Friday, May 16, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Patrice Barton, Libby Martinez and Pat Mora on the release of I Pledge Allegiance (Knopf, 2014)! From the promotional copy:

Libby's great aunt, Lobo, is from Mexico, but the United States has been her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. 

At the end of the week, Lobo will say the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. 

Libby is also learning the Pledge this week, at school—at the end of the week, she will stand up in front of everyone and lead the class in the Pledge. 

Libby and Lobo practice together—asking questions and sharing stories and memories—until they both stand tall and proud, with their hands over their hearts.

Celebrating I Pledge Allegiance at BookPeople; photo courtesy of Amy Farrier.
More News & Giveaways

Surviving Nearly There by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "It can be a gift, a chance to strengthen your writing and your voice so that when you do get published, you have a greater chance of being published well, rather than simply being published." See also An Open Letter to Unpublished Writers by Ginger Johnson from Quirk and Quill and Biggest Best Effort by Catherine Linka from The Writing Barn.

Staying Productive by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...after eight 60-hour weeks, productivity has dropped so low that most groups would be better off if they’d stuck with a 40-hour workweek the whole time."

Where Does Your Story Fit in the Conversation of Books? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "I shunned the whole zombie thing until my hairdresser raved about 'Warm Bodies,' a movie that took Shakespeare’s 'Romeo and Juliet' and updated it with zombies. Really? You could do that?"

Picture Books for Launching Mathematicians by Lola Irele from the Horn Book. Peek: "The books need to interest students, embed rather than simply present math concepts, lend themselves well to differentiated extension activities, and of course, be fun!"

We Need Diverse Books: But Are We Ready to Discuss Them With Our Kids? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "...if we want parents to have serious discussions about race with their four and five and six-year-olds then we need to have books that help to do this." See also Talking Diversity with Young Children by Monica Edinger from Educating Alice and These Diverse YA Books Need to Become Movies Now by Brenna Ehrlich from

Mental Health in YA Lit: A Reading List by Stephanie Kuehn from YA Highway. Peek: "I thought I'd put together a list of YA books from the last ten years that address mental illness as a main focus and/or influence."

Short Video: Insights from Jane Yolen on Writing Picture Books, Critiques, Rejections & Chasing Trends from Julie Hedlund via Lee Wind at The Official SCBWI Blog.

Making a Difference Through Publishing by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson, founders and publishers of Just Us Books, from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Purchase at least five of these (diverse) books to share with children other than our own— whether they are our neighbors’, friends’ or co-workers’ children; children at our places of worship or local youth organizations; or for donation to other organizations in our communities."

How An Adult White Guy Came to Write About a Latino Teen by William Hazelgrove from Latin@s in Kid Lit. Peek: "I read a lot of accounts about Dream Kids in this country and how they had made their lives and then were in danger of being deported. That was really how I got the idea of making Ricky a Dream Kid."

Breaking the Rules in Worldbuilding by Mary Kole from Peek: "Let’s stick with magical world building. What happens when someone tries a spell that nobody has tried before? The answer to this question lies in more rules, not fewer."

Concocting Fiction from Fact: Using Research to Tell Better Stories by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I recently discovered a large and densely populated forum devoted entirely to shaving with old-fashioned safety razors. There are many members with thousands of posts attributed to them, all just talking about razors and shaving."

Writing about War in Children's Literature by Skila Brown from Christine Kohler. Peek: "...using poetry to tell the story helped in dealing with the violence. White space and metaphors can pack a punch without the graphic details."

Picture Book Math (And Why You Should Write Something New) from Kate Messner. Peek: "I try out lots of picture book ideas. I fail frequently and cheerfully. But I’ve also been able to work with a few great editors to make a few of those ideas into real live books."

New Native American Release

Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Wesley Ballinger (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "The author of Hungry Johnny is Cheryl Minnema. She's Ojibwe, and so is the illustrator, Wesley Ballinger. And the story? It is about an Ojibwe kid. Named Johnny. Who is--as the title suggests--hungry!"

