Monday, February 27, 2017

Guest Post: Varsha Bajaj on Finding Your Book at Target

By Varsha Bajaj 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

On November 9, 2016, I was at my local Target store.

I had bought milk, eggs, bananas and dog treats and I wandered into the books section because that’s where I am known to stray when I need comforting.

Right there beside Dr. Seuss and under Eric Carle was This is Our Baby, Born Today (by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016).

I pulled out my phone and clicked a picture, as if I needed proof for my friends and family, in case it was a huge mistake and they pulled the copies off the shelves the next day.

Then, I lurked around the aisle trying to collect my errant thoughts.

This book was born in January 2012 during my son’s senior year when the school requested that I send pictures of him between the ages of 0-5. I sat surrounded by hundreds of pictures with the impossible task of selecting five. Babies were now on my brain and in my words.

After months of writing and many failed versions and drafts, I realized the heart of my story.

While the baby is the mother’s alone in the womb, the circle of love gradually expands after birth and includes at first the family and then the world. The arrival of a baby is cause for celebration.

Around the same time, I read about the plight of elephants and their dwindling numbers.

My connection to elephants goes way back. I remembered the wooden elephant from my childhood home in India who was the hero of some of my earliest stories.


It struck me that if we celebrated the birth of every elephant, they would not be endangered today. The baby in the story became an elephant and the rest of the words followed.

This manuscript found the right editor thanks to my agent, Jill Corcoran.

The words found the perfect illustrator, Eliza Wheeler, thanks to my extraordinary editor, Nancy Paulsen.

I’ve been lucky to see my books grace the shelves of bookstores before.

But this was different.

While I wish everyone visited a bookstore, I realize and mourn the fact that only a small section of people frequent and support their local indie or Barnes and Noble.

Target manages to reach a much wider base.

I hope that the readers of this book will be sympathetic toward elephants and realize that these gentle giants need our help.

I hope that these young readers will wander into a bookstore or their local indie as teens or adults.

I hope there are people who will wander to the book section after buying their milk, eggs, bananas and dog treats and pick up a copy of This is Our Baby, Born Today.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus called This is Our Baby, Born Today a gentle rhyming story and said it "works on two levels: the playfulness of the young elephant and its friends ensure that young children will be able to see themselves in the story, and given the depiction of the natural scenes, at least some young readers will become fascinated with the lives of elephants as well."

Varsha Bajaj came to the United States as a graduate student in 1986. She earned her master’s degree in counseling from Southern Illinois University and worked as a Licensed Professional Counselor in St. Louis. This is Our Baby, Born Today is her third picture book, and she is also the author of the novel Abby Spencer goes to Bollywood (Albert Whitman, 2014). Her next book, Our Earth, Our Home, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani will be published by Nancy Paulsen Books in 2018.

Varsha with Kathi Appelt at the This is Our Baby, Born Today launch party.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Poeta Rebelde by Guadalupe Garcia McCall from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek: "Poetry gives voice to my fears. It allows me to express my concerns with bold and powerful words." See also Kwame Alexander & Nikki Grimes on the Power of Poetry from Publishers Weekly.

How to Use IBM's WATSON Artificial Intelligence to Improve Your Writing -- For Free by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "You can paste in a chapter of your work, or someone else's work, and get immediate feedback on everything from the emotions displayed." Text is analyzed both at the document and sentence level for emotion, language style and social tendencies.

Cooperative Children's Book Center releases best-of-the-year list. Final CCBC Choices publication will be available March 4.

Can Poetry Keep You Young? Science Is Still Out, But The Heart Says Yes, by Ina Jaffe from NPR Morning Edition. Peek: "The early evidence suggests that the arts have positive cognitive, social, and emotional impacts on older adults."

The Significance of Small Gestures by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We storytellers wield a mighty power to move people. We became storytellers because of our empathy—our intense desire not just to explore how others see and feel things, but to convey those outlooks and emotions to even more folks."

Where to Find Opportunities to Teach (and Supplement Your Writing Income) by Eric Maisel from Jane Friedman's blog. Peek: "Once you embrace the idea that running classes, workshops and retreats might be something you actually love and not just a revenue stream and a way to help you cobble a life, you may feel your enthusiasm grow."

Rita Williams Garcia by Varian Johnson for 28 Days Later from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Rita writes about real people in the real word. When I see the Gaither girls, I see my sister. My cousins. My daughters. Rita creates characters–Black characters–that showcase who we are and who we can be."

Agent Spotlight Interview with Linda Camacho and Query Critique Giveaway by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: "My tastes are pretty broad, ranging from clean and lighthearted to edgy and dark. Diversity of all types (ethnicity, disability, sexuality, etc.) welcome, particularly #ownvoices projects!" Also, meet Linda in person at the Austin SCBWI Conference, May 20 and May 21.

A New Phase of 'Goodnight Moon' by Sarah Lyall from The New York Times. Peek: "...soon there will be 'Good Day, Good Night,' a previously unpublished book by (Margaret Wise) Brown that can be read as part variation on, part expansion of Goodnight Moon (Harper, 1947)."

The Importance of the Adversarial Ally by Jeanne Cavelos from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "A character who only helps works against the needs of story. He makes things easier for the protagonist, reducing conflict, suspense, emotion, and putting less at stake."

MG vs YA When YA Is So Much Older Now by Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. Peek: "There’s a certain kind of voice you expect from a YA book that tells you 'this is about a teenage experience.' It’s different from the exploring/discovery of the world voice we generally hear in MG—it’s more mature, sometimes more cynical. It’s not an adult voice, but it is no longer the voice of a child."

Why YA Books with Muslim Protagonists Are More Important than Ever by Sheba Karim from Harper Stacks. Peek: "When I told classmates my parents were from Pakistan, a country born of carnage only a few decades earlier, hardly anyone knew where it was, let alone its history."

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Giveaway



More Personally - Cynthia

My latest geeky fashion acquisitions!
This week, I transitioned from writing teacher to writer. After grading my first-round VCFA packets, I read through my work in progress and began cutting. The manuscript was too heavy on character pontificating, too thin on plot. No more. Tomorrow, I begin deleting and then contemplate how I can take the action up a notch or ten.

Cynsational Events


Cynthia Leitich Smith will be speaking at the Austin SCBWI Marketing Boot Camp on Feb. 25 at the Round Rock, Texas Library. She is also a keynote speaker for the 33rd Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on April 6 and April 7 at Kent State University in Ohio. In addition, she will deliver the keynote address at The Color of Children's Literature Conference from Kweli Literary Journal on April 8 at the New York Times Conference Center in Manhattan.

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen

I was honored to be a judge for Letters About Literature at the Texas State Library last Friday, along with several other members of the Austin kidlit community.  

Gayleen, Anne Bustard, Cory Putman Oakes, Nikki Loftin, Donna Janell Bowman and Rebekah Manley.
Personal Links

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Author Interview: Lamar Giles on Writing Mysteries, Diversity & His Writing Journey

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lamar Giles' last Cynsations visit was in 2014 as a debut author.

Since then, he's had two novels named Edgar Award finalists by the Mystery Writers of America and helped found We Need Diverse Books.

He serves as senior vice president of fundraising for the non-profit organization dedicated to putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.

I talked with him recently about the writing life and his latest mystery novel.

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

The thing I love most about being an author is the moment of breakthrough.

Every thing I've ever written is hard, so hard I want to quit almost every time. It's a point of endless anxiety...until it isn't. If I work long enough, and hard enough, the murkiest most non-sensical manuscript starts to clarify, then it flows, then when I'm at the end of the journey I have something enjoyable that feels like it came from somewhere else.

That feeling is remarkably satisfying. And, if I'm fortunate, I'll get to do it over and over again for the rest of my life.

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

I write best in the mornings in my home office (that's not very exciting, I know). That's been my routine for almost two decades. Though, I've been experimenting with alternate locations and times due to having to travel more.

I've never been great at writing on the road, but it's becoming more and more necessary as people ask me to visit their state/school/library. Recently, I wrote a book proposal on my iPad while sitting in a traffic jam (my wife was driving...I'm not that good). I'm evolving.

When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?

So, I've been writing stories since I was eight years old, and there are several milestones that stand out. Chief among them, my first pro short story sale at age 21 (then the subsequent three years I couldn't sell anything).

Being awarded a Fellowship from the Virginia Commission of the Arts when I was 26, newly married, and close to giving up on writing for "more realistic" pursuits like being a real estate agent (I'm a much better writer than real estate agent).

The rise of digital/self publishing, which allowed me to put out material with no one's permission. My first novel sale at age 31.

Then, understanding how few books were written for or about children of color, making me very fortunate to be working, and using my platform to open the door for more diverse material.

Could you tell us about your upcoming release?

Overturned (Scholastic Press, March 28, 2017) is the story of a teen poker player in Las Vegas trying to discover who framed her father for murder.

For those who know my work, it's got twists and turns and action like my previous novels Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014) and Endangered (Harper Teen, 2015). For those who don't know my work, I think you'll find Overturned is a great entry point into my brand of noir mystery.

Nikki Tate, the hero of the story, plays in illegal poker games as a way to earn money for college way on the other side of the country.

She wants to get away from her family's failing casino and the stigma of having a dad on death row. But, when her father's sentence is overturned, and he returns home bitter and obsessed, it turns Nikki's world topsy-turvy. I'm not much of a gambler myself, but in this case I'm willing to bet you'll have a hard time putting Overturned down.


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

At Matt de la Pena's Newbery
acceptance speech
Well, the most obvious thing is Nikki's Black (as am I).

Growing up, the lack of Black heroes in all the things I loved--books, TV, Film, Video Games--left me feeling deprived as a consumer of the arts.

In my teen years, I was outright angry and close to giving up on reading and writing (beyond what was required to pass classes). Discovering many black writers/characters in my late teens altered the course of my life, and made me believe storytelling was viable option for me.

That being said, Nikki's blackness isn't just surface level.

She and her family deal with things like false accusations and unjust incarceration. A local police force that's cold to her family because they had the audacity to speak up. Nikki being viewed as older and more dangerous than she actually is because of her complexion.

These things are subtle--the mystery is front and center--but the circumstances are background constants, as they are for people of color in real life.

Additionally, Nikki has a diverse group of friends, classmates, and business associates. I tried to write Las Vegas as I saw it--and the world in general--populated with various people of all colors, shapes, sizes, etc.

What appeals to you about the mystery genre?

I like puzzles and Legos, and writing a mystery feels like the literary version of putting something together. You have all these little pieces that don't really make sense scattered about, but through the progression of plot and character, you start to pull them together until you have this beautiful picture or structure that makes you appreciate the tough parts of the process even more.

Cynsational Notes:

Kirkus Reviews called Overturned "an utterly compelling whodunit" in a starred review. "Nikki is a totally appealing character: gutsy, practical, and strong, at the head of a cast of well-drawn supporting characters. The interracial romance between Nikki and Davis, who is white, is handled deftly, as is Giles' skillful evocation of the townies-vs.-tourists of Las Vegas."


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Authors, Editor & Illustrator Interview: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice)

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi are the co-authors of Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, illustrated by Yukata Houlette (Heyday, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Fred Korematsu liked listening to music on the radio, playing tennis, and hanging around with his friends—just like lots of other Americans. 

But everything changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941 and the government forced all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to distant prison camps. 

This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up.

Inspired by the award-winning book for adults
Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi (Heyday, 2009), the Fighting for Justice series introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. 

The story of Fred Korematsu’s fight against discrimination explores the life of one courageous person who made the United States a fairer place for all Americans, and it encourages all of us to speak up for justice.

Today we welcome the co-authors, editor and illustrator to share with Cynsations readers a glimpse into the creative process behind the book.

Stan, can you talk about the inspiration behind the book and series?

Fred Korematsu
I wish I could claim credit for initiating the book and series, but they are the brainchildren of Heyday’s founder and retired publisher, Malcolm Margolin.

He thought a children’s version of Wherever There’s a Fight, the book I co-wrote with Elaine Elinson about the history of civil rights in California, would inspire kids.

That initial idea morphed into a plan for a series of books about civil liberties heroes and heroines.

Fred Korematsu is one of my heroes. So I’m delighted that the series is launching with his story.

He stood virtually alone against a powerful government he knew was violating the rights of Japanese Americans. His fight for justice was difficult. But he ultimately prevailed.

He dedicated the final decades of his life to ensuring that others would not suffer the same unfair discrimination Japanese Americans endured during World War II.

His story is all the more important now with threats to Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and LGBT people. Kids need to know that we can organize and fight against injustice.

Laura, white headband, seated far end of line, blockading
Lawrence Livermore Lab. She was arrested soon after. 
Laura, what inspired you to work on this project?

