Picture This: Picture Books for Young Adults: Notes from ALAN 2006

The following Q&A was developed in response to tentative questions for a panel, “Picture This: Using Picture Books to Connect Teens with Young Adult Literature,” hosted by Sunya Osborn of Nebo School District in Spanish Fork, Utah at the ALAN Workshop 2006 in Nashville.

The panel featured Paul Janeczko, Sneed Collard, and me–Cynthia Leitich Smith. Due to time constraints, questions below were combined and/or omitted at the live session.

As promised at the conference, I’m offering these notes for the use of ALAN attendees and anyone else with an interest in the topic. See my full ALAN report. Thanks again to everyone at ALAN for their professionalism, hospitality, and great company!

Why do you write picture books rather than novels?

I write both.

I’m the author of two picture books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Santa Knows, co-authored by my husband Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006).

Jingle Dancer is the story of Jenna, who–with the aid of four women of her intertribal family and community–assembles her jingle dance regalia and then dances to honor them at a powwow.

Santa Knows is the story of Alfie, who tries to disprove the existence of Santa Claus until he’s kidnapped and brought to the North Pole by the jolly old elf himself, and of his sister Noelle, who wants a nicer big brother for Christmas.

I’m also the author of a ‘tween (or middle school or young YA novel), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). It tells the story of Cassidy Rain Berghoff, a mixed blood girl from northeast Kansas who, after the unexpected death of her best friend, slowly reconnects to her family and intertribal community through the lens of a camera.

My latest novel is Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), the story of Quincie P. Morris, who must make-over the dorky new-hire chef at her family’s vampire-themed Italian restaurant while rumors swirl that her best friend-first love may have murdered the original chef.

That said, the initial spark for my picture books versus novels is different.

With picture books, I often am struck with a concept or several. For example, with Jingle Dancer, I was interested in telling a story of reciprocity, one of girls and women over generations, offering an antidote to stereotyped, inaccurate images of Native women, and I wanted to show–without addressing it specifically within the text–the full interracial diversity of especially southeast Indians.

On the latter, depictions of biracial characters of Native-white heritage are not unusual; however, those of characters with African-Native American heritage are quite rare. This is an important population, historically and still today. The illustrators and I sought to show the full range of the beauty of the people, and we did.

With novels, I’m more likely to begin with a question. With Rain Is Not My Indian Name, the question was: how do we begin to heal after sudden death? It was inspired by the death of one of my classmates during high school. It’s a grief-healing story.

With Tantalize, the question was: how can girls stand strong and independent in a world that’s so monstrous at times? It’s a contemporary feminist recast of the gothic fantasy tradition, a genre bender that also incorporates mystery, suspense, comedy, romance, and multiculturalism. It’s also a book that signals my expanding from “what what you know” to also focus on “write what you love to read.” I’ve been a devoted fan of horror since I was a teenager.

Do you write for a specific age group? If so, what techniques do you use?

Really, target-market age group evolves as a natural extension of the protagonist’s age and the content and style of the text. I don’t think to myself: “four year olds like this or that” and then try to work those elements into the story.

What’s important to remember, though, about picture books is that they are books to be read to, not books for independent reading. Therefore, they often are appropriate not only for the traditional age four and up group, but also older children, teens, and even adults.

How are picture books of interest to young adults?

Picture books are especially attractive to reluctant readers and visual thinkers. I have a theory that these are often one in the same, or at least that there’s a significant overlap.

The appeal here is similar to that of graphic novels. A particularly successful hybrid of the two is the hilarious and brilliantly designed Sea Dogs: An Oceanic Operetta by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2004)(author interview).

In addition, picture books can deepen understanding. I recommend using picture book fiction and non-fiction to give a rounded overview of a topic before engaging in a deeper exploration.

For example, a book like Jingle Dancer could be used with, say, The People Shall Continue by Simon Ortiz, illustrated by Sharol Graves (Children’s Book Press, 1998), to introduce Native American literature or culture units.

How do picture books connect young adult readers to YA fiction?

I’m a big believer in pairings. Teachers have had great luck using Jingle Dancer to introduce books like Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005)(anthologist interview).

A few other examples of pairings: Newbery Honor picture book Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Penguin, 2005) as an introduction to the novel Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum, 2006); Bruce Coville‘s picture book retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Dial, 1999) with Sharon Draper‘s contemporary YA retelling Romiette and Julio (Simon Pulse, 2001); and Through the Tempests Dark and Wild: A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein, by Sharon Darrow illustrated by Angela Barrett (Candlewick, 2003)(author interview) with Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt).

How can you use picture books as models for writing?

Picture books are wonderful tools for studying story structure (provided the book in question has a strong structure to start with). Students can identify the introduction to character/setting, introduction of conflict, rising action, crisis, epiphany, resolution, falling action, and conclusion. Then they may be better able to apply those to their own fiction writing. Santa Knows has a strong classic story structure.

