Sunday, June 10, 2018

P.S. Shout-outs for Your Summer Reading List

By Traci Sorell & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Wait! Did you think we could take a break without highlighting a few more books?

Before signing off, we asked a few children's-YA authors what makes their book a terrific summer read. These are soon-to-be released titles, so we haven't read them ourselves and look forward to taking a peek right along with you. Happy reading!

June

Kate Narita & Suzanne Kaufman Celebrate Their Upcoming Release

100 Bugs! A Counting Book (FSG,  June 12, 2018)(see book trailer or view below).
If you like staying outside from dawn till dusk, chasing after butterflies and fireflies, and playing seek-and-find, put 100 Bugs! A Counting Book on your summer reading list. 
If you want to find out which insect has traveled to space, which plant killed Nancy Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother, and which insect can regenerate a leg, be sure to read the scientific back matter. 

Laura Shovan Celebrates Her Upcoming Release

Takedown (Wendy Lamb, June 19, 2018).
Summer is a great time for kids to experiment: take an art class at the library, try out for a summer theater program, sign up for a clinic in a sport they're curious about, and maybe make a new friend.  
Sports and friendship are at the center of Takedown. 
Told in alternating points of view, Takedown is the story of Lev, a competitive middle school wrestler, and the latest addition to his team: a girl named Mickey. 
 Join Laura at her book launch at noon on June 24 at Baltimore's Ivy Bookshop. There will be a live wrestling demonstration by local kids, lemonade, and donuts.

July 


Aidan Cassie Celebrates Her Upcoming Release 

Sterling, Best Dog Ever (FSG, July 10, 2018).
Add some silly to your summer reading with Sterling, a truly confused dachshund who is determined to be just the thing everyone needs. 
If only he knew what that was. If you’d enjoy a summer outing with a darling and decidedly muddled new dog riding in your bike basket, this humorous and heart tugging picture book will be just the right fit.
 August

Tim Tingle Celebrates His Upcoming Release

When A Ghost Talks, Listen (RoadRunner, Aug. 7, 2018).
The second book in the How I Became A Ghost series arrives to shine a light on another important event in Choctaw and U.S. history. 
This time, Isaac, the boy who did not survive the tribe’s Trail of Tears, returns to explore the questionable death of Choctaw Chief and U.S. Army General Pushmataha. Captivating!

Dawn Quigley Celebrates Her Upcoming Release

Apple in the Middle (North Dakota State University Press, Aug. 14, 2018).
For an enjoyable late summer read, pick up Quigley’s debut young adult novel full of insight, humor and surprises sharing Apple’s first trip to the reservation to meet her American Indian cousins. 
Apple is a quirky, offbeat teen who is both Native and white, learning just what it means to be Indian in her tribe. But don't expect background flute music or eagles flying overhead!

Nancy Bo Flood & Jonathan Nelson Celebrate Their Upcoming Release 

First Laugh - Welcome, Baby co-authored by Rose Ann Tahe (Charlesbridge, Aug. 14, 2018).
Everyone —from Baby's nima (mom) to nadi (big sister) to cheii (grandfather)—tries to elicit the joyous sound from Baby.  
Nelson’s illustrations deepen the details about Navajo life and the importance of the ceremony that celebrates Baby’s laugh, highlighting values of generosity and sharing important in the Navajo Nation.

Tina Cho & Keum Jin Song Celebrate Their Upcoming Release

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (little bee books, Aug. 14, 2018).
A wonderful way to start your summer is to think about how you can make an impact on others. Rice from Heaven takes place in South Korea in May. 
Yoori helps her father send secret balloons carrying packages of rice over the border to starving people in North Korea. Based on a true story with back matter about the two countries, children can think about how they can make a difference. One act of kindness goes along way. 
This is also a timely read as the communist leader of North Korea set foot in South Korea for the first time April 27, 2018. Perhaps peace and reunification will come to this peninsula that is still technically at war.
Book signings will take place in Iowa the end of July and in Seoul, South Korea in August.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the book trailer for 100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita, illustrated by Suzanne Kauffman (FSG,  June 12, 2018)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Cynsational Summer Hiatus

Photo by Fiona Rabakukk-Langthorn
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Cynsations is now officially on summer hiatus.

We will return in the fall with more inspiration, insights and information on children's-YA writing, illustration, literature and publishing.

In the meantime, keep up on all those topics with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Happy summer reading and writing from the entire Cynsations team!

Friday, June 08, 2018

Cynsational News

Author-Mentor Jennifer Ziegler
By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk
Kate Pentecost for Cynsations

2018 Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Awards Chosen from Austin SCBWI. Peek:
"Congratulations to Aimee Thomas, who has won Austin SCBWI’s 2018 Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award
"Plus, our mentor Jennifer Ziegler has decided to expand her mentorship to include an Honor recipient, Amy Bearce.

