Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: Barbara Bottner on Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome)

Learn more!
By Barbara Bottner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am very opinionated, as a reader, a writer, writing teacher and coach.

I am also righteous, and stubborn about my opinions to the point of intolerance.

This attitude is what made me write Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t.), illustrated by Michael Emberley (Knopf). I like to use my own childish nature as a resource for picture books because it is always authentic and it is a good source for stories and always offers conflict.

In the first Miss Brooks book, Missy refuses to be seduced into reading by her over-zealous, inspired librarian, Miss Brooks. This is a parallel to me in my book club. I tend to be disappointed in many novels--good, award-winning novels.

While I long to leave my own writing and daily life behind, I need the work to offer an intense experience.

Make me love you or I will walk away and never turn back.

On the other hand, when I love a book, I love it like a girl loves her first boyfriend, her tutu, her grandmother. I will love it and reread it forever.

When I thought of writing a sequel to Miss Brooks, I knew I had to up the action. Thus, I decided that the still opinionated Missy would have to face an even more difficult challenge than liking stories. She, herself, would need to come up with one and it would have to be a doozy at that. She would have to stay in character of course, but in the creative arena, she could use her own imagination.

Learn more!
Thus, the school temporarily loses electricity due to a storm, and the clever Miss Brooks now can justifiably ask the children to invent their own tales.

I am lucky that Nancy Siscoe, my editor at Knopf, doesn't shy away from Missy's over-the top idea of a neighbor who keeps all kinds of animals in her basement, including a snake, and that in the end, Missy decides she is "dead, dead, dead" (then changes her mind).

I like darkness in tales, even for young readers. Do they never wish a younger sibling or cousin would be "dead, dead, dead'?' I believe that kids live at a very deep emotional level. If I were five, I would be tired of rhymes and adventures as a steady diet. I would want the occasional "off with their heads" moments.

I also love the story within the story--it offers another level of fantasy, while keeping the real life problems in the foreground.

Missy needs to face down a bully. She needs a tale to embolden herself, but one that will also put her nemesis, Billy Toomey, in his place. Stories about kittens won't do.

I try to use heightened issues for picture books in honor of my readers. We humans are a complicated, difficult tribe. I consider it my duty to reflect that in my books.

Never underestimate the power of a good story, or the complicated nature of even a very young child.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

We Need Diverse Books Announces Incorporation as a Non-Profit & Inaugural Advisory Board

See FAQ!
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Grassroots organization files for incorporation as a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania, and welcomes its first advisory board members, authors Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon

New York City, NY: More than just a hashtag, We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. Its mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish its mission, We Need Diverse Books reaches out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including but not limited to publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students.

“Incorporating will give us the legitimacy and standing we need to move forward with our mission,” says Lamar Giles, VP of Communications. “We have many exciting projects in the works.”

In addition to a Diversity Festival planned for 2016, We Need Diverse Books plans to initiate a grant program to support diverse authors, bring Diversity into the Classroom with collaborations with First Book and the National Education Association, and develop a “diversity toolkit” for librarians and booksellers.

Ellen Oh
Inaugural advisory board members includes Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon.

“Each of these members has a history of advocating for diverse books, and is a pioneer in the field of children’s literature. They will not only increase our visibility as an organization, but light the way going forward,” said Ellen Oh, President of We Need Diverse Books.

On the heels of its enormously successful panel at the inaugural Book Con, the We Need Diverse Books team has been invited by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) to present the first ever diverse author signing and reception, and present panels at the Baltimore Book Festival, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the American Library Association (ALA), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), among others.

Cynsational Notes
 
New Board Member -- Cynthia Leitich Smith
Diversity Movement Gains Visibility at ALA Annual by Wendy Stephens from School Library Journal. Peek: "If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas (June 26-July1), odds were good that they were sporting a colorful 'We Need Diverse Books' button. That recent campaign harnessed the collective power of social media to highlight the need for more resources depicting a range of cultures and experiences."

We Need Diverse Books to Launch a Diversity in the Classroom Initiative from Children's Book Council. Peek: "Every month, students will explore a diverse author’s book. These readers will then be treated to a visit from the author (in-person or through Skype) to have a discussion."

