Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Passover: With Matzah, Maror, and Memories

Deborah Heiligman on Deborah Heiligman: “I have two great sons. When my older son was about fourteen or so he started calling me ‘Psychotic Mama,’ or ‘P.M.’ for short. When my younger son was about that age, he wrote a song about me called ‘Momma is Distraught and She’s Coming After You…’ I’m really glad that I have given my children material to write about.”

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

I always loved to write, and teachers told me I was good at it. I remember my first narrative non-fiction piece. I was in elementary school, and we had to do reports on the digestive system. I did mine from the point of view of a bite of a chocolate chip cookie. (When I tell that to kids in schools they always say, “Ew, gross!” but I still don’t think it is at all disgusting.)

But growing up in Allentown, PA, I didn’t know regular people could be writers. I thought writers were either old men with long white beards, or movie-star types who lived in mansions in Beverly Hills.

So, although I kept writing, and was editor of my junior high newspaper and my high school newspaper, it didn’t occur to me that I could be an author. I did think about being a journalist. I also thought about being a social worker, a lawyer (the kind that saved the world, not the kind that made money), & etc.

It wasn’t until I got to college (Brown) that I started to think maybe I could be a writer for real. But then all the people who said they were going to be writers wore all black and smoked cigarettes and drank endless cups of coffee. So I thought, well, that’s not me. I guess I’ll never be a writer. But I bet most of those people are now lawyers (the kind who make money), and here I am a writer. Of course I do drink too much coffee and I do wear black a lot, but cigarettes, never!

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It was sort of an accident, at first. I was moving to New York (from Boston, where I was working on a Jewish magazine) to be with my boyfriend, and so I was looking for a job.

Through school connections, I ended up interviewing at Scholastic. The personnel woman said, “Well I have an opening on the fourth-grade magazine, but you probably aren’t interested in that are you?” Gamely (I really wanted to move to the city with a job), I said, “Sure,” when in fact I wasn’t. But when I interviewed with the editor and learned all about Scholastic News, I liked the sound of it a lot. And then I took home the trial assignment and doing that I fell in love with writing for children. (I still remember everything on that assignment.) Fortunately, I got the job! In fact, I got a job offer and a marriage proposal on the same day…

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

After I left Scholastic because I had a baby and I didn’t want to be away from him all day, I decided I’d be a freelance writer. I wrote for both children’s and grown-ups’ magazines, but I didn’t think about writing books for kids. Yet. The baby grew to be a toddler who adored books, and I spent most of my day reading with him.

One day I took a nap and I woke up with an idea for a children’s book–with the actual words, really. I worked on it and sent it to my husband’s agent. She had no knowledge about children’s books, but she had a kid, and she knew two people in children’s publishing. She sent it to the first one, who rejected it because it rhymed. My instinct was to rewrite it so it didn’t rhyme, but she said, “let’s send it out again.” So she sent it to Harper & Row (as it was called then), and they took it. Into the Night (1990) was my first book. It was beginner’s luck, though, how quickly that happened. I’ve published a lot of books, but I’ve also had a lot of rejections.

For those new to your work, could you highlight a few of the recent titles on your backlist?

I’m in the middle of publishing a series of holiday books from National Geographic. The first four (fall 2006) are Celebrate Hanukkah, Celebrate Ramadan/Eid Al-Fitr, Celebrate Diwali and Celebrate Thanksgiving. Before that I published a picture book called Fun Dog, Sun Dog (Marshall Cavendish, 2005), about my golden retriever Tinka. It was my fifteenth book. It rhymes, too–only my second rhyming book. Let’s see. There’s also High Hopes: A Photobiography of John F. Kennedy (National Geographic, 2003)(forward by Eunice Kennedy Shriver) and not recent but one of my better known books, From Caterpillar to Butterfly (HarperCollinsm, 1996). It’s being made into a Big Book.

Congratulations on the publication of Celebrate Passover with Matzah, Maror, and Memories (National Geographic, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thank you. The inspiration wasn’t exactly mine. An editor at National Geographic asked me to do a series of books about holidays, and the more we talked the more excited I became. It was such a great project for me, having majored in religious studies years ago. I have never lost my fascination with all religions. So, once I decided to do the series, she and I came up with the first holidays, and of course Passover had to be one of them. It’s such an amazing holiday—it’s got it all: a great story, great food, and it’s family-centered. It’s one of my favorite holidays.

Could you briefly describe the content?

Each of the books in the series is about how we celebrate the holiday, both here and in countries around the world. I also talk about why we celebrate it and the history of the holiday. So with Passover, we have the story of the Exodus, of course, and Jews all over the world getting ready for and having a seder. The book is illustrated by amazingly beautiful photographs found by the photo editor at National Geographic, Lori Epstein, who is a genius.

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

It was all very fast, mostly because I was doing about four books at a time. But I think from starting each book to publication was about a year. The major events: research, talking to my consultant; writing, looking at photos and layout; revising; looking at new pages; revising; realizing uh-oh we need a recipe, finding a recipe, making the dish; looking at revised pages; revising; getting the consultant to write her note; editing her note; last-minute fixes, changes.

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

Oh, so many! People outside the business don’t always realize that writing short is so much harder than writing long. And writing for young kids I think is harder than writing for adults or older kids. First of all, you can’t assume anything. So everything has to be explained. But you don’t want to explain it in such a way that it seems text-booky. You want it to be beautiful where it can be, to sing. And you don’t have much room to do it. At all. The word count for Celebrate Passover, the main text, is probably about 1200 words. Also you want it to flow nicely and to be fun. Oh my. Reliving this is exhausting me!

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Ah, I have so much advice. Marry rich. Become a celebrity first. Go to law school.

Okay, you want serious advice, right? Here goes:

1. Read all kinds of things–good stuff, bad stuff. Different genres. Poetry, sci fi, non-fiction. Books for different ages (even adults). Stuff you thought you’d never read. (Graphic novels; bodice rippers.) Books you loved as a child. Books that are popular now. Books that other people hate/love/can’t figure out.

2. Analyze what you read. Why did you like it? Why didn’t you like it?

3. Take your writing seriously. It is a job. Treat it like one. Not like a hobby. Which means..

4. Work really hard. Which means…

5. Write regularly. I’m not going to say you have to write every day, but you do have to write on a regular basis for a good amount of time. Which means…

6. You will write crap and you will revise. Revision is the key to writing.

7. Get to know other writers, especially if you are a people person. It can be a lonely job. Also I think it’s really important to surround yourself with other people who are taking writing seriously.

