Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Celebration!

Due to Greg's novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) being named a Teddy Award finalist, we're going out to dinner at Sullivan's. Yes, someday we probably should start eating at home again. But you know, special occasion!

Grants for School Visits

Jennifer Ward was kind enough to assemble these links to grant programs that may be used to finance author/illustrator/children's book programming. I'm passing them on to you with her permission.


Cynsational Notes

Greg Pincus on Alternative Funding Options for Author Visits. Peek: "While many schools still have budgets for traditional visits, when I was getting feedback about my project, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of alternative funding for visits. This means that the idea has value for that community, too."

Teddy Finalists

And the finalists for the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Children's Book Awards are...

Kathi Appelt for My Father's Summers - A Daughter's Memoir
Greg Leitich Smith for Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo
Brian Yansky for My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World

Congratulations to Kathi, Greg, and Brian!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen (the movie, not the book)

I'm embarassed to admit that I haven't read the book CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGER DRAMA QUEEN by Dyan Sheldon, though I did just watch the movie on DVD. As always, I'm betting the book is better (author loyalty and all), but the film is light and entertaining and stars Lindsay Lohan (from the recent "Freaky Friday" remake). For me, the highlight was Carol Kane as the theater teacher.

I also watched "Laws of Attraction" with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, which is a fairly good lawyer-ish chick flick. I've been a PB fan since "Remington Steele" and actually own all of the released episodes on video.

Not much else to report, except I bought my grandma a bluebird for her collection for her birthday. I figure it's okay to say here as she's not too net-friendly. But if you happen to know Grandma, please don't spoil the surprise!

El Chino and Son Of The Mob

Stumbled upon a backlist book, EL CHINO by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1990) at Terra Toys. Actually, it was Greg who picked it up as Say is probably his fave author/illustrator.

It's a picture book biography about the first Chinese American bullfighter--beautifully illustrated (no big surprise there) and definitely stereotype busting. My only complaint is with the flap copy, which identifies Bong Way "Billy" Wong as the first "Chinese" bullfighter (rather than Chinese American), even though Say's text clearly specifies that Wong and his five siblings were from Nogales, Arizona. At the risk of being cranky, being of Asian heritage doesn't make Asian Americans any less American. Okay, it was only 1990, but then again, it was still 1990.

Finished SON OF THE MOB: THE HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE (Hyperion, 2004), and I'm cheering Gordon Korman's fresh, funny second look at a good kid growing up in a Mafia family. In this story, Vince is off to film school along with his girlfriend (the daughter of the FBI agent assigned to bring down Vince's father, the godfather). He's paired by the dorm gods with the resentful but enthusiastic light-fingers son of a well-respected politician. Vince finally feels like he's escaped "The Life." But then his brother and "uncles" start showing up, and soon, everything starts to get a whole lot more complicated. An irresistible story with broad-based appeal.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Moccasin Telegraph

"I'd hate to try to learn the craft on a novel. Novels take so very long to write, and one inevitably learns so much from the act of writing. But you can learn those same things a lot faster from the short story." - Sharelle Byars Moranville

This quote was used this week in the e-newsletter of the Institute of Children's Literature (so I'm not all that original of a thinker).

All of this is to say that we have a pub date for my next short story: "A Real-Life Blonde Cherokee And His Equally-Annoyed Soul Mate" by Cynthia Leitich Smith from THE MOCCASIN TELEGRAPH: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, fall 2005)(ages 12-up).

I've had two short previous stories published, both middle grades: "The Gentleman Cowboy" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, PERIOD PIECES: STORIES FOR GIRLS edited by Erzsi Deak and Kristin Litchman (Harper, 2003); "The Naked Truth" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, IN MY GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE: AWARD-WINNING AUTHORS TELL STORIES ABOUT THEIR GRANDMOTHERS, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Harper, 2003).

In addition, Cicada magazine has picked up another young adult short story, but I don't have a pub date on that yet.

I've enjoyed working on the short stories but have been passing on more recent anthology invitations. They're fun to write and offer a (relatively) safer venue to experiment--hence my male POV and upper YA efforts, which have triggered new directions. But they're also time consuming, and at this point, it makes more sense to concentrate on novels.

