Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Voice: Rebecca Janni on Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse

Rebecca Janni is the first-time author of Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, illustrated by Lynne Avril (Dutton, 2010). From the promotional copy:

In Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, Nellie Sue does everything with a western flair.

Whether it is cleaning up the animal sty (picking up her stuffed animals) or rounding up cattle (getting the neighborhood kids together for her birthday party), she does it like a true cowgirl. All she really needs is a horse.

So when Dad announces at her birthday party, “I got a horse right here for you,” Nellie Sue is excited. But when her horse turns out to be her first bicycle, it will take an imagination as big as Texas to help save the day.


Could you tell us about your writing community – your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

My husband tells me I would get more writing done if I were a shy, introverted writer, living alone with a small tribe of cats. But that would never work for me, and he knows it. I love the revolving door that is our home, and everyone who walks through it supports me emotionally and professionally, beginning with my husband and family.

Iowa has a rich writing community, one that I first discovered at the local library. At the Des Moines Area Writers Group (DAWG), I found a wonderful and talented group of people passionate about stories. We're an eclectic bunch of published and not-yet-published writers who write everything from early picture books to YA murder mysteries. But even with such varied interests, everyone agrees on one thing.

Must. Join. SCBWI.

So I did. Right away. I love the conferences because there are always opportunities to work on craft and to learn about the publishing industry. Plus, I meet more amazing people. I decided early on that, even if nothing ever came of my writing, I would never stop. I enjoyed the act of writing too much, and I was making lifelong friends along the way.

Three of those friends make up my magical critique group – Sharelle Byars Moranville, Jan Blazanin, and Eileen Boggess. We exchange our works-in-progress online and meet in person once a month to share critique and cookies.


Our lives and writing styles are very different, but we share a singularity of purpose and a mutual admiration. The end result is a lot of growth and grace . . . and cookies.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?


Hmm. Not well, I'm afraid. Our family of five grew to a family of six this summer, when we adopted our son from China. Now the muse in my life often masquerades as one of the kids. Life is full of joy and our entryway is full of shoes! Since our youngest is deaf, we're also becoming a bilingual family – speaking and signing.


When I do manage to carve out time for writing, it usually involves my mother, a doting grandma who's recently retired! I'm also quick to snatch up school time, nap time, and bedtime.

My best advice is what others have given to me, so I'll pass it along.

(1) Find childcare, even if it is just once a week. If Grandma doesn't live nearby, hire a babysitter or find a friend to help. Before my mom retired, a friend and I took turns watching each others' kids.

(2) Make good work of school hours and nap times. If you have just a few hours between drop off and pick up, consider stopping at a library instead of going home. There will be fewer distractions.

(3) Attend SCBWI conferences. You'll be inspired by the editors, agents, and authors who speak, and you'll learn valuable information about the market. Plus, you never know what might happen . . .

(4) Take an occasional retreat – alone or with other writers. Writing weekends always give my productivity a boost. I've stayed at hotels, retreat centers, and even a friend's farm. The benefits are huge – focused time to work on writing projects, immediate feedback from other writers, and inspiration that lasts long after the weekend is over. (At my friend's farm, we even saw a calf being born!)

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I met Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency at (you'll never guess) an SCBWI retreat right here in Iowa. While there were no calves born that weekend, it was a magical retreat – crisp October days, bright sun, vibrant colors, and leaves crunching beneath our feet. I had landed my first book contract about six months earlier, and I was ready to begin looking for an agent.

As Jamie presented, she struck me as kind and smart – a winning combination. Since I was so new to the business, I appreciated her willingness to do editorial work, to offer feedback on manuscripts before submitting them to editors. I knew I would love to sign on with Jamie, but I had just begun my search. How could I be so lucky?

I mustered up the courage to ask her a few questions, and we found ourselves chatting about my works-in-progress. She asked to see those manuscripts, and not long after, she offered to represent me. I was thrilled! I wanted to say "yes" then and there, but I took a step back and followed her advice, composing a list of questions for a follow-up phone interview.

One magical connector for us was the main character in my first book, Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse. Turns out Jamie has some cowgirl in her, but growing up in L.A., she could never have a horse. When she was little, she used to tie a jump rope to her bike handlebars to use as reins for her imaginary horse!

