Monday, February 08, 2016

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan (Sky Pony, 2017). From the promotional copy:

A funny middle grade mystery adventure complete with an unconventional knight, a science experiment gone awry, a giant spider, and a boy to save the day!

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. 

Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. 

The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidentally transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. 

After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversize arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Congratulations on your upcoming release! What do you think of your new cover?

I love it! Huge thanks to Sky Pony and my editor, Adrienne Szpyrka, for capturing the humor of the book while at the same time working in two prominent elements – the giant tarantula and a journal detailing a trip to South America.

The tarantula is Henry Hewitt’s problem and the journal is the key to figuring out what to do about it, which he must do to save his friend and protector, Sir Richard Blackstone.

More specifically, how does the art evoke the nuances of your book?

We wanted the journal to feel Old World, hence the faded brown, as this story takes place in the late 1700’s English countryside.

Sky Pony’s designers had the genius idea of having the tarantula holding the journal to tie it all together. The red and yellow lettering really pop and signal the lighthearted tone.

I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Isn’t it every middle-grade writer’s dream to have a cover with a tarantula on it?

I know it has always been one of mine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Doan has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning series The Berenson Schemes (Lerner).

Operating under the idea that life is short, her occupations have included: master scuba diving instructor; New York City headhunter; owner-chef of a restaurant in the Caribbean; television show set medic; and deputy prothonotary of a county court. She currently works in social services and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Don Tate & Phoebe Wahl Win Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

By The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
from Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced the winners of the 30th annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.

Each year, a new writer and new illustrator are celebrated. The 2016 award ceremony will be held April 7 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The winners receive a gold medallion as well as an honorarium of $1,000.

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday! So we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

“The Keats Archives at the de Grummond Children’s Collection is a happy reminder of the joy that Ezra’s books have brought to readers and the impact they have had on children’s book makers.

"Once again, we see that influence in the work of this year’s EJK Book Award winners. We are confident that they’ll join the long list of illustrious past winners whose books continue to delight and make a difference,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Lois Lowry, two-time winner of the Newbery Award for Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994), will present this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards. Michael Cart, columnist/reviewer for Booklist and a leading expert on young adult literature, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new writer is:

Don Tate for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree)

In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read, but George Moses Horton loved words too much to be stopped. He taught himself to read as a child and grew up to be a published poet, while still a slave.

Writing about slavery for young readers is challenging but important, and Don Tate succeeds brilliantly, in an engaging, age-appropriate and true narrative.

Tate said, “Three years ago, I won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award, one of the proudest moments of my career. I never imagined being considered again… this time [for] the top award. There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats. When he chose to picture brown children in his books, he chose to acknowledge me. I wasn’t invisible to him.

"As a creator of color in a field that sorely lacks diversity, it can be easy to sometimes feel unseen. This award serves as a reminder to me that I am not invisible and that my work matters.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new illustrator is:

Phoebe Wahl for Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra)

Sonya’s dad presents her with three baby chicks to care for, and she does her job well, providing food, shelter and lots of love as they grow into hens. Then one night, Sonya discovers that one of her hens is missing! But as her father explains, the fox stole the hen because he loved his kits and needed to feed them.

The circle of life is gently and exquisitely depicted in Wahl’s rich and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations of a multicultural family’s life on a farm.

Wahl said, “Keats’ work stands out as some of the most impactful of my childhood. I can directly trace the roots of my obsession with pattern, color and my use of collage to my affinity with the lacy baby blanket in Peter’s Chair. Keats inspired me to create stories that are quiet and gentle, yet honor the rich inner lives of children and all of the complexity that allows.

"I am humbled to be associated with Keats’ legacy in being presented with this award, and I am so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the children’s literature community for this show of support and encouragement.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winners are:

2016 New Writer Honors


Julia Sarcone-Roach for The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, also illustrated by Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)


Megan Dowd Lambert for A Crow of His Own, illustrated by David Hyde Costello (Charlesbridge)

2016 New Illustrator Honors


Ryan T. Higgins for Mother Bruce, also written by Higgins (Hyperion)


Rowboat Watkins for Rude Cakes, also written by Watkins (Chronicle)

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Criteria

To be eligible for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the author and/or illustrator will have no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Video: Authors Phil Bildner & Chris Barton, BookPeople Buyer Meghan Goel on Modern First Library

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Kidlit TV:

"BookPeople, the leading independent bookstore in Texas since 1970, is proud to announce the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. This initiative is all about pairing beloved picture books that will never go out of style along with other favorites that reflect the diverse, global society of the 21st century.

"Author Phil Bildner interviewed award-winning author Chris Barton and BookPeople's head buyer, Meghan Goel about the Modern First Library -- learn how you can start one of your own!"