Picked up two mesquite cow-hide chairs at Mi Casa Gallery; swing by and check out the expansion/rennovation.

Tried Uchi last night. According to the public and critic reviews, it's supposed to be fantastic. And it is. Innovative, tremendous service, hip ambiance. Perfect for a big night out on the town, but Mushashino's still rules on the actual cuts and quality of fish.

The Order Of The Poison Oak

Just finished THE ORDER OF THE POISON OAK by Brent Hartinger (Harper, February 2005)--can you believe it's time for 05 ARCs already?--which was his sequel to GEOGRAPHY CLUB, one of my fave YA novels of all time.

Fans of the first book should definitely pick up this follow-up, which I notice wasn't coyly (is that a word?) labeled a "companion book." And rightly so. It's a sequel-lover's sequel, picking up the following summer after the first book left off.

Without giving too much away, our hero, Russel, and his two best friends, Gunnar (who's been falsely assumed gay since joining the Gay-Straight-Bisexual Alliance and, due to related snafus, sworn off women) and Min (who's apparently feeling competitive with Russel over guys), have all taken jobs as counselors at a summer camp for kids who are burn survivors.

At camp, love triangles, cases of mistaken orientation, and real bonding time with the kids test friendships, relationships, and world views.

Much recommends Brent's writing, and his other two recent titles GEOGRAPHY CLUB and THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO are stand-outs as well. Globally, what strikes me most is the believability of the characters in sometimes serious, sometimes humorous contexts. Brent's make-believe people are more real than many folks you'll meet walking down the street. It's impossible not to identify and care about them.

A side note: the character Min is a bi Chinese American, which is important because, despite recent encouraging gains, diversity of sexual orientation is still underrepresented in YA lit and because racial/ethnic/religious diversity is still underrepresented among what does exist.

One of the aspects of literature I find most annoying is the presumption that characters are white unless otherwise specified. This is a societal tendency, mirrored in publishing. It makes writers crazy. Even where ethnicity is irrelevant to the story, if we want/need a multicultural cast, we're forced to somehow interweave an ethnically identifying reference. Often they don't flow well. I've seen it handled literally thousands of ways. Hartinger's in THE ORDER OF THE POISON OAK, though, is possibly my favorite because it (a) recognizes the impossibility of the construct (b) refuses to default into an all-white world (c) clearly delineates the subject in such a way that readers may actually be led into a more enlightened state, all while (d) keeping the whole thing in the authentic voice consistent with his narrator.

It reads like this: "She was bi. She was also Chinese-American, which has nothing to do with anything, and which almost seems kind of racist to even bring up at this point. But her name sort of bears explanation."

All of this is to say: grab a copy of the novel for yourself. And also surf over to Brent's hip site, read the first chapter, check out the discussion guide.

For more background, here's an interview I did with Brent when GEOGRAPHY CLUB (Harper, 2003) was released; since Lisa Firke is busy with my redesign, I'm just going to paste it in here:

The Story Behind The Story: Brent Hartinger on GEOGRAPHY CLUB

GEOGRAPHY CLUB by Brent Hartinger (Harper, 2003). Russel Middlebrook has a secret from even his best friends at high school, that he's gay. But an online chat offers an opportunity to meet up with another gay teen--who ends up being one of the best-looking athletes in school. These two cautiously connect with peers and then seek a place to be themselves, a place where they can talk, a place where people understand. Starting a gay-straight alliance seems too risky at first, so they form the "Geography Club" instead. Witty, smart, touching, even romantic--this debut novel signals an author to watch and applaud.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

In many ways, the book is my own story, since it includes many of the things I experienced in high school. In some sense, I think I wrote the book to rewrite my own adolescence, but give it a better resolution (and a happier ending!).

