Saturday, March 12, 2016

Asian Festival of Children’s Content Returns for Seventh Edition

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) will return for its seventh run in May 2016, to once again celebrate children’s books and content, with a focus on Asian themes.

Catered for writers, illustrators, educators, librarians and parents, the Festival will be home to 140 sessions as part of conferences like the Writing & Illustrators Conference and Cross-Platform Summit.

A myriad of other activities, including workshops, masterclasses, networking sessions, a book fair and award ceremonies, will also showcase children’s literature from the region.

In line with the tradition of highlighting kids’ content from a specific Asian country at the annual event, Japan is the AFCC Country of Focus this year, as Singapore and Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.

R Ramachandran, Executive Director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS), said, “NBDCS is proud to once again host AFCC, a unique Asian event that connects Singaporean and Asian talents and representatives from various parts of the children’s content value chain to interact with and learn from regional and international counterparts.

"With the many educational sessions, public programmes and awards that celebrate Asia’s literary excellence, we hope that the Asian children’s content industry will be further developed, as regional content producers gain more knowledge and consumers take greater interest in Asian content.”

116 industry experts to speak at AFCC conferences

From May 25 to 29, about 1,000 delegates are expected to congregate at the annual event, to discover the latest trends and works, as well-established practitioners from 14 countries share their knowledge in creating kids’ content. Delegates can look forward to learning from the experiences of close to 60 local literary professionals and more than 50 international speakers, such as:

  • Shaun Tan (Australia), Academy Award winning artist, writer and filmmaker (Note: The conference session with Shaun Tan will be conducted via video conference)
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times bestselling author of the Tantalize series and Feral series
  • Dina Rara (Indonesia), Project Manager of International award-winning TV series Jalan Sesama 
  • Calef Brown (USA), who authored #1 New York Times best-seller, Flamingos on the Roof
  • Felicia Low-Jimenez (Singapore), author of the Sherlock Sam children's detective series

In keeping with current trends, AFCC 2016 will introduce the inaugural Cross-Platform Summit that will delve into multi-platform storytelling, interactive narrative and digital marketing, while providing media and literary professionals with an opportunity to network with each other.

To equip industry professionals, educators and parents with the know-how to nurture young readers, AFCC will continue to host its other long-standing conferences: Writers & Illustrators Conference, Teachers Congress and Parents Forum.

Early bird discounts for paid conferences end March 31.

Celebrating local children’s literature

To elevate Singapore-developed kids content, AFCC 2016 will once again place a spotlight on local literary excellence at "Celebrating Our Stars." This year, the annual event will feature a review of children’s book publishing in the island-nation, and highlight trends that have shaped the children’s literary landscape here and beyond.

AFCC 2016 public elements

Free programmes will also be available for members of the public keen on children’s literature.

This year, the AFCC Book Fair will provide access to a record number of 42 exhibitors where parents, children and the general public explore and purchase a wide range of the latest Asian books for young ones. The bazaar will be held at the National Library Building’s open plaza at Level 1, from May 25 to 29.

Riding on the success of the inaugural Fun with Languages, which attracted 280 participants in 2015, AFCC 2016 will again cultivate children’s interest in their mother tongue languages through interactive activities such as performances, skits and story-telling. This will take place on May 14 and May 15 at various libraries around Singapore.

And from May 14 to June 3, public visitors can also catch a glimpse of artworks by local and regional illustrators at the Book Illustrators Gallery.

Country of focus: Japan

With 2016 being the 50th anniversary of Singapore-Japan diplomatic ties, AFCC 2016 will feature Japan as the Country of Focus. At least 17 authors, translators, illustrators and other industry experts from the country will share their experience in promoting reading, history of Japanese children’s literature, and publication of kids’ books.

Delegates can look forward to hearing from notable individuals such as Yuko Takesako from Chihiro Art Museum, and well-known Japanese author and illustrator Kazuo Iwamura.