My best advice? I sound like a broken record, but I'll say it again. Attend SCBWI conferences.

I was really glad to meet Jamie in person. Also, as giddy as I was about finding an agent, I'm glad I slowed down and thought through all of my questions up front. Somebody told me to remember that I wasn't just being interviewed – I was also interviewing. When I did sign the dotted line, I felt confident that I was doing the right thing – no doubts or regrets.

Now, two years and three book contracts later, I couldn't be happier to have Jamie as my agent!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cynsational News & NE Tour Report

Children's Author Stephanie Barden: official author site features biography, character blog, book info, contact information. Stephanie’s first book, Cinderella Smith, illustrated by Diane Goode (Harper) comes out in April. Two additional Cinderella Smith books have been purchased by HarperCollins.

E-Book Sales Rise in Children's and Young Adult Categories by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: "In 2010 young-adult e-books made up about 6 percent of the total digital sales for titles published by St. Martin’s Press, but so far in 2011, the number is up to 20 percent, a spokeswoman for the publisher said." Source: Varian Johnson.

At Tools of Change, Former ABC Director Kristen McLean to Discuss New Venture, Bookigee by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Created with input from a 'team of innovators' in fields ranging from specialty design to retail, editorial, Silicon Valley tech, engineering, bookselling and book marketing, Bookigee has an admittedly ambitious goal—in essence, to begin reshaping a consumer process that has become entrenched over decades, but also somewhat inefficient."

The Do's, Don't's and "Stuff" of Writer Conferences by Donna Bowman Bratton from Writing Down the Kidlit Page. Peek: "When you find yourself in the room with revered editors, agents, and award-winning authors, there are certain rules of etiquette you should abide by."

Author Skype Tour Blog: "a place where authors, teachers, and librarians can connect to help readers discover great new titles and learn more about writing. There are already great Skype-author resources like the Skype-an-Author Network and Kate Messner's list of authors who do free, 20-minute chats with classes & book clubs that have read their books. But sometimes, teachers & librarians may want to connect with an author whose books students haven't read yet...and sometimes, authors may want to talk with groups that haven't read a book yet, to help get the word out about a new title. That's what this site is for."

The winners of the seventh annual Green Earth Book Award are: The Earth Book by Todd Parr (Little Brown); Not Your Typical Book About the Environment by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer (Owlkids); Mallory Goes Green by Laurie B. Friedman, illustrated by Jennifer Kalis (Darby Creek); and Boys, Bears and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald (Candlewick). See more on the winners and honor books. "The Green Earth Book Award is the nation's first environmental stewardship book award for children and young adult literature. Over 135 books were nominated in four categories. NMF presents the awards April 5 at the Salisbury University Literary Book Festival in Maryland. Author presentations and book signings at university seminars and local elementary schools are scheduled for April 6. Each award includes $2,000 to the winning author and illustrator, as well as the contribution of winning books to schools and youth organizations in the Greater Washington, D.C. area."

Managing Information Overload by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "I have no trouble producing pages, it’s the blocking out unnecessary ‘information’ that lurks everywhere, promising to inform and enlighten me to within an inch of my life."

Teachers and Librarians Love Book Trailers by Darcy Pattison from Greg Pincus at The Happy Accident. Peek: "That is 99% of librarians surveyed who think trailers are effective. Wow!" See also Five Ways Your Characters' Job Affects Your Novel by Darcy from Fiction Notes.

Two Literary Agents by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Learn what Molly Jaffa of Folio and Christina Hogrebe of Jane Rotrosen Agency are seeking in manuscripts/clients. Note: in New Jersey, all of the buzz was about the upcoming NJ SCBWI Annual Conference June 3 to June 5 in Princeton. We're talking a mega list of editors, agents, and authors--well worth the trip! Early bird rate deadline: March 1.

Reminder: The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature is ongoing. Don't miss an interview with author-editor Kevin Lewis. Peek: "I honestly believe that you don’t find your way but make your way. No one ever gave me permission to write, or to write for children, or to write about truck and trains and dinosaurs."

