Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Memory of Francess Lantz

I'm sad to report that children's and YA author Francess Lantz died earlier this month. She will be missed. Below is an excerpted interview with her from my site that was conducted by email in September 2000.

Francess Lantz was the author of numerous titles, including the novels FADE FAR AWAY (a highly acclaimed young adult novel), STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD (which was recently made into a TV movie on the Disney Channel), and the YOU'RE THE ONE series. Visit: Planet Fran

What kind of reader were you as a child? What were your favorite books?

I was a serious tomboy, so I liked non-fiction books like the Colby series (titles like Navy Frogmen) and True Stories of the FBI. I also loved scary books, like the Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies. When I got older, I remember reading James Bond books, comics, and Mark Twain

Who are some of your favorite authors today?

Betsy Byars, Daniel Pinkwater, S.E. Hinton -- many more. Some favorite books are MAKE LEMONADE, THE GOATS, MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN, and TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN (a diverse list!).

Did you begin writing early or were you a late bloomer? What inspired you to write for children and young adults?

I made up stories before I could write. All through childhood I wrote stories and illustrated them. They were usually bloody, violent, and disturbing. But I had a wonderful fifth grade teacher who encouraged me.

Then I got into music and began playing the guitar and writing songs.

I didn't come back to fiction writing until my rock career fizzled and I became a children's librarian. Suddenly, I was hanging around kids, reading kids books, and I thought, "Maybe I can do this!"

Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?

I started writing while I was still a librarian. I didn't know what I was doing. I wrote some picture books, a mystery, and fantasy novel. I sent them out and for 2 1/2 years I got rejection after rejection. But some of them were quite encouraging so I kept at it. Then I got smart and wrote about something I really knew about -- a 15 year old girl who wants to be a rock star. That was my first sale: GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT (Addison-Wesley, 1982).

What part of novel writing comes easiest to you? Plotting? Characterization? Theme?

I'm a good plotter -- or so my writing group tells me. I'm also good at thinking up the basic ideas for stories. I've always got an idea, or can come up with one fast. I think characterization is harder. Writing FADE FAR AWAY and STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD helped me go to the next level with my characterizations. Before that, all the main characters were really just versions of me.

Which of your characters do you feel closest to and why?

Fifteen-year-old Sienna in FADE FAR AWAY. The story was inspired by my father's death from cancer when I was fifteen. I drew on the real feelings I had at the time. So in some ways, Sienna is me and writing her story was very intense. But in other ways, she's very, very different from me, and for the first time in my writing career, I had that experience where I was almost channeling this girl, and she was telling me what she wanted to say and do in the story. It's was very exciting!

Which of them was the most difficult and why?

Sienna again. Because she was a very unhappy person, and a very frightened one. That's not me. So I had to get inside her head every day and learn what it's like to be unhappy and frightened. It wasn't fun, but it was so rewarding to get her story on paper.

Can you talk a bit about the art theme, how Sienna's father Hugh had abandoned his painting for his more critically acclaimed sculpture and how Sienna's work was criticized by her parents as "mere illustration?"

I suppose I deal with this issue in my own life. I've written fun, light novels like SPINACH WITH CHOCOLATE SAUCE and NEIGHBORS FROM OUTER SPACE, and I've also written "serious" novels. I struggle with the question of whether I should be writing more serious books. But they're hard, and you can't usually sell them without writing the whole thing. No guarantees! The light stuff is more fun, and easier, and I can usually sell it from an outline. So it's like a quick fix and very rewarding. So maybe I was writing about myself a little bit.

In STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD, you tell the story from the alternating viewpoints of Ariel and Megan. Alternating viewpoint is one of the most difficult tasks for an author to take on. How did you decide to take this tack? Did you ever consider telling the story from the perspective of one girl or the other?

I sold this book from an outline, and my plan was to write the book from Megan's point of view, the Earthly view. Then when I got ready to write, I realized Megan couldn't tell the whole story. I wanted/needed Ariel to have her say. My editor said, "Go for it." At first I just planned to put in three or four short Ariel chapters. But Ariel took over! She had a lot to say, and she was funny (she didn't mean to be, but she was). So her diary entries got longer and longer, and pretty soon the book was from both girls' POV.

What advice do you have for writers of multiple viewpoint stories. What should they consider?