In Public Schools, White Students Are No Longer the Majority by Janell Ross and Peter Bell from The Atlantic. Peek: "U.S. classrooms will enter a new era this fall—one in which black, Hispanic, and Asian students form the majority."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature from the National Book Foundation:

See also Gail Giles on Writing Across Mental Abilities.

More News

Asking an Editor: Hooking a Reader Early by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning?" See also Stacy on Nailing the Story.

Intersectionality and Disability by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "Why is it that diversity in young adult, middle grade, and children’s literature is often represented as an either/or, without intersectionality? Characters can either be autistic or gay, for example, or a wheelchair user or Black, but rarely both."

No Name by Tim Tingle (Seventh Generation, 2014): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Choose your framework for sharing it: It is a basketball story; it is a realistic story of alcoholism; it is a story about the Choctaw people."

When It Comes to Creativity, Are Two Heads Better Than One? from NPR Books. Peek: "'We think of Martin Luther King and Sigmund Freud and Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs as these great solo creators, but in fact, if you look into the details of their life, they are enmeshed in relationships all the way through.'"

Not Enough Willpower to Meet Your Goals? Make Mini-Habits. By Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "For me, feeling overwhelmed and getting started has always been the hardest part. Having mini goals in order to create habits is so easy."

Writers--Be Careful How You Sit from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "We thought we had the kinds of jobs where injuries might be limited to paper cuts or possibly dropping a laptop on our foot."

What Nobody Tells You About Publishing Deadlines by Cavan Scott from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...deadlines can shift when you least expect it, which can have a house of cards effect."

Blasting the Canon: Teach Stories that Speak to Young Readers by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book. Peek: "Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list."

Four Tools for the Writing Parent by Joanna Roddy from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Here are four tools that have helped to ground me and other writers I know in the midst of a life that sometimes feels like it's been reduced to tantrums, skipped naps, and bleary-eyed late night feedings."

Giving Up The Giver to Hollywood: A Q&A Interview with Lois Lowry by Jessica Gross from The New York Times. Peek: "...in the book she’s 12, and in the movie she’s 16. I advised them that some of the costumes were too sexy. And so the hem was dropped a little bit."

Middle Grade & YA: Where to Draw the Line? by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "We ask booksellers across the country to weigh in."

Five Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Stories by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "How do we come up with the right symbols in the first place? What should they be symbolic of? And how do we incorporate them into our stories without making them so obvious we lose all their symbolic value?"

Marketing Tips for Authors and Agents by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I’ve come to peace with the fact that there are many facets of the business which I can not control but that there’s power and autonomy in focusing on the things that we can."

On Giving Feedback by Peter Biello from Burlington Writer's Workshop. Peek: "I want to focus our attention today on one of the thorniest circumstances, and of course the one with which I have a great deal of experience, and that’s the process of giving feedback to a writer who is working on an early or late draft of an unpublished piece."

Evil, Insane, Envious and Ethical: The Four Types of Villain by K.M. Weiland from Fiction Notes. Peek: "They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!"

How to Hook a Literary Agent: 16 Agents Share What Gets Them Reading by Jan Lewis from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Want to get a literary agent? Tired of getting rejected?"

Soho Teen, June 2015
Diversity 101: Gay in YA by Adam Silvera from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...if you’re not gay but want to write characters who are, don’t simply turn to current gay culture to craft your character. Common mistakes include gay guys being automatically interested in fashion and Lady Gaga, and lesbian girls competing in sports or fighting all the time."

How to Publicize Your Children's Book by Paula Yoo from Lee & Low. Peek: "To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went viral."

Rejection Stamina: How Much Can You Take? by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "She (Meg Cabot) points to her own experience with rejection, and I challenge you to read this without fainting..."

The Surprising Importance of Doing Nothing by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...in a world where output, production, and speed are the gold standard, it’s important to remind ourselves that fast doesn’t always mean better. For some people, speed gets in the way of producing their richest, deepest, most creative work."

Picture Book Month Promotion Kit -- get ready for November!

Courage and Confidence by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Sometimes I think we spend too much time analyzing our fears as a way to bolster our courage. Maybe–just maybe–the problem would take care of itself if we planted our seats in our seats and worked harder."

Tales of Reconciliation Rooted in Judaism by Janni Lee Simner from Arizona Jewish Post.

(Scholastic, 2014)
Join author Sharon G. Flake in Telling the World #IAMUNSTOPPABLE from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "On Sept. 30, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image: I AM UNSTOPPABLE #UNSTOPPABLEOCTOBIAMAY."

Why Does the Opening of John Green's The Fault In Our Stars Work? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations..."

Transparency is Paramount: Consider the Source by Tanya Lee Stone from School Library Journal. Peek: "...the problem arises when I feel duped or manipulated into thinking I am reading nonfiction and discovering I am not—or worse, not being able to determine whether anything was made up, save writing to the author."

A Conversation with Norwegian Author-Illustrator Stien Hole by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I am a collector of bits and pieces that I move around and try to put together. That is what I do for a living. Like in a theater, I have a huge prop stock." Note: click the link if only to be mesmerized by Hole's art work--gorgeous and fascinating.

Cynsational Screening Room




This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Lunch with Sarah Enni of YA Highway and First Draft at Tacos & Tequila.
My most heartfelt and enthusiastic congratulations to my former Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers advanced novel workshop student Yamile Saied Mendez on her admission to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program!

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith and my many other friends who were selected as 2014 Featured Authors at the Texas Book Festival! Kudos also to Greg on his characters from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014) making the 2013-2014 Yearbook Superlatives from The Horn Book. Guys Lit Wire says of the novel, "This is a cool book about friendship, about overcoming obstacles and about being open to different possibilities. The laid back first person viewpoint makes it accessible to a wide variety of readers."

Check out the cover for Things I'll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick/Brilliance, 2015), which will include my short story, "Cupid's Beaux," which is set in the Tantalize-Feral universe and told from the point of view of the guardian angel Joshua.

From the promotional copy:

Fifteen top young-adult authors let us in on provocative secrets in a fascinating collection that will have readers talking.

A baby no one knows about. A dangerous hidden identity. Off-limits hookups. A parent whose problems your friends won’t understand. Everyone keeps secrets—from themselves, from their families, from their friends—and secrets have a habit of shaping the lives around them. 

Acclaimed author Ann Angel brings together some of today’s most gifted YA authors to explore, in a variety of genres, the nature of secrets: Do they make you stronger or weaker? Do they alter your world when revealed? Do they divide your life into what you'll tell and what you won't? The one thing these diverse stories share is a glimpse into the secret self we all keep hidden.

With stories by Ann Angel; Kerry Cohen; Louise Hawes; Varian Johnson; erica l. kaufman; Ron Koertge; E. M. Kokie; Chris Lynch; Kekla Magoon; Zoë Marriott; Katy Moran; J. L. Powers; Mary Ann Rodman; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and Ellen Wittlinger.

My fun link of the week: Kidlit Mashups (AKA Merged Children's Book Sequels).

The smartest one: Why You Don't Need to Rush Your Writing by Meg Rosoff from Writer Unboxed.

And the one that makes me dream: 20 Writing Residency You Should Apply for This Year.

Personal Links

Marsha Riti, Bethany Hegedus, C.S.Jennings & Amy Farrier at Austin SCBWI
Cynsational Events

P.J. Hoover will speak and sign Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life at 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at The Book Spot.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl's Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Post: Chris Barton on A New & Diversity Bookselling Strategy: BookPeople's Modern First Library

Newlyweds Chris & Jenny
By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Many of my ideas -- good, bad, and otherwise -- originate while I’m exercising, and Modern First Library was among these.

One evening this past winter, while my wife, fellow author Jennifer Ziegler, and I were walking our dog, I bemoaned an article I’d read about an independent bookseller’s baby gift registry.

Of the classic picture books mentioned in the article -- through no fault of the store, I’m assuming -- the newest one was published during the first Nixon administration.