The Jane Addams Children's Book Award

Young Reader Winner: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Balzer & Bray)

Young Reader Honor Books:
Older Reader Winner: Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown)

Older Reader Honor Books:
Note: "...awarded to books that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence. Founded in 1953, the award is funded by the Peace Education Project, a part of the Jane Addams Peace Association..." See more information. Source: ALSC Blog.

Stuttering Foundation Book Awards

Learn more.
Three children's books were honored:
To celebrate National Stuttering Awareness Week (May 12 to May 18), the Stuttering Foundation honored authors whose recent books are widely acclaimed. Foundation president Jane Fraser noted, “Authors with the courage to share their stories and inspire others hold a special place in the hearts of the 70 million people worldwide who struggle to speak."

See also the 2013 Agatha Awards from Bookshelves of Doom, Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2014 Short List Announced from The Guardian, The Edgar Winners and Nominees from the Mystery Writers of America, the 2013 Bisexual (YA) Book Awards from Diversity in YA and PEN Literary Awards Longlist Announced by Laurie Hertzel from the StarTribune.

Cynsational Giveaways
Learn more.
See also a giveaway of the diverse children's-YA book of your choice from Kellye Crocker (the winner picks the book, and she'll pick up the tab)(U.S.).

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Screening Room

To show her #yalove, super librarian Naomi Bates has been sharing the book trailer she created in celebration of my novel Eternal (Candlewick/Walker/Listening Library):

More Personally

What's new? I was honored to see my picture book, Jingle Dancer (HarperChildren's, 2000) included on An Expanded Cultural Diversity Booklist: SLJ Readers Respond from School Library Journal.

SLJ Diversity Booklist
See also Why Debbie Reese Advocates for Native American Authors & Illustrators from American Indians in Children's Literature. On a related note, I'm touched by Debbie's Post, Another Thank You to Cynthia Leitich Smith.

This week, I focused on writing a short essay for School Library Journal and preparations for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, a week-long conference in Salt Lake.

On the latter, I'm teaching a class, presenting two speeches, participating in a panel and doing a reading. I've selected a short (two minute) section from Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) to read.

A good rule of thumb is that a standard typed manuscript page translates to two minutes read aloud.

A few tips on reading aloud?

Practice ahead of time. You want to choose a selection that offers voice, a hint of character and a sense of momentum. It should be satisfying unto itself.

Keep in mind that you're not wed to the printed text. Parenthetical phrasing or references to off-stage characters may be cut. If you need to take a breath, split that long sentence into two. Size up your typeface and add white space as needed for your eye.

Breathe, enunciate, and have fun!

It's Children's Book Week!
The link I'm pondering most is On "The John Green Effect," Contemporary Realism and Form as a Political Act by Anne Ursu from Terrible Trivium. Peek: "...when the magic in magical realism is treated as irrelevant or erased, critics are taking a profound literary tradition and robbing it of its significance and import, erasing it altogether."

My runner up would be Notes on a Diversity Hashtag by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: "If a Twitter hashtag made me feel that way for a few hours, I could more easily imagine how decades of non-representation would feel."

What else? Everybody, including the AAR AKA literary agents association, is talking about the Amazon-HGB fight. And did you know Rush Limbaugh won the Children's Choice Awards Author of the Year? Here's Horn Book editor Roger's Sutton's take on that and Emma Dryden's related thoughts

Reminder: To celebrate her birthday, Kellye Carter is giving away an awesome "diverse" book of the winner's choice. U.S. only.

Congratulations to Austin illustrator Marsha Riti, a Tribute Scholarship winner for the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles!

Personal Links
New from Joy Preble!

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Brian Yansky on Teaching Writing

Merlin, circled by Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments (Candlewick)
By Brian Yansky
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Writers often bemoan the fact that they must work a day job as well as write.

They need the day job to pay the bills, but they often don’t like it much, and it keeps them from doing the thing they love--writing.

 I’m fortunate that, while I need a day job, I like the one I have.

In fact, while I’m passionate about writing and it will always be my first love, teaching writing—essays and fiction—has become a passion, too.

