Monday, January 31, 2005

One Mitten Imagination Challenge

Author Kristine O'Connell George is sponsoring the "One Mitten Imagination Challenge" for students in grades K to 3. Features prizes, curriculum info, and more. Classes, libraries, bookstores, and homeschoolers are welcome. The deadline is March 19, 2005.

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005). Ashley Hannigan isn't nearly as into the upcoming prom as her pals, including her best friend (and head of the prom committee) Natalia. But then the faculty advisor swipes the prom money and Natalia is temporary out of commission. Despite an unforgiving school administration (and, okay, a few detentions), can Ashley pull together the perfect night after all? Filled with an eclectic array of godmothers and set in a sometimes unforgiving upper-poor-to-lower-middle-class community, Prom offers up heart, sass, hope, and possibly the first believable Cinderella. Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

Remember when I was running around, fretting that I lost my ARC of Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005)? Found it! It was under a pile of notes on my night stand.

Anyway, I hear Prom is racking up stars all over the place, which is no surprise. It's particularly good with its voice, rising stakes, and rising action.

Chapters come furious and fast without page breaks, all numbered, some no longer than a line or two. Yes, I noticed the 100-ticket minimum at chapter 100. The comedic timing is fabulous, and it's a rare look at a population (aka "the majority") largely ignored by the body of YA lit. In short, I loved it. A one-sitting read.

Generally, I don't go out of my way to gush about books by already-famous people, even if I do adore them (which is the case with LHA; full disclosure). It impresses me so much, though, how she's always taking chances--writing books that are very different from one another--and still hitting it out of the literary ballpark.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Critique: Giving & Receiving

I was just reading illustrator Don Tate's recent blog post, "a critique: there's room for growth."*

Right now, in my "in" e-box, there are two thank you notes from writers whose manuscripts I've read of late. Both are gracious. One mentions having climbed off the bridge first (I'm positive she's kidding) and the other calls me "incredibly helpful," which is always nice to hear. The latter is someone I exchange with regularly, and she's incredibly helpful herself.

I pay forward the help I received early on from authors like Jane Kurtz and Kathi Appelt by meeting periodically with beginning writers, mentoring, teaching, and occasionally offering to read once for free. I also exchange regularly with top writers here in Austin, less frequently via email with peers from across the country, and on an annual basis invite folks over to the house for a multi-day wine, shrimp, and morphing extravaganza. Really.

I've had non-writers question my spending time doing this, not so much with peers but with beginners, and the thing is, it's part of the tradition of children's writing. Especially at a time where editors may not have the opportunity they once did to nurture, it's important for us to look after our own. In addition, reading counts as writing time, and critical reading counts even more. I've noticeably improved in the past year, and I attribute that to an epiphany, a renewed attitude, and reading/critiquing.

In any case, I read for any number of folks. It's true that some are looking for quick validation and the golden key (or preferably to borrow mine). They won't take meaningful criticism (or offer it to others) because, ultimately, they just don't want to work that hard. That's totally fine, but basically, these folks are hobbyists, not professionals.

Reading a novel and scribbling a few complimentary notes at the end or in the margins is not critiquing. It may be encouragement, and that's valid--especially at the early draft stage (in fact too much detailed feedback too early can be paralyzing). But...

In critiquing: (a) it's important to tell someone what they're doing right; they may not honestly know; (b) important to say what you need to say in a proactive, upbeat, and hopeful manner; there's nothing that can't be said with kindness; but (c) the best love is tough love.

Some resistance to critique is natural. In fact, the last thing you want is someone who automatically takes all of your suggestions (yikes!).

What the receiving writer should do is consider the feedback, perhaps try out some ideas, and go with what ultimately resonates. It's also totally okay to discuss, banter, play devil's advocate, etc. Often these discussions will lead to an even better solution. Plus, those of us in the recovering lawyer category can't help ourselves.

It always makes me sigh, though, when someone makes a show of being put off or acts exceedingly defensive. I get this sometimes from unpublished writers, but virtually never from published authors unless it's just a personality issue.

Over time, you learn to separate yourself from your work. It's hard--we're still talking about a piece of your soul here. But you come to realize that the critiquer isn't criticizing you. She's trying to make your story be the best it can be. This is a huge gift. And if there are challenges, better to hear it from her than have the manuscript declined by a publisher for those reasons.

(If you've never worked with a NYC editor; trust me, they're usually a lot less gentle--they don't have time to be--than any other writer).

I'm gentle, but thorough. More thorough with the more advanced. I think different people are ready to handle different degrees of depth as they grow. A couple of weeks ago, I put together five, single-spaced pages for a new novelist who I know without doubt will be enormously successful. I went to all that effort because he's open to growing, because he's one of the best writers I've ever read, and because I want that debut novel to shine like the finest of diamonds. It's a competitive business. The literary trade standard is high.

But of course I don't just give feedback, I also receive/crave it. Have I always been so circumspect? No, I've cried, ground my teeth, threatened to quit (again), and then gotten over myself and got back to work. But heaven knows, I'm always grateful.

I also live with another writer, so there's always someone around I can beg to read. I guarantee I would've never reached this point on my own, and whenever I start a new manuscript, in some ways it's like beginning again.

A couple of the best readers I've ever had are available, if you're looking for someone. Esther Hershenhorn (funny, brilliant, great hair) critiques manuscripts for a fee; and Uma Krishnaswami (insightful, diplomatic, also great hair) teaches online classes. I highly recommend them both.

*He's talking more about reviews though, and I'm referring more to pre-submission feedback.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

MFA in Writing for Children or Teenagers

I received a note yesterday, letting me know about another low-residency master's program, this one in "Writing Popular Fiction" (including "children's fiction") at Seton Hill University. The director is Dr. Lee Tobin McClain. Those master's programs I was already familiar with include the ones at Vermont College, where I'll be guest teaching this summer, and Spaulding University.

I've had people ask me whether I thought getting an MFA was either necessary or deadly to one's publishing career. I don't have one (my degrees are a BS in journalism from the White School at the University of Kansas and a JD fromThe University of Michigan Law School), but, as I mentioned, I will be affiliated with Vermont College this summer.

First, I don't think everyone gets a master's to "learn to write" per se, but rather to have a taskmaster or perhaps get a necessary credential for a teaching day job.

Beyond that, I would guess that such programs could lend themselves to helpful connections (though there are less time-consuming and expensive ways to obtain those).

But at the base line, I guess it's sort of like an incredibly well organized critique/conference experience. If it's good, it's incredible and can help take you to a whole new level. If it's lousy, you could leave disenchanted and with far lighter pockets.

What I would suggest to anyone considering such a program is to really do your homework--not just researching the program and faculty but also having some heart to hearts with a wide variety of graduates and students--and to be honest about your own expectations in evaluating a possible fit.

That said, I love school. I'd probably get an MFA if I weren't still paying off law school.

Nifty Link

If I could afford it, I'd love to have the Dr. Seuss Cat-In-The-Hat illustration currently for sale at $7,500 from Every Picture Tells A Story.

"Islamic Etiquette & The Shaking Of Hands"

Children's book author Rukhsana Khan offers an article on cross-cultural etiquette on her Web site. Read "Islamic Etiquette & The Shaking of Hands." Rukhsana is the author of numerous titles for young readers, including Muslim Child, Ruler Of The Courtyard, and King Of The Skies. Her forthcoming titles include Silly Chicken and The Big Red Lollipop.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Novel Critique and Revision Questions

While each manuscript is different, this is a list of questions/thoughts I've developed in response to common critique/revision issues for what I'll call "advanced beginners" and, for that matter, everyone else. They're not all the important concerns in novel writing, just those that seem the prickliest.