8. Persevere. If you love it and work at it and take it and yourself seriously, you are a writer. And you will be published.

How about those specializing in non-fiction?

All of the above applies. Plus, take research seriously. You need many sources and many different kinds of sources. You need to show it to experts in the field. The biggest tip is: hone your natural nosiness. Let it work for you.

How do you balance your time as a writer (researching, writing, etc.) and as an author (marketing manuscripts, promoting books, etc.)?

With difficulty. I mean, really. It’s like twelve jobs, isn’t it? I often try to do all at once, but it’s probably a better idea to set aside discrete times to do each–certain days of the week for times of the day for marketing, for example. With research and writing, I usually research first and then write. But there is always more research to do while I’m writing. And (not to be too confusing) I do sometimes write when I research because when I take notes sometimes whole sentences or paragraphs will come to me and those will end up in the book.

Cynsational News & Links

See part two: Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer (National Geographic, 2007).

Editor Interview: Nancy Feresten of National Geographic Children’s Books from Cynsations.

Cynsational News & Links

Chronicle Books is offering a giveaway contest featuring A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Dianna and Sylvia about the companion book, An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle, 2006).

Mechele R. Dillard from Teen Fiction @ Suite 101 offers new interviews with author Justina Chen Headley (on giving back), fantasy author Dia Calhoun, and author Janet Lee Carey.

Surf by the YA Authors Cafe to read an interview and visit with Paula Chase, author of So Not The Drama (Dafina, 2007).

Morals, Lessons, Preaching and Judgment in YA Novels by Gail Giles at The YA Novel and Me. Gail muses about student questions related to Shattering Glass (Roaring Brook, 2002). Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Congratulations to Kimberly Willis Holt on the publication of Skinny Brown Dog, illustrated by Donald Saaf (Henry Holt, 2007). See the animated introduction, find out about the inspiration for the story, get a Skinny Brown Dog bookmark, and enjoy a fun activity. Trivia: The words “Kimberly Willis Holt” were the #8 most popular key words to my author site in March.

Reader Views seeks enthusiastic YA and middle grade (ages 8-11, specifically boys) readers to review books for online publication. Young readers, teachers, librarians, caregivers, and other interested parties may contact for more information.

Susan Patron, author of The Higher Power of Lucky (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt), discusses her Newbery Medal-winning book in an interview by fellow Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata. Watch the video from Simon & Schuster. Source: AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthia.

Check out a book trailer for The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan K. Mitchell, illustrated by Connie McLennan (Sylvan Dell).

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature.

More Personally

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature recommends my tween novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) along with Joseph Bruchac‘s The Heart of a Chief (Puffin reprting, 2001) in conjunction with her post on American Sociological Association statement on Native American nicknames, logos, and mascots.

My chapter book short story collection Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002) was among recommended titles in “Promoting Intergenerational Understanding through Books” by Melissa Harker Ridenour in the March issue of Book Links. She writes: “Smith powerfully evokes the cross-generational bond and simple pleasures of these two charming characters.”

See “Don’t Forget the Pants” a free online readers theater from Indian Shoes by Sylvia M. Vardell of Texas Woman’s University. Syliva is the author of Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library (American Library Association, 2006).

Karen’s Book Nook is a new YA literature blog. Karin is a middle school librarian in Oklahoma who’s working on her Ph.D. in Reading Education. Of my new YA gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), she says: “Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a stimulating paranormal mystery mixed with romance.”

Jen Robinson’s Book Page features a link to my recent interview with the Readergirlz.

April Lurie blogs about the Tantalize launch party. April is the author of the upcoming Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007).

so tomorrow: thoughts from a future librarian (with a focus on youth services) says of Tantalize: “This book is great for fans of Stephenie Meyer‘s and/or anyone who loves a story with a love triangle that includes vampires and werewolves! I read this book in one sitting, which is exceptionally rare for me.” Read the whole post.

AmoxCalli says “Tantalize is a very delicious and thrilling dark fantasy. It was a page turner that kept me glued to the book till the very unexpected ending.” Read the whole review.

Author Liz Garton Scanlon chimes in, “…whoa Betty, was this a fun ride! I won’t be doing any spoiling here, but suffice it to say that you’re gonna be looking askance at folks out there for a few days after reading this. Ca-REEEEPY. Now, lay in some seriously sensual props and food stuffs, and get reading.” Read the whole post. Liz is the author of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004)(author interview).

Thanks to all! I’d also like to thank A Wrung Sponge for listing Cynsations among blogs that make one think and ...whimsy… for reading Tantalize and Jennifer Ziegler for her–LOL–subliminal message break. Jennifer is the author of Alpha Dog (Delacorte, 2006)(author interview). Thanks too to Alex, the intern at The Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska, for his newsletter recommendation of Tantalize.

Reminder: time is running out to enter the Tantalize giveaway contest at Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central. The challenge is: “Make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf. Be Creative! And remember, answers DO count!” Twenty copies are available! See the entry form. The event is co-sponsored by YABC and Candlewick Press.

Author Interview: Robin Friedman on The Girlfriend Project

The Girlfriend Project by Robin Friedman (Bloomsbury, 2007). From the promo copy: Reed Walton, seventeen-year-old Ultimate Nice Guy, has never had a girlfriend or even kissed a girl. At this rate, the Princeton-bound senior may be headed for the priesthood. But Reed’s next-door neighbors and best friends since kindergarten, Lonnie and Ronnie White, have hatched a plan on the day before senior year starts at Marlborough Regional High School. And, ready or not, The Girlfriend Project is about to change Reed’s life in ways he can’t imagine.”

Robin Friedman has worked as a children’s book editor, freelance writer, newspaper reporter, and advertising copywriter. Her novel How I Survived My Summer Vacation (Cricket, 2000) has been published in three countries. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, Joel, and their cats, Peppercorn, Peaches, and Butterscotch.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I had never written anything for teens before (my first book, How I Survived My Summer Vacation (Cricket, 2000), is for tweens, and my second book, The Silent Witness (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), is for children), but every time I went to a conference–or even a Barnes and Noble or Borders–I was struck by how vibrant, robust, and exciting the YA market seemed to be. I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

Most of the YA novels I read revolved around girl protagonists and girl stories. It started me thinking about what it would be like to write a modern romance from a boy’s point of view.