The actual inspiration came in the early 1990s, when I worked with a support organization for lesbian and gay teens. I soon realized that while lesbian and gay teenagers are incredibly diverse and come from every imaginable background, many of them--maybe even most--do share certain feelings in common: a sense of isolation, a fear of discovery, and an often desperate longing to find a place where they are accepted for who they are (and where they can safely do all the normal adolescent things, like have a crush on someone, talk about people they think are cute, and maybe find a girlfriend or boyfriend). The kids I worked with all shared a similar story, and it was one that I didn't think had ever been told particularly well. So I decided to tell it!

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

My first attempt at a gay teen novel, which I wrote in the early 1990s, was rejected by every publisher in the known universe (even after winning a series of awards, including the 1996 Judy Blume/SCBWI Grant for a Best Young Adult Novel).

Everyone--and I mean everyone--was convinced that a book about gay teenagers would never sell, especially to school libraries, which admittedly made up a bigger slice of children's books sales back then. I actually had one editor, who was very enthusiastic about the book itself, tell me, "We don't have any slots in our list right now for books with low sales projections." (I certainly didn't project the sales for my book to be low!)

In 2000, my then-agent and I pitched a bunch of new book ideas to an editor who was looking for an ensemble series. On a lark, I decided to make one of my story ideas gay-themed, and to my surprise, that's the storyline she wanted to see more of. So I wrote up an outline and a couple of sample chapters. She hated what I'd written, which is pretty much what I'd expected, so I forgot all about the project.

A year later, I reluctantly showed my new agent (Jennifer DeChiara) the sample chapters, and she absolutely loved them. We decided to pitch the project as a stand-alone book, and she took it out to new editors. A lot of them liked it, but even in 2001, I think more than a few were scared by the subject matter.

Fortunately, Steve Fraser, an editor at HarperCollins, loved it enough to actually buy it. In fact, he bought it just based on the outline and those two sample chapters, which I know is pretty unusual given that I was unpublished at the time. I was so certain he was going to change his mind (or be fired) that I pounded out the entire manuscript in the next three weeks--even before he and my agent were done negotiating the contract. The editing process was pretty painless (one draft), and I know my editor was thrilled with the result, because he has since bought three more of my young adult novels (for 2004, 2005, and 2006!), and we're planning a middle grade series as well.

Since editing, HarperCollins has been unbelievably supportive. People from different departments still surreptitiously contact me to tell me how much they like my book and offering little ways to help (it's like having a whole forest of little helper elves!). There have also been a few guardian angels from the greater world of children's publishing, and they've been invaluable in helping to get the word out. I think a lot people have been waiting for a book like mine for a long, long time.

One interesting note: Now that the book is getting such good reviews and a fair amount of attention, I have had several editors say to my agent, "If I'd seen this in the manuscript stage, I would have bought it in a minute!" They may actually believe this, but I don't think it's true. The subject matter made this project a very hard sell.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I was determined that this not be one of those depressing "issue" books. So many young adult books are way too earnest, and most of the few existing gay teen books deal with really serious stuff like suicide or gay-bashing. These are real problems, but far too heavy for the book I had in mind.

I hope my book has a serious message, but I wanted to capture the fun and humor of adolescence too. And more than anything, I wanted this to be a book that people want to read--dessert, not broccoli! (Hey, whether we like it or not, we teen book authors are competing against Nintendo and Britney Spears in a thong!)

One psychological challege: Gay teenagers are typically coming to understand their own sexuality at earlier and earlier ages (it has to do with media exposure and more forthright attitudes about homosexuality, and it's not necessarily a bad thing). Anyway, I wanted Russel, my main character, to know that he is gay from the very beginning of the book. But this wasn't my personal experience at all, so I had to draw on my conversations with today's gay teens and try to put myself into the head of a character that, in that respect, is very different from me.

An interesting literary challenge: My book is the story of a teenager who starts a secret gay-straight alliance at his school. But because he and his friends can’t tell anyone the true nature of their club--and because they don‘t want anyone else to join!--they give it the most boring name they can think of: the Geography Club. Since the name is a ruse, they don't learn any actual geography, but I did intend for them to learn about a "geography" of sorts--specifically, the rigid social terrain of most American high schools. I knew this had to be done with a light touch, because I hate heavy-handed metaphors. Frankly, I'm not sure I succeeded--but I definitely did try!