Picture books also can be used to introduce different literary techniques. For example, Jingle Dancer is built around the number four–Jenna goes in four directions to four women to collect four rows of jingles and then dances as the fourth jingle dancer at the powwow–rather than the more commonly used number three.

In addition, picture books can offer young writers visual references. In my own writing process, I have a particular fondness for photoessay picture books. For example, in Tantalize, shapeshifter characters include werewolves, werecats, wereoppossums, and werearmadillos. One of the first steps I took in pre-writing was to order picture books about each of these animals as launching points for my descriptions.

If you could recommend one of your books to use with YAs, which one would it be?

Maybe it’s the novelist in me, but I’m still go with Rain Is Not My Indian Name for tweens and Tantalize for older teens. However, I would encourage teachers to introduce them with paired picture books. Heavy Metal publishes a graphic-format picture book retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (2005) that might work well with older teens interested in Tantalize.

I’d also like to mention that, although picture books offer many educational benefits to teens, many also are intrinsically worth studying as great works of literature and art. With so much pressure on kids to read at grade level or above, I fret that they may be missing out on fully appreciating this body of literature when they are at the target age range. It’s better late than never to catch up.

Cynsational Notes

See my recommended bibliography of picture books, and Planet Esme’s Book-A-Day Plan.

Picture book biographies often are a great fit for YA readers; see Anneographies: Picture Book Biographies from Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview)(blogger interview).

Bartography from Chris Barton is a great blog for non-fiction children’s books. Chris is the author of The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2008).

ALAN Nashville Report

I’m just back home in Austin from the ALAN 2006 workshop, “Young Adult Literature: Key to Open Minds,” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.

The workshop followed the NCTE conference. It was large, with 480ish in attendance, and sponsoring publishers provided tons of giveaway copies of the participating authors’ books (presented in big brown boxes to be shipped via FedEx).

With the exception of one breakout option each day, all programs were offered to the group as a whole, and autographings were quiet but busy affairs in the back of the main room. (I signed many, many copies of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/Harper, 2000) and the Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) ARC.

The event opened on Sunday night with the ALAN party where I met Sarah Dessen and Marc Aronson‘s (author interview) young son, both for the first time. Sarah seems thoughtful, upbeat, and warm–much like one would expect from her books. Marc’s son was shy, clinging to his legs. It was a treat to see Marc. The last time we were together was two residencies ago on the Vermont College MFA faculty. I kept trying to introduce him to Greg, but the three of us were never in the same place at the same time.

From there, I joined the HarperCollins family dinner at F. Scotts, where I enjoyed the salmon, the Art Deco decor, and getting to know Peter Abrahams.

The next day Greg spoke on the panel, “I Laughed So Hard I Cried” along with Jordan Sonnenblick (author interview), Lauren Myracle, and E. Lockhart (author interview). The chair was April Bannon of ASU in Tempe. It was a sparkling panel–smart, funny, a fitting way to end the day. They did something unusual in reading from each other’s books. I liked that.

Other panels I especially enjoyed included “Don’t Look and It Will Go Away: YA Books, A Key to Uncovering the Invisible Problem of Bullying,” featuring Patrick Jones, Nancy Garden (author interview), and Julie Ann Peters (author interview). Emphasis was placed on the role of bullying in school shootings and the heightened targeting of GLBTQ teens in schools as well as what teachers could do in response. Julie shared excerpts from reader letters, which was quite affecting, and on a lighter note, has the most divine new short-cropped red haircut.

I’d also like to highlight “Romance in YA Literature: More than Meets the Eye” with Brenda Woods, Sarah Dessen, and David Levithan. Brenda mentioned that interracial dating relationships (specifically African American-Latino) are addressed in her work. Sarah talked about writing stories with a love theme that had a literary depth to them. David was a strong, funny speaker who made good points about writing love stories involving gay characters.

It was a particular thrill for me to attend a breakout session, “What a Novel Idea: New Ideas for Telling Tales in Young Adult Literature.” Featured books were Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers (Amistad, 2005); Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans (Little Brown, 2007); The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2006)(author interview); The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child by Michael Buckley (book 3 of the series)(Amulet, 2006); Refugees by Catherine Stine (Random House, 2005); and my own forthcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007).

In presenting Tantalize, enthusiastic and bubbly ASU graduate student Elle Wolterbeek offered fantastic tie-in overheads (Michael J. Fox in “Teen Wolf,” Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many more). She also made a number of glowing points about Tantalize and pointed out: “Readers familiar with Tom Romano‘s alternative styles and blended voices will also enjoy this book as it employs…signs, advertisements and menus to tell the story, and teachers implementing multiple voice writing in their classroom will find a wonderful resource in this text…” Thanks, Elle!