Here are a few advantages to my day job:

One advantage is people understand the vocation of teaching in a way they don’t understand the vocation of writing. When I tell someone outside of the writer-world that I write fiction, they always look at me with thinly veiled suspicion. Sometimes they’ll make a half- hearted effort to understand what I might mean.

“You write all day?” they’ll ask with skepticism.

I have to say that I can’t write all day because I have a job teaching writing at a community college.

They seem relieved, “Oh, you teach writing.”

Brian & Cyn at BookPeople in Austin.
I’m sure other writers have experienced the general public’s skepticism concerning the profession of writing. For some reason though, teaching writing is another matter.

People can imagine you at a campus, standing in front of a class, instructing people how to make things up and see value in that. They have more trouble when you’re the one making things up. This is somewhat confusing to me but then a lot of things are.

Another advantage is when I’m at home starring out my window and trying to make things up and someone calls and wants me to do something I don’t want to do, I can say, “I’d love to but I’m grading papers,” and they’ll understand.

And I’ll go back to starring out the window and making things up.

More advantages of my day job: a salary, long summer vacations, long winter vacations, a flexible schedule so I can work and still have time to write my own fiction, independence. These are all excellent reasons to teach at a college level. But they’re not the reason I’m passionate about it.

That would be the students.

Teaching essay writing is very different from teaching creative writing. However, the satisfaction I get from helping students become better writers is the same. It’s hard work. Every writer has different things to overcome and figuring out what those things are and ways to help them help themselves is difficult but very rewarding.

When I teach fiction-writing the main thing I have to remember is that while I have a lot of ideas about how to craft a novel or story, what works for me won’t work for every student.

Every writer ultimately has to find his or her own way. But I think a good teacher can do what a good coach can do; I can help them find their way faster, help them learn good habits that will make them better writers, inspire them to experiment and finish work, and push them to improve.

Often in a creative writing class, as we move deeper and deeper into the semester, I realize I’m learning as much from them as they’re learning from me. Teaching a writing class is a lot like writing itself. The discoveries we make along the way make the journey worth it.

Writing will always be my first passion but I’ve been lucky to discover that teaching is also a passion.

I think the things I learn in preparation for classes and working with students and from the students themselves help me become a better writer.

Brian & author-illustrator Frances Yansky at the Illumine Gala.
Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Check out Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer (Writing and Publishing Fiction). His latest post is Situation; peek: "For example, an idea might be that aliens invade the earth. That's not really a situation yet. A situation makes it more specific. Telepathic aliens invade the earth; they're so advanced that they conquer it in ten seconds. That's a situation."

Enter to win one of three copies of Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2013). Publisher sponsored. U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

Jesse has had the worst year of his life. First a race of homicidal (but very polite) aliens invaded Earth, killing pretty much everyone and enslaving the few people left behind, including Jesse; his best friend, Michael; his sort-of girlfriend, Lauren; and the girl of his dreams, Catlin.

Now Jesse is revered as some sort of Chosen One all because he managed to kill one of the alien lords and escape — even though he’s not really sure how he did it. But it’s hard to argue with the multitude of new talents he is developing, including (somehow) killing aliens with his mind and grasping glimpses of alternate futures.

With thousands of aliens already on Earth and thirty million more about to arrive, Jesse has to decide whether to embrace his maybe-destiny before the world is completely destroyed. No pressure.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Guest Post: Phil Bildner on The Soccer Fence

By Phil Bildner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."
-- Nelson Mandela
I don’t have many heroes.

 There are many people I admire, but few I consider to be personal heroes.

Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes.

The same goes for Jesse Joshua Watson, the illustrator of The Soccer Fence (Putnam, 2014). For Jesse, Nelson Mandela was something of a genesis in his life.

As a teen, rather than internalize the anger at the injustices he saw around virtually every corner, Jesse pursued other outlets. He turned to art.

* * * * * *

With The Soccer Fence, I set out to write a timely sports story that also introduced young readers to an important moment in history. Writing the football parts was easy. Weaving in the historical parts without sounding too much like the teacher in me posed the greater challenge.

And as I wrote and rewrote, I struggled with a lingering concern: How could I write a book that takes place in South Africa without ever having been?

I had to go.

