Guest Post: Alex Sanchez on The Guy Box

By Alex Sanchez

Before becoming a YA author, I worked for several years as a juvenile probation officer. What struck me most when I first began was that 90% of my caseload was boys.

I recall asking my supervisor: “Why so many more boys than girls?”

His response: “Because they act out more.”

Act out what? I wondered.

As I listened to the boys’ stories about their conflicts with families, school, and peers, I could hear the hurt and pain behind their words. And I began to understand what they were “acting out.”

We all know the admonition that society imparts to boys: Boys don’t cry. But from what I observed, the message is actually far broader: Boys shouldn’t feel, period.

Whereas we allow girls a wide range of emotional expression, boys are too often given the message that they shouldn’t show or feel almost any emotion, whether it be hurt, loneliness, sadness, grief, or even too much joy.

What’s left? Anger—directed either toward others or turned inward. That’s the emotional “box” that we confine guys to. The Guy Box.

Maybe that’s why 90% of my caseload was boys; why guys commit suicide about four times more than females; why males comprise a majority of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless of all ages; why guys have lower levels of college attendance… The list goes on, including the striking statistic that every school shooter, except one, has been male.

It can be hard for boys to sort out their feelings. I should know: I used to be a teenage boy myself. Too often we abandon boys to figure out how to be men from violent, misogynistic, and homophobic computer games, gangsta’ rap videos, Internet porn sites, and gun-filled TV shows.

What’s the alternative? One option is books about boys—whether written by men or women. Positive images that help boys figure out what it means to be a man. Affirming stories that help guide boys through the confusing terrain of adolescence by creating an emotional connection and providing a moral compass.

Although I left my job as a juvenile probation officer quite a few years ago, the stories of the boys I worked with continue to move me. Their experiences are a big part of what motivates me to write about boys, reminding me of my own teen memories, and inspiring me to keep pushing out of my own “guy box.”

Cynsational Events Report: Austin Area Children’s Book Signings

Author Chris Barton celebrated the release Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) April 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

The crowd starts to gather.

Former Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow, YA author Mari Mancusi (newly relocated to Austin!), and current Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales.

Author-illustrator Don Tate with man-of-the-hour Chris.

You could have a cookie in support of Train, Shark, or both!

Afterward, authors Jennifer Ziegler, Mari, Mark Mitchell, Jo Whittemore, and Greg Leitich Smith.

Last Sunday, Greg and I attended the launch of Anna Maria’s Gift by Austin author Janice Shefelman, illustrated by Robert Papp (Random House, 2010). The event was held May 1 at BookPeople.

Janice shows off her new book, standing with her husband, children’s book illustrator Tom Shefelman.

A young violinist accompanied Janice in her presentation. Notice Tom’s painting in the background.

Janice signs books.

From there, we went to P.J. Hoover‘s signing at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum.

Here’s P.J. “Tricia” Hoover!

Author Jessica Lee Anderson with Mark.

Author-Editor Feature: Shana Corey of Random House

Shana Corey on Shana Corey: “I grew up in North Carolina and moved to New York after graduating from Smith College. I got my first job working as an editorial assistant at Random House Children’s Books and fell so in love with the industry, that I never left.

“I was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for my first picture book, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!, illustrated by Chesley McLaren (Scholastic, 2000), which was also selected as a Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2000, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book.

“My other picture books include Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2009), Milly and the Macy’s Parade by Brett Helquist (Scholastic, 2002), Players in Pigtails, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Scholastic, 2003), and the First Graders From Mars Series, illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 2001-).

“I currently live in Brooklyn with my husband and two little boys.

“When not writing or hanging out with my family, I’m an editor at Random House where I enjoy reading and editing series like Babymouse by Matt and Jenni Holm and Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park, as well as middle grade and young adult novels.”

What kind of young reader were you?

I was an excited reader–one who couldn’t wait to get home with the new stack of library books, one who loved getting pulled into different worlds (I still do).

