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Results 26 - 50 of 136,052
26. Happy Holidays & Winter Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Holidays!

That's my R2D2 Christmas tree.

I love R2. I love Christmas trees.

Together, they equal out-of-this-world holiday awesomeness!

I'm off on winter hiatus, and when Cynsations returns in early 2017, intern Gayleen Rabakukk will be taking the helm for a while. Exciting, yes?

Many blessings to you and yours!

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27. Sasha Stephenson, author of ICELING, on learning how to live with the people you're writing about

We're thrilled to have Sasha Stephenson join us to share more about his debut novel ICELING.

Sasha, what scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The hardest thing to write from like a technical perspective was the big Arctic Showdown towards the end. I've never written a scene that big or with that much incessant action before, and to spread one scene out over a few chapters, to try to encompass this huge event ... it was a lot of work. 

In terms of the scenes I'm proudest of, one would have to be the end of chapter 11. Balancing Lorna's interior narrative with the actual description of the events unfolding in front of the car was real challenging, and plus I got to include some references to The Edge. Writing it felt like this tightrope act of conveying the genuine terror Lorna feels at this scene via the ways in which she was reacting to it, which was equal parts denial and bad jokes and cussing and panic, while at the same time needing to describe things from both inside and outside of her perspective, to let the reader see both what was happening and what she felt was happening, to blur them without losing track of her feelings or the situation itself, which was, quite rapidly, escalating way out of hand. 

But, for me, the scene I love the most is at the end of chapter 25. [I'm trying to talk about all of this without spoiling anything! It is not the easiest thing!] It was a big scene, for me, emotionally, to try to get myself to understand what Lorna would feel in that moment, and how she'd want to express it. The scene just came tumbling out at first, and then I had to wrench the rest of it out word by word. It felt very important to try to feel every single thing that Lorna would be feeling in that moment, and to render it as painfully and tenderly as possible. To watch someone's dreams die, and then to imagine what that would feel like, and then to look over, and to see what their eyes look like watching all this, and to realize that you maybe understood a fraction of that hurt... I remember it was real late at night, in December of 2014, and as soon as I finished that scene I went outside, and the air was freezing, and I was sort of just walking around, stunned and spent.

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28. Worry and Wonder, by Marcie Rendon, in SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS

Marcie Rendon's "Worry and Wonder" is a short story in Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan. Here's a screen cap of the cover and a partial listing of the Table of Contents:

Published in 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press, Worry and Wonder is one of those stories where a character is going to be with me for a long time. I could call Worry and Wonder a story about the Indian Child Welfare Act--or, "ick waa waa." That's what Amy is calling it when the story opens. She's a seventh grader, sitting in her social studies class, doodling "ick waa waa" on her notebook as her teacher talks about the environment, and the importance of water.

Amy's  thinking back to the day before, when she'd been in court and the judge said she'd have to wait another three months before going to live with her dad. Amy's "ick waa waa" and images she draws by those words capture her frustration with ICWA. In those three months, however, she spends more and more time with her dad.

Are you wondering about ICWA? In the story, Amy's dad tells her about it:
He explained that ICWA stood for the Indian Child Welfare Act. He told her how in the 1950s and 1960s Indian children were taken from their families and placed with white families. How those children had grown up and fought to have federal legislation passed so that Indian kids, if they needed to be placed in foster care, would be placed with Indian families, like the home Amy was in, and how it was federal law, tribal law, that the courts and the tribes had to try and find immediate family for children to be reunited with, which is why the courts had found him and told him to come home to raise Amy.
Some of you know that ICWA was in the news in 2016. Five years ago, a Choctaw child was placed with a white foster home in California. Since then, her Choctaw father had been trying to get her back, but the white family had been fighting to keep her. In the end, her father prevailed. In March, when child services went to pick up the six-year-old child, the home was surrounded by media and protestors who thought the white family ought to be able to keep her. That family turned the case into a media frenzy, with one major news source after another misrepresenting ICWA, tribal sovereignty, and tribal citizenship. Right around then, I read Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World. In it, a white couple finds a work-around to ICWA and adopts a Native infant. That character's Native identity is central to that story, which draws heavily from a wide range of unattributed an detribalized Native stories that guide that character. As you may surmise, I do not recommend Henry's novel.

The case of the Choctaw child and Emily Henry's young adult novel were in my head as I started reading Rendon's story of Amy.

Rendon--who is White Earth Anishinabe--gives us a story that doesn't misrepresent ICWA or Native identity, or nationhood. My heart ached for Amy as I read, and it soared, too. Rendon's story is infused with Native content. Some, like the water ceremony, are explicit. That part of the story is sure to tug on the heart strings of those who are following the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight to protect their water from Big Oil. There are other things in the story, too, that Native readers will discern.

Rendon's Worry and Wonder 
is filled with mirrors for Native readers. 

From start to finish, Rendon's short story is deeply touching. I highly recommend it and look forward to more from her. In my not-yet read pile is Murder on the Red River, due out in 2017 from Cinco Puntos Press. It may be one of the books I'll recommend as a crossover (marketed to adults, but one that teens will enjoy).

Above I showed you a partial listing of the Table of Contents. I've yet to read Anne Ursu's story, but I look forward to it. Her character, Oscar, in The Real Boy is like Amy. In my heart. Get a copy of Sky Blue Water. 

2 Comments on Worry and Wonder, by Marcie Rendon, in SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS, last added: 12/29/2016
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29. More Vintage Christmas Greetings Sent With Love

With Christmas just around the corner I thought I would share a few more vintage Christmas cards with you. I have a particular liking for anything by Rene Cloke (left) or brightly-coloured examples like those that follow.

 Most of the cards I buy cost less than a pound (USD 1.25), but if you want to splash out you should look for hand-painted ones by famous artists, such as Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.  

This hearty greeting comes to wish you everything that's good, and though I cannot shake your hand today, yet may we meet in kindest thought and wishes for each other. 

A Merry Christmas may you see both joy and fortune call,
a Happy Year, and may it be the happiest one of all.

I send my love and wish that you a jolly time may see,
with girls and boys and games and toys and all in harmony.

I hope these toys will bring you pleasure in many a different way,
and be a glad beginning to a Happy Christmas Day.

Wishing you a bright and cherry Christmas!

'Tis Christmas once again, and greetings I am sending,
May you and yours this Christmastide, a joyous time be spending.

It's Christmas! I'm so excited - and to send you a card I'm delighted, so I'll put on my coat and I'll put on my hat, and I'll run to the pillar box jolly and fat, and post the card, which tells you true what a Happy Christmas I'm wishing for you. 

I will be taking a short break now, but I would like to thank everyone who takes the time to visit and comment on my blog. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year. 

Christmas wishes and love from Barbara, Terry and all the family xxx 

* Previous vintage card posts here, here, here and here.

25 Comments on More Vintage Christmas Greetings Sent With Love, last added: 12/29/2016
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30. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 17 – 2016 Older Picture Books

31daysTime to define my terms again!

This is undoubtedly the most subjective of all my lists.  Basically, what I’m saying with it, is that picture books are far more wide-ranging than many people suspect.  If you say “picture book” they’ll imagine something for a 4-year-old.  Nothing wrong with picture books for 4-year-olds, of course, but picture books hit a great swath of ages and intellects.  Some really aren’t for little kids.

This timing on this one is pretty interesting as well.  Just yesterday one of my co-workers spoke with me about a picture book that she thought didn’t have a young enough text to be placed in the picture book section.  That book actually isn’t on this list (I disagreed with the assessment) but it reminded me that we think of picture books in very specific terms.  I’m hoping to break those terms down a bit.  Here then are my favorite picture books for older child readers in 2016:


Older Picture Books of 2016

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, ill. By Charlotte Pardi


I do wonder if it’s a particularly American instinct to recommend this book of gentle death doing his job to older kids.  It’s entirely possible that it its native Denmark this book is given to three-year-olds regularly.  It’s all about the cultural construction, isn’t it?  By the way – this marks the third time this book has appeared on one of my lists.  That may be a record for this series (here are lists one and two).

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead


Ah ha!  It took a while but eventually this book ended up on this list!  I truly do feel that of all the picture books of this year, this is the most divisive.  People who love it, adore it.  People who dislike it, loathe it.  Me?  I like it.  But I do feel it’s meant for older kids, and maybe even teens.  A quiet, contemplative, fascinating work.

Kiviuq and the Mermaids by Noel McDermott, ill. Toma Feizo Gas


With a name like that, you’d be forgiven for at first thinking it’s some ootsy cutesy mermaid tale.  It ain’t.  The mermaids in this book are utterly grotesque and fascinating.  They play with poor Kiviuq like cats with mice, and I love how the whole trouble begins because of a young one at the story’s start.  Mermaid horror for Goosebumps-loving kids.

Lucy by Randy Cecil


Aww.  I still haven’t decided if I should put this book on my early chapter list or not.  Ultimately I don’t think I will, but it’s not exactly your average picture book either.  This tale of a little dog that lost her loving home and is on the cusp of entering another is quiet and sweet and just right for the kid willing to wait it out.

Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence, ill. Francois Thisdale


As an American I am ashamed to admit that I was completely unaware of the fact that a great many indigenous women and girls have been going missing for a number of years in Canada.  You can read an interview with Melanie Florence and Francois Thisdale about the situation and how they’ve brought it to light with this book.  In the story, a Cree girl must grow up without her mother, and the author goes through the years and the simple fact of how hard it is to move on when you just don’t know what has happened.

The Riddlemaster by Kevin Crossley-Holland, ill. Stephane Jorisch


Do you remember Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy from a decade or two back?  It was quite the big deal when I started working as a children’s librarian, though it’s faded from the public consciousness quite a bit since then.  I was thrilled to find some smart editor had paired the author with the urbane and delightful Stephane Jorisch.  There’s an undercurrent of fear to The Riddlemaster, but I loved the old-fashioned riddling of it all.  It’s also a beauty to look at.