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

The writing part was a complete joy for me! It was thrilling and fun and exhilarating; I wrote the entire novel in two months.

But, then, it took a year for it to be accepted, and another year for it to be published.

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

I was floored by how many editors told me it was too “tame,” meaning too wholesome and innocent. That just astounded me.

I was also disappointed by how many editors wanted the main character to be a girl (that was the whole point!) and how many commented that it was too light-hearted.

Sometimes I really had to scratch my head at comments like that, and it made it hard to keep believing in it. I almost lost my faith many times, and almost gave up entirely in the end.

What were your earliest literary influences?

I loved Judy Blume (author interview), the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and anything having to do with King Arthur.

Did you face any challenges to finding success?

I’ve been in this business for twelve years and suffered many failures along the way. The Girlfriend Project is my second novel, but it took me seven years from my first novel to get another book published.

When my first book was published, it was in a climate before Harry Potter, chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Barnes & Noble, and the Internet. Those things were around, but they hadn’t quite established themselves as the powerhouses they are today. They literally changed everything, and it took me a long time to accept the loss of the kinder, gentler publishing industry I knew.

Today’s publishing industry is aggressive, competitive, and often rough-and-tumble, but it also contains genuine gems that we didn’t have before, such as the camaraderie and companionship offered by online communities (such as yours!) that make supportive connections possible. I’m so grateful for that.

What gives you the greatest joy in your writing life?

There’s so much. The actual writing part is so engrossing, joyful, and magical that I wish I could bottle it and take it out when I need a sip!

I love the discussions that I have with my editors, in which they treat my characters as “real people;” that still tickles me every time. I love to read reviews in which the reviewer understood my intent–and result. I love meeting readers and other people who are passionate about books.

I get a thrill from the smallest thing, like holding my book for the first time, to the biggest thing, like finding out it will be translated into Chinese (that’s my good news from last week!).

What encouragement helped you along the way?

Sometimes I couldn’t bear to go into a bookstore, because it would only remind me of my lack of success. Conferences such as BEA (Book Expo America) would often reduce me to tears.

The only encouragement I had–with the exception of the devotion of all the people in my life–was my own very real need to write.

I think that quality is something all of us have, ultimately. Whether we’re published or not, successful or not, mid-list or front-list, creating stories with words is where our passions lie, and nothing can ever change that, or take it away from us.

What can your readers expect from you next?

My next YA novel, Purge, is about a seventeen-year-old boy who develops bulimia. It will be published by Flux in 2008.

Finding Wonder Woman, my next tween novel, is about a thirteen-year-old Israeli immigrant girl who learns the true meaning of fitting in. It will be published by Charlesbridge in 2010.

Author-Illustrator Interview: Lynne Barasch on Hiromi’s Hands

Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low, 2007). Hiromi wants to spend more time with her sushi-chef Papa so she begs to go to the fish market with him. When he sees her interest is sincere, he begins to teach her about the fish. Later, she decides her dream is to be a sushi chef, just like him. Ages 4-up. See a preview of the story and read a Book Talk with Lynne from Lee & Low.

Lynne Barasch has written and illustrated several award winning children’s books, including Knockin’ On Wood (Lee and Low 2004) a notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People and winner of the Patterson prize for Books for Young People. Radio Rescue (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2000) was an ALA Notable Children’s Books and on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist. She was born in New York and raised on Long Island but has lived in New York City most of her adult life.

What first inspired you to write and illustrate for young readers?

All my life I have painted and done drawings. I went to art classes as a child and to the Art Students League on Saturdays when I was in high school. I went on to Rhode Island School of Design but left to get married after one year. Years later, I returned to Parsons School of Design and graduated in 1976.

The first inspiration for a picture book came when my little girl Cassie was in kindergarten. She got on the wrong bus and went to the wrong school on her second day of school! I called that story, “The Bus Fuss.”

It is still unpublished but I was hooked..and never looked back. My fingers can barely keep up with the projects in my mind.

I never had formal training to write but was always an avid reader.

Can you describe your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles?

After “The Bus Fuss” and years of working on other things, I went back to Parsons and met the wonderful writer-illustrator and teacher Brooke Goffstein. Through a series of phone conversations that lasted hours each, I somehow learned what and why I was writing. I was, as Brooke said, shot out of a cannon. I wrote four books, complete with illustrations, in a matter of months. They are the core of my work. Old Friends (FSG, 1993), “The Ansonia Ghosts” (unpublished), Sixty Four “Cottage Street” (unpublished), and “Good Feet” (unpublished but through this came Knockin’ On Wood).

Could you update us on your recent releases?

Radio Rescue (FSG, 2000). This is the true story of my father’s ham radio days in New York when he was a boy in the 1920s.

The Reluctant Flower Girl (HarperCollins, 2001). A young girl comes to terms with her sister’s upcoming marriage. Inspiration for this was my eldest daughter’s wedding. Her two little sisters combined are the basis for the flower girl in my story.

Knockin’ On Wood (Lee and Low 2004). This is the biography of Peg Leg Bates, the famous African American tap dancer extrordinaire (he had only one leg).

A Country Schoolhouse (FSG, 2004). A grandfather tells his grandson about his rural school days in the 1940s in a three-room schoolhouse.

Ask Albert Einstein (FSG, 2005). Based on a true event and an article that appeared in the New York Times in 1952, this is the story of a little sister who writes to Albert Einstein to get math help for her big sister.

Could you tell us about the story behind Hiromi’s Hands (Lee and Low 2007)?

I first met the real Hiromi as a shy kindergartener in my daughter, Dinah’s class. It was Dinah who suggested I write this story about her friend.

Hiromi was delighted when I approached her with this idea. She was very helpful and emailed me answers to my countless questions along the way. And I got to know her better during this process. One day, she could write her own story, being articulate and thoughtful as she is!

As an illustrator, I am always writing with pictures in my head. I don’t use paragraphs when a few words will do!