Greg and I had dinner that night with the Candlewick family on Monday at Mambu. I ordered YoMama’s Chicken with crayfish baked mac and cheese–decadent and delicious. Cecil Castellucci (author interview), Deborah Noyes, and Don Gallo were in attendance.

Afterward, Greg and I enjoyed a late-night boat ride through the Delta section of the hotel with Cecil and John Green. We saw catfish, ducks, and plants from around the world. It was most memorable for the great company.

Tuesday’s highlight was John‘s mini keynote, which was brave, brilliant, hilarious, and insightful–quite possibly the best speech I’ve heard in six years of attending national conferences. It deserved its standing ovation.

My panel, “Picture This: Using Picture Books to Connect Teens with Young Adult Literature” was scheduled from 11:05 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. The panel was hosted by Sunya Osborn, of Nebo School District in Spanish Fork, Utah, and also featured Paul Janeczko and Sneed Collard. See my notes and expanded resources on the topic.

Afterward, I was whisked away for an author interview for The ALAN Review, and it was a wonderful experience, though I’m dashed at having to have missed “Keying In To New Voices in Young Adult Literature” with Paul Volponi, Cecil Castellucci, Coe Booth, and Kristen Smith. Yay, new voices! (Fortunately, I had other opportunities for quality time with Miss C.).

That day, I especially enjoyed “YA Anthologies: Opening Young Adult Readers to Diverse Views” with Michael Cart, Don Gallo, and Deborah Noyes (author interview). I appreciated what Deborah said about wanting to offer work that was both popular with teens and literary.

Also memorable was a breakout session with Bryan Gillis of ASU and Helen Hemphill (author interview) on “Reading with the Writer’s Eye: Integrating Writing Instruction with Young Adult Literature.” Bryan and I are in agreement that our favorite M.T. Anderson title is Burger Wuss (Candlewick, 2001)(author interview).

Additional sightings included: Tamora Pierce; Teri Lesesne; Gail Giles (in a stunning, full-length black dress)(author interview); Jane Yolen (author interview); Catherine Balkin; Robert Lipsyte; Chris Crutcher; and Ellen Schreiber. See Teri’s Power Point presentation on audio books. See also the ALAN authors list.

This morning, Greg and I had the most ideal travel experience one could imagine for the day before Thanksgiving. The Gaylord Opryland called a stretch limo for us (at regular cab rate), and we had a smooth flight on Southwest Airlines. Along the way, I buried my nose in Cecil’s latest and best novel to date, Beige (Candlewick, 2007)–amazing voice–and he studied What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias edited by Donald R. Gallo (Candlewick, 2006).

Thanks again to Candlewick and HarperCollins for sponsoring me to the event and to the ALAN officers and Nashville members who worked so hard on a successful conference! It was an honor to be included in such inspiring company.

Cynsational Notes

It was a special treat to visit with Sara Zarr (author interview) at her first national conference.

See more NCTE/ALAN reports from: The Goddess of YA Literature; Reading, Writing, Etc.; Good Times and Noodle Salad; The Divine Miss Pixie Woods (Dolly forever!); Sarah Dessen; and John Green (here’s hoping his re-entry into reality was a smooth one); The Boyfriend List; and GregLSBlog.

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy for linking to my NCTE report.

NCTE Nashville Report

Reporting live from the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center at NCTE in Nashville.

Greg Leitich Smith and I left Friday from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where the cultural display was “Greatest Story Never Told” on the Texas School for the Deaf‘s Sesquicentennial.

We had a smooth direct flight on Southwest Airlines while I read The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and Greg read Notes From The Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic, 2006)(author interview).

The Gaylord Opryland itself is essentially three interconnected hotels in one, plus numerous shops, restaurants, a faux river and boat rides, theatrical venues, 24-hour piped-in carols, and convention center with a glass dome–seriously–over the whole thing.

Our Day One headline event was the Boyds Mills/Front Street dinner at the Hermitage in honor of Austin-Nashville author Helen Hemhill (author interview) and her new book Runaround (Front Street, March 2007). I had the pleasure of sitting with Book Page editor Lynn Green.

The event actually was held in a cabin on the grounds rather than the main house, which is a museum. Dinner featured corn pudding and the best fried chicken I’ve had in decades.

Celebrity sightings included Jane Yolen (author interview), Sara Holbrook, Carolyn Coman, Stephen Roxburgh, and Patty Campbell.

The next morning, we spoke on a panel with Uma Krishnaswami (author interview) on “Three Authors’ Journeys Across Borders: Opening Doors for Young Writers To Tell Their Own Stories,” which was sponsored by Children’s Literature.

Highlights included Uma’s passion for themes she hopes to impart to young readers and Greg’s observation that, though he’s Japanese-German American, if he were to go to Japan or Germany, he’d never be seen as anything but an American.

