Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Guest Interview: Mina Witteman on Talking Books, Ghosts, Writing & Teaching

By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has four adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in the Netherlands.

The first volume of a middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, came out in June 2015. The second book is scheduled for early spring 2016.

Mina is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition, Mina is an accredited teacher creative writing and teaches writing to children and adults. She is a university-trained freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers.

For her English works, she is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

You have two books released recently, Mia’s Nest, a Little Golden Book, and Boreas and the Seven Seas (Boreas en de zeven zeeën), about the adventures of twelve-year-old Boreas as he sails around the world. Let’s start with Mia’s Nest. What was the inspiration for this book?

Actually, the inspiration came from the illustrator, Angela Pelaez Vargas who was inspired to create illustrations based on her young daughter’s constantly tangled hair.

When she showed me the illustrations and mentioned that she was trying to work them into a story, I fell in love with both the illustrations and the story, also because my son’s nickname through primary school, which was Bird’s Nest, because of his abundant curly hair. I wrote the story and Angela added and changed some of the illustrations.

We were thrilled when the Dutch publisher Rubinstein decided to publish it as a Little Golden Book.

The title character’s name is very similar to yours. Is this picture book semi-autobiographical? 

No, it was inspired by Angela’s daughter and my son’s nickname, although I still vividly remember my mother trying to untangle my hair when I was young.

Now onto Boreas and the Seven Seas: newly released this is the first book in a series. What inspired you to write about Boreas?

My dad was a sailing aficionado, and my entire childhood stood in the sign of sailing. He taught me to sail before I could ride a bike, which says something, for in the Netherlands, most children are born with a bike attached to them.

We had a small boat near our home and my father took me and my siblings out on the water nearly every day.

What I liked, and what I still like, most about sailing is the wind in my face, the way it can clear your mind and give you a feeling of ultimate freedom.

My mother used to call me "Wind Child," and when I wasn’t sailing, I would try to recreate the feeling. On windy days, she knew if she couldn’t find me, to look on the roof. I would crawl out of the window in my bedroom and onto the roof and stand with the wind in my face.

So you love to sail and Boreas goes on a sailing adventure. Is this book semi-autobiographical?

The book itself is not, however there are a few adventures at sea that I have experienced, like getting caught in a storm. Also the impressions and sights, like Sark, a small beautiful island where Boreas ends up. I’ve been to these places and seen the sights and that helps a great deal in writing about them.

It feels good that Boreas and the Seven Seas receives raving reviews – the Dutch Libraries even made it Summer Reading Tip – and reviewers are unanimously praising the fact that reading the book is like you are actually experiencing what Boreas is experiencing and that you can feel the wind in your hair.

Without giving away any spoilers, what is the most unexpected adventure for Boreas in the book?

Mina sailing with her sister
Early on in the novel, the family is sailing through the night passing the English Channel and they crash into a wooden raft occupied by a young boy from Sudan. The boy is a refugee stranded in France trying desperately to get to the U.K. He is thrown from the raft but can’t swim.

Without thinking, Boreas jumps in the water and saves him. This is a turning point for Boreas and his understanding about his privileged situation compared to other children.

You write in both Dutch and English. What are the advantages of being so versatile?

I’m able to work on two projects, a Dutch and an English project, at the same time because I use different parts of my brain. Actually, I think having a more limited vocabulary in English than a native speaker is an advantage because it forces me to focus on the core of the story and prevents me from fluffing up the text.

You’ve mentioned on your blog your love of music, math and architecture. Do you incorporate this into your writing?

As a science girl, coming from a technically-minded family, structuring and building is infused into my life and thinking. I’m hooked on rule-based systems like math and computers. Architecture is incorporated in the way I set up a novel, and even when I teach – I’m also a teacher creative writing – I often use the design of a building as a metaphor for stories and the way you can set them up.

I always start a new story making an outline like an architect, with a sturdy foundation, a skeleton of strong walls and then fill those structures in with more details. The math comes in when it comes to balancing word count, chapters. I love Scrivener for this.

