

Carnival Evening by Rousseau (1886) Philadelphia Museum of Art
In July 1884, in response to the rigid control and requirements the government exercised over the official Salon, a group of artists, including Georges Seurt and Paul Signac, whose work is represented in Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico, created the Salon des Indépendants -- the motto was: "No juries, No prizes." Any artist could enter their paintings -- it cost 10 francs to show four works. After trying in vain to be accepted by the official Salon, in 1886, Rousseau exhibited four paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, including Carnival Evening.

Rousseau then became an annual fixture at the Salon des Indépendants despite receiving cruel reviews from the critics who called it the work of a "10-year-old child" and "the scribblings of a 6-year-old whose mother left him with colors." For the 4th Salon des Indépendants in 1888, he entered five paintings and five drawings. That same year, Vincent van Gogh, who had moved to Paris in 1886, entered three. Four days after the 4th Salon des Indépendants closed, Rousseau's beloved wife, Clemence, died on May 7, 1888 of tuberculosis.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau (1891) National Gallery London
In 1891, Rousseau exhibited his first jungle painting at the 7th Salon Indépendants Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) (which is not part of the current exhibition) supposedly inspired by his combat adventures in the Aztec jungle under Napoleon III, but actually drawn from the Parisian botanical gardens and the zoo. Again, the critics laughed -- it had become a popular pastime to laugh at Rousseau -- however one young artist, Felix Vallaton, recently arrived from Switzerland, did not. He wrote:

“Monsieur Rousseau becomes more and more astonishing each year, but he commands attention and, in any event, is earning a nice little reputation and having his share of success: people flock around his submissions and one can hear the sound of laughter.  In addition he is a terrible neighbor, as he crushes everything else.  His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed;  it is the alpha and omega of painting  .   .   .   . As a matter of fact, not everyone laughs, and some who begin to do so are quickly brought up short.  There is always something beautiful about seeing a faith, any faith, so pitilessly expressed.  For my part, I have a sincere esteem for such efforts, and I would a hundred times rather them than the deplorable mistakes nearby."

The Salon Wars continued in Paris. In 1903, Felix Vallaton was part of group that created yet another new Salon, the Salon d'Automne in opposition to all other Parisian exhibitions, which caused all sorts of uproar in the art world. Henri Rousseau was sucked into the vortex of the Salon d'Automne, and in 1905, the 61-year-old struggling artist found himself in the same room as the 35-year-old Henri Matisse and 25-year-old André Derain along with his Hungry Lion -- and Fauvism was born.

The Hungry Lion by Rousseau (1905) Beyeler Foundation, Basel
Rousseau was not a Fauve, which is French for wild beast, but his Hungry Lion probably inspired the term "Fauvism" after the art critic Louis Vauxcelle saw a classical statue in the same room as the works of the avant-garde artists at the 1905 Salon d'Automne and decried: "Donatello chez les fauves" (Donatello among the wild beasts)." Rousseau wrote a long subtitle for his painting:

The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, [and] devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal which sheds a tear. The sun sets.

Horse Attacked by a Jaguar  (1910) State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
The Hungry Lion is not here in Venice, but a similar painting is, which is called Horse Attacked by a Jaguar. To me, the poor horse looks more like a bewildered unicorn.

Now Guillaume Apollinaire, writer, poet, art critic and guru of the avant-garde asked to meet Rousseau. Apollinaire then introduced Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, who had bought Rousseau's Portrait of a Woman on sale for five francs from a Paris junk shop, which was selling it for the canvas. In 1908, the 27-year-old Picasso held the famous banquet to "celebrate" Henri Rousseau, then 64, a lavish artisty kind of prank to play. Guillaume Apollinaire composed a satirical poem, praising Rousseau's adventures in the Aztec jungle, poking fun of Rousseau's long subtitles for his paintings. Also at the banquet were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who recorded the event in her autobiography.

The images you paint you saw in Mexico,
A red sun lit the banana treetops,
And you, courageous soldier, have swapped your tunic
For the blue jacket of the brave douanier.

Even though the banquet began in jest, it morphed into a genuine celebration, a drunken chorus of the avant-garde shouting "Viva, viva Rousseau!"

Portrait of a Woman by Henri Rousseau (1895) Musée Picasso, Pari
The focus of Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico in the Doge's Apartments at the Palazzo Ducale is that "the artist was a point of reference for the great exponents of the historical avant-garde movements, for intellectuals like Apollinaire and Jarry, for great collectors like Wilhelm Uhde, and for many painters who preceded and went beyond the Cubist and Futurist movements. Artists such as Céanne and Gauguin, Redon and Seurat, Marc, Klee, Morandi, Carrà, Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera, not to mention Kandinsky and Picasso. All these artists are present in the show."

The Grand Exhibit Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety runs from March 6 to July 5, 2015.
Please go to the PALAZZO DUCALE for further information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

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16177. Submitting

You're finished and polished your manuscript, so now it's time to submit.


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16178. All the college kidlit conferences (as of March 2015)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway).

A few years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself.

Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?

University of Arizona Tucson Festival of Books

University of Redlands Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival

University of Connecticut Connecticut Children’s Book Fair

Kennesaw State University Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults
The University of Georgia Children’s Literature Conference

Northern Illinois University Children’s Literature Conference

Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Conference

University of Kentucky McConnell Conference

Frostburg State University Spring Festival of Children’s Literature
Salisbury University Read Green Festival

Framingham State University Children’s Literature Festival
Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute

St. Cloud State University Children’s Literature Workshop
University of Minnesota Kerlan Award Ceremony
University of St. Thomas Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference

University of Central Missouri Children’s Literature Festival

The University of Southern Mississippi Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival

Concordia University Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival

New Hampshire
Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival

New Jersey
Montclair State University New Jersey Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference
Rutgers University One-on-One Plus Conference

New York
Manhattan College 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference
Stony Brook University – Southampton Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Bowling Green State University Literacy in the Park
Kent State University Virginia Hamilton Conference
Ohio State University 2016 Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA 2016)
The University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference and Weekend Conference
Youngstown State University English Festival

Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference

Sam Houston State University Jan Paris Bookfest: Children’s & YA Conference
Texas A&M University – Commerce Bill Martin Jr Memorial Symposium

Brigham Young University Symposium on Books for Young Readers
Utah Valley University Forum on Engaged Reading

The College of William and Mary Joy of Children’s Literature Conference
Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute and Virginia Children’s Book Festival
Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference

Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

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16179. A-doodle-a-day (#111)


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16180. The 2015 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Best Novel and Cambpell Award

With just under a day and a half left to nominate for the 2015 Hugo awards, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I don't actually have any best novel nominations.  I don't tend to keep up to date with my reading, and in 2014 I fell seriously behind--there are more than a dozen Hugo-eligible books that I hoped to get to before the nominating deadline, but that is clearly not going to happen.