Another challenge: I hate stereotypes, and I'm bored by how jocks and cheerleaders are always so evil in so many books. So in my book, I decided to shake things up. Sure, there are some jocks who are jerks in my book, but the main antagonist is actually one of the geeks. It was fun to go against the grain, but it was difficult to give a real sense of menace to such an inoffensive character. But I'm more confident that I succeeded here.

Finally, I wanted a protagonist who is likeable, but the plot requires him to do some pretty unlikeable things. The book is about having integrity and standing up for people who are different, but for my character to learn about integrity, he has to behave like a jerk for a time. It took a couple of drafts to get just the right amount of jerkiness--enough to make a point, but not so much that the reader loses sympathy.

Read An Interview With Brent Hartinger from Debbi Michiko Florence.

Today's mail brings an illustrated chapter book, OWEN FOTTE. MIGHTY SCIENTIST by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith (Clarion, 2004), and THE OLD WILLIS PLACE: A GHOST STORY by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion, 2004).

The book I'm reading right now is SON OF THE MOB: HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2004), the sequel to SON OF THE MOB.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Waving the Wheat

"Wave the wheat" is an expression used by Kansas Jayhawks to explain why we're swinging our arms back and forth over our heads at sporting events.

In an effort to be a healthier person, I've switched to whole wheats and whole grains and brown rice, which really are my preference anyway but often a challenge to find at restaurants.

Today, for example, I tried to order the wheat linguini at The Olive Garden and was given white instead (even though wheat was on the menu). Then the most unsympathetic waiter argued with me that it was wheat (it wasn't).

In any case, these are places in Austin where I've had some success in the matter:

Guerro's on South Congress (whole wheat tortillas);

Katz's (whole wheat bagels--yummy with lox and fat-free cream cheese);

Magnolia Cafe (brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat bagels);

Maccaroni Grill (whole wheat pasta; now to be favored over The Olive Garden);*

PF Changs (brown rice);*

Suzi's North (brown rice, but sporadically).

*national chains

But if you're looking for the height of sugary goodness, go to Royer's Round Top Cafe, guilt-free. It's the pie place in Texas.

I know, I know... Stop obsessing and go read or write something. On it.

My lunch date was the goddess Dianna Hutts Aston, who's latest, ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN (Candlewick, 2004), illustrated by E.B. Lewis, snagged a PW star.

The book I'm reading right now is THE ORDER OF THE POISON OAK by Brent Hartinger (Harper, 2005)(a sequel to GEOGRAPHY CLUB). Pleased to see Min back as a major character.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

September Roses

Today's mail brings SEPTEMBER ROSES by Jeanette Winter (Frances Foster/FSG, 2004), a tribute to an act of kindness in the wake of 9/11/01.

Sashimi last night. Friends spoiling me this week, very attentive. Planning to spa Friday. Mercury (growling) and Bashi (cowering) to the vet today for annual check up. Mercury is down to 18 pounds. Woo woo! Kitty pilates in action! Changed out the photo on my blog; planning to open a new one tomorrow if time permits. More on that later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Wizards, Spies, and American Girls

Today's mail brings a review copy of THE SORCERER'S COMPANION: A GUIDE TO THE MAGICAL WORLD OF HARRY POTTER by Allan Zola Kronzek & Elizabeth Kronzek (Broadway Books/Random House, 2004); "now fully updated to include HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX." Essentially, this guide offers historical insights into the literary and mythological inspiration of Potter's magic. Recommended to young readers, fantasy fans, and researchers for an introductory overview. Well designed; this is one to pour over for hours.

Despite not being much of a non-fiction person, I'm loving the vibrant, fascinating, and informative SPIES by Clive Gifford (Kingfisher, 2004)(ages 7-up)(forward by Dame Stella Rimington, former director--general of British Intelligence Agency). Great for suspense fans; this photo-illustrated picture book features a design as exciting as its subject matter. Recommended for kids and grown-ups.