I was delighted to be asked to come on board!

Molly, our editor at Heyday, approached me and asked if I could get involved as a person with children’s book experience, to help Stan create a story pitched at our middle grade readership. It was a dream project for me.

I love that the book, and the series, focus on people who have fought for social justice and civil liberties in California history.

I grew up as the child of activist parents, and got involved in activism myself in middle school and high school, including getting arrested as part of anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid protests.

I learned from my family and from my peers, that my own happiness and well-being is connected to other people’s, and that when we fight for everyone’s rights, we make the whole world better.


I am so excited that we were able to create a book that will hopefully inspire young people today to feel like they can have a voice, and the power to speak up when they see something unfair.

We are in a time when basic civil liberties are being threatened and undermined.

I hope that our story will help kids to understand more about what happened to Fred Korematsu, and how 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were put in jail during WWII just for looking like the enemy.

This can help them to reflect on issues today — a potential registry of Muslim Americans along with the travel ban for people from predominently Muslim countries, anti-immigrant attitudes, and other forms of discrimination — and consider how they can have the power, and the ability, to speak up themselves.

Molly, how did the editorial process for this book work? Was it similar to other books you’d worked on or different?

I feel very fortunate to have been part of this project, working with a group of such thoughtful and caring creative people to share Fred Korematsu's story.

As we built the book from the ground up, the editorial process was more collaborative than that of any other project I've worked on.

We spent many afternoons together talking about Fred's experiences and how to best convey them to young readers, and it was nice that we all lived in the Bay Area and could brainstorm in person.

Stan and Laura did amazing work collaborating on the writing front, melding their different strengths, and Yutaka thought about illustrations that would complement the themes of each chapter, then beautifully realized them.

Meanwhile, we gathered photos, art works, news headlines, and other documents to help extend Fred's story.


On a basic level, the challenge was helping readers understand and relate to Fred's story, which
involves a complicated legal fight.

There was a constant balancing act of keeping things simple enough for our audience while presenting the complexity of topics accurately. Our conversations ranged from discussing how to talk about racism with this age group to how to present the fact that the U.S. government lied during Fred's trial.

Through the lens of his story, we talked about many important and difficult subjects that are increasingly relevant today.

From the text to the visuals, our process involved discussing possibilities, trying out ideas and approaches, and gathering input.

We were grateful to have had the help and guidance of Fred's children Karen and Ken Korematsu, local teachers and librarians, a focus group of fourth-grade students, and staff at several nonprofits and historical societies.

Slowly, the book began to take shape, coalescing more and more until it "came into its own" as the book it is today, a book that feels, to me, like a real community project, and one that will continue to expand beyond its covers as kids start to read and interact with it.

I hope readers are moved to have the same kinds of important conversations that we had while making the book, and that Fred's example moves all of us to act when we see others treated unfairly.

Yutaka, what was your process for thinking about and creating the artwork?

I had never worked on a narrative project that involved so many drawings before, and honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed at first.

To try to make the project less daunting, I tried to plan as much as I could before diving too deep into any one drawing. Planning involved things like creating a color-palette, gathering reference images and trying to work out the compositions for as many of the rough sketches as I could.

The color-palette was inspired by kamishibai illustrations from the 40s and 50s.

Kamishibai, or 'paper-theater' was a popular Japanese form of storytelling for kids that took place outdoors. The illustrations for 'kamishibai' were intended to be eye-catching even from afar, so the colors often have a bright, pop-art feel to them. But many of the remaining 'kamishibai' from the 40s and 50s are a faded and worn out from heavy use in the outdoors. I was hoping this mix of bright and faded colors would subtly evoke an older time without feeling musty.

Because the story takes place in specific times and places, there were many reference images to find, like Fred's old high school, barbershops from the 40s, and Tanforan. 


Molly and Diane from Heyday helped out a lot by giving me some reference books about life in the
internment camps. I was also inspired by the artworks of Miné Okubo and Chiura Obata, who were both imprisoned at Topaz.

I think that in any art-form, once you introduce more than one element, the relationship between the elements becomes impossible not to think about.

So it was important for me that the drawings worked well individually but also in relation to each other. When creating rough sketches, I tried to vary the compositions from one drawing to the next to try to make them flow together but also to not be too redundant.

