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By: Jessica Lanan,
Blog: Jessica Lanan Illustration
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I’m finally sifting through all my notes and experiences from my trip to New York. It was a cold weekend to be in the big apple, with temperatures outside hovering in the single digits. Despite the frigid weather we were warm and safe inside the hotel, surrounded by a star-studded faculty of kidlit experts. Here are just a few of the highlights:
From the sketchbook
Two-time Newberry Honor winner Gary Schmidt made everyone cry about five different times during his moving keynote about the importance of writing for kids. He emphasized that writing should be an expression of empathy and compassion: we must “show up” instead of leaving the reader behind. I can’t do Mr. Schmidt justice, so I’ll just encourage you to read all of his heartrending books and leave you with a quote:
“Writing should be an act of empathy in a broken world. What ails you? That is the question we ask.” – Gary Schmidt, author
If you’ve ever submitted a manuscript exactly one time and, upon receiving a rejection letter, decided to give up: William Joyce, Oscar winner and acclaimed writer and illustrator of dozens of books, received over 250 rejection letters at the beginning of his career. So maybe it wouldn’t hurt to keep revising and try again. He also offered this advice to illustrators on finding your voice:
“Find the artists you love, find out what you love about them, and then… steal.” -William Joyce, author/illustrator and filmmaker
William Joyce speaking at SCBWI NY 2016
Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King award-winner Rita Williams-Garcia made everyone laugh during her keynote about the “Dos and Don’ts” of writing. Her witty anecdotes shed light on the hard-earned successes and naive missteps along the road to publication.
“Do live with gratitude. Do live in the plan. Do what you’re doing.” – Rita Williams-Garcia
The delightful Sophie Blackall inspired everyone with the story of how her personal project to illustrate the Missed Connections column on Craigslist helped to jump-started her career. She also shared stories and photos from her travels working with Save the Children and other humanitarian organizations, and gave us a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at all the research and love that went into this year’s Caldecott winner, Finding Winnie. She signed my copy of book and even drew a little sketch in it!
“Do that thing that’s just for yourself, because it’s almost always your best work.” -Sophie Blackall, author and illustrator
Getting my book signed.
The conference also featured several panels representing editors, art directors, publishers and agents who offered a broad perspective on the state of the industry. There was a lot of encouraging news about the health of children’s literature and plenty of sage advice for aspiring authors and illustrators. Here are a few quotes that stood out:
“You’re only as good as the people you work with.” – David Saylor, Creative Director at Scholastic
“Don’t take shortcuts. If you put everything you have in [your work], you can’t fail.” – Holly McGhee, Agent at Pippin Properties
“You have something that no one else has, and your job is to figure out what that is.” -Cecilia Yung, VP and Art Director at Penguin Random House
“Know your competition. […] Your competition is everything kids are doing other than reading books.” – Andrea Pappenheimer, Director of Sales at HarperCollins
Lin Oliver introduced Gary Schmidt as not just a writer's writer—but as a writer's writer's writer. Gary has won two Newbery Honors, and all of his books are perfect, literary gems.
The last time Gary was here, he found out his back was bleeding just before he went on stage. Today, he's wearing a dark shirt—just in case.
He started by noting how wonderful it is to gather like this with other writers and illustrators, who generally work alone. "To be with each other is really quite an amazing gift, isn't it?"
Children's writers have the same mission. "We all do our best work for kids. That's why we get along so well."
The writers that he really admires—the writer that he hopes to be—is not just someone who displays the pyrotechnics of class, but the writer who shows up. "The writer who sits down on the log and tells me a story and so everything is different."
Gary comes from a writerly family. His uncle Bradford Ernest Smith wrote "Captain Kangaroo." "Do you know what cachet that has in first grade? Amazing!"
When a character on that show, Mr. Green Jeans, passed away, Captain Kangaroo didn't replace the man. He showed up instead next to the viewer. "He sat on the log. He told us the world is terribly broken."
"He was saying that despite the brokenness of this world, the world is so beautiful."
"This is what the writer for young kids does," Gary said. "Movies and television can fill the consciousness to overflowing. We know they do. Watch any superhero movie. But the writer for kids inspires and stimulates the consciousness to growth and understanding. What an amazing act. What a responsibility."
Gary, who teaches writing each week at a maximum security prison, told us several stories about people whose stories have touched him. One of the writers he volunteers with, Anthony, was 10 years old on 9/11. Now serving a life sentence, Anthony made two drug deals that morning, returns to his apartment, and saw the first plane hit the tower. He went outside to see if there was a plane about to hit his building. "I wished it would," he wrote. "It would have done me a favor."
