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1. Changing Communities with Books: The Citizen Power Project

firstbook-tampa-88_for-blog_cropped

In November, First Book and its partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute presented the Citizen Power Project; a challenge to educators nationwide to identify, plan, and implement a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community.

Fifteen projects received grants to help turn big plans into big impact.

The projects represent a wide range of civic engagement – from teaching empathy and healthy habits to supporting student voices and helping the environment.

So far, the civic impact of these projects has been phenomenal.

In Framingham, Massachusetts, middle school English teacher Lori DiGisi knows her students don’t always feel empowered. “They feel like the adults rule everything and that they don’t really have choices,” she explains. “The issue I’m trying to solve is for a diverse group of students to believe that they can make a difference in their community.”

Using the First Book Marketplace, Lori and her class chose to read books about young people who did something to change the world — books with diverse characters that each student could identify with. Through stories, Lori’s students have begun to understand that they too can make a difference.

From here, Lori plans to narrow the focus onto the issue of improving working conditions. Students will interview custodians, secretaries, and cafeteria workers in their school to understand what their working conditions are like and ask the all-important question: what can we, as middle schoolers, do to make your working conditions better?

claudine-quote_editMeanwhile in Malvern, Arkansas, middle school English teacher Claudine James has used the Citizen Power Project to improve upon an already successful program. In 2011, Claudine visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and wanted to bring that experience back to her students.

That year her class studied the Holocaust and put together their own Holocaust Museum in their school and opened it to the public.

The reaction to the museum was something Claudine never expected.

“It was very well received by the community and in fact, we had an opening day reception on a Sunday afternoon and there was no room to even stand.”

Claudine has organized project-based learning initiatives like this every year since. The Malvern community has embraced them, and even come to expect them.

This year, powered by the  Citizen Power Project, Claudine and her class are planning an exhibit called, ‘Writers from Around the World’. They are reading books by authors from all over the globe. Her goal is to promote tolerance and understanding among her students and for them to promote those ideas to the community.

“When my students are presented with problems that other people from other cultures have to overcome, they see the world in a new light,” explains Claudine, “then they go home and spread the word.”

safier-global-warming

Artwork by one student in Racheal’s class depicting the negative impacts of climate change.

In Newark, New Jersey, kindergarten teacher Racheal Safier has her young students thinking globally. “We wanted to figure out what climate change is,” she explains, “they took a really big interest in how global warming affects animals.”

Racheal has been amazed by her student’s enthusiasm for this topic and the project, but she knows where it comes from. “Books have been the launching point for so many of the ideas generated in my classroom.”

Now that ideas are being launched, Racheal wants to show her class the next step: what actions do we take?

And they have many planned. There will be brochures distributed to parents, a table at the school’s social justice fair, maybe a video, and even letters to the President.

“I want it to be their project — and some of the things they come up with, I am really blown away.”

These three projects are just a snapshot of all the important work educators are doing around the country for the Citizen Power Project. Lori, Claudine, and Racheal are shining examples of the impact that educators can have on their students and their communities.

For educators to create change though students they need access to educational resources. First Book is proud to help provide that access for the Citizen Power Project.

When these 15 projects are completed in early 2017 be sure to check the First Book blog to see videos and pictures, and read more impact stories of impact from across the United States.

 

If you’re an educator serving kids in need, please visit the First Book Marketplace to register and browse our collection of educational resources. Click here to learn more about the Citizen Power Project.

The post Changing Communities with Books: The Citizen Power Project appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. 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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3. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Intersectionality in LGBTQ YA

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rainbow Boxes is a charitable initiative to connect LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the United States.

When Cori McCarthy and I did our research for Rainbow Boxes (AKA the most fun research--it mainly consisted of reading every LGBTQ YA book we could find), we were able to assemble a box of books that featured characters with a range of identities.

But if we’d tried to fill another box…it would have been much more difficult. And we were only looking for fifteen titles!

That was in 2015, and there are many exciting new additions to the list of titles this year, but this is one of the biggest places where LGBTQ YA needs to grow. The authors and LGBTQ YA advocates I interviewed seemed to be on the same page--almost every single one mentioned it.

Dahlia Adler, who runs the website LGBTQ Reads and keeps track of the books coming out, said:

"Most of all, I really, really want to see more intersectionality - more queer kids of color and more disabled queer kids. The numbers on these are still really sadly low."

Her book, Under the Lights: A Daylight Falls Novel (Spencer Hill, 2015), features a Korean-American lesbian main character, and is one of a small number of f/f books that fall in the category of delightful fluffy reads featuring queer girls.

When I spoke with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016), she gave a similar answer--with an exclamation point.

"More intersectional stories! I’m excited to see all stories with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have queer characters who are also of color, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities."

When I asked her about the exciting parts and the challenges of writing LGBTQ YA, Anna-Marie said:

"My agent, editor, and publishing house have been tremendously supportive of me writing When the Moon Was Ours. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to write queer and transgender main characters. I was already writing characters of color, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do both.
"I’m queer, and I’m married to a transguy, but I felt like I had to keep that part of my identity off the page.
"But I’m glad I had people around me who encouraged me to write the story that was in me, to write characters who are of color and also LGBTQ.

"I have heard authors talk about pressure to limit themselves to one marginalization per character. Hopefully that is changing, but wherever it remains the case, it creates a situation where queer characters must always be white, neurotypical, and able-bodied, among other things.
"It also limits the potential for multiple LGBTQIA identities (eg queer intersex people, gay or bisexual people on the asexuality spectrum.)
"This is not a question of 'checking boxes' when it comes to diversity, but rather reflecting a wider range of lived experience."

As author Tristina Wright puts it:

Tristina Wright
"Intersections exist.
"Someone can be Black, bisexual, have anxiety, and come from a single parent home.
"Someone can be Muslim, gay, OCD, and a twin.
"Someone can be Latinx, genderfluid, depressed, and stutter.
"Someone can be Biracial, pansexual, use a wheelchair, and Deaf.
"There are intersections upon intersections and when people protest this point, they reinforce the idea that there's a default setting of white/straight/cisgender/abled and anything away from that is Other."

Tristina’s debut novel, 27 Hours, coming Fall 2017 from Entangled Teen, features characters of many backgrounds and identities. Here’s how Tristina describes the intersectional identities of her characters:

4 alternating POVs
1. Male, biracial (Indian/Nigerian), bisexual, PTSD
2. Female, biracial (Cuban/Greek), pansexual, Deaf
3. Male, white, gay, adopted
4. Male, white, asexual, has two moms
+ 2 ensemble characters
5. Female, transgender, Latinx, bisexual
6. Male, gay, Caribbean, missing two fingers (from birth)

Sometimes, in the case of fantasy and sci-fi novels, intersections don’t have exact real-world correlation.

In the authors’ own words, here are the identities in Malinda Lo’s Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011):

"Huntress is set in a Chinese-inspired world, so the characters are both non-white and queer. I wouldn't describe them as Chinese, because it's a secondary fantasy world. 'Non-white' is probably best."

And Corinne DuyvisOtherbound (Amulet, 2014):

"Nolan is Mexican-American and disabled. Amara is bisexual, disabled, and a woman of color. As she lives in a fantasy world, the bisexuality is unlabeled and her ethnicity has no real-world analog."


Recent titles that include main characters with intersectional identities are More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), which features a gay male Puerto Rican main character, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), which has a disabled bisexual girl protagonist, Proxy by Alex London (Philomel, 2013), with a gay male person-of-color protagonist, Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) with Chinese-Vietnamese American bisexual girl protagonist, and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) about a bisexual Latina protagonist.

I spoke with Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012), about the intersectionality in her book.

"I didn't make a big point about identity in 37 Things I Love, but I pictured the cast of that book as relatively diverse.
"Ellis is biracial (black dad/white mom) and Cara is also biracial (white/Asian). Ellis will likely identify as bisexual when she is older, though at the moment she is at the beginning of her journey to discover her sexual self. Cara identifies as a lesbian and is more secure in her identity on a lot of levels.
"The text contains a couple of hints toward Ellis's racial identity, but fewer to indicate Cara's, and while it's clear from the novel action that the girls are interested in each other romantically, they don't fully name their respective identities.
"For me as a writer, the important thing at the time was to write a story that included a biracial, bisexual protagonist without drawing too much attention to the fact. I hoped that leaving it less clearly defined would allow space for readers to draw the characters however they see fit.

Kekla Magoon
"I'm not sure if I would make the same choices about representing the identities in that book if I was writing and publishing it today. [37 Things was sold in 2010 and published in 2012.]
"I've changed as a writer, and the industry has evolved in what it is ready to accept.
"At the time, I felt a little bit subversive in sliding this book out, and it flew largely under the radar.
"People had come to expect 'black' books from me, based on my previous work, so to write a 'gay' book felt a bit sneaky. Which, I suppose, parallels my interest in being more subtle about the characters' identities too.
"On the one hand, maybe I could've served the need for 'diverse YA' better if I had landed harder on those descriptions. On the other hand, it didn't feel as germane to the story I was trying to tell at the time, and in the long run don't want any book to have to stand alone as one or the other ('black' vs. 'gay').
"Just as much, I don't want my book to be labeled as even more narrowly as a 'black LGBTQ' book, either. I would like to be able to stop pressing the point that it's okay for a single book to cover lots of identity territory without being pigeonholed or assumed to be directed to a limited audience."

It’s extremely important that books that deal with characters of intersecting identities are treated as part of YA literature as a whole, and not a special interest category.

These books are part of what makes YA exciting, truthful, and worthwhile to readers whose real lives encompass so many identities.

For a parting thought, here’s Vee Signorelli, co-founder of The Gay YA, on what they’re excited about:

"There's this amazing energy about LGBTQIA+ right now. I don't know how else to explain it. It's really new and current and vibrant. Like… it’s really beginning to feel like anything is possible.

"That said, we have a long way to go, especially in terms of intersectional representation.
"Sometimes it’s easy to think we’ve come super far, only to get a tumblr ask for an autistic queer character, or a black gay teen, or a trans girl who ends up in a happy relationship with another girl, and you’re like… that... doesn’t exist."

As writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, educators, librarians, and lovers of books, let’s all do what we can so that in a few years, we can look back and see a vast improvement in the number of intersectional books--so many that we can’t possibly list all of the titles, so many that no book request goes unfilled.

This post is part two in a four-part series. Tomorrow, we'll reflect on genre fiction.

Amy Rose Notes


Check out Diversity in YA from Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon. Peek: "We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. Our goal is to bring attention to books and authors that might fall outside the mainstream, and to bring the margin to the center."

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo, a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway (coming in 2017 from Candlewick).

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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4. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: LGBTQ YA Genre Fiction

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the standout differences in the LGBTQ offerings in 2016, as opposed to previous years, is a boost in genre fiction.

While I love reading LGBTQ books of all kinds, in my truest and nerdiest heart, I’m a lifelong reader and devoted writer of genre fiction.

Stories with marginalized main characters tend to take a particular route through the publishing world--starting with “issue” books, expanding into a broader range of contemporary fiction, and finally arriving at genre fiction.

My first two published novels--Entangled (2013) and Unmade (2016)(both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--are space opera and feature a f/f romance between two secondary characters.

The farther into the series I got, the more I knew that my heart was completely wound up in the story of those girls. I knew what I wanted to do--what I needed to do--write about queer characters in the kind of stories I love best.

Unfortunately, I could think of few traditionally published YA novels that fit into the categories I wanted to write.

I threw myself into the work, focused on crafting the best stories I could, and tried to cloak my worries in stubborn optimism. I’m beyond happy to say that my 2017 novel coming out from Candlewick is a mystery novel with a queer love story at its heart.

I know that I’ve been lucky. I have so many other stories to tell, as do so many LGBTQ authors. But the readers are what I keep coming back to.

Every time I find a new, beautifully crafted world with LGBTQ characters in it, that world changes mine a little bit. And if I’d had those books as a young reader--it would have changed everything.

One of the authors I looked up to as proof that LGBTQ YA genre fiction was possible is Malinda Lo.

Her science fiction fantasy (SFF) books featuring queer girls are among the handful published before 2016, including Ash (Little, Brown, 2009), a lush and lyrical retelling of Cinderella.

When I asked Malinda about her own favorites of new and upcoming books, she said:

"In November, Audrey Coulthurst's fantasy novel Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray) [came] out.
"An early version of this book was Audrey's submission to Lambda*, and when I first read it I honestly wasn't sure if I trusted my own assessment of it because it checked so many of my personal reading faves. I was almost afraid it wasn't real!
"It's a high fantasy about two princesses who fall in love with each other against the backdrop of political intrigue and one girl's growing knowledge of her own magical talents.
"It also involves (to my eternal delight) plenty of romantic horseback riding lessons. Ever since reading Robin McKinley's novels as a teen, this has been one of my absolutely most favorite tropes in fantasy.
"And Of Fire and Stars is also such a delicious, slow-burning romance. Anyone who enjoys romances should love this book."

I had the opportunity to talk to Audrey Coulthurst as well, and ask her what she loves about writing genre fiction.

Audrey Coulthurst
"Perhaps the best thing about writing genre fiction is how boundless the opportunities are; writers of SFF are not obligated to create worlds that have the same social structures or prejudices that are present in ours.
"As a teen it would have been very meaningful to me to find a fantasy book that felt familiar in the ways I loved—the medievalesque setting, magic, and political intrigue—but also showed me that it was possible for a girl to fall for another girl in that imaginary world.
"Desire for that kind of book is what inspired me to write Of Fire and Stars.

"There still are not a ton of LGBTQ books in YA SFF, but that means a lot of opportunity exists for writers. I can’t wait to see what new releases arrive in the coming years.
"What I would love is not necessarily to focus on creating a SFF LGBTQ YA category, or expanding LGBTQ YA to include SFF, but for characters of all gender identities and sexual orientations to be present on the page in many different kinds of stories and for those to be accepted as part of the broader canon."

In the spirit of adding LGBTQ books to the broader canon, here are some excellent reads that will be at home in any collection.

Readers who loves high fantasy will no doubt embrace Of Fire and Stars, while those who enjoy high-paced adventures with pirates and sea monsters will delight in The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (Flux, 2016). Fans of myth retellings in contemporary settings, should run out and immediately read About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (St. Martin's Griffin, 2015).

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) is a rich fantasy starring a bisexual Latina bruja. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (McElderry, 2015, 2016) features deftly written dystopian politics and a beautiful queer romance. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) is an exciting new addition to the YA superhero genre. Christopher Barzak’s Wonders of the Invisible World (Knopf, 2015, 2016) is a beautifully written contemporary novel that weaves in fantastical elements. Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is a fantastic sci-fi novel with a nonbinary main character.

While these novels will appeal to anyone who loves great storytelling, for queer readers, the expansion into genre fiction is positive for so many reasons.

As Corinne Duyvis, the author of the excellent YA fantasy novel Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), puts it:

"The delight of these books is that queer readers can see themselves in the same adventures that cishet readers can. Too often, queer characters only get stories about being queer, and aren't allowed much of an identity or adventures beyond that.
"While we need issue books, we also need more. Some readers want an escape from the real world. Some want to be empowered in a supernatural fashion. Some just love reading about dragons and are tired of being excluded from all the exciting dragon stories, damn it.

"You can't say it's 'representation' when it only exists within a very narrow kind of narrative, often dictated by cishet people. Representation means representation everywhere."

And she points out that queer readers aren’t the only ones who benefit.

"Queer genre books are also essential for cishet readers. Many who might not pick up a 'queer book' will still be exposed to queer characters that way. It helps normalize our existence.
"It's been proven in studies that exposure to positive representation of queer characters/people can actively increase acceptance, so it's important that books of all kinds accurately reflect our reality and the queer people in it.

"Finally, because these books often aren't about being queer, the flap copy often doesn't mention this aspect of the characters.
"This can be negative, since it makes the books harder for queer readers to find, but also positive, since it makes the books safer to read for teens whose parents who might not want them reading queer books."

It’s important to remember that just because a book has an LGBTQ main character, that shouldn’t be seen as limiting its readership to queer readers--any more than a book with a straight main character would be limited to straight readers. LGBTQ books shouldn’t be treated as “niche” or special interest.

When I asked Alex London, the author of dystopian YA novel Proxy (Speak, 2015), what he was most excited about in LGBTQ YA, he said:

"For me, I thought the most exciting part of publishing LGBTQ YA would be connecting with the young LGBTQ readers who were hungry for the kinds of adventure stories I write, where traditionally LGBTQ characters have been lacking.
"And the response has been touching and uplifting and inspiring (and sometimes, although rarely, heartbreaking--a book can provide some armor but it can't rescue a kid from homophobia and bigotry, especially when it comes from their parents and community).
"However, the LGBTQ response has not been the most exciting part for me. I have really delighted in the response from cis het kids and teens who are mostly willing to engage with queer heroes like they engage with any other character. They want someone they can root for and thrill with and if that character is queer, so be it.
"I've loved the anxious emails from straight readers pleading for one of the gay boys I've written to find a boyfriend. I love the emails from straight readers asking how to be better allies to their queer friends.
"Essentially, I've been thrilled that my books have acted as mirrors and windows, but most thrilled that, for some, the books have been, as [YA Goddess] Teri Lesesne puts it, '...doors books that offer them a sense of how to be powerful change agents.'"

Another highlight of my talk with Alex was his explanation of the delights of writing genre fiction.

"Writing genre, I think, frees up a part of my imagination to imagine sexual and gender identity politics beyond what our society currently can.
"I think sci fi and fantasy are freeing in that way, although I think we could all push these boundaries farther than we do.
"I love what Ursula K. Le Guin writes about the power of fantasy and sci fi not to offer prescriptions or predictions, but to dislodge the imagination from thinking that the way things are is the way they have to be. Imagining other possible realities, from our relationship to economics, our understanding of the natural world, or the bonds that connect us to each other and to our bodies--those are the joys of genre.
"I think genre fiction has the unique ability of queering our minds anyway, so it seemed natural to me to write queer characters within it."

This is one of my favorite elements of genre fiction--the expansion of possibility. The inclusion of a wider range of stories, worlds, people, and the ways they might live.

Seeing beyond our own time, place, and circumstances can be truly mind-expanding and life-changing.

As Lindsay Smith, author of the forthcoming A Darkly Beating Heart (Roaring Brook, 2016), reminds us, historical fiction is another genre we can look to for stories of LGBTQ characters who have grappled with different realities.

"My first published LGBTQ stories have been historical (“City of Angels,” in the A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood (Candlewick, 2016)) and time-travel-y (A Darkly Beating Heart).
"I’ve always loved historical fiction, and taking into account the social pressures and situations LGBTQ characters faced in different places and periods provides an interesting challenge.
"I think across the board people assume things were always worse in the past, but there are so many more stories to be told."

Even with the recent increase in genre fiction, there are still relatively few LGBTQ YA historical fiction titles. A recently announced anthology, All Out, edited by Saundra Mitchell (Harlequin Teen, 2018) features LGBTQ historical fiction short stories from a number of incredible authors. This is a good one to pre-order and put on the to-be-read list now.

I’d like to share some closing thoughts from Tristina Wright, author of the forthcoming 27 Hours, a thrilling sci-fi novel which features a main cast of queer characters that span many identities.

When I asked her what she values most about writing genre fiction, she said:

Tristina Wright
"Giving us the spotlight to be the hero, to solve the puzzle, to slay the monster, to get the romance, to do and to be instead of furthering a straight character's journey.
"Genre can reflect the hope and optimism for the future. It can reflect the universe we want. It can contain the people around us, but in better versions.
"We can write a world where horrible things happen, but homophobia isn't one of them. Some will laugh and insist that's not realistic but, then again, neither are dragons."

Thank you for checking out this post--it’s part three of a four-part series.

Check back for the final installment, about the future of LGBTQ YA, challenges that still need to be met, and where we go from here!

Notes from Amy Rose

*Lambda Literary holds a yearly retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers, where they are mentored by experienced professionals in the field.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

(See New Voice Amy Rose Capetta on Entangled from Cynsations.)

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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5. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Where Does LGBTQ YA Go From Here?

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Amy Rose Capetta writing
While the goal of this blog series is to celebrate LGBTQ YA, there’s so much more room for growth.

It might seem like LGBTQ YA books are hitting new heights, when in reality they’re only beginning to find their audience.

In the words of Alex London, author of Proxy (Speak, 2015):

"The challenge remains getting books with overtly queer themes and characters in front of all sorts of readers. I've been lucky to have had my first YA included on many state reading lists, which brings it into schools and I've been lucky with some of my middle grade books to have the support of Scholastic Book Fairs--another route into the schools.
"But for kids without active librarians who seek out and promote LGBTQ books, those books might never find their way into the reading life of young people, straight or queer.
"You can't read a book you've never seen or heard of, so exposure and access remain the greatest challenges...as for all books, really.
"We've a long way yet to go, but it's a positive development that queer books are finally competing in the same marketplace as books without queer elements."

I asked Dahlia Adler, the founder of LGBTQ Reads, about the gap that seems to exist between LGBTQ books and readers.

"I think it's really, really important that people who have access to those readers - parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians - make it their business to have even just a bare bones rec list of LGBTQ YA handy.
"I've seen some people make amazing resources for that, like bookmarks with recommendations printed right on them that can easily be distributed, and that's a huge help. Things like that, that help get the word out, are gonna be hugely important.

"It's also tricky because you have this real divide in LGBTQ YA marketing - some of it is glaringly queer, and sometimes the queerness is completely hidden.
"And the fact is, we need both. If I could give every LGBTQ YA two different covers and blurbs, I totally would. Because it's important for there to be books that are easily identifiable both so kids can find them or, if they can't take any books home, to at least see themselves in the covers and blurbs.
"But there are also kids who really want to read these books but can't safely buy or borrow them if they're obviously queer. And that's a very, very tricky thing."

When I asked Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA the same question, they said:

"There are so many teens desperately seeking representation, and yet somehow, the connection never gets made that those books are out there…

"I think maybe one reason there's so much disconnect is that, even though there are all these amazing #ownvoices books being penned, the ones that still reach peak heights of attention are almost all written by straight, cis authors…
"So I guess I'd love to see those big name authors of LGBTQIA+ YA have a thorough knowledge of other books and use their platforms to promote them.

"One of the major angles missing right now is TUMBLR. Tumblr is where the teens are that are desperately seeking representation, and taking it in any form they can find.
"I once ran across a post in which someone talked about how they were crossing out the pronouns of one of the characters in a book and replacing them with she/her so that it would make it about an F/F couple. And my heart just broke a little.

"I think there’s also a lot that needs to be done in libraries and schools. The library I work at has kept our LGBTQIA+ display up, and those books are flying in and out like nobody’s business."


I asked authors if they had any messages that they wish could reach readers, publishers, librarians, booksellers and/or educators who want to support LGBTQ YA. Audrey Coulthurst, who wrote Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray, 2016), said:

"It’s heartening to see the growing enthusiasm for LGBTQ YA and the efforts bloggers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and educators are making to help increase visibility…
"The thing I would love most is for event organizers to try to focus less on putting together 'diversity' panels, and more on creating inclusive panels.
"Why not include SFF LGBTQ books on a broader fantasy panel about worldbuilding? Or LGBTQ romances on sex in YA panels?
"Being inclusive of LGBTQ books allows us to have deeper conversations and showcase broader perspectives, directly furthering the movement for better representation by reaching readers who might not already be aware of the push for that.
"I’d love to see a shift from acknowledging (but compartmentalizing) marginalized groups toward complete inclusivity.

"Also, the YA community is so fantastic and full of passion, which is one of the things I love best about it. One evergreen reminder is that the best way to make sure your favorite authors continue writing is to support them with your dollar. That doesn’t always mean it has to come right out of your pocket either!
"Ways you can support authors:
Audrey Coulthurst
  • Buy their books (for yourself or as a gift). 
  • Request their books at your local library.
  • Discourage people from pirating books or selling ARCs. This makes authors sad (and penniless). 
  • Leave reviews on retail sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Tell your friends about books you love."

The word absolutely needs to spread about the books that are out there.

Not all marketing budgets are created equal, and word of mouth is still one of the biggest factors in how all books, especially LGBTQ ones, reach their audiences.

That means we all have power in the publishing industry--to spread the word, to share books we love as widely as possible. In some ways, it’s a simple equation. The more LGBTQ books we buy, the more there will be.

There are also libraries to consider. Cori McCarthy and I looked for recipients for our Rainbow Boxes (a charitable initiative, connecting LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the U.S.), we chose many small community libraries because we knew that in many cases limited budgets meant they could only afford a handful of titles, the most visible and bestselling YA--which often leaves out #ownvoices LGBTQ books.

In other cases, organizations that raised money for library spending budgets wouldn’t allow the money to be spent on LGBTQ books.

If you don’t see LGBTQ books at your local library, talk to your librarian. Consider requesting titles or even donating books to the collection.

Talking to Becky Albertalli, author of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray, 2015), she pointed out some other factors at work:

"The most exciting part about writing and publishing LGBTQ YA has been, hands down, hearing from readers. I get the most beautiful emails from teens (and adults!) at different stages of the coming out process, and I feel so privileged to be a part of that moment.
"Interestingly, I haven't encountered as many challenges as I anticipated. The one recurring frustration has been with a small subset of middle school librarians who feel that Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is inappropriate for their students.
"I 100% understand this judgment call, if they're concerned about cursing and adult language, but these libraries often feature comparable heterosexual titles. It's deeply upsetting that Simon's (very innocent!) love story is seen as less appropriate for middle school than hetero love stories with equal or more sexual content.

"I think the most important message I'd like to share is for librarians. I've been seeing really wonderful LGBTQ YA collections in so many library systems, but I'm not sure there's enough discussion around the importance of including electronic copies in public library collections.
"Having physical copies of LGBTQ YA on library and bookstore shelves is incredibly important as well, and it sends a powerful message to teens encountering these collections - but digital copies are often safer and more practical for LGBTQ teens, particularly in certain regions of the country."

Malinda Lo, author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009) and Huntress (Little Brown, 2011), points out that when it comes to YA books that do include sexual content, there are even more barriers:

Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Radical
"I'm excited that the publishing industry is now more willing to publish these stories, but I also know that the struggle is not over. There are still limitations to the experiences that publishers are supportive of portraying in YA books.
"For example, straightforward representations of sexuality remain taboo for many, which is why I'm also very excited by E.M. Kokie's fall novel, Radical (Candlewick, 2016), which delivers one of the most realistic sex scenes involving two girls I've ever read in YA.
"Teens and sexuality push a lot of buttons in adult gatekeepers, and that's one barrier that is still pretty high for representations of queer teens.
"However, now that so many more people in the industry are talking about representation, and with so many more authors writing these stories, I hope that it's only a matter of time before barriers like this are also overturned."

While some areas of representation are flourishing, others are still barely included in YA. There are a very small number of books about intersex characters and characters on the asexuality spectrum.

There are also strikingly few characters with nonbinary gender identities.

When I asked Bill Konigsberg, author of The Porcupine of Truth (Arthur A. Levine, 2015), what he’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, and what he wants to see more of, he said:

"I went on a road trip last fall to talk to LGBTQ youth across the south and Midwest about suicide and depression. It was an amazing, exhausting trip, and in the end I think I learned more than I taught.
"One thing that was especially valuable to me as a writer and as a human being was to learn about how pervasive gender fluidity is for this youngest generation. I don't think I really understood when I set out on my journey the entire spectrum of the transgender experience, and I got educated!
"I think it's extremely clear that what we are beginning to see on the shelves are books with gender-fluid characters, and that this needs to continue to grow as an area.
"I have a feeling that this young generation is going to change the world with its exploration of gender."

When I asked Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016), the same question, she said:

"I want to see more queer characters of color, disabled queer characters, reliqueer characters.
"I want more ace/aro rep. I want questioning characters. I want explicit rep of all orientations.
"I want to see the entire gender spectrum reflected in YA and I want to see those intersections too. (And all across genres, too!)

"I love seeing how our stories branch out. I love seeing increasingly more support and excitement for queer YA. I think we're making massive steps right now. But I'm a very hungry caterpillar. I want more." 

More seems to be one of the most important words to take from this conversation. We need more books, more representation, more people supporting inclusive fiction in more ways, both old and new.

Before the series ends, I want to share Vee Signorelli ’s story of how they started The Gay YA.

It shows how far LGBTQ YA has come in five years--and how amazingly important these stories really are.

"In May of 2011, Jessica Verday put up a post explaining why she’d pulled out of the Wicked Pretty Things anthology: one of the editors said they would not include her piece unless she changed her m/m pairing to an m/f one.
"Book Twitter exploded with criticism of the straight-washing, and support for LGBTQIA+ characters. A #YesGayYA hashtag was formed, and other authors began sharing similar experiences of straight-washing.
"It became very apparent that there was a huge problem going on behind the scenes in publishing.
"It wasn’t necessarily straight up homophobia fueling it-- it was more the (faulty) belief that it wouldn’t sell.
"My older sister and I both saw the same thing: tons of people calling out for representation, with no way to reach the ears of publishing, and no plans to build any sort of coalition to keep the energy going.
"We were only sixteen and twelve at the time, but it wasn’t even really a question in our minds: we knew how to do websites, and we knew social media.

"We both identified as straight at the time (ha ha), and we really knew nothing about the LGBTQ community. But, we had the time and the passion and the knowledge of websites to be able to do it. Then, due to life and health issues, we had to drop off for awhile. My sister started college, and it sort of looked like it would never get started back up again.

"And then I turned fifteen and entered into what I affectionately refer to as “the year of hell.” (TW for suicidal ideation) I was suicidal, and full of self hatred, and I didn't know why. And then I realized I was queer and trans.
"I went through a lot of therapy, and that was really what stopped me from killing myself.
"But the thing that actually made me start wanting to live, the thing that made me think I might have a possible future ahead of me, was queer and trans fiction. Primarily, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2014), Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff (Carolrhoda, 2011), and The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan (Knopf, 2004).
"Those books meant so much to me. But, I knew from spending half of my life on tumblr that year, that most teens desperately seeking representation did not know about these kinds of books were out there.
"In a way, these books saved my life. I knew they could save other lives as well."

Vee chose to restart The Gay YA, and it’s become one of the most important sources online for LGBTQ fiction and community. Please take a look at the work being done there, as well as at LGBTQ Reads, Diversity in YA and Lee Wind's blog, I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Amy Rose signs Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017) contract
As a queer person, I know that the years ahead are going to be difficult. I have sat with this reality every day, and one of the few things that offer me hope right now are stories.

We will need YA books more than ever, as a source of catharsis and beauty, of comfort and resistance. This moment is more than just a trend in publishing--it’s a rare and necessary chance for LGBTQ people to share their truth with each other, and the rest of the world.

If you believe that these books are important, that LGBTQ young people are important, please do what you can to support these stories. And if you already do--thank you, thank you, thank you.

And keep watching for the next step from Rainbow Boxes! We’ll announce a new way that you can help spread the love for LGBTQ fiction in early 2017.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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6. 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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7. A Poem for Peter


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Children's picture book nerds have a few saints; Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Trina Schart Hyman -(don't get me started.  What about the Petershams and Tomie DePaola and Frank Asch?...Of course, I am showing my age.)

But chief among them, for his groundbreaking work in diversity, is Ezra Jack Keats.  (Is that not a most poetic name?)  His books about Peter and Peter's neighborhood brought the children of Keats' neighborhood,- black children, brown children, tan and white children - into mainstream publishing.

Everybody knows The Snowy DayNow thank to Andrea Davis Pinkney, and illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, we get the story behind that book's creation - the story of Ezra Jack Keats.  A Poem for Peter hits the shelves on November 1st.  I can't wait to read it.

Check out the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, while we wait for this book to arrive.

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8. Guest Post: Mary Atkinson Asks Am I A Radical?

Author Visit with Mary Atkinson
By Mary Atkinson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Recently, I received an email from Abby, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was working on a research project about Lollipop Power, a small press established in Chapel Hill in 1970.

She wanted to know if I was the author of one of their books, María Teresa. She’d found correspondence between the author and the press archived in the university library.

“Looking at your website,” she wrote, “I see you are a great educator! I am teaching in Texas after I graduate so I always love stumbling upon other teachers and seeing their wisdom.”

Of course I got right back to her! Now in my 60s, I am full of wisdom and I’m always happy to share!

I had written María Teresa when I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1970s. I taught Spanish then to first and second graders at Silverton Elementary School in a magnet program to attract white students to the predominantly black school. Because I only had high school certification, I needed to get my elementary certificate to keep my job. I enrolled in the necessary courses at Xavier University.

I signed up for History of Children’s Literature, a course that ultimately guided me to my life’s passion—writing for children. One day, we had a guest speaker: Lucille Clifton.

What she said had a profound impact on me. She said that all children deserve to see themselves in children’s books. In 1977!

As a teacher in a school where most of my students were black, Clifton’s comment resonated with me. I’d already looked in my local library for picture books where both the students I taught and the children who spoke the language I taught were represented. I’d found very few.

One assignment in the children’s literature course was to write and illustrate a children’s book. Another life defining moment!

Thus, María Teresa was born. María Teresa tells the story of a young Mexican American girl who finds her voice in her Anglo classroom through her puppet, Monteja la Oveja.

I decided to try to get María Teresa published. I combed through the thick volume of the Writer’s Market at the Cincinnati Public Library. Why did I pick Lollipop Power Press among all the others listed?

Because I loved the Lollipop mission.

The Lollipop Power Press was a non-sexist and non-racist children’s book publishing collective, a feminist press concerned with issues of class, race, and gender equality.

It published books such as Martin’s Father by Margrit Eichler about a boy and his black single-parent father; Jesse’s Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack about a boy who sews his own skirt and wears it to school; and In Christina’s Toolbox by Dianne Homan about a girl who loves to build things just like her mom.

I was thrilled when Lollipop accepted my manuscript for publication. That was easy, I thought! I’m going to be a children’s author! I’ll write stories, send them to publishers and they’ll become books. (Little did I know…)

Abby, the college student, and I spoke on the phone. Her curiosity about and enthusiasm for María Teresa touched me deeply. It took me back to a time when a book about a girl and her toolbox, a boy who wears a skirt, and a boy with a single black dad were unusual, and in many places, controversial.

“Were you a radical?” she asked me when I told her about how Lollipop Power’s vision back then was so new.

Well, I joked, if believing in equality and access to children’s literature for all children was radical, I guess I was.

And still am. It all goes back to my ah-ha moment when listening to Lucille Clifton. Every child deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

As I think back on it, two things are notable. One, that as a WASP New Englander, it had never occurred to me back then to even think about how there were children who couldn’t find themselves in books. And two, that as soon as she said it, it touched a deep well inside me.

I understood what she was saying. I understood how important it was. And I wanted to be a children’s author who wrote stories for and about all kinds of children.

Forty years later, the vision of We Need Diverse Books is “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

Am I a radical to ask, “Why is this taking so long?”

Cynsational Notes

Mary Atkinson has taught Spanish to students of all ages, been a third grade teacher, and hosted a Spanish radio show. Her poetry for children has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and her fiction and non-fiction have been published widely in educational markets. She is the author of Owl Girl (Maine Authors Publishing, 2015).

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

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

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10. Diversity and stuff

America - the Melting Pot!  That image is sort of wrong.  I don't want the Mediterranean part of me melted into the Germanic part of me - not entirely!  I want to own the Mangia! and the Gesundheit! both - to say nothing of the Pip Pip Cheerio!  and Top o' the morning!  I am proud of every single patch in my patchwork DNA.

At the same time,  America as a Cooking Pot is sort of right.  I love soups and stews - foods where different ingredients blend together but keep their individual flavors.  America is more like a hearty soup.

Hey!  We're all people!  We all share the same home, the Earth.

A good cook doesn't let any one ingredient overpower all the others.

I think I forgot where I was going with this.  Oh!  Right!  Diversity!  Celebrate the differences, everyone!  All the lovely differences!

Here are some book lists to get you started in this celebration of America, the Cooking Pot.  Mangia!

From the Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, here are 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know.

Reading Is Fundamental has 40 books on their list.

The Center for the Study of Multicultural Literature for Children puts out a booklist for books published in the current year.  2016 isn't over yet. (Sigh.) So, here is their list for 2015.

Scholastic.com puts a LOT of work into their various websites, so here is their little 7 book long book list about diversity.

Here is an interesting list of picture books, from Storytime Standouts, on diversity and empathy.  Some of the titles seem to be off topic.  But, there are all kinds of differences out there.

And No Time for Flashcards put together this list of books about families that don't fit the mother/father/2.5 children/and a dog mold.

Hmm, I think this soup needs a little more of.....YOU!


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11. Just a piece of news!


March: Book Three (March, #3)

The National Book Awards were handed out on Wednesday night.  John Lewis' final entry into his graphic memoir, March: Book Three, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, won the 2016 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Here is the School Library Journal article about the book, the prize, the event.

The book is stunning in its timeliness.  We cannot forget the fight for equal rights and equal respect.  And we must continue to uphold the American ideal that all people are created equal.  That's ALL - as in Every Single Person. 