I always wanted to visit South Africa. I wanted to visit there while Nelson Mandela was still alive.

The Soccer Fence gave me that opportunity.

I visited last August, several months before he passed. By that point, the book was about ready to go to print. Jesse had completed the art, and for him, it had been a magical opportunity to soak back into the emotions of his fifteen year-old self. On every page, he tapped into that raw anger at injustice, the not yet jaded hopes of a newcomer and the abandon of an emerging artist.

Still, I couldn’t shake my doubt. I needed to be absolutely certain that we got everything right or as close to right as possible.

* * * * * *

My first stop in South Africa was the Apartheid Museum, and I wasn't anywhere close to being emotionally prepared. It was every bit as gut-wrenching as a visit to the United States Holocaust Museum. All that I’d come across in my research--the Pass Laws, the Sharpeville Massacre, the Rivonia Trial, Stephen Biko--it was all here.

After touring the museum, visitors are encouraged to sit in the gardens and walk the grounds in order to help process the experience and decompress.

I was out there for hours.

* * * * * * *

Since much of The Soccer Fence takes place in a township outside of Johannesburg, I needed to visit one. So my next stop was Soweto.

When I got out of the van in front of the hostel, a group of kids were playing football across the road.

It was a scene straight out of the book, and it was at that moment that my lingering doubts and concerns vanished. Jesse had attempted to paint the legacy of his greatest hero with all the care of a shaman preparing medicine for a terribly sick patient.

He had succeeded.

* * * * *

When I booked the trip, I didn’t know about the Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture Day scheduled for Aug. 17. For the first time ever, the Bafana Bafana national football team and the Springboks national rugby team were playing on the same field on the same day. They were playing at FNB Stadium, where Nelson Mandela addressed the nation after twenty-seven years in prison.

In our book, that’s where Hector and Chris, cheered “Yebo, Bafana Bafana!” and sang “Shosholoza” as they stood in the upper deck during the African Cup of Nations.

I went to Mandela Day. I cheered “Yebo, Bafana Bafana!” and sang “Shosholoza” standing in the upper deck of FNB Stadium.

* * * * * *

In every sense, the book has exceeded our expectations. Recently, a librarian told me she grouped The Soccer Fence with Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (HarperChildren's, 2013) and The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Putnam, 2001).

Yeah, exceeded expectations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Voice: Kate Hannigan on Cupcake Cousins

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kate Hannigan is the first time author of Cupcake Cousins, illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes (Hyperion, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Baking a fluffy pink cupcake is awesome, but wearing a dress that looks like one? No, thank you!

Cousins Willow and Delia can't wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding.

But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don't exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

Join Willow and Delia in the kitchen by following their scrumptious recipes for whoopee pies, peach pancakes, and other tasty treats!

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I was lucky enough to attend an intimate writing workshop with the remarkable Richard Peck here in Illinois a few years back. And it was listening to him speak, as he explained his personal approach to writing – old-school, of course, on an electric typewriter and paper – that I had my "ah-ha!" moment.

He talked about telling his stories, and that once he reached the end and typed up that final page of his manuscript, he immediately flipped to the very first chapter of his book and threw it out.

Tossed the whole first chapter into the trash!

"Then I'll take this first chapter, and without rereading it, I'll throw it away and write the chapter that goes at the beginning. Because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise."

Here's where he speaks about his approach to writing in a 2003 interview in Publishers Weekly.

Richard's reasoning was that we don't know where we're going with our story until we finally get there. And that knowledge we possess at the end changes the first steps of the journey.

This was a huge revelation, and it stayed with me as I wrote my debut novel, Cupcake Cousins, as well as my historical fiction, The Detective's Assistant (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2015), and as I am writing Books No. 2 and 3 in the Cupcake Cousins series.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

My motto for promoting Cupcake Cousins has been simple: Just Ask.

Maybe it's because I'm the youngest child in my family, but I've always believed in the notion that it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So in thinking about promoting this book, I've taken a policy of just going for it. The worst that can happen is someone telling me "no." And while I've heard plenty of "no's" so far, here are three examples of Yes:

1) My book features strong girls who are pursuing their interests. Both cousins love to cook, but curly-haired Willow dreams of being a real chef one day. I like to cook (though sometimes I'm a little dangerous in the kitchen), and when the budget allows, my husband and I love dining out.

Kate experiments with cake pops!
One of my favorite places is called Girl and the Goat, a spectacular Chicago spot owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard.

One night when we were there, Chef Izard stepped into the dining area and chatted with a few customers. Then she politely greeted my husband and me, and asked what brought us in that night.

After a quick nod to our similar hair – we both sport crazy curls – I explained that we'd come to Girl and the Goat to celebrate some good news about Cupcake Cousins.

When Stephanie heard it involved a girl who aspired to be a professional chef, she was all cheers.

Later that night, I couldn't sleep. Stephanie and her curly hair. My character Willow and her curls. The girl-power dreams of being a professional chef in a male-dominated field.

In the wee hours of the night, I opened up Facebook and sent Stephanie a ". . . this is crazy, but I've just got to ask. . ." message. And I am thrilled to be able to say that super-girl-power Top Chef Stephanie Izard contributed a blurb for Cupcake Cousins!

2) The second example I have for "just ask" involves book selling. I live near a delightful indie, 57th Street Books, in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side. It's where our SCBWI network holds its meetings, where my kids find birthday gifts, where we do most of our book shopping.

But I'm also a Costco shopper. Great wine, gluten-free flour in bulk, and you can't beat the prices on vegetables! Another thing about Costco, they sell books. Tons and tons of books.

So I thought, maybe they could sell mine. So I pulled out my stationery box, picked up a pen in hand, and wrote a simple note. ". . . this is crazy, but I've got to ask. . ."

Bella in fall
The address and contact person to inquire about selling my book at Costco was fairly easy to find. But summoning the courage to go for it, that was a different thing. Sometimes this book-selling world feels like a great-big impersonal place. How can my sweet little book about kids and cooking and summertime adventures bubble up? But if we don't ask, we'll never know what we can accomplish.

I took a deep breath and called the regional headquarters; for me in Illinois, that was their Oak Brook office. From there, I was given a telephone number to their corporate headquarters in Washington. Getting bounced around from place to place made me lose steam. And I'm not so good with impersonal exchanges. "Who may I ask for once I reach the corporate headquarters?" I asked. "Can I have a name? A person to talk to?"

"Oh, honey, you're not going to talk to anyone. It's just an automated message!"

Once the next phone call connected me to the corporate office, I quickly wrote down the address for Costco's headquarters and the name of the book buyer. I had to call back a few times to get it right.

After a few web searches to confirm the spelling of her name, I sent off my hand-written note (never underestimate the power of the hand-written note) and my ARC. Here's where:

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Book Buyer
Costco Wholesale
999 Lake Drive
Issaquah, WA 98027

After a few weeks of feeling like a giant idiot – during which a few author friends scoffed at my efforts! – I received a lovely email from an assistant book buyer for Costco who said not only would she work with my publisher's rep to sell the books in Chicago Costco stores, but she'd arrange for book signings as well. I was over the moon, and the book buyer's warmth made it all the better.

"Our warehouses really like to support local authors, especially if they are members. Have a great weekend!"

Suddenly this great-big-scary publishing world felt very human again.

3) I realize that the personal connection matters to me. This should be a fun experience, right? I know plenty of authors who have done book events to empty houses. One friend said at one of her events, she wound up doing a reading to one, lone listener. And he was the bookstore employee sweeping up the floors. So I decided to reach out to handful of other middle-grade authors I've gotten to know in Chicago's thriving, incredibly supportive writing community.

I host a blog where I interview writers of picture books and middle-grade, and I often try to spotlight Chicago and Midwest authors. So I decided to ask if any of them might be interested in doing a sort of middle-grade jam session – forming a gang of sorts, a cabal, coterie, band, posse, a Middle-Grade in the Midwest syndicate.

". . . this is crazy, but I've just got to ask. . . ," I said in my email.

And every one of them said yes.

So beginning in May, once my book hits the shelves along with the rest of theirs, look for the six MGMers – Amy Timberlake, Liesl Shurtliff, Michele Weber Hurwitz, Emily Fairlie, Wendy McClure, and Kate Hannigan – at a book event near you!

There is strength, and fun, in numbers.

Cynsational Notes

Author Of... The writers behind great children's stories – from picture books to middle-grade, novels to non-fiction from Kate Hannigan.

Magic teacup Kate uses while writing.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Illustrator Interview: Greta Cencetti

Liam and Greta
By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Greta Cencetti is a children’s book illustrator whose work has been published in Italian, English, German and Chinese. Her artwork has been exhibited Germany, the U.K. and China.

Most recently, her series of illustrations Migrant Children featuring children during depression era U.S.A. were exhibited at the GALATA Museum in Genoa, Italy. This project was supported by the U.S. consulate in Genoa. In addition to illustrating, Greta is also a writer, singer and music aficionado.

Your creative work (in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books) includes costume design, scenery, figurines and even glass windows. How did you get your start in children’s books?

I began as a painter and painting pictures is still an important part of my work. I started illustrating books because many years ago I fell in love with The Sandman, a short novel by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the romantic German writer. I felt compelled to paint this story. When I started, I had so much pleasure in doing it that I needed to continue. It’s wonderful to imagine locations and characters while you read a book that is capturing your mind and imagination.

I tried to publish my illustrated version of The Sandman. I started with a publisher in Italy, but I didn't succeed. However, some English publishers expressed interest in my work; but they were more enthusiastic about my illustrations than the text. My first books were published by Nardini, an Italian publisher from Florence. Over time, I have had many books published, but not The Sandman.

The most important event for me to fine illustration work is the Bologna Children's Book Fair: there I can meet publishers from all over the world and very interesting people.

You’re published in multiple languages (German, Italian, English, Chinese) how did this come about?

This is a direct result of going to the book fairs. First of all the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and, secondly, the Frankfurt Book Fair. At these events, I meet many publishers from all over the world.

It is very important to have keen curiosity about works of other people; illustrating is not only a job, it is a way to communicate with others. I think this is the most important thing: to be curious about and to continue to discover new things. This is something that helps me as an illustrator.

I notice that many of your books have a musical theme (the World of Composers Series from Brighter Child and Play Me a Story, published by Barefoot Books). Is music a special interest of yours?

Music is one of the most important things in my life. I can’t remember a day in my life without music. When I was very young, I was already listening to jazz music in my father's arms and, when I was just a little older, I started listening to Mozart’s symphonies.

I love any kind of music! I sing in a choir as a soprano and I dedicate every Wednesday to music.

I’m sure the series about the composers (Bach, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Beethoven, Handel and Mozart) must have involved a lot of research. Did you run into any interesting surprises while illustrating these books?

Oh, yes, many interesting surprise! I loved learning about Chopin’s life. He was a very good person, gentle and generous and benevolent. As soon as I finished my book, I went to Poland with a little car… it was a very long journey!

I visited Chopin's birthplace and the Holy Cross Church where they keep the heart of the composer. He wanted his heart returned from France to Poland, his beloved country.

Copyright Greta Cencetti; used with permission.
Bach was very interesting as well. He had 15 sons and many of them became composers, too. In the evenings, the Bach family used to gather and play as an orchestra …very convenient!

Here's a funny story I learned about Handel's escape from Lubeck. He was offered a job there to succeed the famous organist Buxtehude. Handel was young and handsome and shocked to discover that the job agreement required he marry Buxtheude's daughter. Unfortunately, she was neither young nor beautiful. So Handel abandoned the job and ran away from Lubeck.

Handel had immense success in London and Dublin. Theatres were so crowded that women in attendance were forbidden to wear petticoats so there would be more space!

I spent many years working on the assignments about music composers. It was one of the most important experiences I had while illustrating children books.

You’ve recently illustrated Wunderschöne Märchenwelt (Beautiful Fairy Tale World) for F. X. Schmid, an imprint of Ravensburger in Germany. The illustrations are bold and in primary colors (a very different illustration style from the pastel watercolors of the folk tales and composer books.) How do you decide on the style for each project?