We’re in a pretty terrific era for picture books. You might even call it a golden age, and I’ve been working for years to try to contribute to it myself. But how, I griped, was the general book-buying public going to know about contemporary standouts such as I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2011) if major media outlets so readily reinforce shoppers’ tendencies to look to their own youth -- or even to earlier decades -- for the books they give as gifts to modern kids?

If only, I thought, there was some way to leverage the public’s interest in buying the tried and true into the purchase of classics and contemporary titles. I wasn’t interested in just shifting sales from old to new -- booksellers and kids alike would benefit a lot more if those parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents and family friends bought two picture books instead of just one.

Our walk ended, and that was as far as it went. But not for long.

A couple of weekends later, the groundshifting essays by Walter Dean Myers (“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”) and Christopher Myers (“The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”) ran in The New York Times.

A widespread urge to Do Something About This led to lots of conversations among authors, editors, librarians, and other champions of children’s literature. It led to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

And it led me to email Meghan Goel, the children’s-book buyer at my beloved local indie BookPeople, to discuss a new spin on the notion I’d had on that recent walk.

Wait -- email Meghan in what capacity?

As an author? Yes, but also as a BookPeople customer, and as a dad, and as a member of the community. Of various communities, in fact, large and small.

What’s important is not whether I felt especially qualified to lend my voice but rather that I had an idea that I thought might be worth trying and I decided not to keep it to myself.

Sharing an idea was the least I could do.

Here’s what I emailed, under the subject line “Getting past Goodnight Moon”:

Hey there, Meghan,

Like apparently half of everyone I know, I've read the Myers' New York Times essays with tremendous interest. And those essays sparked a diversity-encouraging idea that I wanted to run past a bookseller or two before I get too enamored of a notion that may be either entirely unoriginal or totally unworkable or both.

My sense is that there a lot of gift-giving adults whose familiarity with picture books doesn't go far beyond the likes of:

Would there be an effective way to encourage these adults to buy the classic titles they have in mind and a new picture book that reflects the modern, diverse world that the recipients inhabit? And could such an effort be widespread and long-lasting enough that it could reward publishers for doing a better job of making good on their good intentions?

Am I nuts? A simpleton? Both -- and way off base, to boot?
I'd love to know what you think.

Chris

Meghan’s reply?

“I love this idea.”

Right away, she came up with the name “Modern First Library.”

Meghan suggested partnering with a small but diverse group of other authors whose voices on behalf of such a program might make it more successful. And she thanked me for reaching out to her.

We worked together to come up with a list of other authors we wanted to have involved. We tossed around ideas for great, vibrant, fun contemporary titles that we ourselves would want to have as the foundation for a child’s first collection of picture books alongside the established classics.

All the while we kept in mind the need for a program that would work specifically for BookPeople -- for its staff, its available space for in-store and online promotion, and local tastes and demographics -- while being potentially repeatable by indie booksellers in other communities.

Author-illustrator contributor Don Tate
We didn’t rush into anything, even as the conversation about diversity in children’s literature remained a passionate one within the publishing and bookselling industries.

By the time our planning was done and the program launched the first week in July, Modern First Library consisted of a simple in-store display of both standalone titles and starter sets of similarly themed books, plus an online campaign that soon began featuring insightful, inspiring blog posts by locally based and nationally established creators of books for children and young adults.

More starter sets are available online, and the program is still picking up momentum. Those pre-wrapped gift sets will be heavily featured at the store during the upcoming holiday season.

Let me tell you, it feels great to know that young readers will be receiving selections from Modern First Library as gifts this year.

I stop by the Modern First Library display, just to admire it, every time I’m in BookPeople. Seeing it makes me glad all over again that I reached out to Meghan rather than assume I had no part to play in addressing the dearth of diversity in children’s literature.

And considering that all this began with my wife and me walking the dog, it’s certainly provided positive reinforcement for us to keep on getting plenty of exercise.

In all sorts of ways, this entire experience has been a gift in itself.

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children's-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Author Interview: Paula Yoo on Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus

Learn more about Paula Yoo.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)! 