Beautiful Back Matter by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "This business of writing for multiple audiences is nowhere more important and challenging than in writing the back matter for nonfiction picture books. Especially, I think, picture book biographies." See also Digital Books: Will Form Affect Content? by Loreen Leedy from I.N.K.

Promoting Your Own Books: Who Is Your Publisher? by Michelle in Marketing at Boxcars, Books & A Blog AKA Albert Whitman & Company. Peek: "Aside from the first time author (read: lack of brand name) issues inherent in those possibilities, your publisher just might be more concerned with Baker & Taylor and the American Library Association."

Call for Characters by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "I’m looking for contrasts in names, height, weight, ethnic background, style of clothing and personality factors. If X loves cats, Y should love lizards. No, not dogs, silly."

NYC 2011: Sara Zarr gives the speech that she wanted to hear by Candy Gourlay from Notes from the Slush Pile. Peek, quoting an agent: "The time between when you are no longer a beginner but you are not yet in the business is the hardest and no one can tell you how long this phase will last." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Borders Stores Closing from The Wall Street Journal: about 30% of stores; a complete list. See also FAQ for Vendors about Borders Reorganization from Borders Group Inc. Note: please support brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Seven Tips to Grow Your Mailing List by Katie Davis from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "Let’s get you a mailing list. You are going to grow your audience and then stay connected."

From Editor to Agent: a chat with Alyssa Eisner Henkin by Bobbie Pyron from From The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: "...I know both editors and kid readers are very ken on the plot-driven-pull-you-in-and-don’t-let-go books that are popular these days. So I’d say plot is a huge factor in my decision in whether or not to represent a book. However, a great voice is certainly of paramount importance."

A Story of Dualities by Chithira Vijaykumar from The Hindu. Peek: "This is a story about balance. A tree and a road learn to reconcile with each other, the title of the book repeats itself (“Out of the Way! Out of the Way!”), and it has been created by two Uma Ks — one a Krishnaswami, the writer, and the other a Krishnaswamy, the illustrator." See also A Tale of Two Uma Krishnaswami/ys from Cynsations.

Support Children's Book Press

Children's Book Press, a non-profit multicultural publisher, is seeking to raise $47,000 by March. Please consider donating, buying or promoting its books to show your support. See also an interview with editor Dana Goldberg of Children's Book Press.

New Sports Publisher

Beach Ball Books, a new children’s publisher, is launching this season with sports books, board books and plans for a raft of colorful, entertaining books that kids and families will love. Headed by James Buckley, Jr., Beach Ball will capitalize on the extensive experience, market knowledge, and creative talent Buckley has gathered as Editorial Director of Shoreline Publishing Group, a veteran book packaging company that has produced more than 350 books, as well as magazines and magazine content and special sections for a dozen years.

In Memorium

Margaret K. McElderry (1912-2011) from Locus Online. Peek: "Children’s editor and publisher Margaret K. McElderry, 98, died February 14, 2011. She is best known as founder of her eponymous children’s imprint, Margaret K. McElderry Books."

Redwall Author Brian Jacques Dead at 71 from The Washington Post. Peek: "Jacques wrote the first book in his famous Redwall series for the children at the Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool, England. The book's hero was a timid mouse named Matthias who found the courage to protect his home, Redwall Abbey. " See also Extreme Sadness: Brian Jacques from Book Moot.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Piggies in the Kitchen by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ard Hoyt (Simon & Schuster, 2011).



Canadian Writers Speak Out On Copyright from Marketwire News Studio.



More Personally

Thank you to Candlewick Press, the event planners, and everyone who turned out, cheered, and helped promote last week's official Blessed tour in NYC, New Jersey, and the Philly area.

(The view out my window at The Standard Hotel in Manhattan/the meat-packing district.)

Cheers to fellow authors Jen Nadol, Sarah Beth Durst, Shannon Delany, and especially Daniel Nayeri (with whom I did two events), who joined me at stops along the way.

(Rita Williams-Garcia--to whom the novel is dedicated--models Blessed at Books of Wonder.)

