Friday, May 20, 2016

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cynsations is now on summer hiatus until early fall 2016. In the meantime, keep up with children's-YA literature, writing & publishing news at facebook and Twitter. Thanks for your readership and support! Note: Please hold off on sending correspondence, interview/post materials & queries until after June 1.

Congratulations to Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks and Colin Bootman on the release of Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

As Dr. Blalock’s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien’s name did not appear in the report.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.

More News & Giveaways

Women Swept 2015 Nebula Awards by Andrew Liptak from io9. Note: The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy went to Updraft by Fran Wilde (Tor); see link for honor books.

Congratulations, Supriya Kelkar, winner of the New Visions Award given by Tu Books, the middle grade and young adult imprint of Lee & Low! Peek: "The New Visions Award honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market." Cheers also to honor winner Alexandra Aceves and finalists Elizabeth Stephens, Hilda Burgos, and Alex Brown. Note: The Lee & Low New Voices Award is now open for submissions.

Continuing Belpré’s Legacy of Lighting the Storyteller’s Candle by Sujei Lugo & Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek: "...Belpré was telling, writing, and performing stories that centered Puerto Rican culture and folklore, that she created a space at the NYPL and made Puerto Rican children the center of it, and that she was committed to making books available to children. In this way, Belpré led her own revolution." See also part 2.

Book Prices & The Value of Writing by Porter Anderson from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We’re in a world now that thinks it can write just as well as you can. It doesn’t need your book. It can write its own. It can publish it. And it can lowball it on Amazon, leaving your would-be readers clicking right past your beautiful books."

Author Interview: Carries Jones & Time Stoppers from The Launch Pad. Peek: "She has mechanical skills. She only passes out when faced with trolls. She boasts. She’s tough. She’s totally not me. She was so much fun just because she would say things that overly polite Carrie Writer Person would never think of saying."

Towards a Common Understanding of Native Peoples in the U.S. (or, Why Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr. Needs a Note to Readers) by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "I'm hoping that Little, Brown (the publisher) will include a Note in the next batch, providing a 'do not use this book as an activity for which kids pick a Native American name,' an explanation for why that is not a respectful activity, and a bit of information about Native naming."

P.J. Lynch is Ireland's New Poet Laureate from The Guardian. Peek: "He was born in Belfast and has illustrated over 20 beautiful books."

Gutsy, Funny, and Flawed: Angela Cervantes on Crafting Strong Latina Characters by Ruth Quiroa from School Library Journal. Peek: "Research was important because I felt a duty to be a voice for these kids who actually have to face what Gaby is going through. I wanted to be true to them as much as possible."

Fallow Fields — An Argument for Letting Your Creativity Rest by Kristan Hoffman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "By trying to grow too much too fast, I was depleting my soil of nutrients, attracting pests and disease, creating an unruly, inhospitable chaos — not to mention wasting my own precious energy." See also Step Away from That Keyboard by Donna Janell Bowman from Emu's Debuts.

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with M.T. Anderson by Julie Bartel from The Hub. Peek: "I first realized how differently the idea of 'student' plays out in different cultures. In ours – even more now than when I was in college – the student is first and foremost constructed as a consumer. We invite them to understand themselves in that way. They become thinkers despite the role we groom them for. And that’s a tragedy."

Did you know Beethoven Loved Maracroni and Cheese? Kathleen Krull on Writing Biographies from Lee Wind from SCBWI. Peek: "After you've soaked up all your information, don't use it all. Being selective is the magic key. Use only the most savory, cream-of-the-crop stuff, plus the facts that move your narrative along."

My "Gay Agenda" as a Children's Author from Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Peek: "At first I thought, no, I wasn't doing that. I was just writing the best book I possibly could. Then I thought, of course I was doing that."

Cynsational Screening Room




Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano, is Erin in North Carolina.


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Reminder: Cynsations is now on summer hiatus until early fall 2016. In the meantime, keep up with children's-YA literature, writing & publishing news at facebook and Twitter. Note: Please hold off on sending correspondence, interview/post materials & queries until after June 1.

Thanks for your readership and support!

Congratulations to the finalists for Austin SCBWI's 2016 Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award: Amy Reynolds, Aimee Thomas, Kris Kukendell, Christine Alderman, Eileen Manes, Salima Alikhan, Heather Helene, Gogi Hale, Karen Santhanam, and Jeff Anderson!

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez and Lily C. Buday, winners of the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarships

Personal Links

AFCC

Call for Applications: Cynsations Intern

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Applications are invited for an intern to assist in the production of Cynsations and associated web-/social media for summer-fall 2016.