As the banner at my place of worship says, "Love Thy Neighbor - No Exceptions".

PS.  The winner, in books for grown-ups, was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  Pay attention, readers. 

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12. Monday Review: FORGE and ASHES by Laurie Halse Anderson

Synopsis: Forge and Ashes are the 2nd and 3rd books in the Seeds of America trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson. Way, WAY back in 2009, I reviewed the first book, Chains, and was so glad to know there was a sequel in the works: it was an absorbing tale... Read the rest of this post

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13. Three Authors Receive Top Honors from NCTE

By NCTE
for Cynsations

ATLANTA-- Authors Jason Reynolds, Melissa Sweet, and Marilyn Nelson were just announced winners of prestigious literacy awards from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Jason Reynolds won the 2017 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children for his book Ghost (Atheneum). The Charlotte Huck award is given to books that promote and recognize fiction that has the potential to transform children's lives.

Melissa Sweet won the 2017 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children for her book Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, established in 1989, is the oldest children's book award for nonfiction.

Marilyn Nelson won the 2017 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. The biannual award is given to a living American poet for his or her aggregate work for children ages 3–13.

Honor and Recommended book lists were also announced. All three authors will be invited to speak at next year's NCTE Annual Convention in St. Louis, MO.

NCTE is the nation's most comprehensive literacy organization, supporting teachers across the preK–college spectrum.

Through the expertise of its members, NCTE has served at the forefront of every major improvement in the teaching and learning of English and the language arts since 1911.

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14. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Celebrating LGBTQ YA

Rainbow Boxes co-founders Cori & Amy Rose
By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 2015, it seemed like there was a slowly growing list of excellent YA books with central LGBTQ main characters--but there were clearly still barriers making it difficult for readers, especially teen readers, to find them.

Fellow YA author Cori McCarthy* and I created Rainbow Boxes to help bridge that gap, to directly connect LGBTQ YA to young readers.

We raised funds that allowed us to send a box of fifteen YA titles to LGBTQ centers and community libraries in all 50 states.

Rainbow Boxes co-founder Cori McCarthy in our living room--with hundreds of LGBTQ books!

Then 2016 happened.

Looking forward at the beginning of this year, I saw new LGBTQ YA titles everywhere--seemingly more in a single year than we had seen in the past five put together.

Looking back now, while the publishing landscape has indeed changed in 2016, so has the world.**

Amy Rose, Cynthia & Sara Kocek
When I first talked to Cynthia Leitich Smith about this blog series, I hoped it would be a celebration of great LGBTQ YA: a call to uplift the excellent books that are being published while we continue to work for a wider range of stories and representation.

Now this series feels more urgently important than ever. In the coming years, LGBTQ people, especially young ones, will need stories. They will need adventure and friendship and truth and love, messiness and beauty, fluff and darkness, a place to see their humanity fully explored, even as other people seek to deny it.

Straight and cisgendered people need these stories, too. Without them, there will be no truthful narratives that push against the limited, distorted, and stereotyped portrayals of the past.

Amy Rose, Adam & Cori
The work is underway. Minds and hearts are changing. LGBTQ teenagers are brave and amazing. But there is still so much we can do. I’d like to start by waving my rainbow flag as hard as I can to celebrate some of the wonderful successes in LGBTQ YA.

Books about gay teenage boys have increasingly been enjoying mainstream success levels. Some of the breakouts include New York Times bestselling More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), named as “mandatory reading” and selected as an Editor’s Choice by the NYT.

David Levithan’s many books about gay teenagers, which have been published for over a decade, are considered a YA staple.

Wildly popular Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) won the coveted Morris Award for debut authors.

Books about queer girls have not enjoyed the same levels of visibility, but there are signs that might be changing. In 2016, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016) was long-listed for National Book Award, Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray, 2012) was announced as an upcoming movie adaptation, and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016) hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list--and stayed on the list week after week.

I asked Marieke: how does it feel to have a #1 NYT bestselling title featuring queer girl main characters? What does it mean for you as a writer? As a queer person? She said:

"It means the world to me. One of the reasons why I started writing was to give a voice and stories to readers who struggled to find themselves in books.
"Like I did, growing up. And as it is, nothing fills my heart more than hearing from those exact readers, who recognize themselves--if only a little--in TIWIE.

"Of course I hoped and dreamed my stories would resonate, but to hear those reactions and to see this queer book of mine do so well...
"It's far beyond even my wildest dreams. It's out of this world. I'm so incredibly grateful for it, and I hope I can pay it forward."

I talked to Anna-Marie McLemore about how she sees the field changing. Her first book, The Weight of Feathers, came out last fall. Her second book, When The Moon Was Ours, features a queer girl and trans boy as main characters, and people of color compose the main casts of both books. She said:

"I have a lot of hope for the future of inclusive literature. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the conversations taking place, many of them fostered by leaders like those of We Need Diverse Books, we’re moving forward."

I asked the same question to Malinda Lo, a well-known author in the LGBTQ community, whose books include Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011) and Adaptation (Little, Brown, 2012). She said:

"When my first novel, Ash (Little, Brown), was published in 2009, very little YA was published that included queer characters who did not have to struggle with coming out. This has changed significantly in the last seven years.
"This change certainly wasn't driven only by my books, because other authors had also been moving in this direction, but I think my books did contribute to the growing normalization of queer characters in YA.
"In other words, you can have a queer character in a book, but it doesn't always have to be about being queer. It can be about falling in love, or saving a kingdom, or simply coming of age, with sexual orientation one issue of many that a character engages with.
"I am really encouraged by this, because the struggle for LGBT rights and acceptance does not end with coming out; it begins there. We can only be full human beings when the whole of our lives and experiences count."

This was a common refrain when I talked to authors. There will always be a place for coming out stories, and a need for excellent books that struggle with the varied and changing realities of coming out. (I’d love to see more books that deal with the fact that coming out isn’t always a binary experience dividing life neatly into “before” and “after”.)

But focusing on coming out as the only important narrative results in a limited literature that reduces LGBTQ people to a single experience.

I asked Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012) what she’s excited about in the field and how she sees it changing.

"It's exciting to contribute to the growing offering of books that deal with sexuality in big and small ways while intersecting with other storylines and multiple layers of character development.
"Around the time I sold 37 Things I Love (2010) and the time it came out (2012), people had begun talking about the need for more books that dealt with LGBTQ characters doing things other than coming out, and the need for books that showed LGBTQ characters of color.
"The need still exists for those books, but it seems as though the conversation has intensified, and is beginning to result in changes. There are more LGBTQ books now than there used to be, and that the door to the industry is cracking open even further now, as we collectively deepen our understanding of identity and intersectionality."

When I asked Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), what she’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, she said:

"I'm very excited to be seeing more #ownvoices*** books hit the shelves. The more the better!
"After all, no two people's experiences are the same. The more different voices we have, the more we can show the wealth and breadth of experiences of queer characters--and the less pressure there is on individual authors to 'speak for' queer YA.
"They can just be honest about that one character's experiences instead of being put into the position of representing an entire group.

"I would very much like to see more trans representation both on the pages and behind the scenes. There are still a lot of experiences out there that aren't being written about very much, whether in terms of trans identity or the various angles of intersectionality.
"It's essential that we listen, that we actively seek out and welcome trans voices, and that we do whatever we can to make the industry--and the world--more trans-friendly."

2015-16 saw the publication of a small number of #ownvoices books about trans characters--such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatrion) and George by Alex Gino (Scholastic) in the middle grade category.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is an excellent sci-fi novel about a nonbinary character.

There is still such a long way to go. Trans characters are consistently underrepresented in LGBTQ fiction.

While celebrating how far LGBTQ YA has come, it’s important that we pay attention to areas where representation is seriously lagging. Almost every single person I interviewed for this blog series cited the need for more #ownvoices trans YA.

Vee Signorelli, the co-founder of The Gay YA, is currently running Trans Awareness Week. Please check out their work, starting with this post.

When I asked Vee about the delights and challenges of running a site that covers LGBTQ YA, they said:

"I’ve gotten to connect with other literary trans people. That… has meant so much to me. The literary community loves to herald any one trans person as the one and only, when in fact, there are many of us here, and that is unhelpfully isolating.
"There is something amazing about creating, theorizing, and working things through in community. Especially when you’re all part of such a marginalized identity that has been used and misrepresented, in culture, and in YA. There’s so much you’re able to reclaim.

"One of the absolute delights is how wonderful, strong, and vibrant the entire community is. Sometimes I get up in my head about the administration work, and I start freaking out about everything I have to do… and then I put something out to the community, like a call for submissions or volunteers, or opinions on a certain book, or anything and they are just there.
"I’m repeatedly amazed by everything the community does to keep this going."

Community is one of the most important words we can keep in mind, and foster moving forward.

Whether you’re a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, a member of the publishing industry, a bookseller, there are things that all of us can do to keep this surge in LGBTQ YA going strong. And we can all work to make the YA book community a truly inclusive space.

One of the most obvious and wonderful is to enjoy and share the great books that are being published, so I want to leave you today with recommendations for new and upcoming books from Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQ Reads, and Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA.

These two websites are some of the most helpful resources and positive spaces for LGBTQ fiction, and I would greatly encourage anyone who doesn’t already check them out regularly to do so. (After adding these books to your TBR, of course.)

Dahlia said:
"I’m really, really into Jaye Robin Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (HarperTeen, 2016). I think it does a really beautiful job with queerness and religion, and it's also just fun and cute and sexy and everything you want f/f YA to be.
"Anna-Marie McLemore's When the Moon Was Ours is not only remarkably beautiful in itself and its style, but in its representations of sexual orientation and gender identity and intersectionality.
"And for some books I think are just great that center queer characters but not queerness, check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016), A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook, 2016), As I Descended by Robin Talley (HarperTeen, 2016), and Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  (Feiwel & Friends, 2016).
"One I haven't read but am super excited about is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet, 2016) - it sounds like so much fun.

"Beyond 2016, I can already definitely recommend History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen), How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen, 2017) -- I loved all of them and I'm positive many readers will too!"
Vee said:
"Queens of Geek by Jenn Wilde (Swoon) and Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinksi (Swoon) are two of my new all time favorite books. I’m also psyched to read Dreadnought by April Daniels (Diversion)(an #ownvoices YA featuring a trans girl), Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (Entangled Teen), and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen)."

This post is the first in a four-part series. Please come back for part two--I’ll be talking about LGBTQ YA genre fiction!

Notes from Amy Rose

Rainbow Boxes co-founders and YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta
*Yes, Cori McCarthy is also my girlfriend. Thank you for scrolling all the way down here to confirm this happy fact.

**Please note that all interviews were given before November, which means all answers are reflective of a pre-election cultural landscape.

***If you’re not familiar with the term/hashtag "#ownvoices," please check out #ownvoices, where Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term, explains what it means. 

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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15. New Voice: Jenny Kay Dupuis on I Am Not a Number

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jenny Kay Dupuis is the first-time author of I Am Not a Number, co-authored by Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland (Second Story, 2016). From the promotional copy:

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. 

She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. 

When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. 

But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law? 

Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.

As an author-educator, how do your various roles inform one another?

My roles as an educator and author are intrinsically interconnected. I'm always searching for meaningful, engaging ways to reach out to young people so they can learn more about topics pertaining to Indigenous realities, diversity, social and cultural justice, and respectful relationships.

While working in the field of education, I realized that there were not many children's picture books available that focused on Indigenous realities through the lens of a First Nations family.

Co-writing I Am Not a Number with Kathy Kacer gave me the opportunity to reflect on the value of literature for young people and how educators and families can make use of picture books to start conversations about critical, real-world issues.

When writing my granny's story, I realized that I was drawing on my expertise as an Indigenous community member, educator and learning strategist. I was cognizant of how children's literature can be used as a gateway to encourage young readers to unpack a story ("community memories"), think critically, and guide them to form their own opinions about issues of assimilation, identity loss, oppression, and injustice; all of which are major themes deeply rooted in policies that have either impacted or still impact Indigenous peoples.

Jenny Kay Dupuis
A children's picture book like, I Am Not a Number can support educators, students, and families to engage in deep and meaningful conversations.

The story is about my granny, who was taken from Nipissing First Nation reserve at a young age to live at a residential school in 1928.

The book can be used to direct conversations about not only Indigenous histories, but also the importance of exploring the underlying concepts of social change, including aspects of power relations, identity, and representation. For instance, young readers can engage in a character analysis by exploring the characters' ethics, motivations and effects of behaviours, and the impact of social, cultural, and political forces.

Through strong characters, written words, and vivid illustrations, the readers can also explore aspects of imagery, the settings, and the power of voice (terminology) used to express feelings of strength, fear, loss, and hope.

My hope as an educator-author is that the book, I Am Not a Number, will inspire others to use children's literature to encourage young people to begin to talk about past and present injustices that Indigenous communities face.

How did the outside (non-children's-YA-lit) world react to the news of your sale?

I Am Not a Number was released on Sept. 6. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive in Canada and the United States so far. One of the review sources, Kirkus Reviews, described it as "a moving glimpse into a not-very-long-past injustice." Booklist also gave it a starred review and highly recommended it. Other book reviewers have recommended it for teachers, librarians, and families. 

As a lead up to the launch of the book, I was asked by various groups (mostly educators) to present either in person or through Skype about topics linked to Indigenous education and the value of children's young adult literature. The sessions have been helpful for the participants to see how a book like I Am Not a Number and others can be used.

The book will also be available in French in early January by Scholastic.

What would you have done differently?

By Jenny's co-author, Kathy Kacer
A children's book is typically limited to a set number of pages. If more space was permitted, I would have liked to include a short description in the afterword of what happened after my granny and her siblings returned home from the residential school.

In my granny's case, she enrolled in an international private school. The school was located nearby on the shores of Lake Nipissing.

It offered her an opportunity to stay in her community with her family while still receiving an education. Her siblings also each chose their own life path.

What advice do you have for beginning children's YA-writers? How about diverse writers for young people? Native/First Nations writers for young people?

Although my first book is a story about my granny who was taken from her First Nations community at a young age to live in a residential school, we need to recognize that there are countless other community stories that need to be told by Indigenous peoples.

My advice for anyone who wants to get started writing children's-YA literature is relatively straightforward.

photo credits to Les Couchi for restoration of the photo
  • Have confidence in your abilities. Start by exploring a topic that you know about.
  • Be honest and authentic. Prepare to gather information to ensure the authenticity of the story through an accurate portrayal of the people, place, time period, experiences, language, and setting.
  • Be purposeful, thoughtful, and intentional. Take the time to identify what is the intended impact of the story. Writers need to continually ask themselves, "How will the readers be influenced by the characters, language, and overall messaging? How will the reader's view of their own world be expanded?
  • Be authentic. Since I Am Not a Number is a children's picture book, it was important that it include authentic imagery. A relative of mine, Les Couchi, had restored a series of old family photos. The old photos helped to inform decisions when communicating with the illustrator, Gillian Newland about the hairstyles, what items to include in my great-grandfather's shop, etc. One of the old photos is included in the book and shows my granny and her siblings outside their house.
  • Identify your responsibilities. Sometimes writers from diverse backgrounds have a greater responsibility that includes not just writing the story, but also educating others and transmitting knowledge about cultural, social, political, or economic issues buried within the story. In this instance, I Am Not a Number is not just about a First Nation's girl who was taken to live in a residential school, but it is a story that raises consciousness that Irene (my granny) is one of over hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children impacted by assimilation policies and racialized injustice.
  • Be patient and anticipate a lengthy process that may involve information gathering, several rounds of edits, fact checking, searching for the right illustrator, etc. As such, I regularly turned to my family between edits to get their feedback and continued to listen to their memories. Some of the stories included memories of how my great-grandmother often made the best homemade meat pies, baked breads, jams, and preserves.
  • Realize that your work is reflection of you. Just because something was done a certain way in the past, does not always make it right today. Be prepared to speak up and ask questions when you feel something does not feel right as you progress throughout the process, especially if you feel it feel it impacts your own ethics and values, or misrepresents a person's/group's racial or cultural identity or nation.
  • Discuss participation, consent and consultation. It is essential that publishers who engage with Indigenous authors fully recognize Indigenous expertise and honour the importance of how to respectfully work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples by ensuring their full participation, consultation, and informed consent at all stages.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Second Story Press
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, community researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education.

Jenny's interest in her family's past and her commitment to teaching about Indigenous issues through literature drew her to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children's book. The book can be ordered from a favourite bookstore (Indiebound) and online from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, and Indigo.

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16. Resources for New Writers on Publishing and Craft

If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?

Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.

as fast as words could fly image
Image from As Fast As Words Could Fly

Advice for New Writers

In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.

Hooks, Worldbuilding, and Plot

In this Ask the Editor series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award. The advice she shares includes how to hook the reader early, world building in speculative fiction, and refining plot.

The Revision Process

Once you’ve made it to the editing phase, check out this interview with two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the MusicEn pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

The Path to Publication

Every writer’s journey to publication varies, so to share their publishing experience, Authors Debbie Taylor (Sweet Music in Harlem), G. Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty), and LaTisha Redding (Calling the Water Drum) give writers insight on how different the path to publication can be here.

 Additional Resources

We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.

The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.

Picture Book
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.

Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.

Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.

Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
One of the largest organizations dedicated to children’s book writers and illustrators. SCBWI produces bi-monthly national and regional newsletters which list awards, grants and articles pertaining to publishing. See the Bulletin for advice on how to promote your first book.

resources for new writersAs we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:

The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)
Now this might not be a necessity, as real live dictionaries are not out of most writer’s budgets. However, you should give it a try.

Websites specifically for illustrators:

The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature
The NCCIL provides recognition of the artistic achievements of illustrators and gallery exhibition of their works.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art 
Collects, presents, and celebrates the art of the picture book from around the world.

The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.

We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.

 Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!

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17. Plan Your Month Roundup: October Holidays

The weather is crisp and the leaves are starting to change color…it must be fall! Now that we’ve made it to October, we wanted to help you plan out the month with these book recommendations and resources:

Plan Your Month Roundup October Holidays

World Vegetarian Day – October 1

Health and Sports Day – October 10

yum hmm image
Image from Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings

Full Moon on October 16

Make a Difference Day – October 22

Halloween – October 31

National Bullying Prevention Month

Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15)

Philippines & Filipino Collection

Filipino American Heritage Month

Also worth checking out for October:

What are you favorite October reads? Let us know in the comments!

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18. Interview: Shana Mlawski on the History Surrounding Christopher Columbus

Hammer of Witches cover imageIn Hammer of Witches fourteen-year-old bookmaker’s apprentice Baltasar, pursued by a secret witch-hunting arm of the Inquisition, joins Columbus’s expedition to escape and discovers secrets about his own past that his family had tried to keep hidden. In this BookTalk, Shana Mlawski shares her views on Christopher Columbus, working with students and what she’d wish for if she had three wishes.

Hammer of Witches deals with some hard topics (rape, abandonment, war, and torture). What do you hope readers take away from Hammer of Witches?

Shana Mlawski: When I was first outlining Hammer of Witches, I knew I wanted it to be an epic adventure about sorcerers in 1492 Spain, and that’s what it is. I didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to write about rape and torture!” It was more like, “Okay, it’s going to be about this wisecracking kid and a girl genie and a dragon and a golem and…”

But history is history. I’m not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world’s largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It’s a complex, fascinating era, but it’s a tragic era, as well. Ultimately, though, Hammer of Witches is an optimistic book. It’s about that moment when you accept that the world is more complicated than you were led to believe, and it’s at that moment you can start trying to make a difference.-History is history. I'm not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already.-

Do you feel like schools glorify Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World? Do you think schools need to paint a more accurate portrayal of his journey to students?

SM: The fact that we use the word “discovery” shows how skewed our view of the voyages can be. I prefer “contact” and “conquest,” words that remind us we’re talking about two groups: the European explorers and the Taíno living in the Caribbean at the time. If you ask me, the Taíno side of the story needs to get much more play in classrooms and in the media.

I’d also prefer if teachers stopped asking whether Columbus is a hero or a monster, as if those are the only two options. When we answer “hero,” we disappear the Taíno from history or write off their struggle as unimportant. To argue the “monster” side, we often pretend the Taíno were passive (if noble and pure) victims. The story is so much more complicated than that, and so much more interesting. History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.

Baltasar befriends a genie in Hammer of Witches, who, unfortunately, can’t grant wishes. If you met a genie who could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for and why?

SM: Oh, I’m not going to fall for this one. I’ve seen and read enough “Monkey’s Paw”-type stories to get involved with a genie. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a post-apocalyptic library with my glasses broken and no one left alive to fix them.

How has working directly with middle and high school students impacted the kind of stories you want to share with YA readers?

SM: My teaching experience has definitely sharpened my desire to tell stories about characters from different backgrounds. When I was a young nerd-in-training, most of the available fantasy books were about white, Christian kids in the U.S., Britain, or U.K.-inspired settings (the big exception being Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series). Although I’m white, those monochrome stories never reflected my experience as a child growing up in the New York Metro area. When I started teaching and tried to recommend books to my students, I saw how little things had changed. A black boy wanting to read about a kid who looked like him usually had to go for a “problem” book about drug use or gang violence, even if he wanted a sword-and-sorcery adventure. A girl looking for a Latina protagonist could find a book about the immigrant experience but not one about, say, sexy vampires. That’s why I’m not sucking up when I say I love that Lee & Low and Tu Books exist, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the gang.

-History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.-Did you have a favorite hero or heroine in a fantasy/sci-fi novel that inspires your writing?

SM: I don’t actively model my characters on heroes or heroines from other books, but that doesn’t mean inspiration doesn’t slip in from time to time. It does, but I usually don’t notice until long after I’ve finished writing the story. This time around, it occurred to me that the relationship between Baltasar and Catalina has a lot in common with the Taran/Eilonwy relationship in Lloyd Alexander’sChronicles of Prydain (although Bal has some Fflewddur Fflam in him, too). In any event, I’m cool with the connection, because Hammer of Witches is meant to be a play on Prydain-like stories. It’s what happens when you take that old quest story, brush off the dust, and stick it in the real world in 1492.

 

Shana Mlawski author imageShana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. She graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and received a master’s in education from Columbia University Teachers College. Hammer of Witches is her first novel.

 

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19. How university students infantilise themselves

Like their forebears in the 1960s, today’s students blasted university leaders as slick mouthpieces who cared more about their reputations than about the people in their charge. But unlike their predecessors, these protesters demand more administrative control over university affairs, not less. That’s a childlike position. It’s time for them to take control of their future, instead of waiting for administrators to shape it.

The post How university students infantilise themselves appeared first on OUPblog.

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20. Guest Post: Traci Sorell on Signing with a Literary Agent

Kansas State U. Powwow with son Carlos & cousin Matthew Lester (senior)
By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I had no idea how beneficial an agent could be when I attended my first SCBWI conference in October 2013.

I quickly realized how much about the industry I did not know.

I began to network with other children's writers, especially fellow Native Americans, and when it came time to look for an agent, I utilized that network extensively.

I questioned fellow writers with representation, especially those from Native/people of color backgrounds, about their experience. I asked how agents had presented themselves at conferences or other events. I read agent online interviews and social media posts.

I wanted my agent to be a steadfast partner with a strong work ethic. It is a long-term relationship, so both people have to be dedicated to maintaining it. I required someone who was excited about my work and associated with a well-respected agency.

Traci's Reading Chair
Ideally, I wanted someone who had editorial experience that reflects what I write—fiction, nonfiction, and Native/POC subjects. To be honest, this makes for a small submission list, so I did expand beyond that.

When I communicated with agents via email and telephone, I tracked whether what they shared reflected my list.

My gut got an extreme workout when I received two offers of representation on the same day. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and checking in with trusted mentors.

Ultimately, I accepted Emily Mitchell's offer of representation with Wernick & Pratt Agency. She met every single item on my list. Her clients contacted me quickly and gave their honest feedback about her representation.

Emily had vetted me with my editor at Charlesbridge, her former employer. We had both done our homework.

To me, it is kismet that Emily presented at that first conference I attended—and in my home state of Oklahoma too! That day, she shared her desired client attributes—voice, authority, pragmatism and flexibility. I'd like to think I resemble her list, too.

Cynsational Notes

Follow @TraciSorell 
Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.

In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile.

The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.

She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

She also has a Master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law and the University of New Mexico.

She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area.

See also Story to Contract: Traci Sorell’s Incredible Journey by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "Be grateful. Every day. If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."

Emily Mitchell began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She spent eleven years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily returned to children's books at Wernick & Pratt.