"Aimee receives a year’s mentorship with Jennifer, including one full manuscript critique. Amy receives one full manuscript critique."
Announcing the 2019 Writer Mentorship Program from Kansas-Missouri SCBWI. Peek:
"The 2019 writer mentorship focus is young adult. Our mentor is the wonderful author, Cynthia Leitich Smith. Application for the Ellen Dolan Mentorship for Writers is open to any current KS-MO SCBWI member not published in YA. 
"Applications are screened by a panel of judges, with five chosen to submit for blind review to the mentor. 
"The winner will work with the mentor for one year on a mutually agreed upon project."
Diversity

Recent & Upcoming LGBTQIAP + Books By Asian Authors by Kaitlin Mitchell from GayYA. Peek:
“To celebrate the great contributions Asian authors in the U.S. and beyond have made to LGBTQIAP+ YA literature, here’s a list of six current and two eagerly anticipated novels we recommend.”
A Closer Look at 2017 Latinx #OwnVoices Books by Madeline Tyner from Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Peek:
“The percentage of picture books with Latinx content and/or characters that are #OwnVoices is quite high. Out of 28 picture books about Latinxs, 25 of those (89.29%) are #OwnVoices. 
"Conversely, the percentage of fiction that is #OwnVoices is low: only 36 out of 156 (23.08%).”
On Owning It by Megan Schliesman from Reading While White. Peek:
“What are people so afraid of? What do they have to lose in listening openly to what critics have to offer them when it comes to representation of lives and experiences beyond their own? To admitting that they might have things to learn.”
7% is Not a Solution by Laura Jiménez from Book Toss. Peek:
“Instead of understanding #OwnVoices, they [editors, publishers] decided White authors should write random non-White, non-straight, disabled, non-neurotypical characters, as long as those characters are just like them. You know, ‘normal,’ which is White code for ‘White, like me.’”
Queer Christian Voices in YA Literature: A Scholar’s Account of #OwnVoices Positioning inthe 21st Century by Robert Bittner from Research on Diversity in Youth Literature. Peek:
“Queer theology itself is an intriguing and nuanced concept that I will explore in further detail, prior to a more indepth analysis of specific queer YA texts that incorporate elements of Christian rhetoric and religiously affiliated characters.”
Ausma Zehanat Khan on the Diversity of Ramadan from KitaabWorld. Peek:
“It’s important to realize that that ignorance is often deliberately cultivated and promoted by organizations that have a vested interest in portraying Muslims and Islam as a threat….which means we need to work harder than ever at countering it.”
Why Kayla, Not Eartha & Other Stuff I Think About by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. Note: Although the post is from October 2016, it is still pertinent to conversations about writing across identity elements. Peek:
"...the question of writing outside one’s lived knowledge and most immediate stakes with regard to protagonists (or, in the case of nonfiction, focal subjects) is a very personal one.

"Today I’m going to share a glimpse into my own, nuanced process for deciding who and what to write and why. Yes, of course your mileage may vary. It may evolve. Mine has evolved."
Publishing
Introducing Lee & Low's New Line of Chapter Book Biographies from Lee & Low. Peek:
"...we’re excited to launch our 'The Story Of' series, a new line of chapter book biographies out now. These chapter books go beyond the common names to introduce readers to amazing leaders and heroes whose names you might not know but whose achievements have shaped our world."
On Translation, Publishing & the State of U.S. Publishing: An Interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree. Peek:
"The trend in U.S. picture books to have the young person solve every problem often marginalizes or infantilizes elders when we need the energy and creativity of the young and the experience of elders to overcome the challenges that we face today."
Everything You Wanted to Know About Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask) by Lincoln Michel from Electric Lit. Peek:
“Most authors do not make any money off of actual book sales because most books do not 'earn out' their 'advance.' 
"Traditionally published authors are paid money up front, before a book is released. This 'advance' is money given up front to the author out of future royalties…”
Agent Looking for Clients: Amy Stern, Sheldon Fogelman Agency from Kathy Temean. Peek:
“Topics I love to read about? Summer camps, boarding schools, reality television, kids who are in some way extraordinary, puzzles, puns. I really love stories that involve close family relationships that both enhance and complicate the protagonists’ lives.”
How to Make the Leap from Self-Publishing to Traditional Publishing from Nathan Bransford. Peek:
“But what if you self-publish first but still want the cachet that comes along with having a traditional publisher? What if you struck out with literary agents but hope your next book catches their eye?”
Writing Craft