Empathy was at the heart of his talk. "What ails thee" is a deep question from one heart to another, a question of human empathy. And that's what writers ask their characters and shows their readers.
We also write "to express the understanding that human beings are creatures of great complexity," he said. "Story insists on human complexity and multidimensionality. With story, we live literally in the tangles of our minds."
As writers, we have to believe that everything matters, everything small and large, he said. The curve on the bow of a boat matters. The snow on a mountain top matters. The way someone moves her arm matters. The way a kid wears his hair matters ... Suppose everything matters, everything is a sacrament.
There's a rabbi who says a prayer: "Lord, let the world be here for one more day. My dear friends, be that rabbi. For God's sake, if you're writing of kids, be that rabbi."
By: Bruce Luck,
I just read another great book, and this was the second time I read it. Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now I first read as a reader. The next I did so as a writer.
In a nutshell, Doug is a tough kid hardened by an abusive father and two older brothers. His father’s obnoxious behavior gets him fired, forcing the family to move to stupid Marysville in upstate New York where the small town people target him as a hoodlum. But Doug is not the ruffian the town perceives him to be. There is a another side to this survivor kid who, by reaching out to others, allows himself to transcend the prejudice against him and the family he’s a product of.
This book is fantastic on many levels. The voice is striking and Schmidt absolutely nails this kid. He maintains Doug’s tough-guy persona, yet allows him to shed it and for the character to grow. The voice is true throughout and does not waver. Another thing Schmidt does nicely is to allow Doug to talk to directly to readers, as if he and they were all chatting in the same room.
Schmidt provides a strong cast of characters and the amiable Doug is willing to reach out to them. Lil is the first person to notice the skinny thug and he follows her into the public library. She is in most of his middle school classes. Her father runs the market and hires Doug to be a Saturday morning delivery boy. On his rounds, he befriends his regular customers, including a playwright and a policeman’s family. Saturday afternoons Doug is fascinated by a large book of Audubon’s drawings under glass in the library. An elderly library worker introduces Doug to art techniques, such as composition and movement in a picture, lessons that play out in various aspects of Doug’s life. And Schmidt give us teachers, some who provoke him to be the hoodlum they see him as, others who see his softer side.
I don’t know what’s more critical to craft a good story, voice or character. I suppose it should have both.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, de Grummond
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Before we begin I would like to have a few words with the publishers on behalf of catalogers nationwide.
Hi, guys. How’s it going? Heckuva weird weather we’ve had lately, right? Yeah . . . so . . . here’s the thing. You know how you’ve been rereleasing a couple classic children’s books recently like Slake’s Limbo and all the Ramona Quimby books? That is just awesome of you. Seriously, new covers were desperately needed. But, you’re kind of doing this weird thing that’s messing everything up. See, for some reason you’re changing the covers but you’re keeping the old ISBNs. And we wouldn’t really mind if it was just the jackets you were changing, but in the case of the Ramona books you have new interior illustrations. This is a HUGE disservice, not only to libraries, but to your new illustrator, Ms. Jacqueline Rogers. If you keep the same ISBN then in records across the country previous illustrators will be listed in the system. Not Ms. Rogers. So, I know we’re supposedly going to go through some crazy crisis where we run out of all the ISBNs, but do a gal a favor and change the ISBNs on rereleases if you have new interior art (or, also in the case of Ramona, new pagination). It just makes good clean sense.
Okay! Moving on.
- If I say that Travis Jonker fellow at 100 Scope Notes is a nice guy I’m not exactly telling you anything you don’t already know. But how nice is he? Well, in his awesome 10 to Note: Spring Preview 2013 do you know what book he led with? MINE!! I’m thrilled and flabbergasted all at once. Ye gods! I hit the big time, folks! Now I just need to get my hands on that cool looking Lauren Myracle early chapter book and that new Charise Mericle Harper graphic novel. Woot!
- You know you’re cool when the National Coalition Against Censorship collects cool birthday wishes for you. You’re even cooler if those birthday wishes come from folks like Jon Scieszka, Lois Lowry, and the aforementioned Lauren Myracle. And if you happen to be Judy Blume? Icing on the cake, baby.
- On the one hand, it’s awfully interesting to hear folks speculating on what really made Mary Ingalls blind. On the other hand . . . . NBC News linked to me, linked to me, linked to me me me!
- In case you happened to missed it, I hosted a helluva Literary Salon the other day. Yup. Jeanne Birdsall, Adam Gidwitz, N.D. Wilson, and Rebecca Stead all gave up their precious time to stop by old NYPL for a Children’s Literary Salon where they debated why pop culture at large tries to label middle grade fiction as YA. The whole conversation was, for the very first time, recorded for posterity. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the audio feed is lousy. Not sure what I did but it’s a bit mucked up. Clear enough that you could make a transcript from it (casts meaningful looks into the nethersphere) but not so clear that you could actually enjoy listening to it. A little later in the podcast some folks stop speaking into mics. That actually helps. Rear in Gear reports on how it went from the frontlines. By the way, the title “Why YA” is a good one. I might shorten it to Y.YA, then proclaim that to be the newest bestest trend without explanation. Cause that’s how I roll.
- Speaking of my Children’s Literary Salons, I’ve one in early March on the topic of Diversity and the State of the Children’s Book that will prove to be most fascinating (and better recorded, I hope). Much along the same lines is a truly fascinating post over at Ms. Yingling Reads. The post concerns those book jackets that do not reflect the ethnicity of the characters within, but brings up a very interesting p.o.v. from that of the smaller publisher reliant on stock images. This post is your required reading of the day. Many many thanks to Carl in Charlotte for the heads up.
- The post on 10 Fictional Libraries I’d Love to Visit is a lot of fun, but I would add the library featured in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books most certainly. That would be the library that contains every book conceived of but never published by the world’s greatest writers. The in-jokes alone are worth it. Who doesn’t love Psmith and Jeeves?
Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
- Nerd that I am, I cannot help but be thrilled that the Bologna Book Fair has just established a new prize for the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year. What a fantastic idea, and why has no one else come up with it before? Now THAT is something I can get behind. Boy, yeah.
- Flavorwire’s Conspiracy Theories About Classic Literary Characters doesn’t tell you a lot you haven’t already heard about your classic books (Nick Carraway = gay, Holden Caulfield = gay, yadda yadda yadda) but there are some fun exceptions on the children’s literature side. I think I’ve heard the Winnie-the-Pooh theory before, and I certainly heard the Harry Potter one (Rowling herself even addressed it) but the Wizard of Oz one is actually entirely a new one on me. Huh! Thanks to Annie Cardi for the link.
- I like it when authors reveal the covers of their upcoming books. I especially like it when those authors are folks I’ve heard of before and have enjoyed thoroughly. I met Matthew Kirby (The Clockwork Three, Icefall) at a SCBWI event recently and now I find out that he has revealed his latest title The Lost Kingdom. Yep. I’ll be reading that one.
- The other day I spoke on a panel for some young publishers about the library’s role in the pursuit of Common Core. I was on that panel with Scottie Bowditch of Penguin and John Mason of Scholastic. After the fact I learned that Scholastic has been working to get their hands on all this Common Core schtuf by creating the site Common Sense for the Common Core. It was created to help parents through this tricky time, but no doubt we librarians would benefit a tad as well. FYI!
- You may have heard that tornadoes recently ripped through Mississippi on Sunday causing untold devastation in their wake. They hit in a number of places, including Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Why do I mention this? Well, are you aware what resides in Hattiesburg? That would be the University of Southern Mississippi. And what is the University of Southern Mississippi home to? If you answered that it was the de Grummond Collection “one of North America’s leading research centers in the field of children’s literature” you would also be correct. So did the collection survive the storms? We are happy to report that they did. And on the de Grummond’s Twitter feed they assured everyone that they were safe and sound. Whew!
- Look me in the eye. Right here! Right in my beady little eye and tell me that this is not the smartest use of The Pigeon you’ve seen in a long long time. The crazy thing? I thought they melded together a bunch of different Pigeon books. Not true! Instead, all these panels come from The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.
- Remember when NPR started that program they called NPR’s Backseat Book Club? They said they would pick a new book for kids every month and discuss them. Well, the whole “every month” part of that plan has been spotty and the selections have been even spottier. Seems to me NPR isn’t taking full advantage of the field. I mean, Black Beauty and Wimpy Kid? Is that the best you can do? Fortunately it looks like they’ll crank things up a notch when they discuss Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now. In fact, kids are encouraged to submit some questions to the author ahead of time. Got yourself some kids? Then go to it!