Duties would include assistance with:
  • coordinating, conducting and formatting interviews, guest posts, announcements and giveaways that tie into the children's-YA literature, writing, illustration, publishing, educational and gatekeeper communities; 
  • promoting all of the above; 
  • updating Cynthia Leitich Smith's Children's Literature Resources and related social media channels.

The internship is non-paid, however, the intern would be offered:
  • two critiques of a full (or partial, if more developmental assistance is needed) novel; 
  • six critiques of two picture books each; or 
  • some combination of the above to be agreed upon on an individual basis. 
In addition, the intern would be promoted across the platform. Note: realism and fantasy, children's-YA fiction writers only. No currently enrolled MFA students.

The position is ideal for children's-YA writers who are not-yet-published but have been steadily writing and pursuing craft-building opportunities (such as SCBWI or Highlights workshops, a completed MFA, writers.com classes, etc.) or writers with a history of publication who're looking to shift age-level and/or genre focus, want to take craft to the next level, and/or are interested in building social media skills.

Between June 1 and June 30, please email cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith.com with a 500-word statement of interest that touches on:

  • commitment to the youth literature, its conversation and community;
  • study in the craft of writing for young readers;
  • social media savvy.

Please include relevant links. Connections and/or interest in diverse (defined broadly) youth literature also is especially welcome and should be mentioned. Thank you for your consideration!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Giveaway: Signed Copy of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little Brown, 2016). Obtained from BookPeople. Cynsations sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. 

Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie's lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales's striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.

See below the book trailer, followed by the giveaway entry form. See also Towards a Common Understanding of Native Peoples in the U.S. (or, Why Alexie's Thunder Boy Jr. Needs a Note to Readers) by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on the Behind the Scenes Scoop at SCBWI Bologna

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every second year the SCBWI hosts a booth at the Bologna Book Fair...the biggest children's books exhibition and rights fair in the world. It's all about rights and networking and for SCBWI members who are at Bologna a home away from home!

Bologna, with its five halls of publishers and their books, can be mind boggling for the first-time visitor.

This year the SCBWI hosted a spectacular booth with eye-popping panels, and it was double the size of our previous booths. We were able to showcase our PAL member's books along with information on the rights available for each; to hold portfolio critiques; and display the finalists (and hold public voting) for our Bologna Illustrator's Gallery in a comfortable and very appealing environment.

The digital catalogue and also the Bologna Illustrators Gallery are now online, embedded in the SCBWI Bologna site showcasing our members' works to the world.

Our Dueling Illustrators was also once again a huge hit!

For an inside look at the 2016 Bologna Book Fair check out:


and the Publishers Weekly article

Already planning has begun for our next SCBWI Bologna appearance which will be in 2018. Once again we will have our Bologna Illustrators Gallery contest, the digital catalogue of all the PAL books displayed, portfolio critiques, as well as a whole lot more.

Cynsational Notes

More on Chris Cheng
With more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children's literature.

He conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds an M.A. in Children's Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children's Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

A recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award for services to children's literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of children's literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children's-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Post: Lee Wind on Little Pickle Press’ 7 Steps To Changing Children’s Publishing… And Our World

Little Pickle's first book
By Lee Wind of Little Pickle Press
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Little Pickle Press is an award-winning creator of high quality, high impact media and products for children and teens.

From our founding in 2009, we’ve done things differently. Here are seven steps we’ve taken to lead—and BE—the change we want to see:

1. Be Responsible.

Print all titles, not just the environmentally-themed ones, on recycled paper, with soy inks, in the Americas.

And lose the dust-jacket on picture books. They’re not kid-friendly, or necessary.

2. Make every project count.

“Media For A Better World” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a guiding principle.

From Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, one of our growth-mindset picture books, to Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food, a chapter book highlighting the challenges – and triumphs – of an 8-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome, to Breath To Breath, a powerful YA novel-in-verse inspired by the true story of a survivor of child abuse, every Little Pickle and Relish Media story makes a difference for the better.



3. Give Back.

Forge partnerships with organizations that promote the same values we do in our titles.

Like how we donated 15% of net sales of What Does It Mean To Be Kind? print books to the Great Kindness Challenge, along with thousands of e-books to schools who participated in their spread-the-kindness challenge. And how 15% of net sales of our Farm2Table app go to KaBOOM!, to support their efforts to bring active play into the lives of kids growing up in poverty in America.