Friday, February 05, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Emma at her launch party signing Jan. 30 at BookPeople in Austin
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Emma Virjan on the release of What This Story Needs Is a Hush and a Shush (HarperChildren's, 2016)! From the promotional copy:

What this bedtime needs is a pig in a wig, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and going to sleep with her pink teddy bear.

All Pig wants to do is sleep, but the farm animals are keeping her awake! Will she ever find some peace and quiet?

More News & Giveaways

Diversity in Reviews: Behind the Scenes with SLJ's Gatekeeper by Kiera Parrott from Reading While White. Peek: "How do I, sitting in a potentially powerful and privileged spot within the publishing ecosystem, ensure that our reviews not only shine a light on a diverse array of authors, illustrators, and subjects, but also surface stereotypes, cultural inaccuracies or insensitivities, or other problematic elements in text or illustrations?"

What Does Children's Literature in India Look Like? by Apoorva Sripathi from The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Peek: "Indian titles attempt to rethink stereotypes with relevant story lines, inclusion of words from regional languages (example, amma and appa instead of Mum and Dad), and scenes set in the Indian milieu."

Reconciling the Tug-of-War Between Teaching and Writing by Ryane Nicole Granados from Women Who Submit. Peek: "Being a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes means I have to train those around me to respect my time, and I have to learn to ask for help when the craziness of the world comes careening down upon me."

¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest from Lee & Low. Peek: "Next I prepared all the shades of acrylics that I would need for the spread and stored them in small clear jars. Each section of a color required several thin coats to achieve the rich look I was looking for."

The Older Writer by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...my first few years as a published writer, the roller-coaster feeling of that time, the steep learning curve, the need to make both business and artistic decisions without fully understanding what they meant, I think I had career hopes and ambitions that were rather different from my current ones."

Author Spotlight: Katherine Catmull from The Writing Barn. Peek: "...publishing is not an endpoint but the art of a long process."

Reflecting on Representation: Zetta Elliott and Edith Campbell from Zetta Elliott. Peek: "If there are 3000 novels published for young readers in the U.S. each year, then should we really be celebrating the publication of 30 Black-authored novels? And of those 30 authors, only two were making their debut in 2015?" See also Where Are the Diverse Children's Books? Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and Matt de la Pena by Tracy Mumford from MPR News.

SCBWI Bologna Interview Series

Martha M. Rago
Martha M. Rago, executive creative director for Random House/Golden Books, will be participating in the upcoming SCBWI Bologna Showcase at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. She will be offering one-on-one portfolio critiques for illustrators who sign up in advance.

Stay tuned to bologna.scbwi.org for dates and times of the illustrator portfolio critiques and more information about the SCBWI Showcase at the Book Fair.

  

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


More Personally

In the past week, I had the honor of participating in conversations about topics dear to me.

I joined Daniel José Older and Sabaa Tahir in answering questions on Diversity in YA Fantasy from Maggie Reagan from Booklist. Peek:
"The fantastical veil gives these kids the necessary distance, the perspective to relate and care. This is true for teens who we’d consider underrepresented in youth literature. It’s also true for those who see protagonists like themselves all the time. All of them need to see that diverse characters, diverse people, can be heroes that everyone cheers."
Shifting to format, see Writers on Writing: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Short Stories from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek:
"My top pick would be Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005), with the caveats that I’m among the contributors and that I dearly wish there was a more current collection of shorts by Native authors."
Today, by 5 p.m. central, apply for the Austin SCBWI Scholarship for Creators of Diverse Characters.

Personal Links

LEGO Unveils Its First Disabled Character

Typewriter Rodeo: Valentine Poems
This Is Your Child's Brain on Reading
Rare Wild Jaguar in Arizona
#Women Not Objects
Lost Lion Population Found in Ethiopian Park
Linda Hogan Wins Thoreau Prize for Nature Writing
The Art of the Perfect Book Cover
Feral Hogs Spotted Near Round Rock (TX) Outlet Mall
U.S. Generals Want Women to Register for Draft
Why Aren't More Black Students Identified As Gifted?
BookPeople Hiring Director of Marketing and Publicity 
Discussion Guide: Watch Out for Flying Kids: How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community by Cynthia Levinson
Want to End Prejudice? Watch a Sitcom


More about children's author Crystal Chan

Thursday, February 04, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Susan Eaddy

Photo by Peter Nash
By Patti Buff
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Susan Eaddy works in her attic studio writing picture books and playing with clay. She was an art director for fifteen years, during which time she won international 3D illustration awards and a Grammy nomination. 

