New Cynsations Reporter Kim Rogers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Kim Rogers joins the Cynsations team as a reporter covering children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators.

Welcome to Cynsations! Could you tell us about your vision for Native voices coverage here at the blog? Why did you decide to take on this role in the conversation of books?

First off I’d like to say that I am so excited and honored to join Cynsations. Thank you to you and Traci Sorell for the opportunity!

Cynsations is a wonderful resource that highlights Native authors, illustrators, and the books they create. I look forward to shining a spotlight on many of them. School textbooks have omitted much of Native American history. We have been intentionally erased. It’s critically important that children know who we are, that we are still here, and that our own history and stories matter.

Authors Traci Sorell, Kim Rogers and Andrea Rogers at the Oklahoma History Center for a beading class with Cherokee beadwork artist Martha Berry.

You’re also a writer in your own right! Could you tell us what led you to devote your voice to service for young readers?

I’ve worked in public relations and as a freelance writer. After freelancing for adult markets, I started writing stories for children’s magazines and book anthologies. I realized how much I loved this age group. This propelled my desire to write books for children and teens. But it wasn’t until several years later I focused on writing for indigenous children and specifically Wichita children. I had to work through my own identity issues and give myself permission to write genuinely in this area before I could do that. I am happy to say that I have finally found my most authentic voice.

The Native books I write are stories that I didn’t have as a child. The market is currently publishing more Indigenous books, but there are not enough.

We need more Native writers to join us in our mission.

Native children must have books written by Indigenous authors that mirror them; their identities, their experiences, their place in the world.

What advice do you have for other new voices in embarking on their apprenticeship?

Read as many books as you can in the area in which you want to write. In fact, read widely across all genres. Being well-read fuels creativity and teaches you how to write.

Get involved in the writing community in-person and online. Make meaningful connections with new friends. Attend conferences like Kweli’s Color of Literature Conference and LoonSong Turtle Island. Join SCBWI. Take writing classes and/or get an MFA to help learn your craft.

Write what is uniquely you and what you are most passionate about. Find a great critique group to help you improve your work. Find a writing mentor. Make sure your writing is the best it can be before considering querying agents and editors.

Kweli 2019 Native Writers: Pictured from left: Andrea Rogers, Laurie Goodluck, Kevin Goodluck, Anna-Celestrya Carr, Lael Tate, Carole Lindstrom, Kevin Noble Maillard, Kim Rogers, Stacy Wells, Angeline Boulley, Marcie Rendon, Art Coulson, Dawn Quigley and Michaela Goade.

As a reader, what are two of the top children’s-YA books of your heart, those you’d lovingly place in the hands of kids of your own family and community? What makes them so special?

There are many children’s-YA books I love. It’s difficult to narrow it down to two!

My favorite books are ones that elicit deep emotions and tell hard truths. Books about social justice and/or a wounded narrator who overcomes an injustice and books that were my own mirrors when I was young are dear to my heart. There are two special books that come to mind. I’ve been reading a lot of YA books lately, so both are books for teens.

Candlewick, 2018

The first is your novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018). As a Native person, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know about L. Frank Baum’s views on Natives until I read your book.

Because of my own family’s forced assimilation into Indian Boarding school and the fact that none of us learned the truth about Native history in school, I am finding out new information every day. “The Wizard of Oz” was my favorite movie as a kid, and now I don’t look at it the same way.

Hearts Unbroken is what I needed when I was a teen. When I was growing up, I never saw a Native character like me in a book. The characters I did see were stereotypical caricatures of the past created by non-Native writers. To have read about a contemporary character like Louise written by a Native author who understands our experiences would have given me wings. Reading your book must do that for today’s Native teens!

The second book is Shout, a memoir-in-verse by Laurie Halse Anderson (Penguin Random House, 2019).

Not only is her lyrical writing beautiful, that book moved me because it is Laurie’s own story. There is power and freedom in telling your own truth, but it can be a scary thing to do. I felt inspired by Laurie’s bravery and vulnerability.

Shout wounded me but in a good way. In fact, I only read half of it on a flight home from a conference because of the raw and intense emotion. I gave myself a few days off to absorb the trauma of the story before I finished it. But I loved seeing how awfulness can turn into triumph. That is the valuable lesson any reader can take away from Laurie’s book. Teens see that they can overcome anything and that is empowering.

Penguin Random House, July 2019

There’s a third book I’d love to mention if I could. It’s a nonfiction book I’d give to every middle grade kid. It’s an adaptation of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s adult book An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2014). This book is called An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People adapted by Jean Mendoza and Dr. Debbie Reese (Penguin Random House, 2019).

I wish I would have had it as a child because it teaches the truth about the history of this country from the Native perspective. It should be required reading in schools.

What do you hope for the future of publishing for kids and teens?

I hope for a future where every child in this country finds themselves mirrored in a book written by authors from their own culture. I want books to show kids how important they are no matter the color of their skin, eyes, hair, or the ancestors they came from. I want kids to be able to walk into a bookstore and library where they find a character in a book who is just like them. This is something many of us, especially Natives, did not have while growing up.

It’s these types of books that will help make the world a more empathetic and kinder place where “othering” is a thing of the past and all children are centered and cherished.

Cynsational Notes

Our ornery Chiweenie dog, Lucky, when he was a puppy. Don’t let that sweet face fool you!

Kim Rogers writes books, short stories, and poems across all children’s literature age groups.

Her work has been published in Highlights for Children, Guideposts Sweet 16, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and many other publications.

Kim is an enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes  and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Much of her current writing highlights her Wichita heritage. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, two boys, and one ornery, but very cute Chiweenie dog named Lucky.

She is represented by Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency.