The Great Circle (Which Doesn’t Always Feel So Great)

My dad died on the 13th of this month, and I’ve been busy with the logistical fallout. Forgive me if the posts are a bit sporadic for a while. This is an excerpt from the eulogy I gave:

“Bud Smith was a gentleman and a gentle man with a quiet strength—dependable and reassuring. He was protective of his family and welcoming to his friends. He loved people—especially elders and children.”

And we all loved him.

I’m tremendously blessed to have had such a wonderful father, supportive family, and caring friends. Thanks to all who’ve done what they could to ease a difficult time.

Bill Martin, Jr. & Misc.

Bill Martin Jr., the author of hundreds of popular children’s books, including BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE?, died recently after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Like me, Martin had Kansas, Chicago, and Texas ties. He was born in Hiawatha, Kan., received his doctorate from Northwestern in Chicago, and lived in Commerce, Tex. (about an hour outside of Dallas).

Bill was one of the few living legends I had the priviledge of visiting with on a semi-regular basis as he attended numerous Texas children’s book events with his co-author, a charming man named Michael Sampson.

Early on in my career he gave me some helpful advice about picture book writing, and he always showed me every kindness and graciousness.

He will be deeply missed.

As much as he loved the book world, I don’t think he’d mind as I go on to share some industry tidbits.

Boyds Mills Press and Front Street Books have merged, which seems to be a good move for all concerned.

Check out The Ban-Proof Bookshelf by David Lubar from VOYA. Lubar is the author of FLIPPED and many more books for young readers. Greg and I had the pleasure of lunching with him and his lovely wife on the riverwalk at the annual TLA conference in San Antonio last spring.

A Tribute To Paula Danziger from Surfnet Kids.

A new author site: (author of a Front Street title for 10-up, HUNGER MOON).

Feeling in the know? Surf over to Voya’s teen pop culture quiz.

Did I Say “Tired” Yesterday?

Conned by husband’s puppy-dog eyes into reading his manuscript one last time before he emailed it to the editorial assistant. Still very funny and surprising, which in itself after this many reads is remarkable. But I’m completely exhausted. It’s just from the focus required for line editing something as long as a novel and quickly to boot.

Big yawn.

Tired Eyes

Whew. Four hours straight of reading aloud Greg‘s next novel, TOFU AND T.REX (Little Brown, spring 2005) to check for any last minute copyedits. If you’re a writer, always make sure to read the entire manuscript aloud–periodically and definitely before sending in. We had four brains and pairs of eyes on it and needed all of them. Must now go rest tired eyes, but my, what a sight that sparkling manuscript was. Witty and tremendous in the whole. Wow.

P.S. TOFU AND T.REX will be a companion book to Greg’s first book, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO (Little Brown, 2003); see:

Interview with Debut Children’s Book Author Greg Leitich Smith from Debbi Michiko Florence. Fall 2003.

Greg Leitich Smith Interview from Fall 2003.

Indian Shoes

“Ray stood by Grampa, breathing in the lake air, warmed by the wind. He glanced from the glittering lights in the water to the glittering lights in the heavens.” –INDIAN SHOES by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Jim Madsen (Harper, 2002).

The Story Behind The Story for INDIAN SHOES has already been presented with my depth and detail than I ever could offer in a CWIM article published by Esther Hershenhorn (see below), so I won’t try to repeat her fine work.

I will say that this book is special to me because in part it was dedicated to my grandparents, who were such a tremendously positive influence on my life.

Many Native readers in particular commented on how much Grampa Halfmoon (and RAIN’s Aunt Georgia before him) reflect their image of Native elders in contrast to the all-knowing Yoda so often offered by the mass media.

It has proven more challenging to sell than its two predecessors. Despite all the talk about there being a need for literary early reader chapter books, there seem to be picture book gurus, novel gurus, and overall gurus. But not many champions of books for this age group.

However, when I visit schools, it is always the most popular of my books–even with kids younger and (significantly) older than the target range.