She lives in Nashville, Tenn.; and is the regional advisor for the Midsouth chapter of SCBWI and a co-organizer of the SCBWI Bologna Book Fair

Her illustrated books include Papa Fish’s Lullaby by Patricia Hubbell (Cooper Square, 2007) and My Love for You is the Sun by Julie Hedlund (Little Bahalia, 2014). Her latest picture book, Poppy’s Best Paper, was released by Charlesbridge in July 2015.

She loves to travel and has used the opportunity to do school visits anywhere in the world from Taiwan to Alabama to Hong Kong and Brazil.

Hi Susan! Thanks for participating in the 2016 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair interview series.

With much more focus on diversity in children's books than has been in the past, how important of a role do you think book fairs like Bologna play in introducing young readers to children from other countries and cultures?

I think that book fairs like Bologna offer hope and understanding for our future. It creates the opportunity to come together from all over the world and find common ground in stories.

Children can only benefit from books translated into their native language to both learn about new cultures or to find that other cultures are very much like their own. With this experience, they see that kids from all over have similar feelings and experiences.

Any tips for new visitors to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair?

First of all, the SCBWI booth is your hub, and home away from home. You’ll be surrounded by friends you’ve never met before. To maximize your opportunities:

  • Apply for a personal or regional showcase with Chris Cheng.
  • Schedule portfolio reviews.
  • Bring promo materials.
  • Read the program.
  • Attend the talks.
  • Network!

Getting Around: Being the worrier that I am…I like to figure out where I am going via Google Maps the day before I need to be somewhere.

Since wi-fi is not always available on the streets, I take a screen shot of the map I need when I am connected, and can then access it through my phone or iPad photos whether I am connected or not.

Get city and bus maps at Tourist Info in the Neptune Fountain Piazza. Buy bus tickets there or at the Tabachi (the little kiosk).

Budget Tips: Have breakfast bars with you at all times. There are food stands at the Fair, but they are pricey and packed, and often a breakfast bar will get you though the day. Then you can splurge a bit on the dinner meal.

Some lodging comes with a modest breakfast, but if you have the option of declining breakfast for a price break, do so. You can generally get a cappuccino for much less and chomp on your breakfast bar.

If you have an apartment, buy groceries and make lunches, even some dinners.

But do eat out when you can. This is Italy! Home of spectacular food. Share a room, a taxi, a bottle of wine.

Do keep all receipts, again, remember this is a business trip.

Those are some great tips. You really are a pro. You’ve done a lot of traveling over the years, China, Italy, and Brazil. As an illustrator, how does seeing different cultures influence you?

I love getting a peek at different cultures when I travel, and specifically I love visiting the schools. One of the things that strikes me most, is how universal kids reactions and questions are.

I have had the same questions from kids in Hong Kong as I've had in Brazil. ("How long does it take you? Why clay? How much money do you make?")

Kids' artwork and enthusiasm are so similar in every culture I have seen. And since so much of my presentations are visual, language does not impose a huge barrier.

In 2015, you officially stepped onto the writing side of picture books with the release of Poppy’s Best Paper. First off, congratulations! And secondly, what particular challenge surprised you when you took off your illustrator’s hat and switched it for an author’s hat?

Thank you! I have lots of memories and ideas from my childhood.

I began writing because most art directors told me that my clay artwork was a tough fit for other people's manuscripts and that I should come up with my own stories.

As I began to write, the stories that unfolded were more complex than suited my illustration style, and the irony is that my own manuscript of Poppy's Best Paper was not a good fit for the clay!

I tried to illustrate Poppy in clay many times, until finally my agent intervened with the suggestion of using another illustrator.

Brilliant! Rosalinde Bonnet's illustrations made all the difference in the world.


Sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what the project needs. So glad that worked out. 

I’m just fascinated by your illustration method of first drawing an outline then filling it in with clay. Do you see the image with color before you begin or is that something that changes as the page progresses?

I start with a color palette that interests me, then I explore it further in the computer or with colored pencil, working on top of copies of my original sketch. Often colors are changed a bit in the clay stage, but I try to have the colors worked out before I mix them in clay.




I can imagine mistakes can be costly. After your artwork has been published in a book, how do you preserve it and are you allowed to sell it?
 
I save my artwork in pizza boxes and other flat boxes and have my studio knee wall space filled with them. The sad thing is that if I am using plasticine, it is not a permanent medium and they can never displayed in any way but on a tabletop under glass.

I do have some framed and saved that way, but I don't sell them. I also use some polymer clay which is more permanent, but I don't sell those either. Since the end product is ultimately a photograph of my clay, I do sell large prints of the work.



Pizza boxes. I love it! What question have you never been asked on an interview or school visit, but wish to be?

Hmmmm.... How old do you feel, or rather, what is your mental age?

