I am pleased to introduce Cynsations readers to our newest reporter, Rebecca Kirshenbaum, pictured above with one of her sons. She will cover books by neurodiverse authors reflecting neurodiverse characters as well as their work more globally.
Welcome to Cynsations! Could you tell us about your vision for covering books written by neurodiverse authors here at the blog? Why did you decide to take on this role in the conversation of books?
I am thrilled to be joining Cynsations’ vibrant conversations with a focus on neurodiversity. Parenting neurodiverse children has made me passionate about amplifying neurodiverse voices of all kinds. I’m particularly drawn to books that reveal the diversity of the autism spectrum. I’m excited to speak to authors about their journeys, but most of all, to be part of the collective challenging of outdated stigmas regarding neurodiversity.
You’re also a writer. Can you tell us about your path to writing for young readers?
I’ve always been a voracious reader and I loved to write, but I think I lost sight of my love for children’s literature at some point during college. I became focused on a very academic path that focused, as so many undergrad programs do, on the “classics” of English and American literature.
My love for children’s literature was (thankfully) reignited when I started teaching. I fell in love with the picture books I used to teach my second graders writing and I loved re-reading the books they were discovering for the first time, plus many new ones. I started to remember the joy I felt discovering these books as a child, the influence they had on me. I realized that much of my understanding about history and different cultures, and people came directly from children’s books. Most importantly, I felt that excitement you get when you seeing yourself and your experiences reflected in their pages. It’s magic.
I wanted to do that.
So I decided to study children’s literature through an MA at Simmons University and, loving that (and not really wanting to stop studying and learning), I pursued an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I love being a student and being surrounded by other people who love books as much as I do, and being a writer in the vibrant kidlit community means I get to do that… forever! Lucky me.
Which formats and markets call to you, and why?
I gravitate toward books by neurodiverse authors and featuring neurodivergent characters of all ages. Actually, as my own children grow up, my reading tastes move with them!
My heart holds a special place for the picture book I’m Here by Peter H. Reynolds (Atheneum, 2011), which features a neurodiverse character who is simply trying to make a friend, a meaningful connection. I love that I’m Here doesn’t mention autism in the text (though it is referenced in the jacket copy), so while a child with autism will see him or herself in the text, any neurotypical child will, as well. For me, that’s the best kind of story.
Some of my personal favorite neurodivergent characters live in the pages of Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic, 2009), Things I Should Have Known by Claire LeZebnik (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), and A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (Walden Pond, 2017). I also love Oscar in The Real Boy by Anne Ursu (HarperCollins, 2013), and Nova in Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (Random House, 2019).
There are so many excellent representations of neurodiversity in children’s literature, and I’m thrilled to see both the breadth and depth of titles growing all the time.
Rebecca Kirshenbaum has an MFA in WCYA from VCFA, an MA in children’s literature from Simmons University, and an MA in English literature from Columbia. She really, really likes being a student. She grew up in Cleveland and roots for all Cleveland sports teams even though she now lives in Boston.
She lives with her husband Mark, her teenage sons, Caleb and Eli, plus a lot of animals – guinea pigs Frisky and Sprinkles, a bunch of fish, and her family’s therapy dog (aka best dog in the world), Quimby. (All you kidlit people should get the Ramona reference!). When not reading and writing, she teaches fourth and fifth grade literacy and organizes her bookshelves in rainbow order.
Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.