Rules of the House by Mac Barnett, ill. Matt Myers


And speaking of undercurrents of fear!  I was a bit surprised to find that Mac and Matt’s latest is as scary as it is.  It gets its spooks legitimately, though.  When someone tells you not to go through a certain door, don’t do it!  Did Bluebeard teach us nothing?

Why Am I Here? by Constance Orbeck-Nilssen, ill. Akin Duzakin


You know, some years you get just a ton of philosophical picture books. Other years the numbers decrease a bit.  I love the dreamy quality of this book and the big questions it’s unafraid to ask.  I just don’t have any answers for it.

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

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


0 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 17 – 2016 Older Picture Books as of 12/17/2016 1:31:00 AM
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31. Richard Van Camp's SPIRIT

If you follow Native news, you know that suicide rates in our communities are high. Here's a table from a 2015 report by the Center for Disease Control:

That is data for the U.S. If you do an internet search, you'll find news stories about youth suicides in Canada.

Richard Van Camp's Spirit is--as he said in a tweet in September of 2016--a suicide prevention comic book.

It opens with a mom, shucking corn. Nearby, a baby is sleeping. That baby's spirit rises from its body, and flies out the window, and over several pages, we see the baby fly over a Native community of kids and elders. She flies to a house where, inside, a young man in tears is reaching for pills. He looks up, surprised to see her, and drops the pills, and holds her to him. On the next page, we see people gathered round a table, praying. The door opens, and in walks the young man. They call out "Surprise!" together. They're having a feast for him, because they know he's having a rough time. His grandfather gives him some snowshoes and talks about going to their cabin. His grandmother tells him a story about his birth.

His Native family and community, in short, have gathered to help him. With its Native content, it is a powerful message about Native community. While it is crucial that teachers and librarians have books like Spirit in their collections, it is also important to remember that--unless you've got training to work with someone who is contemplating suicide--you may not be the right person to help.

Spirit is published by the South Slave Divisional Education Council, which serves several First Nations communities. It is available in several different First Nations languages. I've written to Richard to ask where people can buy it. As soon as I hear back, I'll add that information, here.

0 Comments on Richard Van Camp's SPIRIT as of 12/16/2016 8:02:00 PM
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32. Cybils Speculative Reader: THE SALARIAN DESERT GAME by J.A. MCLACHLAN

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! This is a Cybils year with an interesting... Read the rest of this post

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33. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I Wasn't Dreaming of a White Christmas: Representation in YA Holiday Books by Tirzah Price. Peek: "...this year I noticed something that does bother me: The authors of my favorites are predominantly white. In fact, the authors of most of the available YA holiday reads are white."

Rushing Through Revision by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "I’ve been discussing submission strategies with several clients and I’m recommending that they fire work off to agents and editors in mid-January at the very earliest."

Sibert Children's-YA Nonfiction Smackdown by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science.

Recommendation: The Wool of Jonesy by Jonathan Nelson from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...a wordless comic. Readers use the images to create the story, themselves."

Six Editors Remember Their First YA Manuscript Acquisitions by Sarah Hannah Gomez from Barnes & Noble. Peek: "YA editors play a pivotal role in making manuscripts into amazing books we all get to read, so I decided to ask some of the most interesting, successful people I know (or follow on Twitter) about their memories from their days as baby editors."

National Latino Children's Literature Conference: Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos: "co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies and The University of Texas at San Antonio. The next conference will take place in San Antonio, Texas on March 23rd-25th, 2017. If you are interested in sponsoring authors or events...."

Give Your Book a Second Life: Get It Into Foreign Markets by Marleen Seegers from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...in Poland a smashing 46% of books published are works in translation, in Germany over 12%, in Spain around 24%, and in France about 15%."

19 books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list by Karen MacPherson from The Washington Post. Peek: "My idea was to choose books for younger readers that focus on kindness, peace and feeling good — and proud — about who you are. For older readers, I looked for books about diverse people, including kids who have overcome sometimes overwhelming odds to make a difference in the world."

Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award: "The award will be given to the entrant who submits the most accomplished picture book submission in the form of a mock-up. One prize is available and consists of American Express® gift cards totaling $2,500, round trip travel to New York City, and the honor of a one-day mentorship with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers' professional children’s book design and editorial team, and distinguished Artist Mentor Jerry Pinkney."

How to Make Readers Deeply Connect to Your Characters by Jeff Gerke from Jane Friedman. Peek: "The Greek philosopher Aristotle said the definition of a friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. When it comes to fiction, we’re shooting for that sort of relationship between the reader and the hero."

An Author's Survival Kit for Tough Times by Broadside PR at LitHub. Peek: "...we suggest flipping the question to ask: How can I support literature, reading, and authors universally?"

Educators' Roundtable, compiled by Allie Jane Bruce from We Need Diverse Books. See also part 2. Peek from Kara Stewart: "I have not met a single teacher who is hostile or disagrees with my intent. They are enthusiastic and genuinely want to do the right thing. So why had they taught into the tsunami of harmful stereotypes?"

Link of the Week

Finding Yourself in a Book: Why I Wrote Blind Spot by Laura Ellen from Disability in Kidlit. Peek:

"...with an acquired disability will tell you, you go through a process similar to the grieving process ...experience denial and anger and depression long before you ever reach self-awareness and are able to accept yourself...push away the right people while clinging to the wrong ones.... In a nutshell, having a disability can mess you up emotionally – so where were all the books about that?"

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Many blessings of the season!

I've finished critiquing for fall 2016 and sent in the end-of-semester materials to the VCFA office.

This weekend, I begin translating my editorial letter into revision notes and preparing for the January residency.

What else? Look for me and Rain Is Not My Indian Name in the We Need Diverse Books insert of this month's Scholastic Reading Fair!

Check out NPR's Book Concierge Best Books of 2016, including my recommendation for Thunder Boy, Jr., by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown), and congratulations to the NAACP Children's-YA Literature Awards nominees!

Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

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34. YALLFest interview with Sara Shepard

The last of my pre-scheduled interviews during YALLFest is with Sara Shepard, the NYT bestselling author of the series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and THE LYING GAME. Not only are her books addicting, but so are the TV shows based on them. And it sounds like she might have more TV excitement in store for us. How has she achieved all this success? Through a lot of hard work and outlines and schedules that keep her on track. Keep reading to find out what it takes to turn your book into a show.

Since it’s National Novel Writing Month, I was wondering if you’ve ever participated?

Not in any sort of official way, but in unofficial ways, sure. I sort of challenge myself, "Like, alright, we’re gonna try to get this done within the month." November or other months. But, no, I’ve never officially participated.

When NaNo rolls around each year, it reignites the pantser versus plotter debate – where do you stand on this vital matter?

I’m a plotter, for sure. Writing mystery/thrillers you kind of have to know, otherwise you’ll just go on bad tangents. You kind of have to figure out your clues. And then usually I work backwards, so I know who the killer is, for example, and then go backwards from there. I have very, very detailed outlines - twenty pages, single spaced. I do a lot of behind the scenes – what the killer is thinking – manuscripts. What the killer wants everybody else to think. What the police think. A whole bunch of different documents that never make it into books, that are just supplemental material that I refer to.

I wish I could just follow the flow, but it doesn’t work very well for me. Because I’ve tried it, and it just leads to a lot of agony. *laughs* So, yeah, I’m a plotter.

What's your writing ritual like? What’s your day in the life as a writer?

It used to be before I had kids, I wrote whenever. But now I have two little kids and somebody comes to watch them from nine to five, Monday through Friday, and I am dedicated. I make myself write from nine to five. I mean, do I take breaks? Yeah. Do I leave my computer? Yeah. But I feel like this is my time to work.

I have an outline, and I’m writing to the outline. Or I’m doing something related. Maybe I’m writing the outline, maybe I’m editing, maybe I’m revising, but it’s something regarding the books.

After you finish a first draft, what does your revision process look like?

Well, it depends on if I have time. If I’m at the deadline, then it goes to the editor. Is this a really, really rough first draft or a pretty polished first draft? Because even my first drafts have like six drafts. So once it’s a polished first draft, then it goes to the editor.

Within polishing the first draft, there’s a lot of – most of my books are multi POV, so for example PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, I’ll take all of Aria’s chapters and read them to make sure that they work. Then all of Spencer’s chapters. And then sort of go over it again, making sure that it works as a story. It’s like layers, different layers of how does this story work.

Has there been an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

The thing that I have realized is that I have bad writing days – I’m not getting ideas, everything that I’m doing is not working – but those days pass. You have better days after those days. So just try to write something in those days and don’t doubt yourself. Being a writer, unfortunately, your life is full of self-doubt. Insecurity. Paranoia. Ya know, horrible feelings. *laughs* But it’s just sort of the faith in, “Well, I have done this for long enough that I kind of know my story works, and I’m going to work through it, and it’s eventually going to make sense.” And it has always worked. And I have good editors, too.

But there’s never been like one single moment of, “Oh, this is the key.” Because all books are different, every single book I write is different, and it’s a different challenge, and they’re all hard, and I’ve never written one that’s easy. Unfortunately.

I read on your website that you create projects with your sister, which I think is so cool because I write screenplays with my brother. So what kind of projects do you guys do?

Well, this was when we were younger. Unfortunately. I have been trying to get her to work on a couple of print projects with me. She’s an artist, she works as an art director at a record label, and I want to write a picture book and I want her to be the artist for it. I don’t have an idea yet, but I just think it would be fun if we teamed up.

When we were little, we had a lot of imaginary worlds, and we both loved to draw, so we would draw those worlds too. We created whole societies and franchises within these worlds. We had this one world and there were these creatures with square heads, and they were pretty much like people, but they had square heads. And we made up video games for them. We made up catalogues that you would get in the mail for clothes that they would wear. We had many, many novels. We had board games. We had a website for them. And that continued well into our twenties. Well, well into our twenties. We were going to do an art installation at a music festival, which was frightening, and I’m glad we didn’t do it. We were accepted into it, and we made these big papier-mâché replicas of them, and then we found out all the other artists were serious artists and we were just being ridiculous.

We were the kids that didn’t play outside. We just sat at our coffee table and drew and talked to each other and drove our parents crazy. But I feel like we need to come together – maybe just doing them as a picture book because they were very, very fun. But, yes, well into our twenties we would still talk about this world. We realize anybody else would think this is crazy, like your childhood little universe, imaginary friends, are still part of your dialog. But it’s fun to have that. I think a lot of people don’t have that creative relationship with their sibling, and it’s fun to have it.

I saw that THE AMATEURS has been optioned for TV – congrats! This is now your third after PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and THE LYING GAME, right?

The THE PERFECTIONISTS was optioned for TV as well, but it’s just floating around in TV land. It’s great for things to be optioned for TV, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be made. It’s a really long process. The person that is developing a pilot, I think he has a really good idea of how it could become a TV show. He made a couple of really minor changes, but mostly it’s the same. So we’ll see. It’s all about, “We’ll see.” PRETTY LITTLE LIARS was optioned for TV in 2005 and then in 2010 it became a show, so it’s a long waiting process. But it would be really fun to see it as a show.

I know authors don’t have much control about getting a show optioned or input once it does, but our readers dream of seeing their book become movies or shows, so can you pull back the curtain for our readers about the process?

I have agents in LA, who that’s what they do – they pitch the ideas to studios and networks. It’s a lot of me not really doing anything. Unless … I’m now involved in trying to do an adult pilot. I sort of have a pilot deal, which is not related to THE AMATEURS or anything like that – it’s not book-to-screen, it’s a pilot idea. But I have script deal with Warner Horizon, and so I know a little bit more. There are a lot of steps. You have to create this pitch document where you have your core idea, you have your characters, you have like why do people want to see this as a show, you have all these things and you kind of have to explain it in four minutes. Because you have to go to the studio and they get bored, and then you have to go to the networks and they really get bored. I’m in the process of putting that together and getting ready to go and present it, which sounds very nerve-wracking. But that’s, I think, how it works.

I think getting a good agent that specializes in that kind of stuff is helpful because they know how to get your material out there. But I think it’s also great for writers who want their book to go to TV to be involved in it because I was not that involved in PRETTY LITTLE LIARS or really even with THE AMATEURS I wasn’t involved with getting it out there for TV. But I think it’s kind of fun to see how the process works – it makes you sort of empowered and, I don’t know, it’s an interesting angle to see how it all unfolds.

Since you’re so successful at having your books optioned, do you have any advice for people while they’re writing a novel to facilitate getting it optioned?

It’s hard to say. For commercial TV you want a story with a world that will build beyond just a season – that has a compelling reason to continue beyond a single arc. Which is hard to come up with. I’m thinking about very, very network TV, not like the HBOs of the world, not like Netflix, where you can kind of branch out a little bit. I think you want relatable characters that enough people can relate to and they’re not completely out there, you know, way too quirky. Or like relatable situations that a lot of people are going through. PRETTY LITTLE LIARS was lucky in that it was the right time for a lot of the issues that the characters were going through, like Emily coming out. It was the right time for that to be on TV. Now it being on TV maybe wouldn’t be as impactful, but in 2010/2011 it was. So it’s timing it right, and getting your characters right and relatable and that kind of stuff. It’s hard. Its’ hard to kind of figure out what’s going to make a good show. Fortunately, I deal with a lot of people who have worked in the industry for a long time, so they kind of are like, “Yeah, this will make a good show” or this won’t.

What are you working on now?

I am working on THE AMATEURS 2, which is called FOLLOW ME. And there’s going to be a third Amateurs, which I haven’t even thought of yet. And I’m working on this unnamed pilot thing that’s sort of in the atmosphere. And I’m trying to figure out my next YA series because I love YA, and I never want to not be doing a YA something. I have a couple of early ideas, but I’m not sure yet. But, yeah, I’m pretty busy!

Thank you, Sara, for taking the time to chat with me!

As we wait for FOLLOW ME, make sure you've read her latest, THE AMATEURS.


The Amateurs
by Sarah Shepard
Released 11/1/2016

As soon as Seneca Frazier sees the post on the Case Not Closed website about Helena Kelly, she’s hooked. Helena’s high-profile disappearance five years earlier is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It’s the reason she’s a member of the site in the first place.

So when Maddy Wright, her best friend from the CNC site, invites Seneca to spend spring break in Connecticut looking into the cold case, she immediately packs her bag. But the moment she steps off the train in trendy, glamorous Dexby, things begin to go wrong. Maddy is nothing like she expected, and Helena’s sister, Aerin Kelly, seems completely hostile and totally uninterested in helping with their murder investigation.

But when Brett, another super user from the site, joins Seneca and Maddy in Dexby, Aerin starts to come around. The police must have missed something, and someone in Dexby definitely has information they’ve been keeping quiet.

As Seneca, Brett, Maddy, and Aerin begin to unravel dark secrets and shocking betrayals about the people closest to them, they seem to be on the murderer’s trail at last. But somewhere nearby the killer is watching . . . ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the truth stays buried.

Purchase The Amateurs at Amazon
Purchase The Amateurs at IndieBound
View The Amateurs on Goodreads


For as long as she can remember, Sara Shepard has been writing. However, when she was young she also wanted to be a soap opera star, a designer for LEGO, a filmmaker, a claymation artist, a geneticist, and a fashion magazine editor when she grew up. She and her sister have been creating joint artistic and written projects for years, except they’re pretty sure they’re the only ones who find them funny.

She got her MFA at Brooklyn College and now lives outside Philadelphia, PA with her husband and dogs. Her first adult novel is called The Visibles/ All The Things We Didn’t Say.

Sara’s bestselling young adult series, Pretty Little Liars, is loosely based on her experiences growing up on Philadelphia’s Main Line…although luckily she never had any serious stalkers. The series has also inspired the ABC Family television series of the same name.


Which Sara Shepard books have you read? Do you write documents of supplemental material that never make it into your books? Do self-doubt, insecurity, and paranoia plague you and how do you push them away? Did you/do you have a creative relationship with a sibling? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,


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35. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 16 – Oddest Children’s Books of 2016

31daysBack in August of this year Travis Jonker wrote a great post on 100 Scope Notes called The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2016.  It was an excellent post, really getting into the nitty gritty of what it is that makes a book “unconventional”.  My list is a little different from Travis’s, though there’s definitely some overlap.  Regardless, here are the books that just strike me as so unique and strange and wild and wonderful that they could only be published in the 21st century:


Oddest Children’s Books of 2016

Arnold’s Extraordinary Art Museum by Catherine Ingram, ill. Jim Stoten


Have you ever read a book and wondered partway through if it was actually a huge in-joke that you, the reader, are just completely unaware of?  Now there are a LOT of things I like about Ingram’s title.  She great on individual characters.  She incorporates a lot of real art into the text and images that doesn’t tend to get highlighted in other “art” books for kids.  But it never got any professional reviews that I can find, possibly because reviewers didn’t know what to do with the darn thing.  Thank goodness for the blog Playing by the Book.  There  you will find a review that explains precisely why you will love the book and the truly awesome crafts you can create from it (make your own Bauhaus Metal Party of 1929!!).

The Birth of Kataro by Shigeru Mizuki


Okay. I failed to properly explain this book when it appeared on the international import list the other day so let me see if I can do so now.  Basically, these comics celebrate a form of Japanese storytelling that is virtually unknown here in the States.  The “yokai” are defined as Japanese ghosts or monsters, but that’s only part of the story.  They’ve a long and storied history which I highly recommend you read up on if you’ve a chance.  As for these books, Kitaro is a yokai who is accompanied by his tiny eyeball father, Medama Oyaji (seen in his pre-eyeball form on the cover here) to do battle with a variety of different monsters.  Right.  So we’re all clear then.

The Heartless Troll by Øyvind Torseter


This was also mention on the international list (don’t worry – we’ve plenty of homegrown oddities here as well) and in that post I mentioned that the story involves a young man (sorta) on a quest.  He needs to rescue his brothers, I believe, from a troll.  The troll has also captured a princess, but to free her is mighty difficult.  I never showed you what the troll looks like.  Here you go:


Sleep tight tonight!

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, ill. Julia Sarda


Dour and dire and wonderful.  The kind of book that reminds you of a slightly more perky Edward Gorey, if he were to be combined with, say, Lisa Brown.  This is one of those books that appeared on Travis’s list as well, and one of his commenters wrote, “I’m giving it extra points for also including a photo of Sigourney Weaver in Alien on the “heroes” wall. Though what Mary Poppins did to get on the “villains” wall, we may never know.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.  It’s utterly charming in its weirdness.  I’m a big fan.

Margarash by Mark Riddle, ill. Tim Miller


My kids love this book.  No.  They do.  They LOVE this book.  And since it was published by Enchanted Lion Press, you’d be forgiven for thinking it to be an import.  You’d be wrong, but you’d be forgiven.  The story involves a monster that lives beneath all the couch cushions in the world, taking and keeping the loose change he finds.  There’s even a catchy little chant, “The coins that fall are for Margarash / Margarash / Margarash / The coins that fall are for Margarash / Leave them where they lie.”  I have it memorized.

My Baby Crocodile by Gaetan Doremus


Did I mention before how I honestly cannot read the title of this book without putting the words to the tune of “My Funny Valentine”?  The tale of a nearsighted crocodile that adopts a knight in armor because it has mistaken him for a baby crocodile is so strangely touching.  It doesn’t start that way, mind you.  No, at the beginning you’re pretty sure something weird is going on.  Weird and unnerving.  It’s only as you really get into the storyline that things start to fall into place.

Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna


If you know the Pinocchio story it won’t help you too much.  I mean, sure, you’d get more of the references than someone who walked in blind.  But this wordless little creation is such a strange mix of elements.  You’re left never quite knowing if you’re supposed to connect emotionally to the characters.  Beautiful art anyway, and no one can argue with that.

This Is Not a Book by Jean Jullien


There’s a butt.

That is all.

The Worst Breakfast by China Meiville, ill. Zak Smith


Huh!  China Meiville?  Wrote a picture book?  I knew he did a middle grade fantasy once but this is new.  In this book two sisters discuss a breakfast that beats any and all records for the worst breakfast of all time.  The art?  Not to my taste, but the text is remarkable.  I love books that get a little crazy and turn into true brouhahas.  This one fits the bill.


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

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


3 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 16 – Oddest Children’s Books of 2016, last added: 12/17/2016
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36. Thursday Review: RUINED by Amy Tintera

Very classy coverSynopsis: I'm pretty sure this one is also a Cybils Spec Fic nomination—but since I don't see it on Tanita's immediate review docket, I'm jumping on in! I decided to treat myself with this one because I enjoyed Amy Tintera's... Read the rest of this post

2 Comments on Thursday Review: RUINED by Amy Tintera, last added: 12/29/2016
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37. Guest Post: Brian Anderson Collaborating with His Daughter Amy on Space Dictionary for Kids

By Brian Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Have you ever wondered why the spacecraft that carried the first U.S. astronaut into space in 1961 was named the Freedom 7? Was George Lucas already planning six prequels, or what?

When my daughter Amy turned 21 years old in July 2014, she was doing summer research in astrophysics at Baylor University. Her birthday coincided with a stargazing party at Meyer Observatory, so I offered to make a piñata and have the star party double as a birthday party.

I started making custom piñatas when Amy was five years old, and over the years her birthday party piñatas had grown increasingly elaborate.

"How about a black hole piñata," I joked. I imagined one round balloon, decorated all black. She would never agree to that.

"That'd be fantastic!"

I knew right away something was wrong. I told her nothing escapes the gravity of a black hole, not even light. It's just a black dot in space. That's when she told me about accretion disks and X-ray emissions and Hawking radiation. Apparently, I had a lot to learn about black holes, and now I also had a challenging piñata to make.

The following summer my friend and fellow Austin children's book author Christina Soontornvat told me that Prufrock Press was looking for an author to write an astronomy dictionary for kids.

Christina and I are both science educators as well as children's book authors, and she thought I'd be perfect for the job. But after the way that black hole piñata joke backfired on me the summer before, I knew I didn't know enough astronomy to write a book about it.

But I knew someone who did.

Brian & Amy--back in the day.
Amy had just graduated from college and was taking the summer off before starting graduate school in the fall.

When I suggested we write it together, her first question was the same as mine – isn't there something like this already available online for free?

Her search turned up the same thing mine had: some highly technical glossaries that were clearly not intended for kids, and a scattered collection of incomplete and sometimes incorrect astronomy glossaries for students.

My nine-year-old self was screaming at me that space-loving kids needed this book. Amy felt the same way, and agreed to help write it. We have liftoff!

We compiled a word list of about 450 terms, grouped them into five subject areas, then dived into researching and writing.

The fact that Amy understood the science content much better than I did is part of the reason our collaboration on Space Dictionary for Kids (Sourcebooks, 2016) worked so well. She brought content mastery and I brought a learner's perspective.

Together we were able to create an astronomy dictionary that's both scientifically accurate and understandable to young readers.

Collaborating with my daughter will always be one of the highlights of my writing career, and Amy taught me a lot of astronomy along the way. I finally understand retrograde motion!

I already knew quasars were the brightest objects in the universe, brighter than an entire galaxy of stars, but until I started working with Amy I never knew exactly what a quasar was. And I also learned (a little too late) that I should have offered to make Amy a black dwarf piñata instead of a black hole piñata.

Cynsational Notes

To answer the opening question, each of the Project Mercury astronauts, known collectively as the Mercury 7, was allowed to name the ship that would carry him into space, and each ship's name would end with the number 7. In addition to Freedom 7, the other Mercury spacecraft were Liberty Bell 7, Friendship 7, Aurora 7, Sigma 7, and Faith 7. If you're keeping score, you probably noticed that that was only six. To find out what happened to the seventh Mercury astronaut, flip to page 144.

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38. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 15 – 2016 Fairy Tales / Folktales

31daysCredit where credit is due, there’s no way I could keep up this 31 Days, 31 Lists series if I hadn’t put in my time with New York Public Library.  It was there that I learned precisely how to read, track, remember, and call forth the books I read in a single year.  The 100 Books List the library puts out every year proved to be my training grounds.  I loved working on that list committee.  I also loved how that list was separated.  One section was always dedicated to Fairy Tales and Folktales, and I’ve maintained the tradition here.

A generation ago, fairy tales and folktales were ubiquitous.  Because libraries made up a significant share of the book buying market, they could set the terms.  And what they liked were fairy and folktales.  The publishing industry complied and life was good.  The rise of big box stores, to say nothing of the internet, heralded the end of the fairy/folktale era.  With libraries only a fraction of the buying force, the picture book became king and the fairy and folktales almost disappeared entirely.  It’s only in the last few years that small publishers have picked up the slack.  While The Big Six become The Big Five soon to be The Big Four, small independent publishers are daring to do what the big guys won’t.  Publishing these books has become a kind of rebellion with kids reaping  the benefits.

Here are the good books of 2016!


2016 Fairy Tales / Folktales

Babushka: A Christmas Tale by Dawn Casey, ill. Amanda Hall


I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that there was a small running debate as to whether the story of the kind-hearted Babushka was strictly considered to be a folktale.  I think it is, and I think it’s great.  And the perfect book to read before the holiday season as well!

Beauty and the Beast retold by Mahlon F. Craft, ill. Kinuko Y. Craft


Hooray!  A new Craft!!  How long has it been?  Whatever the case, Craft was always the illustrator I’d turn to when I got  small patron insisting on “Pretty fairytales”.  Which, as I soon learned, was a desire that could easily be satisfied by just handing the kid one of Craft’s books.  No one was quite as consistently appealing as Craft.

The Blue Jackal by Shobha Viswanath, ill. Dileep Joshi

BLue Jackal_revised Spreads.cdr

Caterpillar Woman by Nadia Sammurtok, ill. Carolyn Gan


Inhabit Media is a small publisher that consistently puts out remarkable Inuit stories.  There were quite a few in 2016 but this one stood out as my favorite. I like it for its flaws.  Not in spite of them.

Dwarf Nose by Wilhelm Hauff, ill. Elizabeth Zwerger


Technically this book is a reprint.  Technically I don’t care. I love the disjointed nature of their story.  I love that the villain’s name is Herbwise.  And, naturally, I like the unexpected ending.

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip by Chitra Soundar, ill. Kanika Nair


Consider it a version of Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse.

First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story by Paul Fleischman, ill. Julie Paschkis. 


Fleischman and Paschkis paired once before to collect worldwide stories and song and riddles and rhymes in a Cinderella Story.  Now he’ coming back and there’s going to be girls.

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray


We don’t have a lot on this list for kids that are below the ages of 6.   Here’s one they’ll ask for again and again.

I Am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein


A little Greek mythology never hurt anyone.  And who knew that Gerstein had this much stamina in him?  This thing writes, pops, jumps, and does a tapdance on your head, if you let it.

Little Red by Bethan Woollvin


Everyone appears to be just GAGA about this work!  The red, black, and white and near wordless plotting work in terms.  A lovely retelling.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Thomas Baas


A Word of Warning: If you don’t care for rats, this may not be the book for you.  But just look at those colors!  Gorgeous.

Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali retold by Fatinder Verma, ill. Nilesh Mistry


Insofar as I can tell there hasn’t been a definitive Diwali origin published in at least 10 years.

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh


Come to think of it, warriors don’t tend to marry princesses in love stories.  That’s okay.  It’s still a cool tale.

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan


Snippets of Grimm stories are paired with Tan’s remarkable interior models and photography.  Creepy beautiful, if that’s a thing.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen, retold and illustrated by Joohee Yoon


It’s the original story, which is to say it’s just as depressing as you remembered.  Still, the typography, design and colors are superb.

Tales from the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal by Donna Jo Napoli, ill. Christina Balit


That would be the winner of the Best Tagline award.  Well done.

Thumbelina by Xanthe Gresham Knight, ill. Charlotte Gastaut


Oh, it’s so good!  I’ve always been very concerned with the mother that Thumbelina abandons in this story.  This book, for the very first  time in my experience, tackles that loose end head-on.  Woohoo!

Vasilisa the Beautiful: A Russian Folktale by Anna Morgunova


There’s a bit of Klimpt to the art here, I’ll admit it.But otherwise I’d say that the book is an original.  Love the retelling, adore the art, and I hope the kids appreciated it.


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

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


6 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 15 – 2016 Fairy Tales / Folktales, last added: 12/17/2016
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39. Recommended! Darryl Baker's KAMIK JOINS THE PACK

Kamik Joins the Pack was in my mail today. Adapted from the memories of Darryl Baker, who is Inuit, the story is the third in Inhabit Media's series featuring Jake and his pup, Kamik.

I first met Kamik in 2013, in Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story. Jake had just gotten him. Course, Kamik has all the bountiful energy of a puppy---and Jake has all the frustration of a little boy trying to teach him this or that. Jake's grandpa helps him out, giving him perspective, and stories, too, about the importance of sled dogs. Then in 2015, Kamik's First Sled came out. In it, Jake wants Kamik to learn how to pull a sled. His grandma helps him.

This year, in Kamik Joins the Pack, Jake is visiting his uncle. That uncle has a great dog sled team and has won many races. Jake hopes that, someday, Kamik can be on a team like that. He's still a pup, and still learning.

Jake's uncle is getting ready to take his team out. He shows Kamik some of the things he does to make sure his dogs are in good shape. And he tells Jake about things dogs will do--like chewing on the harnesses and ropes. Knowing how to sew and braid so that he can repair chewed up ropes and harnesses, is important, too! There's other responsibilities, too. It seems like a lot of work to Jake, but his uncle is reassuring. Like Kamik, he'll learn, a bit at a time. As the story ends, Kamik is off, on a short run, with the pack.

As with the other Kamik books, I love the present-day setting, and the significant role extended family members play in Jake's life. In each one, Qin Leng's illustrations are vivid and lively. Endearing and accurate, the Kamik stories are terrific. If you don't have the first two, get them right away when you get Kamik Joins the Pack. As I'm writing, snow is falling outside. It is falling in a good many places in the US... it is wintertime! Perfect time for sharing stories.... about puppies and sleds.