What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Thank you! The initial inspiration was from one of my editors at Lee & Low Books.

I worked with Jason Low on my last book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009).

After that book came out, he and I discussed what my next book should be. At the time, Jason had read Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty with Alan Jolis (Public Affairs 1999). He thought Professor Yunus would be a great biographical subject for Lee & Low Books. He suggested I read Banker to the Poor, too.

I read and loved the book - like Jason, I was very inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ work. I agreed with Jason that Muhammad Yunus’ life would make for a fantastic children’s picture book biography.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The timeline took about a year, from idea conception to research and writing and submission for publication and acceptance. I worked with editors Jason Low and Emily Hazel for a few months as I crafted a first draft and received their editorial input.

After several rounds of revision, they felt the book was ready to submit for official consideration. And then I received the good news - the book was accepted for publication!

I then worked with editor Jessica Echeverria for the final version.

As for any major events, I would say the biggest event was meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles for a conference. It was truly an honor to meet and interview the man who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

There are so many challenges into bringing a historical picture book biography to life for young readers. I’d say one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to balance historical facts and figures with an engaging and compelling narrative storyline that keeps the young reader’s attention.

Another challenge is making sure young readers can identify with the main character - what was Muhammad Yunus like as a child?

How can a modern-day child from America relate to a young boy growing up in Bangladesh from the 1940s to '60s?

What are the universal elements of Muhammad Yunus’ life that any child can relate to and understand?

I discovered that Muhammad Yunus was a very sensitive and caring young boy who questioned why so many people in his country grew up in poverty. He wanted to help them. His spirit of generosity influenced all his decisions from childhood to adulthood. I wanted to share that beautiful and very universal compassion with today’s young readers.

In addition, the book also touches upon some very complex issues, from the history of Bangladesh the nation to the concept of “micro-credit” and banking and interest rates. These are topics that even adults can find complicated and confusing. So another challenge was figuring out how to write about these issues not only accurately but also in a way that did not bore or confuse a child reader.

Let’s just say there were many drafts and revisions before I finally figured it out!

What advice do you have for children's nonfiction writers?

Paula Yoo & Muhammad Yunus
I have two pieces of advice for children’s nonfiction writers.

First, I cannot stress enough how important it is do “primary source” research. There’s so much information out there on the Internet, and a lot of it is second-hand information that is not credited properly.

Fact check your information. See if you can do live in-person interviews with sources for your book. There’s nothing wrong with “cold calling” a subject - I did that with Muhammad Yunus.

I found his website and left emails and voicemails with his office in Bangladesh. They responded immediately and graciously arranged a full sit-down interview with him.

You never know unless you try. Do follow-up interviews. Triple check facts with other sources. Make sure you footnote and credit your information.

All of this research advice is based upon my own background as a former journalist - I wrote for The Seattle Times, The Detroit News and People Magazine and received an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University. So I am very meticulous with my reporting.

Photo of Paula by Sonya Sones
I know it may seem like overkill, but trust me, you will feel so much better when you sit down to write because you really did your “homework.”

Now having said that, my second piece of advice is the exact opposite.

Once you have completed your research…walk away from it. Focus on finding out what the story is… and figure out who your main character is… a nonfiction book is not a magazine article or academic essay crammed with facts and figures.

You’re still telling a story.

So I also recommend using the same fiction-writing techniques you use for fiction picture books and novels for nonfiction books. Find out what the beginning, middle and end is for your story - what’s the conflict? What are the obstacles? How does your character change and grow on his/her journey?

Then for revisions, you can go back and figure out how to blend the nonfiction facts seamlessly into the “fictional” narrative story you’ve written.

How about those concentrating specifically on picture book biographies?

I’d say the exact same thing as above but with an emphasis on character. Your main character - the biography subject - is no different than a character in a fictional picture book or novel.

Your character is going on a journey - he/she is going to have a goal or desire. That goal or desire will be met with obstacles that your character has to overcome.

How does your character change at the end of the story? For Muhammad Yunus, he wanted to help poor people. But he soon found out that helping poor people was a lot more difficult than he had anticipated.