You have to make sure you're continuing to move the story along. You don't want to tell the story from one POV and then retell it from the other character's viewpoint. And of course, it's easier if the characters are very different and have different perspectives to share with the reader. And they have to both be essential to the story. Otherwise, why not simply stick with one viewpoint?

STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD was recently made into a TV movie shown on the Disney Channel. Can you tell us a bit about how that came to be?

An independent producer, Ricka Fisher, read the book and took it to Disney. They passed on it. Meanwhile, my agent sent it to them, and a few more people read it. So it was brought up again at another production meeting, and this time it got the green light. They hired Chris Matheson, the screenwriter of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," to write the script and they filmed it in Australia. I didn't learn any of this -- except that it had been optioned -- until 3 weeks before shooting began! Boy, was I thrilled!

Were there any differences between the book and TV version? What did you think of the show overall?

The first thing the producer told me was, "We stayed true to the spirit of your book." I thought, "Oh, no, that means they've changed everything!"

But they didn't. There was a lot the same, and they DID stay true to the theme. But there was plenty they changed -- like the whole surfing part of the story was changed to windsurfing because it was more photogenic!

And the ending was changed totally to make it more cinematic, more action packed, and to bring in more special effects.

I'm not complaining though. The first time I saw it, all I could see were the changes. But the second time through, I saw it as an original movie, and I was really impressed. The actors are great, and it's funny.

They're still showing it on the Disney Channel about once a week. Check your TV Guide.

The year 2000 saw the debut of your YOU'RE THE ONE series. Can you tell us a bit about the premise of the series?

Each book is about a girl who has a hopeless crush on an unattainable idol -- and then actually gets to meet him and fall in love with him. The first book (LOVE SONG) is about a rock star, the second (LIGHT, CAMERA, LOVE) is an actor and the third (A ROYAL KISS) is (you guessed it) a European prince.

Kind of hokey, but I made a conscious effort to give each of the girls talents and interests of their own, and to make sure the boys fell for them because of their personalities and talents, not in spite of them. They were fun to write, and pre-teen girls love them.

What's it like to write for a series as opposed to a single title? What are the special challenges and rewards?

First, you have to write fast. I had a month each to write the YOU'RE THE ONE BOOKS. Second, you usually have to deal with a committee of editors, and everyone wants you to change something.

The good part is the money, and the fact that kids get really excited when they learn I've written a HARDY BOYS book or a SWEET VALLEY book. They don't discriminate like adults do. In fact, they usually get more excited about those books than my original novels because they've all heard of them.

You're particularly wonderful at creating a compelling voice for your characters. How do you find their voices?

I'm not sure! Sometimes I think the voice is just me. I imagine myself in the situation I've created for the characters. Or with Ariel and Sienna, it's a lot like acting. I pretend I'm an alien, or I'm a 15 year old with a famous, distant father. Then I start imagining myself in the plot. What would I say? What would I feel? It's fun because it's like acting but you don't have to get up in front of people and risk making a fool of yourself.

What are the greatest challenges to you as a children's and young adult book author?

Selling my next book! Every time I finish a book, I'm unemployed again. It's not like the "old days" when you found a publisher and they promoted you through your career. I've published with Avon, Troll, BBD, Random House, Aladdin, you name it. I'd like to stick with one publisher, but it never works out. And I hate the business stuff, like trying to get them to promote your book and they tell you they adore it, but they don't do anything, and then it doesn't sell and then they tell you they can't buy another because the first didn't sell. And then it goes out of print and they don't tell you and when you finally find out all the copies of the books have been destroyed. It's depressing.

What do you love about it?

Coming up with the idea, writing a chapter that "works," seeing the book with my name of the spine, cashing a check that I earned by being creative, talking to kids at schools and seeing them excited about my books, and getting fan letters. It's all great!

What kinds of reactions to your work have you gotten from young readers?

All positive, I'm happy to say.

Teen girls were nuts for SOMEONE TO LOVE, my novel about adoption, and I'm so sad that it's gone out of print. They get sucked into FADE FAR AWAY really fast too.

And middle grade boys and girls always get excited about my funny books. And now, of course, because one of my books was made into a movie, they think I'm a celebrity.

What advice do you have for aspiring young authors (children and teens)?

Read, read, read. Also watch TV and movies. I learned so much about plotting from watching movies. Then sit down and write. I wrote all the time when I was a kid. It was fun for me. Really, that's all there is to it -- read and write constantly. You will get better and better, guaranteed.

Are you interested in speaking to writer/teacher/librarian groups or to children via school visits? If so, how can interested parties contact you?

Oh, yes! I do about 4 weeks of school visits a year. I put on a really fun, inspiring assembly with a slide show and a reading. Then we write an interactive story called TEACHERS FROM PLANET WEIRD. It's a big hit, as you can imagine!

I also do writing workshops for elementary and middle school/jr. high kids.

What's up next for your fans?

I'm writing two sequels to STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD. The titles are STEPBABY FROM PLANET WEIRD and BLAST OFF TO PLANET WEIRD. I also have a short story coming out this spring in a YA anthology called ON THE FRINGE (Don Gallo, editor). And I'm writing a funny middle grade novel for Pleasant Company called LOVE WANTED: APPLY WITHIN. I'm busy and loving it!

Monday, November 29, 2004

NCTE 2004

Greg and I attended NCTE in Indianapolis earlier this month for four days. I spoke about how technology affects children's/YA authors and about social justice in Native American children's literature. We caught up with my Harper editor, Rosemary Brosnan, Greg's Little Brown editor, Amy Hsu.

We also had a chance to visit with a number of wonderful authors, gurus, teachers, and publishing folks--too many to mention, most of whom are of course long-time fast friends. But some stars I met for the first time included Jacqueline Woodson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Irene Smalls, Bruce Coville, Jim Murphy, and for the first time in person (though we'd met via email) Joseph Bruchac and Ellen Wittlinger.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Book Promotion Newsletter

From a recommended e-newsletter:

All the children's books by Cynthia Leitich Smith are “set in the Central Time Zone and feature contemporary Native American characters,” she says. “So, for each title, I made an effort to identify those outlets with a related geographic tie and interest.”

Her examples are:

“Jingle Dancer (Morrow Junior Books/HarperCollins 2000) is a contemporary powwow set in Oklahoma. So, I made up a list of Indian museum bookstores throughout the state and sent them promotional information. Many were thrilled to have something that wasn't just 'Native American' but really locally tied to the cultures being highlighted.”

Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins 2001) is set in Douglas County, Kansas and so I sent a round of media releases to nearby outlets, which resulted in a major feature article in the Topeka Capitol-Journal.

Indian Shoes (HarperCollins 2002) includes a short story set at a Chicago Cubs game. When the Cubs were in the playoffs, that was a big selling point at Chicagoland bookstores.”

Reprinted from "Book Promotion Newsletter," an ezine featuring articles, tips and promotional coups for generating book publicity. franalive@optonline.net. www.bookpromotionnewsletter.com

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly and Theo Black

The ever effervescent Laurie Halse Anderson's official author site is getting a facelift by webdesigner Theo Black, who is married to author Holly Black.

I don't have the honor of knowing Theo, but if Laurie and Holly's sites are any indication, he's a first-rate Web designer.

My fave book by Laurie Halse Anderson: Catalyst (and, yes, I loved Speak, too, but every reader is different)

My fave book by Holly Black: Tithe (which I've read in hardover and paperback for reasons that can only be attributed to compulsive fandom)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Jane Naliboff

Jane Naliboff's new author Web site is up and running. That would be Jane Naliboff as in The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff, illustrated by Jeff Hopkins (Flashlight Press, 2004). Surf by and check it out!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

How To Write A Children's Picture Book

How To Write A Children's Picture Book by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock (E&E, 2004). Analyzing more than twenty-five classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Sylvester And The Magic Pebble by William Steig, this academic look at picture book and picture storybook structure can offer writers insights into their own work at many stages. Have an idea for a story but not sure how to begin? Read this book. Stuck in the middle and don't know what to do next? Take a look at this book. Uncertain about the overall plot? Bine-Stock dissects the parts of each example to reveal how its author created the whole. This clinical approach to plotting shows how the masters of the craft have succeeded. Highly recommended. Recommendation by Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Monday, November 22, 2004

Effective Aspects

A college student (hi, Meredith!) emailed me a few days ago to ask me about the "effective aspects" of a children's book. All good, except I had no idea what she was talking about. So, she clarified that she was wanting to know what a good children's book was. This is from my answer:

What makes a good children's book depends on the particular book in question.