Mega thanks to Books of Wonder, Francis Lewis High School, Teenreads.com, Borders Columbus Circle, Baker & Taylor, New Brunswick Free Public Library, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, NYPL Mulberry Branch, Romantic Times Book Reviews, The New School, Brooklyn Public Library, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School, The Voracious Reader, Mercer County Library, and Barnes & Noble, Cherry Hill, N.J.!

(Literary agent Mary Kole and Daniel at The Brass Monkey! Jill Santopolo was kind enough to organize this get-together of Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty, alumni & friends.)

(Susan Van Metre's MFA class at The New School.)

(The Brooklyn Public Library.)

(Authors Libba Bray, Marianna Baer and Melissa Walker at the Brooklyn Public Library.)

(Shannon Delany, Jen Nadol and Shannon Delany at The Voracious Reader.)

Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Jessica from Chick Lit Cafe. Peek: "Quincie is smart enough to realize that her soul is who she is. If she gives herself up, there’s nothing left. Not her evolving patchwork family or the business she inherited from her mama or her amazing connection to Kieren. He loves her, the real her, not some monster walking around in body. She fights for herself because she has value intrinsically and to those who truly care about her."

Book Review: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith by Jessica from I Just Want to Sit Here and Read. Peek: "I love Kieren, Quincie's best friend and the only hybrid werewolf. I actually found myself jealous of their friendship. There of course is the slight sexual tension because they haven't pronounced any real feelings for each other, even though you want to scream at them!"

Links of the Week: Dear Teen Me by Bethany Hegedus and Won Ton: A Cat Tale in Haiku recommended by Mercury Boo Leitich Smith (don't miss the comments).

Even More Personally

I'm voting for Chef Drew (Andrew Curren at 24 Diner in Austin) for best new chef in the southwest (and you should, too!).


(My Valentine's Day flowers from my very cute husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith.)

Last night, we joined Anne Bustard and my former Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA student (now alum) Janice Scully (in town from New York state) at the Broken Spoke for some country music by Tony Harrison and Hot Texas and then continued on to County Line on the Hill for barbeque.

Cynsational Events

Birthday/Launch Party for Michelle Knudsen at 6:30 Feb. 22 at WORD (126 Franklin St. Brooklyn, NY). Peek: "New York Times bestselling author and WORD favorite Michelle Knudsen celebrates both her birthday and the release of her new picture book Argus (Candlewick, 2011). Sallie's class is supposed to be raising chicks as a science project, but Argus, the large, green, scaly creature that hatches from her egg, is anything but cute and fluffy. Hijinks ensue! Refreshments will be served and good times will be had." RSVP at facebook.

"Jeanette Larson: Loving the Librarian" will be at 11 a.m. March 5 at BookPeople in Austin. Sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Peek: "Librarians can do a lot to help writers and illustrators do their work and get their books into the hands of readers. Learn the secrets of librarians from a 'semi-retired' librarian who continues to work with librarians across the country to improve services to patrons and the community. While she has written extensively for libraries, her first children's book, Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas (Charlesbridge, 2011), has just been published and she is seeing the world from the other side of the library shelf!" Jeanette's book launch will follow at BookPeople at noon and include refreshments and sample art pieces. See also an interview with Jeanette and Adrienne Yorinks by Donna Bowman Bratton at Writing Down the Kidlit Page.

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Post: Sarah C. Campbell on Connecting Nonfiction to the Curriculum

By Sarah C. Campbell

I think my two picture books, Wolfsnail (2008) and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (2010)(both from Boyds Mills) are perfect for use in elementary schools. Not only are they compelling nonfiction for emerging and beginning readers, but their content fits into the science and math curricula.

My hope – and my publisher's – is that teachers will use the books in their classrooms.

One way to make this more likely is to develop educational materials, such as a teachers' guide, lessons, and activities, that teachers can readily adapt for their needs.

Many writers do the work of determining how a book fits into the curriculum before they sell a manuscript. (A strong curriculum tie-in can help an editor acquire a book.)

When it comes to creating educational materials, however, the research gets more detailed.

For example, in addition to knowing that first graders in Mississippi study the difference between living and nonliving things, I determined that they must also be able to identify specific animals that can be found in local ecosystems. Voila, Wolfsnail!

State curriculum guides are readily available online. You may also want to look at the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by at least 36 states. If you have trouble translating a curriculum into plain English, ask for help from a teacher.