Teaming Up: What Does It Mean To Be Kind? written by Rana DiOrio and illustrated by by Stéphane Jorisch, three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General Literary Award for Children’s Illustration, and The Great Kindness Challenge that reached over 5 million students!
Farm2Table is an iPad adventure that helps kids explore where their food comes from. It’s based on The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen, written by farmer and agriculture writer Diana Prichard and illustrated by Heather Devlin Knopf. For this app, we teamed up with KaBOOM!, who believes that “cities need to be designed with opportunities to play everywhere.” Patrick would certainly agree!


4. Innovate.

We’re early adopters of technology, focused on what can make things better. Even our submission platform with Authors.me changes the game, with an eye to empowering authors throughout the submission process.



5. Be Kind.

It’s our mission: “Little Pickle Press is dedicated to creating media that fosters kindness in young people—and doing so in a manner congruent with that mission.” And kindness, as our founder Rana DiOrio explains, “is not simply being affable. …We define ‘kindness’ as treating others as one would wish to be treated in similar circumstance, and we consider it the foundational concept upon which civilization was built and the key to society’s future.”

So when we heard about Library For All, and how they’re using technology to spread literacy in Rwanda, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, and Mongolia, we donated our entire digital library to the cause.

Students reading Library for All titles in Cambodia

6. Walk the walk.

From who we partner with to the wheat straw paper in my printer, as a B-Corp, everything we do and every decision we make is driven by sustainability, and the question, what’s going to make our world a better place for us all?




7. Be Grateful.

What we’re doing is working. We’ve won awards (85 so far), and our titles have gotten some great reviews (Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s said What Does It Mean To Be An Entrepreneur? “inspires young dreamers to find the courage to be doers.”)



Maybe most of all it’s hearing from kids, teens and their caring adults about how our stories have made a difference to them that lets us know we’re on track.

Comments like this one about our picture book Ripple’s Effect, from John A.,

“Just recently I was chatting with a first grader about his experience being bullied. It's hard to get over those kinds of hurdles as a child. What a great book for kids who are smart, fun, and joyful except when they are around ‘sharks.’

"Every child can be a great influence but the power of a positive kid in the midst of adversity can change lives. Children's literature needs this book. I'm glad it's here.”



And we’re grateful for the opportunity to share with you.

As a thank you, for the next month, please use the promo code CYN35 at checkout on our website to receive 35% off your entire purchase.

Students reading Library for All titles in Cambodia

Cynsational Notes

Lee Wind is the Vice President of Digital, Communications and Community Engagement at Little Pickle Press.

Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons), written by Jodi Carmichael, is a nominee for the Mantioba Book Awards’ John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Writer.

Hallmark Great Stories Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Hallmark Great Stories Award will recognize and celebrate the power of storytelling by honoring new children's picture books that celebrate family, friendship and community and that exhibit excellence in both writing and illustration.

Annual nominations will be reviewed by a multi-disciplinary panel of esteemed judges. For the inaugural year, judges include Betsy Bird, Alfredo Lujan, Alan Bailey and Cheri Sterman.

Eligible books include those published by publishers in the United States between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016 and must be entered into the competition by the publisher. The inaugural winner will be announced in March 2017.

The winning picture book's author and illustrator each will receive a special award medal and $5,000. If the author and illustrator is the same individual, the cash prize is $10,000. In addition to traditional distribution, the winning book will be available in Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Turning The Bright Idea Of Creating A Legacy Award Into A Reality

Betty with the 2016 award recipients
By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bright ideas are wonderful things. They spark imagination, energy, and excitement. That’s good, right?

Executing ideas and fulfilling their promise takes a lot of hard work. The more excitement the better because, along the way, you will learn a lot and some of that knowledge will be hard won.

In 2012, I had a bright idea to create an award in honor of the oldest member of Austin SCBWI community: Betty X. Davis who, at the time, was a stalwart ninety-six years old. She joined the first year Austin started an SCBWI chapter twenty years ago. She has cheered and supported all of us at our book launches, read manuscripts for school writing contests and been a thoughtful critique partner.

Really, in terms of support, Betty X. Davis is a pillar of our community. Why not create an award in her honor? I had never done it before but how hard could it be? People do it all the time, right?

By the time you finish reading this post, hopefully, you will be a whole lot smarter about creating honorary awards.

Maya, grade 3
Because I knew Betty would definitely have an opinion about this award, I took her out to lunch. I will admit that I had my own notion about what this award should be. I wanted to offer a scholarship in her honor to, say, a writing retreat or an SCBWI conference or workshop.

“Boring,” she said and dismissed my idea with a wave of her hand. Then she leaned in, “But I will tell you what I would like.”