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16181. Making vs. Following Fate

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. In my work with editorial clients, I often see two types of stories. This can extend to the offerings on the shelves. Sometimes there are stories about making fate, and sometimes there are stories about following it. Both are valid and interesting, but there are unique considerations to each.

What is your protagonist setting out to do in the story? Is their future an open book or are they bound by some sort of mechanism to a specific outcome?

In the example of “making fate,” I’d say that your protagonist has something that they absolutely, positively want (objective) and they set out to get it. They are more active throughout, and they drive the events of the story by pursuing whatever it is. They are the tip of the arrow, and the plot follows from them. They will encounter obstacles, certainly, and they will be frustrated in their pursuits, but if I look on the page, I will see someone who is spearheading the story. The character leads the plot, more or less, with usually some wrenches thrown into the mix.

In the example of “following fate,” I’d say you’re writing about a character who may or may not be in charge of dictating where the story is headed. One very common version of this is the “Chosen One” or “prophecy” story style, where the protagonist has something they’re bound to do, whether they like it or not. This is usually sprung upon them at a very inopportune time in their lives, and has dire consequences if they reject the fate or fail at their mission. In this case, the protagonist isn’t as much the leader of their destiny as they are a follower, and in stories like this, the plot leads the character’s development instead of the other way around.

Both story types are valid. But they have a lot to learn from one another. I think that, in the long run, a strong character has more potential than the one that’s simply following orders, training, learning their mission from a dusty piece of parchment or oracle, etc. etc. etc. So when there’s a “Chosen One” plot on my desk, I suggest that the writer find some agency for the character and let them lead certain events, rather than spend the bulk of the plot being groomed by others to fulfill a prophecy.

If you’re worried that this might be describing your plot, here’s a previous post on how to make the character more active, someone who manages to steer, regardless of their circumstances. And take heart, though this story type has the potential to lie flat on the page, and I see it a lot in aspiring manuscripts, two of the most famous heroes in children’s literature have started in this situation. Katniss in The Hunger Games and a little wizard named Harry both had their destinies planned. Katniss was to die as a Tribute in the Hunger Games, and Harry had the double pleasure of first facing the destiny of being forced into an ordinary Muggle life, then being forced into a very extraordinary wizard’s life. While he does end up filling his extraordinary wizard shoes (the prophecy of the Boy Who Lived comes true), he does it in his own way.

While I don’t often see this issue, a “making fate” character can run into trouble as well. When these stories go south, it’s because they can be all personal conflict (internal) without too much plot tension (external), because that decision-making protagonist tends to be the end-all and be-all within a story.

What’s the conclusion to this line of thought? The usual. It’s all about balance. If your plot is driving your character, give your character some moments of choosing her own destiny. If your character is driving your plot, let their relentless drive forward take a few unexpected left turns, courtesy of an enhanced plot.

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16182. Around the Bend

The icicles have melted;
The snow drifts lost some height.
We took a walk this afternoon
To bask in late-day light.

My jacket was unbuttoned;
I left my scarf behind.
The birds were chirping gaily
For there'd soon be worms to find.

It felt not like a respite
But more like a proper end
As we bid farewell to winter
Knowing spring's around the bend.

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16183. Happy Birthday from some Badly Drawn Underpants

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16184. California Show in Rehearsal!

 Here's a few pictures from rehearsals for Princess K.I.M. The Musical,
May 2015 production!  Looking good cast!
Rehearsing "We Belong"!
Gracie, Violet, Kimmy and Samantha
Princess Kim and friends
Dad, Kim and Grandma
 BeeKay Theatre Tehachapi, CA
Tehachapi Community Theatre
Main Stage Production
Princess K.I.M. The Musical
 May 8th through May 24  (8 shows)
Directors Dave Shacklock and Monica Nadon
Phone: 661-822-4037 

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16185. 50 States Against Bullying: TENNESSEE

I love that most airlines now let you keep your phone on (in airplane mode!) so I can take air shots of places I'm visiting. Or places I'm briefly hopping into, like L.A., as I make my way to my next stop.

My next stop, the forty-fourth visit of my 50 States Against Bullying campaign, took me to Tennessee. There I got to spend more time in one of my favorite cities, Nashville. One of the greatest opportunities Nashville provides is live music (you knew that, right?), and I was lucky enough to have a real, live country artist show me where the locals go for that sound experience. Brittany Bexton has been a family friend since my wife was her counselor at a music performance camp. Yes, even back then it was obvious she'd end up here.

We were at Soulshine Pizza Factory on the evening of their blues jam, which was unbelievably awesome. Especially this bass player. Amazing!

My hotel was weirdly cool. Between the shower and the bed was a large translucent plate. This way, I guess, you can watch a person's silhouette as they take a shower. I'm sure that's supposed to be sexy, but all I could imagine were the many ways a horror movie could use this feature.

Psycho 2.0

Where do the locals get breakfast? The Pancake Pantry. That's where I stopped on my way to speak at the high school. Maybe it's not a good idea to fill your tummy with pancakes before speaking, but it's a local place! I had to try it!

Unfortunately, I arrived at the school early and right next door was a donut shop. But it's local! So I partook.

The Donut Den has a cowbell that rings as you enter and exit. Isn't that rude? Isn't that also funny? Either way, it didn't stop me from enjoying their fried dough.

Finally, tummy bursting, I made my way to Hillsboro High School. If you've followed my travels, you know that I've had several schools close for snow days on the very dates my visits were scheduled. I will be making those schools up in the next couple weeks, but Nashville has also been hit hard this year. Even though their schools are open now, the schedule before the end of the year has tightened quite a bit. There were supposed to be five other schools sending students, but only Antioch High was able to send their book club to join Hillsboro students.