I think ten years old is the age I identify with most. I still think like a ten year old. I'm forever trying to figure the world out and gain experiences by feeling my way through while keeping that sense of wonder. I rarely feel like an expert, but in a way that feeds the creativity.

That's actually why I enjoy clay so much, because I don't know how to do it! Every illustration becomes a discovery process. With lots of skills, ten year olds are still trying to do things in their own way with exuberance and angst, and most are not yet jaded.

Ten is my favorite age, too. And finally, what are you working on now? Any surprises you can share with us?

I am thrilled to say that my editor and I are working on a new Poppy book! In this second book, Poppy faces sibling rivalry with not one but two adorable additions to the family.

We'll see if Poppy can learn to share the limelight!

Congratulations! Can’t wait to find out. Thank you so much for stopping by, Susan. I wish you a lovely time at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Cynsational Notes

Patti Buff
The tenth out of eleven children in a family that took in hundreds of foster kids, Patti Buff found solitude in reading at a young age and hasn’t stopped. She later turned to writing because none of her other siblings had and she needed to stand out in the crowd somehow.

Originally from Minnesota, Patti now lives in Germany with her husband and two teenagers where she’s also the regional advisor of SCBWI Germany & Austria. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her YA novel Requiem, featured in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Author-Teacher Interview: Esther Hershenhorn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Esther, welcome back to Cynsations! What’s new in your writing-teacher life?

I’m happy to report: the teaching part of my teaching-author life is taking off in all sorts of new directions this year, literally and figuratively. I continue to teach writing for children workshops at both the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio and Chicago’s Newberry Library, where I’ve taught since 2001 in alternating seasons.

However, this April and May I’ll be facilitating a Writers Group at the Writer’s Studio for middle grade and young adult novelists. This June I’m introducing a new hands-on workshop in which writers use common marketing tools to create a GPS to guide their final submission-worthy revisions.

Both institutions bring me stellar students from all walks of life, so committed to telling their stories to children they wring me out like a sponge.

I love it and remain “Jewish-Mama proud” as they fully immerse themselves in learning and honing their craft.

Come July, I’ll be flying northeast to Landgrove, Vermont, where I’m honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s venerable Manuscript Workshop from July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn.

I’m back in Chicago July 23 through Aug. 3, again honored, this time to facilitate a writing for children workshop, along with Joan Bauer and Sara Holbrook, in Judson University’s Doctoral program.

We’ll spend time on campus grounding the soon-to-graduate Doctorate in Literacy candidates in the Children’s Book World’s story-telling opportunities and possibilities; we’ll then retreat to a northern Michigan resort where we’ll work one-one-one with our writers to help each ready his or her manuscript.

How exciting that you’ll be leading the Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont! Would you please tell us about the history of the program?

The one-and-only Barbara Seuling - children’s book author of more than 60 titles, illustrator, former children’s book editor and esteemed children’s book writing teacher, founded The Manuscript Workshop in New York City in 1982, moving it to Vermont in 1992 and then to the Landgrove Inn these last few years.

That’s Barbara Seuling, the expert author, as in How To Write A Children's Book and Get It Published (Wiley, 2004), Barbara Seuling, whose dedication to craft and children’s literature as well as to her students and fellow children’s book creators is known to all in the children’s book world.

I’m mindful I’m stepping into some mighty huge shoes.

An early brochure’s cover quote underscored Barbara’s heart and the workshop’s intent: “Spread your writer’s wings…and discover how high you can soar.”

Countless working writers who attended the workshop and retreat have indeed flown high, connecting with fellow writers, learning new skills and polishing their work.

The good news is: my heart lies with Barbara’s; the workshop’s intent remains the same.

The small (up to eight writers) week-long workshop continues its tradition of offering insightful, informative and inspiring one-to-one student-teacher connections.

Morning sessions include hands-on writing exercises and instruction on craft – story and its structure, format and genre considerations, the young reader’s needs.

Afternoons are set aside for individual writing and/or re-visioning of manuscripts, optional special interest sessions or free time.

Evening sessions focus on readings of the day’s work and guided critiques.

Throughout the week, focused food-for-thought conversations at meals highlight the writing process, paths to publications, writer’s tips and sustaining the creative spirit.

Appropriately enough, manuscript workshop founder Barbara Seuling ices the week’s cake with a guest speaker visit.

How about your personal philosophy of teaching? What should your students expect from you?

As corny as it sounds, like Barbara I do things “the old-fashioned way” – up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart.

In my humble opinion: each of us has a story and the right to tell that story. It’s my job, as well as a privilege, to help the writer do just that if children are his or her audience. I do indeed invest in that story – in its construct, its telling, its place within the body of children’s literature.