A story picture book should have all the elements of story, engaging writing, a hero who grows and changes, and the best fit art for the protagonist and tale.

A concept book should convey the concept (be it, say, alphabet, numbers, colors) in a clear and engaging manner, one that will engage young minds.

If rhyme is used, it should be flawless and sophisticated.

Humorous books should be funny. Adventure books suspenseful and exciting. Mysteries intriguing. Fantasies imaginative. Gothics scary.

A children's novel must do all that an adult novel does, but the hero and sensibility is that of a younger person. They are generally a bit leaner, though, less self-indulgent on the part of the author. The audience tends to have a shorter attention span.

No kid reads a book because of what the New York Times has to say. To them, it must sing.

Basically, a good book should be the best book it can be, in whatever manifestation fits best for its unique nature. The same could be said of what makes a good person--one that lives up to its fullest potential and exceeds expectations.

As an aside, for the most part, literary children's books are written with a higher vocabulary than adult books, and for the most part, this is appropriate. What matters is the best word for the purpose, not its reader level.

But if the book is designed specifically for emerging or reluctant readers, the author will take that into account. Likewise, if the book is part of an easy reader line, the author's challenges include crafting a story that is so engaging we fail to notice the limits placed on the prose. It must transcend its form while staying within it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Janie Bynum

Had dinner a couple of days ago with author/illustrator Janie Bynum at Z Tejas. Janie has just recently moved to nearby Wimberly, and we're thrilled to have her in the area.

Her titles include Get Busy, Beaver by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Janie Bynum (Orchard, 2004) and Bathtime Blues by Katie McMullan (Little Brown, 2005).

Anyway, the evening went on to BookPeople, then the Four Seasons, and then she spent the night before heading back to scenic Wimberly. Such a treat.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Madeleine L'Engle Receives National Humanities Medal

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is pleased to announce that internationally acclaimed author Madeleine L'Engle is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, November 17, 2004. Charlotte Jones, Ms. L'Engle's granddaughter, accepted the Medal on her behalf. Madeleine L'Engle was cited "for her talent as a writer on spirituality and art and for her wonderful novels for young people. Her works inspire the imagination and reflect the creative spirit of America." The National Humanities Medal is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). According to the NEH Web site (www.neh.gov), "The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities." Further information is available on the White House Web site, http://www.whitehouse.gov.

Born November 29, 1918, Madeleine L'Engle grew up in New York City, Switzerland, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. Her father was a reporter and her mother had studied to be a pianist, so their house was always full of musicians and theater people. After graduating cum laude from Smith College in 1941, she returned to New York to work in the theater, thinking it an excellent school for an aspiring playwright. While touring with Eva Le Gallienne and Joseph Schildkraut in Uncle Harry, Ms. L'Engle wrote her first book, The Small Rain (originally published in 1945 and reissued in 1984). She met her future husband, Hugh Franklin, when they both appeared in The Cherry Orchard with Miss Le Gallienne, and they were married on tour during the run of The Joyous Season starring Ethel Barrymore.

Madeleine L'Engle's science fantasy classic A Wrinkle in Time, now in its sixty-seventh printing, was awarded the 1963 Newbery Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to children's literature" published in the previous year. The film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time aired on ABC television this past year and the DVD was released on November 16. Two companion novels, A Wind in the Door (1973) and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), complete what has come to be known as The Time Trilogy, which continues to grow in popularity with each new generation of readers. Troubling a Star (1994) continues the story of Vicki Austin, the budding teenage poet in A Ring of Endless Light (1980), which was a Newbery Honor Book. Kirkus Reviews has declared Ms. L'Engle "a master," and in a 2004 profile in The New Yorker, Cynthia Zarin observed that, "more than most writers, L'Engle has engaged with her readers."

For more information on Madeleine L'Engle, please visit the FSG Web site, www.fsgkidsbooks.com and the author's Web site, www.madeleinelengle.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Literacy Site

Visit The Literacy Site and click the button every day.

"In the last three years, First Book has distributed over 20 million books to children in hundreds of communities."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dolphin Quest

Went to SeaWorld--San Antonio this weekend with Anne who was doing research on dolphins.

I love that about this job. You get to find out about whatever ties into the book and often that's naturally just whatever intrigues you (because those things simmer in your subconscious until the related plot/character idea pops out).

And sometimes you get to find out about whatever's in the subconscious of the other writers in your life.

Anne is the author of T Is For Texas and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.

By the way, those with an interest in Jamaican concept/holiday books (and educational work books) may want to surf over to SunZone Books.

Sending out a big hug today to LaShun!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Papa's Latkes

Papa's Latkes by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Stacey Schuett (Candlewick, 2004). Sisters Selma and Dora are facing their first Chanukah after the death of Mama. Papa is bringing home the ingredients for the latkes, but who will make them and how will the family celebrate with Mama gone? Warm, tender, deeply affecting prose; storytelling illustrations that resonate with emotional depth. Ages 4-up.

More From Cyn

I see from the author's Web site that Papa's Latkes is one of The Horn Book Magazine's best new books of seasonal interest. Congratulations!

Tofu And T.Rex

Greg's site has been updated to include the cover art and flap copy for his new novel, Tofu and T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005); surf by and check it out!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Consolidation and Merchandising

These thoughts on the picture book market from newly contracted author Chris Barton, whose first picture book recently sold to Charlesbridge.

"I think the answer is a combination of some of the theories you mentioned, with a couple of others folded in. Consolidation among retailers hasn't been much of an issue in the past few years, but we are still seeing fallout from the consolidation of so many publishers under the roofs of Time Warner, News Corp., Pearson, Viacom and Bertelsmann, all of which -- except for Bertelsmann -- are publicly traded and therefore under pressure to show big returns. Big returns = emphasis on safe bets, and safe bets = books by brand-names (be they celebrities or well-known series), books in genres that have made big splashes (Harry Potter and fantasy in general, which has had a lot of crossover appeal to adults), and books with higher margins (i.e. without all that expensive art).

"To me, there's also the issue of how picture books are merchandised by the big chains. You typically see a wall of a dozen or two outward-facing picture book titles, generally by big names, but the rest of the picture books are jammed together spine-out. Well, a picture book's spine is less likely to appeal to a casual buyer than its cover -- you know, where the art is -- and the miniscule text on the spine of a 32-page book is not exactly easy to read, even if there's a particular author or title you're looking for."

Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Picture Book Market

Reigning theories among children's authors on why the literary trade picture book market has basically tanked:
(a) celebrity picture books
(b) mass market picture books (ie., Disney tie-ins)
(c) chains burying the indies
(d) the decline of school/library budgets
(e) the increased emphasis on testing
(f) a natural dip in the age 4-7 reader population (this is closely related to the idea that baby boomers are saving for retirement and don't have grandkids yet)
(g) the economy
(h) competing media
(i) the growth of bargain outlets
(j) an undervaluing of children's literature
(k) parents expecting five year olds to be reading Harry Potter
(l) a combination of the above...
and if so, the big questions are:
(1) which are cyclical
(2) which are around to stay
(3) what, if anything, can we do about the latter.

If you have an opinion or new theory, write me. I'm taking an informal survey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Speaker Evaluations

Just received my evaluations from my novel-writing class at the League, and I'm so honored. Lots and lots and lots of 10s. Woo woo! Thanks to the participants!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

On The Town

Hit the BookPeople and Waterloo Records catalog party with Greg. Drinks on Judd from Penguin Putnam; great catching up with Gillian from S&S and the glamorous and brill Jill from BP, among others. All of this at Opal Divine's. Swooped by between dinner at Hyde Park Bar & Grill and hot tea at the Four Seasons Town Lake. Feeling tremendously central tonight.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin

I hear this week from Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of On Sand Island, illustrated by David A. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a Golden Kite honor winner.

She sends her "irregular" newsletter, republished here with permission.

Booktalk from Second Avenue

When I sent out the first of these notes in August, 2003, I imagined I might do them quarterly. Oh foolish, foolish me. Fifteen months later I have both time and energy to share some news and ponderings about reading and writing with children.


If you are receiving this note it is because you are in some way involved with children's books, possibly a teacher, librarian, writer, bookseller.

I want to thank you for what you do to bring children and books together.

Though we don't often hear much about the value of imagination in our popular culture, I believe the work we do to grow children's imaginations, to help see the world from inside the heads of others will enable them to live more reflective and empathic lives. And such students, as adults, will be a yeasty counter to close-minded "us-them" thinking that only makes problems worse. So thanks and thanks again. You are planting seeds when you bring children and books together. We do not know when the harvest will happen.