My fondness for math and science is often reflected in my characters who tend to be logical and mathematical in their thinking. In a YA novel I’m working on now, one of my protagonists is a science geek.

The same goes for music. There is always music somewhere in my books to provoke a certain reaction or emotion.

Not yet reviewed by Cynsations.
Some of your earlier novels, middle grade adventures, were written in Dutch and featured North American locations in the U.S. and Canada. What inspired these settings?

I’ve always been very interested in myths, legends, and stories, especially Native American stories. When I visited the U.S. and Canada, I learned so much more about the Native cultures. But when I returned to the Netherlands and looked in the Dutch libraries, I could only find stereotypical cowboy-and-Indian stories.

We needed to do better, I thought, otherwise, our children would grow up with a misrepresentation of entire cultures.

In addition to writing, you are also a writing instructor. Tell me about your experiences teaching writing to both to young writers and adults.

I enjoy giving children insight into how a story is built. It makes reading so much more fun. The biggest reward is encountering the student who says, “I don’t like reading. I don’t like writing. I don’t want to do this.” When this student “gets it” and starts writing, I couldn’t be happier.

When teaching adults, I like to give people the opportunity to hone their storytelling craft. I love helping people get their dreams realized and a few of my students are really close to being published now. I’m also mentoring someone who just signed his first contract, which is very exciting.

You are a fan of Writing Maps. How have you used these tools in your writing and teaching?

There are so many writing maps, there is really one for everyone. I randomly pick one each morning to get started writing. I typically use it as an exercise.

In a few instances, the result of the exercises end up in my novels, like little snippets I wrote with prompts from the Writing by the Sea map that ended up in Boreas and the Seven Seas.

As someone who loves to travel, what has been your favorite places to visit?

Mina at Tsé Bit’Aí
I love the empty vastness of Navajo Nation (located in the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah in the U.S.), especially Canyon de Chelly. To me, it is more impressive than the Grand Canyon. I love that you can walk or even drive for hours without anyone around, you can feel how the stories came to be, how they were inspired by the landscape and life.

There is this vast dessert with a cathedral like –or ship like- rock coming out of the earth. It’s often called "Shiprock," but the Navajo named it "Tsé Bit’Aí" or "the Rock with Wings," and it’s said to be the petrified remains of the bird that brought the Navajo people to safety.

Where is somewhere that you haven’t traveled to but would like to go?

New Zealand is at the top of my list. Also, I think it would be great to be on the international time line. It would be magical to be able to jump over the line and move through time.

Your first book, Dee Dee’s Revenge was set in a city much like your hometown of Vught. Do you plan to set more novels there?

No. This was my debut and that was me coming to terms with growing up in the southern part of the Netherlands, where life is easy going compared to Amsterdam, but also very small-town-ish and judgmental. Deedee’s Revenge was also a way for me to get even with my older brother.

My brother once locked me in a concrete sewage pipe on an assault course in a military restricted area. I couldn’t tell my parents what he’d done, because by doing so I would have to admit that I went into the restricted area, too. The book was my revenge.

So, it’s your first book that was semi-autobiographical! Tell us about your writing routine. Is it the same every day?

I meditate early in the morning. Then I make time for all of the business things related to my volunteer work for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Dutch Authors Guild. Next I do a writing prompt and then I write or revise.

Since I’m also a freelance editor I understand the importance of and the process of revision and I commit a lot of time to revising my stories.

I heard that you’re working on a YA novel that is a ghost story. Did that involve a lot of research?

I didn’t have to do research because I see ghosts. They come to me.

For example, I was part of the SCBWI Nevada mentor program. Our group of mentors and mentees spent four days at a cultural center in an old mining town that was claimed to be haunted. I’ve learned that when people think a place is haunted, it usually isn’t.

However, in this case I was in the kitchen and I felt the strong presence of a refined young man just over my shoulder. I was assigned to sleep in room number 16, which was reported to be haunted with a very nasty ghost. But all the while I was there, I felt the presence of this other ghost instead. I believe his presence with me for those four days kept the other ghost away.

