Friday, March 10, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Writing Past The White Gaze As A Black Author by L.J. Alonge from NPR Code Switch. Peek: "... I found a video of Toni Morrison talking about the white gaze — the assumption that the reader is white and the resulting self-consciousness in your thinking and writing. Stories you know to be true and interesting somehow become distorted and unfamiliar."

AICL's Best Books of 2016 by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Includes comics and graphic novels, board books, picture books, middle grade and young adult titles.

When Google Translate Gives You Arroz con Mango: Erroneous Espanol and the Need for #ownvoices by Celia C. Perez from the Horn Book. Peek: "The fact that these mistakes keep slipping through various cracks — from author, to editor, to copyeditor, to reviewer — speaks to the low number of Latinxs in writing, publishing, reviewing, and librarianship. And this lack of representation... has, inadvertently, become an invitation for non-Spanish-speaking authors to fill this void, even when they know little to nothing about the culture or the language." See also: Helen Wang, Winner of the 2017 Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation, interviewed by Nanette McGuiness from SCBWI: The Blog.

The #OwnVoices Gap in African-American Children's Books by K.T. Horning from the Cooperative Children's Book Center blog. Peek: "We can see that there are a whole lot of books being written about African Americans these days by people who are not African American....more significantly, this means we are not seeing African-American authors and artists being given the same opportunities to tell their own stories...." In 2016, only 71 of the 278 (25.5%) books about African-Americans were written and/or illustrated by African Americans.

Biographies: Black Women by Edi Campbell from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "It does young girls good to know that women rulers have always existed..."

Interview With Whitney Gardner about You're Welcome, Universe by Andrea Shettle & Natasha Razi from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "I was interested in refreshing my ASL while writing this book, so I hired a deaf tutor. Once a week we would meet and chat and practice ASL. She also ended up reading the book and offering her insights."

We Need Diverse Books Announces the Opening of Applications for the 2017 Internship Grants. Peek: “Five $2,500 grants are available to diverse publishing and literary agency interns. New this year, WNDB will include a metro stipend to each intern….An internship is an important gateway into positions at publishing houses and agencies, but the expense of living in New York City can be a barrier to many well qualified candidates.” See also, Free Diverse Picture Books For Elementary Schools: WNDB is giving away 30 sets of diverse picture books to elementary school libraries. Application deadline: March 15.

The Professional Writer Skill Set by Heidi Fiedler from SCBWI: The Blog. Peek: "And remember growing as a writer is about more than practicing writing. It’s about growing as a human being. So be gentle with yourself. Being human isn’t always easy."

SCBWI-Illinois Launches Diverse New Member Pathway, intended to increase diversity among children's book creators and among members of SCBWI. One winner will receive a year’s free membership in SCBWI and be guided by author Crystal Chan. See also, the SCBWI Amber Brown Grant for schools that need funding help for author visits.

Cover and excerpt from Libba Bray's new book by Dan Heching from Entertainment Weekly. Peek:"Taking place in 1920s New York City, Before the Devil Breaks You (Little Brown, Oct. 3, 2017) sees the Diviners pitted agasint a brand new malevolent force - ghosts, with mysterious and dangerous links to the Man in the Stovetop Hat."

Changes in New York Times Children's Books Coverage by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Young adult coverage in particular has increased in frequency to reflect the genre’s popularity among both teens and adults. Coverage of teen books will remain separate from children’s coverage in print, in an effort to reach more readers."

Five questions for Cynthia Levinson by Elissa Gershowitz and Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: "As I wrote, I could hear Audrey and Jan talking (in my head), so Audrey’s personality comes through. Also, the story is told in a mix of third person and first person, which allowed me to both provide background information and channel Audrey’s sass and grit."

Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel by James Scott Bell from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "While there those who say plot comes from character, I say Bosh. Character comes from plot. Why? Because true character is only revealed in crisis."