Awards to laud literary excellence

AFCC 2016 will also celebrate outstanding Asian content, by presenting the biennale Scholastic Asian Book Award to the best unpublished middle-grade or young adult novel written by an Asian in Asia.

Additionally, the Samsung KidsTime Authors’ Award will extend the reach of 10 picture books by Southeast Asian authors, by developing these works into digital apps for the Samsung KidsTime platform.

For more information about AFCC 2016, please visit, and follow AFCC on Facebook ( and Instagram ( for up-to-date news about the Festival.

About The Asian Festival of Children’s Content

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2016 is a flagship event organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) to celebrate and promote the creation and appreciation of children’s books and content, with a focus on Asian themes.

In 2016, the five-day festival at the National Library Building will feature 140 ticketed sessions including seminars, conferences, panel discussions, workshops and masterclasses, as well as many free public activities including book launches, language programmes, and the AFCC Book Fair.

AFCC 2016 will feature 116 local and international speakers including writers, illustrators, educators, publishers, and media professionals from 14 countries: Singapore, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Philippines, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, Iran, Indonesia, Ghana, England and the United States. Japan is the Country of Focus for AFCC 2016.

The Country Partner is the International Library of Children’s Literature, National Diet Library, and its Special Partner is Genting Singapore. AFCC 2016’s Supporting Partners are Chihiro Art Museum, Japan Book Publishers Association and the Joshibi University of Art & Design.

About The National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS)

The National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) is a non-profit, charitable organisation founded in 1969. It promotes storytelling, reading, writing, and publishing through a variety of programmes and festivals, including the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and the All In! Young Writers Festival.

NBDCS also presents many annual and biennial awards, including the Singapore Literature Prize and the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award for works published in Singapore; the Scholastic Asian Book Award, and the Scholastic Picture Book Award for unpublished works.

Its training arm, the Academy of Literary Arts and Publishing (ALAP), runs publishing-related and literary arts-focused courses and workshops throughout the year.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Emily Wing Smith Shares Her Feelings on Living with Living with Brain Injury by Hikari Loftus from the Deseret News. Peek: "Smith’s memoir, All Better Now (Dutton), takes readers into her life before the surgery, as a young girl perpetually in therapy, who spent much of her time angry and feeling separate, to life after the surgery, as an adult woman who had finally begun to understand how to accept and live a full life despite limitations."

Author Ava Jae on Not Writing Latinx Characters from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I learned it wasn’t in my favor to reveal my ethnicity when applying for a job, I was reminded time and time again with Mexican jokes, with talk about those illegals, with the stereotype of the working class Latinx person stuck doing the dishes, or cleaning homes, or taking the jobs that no one else wanted, that there were really no advantages to saying, 'Yes, I’m Latina.' So I stopped saying it."

Little Black Sambo and The Gingerbread Man: Roundtable on Truth and Honesty in Literature by Hafizah Geter, Antonio Aiello from PEN America. Contributors: Fatima Shaik, Cheryl Klein, Wade Hudson, Daniel José Older, Robie Harris, and Alvina Ling.

Instagramming an Author Visit with Ruth McNally Barshaw by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal.

2016 NCTE Notable Poetry List (see more information below)
CBC Panel Reviews 2015 Children's Book Sales by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "When speaking to a parent about a child’s reluctance to read, Bruce often gently turns the focus back on the parent: 'When was the last time you curled up with a book and didn’t do anything else in a place where your child could see you?' she’ll ask."

Diversity Within Diversity: Moving Beyond Oppression by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "...too often diverse characters, when they appear at all, are merely a tool to teach about a particular problem – or they are the best friend, existing to validate the goodness of the white main character." Contributors: Fatima Shaik, Cheryl Klein, Wade Hudson, Daniel José Older, Robie Harris, and Alvina Ling.

Cynsational Awards

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill) is Jen in Massachusetts.