That is fascinating. Tell us more about the SCBWI mentorship program.

I was already published in the Netherlands and teaching writing when I entered, but many mentees are not. Mentor programs are amazing perks for SCBWI members, who want to move forward.

The program teaches mentees to take the profession of writing seriously. It pushes them from having a hobby to having a career. I think writing, especially writing for children, should be done well.

Children’s book stories are so important and they absolutely must be crafted well. A mentor program can help aspiring writers to take their craft to the next level. We are in the process of starting a program for SCBWI members in Europe.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric therapist by day. Her debut novel,  The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011), was named to VOYA’s top of the top shelf, a YALSA quick pick and a Winchester Fiction Honor Book.

More on Angela Cerrito
Her forthcoming novel The Safest Lie (Holiday House, Fall 2015) is based on her research in Warsaw Poland including interviewing Irena Sendler, a mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance, who helped over 2,500 children escape the Warsaw ghetto.

Angela volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is the co-organizer of SCBWI events at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Angela contributes news and interviews from the children's-YA creative, literature and publishing community in Europe and beyond.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Meg Wiviott on Telling the Toughest Stories & Paper Hearts

Interview with Meg Wiviott.
By Meg Wiviott
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

History is filled with horrible, frightening events. Still, history needs to be taught. Finding a gentle way to tell a tragic, truthful story is something for which I seem to have a knack.

Kristallnacht, Auschwitz, and death marches are not the usual stuff of books for young readers. Finding an age appropriate manner to tell the story is a trick.

Honesty is the only way to tell any story, but especially an historical one. A writer must be respectful of the history and the characters. This requires that the writer not impose her twenty-first century sensibilities on a different time. I always start with truth. I do not dilute it. I do not dumb it down. But how is that done for young readers not yet ready to face some historic horrors? I have found that giving the reader space, distance, room to digest the truth works best.

For Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (Kar-Ben, 2010), I used a cat. Benno is a child-like, innocent, unbiased observer. He gives readers the emotional space to witness history from a safe place, allowing readers to take in what they can.

In Paper Hearts (McElderry, 2015), verse gave me that same emotional space. Poetry is all about metaphor. The use of white space, illusions, and elisions allow a writer to be honest without being blunt. The poetry allows a reader to take in only what he or she is capable of understanding. On subsequent readings, the reader should be able to take in more.

Both techniques allow for a gentle way of telling a horrendous truth. Simply because a story is terrible and filled with hatred, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told. In fact, it probably mean it needs to be told.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott (McElderry, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: one U.S. only, one international. From the promotional copy:

Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.

An act of defiance.

A statement of hope.

A crime punishable by death.

Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 05, 2015

Book Trailer: Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (Atheneum, 2015). From the promotional copy: Counting has never been this much fun or this jazzy!

Count along with the cool crows in this book trailer sung by Laurel Kathleen with music by Cooper Appelt.

Evolt Sale: Feral Curse & Diabolical for $1.99

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Spooky fantastic news! E-book editions of Diabolical and Feral Curse (both Candlewick) are on sale this monthly only; see E-volt for more information.


When "slipped" angel Zachary and his werewolf pal, Kieren, are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lockdown with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked "students."

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor, and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith offers a fascinating cast of characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

"...full force on the fires of hell 
and the sword power of heaven."
—The Horn Book
"A blend of romance, action and horror, 
this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare 
with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor."
—Kirkus Reviews

See excerpt and media kit.

Through the Ashes
Feral Curse


New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s thrilling Feral series delivers danger, romance, and suspense in an all new action-packed adventure.

The adopted daughter of two respectable human parents, Kayla is a werecat in the closet. All she knows is the human world.

When she comes out to her boyfriend, tragedy ensues, and her determination to know and embrace her heritage grows. 