These students asked the most consistently thoughtful and thought provoking questions of this tour so far, and they were beautifully open about their own experiences. Afterward, the librarian told me she was a little nervous about how I would answer some of their very specific questions. Thankfully, she was pleased with how I dealt with these sensitive issues. So how did I deal with them? Honestly. Just as I wrote the book. (Writing tip #874: Teens have enough adults sugarcoating reality. Don't do that. Don't. Cool? Cool.)

As a sucker for a good gimmick, I found this library display brilliant!

I'll be back eventually, Nashville. Hopefully many times!

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16186. Updates From Japan

Exciting news from Japan I'd mentioned in a recent post that another shipment of Bedbug books + toys was making its way to Japan. In today's post, I will share recent updates. Sally Kanbayashi, an instructor of the English language for business people, also visits an elementary school once a month as a volunteer and reads bilingual books to kids. Sally read the bilingual Bedbug book in a

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16187. I'm Late I'm Late- For a Very Important Date

I keep trying to get back and post a little, but oh so little time.

So let me finish a few things and I promise to have something worthy to say.....

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16188. not quite, but close (brief and probably erroneous thoughts on copy editing)

This coming September, Temple University Press will publish a collection of my essays and photographs called Love: A Philadelphia Affair.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that I've spent the better part of yesterday and today with notes from the very gentle copy editor. Which is to say that I've spent these hours in rigorous mortification of myself.

Okay, so maybe that term doesn't make actual sense, but I'm just going with it, because, hey, might as well be myself. Or, I could fill the rest of this blog with commas that, shouldn't, be there. Or maybe I should just use the same phrase twice. (I'll use the same phrase twice.) And if I seem to be calling you by your surname as I speak to you here, why don't I just switch it up and go with your given name? Nothing like keeping a reader on her toes? His toes? Their toes?

And if I tell you that I'm moving toward you, you'll know what I mean. That I am moving TO you. See? I've just arrived.

It's not even what the kind copy editor has noted that remorses me out. It's what I see in myself, my old writing tics, my go-to poetics. It's me on the page, and golly by joe (I'm making more things up), I often wish I were other.

Was other?

Why can't I write like Michael Ondaatje at his best? Why not Alice McDermott at her most precise? Why Why Why couldn't I have bought my Kitchen Aid sooner (KitchenAid?) and given my life over to olive oil cakes and fudgy brownies? Fudge-y brownies?

I want a do-over, Writing Life.

I want a better brain.

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16189. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author & Diversity Advocate Marieke Nijkamp

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate.

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a queer time traveler.

In the midnight hours of the day, Marieke writes stories full of hope and heartbreak.

She is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™. (But all views are her own.)

Find her on Twitter @mariekeyn.

She was interviewed by Mina Witteman for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Could you tell us a little more about We Need Diverse Books?

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students."

That is straight from our mission statement, but I feel it sums up who we are and what we do.

WNDB is an organization that works toward making children's literature and children's publishing more inclusive, through several programs.

We have our Walter Award, which recognizes the best diverse YA.

We have Walter Grants, to aid up-and-coming diverse writers.

We are creating a program to support publishing interns from marginalized backgrounds.

We also have our WNDB in the Classroom project, which brings diverse books and diverse authors to disadvantaged schools.

And honestly, I could go on.

We have many projects in the works and we are continuously looking for ways to promote and amplify diversity. And that's what WNDB is too: a team of very, very passionate people, working hard to make change happen.

How has your experience and background prepared you to be effective with this diversity initiative?

As a queer, disabled person, diversity has always been foremost on my mind.

I have used a wheelchair and have been completely ignored. I have used a cane and have been stared at, laughed at, shouted at. I have been told that my love is a sin. I have been excluded. I have felt invisible. I have worked with LGBTQ teens who felt alone and scared and as if the world wasn't for them. And far, far too often the rest of the world only reinforced that image.

So I know firsthand what discrimination and marginalization feels like. I know all about that anger and frustration and heartbreak and fear. And it's those experiences that fuel me when working toward better representation, because I know we can do better and should do better. We owe it to ourselves and to each other, because when we work with each other instead of against each other, we can move mountains.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of bringing diversity into children’s literature?

Aside from institutionalized (and often internalized!) -isms, one of the most challenging aspects is the other side of that feeling that the world isn't for us: the mindset that books (or any form of stories or art) about marginalized people are only for marginalized people.

Not just for wizards!
Not just for Hobbits!
It stems from the believe that white, straight, non-disabled, middle class is somehow the neutral and relatable to all, whereas "other" characters are only relatable to those readers who share their experiences.

This, of course, means Harry Potter is only of interest to wizards and witches, and The Lord of the Rings finds its audience among the vast populations of Hobbits.

I guess you can see how blatantly absurd it is.

The white, straight, non-disabled, middle class character is no more a neutral character than any. But unlike other characters, the difference is that this particular character has been normalized to the point of becoming the standard. And all of us who do not fit that standard do feel excluded, but are told that feeling is invalid. After all, it's a neutral.

Or, we are taught that this neutral is somehow the character we ought to aspire to (relate to), which often includes the implicit or explicit belief that being other than is somehow lesser than.

It's a highly problematic narrative. It's why for so many disabled characters, the happily ever after involves being healed and becoming "normal" (or why their stories are being told through the point of view of non-disabled characters altogether). It's why so many queer romances end in tragedy, while the straight romances don't. It's why too often, non-white characters are sidekicks (or villains!) not heroes.

Before becoming involved in We Need Divers Books, you created the website DiversifYA. What prompted you and how can writers and illustrators use DiversifYA?

I created DiversifYA as a way to showcase the many different experiences around us, inside and outside our own communities. I wanted the interviews to show just how rich and varied our experiences are, but also how many of the struggles we face are inherently the same. I wanted to focus on those countless combinations of sameness and difference.

As a result, I think DiversifYA has turned into a great database of experiences. It is by no means a substitute for good research, but it is a starting point for anyone who would like to know more about the world around them.

You write for young adults and middle grade readers, both dark contemporary and epic fantasy. In what specific way has diversity shaped your writing?

In every way, and then some. Growing up, I read many hundreds of books per year, but I rarely saw myself represented in the stories I read. And in those few instances when I did, those reflections were anything but good. The "me"s I read about were only ever lessons for the main characters.

Marginalized characters were stereotypes, caricatures, or comic relief.

It left me a very lonely reader and a very determined writer.