- Speaking of kids submitting stuff, you may have heard that YA author Ned Vizzini is getting into the middle grade fiction arena. He isn’t doing it alone, though. Director Chris Columbus is penning House of Secrets with him. Aside from the fact that the book has an honest-to-god blurb from J.K. Rowling on it (no blurb whore she) kids can get a copy by tweeting Ned their “secrets”. You can see some examples here. Love the kid who used to eat chocolate dog biscuits. That one I believe.
- Would you like $1000? Sure. We all would. But to be a bit more specific, would you like $1000 for your program that uses, “children’s literature as a way to promote international understanding”? Well then are you in luck! USBBY would sure like to give you some cash. Say they, “Schools, libraries, scout troops, clubs and bookstores are all eligible for this award. Does your school or library program or do you know of another organization that “promotes reading as a way to expand a child’s world”? To learn more about the award, view information about past winners and award criteria and access the downloadable application form, please link to: http://www.usbby.org/list_b2u.html“
- Done and done.I wasn’t particularly aggrieved by the Anne of Green Gables brou-de-haha going on about that random cover someone created. In fact, a commenter at ShelfTalker with my name (not me, alas) basically summarized my thoughts on the matter brilliantly when she said, “Folks, you are getting all upset because you MISUNDERSTAND the situation. This is NOT a ‘PUBLISHER’ with a marketing dept. This is a public domain book that some RANDOM PERSON is selling. You could do the same thing. PUBLIC DOMAIN – it means anyone can do anything with it. Here is a list of public domain books: http://www.feedbooks.com/publicdomain. If you want, you yourself could publish, say, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo with a photo on the cover of Governor Chris Christie eating a donut. (If you had the rights to the donut picture of course.)” Which was all well and good . . . but I truly have to tip my hat to Donytop5 who simply replied, “Here Betsy, I found it! http://wolverinesss.tumblr.com/image/42556986881“ That made my day, right there.
- Apparently there’s a competitor to Goodreads out there and it’s calling itself Bookish. It’s not really the same thing as Goodreads, mind you, since it’s publisher driven through and through. Says Media Decoder, “Instead of relying essentially on the taste of other customers with similar preferences, as most recommendation engines do, Bookish’s tool takes into account critical reviews and awards.” Curious, I decided to see what they had in the realm of children’s literature. It’s interesting. Not a ton of content yet, but their recommendations aren’t shabby. Worth eyeing warily for a while.
Someday I will be very rich and I will create a children’s library of my very own. When I do, I will allow one or two walls to be like this:
Fortunately if that looks cool to you, you don’t have to wait. Just head on over to the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and have your fun. Thanks to Swiss Miss for the link!
By: Bruce Luck,
Writer’s should read and perhaps the most compelling reason is that reading good writing reminds us of what we aspire to.
There are a few authors whom I want to write like. On is Matt Kirby after reading Icefall. Gary Schmidt’s Doug character pulled me into Okay For Now. MG author Tom Angleberger impressed me the way he saved the final resolution of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda until the last page. And John Green is John Green. Who wouldn’t want to write like him?
Add to that list Carol Lynch Williams.
Carol is an amazing writer. I just finished The Chosen One for the second time and once again was blown away. Ann Cannon has assigned reading The Chosen One as part of our WIFYR workshop. I checked it out online through Overdrive and received both the audio version and an epub format.
There are number of elements key to a good book. These include compelling characters, dramatic events, believable settings, and a strong writers’s voice. Carol not only applies them, but squeezes the most from each.
She draws you in immediately with her first line, “If I was going to kill the prophet,” I say, not even keeping my voice low, “I’d do it in Africa.” Thus begins the story of a 13-year old polygamous girl chosen to marry her 60-year old uncle.
Most of us Utahans may have encountered polygamists on the street and peered curiously at them. Carol takes us inside an isolated polygamous community where we accept as normal the three wives of Kyra’s father. Carol enriches her setting with scorching heat, red desert dust, and Russian olive trees.
The Chosen One is character driven and Kyra is a compelling MC. She unquestioningly accepts the lifestyle yet does not fit the mold they have cast for her. Books have been banned as the devil’s words, yet she has a yearning to read. Kyra has an interest in a boy and wants to choose him to marry rather that have the prophet dictate who her husband is to be.
Besides her incredible voice, a technique Carol employees masterfully, is the way she raises the stakes for Kyra. This poor girl not only must deal with her sins against the rules of the community and the approaching marriage to the uncle she despises, but faces other traumas. Carol perpetually ratchets the tension until resolving the story nicely.