Uh-oh. I knew right then that whatever came out of Betty’s mouth was going to have to happen. After all, it’s an award to honor her, right? Now I would have to obey her wishes.

What Betty wanted was an annual writing contest for youngsters. You see, what is important to Betty is encouraging young people to write. She believes that a love of writing and reading is essential to a well-lived life. If people wrote more letters to the newspaper, the world would be a better place. If people wrote kind thoughts to one another, the world would be a better place. If people wrote good books with exciting characters, the world would be a better place.

So for Betty, creating a contest that would encourage young people to write and award them for their efforts was absolutely essential.

Frankly, this idea looked like a lot of work: creating a submission system, reading manuscripts, choosing winners. The Austin SCBWI membership is entirely volunteer-based. We are writers and illustrators and many of us have day jobs and families.

Creating a contest looked like a big job that no one, including me, had time to execute. But I knew I wasn’t going to walk away from that lunch without saying yes to her.

While I was feeling a little daunted, Debbie Gonzales, the Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time, jumped in. “No problem. Let’s find an organization which already has a strong outreach with kids and who can easily corral the submissions.”

Fortunately Austin has two very good organizations which fit that description: BadgerDog and Creative Action. Both were willing.

“Partnering with like-minded organizations not only builds community,” says Debbie. “It ignites enthusiasm with the donors and creates a domino-effect of good will.”

With Debbie as my partner in award creation, we turned our attention to funding the award. What would the contest winners receive for their efforts? And who was the contest open to? Even if we gave a blue ribbon and a certificate to the winners, these items cost money.

Austin SCBWI is not a wealthy organization. It couldn’t fund an annual reward. It has to be self-supporting. Fortunately, Betty has a large loving and supportive family and they were willing to seed the award for five years.

“No matter how much trouble it takes to establish an award like Betty’s Young Writers of Merit Award,” says Debbie. “It is worth every turn and twist along the way because young lives are changed when their voices are recognized and celebrated.”

Gabrielle, grade 11
Once we had the seed money commitment, it was time to get busy implementing the award. We joined forces with Creative Action, which has a huge presence in Central Texas schools. Currently they employ eighty teaching artists and serve sixty five schools in three districts. They reach twenty thousand students in forty elementary schools, eleven middle schools and fourteen high schools.

We decided to give an award to one student at each of these school levels: elementary, middle and high school. The three winners would each receive a personalized writing journal and a certificate. The elementary and middle school winners would receive a gift certificate to BookPeople, Austin’s independent bookstore, and the high school winner would receive $500 upon matriculation to college.

Betty was not keen to attach a monetary prize to the award. The journals, gift certificates were fine. But money? “What did money have to do with the joy of writing?” she wondered.

I convinced her that a monetary award to a high school senior on their way to college, would be really meaningful and give the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award a bit of heft and prestige.

“Oh I suppose that’s all right,” she said.

From that initial lunch with Betty to the first presentation of the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award at the annual Austin SCBWI conference took seven months. It was fast but bright ideas can have a limited shelf life. They need to be acted on when the enthusiasm is high.

Current Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor Samantha Clark agrees, “It's a lot of work to put these awards together, and it makes it a lot easier if you're really dedicated because you believe in what you're doing.”

Samantha has been instrumental in getting information about the award up on Austin SCBWI website, creating a donation button making it super easy to contribute and thanking all of the donors.

For the past three years, Betty X. Davis has presented the Young Writers of Merit Award to a diverse group of students from a wide variety of schools, including Austin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Garza Independent High School, Westlake High.

This year, at one hundred years young, she will present the elementary award to Maya McNeil, a third grader at Ridgetop Elementary; Keelin Bell a sixth grader at Dailey Middle School and Gabrielle Lewis, a junior at Meridian High School. Once again thanks to the vision of Betty X Davis, young writers will have their voices recognized and celebrated.


Finally, here is quick list of helpful things to remember if you wish to create an award in someone’s honor. Thanks to writer Sarah Azibo for contribution to the list.

Her expertise in this area comes creating many such awards both on her own and through the Denver Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise, which helps set up legacy gifts as well as provide a not for profit tax umbrella.

The Austin counterpart is the Live Oak Foundation. Many cities have these foundations.