Educational materials are as varied as the people who develop them. Look around at what other writers are doing. Be creative.

For Wolfsnail, the teacher's guide includes a variety of activities, from a very simple coloring page, which is perfect for bookstore and library visits, to suggestions for experiments that involve live snails. Luckily, my co-photographer (and husband), Richard P. Campbell, is an artist and was able to draw the wolfsnail for the coloring page. Don't use a generic coloring image from the Internet unless you have permission from the artist.

In addition to considerations about content, you will need to decide the form you want your materials to take. I publish mine on my website, making them available to anyone with internet access. When I go to a teachers' conference, I print a copy of my educational materials for display so teachers will know what is available online.

With Growing Patterns, my husband and I developed a web-based tutorial, complete with video, audio, and lots of color images, to explain The Fibonacci Folding Book Project, a lesson I created with a librarian friend for the 2010 International Reading Association (IRA) conference.

For a month, in conjunction with this blog post, I am making the entire video tutorial available for free. Because it is a complete professional development package, I offer it to schools that have hired me for a residency with their students and/or teachers.

Anything you can do to help teachers cover multiple objectives and/or multiple curriculum areas will make your materials attractive. For help with this, I researched model lessons on the IRA's ReadWriteThink and the Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge websites.

Though my two books are straight nonfiction, I am confident that this process is applicable to fiction, too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Post: Tricia Springstubb on Chapter Two

by Tricia Springstubb

In my first writing life, I worked in a small room with next-to-no heat but, more importantly, a door. For some reason, my children, who burst into bedroom and bathroom without hesitation, respected the door to my work room.

The top of my desk was buried under work in progress, the drawers stuffed with failed stories and rejections. Eventually, there were contracts, too.

Years later, when the children were gone, I moved downstairs, to write in a room with ample heat and no need for a door. The old workroom was abandoned, till this past summer when I decided to excavate my old desk.

It was like a dig, down to the dust and rubble, but instead of stone hammers, precious amulets or an army of terracotta soldiers, what I found were packets of carbon paper, boxes of correct-o-type, and drafts of stories which I’d revised by literally cutting and pasting (scissors, scotch tape).

A manual typewriter! I began writing seriously in the late seventies, armed with a library copy of The Writer’s Market (Writer's Digest) for submission guidelines and addresses.

Back in the day, most children's writers didn’t have agents. You just worked away, sending things “over the transom”. I submitted to Highlights, to publications now defunct, and to a then-fledgling press, Carolrhoda. When they accepted (for next to nothing, and no royalties) my first book, it was dance-of-joy time.


Eventually, I had a YA novel, Give and Take, with Little, Brown (1981), and went on to work with Delacorte and Scholastic, too. During those years of what I now think of as my first career, I published a dozen books for children.

My next door neighbor told me how she loved to hear the clickety-clack of my typewriter. When I took it to be serviced at the thriving Cleveland Typewriter Shop (now a Dollar General), the guy told me he’d never seen such a beat-up platen, and I was very proud.


Then, something happened. I still can’t say exactly what. Of course, everyone complained about the market, how our publishers were being bought up by big conglomerates, how the competition of TV (TV!) was forcing houses to be more commercial and profit-driven.

But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t only the market. It was also wanting to work harder on my adult fiction, as well as taking a new job to help put our girls through college.

Spread thin, I never quit working on children’s stuff, but I went unpublished. For a long time. Longer than, at this writing, I’ve let myself definitively calculate. I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer, but evidence grew thin.

During those years, I kept working (now on a P.C.) on a middle grade novel. I loved the setting and characters, and periodically, I’d send out a new version to one of the editors I knew or to one of the few houses still taking unsolicited manuscripts. No success. More time went by.

Meanwhile, I worked in the children’s room of an urban public library. Many of our patrons were kids from struggling families, kids who shouldered responsibilities beyond their years--cooking, minding young siblings. They did this with all the casual resilience and irrepressible mettle that kids are capable of. They were heroes.