Her clients include Geisel Honor winner April Pulley Sayre, author/photographer of Best In Snow (Beach Lane, 2016); Caron Levis, author of Ida, Always (Atheneum, 2016); and Frank W. Dormer, author/illustrator of The Sword in the Stove (Atheneum, 2016) and Click! (Viking, 2016).

Emily holds a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard University, a master's in secondary English education from Syracuse University, and an MBA from Babson College. She lives outside Boston.

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21. Guest Post: Author-Illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina on Ethics, Process & Own Voices

By Ambelin Kwaymullina
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The first of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia. 

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

I am an Aboriginal author, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of Australia.

And I am an Own Voices advocate, by which I mean, I promote the stories told by marginalised peoples about our own experiences rather than stories told by outsiders.

I’ve written before that I don’t believe the absence of diversity from kids lit to be a ‘diversity problem.' I believe it to be a privilege problem that is caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another.

Moreover, the same embedded patterns that (for example) consistently privilege White voices over those of Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour will also work to privilege outsider voices over insider ones, at least to some degree.

The insider voices, of those fully aware of the great complexities and contradictions of insider existence, will always be more difficult to read and less likely to conform to outsider expectations as to the lives and stories of ‘Others’.

Insider stories can therefore be read as less ‘true’ or trap an insider author in a familiar double-bind – if we write of some of the bleaker aspect of our existence we’re told we’re writing ‘issues’ books; if we don’t we’re accused of inauthenticity.

I would like to think that as an Indigenous woman, I have some insight into marginalisation not my own. I have always thought that any experience of injustice should always increase our empathy and push us towards a greater understanding of injustice in other contexts.

But that does not mean my experiences equate to that of other peoples.

In an Australian context, I have said that I do not believe non-Indigenous authors should be writing Indigenous characters from first person perspective or deep third, because I don’t think a privilege problem can be solved by writers of privilege speaking in the voices of the marginalised.

And I apply the same limitation to myself in relation to experiences and identities not my own.

Ibi Zoboi recently wrote powerfully to the perils of the desire to ‘help’, noting that White-Man’s-Burdenism is not limited to White people. I run writing workshops for peoples who come from many different backgrounds of marginalisation, and as a storyteller, it is tempting to enact that instinct to ‘help’ into a narrative, to highlight the struggles of workshop participants in one of my own stories.

But between the thought and the action must come the process by which I determine if I am really helping at all.

So I ask myself, is the story mine to tell? The answer is no, of course; their stories are their own and their pain is not my source material.

The only way in which I would write from someone else’s perspective is in equitable partnership with someone from that group (where copyright, royalties and credit are shared).

This would not necessarily mean we each wrote half a novel. The other person may not write a word; their contribution could be in opening a window onto insider existence and correcting the mistakes an outsider inevitably makes.

I’ve had people tell me that this is the job of a sensitivity reader. But I am cautious about the boundaries of that relationship because I think there are cases where the input of an insider advisor infuses the narrative to such a degree that they are really a co-author and should be treated as such.

I don’t think the question is who wrote what words, but whether the story could have been told at all but for the contribution of the insider.

Someone once told me that I was restricting myself as a storyteller. I don’t believe I am.

I am acknowledging boundaries, but boundaries do not necessarily limit or restrict. Boundaries can define a safe operating space, for myself and for others, and respect for individual and collective boundaries is part and parcel of acknowledging the inherent dignity of all human beings.

I have begun co-writing a speculative fiction YA novel that is told from the perspectives of two girls: one Chinese, and one Indigenous. I am writing the Indigenous girl, and Chinese-Australian author Rebecca Lim is writing the Chinese girl.

The original idea for the story was Rebecca’s, but already it is changing as we each negotiate our own identities and experiences.

This is not a story that is restricted by boundaries; it is one that would not exist without them. In the writing of it, Rebecca and I are creating something that is greater than the sum of both of us – and in such stories, I see the future.

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22. Monday Review: GEMINI by Sonya Mukherjee

This is one of the most gorgeous and effectivecovers I've seen. I love it.Synopsis: Clara and Hailey are twin sisters, and like a lot of sisters, they are closer than close one moment, but in the next, they get on each other's last nerve. Hailey is... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Monday Review: GEMINI by Sonya Mukherjee as of 10/24/2016 9:08:00 PM
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23. Author-Illustrator Interview: Ambelin Kwaymullina on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The second of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.  

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Yesterday, Ambelin spoke on ethics, the writing process and own voices.

We have children’s-YA literature and the law in common. That’s actually a pretty common combination here in the states. Why do you think there are so many people involved in both?

Well, I’ve had some of my law students suggest the law is so horribly dry that it drives people to being creative in order to escape its clutches (these are generally the students who are studying law because their parents thought it was a good idea).

But for me at least, I think the reason I studied law and the reason I write are the same. In both realms, I am seeking justice – and justice, in Aboriginal societies, generally equates to balance, not just between human beings but between all forms of life (and everything lives).

I write speculative fiction because I want to write about the possibility of defeating injustice; to write about the terrible things that were (and are) while imagining what could be.

The oppressive law I wrote about in the Tribe series divides people into three categories: those without an ability (Citizens); those with an ability (Illegals); and those whose ability is considered benign (Exempts).

This is not an invented law. It is based on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944, a piece of legislation that purported to offer Aboriginal people ‘citizenship’ by exempting us from racially-based restrictions that only applied to my ancestors in the first place because they were Aboriginal.

In the Tribe series, this law is ultimately defeated by an alliance of the marginalised and the privileged, and by a heroine whose power is to identify and sustain the connections between all life.

And in writing of connections, I am writing of something that is central to the law in Aboriginal legal systems where (at its broadest) law is the processes of living in the world that sustain the world.

You clearly articulate the impact of white privilege on writing and writers, noting the negative impact on the work of Native voices and POC voices. What would you say to those Native and POC writers who may find themselves angry, frustrated, hurt or discouraged by these dynamics?

First: it’s not you. Exclusion is not something you are inventing in your head and you are neither unlucky nor unworthy.

It helps in this context to form connections with other Indigenous writers as well as with writers of colour, LGBTI writers, and writers with a disability.

You are likely to hear stories of authors getting similar comments across different contexts (e.g: you’re not writing to the Indigenous experience … this story is too Asian … gay books don’t sell … we’ve already published a ‘disability book’ this year).

It matters to have a network of people with whom to share both the good and bad experiences; and perhaps most importantly, to understand that you are not alone.

Second, never forget how to laugh. Some of the comments I’ve listed above have been part of the experience of other writers that they’ve laughed about with me – not because these comments are not discriminatory and hurtful, but because laughter has always been one of the ways in which marginalised peoples have dealt with pain.

Third, define success in your own terms. We all know what ‘success’ is supposed to be in literary industry terms: book sales and/or critical acclaim (preferably both). I’m not saying we shouldn’t aspire to that. But I also think that if marginalised writers define our success solely in the terms set by an industry that consistently privileges white, straight, cis-gendered people who don’t have a disability, we are also buying into an underlying lie.

The lie is that if we can just prove we are good enough we will be treated equally. But once equality has to be earned, it is no longer equality.

So I think it’s important that each of us define success according to what matters to us – and for me, it’s being a person that my ancestors would be proud of.

Book sales wouldn’t overly interest them. But honouring who they were, and who I am; treating cultural knowledge with respect; helping other Indigenous writers whenever and wherever I can – these are the kinds of things they’d be concerned about.

Fourth: be hopeful. I am. I locate my hope in people, and there are many, many people working towards a world in which all voices have an equal opportunity to speak and all stories are equally heard.

I think change will come, and in the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a global community of voices, marginalised and privilege alike, that are speaking out for justice.

While you don’t feel it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous writers to reflect your community in first person or deep third, you are open to them writing secondary characters. Why does your opinion differ depending on how centered the character’s perspective is in the story?

Ambelin's desk
I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous people to speak as if they are Indigenous, especially given the operation of privilege which means that non-Indigenous voices will be heard in a way that Indigenous voices are not.

For me, writing from an ‘outsider’ perspective (so not in first or deep third) is to respect boundaries; to accept there are limits on what we can know of others and how we should represent others in our own work.

When I write of experiences of marginalisation not my own, I do it from an outsider perspective – reflecting that this is much as I can understand and that understanding may of course be wrong; I am not suggesting that I know what it is to see the world from an ‘insider’ view of a group to which I don’t belong. I think the spaces must be created for everyone to speak to their own worlds, and I want to be part of making those spaces a reality.

What advice do you have for non-Indigenous writers in crafting those secondary characters?

I think something you’ve said is the best place to start – you’ve spoken of the need for writers to read 100 books by Indigenous people before writing about us.

I agree. No one should be writing an Indigenous character without being familiar with Indigenous stories (not the ones told about us but the ones told by us).

It’s also important to ensure that any stories people are reading are ethically published because there is a vast body of Indigenous stories that were taken by anthropologists and others and are now in the public domain without the informed consent (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the Indigenous peoples concerned.

The easiest way to check that a story is appropriately published is to see who holds the copyright; where Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their own stories it is at least some indication that they control the text.

In addition to reading stories, I’d say, become familiar with representation issues. Engage with the online dialogue happening around representation and children’s literature as it relates to Indigenous peoples. There are no shortage of voices speaking in this space.

And finally: words spoken about marginalised peoples have a weight and a cost. But if you are not a member of that group, then it’s a weight that you don’t carry and a cost that you don’t pay.

So don’t measure the impact of your words by how they will be read by people like you. Measure them by how they’ll be read by the people you’re writing about.

How did you learn your craft as a writer and illustrator?

By doing! I have no formal training in writing or illustration. But nor do a lot of Australian Indigenous writers and illustrators, and we have been storytellers for thousands of years.

So to learn craft I look to the work of Indigenous writers and artists, both within Australia and elsewhere, as well as to the ancient teachings of my people.

What inspired you to direct your talents toward creating stories for young readers?

In my YA series, I was writing about a superhero, so it had to be about a teenager. I don’t believe grown ups have it in us to save the world, because we are spectacularly failing to do so.

But in the young I see all the hope for the future – they are more interconnected, quick to embrace new ideas, and passionate about fighting anything they perceive as an injustice.

They’re also more honest, especially the children for whom I write picture books. When they like a book, they write me lovely letters telling me how they sleep with the book under their pillow and begging me to write more. When they don’t like it they’re equally forthright.

People ask sometimes whether its difficult as an author to deal with bad reviews, to which I say: try writing for six-year-olds. Every once in a while, children send me letters about one or the other of my picture books that begin something like this: “My teacher made me read your book. I didn’t like it.”

I’ve had a few of these letters that went on for ten pages or more, and since that length is like War and Peace from a six-year-old, it means I’ve had kids hate my work enough to send me the child equivalent of Tolstoy.

Adverse reviews from grown-ups are nothing in comparison.

What was your initial inspiration for The Tribe series?

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
My brother Blaze. He came up to me one day and said, “I’ve got an awesome title for a book. It’s called The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.”

I said, “That’s a pretty good title – what’s the story?’

To which Blaze replied, “Oh, there’s no story. Just the name, and I can’t be bothered writing it so I’m giving to you.”

Having bestowed the title of the novel upon me, he wandered off, leaving me to start thinking about the story. (And for anyone who’s read any of the Tribe series, the character of Jaz is very like my brother Blaze).

What were the challenges—literary, research, psychological and logistical—of bringing the stories to life?

I think the primary challenge is this: in so many ways, I wasn’t writing fiction. A post-apocalyptic world is not a fantasy for Indigenous peoples; the colonial apocalypse has already happened and much of The Tribe series is drawn from Australian colonial history.

Much of it too is drawn from the experiences of my ancestors and that is why hope runs so strongly through the narrative. They held on to hope through hard, cruel times when all their choices were taken away from them.

Indigenous peoples are so often spoken of as victims and I certainly don’t wish to minimise the suffering and the multi-generational trauma inflicted upon us by the colonial project. But the very fact that the Indigenous peoples of the world survived determined efforts to destroy us demonstrates our great strength.

I think the ability to hold onto hope is part of that strength and its something I try to honour.

You’ve created several picture books with Sally Morgan. Could you tell us about your work together?

Ambelin with her creative family
So, Sally is my mum. I’ve also done books with my two brothers, Blaze and Zeke, and the four of us have written together as a family. We’re all authors and artists, and we always give each other an honest opinion – sometimes this results in one of us storming off (usually me or Zeke, we’re both excellent stormers).

Generally, once we’ve had a chance to think about the criticism we come creeping sheepishly back and agree that yes, actually, that particular portion of the narrative (which we were previously so proud of) does indeed need more work.