Keelin, grade 6
  • Secure seed money for the award. It takes a while to build momentum until people remember to give on their own. If you are creating a mentorship award, secure commitments for a few years of mentoring.
  • Take time to develop a strategy for the fund.
  • Create a tracking system to manage donations.
  • Designate one person (a bit removed if fund is in memory of a dear one) to be the administrator of the fund.
  • Determine who, what, when, where funds are given as specifically as possible from the start.
  • Envision ways to keep the fund alive and actively growing with continued donations.
  • If it’s not managed through an organization, set-up a separate checking account for the fund.
  • Title the fund so that people know who and what it supports.
  • Thank all donors with a personal touch.
  • Never toil in isolation. If your award is meant to benefit a group of people, reach out to other organizations, which can share the labor and the benefits.
Cynsational Notes

Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Award from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "Betty has judged many young people’s writing contests and believes these contests help them feel successful at writing, an important lifelong skill."

Donate Here!
Member Interview: Betty X Davis from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "I’ve always been a great letter writer. A cousin even found one of my letters in a treasured box of Test family archives. I began serious writing in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was teaching (a speech therapist) and needed a curriculum."

Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author from Cynsations. Peek: "Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel--all of those teachers showed up."

Photographs by Sam Bond Photography; used with permission.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Open Expectations: Preparing for an Artist’s Residency: Internal Logistics

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I headed to my first writer’s residency at The Ragdale Foundation at the end of March with an imagined vision of open space, open time, and what I call “open expectations” – no finish line, no deadline, no shoulds or have tos about the challenging revision of my middle grade novel in verse or the small community of artists of which I’d be part.

I knew from experience that gentle, heartfelt, positive guidelines were my best bet for flourishing as a writer and a person. I told myself to:

  1. Trust my needs, my rhythm, what I and my story feel each step forward needs to be, and connect with others as I need and want to, but without pressure that I have to.
  2. Keep my brain open to surprises of all kinds and embrace, enjoy, tolerate, readjust as needed.
  3. Let the residency change me – openness to writing and human surprises has often had this lovely effect on me.

It worked. From a writing and a community perspective, the residency was extraordinary. Among the many meaningful incidents were these:

  • When I’d inserted eighty new verses into my then-current draft, half-hoping for a wonderful and well-organized draft, I found instead an incoherent, fragmented story. At dinner, as we all casually talked about our first day, I said my next days would be dismantling my book, and was glad I had the floor space and time to do it. The luxury of seemingly endless hours was going to be a gift.
  • As I went through the days, dismantling, reassembling, and readying myself for a deep and intense revision, I realized something all of us seemed to say in our end-of-residency summary: It’s not just the number of hours I have, it’s how the hours and the lack of distracting responsibilities allow my brain to open and blossom. I discovered, with this undistracted time, the capacity to work deeply and intensely, giving my unconscious mind the freedom to feed me creative solutions.
  • Many days, I lost any sense of what time it was, whether or not my phone and computer were collecting texts and emails, and occasionally even whether or not I was hungry. My lovely little room, walks on the prairie (even in the snowstorms of a Chicago spring), and conversations with new colleagues fed a brain that seemed wonderfully open to the world, and to my own unconscious.
  • One night early in the residency, instead of returning to work, I decided to join several colleagues to listen to another’s discussion of her volunteer work in a Michigan hospital, gathering bedside stories from in-patients. She played several of the stories for us. I was riveted. I heard an urgency in all the short, impromptu stories. The patients have to choose only one story to tell, my colleague said. I had a visceral response in my chest, home of where my feelings tell me things. One story. Only one story. I have to write Reeni’s story as if it is the only one she gets to tell. That’s where I will find the urgency. And maybe I will find her voice. 
  • The next day I began, sitting on my pillow on the floor with paper and pencil. If it was Reeni’s last day on earth, how would she tell the story? And then I found her voice.

It would have been enough to do the kind of deep writing I did from that day on. But going into the residency with my three guidelines enabled me to do and experience more than that.

I discovered that I am a writer who is able to spend many hours a day working if given the opportunity. That I am a writer who can find and stay in deep connection with my unconscious for more than a few moments at a time. And that I could also enjoy the deep pleasure of becoming part of a supportive, smart, funny, and all-around extraordinary, group of fellow artists.

In my life as writer, therapist, wife, mother, friend I’ve repeatedly found that while attitude is not everything, it is quite a bit. When I enter an experience with gentle and positive expectations, an open mind, and the ability to respond to surprises of any nature, I free myself again to grow, change, and continue the adventure of living.

It’s not necessarily easy. But it’s always worth the effort.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
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 work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Guest Post: Jennifer Swanson on Nonfiction Picks Up STEAM!

By Jennifer Swanson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

If you’ve been to a bookstore lately, you may have noticed the STEAM-y new trend in nonfiction children’s books.

No, I’m not talking about romance novels, it’s STEAM—Science Technology Engineering Art and Math. From picture books to middle grade, to YA, STEAM topics are hot right now.