In the last year I have come across a wonderful book about writing with children--In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley (Stenhouse, 1996). Hindley reminds us of the importance of having the right tools--a notebook that seems just for us and a pen or pencil that feels right to our hand.

A few years ago I worked on a journaling project with students in Burlington, Iowa. We provided 7x7 black composition notebooks for all the students at the school. But before they started writing we asked them to decorate the covers of the notebooks in a way that reflected their interests and tastes. Opening a notebook should feel like "coming home" to a special space, a space that's comfortable, and waiting to be filled with observations, questions, imaginings, or word play.

Writers have long known of the importance of having the right tools. You have probably seen writers with special pens for book-signings. You may not have seen the variety of notebooks which writers use for journaling or first drafts, but many are sure that they don't write as well if the notebook is not their own special kind. Children may not be as experienced at writing as older writers but they are equally deserving of this basic requirement.

If you are writing with a group of children I hope you will have the time to allow children to find or make a notebook which feels right for each of them.


Sometimes I read books which are so exciting to me I want to share them.

This year at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference I ran into several wonderful authors/illustrators and their books.

THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, (Farrar,Straus, & Giroux, 2003) is a wonderfully funny story about a cowboy and a dog. The cowboy decides to take his yearly bath and asks the dog to guard his clothes. When he finishes his bath he smells so different the dog does not recognize him and won't give up the clothes. This book is a perfect blend of text and pictures and will be great fun whether in group read-aloud or one-by-one on the couch. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book text.

JUST A MINUTE BY Yuyi Morales (Chronicle, 2003 ) is a trickster counting tale about Grandma Beetle and the Grim Reaper (in the form of Senor Calderon). It is an affectionate and warm-hearted tale of a resourceful grandma. I want to see more of Grandma Beetle. This book received the Golden Kite Honor Award for picture book illustration. It also received the Pura Belpre Award from the American Library Association.

LEONARDO by Robert Byrd is a wonderfully illustrated and imaginatively told story of Leonardo's life. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book illustrations.

APPLES TO OREGON by Deborah Hopkinson is another of my favorites this fall. Hopkinson's narrator has a folksy way of telling us about her family's trip from Iowa to Oregon with hundreds of fruit trees. It's a story of pluck, humor, and history and a great read with a crisp apple.

Reader and Writer Dialogue

As your students are reading my books and visiting my Web site (http://www.jacquelinebriggsmartin.com) they may come up with questions which the website doesn't answer. I will try to answer e-mailed questions which are sent to me. I would love to hear from readers of all ages, but, as adults, I hope you will help your young readers to search the Web site for answers before sending questions.


I'm excited about some forthcoming books. One--BANJO GRANNY (written with my daughter Sarah, who lives in California with her husband and son, Owen) is very close to my heart. This book will be illustrated by Barry Root and published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. It is the story of a Granny who misses her grandson so much that "she puts on her thousand mile shoes" and sets out from the midwest to see her faraway grandson who goes "wiggly,jiggly and all-around giggly for bluegrass music."

CHICKEN JOY ON REDBEAN ROAD (illustrated by Melissa Sweet and published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007) is a tall tale about friendship in the chicken yard and the healing power of Louisiana music.

I've also been working on a book for teachers and students about writing. It will be called JACQUELINE BRIGGS MARTIN AND YOU. It is part of Libraries Unlimited "Author and You" series and will be published in 2005.

It covers many topics, including getting started with journaling, writing about a favorite person or place, writing and revising a fictional story, and ways of sharing student writing.

Book News:

THE WATER GIFT AND THE PIG OF THE PIG was named the Lupine Award Winner by the Maine Library Association; ON SAND ISLAND was named the Golden Kite Honor Book for Picture Book Text by the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I hope this season, with its clouds and conflicts, also offers you some joys--the joy of family fun, the joy of good work done. And I hope to hear from you.

Thank you, Jackie, and congratulations on your many honors and accomplishments! Keep up the good work!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Varsha Bajaj

Debut children's picture book author Varsha Bajaj is on my mind today. She's the author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? (Little Brown, 2003). Varsha and I met when I guest taught a class on writing children's books that was led by Kathi Appelt and Debbie Leland. I got to know each other better at a dinner at last year's TLA conference in San Antonio with Greg and his editor, Amy Hsu.

I look forward to more great writing from Varsha in the future!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Writing the YA Novel

I taught a class today for the Writers' League of Texas on writing the YA novel. It was such a sparkling class--filled with thoughtful, attentive writers asking great questions. It inspires me to talk to beginners--so much potential. I hope they enjoyed it half as much as I did and learned...something!

I also brought home a stack of partial mss and just finished sending out initial thoughts to the writers via email. It's amazing! With work, every one of them could be a quite successfully published novel. Sure, they were in different stages of completion, but I can still tell.

I invited them to write with any additional questions as time goes by. I hope they all keep in touch!

In other news, one of my mentees Debbi Michiko Florence, writes today in her blog of her first gig as a writer. I'm so proud of her!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Healing Books

My friend Kathi Appelt sent me a book today, Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World by Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D. (Warner Books, 1990, 2003).

I was flipping through the book when a chapter titled "Helping Children and Teenagers Deal With Loss" caught my eye. Among the recommended resources is my first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001), along with some of my favorite books about grieving/healing, including Bluebird Summer by Deborah Hopkinson (Harper, 2001) and books about hope, including River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Nifty link:

The Teen Book Club from Dear Reader. Sign up online to receive chapters of top YA novels in your "in" box. This week's book is Comedy Girl by Ellen Schreiber.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Planet Esmé Bookroom

Oh, happy day!

The Planet Esmé Bookroom is a new "private, non-circulating library and literary salon geared toward parents and elementary school teachers is dedicated to the principles found in How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esmé Raji Codell."

It's located at 2646 West Pratt in Chicago.

I love Esmé! I love books! I love Chicago!


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Celebrity Books

I generally refrain from cranky-ness as it too often bears no fruit. However, on the subject of celebrity books, I must say that most of the celebrities themselves are in fact unknown to children; the appeal is to parents out of touch with their own young readers. At the very least, these books send the message that quality does not matter. I'm by no means alone in this opinion.

Check out...

Critics, authors chafe as more celebrities join ranks of children's authors by Karen MacPherson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Learn more about Linda Sue Park, Jane Yolen, Katie Davis, Maurice Sendak, and Robert McCloskey.

Kid Magazine Writers

This week, I'm largely devoting myself to preparing for a class on "Writing The YA Novel" and upcoming talks on "Native American Children's Literature" and on "Technology and Children's Literature." Each of these are wholly customized for the particular audiences and all of them will be augmented by handouts.

I'm also trying to let my WIP rest with some mixed results (on the trying, not on the manuscript).

Here's a link of interest:

Kid Magazine Writers: a Web site for those who write for children's magazines, which includes market information (such as editor interviews), writing lifestyle issues, and craft.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The People Could Fly

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf, 2004). A picture book edition of one of the 24 stories in Hamilton's The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985) featuring breathtaking, heartbreaking, heart soaring illustrations by the Dillons. The text is a poem, a story, a fantasy, a celebration of freedom. Hamilton died in 2002, and this book is a perfect tribute. If only every home and library could have a copy. If only. (ages 7-up). Highest recommendation; a necessity.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Author Interview and Web Site Updates

Debbi Michiko Florence writes that she has updated a number of the interviews on her site. Check out the latest news from:
Pat Lowery Collins;
Laura Williams McCaffrey;
Greg Leitich Smith (that's my honey!);
Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me!).

Visit children's author/illustrator Teri Sloat! Her site is fun, colorful, and includes information about her titles, including: From Letter To Letter (Dutton); From One To One Hundred (Dutton); The Really, Really Bad Book Of Monster Jokes (Candlewick); There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Trout (Holt); and many more!

Mississippi Morning

Mississippi Morning by Ruth Vander Zee, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Eerdman's, 2004). James always accepted that blacks and whites couldn't eat at the same tables or drink from the same fountains, but he's shocked and horrified when his fishing buddy LeRoy tells him about the misdeeds of the Klan, and even more stricken to see his own father walking home one morning in a white hood and robe. Ages 9-up.

More From Cyn

Despite the traditional focus of multicultural children's literature on racism (among other things), it is rare and important to see a story in which a child must confront racist and violent actions coming from his own family.

Mississippi Morning is a historical book, set in the south, which is completely appropriate; but unfortunately, it should also be noted that the Klan still exists today and by no means restricts its activities or membership to the southern United States.