The Daily Practice of Growing Your Audience by Dan Blank from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "I frame the process as crafting a gateway that leads people to your writing, opening the gate to your ideal readers, and then leading them through your gateway in meaningful ways. It is a process filled with joy, not spammy marketing tactics." See also: Help From the Pros: Book Tour Tips by Greer Macallister from Writer UnBoxed.
Una Belle Townsend

Congratulations to author Una Belle Townsend! The Riverside Elementary School Library in El Reno, Oklahoma; was recently named in her honor. Una Belle taught at the school and successfully wrote grants that helped expand the library. She is the author of seven books, including Grady's in the Silo, illustrated by Bob Artley (Pelican, 2003), winner of the Oklahoma Book Award.

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Screening Room



More Personally - Cynthia

Last week, I mentioned trimming 15,000 words from my novel in progress. This week, I'm writing new scenes. Whereas the previous plot was all about character, this is where getting to know those fictional people pays off in plot--I hope. Cross fingers for me, Cynsational readers!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be a keynote speaker for the 33rd Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on April 6 and April 7 at Kent State University in Ohio.

In addition, she will deliver the keynote address at The Color of Children's Literature Conference from Kweli Literary Journal on April 8 at the New York Times Conference Center in Manhattan.

Also teaching Highlights workshop: Uma Krishnaswami!
She is also a faculty member for the Highlights Foundation Workshop: The Joke's On You! The Scoop on Humor for MG and YA writers, Oct. 12 - 15. She will teach with author Uma Krishnaswami, writer-poetic-comedian Sean Petrie and Curtis Brown Ltd. agents Ginger Knowlton and Elizabeth Harding. Note: this program is: (a) a rare opportunity to gain insights from top writing teachers and Curtis Brown vice presidents: (b) both for comedy writers and those writing more serious works that include some comic relief.

Personal Links
More Personally - Gayleen

I enjoyed a great literary lunch with Anne Bustard and Varsha Bajaj followed by an afternoon of writing. We were having so much fun talking books and stories, that I forgot to take pictures....

Personal Links

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Guest Post: Susanna Reich & Gary Golio on Social Justice, Music & Picture Book Biographies

Susanna Reich and Gary Golio, photo by Laura Golio
By Susanna Reich and Gary Golio
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From intern Gayleen Rabakukk

The power of music to inspire action is explored in two non-fiction picture books out this month: Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Bloomsbury, March 2017) and Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb (Millbrook Press, March 2017).

Husband and wife authors Susanna Reich and Gary Golio interviewed each other about the songs and inspiration behind their new books. 

Gary: Why a book about Pete?

Susanna: Pete Seeger had long been on my list of possible subjects when my agent connected me with Mary Kate Castellani, an editor at Bloomsbury. Her enthusiasm for Pete fired me up, and soon I was burning through every book I could find by and about him.

The fun of researching a musician, of course, lies in the perfect excuse it gives you to watch music videos on YouTube when you're supposedly "working."


Susanna: Where did you get the idea to write about the song "Strange Fruit"?

Gary: In this case, I was fascinated by the story of how three people--the songwriter (Abel Meeropol), the singer (Billie Holiday), and the club owner (Barney Josephson)--each played their part in bringing a unique work of art--the anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit"--to the world.

Collaboration is often overlooked in the process of artmaking, yet the debut of this remarkable song depended completely on a combination of talents and resources.



Gary: Reading your book, it's clear that you felt a strong personal connection to Pete, his music, and the work he did. Did you ever see or hear him in person?

Susanna: If you grew up in the Hudson Valley in the mid-20th century, it would have been hard not to hear Pete sing. He was constantly performing at local libraries, summer camps, waterfront festivals and political rallies.

I always knew that he and I had in common a love of the Hudson River, and that we both came from musical families with left-leaning politics.

As I did my research, my appreciation for him really grew. He was fierce and uncompromising in his dedication to the causes he believed in and had an amazing gift for bringing people together and lifting them up with music.

Susanna: So what's your personal connection to Billie, Abel, Barney, and the song they brought into the world? By way of collaboration: how do you find a balance as an author between expressing your own vision and working with an illustrator and editor to make a picture book?

Also by Charlotte
Gary: Fortunately for me, the process of creating a book thwarts my natural If I Were King impulse, and the books are all the better for it. You have to become part of an orchestra.

Fortunately, I've also had great editors (like Carol Hinz) and illustrators (like Charlotte Riley-Webb), who aren't afraid of bold subjects.

As for my connection with Abel, Billie, and Barney, I've always considered myself an outsider, and there's nothing that irks me more than injustice directed against a group of innocent people. The good news is that something like a song can address injustice, and even catalyze social change.

Gary: So Pete was a pretty self-effacing guy - what do you think he'd make of your book, and being the heroic subject of a bio for kids?

Susanna: I think he would've been okay with it, since the point of the book isn't to turn him into a hero but to show how he used music in pursuit of social justice.

He played a role in the great social movements of the 20th century--speaking out for unions and civil rights, opposing McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, advocating for the environment and an end to nuclear arms. This is history that kids need to know, and understanding how he combined art and politics is important and timely.

Susanna: Your book shows the intersection of art and politics too. What do you hope kids will take away from it?

Gary: That people need each other to make something bigger than themselves.

Look at Charlotte Riley-Webb's images for the book--I truly believe that Billie would be immensely gratified to see a woman artist promoting the message of "Strange Fruit" with brushes and paint. Art is storytelling, and Charlotte's work speaks to our time, both as Art and Politics.

Illustration by Charlotte Riley-Webb from Strange Fruit

Susanna: Speaking of art, I especially appreciate illustrator Adam Gustavson's attention to period detail in Stand Up and Sing!, and his brilliant idea to create a background texture reminiscent of a calfskin banjo head.

His exquisite paintings really enhance the emotional impact of the text and make a beautiful music all their own.

Illustration by Adam Gustavson from Stand Up and Sing!

Cynsational Notes

Susanna Reich has been writing books for children since 1994. Her first book, Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso (Clarion, 1999) won an Orbis Pictus Honor, was an ALA Notable and Best Book for Young Adults and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. She's also written biographies of dancer Jose Limon, artist George Catlin and the Beatles, as well as two MG novels. Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, illustrated by Amy Bates (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012) was named a CCBC Choices Best Book of the Year and received critical acclaim. Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice has been named a Junior Library Guild selection.

Gary Golio gravitates to musical subjects for his picture book biographies. His first book, Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow, A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Clarion, 2010) became a New York Times Bestseller and was named to the Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books for the Year. His other titles include When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan, illustrated by Marc Burckhardt (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011), Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane's Musical Journey, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (Clarion, 2012) and Bird and Diz: Two Friends Create Bebop, illustrated by Ed Young (Candlewick, 2015), named an ALA Notable book and Junior Library Guild Selection. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song received a starred review from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Author Interview: N. Griffin on Creativity, Mysteries and Writing a Series

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

N. Griffin is the author of Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop, illustrated by Kate Hindley (Candlewick, 2016). The cheerful middle grade mystery is the second in a series featuring a diverse pair of clever student detectives.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

My favorite thing about being an author is that I get to spend great hanks of time in my pajamas. I have discussed this before elsewhere, but I do think it’s worth mentioning again that I always wear complete suits that make me feel like I am Lucy Ricardo.

I think pajamas are one of the great gifts of civilization and rue the day the hostess pajama fell out of fashion.

The other part about being an author I love is that I get to think up people and then spend great hanks of time with them (in my pajamas).

I always feel so much love toward my characters, even the ones that are tough to like, and that makes me feel lucky.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you? 

Good coffee cup because it is huge and fits
a lot of coffee and has a pig on it. I love pigs.
Generally I write in the early early (and I mean early, like four) hours of the morning because that is when my body insists on waking up and subsequently that is when there is coffee a’brewing.

I always wake up ready and clearheaded and in a good mood, so that’s the best time for me to be productive.

On a good day, and I mean a really good one, when the writing is going well and the good coffee cup is clean and ready to use and I feel a song in my heart, I’ll write all day.

On a bad day, I will poke at the keyboard with one finger in a maddish, desultory way and give up after an hour.