Once most of the planning was done, I started work on the final drawings, which is the most fun. I used a drawing tablet for the line work and a combination of watercolors, color-pencil and Photoshop for coloring.

Cynsational Notes
Yutaka, Laura, Molly and Stan


Fred Korematsu Speaks Up received a starred review from Kirkus. "Written in free verse, Fred's story engages in powerful bursts and shows how speaking out brings complex consequences. Enhanced with pictures and archival materials, well-researched and approachable historical essays interspersed throughout Fred's account offer context, while Houlette's reverent illustrations give humanity to Fred's plight."

Laura Atkins is an author, teacher and independent children's book editor with more than 20 years editorial experience. She recently completed an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and also holds an MA in children's literature from Roehampton University.

Stan Yogi managed development programs for the ACLU of Northern California for 14 years. In addition to Wherever There's a Fight, he also coedited two literary anthologies. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, MELUS, Los Angeles Daily Journal and several anthologies.

Yutaka Houlette is a Japanese-American illustrator and front-end engineer based in Oakland, California. He designs and builds user interfaces for CommitChange, a fundraising platform for nonprofits and social good companies. His illustrations have also appeared in Smithsonian Magazine and Orion Magazine.

Molly Woodward is a freelance editor and the former children's acquisitions editor at Heyday, an independent, nonprofit publisher. Heyday promotes widespread awareness and celebration of California’s many cultures, landscapes, and boundary-breaking ideas.
Insets in the book provide broader historical context, timelines, definitions
and questions for readers to reflect on their own contexts.





Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Author Interview: Cynthia Levinson on The Youngest Marcher

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Cynthia Levinson's most recent book has a direct correlation to one of her previous titles. I talked with her recently about writing her first picture book, social justice and biscuits.

Tell us about the process of transforming We've Got A Job into a picture book.

You’re right—The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (Atheneum, 2017) evolved out of We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers, 2012).

When my agent, Erin Murphy, called to tell me about interest in the book proposal I’d written on this remarkable event, she said there were two offers—one for a picture book and the other for a middle grade. What did I want to do?

My instincts told me the story needed multiple perspectives, and I opted for a book for 10 to 14 year olds.

The idea for a picture book, though, never went away. But, how could I reduce a 176-page volume about four children who protested segregation, a vicious police chief who aimed fire hoses and snarling dogs at them and 3000 others and then sent them to jail down to a 40-page illustrated book for six- to ten-year-olds? What could I leave out? What could I leave in?

One of those four children was only nine years old. With a protagonist the same age as my readership, Audrey Faye Hendricks instantly became the “main character.” So, her experiences drove the story. She didn’t know that Martin Luther King spent time in solitary confinement. She knew him as her parents’ friend Mike, who came for dinner and wolfed down her momma’s Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter. So, the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail got chucked, and the rolls stayed.

This also meant that Audrey’s voice had to narrate. She and her momma “coo-ooked!” At church meetings, she “sang and swayed…her voice spirited and spiritual.” Marching to protest, she knew she was going “to j-a-a-il!”

Also, just about everything had to come in the traditional picture-book threes. “Front-row seats, cool water, elevators with white-gloved operators—laws said those were for white folks.”

But, can you send a nine-year-old to jail in a picture book?

Yes. Because Audrey was actually sentenced to jail—for a whole week. She was even threatened with solitary herself.

Yet, kids instinctively know that nine-year-olds triumph. And that’s what really makes this a book for them.

The timing of this book couldn't be more perfect - millions of people have been out marching for a cause recently. How did you manage that?

Well, of course, I didn’t! Timing is pretty much out of the control of authors and illustrators. And this book was no exception.

The Youngest Marcher was originally slated to publish in January 2015. But, Vanessa Brantley Newton is, for good reasons, a hugely popular artist. After she agreed to take on this book, she received offers to illustrate several others, which took precedence. So, ours was delayed twice, for a year both times.

I admit I was a little grumpy! This was my first picture book, and I couldn’t wait to see how she was going to bring Audrey to life. But, you’re right again—the timing could not be more fortuitous. The book came out at exactly the right time, though in a way no one could predict.

Our country is bitterly divided—nearly in half—over what our government should and should not do, over who is president and how we pick her or him, over immigration, race relations, possible terrorism, and much more. Protests since the president was inaugurated in January have been larger and more persistent even than ones I remember from the civil rights period and the anti-Vietnam War era.