Carol’s an amazing writer. She also puts on a great writing conference, coming up later this month. (Classes still open, more info here.)
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
It's concise, intriguing, and packs some good advice. Check out Jolie's pre-#NY16SCBWI interview with Gary Schmidt here.Illustrate and Write On!
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Paul O. Zelinsky
, Beverly Cleary
, Gary Schmidt
, Tony DiTerlizzi
, Chris Van Allsburg
, Barry Deutsch
, Triumvirate of Mediocrity
, James Marshall
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Howdy, folks. I’m starting off today with a little podcast-related item. Back in the day I tried podcasting for sport. It was fun (I had my own intro music and everything) but after a while it became clear that podcasting is a labor of love best left to the professionals with their prodigious editing skills, like the old Just One More Book site. More recently I’ve contributed reviews to the remarkable Katie Davis Brain Burps About Books (more about that in a sec). Today, however, I am pleased as punch to reveal that I was recently the guest host on the Read It and Weep podcast. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Name a bad children’s book and they would read it and discuss it with me. Well, I gave them the worst I could think of (you can guess what it was) and it was SO bad that they told me they couldn’t do it. Instead, we decided to turn our attention to the good old Triumvirate of Mediocrity (copyright Jane Yolen for the term): The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, and Love You Forever. Even if you like one of these, it is physically impossible to love all three. Take a listen to our discussion about the gleesome threesome. Odds are, you’ll never think of them quite the same way again.
- In other podcast news, the aforementioned Katie Davis has managed to compile a Library Love segment of her own podcast that is so o’erfilled with fantastic authors that you know and love that you’ll find yourself throwing fistfuls of money at your nearest library branch within minutes. The full list of participants and the podcast itself can be found here.
- There are many ways in which to take the news that you’ve been nominated for a big award. Barry Deutsch’s? The best. Bar none.
- True credit to Phil Nel. Hard to top a blog post that has the title Vandalizing James Marshall. Rather than discuss cases where folks have drawn bras on Martha (oh, you know it must happen) Phil is referring to the panned and scanned version of Marshall’s The Three Little Pigs in which the images have been truncated or removed altogether. It’s pretty horrific, Phil’s right. Particularly when you consider that this is James Marshall we’re talking about. Shame.
- Sometimes I don’t pay proper attention. That&rsqu
“I don’t believe poetry should be a solitary intellectual adventure. It should be a relationship with people, it should forge a connection. Good poetry does not belong to the poet.” ---Dolores Kendrick, D.C. Poet Laureate, in this interview with the Washington Post
I've been gone from this blog for almost three months now, and it's not because I was on "a solitary intellectual adventure" (although I've been revising a YA novel.) It had mostly to do with three successive moves in the family---or what we have dubbed The Summer of the U-Haul Truck. Which has ended happily with two children in new digs and my husband and I now living in a row house with its own library.
|(This picture is pre-books. |
Now it's full, every inch of it.)
Still, after a three-month break, it's hard to re-engage with blogging without thinking about why I'm doing it. It's a question authors get asked a lot: Why do you write? (Yes, blogging is writing.) At this past weekend's National Book Festival (to which I walked
, thanks to our new location) I heard Gary Schmidt say he writes because a book may be the only companion a child has. He visited a prison where six locked doors separated the kids from the outside world, where the inmates were allowed no personal possessions, and yet, they had been able to read his book and could talk to him about it. One child said he identified with the dog in the story---because he himself would never be able to have one.
|Me, Gary Schmidt, and Sondy Eklund|
at the National Book Festival
Which brings me back again to the quote above, about poetry not belonging to the poet. Or, as Gary Schmidt might say, books don't belong to the author---they go where they are needed. And yet, it's the age of personal vocalizing. Blogs enable us to catcall, cheer, kvetch, croon, and crystalize our every thought. So does this blog, in fact, belong to me, in a way my poems or my novels don't?
In answer, I overheard last night a cell phone conversation at 2:00am. We sleep with our windows open, and the bay window in our bedroom amplifies sound from the sidewalk below. Usually, it's remarkably quiet---the first morning in the new house, we were awakened in this great city by a noisy. . . bird.
But last night, Mr. Angry Man crept into my sleep, gradually wakening me as he and his phone walked into my hearing zone, until I surfaced to this loud bellow: "I texted you yesterday that I WAS FINE!!!" I could eve