I think from the outside our working process probably looks chaotic; we all talk at the same time and over each other; generally, the person with the best story gets to hold the floor until they get boring and someone else interrupts. If you want a place in the conversation in my family, you have to be prepared to earn it.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m working on three YA novels right now, but the one I’ll finish first is a book I’m writing with my brother Zeke.

It’s a mystery with fantasy elements that’s told from the perspective of three Indigenous female protagonists. It’s been a difficult book to write in places because terrible things happen in it, but its ultimately a story about the power of young Indigenous women and how they find their way home.

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24. Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Writing, Speculative Fiction, Community & Growing Into Herself

Wherein Belle and I discuss books and gender empowerment.
By Ambelin Kwaymullina
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The fourth of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.  

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Don't miss Ambelin on Ethics, the Writing Process & Own Voices or an Interview with Ambelin on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family. See also Cynthia on Why Kayla, Not Eartha & Other Stuff I Think About.

Spoiler alert for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

As a spec fic writer, I’ve so often been told that it's "unusual" or even "strange" for an Indigenous person to be writing in this genre. Why do you write speculative fiction? Do you think there’s advantages to the genre that aren’t found in other genres?

Yes, the industry must move past the tendency to put creatives in genre boxes as well as to underestimate Native authors and authors of color.

We are not here to exclusively write books about landmark historical events with obvious social studies tie-ins. We can rock those stories, but we can also do so much more and do it spectacularly.

For example, Ambelin, can you get Joseph Bruchac's dystopian YA novels Killer of Enemies and Trail of the Dead (Tu Books) in Australia?

If not, you may want to look into ordering online for international delivery. (Or check out the e-novella, Rose Eagle--should be an easy download.)

As for me, I take the advice we so often give to beginning writers. I write what I know. I write what I love to read. I saw “Star Wars: A New Hope” (before it was called "A New Hope") 384 times in the theater. Of course I write speculative fiction.

My Tantalize-Feral universe is genre bending, incorporating elements of Gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, suspense, humor, and science fiction.

The fantastical offers writers the ability to speak to our real world at a slant. At that slant, you can—ironically enough—hit the real-world themes harder.

Let’s say I wrote a realistic novel about a teenage girl who gets involved with an older guy who plies her with red wine, takes over her family’s business, socially segregates her, kidnaps her, imprisons her, assaults her, frames her best friend for murder and kills her best friend's dog. Yes, his dog. Overkill? (Possibly. I'm still getting distraught reader mail about the dog.)

On the other hand, if he’s a vampire, the reader is far more likely to buy into the story. (And, thankfully, I had the discretion to subvert genre expectations and make it a girl-empowerment story.) With spec fic, we can dig deeper into the theme without seeming heavy handed.

Earlier, Ambelin, you mention using a dystopian context to convey the societal consequence of historical social injustice. I did much the same, albeit within a different construct and a contemporary focus.

That said, I also write realistic fiction. My current YA novel in progress is contemporary realism. I’ve also published three realistic books--Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperCollins)—and several realistic short stories.

My latest realistic short fiction, "All's Well," appeared as a chapter in Shaun David Hutchinson's Violent Ends (Simon Pulse, 2015), which is centered on a school shooting.

Coming up, I'll have a poem written as a child featured in "Dreams to Write" in Our Story Begins: Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, 2017). I do a little creative nonfiction, too. Basically, I have either great range or a complete lack of focus.

You put time and effort into promoting the work of other writers. Why is this important to you?

When I decided to write full-time rather than practice law (or work as a journalist), it was more of a heart decision than a head decision.

You mentioned that you came to both the law and writing to seek justice. I came to writing for young readers out of a personal appreciation for the good that books can do for kids. Out of a love of Story.

I arrived as a one-time child whose mother took her on every-Saturday-morning trips to the public library.

As a one-time tween who took refuge from bullies in the school library, who found comfort in the books when the Queen Bee chased away her friends.

That said, I remember shying away from any book with a hint of Native content in the title, on the cover. A self-protective instinct.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958) was my favorite book as a child, but it never occurred to me to crack open her novel Sign of the Beaver (1983). Think about that.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, as an avid reader, I'd learned that I never wanted to open a book with an American Indian on the cover (or any hint of Native content), even if it was by the author of my favorite novel.

Still, the landscape has improved since my childhood. Yesterday, I talked about writing as an outsider and highlighted examples of that done well. But I want to emphasize how deeply heartened I am by the growing presence and success of Native writers like Eric Gansworth, Tim Tingle, Richard Van Camp, Arigon Starr, and Jenny Kay Dupuis (to name a few). And we have new voices on the horizon like Traci Sorell and Kevin Noble Maillard. This is such an exciting time!

While we have far to go, I’ve seen progress and felt the pride in community that comes with it. 

Books are where I belong. Story is what has always helped me make sense of the world and find my place in it. And my place in it is informed by media and the law--a longing for justice bolstered by the education and tools to help achieve it.

I want to do what I can to ensure that children’s-YA literature welcomes all kids in a positive, nurturing way. That's not just about me. It's about what we do as a community of book creators, publishers, gatekeepers, booksellers, child care givers... The team effort.

Light a candle. If that doesn't work, light a bonfire.

How did I get here? By the standards of the time, I entered children's-YA publishing as a very young author.

This was the late 1990s, and I was in my late twenties/early thirties. It's different now. Debut authors younger than I was then are no longer unusual. But back then, editors weren't taking many chances on new voices. There weren't as many younger voices writing either. (Hello, Potter effect.)

Almost everybody I knew was at least 15 years older and had much more experience. People frequently commented to me that I was their children's age.

And I was perpetually starstruck.

I got to meet the writers I'd read growing up--
Paula Danziger, E.L. Konigsburg, and Jane Yolen (who was so nice to me). Judy Blume encouraged me at my first SCBWI national conference in LA.

(Of late, I see Katherine Paterson all the time at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Actually working up the courage to speak to her is still a work in progress.)

My inner fourteen-year-old was--still is--spinning over the moon.

What I did have to offer the community was enthusiasm, a commitment to what then was called "multiculturalism," and a background in journalism. I embraced the possibilities of the Web and began signal boosting in a big way.

Now, I've been in the business nearly 20 years and am finishing my fifteenth book. Though I still have much to learn, I'm honored to share what I do know, especially with Austin and Texas authors, my VCFA family, new voices, diverse voices and of course Native writers and illustrators.

Along the way, I keep believing, signal boosting, mentoring, teaching, writing and cheerleading.

Spreading the word that good books matter.

Does law influence your storytelling in any way?

Definitely. Law gives me an analytical skill-set that is priceless for plotting and world building. If you look, for example, at the Feral trilogy, the legal status of shape-shifters plays a significant role in the story construct.

By that, I don’t mean that my characters are citing case law or pontificating on legal history but rather that the socio-political-legal structure in which they struggle has been thought out and fully integrated.

On a more obvious level, I’ve written lawyer characters—Cousin Elizabeth from Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and, in my current work in progress, the protagonist’s mother is a law student.

When I write Native stories in particular, that heightened awareness comes into play because of the role of law in our nations’ histories and its ongoing importance to our survival today and beyond.

You’ve written that you felt compelled to write for young readers in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Why for young readers rather than adults?

Yes, I shifted my career focus to writing for kids after the attack on the Murrah Building. Remember what you said about young readers and hope?

Ambelin's guest post & interview
I feel that hope, too. That faith. I believe in it enough to invest my life’s work.

It’s not that I don’t think adults can grow and change. Of course we can.

But when I close my eyes and imagine a world of heroes, most of the faces I see are those of elders and the young.

Maybe that's because I was raised close to my grandparents, my great aunties and uncles. They faced Indian boarding school, the Great Depression, the second World War.

My first heroes were my elders, starting from the time the were young. Their influence is defining.

What’s the story you’re proudest of, and why? 

I want to say that I don’t process my books and shorts in terms of pride, but only moments ago I was telling you about the pride I feel in the progress we’ve made in children’s-YA literature.

So, okay, I’ll close my eyes and keep typing and resist the urge to edit afterward.

Here goes:

I’m most proud of my novel in progress, tentatively titled "How to End a Date" (Candlewick, fall 2017), by which I mean I’m proud of the protagonist.

How she navigates, less and more successfully, all the crap that’s routinely tossed at Native teens and, for that matter, at girls on a day-to-day basis and how she takes refuge in her sense of humor and her loving family and her community and, most of all, how she fights, true to her heart, even when her biggest obstacle is herself.

And since it's loosely based on my own adolescence, I guess I have to say that I'm finally proud of my own inner teen.

So there, Cindy Lou. I believe in you.

Cynsational Notes

Author Interview: Joseph Bruchac on Killer of Enemies from Lee & Low. Peek: "...what really helped me begin to develop this story was the combination of seeing the ways in which building technology into people has become more and more of a reality and the idea that then came to me about how those modified people would be affected if electricity (including circuits implanted into human bodies) suddenly stopped working."

Native American Children's Literature Recommended Reading List from First Nations Development Institute. See also American Indians in Children's Literature.


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25. Writing Across Identity Elements: Why Kayla, Not Eartha & Other Stuff I Think About

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The third of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Don't miss Ambelin on Ethics, the Writing Process & Own Voices or an Interview with Ambelin on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family.

Spoiler alert for Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2013).

Lately, I’ve been talking to Ambelin Kwaymullina, “an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people” of Australia, about own voices, representation, appropriation and writing across identity elements.

At first glance, when it comes to protagonists and point of view, we may seem to be on opposite ends of a spectrum--her advocating against writing as an outsider and me in favor.

It’s more complicated than that. As we compared notes, we found ourselves agreeing or at least empathizing more than you might assume.

I’m a Muscogee Nation citizen, and I’ve written protagonists who share that identity as well as those who, unlike me, are respectively Chinese American, Mexican American, Italian American, English American, Seminole, and Cherokee. The non-Indians appear in alternating point-of-view novels.

(I’m a Cherokee descendant, not a Cherokee Nation citizen. That translates to shared ancestry and cultural touchstones, but there's a difference. To clarify: I'm likewise Irish American. However, I am not a citizen of Ireland. I am Muscogee and American, a citizen of both Muscogee Nation and the United States of America. Native identity is about culture and heritage, but it's also about law and political status.)

More broadly, when it comes to race, religion, culture, gender, age, orientation, body type, and socio-economics, I write inside my personal experience.

Likewise, I write outside my personal experience. I speak on and teach the subject of writing, including writing across identity elements, on a regular basis.

As I’ve mentioned before, the question of writing outside one’s lived knowledge and most immediate stakes with regard to protagonists (or, in the case of nonfiction, focal subjects) is a very personal one.

Today I’m going to share a glimpse into my own, nuanced process for deciding who and what to write and why. Yes, of course your mileage may vary. It may evolve. Mine has evolved.

Michigan Law School Reading Room
Two points to address first:

(1) I’m well aware of my First Amendment rights. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from The William Allen White School of Journalism at The University of Kansas, which included coursework in Media Law. I also hold a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where my studies largely focused on Constitutional Law and the First Amendment in particular (it was the topic of my third-year independent study with Lee Bollinger).

I’ve committed quality time, scholarship and tuition dollars to Freedom of Speech.

I’m well aware that rights come with opportunities, costs and responsibilities. And I'm well aware that restrictions on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.

I'll restate that:

Restricts on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.

Sometimes I exercise my right to speak. Sometimes I exercise my right not to speak.

As a one-time Native child who couldn’t watch “Super Friends” every Saturday morning without also seeing “Elbow Room” every Saturday morning, I fret the impact of erasure (to a cheery tune) and of the single story (in that case, the “helpful Indian”).

Watch this and, if it's not your inherent perspective, try to do so--with your writing cap on--from a Native or POC point of view.



(2) The vast majority of children’s-YA authors must, to varying degrees, write outside our own experience—at least with regard to secondary characters and major historical events or societal topics. This is necessary to reflect the full range of our humanity in the past, present and future.

In a sweeping book about the U.S. Civil War or The Great Depression or the Industrial Revolution, I’m looking for inclusion when it comes to the participation of and impact on Native people, people of color, women, etc. Ditto that contemporary realistic chapter book set in a minority-majority nation or that YA dystopian novel.

Ducking that content isn't a neutral decision. Again, effectively writing Native people off the continent--out of the past, present, and future--isn’t a neutral decision. Over the body of literature, it’s a minimizing one. An erasing one. Silence speaks. It contributes to adverse real-world impact.