Help appears in the lithe form of sexy male werecat Yoshi, backed up by Aimee and Clyde, as the four set out to solve the mystery of a possessed antique carousel while fielding miscast magic, obsessive strangers, and mounting species intolerance.

Fans will go wild for this rousing Feral adventure.

"Campy humor is paired with themes of social justice  in this fast-paced...volume....
A neat, smart middle novel that clearly sets the stage for an epic showdown 
between those who champion the rights of shifters and those blind to their humanity."
-Kirkus Reviews
" kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever...
but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for.
Debut character Kayla—level-headed, religious, 
but also quietly proud of her shifter nature—holds her own, 
nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger,
Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, 
and human Aimee’s resourcefulness."
-The Horn Book

Friday, October 02, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Cindy Pon on the release of Serpentine (Month9Books), "a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology." From the promotional copy:

"Lush with details from Chinese folklore, Serpentine tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

"When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time."

More News

Music Meets Military History by M.T. Anderson from Peek: "I pictured telling this story to those kids I’ve met who are so passionate about music (any kind of music!) or the arts – the drama kids, the band kids, the writing kids, the painting kids … or, for that matter, the military history nerds out there who, like me, love poring over maps of battle plans and hearing about the specs of Stuka diver-bombers." See also The Music That Brought Hope to a Besieged City: an audio interview with M.T. Anderson from Robin Young at Here and Now at Boston NPR. Highlight's Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (Candlewick, 2015).

Reading While White: Allies for Racial Diversity and Inclusion in Books for Children. Peek: "We are learning, and hold ourselves responsible for understanding how our whiteness impacts our perspectives and our behavior."

How to Talk to Kids About Racism in America -- With a Picture Book by Colton Valentine from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...the book traces Parks’ journey from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Washington, D.C., as he nurtured his interest in photography as a way to document and expose oppression in the United States."

It's Not All Death, Dystopia & Disaster: YA Novels to Tickle the Funny Bone by Joy Fleishhacker from School Library Journal. Peek: "Filled with memorable characters and laugh-out-loud moments, these entertaining tales of friendship, love, and self-discovery explore coming-of-age themes..." Note: bibliography of recommendations.

Rejecting Rejection with Author Paige Britt from the Writing Barn. Peek: "Writing taught me that the 'product' of my writing was not my manuscript. It was me. I was not the same person I was when I sat down at my computer all those years ago. Writing had transformed me."

Shorter Focus = Successful Writing by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Small steps don’t look overwhelming. They look simple and do-able, if you’ve made them small enough. And we don’t have to be speed demons either."

The Opposite of Colorblind: Why It's Essential to Talk to Children About Race by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "Teaching children to be 'colorblind' has led children (and adults) to believe that it’s rude or racist to even point out racial differences—even kids of color. This makes it exponentially harder to have frank discussions about racial issues when they need to be had."

Cordelia Jensen and Skyscraping from The Launch Pad. Peek: "There was a fair amount of difficulty. But the two hardest parts were probably my editor requesting that I cut all the dialogue out of the book (keep in mind, this is a verse novel) and the second was cutting out a few characters I felt attached to."

Surviving Santiago: A Conversation with Lyn Miller Lachmann from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "When I was in Chile, I saw that among my friends who had spent more than a decade fighting the dictatorship, and once the elections were over and they were seen as having 'won,' it was hard to find a new role."

Author Varian Johnson by Sara Zarr from This Creative Life podcast. Peek: "Varian’s ten years as a published author and how he has weathered the disappointments and triumphs along the way, including an almost-quitting incident that his agent tricked him out of."

Transformers: Reimaginging a World by Malinda Lo from The Horn Book. Peek: "I realized that I didn’t need to write a coming-out story. Ash was set in a fantasy world, and there was no need for same-sex love to be taboo there. I made the creative decision to let it be entirely normal, and Ash got to have her happily-ever-after."

Tales Out of School: An Interview with 2015 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner Sharon Draper by Deborah Taylor from School Library Journal. Peek: "I had a student who didn’t like to write, who grumbled at me from the back of the room, 'Why don’t you write something sometime? You’re always making us write.' He gave me a crumpled-up copy of Ebony Magazine’s short story contest...."

Does a True Artist Care What His Audience Thinks? by Adam Kirsch from the New York Times. Peek: "Art is a form of communication, and communication cannot be totally autonomous, just as there can be no such thing as a private language."

Newbery Winner Laura Amy Schlitz on Women, Writing, History, and Hired Girls by Kiera Parrott from School Library Journal. Peek: "Part of me is green with envy when I hear about writers who have an outline, because that would take so much of terror out of the process. But it would also take some of the suspense out of the process."

Best Times to Post for Retweets and Likes by Devin Coldewey from NBC News. Peek: "New research has some straightforward advice for you."

Transgender Children's Books Fill a Void and Break a Taboo by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek: "This year, children’s publishers are releasing around half a dozen novels in a spectrum of genres, including science fiction and young adult romance, that star transgender children and teenagers." See also Middle School Pride: LBGTQ + Tweens in Literature for Youth by Kelly Dickson from The Hub and How to Talk to Your Children About What "Transgender" Means by Charlesbridge Editor Yolanda Scott from CBC Diversity.

Go Global: We Are The World by Veronica Grijalva from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Educators might worry that young readers would be hesitant to read stories that aren’t set in their home country but, if a child can enjoy stories set in fantasy worlds, their unfettered imaginations can imagine and enjoy fantastic experiences set half a world away."

Author School Visits: Preparing for Your First by Donna Galanti from Project Mayhem. Peek: "As my anxiety ramped up I was informed of my one goal (according to my son): Do not be boring."

Size Acceptance in YA: "examining bodies, shape, and size in YA literature."

Kamik's First Sled by Matilda Sulurayok and Qin Leng: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Through Kamik, Jake, and his grandparents, kids learn about Inuit life, and they learn some Inuit words, too."

The Importance of Psychological Development in Character Growth by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Understanding where your characters are developmentally is the beginning to writing them consistently and creating realistic arcs for their growth and development."

Industry Q&A with Editor Liz Szabla from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I’d rather ask honest questions than assume I understand something that I’m not familiar with. I don’t want to push my sensibility on any author or any character. It’s an intuitive, creative process that is difficult to explain."

Mirrors and Windows: Conversations with Jacqueline Woodson by Renee Watson from Rethinking Schools. Peek: "My biggest fear would be to be dishonest to myself, to live a half-life, to not tell the stories I was put here to tell."  

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Terrific News! Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015), is now available, and I'm honored to be a chapter-contributing co-author. The book is set around a school shooting and told in alternating point of view, by alternating authors, from characters connected to the tragedy. See excerpt.

"The storytelling is wonderfully intense and distinctive on such a difficult, tragic topic. Readers will be captivated, not wanting to put the book down, but also needing a break due to the extremely engaging, emotionally charged content of characters' feelings and thoughts."
–VOYA, starred review

What's more, I will be featured at the 20th Anniversary Texas Book Festival on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 in Austin. I look forward to joining Ann Angel and Varian Johnson in discussing the anthology Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves (Candlewick, 2015).

Want to read something spooky? The electronic edition of Diabolical (Candlewick), is on sale this month for $1.99!

Congratulations, Debbie!
Congratulations to VCFA alum and former Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales on her first trade sale, Play Like a Girl, to Charlesbridge for publication in fall 2017. It's "a non-fiction picture book about courageous female athletes from 1827 to present day and the eventual passing of Title IX."

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI's own Donna Janell Bowman on receiving the SCBWI nonfiction work-in-progress grant for Tomboy: The Daring Life of Blanche Stuart Scott and the SCBWI book launch award for Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low, 2016).

Link of the Week: The Deepest Gift by Marion Dane Bauer from Just Thinking. Peek: "The advantage of being, by anyone’s measure, an old woman is that so much falls away. So much of the need for attention. So much of the desire for my work to be seen as better than. . . . "

Don't miss the We Need Diverse Books and School Library Journal book-talking kit! See also WNDB Announces Internship Recipients from Publishers Weekly.