INDIAN SHOES is one of only three (to my knowledge) children’s books about urban Indian characters, even though most Native people today live in cities.

It also is one of the very few short story collections for its target age group.

See also:


“Dear Writer: When Editorial Letters Invite Revision” by Esther Hershenhorn in the 2003 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. The article discusses getting past the initial fear of revision, considering new possibilities, reimagining the manuscript, reimmersing oneself in the story, and celebrating the opportunity! Pages 48-49 offer insights into the revision process for INDIAN SHOES with quotes from author Cynthia Leitich Smith and editor Rosemary Brosnan.

Children’s Author Cynthia Leitich Smith: Caring Enough to Be Candid by Alexis Quinlan, Part One. June 2002. Cynthia talks about subtlety, pushing young readers, politics in writing, authors she admires, and the ten year old within. Also read Part two: Closing the Miles in Indian Shoes.

Indian Shoes: booktalk from Nancy Keane.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith: an author interview by Julia Durango of By The Book. Fall 2002.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith: Indian Shoes from the Book Review Café. Spring 2002.

An Interview with Children’s Author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Debbi Michiko Florence. Winter 2001-2002. Cynthia talks about her decision to write for children and teens, her Web site, and her hobbies and inspirations

“Author Profile: Cynthia Leitich Smith” by Sharron L. McElmeel (Library Talk, March/April 2002).


Kidsreads: “short stories are written for younger readers who like rhythms and repetition in what they read.”

BCCB: “So permeated with affection that many readers will just bask in the warmth and envy Ray his cool Grampa.”

Cooperative Children’s Book Center: “An excellent collection of interrelated short stories will appeal to newly independent young readers… …adroit uses of colloquial language also earmark this fine collection.”

Kirkus: “A very pleasing first-chapter book from its funny and tender opening salvo to its heartwarming closer. An excellent choice for younger readers.”

School Library Journal: “Shoes is a good book for any elementary-aged reluctant reader, and a necessity for indigenous children everywhere.”

Multicultural Review: “These stories are goofy, quirky, and laugh-out-loud funny, and poignant, sometimes all together. INDIAN SHOES is about belonging to family and community, about helping neighbors, about learning life’s lessons, and about sometimes feeling different but most times knowing who you are in the world.”

Booklist: “The stories’ strength lies in their powerful, poignant evocation of a cross-generational bond and in the description of the simple pleasures two charming characters enjoy.”


Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies; Planet Esme’s Don’t-Miss List for 2002; Finalist, Friends of the Austin Public Library Award/Texas Institute of Letters; 2003 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education; Choices 2003, Cooperative Children’s Book Center; NEA Native American Book List; 2003 Chicago Public Schools Fourth Grade Recommended Reading; Featured title, Texas Book Festival; 2004-2005 Children’s Crown Award List.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name

“I can still smell the pork cooking, taste the lukewarm coleslaw, hear the songs, and feel the rhythm of the shell-shakers. I remember ribbons and tear dresses and me trying to dance like Mama. Echoes of stories, the snapping of fire. Smoke rising to heaven, and how it stung my eyes. Talk of corn and the New Year.” –RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Harper, 2001)

“It’s [RAIN] kind of like a combination of ‘Northern Exposure’ and ‘Party of Five’.” –Bob Langstaff, WAMV AM/Amhert, VA

Sometimes I think you have to write your first novel before you can write anything else, and it’s in many ways a mixed blessing if it’s actually published. Basically, that manuscript helps you clear out everything that’s built up over the years.

I wrote RAIN while JINGLE DANCER was in production, knowing my new editor would be eager to see it and that I had just signed with a top-notch agent.

It’s about Cassidy Rain Berghoff, a mixed blood girl who after the unexpected death of her best friend slowly reconnects to her family and intertribal community by becoming involved as a photojournalist for her small town newspaper.

The story was inspired in part by a true tragedy, although the reframed fact pattern is completely unrecognizable.