More Personally

This week I'm writing and grading. On the latter, my focus is on stories that are deeply rooted in personal experience and family history. So, it's exciting but tender.

I've talked to a number of writers of late--especially Native writers and writers of color, writers with and reflecting mental illness and disabilities--who're feeling discouraged by industry backlash.

Prioritize the writing, and remember that it's all about Story and the kids. I know it's hard, but those disheartening noises aren't coming from them. They need you.

Thank you to children's-YA author Jennifer Ziegler for her wonderful years of service as program director of The Writers' League of Texas. Brava, Jenny, for a job well done!

Personal Links

Molly O'Neil, Literary Agent (Seeking Smart, Witty YA Humor)
Lee & Low Publishing Summer Internship
10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know
Majority of Breast Cancer Patients Develop PTSD

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Guest Post: David Lubar on The Name of the Prose

Tor, 2016
By David Lubar
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love it when people ask the title of my new book. I get to say, “Character, Driven.”

Then, if they nod knowingly, I add, “Character, comma, Driven.”

If they smile at that, I add, “It’s a plot-driven novel.”

I feel it’s a clever title. But a title has to be more than clever. It also has to be a good. It has a marketing job to do.

With 35 books or so to my credit, and close to 300 published short stories, I’ve created a lot of titles. Some were good. Some weren’t.

My first novel, published back in 1999, was about kids with special powers. The working title was "Psi School." I wanted something better.

Back then, I often watched "Double Dare" on Nickelodeon with my daughter. At the end of the show, host Mark Summers would ask if anyone in the audience had a hidden talent.

One day, as he said that, I realized Hidden Talents was a perfect title for my novel. This was back in the days when we didn’t instantly and constantly search the Internet for information.

Starscape, 2003
Starscape, 2004
It wasn’t until the book came out that I searched for it in online stores and discovered there was a Jayne Ann Krentz novel by the same name.

That’s when I learned my first rule: Try to make the title unique.

Even having a similar title can be a problem. I was aware that Wendelin von Draanen had written Flipped (Knopf, 2001) before I called a novel of mine Flip. (I couldn’t resist. The title fit the story so well.) I didn’t think it would be a problem.

I also didn’t think we’d ever be on the same panel at a conference. To this day, I still run into people who confuse the two books.

I didn’t have that problem with Dunk, which was about a boy who wants to work as a clown in a dunk tank. I checked. There wasn’t a previous book with that title. But the title presented another problem. I’ve met people who never picked up the book because they thought it was about basketball.

I guess there might have been people who picked it up for that very reason. Inevitably, some of them would be disappointed. My second rule: Avoid confusing potential readers.

Graphia, 2004
Dutton, 2005
A title has to work with a broad population. My novel, "Flux Sucks," was renamed at the last minute, out of fear that “sucks” might keep it off the shelves in some communities. The hastily created new title seems to be a good one. Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie works well, I believe, because it is intriguing, and it can have multiple meanings.

I think the same holds true for Character, Driven. My main character, Cliff, is both driven to succeed in life and love, and driven by his friends because he lacks a car of his own.

The title also hints at the metafictional nature of the narrative.

I think my most successful title, in terms of marketability, caused a different sort of problem for me. The story collection, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales (Starscape, 2003)(excerpt), inspired such brilliant cover art from illustrator Bill Mayer that I decided the next collection also needed a Weenie title story. It was a smart move.

There are now seven Weenies collections, with an eighth coming in September. But it is a mixed blessing. Some people don’t take the books seriously, for that very reason. I’ve seen them referred to as “garbage books” by one blogger, who I suspect never looked beyond the cover, and a friend told of hearing a parent tell a child who’d snatched up a copy at a book fair to “pick a real book.”

Happily, the millions of copies in print remind me that, all in all, it was a good decision to run with the Weenies. (Not to mention the endless jokes I get to make when authors gather.)

Darby Creek, 2006
I have a chapter book about a boy who is cursed to speak in puns. The title, Punished!, actually came to me first, inspiring the book. (I also wrote a sequel, Numbed!, where the same characters lose their math skills. That, too, began with the title.)

I never tire of saying to kids who select that book at a school signing, “I’m glad you got Punished!”

I feel it’s an excellent title. But I made a mistake when I went for emphasis. Some online book sellers aren’t set up to search for an exclamation point. So neither Punished! nor Punished will produce that book.

If you search for the keywords Punished and Lubar, you’ll find the book, and some alarming bondage photos (just kidding), but the truth is that people are often better at remembering titles than authors. So a title should be both memorable and searchable.

Speaking of which, I foolishly called an ebook of mine, built from stories that were deemed too problematic for the Weenies collections, Zero Tolerance Meets the Alien Death Ray and Other (Mostly) Inappropriate Stories. I suspect that many of the kids who heard me talk about it forgot the title by the time they got home. If not sooner.

I hope I chose wisely this time. As a title, Character, Driven is memorable (I hope), searchable (I tested the comma, and found no problems), and confusing only in a fun and ironic sort of way.

Is it a good title? I think so. But that’s really a question for the marketplace to decide. And that would be you. So let me know what you think. Or just smile and nod knowingly if we ever cross paths.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Guest Post: Annette Bay Pimentel on Educational vs. Trade Presses

By Annette Bay Pimentel
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lately I’ve been dancing between two publishing worlds.

I just finished the editing process on my first book with a trade publisher, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service, illustrated by Rich Lo (Charlesbridge, Aug. 2, 2016).

I also recently finished my first books with an educational publisher, My Brain (Inside My Body) and My Stomach (Inside My Body) (both Amicus, 2015).

So how did working with a trade publisher differ from working for an educational publisher? What’s the difference between the educational press and the trade press? Educational publishers prize consistency and predictability. Trade publishers seek surprise and novelty.

The differences start at the contract level. Educational publishers generally pay a work-for-hire fee, a straightforward amount without any expectation that the writer will participate in marketing. Clarity and predictability are the hallmarks of the contract. Trade publishers offer royalties and expect the writer to be heavily involved in marketing. There’s the possibility that a book will sell very well, but there’s also a risk that it will tank. The contract leaves room for wonderful (or not-so-great) surprises to play out.

Both my educational press and my trade press publishers were thorough-going professionals who love books and language and who insisted that every word be right. Both of them demanded careful, thoroughly-documented research. But despite those similarities, their editorial priorities differed.

When I started work on My Stomach, I dreamed up a hilarious way to deliver information about the digestive system. It differed in structure from the manuscript I had just finished for My Brain, but it was so funny I was sure kids—and my editor!—would love it.

She didn’t. She decisively rejected it, explaining that I needed to stick to the structure I’d used in the other manuscript.

Now that I have the books in hand, I see her point. Part of the attraction of the Inside My Body series is that the books within it are consistent.

Any reader--including frazzled teachers looking for materials to hand to twenty-odd clamoring students—can quickly figure out exactly what kind of information she’s going to get and how it will be laid out in the book.

Practicality. Predictability. Consistency.

My trade press editor, on the other hand, told me that she was initially attracted to my manuscript because it took a familiar subject—national parks—and looked at them in a new way. I tell the story of the creation of the National Park Service through the eyes of Tie Sing, a Chinese American trail cook, whose story, up until now, has always been peripheral to the stories of the main players.

During the editing process, my editor encouraged me to consider adding a historical character who is an even smaller presence in the historical record than Tie Sing.

At first I was dubious I could find enough information to credibly write him into this nonfiction story, but I dug around and found mention of him in historical documents and saw him (literally) on the edges in some photographs. So I added him!

The story this trade editor helped me craft is one that hasn’t been told before and one that I hope astonishes and delights my readers.

Novelty! Challenge! Surprise!

There’s a place for both kinds of books. Sometimes all a frazzled second grade teacher needs to make it through the hour is a series of books she can hand out to her students, knowing she can count on the reading level to be what they can handle, and the content to be what they need for a particular assignment. Hooray for educational publishing!

But sometimes that teacher needs a book she can read to her class to carry them all to an astonishing new place. Hooray for trade publishing!

May they both thrive.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Author Interview: Heather Lang on Fearless Flyer & Writing Strong Women

Visit Heather Lang's official author site & @Hblang
By Helen Kampion
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Congratulations on your new picture book biography Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine (Calkins Creek, 2016) and the starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal! 

I was captivated by your account of Ruth Law’s record-breaking flight from Chicago to New York City one hundred years ago, and Raúl Colón’s illustrations are magnificent.

You are creating a wonderful collection of books about strong women from our past. How do you choose the women you write about?

I love to read and write about lesser-known women, who dream big, pick themselves up when they fall, and stay persistent.

These women might face poverty, racial or gender discrimination, disability, or other hardships. They’re not afraid of failure. They inspire me to step outside my own comfort zone and be brave.

What drew you to this story about Ruth Law?

Sometimes I’m drawn to writing about topics I fear. With fear, there’s always fascination—like when you don’t want to watch a scary movie, but you can’t help yourself.

I’m a nervous flyer, so I’ve always been intrigued by those who dared to fly the flimsy biplanes made in the early 1900s. Ruth Law opened doors for women aviators like Amelia Earhart to enter this male-dominated field.

I loved how Ruth immersed herself fully in flying, even mastering the mechanics of her plane. She could tell what was wrong with her motor by the sound of it!

Her passion and personality came through in her words—she had a lovely voice. I wove her words into the text, so Ruth helps tell her own story.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Fearless Flyer. Can you talk a little about your process? 

Every book I write is a treasure hunt. I never know where a clue might take me. My initial research involved reading a lot of newspaper articles, and in one of those articles Ruth mentioned she kept a scrapbook. I tracked it down at the National Air and Space Museum archives.

Heather researching Ruth Law's scrapbook
Her enormous scrapbook was stuffed with newspaper articles, mementos, photos, and her own handwriting. It was a goldmine.

While I was there I visited the early flight exhibit at the museum, educated myself about her biplane, and learned about the evolution of flight. A lot of questions popped up about her plane and how she operated it, so I found a retired Navy Commander who pilots and builds these old-style biplanes. He had incredible insights.

I also consulted with the folks at the Glen H. Curtiss Museum and the National Air and Space Museum.

I am always amazed how generous people are with their time and how eager they are to help.

What is one of your favorite things about writing for children?

Other than being able to wear sweat pants or pajamas all day, I’d have to say one of my favorite things about my job is the community. I can’t imagine a more supportive group of people than writers, teachers, and librarians. We all have the same primary goal—to have a positive impact on children, giving them books they can relate to and books that open them up to new people and places and dreams.

From Heather's The Original Cowgirl, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky (Whitman)

I’m in two critique groups. We share the highs of clever endings, successful revisions, and accepted submissions. We share the struggles of faulty plots, poor reviews, and rejection. I rely on them tremendously for support.

What are you working on now?

with Alice Coachman
I’m launching a blog focusing on Girls With Grit and having a blast creating the content.

It will include real-life stories, psychology and science, classroom activities, interviews with authors, and of course children’s books with strong female characters.

I’m also adding supplemental materials to my website so readers can get to know even more about Ruth Law and her flying machine.

What do you have coming out next?

I’m really excited about my next picture book biography, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, illustrated by Jordi Solano (Albert Whitman, 2016), about an amazing shark scientist AKA “The Shark Lady.”

Sadly, Genie (as she liked to be called) died last year at the age of 92. I had the thrill of interviewing her in person in 2014, and hearing about her remarkable adventures. Genie also reviewed the manuscript for me.

I look forward to sharing this amazing woman with kids everywhere.

Cynsational Notes

Helen's muses
Helen Kampion is a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. She writes both fiction and non-fiction for young readers, including middle-grade novels and picture book biographies.

Her picture book manuscripts have been recognized by The Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult & Children’s Writing sponsored by Hunger Mountain ("Paddy Cats," Special Mention, 2015) and by the National Association of Elementary School Principals ("Francesca’s Funky Footwear," Finalist, 2013).

When she’s not at her desk busy writing you can find her helping fellow authors with marketing events, volunteering at the New England SCBWI conference, or teaching creative writing workshops for children. Helen also serves on the on the Board of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. Find her on Twitter @helenkampion.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Guest Post: Henry Herz on The Advantages of Independent Publishers

By Henry L. Herz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Let's first distinguish between the terms "independent" and "small" publishers.

“Independent publishers” (IPs) are publishers that are not part of a larger corporation (e.g., the Big Five).

“Small publishers” are defined in the 2007 Writer's Market as those that average fewer than ten titles per year. So, while all small publishers are independent, not all independent publishers are small.

Pelican Publishing, home of my first three picture books (Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, When You Give an Imp a Penny and Little Red Cuttlefish), puts out about 60 titles a year. It's an independent publisher, but not a small publisher.

Having a book put out by a large publishing house, without question, offers some powerful advantages, including greater market reach, publishing industry relationships, more staff, and bigger budgets (and advances), than are often the case for smaller publishers. That said, there are significant benefits to working with independent publishers.

1. Access – Arguably the most important advantage of independent publishers is their relative ease of access. While most of the large publishers can only be queried via a literary agent, that restriction is rarely present with independent publishers. This makes independent publishers particularly appealing to newer writers who aren't represented by agents.

2. Relationships – independent publishers' smaller size tends to promote a closer relationship between the author and the independent publisher than may be possible with a large publisher. I feel comfortable contacting my editor and publicist at Pelican whenever it's necessary. This ease of interaction promotes a more pleasant working relationship.

3. Influence – By virtue, at least in part, of the closer relationship, authors may also have more influence with independent publishers than with large publishers. Independent publishers may be more likely to solicit and consider author feedback on cover design, artwork, font choice, etc. That said, trust your independent publisher to know its business.

4. Author's Efforts More Visible – This is the big fish in a small pond phenomenon. An individual author's promotional efforts and resulting sales are more visible and account for a larger percentage of sales at an independent publishers than at a large publisher.

5. More Flexible – Independent publishers, by their nature, and more flexible than large publishers. This can enable them to focus on niche or regional markets, and offer a home to a book that would not be considered by a large publisher. Independent publishers don't invest as much on a single book, and can thus more easily take calculated risks on innovative or unusual manuscripts.

6. Longer-Term Perspective – The philosophy of independent publishers is more aligned with a marathoner than with a sprinter. Slow and steady wins the race. Pelican keeps its books in print indefinitely.

7. Speed – Independent publishers can use their smaller size and greater flexibility to produce books faster than a large publisher. This was particularly true for my experience with Pelican, since I had complete artwork accompany my manuscripts (note: that is neither typical nor recommended for non-author-illustrators).

8. Stepping Stone – Independent publishers are quite capable of producing top notch books. A well-written and commercially successful book put out by an independent publisher may offer an effective stepping stone for authors' careers, including gaining access to literary agents and, with their help, larger opportunities.

Cynsational Notes

Henry L. Herz's latest picture book is When You Give an Imp a Penny (Pelican, 2016).

Before you lend an imp a penny, there’s something you should know—such a simple act of generosity could set off a side-splitting chain of events!

A colorful picture book full of mythology, mischief, and magic, When You Give an Imp a Penny shows us just what happens when an accident-prone—but well-intentioned—imp comes along asking for favors! 

The same writer/illustrator duo that brought you Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes brings to life a comedy of fabled proportions.

Find Henry at Facebook and @Nimpentoad at Twitter.

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