0 Comments on Recommended! Darryl Baker's KAMIK JOINS THE PACK as of 12/14/2016 6:41:00 PM
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40. Guest Post: Cyndy Etler on Joining the Sorority

By Cyndy Etler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I’m not a fangirl. I don’t know celebrity names. I don’t ask the hairdresser to make me look Kardashian. Also I don’t diet, buy $30 lip gloss, or wear Lululemon to the organic grocery store.

I read; I write. That’s what I do; that’s what I think about. Reading and writing.

In today’s YouTube-tutorial, boutique-fitness-studio, must-have eyebrow-mascara culture, being a reader/writer can make a girl feel almost…like she’s not that much of a girl, you know? Funny, then, that I’m being embraced by a sorority.

Rush began 30 years ago, in elementary school. With Blubber. Poor girl, going to school knowing the others were laughing at her! God, could I relate. In our beach games, my sister was Bo Derek. I was Sea Cow.

And then Deenie—are you kidding me? She had to wear a brace to school and have everyone stare, same way everyone stared at me, with my step-brother in his clacking leg brace? Judy Blume was my first real sister, tapping my soul with her magic pen, letting me know that I wasn’t the only one.

Next it was Sweet Valley High, that literary candy that spilled from the pen of Francine Pascal. Peeling back the macaroon-colored cover of a SVH book, I was a new girl. A thin, blond, convertible-driving California girl. Mini-skirts and pom-poms! SVH was my first, my best drug. Francine Pascal was sister #2.

Then I found salvation: Alice Walker. Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison. Women writing characters with the honesty, humor, and heart that was missing from my life. Their worlds were my nirvana. In my reader’s mind, at least, I had a place where everything made sense. And I had people: my three newest sisters, and their heavenly cast of characters.

When I got older it was Dangerous Minds. First the movie, showing me my future: a take-no-prisoners high school teacher finding kin in her alternative-class students. Which led me to the books. And the author, the teacher, the revolutionary: LouAnne Johnson.

Then I was on to Crank: part fiction, part poetry, part muscle-car, all real. Like its author, Ellen Hopkins: badass, trailblazer, and modern day Anat, goddess of love and war.

LouAnne and Ellen were the sisters who gave me the key. They invited me into the House of YA Lady Lit; they showed me my seat at the table. Looking around and pinching myself, I noticed I’d started to glow. Like, from the inside.

And it dawned on me: it wasn’t the blubber. It wasn’t the skin color. It wasn’t the pom-poms, or the street cred, or the eyebrow mascara. It was—it is—the words.

It’s the words and the beating heart behind them.

As I settle into my purple satin seat cushion here in the House of YALL, trading books and tweets with award-winning authors, I am stunned and elated and almost unbearably grateful.

To Ellen Hopkins. To LouAnne Johnson. To Jenni Fagan and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marieke Nijcamp.

To all of my sisters in heart and word, as we work to save kids’ souls, one book at a time.

Cynsational Notes

Cyndy Etler is the author of The Dead Inside (Sourcebooks Fire, April 2017), a YA memoir about the sixteen months she spent, as a teen, in a “tough love” facility described by the ACLU as “a concentration camp for throwaway teens.”

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41. The Truth about Roadblocks and Quicksand

We're excited for Carol Lynch Williams, author of The Messenger, to join us today to shed some light on two popular writing myths. 

"I don't believe in writer's block...I also don't believe in the muse."

What a pleasure to write something for Adventures in YA Publishing! I love young adult novels. 
Aren't we lucky to be able to go to a library or a bookstore and have thousands of choices at our fingertips?

I also love to write (I mean, once my project is finished I love to write. Or when I'm thinking of the next novel I'm going to work on and haven't put anything down on paper yet.). And I love to share about writing. Lucky me! :)

There are lots of things I could say that other writers might disagree with. Like . . .
I don't believe in writer's block. The truth is, writing is just hard work. And that means pushing through the tough times of your novel. Perhaps you made a wrong turn somewhere and now you feel stuck. 

It's like when you get caught in quicksand.

My mother said when I was little: Stop running around the woods with your cousins.
Mom: You'll step in quicksand.
Me: We have quicksand here in Florida?
Mom: (Solemn head nodding) Yes. And then what will you do?
Me: Die?
Mom: Exactly.

Now I know, after a recent google search, if I get caught in quicksand I shouldn't struggle.
It's the same with writing. If you feel you've hit a roadblock in your novel, back up. Reread. Do you know the direction you should be going? Have you run off the path and into quicksand? If so, don't struggle. Take a breath and find where you took the wrong turn. Trust yourself. Trust your story.

I also don't believe in the muse. I don't sit around waiting for some idea to bonk me on the head. I think, remember people I knew (or know), read the news, wonder at odd things, look into history, listen to people talk, read other books etc then settle on a character and write.

This leads me to some of the best advise I've been given.
My dear friend, Rick Walton, just died. (He had a brain tumor, and I'm pretty sure he felt, toward the end of his life, he was caught in quicksand and he couldn't get out.)
Rick was a prolific writer, publishing more than a 100 books (mostly picture books). He went after ideas. He never sat around waiting for them.
His best advise to me? Don't give up. No matter what, go after what you want as a writer.

We met when my first novel was coming out.
He had a few joke books out with Lerner publishing and was awaiting the publication of his first picture book.

"Keep writing," he told everyone he met who had the dream of holding a book of their own. "Keep writing. It will happen."

That's the key to it all. Keep writing. Keep trying. Get past the roadblocks. Stay away from the quicksand. Put the words on paper. Work.

You will succeed.


The Messenger
by Carol Lynch Williams
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman BooksReleased 10/18/2016

From PEN Award–winning author Carol Lynch Williams comes an eerie and atmospheric coming-of-age tale about a girl who can talk to the dead—even if she would rather not.

Evie Messenger knows that her family is different from other families. But it isn’t until her fifteenth birthday that the Messenger gift is revealed to her. Evie has the family’s gift—a special power. Soon she realizes she is able to see and talk to the dead—ghosts—often with no idea who the person was. Or as Evie says: “I see Dead People. It’s a Messenger gift.” That doesn’t mean she wants the Messenger gift. So Evie tries to ignore it but soon she finds she cannot. Can Evie find a way to live her life without letting her power take over?And what if the dead person is someone close to Evie’s family?


Carol Lynch Williams, who grew up in Florida and now lives in Utah, is an award-winning novelist with seven children of her own, including six daughters. She has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College, and won the prestigious PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. The Chosen One was named one of the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult Readers; it won the Whitney and the Association of Mormon Letters awards for the best young adult novel of the year; and was featured on numerous lists of recommended YA fiction. Carol’s other novels include Glimpse, Miles From Ordinary, The Haven, Waiting, Signed, Skye Harper, and the Just in Time series.

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42. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 14 – Fabulous 2016 Photography Books for Kids

31daysWhen I was in college I temporarily rejected my natural inclinations to be a librarian (an occupation I dismissed as boring and nightmarishly appealing) and decided I would become a photographer.  So got a B.A. with a concentration in Fine Arts – Photography.  And what I learned from my stint as an architectural/portrait/sports photographer was simple: I’m awful that job.  Shutter speeds are not my friends and f-stops cause me to break out in hives.  So I caved and became a librarian after all, but I never stopped yearning for photography.  Maybe that’s why I’m such an advocate for it in children’s books.  In 2014 at NYPL I held a Children’s Literary Salon with panelists Nina Crews, Joanne Dugan, Charles R. Smith, and Susan Kuklin to discuss the state of photography in books for kids.  It was brilliant, though I was left wondering why, in an age where creating photographic books for kids is cheaper than ever, the pickings are so very slim. 

Here then, are the few, the brave, the books that aren’t afraid of f-stops and shutter speeds the way I once was.  Here is 2016 photography at its finest. I’ve include interior shots where available to give you a taste of what I mean:


2016 Photography Books for Kids

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre



I am so happy that by putting this list in alphabetical order by title April Pulley Sayre is at the top.  Her photography over the years has been so luscious and wonderful that were there an award for Best Photography in a Picture Book, she’d be the ringer who gets it over and over and over again.  Best in Snow lives up to its name and is a wonderful title to read with kids right now as the temperatures plummet.

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photos by Andy Comins, ill. Guido de Flilippo


crowsmarts2Initially when I thought of this list I figured I’d only include picture books that incorporate photography.  That idea sort of fell by the wayside when I realized that there just weren’t enough of them published in a given year.  As a result, I’m including those nonfiction titles where a single credited photographer (in this case the incredibly patient and talented Andy Comings) has done the work.  Crow Smarts also happened to be one of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2016.  It’s not a picture book but rather a long and remarkable look at what may well be the most fascinating, intelligent birds on the planet.

I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen, photos by Rebecca Gizicki



My 2-year-old is currently going through that phase where he realizes that babies are smaller than he is.  Consequently, he finds them absolutely fascinating.  His favorite movie right now?  The documentary Babies.  And his favorite baby-related book?  I Am a Baby by Kathryn Madeline Allen.  But it’s Rebecca Gizicki that we should be celebrating today.  If you thought that crow book had some difficult shots in it, just try taking pictures of hoards of babies.  In both cases the subject matter is pretty cute.

I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work by Doyin Richards



A friend of mine lives in Portland, OR and a couple years ago her husband founded Seahorses PDX, a store dedicated entirely to dads and their kids.  They asked me for book recommendations when they first opened, and I complied.  Had this book been around then, you can bet I would have mentioned it (and I’ll certainly pass it on to them now).  Like I Am a Baby it shows a lot of random babies being cute, but am I supposed to object to that? Bring it on!

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo


If it’s any comfort, I know that I’m pushing my luck here.  But the entire book is about a photograph!  Granted there’s only one real photo in the whole books but look how well artist Vallejo incorporates the real kids into the fictionalized ones:



So it stays.

Natumi Takes the Lead: The True Story of an Orphan Elephant Who Finds Family by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky



Inviting National Geographic to this party is akin to having a hustler at your weekly poker game.  I acknowledge freely that I’m also breaking my rule about not having multiple photographers.  My weak excuse is that they were all working for the same company (Nat Geo) and therefore we can count them as a single unit.  Still, if I’m going to be honest, the whole reason the book is included is because it features a baby elephant that comes into her own.  Would you kick out a baby elephant?  Would you?  Just look at that punim.

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand



And speaking of punims . . . also a book where the photographers were ah-plenty.  But it’s all about little known pink creatures and so beautiful.  You should take a gander at it, when you get a chance.

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, ill. Red Nose Studio




Creating the models for this nonfiction picture book was only half the battle for Red Nose Studio.  Next came the difficulty in lighting the scenes.  Look at the two examples I’ve placed above.  Can you full appreciate the artistry at work here?  The composition is rivaled only by the sheer creativity.

Whose Eye Am I? by Shelley Rotner



Ms. Rotner did a similar title a number of years ago that was all about feet, I believe, and it never got the attention it deserved.  Here’s hoping this eye book will.

Will You Be My Friend? by Susan Lurie, ill. Murray Head


And I’ll end today with a rarity.  There once was a time when fictionalized picture book texts were frequently paired with photographic images.  Sometimes this yielded transcendent books and sometimes it got a touch on the creepy side (paging, The Lonely Doll).  Even the first book on today’s list doesn’t really go all out fictional.  Lurie and Head are different.  They did this utterly charming book a couple years ago called Swim, Duck, Swim! and now they’re following it up with a classic search for friendship.  Should you buy it?  Here’s an interior spread to help sway you:


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

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


6 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 14 – Fabulous 2016 Photography Books for Kids, last added: 12/14/2016
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43. Not recommended: INDEH: A STORY OF THE APACHE WARS by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth

I've received several questions about Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth.

Published by Hachette Book Group in 2016, this graphic novel wasn't published for, or marketed to, children or young adults. That said, we know that teens read a lot of things that wasn't necessarily meant for them. There are awards, too (like the American Library Association's Alex Award) for books regarded as "crossover" ones--which cross over from the adult to the teen market.

Teachers and librarians are asking if Indeh can be used in high school classrooms. Short answer? No.

Generally, reviews on American Indians in Children's Literature are specific to accuracy of content which, in my view, makes them suitable for teachers to use when they develop lessons or select books to read aloud in their classrooms.

The questions I'm getting suggest that teachers wonder if there's enough accuracy in Indeh to use it to teach about the Apache wars. It may also be coming from teachers who know that graphic novels are a hit with teens and that Indeh may work well with teens who are reluctant readers.

Again--my answer is no. It isn't accurate (more on that, later). There's another interesting factor to consider.

As I started reading Indeh, I pulled out the resources I use when doing book reviews. I had Indeh in one window (I use a Kindle app on my computer) and in another window, I had a copy of Geronimo's Story of His Life which was "taken down and edited by S. M. Barrett." He was the Superintendent of Education in Lawton, Oklahoma and the contents of this book were told to him by Geronimo. The first pages in it are devoted to copies of letters that went back and forth between several people involved in authorizing Geronimo to tell his story. It was published in 1906 by Duffield & Company in New York.

Right away, I hit the pause button in my reading. Here's a screen cap comparing the opening lines of Hawke's book (on top), and Barrett's (on the bottom):

This paraphrasing happens in several places in the book. In the afterword, Hawke tells us that Once They Moved Like the Wind by David Roberts inspired him to write Indeh. Though Hawke includes Barrett's book in the "for further reading" section, I think he should have written about Barrett's book in that afterword because of passages like that shown above. This happens later, too. A big deal? Or not?

I'm noting it because--in the afterword--Hawke talks about appropriation (p. 228):
The Apache Wars are a vital part of our American history that needs to be told in a way that honestly appreciates and integrates, rather than appropriates, Native American history.
Hawke's use of the word is odd. What does he mean? I could say that, in using Barrett like he did, he's appropriating Geronimo's words. Is that a form of appropriation?

That said, my primary concern is with the accuracy. First, let's look at what Hawke sets out to do with Indeh.

In his Afterword, Hawke recounts a story from his childhood. His parents had divorced, and his dad took him on a camping trip. They were somewhere near the Arizona/New Mexico border when (p. 227):
An old man waved us down from the center of the two-lane road--the only living thing as far as my eyes could see. I heard him say in an unfamiliar cadence, "You are not supposed to be here."
The old man told them they're lucky it was him that found them (he looked directly at 8-year-old Hawke when he said that, and that old man's eyes stayed with Hawke). Hawke's dad turned the car around. Hawke asked his dad what happened.
My father explained what an Indian reservation was, what an Apache was, how we really shouldn't have been there at all, and how lucky he was not to have gotten his ass kicked.
Hawke asked what the old man meant about them being lucky he's the one who had found them.
My father told me, "Many of the Indians are very angry. And they damn well should be." 
Hawke asks if they're mad at him (he doesn't tell us if his dad responded to that question). From then on, he started buying and reading books about Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio, and Lozen. From those books, he says he saw that
...the cowboy movies I'd always loved took on a different hue. They were full of lies. Those gunfights weren't cool, heroic frays--they were slaughters.
All that made me pause. Hawke was born in 1970. So, he was out there on that two-lane road in 1978. My guess is that they were on either the Fort Apache Reservation, or, on the San Carlos Reservation. Though the reservations are under the jurisdiction of their respective governments, they aren't closed to others. There are times when we close off the roads to outsiders, but that doesn't sound like what happened to Hawke. Who was that old guy?! The "should not have been there" portion of Hawke's story sounds... dramatic. I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm just wondering who the old guy was. Part of me thinks Hawke and his dad got punked! On the other hand, it is possible that the man was home after having spent time with the Native activists doing activist work at Alcatraz in 1969, at the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington DC in 1972, or Wounded Knee in 1973.

Anyway, Hawke goes on to talk about his adulthood... working in Alaska with Native actors, and watching Smoke Signals and Powwow Highway, and reading one of Sherman Alexie's books. Hawke writes that (p. 228):
The story [of the Apache wars] needs to be told again and again until the names of Geronimo and Cochise are as familiar to young American ears as Washington and Lincoln.
Can I do a "well, actually" here? I think Geronimo IS one of names Americans -- young and old -- are familiar with. Do you remember that "Geronimo" was the code name the US military used for Bin Laden? Do your kids yell "Geronimo!" when they are doing something they think is courageous?

He, I think, is far more visible than Hawke suggests.

I did a search in WorldCat, using Geronimo, and found 26,964 items in the nonfiction category, which is a lot more than the 9,028 items for Sitting Bull and the 4,669 items for Crazy Horse.  (Note: There are 413,469 items for Washington, and 80,501 items for Lincoln.) In its We Shall Remain series (consisting of 5 episodes), PBS did an entire segment on Geronimo. There are more movies with or about Geronimo than any other Native person. I think he's the most well-known Native person.

Hawke's afterword suggests that his goal, with Indeh, is to tell a story that counters the biased stories and movies he saw as a child. Does he succeed?

Short answer: No. In plain text below are summaries from Indeh. My comments are in italics.

Part One of Hawke's book is called "A Blessing and a Curse." The story opens with Cochise recounting the Apache creation story to his son, Naiches and to Goyahkla (who will later be known by the name, Geronimo), both of whom are young boys. The blessing and curse is Cochise's power to see the future. Cochise tells the boys that their lives will be hard... and then there's an abrupt shift forward in time, to Goyahkla, seventeen years later. He sits in the midst of a massacre. While he and most of the other men were away, trading, Mexican soldiers attacked their camp. Amongst the dead are Goyahkla's mother, his wife (Alope), and their three children. Naiches--who is narrating the story--tells him they can't stay to bury the dead, but Goyahkla doesn't listen to Naiches.

Debbie's comments: Hawke's telling suggests that Naiches is in charge. Barrett says that it is Mangus-Colorado who was in charge and that it was he who said that they had to leave the dead on the field, unburied. Roberts (Hawke's primary source) says it was Mangas. 

In his grief, he remembers when he went to Alope's father to ask if he could marry her. Alope's father asked him for "one hundred ponies" (p. 11). One hundred ponies sounds cool, but I think the "one hundred" is Hawk's flourish. Historians note that Alope's father asked for ponies, but nobody says "one hundred". A small point of inaccuracy? No. When there's such a body of misinformation about someone, it does nobody any good to add to that body of misinformation.

Goyahkla carries Alope's body to their wickiup (in Indeh, the word Hawke uses is "wikiup" which is incorrect). He remembers telling his son a story, and carries his son's body to the wickiup. He remembers his daughter's first menstrual period, and carries her body to the wickiup, too. He lights the wickiup on fire.

Debbie's comments: That is not accurate. They left the bodies and returned to their settlement. There, Goyahkla burned their tipi and all their belongings. That is when he "vowed vengeance upon the Mexican troopers who had wronged me" (Barrett, p. 76).  

Then, Hawke tells us, an eagle appears on top of the wickiup. It tells him that bullets will never hurt him.

Debbie's comments: That did not happen at their camp. 

Naiches and others are on horses, waiting. Goyahkla approaches them, the burning wickiup behind him. His words to them hint at the vengeance he will seek. He tells them he will visit other Apache tribes to ask them to join him in avenging their families. He carries out the visits and gathers others who will fight with them. Naiches hopes that the upcoming battle will give Goyahkla peace.

Debbie's comments: That decision to strike back was made--not by Goyahkla--but by Mangus-Colorado. Goyahkla was appointed to go to the other Apaches and ask them to join them in this battle against Mexico.

In the next panels, Goyahkla leads the others in an attack on a Mexican town. There is one small box of text: "There would be no peace" (p. 34-35) that captures what Naiches thinks their future will be. In the foreground is a young girl falling over, with a spear that has been thrust through her chest. On all fours, a few feet away, is a little boy, with a spear in his back. Naiches looks on Goyahkla and thinks his face tells of a new time for the Apaches. In Goyahkla's face there is no pity as he kills the people of the Mexican village. There are no tears, or regret, or joy. In one panel, a sign reads (p. 38-39):
HOMBRES 5 pesos
MUJERES 3 pesos
NINOS 1 peso

Debbie's comments: That horrific scene is not accurate. I'll say more about that shortly. Regarding the sign, I think "caballeras" is meant to mean warrior. The figures on the sign aren't accurate. Roberts (Hawke's main source) says that the bounty on Apache scalps was 200 pesos for a man, and 150 for a woman or child. Because the sign is an illustration, perhaps the error is Ruth's, not Hawke's. 
The sign is thrust into the chest of a man, lying prone, presumably killed by Goyahkla. Beside his body, Goyahkla is scalping a woman who cries out (p. 38-39):

 "Por favor. Dios me libre!" 

Debbie's comments: Hawke's depiction of this battle, overall, raises many questions. Barrett, Debo, and Roberts (Hawke's primary source) do not write about it the way Hawke does. They write that the attack was against Mexican soldiers (two companies of cavalry and one of infantry)--outside of a Mexican city called Arispe (or Arizpe). 

There was no attack of the kind that Hawke depicts. Rather than bring honesty to this story, Hawke has created violent, brutal, misinformation that he is, in effect, adding to that already huge body of misinformation! At that point in Indeh, I am able to say that teachers cannot---indeed, teachers must not---use this book in a classroom to teach history of the Apache people. 

As Naiches watches Goyahkla in the village, he learns what Goyahkla's new name will be: Geronimo. In the village is a banner that reads "LA FIESTA DE SAN JERONIMO." As Goyahkla moves through the village violently killing Mexicans (he beheads one), some Mexicans call out to San Jeronimo. One of the Apache's calls out to Goyahkla "Santo Geronimo" - and, Hawke tells us, that is how Goyahkla came to be known as Geronimo.

Debbie's comments: In a footnote, Barrett writes that the Mexicans at the battle called him Geronimo but does not offer an explanation. In her book, Debo writes that the Mexicans in that battle may have been trying to say his given name (Goyahkla) and that it came out sounding as if they were saying "Geronimo" or that they were calling out to St. Jerome.   

My primary concern is about accuracy. 

There's some small problems with inaccurate information in Part I of Hawke's graphic novel. Of utmost significance, however, is his misrepresentation of the fight that took place after his family was murdered by Mexican soldiers. Hawke's depiction is inaccurate, and it flies in the face of what I understand of Hawke's goal. It seems to me he wanted to correct the narrative of Apache's as blood thirsty savages (my words, not his), but he does the opposite. He affirms existing stereotypes and misinformation, and adds to the image of Geronimo as a savage. The information he passes along is not in his primary source, or in those that are more widely read (some are on his list of further readings). Why did Hawke do this?! 

Bottom line? 
I do not recommend Indeh for use in classrooms. 

A colleague, Dr. Laura Jimenez, reviewed Indeh, too. She studies graphic novels. See her review

Sources I used include:

Barrett, S. M. (1906). Geronimo's Story of His Life. New York: Duffield & Co.
Debo, Angie. (1976). Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. University of Oklahoma Press.
Roberts, David. (1994). Once They Moved Like the Wind: Cochise, Geronimo, and the Apache Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Utley, Robert M. (2012). Geronimo. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

1 Comments on Not recommended: INDEH: A STORY OF THE APACHE WARS by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth, last added: 12/29/2016
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44. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 13 – 2016 Books with a Message


Awkward title on today’s post. “Books With a Message”. Be a lot cleaner if I just said “Didactic Books” or “Books That Try to Teach You Something.” No . . . no . . . that’s worse. I think you get the general gist of what I’m going for, though. Today we’re highlighting books that do something inordinately difficult, and do it well.  There are few things worse to read than preachy children’s books that thwap young readers over the heads with whatever message it is that they’re trying to impart.  Picture books teach and inspire, but to do so they must be smart and subtle and, above all, well-written.  All the more reason to highlight and celebrate those 2016 books that have done just that.  Done poorly and these books would be unreadable.  As it stands, I consider them important works.  Some would be considered bibliotherapy.  Others just help parents walk their kids through tough concepts.  All are of note.

2016 Message Books

Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty, ill. Joanne Lew-Vriethoff


Topic: Self-esteem, feminism, gender norms

You ever pick up a book and then find yourself uttering a sigh of relief midway through when it turns out it’s actually really good?  That was my experience with McAnulty and Lew-Vriethoff’s latest.  It sets up expectations by stating the stereotypical definition of what makes a girl “beautiful” and then uses its art to rend that assumption asunder.  It’s a lot of fun and far better than a lot of those tired “girl power” books we used to drown in.  Truly a beautiful book.

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe, ill. Laura Ellen Anderson


Topic: Gender norms

Man.  I love this book.  In fact, when someone was asking me for a readalike to something like William’s Doll I was quick to mention it.  And talk about upsetting expectations!  In this book a boy who loves stereotypical boy things (Big Bob) moves next door to a boy who likes things like dolls and dressing up (Little Bob).  In a nice twist, Big Bob never berates Little Bob for his choices.  No, that job goes to a girl who also moves in nearby and who sees it as her job to reinforce gender norms.  I know that girl.  I’ve seen her at work at my kids’ daycares (and believe me, it is 80% of the time a girl and not a boy doing this).  The happy ending of this book is satisfying.  Little wonder.  In case you missed it that’s author James Howe at the helm.

A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, ill. Noah Z. Jones


Topic: Economic disparity

Because books about kids that have less money than their classmates tend to be overly simplified, it’s hard to find any that present their problems realistically.  This book is one of the very few.  Ruben doesn’t have a bike.  Sergio does.  And, as a result, Sergio really and truly doesn’t understand why Ruben’s parents don’t just buy a bike for him for his upcoming birthday.  When Ruben sees a woman drop some money he has a bit of a crises of conscience.  Boelts does a fine and dandy job with this.  It would have been so easy to reward Ruben at the end of the book with his own bike after all, but that’s not how the world works, kiddos.  It’s hard to end a book on an upbeat note when your characters don’t attain their hearts’ desires, but somehow Boelts manages it.

Bingo Did It by Amber Harris, ill. Ard Hoyt


Topic: Lying, taking responsibility for your actions

To my mind, you can never have enough books on your shelves about taking responsibility for your own actions.  I wasn’t so sure about this one when I picked it up, but it won me over.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, ill. Charlotte Pardi


Topic: Death

We may have mentioned this in passing when we were talking about notable imports in 2016.  Death has a tendency to be presented with a great deal of serenity when Europeans talk about it.  It’s a natural part of life, but the U.S. market isn’t quite ready to deal with it quite as regularly as other places.

Death Is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham


Topic: Death

And speaking of death, welcome to one of my favorite books of 2016.  My sole regret is that I wasn’t alerted to its existence until much later in the year.  No matter!  I would go so far as to say that of all the books on this list, this is the one that every single library out there should own.  It smashes weak explanations and eviscerates the hemming and hawing that accompanies a death in the family.  And it’s funny.  So, pretty much, the whole package.

Elliot by Julie Pearson, ill. Manon Gauthier


Topic: Foster homes, adoption, autism spectrum

Earlier in the year I reviewed this book.  Since it’s unlike any other on your shelves, it can be difficult figuring out where to put it.  In my library, we cataloged it in the parenting section of the children’s room.  There it will remain, until it is checked out to help some child realize why their siblings might have multiple issues to work out (and that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel).

French Toast by Kari-Lynn Winters, ill. Francois Thisdale


Topic: Racism, self-esteem

Picture books rarely confront racism straight on, but when they do the result is often impressive.  Here, a bi-racial girl takes a name thrown at her and makes it a point of pride.  With the help of someone older and wise, of course.  Naturally.

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams, ill. Chris Raschka


Topic: Same-sex families, abandonment, adoption

My God.  What a good book.  We’ve come a long long ways since the days of Heather Has Two Mommies.  For a long time we’ve had books with same sex parents where the two of them are perfect parents.  Well, say goodbye to that idea!  The dads in this book are deeply caring individuals who would do anything to make their new son, Lester, happy.  Unfortunately he has a tendency to get up in the middle of the night.  The moment when one of his dad’s just breaks down and yells was so real I felt I knew these guys.  It’s one of the reasons that, in terms of the writing, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read, daring to turn a gay couple into real human beings on the page.

I Have Cerebral Palsy by Mary Beth Springer


Topic: Cerebral palsy

When you are a children’s librarian and you have absolutely nothing on your shelves on a given topic, you find yourself grasping at straws.  You’ll buy any schlock, just so long as it fills those gaps.  That’s why it can be a real relief when you get a book like this one.  Sydney’s story is told in simple language that’s easy for kids to understand.  It’s straightforward, fun, and not a topic we hear a lot about in a given day/month/year.  Highly recommended.

I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail


Topic: Gender norms, feminism

This girl is continually called a boy because she likes to do many of the things that boys do.  Does she accept that?  She does NOT!  A good book if you want your kid to follow her example.

Jenny & Her Dog Both Fight Cancer: A Tale of Chemotherapy and Caring by Jewel Kats, ill. Claudia Marie Lenart


Topic: Cancer

I’ve seen a lot of books about what to do when a parent or grandparent has cancer.  Not a ton about kids with cancer.  Lenart’s art in this book is the true showstopper, though Kats’s writing does a good job as well.  You know me.  You know I have a low tolerance for books that don’t live up to their highest potential, and I tell you now that this book is worth owning in your library.

Life Without Nico by Andrea Maturana, ill. Francisco Javier Olea


Topic: Moving

It strikes me as a little odd that I didn’t see more books about moving this year.  Without being depressing, this book adeptly captures the sorrow a kid can feel when their best friend goes away.

Little Brother Pumpkin Head by Lucia Panzieri, ill. Samantha Enria


Topic: New baby

Sure, we’ve long since left Halloween behind.  But this fun story of a boy coming to terms with his new little brother, and then doing what he can to make the kid happy, is lovely.