The timing of the release–only a couple of months before 9/11–was challenging. At that time, many people didn’t want to hear an author talk to children about anything unpleasant, let alone fiction about grief/healing. I was asked by teachers and even some librarians not to focus too much on the actual themes and plot of the story.

The writing style is very Indian (in the way you sometimes see in Native writing for authors but seldom children), which was important to me. I didn’t even consider presenting a protagonist with specific tribal worldviews in a literary construct inconsistent with them. A consequence of this was that reader reactions, though generally positive, were sometimes confused. However, Native readers (and reviewers) in particular seemed to absolutely love it, and the book established me as a voice in Native American literature.

Because my editor and agent already were in place, the submissions history of the manuscript was quite brief, however, I spent an extra six months putting in and taking out unnecessary scenes. Wheel-spinning, so to speak.

I couldn’t let it go.

I wrote the book in Chicago, living in a loft apartment in the near South Loop. It was a reconverted old printing company, about the farthest thing from fictional Hannesburg, Kansas.

I’ve already said a lot about the book in articles and interviews, and I’ve resolved not to be repetitive. But some qualities have endured over time:

(1) standing as one of first books about a contemporary mixed blood where being Native American is not the conflict (although I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something about the book based on the opposite presumption);

(2) standing as an example of Native writing-style, especially with its community focus (big difference between tribal societies based on community rights and responsiblities and the mainstream’s foundation of individual rights and responsibilities), which may have seemed like a broad net to some outsiders (but then again, Indian readers often tell me they find mainstream protagonists a tad self-absorbed);

(3) showing diversity within a specifically German American town; as a biracial character, Rain is not only incidentally Euro-American, it’s an important part of her setting and identity (lots of flattering mail from German American townspeople);

(4) offering an emphasis on engineering and technology, which cuts against the stereotype of the Native primitive (the kids build a pasta bridge and Web sites);

(5) integrating the Internet in the story in a way that makes a plot difference (one of the first books to do so).

Readers have responded strongly to RAIN–no one is ever lukewarm. And those who love it, love it passionately. I’ve been asked too many times to count for a sequel or companion book.

See also:


“A Different Drum: Native American Writing” by Cynthia Leitich Smith, “Field Notes,” (The Horn Book Magazine, July 2002)(p.407). A discussion of the value of vulnerability of Native American writing styles in the mainstream market.

“Interracial Themes in Children’s and Young Adult Fiction” by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Library Talk, January/February 2001).

“Cheering for Books: An Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith” by Teri Lesesne (Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals, October 2001).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by Julia Durango of By The Book. Offers not only thoughts on the book but also its life in the world of children’s literature.


Kirkus Reviews calls it: “Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay . . .”

School Library Journal said: “It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It’s Rain’s story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her ‘patch-work tribe.'”

Publisher’s Weekly: “…readers will feel the affection of Rain’s loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.”

Children’s Literature: “Smith (author of Jingle Dancer) portrays a protagonist with a genuine voice and an appealing sense of humor.”


For this title, selected as a 2001 Writers of the Year in Children’s Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Also RAIN was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award, featured at the Second National Book Festival, the Texas Book Festival, the St. Petersburg Times’ “You Gotta Read This Book Club,” and included in GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS by Kathleen Odean.

“Middle America”

I’m hereby taking an intermission from my reminiscing to respond to the use of “middle America” as east-west coastal short hand for “narrow-minded” and/or “unsophisticated.”

Okay, now I’m about to demolish my dignity by pointing out that this rant is inspired by my landing on the “E! True Hollywood Story: Dirty Dancing” while, um, channel surfing.

But basically, what happened was someone on the original creative team for the short-lived TV show (which was of course nada compared to the oh-so inspired YA movie) explicitly said the story had been cleaned up and santized because of “middle America” sensibilities.


I’ve lived in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas.

I know middle America.

Just FYI, NYC & Hollywood: Middle America likes its dancing as dirty as the next region. Forbidden love. Grinding point-turns. Bring it on!

Oh, wait, wasn’t that the title of a cheerleader movie with Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku?