Saturday, September 09, 2017

In Memory: Michael Bond

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Author Michael Bond died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Obituary: Michael Bond by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Bond, widely known for his books starring the duffle-coat-donning Paddington bear, died at his home in London following a brief illness. He was 91."

Veronica Horwell wrote in The Guardian of Paddington's beginnings. Peek: "He bashed out the bear opus in 10 days in the spring of 1957 on a typewriter in a tiny flat off Portobello Road." At the time, Bond was a television cameraman for the BBC and was inspired by the last toy on Selfridges' shelves the previous Christmas eve.

His story was rejected by seven publishers before Collins (now HarperCollins) paid him £75 for A Bear Called Paddington, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum (Williams Collins, 1958).

Bond went on to write 13 sequels which have sold an estimated 35 million copies and were translated into 40 different languages. It inspired a BBC television show and a motion picture in 2014, with a sequel due out this winter.

Colin Dwyer, writing for NPR, reports Bond "published more than 200 books." A statement from HarperCollins UK said, "Michael was a giant of children's literature."




Friday, September 08, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Interview: Mitali Perkins on You Bring the Distant Near by Elissa Gershowitz and Anatasia M. Collins from The Horn Book. Peek: "You say Ranee is a tricky character to love, but the USA, too, can be tricky to love for new arrivals like her. (Not so for me. I loved America from the time our plane landed at JFK airport.)"

"Change Happens When Enough People Demand It" by Debbie Reese from The Horn Book. Peek: "Native children...know about their tribal government, and they know that our stories and ceremonies aren’t simply entertainment." Cyn Note: Please read and reflect on Debbie's comments about traditional stories, the sovereignty of Native Nations and proactively advocating for positive change.

Writers, Protect Your Inner Life by Lan Samantha Chang from Literary Hub. Peek: "...publishing is only the beginning of the journey of learning to navigate the world as a public writer, which is the opposite of making art, and it requires learning to protect that inner self from which the art emerged in the first place."

What Belongs on an Author Website Homepage: Four Key Elements from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Since visitors to your site may not linger for more than 7 seconds at your site, it’s important to focus on what visitors should remember about you (or your work) after they leave."

Making Characters Stuck in the Background Stand Out by September C. Fawkes from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...you’ll need to flesh her out and give her some legitimate flaws that pertain to the story, instead of just flaws that are endearing side notes."

Better and Verse by Padma Venkatraman from Dr. Brickman's YA Wednesday. Peek: "A verse novel, to me is a hybrid form – a style of expression where lyricism is incredibly important; where poetic elements (such as rhythm) have a far greater role to play than they do in prose. However, unlike lyric poems that are emotional or intellectual snapshots that do not seek to tell stories, verse novels must tell stories."

Candlewick to Publish Walker Books in U.S. by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "While it’s too soon to mention specific titles that will appear on the new Walker Books U.S. list, Lotz noted that it will be a place for more commercial titles than Candlewick typically publishes. Not that Candlewick doesn’t continue to publish a number of bestsellers."

Author Ann Dee Ellis Hits the Jackpot with New Middle Grade Novel by Ann Cannon from The Salt Lake Tribune. Peek: "I write about kids on the fringes because those are the stories I’m drawn to. Even when I was young, I liked to read about kids who struggled, kids who overcame the odds, kids who did things that adults never dreamed they could."

Author-Illustrator Interview: Laura Logan from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "you can infuse creativity into all parts of your life. Into your cooking, your marriage, how you play with your children, how you choose to live your life. I think when I take the time to do those creative things that recharge me, everyone is getting a better version of me too."

How The Heroine Of ‘Ella Enchanted’ (Accidentally) Became A Feminist Icon by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "In Carson Levine’s hands, the tale of a sweet, beautiful girl who slaves thanklessly for her evil stepmother and -sisters became the story of a rebellious, unremarkable-looking young woman, Ella of Frell, cursed to obedience by a daffy fairy."

Young People's Poet Laureate: Margarita Engle from The Poetry Foundation. Peek: "Awarded by the Poetry Foundation for a two-year term, the Young People’s Poet Laureate aims to raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them."

Blasting Best Friend Stereotypes by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "Imagine sidelining your protagonist and giving Bestie the ball. It’s her book now. Write scenes with her as the lead. What new traits, interests, flaws, and goals would she reveal when it’s all on her shoulders?"