After every U.S. election, we actually have to educate the new Congress about our continued existence. Please don't make it harder for us to protect our nations, our land, our children. Remember, we are still here. And we should be reflected in the pages of children's-YA literature.

So, to recap: (1) I'm well versed in freedom of speech. (2) Every children's-YA writer must, to some degree, write outside our immediate frame of reference. Still with me?


Back to protagonists and nonfiction topics. Bookstores vary the titles they stock. Libraries vary their collections. Publishers vary their manuscript acquisitions, and agents vary their clients.

Otherwise their books would compete with each other, and they wouldn’t be able to offer the selection necessary to stay in business.

Choices that heavily favor slender, straight, able-bodied white kids are the norm. Those books are viewed as standard. Viewed as universal. There’s no industry predisposition to limit them.


But every day, other well-written stories are rejected for being “too similar” to an already stocked, purchased, acquired or signed project that’s perceived as similar enough to compete.

Let’s say there’s already one middle grade with an Asian boy protagonist. Will another one be turned down for potentially competing?

Quite possibly.

“I just acquired an Asian boy middle-grade novel, and, unfortunately….”

Writers get rejection letters to that effect all the time. I’ve read them. Quite a few of them because I teach and mentor and so other writers come to me to discuss such things.

And, granted, stories won’t be rejected just because of common identity elements. It could happen because they’re deemed “too similar” in other ways.

My kitty, Gali-Leo
“I just acquired a novel about soccer, and, unfortunately....”

Now, consider:

What is the societal impact of limiting to one book about soccer?

What is the societal impact to limiting to one book about Asian-American boys?

Or one book about Asian Americans--period? Especially since "Asian American" is an umbrella term.

Heaven forbid two Asian-American boy characters in two different stories both happen to play soccer.

Sure, even with mainstream heroes, there are limits:

"Unfortunately, we're already publishing a half dozen dystopians..."

Here's the thing: Writers often panic over new releases that might be "too similar" to our own works in progress, particularly if our own manuscript is well along. We anguish over whether to read the competing title to gauge whether our project is in the clear or not. With nonfiction writers, you'll often hear talk of "getting there first" in the marketplace.

Remember when I mentioned the right to speak and the right not to?

This is what I personally do with that reality:

Halloween decoration that inspired my novel, Feral Curse
I love cats. I love carousels. I’m intrigued by cryptids.

In the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker), I write about werecats, demons, magic and furry cryptid hominids.

The stories take place in Austin, in a nearby small town, in the suburbs, at a resort, and on a tropical island.

These YA books are heartfelt, funny, action packed and teeny bit sexy (if I do say so myself).

The trilogy metaphorically tackles diversity, social justice, and what it means to be human.

No way would the entire cast look like it had been raised by Carol and Mike Brady. Or be depicted simply as white kids from different social groups a' la "The Breakfast Club" (remember when that was a diversity ground-breaker?).

The Feral series' question is: "What does it mean to be human?" My answer isn't: "Let's check in with the all-white heroes to find out." (Although white co-protagonists are certainly included in the mix.)

The series is told in alternating points of view by four co-protagonists, including Kayla, a werecheetah, who presents as Black American, and Yoshi, a werecougar, who presents as a biracial (Japanese-white) American. They’re homo shifters rather than homo sapiens, and they live among us. Within the genre bending, it's a sci-fi-ish fantastical construct.

Now imagine this. An editor reads my manuscript and says: “Too bad! I just signed a story about a smart, small-town, Black Texas teen--the daughter of the mayor--who’s able to turn into a werecheetah, and is being haunted by her ex-boyfriend’s ghost, which is trapped in a carousel. And, wouldn’t you just know it? Both stories feature a Eurasian co-protagonist/love interest, raised in an antique mall by his homicidal grandmother.…”

Really? If another author also independently came up with that specific idea, we are soulmates.

But only one of us is probably going to sell that oh-so-similar book to that one YA fantasy editor at that house. Or sign with that manuscript to that one genre-bendy and cryptid-loving agent.

Libraries and bookstores will stock one or the other. (Unless there’s a major motion picture involved.)

We’re safe to say the Feral series (Candlewick) is an idiosyncratic, diverse spec-fic YA adventure. This is a benefit of a quirky writing nature (Werearmadillos, for example. I may have invented them. That level of quirky.)

Kayla, as one of four co-protagonists, isn’t going to knock a book with another Black girl hero out of contention for anything. And the lived experience that’s most on point is what it’s like to “pass” or not. On that point, I do have lived experience to bring.

Nifty. Green light.

Now consider this: I love the music of Eartha Kitt. I am fascinated by Eartha Kitt.

I believe that Eartha Kitt was the best Catwoman.

The. Best. Catwoman.

Nobody could purr like Eartha Kitt.

She was inspiring, talented, formidable. For years, I’ve longed to write a biography about Eartha.

But Eartha wasn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. or Ella Fitzgerald.

She’s not a household name or an automatic tie-in to the Black History Month curriculum.

There might be room for one Earth Kitt biography for kids (or teens). I could see that getting published. I can imagine some bookstores and libraries stocking it.

As much as I love Eartha, I can’t imagine them embracing two or more.

So I’m not writing it. But if I weighed all that and moved forward, I would talk to Eartha’s family first for permission and consult with Black author friends, too.

Magazine cover of Eartha in my dining nook
All the while owning that my book could be blocking one by a member of Eartha’s own community.

Would I love that reality? No, but I couldn’t ignore it or dismiss it or explain it away either. And I couldn't wrap myself in the First Amendment and leave it at that because I have the right not to speak, too.

I would have to hold myself to the highest possible writing standard and expect others, especially those with a closer kinship, to do the same.

What's more, I'd have to acknowledge that I was starting at a serious deficit. There are writers with so much more to bring to that manuscript--Black writers, especially those with a strong background in singing and acting, who'd have knowledge and insights to illuminate the awesomeness that was Eartha in important ways that I'd never imagine.

I'm not planning to write that biography of Eartha. But up until a year or so ago, I was seriously considering it.

Now, what about a subject closer to home?

I’ve also considered writing a biography of Chickasaw astronaut John B. Herrington.

He and I have more in common. We're both mixed-blood citizens of southeastern Native Nations now based in Oklahoma. I want Native kids to learn about him, to be inspired by his story. I want non-Indian kids to learn about him and rethink the “primitive savage” stereotypes they’re fed.

Still, writing about John would’ve required me to write as an outsider.
I've met him in person in Oklahoma!

I’m not Chickasaw. “Native American” and “American Indian” are umbrella terms. Again, being Muscogee doesn't make me Chickasaw.

Are there shared ties and history between some Native/First Nations people and nations? Yes, more so within regions. But we're not not one in the same.

I hate to say it, but, as with Eartha, there’s probably not room in the market for more than one nonfiction picture book about John Herrington.

Native people are not meaningfully included in the U.S. curriculum. To the extent we're mentioned, the focus isn't on our achievements in space exploration. (Cough.)

There’s no way I would've put down a word of John’s story without his permission. As a First Amendment student, I know that I have the right to do so. As a Native woman, I believe in cultural property but, more to the point, as a human being, I believe in respect and courtesy.

John’s story is not my mine to take. It’s certainly not mine to take for profit.

Besides, to do a good job with it, I would’ve needed not only John’s blessing but also his assistance because the greatest living authority on John is of course John himself.

And if John thought it was a wonderful idea for me to write the story, I would’ve been honored and proceeded from there. (Yes, I would touch base with Chickasaw children’s writers, too.)

Many of the best books written by outsiders come from a place of deep connection and respect, prioritizing impact on young readers--both those directly reflected by the book and those who're not.

Consider, for example, Bethany Hegedus's excellent Grandfather Gandhi picture books, written with Arun Gandhi, illustrated by Even Turk (Atheneum).

These titles were born in the wake of the September 11 attacks after Bethany, a 911 survivor, heard Arun give a speech and found personal solace and healing in it. Later, they worked together to share Arun's stories with kids.

As writers, we succeed when we set aside the self-absorption of intent and entitlement in favor of respect and commitment.

We succeed when we come from a deeply felt place, like Bethany did after 911 and like she does every day when she cradles her own Indian-American baby son.

Bottom line: I never actively began writing the manuscript about John Herrington. It was merely an idea. I had other projects to finish first. I hadn’t yet contacted John to discuss it.

I was thinking I’d do that early next year.

Click this link to watch the book trailer!
But now I’m absolutely delighted that John’s children’s book, Mission to Space, was recently published by Chickasaw Press.

Imagine if bookstores and libraries didn’t pick it up because another children’s writer (like me) had already gotten there first and with a publisher that has a larger, more powerful industry presence.

Ambelin mentioned that she doesn’t want to see outsiders writing first- or deep third-person point of view. She’s told me that she feels that way in part because she hasn’t seen it done well and in part because of the systematic exclusion of Indigenous voices, own voices.

She doesn’t “want anyone occupying that space until there's something resembling parity of representation of Indigenous writers (and other own voices).”

I’m deeply sympathetic to her perspective and a strong  own voices advocate myself.

At the same time, when it comes to Native content, I’m more open to outside voices than Ambelin.

I suspect that’s because—despite far too many problematic books by outsiders—I have seen it done well. I appreciate high-quality titles like Debby Dahl Edwardson’s My Name Is Not Easy (Marshall Cavendish, 2011) and Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama (Amistad/HarperChildren’s, 2015).

It’s a blessing for Native kids, all kids, that books like those are published, and I’m thrilled to champion them whenever I can.

Moreover, as a southeastern American Indian, considering our history and current ties with Black Americans, I particularly long for more of their voices in the related conversation of books, especially with regard to the intersection of Black Indian tribal citizens. 

Big picture, being open to outside writers is no small or unqualified leap of faith.

There is a long and damaging history of outsiders telling "Native" stories, having approached us in the guise of ethnographer, of anthropologist, of writer, of friend. A long and damaging and ongoing effort to mislead, gain trust, and then misrepresent Native lives and narratives. Usually for profit, power or both.

When I  say "damaging," that’s not hyperbole. I’m talking about real-world legislation, persecution, and impact on the daily life of every Native person. We are peoples of Nations defined by sometimes hostile law and profoundly affected by that law. Public opinion, education and miseducation affects the making and enforcement of those laws. And then there's the psychological impact on citizens of our Nations, especially on our children and teens.

If you don’t know enough to understand why we’re skittish, suspicious and/or non-responsive, please step back and do more homework before starting that manuscript. Our feelings, actions and sometimes silence are based on real-world experience and concerns.

Begin by reading 100 books by Native American children's-YA authors. Do your homework with regard to each community your writing might reflect like you did your homework to enter the field more globally.

Of late, I’ve heard a lot of folks speaking in broad terms about the question of who writes what. We talk too often in broad strokes when brushstrokes apply.

It's a much bigger, broader conversation than race, though of course that's a critical component. It's also persistently framed as primarily about white writers' fear and failures.

As if no white writers weigh the responsibilities and costs of appropriation and respectfully seek the appropriate permissions and insights like Debby, working with her husband to share his story.

As if diverse writers can't stretch to successfully write across identity markers like Rita, who can certainly be trusted to respectfully conceptualize, research, frame and integrate story elements and, for that matter, feedback as needed to revise. 

As if diversity conversations should default to focus on white, able-bodied, cis-gender, straight folks. That's taking the idea that this isn't all about them and responding with, "But wait, what about them?"

Of course all writers belong in this conversation, but own voices must be prioritized and centered. Meanwhile, the question of "which ideas are right for me?" is something every writer must consider.

(HarperChildren's)
By the way, even when you're writing within identity elements, you still need to do research and engage in thoughtful related conversation. My work in progress is quasi-autobiographical, and I have a three-inch thick (and building) research binder. I've consulted with several friends and colleagues about the content and how it rolls out within the context of the story.

When I’ve cited, say, Rita and Debby among my go-to examples with regard to Native content, often the reply is something to the effect that I’m setting the bar sky high. And, yes, that’s true.

The bar is and should be sky high. Maybe we’re not all at Rita and Debby’s level of craft (yet), but we must emulate their gracious humility, their conscientiousness.

We must strive to create the best books for all kids.

Cynsational Notes

Writing, Tonto & The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who is the First to Die by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. Peek: "For those who write within and/or outside personal experience, how do we honor and craft stories for the young readers of today and beyond?"

Native American Children's Literature Recommended Reading List from First Nations Development Institute. #NativeReads See also Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature and American Indian Graduation Rates: Stereotypical Images On and Off the Field from The Good Men Project.



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