Instead of just using his economics degree to teach classes at the university, he went into the rural villages and met with poverty-stricken villagers so he could truly understand the vicious cycle of poverty. This led to his “out of the box” thinking and using his creativity to set up Grameen bank and the concept of “micro credit” and small loans for groups of women in order to teach them how to become financially independent.

This led to Muhammad Yunus winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize… his journey took him from being a compassionate child to a professor who used his intellect to make a huge difference in the world and change people’s lives forever.

For anyone working on a picture book biography - think big. Your main subject should have a compelling and interesting childhood and many obstacles that he/she must overcome in order to triumph as an adult historical figure who helped change the world for the better.

My other picture book biographies - Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009) are both equally as “big” as my book on Muhammad Yunus.

Sammy Lee was not allowed to swim in his town’s public swimming pool in the 1920s-30s because he was not white. He overcame racial discrimination to win two Gold Medals as a diver in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics.

Anna May Wong grew up as a poor laundryman’s daughter in downtown Los Angeles and overcame racial discrimination to become one of the first Asian American movie stars.

For those who are new to your work, could you tell us a bit about your back-list titles?

In addition to my picture book biographies, I also have a YA novel called Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) that was re-issued in paperback in 2012.

It’s a funny and heartwarming story about a Korean American teen violin geek. I poke fun at the “Model Minority Myth” and tackle other Asian American stereotypes/racial discrimination, but the bigger story is about a young girl who learns the difference between success and happiness and following her own path.

This novel was inspired by my real life background as a violinist.

(When I’m not writing, I play the violin professionally in various local orchestras and with rock bands in Los Angeles.)

I am also a TV writer/producer. I’ve written for everything from NBC’s "The West Wing" to SyFy’s "Eureka." I’m currently a Supervising Producer on the writing staff for Amazon’s "Mozart in the Jungle," which is based on professional oboist Blair Tindall’s memoir of the same name. The series was created by Paul Weitz, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Alex Timbers. It’s a fun look behind the curtain of professional classical musicians.

I love how your blog pays proper attention to your cats! Please share with us how they contribute to your writing life!

Thank you for the cat shout-out!

My three cats Oreo, Beethoven and Charlotte help me write quite a bit. They will sit by my side while I write (especially Oreo!).

Sometimes I have to “pitch” story ideas out loud for my TV job as well as for my books.

So I find myself pitching out loud to my cats… that way I don’t feel as strange talking out loud to no one else in the room. The cats are easily distracted, so it’s good practice for me!

They also keep me calm with their purring. And because they get restless and want to eat or play, it helps me from procrastinating because I know I only have a limited period of time to write before the cats start nudging me with their paws and heads, demanding attention.

Cynsational Notes

Paula Yoo is a children's book author/novelist and a TV writer-producer.

Her latest book is Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (Lee & Low, 2014), illustrated by Jamel Akib. Her YA novel Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) was a 2009 Honor Book of the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

Her other books include the IRA Notable nonfiction picture book biographies Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009), which also won the 2010 Carter G. Woodson Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

She is currently a supervising producer for the show "Mozart in the Jungle" on Amazon. Her other TV credits include NBC’s "The West Wing" and SyFy’s "Eureka."

When she’s not writing, Paula teaches, plays her violin and hangs out with her three cats. Her website is http://paulayoo.com and you can follow Paula and her cats on Twitter @paulayoo and @oreothecatyoo

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Trailer: The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks Fire, 2014). From the promotional copy:

This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother–and there can only be one winner. 

In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. 

The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. 

Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. 

It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.


Cynsational Notes

Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes by Cindy Rodriguez from Latin@s in Kid Lit. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest Post: Barbara Shoup on The Real Jack Kerouac

By Barbara Shoup
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Few writers attained the fame Jack Kerouac experienced after the publication of his novel, On the Road (Viking, 1957). The book captured the spirit of rebellion bubbling beneath the staid and satisfied 1950’s, and inspired countless young people to throw off their parents’ expectations and set out on adventures of their own.

Kerouac himself became an icon, a role he both gloried in and despised—and which, ultimately, undid him.

Looking for Jack Kerouac isn’t about Kerouac himself, but about a boy, Paul, who takes off in search of him because he believes Kerouac can help him figure out what to do with his life.

“Lost in the pages of On the Road, I felt like…myself,” he says. “Like the book knew who I was, what I wanted, and was speaking back to me somehow.”

But the Jack Kerouac Paul finds is nothing like Sal Paradise, the character Kerouac fashioned after himself in the book. He’s living in a tacky little house with his elderly mother in St. Petersburg, Florida—an alcoholic, a bigot, a right wing fundamentalist and full of rage about where his life has taken him.

What could a guy like that offer a grief-stricken, idealistic young man in love with the idea of freedom? That was the biggest challenge I faced, writing the book.

Like most people in my generation, I’d read On the Road. I thought of Kerouac as the ultimate in cool, shaking his fist at the world, going where he wanted to go, doing what he wanted to do. I knew Kerouac was wild and reckless, that he squandered his career and died young of cirrhosis of the liver.

But reading his books and books about him, especially those by people had known him, made me begin to understand what a complex person he had been, what a bundle of contradictions.

The more I read about Kerouac, the more real and sympathetic he became to me. The icon faded, leaving a just a wrecked man, who had just enough left in him to give a grieving kid what he needed to accept his mother’s death and begin the next phase of his life.

I don’t want to do a spoiler here, so I’ll just say that answer lay not in On the Road, but in Visions of Gerard (FSG, 1963), an autobiographical novel about the death of Kerouac’s saintly older brother.

I worried a lot about getting Jack right. I didn’t want to glamorize him, nor did I want to make him seem only pathetic. So I was thrilled when David Amram, a close friend of Kerouac, said this about my novel:

“Like Kerouac's own writing, Barbara Shoup's new book Looking for Jack Kerouac brings you right into his world and gives the reader a chance to spend time with him. Shoup's portrayal of Kerouac is astonishingly real and provides a whole fresh look of what it was like for those few of us left who spent time with him.” 

No matter what happens to the book from here on out, the knowledge that I succeeded in capturing Kerouac’s spirit will always mean more to me than anything else.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

#LookingForKerouac @barbshoup @SamiJoLien Set in 1964, Looking for Jack Kerouac tells the story of Paul Carpetti, a boy from a working class family in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana, whose dreams of a different kind of life and grief at the loss of his mother set him on a road trip that includes a wild night in Nashville, Tennessee, an all-too-real glimpse of glimpse of racism; and an encounter with a voluptuous mermaid named Lorelei—landing him in St. Petersburg, where he finds real friendship and, in time, Jack Kerouac. 

By then a ruined man, living with his mother, Kerouac is nothing like the person Paul has traveled so far to meet. 

Yet, in the end, it is Kerouac who gives him the key that opens up the next phase of his life.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Where Books Meet Disaster: A Brief Reading List About Kids and Migration from Meg Medina. Peek: "The difficult story of migration is the Latino story, and it is the human story since time began." See also Eleven Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration from Lee & Low.

Hidden Emotions: How to Tell Readers What Characters Don't Want to Show by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them." See also Angela on Taking Your Character Further and Deeper with...Anger? and Character Skills & Talents: Promotion.

Drawing From Real Life to Enrich Fiction by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...in my own fiction, I’d spent a lot of time and energy focusing on being funny or clever, but it wasn’t until I really dug deeper emotionally and explored some areas that hit very close to home that I actually succeeded in selling a book." See also Sarah Callender on Doubt, Fear and Constipation and Robin LaFevers on The Crushing Weight of Expectations from Writer Unboxed.

Submit Your Novel to New Visions Award for New Authors of Color from Tu Books. Peek: "...will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color." Deadline: Oct. 31.

What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon by Aimee Bender from The New York Times. Peek: "It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure."

a Scheider Book Award winner
Interview with Alyson Beecher, Schneider Family Book Award Chair by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "...there is an increase in the quality, as well as, the number of books being published each year that portray individuals with disabilities. This is a fabulous thing; however, there still needs to be more, especially for young children under the age of eight years old."

In Defense of "Real" Realism in Children's Books by Emma Barnes from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...creating something entertaining and captivating out of the mundane is challenging – maybe more challenging than 'the big stuff'."

Formatting to Indicate a Mid-Scene Break by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "This is more an issue of clarity than of rules."

When Happily-Ever-After Ends Between Writing Client and Literary Agent by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "We’re quick to announce on our blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter about signing with an agent. We’re not so quick when it comes to announcing we’ve split ways." See also Stina on Balancing Your Writing Career Against Social Media.

Diversity in Children's Books: It's a Question of Power by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "...if the adult is saying, 'This is about this,' sometimes that gets in the way of the child’s imagination."

Character Buy-In by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Before we’re ready to believe that dinosaurs roam the earth again (or whatever), the character has to believe it. Only then will the reader go along with the story and feel safe suspending disbelief." See also Mary on Interiority in the Third Person.

2013 Woodson Award Winner
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Call for Submissions from the National Council for the Social Studies. Peek: "...presented to the most distinguished young reader non-fiction books depicting ethnicity in the United States." Note: Nominations due postmarked Oct. 10.

100+ Picture Book Agents from Mondays with Mandy and Mira.

Did Harry Potter Help Shape the Politics of Millenials? by Anthony Gierzynski from Slate. Peek: "Reading the books correlated with greater levels of acceptance for out-groups, higher political tolerance, less predisposition to authoritarianism, greater support for equality, and greater opposition to the use of violence and torture."

Interview with Little, Brown Editor Alvina Ling from Goodreads. Peek: "I do think that the quality of books featuring characters of color has improved (fewer stereotypical depictions, more variety), and also, if you look at the total number of diverse characters in books, I believe the numbers would be vastly improved." Note: Alvina makes an important point here; most statistics of representation reflect only protagonists.

Picture Book Builders: Published authors/illustrators Linda Ashman, Kevan Atteberry, Jill Esbaum, Pat Zietlow Miller, Jennifer Black-Reinhardt, Barb Rosenstock, Tammi Sauer, and Eliza Wheeler post twice/week about one element of a specific picture book that impresses them and, more importantly, why that element works so well. They hope aspiring picture book writers will return for inspiration again and again."

Innate Identity versus Imagine "The Other" from Karen Sandler. Peek: "Based on who I am, how well can I get into this character’s head? How authentically can I write her identity, her culture?" See also Are We Ready for Unstoppable Characters of Color? by Sharon G. Flake from CBC Diversity.

Cynsational Screening Room

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Jean Reidy is holding a contest with the grand prize being a first pages critique from a New York editor! Until high noon on Sept. 26, children's author Jean Reidy will be holding a contest on her blog. The grand prize is a critique, from a New York editor, of the first five pages of your picture book, middle grade or young adult novel. The contest benefits Reach Out and Read Colorado. See more information.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

With fellow Austin authors Sam Bond and Bethany Hegedus
Chatting books with Belle at Epcot!
Congratulations to SCBWI's Tomie dePaola Award Semi-Finalists!

This Book Is for You by Cynthia Leitich Smith from BookPeople's Modern First Library. Peek: "When we imagine the books our children will hug, what do the covers look like? The heroes? What do heroes look like?"

Dedication Delights from Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature. Note: Includes the story behind Kathi Appelt's dedication of The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) to me and Greg Leitich Smith.

Links of the Week: Lower 9th Ward Librarian Wins First Lemony Snicket Prize, J.K. Rowling Sends "Dumbledore"-Penned Letter to Texas Shooting Survivor, Matt de la Pena on Secrets Spawned of Machismo, Matchmaking & MySpace and The Writers' Retreat.

Personal Links

Happy 100th birthday to my literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd.!

Cynsational Events

Austin SCBWI Fall Workshop: Research for Fiction, Nonfiction & Historical Fiction Writers will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Laura's Library in Austin. Speakers include: Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at Highlights magazine, along with authors Cynthia Levinson, Greg Leitich Smith, and author-librarian Jeanette Larson.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl's Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.


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