The STEAM books can include biographies and histories of scientists, artists, and engineers, but also topics that range from the simple:

Miranda Paul’s book Water is Water (Roaring Brook, 2015). It gives a beautiful and lyrical explanation of the water cycle for young readers.

To the complex:

Nancy Castaldo’s book, The Story of Seeds: From Mendel's Garden to Your Plate, and How There's More of Less to Eat Around the World on Seeds (Houghton Mifflin, 2016), talks about the genetics of plants.

And my own Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge, 2016) which introduces the reader to the cutting edge science through high performance sports.

So, how do you jump on board this STEAM-y trend?

Here are a few tips:

1. Ask questions like a kid.

Kids are naturally inquisitive. They are always asking how things work, why things happen, and where things come from.

Tap into your kid-side and find a topic that you’re curious about. Then dig deep and look for the cool aspects of it. Kids love trivia. See if you can find something that will make your reader say, “Hmmmm…. I didn’t know that.” Or “Wow! That’s so cool!”

For example: Your brain can store up to 2.5 petabytes of knowledge—That’s like 300 years of T.V. shows!

2. Think like a kid

Kids want to understand so when explaining things, break complex ideas into simple ones. The best way is to use kid-friendly examples, something that taps into the knowledge they have.

For instance, instead of saying something is 10meters tall, say it’s 3 stories high.

One hundred twenty yards becomes as big as a football field.

A nanoparticle is 100,000 times smaller than the edge of a piece of paper.

3. Talk like a kid

Use kid-friendly language. Activate your words! Use short sentences to amp up the excitement or tension. Use longer sentences for explanation to make sure your readers understand the concepts you want to get across. Then mix things up. Put short sentences after long sentences. Add endings like, “Now that’s tiny!” or “Bet you didn’t know that.” It makes your tone more exciting and conversational.

4. Be gross like a kid

Sometimes the best way to capture your reader with science is to gross them out. They are, after all, kids.

For example: Did you know that in one day, your feet can produce more than 1/4th of a gallon of sweat. (P- Ewww!)

5. Tap into a kid’s imagination

Children have very vivid imaginations. By using fun rhyming, rhythmic language, and amazing descriptions, you will grab their attention and get them to think. You can also fill your book with awesome illustrations and photographs to get your reader to visualize what is happening in the book.

Following these tips may help you to STEAM into nonfiction with your own books!

Cynsational Notes

Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and the author of over twenty-five nonfiction and fiction books for kids. She is the author of Brain Games (NGKids, 2015) and the forthcoming Super Gear. Her book How Hybrid Cars Work (The Child’s World) received a starred review from Booklist and also a Top 10 Books for Youth 2012 Award from Booklist Online.

Several of Jennifer’s other books have received “highly recommended” reviews from the National Science Teacher Association, as well as School Library Journal. Her favorite saying to her students is to “notice the science all around you.”

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Author Interview: Louise Hawes on The Language of Stars

By Louise  Hawes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of The Language of Stars by Louise Hawes (McElderry, 2016):

Sarah is forced to take a summer poetry class as penance for trashing the home of a famous poet in this fresh novel about finding your own voice.

Sarah’s had her happy ending: she’s at the party of the year with the most popular boy in school. But when that boy turns out to be a troublemaker who decided to throw a party at a cottage museum dedicated to renowned poet Rufus Baylor, everything changes. 

By the end of the party, the whole cottage is trashed—curtains up in flames, walls damaged, mementos smashed—and when the partygoers are caught, they’re all sentenced to take a summer class studying Rufus Baylor’s poetry…with Baylor as their teacher.

For Sarah, Baylor is a revelation. Unlike her mother, who is obsessed with keeping up appearances, and her estranged father, for whom she can’t do anything right, Rufus Baylor listens to what she has to say, and appreciates her ear for language. Through his classes, Sarah starts to see her relationships and the world in a new light—and finds that maybe her happy ending is really only part of a much more interesting beginning.

The Language of Stars is a gorgeous celebration of poetry, language, and love.

What was your initial inspiration for The Language of Stars?

In 2008, I stumbled on a newspaper article about a group of Vermont teenagers who'd been caught throwing a party in the historically preserved summer home of Robert Frost. They'd vandalized and set fire to the place, but few of them were over eighteen.

A resourceful judge, who couldn't send them to jail, sentenced them to something some of them may have enjoyed even less—they had to take a course in Frost's poetry!