But as important, I also invest in the writer. Knowing what our characters want/need/wish for and why isn’t enough; we need to know our own what's and why's. As Marion Dane Bauer taught me, the writer needs to be somewhere in his story if it’s to re-sound in the reader’s heart.

This was a truth that came late to me in my own path to publication, a career that – proudly - earned me the title “The Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.”

Again, it might sound corny, but I do my best to give my students and the writers I coach what I needed while out and about on my own writer’s plotline: I needed someone seeding me, feeding me, cheering me on, believing in my story, believing in me.

Like the earlier-mentioned Jewish Mama, I’m tough – because children deserve the very best, I nurture and I take enormous pride in the strides my students and coached writers – my “storied treasures” - continue to make.

One of the great lures of any workshop is the location. How would you describe it?

I cannot tell a lie: I’ve yet to visit the Green Mountains in person!

However, I’m counting the days ‘til I arrive.

Paging through Vermont travel guides and scrolling down the pages of online Vermont websites, I know what awaits me: majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, picturesque valleys and verdant forests, scenic roads, hiking trails and quaint charming towns. “Idyllic” is the word most travel writers choose to describe the Green Mountain State.

Tom and Maureen Checchia, proprietors of the historic Landgrove Inn, known, incidentally, for its award-winning meals, describe their country inn and town as “authentically Vermont.”

The truth is: a whole lot of magic can happen when we leave our known and familiar writing rooms, when we take ourselves and our stories to new places and spaces and surround ourselves with like-minded, like-hearted folks who share our passion.

Tell us more what you’re doing in your writing life.

Ah! The author part of teaching-author.

Alas, when I do claim writing time between my teaching and coaching, my work, like my teaching, has taken off in new directions, literally and figuratively. Now, when I do write, I’m usually writing nonfiction.

I found this funny at first, since I was somewhat reluctant to join my fellow TeachingAuthors bloggers, certain the writing would not fulfill me as my fiction did. (How wrong I was!)

I also found my reluctance ironic. I minored in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication and cut my writer’s teeth working for a local newspaper, then educational text book publishers.

Researching and writing S is for Story, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear, 2009) turned me around 360°. The writing itself, straightforward and concrete, came so naturally, lost as I was in that creative flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi advocates.

Recently I began blogging for the American Writer’s Museum, scheduled to open in Chicago in late 2016/early 2017.

Given my love of Chicago and All Things Children’s Book, my posts have featured Shel Silverstein (“A Chicago Gift Named Shel”), L. Frank Baum (“Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan!”) and The Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature project (“Dear Author”). Future posts will feature Gene Luen Yang (the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature), the Walter Dean Meyers Award and a favorite author’s upcoming 100th Birthday.

Currently, I’m working with a graphic designer to create a new alphabet book concept.

And that one middle grade fictional character whose story grabbed my heart a life-time ago?

Fortunately, she’s making herself known on a daily basis.

How would you say your journey has evolved over time?

Leo the Late Bloomer and I have much in common.

For starters, like most beginning children’s book writers, I had no idea I was embarking on a journey, and a Hero’s Journey, to boot.

I was simply writing a picture book to be published in time for my son’s third birthday. It would be easy. It would be fun. And how nice that while doing so I could realize my childhood dream of seeing my name on the cover of a children’s book. I mean, I did teach fifth grade, right? I did write for newspapers, yes? I did write text books.

Fast forward lots of years dotted with lots of rejections and “oh, no!” Moments, past lots of twists and turns, not to mention lots of mentors and allies. To my amazement, as story helps the reader discover/uncover/recover his story, writing – and revising - my never-published picture books and middle grade fiction helped me discover/uncover/recover my story. I’d finally found my voice. I could speak from the heart. Published picture books soon indeed followed.

But wait! Just as the hero surprisingly returns with something so much better than what he first sought, I did too.

Once published, I went on to become a teacher and coach of children’s book writers.

In Elizabeth Strout’s new novel My Name is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016), the title character and narrator shares remembered advice from a famous author whose writing workshop she’d attended. “You will have only one story,” Sarah Payne told the class. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

I agree.

I’ve come to see that all of my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, picture book or novel, and all of my characters from Lowell Piggott to the referenced and cited children’s book creators in S is for Story, tell the reader: you matter!

Which is just what I tell my students and writers.

In so many inevitable yet surprising ways, I now understand my story may well be helping other writers tell their stories.

I look forward to doing just that July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

Through February, The Inn offers a discount for accommodations. You can email Tom Chechhia at vtinn@sover.net.

Interested writers can also email me their questions at esthersh@aol.com.

Monday, February 01, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author Interview: Kathleen Ahrens

By Patti Buff
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Kathleen Ahrens was born in the suburbs of New York City and aspired to be an astronaut and to live in a skyscraper. Poor eyesight led her to forgo the first dream, but her move to Hong Kong allowed her to finally fulfill the second.