Personal Links:

TV show from YA author Rob Thomas.
Barbie Is Getting More Real
Religious History in Ethiopia
Speaking While Female 
Mt. McKinley Will Be Renamed Denali 
Jefferson Davis Statue Comes Down at the University of Texas
Do "Casual Fridays" Suppress Creativity?
Japan's Worst Day for Teen Suicides
Tribute to Christopher Lee 
Horror Film Director Wes Craven Dies at 76
Female Wolverine?
James Wan to Direct "Aquaman"
Black Canary Artist Annie Wu
"Star Wars" on "Feminine" Armor
Spaceports and Sky Farms
Humans Will Be Tech Hyprids by 2030
Baby Gorilla Plays Peekaboo with Little Boy
Elephants Have a Secret Language
Newborn Snow Leopards at Brookfield Zoo (Chicago)


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on Australia's 2015 Children's Book of the Year Awards

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The 2015 Children's Book of the Year awards were announced Aug. 21. The theme this year was "Books Light Up Our World," and there were many lights shining this year in schools, homes and bookshops all over Australia.

We have awards in five categories: Picture Book of the Year; Younger Readers. Early Childhood; Older Readers; and Eve Pownall Award for nonfiction.

Author Libby Gleeson won two of those categories, Younger Readers and Early Childhood, and for the very first time an illustrator, Freya Blackwood, received the Book of the Year award in a record breaking three categories, Younger Readers, Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year.

Never before has a single creator won three times in the same year. And these two amazing people are friends as well as book creators and have worked together on many titles.

Libby says:
"Like so much of the work I have written for younger children, this book has come from the children I have lived with, the way that I have learnt of the rich imaginations that little children have.

"I am so lucky to have Freya Blackwood as the illustrator for this book. Some years ago, when I first began working with Freya, I said that I had enormous admiration for her work and that I felt in the book we then did that there was a wonderful marriage of words and images. My admiration has grown stronger and I think her success today tells us what a force she now is in Australian picture book illustration."

Read more of the award speeches.

And later that evening Libby was also announced as the recipient of the 2015 CBCA Nan Chauncy Award, a biennial award created to honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the field of Australian Children's literature.

See the list of winning and honoured titles.

Cheers from a very bright Australia.

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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Guest Post: William Alexander on Alien Astronauts & Nomad

By William Alexander
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

"In Teothuacan, artists made masks with no breathing places, forms, neither practical nor descriptive, yet exciting to behold. And the architects took up the building of the great form that does not exist in nature, the pyramid. They invented the order of cities, always mind-made, not following the existing course of a river or a rut. In Teotihuacan the architecture and urban design were as devoted to form as the mathematical depictions of the pattern of the solar system."

I have written about ancient alien astronauts. This was, quite possibly, a terrible idea. But the concept is so deliciously brain-tickling. What if starships visited our planet long before we had the telescopes to see them coming? What consequences might have followed a prehistoric first contact?

Sadly, this kind of thought experiment usually unfolds with all the nuance and subtly of that embarrassing scene in "Return of the Jedi," the one in which C3-PO hovers over prostrate Ewoks—or the more recent and equally embarrassing scene of Enterprise-worship in "Star Trek: Into Darkness."

This is the single story, the cliché and condescending story we always tell about first contact between cultures with different relationships to tech. But it isn't the only story.

When Ishi, last of the Yahi, saw an airplane for the first time he did not fall to his knees. Instead he asked if there was a white man in that thing.

His friend said yes.

Ishi shook his head, laughed, and went on with his day.

It doesn't help that the most famous and popular proponents of ancient alien contact are Erich von Däniken (author of Chariots of the Gods and convicted fraud), Utz Utermann (editor, co-author of Chariots of the Gods, and actual Nazi), and that guy from the History Channel.