From the very first story I wrote, writing has always been a way for me to explore the world and to create all those stories I couldn't find. So my stories are populated with characters who were other than the neutral norm but still very much my normal.

Among the four point-of-view characters of my upcoming debut This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016), there are two queer girls, one of them Latina (and her brother is one of the other main characters).

The story I am working on next has genderqueer characters, disabled characters, all as a matter of course--because they reflect the world I live in.

What can we, writers and illustrators of children’s books, do to foster diversity in our work?

  • Think about the world you want in your stories. Who do you want to reflect? How inclusive do you want to be? What assumptions lie at the basis of your story, your world, your characters? What do the choices you make tell your intended audience?
  • Research, research, research. Whether you are part of the marginalized group you write about, but especially when you're not, research, research, research. Be aware of the tropes. Be aware of the triggers. Talk to people with the same experience, don't just talk about the experiences.
  • Listen and learn. I don't believe the books we write exist in a vacuum. We can't represent marginalized experiences without being aware of a long history of privilege and oppression, and we all have our internalized prejudices. 
  • We are probably going to screw up. I know I have in the past. I know I will in the future. If you end up making mistakes, make them gracefully. Listen to the people who point out what you did wrong and learn from that. It's the only way we can improve, after all.

Cynsational Notes

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told from the perspective of four teens in a high school held hostage who all have their own reasons to fear the boy with the gun. It's forthcoming from Sourcebooks.

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

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16190. Old Rejections

Sometimes, when you're a writer trying to get an agent or a contract, you get rejected and those rejections FEEL ABSOLUTELY HUGE. Those rejections feel like ALL YOUR WORTH is wrapped up in the word, "No."

A few years ago I blogged this (Back then I also used to blog about my dog's poopy butt. I try not to do that anymore):

On a weirdly positive note, I just received the BEST rejection letter ever. Yes, I know. It makes no sense. But i sent out a novella to Penguin. They responded that it was "Beautifully, written, incredibly moving" and it's clear that I "have a great deal of talent."

So why did they reject it? Just to make me sad?
Probably, but they said it was a bit too specialized and scary for the middle grade market.


What does this mean?

Does this mean it's YA or adult even though I imagined it as middle grade? I am not smart enough to figure out who to send this to now. If only my magic cat and her great sitting abilities could tell me.

On another positive note Penguin said they'd be happy to consider future work, wished me great luck and "strongly encourage" me to submit the piece elsewhere.
Where? Where? Where?


AND obviously I felt hopeless and frantic, which was sort of a constant state of my prepublished being. But now? Now, I can't even remember who at Penguin I sent that novella to. Or why I thought someone would buy a novella? A NOVELLA?!?

My point in blogging about this? It's that rejections don't determine your worth. Sometimes they are so insignificant that the only way you do remember them is through a blog post. What determines your worth is your actions and your intent in life and work and art and relationships. At least, that's what I think. So if you are an artist or a writer or a singer or applying to colleges or jobs, try to remember that it's okay to get rejected. Just don't give up on who you are or what you want. Not ever.

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16191. Cybils Finalist Review: HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST

Summary: Told through the eyes of a grandmother recalling her childhood during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this story takes the wrenching events of the Holocaust and shows how important it is to remember our history and set it free so that the... Read the rest of this post

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16192. An interview in Library Sparks magazine

Check out this excerpt from the April 2015 issue of Library Sparks magazine. In this interview I discuss growing up as an artist, growing up with my grandparents and my various projects--including the art that I produced for the 2015 Collaborative Summer Library Program.

Read all about it here:


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16193. Comment on Amazon by Margery Butler

I found this great…

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16194. A distinctive voice: The County of Ice Cream Star and The Bullet

I am an excellent plotter. I'm pretty good with characters. But voice? I never really feel like I have one.

Two new books have recently come to my attention that are excellent examples of voice.

AR-AI698_ICECRE_DV_20150203133630One is The County of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. It's post apocolyptic and begins:
My Trouble Its Beginning: Tober 2
My name be Ice Cream Fifteen Star. My brother be Driver Eighteen Star, and my ghost brother Mo-Jacques Five Star, dead when I myself was only six years old. Still my heart is rain for him, my brother dead of posies little.

My mother and my grands and my great-grands been Sengle pure. Our people be a tarry night sort, and we skinny and long. My brother Driver climb a tree with only hands, because our bones so light, our muscles fortey strong. We flee like a dragonfly over water, we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.
Beautiful use of langugage, but also a bit of a struggle to understand. You have to decide if you are willing to read that for 400-plus pages. It helps once you translate a few of her basic words, such as bell = beautiful.

I decided it was worth it and am really liking the book.

UnknownThe other is The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly (a name you may recognize if you are a long-time NPR listener).
The Bullet

My name is Caroline Cashion, and I am the unlikely heroine of this story. Given all the violence to come, you were probably expecting someone different. A Lara Croft type. Young and gorgeous, sporting taut biceps and a thigh holster, right? Admit it.

Yes, all right, fine, I am pretty enough. I have long, dark hair and liquid, chocolate eyes and hourglass hips. I see the way men stare. But there’s no holster strapped to these thighs. For starters, I am thirty-seven years old. Not old, not yet, but old enough to know better.

Then there is the matter of how I spend my days. That would be in the library, studying the work of dead white men. I am an academic, a professor on Georgetown University’s Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. My specialty is nineteenth-century France: Balzac, Flaubert, Sten­dhal, Zola. The university is generous enough to fly me to Paris every year or so, but most of the time you’ll find me in the main campus library, glasses sliding down my nose, buried in old books. Every few hours I’ll stir, cross the quad to deliver a lecture, scold a student requesting extra time for an assignment—and then I return to my books. I read with my legs tucked beneath me, in a soft, blue armchair in a sunny corner of my office nook on the fourth floor. Most nights you will also find me there, sipping tea, typing away, grading papers. Are you getting a sense for the rhythm of my days? I lead as stodgy a life as you can imagine.
Hm, not sure the voice works as well as this one.  "I have long, dark hair and liquid, chocolate eyes and hourglass hips." It's hard for me to imagine liking anyone who would describe themselves like that. On the other hand, good reviews, including a star from PW, and I love a good thriller.

Have you read a book lately with an interesting voice?

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16195. The importance of change in a setting

The setting is often referred to as a novel's canvas, but that's not right at all.

A canvas is blank. It's white. It's unchanging.