One day I scrapped everything I’d done so far and began the novel all over. As anyone who’s done this knows, the experience was both scary and hugely exhilarating. The voice of my main character was suddenly speaking to me loud and clear. She lived on hardscrabble Fox Street, and she watched out for her little sister, the Wild Child. The heart of the story was her relationship with her widowed father, a restless man doing the best he could. I refuse to trust anyone who claims her book wrote itself, but this time, things came together.

When What Happened on Fox Street was finished, I knew I needed to re-invent my M.O. I started querying agents. One was interested. She warned it was a “quiet” book. She might not be able to sell it, but loved it enough to try.

Within a month, we were in the midst of, if not a bidding war, at least a bidding skirmish.

Oh, brave new world! My rusty beater of a writing life went from two miles an hour to pedal on the floor. The book was published last August by the stellar Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Just a few days ago, I finished the draft of a second Fox Street book. No correct-o-type. No crumpled carbon. But when I hit SEND, my heart thumped just as hard as back when I stood in line at the P.O., clutching a box swathed in brown paper and tape.

Are things really so different now? Yes. But in many happy ways, no.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Educator Interview: Nick Glass on TeachingBooks.net

Nick Glass is the founder and executive director of TeachingBooks.net. From the promotional copy:

TeachingBooks.net is an easy-to-use website that adds a multimedia dimension to the reading experiences of children's and young adult books.

Our online database is developed and maintained to include thousands of resources about fiction and nonfiction books used in the K–12 environment, with every resource selected to encourage the integration of multimedia author and book materials into reading and library activities.


Could you tell us a bit about your professional background? What led you to TeachingBooks.net?

I view TeachingBooks.net as my contribution to educational equity. I'm trying to enable everyone to learn from authors when reading their books, and online technologies can act as a marvelous equalizer.

My background leading up to the founding of TeachingBooks.net is varied -- with the common denominator that I've always been fortunate to do work that I love.

After college, I worked in Major League Baseball as an executive and stats person for the Chicago White Sox, the Office of the Commissioner, and then the San Francisco Giants.

After a few years of that, I wasn't as happy as I wished and didn't feel that I was having the societal impact that I hoped -- so I went to graduate school to study educational policy and specifically the history of multicultural education.

It was then, while I was writing my dissertation, that I started working at Pooh Corner bookstore in Madison and formed what became the vision for TeachingBooks.net.

Founded upon the premise that educators find enjoyment and professional value in seeing and hearing authors talk about their work, TeachingBooks.net tries to offer readers an interaction with authors that is similar to what happens at bookstores or conferences or school visits. We strive to change the way one relates to the book by enabling readers to learn directly from the book creator. To accomplish that, we go into authors' homes and film them. We call and record them, and we gather and aggregate quality online materials that match our collection-development policy.

In April 2000, the genesis for TeachingBooks.net took form. It debuted at the American Library Association convention in San Francisco in June 2001 and was launched on the Internet Sept. 1, 2001. TeachingBooks.net began selling licenses in November 2003 and is currently licensed in more than 25,000 schools.

Could you give us some insight into the history of the website?

I covered some of the history of the website in the text above, so here I thought I'd visually share some of the history. As you look at these four versions of our home page, I hope you can see how exciting, but also how challenging it is to display what it is we do.

The theme and mission of TeachingBooks.net has really been consistent throughout the ten years, but the visual elements certainly have varied.

Is there one that resonates with you more than others?

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2001 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2002 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2004 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2010 (above)

Why is there a need for this kind of website?

The need for me is really twofold: First, to enable educators to know how engaging and easy and appropriate it is for them to integrate online author and book resources into the work they are doing with books.

We want all teachers, for example, who are reading the books of Roald Dahl or Lois Lowry to realize that they can learn directly from these amazing authors in their classroom. So, from a pedagogical standpoint, there is this specific need and even an educational shift I'm trying to address.

Second, there is a need to organize and vet all the ever-growing materials on the Web about books and authors so that very busy teachers have exactly what they need the moment they need it. Our website is like a library, with a collection development policy that helps identify, vet, and make easily available authoritative resources about authors and books.

Who is the audience?

TeachingBooks.net is for anyone who reads, teaches, or enjoys books for children and teens. This is every student, every teacher in all content areas, any librarian, any curriculum coordinator, any university professor -- anyone who reads and enjoys thinking about books in K-12, university, and public library settings.

Could you give us a more detailed overview of resources on the site?

My hope is that the homepage can reveal much about the site -- so I'll walk you through that a bit. But also feel free to watch this 10-minute video overview.

Central to the homepage is the purple search box. TeachingBooks.net is a collection of resources about specific books and authors -- so we want users of the site to search for the book or author that they are reading. Once they do that, they'll receive in one-easy-to-use online location a collection of quality resources about that author or title -- ready for them to use.

For example, I searched on Lois Lowry's The Giver (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993) and found the more than 25 authoritative materials, including a movie filmed in Lois Lowry's home, many novel units/discussion guides, a recording of her revealing the story of her name, and audio excerpts of the book being read by her and a professional actress.

Also on the home page are featured resources that TeachingBooks.net produces with amazing authors and illustrators. These featured resources change each week, and are always free for anyone to use, if they subscribe to TeachingBooks.net or not.

Here's an image of what our featured page looks like.


What are a couple of your favorite features and why?

I love that we communicate with the most amazing authors and illustrators of today. We've had Elie Wiesel pronounce his name for us, had Maya Angelou share what inspired her to write I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings (1969), and filmed David Macaulay in his studio -- twice! We spoken to Judy Blume, Jon Sciezzka, Nancy Garden and literally almost 2,000 other authors and illustrators.

I also really like our new Curricular Uses section of the website, where we highlight specific resources that can be used in different content areas -- showcasing how and when you can infuse authors, books, and technology into all curricular areas.

You can find this section on our home page -- just look for the green chalkboard.

What are the biggest challenges to managing content? Other challenges?

The biggest challenge we have in managing online content is reviewing the material and cataloging it so that readers can easily find it. Fortunately, I'm blessed to work with gifted librarians who know how to do this, so we have established consistent related rules and procedures. You are welcome to read our collection development policy.

We also must make sure that every resource on our website goes to the link on the Web that we think it should, and for that, we've written a complicated but excellent program to ensure that our links are as reliable as possible.

What plans do you have for new features in the future?

We have many exciting enhancements coming, all of which center around helping the user of our website easily seeing how relevant and exciting it is to have the author of a book available to them, and how powerful it is to integrate multimedia into their reading and library activities.

Right now, for example, we're reorganizing the way we display search results. This is about a 1000-hour project that involves rethinking and re-envisioning the user experience in a way that I hope will be clear and exciting for all.

Much has been said about the competitive versus cooperative relationship between books and technology. Where do you see this all going?

Books are vital and marvelous. I deeply believe that books can be used in every content area in a K-12 school environment, and technology can compliment that in some marvelous and relevant ways.

TeachingBooks.net is focused on infusing technology to enable everyone to meet the author when reading the book, to let multimedia and online literacy experiences bring the book to life. I find it an exciting and relevant and vibrant relationship between books and technology.

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Voice: Catherine Stier on The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club

Catherine Stier is the first-time author of The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club (Albert Whitman, 2009). From the promotional copy:

No one at school had ever thought up a club like this. All you had to do to be in it was answer some questions and share them with the rest of the club.

Questions like: What is your favorite salad dressing? Who is your BFF? What was your most embarrassing moment?

There were plenty of reasons to be in the Tell-All Club. Kiley, T.J., Josh, and Anne each had a different motivation: One of them wanted to fit in, one wanted revenge, one had something to hide, and one of them was dying to find out another's secret.

Told in four different viewpoints, this funny, touching novel explores friendship, social pressures, bullying, and other anxieties of 'tween girls and boys alike.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

As a young reader in the 1970s [pictured], I was intrigued by fantasy, historical fiction, the post-apocalyptic novel The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson (1975) and the gritty realism of The Outsiders (1967) and other novels by S.E. Hinton.

But I also found myself turning to older books still available in the library, the lighter teen stories my mom read in the 1950s such as Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna (1946) and Double Date by Rosamond du Jardin (1951).

While these books did feature some out-of-date fashion references (I was probably not going to slip on a taffeta housecoat anytime soon), I could relate to issues of sibling rivalry, forming and maintaining friendships, contemplating the possibility of college and a career and experiencing the excitement of a first significant romantic relationship.