As soon as I read this, my writer's "what-if" machinery kicked in: what if, I asked myself, the poet in question weren't Robert Frost, but an equally famous, Pulitzer-prize winning, world-renowned Southern poet, someone who made his home in North Carolina, where I live? What if, unlike Frost, who'd been dead for decades when the vandalism happened, my fictional southern bard was still alive when young party-goers destroyed his house? And what if he decided to teach those kids himself? What if one of those students was a young girl who showed a natural ear for poetry?

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

It was a long gestation period! First, I needed to find my narrator, who turned out to be sixteen-year old Sarah Wheeler, a character who came to me almost immediately, but whose voice and interior life took me months of free writing to uncover.

Next, I read all the biographies on Robert Frost and everything he ever wrote (including some pretty awful plays modeled on seventeenth-century court masques!). After that, free writes helped me hear the voice of Rufus Baylor, my book's poet, who shares some life experiences, artistic convictions, and teaching approaches with Frost, but whose personality and poems are all his own.

Next, it was time to write a draft, submit it to my agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, and then tighten and re-think major aspects of the book. (No, great agents don't line edit; but yes, they do ask crucial questions about readership and story!)

When it was time to submit, I found out the hard way that a YA novel in which an octogenarian is a major character is not an easy sell! I also learned to treasure the judgement and eye of the brilliant editor (Karen Wojtoyla at Margaret McElderry) who trusted my book enough to acquire it and to ask me to rewrite it. Again?!

Grand total?

Seven years from inspiration to completion! Which may be why, in comparison, the year between signing and publication seems to have flown by!

What were the major challenges (research, craft, emotional, logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet
You've named the usual suspects, Cyn. Research and craft, as well as sustaining emotional and artistic investment through so many years, most of them without a contract—all of it was far from easy. But the thing I found most difficult and at the same time most rewarding, was combining the three formats I wanted the novel to include.

First, Stars is written mostly in prose; it's not a novel in verse. Second, of course, it also features poetry. I mean, hello? Most of the major characters in the book have chosen to study poetry rather than do hard time!

Lastly, because my narrator, Sarah, is a wannabe actress whose role model is Sarah Bernhardt, and because she and her mentor, Rufus, hear the whole world talk, talk, talking to them, I've also included play scripts that feature an on-going dialogue between things and people.

In the vibrant and highly auditory place Rufus and Sarah inhabit, grills sputter, furniture squeaks, sand crabs burrow, seagulls squeal—not just as background noise, but as active, contributing participants. Fun? Yes. But challenging to write!

Talk to us about your audition to read the audio edition of the book for Brookstone.

I have a theater background, so I asked my agent to write an author audition into the audio contract for Stars. After all, I reasoned, I had been a national finalist in the National Academy of Dramatic Arts competition; I had endured NYC audition rounds, portfolio in hand; and colleagues and students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts had listened attentively to my readings from each draft of Stars. Who was better suited to bring the audio book to life?

A lot of people, it turns out! Blackstone Audio required a short five-minute sample—a cinch, right? It took me days to come up with that recording, but it took the company's studio director exactly three hours to respond to my emailed mp3.

What he told me, kindly but firmly, was that audio listeners have well-developed tastes and high expectations, the least of which is that a teenage narrator's voice will sound as if she's between the ages of 14 and 20. To soften the blow, and because I did have prior recording experience, he asked if I would help him select our reader from among their final candidates.

Here's the humble pie part: the part where I tell you that any one of their top ten voice actors were about 900 billion times better qualified to read my book than I was!! Yes, I got to make the final call: Katie Schorr is a full-time actor, an all-round stage talent, and gives one of the most nuanced, sensitive readings I've ever listened to on audio. I can hardly wait for everyone to hear it!

What's new and next in your writing life?

A lot! Current works in progress include The Gospel of Salomé, YA historical fiction about the young woman the new testament credits with having danced off the head of John the Baptist; Love's Labor, an adult novel about an aging playwright; and Big Rig, a brand new middle-grade novel.

In addition to working on my own projects, I'm also cooking up another Four Sisters Playshop with my three sisters—a painter, a musician, and a film-maker. We'll be exploring a new theme in August 2017: Death, Cradle of Creativity. We hope to share writing, movement, music, sculpture and painting with participants, and in the process destroy a lot of stereotypes about death and aging!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The One and Only Ivan: Meet the Author Book Reading from TeachingBooks.net. Peek: "Katherine Applegate introduces and shares some of the backstory for creating The One and Only Ivan."

Empowering Parents to Increase Literacy in the Home by Sarah Walzer from Lee & Low. Peek: "...by age 3, low-income children have heard 30 million less words than their middle income peers, so we know that too many children do not experience the quality verbal interaction they need to succeed. Parent (primary caregiver)-child interaction is critical to closing this word gap and preparing children for school."

Lifting the Cone of Silence: ALSC Awards & Confidentiality by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal. Peek: "...it would be fascinating to know the details of how a book ends up an award winner – you know, the other books that were in consideration, how the voting went – that kind of thing. One the other hand, it could potentially turn the awards into something else." See also For Librarians: How Do You Raise Awareness of Summer Reading in Schools by Amy Koester from ALSC Blog.

Agent Interview: Ronnie Ann Herman by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: "The Herman Agency is definitely a boutique agency and will remain as such. My daughter, Katia, has joined the agency and is representing middle grade and YA authors."

Writing When It's Not Like a Movie by Joe Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Not only do I not see movies as I write, I can’t visualise, well, anything. At all. I don’t even dream in pictures. I have absolutely no concept of what it would be like to see things that no one else can see."

Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings. Peek: "Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule of thumb, told me, 'You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.'"

A Cure for Writer's Block? A Deadline. by Carla Killough McClafferty from Teaching Authors. Peek: "The challenge is figuring out which idea is the right idea to become my next book. Is the idea marketable? Has the topic been written about thousands of times? Are there any books on the topic? If not, why not? And is this a subject I can think about every day for the next several years?"

Six Rules That Keep Critique Partnerships Golden by Dee Romito from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "If there’s something you don’t understand or you feel like something’s missing or unclear, ask about it. Writers are sometimes too close to their own work to see it."

Story-to-Contract & Cherokee Children's Writing: Interview with Traci Sorell by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."

The Heart of the Story from Janet Fox. Peek: "Here’s an exercise I’ve used to understand what drives me, what desires I have and therefore what desires will rise through my work and reach readers."

Use Guest Blogging to Promote Your Book by Beth Hayden from Jane Friedman. Peek: "By offering popular bloggers a guest post, you’re giving them something valuable (high-quality content) instead of asking for a favor (asking them to review your book). You’re considerably more likely to get a positive response than if you’re just requesting their attention and time."

Celebrating Pura Belpré Winners: Spotlight on Illustrator Susan Guevara by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Latinx in Kidlit. Peek: "The prevalence of these fashion statements today despite their negative associations and Soto and Guevara’s representations of these markers in their stories are indicators of resistance against dominant narratives."

Don't Accidentally Give Your Characters a Time Out by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Where do these well-developed, story-specific characters go, and how do they keep themselves busy, when they’re not in the current scene?"

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome by Margaret Dilloway from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I was extremely shy. The kind of shy that isn’t cute bashfulness, but extreme social anxiety. People mistook me for being extremely aloof, even snobby."

Ninth Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards Winners Announced During the 97th Annual Children’s Book Week from CBC Books. Peek: "Readers across the country voted on a diverse selection of titles for children and young adults that ranged from a picture book about a shark that’s afraid of the dark to issue-driven stories including a novel about a young transgender girl."

Also Known As by Pseudonymous Bosch from The New York Times. Peek: "...as much as I owe to my pseudonym, lately I find that it fits less than perfectly, like an old suit that I’ve outgrown."

Author Interview: Kimberly Reid on Perfect Liars from Lee & Low. Peek: "...we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine."

Cynsational Screening Room

Treat yourself to Pat Mora's 2016 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. See more information from Ruth E. Quiroa from School Library Journal.



Check out the book trailer for Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales (Little Brown, 2016). See more information from Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes. See also Debbie Reese's related thoughts at American Indians in Children's Literature.



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaway


The winners of A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders were Laura in Indiana, Heather in Washington, Rachel in Texas, Lynette in Massachusetts, and Carlos in Kansas.

More Personally

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Cate Berry on the sale of her debut and sophomore picture books at auction to Donna Bray at Balzer + Bray!

I'm off this weekend to the 2016 Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference! I look forward to sitting down one-on-on to discuss manuscript critiques and participating in the agents' panel. Note; I still have a couple of 10-minute spots available for $30 career consultations.

For me, highlights will include incoming faculty members art director Kristen Nobles of Candlewick Press and fellow VCFA faculty member Will Alexander!

Thanks to Alison DeLuca for raising awareness in Book Diversity, Goodreads & Native American Representation from Girl Who Reads. Peek: "Publishers need to realize how many Native writers and artists there are. Those authors should be on bookshelves. Children who think Peter Pan's Tigerlily is an authentic characterization need an alternate and accurate view."

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