Audrey not only inspires people to raise their voices—she inspired me to go to Washington, DC for the Women’s March!—she also gives them hope that protest works.

On some level, your books all have a social justice tie-in. When you started writing for children, did you see yourself as a social justice writer? 

Yes, they do all relate to social justice. But, no, I didn’t intend that to be the case. In fact, when the first book, We’ve Got a Job, came out, I didn’t know if I’d ever write or publish another book. But, I should have guessed that, if there was one, it would somehow be related.

The second book was Watch Out for Flying Kids! How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community (Peachtree Publishers, 2015).

It’s about social justice through circus arts. Basically, youth circus programs bring together kids who would not otherwise meet—and, in fact, if they did, they might well be enemies—and have them perform such dangerous tricks that they have to support each other!

In this case, the kids I highlight are Jewish Hebrew-speakers and Muslim Arabic-speakers in Israel (including a hijab-wearing contortionist!) as well as white, black, poor, and wealthy Americans in St. Louis. Some are even gang members, and there’s an uncanny connection between them and tribes and clans in the Middle East.

It’s undoubtedly my most diverse book.

But, remarkably, the kids all get along so well that, while I was writing it, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough conflict to keep readers interested! For better or worse, there were tiffs, accidents, crime, and derring-do to make things lively.

Many people might disagree but my biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, subtitled, Do All the Good You Can, (Balzer + Bray, 2016) focuses on her Methodist drive to do good in the world. I think that’s literally what has made her run.

Of course, the book also looks into her mistakes, including those that set the country back, such as the healthcare debacle. But, she truly cares about young people and families.


The next book, too—as yet untitled—could be said to have a similar slant. At the suggestion of my Peachtree editor, I’m co-writing it with my husband, Sandy, and it’s on the problems with the U.S. Constitution.

He has written for many years—and convinced me—that the Constitution is the source of many injustices in the country. One of our examples is the Senate, which gives every state, regardless of its size, two senators; as a result, small states and their needs outweigh large states in Congress. Another of our examples is the Electoral College, which is also affected by the two-senators-per-state arrangement.

The book after that? Who knows?!


Cynsational Notes:

Kirkus called The Youngest Marcher "a vivid reminder that it took a community to fight segregation and the community responded." Simon & Schuster produced a  Common Core curriculum guide prepared by Myra Zarnowski, and Alyson Beecher and Michele Knott developed a classroom discussion guide.

Vanessa Brantley Newton recently did a live illustration for the New York Times and talked about Audrey with Maria Russo, children's book editor, as she drew.

The launch party for The Youngest Marcher included making protest signs and singing protest songs. Several Austin children's authors and their families helped celebrate the event.

Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby assisted with sign making. Harper and her classmates
shared what they learned from a recent school visit as part of Cynthia's presentation. 

Christina Soontornvat and her family made signs too.
Cory Putman Oakes and her daughter make a sign.







Monday, February 20, 2017

New Voice: Sue Lowell Gallion on Pug Meets Pig

for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Sue Lowell Gallion is the debut author of Pug Meets Pig (Beach Lane, 2016), illustrated by Joyce Wan. From the promotional copy:

Meet Pug. Pug is one happy pup. He has his own yard, his own bowl, and his own cozy bed. That is, until Pig moves in! Pig eats from Pug's bowl, interrupts Pug's work, and, worst of all, sleeps in Pug's bed. Will Pug and Pig ever learn to live together as friends? 

With adorable illustrations from Joyce Wan, this sweet and silly story about a darling duo shares the timeless themes of embracing change, being kind to others, and finding friends in unlikely places.

What first inspired you to write for kids? Could you tell us about your path to publication?

I was one of those kids who read when I was supposed to be practicing the piano. I’d play the left hand part and prop a book up on the music stand. I was always surprised when my mom figured it out.

My path wound through a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University, writing for hospitals and energy companies, a bunch of moves, two kids, and finally, about 10 years ago, a class in children’s literature at a local community college. Our final assignment was writing an ABC book. I was hooked.

Congratulations on the release of Pug Meets Pig, illustrated by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane, 2016). Such a cute idea! What was your initial spark of inspiration?