I firmly believe you have to give it an hour. I have a wonderful study to write in but usually wind up crouched on the floor on the living room with dogs walking all over my papers and keyboard.

Somehow that spot tricks me into writing better than the quiet of the study.  Though I love my study.


Could you tell us about your new release? 

I surely can! It’s called Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop and it came out in December with Candlewick Press.

SMcPatMotMG is the sequel to Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of Room 11 (Candlewick, 2015). A tale of third-grade sleuthery in which the hectic, kind-hearted Smashie and her level-headed, intelligent best friend, Dontel, work together to solve the mystery of their missing class pet.

In this sequel (you don’t have to have read the first one to enjoy the second), Smashie and Dontel are in hot pursuit of a thief who is taking their special hair goop—goop that is integral to the Third Grade Hair Extravaganza and Musicale their class is putting on.

This Goop lengthens and molds the hair into the wild styles they need for the show and even as they investigate the disappearance of the goop, Smashie and Dontel are hard at work choreographing sixties go-go dances to go along with the numbers in the musicale. So they have a lot on their plates.

I got the idea for the book from lots of places.

I always knew I wanted to do a book with hairstyles in it because haircutting has usurped flower-selling as my fantasy occupation when writing is not going well for me.

And it was also partly inspired by a hair guy I used to go to who was just terrible. I came home after every cut looking like he’d chewed my hair off in chunks with his own teeth. But he told great stories while he hacked at my head so I kept going. For years.

And it turned out to be worth it because I gave those bad haircutting skills to the mother of Charlene. Charlene herself is one of the characters at the forefront of the story because she helped her mother invent the wondrous goop the class needs for the show.



Also I wanted to do a book that would involve code-cracking (there is code-cracking in the book, too. It is a very packed book) and thought it would be hilarious to pair that thinkiness with sixties go-go dancing.

What appeals to you about the mystery genre? 

I love writing mysteries because the structure of them is so clear and that helps me as a writer because plotting is such a big challenge for me. Also I love mysteries and clues and sleuthing and truths being unveiled at the end. It is a very satisfying genre. I like to think I am preparing the next generation for Nero Wolfe (the oldest ones in that series. Not the later ones where Archie becomes sort of womanizy).

You've written for both YA and MG - were there any challenges in shifting to write for younger readers? 

Nicole is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Not at all!

 I had so much fun writing Smashie and found it worlds easier than writing YA, probably because the Smashie books, while they have their sticky situations, are in the main very cheerful and my YA tends to be less so.

Smashie is a bit less taxing on the soul.

What are the craft challenges of writing series books? What are the craft benefits of writing series books? 

Craft challenges abound. In mysteries, anyway, once you’ve set your sleuths up to be in a particular third grade class, suspects become limited unless you take that class places where there are other people (that was a hint about the forthcoming third Smashie book!)

But the benefits far outweigh any plot finagling that needs to happen because I love Room 11 and spending time with those children and their wonderful teacher, Ms. Early. So I can get right into the writing and I know how everyone will react to things and that part is the easy part of writing, which is good that there is an easy part since everything else about writing is so challenging for me!

Can we look forward to more books in the Smashie series?

Yes, indeed! As I said above, there is a third one coming and, while I tend to keep pretty mum about upcoming projects, I will say there is a rocket in it.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus said Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop "subtly attacks stereotypes with her (Griffin's) multi-ethnic group of hugely likable kids. Dontel's dad is a dentist, and a Latina student's mom is a patent attorney - a fact that also figures into the plot."

N. Griffin is the author of The Whole Stupid Way We Are (Atheneum, 2013), for which she was named one of Publishers Weekly's Flying Start Authors of 2013, as well as the Smashie McPerter series from Candlewick.

She received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside of Boston with a crew of canine companions.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Author Videos: Angie Thomas on The Hate U Give

Compiled by Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Check out these videos from debut author Angie Thomas on The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins, 2017). Peek: "I was inspired to write the novel in 2010, right after the Oscar Grant case...I wanted a way to find hope and I wanted to show the human side of all these cases. I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times, they show us a side of the world that we may not have known about."





