Today we welcome Veeda Bybee to the Cynsations team as a reporter. With a background in journalism as well as someone who participates enthusiastically in conversations surrounding the kidlit community, she is well-suited in this role. Veeda has contributed to the anthologies Rural Voices, edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (Candlewick, 2020) and Calling the Moon, edited by Aida Salazar and Yamile Saied Méndez (Candlewick, 2022). She also has written historical fiction chapter books—Lily and the Great Quake, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio (Capstone, 2020) and, in partnership with the Smithsonian, Li On Angel Island (Stone Arch Books, 2020).
We are excited about Veeda’s recent news that Versify will publish Veeda’s Shining a Light: Celebrating 40 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Changed the World, illustrated by Victo Ngai (winter, 2023).
Veeda, 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?
Like many of us connected to Cynsations, I earned a master’s degree in creative writing in the Writing for Children and Young Adult program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I graduated a few years ago and miss the learning environment. Being a part of the Cynsations community connects me to not just the craft, but the creators I admire so much. I want to highlight the lives of those involved with this great work in hopes others feel inspired.
You’re also a writer. Can you tell us about your path to writing for young readers?
As a kid I went from a reluctant reader to an absolute bookworm. Once I found Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, (HarperCollins, 1981), I couldn’t get enough of stories for kids and read everything I could get my hands on. From classics like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Simon & Schuster, 1967) to paperback series like Sweet Valley High (Random House, 1983-2003), I was hardly ever without a book.
In college, I majored in print journalism at Brigham Young University and found my stride working at the student newspaper. Interviewing others was my favorite thing to do. I think we all have something that gives off light and I love to find the “spark” that makes a person shine.
One of my first jobs in journalism was working for a lifestyle magazine in the Philippines, where my family lived at the time. While in Manila, I interviewed chefs, artists, and homeowners—all creatives who lead really fabulous lives. I’ve worked as a newspaper copy editor, magazine editor and freelance reporter for various print publications.
I’m also a mother. As my family grew, I started to explore other avenues of writing and thought of the stories that drew me in when I was a child. When my youngest was three, I started the MFA program at VCFA.
One of the most memorable events in grad school was participating in a creative workshop with Louise Hawes. Louise worked on many of the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books that shaped so much of my childhood. It was all I could do to keep quietly fangirl and keep myself from screaming, “Louise wrote Sweet Valley High!”
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?
I’m going to answer this question a little differently. My favorites are ever evolving so I’ll select two books that have made an impact on me this year.
I can’t stop thinking about Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn and illustrated by Victo Ngai (Scholastic, 2021). The sparse text has such an impact and reflects much of my own family history. The pictures are also so moving and beautiful. I’m fortunate to be collaborating with Victo on an upcoming project. Keep your eyes out for her gorgeous work in Shining A Light: Celebrating 40 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2023).
Another recent favorite is Otto: A Palindrama by Jon Agee (Dial Books, 2021). Told in palindromes, the word play in this graphic novel is so funny and completely captivating. Readers will find themselves immersed in the humorous art and studying the text backwards and forwards. This is a clever story that will get kids excited to spend time in a book.
Which formats and markets call to you, and why?
There is power in graphic novels and I recommend them to everyone. The combination of images and text is inviting to all readers.
I’ve also found myself interested in historical fiction, especially if they feature Asian American characters. It’s an exciting time in publishing and I’m grateful to be a voice for these underrepresented stories.
What do you hope for the future of publishing for kids and teens?
I would like to see the industry publish more international books. I grew up a military kid and had the opportunity to spend much of my growing up years in different countries.
Seeing the world as a foreigner in a new country can be a great learning experience. I would love for children to find themselves in these different cities and cultures as they travel through books. Even though there may be difference in our language and food, we all share similar stories of belonging and hope. I’m looking forward to seeing these books on the shelves.
Veeda Bybee is a former journalist who holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a contributor to the YA anthology Rural Voices, edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (Candlewick, 2020) and Calling the Moon, edited by Aida Salazar and Yamile Saied Méndez (Candlewick, 2022). She has also written historical fiction chapter books—Lily and the Great Quake, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio (Capstone, 2020) and, in partnership with the Smithsonian, Li On Angel Island (Stone Arch Books, 2020). Veeda is the daughter of Asian immigrants and lives in Nevada with her family.
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.