American Girl heroine Samantha will be brought to TV viewers on Tuesday, Nov. 23 on the WB in "Samantha: An American Girl Holiday." The story will focus on Samantha, an orphan living with her grandmother, developing a friendship with a servant named Nellie O'Malley. The setting is the turn-of-the-twentieth century United States with an emphasis on the Industrial Revolution. In conjunction, American Girl is releasing a Nellie doll, a paperback, an array of movie-related tie-ins, and a new advice book titled REAL BEAUTY: 101 WAYS TO FEEL GREAT ABOUT YOU (ages 8-up). Unlike most "beauty" books for girls, this one emphasizes physical and emotional health as well as inner beauty. Inclusive, uplifting, well done.

Books I'm reading right now: ORDER OF THE POISON OAK by Brent Hartinger (Harper, 2004)(ages 12-up)(a sequel to GEOGRAPHY CLUB, which I loved), SON OF THE MOB: HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2004)(ages 12-up)(a sequel to SON OF THE MOB, which I also loved) and ESCAPE FROM SAIGON: HOW A VIETNAM WAR ORPHAN BECAME AN AMERICAN BOY by Andrea Warren (Melanie Kroupa Books/FSG, 2004)(ages 8-up).

Of Interest:

Strange Family Adventures by Linda Joy Singleton from Llewellyn's Article Archive.

Visit author/illustrator Monica Wellington.

The Great Circle (Which Doesn't Always Feel So Great)

My dad died on the 13th of this month, and I've been busy with the logistical fallout. Forgive me if the posts are a bit sporadic for a while. This is an excerpt from the eulogy I gave:

"Bud Smith was a gentleman and a gentle man with a quiet strength—dependable and reassuring. He was protective of his family and welcoming to his friends. He loved people—especially elders and children."

And we all loved him.

I'm tremendously blessed to have had such a wonderful father, supportive family, and caring friends. Thanks to all who've done what they could to ease a difficult time.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Bill Martin, Jr. & Misc.

Bill Martin Jr., the author of hundreds of popular children's books, including BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE?, died recently after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Like me, Martin had Kansas, Chicago, and Texas ties. He was born in Hiawatha, Kan., received his doctorate from Northwestern in Chicago, and lived in Commerce, Tex. (about an hour outside of Dallas).

Bill was one of the few living legends I had the priviledge of visiting with on a semi-regular basis as he attended numerous Texas children's book events with his co-author, a charming man named Michael Sampson.

Early on in my career he gave me some helpful advice about picture book writing, and he always showed me every kindness and graciousness.

He will be deeply missed.

As much as he loved the book world, I don't think he'd mind as I go on to share some industry tidbits.

Boyds Mills Press and Front Street Books have merged, which seems to be a good move for all concerned.

Check out The Ban-Proof Bookshelf by David Lubar from VOYA. Lubar is the author of FLIPPED and many more books for young readers. Greg and I had the pleasure of lunching with him and his lovely wife on the riverwalk at the annual TLA conference in San Antonio last spring.

A Tribute To Paula Danziger from Surfnet Kids.

A new author site: www.sarahlamstein.com (author of a Front Street title for 10-up, HUNGER MOON).

Feeling in the know? Surf over to Voya's teen pop culture quiz.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Monday, August 02, 2004

Did I Say "Tired" Yesterday?

Conned by husband's puppy-dog eyes into reading his manuscript one last time before he emailed it to the editorial assistant. Still very funny and surprising, which in itself after this many reads is remarkable. But I'm completely exhausted. It's just from the focus required for line editing something as long as a novel and quickly to boot.

Big yawn.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Tired Eyes

Whew. Four hours straight of reading aloud Greg's next novel, TOFU AND T.REX (Little Brown, spring 2005) to check for any last minute copyedits. If you're a writer, always make sure to read the entire manuscript aloud--periodically and definitely before sending in. We had four brains and pairs of eyes on it and needed all of them. Must now go rest tired eyes, but my, what a sight that sparkling manuscript was. Witty and tremendous in the whole. Wow.

P.S. TOFU AND T.REX will be a companion book to Greg's first book, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO (Little Brown, 2003); see:

Interview with Debut Children's Book Author Greg Leitich Smith from Debbi Michiko Florence. Fall 2003.

Greg Leitich Smith Interview from Downhomebooks.com. Fall 2003.

Indian Shoes

"Ray stood by Grampa, breathing in the lake air, warmed by the wind. He glanced from the glittering lights in the water to the glittering lights in the heavens." --INDIAN SHOES by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Jim Madsen (Harper, 2002).

The Story Behind The Story for INDIAN SHOES has already been presented with my depth and detail than I ever could offer in a CWIM article published by Esther Hershenhorn (see below), so I won't try to repeat her fine work.

I will say that this book is special to me because in part it was dedicated to my grandparents, who were such a tremendously positive influence on my life.

Many Native readers in particular commented on how much Grampa Halfmoon (and RAIN's Aunt Georgia before him) reflect their image of Native elders in contrast to the all-knowing Yoda so often offered by the mass media.

It has proven more challenging to sell than its two predecessors. Despite all the talk about there being a need for literary early reader chapter books, there seem to be picture book gurus, novel gurus, and overall gurus. But not many champions of books for this age group.

However, when I visit schools, it is always the most popular of my books--even with kids younger and (significantly) older than the target range.

INDIAN SHOES is one of only three (to my knowledge) children's books about urban Indian characters, even though most Native people today live in cities.

It also is one of the very few short story collections for its target age group.

See also:

Articles

"Dear Writer: When Editorial Letters Invite Revision" by Esther Hershenhorn in the 2003 CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. The article discusses getting past the initial fear of revision, considering new possibilities, reimagining the manuscript, reimmersing oneself in the story, and celebrating the opportunity! Pages 48-49 offer insights into the revision process for INDIAN SHOES with quotes from author Cynthia Leitich Smith and editor Rosemary Brosnan.

Children's Author Cynthia Leitich Smith: Caring Enough to Be Candid by Alexis Quinlan, nycBigCityLit.com. Part One. June 2002. Cynthia talks about subtlety, pushing young readers, politics in writing, authors she admires, and the ten year old within. Also read Part two: Closing the Miles in Indian Shoes.

Indian Shoes: booktalk from Nancy Keane.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith: an author interview by Julia Durango of By The Book. Fall 2002.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith: Indian Shoes from the Book Review Café. Spring 2002.

An Interview with Children's Author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Debbi Michiko Florence. Winter 2001-2002. Cynthia talks about her decision to write for children and teens, her Web site, and her hobbies and inspirations

"Author Profile: Cynthia Leitich Smith" by Sharron L. McElmeel (Library Talk, March/April 2002).

Reviews

Kidsreads: "short stories are written for younger readers who like rhythms and repetition in what they read."

BCCB: "So permeated with affection that many readers will just bask in the warmth and envy Ray his cool Grampa."

Cooperative Children's Book Center: "An excellent collection of interrelated short stories will appeal to newly independent young readers... ...adroit uses of colloquial language also earmark this fine collection."

Kirkus: "A very pleasing first-chapter book from its funny and tender opening salvo to its heartwarming closer. An excellent choice for younger readers."

School Library Journal: "Shoes is a good book for any elementary-aged reluctant reader, and a necessity for indigenous children everywhere."

Multicultural Review: "These stories are goofy, quirky, and laugh-out-loud funny, and poignant, sometimes all together. INDIAN SHOES is about belonging to family and community, about helping neighbors, about learning life's lessons, and about sometimes feeling different but most times knowing who you are in the world."

Booklist: "The stories’ strength lies in their powerful, poignant evocation of a cross-generational bond and in the description of the simple pleasures two charming characters enjoy."

Awards

Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies; Planet Esme's Don't-Miss List for 2002; Finalist, Friends of the Austin Public Library Award/Texas Institute of Letters; 2003 Best Children's Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education; Choices 2003, Cooperative Children's Book Center; NEA Native American Book List; 2003 Chicago Public Schools Fourth Grade Recommended Reading; Featured title, Texas Book Festival; 2004-2005 Children's Crown Award List.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

"I can still smell the pork cooking, taste the lukewarm coleslaw, hear the songs, and feel the rhythm of the shell-shakers. I remember ribbons and tear dresses and me trying to dance like Mama. Echoes of stories, the snapping of fire. Smoke rising to heaven, and how it stung my eyes. Talk of corn and the New Year." --RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Harper, 2001)

"It's [RAIN] kind of like a combination of 'Northern Exposure' and 'Party of Five'." --Bob Langstaff, WAMV AM/Amhert, VA

Sometimes I think you have to write your first novel before you can write anything else, and it's in many ways a mixed blessing if it's actually published. Basically, that manuscript helps you clear out everything that's built up over the years.