Beautiful Fairy Tale World is a more commercial book than the other books I have illustrated. So I used colors that customers would expect. I have to adapt my style to the publisher's requirements.

Your work has been exhibited in galleries in Italy, Germany, Great Britain and China, how did these gallery exhibitions come about?

It depends on the country. When Barefoot Books published Play me a Story, they invited me to exhibit the illustrations in a London gallery; I was very glad to agree. It was Christmastime, the gallery was full of children and a storyteller told fairy tales; it was a very emotional experience.

In China, my illustrations for the first edition of Fantasy of Musicians (a series about composers for Ta-Chien publisher in Taiwan) were exhibited by the publisher throughout China and Taiwan.

I exhibited in different places in Germany, including a collective exhibition at the International Youth Library, which is housed in a castle in Munich.

Italy is my home country, so I often exhibit in museums or art galleries here. My last exhibition was two months ago at the Galata Museum in Genoa. This museum is dedicated to sea life and migration. My exhibit "Migrant Children" was displayed.

How did you become interested in the subject of children during the depression in the U.S.A.?

First of all, I’m very interested in the American art of the 20th century. I particularly love works of American photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Russel Lee. When I read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, I was impressed and I thought to myself “I must do some work about these people”.

Copyright Greta Cencetti; used with permission.
I chose to depict children because I was particularly moved by the deep, melancholy eyes of these little migrant children during the time of the Great Depression. I saw them as proud, beautiful, little heroes going through the adversities of life.

I made use of a wide range of bright colors. In the background, I included very high and colourful skies. It was a way to give those children of the past some joy, some kind of happiness, some hope for a better future.

I've been living with the children in this project for three years, always thinking of them. It was a very important and emotional work for me.

I really enjoy the page of your website La grenouille ivre (the drunken frog) where you share your thoughts for new books and stories. Is this a collection of works that are in progress or finished projects?

It depends. I finished the Gretika project. It is a series of short stories about two children and a dog who have special powers; they can detect problems connected with nature. I've fully finished two short stories, but I still have many ideas about Gretika!

The Dog and the Baby is also finished. I wrote the text and painted some illustrations. The content is a tribute to my beloved dog, while the style is a tribute to the American magazine Camera Work which was issued at the beginning of the last century.

The others works are still in progress….ideas, beloved things, an ideal world, anything comes to my mind when I think about something connected to children… and while I'm waiting for a suitable publisher for each idea also!

Considering that you are both a writer and an illustrator, how do stories first come to your mind, as text or images? How do you dig deeper into your stories, by writing or illustrating?

First of all, I get an idea… it is very strange the way it comes to me…sometimes it starts with a situation or a landscape, or a person's expression, even the expression of an animal…other times a piece of music or memories occupy my thoughts; all those things, I visualize as images and the initial idea takes shape in my imagination.

I write and I sketch, I always have a little notebook and a pencil with me, and the idea sometimes remains for a long time on the pages, before it becomes something that I try to develop as a project. Illustrations and texts go together!

What is a typical work day like for you?

I have a little studio in my home. In front of it there is a terrace filled with many different types of plants. Before I start to work, I spend time with my plants…I always listen to music, always.

Very rarely I am working on a project that requires silence; otherwise I'm always listening to music. Music is food for my soul and imagination. While working I take the phone off the hook and switch the mobile off. I need to be left alone. I like to work in the evening. I'm often work until I am oblivious of the time, including mealtimes!

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?

It is wonderful and very difficult work. It is not really a work, it is a necessity. Every time one meets difficulties, there is still the desire to continue, therefore, illustrating is a necessity.

It is important to have the necessary preparation. I suggest drawing as often as possible in the open air, trying to master any technique and never being afraid of changing.

Changing always improves one's spiritual life and art. One must be aware that, at any time, there are things to learn from history, art history, music, literature. All these are wonderful treasures, they are food for one's creativity and imagination.

Cynsational Notes

More on Angela Cerrito
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.

Her forthcoming novel A Bright Flame (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.
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