Honors and Awards

So far, Hiromi’s Hands has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong (Enchanted Lion, 2006)(originally published in French as Le Cheval magique de Han Gan (2004)). A look into the life of painter Han Gan, who lived in China 1,200 ears ago, that incorporates a legend about one of the horses in his paintings coming to life. It’s always a high burden to offer art reflecting a great artist, but Hong more than succeeds. Magical, indeed, with an underlying theme of the relationship between art and peace. Ages 6-up. See a review from the February 2007 issue of The Edge of the Forest. See also my bibliography of children’s books with Chinese and Chinese American characters.

Author Interview: Sharron L. McElmeel on Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories, and More

Sharron L. McElmeel is the author of many books delving into the world of books for young readers. Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories, and More (Libraries Unlimited, 2007) was just released as a companion to her earlier title Authors in the Kitchen: Recipes, Stories, and More (Libraries Unlimited, 2005). Her many reference works are mainstays in public and school libraries, including Children’s Authors and Illustrators Too Good to Miss: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (Libraries Unlimited, 2004) and a literature-based book on Character Education (Character Education: A Book Guide for Teachers, Librarians, and Parents (Libraries Unlimited, 2002)). Many Young Adult Literature courses use the frequently updated, Young Adult Literature and Multimedia: A Quick Guide (Hi Willow, 2006), a text she co-authored with David Loertscher and Mary Ann Harlan, and The Best Teen Reads (Hi Willow, 2007). She also edits the Author and You series published by Libraries Unlimited. A complete list of her publications is available on her website .

Sharron L. McElmeel on Sharron L. McElmeel:

“There is not a lot to tell. My life has been rather simple and uneventful to this point. I grew up in the heartland of the United States and found myself reading over and over again the stories of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson—those were the only two books I ever remember reading in any of the large farm homes where I lived. The nearby towns did not have libraries and our elementary school had but one book shelf–far from filled and with all the books able to be facing out.

“But like Fern in E.B. White‘s Charlotte’s Web I do remember bringing in runt pigs to warm by the oil heater, feeding them with an eyedropper and later a bottle. On warm spring days, my sister and I galloped our horses to the far corner of our farm, spread a blanket and put out the sandwiches and lemonade from our ‘saddlebags,’ and then we would settle in to read the afternoon away in the corner of an old stone pioneer’s cabin–remnants of the early settlers in the area. On hot summer days, my two brothers, sister, and I would disappear down the cowpath to the creek on the back forty (forty acres of land at the back of the farm) and dogpaddle our way across the stream–back and forth, and splash one another until time to call the cows for milking. In the winter, we all trudged two miles to school in the nearby small town. My childhood was rather idyllic but not so long ago as it might seem, just very rural.

“I was born, raised and still live in my home state of Iowa. Iowa has become the popular starting off location for several books in the past few years:

• the Takeshima family left Iowa to go to Georgia (Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata)(author interview);

• Hattie Brooks left Iowa to homestead in Montana (Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson);

• Maude and Sallie Marche disguise themselves as boys and escape (from Cedar Rapids, Iowa) to Missouri (The Misadventures of Maude Marche by Audrey Couloumbis);

• And Delicious, her parents, and seven siblings leave Iowa to settle in Oregon — taking their fruit trees (including the red delicious apple tree which originated in Iowa) with them (Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson).

“I share a birthday (September 13) with the late Roald Dahl, Mildred D. Taylor, Else Minarik and James Howe. Robert Kimmel Smith and I are all chocoholics.

“My family now includes children (six spirited individuals) much like the Herdmans from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. And my grandchildren would be very much at home in Serafina Sow’s Waffery (The Three Little Pigs by Steven Kellogg) as they love waffles (and pancakes) as much as her large family.

“Iowa is a wonderful place to raise a family, it’s high on education, and low on pollution and other ills of society. I live on an acreage clinging to the edge of a very small town–a little larger than the population 100 town of my youth, but in the shadows of the second largest city in the state–Cedar Rapids. “

Congratulations on the publication of Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories, and More (Libraries Unlimited, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

I remember the first spark for this book, I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa and I discovered a newly released book by Ellin Greene, Clever Cooks; A Concoction of Stories, Charms, Recipes and Riddles (William Morrow, o.p.). The book shared many of my favorite folktales and paired each with a recipe or food item.

I spent days baking bread and making “nail soup.” I discovered variant fairytales (beyond the oft cited Cinderella) in “The Old Woman and the Tramp” collected in this book, Nail Soup by Margo and Harve Zemach, and Stone Soup, a tale popularized by Marcia Brown. Later Greene’s book went out of print and I found others such as Carol MacGregor’s The Fairy Tale Cookbook (Macmillan, 1982; o.p.), but the books that followed did not seem to have the narrative about story or storyteller that I wanted.

I have learned to love the back story of any tale–the connections between story and writer. And since food and story are such close companions (how many family reunions have you been at where the stories and food were overflowing?), I loved those connections as well.

My daughter, Deborah, had become an adult and a master of the culinary arts (cooking, baking, developing recipes). And she had a love and interest in the books of children’s and young adult literature that lined our home library’s walls. It was easy to discuss books with her as she had a very good knowledge of all of my favorites.

So when Barbara Ittner, an editor at Libraries Unlimited, suggested that I combine food and story in a future book, it did not take me long to agree. That conversation resulted in Authors in the Kitchen: Recipes, Stories, and More (Libraries Unlimited, 2005) and eventually this companion volume, Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories, and More (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

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

Well, the spark to publication was years in the making but from Barbara and my conversation the book came together in a matter of eighteen months or so.

I can’t really remember when I actually began by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) as so much of my writing goes on in my head as I drive to town, wait for grandchildren to emerge from a sports practice, or travel on a plane. I think about format and layout as I must picture the book and its structure before I ever begin. Then I selected those authors/illustrators that I wanted to include for one reason or another.

This was a chance to include book people that I wanted. I thought about connections to their books–and sometimes when I could not readily ascertain one I asked the author.

For example, I love Ashley Bryan‘s work and I consider him my friend. So I knew that I had to include him (Authors in the Kitchen) so I contacted him and he promptly pointed me to a reference to sweet potato pie and bread pudding in Turtle Knows Your Name (Atheneum, 1989). But he said, “I’m no hand at cooking.” And so he directed me to his sister Elaine Martindale who “would answer any questions you might wish to know.”