Cynsational Notes

The Hate U Give received a starred review from Kirkus. Peek: "Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor." It's also received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal.

Discussion Guide is available for teachers.

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University. The Hate U Give is her first YA novel.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on "Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy"

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I’ve been musing about what project I will work on next. Of my numerous ideas, which will take me into the challenging and blissful intellectual, emotional, psychological environment that I’ve been in for more than two years with my middle grade novel in verse, now on submission through my agent?

While I’ve written and revised it many, many times without having the thought of whether or not it would ever be published hovering close to me, now that it’s with an agent, it’s pretty hard to keep it on a back burner.

Of course, not knowing whether or not it’s truly “finished” inhibits me some from beginning a big, new project. And I also tend to rock gently in the hammock the wonderful Norman Lear has described – one that exists in the space between “over” and “next.”

But I try to tell myself the truth – the whole truth – about what I’m going through. It’s best for me, and it’s the best way to communicate with readers of my posts.

And when I wonder with interest (not judgment) about what keeps me from moving forward with a new, intense project, I know that it’s partly because the experience is not just meaningful and joyful. 

It’s also scary.

Because the best of my work includes letting myself sink deeply into the inner life of my character, and her longings, pains, struggles, become my own. That feels wonderful…and also pretty uncomfortable at times.

And I don’t think that’s unusual for us writers. Because the writing I love – others’ writing – takes me to those profoundly intense (joyful and painful) places, too.

As I was musing, an SCBWI-Illinois colleague, Darcy Zoells, posted on our listserv about her new etsy shop – Perilous Places.

The name sent an electric shiver from my stomach to my brain and back down again. “Perilous Places” – what a wonderful, intriguing, serendipitous title for what I had on my mind!

I clicked on Darcy’s link and immediately saw this:


I fell in love, and in my mind, heard the words, “perilous places” as I stared at, and then purchased, the beautiful print. This piece captures the peril and the joy of taking risks, and I could afford to own it.

Because I felt such an instant kinship with this piece of Darcy’s work, I asked her if she’d answer some questions for this guest post about entering that wonderful and yet scary place.

I love her comfort with the process of creating without knowing exactly where she may be headed. Here’s some of what she told me about Morning, which is the actual title of the work above.

Darcy Zoells
The piece, Morning, that you’re referring to, is one of a series that I am working on in collaboration with Dutch composer Sebastian Huydts. These are illustrations for his CD, Delicias de Blancanieves, which is a series of what he calls “Spanish fairy tales for the piano.” Though the title translates to “Snow White’s Delight,” he has said that it’s not referring to any specific fairy tales, so I approached the music with a mind wide open to possibility. 

As an illustrator, I’m always telling a story. In this case, I had no text to start with, only the music, which is infused with Spanish character, so I started looking at visual motifs from Barcelona or Spain (architecture, tiles, fabric). 

I also watched Spanish films. The whole time I was sketching. I kept coming back to the imp and the girl with the wheel. 

There are so many opposites in this image and I guess that reflects a certain philosophy of balance. Life is delicate. There’s a sense of hope, but the figure is also on a precipice. 

I didn’t think of this at the time, but looking at it now, it seems to me that one character is dealing with internal struggles and the other with external challenges. 

I’m still not sure what my next project will be, and I’m not sure from where or when the moments of perilous experience for the sake of joy will come. It’s impossible to know, or to plan.

But Darcy’s work hanging above my desk, reminding me that I want it to be a perilous and joyful place, and that deep work does not allow one without the other.

Darcy’s words express another belief that accompanies the longing to be deeply involved in the intensity (comfortable and uncomfortable) of deep writing – a receptive mind and a comfort with the journey, knowing that it may be uncomfortable and joyful:

Although I have taken classes, I don’t have…art school training, so I don’t think I learned any rules. In many ways this has made my way more difficult and longer. However, sometimes when you don’t have a roadmap and you get lost, you find yourself in a more interesting place than you could have imagined in the beginning. 

So my journey toward the next project continues, into the scary for the sake of joy.

Cynsational Notes

Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and works at an extraordinary early childhood center.
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