I wrote RAIN while JINGLE DANCER was in production, knowing my new editor would be eager to see it and that I had just signed with a top-notch agent.

It's about Cassidy Rain Berghoff, a mixed blood girl who after the unexpected death of her best friend slowly reconnects to her family and intertribal community by becoming involved as a photojournalist for her small town newspaper.

The story was inspired in part by a true tragedy, although the reframed fact pattern is completely unrecognizable.

The timing of the release--only a couple of months before 9/11--was challenging. At that time, many people didn't want to hear an author talk to children about anything unpleasant, let alone fiction about grief/healing. I was asked by teachers and even some librarians not to focus too much on the actual themes and plot of the story.

The writing style is very Indian (in the way you sometimes see in Native writing for authors but seldom children), which was important to me. I didn't even consider presenting a protagonist with specific tribal worldviews in a literary construct inconsistent with them. A consequence of this was that reader reactions, though generally positive, were sometimes confused. However, Native readers (and reviewers) in particular seemed to absolutely love it, and the book established me as a voice in Native American literature.

Because my editor and agent already were in place, the submissions history of the manuscript was quite brief, however, I spent an extra six months putting in and taking out unnecessary scenes. Wheel-spinning, so to speak.

I couldn't let it go.

I wrote the book in Chicago, living in a loft apartment in the near South Loop. It was a reconverted old printing company, about the farthest thing from fictional Hannesburg, Kansas.

I've already said a lot about the book in articles and interviews, and I've resolved not to be repetitive. But some qualities have endured over time:

(1) standing as one of first books about a contemporary mixed blood where being Native American is not the conflict (although I can't tell you how many times I've read something about the book based on the opposite presumption);

(2) standing as an example of Native writing-style, especially with its community focus (big difference between tribal societies based on community rights and responsiblities and the mainstream's foundation of individual rights and responsibilities), which may have seemed like a broad net to some outsiders (but then again, Indian readers often tell me they find mainstream protagonists a tad self-absorbed);

(3) showing diversity within a specifically German American town; as a biracial character, Rain is not only incidentally Euro-American, it's an important part of her setting and identity (lots of flattering mail from German American townspeople);

(4) offering an emphasis on engineering and technology, which cuts against the stereotype of the Native primitive (the kids build a pasta bridge and Web sites);

(5) integrating the Internet in the story in a way that makes a plot difference (one of the first books to do so).

Readers have responded strongly to RAIN--no one is ever lukewarm. And those who love it, love it passionately. I've been asked too many times to count for a sequel or companion book.

See also:

Articles

"A Different Drum: Native American Writing" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, "Field Notes," (The Horn Book Magazine, July 2002)(p.407). A discussion of the value of vulnerability of Native American writing styles in the mainstream market.

"Interracial Themes in Children's and Young Adult Fiction" by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Library Talk, January/February 2001).

"Cheering for Books: An Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith" by Teri Lesesne (Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals, October 2001).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by Julia Durango of By The Book. Offers not only thoughts on the book but also its life in the world of children's literature.

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews calls it: "Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay . . ."

School Library Journal said: "It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her 'patch-work tribe.'"

Publisher's Weekly: "...readers will feel the affection of Rain's loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her."

Children's Literature: "Smith (author of Jingle Dancer) portrays a protagonist with a genuine voice and an appealing sense of humor."

Awards

For this title, selected as a 2001 Writers of the Year in Children's Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Also RAIN was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award, featured at the Second National Book Festival, the Texas Book Festival, the St. Petersburg Times' "You Gotta Read This Book Club," and included in GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS by Kathleen Odean.

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