Now it was not imperative that we had the family recipes for any of the dishes as Deborah could create and develop recipes that we needed, but given an opportunity to have a recipe from the author’s family was an opportunity not to be missed. Elaine Martindale did send along some recipes handed down from their own “Mama,” a woman who knew how to cook and who had emigrated from the West Indies. And Martindale commented about her brother, “Ashley had no time or interest in cooking. He was too busy drawing and writing.”

My favorite recipe in the entire Author in the Kitchen book is probably the recipe (developed by Deborah) for “Jenny’s Hot Marshmallow Cheesecake with Raspberry Fudge Sauce” (The Island of the Skog by Steven Kellogg (Dial, 1973)). Full of calories? Yes! But the book is not meant as a diet book. You’ll find lots of recipes for cookies, pastas, soups, and an variety of other foods all carefully indexed (but not categorized).

Readers (librarians, teachers, and students) wrote telling me of the spaghetti and book celebrations they held, the literary luncheons that became part of teacher baby showers, book club gatherings, and other celebrations of food and story. The book was such fun to write and I had an entire page filled with names and stories of others that I wanted to write about–so I did. A short eighteen months later (in the middle of 2006) I was able to finish the manuscript for Authors in the Pantry.

Sue Alexander shared her family’s recipe for fudge–a recipe that we tied to Goblin’s (and her son Marc’s) love of fudge (Witch Goblin and Ghost are Back (Knopf, 1985)).

And there is Pickle Chiffon Pie as an accompaniment to Roger Bradfield‘s book, Pickle Chiffon Pie (Purple House Press, 2004). This is not Bradfield’s recipe as he did not have one. The idea of pickle chiffon pie was simply a literary device, but it was a device that I have used many times to entice children and adults into trying something different and into reading a wonderful literary tale that they will return to time after time. Originally published in the 1960s, I was delighted that the book was reissued by Purple House Press (2004) and thus became “eligible” for the book. Even toddlers will try Pickle Chiffon Pie–except my four-year-old granddaughter who informed me that she wasn’t sure about the sprinkling of pickle relish on the top of the pie. Kylie said, “Grandma, the kind of pickles I like are round or straight up.” She did manage to put aside the sprinkling and eat the rest of the pie.

Joseph Bruchac sent along his favorite blueberry pancake recipe from his wife Carole’s recipe box, and Betsy Byar‘s told about her family’s love for a chocolate mayonnaise cake – a recipe her daughter brought home from a teenage slumber party. The cake shows up in Byar’s The Pinballs (HarperCollins, 1987) and the recipe is in Authors in the Pantry as does the recipe for Deborah Hopkinson‘s father’s baking powder biscuit recipe–a recipe she also made use of in book three of the Prairie Skies triology, Our Kansas Home (Alladin, 2003).

But the best part of compiling and writing this book was the excuse to talk to some of my favorite authors, find story and food connections, and then the cooking. Every recipe had to be tested (and tasted) and tested again. While Deborah did much of the cerebral work, I was excellent on the tasting side of things.

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

Really, there were no glitches. The most challenging part was keeping all the comments, recipes, ideas together in one file for each author/illustrator–and deciding which recipes, authors, stories, and anecdotes stayed and which ones had to go. And just the immense amount of time to verify and test each recipe.

We did not set out to create a book of healthful foods–our primary goal was to make connections. We were not even concerned about balancing the recipes between breakfast items, snack foods, dinner entrées and so forth. We felt readers would find their own place to use the foods and anecdotes.

The book is also not a child’s cookbook–it’s a book for all those who love literature for young readers–a book to help make connections between story and food. For example in Carol Gorman‘s chapter we feature a recipe for spaghetti on a shoestring as Luther in Stumptown Kid (Peachtree, 2005) is homeless and often has to eat on the cheap. This connection can be utilized when one actually cooks spaghetti for a meal of some sort OR the chapter can be read aloud on the day the school cafeteria is serving spaghetti as the entrée for the day.

Your byline is listed along with Deborah L. McElmeel. What part did she play? How did you two connect?

(LOL) We connected the day she was born while my husband and I watched Wilma Rudolph (Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull and David Diaz (Harcourt, 1996)) run in the Olympics.

Much like Wilma Rudolph she is a strong determined woman who has many talents. She is a dedicated science teacher, a superb cook and baker, a talented artist (she also created the drawings in the book). She is the culinary expert that made it feasible to create the book. I researched and wrote the book but she had the last word on the recipes.

Her expertise was absolutely necessary in some portions of the book – for example, Cynthia, I just had to connect a tofu dish with Greg Leitich Smith‘s Tofu and T. Rex (Little Brown, 2005) but I DO NOT eat tofu. Luckily, Deborah does and the recipe for baked tofu bites and a second recipe for tofu and rice stuffed red peppers seemed just the right recipes for the Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith pages (pages 159-165). Of course we also nodded to your love of chocolate with a recipe for Dark-Chocolate-Covered Strawberries. I did taste test those. (LOL)

Briefly, could you highlight some of your other recent books and give us a sense of the focus of each?

In the past few years I have had published several reference books that seem to be mainstays in many public and school libraries. Children’s Authors and Illustrators Too Good to Miss: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (Libraries Unlimited, 2004) was an opportunity to include many authors who were either new to the world of children’s literature or who for whatever reason were suddenly on the radar of librarians and teachers after years of work in the field–those “overnight successes” that took years in the making.

Many of the well-known standards had already been included in my two earlier reference titles, 100 Most Popular Children’s Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (Libraries Unlimited, 1999) and 100 Most Popular Picture Book Authors and Illustrators (Libraries Unlimited, 2000). In each of these books, I attempted to include material that would help young readers understand the genesis of a writer or illustrator’s work.

Teachers at a seminar in Oklahoma City suggested I write a book providing titles for teachers (and parents) to use in their character education curriculum. I found many wonderful books to share and ended up writing a 220 page book, Character Education: A Book Guide for Teachers, Librarians and Teachers (Libraries Unlimited, 2002). It is filled with hundreds of book citations and summaries. But because I did not want educators or parents to use the book in a didactic manner I felt some of the book had to be devoted to general strategies for using the books within the character education focus.

I was gratified when School Library Journal said, “This book stands out from others of its type because of its excellent introduction that talks about character education in general, specifics related to the home and classroom, as well as a consideration of various formats and genres; its brevity that makes it a useful planning resource without being overwhelming; and its thorough index of titles, authors, and concepts. A boon for librarians as well as for parents who are home schooling or organizing group projects.” I just recently wrote an article for Library Sparks that is an outgrowth of this book. The character education article will be published in the August/September 2007 issue of Library Sparks.

I write a regular monthly column–featuring one book and myriad of curriculum connections, for Library Sparks, “In the Spotlight,” and a every other month column “Between the Pages” for School Library Media Activities Monthly as well as teach in the distance education graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. I teach a course in children’s literature and another one in Young Adult literature.

It was the latter course that spurred me to co-author a frequently up-dated text with David Loertscher and Mary Ann Harlan, Young Adult Literature and Multimedia: A Quick Guide (Hi Willow, 2006). The book is just what I wanted as a core for my class as I really want the participants to actually read literature not just read about the books. The Best Teen Reads (Hi Willow, 2007) is a companion to the text and is an outgrowth of my many seminars updating teachers and librarians about the recent titles. The book contains brief summaries, author tidbits, and updated information on the major awards.

I also edit a series of books being published by Libraries Unlimited. The series, Author and You, have thus far featured: Gerald McDermott, Alma Flor Ada, Toni Buzzeo, Jim Aylesworth, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Mary Casanova, Bob Barner, Jane Kurtz, and soon will include Deborah Hopkinson.

Each of those books feature the author/illustrator’s own reflections on his/her life and writing, but each on is unique. Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s for example is really a writing workshop in a book. She has so many great ideas for involving young writers in actual writing. Jane Kurtz provides a compelling account of her years growing up in Ethiopia, as the daughter of missionaries. If anyone ever characterizes my childhood as rural that person must read about hers. Her life is just as colorful as is her writing. Bob Barner’s art is clearly the motivator for reading his book but it will help connect readers of all ages to his wonderful non-fiction picture books.

You also have designed and developed a number of author sites. Could you tell us more about your efforts in this area?

The websites are an outgrowth of the work I do as director of McBookwords, a literacy organization. It’s the diversion from meeting someone else’s deadlines for writing. We are very selective about the websites we agree to develop and maintain. Those we do create and maintain are the sites of some of my very favorite people in the world of children’s books: Jim Aylesworth, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Carol Gorman, Laurie Lawlor, Barbara Santucci, Jane Kurtz, and Craig Brown.

But with that said we have tried to solicit and develop two-to-three sites each year so we are always looking for authors or illustrators who want a practical organized site. We avoid frames and glitz that bog down computers in schools and other public access points. We want all of our sites to load quickly. Any glitz must have a real purpose. But I think we have managed to create several interesting and attractive sites.

Some sites we develop and then pass on to others to maintain. We try to tailor each site to the author/artist’s personality and books and to add some added value to the site for educators and parents. Each site is beyond the “buy this book” type of site but rather offers collaborative booklists, background information about author or illustrator and the story or people in the stories.

McBookwords also works with a select group of authors/illustrators to schedule author appearances in various community/educational venues. Our main goal here is to work as a liaison with the appearance hosts (schools, libraries, conference directors) to make sure the appearance is not THE event but rather the frosting on the cake of a well-thought out focus on great books for young readers. Of course more about both the website development and the author bookings can be found on the website.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Ummm! Besides traveling to consult in schools/communities to promote literacy and all things reading–I dabble in piecing quilts for family and friends. And…

The mother of one of my granddaughters and I operate an Internet gift shop, Blue Button Gifts. We spend time (read that to say “shopping”–a favorite activity as long as it’s not for clothes) creating unique packages of themed gifts, much like we would put together for our personal friends. We make an Iowa connection to each gift–that’s fun research.

For example, Iowa has the most golf courses, per capita, of any state in the nation, so of course we have to have some golf themed packages. Our state flower is the wild rose and prairie violets are abundant in the fields and yards during the spring and summer so we have commissioned soaps, and lotions with those unique floral scents. Towels and wash cloths with a rose or violet theme round out each package. We have Iowa-shaped cutting boards, Iowa cookie cutters, and apple motif items (since the Red Delicious apple did originate here). And since the ladybug has been proposed (but not approved) as the state’s official insect we have several ladybug themed gifts–even a ladybug umbrella. With each package we offer to include a book (picked by our readers’ advisors, especially for the recipient)–sometimes autographed, and send it along in a gift package. Anything to promote reading and books.

Aren’t you sorry you asked? Of course I love time with family and books. I never seem to have enough time for everything I want to do.

What can your readers look forward to next?

Right this minute, I am working on a forthcoming book that will focus on recent picture books that can be effectively used with older readers, middle grades and older. The working title is Picture That! Picture This!–but if readers have an idea for a jazzier title it’d be fun to hear them.
Is there anything you would like to add?

Just that if we are truly serious about building a nation of readers we must be sincere about surrounding children (and adults) with literacy–and moving beyond the inane testing mentality. Reading makes better readers (not tests). It is not enough that we write books and put them in schools and libraries, we must get them into the hands of readers. We must promote the importance of actual reading.

We must walk the talk (or read the book)–for example:

• Include a book with every baby gift given.

• Make sure your house is a “book house”–that visitors see books on the hearth, the coffee table and books that are actually read in your book shelves. (Are the bookshelves more prominent than the television?)

• Inquire of friends and family, “What book are you reading now?”

• Include books for every gift giving occasion–Love Is… by Wendy Halperin for weddings and bridal showers–sure give them the towel set but add the book; bake a cookie tin full of gingerbread men and send along as a family gift, with a copy of Jim Aylesworth‘s The Gingerbread Man. Be creative share your favorite books.

• Teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles must read aloud to and with younger readers or other family members. Read a newspaper article, a poem, a short story, a book.

Of course, there are many other opportunities for putting books in the hands of readers–we just must all move out of our classrooms and living rooms and begin to spread the joy of reading wherever we can. Bits and pieces about what I am doing are sporadically posted on my blog–news in the world of children’s books and more.

Just for fun I thought I might share one of my favorite recipes from Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories or More. Robin Pulver grew up in Phelps, New York–“the sauerkraut capital of the world” and has many memories of the hazy blue-green cabbage fields rippling in the horizon. And she loves dark chocolate so we thought it was a good match to include our version of a moist chocolate cake that has sauerkraut as a major ingredient. Here’s an unusual use of sauerkraut—in a delicious chocolate cake.

“Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake Supreme”

In a large mixing bowl, cream together:
• 2/3 cup butter
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 3 large or 4 medium eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a second bowl combine dry ingredients:
• 1/2 cup cocoa
• 2 1/4 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt

Slowly combing the dry ingredients with the butter-sugar mixture, alternately adding a portion of the dry ingredients with 1 cup water.

When butter mixture and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined, gently fold in:
• 2/3 cup chopped sauerkraut, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8- or 9- inch cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Frost the cake with a cream cheese or buttercream frosting.

From Authors in the Pantry: Recipes, Stories, and More by Sharron L. McElmeel (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), page 189. For a bibliography of “sauerkraut books” see page 190 of the book.

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith: The Japanese Edition

Congratulations to my husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith on the publication of the Japanese edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Poplar Sha, 2007)!

The book was originally published in hardcover by Little Brown in 2003, then in audio by Recorded Books in 2004 and in paperback by Little Brown in 2005. A Korean edition also is forthcoming. Read author interviews about the novel from Cynsations, Downhome Books, Debbi Michiko Florence and YABC.

From the flap copy: “Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab. Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start ‘hearing’ his ancestors. And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian.

What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science.”

Honors and Awards

  • Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner 2003
  • Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award, 2004
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • An ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adult Readers, 2006
  • Nominee, Georgia Children’s Book Award, 2005-2006
  • Featured, Texas Book Festival

“A fresh, unusual story of friendship and honesty, riddled with wit, intelligence, and more than a few chuckles.” –School Library Journal”[A] fast-paced send up of school life. Smith achieves just the right balance of intelligent wit and drama in his first novel.” –Booklist “Smith’s sparkling debut offers three seventh grade narrators, each of them precocious, intelligent, and wickedly funny… Readers will identify with these smart characters and enjoy the vicarious attendance at their idiosyncratic school.” –Publishers WeeklyMore News & Links

In the Coop with David Lubar from Three Silly Chicks. David’s latest book is True Talents (Starscape, 2007)(excerpt)(promo video).

Authors Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers are leading an intensive picture book writing workshop-retreat from June 1 to June 3, 2007, in eastern Iowa. For more information, visit and click Whispering Woods Picture Book Workshop. Read a Cynsations interview with Jill.

Children’s Literature Network: This site receives more than one million hits per month. It draws a national community of people from diverse backgrounds who are passionate about children’s literature and want to learn more about the industry. The site’s popular Author and Illustrator section offers helpful information about children’s book authors and illustrators in any given geographical area. To be listed on one of these pages through a CLN Professional Membership, visit their site.

Deborah Lynn Jacobs: official author site. Deborah’s books include The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks, 2000), Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006), and Choices (Roaring Brook, 2007). See bio and a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Carmen Oliver: new official site of an Austin-based children’s writer.

Attention Austinites: Diane Gonzales Bertrand will be signing The Ruiz Street Kids/Los muchachos de la Calle Ruiz (Arte Publico, 2006) and Upside Down and Backwards/De cabeza y al reves (Arte Publico, 2004) at 2 p.m. March 24 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum. Read a Cynsations interview with Diane.

More Personally

I’m honored that my recent YA novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) is one of two featured “Books of the Week” at Genrefluent: The World of Genre Fiction. The recommendation reads “Tantalize is a seductive read, perfect to savor with it myriad twists and turns…” and continues “This delectable novel is already creating quite a buzz among teen readers with good reason.” Read the whole review.

The other featured book this week is Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview); read the review.

The mastermind behind Genrefluent is Diana Tixier Herald, author of Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (Sixth Edition)(Libraries Unlimited, 2005).

Thanks to Tracie Vaughn Zimmer for her take on Tantalize: “…this is a no-holds-bar gothic, titilating scintillating tale with a hot werewolf boyfriend and murder mystery with bloody fangs. Fans of Libba Bray’s Beauty series take note: this is where to wait. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!” Read the whole recommendation. Don’t miss Tracie’s Reaching for the Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007).

Author Feature: Readergirlz Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey, Lorie Ann Grover, and Justina Chen Headley

Readergirlz on Readergirlz:

Dia Calhoun is the winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature. She is the author of five young adult fantasy novels, three of which are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Her books are Avielle of Rhia (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), The Phoenix Dance (FSG, 2005), White Midnight (FSG, 2003), Aria of the Sea (FSG, reprint edition 2003), and Firegold (FSG, reprint edition 2003). When she isn’t writing, Dia sings Italian arias, fly-fishes, and canoes down the Pacific Northwest’s beautiful rivers. She lives with her husband and two frisky cats in Tacoma, Washington. Learn more at

Janet Lee Carey spends her time crafting magic on the page. She’s published five books including Wenny Has Wings (Atheneum, 2002), winner 2005 Mark Twain Award, The Beast of Noor (Atheneum, 2006), a fall Book Sense pick, and Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007), which has a Booklist starred review. She also teaches novel writing to writers young and old, speaks in the U.S. and abroad, and yes, she even cooks and cleans and takes out the trash now and again because writers don’t live in ivory towers. Her website is

Lorie Ann Grover is the author of three Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster verse novels: Loose Threads (2002), a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth; On Pointe (2004), a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year; and Hold Me Tight (2005), a VOYA Top Poetry Pick. Visit her at

Justina Chen Headley is the author of Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies)(Little Brown, 2006)(author interview), which was sold at auction. It’s been named New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, a Borders Original Voices nominee and a Book Sense pick. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. Learn more at

Congratulations on the launch of readergirlz! Could you tell us more about it?

Dia: Readergirlz is a new-online book community celebrating gutsy girls in life & lit. We want girls to read and reach out–and be tomorrow’s history. That’s why every month we’re featuring a different YA novel with a super strong female protagonist AND a related community service project.

Each month an issue goes up on our website ( with a book party package. The package includes discussion questions; menu, decorating ideas, and playlist related to the book; an interview with the readergirlz divas and the author; a list of related books; and the community service project. We host a discussion forum on our MySpace group site ( where girls can discuss the book with the author, the readergirlz divas, and each other. We also have a LiveJournal page at We have all kinds of ways for girls to participate.

Our inaugural March issue features Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley, which has an ugly racist incident. So the featured community service project is for girls to apply for Mix It Up grants at to tear down racial and social boundaries at school.