Brisk signings followed at the HarperCollins and Candlewick booths. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!

That evening I continued on to the Candlewick Press YA Author dinner along with our newly minted NBA winner M.T. Anderson (author interview), Cecil Castellucci (author interview), Don Gallo, Paul Janeczko, and Deborah Noyes (author-editor interview).

It was held at Merchants Restaurant in the Pharmacy Room. I enjoyed the salmon and wild rice. Cecil was the other author at my table, and guests left with gift bags filled with books and ARCs of the featured authors (wrapping tissue: gold and light blue). Topics included graphic novels and the band Gael Force, which I can’t wait to check out.

Speaking of which, don’t-miss reads include: Beige by Cecil Castellucci (2007); The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural edited by Deborah Noyes (2007); Worlds Afire by Paul Janeczko (2006); What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias edited by Donald R. Gallo (2006); The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson (2006); and Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2007). By the way, thanks to all the Tantalize ARC readers who found me on the floor with hugs and cheers–most appreciated!

After dinner, we stopped by the Delta Lounge to visit with John Green, Cecil Castellucci, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, M.T. Anderson, Jordan Sonnenblick, and E. Lockhart, among others. Great company, but it had been a long day, so we left before the dancing started.

Today was quieter–sort of an intermission before ALAN. Greg and I had a lovely lunch (Thai shrimp salad and California roll) at the Cascades Restaurant with Elisa Carbone (author interview).

This afternoon, I’m reading Cecil‘s Beige and Greg is reading True Talents by David Lubar (Tor, 2007).

Tonight is the ALAN party!

Cynsational Notes

Additional celebrity sightings on the convention floor included: Pat Mora, Sara Zarr (author interview), Michael Cart, Judy O’Malley, and Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview).

See lots of authors signing, including me on the floor after my official Harper signing (for those teachers who’d just missed the cut-off time) from Reading, Writing, etc.

See also my ALAN report.

Thanks to my sponsoring publishers–Candlewick and HarperCollins!

Author Feature: Lori Aurelia Williams

From Simon & Schuster: “Lori Aurelia Williams holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was awarded both a James A. Michener Fellowship and a scholarship in creative writing. Her fiction is set primarily in urban areas and combines African-American storytelling with street slang. Born in Houston, Lori Aurelia Williams now lives in Austin, Texas.” Read a previous Cynsations interview with Lori.

We last spoke in December 2000, not long after the release of your debut novel, When Kambia Elaine Flew in from Neptune (Simon & Schuster). At that time, you were anticipating the release of Shayla’s Double Brown Baby Blues (Simon & Schuster, 2003), which was a companion novel. Could you tell us a bit about your second book?

Shayla’s Double Brown Baby Blues continues the story of Shayla and Kambia. It takes place about a year after the first book. The book is all about dealing. Kambia is trying to deal with demons from her past and Shayla is trying to deal with the negative feeling she has for her deadbeat father and his new baby girl. You also meet a new character, Lemm. Lemm is a thirteen-year-old alcoholic dealing with a tragic incident that took his younger siblings’ lives. The book is about these three young people working through some very complicated problems.

What made you decide to write a companion to Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune?

I wrote the book simply because I felt like there was more story to tell. Readers wanted to know what would happen next with Kambia and Shayla, and so did I. I wanted to see if Kambia would ever get a normal fairy tale life, and if Shayla would ever get the father that she deserved. Of course, the only way to answer these questions was to write the book.

What are the special challenges in writing companion books?

I think the challenge is making the book stand on its on, but still be a part of the original work. I think I achieved that. With Shayla and Lemm, I wrote two independent stories that could reel the reader in without having read the previous book. And Kambia’s story is also unique, since she dealing with a new problem we haven’t encountered before. When you put all three stories together, you have a book that is connected to Kambia Elaine, but very different.

Congratulations on the release of Broken China (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

When I was a little girl growing up, I knew girls that would do all sorts of things to get money, including exploiting their bodies. These were poor girls who just wanted what every girl wants, food on the table, some of the latest clothing, and a place to hang that clothing up in. In order to get these things, they would often allow themselves to get pulled into bad situations. Out of that memory I came up with Broken China, a fractured fourteen-year old girl who wants to do one thing, get something special for her child. In order to do that, China takes a job at strip club, where she finds out life can be very scary and harsh in the adult world.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

The biggest challenge with bringing China to life was making her seem real. China is a very mature young lady. The challenge is making people understand that there are lots of Chinas in the world, girls who don’t get to be children because of the horrible situations in their lives. In order to do that, I started the book with China, the mother, hanging out with a much older friend and her children. I then switched to China the girl, hanging out with her best friend at school. I wanted the readers to immediately see her in both roles, so they would understand that was already living as a woman, but still very much a child.