If you think of your characters acting within a blank world, no matter how interesting they are it will feel like there's something missing.

Instead, it's crucial to think about what's happening in the broader world of your novel, what is changing, and how these larger forces are impacting your characters. When you do, your novel will feel like more than just an interesting series of events, it will feel deeper, richer, and more meaningful.

One of the (many) elements that elevated Gone Girl above a regular suspense novel was the creeping ways the economic downturn affected the lives of the main characters, from having to move to the Midwest, to the abandoned mall, to Amy's feeling that she couldn't escape her parents' shadow. The characters are acting within a world where they don't have limitless control over their lives.

Or think about the way Sauron is ascendent in The Lord of the Rings, how racial turmoil is a backdrop for To Kill a Mockingbird, how even an apocalyptic setting like Station Eleven is made more interesting by a sense of progress.

The thing about all of this change is that it's feels truer than a static world. We area all living in a world that keeps changing around us, that constrains our choices, that opens up new possibilities, and where new things are invented that alter everything around us.

Map out what's changing in your world just as surely as you map out what your characters do and how they change. Think about your world's government, its moral standards, its religion, its wars, its culture. Find a way to shake things up where it makes sense, and make sure it impacts your characters and plot.

Set that canvas in motion and your characters will feel more alive.

Art: Hungry Lion by Henri Rousseau

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16196. This Friday-an event with the Chesterfield County Public Library (Just outside RIchmond, VA)

There is no doubt that I will have a BLAST on Friday with the librarians of Chesterfield County Library. Look at that cool flyer they made! And look at all of the super-fun tweets that they have been sending! If you live nearby, I hope to see you on Friday at 7 p.m.!

Here is the event page on their website:

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16197. My earliest known comic.

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16198. A-doodle-a-day (#110)


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16199. TEN Giveaways plus New YALit Releases 3/9 - 3/15


* * * *

Everybody Knows Your Name
by Andrea Seigel and Brent Bradshaw
Personalized Hardcover Giveaway

Viking Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Meet Magnolia.
Her father's dead, her boyfriend's ditched her to commit himself more fully to surfing, and her mother's depressed because she can't get cast on The Real Housewives of Orange County. All Magnolia wants is to reinvent herself.

Meet Ford.
Half his family is in jail, the other half probably should be, he shoplifted his way into a job at a record store, and his brother pawned his 1953 Telecaster for a quick buck. All Ford wants is to reinvent himself.

Ford, meet Magnolia.
When the two teens are cast in Spotlight, a reality TV singing competition, both see it as their chance to start anew. With each episode, as they live together in a Hollywood Hills mansion and sing their hearts out, Ford and Magnolia fall in love. But how genuine can that love be when a television audience is watching their every move—and when their pasts are catching up to them so much faster than they can run?

Perfect for fans of Pitch Perfect, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Mindy Kaling, and Meg Cabot, Everybody Knows Your Name is a romantic comedy that delivers an unforgettable cast of characters (and way more laughs than any episode of American Idol).

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Everybody Knows Your Name?

I'm tempted to say that my favorite thing is that I got to write about introversion. That I got to use my character, Magnolia, to explain why I need to be alone after I've spent time in a group, why social situations tire me out. That was really satisfying in some deep-rooted way. But as much as I hate to admit it, I think my favorite part of the book is one that I didn't write. It's in Brent's part. I don't want to give any spoilers, but there's a passage toward the very end of the book that has Brent's character, Ford, discussing dying towns intertwined with his interpretation of the song "In The New Year" by The Walkmen. And I find those couple of pages exceptionally beautiful.

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* * * *

The Dickens Mirror
by Ilsa J Bick
Signed Hardcover Giveaway

Released 3/10/2015

Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.

Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.

In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.

Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.

But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Dickens Mirror?

A very smart pro-writer once told me that I should always try something new with every book. This is good advice. I mean, sure, we all know writers who do the same thing over and over again. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. In a way, that’s as comforting as seeing a McDonald’s or a Starbucks and knowing your burger or coffee will taste the same, say, in Japan as it does in Iowa. (Actually, I’ve a friend who said that the Big Mac he had in Tokyo tasted suspiciously of fish.)

But you get what I’m driving at. People like routines; they like sameness. As a therapist, I can tell you that the hardest thing to effect is change. Change makes people anxious. Even if they say they’re miserable, people will fight you, tooth and nail, before they change their behavior. Believe it or not, a lot of people would rather avoid having to change, even if change is in their best interests. So, avoiding change . . . I understand that. There is comfort in sameness even if sameness isn’t good for you.

The thing is: sameness is also boring. There’s no challenge to it. If nothing ever changes—if the book you pick up is formulaic, has no surprises, no twists, and nothing out of the ordinary. . . okay, that’s like comfort food. That’s like macaroni and cheese for the brain. It’s fun . . . but it’s not particularly memorable.

Well, heck, if I’m going to spend all this time laboring over a book . . . you better remember it.

For me, doing what I’ve already done is death. My personal feeling is that, as a writer, you always have to try something you’ve never attempted. To do otherwise is an insult to your audience. Sure, okay, we all like macaroni and cheese. But if I had to make that for the husband ever day of my life . . . I’d probably kill him. In the end, he’d probably kill me just for variety’s sake.

So, in terms of THE DICKENS MIRROR, my favorite thing about the book is that I tried something I’d never done before. I know that the concept behind WHITE SPACE has never been done, period. The biggest challenge in DICKENS MIRROR was doing something completely different that you, the reader, hadn’t seen in the first book. That took enormous effort, too, because I had to delve into the world of historical fiction—a genre I’ve never tried and for which I have immense respect—and see if I could pull it off.

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* * * *

Breaking Sky
by Cori McCarthy
Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Sourcebooks Fire
Released 3/10/2015

In this high-flying, adrenaline-fueled debut thriller, America's best hope is the elite teen fighter pilots of the United Star Academy

Chase Harcourt, call sign "Nyx," is one of only two pilots chosen to fly the experimental "Streaker" jets at the junior Air Force Academy in the year 2048. She's tough and impulsive with lightning-fast reactions, but few know the pain and loneliness of her past or the dark secret about her father. All anyone cares about is that Chase aces the upcoming Streaker trials, proving the prototype jet can knock the enemy out of the sky.

