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There were many fine and fantastic works of nonfiction for older children and teens in 2015. One such book won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Award while another won an Honor. Now those two authors chat about the process of creating narrative nonfiction. We’ve featured a fair number of Walking and Talking chats on this site, but I think this one is of particular note. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Steve Sheinkin in conversation with M.T. Anderson:
For those of you curious about Mr. Anderson’s book you can see my interview with him here.
Thanks to Steve for allowing me to showcase his work. For previous entries in the “Walking and Talking” series, please be sure to check out the following:
Santa isn't the only making his list and checking it twice. It's Award Season, when everyone and his dog make up "Best of the Year" book lists. This month, Teaching Authors takes a more casual approach; we're talking about the books that were memorable to us.
I read a lot. So how did I narrow down my "memorable" books? They are the ones I could remember the author, title, story and characters, without consulting my reading journal. My number one choice was a no brainer, since I put my life on hold until I finished the book. However, two others were a dead tie for second place. Surprise, surprise, all three are young adult. No grand plan on my part. They are the most outstanding books as far as I am concerned.
In a tie for second are:
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert--What made this book memorable is that religion is part of the everyday lives of the characters without it being a book about religion. Religion is not viewed in a cynical way, nor is it presented as the answer to life's questions. In fact, the characters discover religion generates more questions than it "answers." A messy, complicated story that hops around from various points in the past, to the present, but somehow never loses the reader along the way.
Dime by E.R. Frank. Frank is known for her fearless approach to tough topics. She took on a big one this time; teen age prostitution. Dime is a fourteen-year-old, lost in the foster care system. All she wants is a family and someone to love her. She finds it on the streets of Newark--a "daddy" to "take care of her," along with two other "wifeys" who work for Daddy. Dime will do anything Daddy tells her to because he "loves" her. Gradually, Dime sees the truth about her "family." The voices of Dime, Daddy and the wifeys are distinct, and non-stereotypical. To be honest, this book was heavy and intense that I wasn't sure I could finish, especially after I thought I where the story was heading. Dime herself, compelled me to finish. I'm glad I did.
So what kept me up nights, reading reading reading, even though, I knew how the story ended?" My first choice for personal reading is non-fiction, so it figures that one would be my "most memorable" of the year. My winner is a volume with the intimidating title of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. (Disclaimer: Although M.T. Anderson was one of my instructors in the Vermont College MFA program, we haven't been in touch in 15 years.) I had misgivings. The book is 450+ pages (70 of which turned out to be documentation and indexes.) I already "knew" what happened: Shostakovich writes writes his Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad" and the Nazis lose the Siege of Leningrad. Reading this book is truly not about the destination, but enjoying the ride. Even with such a potentially heavy subject, Anderson always finds a touch of humor in events. We see young Dmitri, a sheltered piano prodigy in Czarist Russia, evolve into a master composer within the confines of the Soviet system. We also see his career nose-dive when his work falls out of favor with The Party. What struck the deepest chord (sorry for the pun) in me was that while his physical world was in constant turmoil (messy love affairs, unemployment, starvation, Nazis...and a whole lot more) what gave his life meaning was music. He composed the "Leningrad" during the two and a half years the Nazis first tried to bomb, then starve, the city out of existence. Creativity triumphs all. Shostakovich's story (as well as the city of Leningrad's) has everything I love in a book...suspense, adventure, danger, intrigue, love, and most of all music. You don't have to know anything about Shostakovich, music or even Russia, to be sucked into this impeccably research story.
May 2016 be blessed with such terrific books as those of 2015!
Take a look at Publishers Weekly (PW) editors' choices of 2015 best books to discover outstanding new titles. The lists include picture books, middle-grade, and young adult books.
The picture books range from well-known authors such as Drew Daywalt (The Day The Crayons Came Home) and Dave Eggers (This Bridge Will Not Be Gray) and Mordicai Gerstein (The Night World) to debut authors such as Guojing (The Only Child), who writes about growing up under China's one-child policy.
Middle-grade books include bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson (My Diary from the Edge of the World) and the amazing Brian Selznick (The Marvels).
Young adult titles range from a nonfiction title by M. T. Anderson (Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad) to Chicago-area writer Laura Ruby's new novel (Bone Gap).