Neal Porter Moves Imprint to Holiday House by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Acclaimed children’s publisher Neal Porter, currently publisher of Neal Porter Books at Macmillan Children’s Book Group, will join Holiday House as v-p and publisher of Neal Porter Books, effective September 18."

On Writing, Sexual Harrassment & Being an Example by Corey Ann Haydu from BookRiot. Peek: "My heart broke a little for those girls, who felt they had to apologize for actions that were not their own, for things that might be happening to them, for things they themselves are trying to understand and unpack and survive."

The Experience that Inspired Poet Kwame Alexander to Open a Library in Ghana by Tamra Bolton from Parade. Peek: "When Alexander learned that the school had only one book for 200 children, he was incredulous. 'I couldn’t believe it.' He donated the Acoustic Rooster book to the school and from that small beginning, a seed was planted."

If Children's Authors Ruled the World by Deborah Underwood from Publishers Weekly. Peek: " Every book, every character we write or draw requires us to walk in the shoes of another. And empathy allows us to see complexity."

How to Give a Literary Reading by Bill Ferris from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "This is your time. Remind people to turn off the ringers on their phones. Block the exits–nobody gets out of here until you say so." Note: Also, time yourself in practice to finish a little early.

Sensitivity Readers: What We Do, What to Expect & How to Work With Us by Yamile Mendez from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I make marginal comments with my initial reactions to the manuscript. I also include a detailed letter, explaining my comments and if needed, delving deeper into my feedback. I devote a two-week reading period for each project, sometimes longer depending on the length of the manuscript."

Dear Fellow White Christian Writers from Shannon Hale. Peek: "I want to offer some context for perhaps thinking about #ownvoices in a new way. Analogies are never perfect and can easily backfire, but hopefully this will be a beneficial exercise."

Author Interview: Cindy Pon from Rich In Color. Peek: "I really wanted to bring the city alive for readers, I wanted Taipei to be a character in itself."

The Audacity of Equality in Lisa Yee’s “Stanford Wong” Flunks Big Time by Jane Song from Metiza. Peek: "Not every Asian-American story has to be tragic. There’s something heartwarming about the radical normalcy of Stanford Wong."

Ibi Zoboi On Literacy and Her Work with Haitian American Teens by Jennifer Baker from School Library Journal. Peek: "Their reality is erased. There’s a certain narrative that is being perpetuated over and over again, and even at 14 and 15, they’re still taking that in. If they don’t have the critical skills to challenge those narratives, they continue to consume it."

On Creativity: Nikki Grimes from Karen Cushman. Peek: "Literature and art are powerful tools. With them, we can promote peace, plant seeds of empathy and compassion, and encourage right action."

Ten Ways to Show Your Characters Emotions by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Introvert, extrovert, or in between, all characters have a bubble of personal space that allows them to feel safe. This area may widen or narrow, depending on how the character feels."

Why The Collectors of Kidlit Need to Diversify by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Most of us, I’d warrant, are unfamiliar with the world of the children’s book collectors. They’re a very specific group with, insofar as my research has indicated over the years, no overarching organization aside from that of general book collectors."

Picture Book Magic (& a little quiz) from Jane Buchanan, who is now teaching the online Picture Book Intensive at Writers.com. Peek: "There’s a synergy between words and pictures–just the right words, just the right pictures–that creates a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts."

Gulf Coast Hurricane & Flood Relief

Order a set of 2 for $10 to support the TLA Disaster Relief Fund.
Please support hurricane and flood relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.


This Week at Cynsations



More Personally - Cynthia

What a summer! I'm honored to be a contributor to Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman--published in July by Athetheum!

I also had the honor of returning to teach the summer residency of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Our latest, greatest news includes the hiring of author Varian Johnson to the faculty and the extension through 2020 of the Angela Johnson Scholarship for New Students of Color or Ethnic Minority, sponsored by Barry Goldblatt of Goldblatt Literary.

Thanks to Kansas-Missouri SCBWI for inviting me to lead your novel workshop at KU Regents Center in late July. Best wishes with your manuscripts and good luck with submission. It was a joy reading your work and getting to know you all. See also the "Middle of the Map" Conference Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 in Overland Park, Kan.

Thank you, Children's Defense Fund! It was an honor to speak on a panel with Floyd Cooper, Lulu Delacre and Deborah Hopkinson, moderated by Rudine Sims Bishop in Knoxville in June.