(1) Are the main characters fresh, three-dimensional, and memorable? Does the writer avoid stereotypes (not just regional or racial, but also, say, "all-knowing grandparent," "hypocritical preacher," or "mean, popular girl")?

(2) Does the story start when the action begins? A writer needs to know a great deal more about the character and world than the reader. Look at back-story and exposition that isn't necessary and consider slashing it into tiny, wet bits (sorry, been writing horror lately).

(3) Is the plot predictable? Readers should keep turning pages to find out what happens. Play fair, and plant the logic for your twists and turns, but remember, it's a story, not a tour. Along these lines, there should actually be a plot. I.e., I tried to watch "First Daughter" this week. It's sort of an exploration of what it would be like to be Chelsea-meets-Jenna. There may have been some subtext with the love interest, but half way through, I didn't care enough to keep watching to find out. And I like Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek") and Marc Blucas ("Buffy: The Vampire Slayer") just fine; watched every ep of both shows. But so what? Where was the story?

(4) Could the writer heighten the stakes? Perhaps because some part of us is reflected in our protagonists, we tend to protect them. But remember, the greater the challenge, the greater the hero. Of course it should be proportional to the age level and circumstances, but take a moment to ask yourself how to take things to the next level or three.

(5) Is the story focused? Do the main plot and subplots relate to one another? Are their pacing arcs in line?

(6) Is the voice believable, immediate, resonant, compelling? If you're not comfortable writing a first person teen, maybe try third person. Ditto on language. Forced writing reads like forced writing. It's tedious. That said, stretch yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Do what's best for the story. Try. (Contradictory? Writing is like that).

(7) Does the protagonist grow and change? Where is the epiphany? Circle it. A lot of manuscripts don't have one.

(8) Does the writer trust the reader? Needless repetition can slow the story and, at the extremes, become annoying. Just because the reader is young doesn't mean he/she isn't intelligent. I'm a GenXer and my peers have that famous MTV attention span. For the PlayStation generation, it's more like the attention span of gnats.

(9) Show, don't tell. (Notice how this isn't a question.) Particularly don't show and tell, which goes back to the whole trusting-the-reader thing. Pick one and err on the side of showing. That said, an entirely shown story would be exhausting. At times, telling is the right thing to do. As a general rule, use telling for transitions and showing for impact.

(10) Is the story emotionally resonant? Many times we'll tell about feelings when we need to put the reader in the characters' shoes and make them feel what's happening alongside the fictional player. Often writers will skip the "tough" scenes or even the climax because it requires them to put their hero on the line.

Minor But Frequent

(11) Is the writer using song lyrics? Remember that if the lyrics aren't in the public domain, you will have to pay for the rights. You don't, however, have to pay for the rights to song titles.

(12) Does a character find out something through eavesdropping? It's easy, right? Too easy. Come up with a fresh twist or another venue.

(13) Is there a dream sequence? Unless you're rewriting "The Wizard of Oz," "Dallas," or "Newhart" (my person favorite), just don't go there.

(14) Does your character whine a lot? Sure, real teenagers whine (so do real adults), but it's hard to root for such a hero on the page, stage, or screen. Don't believe me? Watch the first Luke Skywalker scene from "Star Wars: A New Hope" a few hundred times. I have. Yes, I realize what that says about me. And yes, I loved it enough to watch it a few hundred times.


At one time or another, I have struggled with numbers 1-10 and been tempted to stray to the much-maligned number 12. And the struggle continues...

Little Simon Inspirations; Quill Awards

According to PW Newsline, Reed Business Information (PW's parent company) and NBC TV are launching the Quill Awards. These will honor books in 15 categories including "children's" and "graphic novels." NBC also will air the awards ceremony.

In addition, Simon & Schuster is launching Little Simon Inspirations, which will feature faith-themed titles with a "lighter" touch.

My Thoughts

It's exciting that books are "hot," and any additional attention will only encourage literacy. On the other hand, does this mean authors will need to start looking hot ourselves on the red carpet? Note to self: work out.

Books with faith-oriented themes/content are long overdue. Faith--of all stripes--is a major aspect of human existence, and the art should reflect that.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq

On Tuesday, Jeanette Winter, author of The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq (Harcourt, 2005), was interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered," and you can listen to the program online.

For those wanting to learn more (and/or don't have an audio player on the computer), an online text interview with Jeanette is also available from BookPage.

Coleen Salley · Bill Morris · Literacy Foundation

"To promote an appreciation and love of books and reading by providing the enriching experience of meeting and hearing authors and illustrators of children's books."

--Mission Statement of the Coleen Salley · Bill Morris · Literacy Foundation

Coleen Salley continues to spread the love of reading amongst school age children and support children's books authors and illustrators in Louisiana and beyond with the launch of the Coleen Salley-Bill Morris Literacy Foundation.

The Foundation is the brainchild of the Children's Literature community of New Orleans-authors, artists, teachers, librarians, booksellers and lovers of children's books. The idea of the Foundation is to recognize Coleen Salley and her forty-plus years of promoting children's books and their authors and illustrators in Louisiana, nationally and internationally. Mrs. Salley is Professor Emerita, renowned children's literature expert and the author of three children's books: Who's That Tripping Over My Bridge?, illustrated by Amy Dixon (Pelican Publishing) as well as Epossumondas and Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail, both illustrated by Janet Stevens (Harcourt). The Foundation also honors the memory of Bill Morris, one of the pioneers in advocating author and artist visitation to schools and libraries.

"Coleen Salley and Bill Morris are the guardian angels and patron saints of children's literature," says William Joyce, author, illustrator and filmmaker. "They've given their formidable wit, intellect and big, generous hearts to this often overlooked world. They've made sure that children's literature mattered not just to kids but also to grownups. By their efforts, they have changed countless lives."

The non-profit Foundation will target educational groups serving underserved children. Goals and objectives include providing the enriching experience of author visits to schools and the means to purchase books written by the visiting author for the children as well as the school library. The Foundation also will focus on providing opportunities for growth to upcoming authors and artists of children's books as well as assisting in the promotion of these authors. Eligible groups may apply for grants.

My Thoughts

I had the great honor of knowing Bill Morris through HarperCollins. I so clearly remember his graciousness and good humor, his tremendous appreciation of the children's literature community, and how he in many ways symbolized old-school Harper. I miss him, and he continues to inspire me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Writing" At Home

For my sanity and productivity, I've set aside a few weeks each year when I won't travel. These are not "open" weeks; they're weeks spent in a deep communion with the keyboard. It's my way of fighting for some balance.

This is not, however, to say that I can just curl up on the mythical bench alongside that mythical rain-streaked window and scribble genius thoughts.

Instead, I'm doing some catch-up: laundry; reorganizing my office (again), reordering bookmarks for latter spring events; corresponding with folks like: author/illustrator Katie Davis (who's off to Kindling Words); author Haemi Balgassi (whose blog I read daily); author/Austin SCBWI RA Julie Lake (get well soon!); author/librarian/goddess/guru Sharron L. McElmeel (who requested a contribution from me and Greg for her work in progress); and sparkling new voice D.L. Garfinkle, who enjoyed my recommendation of her hysterical debut novel, Storky (Putnam, 2005)(you must read it!).

What else?

Reading a novel manuscript from Anne Bustard, whose much anticipated picture book biography Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005), is due out February 1.

I'm also shopping online. Because I travel so often (and was raised by a bargain hunter), much of my wardrobe is made up of acetate/spandex from Coldwater Creek's online outlet. Try finding a stretch velvet tank dress in forest green for $15 anywhere else. Woo woo.

Spent twenty minutes searching the house high and low for my ARC of Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005)--big, buzzy YA this year; already getting stars and nods from awards predictors. LHA is among those people I most flat-out adore in the biz. We first met at the Michigan Reading Association conference in Detroit a few years back.

So, anyway, this is me, running around the house, lifting pillows and shooing cats, exclaiming, "I lost my Prom! I lost my Prom!"

My husband is all: "Cutie, I think you may have lost more than that." As in my mind.

He's so clever. Hmph.

Did he actually say that? Well, not per se. I'm just paraphrasing the raised eyebrow.

Yes, after ten years of marriage, I can get all that from an eyebrow.

P.S. I will get a scene done today; two pages minimum!

Greg Leitich Smith Debuts Blog

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, has launched a blog filled with his own news and views.

Congratulations to Greg on the latest glowing reviews of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003)!

I feel lucky to have read Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005) and know your fans will love it, too!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Author Jerry Wermund

Today Greg and I had the pleasure of joining Austin author Jerry Wermund at Katz's for lunch. Jerry is a retired University of Texas geologist, poet, and his own children's book publisher, living in nearby Buda.

His books are The World According To Rock and Earthscapes -- Landforms Sculpted by Water, Wind, and Ice.

It is difficult, nearly impossible, to offer self-published books that are just as good, if not better, than most literary trade titles, but Jerry has done it. The writing, art, and production are all top notch.

He decided to take the harder road after he found his work rejected because east-coast publishers didn't think kids would be interested in rocks and landforms.

Don't get me wrong. I hugely love all my buddies in NYC, but it's a big nation, a big world, and a lot of kids hike, collect rocks, and so forth. Jerry's books have been huge hits, filling a tremendous market need in the sciences and poetry. One of their great strengths, too, is that cross-curriculum appeal.

I highly recommend both titles and Jerry himself to anyone looking for a speaker.

News & Links

"Number The Newberys" with Lois Lowry, a Jan. 20 chat transcript from the Institute of Children's Literature.

According to Debbi Michiko Florence's blog, former Harper editor Stephen Fraser has joined Jennifer DeChiara's literary agency.

Profile on Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith

By Dianna Hutts Aston, originally published by SCRIBE the Writers' League of Texas newsletter.

Once upon a time, in a land called Kansas, there lived a dreamer-girl, Cynthia Smith, who imagined herself as Batgirl a.k.a. librarian Barbara Gordon… a reader-girl who was mesmerized by The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and a curious-cat girl who wondered about the identity of the naked lady in the old painting in the basement.

And during the same once-upon-a-time, a few faraway lands over (in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood of Chicago) there lived the girl’s kindred spirit, Greg Leitich, a boy who enjoyed math and science, and even opera… a boy who liked Thanksgiving Day football games but was more fascinated by the family stories the cooks told in the kitchen.

Years later, after they’d collected their first round of college degrees, the two met on the campus of the University of Michigan, where they were enrolled in law school. Intrepid journalist-in-the-making Cynthia wasn’t looking for a prince to date, much less marry—not when the eccentricities of the American legal system begged for a voice of clarity—but there Greg was one August night, “heaven in blue jeans,” she says.

“I decided I had to have him at first sight, would marry him once I found out he cooked, and knew I was head-over-toes in love with him when I called him in the middle of the night during a Paris rainstorm from a street corner booth,” Cynthia says. Greg accepted the charges.

Later, the two took their law degrees, then their vows, and followed a roundabout road that led to children’s and young adult literature. Cynthia became a full-time writer; Greg, too, although he kept his day job. Today they share their historic Austin home with four cats and a parade of visiting literary types.

With her journalism and public relations background, Cynthia knew early on that publishing their work would require much more than writing, revising, and basking in accolades. Together, they’ve become a master marketing team which travels the country, promoting not only their books, but also children’s and young adult literature in general—at schools, public libraries, museums, festivals, universities, state and national educator conferences, community events and more.

"My mom was an engineer,” says Greg, “and in my day job as a patent attorney, many of my clients are women. Imagine my surprise when all marketing efforts deemed my science-comedies 'boy books.' But what happened was that, with my technical background, the emphasis has always been on getting girls into the sciences whereas, in literature, it's on getting boys to read. I'm reaching girls now, but I have to remind people all the time not to gender stereotype girls' interests so that work like mine can reach them."

In addition to speaking, Cynthia uses her web site,, as a marketing tool—and again, as a venue for promoting children’s and young adult literature. It was named one of the top ten writer sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest.

Cynthia is the author of three books for young readers: JINGLE DANCER (Morrow Junior Books)(ages 4-up); INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins)(ages 7-up); and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins and Listening Library)(ages 10-up) She has also published middle grade short stories in recent Harper anthologies. Her next release will be the young adult short story, "A Real-Life Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," THE MOCCASIN TELEGRAPH: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, fall 2005), which is set in South/Central Austin. She has also signed a contract on an upper level young adult/adult gothic fantasy novel, slated for fall 2006.

Greg’s first novel, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO, was released last year. It was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner. His second novel, TOFU AND T.REX, a companion to NINJAS, is scheduled for release Spring 2005. More about his life and work may be found on his site at

Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of WHEN YOU WERE BORN, illustrated by E.B. Lewis; LOONY LITTLE, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; and BLESS THIS MOUSE, illustrated by John Butler.

Monday, January 24, 2005

An Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith

by Dianna Hutts Aston

note: first appeared in the Austin SCBWI chapter newsletter.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is to children’s literature what a cheerleading captain is to the team. Few roar louder for children, children’s books, children’s authors, librarians and others more loudly than this longtime Austin SCBWI member. Although she holds degrees in journalism and law, Cynthia heeded the persistent voices of the witch of blackbird pond, Judy Blume’s Margaret, and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and approached children’s writing as a full-time career. Recently, we asked Cynthia to share her knowledge and insight in a question-and-answer interview, and she graciously agreed.

“The community of children's literature creators is strongest when it stands together. Stand together now.” -- Cynthia Leitich Smith

Have you always approached writing for children as a full-time career?

Yes, I quit my full-time law job to become a children's writer, which at the time seemed like a fairly dramatic decision. But I have no regrets. None. I write my own books, and I also promote the body of literary trade books as a whole, via my Web site (, media interviews, and speaking engagements. I critique manuscripts for other authors, mentees. I also teach on occasion.

What are the components of your life as a writer, besides writing time?

One of the most difficult adjustments I've made was from full-time writer to full-time author, which carries with it additional opportunities/responsibilities. I recognize the importance of supporting my titles, nurturing them in the market place. And I recognize the role of the author as an ambassador for children's literature, children's literacy. Sometimes, especially women in the arts, feel as though we should defer, that we're too much ladies to say what we wish was being said. Maybe being a recovering lawyer means my inner lady has been crushed, but I really want the world to know that good books matter, that they can change and save lives, that children are no lesser an audience because of their youth. And I take every opportunity to proclaim that.

But it is crucial to balance this against the creative work. Which in my case means the fiction. After some trial and error, what works for me is a months-on, months-off plan. From September to November and February to April, I tour, speak, and promote my books as well as others'. Occasionally, I make time for an additional local event, but those require little to no travel and reap small toll on my artistic energies. Occasionally, I make time for a national event that I just can't resist. But mostly, I'm in balance, writing, which feels good and right and true. And sometimes, I even write on the road.

Part of me would adore spending all my time immersed in story. I'm a hearty reader, a hearty writer and rewriter. I do truly love the work.

But another part needs to connect with fellow book lovers, interact as a member of the children's book community, and serve as a voice for myself and others doing quality, literary writing. I adore telling the media about new voices, those from under-represented communities, talking up books that have no real publisher support. I do what I can for libraries and bookstores, and I roar for children whenever I can.