What are the particular needs of girls who read?

Janet: Girls who read are thinkers and dreamers. They know how to climb into another person’s skin–that ability builds compassion. Girls who read need ways to express what they’re learning. By providing cool community service choices with every book, readergirlz gives them a chance to move beyond the books and take action. That’s empowerment!

What was your initial inspiration?

Justina: When I was out on my book tour last spring, I made an effort to visit urban high schools that couldn’t otherwise afford an author. I was shocked and heartbroken–all these incredibly insightful kids with incredibly impoverished libraries and schools. I knew that I could figure out a way to provide teens–regardless of their socio-economic situation–with a rich author experience.

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

Lorie Ann: Justina conceived the idea for readergirlz nine months ago while touring for Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Her charitable visits to inner city schools inspired the idea of reaching teens across the country despite socio-economic status.

Listening to librarians at a NCTE panel further motivated Justina to take action. Four months ago, she approached Janet, Dia, and me with the concept. We divied up duties according to our skills and set to work creating our sites, logo, materials, and marketing plans.

Our first celebration in January was a sneak peek at the Midwinter ALA conference. The reception from librarians was unbelievable! Offering a book club, with party ideas, and community service interested many.

Webdiva, Little Willow, soon joined our ranks, and our website became a reality. Our MySpace members rose to 500, and the press began to take notice in February. The divas were busy with multiple interviews in one week!

Quickly, our March 1st launch arrived. Our inaugural issue was posted at our website. With 848 members, 109 comments gathered, and 446 readergirlz chatting about gutsy girls in lit, readergirlz was a reality! I love zipping over to our forums and seeing the great dialogue being exchanged. There’s the heart of our work in action!

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

Dia: There were–and still are–many challenges! The literary challenges–choosing the right books for the readergirlz list. We are reading like crazy and consulting children’s literature experts—librarians and bloggers–and teens themselves to find the right books. We think that there are twelve things that girls need to be armed with before they launch into the real world, among these are tolerance, healthy bodies and spirits, and self-acceptance. You’ll see books that reflect these core values.

We had huge technical challenges–none of the readergirlz divas was very tech savvy, and we needed a website, a MySpace site, and a LiveJournal site. Major kudos to Lorie Ann Grover for becoming our technical wizard. Thanks also to Little Willow, our wonderful and generous webdiva. There were many other challenges: marketing, designing a logo, making promotional materials; handling appearances and press relations; e-newsletter and database management; and copywriting. And finally, the biggest challenge of all—trying to keep writing during the onslaught of readergirlz work!

What are your hopes and plans for readergirlz in the future?

Janet: Strong girl characters empower girls everywhere. I hope readergirlz builds a worldwide community of thinking girls who read and respond–girls who cheer each other on and support each other’s dreams.

Lorie Ann: I hope that girls across the country form readergirlz groups, where they can discuss great books, feel empowered, and reach out into their communities. I hope the solitary readers connect through our sites and feel a sense of belonging. Bottom line: I hope we all inspire each other to be our best.

Could you briefly tell us about your own books?

Janet: Dragon’s Keep is the story of a princess with a dragon’s claw–a tale combining beauty and beast in one person. At its core it is a story about self-acceptance. Rosalind feels she is unlovable because of her deformity. She must be perfectly beautiful in order to be loved. Sound familiar? Girls in our culture are taught “Beauty equals Love” from the cradle. If you are not a perfect 10, you’re not good enough. Dragon’s Keep turns this cultural myth on its head!

Dia: I write YA fantasy novels. They are Avielle of Rhia, about a princess struggling with terrorism; The Phoenix Dance, a retelling of Grimm’s fairy-tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, about a girl with bipolar illness; White Midnight, about a girl who dreams of owning her own land, Aria Of The Sea, about a dancer trying to find her true voice, and Firegold, about a mixed race boy seeking self-acceptance.

Lorie Ann: On Pointe is a verse novel about my experience wherein I grew too tall to continue my professional ballet track. In our age where kids are told they can be whatever they imagine, I wanted to offer a realistic book where a character’s dreams aren’t reached. My hope is to encourage readers to keep going and dream again. There are so many ways to express yourself. Through a seemingly dead end, the world may open.

Justina: Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) features a half-Asian, half-white girl who yearns to be someone she’s not. In the course of a summer–at math camp, no less–she figures out how cool it is to be no one but herself. My forthcoming YA novel, Girl Overboard, is about a snowboard girl who learns to value herself off the mountain.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Justina: We challenge authors of middle grade fiction to create something similar to readergirlz for kids ages 8-12. Give kids a rich author experience! Tie books to community service! That would truly thrill us.

Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex

Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex (Knopf, 2006). Darcy notices life’s little gems–the spider web, the pebbles–and so it is she who carries with her the most vivid memories, the family heritage to a new land. With evocative, realistic illustrations, this lovely picture book works well both as one family’s story and a window into the past. Ages 6-up.

Alma Fullerton Offers Interviews with Authors Karleen Bradford, Dianne Ochiltree, Katy Duffield, Robin Friedman, and agent Scott Treimel

Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Karleen Bradford, Dianne Ochiltree, Katy Duffield, and Robin Friedman. She also offers a new interview with agent Scott Treimel.

Here’s a peek at Scott’s: “Editors, once authors’ in-house protectors, are themselves often treading water, beholden to marketing and sales executives, and often job hopping as a result. An author needs an advocate inside the industry, and that’s an agent.” Read the whole interview.

Alma’s books include In the Garage (Red Deer, 2006) and Walking on Glass (Harper, 2007).

More Personally

“Chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith” from Hello Ma’am. A look into the writing of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). The interview is mirrored at Melissa’s MySpace blog.

“Shop Talk Tuesday with Cynthia Leitich Smith” from Laura Bowers at Writing Without the Reins. Light and entertaining, beauty-shop style chat. Laura is the debut author of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, 2007), which is highly recommended.

Thanks to Sara’s Holds Shelf for the rave about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Sara says: “Don’t read this book on an empty stomach! I’m serious. In the very first paragraph of the first chapter, we find Quincie, our heroine, eating fettuccine with scallops and garlic. I think my mouth actually started watering at that point.” As a vampire-restaurant novelist, I can think of no higher praise! Read the whole recommendation.