For more information visit PW or click on any of the above links.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another round of Jacket Knack's Face Off. This month, we've pitted two well known, award winning authors with mixed portfolios against each other. Both Libbra Bray and M. T. Anderson write historical and contemporary fiction for young adults, and short stories too. And they've both won distinguished literary awards and honors for their works.
Let's inspect their YA covers (first edition, hardcover publication) and see what faces show up.
By Libba Bray:
Published December 9th 2003 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published August 23rd 2005 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published December 26th 2007 by Random House Children's Books
Published September 22nd 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Just back from Kauai, readergirlz! I was a bit reluctant to take my Kindle to the beach. How about you?
Now that I'm back home, the top of my to-read stack is Libba Bray's Beauty Queens and a celebration release of M.T. Anderson's Feed. Can't wait to get to both! What's on your stack this last month of summer?
I stole upstairs with Clockhousein hand and read the conversation between my friend Rahna and the ever-interesting M.T. Anderson (Octavian Nothing, Feed, etc.). It's the sort of interview the whole world should read—two very smart people talking, unexpected tangents and revelations, deep questions, unvarnished (which is to say actively honest) responses.
I share just a snippet here, but oh my. The whole is New York Times quality stuff.
RRR: What is the biggest risk you ever took as a person and as a writer?
MTA: Every big work is a risk. One thing I found is easy enough to tell my students, but now I am having to tell myself is: every time you write a new book, you should try to write something that is impossible for you. You should try to write something at which you think you are going to fail. Because it's only then that you actually realize that you've succeeded in new ways you've never dreamed of before. Now that obviously a nice adage to tell students when they are facing trouble, to say, look, you just need to lean into this, and trust that you can do it and seek solutions because if you don't feel like it's impossible for you then you aren't re-envisioning yourself as much as you need to be. On the other hand, it's very difficult to do that for yourself....
The photo above is of too long ago—my husband, my son, Reiko's Ming and her boys, then Reiko herself at Hawk Mountain. Reiko sees things others don't. This interview (and her books) are proof of that.
In today's New York Times, Alexander Alter writes of the increasing number of "adult" authors who are reconfiguring their history books for the younger, still-book-buying crowd (or for those who buy books for them). She writes:
Inspired by the booming market for young adult novels, a growing number of biographers and historians are retrofitting their works to make them palatable for younger readers. Prominent nonfiction writers like Ms. Hillenbrand, Jon Meacham and Rick Atkinson are now grappling with how to handle unsettling or controversial material in their books as they try to win over this impressionable new audience.
And these slimmed-down, simplified and sometimes sanitized editions of popular nonfiction titles are fast becoming a vibrant, growing and lucrative niche.
I wonder about the wisdom of this—about the felt need to take well-written and absorbing histories and make them less than (for sanitized and simplified sound like less than to me) for younger readers. Let's first acknowledge what many young readers are capable of, which is to say, books rich with moral dilemma and emboldened by ideas. Let's next acknowledge what young readers need, which is to say the facts of then and now.
You can already get that sort of thing in novels written for younger readers. Certainly Patricia McCormick is not writing down, making it easy, simplifying when she writes about the sex trade or the Cambodian war. Certainly Ruta Sepetys didn't make Siberia comfortable in Between Shades of Gray. Certainly M. T. Anderson didn't set out to make Octavian Nothing easy, simple, sterile. Certainly, Marilyn Nelson, publishing Carver, a life in verse for young adults, didn't think to herself, let me make this easy. She wrote each page smart, each page full of innuendo and terms to look up and mysteries, like this:
A Charmed Life
Here breathes a solitary pilgrim sustained by dew
and the kindness of strangers. An astonished Midas
surrounded by the exponentially multiplying miracles: my
Yucca and Cactus in the Chicago World Exposition;
friends of the spirit; teachers. Ah, the bleak horizons of joy.
Light every morning dawns through the trees. Surely
this is worth more than one life.
And certainly I, writing novels for young adults, am not setting history down in burnished, skip-over-it slices. Not when I write about the Spanish Civil War (Small Damages) or the shadowy blockade of the Berlin Wall (Going Over) or Centennial Philadelphia (Dangerous Neighbors) or 1871 Philadelphia (Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent) or Florence during the 1966 flood (One Thing Stolen). I am working to put a younger reader into the heart of it all. And sometimes that's not pretty. Sometimes that hurts. But that is history for you.
