I am thrilled to welcome Michael Leali to the Cynsations Team as a reporter. He brings such positivity to anything he does, I know our readers will love his contributions! Michael’s middle grade novel The Civil War of Amos Abernathy (HarperCollins) debuts this May and we are excited to celebrate with him.
Welcome to Cynsations! Could you tell us about your vision for your coverage here at the blog? Why did you decide to take on this role in the conversation of books?
Thank you so much! I’m thrilled to join the Cynsations team. Ever since I met Cyn at Vermont College of Fine Arts, she has been such an inspiration. She was one of my very first workshop leaders, alongside the incredible Liz Garton Scanlon, and I remember sitting in awe, listening to them talk about children’s literature with such passion and surety. To be joining this outstanding community Cyn’s created—it’s such a gift!
When it comes to my vision for the blog, I want to contribute stories that are intersections of my passions and my identities. As a gay man, I’m excited to celebrate the phenomenal growth of queer kid lit, opportunities for LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators, and tackle some of the challenges our community continues to face.
In my other life, when I’m not writing, I’m a high school English teacher. I would love to contribute pieces that connect reading with the classroom. What are teachers doing with children’s literature? Which stories are reaching young readers? What needs do educators have that writers have yet to meet? I’m sure I could go on for days with all the questions and topics I could come up with.
I’ve also worn a few different hats in the book world, and discussing those intersections could be fascinating. In addition to being a writer and educator, I’ve also dabbled in bookselling and publishing. For about a year I worked at Anderson’s Bookshop as one of their Children’s Department Managers, and then for a little over a year I was a marketing specialist at Sourcebooks. Seeing so many different sides of the book industry has given me significant insight and a new perspective, especially as a writer.
So, you are a teacher and a writer. How have the two roles influenced or informed each other?
Both have informed each other so much. I currently teach high school students, mostly freshmen and sophomores this year, but I also did a brief stint at a junior high. I am constantly learning from my students: their insights, their interests, their aspirations, their frustrations and worries. Every interaction across the years has changed the way I think about story and how I craft characters, especially when it comes to dialogue and the actions I believe young people would realistically take in a given scenario.
As a writer, I have learned so much about process, revision, and how to take and receive feedback. How I teach writing has completely changed, even when it comes to essays. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to better communicate with one another. If there’s anything I’ve witnessed over the past few years, it’s that we all need to learn how to better speak to and hear each other.
As a teacher as well as an avid reader and writer, what two children’s-YA books are closest to your heart, those you’d lovingly place in the hands of kids in your family and community? What makes them so special?
Wow! What an impossibly difficult question. Dozens upon dozens come to mind. The chemistry between reader and story is so individual that this makes it extra challenging. The former bookseller in me wants to find the exact right book for each reader, but I’ll do my best with just two right now.
My first pick has to be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Geoffrey Bles,1950). This is a novel near and dear to my heart. I grew up with it, I dreamed within its pages, and I walked alongside Lucy and Aslan. My imagination flourished in Narnia. It made me want to read more and tell my own stories. And the more I’ve come back to this novel as an adult, the more I’m surprised by how each read changes my understanding of the story. For such a short book, there is so much packed between its covers.
My second pick is a far more recent young adult novel: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial, 2018). This gorgeous story resonates deeply with me, and it so beautifully captures a young man exploring his identity, his anxiety, and his relationships with his family and friends. I completely lost myself in this book. I was transported to Iran with Darius, and I believe that young readers will be as well. I always recommend it to my students. It’s really a masterpiece.
What do you hope for the future of publishing for kids and teens?
I hope that publishing continues to embrace the voices of the historically underrepresented (or those not represented at all). I hope to see more BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled individuals in decision making positions. I want to see continued play and experimentation with style and format; just look at what’s happened with graphic novels and novels-in-verse over the past decade!
What other storytelling forms have we not yet explored that will reach young readers? And I hope that we continue to meet the needs of our youth, telling engaging and exciting stories that accurately reflect who they are, what they hope for, and what they’re grappling with in their day to day. And much of this is happening and continues to happen. The future of publishing for children’s literature is bright!
Michael Leali is a writer and educator. He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When he’s not dreaming up stories, he’s probably playing a board game, eating cheese, or grading papers somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago. The Civil War of Amos Abernathy (HarperCollins, 2022) is his debut novel. Michael Leali identifies as white, cisgender, gay, and uses he/him pronouns. Learn more about Michael at michaelleali.com.
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. Connect with her at stephanimartinelleaton.com.