In creating my first novel, The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club, I remembered the importance of books that touched on the things I dealt with or anticipated in the future of my own life. Yet I hoped to address the concerns of younger readers, and I didn’t want to create a novel aimed specifically for girls. As the mother of both a son and a daughter, I felt it important to explore issues boys as well as girls face with friendships, families and trying to make sense of the world.

In my novel, four fifth-grade characters -- two girls and two boys -- begin to leave behind that little kid part of their lives. They start to structure their own identities, apart from their families. They sort out what is important to them, what they themselves believe in and stand for in their own developing value systems. They also, maybe for the first time, notice and form judgments on the flaws of family and friends. And one character, very tentatively, considers what it might be like to have a first crush, as modeled by the budding romance of an older sibling.

The book shares the viewpoints of four characters, Josh, Anne, Kiley and T.J., who try to figure out each other based on the behaviors they observe. But while the reader gets a peek at what motivates each character, the characters themselves sometimes find each other’s behavior inexplicable. That, of course, truly happens in real life, and I hope it is part of the fun of the book.

One last note: while writing the novel, I worked as a part-time substitute teacher and classroom aide. I saw how students enjoyed when teachers read aloud, yet how challenging it could be for a teacher to find a book that appealed to an entire classroom of students.

My secret daydream -- and this was before the book had been accepted for publication -- was that someday, The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club might be read aloud by a teacher to the class. Following the book’s release, I began to hear that this is exactly what happened. And, most gratifying, I was told boys sometimes ranked as the book’s biggest fans.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book?

Let me start by explaining the differences in the way I promoted my first book -- a picture book released in 1999 -- and the ideas I have for this book, a debut novel for ‘tweens, introduced some ten years later.

My 1999 title was the presidential-themed, nonfiction picture book If I Were President (Albert Whitman) that teachers still use with their classroom lesson plans.

Back then, of course, I took a very different approach to promotion for several reason. The technology wasn’t where it is today. Also, this was a picture book with a subject matter that worked well for some very specific markets.

One of my first moves was to call the White House Historical Association and ask if they might consider If I Were President as merchandise for their White House gift shop. The book had to pass a review committee, but in fact was chosen for their children’s book section. To my delight, they subsequently ordered hundreds of copies to fill their shelves.

The same thing happened with the Mount Rushmore History Association. Then the Smithsonian National Museum of American History picked up the title on their own.

Throughout the years, I’ve had the cheering experience of receiving phone calls from vacationing family and friends, who excitedly tell me they’ve found my book in local attractions’ gift shops during their travels. And one year, I was even invited to conduct a book signing at Mount Rushmore during their Independence Day celebration, when an estimated 30,000 visited the park in one day.


Now, years later, I have a website and a blog …and a ’tween novel. And I realize this kind of book requires a very different approach to publicize. My SCBWI chapter has been most helpful, hosting events that explore new media and technology for authors and illustrators. And I have learned from the example of other novelists that one way to promote a book is to have fun with some element of the title or plot.

In my debut novel, four fifth-graders each have to answer a tell-all survey of 50 questions to be part of the latest club. While I did create all 50 questions, only some were revealed in the book, both in story and in the chapter headings. The questions range from “What is in your locker right now?” to “What one thing about you would surprise people if they found out about it?”

I can see that these 50 questions may offer some unique opportunities for promotion. For example, I could tweet one question a week and invite responses from the Twitterverse. Or, perhaps, post one question a week on a blog and invite a guest children’s author to answer that question as he or she would have in fifth-grade, and as they would now. Hmmm…

My advice for other debut authors?

For picture books or novels, consider how your book might fit in the gift shops of museums, national parks, monuments, zoos, botanical gardens or other tourist attractions.

Also think about what unique elements of your book -- such as the 50 questions -- you might play up and celebrate on your website, blog, in press releases and at book signing events. Contact your local newspapers and alumni magazine.

Finally, author school visits offer a wonderful way to share your books. Research how your book might tie in with the curriculum, or relate to issues of concern to schools such as bullying. Emphasize those subjects, concepts or issues in your school programs as well as your promotional materials.
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