I also spend a fair amount of time nurturing beginning writers. When I first entered the field, authors Jane Kurtz and Kathi Appelt made a special effort for me to know that someone believed in my voice, that I had someone to turn to with questions, for encouragement. I'm a big believer in paying that forward, and I've made good friends who've become fellow authors by doing just that.

What is your best advice for writes who are either newly published or close to publication, given the soft picture book market? Is it as hard to sell a middle grade novel now as it's been in years past?

Forget hard. Everything's hard. If you want an easy job, sign up with a temp service and answer phones.

Write a novel. Write a chapter book. Write a picture book. Does this sound like contrary advice? Okay, then hear this: write the story that only you can write in the best format for telling it. This is a lousy time to try to sell a picture book, a better time to try to market a novel.

But you know what? When I started a few years back, everyone told me, "multicultural is dead." "Black and brown kids don't read." "Nobody cares about Native Americans." And though it's not the only contribution I hope to make, I ignored them and brought my quirky, contemporary, GenX voice to Native American children's literature. Don't follow trends, set them.

That said... So many potentially amazing novelists psyche themselves out of that art form.... It's intimidating, the novel. A beast of sorts. To them I would say... Live without regrets. If you want to dive into this ocean, reveal yourself as only a novel can reveal, then trust in this: in the end, the book you are writing is for you above all others. But if you can touch someone else, what a tremendous gift.

Writers fret reviews, awards; think instead about bringing one child back from the abyss. Focus on your story, your audience. Forget everyone and everything else.

How do you -- an Austin-based writer -- see the current market? Trends, caveats, predictions?

Ah, the market will change before I finish typing this sentence. The celebrity books will get worse. Mass market will play a bigger role. Big chain bookstores have increasingly taken over the role of libraries. Humor is still on the rise. Mysteries. Dark fantasy. Genre fiction is coming back strong. Picture books are about to recover--it's cyclical. Never forget that. Everything is cyclical. Never panic. Regional presses will become more important, more nationally competitive. Authors will be increasingly pressured to brand – to define themselves in one market niche as a humor novelist, a fantasy writer, a rhyming picture book writer, etc. And we will increasingly buck that pressure. All that said, what does it mean to anyone? You write the story the muse gives you or else you're selling out.

Caveat: if you do sell out, by all means, don't settle for fewer than six figures, and please do invite me to the party. Who am I to judge?

Which parts of your career bring you joy? Fear/nervousness? Boredom?

I spent an extraordinary amount of time worrying about writing the book that everyone else wanted me to write. I spent less time writing the book I actually wanted to read. Until lately. By which I mean the last year and a half. Then I just unleashed. And now I'm happy. So, I guess, others' expectations have been something of a burden. But writing brings me joy. Even when I'm extraordinarily frustrated in the process, it's joyous. I used to have fear. I used to fear that what people might think if I did what I wanted to do. Wrote what I wanted to write. I no longer care. Nervous. I suppose I'll be nervous again. But I've been in the business now seven years. Had sales and rejections, good reviews and bad, awards for books that got bad reviews, and miraculously stayed in print. Watched two publishers bought out, downsized. Had dinner with some of the most remarkable people. Survived. I'm a little battle hardened. But I must say, I'm never bored.

When you feel stumped or uncertain, who or where do you turn for support or advice?

My fellow authors are a godsend, angels on earth. They guide me, and if that doesn't work, offer chocolate (which always does).

When you feel stressed, how do you handle it?

I dance in the dark to Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu" album. [Editor’s note: This is absolutely true. No hyperbole.]

What presentations are you working on now? For which groups?

I'm working on a keynote address, to be jointly presented with Greg at Reading The World in San Francisco to an audience of about 500. The topic is humor in multicultural children's literature. We're also doing a breakout session on interracial family themes in children's books. I also have three visits to prepare for Northern California schools. Although I have something of a standard presentation, it has to be adapted a bit to each age level, audience. One is with Greg, and two are on my own, which also changes up the dynamic. We'd like to try something more interactive this time, really get the kids started on their own stories--if at all possible. Meanwhile today, I've also fielded an informational query on Asian American children's books from a CNN correspondent, swapped notes with a University of North Dakota professor about her children's literature course, filled in a fellow author from Florida on the going rates for events in Texas, and --ah ha! -- answered questions for an interview to appear in the Austin SCBWI newsletter. This is fairly typical of the days immediately preceeding the fall or spring speaking season. I still will write today, but probably not until Greg begins his daily writing, between seven and ten o'clock. About three days will be like this before I leave, at such a high intensity, then it'll settle back down to just doing the actual travel, speaking, writing. I'm pushing ahead on preparation early because I've found that reduces stress quite a bit. Also, it allows me time to make copies, pick up props, double check with coordinators, etc.

You've written articles for such publications as the PTA's Our Children, Horn Book Magazine, Book Links, and Once Upon A Time. Is this another avenue for children's writers to act as ambassadors for the industry?

Yes and no. For say, the PTA magazine, Our Children, yes. Anything that reaches beyond the children's literature insiders. It's a wonderful opportunity to educate. For those publications that reach colleagues, like Horn Book Magazine, writing articles is one way in participating in the dialogue about children's literature. It allows for your voice to be heard among fellow book lovers and offers you an opportunity to share with them your own perspective. Because of my family background and particular body of work, I've been grateful to such venues as ways to raise awareness about, for example, Native literary techniques, the need for books portraying interracial families, and how children connect to literature. When it comes to such contributions, there will be writers or illustrators who participate wholeheartedly and those who must preserve all their time for crafting their own titles. Both are the right decision, so long as they work for that individual. Don't ever feel pressured to do such work, but don't be intimidated by it either. I try to write an article or two a year, which isn't a great burden to me, especially because I have a journalism background. My goal is not to flood the market with my thoughts, but merely to nudge where I think they can make a positive difference.

How has your background in law helped you in your work as a writer and author?

Two levels: one practical, one psychological. First, the law is in many ways about logical story structure, connecting events to support a persuasive argument. In a sense, fiction is the same, except more subtle, and the gist of it goes to theme. In sum, a legal background is helpful in plotting. In addition...being from a lower middle class family, first generation college... A legal education was a confidence builder. I'd already done more than anyone had ever expected of me before I became an author. That helped me to shake off doubts and believe in my ability to compete on a national level. However, my journalism background was probably even more helpful. It facilitated my overcoming my shyness, communicating with others, finding the drama in the everyday and the heroes in all of us.

What advice to you have for writers who are presenting to schoolchildren? to librarians?

For children's events... First and most importantly, wash your hands a lot. Seriously. You do not want to lose a week of work to the flu because you took a day to do a school visit. Work to plan with a school librarian, preferably not a PTO volunteer. This is serious academic programming. You really want someone who knows what they're doing. Set a competitive rate. You will be treated better if you charge more, and the event itself will receive more support from the school. I'm not saying you can't be flexible on your rate for your own children's school or so forth, but do let them know that they're getting you at a discount. Above all else, emphasize that the children be prepared. If they don't know about your books ahead of time, they might as well be listening to a plumber. There is so much that can be said about working with schools. Members should feel free to check my site for links to related quality articles.

In particular I recommend: TERRIFIC CONNECTIONS WITH AUTHORS, ILLUSTRATORS AND STORYTELLERS: REAL SPACE AND VIRTUAL LINKS by Toni Buzzeo and Jane Kurtz (Libraries Unlimited, 1999).

Beyond that – beyond the grown-ups, that is – talk from the heart to children. From the child in you to the child in them. Story is perhaps humanity's most inspiring tradition. Bring them into the circle. Let them know their voices are welcome. Let them know that reading can be a joy, a comfort, a consolation, an inspiration, a friend. Let them know that writing is more than diagrams and modes of thought. It's expression. It's what connects us all.

Note: I donate my time to public libraries because I feel strongly that public children's librarians are a primary reason that I lead a happy, stable, and successful life today. However, I've never felt anything but treasured in response by these librarians.

For librarians... Ah! Librarians! Do whatever you can for librarians. They are your defenders, your advocates, your resource, your gift in a sometimes otherwise unappreciative universe. Librarians love books and are interested in every aspect of the book world. They love hearing how stories come to life. They're interested in your journey as a reader, as a writer. Be as generous as you can with them. Giving of yourself and your work. And let them know your thoughts, your questions, your concerns about the industry. Most of all, let them know they're appreciated.

But regardless of whom you're talking to: make sure you have water, visual, aids, fun! And send a thank-you note!

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of JINGLE DANCER, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu; RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME; and INDIAN SHOES. Her work is also includes “The Gentleman Cowboy," PERIOD PIECES: STORIES FOR GIRLS edited by Erzsi Deàk and Kristin Litchman (HarperCollins, February 2003); "The Naked Truth," IN MY GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE: AWARD-WINNING AUTHORS TELL STORIES ABOUT THEIR GRANDMOTHERS edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Harper, 2003). Her forthcoming work includes "A Real-Life Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," MOCCASIN THUNDER, edited by Lori Carlson (HarperCollins, fall 2005), which is set in near South and Central Austin; and "Riding With Rosa," Cicada magazine, issue TBA, 2005. She and husband Greg Leitich Smith, author of NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO and TOFU AND T.REX are also frequent speakers wherever librarians and teachers are gathered.

Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of WHEN YOU WERE BORN, illustrated by E.B. Lewis; LOONY LITTLE, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; and BLESS THIS MOUSE, illustrated by John Butler.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Montgomery County Teen Book Festival

Greg and I had a great time at the first-ever Montgomery County Teen Book Festival in The Woodlands, Texas on Saturday.

It was a star-studded event featuring Lois Duncan as the keynote speaker along with National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt, YA star Alex Flinn (whose Nothing To Lose was a recent BBYA and Quick Pick), living legend Vivian Vande Velde (who I just interviewed on spookycyn), Printz Honor Author Terry Truman, and author/librarian/goddess/gurus Teri Lesesne (author of Making The Match: The Right Book For The Right Reader At The Right Time) and Michele Gorman (author of Getting Graphic! Using Graphic Novels to Promote Literacy with Preteens and Teens).

The hosts and students were a delight, smart and sparkling, glowing with enthusiasm and Texas hospitality. This conference has all the early makings of a winner. Thanks so much for including us!

Book Talk: Tofu & T.Rex

Nancy Keane's site has a new booktalk up for Greg's upcoming novel, Tofu & T.Rex.

Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple is a highly recommended site.

See also a review of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Claire Broadway, 15, C.S. Lewis Hall from Newspapers in Education.

Friday, January 21, 2005

'Til Death Do We Write & Publish -- How It Went

What a wonderful time Greg and I had last night at the Westlake Barnes & Noble (home of CRM Jo Virgil, as always a gracious hostess) with three other married writer/illustrator couples at a panel, "'Til Death Do We Write & Publish," sponsored by the Writers' League of Texas.

Janice and Tom Shefelman talked about their fifty year marriage (congratulations again!) and writing as an author-and-illustrator team. Apparently, they keep separate offices on the same property and write little "notes" to one another, sometimes using the walk between them as a "cool down" period.

Lila and Rick Guzmán are true writing collaborators, and Rick has been known to wake up Lila at two a.m. after finding the just right story idea.

Frances Hill and Brian Yansky are each others' trusted first readers and benefit from the knowledge each of them brings from different genres as Frances writes high fantasy and for the very young whereas Brian is a more realistic YA and adult author who keeps his occasional magical twists more grounded in the real world.

It was a packed and lively crowd of thoughtful writers.

Afterward, Greg and I joined Frances, Brian, and fellow Austin authors Julie Lake and Jerry Wermund for dinner afterward. An utterly delightful friend of Frances also joined us and put up with our shop talk, but I won't write about her in too much detail as she wasn't warned about my blogging ways (and I'd hate to scare her off).

ALA Great Web Sites For Kids

I'm honored that my Web site is listed among the ALA's Great Web Sites for Kids under the "Authors & Illustrators" category. Such great company, including my friends Jane Kurtz, who was a great help to me in my early writing days, and Haemi Balgassi, an angel on earth (the occasionally sassy kind).


The notable children's book list has been posted, and I'm so pleased to see that the listings are annotated. That's helpful.

I'd like to send out particular congratulations to Deborah Hopkinson, author of Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Anne Schwartz, 2004).

I'm hoping The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award raises awareness and appreciation of authors like Deborah, who is hands-down one of the top picture book writers.

It's always torn at me how picture book writing has been slow to gain celebration over the years. Not that there aren't any awards. SCBWI offers a Golden Kite in the category and the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison offers the Charlotte Zolotow Award, which are both wonderful. However, they don't yet have the kind of prestige and professional punch in the industry that the ALA awards do.

Someone like Hopkinson deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Newbery and Caldecott winners.

I was also thrilled to see Cesar: Si, Se Peude!/Yes, We Can! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2004), which was my Cynsational "Quasiberry" pick of 2004.

Ditto on The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf, 2004), which was one of my "honorish" books for the "Quasicott."

I also absolutely adore Naomi Shihab Nye's Is This Forever, Or What? Poems & Paintings from Texas (Greenwillow, 2004). One of my all-time favorite books. My signed copy is proudly displayed on the tiny arts-and-crafts desk in the guest room.

It's particularly validating that this book was selected, too, because it's such an unapologetic celebration of a region. I worry sometimes that in our effort to be universal, even multicultural or international, that we as the children's literature community neglect to be inclusive of U.S. regional diversity, both in terms of talent and subject matter.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

BBYAs, Quick Picks

I'm thrilled that my fave YA of the year, Sammy And Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Cinco Puntos, 2004) was named a Top Ten BBYA. See the complete list on the ALA Web site.

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood also was unanimously voted onto the BBYA list.

I'd like to send out additional congratulations to Alex Flinn, author of Nothing To Lose; Deborah Noyes, anthologist of Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales; Ron Koertge, author of Margaux With An X; Julie Anne Peters, author of Luna: A Novel; Nancy Werlin, author of Double Helix; Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, author of A Fast And Brutal Wing; Rita Williams-Garcia, author of No Laughter Here; Jane Yolen, co-author of Prince Across The Water; and Jacqueline Woodson, author of Behind You.

I've interviewed Jane Yolen, Alex Flinn, Julie Anne Peters, and Nancy Werlin for my Web site, in case you'd like to learn more about them and their work.

On the Quick Picks front, I'm sending out cheers to Nikki Burnham, author of Royally Jacked; Gail Giles, author of Playing In Traffic; Marlene Perez, author of Unexpected Development; and Brent Hartinger, author of Last Chance Texaco.

Interviews with Gail and Brent also are available on my Web site, and Nikki--just FYI--is one of my best friends from law school. We stood up in each other's weddings. She's basically brilliant and beautiful, a total gem.

See also the Top Ten Quick Picks.

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005). Told in a diary format by high school freshman Michael "Storky" Pomerantz, this sparkling debut novel chronicles its hero (1) befriending a Scrabble geezer, (2) embracing a family that "includes" Mom's boyfriend "Dr. Vermin" and Dad's rotating bimbos delight, (3) landing a first girlfriend (which one?), and (4) finding self-acceptance. It's funny, real, and unapologetically boy-like with a solid heart. Great for avid readers and reluctant ones. Strongest on voice and humor, jam-packed with "life lessons," Storky is a must-read from a novelist to watch. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended.

More on Storky

I loved this book, couldn't put it down, laughed out loud, and (I think) found my inner 15-year-old Jewish boy. Though the promotional materials compare it to "Bridget Jones' Diary," I must say Storky is funnier and more moving (and I'm a Bridget fan!).

According to the bio, Garfinkle--AKA new genius on the scene--is a felllow recovering lawyer and wrote this book while parenting a five-year-old, two-year-old, and expecting baby number three.

Wow. I'm doing good to figure out why there's no water pressure in the kitchen (actually I had to call someone). Okay, I had Greg call someone.

In Other News

Jennifer Ward has a new author Web site. It's cute, colorful, and packed with images--just right for her picture book audience and those who love them.

Jennifer's titles include: Way Out In The Desert; Somewhere In The Ocean; Over In The Garden; The Seed And The Giant Saguaro; Forest Bright, Forest Night.

Surf by to learn more!

The opening-page flash takes about two minutes to load on my dial-up but is worth the wait (ditton on the bio page photos).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

'Til Death Do We Write & Publish

From The Writers' League of Texas: "Four married couples, who also happen to write or illustrate books for children and young adults, will share their stories of working together, as well as the craft of writing. Join authors and illustrators Lila and Rick Guzmán, Frances Hill and Brian Yansky, Janice and Tom Shefelman, and Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at the League's free monthly meeting, Thursday, January 20, at Barnes & Noble Westlake, 701 Capital of Texas Highway South in Austin. The social time, with free coffee and refreshments from Barnes & Noble, begins at 7 p.m. The program will start at 7:30 p.m. after a few brief announcements."

Miss November

Speaking of Sharyn November, I'm a November author with Joseph Bruchac in the Perma-Bound Author & Illustrator Birthday Calendar 2005. Other featured authors include:

January: Mem Fox
February: Jacqueline Woodson
March: Eoin Colfer
April: Jane Yolen
May: Linda Sue Park
June: Jamie Lee Curtis
July: Robert Munsch
August: Paula Danziger
September: David Diaz
October: Cornelia Funke
November: Cynthia Leitich Smith and Joseph Bruchac
December: Andrew Clements

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Wanna Win The Newbery?

Greg's Observations:

Of late, the Newbery winners tend to be historical.

Take a look at the list since 1990. Of sixteen medal winners, eleven are historicals or historical-ish (Despereaux refers to a French princess, which has not existed to any significant degree since at least 1871); two of the contemporaries (Holes, Maniac Mcgee) are "tale-talish" rather than "straight" contemporary; one of the contemporaries (View from Saturday) is by a former Newbery winner. And The Giver, which is neither historical nor contemporary, is also by a former Newbery winner.

2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum)
2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press)
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (Hyperion Books for Children)
2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin)
2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial)
2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte)
1999: Holes by Louis Sachar (Frances Foster)
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic)
1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (Jean Karl/Atheneum)
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (Clarion)
1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins)
1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (Jackson/Orchard)
1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum)
1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown)
1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton)

Cyn's theory

School librarians on the committee (especially lately as they're having to justify purchases more and more) tend to skew toward books with strong curriculum tie-in. Hence, more historicals.

Or we could be totally wrong. In any case, it's fun to talk about.

Why Nerds Are Unpopular

"Why Nerds Are Unpopular" by Paul Graham (February 2003).

I found the link to that article on YA editor Sharyn November's Web site. She offers outreach to teen readers, mega lists of links, and some info on submissions. Also fabu are the numerous references to her personal interests. When you're done, go to Firebird--a must-visit for fantasy and sci fi fans.

Sharyn herself--if you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse--has inspired many a descriptive passage. Her site doesn't feature a photo; however, she is the very image of Artemis from Wonder Woman comics. They both have that whole Amazon warrior queen thing going on.

Other publishing people "separated at birth": my husband and Dean Cain (with glasses) or Keanu Reeves (with facial expressions) or Leonard Nimoy (depending on how he's wearing his hair and how happy I am with him at the time).

Go to spookycyn for my third example.

What I'm Reading/Studying Today: The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2005). A timely title emphasizing the importance of reading and determination. Emphasis on the power and potential of women, even under duress.

The Polar Express

Oh, my! Tonight, Greg and I saw "The Polar Express" in 3-D at the Imax Theater at the Texas History Museum in Austin. It was incredible! Hands-down, this is the way to experience the movie, which, by the way, based on a top-notch picture book by Chris Van Allsburg. Excellent way to celebrate the ALA awards, don't you think? Kisses to Anne for the tickets!

Oh, and by the way, if I didn't mention it earlier, hugely happy MLK Day!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Advanced Online Workshop On Writing For Children

Uma Krishnaswami's 10-week web-based Advanced Workshop on Writing for Children, begins January 31. Participants will be sent a web site URL and class code along with login instructions. Unlike the introductory class, the advanced workshop will not offer weekly exercises or lectures, but will focus entirely on participants' own work in progress. Expect to post work in progress once a week, offer comments on others' work and be prepared for critical appraisals of your own. Picture books through YA. The workshop is intended for those who have already taken Uma's introductory class or equivalent.

To register, and for fees and related information, visit Writers on the Net.

For student comments and other class descriptions, see the profile on Uma Krishnaswami.

Scheider Family Book Award

The American Library Association chose the bilingual picture book My Pal Victor / Mi Amigo Victor by Diane Gonzales Bertrand to receive the Scheider Family Book Award given to a children's title that emphasizes an "artistic expression of the disability experience for children."

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

According to the American Library Association: "The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award will be presented annually to both the author(s) and illustrator(s) of an outstanding book for beginning readers published in the past calendar year. The winning author[s] and illustrator[s] must demonstrate great creativity to engage children in reading." The first winner[s] will be announced in Jan. 2006.

Musings on 04 ALA Winners

Harold Underdown's site, The Purple Crayon, has a listing with links to amazon pages so you can go learn more about each of the ALA award winners.

First, congratulations to the winners!

Various thoughts

I was especially pleased to see Cynthia Kadohata had won. Note: whenever authors of color win, it always seems to be for historicals.

The People Could Fly: The Picture Book by the Dillons is my one pick that was recognized and as a CSK honor book. (At least so far, I haven't seen the lists yet). Oh, and Frank Morrison, illustrator of Jazzy Miz Mozetta was a CSK new talent winner. That's two!

I'm thrilled that Lawrence Yep won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. I wish I could norminate someone for this medal next year. I'd nominate Joseph Bruchac. I wonder if he would have mixed feelings accepting a medal named after someone whose work is controversial among Indians. Hm.

I'm also thrilled that Coming on Home Soon, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, written by Jacqueline Woodson was a Caldecott Honor Book. I met Jacqueline Woodson at NCTE/Indy this past fall, was generally in awe, and stammered a lot. She was lovely.

E.B. Lewis has had this recognition coming for a long time. He's illustrated books by two of my friends, Jane Kurtz and Dianna Aston.

Psychic Cyn & Laura Ruby Interview

Hm, actually since they aren't predictions, it would be more "great minds thinking alike," if you're inclined to be generous to my mind. Someone wrote yesterday asking whether my picks had ever coincided with the ALA committees. So, for the record, in the past few years, I've picked A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park and Holes by Louis Sachar (before it won the National Book Award) for the Newbery (and they won) as well as A Step From Heaven by An Na for the Printz (which also won). Other books I've loved by authors like Nancy Werlin and Laura Ruby have gone on to be recognized with Edgars and other awards.

Speaking of Laura Ruby, surf over to my other blog, spookycyn, for The Story Behind The Story: Laura Ruby on Lily's Ghosts.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cynsational Books of 2004

The ALA awards will be announced Monday, always exciting! In a world where I made the big decisions, these would be the winners (not predictions, my picks; and not inclusive of all of my 04 faves; see my site for more recommendations):


Mystery At The Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman (Clarion, 2004). Humphrey-Bogart-esque dectective story in black-and-white illustrations about an elephant detective, Nick Trunk, on the case of Lola Gables' lost (lucky) marbles. Very tongue in cheek. Ages 7-up.


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. Ages 7-up.

Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Karen Barbour (Simon & Schuster, 2004). A collection of poems that captures the wonder of language in a decidedly multicultural landscape. Should be required reading for every child. Ages 4-up.


Cesar: Si, Se Peude!/Yes, We Can! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2004). Written in eloquent palm poems, this picture-chapter book eloquently illuminates the life of Cesar Chavez, Friend of the Farm Workers and American hero. Ages 7-up. Highly recommended.


My Father's Summers: A Daughter's Memoir by Kathi Appelt (Henry Holt, 2004). Poignant. Powerful. Poetic. Appelt's memoir is her best work to date. Heartfelt and hopeful, she describes the impact of her father's departure, her first kiss, and a surprisingly close connection to a defining day in American history. This book will resonant with young adult and adult readers alike. Five stars. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by author Anne Bustard. Note: marketed for YA but appropriate for most middle grade.

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.


Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004). Set in a rough New Mexico barrio in the latter 1960s, this story embraces a first true love and its loss, racism, homophobia, war, street violence, family, others words "life." The prose is at times breathtaking in its poetry and at others jarring in its truths. Sammy's voice lingers long after the book closes and leaves the reader more thoughtful than before. An absolute triumph! Ages 14-up.


Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004). Features stories by Joan Aiken, M.T. Anderson, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Celia Rees, Janni Lee Simner, Vivian Vande Velde, and Barry Yourgrau. Worth the price of the book for the introduction, though the collection itself is wickedly outstanding. Ages 14-up. Highly recommended.

Raising The Griffin by Melissa Wyatt (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004). Alex Varenhoff had grown up knowing his family history, that his forefathers had once ruled Rovenia. But that was the past. All his life, he'd been a well-bred British boy, no different from his boarding school chums. Then he's called--by his parents, by his ancestral homeland--to leave behind the life he's always known, the horse who's his best friend, and take on the position of Rovenia's prince! This modern-day story is no fairy tale. Alex, make that Alexei, is a reluctant royal who quickly finds himself overwhelmed--and worse--by paparazzi and politics, manners and expectations, but most of all, the questions of duty, identity, and whom to trust. Wyatt's novel offers a rich and thoroughly convincing fictional land, lovingly crafted with effective attention to detail. Ages 12-up.


Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang (Candlewick, 2004). Hannah and her family are so excited to immigrate to the United States, to become Americans, to be free. But how scary and worrisome it is to wait to see if they will be sent green cards so they may stay legally and make San Francisco their home. Joyful, vibrant, and optimistic without minimizing the challenges faced by newcomers, Yang's book should be an essential part of any immigration, Asian American, California, and/or patriotism unit and a treasure for home and public libraries. Ages 4-up.

Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts, illustrated by Frank Morrison (FSG, 2004). Miz Mozetta is dressed to dance, but who will be her partner? Jazzy, snazzy, and that's sayin' somethin'. Ages 4-up.

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004). The moon has come down softly, and who will put it up again? Who will make things right? The fire chief, the rescue workers, the people. This brilliantly simple book speaks to our universal need for comfort, for heroes, for hope. It's perhaps the best "crisis" book ever published, as resonate and necessary for young readers as their grandparents. A must-buy for every school, household, and library. Ages 3-up.

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.

*I would consider art and text (hey, I'm a writer!).

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Good Rainbow Road

The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa 'Kashtyaa'tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Hopi-Tewa-White Mountain Apache)(The University of Arizona Press, 2004). This title features "a Native American Tales in Keres and English[,] followed by a translation into Spanish" by Victor Montejo (Mayan) and is published in cooperation with Oyate. The Good Rainbow Road is about two brothers who work together to save Haapaahnitse (Oak Place), their town. The "about this book" section notes that it is not a traditional story, but rather an original tale told in a stylistically Native way. Ages 4-up.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Movement at Simon & Schuster

Anne Schwartz is leaving Simon & Schuster for Random House, where she'll have her own imprint. Suzanne Harper, S&S's senior VP and hardcover publisher, also resigned. Harper joined S&S last July (she had been formerly with Disney Adventures Magazine). In addition, Emma Dryden has been promoted to S&S VP and the associate publisher of Atheneum Books.

Tech Notes: I've been mostly offline for the past couple of days because my computer was loaded down with spyware and adware. Awful stuff. Greg was able to clear off most of it using Ad-Aware, but then I couldn't connect to the Internet. So I called Computer Nerdz. The sent Craig over, and he installed Spybot (and some other stuff, including the Microsoft patch to their anti-spyware thing). He suggested I run the programs weekly and that I switch to Mozilla-Firefox as my browser, which I did.

Sammy & Juliana In Hollywood

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004). Set in a rough New Mexico barrio in the latter 1960s, this story embraces a first true love and its loss, racism, homophobia, war, street violence, family, others words "life." The prose is at times breathtaking in its poetry and at others jarring in its truths. Sammy's voice lingers long after the book closes and leaves the reader more thoughtful than before. An absolute triumph! (Ages 14-up). HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

More on Sammy & Juliana In Hollywood

I don't remember the last time I found myself so affected by a novel. I cheered, ached, hoped, and cried as I sank into its pages, its world, and read it in one sitting--staying up well past three a.m. to finish. Just holding it in my lap, trying to find the words to explain, is a challenge. This novel sings specificially (unapologetically depicting a community without the common translation trappings) and universally (exploring, no, elevating the human condition). You must read it. You must.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Author April Lurie; Walking The Choctaw Trail by Tim Tingle

I had the pleasure of lunching today with April Lurie, author of a wonderful debut 'tweener novel, Dancing In The Streets of Brooklyn (Delacorte, 2002). (See a review from Story Circle). April lives in nearby Round Rock, Texas, which is a suburb of Austin. She's terrific company, whip-smart, and has the most beautiful smile.

Speaking of the Austin area, Ballet Austin and Pollyanna Theatre Company are putting on "Trail Of Tears: Walking The Choctaw Road," based on the YA book Walking The Choctaw Road: Stories From Red People Memory by Tim Tingle. (Lovely man, highly recommended as a speaker). "This production combines dance with dialogue to explore the stories of the Choctaw Indians during the Indian Removals of 1830." The event (for young audiences, defined as ages 8+) will be held at the Texas School for the Death, 1102 South Congress Avenue at 3 p.m. Jan. 22. For tickets, call 512.476.2163 or visit the Ballet Austin box office at 501 W. 3rd St. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Thanks to April who told me all about this at lunch!

More personally, Tracy (my best friend from high school) has joined her real estate practice with her her husband's. If you're in the Denver area and need a house, check out team Russell and tell them "Cyn" sent you!

The Driver's Seat

I bought a new purse at the Emerald's New Year sale (best shoes in Austin), which prompted me to clean out my fraying day-to-day purse and switch my stuff over. In the process, I found a fortune from Suzi's: "Your place in the path of life is in the driver's seat."

This is an important message for writers. Sometimes we exert so much energy fretting what we cannot control (library budgets, the market, trends, success) that we forget how much power we do have (our vote, purchasing decisions, word-of-mouth, passion and strategy).

Today, think about your super-powers. Then decide what to do with them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Secrets Of Success

Author Ellen Jackson debuts a new monthly online column, "Secrets of Success," featuring interviews with children's/YA writers who are "breaking new ground" and willing to tell the rest of us how it's done.

This month's interview is with author Tanya Lee Stone, whose works include more than 75 non-fiction books and whose recent sales include a middle grade biography to DK, a picture book to Henry Holt, and a YA novel to Wendy Lamb Books (all in this past year!).

Ellen's great site also features "My Most Amazing Contact With An Author" (from an editor's point of view); winner of the "My Favorite Rejection Letter Contest" (from--who else?--an author's point of view); quotes; Ellen's blog; and more!

What's Buzzing?

Some big name and promising new writers have upcoming books with a new house on the scene, Darby Creek Publishing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Greg Leitich Smith on Writing Comedy and Multiple Viewpoint Novels

My very cute husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, has updated his Web site. Of particular interest is his Q&A on writing. He talks about writing comedy, multiple viewpoint novels, characters, and plot.

Greg is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) and Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, July 2005)(check out the new Tofu cover art!).

Teach Me

If you've been reading my blog these past few days, you'll know that I'm flagging some titles and authors to watch. Here's one more.

Check out the cover art of Teach Me by R.A. Nelson (Razorbill/Peguin Putnam, fall 2005), graciously hosted at Lisa Kopelke's Web site.

The text around the apple reads:

"I don't want to think about anything that takes me away from thinking about him.

"it overwhelms me that I overwhelm him.

"this is what is real, the times we spend together and nothing else."

When asked about it, the author replied with this excerpt from the text:

"There is not a name for what I’m feeling. There is no description for it.
"To call it yearning would be like calling the ocean water.
"Whatever this thing is, it shoves you inside itself and you can’t measure its boundaries because they go too far and you don’t have enough time. Or you move toward the boundaries and they move away.
"There has been an earthquake in my life."

Intrigued? I am. Let's keep an eye out for this one.

Lisa's books include Tissue, Please! (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and Excuse Me! (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

Monday, January 10, 2005

Does Your School Ban Books In Secret?

In response to a teen reader post in her guest book, author Alex Flinn has posted a short article, "Does Your School Ban Books In Secret?"

Alex is the author of: Breathing Underwater; Breaking Point; Nothing To Lose; and Fade To Black.

Author Lynn E. Hazen

Surf over to author Lynn E. Hazen. Lynn has two new books, one recent and one forthcoming. Mermaid Mary Margaret (Bloomsbury, June 2004) is a middle grade novel, and Buzz Bumble To The Rescue (Bloomsbury, May 2005) is a picture book. Click for a hint of where Mary Margaret might go next!

Lynn completed her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College.

What else? Read some quotes by writers and other smart people from author Mary E. Pearson. Mary is the author of David V. God (Harcourt, 2000) and Scribbler of Dreams (Harcourt, 2001). Her next release will be A Room on Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005).

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Authors Garfinkle, Butler

Meet D.L. Garfinkle, author of Storky (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2005): "with its hilarious musings on life, love and other disasters, Storky-- the complete journal of Michael 'Storky' Pomerantz's freshman year of high school-- is a riotous jouney into the mind of your average teenager. In no time, you'll be rooting for Michael to lose the nickname and win the girl." Totally cute, fun site from (awk!) another fellow recovering-lawyer-turned-writer. Includes useful information like "How Do I Get Published?" and a listing of her favorite serious and funny young adult books.

Then surf over to Amy Butler, author of Virginia Bound (Clarion, 2003): it "tells the story of a boy who is kidnapped from London in 1627 and sent to the Jamestown colony as an indentured servant. Suspenseful and fast-paced, it's a book about trust, friendship, and survival in early America." Read The Story Behind The Story from Amy Butler.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Companions of the Night and Being Dead

Surf over to my other blog, spookycyn, to read two story behind the story interviews with Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night and Being Dead.

Ever wonder what everybody else is reading? Check out what's On My Night Table from Jacqueline Davies. I'm also fond of her On My Mind page, currently pointing out that "The Problem Is: Books Are Not Pigeons."

Visit author/illustrator Maurie J. Manning, in particular "Hidden Pictures: One Way To Break Into Children's Illustration."

Learn about "The Changing World of Picture Books" with Louise McClenathan from the Institute of Children's Literature, a chat transcript dated Jan. 6, 2005.

Unfortunately, this resource is too timely: Explaining World Tragedy to Children by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller from Modern Mom.

Friday, January 07, 2005

More On Rhyming Picture Books

Rhymes and Misdemeanors by Hope Vestergaard.

Rhyme from Predictable Books, a bibliography from the Monroe County Public Library in Monroe County, Indiana.

See also: How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen (as well as her Child of Faerie, Child of Earth); Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash by Sarah Weeks; Piggy In A Puddle and The Mousery by Mary Ann Hoberman; Mr. Murry and Thumbkin by Karma Wilson; all things Lisa Wheeler (especially Sailor Moo) and Kathi Appelt (especially The Alley Cat's Meow). See also works by Linda Ashman.

Jennifer Ward says: "I like to think that reading poetry and listening to certain music helps my writing in rhyme.

"For example, Robert Frost's 'Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening' is a perfect example of rhyme. Not only is the rhyme perfect, but so is the meter. When I critique mss, I sometimes use this poem as an example of rhyme and meter for those who strive to rhyme but are having difficulty mastering the aspects.

"Music: This may sound corny, but certain songs master meter beautifully, even without rhyme. 'America' by Simon and Garfunkle is a good example. Just as one could set a metronome to certain musical pieces, the rhyme & rhythm to certain pb stories could also be read along with a ticking metronome. Rhyme and meter that isn't effective will stumble."

Thanks to Jennifer Ward, Jane Yolen, Alex Flinn, Shutta Crum; Lisa Wheeler, Jessica Swaim, and Andrea Beaty for suggestions.

Book Note: Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee is an ALAN (NCTE) Best Book for January 2005! Congratulations Anjali!

Movie Note: Alexa Vega (of "Spy Kids" fame) is darling, but "Sleepover" is a snore.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Children's Book Ilustrator Don Tate Launches Blog

Illustrator Don Tate has a new blog--Devas T: rants and raves ("Highs and lows in the life of a children's book illustrator"). Check out his Coretta Scott King picks on the blog and then surf over to an interview at African-American Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.

As a fellow Austinite, I have the pleasure of knowing Don personally. The man is bursting with talent and has the cutest wife and baby in the business.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Rhyming Picture Books

I'm reading a couple of rhyming picture book manuscripts for a beginning writer and pulling resources that may be of use to her. They include:

Rhyming Picture Books: For Those Who Must by Margot Finke from the "Musings" Archive in April 2004. This page offers a number of really on-target links. I especially like:

"To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme" by Dori Chaconas from Smart Writers Journal in April 2003.

Writing Picture Books by by Marisa Montes. She also offers more great information on Getting Published.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

"Every Word Is True"

Have a note here that says Warner Brothers is scouting locations for the feature film "Every Word Is True," and they're interested in filming here at the house. Potentially. Am flashing back to every kind of destruction I've seen wrought on houses in movies. Therefore, I'm going to have to pass on that although I must admit the plot sounds cool and it would be kind of neat to meet that particular cast of actors. I'm a particular fan of Sandra Bullock, Anjelica Huston, and Sigourney Weaver.

In other news, I've made out most of my thank you cards, written 1,408 words of something, and am reading manuscripts for two writers.

Neat & New: The Judy Moody Web site.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Shopping, Revising, Presenting

Shopping? Another new independent bookstore has opened! If you're in the area, visit Andrea Kristina's Bookstore and Kafe at 218 W. Main Street in Farmington, New Mexico.

Revising? Surf over to Uma Krishnaswami's notes on Negotiating the Revision Maze, presented at the SCBWI New Mexico Handsprings conference in Albuquerque April 25, 2003.

Presenting? Surf over to Bad PowerPoint (And How To Avoid It) by Seth Godin from Jacqueline Davis.