But as the world tilts toward war, Chase cracks open a military secret. There's a third Streaker jet, whose young hotshot pilot, Tristan, can match her on the ground and in the clouds. Chase doesn't play well with others, but to save her country she may just have to put her life in the hands of the competition.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Breaking Sky?

My favorite thing about BREAKING SKY is the relationships. The fictional Air Force academy that Chase lives in is much like a boarding school/dorm-like situation. Her roommate is her best friend--and also a boy! Which means that all of the tension, fights, and love are up close and personal. In many ways, Chase's environment is a teenage dream--to be in the company of hundreds of cadets while also being far from the strictures of parents--and yet the cadets are so far from their families that they have to rely on each other and form stronger bonds than friendship. They have to trust each other with their lives, which poses a whole new layer of problems when they start falling in love...

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* * * *

Shadow Scale
by Rachel Hartman
Hardcover Giveaway
Random House Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Shadow Scale?

Subject to change, of course, but right now my favourite thing is the villain, Jannoula. It was a challenge to create someone who deeply frightened me, on the one hand, and yet was almost sympathetic on the other. Villains who are evil for the sake of being evil don’t move me, particularly; I’d much rather see someone who’s doing evil but convinced she’s doing good, or who wants all the things I want but for horrifying reasons. Those kinds of villains are a lot of work, it turns out!

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* * * *

Silent Alarm
by Jennifer Banash
Other Giveaway (3 Copies)
U.S. Only

G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.

Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Silent Alarm?

It seems strange to pick a favorite thing about a book that's largely about the aftermath of a school shooting, but if I had to pick, I'd say that my favorite thing about Silent Alarm is that it takes an unflinching look at the mess that is often left behind in the wake of tragic events. And hopefully, it leaves the reader with a little light creeping in out of the darkness, and some kind of a sense of hope.

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* * * *

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise
by Matthew Crow
Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse
Released 3/10/2015

Life threatening cancer brings two teens together in this funny, honest, and heartwrenching novel in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars.

Francis is determined to forge his own way in school and life despite his loony, awkward, broken family...and noticeable lack of friends. Then he is diagnosed with leukemia. It wasn’t part of his strategy, but there are moments when he can see the upside. After all, people are nice to you when you’re sick.

While in the hospital, Francis meets Amber. She’s outspoken and sarcastic, and Francis falls for her almost immediately. Hard. Together, they take on the other cancer ward patients, overbearing mothers, and treatments with lively wit.

But Francis’s recovery is taking a different path from Amber’s. He’s actually getting better. And although he knew who he was before cancer, before Amber, now he has no idea how to live—or how to let go…

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise?

As its author, my favourite thing is that I wrote almost exactly the book I had in mind, which virtually never happens. Writing is a long process. So by the time you’ve finished the first draft it is often an obscure, warped version of the story you’d imagined. The whole thing can feel a bit like playing Chinese Whispers with yourself. With The Brilliant Light’ I felt so certain of Francis’s voice that everything just seemed so easy. It was a joy to write and I’m proud of it.

Purchase The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise at Amazon
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* * * *

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
by Teresa Toten
Hardcover Giveaway (2 Copies)
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Deep, understated, and wise, this engaging YA novel, winner of the Governor General’s Award in Canada, is about more than the tough issue of teens dealing with obsessive-compulsive order. It also has romance, and a whodunit element that will keep readers guessing. Perfect for readers who love Eleanor & Park!

Adam Spencer Ross is almost fifteen, and he’s got his hands full confronting the problems that come with having divorced parents and new stepsiblings. Add to that his obsessive-compulsive disorder and it’s just about impossible for him to imagine ever falling in love. Adam’s life changes, however, the instant he meets Robyn Plummer: he is hopelessly, desperately drawn to her. But is it possible to have a normal relationship when your life is anything but?

Filled with moments of deep emotion and unexpected humor, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B explores the complexities of living with OCD and offers the prospect of hope, happiness, and healing.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B?

I loved, loved, loved writing about a boy! Adam is my first male protagonist. Of course, it was helpful that I fell in love with him on the first page. Don’t get me wrong—it was also absolutely nerve-wracking. I so wanted to get my boy stuff right. I drove all the guys around me crazy with a million questions including some pretty personal and detailed ones. I will be forever grateful to the young men and (some older ones) who really set me straight on what a guy notices, how he reacts to um, stimuli, how he moves through the world and how overwhelming a first love is. Girls, I swear, we don’t know the half of it!

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* * * *

by Tracy Clark
Entangled: Teen
Released 3/3/2015

Winner - MaCaila Sharp

Tormented after a daring escape, Cora Sandoval must find a way to stop the Arrazi from murdering innocent people and from violating, using, and killing the Scintilla for their powers. She must also accept one bitter betrayal: Finn Doyle—the Irish boy who has both a piece of Cora's heart and soul—is Arrazi...

On the verge of extinction and sought by those who would either consume or destroy them, Cora and the remaining Scintilla survivors must solve the mystery of The Light Key. If they fail, the truth will stay buried forever and mankind will pay the ultimate price.

No longer will she hide.

No longer will her loved ones be hunted.

And she will have her vengeance...even if she shatters her heart in the process.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Deviate?

I’m excited that DEVIATE introduces the pov of Finn Doyle, the Arrazi that Cora loves but cannot be with. It was fascinating to explore the tortured psyche of being someone who is a really good person but who must kill in order to survive.

I think that the juxtaposition of Cora’s chapters revealing her deepening relationship with Giovanni and her quest for answers about how to stop the Arrazi, offset against Finn’s chapters, which may give readers a new way of looking at Finn, is wonderful, heart-wrenching stuff that good romances are made of. I sure hope so!

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* * * *

Positively Beautiful
by Wendy Mills
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Released 3/3/2015

Winner - Erin Fender

Erin Bailey's life changes forever the day her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's always just been Erin and Mom, so living without her is not an option. Life takes another turn when the cancer is linked to a rare genetic mutation, and Erin must grapple with the decision of whether or not to have her own DNA tested. Her only outlets are flying lessons, where looking to the horizon calms her deepest fears, and her new friend Ashley, a girl she met in an online support group. But when a flash decision has Erin flying away to find her new friend, she embarks on a journey from the depths of despair to new love and a better understanding of the true meaning of beauty.

This thought-provoking story brings readers to the emotional brink and back again, as they experience Erin's fear, her frustration, and ultimately . . . her freedom.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Positively Beautiful?

My mom and I talk every day. My mom and I fight every day. (“The sky sure is blue today-“ “Really? Are you insane??”)
But when all is said and done, my mom is my ultimate sounding board for my books, and I don’t think I could do it without her. Oh, I know there are times when we are in a five-hour marathon session about the oh-so-very-important (to me) motivations of some insignificant character that she has me on mute while she vacuums the house, but it doesn’t matter. Having someone on the other end of the line who cares enough to listen, who is invested enough to stay on the phone with me as I go through my daily panic-attacks (“but, Mom, what in the heck would she WEAR to the FAA hearing?!”) gives me the confidence to make the hard decisions and make the big leaps.

My mom was with my grandmother when she died. Years later when I was writing Positively Beautiful, I knew I had to use her story, though it was a scene I dreaded writing. With a vengeance. I mean, like no, no, no, I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE THAT. Because my mom lost her mother, and someday I will lose mine, and I really, really don’t want to think about it.

Erin’s relationship with her mother is my favorite aspect of Positively Beautiful. Erin’s mother is nothing like my mother. I am nothing like Erin. But the relationship between a mother and daughter is something precious and sacred and universal, and my mother’s fingerprints are all over this book.

As they should be.

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* * * *

by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Putnam Juvenile
Released 3/3/2015

Winners - Clarisa Ramirez & Sophie Cordero

The gripping finale to Kathy and Brendan Reichs’ New York Times bestselling VIRALS series

The Virals are back—but they’re not the only pack in town anymore. Terminal finds Tory Brennan and the rest of the Morris Island gang tracking a pack of rogue Virals who call themselves the Trinity. The new pack was infected by a strain of supervirus created by Tory’s nemesis and sometimes-crush, Chance Clayborne, who accidentally infected himself, too.

These red-eyed Virals have openly challenged Tory’s pack for domination of Charleston, and they’ll stop at nothing to bring their rivals down—even if that means giving them up to a shadowy government agency intent on learning the secret to the Virals’ powers. Surviving it all is going to test the limits of the gang’s abilities.

In the riveting conclusion to the Virals series, Tory and the others are nearing an impossible choice—and the ultimate showdown.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Terminal?

My favorite thing about TERMINAL is that I finally get to answer the burning questions readers have been focused on since the Virals series began. This will be the last full book in this chapter of the Virals' lives, so I made sure we didn't leave anything out that would drive our loyal fans crazy. In TERMINAL, Tory finally makes some hard decisions where her heart is concerned. The gang has to come to grips with what they want from the rest of their lives. Plus, they're in more trouble--and danger--than they’ve ever been before. I think our fans are going to like it!

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The Dark Water
by Seth Fishman
Putnam Juvenile
Released 3/3/2015

Winner - Vanessa Deneen

To escape Blake Sutton’s army at the end of the enthralling The Well’s End, Mia and her friends jump into the newly gurgling fountain of youth and swim to its very bottom. When they resurface, an astounding world awaits them—an entire underground civilization of humans, the Keepers of the Well.

But instead of finding a safe haven, Mia and her gang are quickly embroiled in a dangerous, high-stakes battle royale. If Mia wants to save everyone she loves and make it back home alive, she’s got to get to the water’s Source before Sutton and his troops, who are still hot on her trail.

With new characters and new threats, Seth Fishman has upped the ante fantastically and delivers another tense, fast-paced adventure in a richly imagined world just below our feet.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Dark Water?

The true answer to this question is a major spoiler so, sadly, I'll have to give you my runner-up. What I'm most happy with is the difference between this book and The Well's End. I set out, on purpose, to write two very different books with the same overarching theme and characters, and while I'm sure some people won't be too pleased about that, I wanted to do something really different, and it took so much work to do; I'm very pleased in how it turns out. I hope readers have fun too.

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The Dead I Know
by Scot Gardner
HMH Books for Young Readers
Released 3/3/2015

Winner - Lysette Lam

Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep and haunted by dreams he can’t explain and memories he can’t recover. Death doesn’t scare him—his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn’t discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up. In this dark and witty psychological drama about survival, Aaron finds that making peace with the dead may be easier than coming to terms with the living.

"I have never read a book more gripping, nor a book more triumphantly alive. I love how it haunts me still. I swear, I will never forget The Dead I Know." -- John Marsden, author of Tomorrow When the War Began.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Dead I Know?

It's a deeply layered story. There were times when the layers came together in ways I hadn't anticipated while I was planning it out and that is pleasing in hindsight, but my favourite thing about the book is the volume of raw material that made it into the manuscript that I gleaned from my daily life. My godparents are funeral directors and spending time with them gave me intimacy with the setting and provided the inspiration for John Barton, the owner of the establishment where the protagonist (Aaron) works. Aaron's nightmares and sleep-walking look a lot like those my younger daughter battled with as she approached her teens. My wife's mother lived with us while she was in decline with dementia and gave me way too much information about how insidious that disease is. All these things represent experiences that power narrative.

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Read Between the Lines
by Jo Knowles
Released 3/10/2015

Does anyone ever see us for who we really are? Jo Knowles’s revelatory novel of interlocking stories peers behind the scrim as it follows nine teens and one teacher through a seemingly ordinary day.

Thanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a "big girl," she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Read Between the Lines?

That everyone has a story. That no one is who they seem on the surface. That we all have hearts and souls and we all need love. I hope they pause before making assumptions about a person based on how they're dressed, or what sport they play, or whatever. I want people to see that stereotypes aren't real. That we're all just people, complicated and messy and sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful. We all hurt, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly. We all need kindness and we all need love. And we need to give these things as much as we need to get them.

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Rivals in the City
by Y.S. Lee
Released 3/10/2015

In a tale steeped in action, romance, and the gaslit intrigue of Victorian London, Mary Quinn’s detective skills are pitted against a cunning and desperate opponent.

Mary Quinn has a lot on her mind. James Easton, her longtime love interest, wants to marry her; but despite her feelings, independent-minded Mary hesitates. Meanwhile, the Agency has asked Mary to take on a dangerous case: convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and Mary must watch for the return of his estranged wife, an accomplished criminal herself who has a potentially deadly grudge against James. Finally, a Chinese prizefighter has arrived in town, and Mary can’t shake a feeling that he is somehow familiar. With the stakes higher than ever, can Mary balance family secrets, conflicting loyalties, and professional expertise to bring a criminal to justice and find her own happiness?