It also doesn't help that proponents of this notion give aliens credit for our ancient accomplishments. The human architects of Teothuacan were very good at math, astronomy, and building huge, beautiful things out of stone. They did not require aliens to teach them their business, thanks very much.

But what if alien ships did come calling, and were impressed by those same accomplishments? What if this resulted in open dialogue and diplomacy rather than a condescending lesson in pyramid construction? What if an ancient Mexican city joined a fleet of nomadic starships? What sort of spacefaring civilization might result, thousands of years later?

These are, I hope, more interesting questions than "What if aliens built our pyramids?"

The best answers I know how to give are in Nomad (McElderry, 2015), the sequel to Ambassador (McElderry, 2014).

No aliens are worshiped in either book.

Cynsational Notes

Also, Will wears Batman socks.
William Alexander writes fantasy and science fiction for kids. He won the National Book Award in 2012 for his first novel, Goblin Secrets (McElderry, 2012), and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His second novel, Ghoulish Song (McElderry, 2013), was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. His third, Ambassador, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, finalist for the International Latino Book Award, and a winner of the Eleanor Cameron Award.

Will studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop. He teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cynsational Return: What I Did On My Summer "Vacation"

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to fall, Cynsational readers!

How was your summer?

Mine was, in a word: Busy.

In June, I taught the VCFA alumni mini res and sampled maple creemees.
Then it was on to the ALA annual conference in San Francisco (with Courtney Alameda and Valynne E. Maetani).
In July, I returned to the VCFA summer residency (with my winter 2015 MFA students).
Fellow faculty Kathi Appelt, Shelley Tanaka and Rita Williams-Garcia
Congratulations, graduates!
At the end of July, I joined the GeekyCon crew in Orlando.
August took me to Richardson (Texas) Public Library to lead a writing workshop.
And to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to teach via A Room of Her Own.
And to East Texas Book Festival in Tyler (with Michelle Newby)
And to Mansfield (TX) Book Festival (with E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Kwame Alexander)
Meanwhile, I did my best to write when I could, where I could!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Summer Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thanks so much for being a Cynsational reader! 

I appreciate your enthusiasm for and interest in the world of books for kids and teens.

Breaking news: Effective immediately, Cynsations is going on summer hiatus until September. 

In the meantime, you can keep up with children's-YA books news on my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

See y'all in the fall!

More News  

Recommended on the We are the People List
We're the People Summer Reading List of 2015 from Facebook. Peek: "Are you looking for books to add to your summer reading list? Ones written or illustrated by Native Americans or people of color? Ones that include characters that are Native? People of color? Disabilities? LGBTQ? Take a look at these!" Note: Download a PDF (list of titles; annotated list) to take with you to the store of library.  See more information about the list from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature.

Romanticizing Mental Illness by L. Lee Butler, S. Jae-Jones and Alex Townsend from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Ideally there would be plenty of stories within and outside of the perspectives of mental illness. Because lots of outsiders don’t really relate until they hear a story from the outside perspective."

Mary E. Cronin's Workshop on Gay (LGBT) & Questioning Characters in Middle Grade from Lee Wind at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "There may be GLBT people in the character’s family, or they may have no role models or reference points at all. These factors will have a huge impact on a character’s trajectory."

The Mystery of the Hardy Boys and the Invisible Authors by Daniel A. Gross from The Atlantic. Peek: "If writing seems like a lonely profession, try ghostwriting children's books."

How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along."

What Makes a Picture Book a Mega Hit? by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "With that in mind, today I’m going to talk about some of the top picture book blockbusters to come out in the last ten years. Please note that I’m avoiding picture books with TV or other media tie-ins. These are the folks who got where they are on their own merits."

Interview: Jackie Morse Kessler on the Riders of the Apocalypse Series by Katherine Locke and Alex Townsend from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "I’m a former bulimic, and I still have self-image issues. The protagonist Lisabeth is inspired by someone I knew when I was younger; she’d been a very close friend, and she was the one who introduced me to bulimia." Note: This series is highly recommended.