We recently spoke together on a panel at the ALA JCLC in Dallas, and I was struck by your passion for giving voice to teens–like young teen mothers–who might otherwise go unheard. Could you tell about your connection to these teens and their place in your body of work?

I grew up in an area where teen mothers were as common as rain. It seems like there were teen mothers in every other house on the street. One of my best friends got pregnant right out of on elementary school, before any of us truly understood what sex was. We messed around without understanding that messing around could lead to a swollen belly and relocation to a special school. I remembered how confused and sad my friend looked, standing in the doorway watching the rest of us girls jumping rope in the street. When I write I try to express the feelings and emotions that she felt standing alone in her house, realizing that without meaning to she had given her childhood away.

You’ve written about difficult, sometimes controversial subjects that may make some grown-ups uncomfortable. Do you ever feel pressured to self-censor or have you faced censorship from outside forces? What keeps you on track in a political climate that sometimes tries to squelch artistic speech, especially that directed at young readers?

I have definitely been censored, but no matter what I will continue to write what I write. I deal with difficult subjects because I know that there are children who are struggling with difficult lives. I’ve met victims of sexual, physical, and substance abuse, children who have been locked up for robbery or assault, and children who were just unfortunate enough to make a bad decision about sex. I’ve met them, and I was one of them. When I write I write for and about those children. I know that this sometimes makes adults uncomfortable, but we often live in an uncomfortable world.

It’s been six years since your last interview for Cynsations. How have you grown and changed as a writer since that time?

I think I’ve gotten more disciplined. It doesn’t matter how much I have going on in my life I make certain that I get the writing done. Sometimes I’m writing late at night when I can barely keep my eyes open, but I’m driven to keep the text flowing and get the story told. I think that kind of commitment only comes with growth.

What advice do you have for beginning YA novelists?

My advice to all writers is the same, there’s nothing to it, but to do it! Get into your characters heads and get the story out. Don’t over think the plot, just keep writing until you have a finished piece of work. There is always time to fine tune your writing later, and your agent or editor can decide how the book should be sold. YA writing is the same as adult fiction writing. All you have to do is know your characters and know the situations you want to put them in. I’ve probably said this before, but if you can remember where you want Sally to go, and how she will feel when she gets there, you already have all you need to write a book.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

I recently took a job at a publishing company called Badgerdog, which runs creative writing classes in several local area schools. I am the program coordinator for that program. I’m super busy, but I love visiting the schools and helping make certain things run smoothly. When I’m not doing that I’m trying to whip something up on the sewing machine or watching my favorite episode of “Project Runway.”

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next is a book currently titled Hiding Demonee. I never tell the plot of a book before it’s released, but it’s about a seventeen year-old girl who makes a big mistake with the love of her life. The book is about the growth that comes from the consequences of that mistake.

Cynsational News & Links

Signed copies of Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Björkman (Dutton, 2006) are now available at BookPeople at Sixth and Lamar in Austin, Texas; and at Barnes & Noble at the Lone-Star Pavilion, 711 Texas Avenue, in College Station, Texas. They also will soon be available Jacque’s Toys in Bryan, Texas. Readers may contact stores for shipping information or write me for autographed book plates.

Look for us today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Thursday, Nov. 16) by the main tree at a table signing for “A Christmas Affair,” sponsored by the Junior League of Austin.

More News & Links

Congratulations to M.T. Anderson, winner of the National Book Award (in Young People’s Literature) for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (Candlewick, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with M.T. Anderson.

Congratulations to the Flying Pig, now in Shelburne, Vermont, on its 10th anniversary! See also Vermont authors.

Take a sneak peek at the cover art from R.L. LaFevers‘ upcoming Theodosia Throckmorton and the Serpents of Chaos (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with R.L. LaFevers.

Then take a sneak peek at the cover art from David Lubar‘s upcoming The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Weird and Creepy Tales (Tor, September 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Guide to Selecting Children’s and YA Books about Native Americans by Elizabeth Kennedy from About: Children’s Books. Thanks to Elizabeth for highlighting my website!

John Green’s version of NANOWRIMO and Texas from author Tanya Lee Stone. Check out Tanya’s report on the Texas Book Festival. Read a Cynsations interview with Tanya.

“The Mystery and Magic of Story: A Spell That Connects One Heart To Another” by Laurie Halse Anderson (PDF file) from the fall 2006 ALAN Review.

National Book Award Blog for The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2006) from Nancy Werlin. Peer into Nancy’s NBA experience. Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

The Printer’s Trial: The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press by Gail Jarrow (Calkins Creek, 2006): a recommendation from Bartography.