The Key to Finishing a Novel by Brian Yansky from Diary of a Writer. Peek:
“The key to finishing a novel is not thinking about finishing a novel while you're writing your first draft. Think about your story and characters in scenes that keep building toward an ending. You may, at first, only see this as a vague destination in the distance. That's fine.”
Finding Rhythm in Your Prose by Nancy Johnson from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
"The words we string together and the way they bend into each other to make sentences reveal patterns and convey meaning. "
“Relatable” by Marisa de los Santos from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“But as a writer, I find myself wanting to make a case for messiness, for inconsistency and surprise, for complexity and weirdness, for flaws and tics and obsessions, even for thoughtlessness, self-centeredness, pettiness, spite.”
Writing From the Yin: How to Make Art When You Have No Energy from Skylar Ryan-Grant. Peek:
“I suggest finding the most fundamental aspects of your self-care and try viewing them as keystones to your creative practice.”
#YouToo? 11 Tips for Writing Your #MeToo Stories by Leigh Anne Jasheway from Writer’s Digest. Peek:
“But trying to put words to our own #MeToo stories can leave us at a loss. We’ve been silent for so long. We may doubt ourselves or fear what others may think of us if we share our truths.”
How to Edit a Novel Without Feeling Overwhelmed by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:
“‘Edit’ and ‘revise’ are often used interchangeably, but they’re really two different things. Editing focuses on the text and making it better, while revision focuses on the story itself.”
Your Novel’s Soundtrack by Grace Wynter from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“I’ve created writing soundtracks before, but they’d been general ‘writing motivation’... This time I used the soundtracks as tools to break my writer’s block. In the process, I discovered new layers to my story. Even if you’re a diehard ‘silence writer’ creating soundtracks might help if you’re experiencing writer’s block.”
Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension by Amanda Rawson Hill from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:
“... Theme Statement— the truth the main character realizes during or just before the emotional climax....Let’s look at 'Hamilton' as an example of how the supporting cast interacts with the theme topic (legacy) in different ways.”
The Reason to Build a Box by Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“In workshops, I find that deeply developing only one aspect of a story can be the catalyzing agent in the necessary chemical reaction. Sometimes it is delving into backstory and finding the single episode that shaped a protagonist into the character whom we meet on page one.”
Author/Illustrator Insights

The Writer’s Page: The Un-Hero’s Journey by Kekla Magoon from The Horn Book. Peek:
"The youngsters in the front row slid out of their chairs, as one, and came toward me...They reached out their index fingers and began touching my skin...'You are black. You look like us...'"
Interview: Kathi Appelt by Jarrett Lerner from MG Book Village. Peek:
“Place has the ability to organize the story in that it gives us a landscape for specific sounds, obstacles, animal and human populations... 
"Place a character in a fully realized place, and it gives you an immediate way to enter into what and how the characters will respond.”
Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carole Lindstrom from M is for Movement. Peek:
“Opening upmainstream trade publishing to contemporary Indigenous fiction has been tough... For some years, I couldn’t connect a Native-centered book manuscript to an editor, even though my other stories were selling well.”
“But big picture…? Persistence, shifting demographics, expanded alliances and heightened activism is slowly paying off for all of us.”
Q&A with Guadalupe Garcia McCall from Deborah Kalb. Peek:
“I went to the Library of Congress online database and read newspapers of the time, printing out headline and after headline, because they were pieces of the puzzle for me. These headlines beefed up my plot, twisted it and shaped it…”
Interview with Mark Oshiro, Author of Anger is a Gift by Priya Shridhar from Book Riot. Peek:
“The plot for Anger [Anger is a Gift (Tor Teen, 2018)] was inspired by an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (specifically “Seeing Red”), which I was reviewing for Mark Watches. I wrote a scene as a sort of free-writing experience to deal with my reaction to that episode.” 
Interview with Author of Tiny Infinities, J.H. Diehl by Stacy Barnett Mozer from Sporty Girl Books. Peek:
“...try to integrate the sport – how it’s played, its rules, regulations, necessary equipment – with the plot’s twists and turns, your character’s goals, the themes you’re exploring and the questions the book raises.”
Excuse Me, Sir? Did You Forget Something? from Jacqueline Davies. Peek:
"Women illustrators (and particularly illustrators who are women of color) have a hard time getting noticed at all, let alone walking away with the big awards. Getting noticed matters in this business.

"A thought occurred to me: It would be interesting to see how the male/female imbalance might play out in this one two-hour session. I started jotting down every name that the lecturer mentioned."
Marketing

Dealing with Book Promotion Fatigue by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
 “I wouldn’t recommend throwing your hands up in the air, say, two or three weeks before a book launch, since that’s a uniquely important time to promote, but otherwise? Take some time.”
What to Look for in a Book Publicist — Plus Tips for Going It Alone by Tanya Hall from Jane Friedman’s blog. Peek:
”Hiring a publicist is expensive. If funds prohibit engaging a publicist to support your book launch, it’s better to try it on your own than to do nothing at all—as long as you approach it strategically. Here are some tips to increase your likelihood of scoring powerful publicity.”
How to Perform (Not Just Read) Your Work in Front of Audiences by Natalia Sylvester from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“One trick I’ve learned is to listen to audiobooks. Many are narrated by classically trained actors, and hearing how they use inflections, pauses, and variations in their voices to capture the richness on the page is an inspiring lesson in performance.”
Awards

Congratulations to Cynthia Levinson! She is the winner the 2018 Crystal Kite Award for the Texas/ Oklahoma region for The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Atheneum, 2017).


Congratulations to Billy-Ray Belcourt and Aviaq Johnston for winning the 2018 Indigenous Voices Awards!