The Connection Between Emotional Wounds and Basic Needs by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...she still feels the pain associated with the loss of her esteem and will subconsciously take steps to meet that need or make sure that it isn’t threatened again. Maybe she’ll throw herself into education, sports, or the arts as a means of gaining recognition for herself, since she feels unable to compete physically."

Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: A Parent's Abandonment by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge."

One Tweet Reminds Us Why Judy Blume Was the Sexual Revolutionary We Needed by Kate Hakala from Connections.Mic. Peek: "The children and teens of Blume's books didn't only normalize sexuality for so many young kids, they illuminated the more embarrassing, secret parts of sex — the blood, the touching — that many readers were too afraid to bring up in school or to their parents."

Industry Q&A with Charlesbridge Editor Alyssa Mito Pusey from CBC Diversity. Peek: "When I was recently looking up Asian and Asian American biographies, I was shocked all over again at how little there is out there—Lee & Low seems to be the only publisher consistently putting out these books."

Children's Book Council to Receive BookExpo America's Industry Ambassador Award by Yolanda Scott from CBC Diversity. Peek: "While this is the first year that the award is being bestowed on an organization in place of an individual, BEA show organizers note that the Children’s Book Council’s work is both personal and special for its dedication to fostering literacy, diversity and education, making it eminently qualified to receive the award."

Case Cracked: The Process of Editing Mystery Novels by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "...we discussed how the inciting incident—the moment that gets Claire to veer her course to investigating whether her father and her stepdad ever knew each other—might be complicated and how those complications would have a ripple effect that would improve multiple other plot points, and increase the pacing." See also: Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Valynne E. Maetani by Stacey Hayman from VOYA.

The Godzilla Effect: How Climaxes, Twists, and Turning Points Work (and How They Don’t) by Harrison Demchick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "The climax, then, is the inevitable result—eventually, the effect—of that incident two hundred or three hundred or however many pages ago. It needs to be an organic development of the story."

Six Tips from Six Years of School Visits by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "If you’ve got multiple books, don’t assume that your host wants you to focus on your newest one. Your host might not know much about it, and in fact may have led their students to expect something else."

Breaking Barriers: Alvina Ling, Editor-in-Chief of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers from Peek: "...ideally we have a nice balance between books that may have award potential, and books that are more commercial and have bestseller potential (although books that are both are even more ideal!). We also don’t want to have all fantasy books or all historical fiction, for example, so I help guide our acquisitions process and identify needs and gaps to our editors to keep in mind as they are reading submissions and acquiring."

Cynsational Awards

2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winners from School Library Journal. Peek:

"The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (Simon & Schuster) has won the 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for best picture book, while Katherine Rundell’s Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Simon & Schuster) took best fiction title and Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Russia (Schwartz & Wade) was named best nonfiction book." See honor books and more information.

2015 South Asian Book Awards:

See honor books and more information.

Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a set of signed books by Claire Legrand was Christina in Kentucky.

See also a giveaway of an author- and illustrator-signed copy of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate (Eerdmans, 2015) from Fat Girl Reading.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

My Memorial Day view of Highway One; hang in there, Texas & Oklahoma!
At "Pretty in Pink" with authors Cory Putnam Oakes, P.J. Hoover & Mari Mancusi at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.
Happy Summer! Congratulations to spring 2015 graduates!

As all y'all can tell from my events listed below, I'm going to be coming and going for the next few months. I hope to see many of you on the road or here in Austin, and online you can catch up with me at my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

So embrace the summer. Read, write, illustrate, champion books for young readers, and with each new day, remember to be the heroes of your own life stories.

Thanks again for being Cynsational readers! 

Link of the Week: How Insane Amount of Rain in Texas Could Turn Rhode Island Into a Lake by Christopher Ingraham from The Washington Post.

Central Texans! Summer Road Trip Release Party: Join Margo Rabb (Kissing in America) and Liz Garton Scanlon (Great Good Summer) at 2 p.m. May 30 at BookPeople in Austin.

Personal Links

Now Available!

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.
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