Power in Numbers by Joy Bean from Publishers Weekly. Featuring the Class of 2k7, a group of forty first-time children’s/YA book authors, founded by author Greg Fishbone. Subscribe to the Class’s new e-zine, which will be published quarterly, beginning in January 2007. Subscribers will be entered into a drawing to win ARCs and/or finished books from 2k7 members.

“Read This Before You Begin Any Writing Workshop, Class, or Course” from The Working Writer’s Coach: Information and news to help freelance writers become “working” freelance writers by Suzanne Lieurance.

Self-Publish Or Not by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon.

Thanks to Mitali’s Fire Escape for cheering my recent interview with Charlesbridge editor Yolanda LeRoy. Mitali Perkins is the author of Rickshaw Girl (2007) and The Bamboo People (2009), both forthcoming from Charlesbridge.

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans: recommendations from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. See also Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw (Redleaf, 2002).

“The Waiting Game” by Denice Ryan Martin from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Upbeat, healthy suggestions for writers waiting to hear back on a manuscript.

“The Voices of Power and the Power of Voices: Teaching with Native American Literature” by Marlinda White-Kaulaity from the fall 2006 issue of the ALAN Review (PDF file). Note: I provide a guest comment along with those by Simon Ortiz and Laura Tohe.

Who’s Moving Where? News and Editorial Changes at Children’s Book Publishers from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. See November 2006 updates.

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2006). How Arun aches for the arrival of his adopted baby sister, Asha, expected any day from India. How long it takes! Will Rakhi Day, the Hindu holiday of brothers and sisters, somehow still connect these long-distance siblings? Ages 4-up.

My Thoughts

I’ve read many adoption and/or international adoption stories rooted in the parents’ point of view, and to me, Bringing Asha Home resonates more because it comes from young Arun’s perspective. This one also rings true to life with its emphasis on the long legal and logistical journey of international adoption. The language is lovely, the emotion close to the page. I don’t often become teary while reading picture books, but this one affected me that much.

Preview the story at Lee & Low. Read a Cynsations interview with Uma. See my bibliographies of adoption-related books and books with interracial family themes.

Now check out the review of Bringing Asha Home from Big A little a by Kelly Herold, who cried, too. (Not our fault; it’s that good).

Santa Knows Signings and Book Plates

Hey Cynsational Readers! You’re invited to upcoming book signings! My husband and co-author Greg Leitich Smith will be joining me in signing Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Björkman (Dutton, 2006) at the following upcoming times, dates, and locations:

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16 (by the main tree), a table signing at “A Christmas Affair,” sponsored by the Junior League of Austin. Other authors signing at the event include: Julie Lake, signing Galveston’s Summer of the Storm (TCU Press, 2003)(interview); Jerry Wermund, signing Earthscapes: Landforms Sculpted by Water, Wind, and Ice (Rockon, 2003)(interview) as well as The World According to Rock (Rockon, 2005)(interview) and Focus on Minerals (Rockon, 2006); Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, signing A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book (HarperCollins, 2004); Jo Whittemore, signing Escape from Arylon (Llewellyn, 2006) and Curse of Arastold (Llewellyn, 2006)(author interview); Jane Scoggins Bauld, signing Hector Visits His Country Cousin (Eakin, 2002); Janice and Tom Shefelman, signing Sophie’s War (Eakin, 2006); Anne Bustard, signing Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005)(author interview); and Jane Peddicord, signing Night Wonders (Charlesbridge, 2005). See the Author’s Corner for complete information.

10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 24 at The Twig Bookstore in San Antonio (5005 Broadway). Storytime reading and signing.

11 a.m. on Nov. 25 at the Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley in Sunset Valley, Texas (5601 Brodie Ln # 300). Storytime reading and signing.

2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 2 Barnes & Noble Round Rock in Round Rock, Texas (I-35 and 1325). Presentation, reading, and signing.

1 to 3 p.m. on Dec. 3 Barnes & Noble Westlake in Westlake, Texas (701 S. Capitol of Texas Highway). Signing in conjunction with Cedar Creek Elementary bookfair; everyone is welcome!

Please double check times and dates with the respective stores!

More Autographed Stock

On Nov. 15, we will be just signing stock at Barnes and Noble in College Station, Texas (711 Texas Avenue South) and at Jacque’s Toys in Bryan, Texas (4301 B S. Texas Ave.).

In addition, autographed stock is now available at BookPeople in Austin, Texas (6th and Lamar).

Please contact stores directly for shipping information.

Book Plates

While supplies last, you’re welcome to request a signed and/or personalized book plate(s) for Santa Knows (or any of my other books). Just be sure to include your address and any personalization information.

Author Interview: Shelley Pearsall on All of the Above

Shelley Pearsall on Shelley Pearsall: “I grew up in Ohio in a suburban Cleveland neighborhood called Parma. Imagine one of those neighborhoods where all of the houses are the same, all of the yards are the same, and each family has 1.5 maple trees on their tree lawn. The sameness of my neighborhood may explain why I craved different-ness as a child. I was the kind of kid who put on pioneer skits in the backyard, kept a menagerie of pets in the basement, and read a lot.