Book Donations

Books for Readers Program Now Accepting Donations from SCBWI. Peek:
“SCBWI Books For Readers will accept books from June 1 to July 9, 2018...We will collect new fiction and non-fiction hard cover and paperback titles for children and teens (ages 0-17) including board books, early readers, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and graphic novels...published in the last 1-2 years.”
This Week at Cynsations


More Personally - Cynthia

Ah, summer! My teacher hat is firmly on, and I'm finishing the last round of packets for my students in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Will you be at the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans later this month?

If so, come to the Native YA Today panel and then be sure to stop by my signing at noon that same day (Saturday, June 23rd) at the Candlewick Press booth. Meanwhile, learn more about my fellow panelists, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Joseph Bruchac and Alia Jones! See also An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carole Lindstrom from M is for Movement.

In other news, children's poet Lee Bennett Hopkins has a new official website and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program has a new blog!

More Personally - Robin

I love the Read Local! program that fellow Maryland writer Veronica Bartles has created for my SCBWI region. Check out the link if you want to find fabulous reads from Maryland, Delaware, or West Virginian authors or if you just want to see how to create a read local program in your own region.


More Personally - Gayleen

Congratulations to Texas students Adam Kesselman and Baxter Lowrimore, who received National Honor Awards in the Letters About Literature National Writing Contest from the Library of Congress! The program asks readers in fourth to 12th grade to submit letters to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her work affected their lives. In the spring, state centers for the book promote the contest and select state winners who advance to the national competition.

I served on a final-round judging team for fourth-sixth graders with the Texas Center for the Book. Reading those letters touches my heart and is a vivid reminder of the impact books can have on young lives.

Adam’s letter to Tim Howard about The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them (HarperCollins, 2014) stuck with me. I’m guessing this sports memoir wasn’t an assigned book, yet it inspired Adam to write a moving letter about how the book inspired him: perfectly illustrating the possibilities when young readers choose titles that speak directly to them.

Guidelines for the next Letters about Literature contest will be posted in September. In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration to finish your work in progress, check out Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Catherine Gourley (Candlewick, 2017).

See the video of Adam reading his letter:


Thursday, June 07, 2018

Guest Post: Barbara Dee on Keeping it Middle Grade: Handling Tough Topics in Fiction

Learn more about Barbara Dee.
By Barbara Dee
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

About a year ago, on a NerdCamp panel called "Tough Topics in Middle Grade Fiction," we were talking about how middle grade was evolving, growing up, tackling subjects that used to be considered taboo—for example, sexuality, terrorism, refugeeism, and drug use.

I asked the educators in the room which underrepresented topics they'd like to see on their bookshelves.

A middle school principal raised her hand. "Things we used to see only in high school," she said.

She went on to explain that lately she'd been struck by the frequency of mental health issues among her students—depression, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors like cutting—that previously she'd associated with teens.

"We need more middle grade books on these subjects, so we can start the conversation with younger kids," she urged.

Her remarks were disturbing, but not surprising to me. At the time I was finishing my first draft of Everything I Know About You (Aladdin, 2018), a middle grade novel about a seventh grader with an eating disorder.

As someone who had survived anorexia and bulimia in my college years, I'd always assumed that disordered eating was a strictly YA sort of topic, best explored in a book like Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, 2010).

But when I came across several articles about the recent rise of eating disorders among middle school students, I sought out a social worker who specialized in treating these patients.

Oh yes, she said. Her patients were definitely getting younger. Fewer high school and college kids, more kids in the middle grades.

And they—and their friends—needed middle grade fiction. Books that reflected their struggles. Books that offered hope.

Given my own experience, I knew I'd hit on the right topic for my next novel. I understood the challenge: to treat a serious, emotionally complex, potentially scary subject in a way that was appropriate for nine-to-thirteen-year-old readers.

My previous middle grade novel, Halfway Normal (Aladdin, 2017), was about a cancer survivor's return to seventh grade, and the way she used Greek mythology to help her connect with classmates and teachers.

Before that I'd written Star-Crossed (Aladdin, 2017), about an eighth grader's coming to terms with her own bisexuality via the middle school production of "Romeo & Juliet."

I'd had some experience exploring sensitive topics in a way middle graders would find accessible and appealing.

And for Everything I Know About You, I knew my approach:

First: Don't be depressing. Middle schoolers may crave tougher topics these days, but they still want to be entertained. Since the subject matter of anorexia is inherently upsetting, I decided to come at it from an angle—with a narrator who wasn't the character struggling with the disorder, but another girl who was both healthy and funny.

Tally is a math nerd who dresses outrageously and tells fart jokes about Pythagoras; at once altruistic and self-involved, she takes a while to understand the full extent of her roommate Ava's problem.

This is a technique I've noticed in several recent middle grade novels which tackle tough topics: Write from the point of view of a an entertaining, often funny, narrator, who may or may not have full information.

Some notable examples: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Dial, 2017); Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell (Katherine Tegan/HarperCollins, 2017); Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (Sterling, 2017); The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegan/HarperCollins, 2018).

Or write from the point of view of a character who is strong and resourceful, like the protagonist of Amal Unbound (Nancy Paulsen, 2018), who finds herself forced into indentured servitude. 

Author Aisha Saeed explains how she kept her narrative buoyant, despite Amal's troubles:
"Amal is deeply upset about her circumstances, but it's also true that people are stronger than they can give themselves credit for. I know in my own life there have been difficulties I've gone through that, were I to look at them from afar, I would have thought I could not have made it through the other side, and yet when thrust into those difficulties I found I was stronger than I realized. 
"The only way through dark times is to keep on persevering, to find and hold on to light wherever we can find any, and to keep on going."
Second: Weave the "tough topic" into a bigger picture. I set Everything I Know About You on a four-day field trip to Washington, D.C., where the kids stay at a quirky, slightly surreal hotel. To foster class unity, the teachers assign roommates, creating conflicts among several kids, especially the main character, Tally, and her roommate, Ava.

In this way, the "tough topic"—anorexia—is just one part of a larger story about friendship, self-acceptance, family, and a crazy field trip.

Some middle grades which create a whole complex ecosystem around characters facing various challenges: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callendar (Scholastic, 2018); See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng; Paper Chains by Elaine Braithwaite Vickers (HarperChildren's, 2017); The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore  (Knopf, 2017).

Third: Give the characters an identity separate from the "tough topic." Sometimes YA novels seem to hyperfocus on the main character's struggles, which leads them to existential despair.

Middle graders often need a break from the darker stuff. It helps them as readers to create characters who have other frames of reference, other things going on in their lives—for example, friendships and hobbies.

In Everything, when Tally isn't wondering about her roommate's troubling behavior, she's thinking about math, her collection of weird fashion accessories, her friends, her dad's bakery, her own adoption, her dog...oh, and dying her hair Sour Apple Green.

As author Tae Keller (The Science of Unbreakable Things (Random House, 2018)) puts it:
"There’s an idea that when scary, difficult things happen to us or people we love, that scary thing becomes our entire life. And sometimes that’s true. But a lot of times, the difficult parts of life are just that—one part. 
"Natalie is in seventh grade. She goes to school and does her homework and deals with friendships and crushes and all the things middle schoolers deal with. I don’t think she’s so much obsessing over a distraction as she is trying to understand how all the pieces of her life fit together. "
Other middle grades featuring characters who use strong—sometimes obsessive—interests to help them cope: Lights, Camera, Disaster by Erin Dionne (Arthur A. Levine, 2018)(movie-making); The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (Legos); See You in the Cosmos (rocketry and space); The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla (HarperChildren's, 2017)(ornithology); Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla, illustrated by Steve Wolfhard (comics)(HarperChildren's, 2018); Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (reading); Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2016)(saving the tree); Saturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger (Charlesbridge, 2017)(classic movies).

Fourth: Include benevolent (but imperfect) adults. In some YA novels, it seems as if all adults are absent, alien, untrustworthy or even malevolent.

Middle grade readers reading about "tough topics" need some reassurance, some sense that an adult (or two) is capable of offering guidance and support. But they're unwilling to believe that a perfect fairy godmother/teacher/parent is going to swoop in and solve all their problems.

In Everything, Tally is deeply bonded with her parents, and comes to see that certain adults she'd previously judged (her history teacher, Ava's mom) are more complex than she'd realized.

Some middle grade novels with flawed but well-intentioned adults : Amal Unbound (Nasreen, both parents); Hurricane Child (the parents); See You in the Cosmos (various adults).

Learn more about Aisha Saeed.
Aisha Saeed says:
"Humans are very complex beings and as an author I find it deeply rewarding to explore why people behave the way they do. While it doesn't excuse the behavior that is problematic, awful and/or unjust, understanding why people behave the way they do can be very informative. 
"That is why when I wrote Nasreen and Amal's parents, I wanted to write about their actions honestly but I also wanted to make sure they were more than just their flaws, as all of us humans are."
Fifth: Be true. I know I could not have written Everything, Halfway Normal or Star-Crossed if I didn't have some strong connection to these topics. But I don't believe fiction is autobiography. And even as I've plumbed my own experience to write those books, I've looked outside myself, researching, reading up on the subjects and interviewing kids and experts.

While I don't believe you need to have lived a subject to write about it, I think it's essential to locate the truth in your topic, and find the corresponding truth within yourself.

Of course, the challenge for the author is not to overdetermine the "truth," or rely too heavily on her own experience. Describing her process in writing Mason Buttle, Leslie Connor says:
"I kept asking myself, is this really true for Mason? Is the writer standing out of the way?"
Some middle grades which I find notable for emotional resonance and veracity: The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017); Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic, 2017); Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm (Scholastic, 2015); One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock (Scholastic, 2018); Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young (Chronicle, 2016); Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017); Ruby on the Outside (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and Nine, Ten (Simon & Schuster, 2017) by Nora Raleigh Baskin; The Night Diary (Penguin Random House, 2018) by Veera Hiranandani; The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor.

Sixth: Offer hope. Middle grade readers want to walk away from a "tough topic" feeling reassured.

I ended Everything with Ava getting help for her disorder, telling Tally she's almost ready to return to school.

When I finished Mason Buttle, Amal Unbound, Ruby on the Outside and Hurricane Child, I cried tears of relief for the title characters. They were okay. They'd be okay. Despite their struggles, they had things in their lives to look forward to.

As Leslie Connor says about writing Mason Buttle:
"Often, a compelling character is one that has some sort of sadness to their story; it's part of what they're up against. 
"I'll write about the sadness, sure. But I don't want to write a bleak book either. I think of hope as the reward that the reader, writer, and character share at a story's end. Something good has to be on the horizon."
Seven: But don't sugar-coat. Middle grade readers have fake-detectors tuned to eleven. If you write a sappy ending, they'll roll their eyes in disgust.

At the end of Everything, I was careful not to promise a friendship between Tally and Ava—just as I didn't promise a happily-ever-after ending for Star-Crossed. Maybe things will work out for the characters, and maybe they won't.

The world is tricky and full of surprises. That's a life lesson for middle grade readers—and maybe another "tough topic" right there.

Cynsational Notes

Barbara Dee is the author of nine middle grade novels, all published by Aladdin/S&S.

Everything I Know About You has been called "poignant and often hilarious" by Kirkus Reviews, "a strong addition to library collections" by School Library Journal, "honest and engaging," by PW, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Barbara's two 2017 releases have received much attention.

Halfway Normal earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and SLJ, is a 2018 ILA Young Adult Choice Reading List pick, a 2018 CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a 2018-19 Pennsylvania Keystone list pick, a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Vermont State list pick, an ALA Booklist pick ("Surviving Middle School"), and a Junior Library Guild selection.

Star-Crossed is a 2018 CCBC Choice, a 2018 ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, a 2018 CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a 2018 Goodreads Choice finalist, and listed on several Best of 2017 lists, including those by the Chicago Public Library, King County (Washington State) Library and Cleveland Heights (Ohio) Library.

Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children's Book Festival. She lives in Westchester County, New York.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New Voice: Adrienne Kisner on Dear Rachel Maddow

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Adrienne Kisner is a Vermont College of Fine Arts alum and a hilarious fellow classmate, so I jumped at the chance to interview her about her funny and heart-wrenching debut YA novel,  Dear Rachel Maddow (Feiwel & Friends, 2018). From the promotional copy:

Brynn Harper's life has one steadying force—Rachel Maddow. She watches her daily, and after writing to Rachel for a school project—and actually getting a response—Brynn starts drafting e-mails to Rachel but never sending them. 

Brynn tells Rachel about breaking up with her first serious girlfriend, about her brother Nick's death, about her passive mother and even worse stepfather, about how she's stuck in remedial courses at school and is considering dropping out. 

Then Brynn is confronted with a moral dilemma. One student representative will be allowed to have a voice among the administration in the selection of a new school superintendent. Brynn's archnemesis, Adam, and ex-girlfriend, Sarah, believe only Honors students are worthy of the selection committee seat. Brynn feels all students deserve a voice. 

When she runs for the position, the knives are out. 

So she begins to ask herself: What Would Rachel Maddow Do?

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

I think the worst moments of my publishing journey were figuring out that the first manuscript (and second and third) I wrote wasn’t going to get an agent or probably ever see the light of day.

I’m not embarrassed by any of my earlier work. I spent years and countless hours on something that I hoped someone else would read, only to realize that no one will ever see it beyond a handful of friends who were too polite to refuse. That was rough. But it taught me that I can finish a manuscript and move on. That’s just what you have to do.

I have a spiritual advisor who says, “That’s the writing life. Isn’t that what you always wanted?”

And it’s true. I did. She’s always right and it’s annoying.

The best moment was probably when Rachel Maddow and Susan Mikula (her partner) sent me flowers. This is notable particularly because I’ve only received flowers about twice before in my life.

Dear Rachel Maddow won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award, and somehow she got wind of it.

They weighed about ten pounds, but I carried them around my campus and forced everyone to admire them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

 You can start writing your book any time. You should write it, in fact. You can finish it, too.

You aren’t too old or too young. You have the time. We always have time, us writers. We say we don’t. The kids need this, the day job needs that, the house is on fire, the car just got sucked under inky black waves by writhing tentacles, blah blah blah. Whatever.

 It will always be something. But if you really want to write, have to write to survive, you will.

Do it in ten minute spurts every other Thursday. Those Thursdays add up.

Just write the damn book already.

As an author-teacher, how do your various roles inform one another? 

I teach composition and creative writing. (I’m also a residence hall director, but that is another story...) I like putting up my editor and copyeditor’s notes on the PowerPoint to demonstrate how even after six drafts there are approximately forty-seven errors on every one of my pages.