As a child, she read constantly — often in very dim lighting — leading to her poor eyesight, and she could often be found with a book in one hand and a dictionary in another, now clear precursors of her love of both literature and language.

Her favorite subject in high school was Latin, but her aptitude in math led her to enter the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a computer science major, later switching to a degree in Oriental Languages after she grew bored writing computer programs that mimicked war scenarios.

Currently a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she is the director of the International Writers’ Workshop, she is also a fellow in the Hong Kong Academy of Humanities, and the international regional advisor chairperson for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Hi Kathleen! Thanks for stopping by the blog to discuss the upcoming Bologna Book Fair

With much more focus on diversity in children's books than has been in the past, how important of a role do you think book fairs like Bologna play in introducing young readers to children from other countries and cultures?

The fact that buyers can walk from one hall to another and see and acquire books from all over the world is very important — without Bologna it would be much harder to know of and gain rights for books from outside one’s own geo-political boundaries.

In addition, while most everything is available on the internet nowadays, it’s still people who connect their friends to books they find at the fair and introduce people who buy and sell rights to each other. These connections happen quite naturally in Bologna, which make it that much more likely that the books from one country may make it to the shelves of another country.

One thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve traveled is that so many publishers in countries outside of the U.S. bring in (and translate) books from all over the world. I’ve yet to see that kind of cross-cultural diversity in U.S. bookstores, even in independent ones, mainly because the U.S. publishers are simply not buying (and translating) that many books from other countries.

Part of that has to do with the fact that US has its own rich publishing environment, but part of it seems to stem from the assumption that U.S. children will not read translated books. This assumption needs to be tested by regularly putting the very best of literature translated from other languages into the hands of readers in the U.S.

Any tips for new Bologna visitors?

I highly recommend the museums in Bologna, including the Archaeological Museum of Bologna and Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna (Mambo). My favorite is the Museo Civico Medievale because it contains artifacts that show medieval life in Bologna, including funerary monuments and tombs for professors, some of which have engravings that show teachers lecturing to students. Perhaps because I am a university professor myself, I find these representations fascinating, especially as the scene is still a familiar one in universities today.

One tip if you visit the museums: there are audio recordings are very well done and worth the cost of renting if available.

Great tips. I’ll be sure to check them out. Your picture books (Ears Hear and Numbers Do, both co-authored by Chu-Ren Huang, illustrated by Marjorie Van Heerden) are bilingual in English and Chinese and feature an Asian setting. How hard was it to cross both cultures in one project?

The challenges for these two picture books was in the language. I like to say I “co-argued” these books with my co-author, who also happens to be my husband.

We were adamant about having the text read naturally in both languages and yet still be clear translations of the other language. So sometimes my husband would come up with a line that sounded great in Chinese, but awkward in English, and vice versa.

Another challenge was that the editor wanted the text and illustrations explained, as she was afraid that the minimal text and illustrations with fantastical elements might be confusing.

This is not something that is usually done in picture books published in the United States, as the reader is free to interpret the text and illustrations as he or she wishes.

We compromised by providing commentary and questions in the back of the books to assist the adult reader in interpreting the text and illustrations. I think it worked out well in the end because it helps parents see that it’s okay to stop and discuss a text during a reading, and that there is no single correct interpretation. For parents who are unfamiliar with reading to young children, or who feel that a book should have a particular overt message, it’s important to let them know that multiple interpretations are fine.

‘Multiple interpretations’, which in themselves are another form of diversity. Very cool. Your other writing projects, including the one that won the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award are more western based. What are some of the challenges of writing for children in your adopted country and writing for your homeland audience? And how do you keep up to date with teens from the other side of the world?

The biggest challenge is the same for any audience — namely, getting what is in my head down on paper. I can sit at the computer and see the scene perfectly in my head. I can hear the dialogue and smell the freshly-shampooed hair of a character. But all that needs to be translated to the page and that’s part of the challenge and excitement of writing.

In terms of keeping up with teens in the U.S, I know enough to know that I could never keep up. But I also know that, as Doreathea Brande said, “If a situation has caught your attention…[if] it has meaning for you, and if you can find what that meaning is, you have the basis for a story.”

That’s what I’m doing when I write — I’m finding that meaning. And when someone reads what I’ve written, they’re creating their own meaning based on what is going on in their lives at that particular point in time. So to my mind, it’s not so much keeping up-to-date as being curious and open to meanings in everyday situations and figuring out how they might intersect with universal themes and current issues that are of interest to readers.

You are extensively published in the academic world, which requires a fair amount of research. Do you apply the same research techniques to your fiction? If not, how do they differ?