“I have to admit that not much changed once I grew up! In fact, my first real job after college was working for a local park system, creating and portraying park characters. They included an absent-minded recycling character named Tin Can Tilly and an early female botanist named Harriet Keeler. On the side, I earned extra money as a storyteller for various kids’ events in Cleveland. After finishing a master’s degree in education, I did a five year stint in the classroom, teaching grades four through eight. Most memorable school moment: the rocket launch that went awry in my 8th grade gifted class. But that’s a story for another time…

“In hindsight, all of these experiences may seem like great preparation for writing books someday, but when you are in the middle of the path, sometimes it is difficult to see that the path is actually going somewhere. That it has a purpose. A direction. That you are not aimlessly wandering through the employment pages of life. Only recently have I been able to see the big picture.”

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

As a first grader, I remember being allowed to write stories or draw pictures when my class work was done. Finishing those dull, old mimeographed pages (who remembers the smell of that purple ink?) became my goal. For years afterward, I think I saw writing stories as the escape, the reward that it had been back in first grade. Back then, my stories would also get passed around quite a bit, too. Sometimes, I’d receive comments from other teachers or administrators. Nothing really elaborate, just “great story” or “cool characters.” But that was enough.

Math and spelling worksheets got smiley-face stickers, but stories got personal responses. That’s what first called me to writing.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

Even though I wrote a lot of stories as a kid, the idea of writing for children never occurred to me as an adult. When I returned to college for my master’s degree in 1993, a children’s literature class brought me back to that world. The professor began each class by reading from the newly-published Night John by Gary Paulsen (Delacorte Press, 1993). I was spellbound by the story. Literally. It was like being given the key to a reading and writing world I hadn’t visited since childhood. I had spent several years dabbling in various kinds of writing, trying to find my place, but this was the world where I belonged, and I realized it in that moment.

For those new to your work, could you briefly summarize your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

My first novel, Trouble Don’t Last (Knopf, 2002), follows the journey of two runaway slaves: a 70 year old man and an 11 year old boy, who escape from slavery in the year 1859. Written for grades four to eight, the novel was the recipient of the 2003 Scott O’Dell medal for Historical Fiction.

Crooked River (Knopf, 2005), my second novel, focuses on the murder trial of an Ojibwe on the Ohio frontier in the year 1812. Based on a true story, the novel weaves together two unique voices to tell the story of the trial and its aftermath, from the Native American and white perspectives. The novel was a Junior Library Guild selection and an NCSS-CBC choice.

Congratulations on the publication of All of the Above (Little Brown,2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The idea came on a day when I wasn’t really expecting to stumble across a new book idea. (It often happens this way!) My first book, Trouble Don’t Last, had just been published and I was making one of my first school visits as a new author. The Cleveland school I was visiting was called Alexander Hamilton Middle School. Picture a run-down urban school, a gloomy gray November morning, and a very nervous author who was just hoping she wouldn’t screw up her first program.

During my visit, the school’s principal kept talking about his school’s record-breaking tetrahedron project. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue what he meant–what in the world was a “tetrahedron?” But when I had a free moment, he took me to one of the math classrooms to show me. I can still remember the jaw-dropping sight when he opened the door: the entire room was filled with giant rainbow-colored pyramids. They were suspended from the lights and lined up along the windowsills and bookshelves. It was a magical, almost gravity-defying sight.

Later on, I learned that a group of kids at this inner-city school had attempted to set a record by building the world’s largest tetrahedron–a giant paper pyramid made of 16,384 smaller ones. In fact, they had spent an entire year on the project, working after school, trying to reach their admittedly unusual goal. From that moment, I was hooked.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

My first visit to the school was in November 2002, and I returned a few months later to talk with some of the team members. Thinking that the tetrahedron would make a great visual element, I imagined the story as a picture book initially. In fact, remnants of that early picture book manuscript can be seen in the novel today–in the italicized text which opens and closes the story.

From 2003-2004, my picture book manuscript titled The Great Tetrahedron, made the rounds of publishers. Nobody was interested in the story as a picture book, although several publishing houses thought the characters and voice had potential. I was wrapped up in writing my second book, Crooked River, and couldn’t devote any time to coming up with a new direction. The idea languished until Jennifer Hunt, a senior editor at Little, Brown and Company, called to say that she had read the picture book manuscript and was really drawn to the characters and their story. Over the next year, the manuscript evolved from a picture book into a multi-voiced novel with illustrations by artist Javaka Steptoe. The book was finished in late 2005 and published in September 2006.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Math does not lend itself easily to fiction! Just mention the word “math” and some math-phobic readers (myself included) go running in the opposite direction. Throw in the word “tetrahedron” and you really scare people away. Getting readers past the scary math term “tetrahedron”–which really means nothing more than a four-sided triangular pyramid–and into the stories of the characters and their lives, was a big challenge.