Writing is a journey. Revision is a slog backwards through that journey. How can I really hold typos against a student? I cannot. I circle them in cheerful purple ink, mind you. But my own process has made me more humble.

 I also now pick books to teach that I can rant about, both good and bad. I’ve become a more informed ranter.

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

I think getting an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts made all the difference for me. I’ve read on advice blogs and in craft books that one does not need an MFA to write. Certainly I think that’s true.

But after a few years of writing, trying to find an agent, and getting nowhere, I was tired and ready to quit. I needed to be plugged into something bigger than myself, an instant community of writers and scholars around whom I could bask in the shared love of words.

I made amazing, supportive friends and had my butt kicked in terms of craft by brilliant mentors. VCFA flipped a switch in my head in terms of not only getting my ideas down, but taking a step back and revising the crap out of them. Many, many times.

Cynsational Notes

Publishers Weekly said,
"Revealing Brynn to be an individual with realistic insecurities, biases, and complexities, Kisner playfully explores the very human manner in which a stranger like Maddow might come to feel like a friend and confident."
Adrienne Kisner has lived her entire "adult" life in a college dormitory working in both Residence Life and college chaplaincy.

She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Dear Rachel Maddow was awarded a 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Publisher Interview: KitaabWorld Expands from Bookseller to Children's Book Publisher

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

Last spring, I interviewed Gauri Manglik about KitaabWorld, an online bookseller focusing on South Asian and diverse children's titles.

Now Gauri and her co-founder, Sadaf Siddique have expanded the business by becoming an independent publisher.

Their first titles released earlier this year: Room in Your Heart by Kunzang Choden, illustrated by Pema Tshering, and Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why by Sowmya Rajendran, illustrated by Satwik Gade.

What prompted you to enter the world of independent publishing?

At Kitaabworld, we spend a lot of our time researching and curating our collection of South Asian and multicultural children’s literature.


We also put out book recommendations and do outreach to parents and educators. Through all of these processes, we have built up a deep knowledge base in terms of books available in the South Asian market as well as the kinds of books being published in the United States.

From our vantage point, we observe gaps in the types of stories being shared—what is the narrative, is there only one kind of story or idea about South Asia, what is being said, who these books represent, so all these questions and insights prompted us to think about what we can do to fill the gaps—independent publishing seemed like the perfect route!

Being a small, bootstrapped organization, we decided to take baby steps with these two books.


What drew you to these particular projects, Room In Your Heart and The Boy Who Asked Why? 

As we delved into the gaps, we observed and the kind of books we wanted to bring to North America, we knew it was important to focus on books that lend themselves to issues that children can connect to both locally and globally.

We brainstormed on these ideas and both these books came to mind because of their universal messages, and so we were very keen on them.

Room In Your Heart is set in Bhutan and is perfect for young children (or anyone really!) with its heartwarming message about making room in our hearts and homes.

See an interview with author Sowmya Rajendran and illustrator Satwik Gade
Its message of being open and inclusive also ties into the present-day conversations around immigration and refugees, The Boy Who Asked Why is a story of Bhimrao Ambedkar, a well-known social justice advocate from India.

Ambedkar was India’s first law minister and he played a critical role in drafting of the Constitution of India. His inspiring story is one of questioning the status quo and overcoming obstacles he faced because of his status as an untouchable in India in the 1930s.

The book provides all children with parallels on issues of race and segregation in American history, and also broadens the discussions on South Asian leaders to include one of its key figures, Ambedkar.

Interior illustration from Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why, used with permission.
What was involved with the publishing process since these books were already published in India? (rights, translation, logistics, etc.) 

We thought finding the right books was the hard part and from then on it would be simple, but a lot was involved!

We had good relationships with the publishers, so they were very receptive when we approached them. We negotiated the terms for the rights such as advance, etc., and got the legalities out of the way. After that, we reviewed both the books and brainstormed with some educators on making these books easy to integrate into the classroom.

We edited the text, added a glossary and added additional details to help make them relevant and engaging for kids in the United States.
Interior illustration from Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why, used with permission.
For example, we added a timeline on Ambedkar’s life in the The Boy Who Asked Why and linked it to events in the Indian Independence movement occurring at the time.

In the Room In Your Heart, we included interesting facts about Bhutan to provide more information about this lesser-known country.

We are also working on a lesson plan and activity guide for both books to further help educators easily add these books into existing school curriculum. Of course, we also had to figure out the right printing setup, and get the books to print. Now, we are looking at spreading the word through reviews and feedback, and continuing to market the books.

Interior illustration from Room in Your Heart, used with permission.
Interior illustration from Room in Your Heart, used with permission.
What has the response been like? 

The books just got released but we’re seeing a lot of interest in both the titles. We’re cautiously optimistic that they’ll do well!

We’ve also personally done a few diverse story times with these books as well as had other teachers read them in their class. The children have had many interesting questions to ask about these stories, and it is clear that these books really provide a window into different worlds for them.

Do you have plans to publish more books in the future? 

As we mentioned, baby steps!