Hong Kong at night
In my linguistic research, I set up a hypothesis and then test my hypothesis by gathering linguistic data through experiments or through analysis of linguistic patterns in that corpus.

When I write creatively, I utilize the internet, the public and university library, newspapers, published diaries, etc. in order to get background information for my story — the details that make a scene come alive for reader.

In the former, I’m testing hypotheses; in the latter, I’m gathering information. However, they share a similarity in that I also need to gather information before I test a hypothesis — I need to see what other conclusions researchers have before I start my own research. So I’m pretty good at locating and sifting through information — I used to do this on 3 x 5 inch note cards. Now I use Scrivener and Mendeley to stay organized.

And finally, what are you working on now? Any surprises you can share with us?

I’m working on a YA novel about two sixteen-year old half-sisters meeting up at a summer camp for the first time in ten years — one has been waiting for this summer for ages, while the other has been doing everything possible to avoid it.

What’s at stake is not only the relationship between the two of them, but also the main character’s relationship to her mother, who left her at an early age and later died while serving in Iraq.

That sounds amazing – and powerful. Hope to be able to read it soon. Thank you so much for stopping by, Kathleen. I wish you a lovely time in Bologna.

Cynsational Notes

Patti Buff
The tenth out of eleven children in a family that took in hundreds of foster kids, Patti Buff found solitude in reading at a young age and hasn’t stopped. She later turned to writing because none of her other siblings had and she needed to stand out in the crowd somehow.

Originally from Minnesota, Patti now lives in Germany with her husband and two teenagers where she’s also the regional advisor of SCBWI Germany & Austria. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her YA novel Requiem, featured in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover of The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat (Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks, 2016). From the promotional copy:

All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when an enchanting song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. 

A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offers to help, and she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl that’s not quite solid, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

Tell us more about your cover. How did it feel to see it for the first time?

It was a total thrill! When I opened the box of galleys that my publisher sent me, it seemed like the books were absolutely glowing. The cover art makes me want to dive in and see what is behind that door. I hope kids will feel the same way.

The girl on the cover is the main character, Izzy, who journeys into Faerie to find her little sister and bring her home. The three animals are the Changeling children who help her.

The Changelings are shape shifters who can make themselves look like almost anything for a short while. But they can only truly “Change” into a handful of forms – like the stoat, butterfly, and badger on the cover.

The little flying fairies are Pollenings. They play a very tiny, but important, part in the story. (And they make honey that goes great with pancakes!)

What was it like to see your characters depicted on the cover?

I actually didn’t think the cover would feature the characters at all, so it was such a wonderful surprise to see them in the first draft! When I got my first look at Izzy, I thought the artist captured her perfectly. She looks curious and thoughtful, and is having a very human reaction to all the magic around her – a mix of awe and nervousness! I’m sure most of us would feel the same way if we stumbled into Faerie.

I think it was a very wise decision on Sourcebooks’ part to have Izzy be the only human face we see on the cover. The artist could have drawn all the Changelings in their child forms, but I think that would have taken some of the fun away from readers being able to imagine them for themselves.

Tell us more about the cover design process. Where you involved?

The artwork and design were done completely without me – thank goodness! But my editor and art director did ask me for input on the characters, and we went back and forth several times to make sure the details were right and the cover was being true to them.

I am really lucky to have been involved as much as I was. I know that’s not always the case for authors!

I learned so much about covers during this process and the heavy lifting they have to do. The cover has to draw a reader in, give them a feeling for the writing and the story, but without giving too much away. Everything, from the font to the color palette, to the way the art wraps around to the back, contributes to that sense of wonder you want readers to have – before they even start reading.

The cover for The Changelings doesn’t depict an exact scene in the book, but I think it does everything you want a cover to do!

Oh, and there is a secret hidden in the cover as well. But you will have to read the book to figure it out!

Cynsational Notes

Christina Soontornvat spent her childhood in small Texas towns, eagerly waiting for the fairies to come and kidnap her. They never came, but she still believes magic things can happen to ordinary people. When not writing, Christina hangs out in science museums and takes care of her own little goblins-ahem- children. She lives in Austin, Texas. The Changelings is her first novel.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Former Editor Stephanie Fretwell-Hill Joins West Coast–Based Red Fox Literary

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Former editor and foreign rights manager Stephanie Fretwell-Hill has joined boutique agency Red Fox Literary.

"Stephanie approaches the children's book business with the same thoughtfulness and concern for authors and illustrators that we at Red Fox Literary strive to be known for," says agency co-founder Karen Grencik.