YA writers have been writing sophisticated historical novels for a long time now. Why, then, suggest that those same YA readers need to be written down to when it comes to pure nonfiction? To the big stories. The telling moments. The individual against the state, the home versus the political, the science versus the dream, the big stuff that shapes who we became. Nonfiction for young adults, like novels for young adults, should be alive and deep and somehow true. It should respect the capabilities of younger readers.
What you learn in this life of children’s librarianship is that there is an exception to every rule. For example, normally I do not indulge in video interviews outside of my Fuse #8 TV ones. And normally I do not care diddly over squat for anything directed towards a young adult audience. But Mr. M.T. Anderson has a way of making a girl forget past restrictions. So when I was asked whether or not I would be interested in interviewing the man about his upcoming nonfiction title Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad I said, “Um . . . yes. Yes indeed.”
Thus, what follows, is a slightly herky jerky (thanks to Google Hangout) but ENTIRELY worth it interview between myself and Tobin. This is a story I’ve never heard. I am ashamed to admit that prior to this talk I had only the slightest understanding of what the Siege of Leningrad constituted. This clears much of the confusion up. And check out this cover!
As for the interview itself, here it is:
Thanks to the good folks at Candlewick Press for setting this up!
I've made no secret of my fan girl admiration of M.T. Anderson, nor my love of the w00t!-worthy Pals in Peril series. So let's all give a big 'Huzzah!' for the return of Lily, Katie, and Jasper Dash in a brand new adventure, due for release in October. Now that the Enola Holmes series is finished, and Larklight seems content to remain a trilogy, "Pals in Peril" has sole possession of the top spot
One of the great things about working at First Book is how wonderfully supportive our many partners and friends are of the work we do. In fact, we regularly hear from authors who say, “How can I support First Book’s efforts?” So regularly, in fact, that we will be rolling out some exciting opportunities for authors and illustrators to get involved with First Book on a wide variety of levels.
In addition, we realized that the fact that the American Library Association annual conference was being held in Washington, DC this year offered a rare opportunity to reach out to many of our author friends to provide an opportunity to support us that did not involve any hassles, expenses or travel (unless you could crossing a street). We created what we aptly named “The First Book Shameless Promotion Chamber” and we rolled out the red carpet. To our delight, over twenty five of our favorite authors and illustrators came to participate in the project and gave it their all. We were touched to hear a Newbery medal winner say, “I want to work with First Book!” We were also honored when our literacy statistics moved more than one author to tears and consternation. And we were rolling on the floor when two accomplished and well known authors turned on their considerable charm and humor simultaneously.
We’ll unveil the wonderful results of our video shoot soon, but here are a few candid shots to tide you over:
We are externally grateful to the talented and eloquent author and illustrators, as well as the kind and accommodating publicists who arranged their appearances. It may have been shame-LESS, but we all had a wonder-FUL time promoting First Book.
So as you take your plane, car, or unicycle to the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, here are some new exclusive interviews with the Conference faculty for you to enjoy. (Uh... don't read them while driving or riding your unicycle. But you know, for all those hurry-up-and-wait travel day moments, these will be great reading... and they even count as doing your homework for the conference!)
One of the Nine Experimental Techniques M.T. shared with his session attendees was the experimental technique of "hypertext." (That's any text you don't demand be read in a particular order) like those "Choose your own adventure" novels, or a narrative with footnotes. It's an experimental method that M.T. thinks will become more popular in the future of Children's Literature. (Think video games with branching narratives...)
He challenged the room of writers to consider hypertext, and the other techniques, as our resources to defamiliarize what we know too well. (Especially in light of how children today - and all of us adults as well - are so accustomed to the fragmentation of our attention.)
The question is: can you use it and still maintain the kind of intensity you can have in a long form narrative?
I'm so excited about this session on craft - M.T. Anderson is an incredible author whose work is amazing, remarkably different (in the best possible ways), and successful - both commerically and critically. (Oh yeah, he won that National Book Award!)
The room is PACKED (over 200 excited writers, people sitting on the floor, standing along the walls, in every seat, computers poised and pens in hand...)
M.T. argues that experimental writing for kids is actually easier for an audience of children than it is for adults, if done with a tone of having fun.
Here are some of the points he's making:
"experimental" isn't really experimental - they are techniques long in use
In children's lit, experimental techniques are taken for granted as some of the fun ways we tell stories to kids.
The text teaches readers how to read them as they read.
He reads us a poem (Poem 25) by Kurt Schwitters that does this - it teaches us how to read it as it's read. Wow. It's all numbers. And then he analyses the poem, numbers of form without content. He called it "gorgeously kaleidoscopic," then related it to how we writers use words in a narrative. Really fascinating!
M.T. explains that his point here is to sensitize us to the underlying form and patterns of words that we use to build our narratives.
His next example is Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," which he analyzes in it's experimental form. Did you notice the rhythm of definition through repetition and difference?
When he gets to Shaun Tan's "The Arrival," a stunning and wordless graphic novel, M.T. is ebuliant at how even the title page conveys to us that this is an alien world at once familiar and strange. Which is exactly the point M.T. made in his keynote about how all art is about seing the world anew so we can see it fresh!
Ah. Sweet screen capture. Only you could give me the chance to get just the right angle on this video of M.T. Anderson singing (YES, singing!) his Delaware song. And truth be told, the man does a lovely acapella rendition of the ode. The only thing that could make it even more complete would be to hear Hank Green set it to music. Of course, Hank is more of a tenor and could not do justice to Anderson’s lilting baritone.
Ahem. Very well. In lieu of a Hank adaptation, let’s just watch Anderson sing this again. Only instead of being at SCBWI in LA, it’s an even more recent video taken by Kathi Appelt at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Throws himself into it a bit more, does he not? I think he’s loosening up as he goes. By October I will insist upon the addition of props. Or at least a monk or two for back-up. Thanks to Kathi for the link!
My problem with this next video is not the content. I welcome the sexy librarian stereotype. Heck, I’m a fan. No, what shames me about this next clip is that I had no idea there was a Britcom out there called The Old Guys. What kind of a Britcom fanatic am I if I do not keep up with the times? There’s more out there than just The Good Neighbors (slash The Good Life) after all. Here then is a clip in a library.
Someone once asked me whether or not there is a single repository for all the videos out there of children’s authors and children’s illustrators talking about their life and art. There isn’t as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t mean we can’t just start collecting now. Here then is illustrator Oliver Jeffers giving a talk about his own art. I can understand the Ungerer and the Sendak influence, but I have to admit that The Giving Tree baffles me. Such a divisive book.
Maybe half a year ago I mentioned that Ms. Lucy Knisley had created a cartoon poster for the first four Harry Potter books. Now with the final Potter movie coming out, the posters are at long last complete. They follow the plots of the books, not the films, but the look of the characters can be amusingly cinematic at times. And for the record, if I were a tattoo-minded dame, I would adore getting this image of Luna Lovegood and her pop.
But that’s not really my top news story of the day. How could it be? No the top news story is that it is once again time for the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Twice a year a cadre of bloggers for child and teen books gather together to interview some of the luminaries in the field. Chasing Ray has the round-up, so seek ‘em out and read ‘em up. I know I will.
When I lived in London for a time (it was like a little Intro to New York) I would periodically buy the newest issue of Time Out London and find interesting places to visit. One day the mag highlighted a toy museum. It was called The Museum of Childhood and it was fascinating. I was too intimidated to take any pictures, though, so I sort of forgot that I even went. Years have passed and I see that author/illustrator David Lucas has also been to that same museum and he has written about it in the post What do TOYS Think of Us? Stick around for the moment when he starts talking about panpsychism. Looking at all those ragamuffin bits of much loved cloth and felt reminds me of my library’s own original Winnie-the-Pooh. He is, after all, of the British persuasion.
Yay, Sunday Brunch! Over at Collecting Children’s Books my partner in writing crime (we’re doing a Candlewick book with Jules from 7-Imp) has a delightful post that is well worth your time. My favorite parts include the childhood of a future Brat Packer, a reason why Erin E. Moulton’s Flutter is unique, and a vote for “The Year’s Creepiest YA Novel.” Hooked yet?
Marci, this is for you. Remember how we were trying to figure out how one would go about creating Quidditch croquet? Well . . .
You know we love steampunk at readergirlz. We had a blast with Scott Westerfeld, right? Well, how about a collection of steampunk short stories by some more of our favorite, favorite YA authors? You'll recognize many from our rgz Circle of Stars, past guests and contributors. Grab your goggles, because this collection by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant delivers!
So, what will you find in Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories? How about mystery, murders, and machines? Worlds of gears and steam in amazing new locations from the minds of 14 writers: M. T. Anderson, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Shawn Cheng, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Dylan Horrocks, Kathleen Jennings, Elizabeth Knox, Kelly Link, Garth Nix, Christopher Rowe, Delia Sherman, and Ysabeau S. Wilce.
How fun to find new authors I hadn't discovered before among old friends, all writing speculative fiction which often left me with chills. This quote from Cory's short story "Clockwork Fagin" really captures the collective atmosphere of Steampunk!:
"For machines may be balky and they may destroy us with their terrible appetite for oil, blood, and flesh, but they behave according to fixed rules and can be understood by anyone with the cunning to look upon them and winkle out their secrets. Children are ever so much more complicated."
Perfect, right? With three starred reviews already, look for this release October 11th!
The Toronto Librarians are on strike. There is no need to panic… Ahhhhhhhh! Failing to reach a labour agreement over the weekend 2,400 librarians went on strike. All 98 library branches across Toronto are close as of Monday. The library is asking borrowers to hold on to all checked out books and materials. No overdue [...]
While I was at SXSW Interactive, I was finishing the YA novel Feed by M.T. Anderson. I highly recommend this book and am embarrassed to just be reading it now. Still, I can't think of a better setting to be reading about teenagers having computer... Read the rest of this post
I've been waiting for this book to be published for what seems an awfully long time. As an enthusiastic fan of both Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Leiderhosen, knowing this book was in the works was sweet torture. Now that it's here, and I've read it, I sort of don't know what to make of it. For starters, what started as "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" has become "Pals in Perils,
Why should Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, and Nikki Grimes have all the fun? In support of the rollicking story game being played by these and a crew of other award-winning, talented and versatile authors and illustrators, the Exquisite Prompt writing contest from Reading Rockets and AdLit.org uses writing prompts inspired by the “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure” authors and illustrators to get K-12 students to flex their own writing muscles.
From October through June, two new writing prompts will be available each month. Winners in four grade level categories will be selected for each prompt. Prizes include online publication at Reading Rockets and AdLit.org, autographed books, and classroom visits with authors and illustrators via Skype.
The first Exquisite Prompt, inspired by Jon Scieszka, asks students to share a family story. Based on the author’s recollections of family togetherness in his memoir Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing UpScieszka, the leveled prompt and online resources help students to think about their history and heritage and tell a family story.
Also for October, a prompt inspired by author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen and his book If I Built a Car that is sure to fuel imaginations and take creative and persuasive writing skills for a ride.
All Exquisite Prompts are accompanied by author/illustrator biographies, bibliographies, interviews and links to resources and primary sources related to the prompts. Resources for educators from Reading Rockets and AdLit include strategies for teaching writing and a writing basics toolkit.
I'm getting ready to move in three weeks, and part of the task of packing is cleaning out my office. After 18 years of writing, I have drawers full of stories in folders, which I am going through and scaling down. One writer friend asked why I'd throw anything out, that I should save the multiple version of the stories and the rejection letters to donate to a university or someplace that documents writers' works. She has a point. I mean, what if I do become famous one day and students want to study how my brain works? (Good luck with that! My husband still doesn't know!). So with that in mind, I am only recycling some stuff, like stories that never really worked, or that I know I'll never revisit. I also am tossing out the form rejection letters, but keeping the personal ones, and ones from publisher that don't exist anymore. So I was going through my folders and in the The Night the Sheep Wouldn't Jump folder there's a rejection letter from my writer friend's agent, Andrea Cascardi, who in a past life was the Editorial Director of Hyperion Books in 1994. But here's the cool thing - there's a rejection from M.T. Anderson! He's the author of one of my favorite books, Feed. One of his comments was "While the subject has its charm (and I am an insomniac!), we felt that some of the particulars of the telling could have been fresher." Good advice indeed. So I looked up M.T.'s website and sent him an email thanking him for his rejection letter. (He's got a really cool website, by the way.) So, I can say I've been rejected by one of the best in my business! And I have proof... and his signature!