A friend told me about the rescue pig adopted by her daughter’s family. Unfortunately, the new pig addition was not welcomed by the family pug, whose name was Charlotte. The family eventually found a different home for the pig, who they had named Wilbur (of course!)

Literary destiny, perhaps?

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

I started writing the story as an early reader in 2011. I sent it out in various versions (early reader and picture book) and it collected a variety of rejections. In 2013, I attended the SCBWI LA and purchased a manuscript critique. Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books critiqued Pug Meets Pig, and we had an encouraging editorial conversation. I revised the manuscript, and it sold to Beach Lane two months later. Joyce Wan agreed to illustrate it the next month. It’s still unbelievable to me.

I see there's already a sequel in the works, Pug & Pig Trick or Treat (Summer 2017). Huzzah! Picture book sequels are rare, especially if they're under contract prior to the release of the book. How did this come to be?

In October 2014, the little terrier mix that lived next door appeared outside in a skintight glow-in-the-dark Halloween costume. The immediate reaction of my dog (a black lab mix) was that the terrier in costume was an embarrassment to all of dog-dom. Watching the two of them got me thinking about how Pug and Pig would react to wearing costumes.

I wrote the manuscript, shared it with my critique partners, and my agent sent it on to Andrea Welch at Beach Lane, even though we knew that the chances of selling a seasonal book featuring Pug and Pig at that time were really remote. Surprise – they bought it right away!

What did Joyce Wan's art bring to your text?

Joyce Wan brought Pug and Pig to life with such warmth and expression. I think the world she created for them truly helps kids relate to the characters and their changing feelings. I am so fortunate to be partners with her and Beach Lane Books in the Pug and Pig books.

You've been the SCBWI Kansas Regional Advisor for several years. Tell us about your region. What Kansas/Missouri-authored or –illustrated books should we seek out?

The Kansas and Missouri SCBWI regions just merged at the beginning of 2017, so we stretch from the Colorado border to the Mississippi River now. We’re excited about the expanded opportunities for our writers and illustrators.

It’s impossible to pick out just a few books, but there are some great combinations of Kansas/Missouri author and illustrator members, like Bridget Heos and Jennifer PlecasI, Fly (Henry Holt), and the upcoming The Twelve Days Of Christmas In Missouri (Sterling 2017) written by Ann Ingalls and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith. Daniel Miyares' Bring Me A Rock! (Simon & Schuster, 2016), is one of our members, and he spoke at our 2016 Middle of the Map conference in Kansas City. He’s illustrating a book by another Kansas/Missouri member, Jody Jensen Shaffer, A Chip Off The Old Block (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin), releasing in 2018.

Tucker
What's it like, being RA? What are your responsibilities? What are the challenges, and what do you love about it?

The best part about being an RA? Helping to build the community of children’s book creators, and offering opportunities for people to advance their craft. Being a creative person can be lonely. We need other creative people to encourage us to be brave, to share our work, and to keep striving to make it better.

This winter I’ve been reading Danielle Krysa’s Your Inner Critic Is A Big Jerk and Other Truths About Being Creative (Chronicle 2016). In her chapter titled Creating in a Vacuum Sucks (isn't that a great title?), she says, “Creativity requires warmth and nurturing from trusted sources in order to flourish. . . The quest to find your people may seem daunting, but it delivers a huge reward.”
Exactly! I step down as RA in April, but I’ll continue to be involved with SCBWI.

What do you do outside of your writing life?

Tucker sits by my desk while I work and begs for walks, so we do a lot of that. My 15-month-old grandson lives nearby, aren't I blessed? Watching him grow and change is a wonder.

And I believe in baking therapy. There's nothing like the smell of molasses crinkles fresh from
the oven.

Cynsational Notes:

Pug Meets Pig received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Gallion wisely lets the reward of selflessness speak for itself, while Wan's pert, roly-poly characters look like something lifted out of reader's own toy boxes."

Additional resources include an activity kit, a Common Core/state standards aligned discussion and activity guide and coloring sheets.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

45 Books to Counter Islamophobia Through Stories from Kita B World. Peek: "...we invite you to fight fear with knowledge. In the same spirit of solidarity, we ask - can you help us take these books to as many children as possible in homes, schools, libraries and communities? We are a small team but with these resources, we are offering you a way to have conversations about diversity, address fears, and create a sense of belonging and respect as we all raise the next generation of leaders."

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2016 from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, analysis of approximately 3,400 children's books published last year. Peek: "Two broad categories--Asian/Pacifics and Latinos--saw a notable jump in numbers this year for both 'by' and 'about.' The numbers for African and African Americans and First/Native Nations remained disappointingly static or dropped. Those mixed numbers reflect our mixed feelings: It’s both an both an exciting and frustrating time for multicultural literature advocates."

Nine Statistics That Writers Should Know About Amazon from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Since 2013, the traditional book publishing industry has enjoyed about a 3% increase in print book sales. However, print book sales have grown largely because Amazon sold more print books."

On the Use of Sensitivity Readers in Publishing by Christine Ro at Literary Hub, including perspectives from writer Becky Albertalli, reader Sangu Mandanna and publisher Stacy Whitman of Tu Books at Lee & Low. Peek: "Whitman advises authors to plan enough time with sensitivity readers early enough in the writing process so that major developmental changes can be made if needed. Otherwise, a sensitivity read could become a bandage, applied retroactively, when preventive medicine would have been more appropriate."

Day 13: Ibi Zoboi at the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Why not a blockbuster book featuring a black girl that not only saves herself or her community, but saves the world? How about a love story featuring two black characters where no one dies?"

Want to raise empowered women? Start in middle school by Phyllis Fagell for the Washington Post. Peek: "It’s important that parents encourage girls to take credit for their work....girls worry about coming across as arrogant and just want to fit in, but the problem is that they start to believe their own rhetoric and experience self-doubt."

Priscilla Chaves and the Art of Designing Book Covers by Sarah Johnson on Through The Tollbooth. Peek: "...I research ideas and look for images and typography that will work well on the cover."

Brazos Valley Blooms: Celebrating Our First 25 Years Creating for Kids from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 4 in College Station, Texas.

Not Writing for Writers by Allie Larkin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Many of the writers I know have hobbies and habits that fuel their writing either directly or indirectly. And, because I love talking to writers about how they tick, I reached out to some friends to ask how their non-writing time fuels their writing."

Long-awaited Philip Pullman series The Book of Dust revealed by Heloise Wood for The Bookseller. Peek: "Pullman said the book was neither a prequel or a sequel. 'In fact, The Book of Dust is… an ‘equel’. It doesn’t stand before or after His Dark Materials, but beside it,' he said. 'It’s a different story, but there are settings that readers of His Dark Materials will recognise, and characters they’ve met before.'

Cynsational Awards

Congratulations to NAACP Image Award winners Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Lee & Low, 2016) and Jason Reynolds As Brave As You (Simon & Schuster, 2016). See also, Black Scientists who Changed the World by Gwen Glazer, a biography list from the New York Public Library.

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Giveaway





More Personally


With my literary agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Wow! What a whirlwind week! I'm home again, after a wonderful time visiting second graders in conjunction with An Open Book Foundation, dining with my VCFA family at AWP, and touristy trips to the National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space Museum, and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Social Media panel with Martha Brockenbrough, Travis Jonker & Matthew Winner 
From there--after two Delta flights cancelled for weather--I hopped onto Amtrak for the 18th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, where I spoke at a a PAL program session on Career Building, participated in a panel on Social Networking, and led a workshop on writing diverse characters and topics. It was a wonderful experience all around, filled with learning, inspiration and connecting with old and new friends. See my tweet deck for quotes and more photo coverage.

Thanks to Open Book, VCFA, SCBWI, and everyone who attended my programs! See also Twitter Highlights & Resonate Moments of #NY17SCBWI by Lee Wind and Cynthia Leitich Smith & Ellen Hopkins Workshop by Martha Brockenbrough from The Official SCBWI Blog

Now, I'm happy to be reading for my graduate students and rebooting my life here in Austin.

In other news, Bethany Hegedus will mentor the winner of the 2017 Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. Critiques submitted for the annual Austin SCBWI conference are considered by conference faculty who nominate a manuscript for the award. The nominated writers make up the finalists announced at the conference. Finalist manuscripts are then submitted to Bethany, who will choose the winner.

Reminder: Entries are still being accepted for the Katherine Patterson Prize, being judged this year by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Deadline is March 1.

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More Personally - Gayleen Rabakukk


The Lego Batman Movie helped me get in touch with my inner child.
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