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Rivals in the City?

This is a tough question for me, and not in the ooh-do-I-have-to-choose-just-one? kind of way. I seldom feel like a proud mother to my books; I’m more like their weird aunt. I think it’s terrific – and even miraculous - that the novels exist; that Candlewick Press, of all houses, is happy to publish them. But at the same time, I’m intensely aware of the hollows and shadows in each novel. Often, pub week is a time for me to ponder the eternal gap between the novel I wanted to write and the one I ended up writing.

This is not false modesty or a clumsy effort to seek flattery. I think RIVALS IN THE CITY is strong novel. My heroine, Mary Quinn, is complex and thoughtful, the plot keeps twisting, and the Victorian London I built is rich and textured. In fact, I think RIVALS is my best work yet. But I’m always haunted by a sense of future possibility: that while I did my best work at the time, I am still growing as a writer. That I learned a great deal from writing it. That next time, I will make different mistakes and, through those mistakes, become a better writer.

So my favourite thing about RIVALS is not inside the novel itself; my favourite thing is that the novel exists, that I had the challenge and pleasure of writing it, and that it’s part of a body of work that’s still growing. Huh. Maybe I am a proud mother, after all.

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The Orphan Queen
by Jodi Meadows
Katherine Tegen Books
Released 3/10/2015

Wilhelmina has a hundred identities.

She is a princess. When the Indigo Kingdom conquered her homeland, Wilhelmina and other orphaned children of nobility were taken to Skyvale, the Indigo Kingdom’s capital. Ten years later, they are the Ospreys, experts at stealth and theft. With them, Wilhelmina means to take back her throne.

She is a spy. Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate Skyvale Palace to study their foes. They assume the identities of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, but enemies fill the palace, and Melanie’s behavior grows suspicious. With Osprey missions becoming increasingly dangerous and their leader more unstable, Wil can’t trust anyone.

She is a threat. Wraith is the toxic by-product of magic, and for a century using magic has been forbidden. Still the wraith pours across the continent, reshaping the land and animals into fresh horrors. Soon it will reach the Indigo Kingdom. Wilhelmina’s magic might be the key to stopping the wraith, but if the vigilante Black Knife discovers Wil’s magic, she will vanish like all the others

Jodi Meadows introduces a vivid new fantasy full of intrigue, romance, dangerous magic, and one girl’s battle to reclaim her place in the world.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Orphan Queen?

The characters' identities. It'd be a spoiler to say too much, but I love the tangle of identities in this book. He knows her from this thing going on, and she knows him from this other thing that happened. I love the idea that these characters know just pieces of one another, and part of the journey is finding -- and accepting -- the truth.

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Burning Kingdoms
by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Danger descends in the second book of The Internment Chronicles, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy.

After escaping Internment, Morgan and her fellow fugitives land on the ground to finally learn about the world beneath their floating island home.

The ground is a strange place where water falls from the sky as snow, and people watch moving pictures and visit speakeasies. A place where families can have as many children as they want, their dead are buried in vast gardens of bodies, and Internment is the feature of an amusement park.

It is also a land at war.

Everyone who fled Internment had their own reasons to escape their corrupt haven, but now they’re caught under the watchful eye of another king who wants to dominate his world. They may have made it to the ground, but have they dragged Internment with them?

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In a Split Second
by Sophie McKenzie
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released 3/10/2015

Two lives. One explosive moment. And a secret that could end it all... A riveting, romantic thriller from the author of Girl, Missing.

Charlie’s life is torn apart by a terrorist bomb in a London market. Months later, she meets Nat, whose family was devastated by the same explosion. But as Charlie gets closer to Nat she uncovers secrets and a whole cast of shady characters that lead her to believe Nat knows more about the attack than he is letting on. In a Split Second is a breathtaking thriller that shifts between the perspectives of its two main characters as their courage and their loyalties are tested to the limit.

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Little Peach
by Peggy Kern
Balzer + Bray
Released 3/10/2015

What do you do if you're in trouble?

When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive.

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by Anna Jarzab
Delacorte Press
Released 3/10/2015

Tether, the sequel to Tandem, continues the captivating tale of rebellion and romance that spans parallel worlds.

Everything repeats.

Sasha expected things to go back to normal once she got back on Earth. But now that she knows parallel worlds are real, and that an alternate version of herself exists in a world called Aurora, her old life no longer seems to make sense . . . and her heart breaks daily for Thomas, the boy she left behind. Troubled by mysterious, often terrifying visions and the echoes of a self she was just beginning to discover, Sasha makes the difficult decision to journey once more through the tandem.

Thomas is waiting for her on the other side, and so is strange, otherworldly Selene, Sasha’s analog from a third universe. Sasha, Selene, and their other analog, Juliana, have a joint destiny, and a new remarkable power, one that could mean salvation for Selene’s dying planet. With Thomas’s help, Sasha and Selene search for the missing Juliana. But even if they can locate her, is Sasha willing to turn her back on love to pursue a fate she’s not sure she believes in?

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The Alex Crow
by Andrew Smith
Dutton Juvenile
Released 3/10/2015

"Smith is a spiritual heir to Kurt Vonnegut” — Booklist , starred review

Skillfully blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, award-winning Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith chronicles the story of Ariel, a refugee who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel's story is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century . . . and a depressed, bionic reincarnated crow.

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Vanishing Girls
by Lauren Oliver
Released 3/10/2015

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

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16200. Guide Cells and Color Vision

Scientists have announced an important discovery about how structures in the retina shape color vision.

The study concentrates on the Muller cells, which occupy a narrow space in front of the eyes' photoreceptors. 

It has always been a mystery what goes on in that layer, and why the rods and cones are at the back of the vertebrate retina, and not in the front. 

The study leader is Dr. Erez Ribak from the Israel Institute of Technology. He has demonstrated that the Muller cells act as light guides, selectively sorting the light as it passes back to the photo-sensitive layer.  

The image at left is a 3D scan showing the vertical Muller cells in red standing above the rods-and-cone layer in blue.

Images courtesy BBC News
According to the BBC report, the Muller cells "funnel crucial red and green light into cone cells....Meanwhile, they leave 85% of blue light to spill over and reach nearby rod cells, which specialize in those wavelengths and give us the mostly black-and-white vision that gets us by in dim conditions."

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