Being a small team juggling many hats as booksellers and publishers keeps us constantly on our toes, but we are excited about a couple of project ideas that we have for the the next few months.

Has Kitaab World expanded into any other areas? 

We have a strong educational and outreach component to our work.

Last January, we had launched our Counter Islamophobia Through Stories Campaign to challenge the narrative about Muslims, which you had featured on Cynsations as well (thank you!)

We presented it at the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual conference last June, and we just wrapped up our manuscript on that topic.

We’re excited to announce that the book will be published by ALA Editions this Fall, so stay tuned for more information on that soon!


Monday, June 04, 2018

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Transitions: Lunging Forward, Leaning Back

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am leaving my day job at an extraordinary early childhood center on June 30.


Plenty of people think I am “retiring.” But if you’re reading this, you probably could guess that I’m not retiring at all. I’m beginning my full-time career as a writer.

At last. I’ve written and taught about transitions much of my life as a clinical social worker and still struggle with how to convey these vulnerable, beautiful, painful yet joyful, times in our lives.

Because they are difficult.

We feel the need for different or new or next; we feel the need to take a turn on our personal or professional journeys (or both). We feel a yearning. A longing to move forward. An excitement and curiosity about what the new direction will offer us – or what we will make of it.

But we also feel the pull back towards that which we want, or are ready to leave, toward the comfort, familiarity, certainty of the place, the experience, the days we are almost leaving behind.

This is what I’m feeling as I leave a wonderful job at this early childhood center that hums and bubbles with small communities of little ones busy at work and where miracles of teaching and learning surprise and delight every day.

I love coming to work and being at work in a place that feels like a second home. I love the use of many skills and strengths I was pretty sure I owned, but had not had the opportunity to use. I love the children who have passed through my life with their extraordinary desire to explore their world and the powerful capacity to connect to others. I love my boss and friend; and I love the teachers who with seeming endless amounts of energy, create small communities of friends and classrooms of explorers, scientists, artists, technicians, builders, and more.

I took on my day job when I was in the process of winding down the career that ran parallel to my dreams of being a writer – that of a clinical social worker specializing in women’s and eating/body issues and building emotional resilience.

But it’s time for me to stop getting up at 4:30 in the morning to write for an hour and a half before getting reading. I also need time to exercise before I am exhausted from eight hours of a very busy, though wonderful, day. And I want to spend time with my husband when I am not falling asleep because I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning to write.

This beautiful place I’ve had the honor to work is integrally interwoven with my life as a children’s author.

I met the woman who has been my boss and friend for 24 years in the library of my son’s school. He had been coming home each week on the day his class visited the library, sharing the excitement of what they had done that day with “the best teacher in the world.”

I decided I wanted to meet this teacher, and went in on a Tuesday, when I had no clients in my private practice. A fabulous children’s library sprawled through the big open space (along with two floor-to-almost-ceiling robots and a marble-counting machine that counted the books each child read) and the welcoming teacher invited me to take home whatever books I wanted.

I dived into picture books and middle grade novels as though I’d been starving to read. My own middle-grade life was peppered with some wonderful classics like Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, but not anything like what I found to read now – Jerry Spinelli, Karen Cushman, Mildred Taylor, Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, Gail Carson Levine, and more and more and more…and more. 

I wanted to write this.

I began volunteering one day a week in the library, and kept on for eighteen years. When the K-5 school closed, and my private practice was winding down, I accepted an offer to be the office administrator at the early childhood center.

Every step of my journey as a children’s writer, I’ve had the encouragement and support of this master educator my son introduced me to so long ago.

During the days of volunteering, I often felt like Peter Pan sitting on the windowsill as I listened to her teaching, learned about extending the books into classroom discussions and projects, learned how to read a story to children.

I could say 30 or 40 more things about what the kind of encouragement I received means, but if you’re reading this, you’ll understand when I say that the foundation of her support and encouragement is the fact that she believed in my stories, and believed in me.

And that’s an extraordinary gift.


I’ve had the opportunity to observe hundreds of transitions during my time at this early childhood center, from children so ready to run into the classroom that a parent is left open-mouthed at the door, to those who struggle for days with “missing feelings” that are soothed by loving teachers.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I always have been, I guess. I wean myself gently.

I will miss every adult and every child at my “day job” terribly…and yet I can’t wait to explore my open days.

But of course, I’ll be back in September, volunteering to read stories to eager little listeners.

Cynsational Notes

Carol Coven Grannick writes poetry and picture books.

Her middle grade novel-in-verse manuscript, "Reeni's Turn," addresses body image issues for the younger audience, and won an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Sydney Taylor Manuscript competition. It also was a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Award from Hunger Mountain.

Carol chronicles the writer’s inner journey with a focus on resilience for Cynsations and the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

See her previous posts: Let's Make a Plan: Reminders from Early Childhood Education; Life, Writing & A Word In Praise of Emotional Safety; "Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy;" Does Expecting the Worst Make You a Pessimist? Confessions of a Learned Optimist.