Fretwell-Hill began her publishing career in 2004 at Walker Books Ltd. in London, where she sold foreign language rights for projects by legendary artists such as Helen Oxenbury and Lucy Cousins. Though she worked across a broad range of territories including Eastern Europe, and Spanish speaking countries across the world, she specialized in developing new markets, selling the first Walker Group titles into Russian and Arabic territories.

In 2011, Fretwell-Hill joined Atlanta-based Peachtree Publishers, where she edited board books through young adult titles. Her acquisitions received such honors as YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, Parents' Choice Awards, and numerous starred reviews.

"She has a careful and well-considered approach to editing, plus an excellent eye for illustration," says co-founder Abigail Samoun.

For Fretwell-Hill, becoming an agent is the culmination of ten years' experience in children's book publishing. Her new role combines the buzz of sales and negotiation with the creativity of editing and acquisitions, but mostly hinges on building strong relationships. "I'm really looking forward to working closely with authors and illustrators," she says. "Kind, passionate, and creative people are my favorite part of this business."

Red Fox Literary, founded by Grencik and Samoun in 2011, was recently named one of the top ten children's book agencies ranked by Publishers Marketplace sales.

The agency represents over eighty authors and illustrators, including Dan Krall, Julie Falatko, Lee Wind, Sarah Watts, Masha D'yans, Hannah Harrison, Miranda Paul, and other stand-out talent.

In 2014, Red Fox brought on board award-winning blogger Danielle Smith, who recently signed National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

2015 saw the agency's clients receive nearly a dozen starred reviews on titles such as Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) (Viking), One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Millbrook/Lerner), and Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter (Christy Ottaviano/Holt).

"We're delighted to have Stephanie become the fourth agent at Red Fox," says Samoun.

Stephanie Fretwell-Hill will be open to submissions for six months. Interested authors and illustrators can send art samples, complete picture book text, or the first three chapters of a novel to querystephanie@redfoxliterary.com.

In Memory: Andrea Cheng

Learn more from Lee & Low.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Andrea Cheng by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly.

"Children’s book author and educator Andrea Cheng, whose books often focused on intercultural and intergenerational relationships, died on Dec. 26, 2015 following a long illness. She was 58.

"Cheng was born in El Paso, Tex. in 1957, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. The family soon moved to Cincinnati where Cheng and her two siblings grew up in an extended family, which she described on her website as 'three generations under one roof.'”

From The Cincinnati Enquirer:

"In lieu of flowers or food, donations may be made to either the Andrea Cheng English as a Second Language Scholarship at Cincinnati State (online or checks to Attn: Cincinnati State Foundation, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, ATLC, Room 352, 3520 Central Parkway, Cincinnati OH, 45223), or to the Cincinnati Public Library (online or checks to 800 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH 45202). Please note that the gift is in memory of Andrea Cheng."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

In Memory: Larry Romans

By John L. Amundsen
Program Officer,
Outreach and Communications ALA Office
for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) family, along with all of ALA, are saddened to learn of the death of Larry Romans, director at large of the GLBTRT on Thursday.

His service to the Library community was vast; Larry served on the GLBTRT Executive Board for six years and had been a member of GLBTRT since 1984, when it was then known as the SRRT Task Force on Gay Liberation. He served on the ALA Executive Board from 2007-2010 and served with distinction on ALA Council for over 24 years. He was the the chapter councilor for Tennessee for eight years and was finishing his 16th year as an at large councilor at the time of his passing.

While on ALA Council, Larry was a forceful advocate for equality, within and beyond the Association. He worked with ALA staff to make its conferences more welcoming and inclusive environments for all, through ensuring that conference cities implement sensitivity training for employees in serving transgender attendees and sponsored a resolution opposing marriage inequality.

He often chaired ALA’s Resolutions Committee and was an informed participant whose opinions were valued. He helped many newly elected ALA Councilors find their way and their voice to speak their passion. Larry was a master of parliamentary procedure to follow in meetings. He could always be depended on to know who to talk to on specific issues.

Children's Award Winner
YA Award Winner
Through the generosity of Larry, and his husband Mike Morgan, the Stonewall Book Award Endowment fund grew significantly, with Larry and Mike donating over $75,000, including a $15,000 challenge match in 2014.

Endowing the Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, which was named for Larry and Mike in 2012, was a highlight of his career.

“Larry Romans’ thoughtful and invaluable contributions to elevating GLBT literature; to the advancement of The American Library Association; and to librarianship will not be forgotten,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “Larry will be missed and always in the hearts of his friends, colleagues, and those that look to the Stonewall Book Awards - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award - for quality titles regarding the GLBT experience.”

Larry was a dear friend to many and will be remembered for his kind soul, gentle manner and deep wisdom. The GLBTRT membership and Executive Board will miss his counsel, his warmth and his friendship.

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