Telling the story through multiple voices also stretched me in some new directions a writer. Rather than having a seamless narrative told by a single person, each character’s voice had to contribute to moving the story forward–much like each triangle contributes to holding up the tetrahedron. But each voice had to be distinctive and stand on its own, too. Often, I felt the characters themselves made this happen in the story, not me.

Other challenges: the recipes! Recipes appear throughout the story because one character works in a barbecue joint. My husband Mike and I had to concoct and test all of them. Believe me, we tried barbecue on everything–even cucumber slices and broccoli.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Read Anne Lamott‘s wonderful book, Bird by Bird (Pantheon Books, 1994). Set aside time in your life get started. If you don’t give your dream the gift of your time and undivided attention–it won’t happen. Revise, revise, revise. The best writing doesn’t appear until later–maybe in the third or fourth drafts. Then revise again. And again.

How about those building a career?

Find a balance among family, writing, and work time. (I haven’t succeeded in this area myself yet–but I’ll let you know when I do…) Don’t overlook the small moments that make this a wonderful career: the letters from readers, the e-mail from a parent who says your book was the first one his child finished independently, the second grader who wants to dress up as an author for Halloween after meeting you, and the school custodian who brings his poetry to share. These are the moments to savor! Stay open to ideas which might take you in unexpected and new directions as a writer –even into the world of math and barbecue!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

From October to May, I’m often visiting schools, doing presentations and writing workshops. I spend about 25-30 days a year in schools and libraries. If I’m not writing or talking about writing, I’m probably playing kickball (badly) with my stepson Ethan, reading, gardening, or catching a play at one of our local theaters. Am I allowed to say that watching “American Idol” is my one guilty TV pleasure?

What can your fans look forward to next?

Clue number 1: I’m just a hunka hunka burnin’ love…
Clue number 2: Thankyaverymuch
Clue number 3: It will be out in 2008.

Great Hanukkah Books for Kids List Released

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries has released a recommended “shopping-and-reading list” of the best Hanukkah books for children. Twenty-seven Hanukkah titles are listed, with brief summaries and age guidelines. A special section lists seven Hanukkah titles by the prolific Eric A. Kimmel, who was named the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award winner in 2004.

“Many of these titles have received recognition from the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee over the years,” said Committee Chair Rachel Kamin. “The list includes everything from AJL Notable Books like Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005) by Esme Raji Codell to Sydney Taylor Honor Books like Chanukah on the Prairie by Bert E. Schuman, to gold medal winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award such as The Chanukah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel.”

Kathe Pinchuck, a Committee Member who helped to compile the list, added, “We’ve also listed books that are so new, they haven’t had the chance to win any awards yet! We wanted to include as many in-print titles as possible from which readers and gift-givers could choose.”

The book list is available in pdf format at www.jewishlibraries.org; click on “Great Hanukkah Books for Kids” under News & Announcements. Blank space has been provided at the bottom of the front page so that libraries and booksellers can add their own information before distributing copies to their patrons and customers.

“We hope that this list will help families find great Hanukkah gift books for their children, as well as seasonal stories to borrow from the library,” said Heidi Estrin, past Committee Chair and designer of the book list.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries to the best in Jewish children’s literature each year. A committee of children’s librarians and other children’s literature experts evaluates over one hundred books to find the best of the best. Read more about the award (and non-Hanukkah books that have won medals) at www.SydneyTaylorBookAward.org.

Cynsational Notes

Author Update: Esme Raji Codell from Cynsations. Esme’s Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005) is a Jewish retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Esme says in part: “I think when an author tells a story, he lights a flame, and just like on a Hanukkah menorah, one flame lights another. When Dickens wrote his story, he lit a flame in me.” Read the whole interview.

Author Christopher Kurtz to Appear at Ethiopian Books for Children D.C. Event

Ethiopian Books for Children is hosting a presentation and book signing by author-board member Christopher Kurtz. It will be held Friday, Nov. 17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Embassy of Ethiopia, 3506 International Drive NW, in Washington D.C. Light refreshments will be served.

Chris is the co-author of Only a Pigeon, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1997). He wrote the picture book with his sister, author Jane Kurtz. See background about the writing of Only A Pigeon.

Ethiopian Books for Children is a 501 (c) that works to promote literacy in Ethiopia. For more information about their mission and current projects visit, www.ethiopiareads.org.

Cynsational Notes

Author Interview: Jane Kurtz on the Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation, Memories of the Sun: Stories of Africa and America from Cynsations.