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!).
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