Luis Paints the World by Terry Farish, ill. Oliver Dominguez


Topic: Military families, urban renewal

I can be forgiven for occasionally getting this mixed up with Maybe Something Beautiful.  That said, the book is an excellent choice for military brats.  Here you have a kid carrying on as well as possible when his brother leaves to serve in the armed forces.  Considering how many military families visit libraries these days, it would be nice to have something they can relate to.

Manners Are Not for Monkeys by Heather Tekavec, ill. David Huyck


Topic: Manners

Hope you like surprise endings, cause this one’s clearly a doozy.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell, ill. Rafael Lopez


Topic: Urban renewal

With the extra added perk of being based (to some extent) on a true story.

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison


Topic: Bullying

At some point here Hannah E. Harrison is going to start coming into her own.  Few artists are quite so adept at animal feelings.  This is a very realistic bullying situation too.  Just a remarkable book through and through.

Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings, ill. Owen Swan


Topic: Dementia

I was going to say the topic was “Alzheimers” but that’s never made explicit in the text.  For kids who have to visit older relatives that have “good” and “bad” days, this is a perfect book.  It begins with the kid asking if her grandfather will recognize her that day.  And he never does.  Do you know how much guts it takes to write something like that.  You go, Phil Cummings!

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, ill. Christian Robinson


Topic: First day of school

I’m calling it: My favorite first day of school book of all time.  Throw in that towel now.

Somebody Cares: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Neglect by Susan Farber Straus, ill. Claire Keay


Topic: Child abuse/neglect

A typical children’s librarian will see a lot of these books in a given year.  How many of them are actually good, though?  I can say with certainty that this is the first I’ve seen to pinpoint neglect.  And while it’ll never win any lofty literary awards, it does a truly excellent job at confronting a very big problem.  This book could be a real help to a child.  It does its job.

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, ill. Wing Young Huie


Topic: Immigration

Did you ever see that episode of “Master of None” where Aziz Ansari and his friend complain about their immigrant parents and then find out what they’ve been through in the past?  I love that episode.  It reminded me a lot of this book.  Too often kids are taught that immigration is historical.  They have no clue that immigrants come to this country every single day.  This book makes it clear and the photographs are fantastic.

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, ill. Mike Curato


Topic: Gender fluid

Boy, this could have gone any number of different ways.  In this story, two worms that doesn’t identify with one gender or another fall in love.  When they attempt to marry a bunch of other critters try to slot the into preexisting norms.  Which, I might add, they reject with a great deal of style.  Beloved for a reason.


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

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


4 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 13 – 2016 Books with a Message, last added: 12/14/2016
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45. Monday Poetry Stretch - Curtal/Curtailed Sonnet

Sorry I missed you all last week. I got caught up in the end of the semester and it was Friday before I realized I hadn't scheduled a post for writing. Mea culpa. I am back and have a number of stretches ready to go to see us into the New Year.

The curtal sonnet (or curtailed sonnet) was invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poem Pied Beauty is a fine example of this form.

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

The curtal sonnet is composed of a sestet and a quintet. It is written in iambic pentameter, with the exception of the final line, which is a spondee (a foot consisting of two long (or stressed) syllables). The rhyme scheme is:

  • sestet: a/b/c/a/b/c
  • quintet: d/c/b/d/c or d/b/c/d/c 

You can read more about this form at The Curtal Sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a curtal sonnet. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

4 Comments on Monday Poetry Stretch - Curtal/Curtailed Sonnet, last added: 12/29/2016
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46. Guest Post: Carolyn Dee Flores on Achieving Deeper Color in Illustration Using Oil on Cardboard

By Carolyn Dee Flores
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Illustrators bear witness.

Nothing could be more important.

One hundred years from now, when someone wants to know what it was like to be a seven-year-old girl in New York City on her birthday – or what it was like to be a Mexican-American child growing up in Texas – they won’t go to a reference book and look it up. They will look at a picture.

Illustrators, we must:

See with our fingers.
See with our hands.
See with our pencils.
So much depends upon it.

The world “literally” depends upon it!

The process for the bilingual picture book – A Surprise for Teresita/Una Sorpresa Para Teresita, written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Arte Publico, 2016) – I knew I needed to concentrate on community. I looked at 10, 000 photographs of New York City. I’ve been to New York City before – so I tried to remember it and “breathe” it in. A Surprise for Teresita is about a little girl in a Nuyorican (Puerto-Rican/New York) neighborhood.

I loved the idea of the tropical Puerto Rican culture splashed against the New York City buildings and brownstones.

I got to work immediately.

I made models from foamboard.

I ordered a snow cone machine.

I studied the difference between “snow cones”, “raspas”, and “piraguas.” Delicious!

It became obvious to me that my color palette was going to be “snow cones.”

But … there was a dilemma.

How to capture the intense color I needed, using only the mediums of pencil and watercolor?

The answer: I couldn’t.

I needed oil paint - the brilliant color of oil paint!

So … encouraged by my mentors - Caldecott winner Denise Fleming and Caldecott winner E.B. Lewis – I set out to create a new illustration process.

And, thankfully, it worked!

Here is what I did:

The Problem:

1. Oil paint takes five months to a year and a half to dry.

2. Oil paint on a “raw” surface, such as untreated cloth or cardboard, tends to bleed and is very difficult to control.

The Solution:

1. Liquin medium. “One stroke” at a time. I squeeze each tube of oil paint separately onto my palette. I dip my brush into each color. Then I dip it into the Liquin. I mix the colors as I paint, directly on the cardboard.

2. After each application, I clean the brush, and start again.

3. Similar to “watercolor technique,” I use the “cardboard” as my “white.” In the close-up of Teresita (below) – the highlights in Teresita’s hair are cardboard showing through.

4. As I paint, the oil seeps deep into the cardboard.

5. The cardboard remains wet for weeks “on the inside” - but the “skin” of the painting dries within four and a half hours! It is ready to scan immediately!

This process enabled me to paint A Surprise for Teresita without bleed, quickly, and using the saturated colors that I desperately wanted! All the difference in the world!

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47. Not recommended: POCAHONTAS by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

A reader wrote to ask me about Pocahontas by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. It came out in 1946, which might seem like it is so old that you can't get it... but you can. It is still in print. It is one of those books (there are many!) that gets printed again and again. It is one of those books that I look at and turn away from. It is one of those subjects (Pocahontas) that wears me out.

So, this is a quick reply about the D'Aulaire's Pocahontas. I do not recommend it. It has the word "squaw" in it. It shows men, sitting with their arms crossed up high and away from their chest, which is a stereotypical way of showing Native men. It uses "princess" to describe her. There's problems with the accuracy, too. If you are interested in an essay about how she is depicted in children's books and the Disney film, too, see Cornel Pewewardy's The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators.

0 Comments on Not recommended: POCAHONTAS by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire as of 12/14/2016 5:10:00 AM
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48. New Voice: David A. Robertson on When We Were Alone

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David A. Robertson is the first-time children's author of When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett (Portage & Main Press, Jan. 6, 2017)(available for pre-order). From the promotional copy:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?

As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.

When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

So much of my writing is aimed at creating social change, especially in the area of relations between First Nations people and non-First Nations people.

I believe that change comes through education; what we learn from history, and its impact on contemporary society. In Canada, we have a long history of mistreatment concerning the First Nations people. As Canadians, we need to learn about this history. So, my work tries to educate in this way.

In terms of young readers, I believe that change comes from our youth. These are the people who shape our tomorrows, and they need to walk into tomorrow informed on the important issues and histories. If they do, we’ll be in a pretty good place.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

graphic novelist-writer of Irish-Scottish-English-Cree heritage
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada looked at the history of the residential school system, and its impact, and from that research, including residential school survivor testimony and documentation, it came up with a list of recommendations.

One of those recommendations was that the residential school system’s history needed to be taught in school as early as kindergarten.

When I saw this, I recognized that there weren’t many resources for teachers (i.e. books) that addressed the residential school system for younger learners.

So, I set out to write one, and that’s how When We Were Alone came about.

I wanted kids at that young age to learn about the system in a way that they could understand and engage with.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

For me the challenges mostly involved sensitivity and appropriateness. This is a difficult history to tell, especially to younger learners. So, I needed to tell the story in a good way.

It took a lot of research and consultation, it took finding the right rhythm in the passages to connect with readers, and we needed to find the right illustrator, too, which we did in Julie Flett.

Of course, writing these stories always has a psychological effect on you as the writer, too. Understanding that the kids you are writing about really went through these things is tough. But knowing that kids will be learning and growing and sharing makes it worth it.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Also illustrated by Julie Flett
I have the benefit of having five children. So, I’ve read my share of children’s books. This helped in terms of finding a good structure for When We Were Alone, and rhythm.

These two things are very important, and there are certainly some commonalities in books that really work in terms of how they are told, not just what is told in them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of children’s books, or YA books. Figure out styles, structures, approaches from the best. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to write a good story that really connects with your reader.

It always comes down to reading first, and then hard work and a bit of skill.

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49. Cybils Speculative Reader: THE KEEPER OF THE MIST, by RACHEL NEUMEIER

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! We've noticed plenty of "hidden princess"... Read the rest of this post

3 Comments on Cybils Speculative Reader: THE KEEPER OF THE MIST, by RACHEL NEUMEIER, last added: 12/29/2016
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50. 10 Favorite Quotes to Inspire You to Write

I'm taking until the new year to recharge my blogging batteries a bit, my lovelies, so no real craft posts for a bit. It's hard to stay inspired at the end of the year, but that writing bug doesn't leave you. When it's hard to keep thinking about my manuscript, I like to look to other writers for inspiration. Here are a few of my favorite quotes on writing. I hope you love them as much as I do!

“Don't get it right, get it written.” ―Ally Carter

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov

"The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson

"Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly." Franz Kafka

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”—Larry King

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” —Stephen King

“Don't say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers Please will you do the job for me.” C. S. Lewis

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." Mark Twain

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth

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