Deborah, Floyd, Rudine, me and Lulu on stage.

Huge congrats to the VCFA summer '17 grads (AKA "The Dead Post-Its Society.")

Honored to be mentioned!
On the writing front, I finished the revision of my YA manuscript and sent it off to my Candlewick editor. Huge thanks to Gayleen for reading it aloud to me during the polishing stage! I hugely appreciate you.

What else? Look for my article "100 Books" in the August issue of Kirkus Reviews ("the diversity issue"). Peek: "Before trying to write any character outside one's lived experience, I recommend reading at least 100 books by authors from that community. One hundred books--to start." Note: I make the same recommendation to gatekeepers, especially reviewers and members of award committees.

Lovely to see my Native children's titles recommended at Social Justice Books: A Teaching For Change Project!

On a somber note, my deepest sympathies to Louisiana author Dianne de las Casas's family, friends and fans. She was a bright spirit, a leader in the children's book community and a tremendous writing talent. Cynsations will reflect more on her memory in days to come.

Register now for The Joke’s On You: The Scoop on Humor, Middle Grade Through Young Adult with faculty Uma Krishnaswami and Cynthia Leitich Smith and special guests: author-comedian Sean Petrie and literary agents Elizabeth Harding and Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania.

Uma Krishnaswami
See also Cynthia Leitich Smith and Uma Krishnaswami: A Conversation about Humor from The Highlights Foundation. Peek: "If the reader laughs with the protagonist, the distance between them has been erased. The make-believe adventure is a truly felt vicarious experience."

10 Diverse YA Books You’ll Want to Read Now by Angie Manfredi from Ideas + Inspiration from Demco. Peek regarding Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013): "Leitich [Smith] masterfully uses the human world’s reaction to shifters to discuss issues of autonomy, sovereignty and freedom. Of course the series is also packed with romance, humor, mysteries and plenty of paranormal shapeshifting action."

50 Crucial Feminist YA Novels by Kayla Whaley from BNTeenBlog. Note: I'm honored to see my debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) included on this terrific list.

Congratulations to the Writers' League of Texas Book Award winners and finalists!

Personal Links
More about this title from Salina Bookshelf!


More Personally - Gayleen

In addition to spending time with my family, walks in the woods and seeing movies, I did lots of reading and writing over the summer.

Gayleen and Donna with nonfiction picture book students at The Writing Barn.
I was also honored to be the teaching assistant for Donna Jannell Bowman's class on nonfiction picture books at The Writing Barn (WB) here in Austin. Our six-week class was chock full of fascinating information about what makes this category tick - from angle to structure to voice.

And Donna was a phenomenal and inspiring guide - her debut picture book, Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016) won two more awards while our class was underway: the 2016 Writer's League of Texas Book Award in the picture book category and the Carter G. Woodson Award Honor from the National Council for Social Studies.

I wrote a post on Nature and Creativity for the WB Blog. Peek: "After only five minutes in a natural setting, heart rates slow, facial muscles relax and the brain’s frontal lobe begins to quiet down. These factors have been shown to boost productivity and creativity."

Beginning Monday, I'll be the teaching assistant for Cate Berry's six-week course, Perfecting the Picture Book I at The Writing Barn.

Personal Links

Thursday, September 07, 2017

New Voice: Leah Henderson on One Shadow On the Wall

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Leah Henderson is the debut author of One Shadow On the Wall (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, June 6, 2017). From the promotional copy:

An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father in this captivating debut novel laced with magical realism.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. 


But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. 

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Their endless imaginations.

The imagination of a child is unparalleled. They are willing to take journeys many adults are not. They have a critical eye and I love that they will question anything that doesn’t seem quite right. Young readers challenge writers to be better in ways most adult readers never could or would.

So, I write for children because I want every child to see their inherent potential through their own imaginations, their varied possibilities, and to encourage them to believe they can be the stars of their own adventures. I write for them because I want every child to experience the diversity of our world.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

During a trip to Senegal, I saw a young boy sitting on a beach wall and wondered what his day might be like. 

I had no idea at the time I would try to create a story out of that question. But all through the day, the image of that boy sitting tall on that crumbling wall stayed with me. And when I saw him again later, a short story started to form. 

Of course I had no clue where it was going, but that didn’t matter. I was curious about his experiences that were probably so different from mine (though I did also wonder what might’ve been the same) and attempted to recreate a snippet of an imagined day. 

It really wasn’t meant to go any further than the ten pages I ended up writing, but one of my graduate school professors read it and had another idea. Regardless of my doubts, she thought it should be a novel. And so the journey began . . .

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

The main challenge was believing I could tell this story about a boy and a circumstance I knew little about. I did not want to assume I knew this young boy’s life or what his dreams looked like. 

I did not want to do harm. We have had enough of that in books already. 

What would you have done differently?

Surprisingly, not much. 

The journey I’ve taken in creating this book, with all its pitfalls, frustrations, smiles, and tears, is the journey we were meant to take together. 

But I do wish I could have whispered in my own ear long, long ago to trust the wonder of revision, to be kinder to myself about my writing, and to get out of my own way so the story could figure itself out. That would have been a tremendous treasure back then!


As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story?

I think more than anything I brought a level of compassion and fear to this project that some who have not seen themselves misrepresented in books time and time again might not understand. 

I was overly mindful of the damage that could be done if I did not take the time to do the research, ask questions, and have people of the Senegalese community read my words.

Every day that I worked on this story, I reminded myself how important it is for kids who look, sound, and live like my characters do to be able to hold their heads high when they read my words or see someone else reading them. 

I do not want them to feel like caricatures as we have in so many other instances. 

I want them to feel as if they really are seeing themselves on the page and can be proud of what they see.

As an MFA in Writing graduate, how did that experience impact your literary journey?

Writing can be a very solitary experience, so to instantly be a part of a community that understood what I was feeling—my apprehensions, my need to write, my love of stories—it was wonderful. 

I didn’t have to explain to anyone why I stayed glued to my chair all day writing when no one was forcing me to. Or why I was picking out clothes for a character I had created in my mind (okay, sometimes I still had to explain that one), but for the most part, I entered into a community that instantly understood and welcomed me in. 

The level of support, encouragement, and instruction I received was priceless. In a way, my experience gave me a (much needed) nod that it was okay to try and tell my stories.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews said, "In her debut, Henderson paints a detailed picture of life in Senegal. The author’s experience, research, and sensitivity shine, making this distinctive novel a valuable addition to the literature."

Leah Henderson has always loved stories—short ones, long ones, sad ones, funny ones, and all those in between. 

When she is not frantically scribbling down the adventures of the characters jabbering in her head, she is off on her own adventures. Traipsing around the globe, venturing down meandering paths, soaking up the vibrancy of tantalizing souks and making lasting friendships. 

Many of the hopes, struggles, and traditions she witnesses on her travels find a home in her stories and color her and her characters’ lives.

Leah holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University and calls Washington, D.C. home.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

In Memory: Jill McElmurry

By Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

 Author-illustrator Jill McElmurry died in August while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Obituary: Jill McElmurry by Jill Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator Jill McElmurry...died of breast cancer on August 3, at her home in Taos, N.M. She was 62 years old.

"...McElmurry illustrated more than 20 picture books, of which she also wrote four. Her most widely known collaboration was with author Alice Schertle on the bestselling Little Blue Truck series. The read-aloud favorite has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into 10 languages."

Jill McElmurry died Aug. 3 at her home in Taos from The Ely Echo. Peek: "McElmurry attended the State University of New York at Purchase and the School of Visual Arts in New York City...From 1992 to 1998, she and her husband owned and operated Nutglade Station, a hotel, cafe and bar; while there, she began writing and illustrating children’s books, a lifelong dream. "

Obituary Note: Jill McElmurry from Shelf Awareness. Peek: "McElmurry began her career working for 20 years as an editorial illustrator, creating art for magazines, book covers, posters and design projects in the U.S. and Germany. She then turned her attention to children's books, fulfilling her dream of being an author and illustrator. Her first book, Mad About Plaid, was published in 2000."

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Children's-YA Literature Community Joins in Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

Gayleen Rabakukk
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Last week, I ached seeing the images of flooding and devastation in Houston and surrounding areas along the Gulf coast. With reports of record-setting high water also came amazing stories of people helping each other. I couldn't be more proud of my newly-adopted state!

For those in the kidlit community, once the immediate needs of food and shelter are met, the next priority is books. Our community has stepped up with aplomb to meet that challenge.

This post outlines a few of the initial efforts to restock libraries and classrooms in the affected areas. As we learn of other recovery projects, we'll be sharing those with you in the coming weeks and months. In a recent press release, the Texas Library Association said the most accurate metaphor for this recovery might be an "ultra-marathon combined with an ultra-triathalon."

Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston has made it easy for those who would like to donate books to be delivered to shelters and affected libraries in the greater Houston by purchasing a gift card online and marking it as "Hurricane Harvey Books."

Complete instructions can be found on the Hurricane Harvey Relief page on their website. If you live outside the area, this not only saves you shipping costs, but also contributes to the Houston economy - a positive impact that's greatly appreciated right now.

On Saturday, the store was featured on Harper Collins Book Studio 16, the video store tour with owner Valerie Koehler is available here.

Author-illustrator Bob Shea promoted Blue Willow's donation efforts by offering to send a unicorn drawing to each person who donated at least $20 over the holiday weekend.

Author Kate Messner organized the KidLit Cares Auction to benefit the Red Cross and Global Giving relief efforts for those affected by the hurricane. Agents, editors, authors and illustrators donated manuscript critiques, author visits, books and other services for the winning bidders who will make donations directly to either of the relief funds. In all there are 201 entries in the auction; bidding on some items ends Sept. 5, but others continue through Sept. 7.


Second-grade teacher Kathryn Mills of Katy, Texas organized the Hurricane Harvey Book Club on Facebook with the goal of giving her students a distraction while they were stuck in their homes or shelters. Since then the group has grown to include more than 72,000 members from all over the world, with adults and children reading books in English, Spanish and sign language. As word of the Book Club spread, it's been featured in national media and Publishers Weekly.

Kathryn shared this message with the group members and gave us permission to publish it on Cynsations.

"The publishers have been so gracious and sweet. They have been amazingly supportive of this precious book club, understanding and knowing that it was a project for a season and a reason.  
"Thank you does not seem enough for the companies who allowed this project to even exist. This project started as a heart project, a small grain of sand and it grew into a mighty mission. It became a vessel for readers of all ages to come together from all over the world, simply for the love of people and the love of reading. This little book club allowed a gentle distraction for some and an act of service for others."

She announced the Facebook group will end on Sept. 10, but she has challenged the members to "grow friendships through the pages of your books" by setting up book clubs in communities, schools and playgroups. "There is love and joy in the pages of books."

Many teachers and students in the Houston area will be going back to school Sept. 11.

Kathryn told us, "My school and classroom fared very well. I am so glad that other flooded schools have been able to make connections for donations and support on this page."

The Book Club's T-shirt fundraiser has raised more than $22,000 to replace books lost during the hurricane. Sales benefit Books Between Kids, a non-profit in Houston founded in 2012 to put books in the hands of children. T-shirt sales will continue through Sept. 13.

After Sept. 10, the Hurricane Harvey Book Club will continue on Twitter as @HHarveyBookClub as forum "to bring joy & normalcy to so many currently dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey through storytelling."


The Texas Library Association's Disaster Relief Fund directly assists libraries through grant awards to aid in recovery efforts. Since TLA operates as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. Coloring books including illustrator artwork benefiting the Disaster Relief Fund are also available for purchase.

The Texas Book Festival has compiled Ways to Help After Hurricane Harvey. Peek: "Best-selling YA author Marie Lu (a headlining author at the 2017 Texas Teen Book Festival), as well as Leigh Bardugo, Joelle Charbonneau, and Kevin Hearne are pledging matching donations to and running the campaign for the Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund."

The Houston SCBWI Conference set for Oct. 7 & and Oct. 8 at the Marriott Houston Westchase will take place as planned.

Regional advisor Vicki Sansum let us know that the hotel had no damage during the storm and all scheduled speakers will be attending.

"Locally though, many of our members had their houses flooded which is heartbreaking," Vicki said. "To lose the majority or all of your possessions is overwhelming to say the least.

"Our keynote speaker is Bruce Coville who has published over 100 books. He is also giving a three-hour novel-writing intensive on Sunday called 'At the Corner of Plot and Character.' We are excited to have Bruce as a speaker, he is passionate about writing for kids and is generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise. His series Aliens Ate My Homework (Aladdin, 1993) is being made into a live-action movie with William Shatner."
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