I was also a heart-on-my-sleeve-emotional reader; when I loved a book-I looooved a book. I was the Little House on the Prairie [by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-)] equivalent of a Trekkie.

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout “yes!” or run the other way?

I kind of ran back and forth. I always loved writing and telling stories to myself and kids I babysat for (and at 12 I was pretty adamant that I was going to be the one to write the sequel to Gone With the Wind [by Margaret Mitchell (1936)]), but I was shy about sharing my writing with peers and had a pattern of running from that. I joined the high school newspaper, and then quit when I heard there were going to be try outs. I’d sign up for writing classes and then panic and drop out. I had complete performance anxiety.

Writing professionally grew naturally out of editing though. When I started at Random House, editorial assistants were often given licensed writing projects. For me, that was absolute, total bliss. I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I would have paid them to let me write–and the more I wrote, the less shy I became about sharing.

What inspired you to make youth literature in particular your career focus?

I’ve always been a kid person and kid’s books are the books that have meant the most to me over the years. They’re the books I return to again and again, the books that my college roommate and I first bonded over, the books that most often make me teary, and the books that when I lend, I really, really want back.

I took a children’s literature class in college and that was the first time I realized that perhaps I could turn my love of kids books into a job.

(I was a government major, and until that point, my career plan involved becoming the president of the United States. So it’s good that I found a backup plan.)

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles?

Once I started writing, I found it much easier to send out my writing to someone I didn’t know (at least in the beginning) rather than to face live readers in a class or writing group, and that was enormously freeing. I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?

And I got very, very lucky by finding exactly the right editor at the right time—an editor who is not only immensely smart and talented, but who also shares many of my interests.

I wrote fast and furiously for a few years, and then slowed down quite a bit in the past five years as my day job has become more and more interesting and satisfying to me (I’m kind of an all-or-nothing sort of girl, I tend to seesaw back and forth between where I’m focusing my creative energy-writing or editing).

And then I had my kids, and since they’re still young, my focus is really on them. I know many people who manage to balance work and kids and writing brilliantly, and I’m in complete and utter awe of them. I do still write, but very slowly now-like watching paint dry slow. My process is: type a word-now maybe I better take a break to go make some playdough or join the PTA or redecorate the kids room-type the another word.

Could you update us on your back-list books, highlighting as you see fit?

My childhood Little House obsession grew into a passion for women’s history which has inspired most of books. My first book, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!, is a lighthearted look at Amelia Bloomer, a real life early feminist and the woman bloomers are named after.

Players in Pigtails is about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. In that story, I’d done all the research, interviewed players, etc. and had all sorts of wonderful facts I couldn’t wait to include (in order to make female athletes palatable to 1940s America, the players were actually required to go to charm school and to wear lipstick–I couldn’t make up such fun details!).

I was stuck though on which player to focus the story on–there were just so many admirable women in the league, picking one didn’t seem fair.

In the end, I happened to come across the lyrics to the song “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” (1908). And I found something that completely amazed me. There’s a little known first verse that begins “Katie Casey was baseball mad, had the fever and had it bad.”

I couldn’t believe it. The song that everyone associates with baseball is about a girl! I decided instead of focusing on a single woman, to make a fictional main character–a composite of the many cool women in the league–and I named her Katie Casey.

Milly and the Macy’s Parade is a holiday story, but it’s really an ode to my Jewish grandmothers both of whom were the daughters of immigrants and who are about the same age as Milly is in the story. Most of the story is fiction, but it’s rooted in a fact about the parade’s beginnings.

The parade was started by immigrants who worked at Macy’s and who were homesick for the holiday traditions of their homelands–I read that and was intrigued. I wondered who actually started it? And I loved how quintessentially American it was that the parade began with immigrants and the traditions they brought with them.

Congratulations on the success of Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2009). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thank you! I first came across Annette’s name while I was researching Amelia Bloomer, and she kept popping up until I decided I needed to find out her story.

I tend to be inspired by people who are brave enough to buck convention, and Annette (a record-setting athlete who scandalized Boston by wearing a one-piece bathing suit in 1908) certainly did that.

I loved that Annette was confident enough to be herself and to do what she knew to be right–even if it meant going against the prevailing fashion (as anyone who’s ever gone to high school knows, it doesn’t get much braver than that!).

I think as children, we all believe that we’re special, that we have it in us to change the world. We start out wanting to be artists or astronauts or rock stars, but then somewhere along the way, most of us lose that absolute, unconditional belief in ourselves.

Well, Annette never lost it. And when the whole world told her her clothing choices were wrong, she wore them anyway and went on to write books about why the rest of the world should change. How can you not love that they kind of chutzpah?! I wish I had it!

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

Researching Annette was a challenge. There’s very little out about her, and most of what I originally found included discrepancies that made the research a bit like a treasure hunt.

I spent weeks pouring over microfilm from 1907, which is when all the secondary accounts said she’d been in Boston, and I couldn’t find a single mention of her in any of the Boston papers. I finally started looking for her in the surrounding years and had an ‘aha!’ moment when she showed up in Boston papers in 1908.

You have published a number of easy readers. What attracts you to this format/age-level? What are its special challenges?

I think early readers are a great training ground for picture books because they force you to be very concise and not to rely on flowery language (which can be lovely to read, but is probably not going to hook a kid anyway). Early readers also have very precise word counts and rules and when you learn that rhythm, they can be hugely fun to write, like figuring out a puzzle. They also make great read-alouds.

My kids love Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Donald Cook (Random House, 2005), Eat My Dust! Henry Ford’s First Race by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Richard Walz (Random House, 2004), and George Washington and the General’s Dog by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz (Random House, 2002).

What advice do you have–both creatively and professionally–for writers interested in creating books of this kind?

Read everything you can, research what’s already out there and find something that hasn’t already been done, and write the publishers to find out what their guidelines are and who the editor is for that format. The biggest mistake writers make is to submit to the wrong editor–find someone who edits books like the one you’re writing.

Let’s shift gears! You’re also an editor at Random House! How did you prepare for this career?

As with writing, I think the best and really the only preparation for an editing career is to read everything you can.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

As an editor, it’s my job to help an author make their book the best it can possibly be and then position that book to sales and marketing in a way that gets them as excited about the book as I am and that gives them the tools they need to spread that excitement outside of the house to the rest of the world. I also want to make it as smooth and as positive a process as I possibly can for all involved.

What are its challenges?

The economy. It’s hard to have a book you love, a book you know is really good and that deserves readership, that may even have the reviews to support that–and then not to have it sell well.

It can also be a challenge at times to manage expectations. The truth is that it’s not standard or even necessarily helpful to tour first-time authors, and it’s my job to make sure an author understands that and knows that it’s not for lack of enthusiasm; we’re just spending our marketing dollars very strategically, and a well-placed ad, or an ARC giveaway at conferences may actually help them and their book more than sending them on the road.

What do you love about it?

Really, just about everything (except the above)!

If you could make a change for the better in the publishing world, what would it be? Why?

Lately, I’ve noticed in certain forums there seems to be an “us against them” mentality—i.e. publishers are making a killing on eBooks or authors should wrest cover control away from evil publishers. I find it very disheartening. I think we’re all book people, we’re all trying to do the best we can by these stories.

I may be naïve, but as someone who’s been on both sides of the industry for almost 14 years now, what I almost always see are editors and publishers and authors working really hard for their books. Could we do better? Absolutely. Are mistakes sometimes made? Sure.

But I don’t think it’s systematic or the norm, and I definitely don’t think it’s constructive to approach it as a battle between publishers and readers/authors. We’re all on the same side and I’d love for people to start off with that assumption. (I know, I know, cue “It’s a Small World”).

What are a few of your favorite books (of those you edited) and why?

I’m a huge fan of C.K. Kelly Martin and am so excited for more and more people to discover her. Her writing is just mind-blowingly gorgeous, and her characters are people I recognize and connect with and care about every time–even the minor characters.

C. K.’s newest book The Lighter Side of Life and Death [releases May 25] is my favorite yet. It’s one of the sexiest, most soulful books I’ve ever read.

I also have the pleasure of editing the incredibly talented brother-sister duo Matt and Jenni Holm and am always happy when a new Babymouse comes out (in part because I’ll get a 24-hour break from my five-year-old begging me for the next Babymouse!) They’re such smart, laugh-out-loud funny books. Cupcake Tycoon is coming out this fall.

And this is an extra busy year for Jenni because she has a new novel out as well–her first since her Newbery Honor winning Penny From Heaven (2006).

Jenni’s new novel Turtle in Paradise (May 10) is a book the whole family can enjoy together. It was inspired by Jenni’s family history and is set in depression era Key West, and reading it, you’re just transported–the local color and characters, the voice. It has everything from a gang of ragtag kids, to Little Orphan Annie, to Ernest Hemingway to buried pirate treasure—and it’s incredibly vivid and beautifully written.

Audrey Couloumbis is one of my favorite all time authors. Her Misadventures of Maude March is a book I would have loved growing up and am very proud to have been a part of–it’s a wild, rollicking western about two orphaned sisters who become inadvertent outlaws and it stars the most endearing narrator I’ve ever met. And Audrey has another book coming out this fall, Jake (Sept. 2010), that I think is really special.

And I have two middle grade debuts this spring I’m really excited about, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (a story with magic, miniatures, mystery and adventure and perfect for fans of From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1967) and The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (Hyperion, 2000)) and Nature Girl by Jane Kelley (a wonderfully funny, feel-good, girl power twist on a survival story that I want to give to every 9-12 year-old girl I know!).

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

Mostly through agents–Random House officially doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, though if I’ve met an author and connected with their voice, then I usually welcome submissions from them.

What recommendations do you have for writers interested in working with you? With your house?

Join SCBWI. Get a good agent, and I’d really recommend an editor-friendly agent. Yes, you want your agent to get you a good deal, but you also want them to be someone editors enjoy working with.

What makes Random House special?

We have an amazing, unparalleled sales force made up of the smartest and most enthusiastic book people I’ve ever met. We have a President who genuinely cares about creating a fun place to work. We’re a great place for authors and a great place to work (though as a writer, I want to say Scholastic’s pretty special as well).

How does your writer self inform your editor self and vise versa?

They’re so intertwined it’s hard to separate. My writer self reminds my editor self to be very gentle and encouraging. It’s easy to write a ten-page editorial letter, but I know that it can be overwhelming to read on the other end.

My writer self also reminds me editor self that it’s not my story, and so I work hard to make sure that I’m never encouraging an author to take a story in a direction that doesn’t feel right to them.

On the other side, my editor self reminds my writer self that this is a tough market and there are a lot of books out there. That I shouldn’t get my hopes up for “Oprah” or a 12-city book tour. And that I should never, ever be a diva to my editor or to any of the talented folks graciously working on my books.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I read grownups books, I go to yoga and wait for the snow to melt and the sunshine to come back out (update: it’s melted! the sun’s out! I’m dizzy with vitamin D!), I hang out with my family and laugh over the things my kids say and bore my friends and family by repeating them excessively, I surf the internet way too much and watch way too much bad television (and some good television–though I tend to prefer the bad).

Cynsational Event Report: Texas Library Association Conference

Wow, what fun I had at last month’s annual conference of the Texas Library Association in San Antonio! Special thanks to the TLA Young Adult Round Table and Candlewick Press.

Author Tim Tingle shows off Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light, illustrated by Karen Clarkson (Cinco Puntos, 2010).

ALA Honor Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Chris Barton. Chris’s new release is Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little, Brown, 2010).

Professor Junko Yokota of National-Louis University in Chicago and National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt.

Professor Sylvia Vardell of Texas Woman’s University.

Author-librarian Debbie Leland models my upcoming release Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010).

Author Janet Fox models her upcoming release, Faithful (Speak, May 13, 2010).

Texas Sweethearts Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover, and Jo Whittemore. Jo’s new release is Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin, 2010).

Professor Teri Lesesne of Sam Houston State University and Lois Buckman, librarian at Caney Creek High School in Conroe, TX.

Buda author Jerry Wermund shows off Focus on Minerals, illustrated by Tony Sansevero (Rockon, 2007).

Author Peni R. Griffin models 11,000 Years Lost (Amulet, 2004).

Author Kathy Whitehead shows off Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Putnam, 2008).

Illustrator Joy Fisher Hein.

Author Pat Mora and Professor Loriene Roy of The University of Texas.

Austin authors Greg Leitich Smith, Bethany Hegedus, April Lurie, Debbie Gonzales, Carmen Oliver, and Shana Burg. Bethany looks forward to the release of Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, Oct. 2010) and April’s most recent book is The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010).

April again, this time with authors Frances and Brian Yansky. Brian’s next book is Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, Oct. 2010).

Author-Editor-Educator Feature: Emma Walton Hamilton

From her website: “Emma Walton Hamilton is an author, editor, arts educator and arts and literacy advocate. She has co-authored twenty children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews…”

How did you first get involved with writing and publishing children’s books?

I’ve been a book lover all my life, and I wrote stories all the time when I was a kid. My mom and I actually wrote our first story together when I was five–which my father illustrated, and which several decades later we re-wrote and published as the book Simeon’s Gift (HarperCollins, 2003), so my love of reading and writing goes back as far as I can remember.

About 12 years ago, my mom and I started writing the Dumpy the Dump Truck series (Hyperion, 2000-), inspired by my son Sam’s obsession with trucks and our inability to find enough substantive reading material in the “truck genre” to satisfy his passion.

That series led to more books – we’re up 18 now! – and eventually to the formation of our own publishing program, The Julie Andrews Collection, for which I serve as the Editorial Director.

From there, I moved into freelance editing, and teaching children’s book writing for Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Writing and Literature program – and most recently to my appointment as director of their annual Southampton Children’s Literature Conference.

What have you found most rewarding doing this work?

Without hesitation, I’d say it’s making a difference in the lives of children. There is nothing that can compare to seeing a child’s face light up when listening to a story, or hearing them say that they loved one of our books–or better yet, that they want to be writer when they grow up.

Yesterday I was reading our newest book, The Very Fairy Princess, illustrated by Christine Danevier (Little, Brown, 2010) to a group of elementary school students from kindergarten through 4th grade, and you could have heard a pin drop!

The book is all about finding and sharing your own inner sparkle, so at the end I asked the students what made each of them sparkle.

The hands shot up in the air, and the excited responses ranged from “swimming!” to “reading!” to “playing with my friends!” and even “sleeping!” It was enchanting–and all the more wonderful when scores of them, boys included, then turned up at the book fair following to tell me how much they loved the story. If I can help turn even just a handful of kids on to reading or writing, that’s the greatest reward of all.

How do you work when you collaborate with your mother on a book?

Generally speaking, we start with the seed of an idea, brainstorm an outline, then sit down to write. It’s a very organic process of literally just finishing each other’s sentences. I type as we go, and then email each installment or chapter and we edit like crazy. We tend to overwrite a lot at the beginning, and then streamline as we go.

We used to have to be in the same room when writing together, but that got more and more difficult since we live on opposite sides of the country.

For a while we were on the phone a lot–but that got very expensive (and hard on the neck)! For the past few years, we’ve been using webcam, and that’s worked great for us.

How does this dovetail with the other work you do in the arts?

Everything is related. Much of my background is in theatre–producing, directing, acting–and the principles of good storytelling are the same for theater and film as they are for books.

Whether you are telling a story on the page or on the stage, you are dealing with compelling characters trying to solve a problem or pursue a goal, and you have to chart a journey for them from beginning to middle to end.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve also taught playwriting to middle and high school students, and this has been a great feeder for my own writing. I often find I’ll come home from teaching a class on conflict, for instance, and say “Now I know what’s wrong with this scene in the book! The conflict isn’t strong enough!” or whatever it may be.

In addition, I think our shared background in the arts has made my mom and I more aware of–and passionate about–trying to incorporate them into our books as much as possible.

We love artwork that gives children a real appreciation for painting, and we often try to include original music or a CD with our books so children can have a rich auditory as well as visual experience with a story. We sometimes use theatrical, cinematic or musical techniques when writing narrative (a ‘heraldic’ opening, for instance, or a pulling of focus at a certain point in a scene).

Of course, the arts are also a frequent subject in our books–such as The Great American Mousical (HarperCollins, 2006, 2007), which is about the theater; Simeon’s Gift, which is about music; and the Julie Andrews Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies (Little, Brown, 2009), which includes song lyrics as poems in their own right, and also a number of poems that celebrate the arts.

How long have you been involved with the Southampton Writers Conference?

Three years ago, I was invited to give a talk at the Children’s Literature Conference. That same year, my husband Steve (who is an actor and producer) and I also performed in a reading for the Writers Conference. The following year, we were invited to become faculty members of the MFA in Writing and Literature program, which sponsors the Conferences.

We created the Southampton Playwriting Conference for the program, as well as the Young American Writers Project, or YAWP – an interdisciplinary writing program for area middle and high school students. I also began teaching picture book workshops, and was subsequently invited to take over the directorship of the Children’s Literature Conference.

One of the most exciting things about SBS’s MFA Writing program and Writers Conferences is their diversity–in addition to Children’s Lit, they encompass Screenwriting, Playwriting, Fiction, Poetry and Memoir–all happening concurrently, so it’s a very fertile creative environment.

We are also lucky to have some of the most esteemed writers in the country on our faculty, such as Roger Rosenblatt, Jules Feiffer, Billy Collins, Alan Alda and Marsha Norman… and for Children’s Literature this year, we’ll have Caldecott Medalist Ed Young, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tor Seidler, Margaret McMullan, Jim and Kate McMullan and Arlene Alda joining our faculty, among others.

Where do you see new opportunities going forward with books, theater, music and art?

New media is of course presenting us with all kinds of opportunities, and an even richer overlap between mediums. People often lament the death (or anticipated death) of live theater, or of books, but I’m a relentless optimist.

Actually, I think there has probably never been a time when society was as deeply engaged with text and storytelling as we are now, albeit much of it electronic. If you think about it, almost everything we do digitally depends on reading or writing.

I think we’ll see even more adaptation from one medium to the next in the days ahead, and I think smart authors, artists and creative types will take advantage of the new technologies, and inspire us with all the innovative possibilities.

We’ve always needed storytelling and the arts in our lives, all the way back to when we were sitting around the fire in the cave. That won’t change. It’s how we understand ourselves, and how we communicate with one another and with future generations. And people will always gather together to exchange ideas – in theaters, galleries, libraries.

We are by nature social creatures, and my view is that there is only so much sitting alone in front of the computer we can tolerate before we crave communion. The challenge is to remain optimistic about, and open to, these new mediums…and see the opportunities they offer to create and learn, and to share our stories.

What are the particular challenges you think we’ll face?

I think one of the challenges is keeping young people’s skill and interest in reading high enough to take advantage of the opportunities that will be waiting for them.

In my book Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment (Beech Tree, 2008), I talk about how much reading skills correspond to our ability to be confident, engaged, informed citizens.

They affect how well we communicate, succeed in school and in our chosen careers, and ultimately our level of personal fulfillment. In fact, order to participate fully in society and the workplace in 2020 and beyond, we will all need powerful literacy abilities. But with all that competes for our attention these days, from television to the internet to electronic games and social networking, we face the possibility of a serious decline in the reading and writing skills of the next generation.

Our strength as readers and writers is profoundly influenced by how much of it we do – the more we read, the easier it gets. The easier it gets, the more we enjoy it, so the more we read. But we have to start by actually reading – and the key lies in making that activity as attractive as all the other temptations out there. We achieve that by focusing on activities that support the joy in reading (as opposed to reading as chore, or duty)…and by ensuring that what is being read is so good that the reader gets hooked and comes back for more.

That’s why I’m dedicated to supporting children’s book authors in the continued development of their craft. We have a huge responsibility on our hands. It only takes one great book to turn someone on to reading… but those great books need to keep being written and gotten into the hands of children!

Cynsational Notes

Meet Emma in these video interviews from Reading Rockets. See transcript.

Southampton Writers Conference

From Rabb Associates

Caldecott Medal Winner Ed Young, New York Times best-selling author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and award-winning authors Tor Seidler and Margaret McMullan will headline the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference from July 28 to Aug. 1.

Part of the internationally renowned Southampton Writers Conference, sponsored by Stony Brook, Southampton’s acclaimed MFA in Writing and Literature Program, the Children’s Literature Conference offers a unique forum for established and emerging writers, artists, and lovers of children’s literature to study and discuss the craft of writing for young readers.

The Southampton Writers Conference, which Tom Wolfe has called “the best conference in the Country,” is known for its prestigious faculty and for attracting participants from around the world.

The Children’s Literature Conference is “rapidly becoming one of the best places in the country to learn about writing for young people,” according to Conference Director Emma Walton Hamilton, who is also Executive Director of the MFA Program’s Young American Writers Project (YAWP) and Editorial Director for The Julie Andrews Collection publishing program.

Attendees are guided through workshops, lectures, and group discussions by world-renowned authors, illustrators and editors, while enjoying the summer resort of the Hamptons on the East End of Long Island. Workshops for the 2010 Children’s Literature Conference include:

· Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator Ed Young – “Words and Images in Storytelling”

· Award-winning author Tor Seidler – “All in the Telling: Writing Middle Grade Chapter Books”

· Young Adult novelist Margaret McMullan – “Write Now! A Crash Course in Writing for YA”

· Editor/author Cindy Kane, “Jump Start Your Story – Writing for Ages 5 through Young Adult”

· Best-selling author/editor Emma Walton Hamilton – “Just Write for Kids: The Art and Craft of Writing Picture Books”

Guest presenters Arlene Alda and Lisa DeSimini, and Jim and Kate McMullan, will explore the author/illustrator collaborative process. Amy Krouse Rosenthal will discuss her work and screen one of her short films. Novelist/librarian Catherine Creedon will head an elective on research for writers, and Whiting Award-winning poet Julie Sheehan, will offer “Meter Making” for those who write in verse.

Emma Walton Hamilton, who also works as a freelance children’s book editor and offers online courses in writing for children (, will lead an elective on marketing in the digital age. Hamilton has co-authored twenty children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews, five of which have been on the New York Times best-seller list, including the recent anthology, Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs, And Lullabies. Her book, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on in the literacy category.

The application deadline for the 2010 Children’s Literature Conference is May 15. Information is available at

Guest Post: Suzanne Selfors on Why I Love Writing for Middle Graders

By Suzanne Selfors

Because I write for adults, teens and kids, I often get asked which group is my favorite to write for. And, without a moment’s hesitation, I always answer—the kids!

Why? Maybe this will help explain.

Author Seeks Perfect Reader.
Should possess the following characteristics:

1. Is either a boy or a girl.

2. Is not distracted by hormones.

3. Thinks the opposite sex is rather annoying and doesn’t require a story to have the slightest inkling of romance.

4. Doesn’t say, “That’s not possible” when reading about a mermaid living in a kid’s bedroom, or a plant that can make a person fly.

5. Believes that a monster lives under the bed and really wants to meet it.

6. Keeps treasures, such as beach glass, pebbles and bottle caps, in a pocket.

7. Senses, but can not yet prove, that he/she is different in some wonderful, perhaps magical way, from everybody else.

8. If asked, “What superpower would you like to have?” replies, “I’ve already got one.”

9. Hears, at least once a day from an adult, “Stop…(choose one of the following: dawdling, daydreaming, doodling or lollygagging .)”

10. Wonders why. Asks why. Then wonders some more.

11. Still cares when something small gets hurt.

12. Believes that good will always beat evil. Even if evil wears a really cool outfit.

Cynsational Notes

Suzanne’s latest book is Smells Like Dog (Little, Brown, May 2010). From the promotional copy:

Meet Homer Pudding, an ordinary farm boy who dreams of grand adventurers and who inherits a basset hound when his beloved uncle, the famous explorer Drake Pudding, mysteriously vanishes. Why would Uncle Drake call a droopy dog with no sense of smell his “most treasured possession?” And what is the mysterious lost coin around the dog’s neck? Join Homer and his sister Gwendolyn as they race to discover the truth surrounding the basset hound and a secret society of treasure hunters.

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews says: “Selfors offers up an adventure tale that features a humorous, high-stakes mystery and a lovable hero. Peppered with funny dialogue, this joyous romp is a page-turning adventure that will appeal to enthusiastic and reluctant readers alike.”

Rebecca Stead cheers, “A fantastic tale in every good sense of the word. Homer’s wild pursuit of his destiny is both exhilarating and soulful.”


Note From Author: This is not a sad dog story. I hate sad dog stories and I bet you do too.

How many times have you picked up a book about a dog and just when you start to fall in love with the dog it fall down a well, or gets hit by a car, or somebody shoots it? Then you cry quietly in your bedroom because you don’t know if the dog is going to live or die and there’s nothing worse than not knowing if a dog is going to live or die.

So I promise you that you don’t have to worry because the dog in this story does not die. This is a happy dog story.

Cynsational News & Giveaways of Smells Like Dog & Morpheus Road

Enter to win a copy of Smells Like a Dog by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown, 2010)! From the promotional copy:

Smells Like Dog is another fun, well-written, and funny middle grade novel from Suzanne Selfors. It is the story of Homer Pudding, an ordinary farm boy who dreams of going on grand adventures like his uncle, the famous explorer Drake Pudding, and the dog he inherits when his beloved uncle mysteriously vanishes.

Homer doesn’t understand why Drake would call a droopy dog with no sense of smell “his most treasured possession,” until he discovers a mysterious coin hidden on Dog’s collar. Soon Homer, his sister Gwendolyn, and Dog are off to The City, a dangerous metropolis where they meet the conniving Madame La Directeur, Head of the Natural History Museum.

Homer soon realizes that Madame wishes to steal the coin and take Homer’s place in a secret society of adventurers known as L.O.S.T. Along the way, Dog is stolen, just as Homer learns that Dog has a hidden talent- he can smell treasure. Homer must go deep into the heart of the Museum to defeat Madame, rescue Dog, and take his uncle’s place in L.O.S.T.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Smells Like Dog” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: May 31. Publisher sponsored; U.S. entries only.

Love a spooky story? Enter to win a copy of Morpheus Road: The Light by by D. J. MacHale (Aladdin, 2010). Here’s the book trailer:

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Morpheus Road: The Light” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message/comment me with the name in the header/post; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: May 31. Publisher sponsored; U.S. entries only.

More News

50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know by compiled by Ginny Moore Kruse and Kathleen T. Horning; updated by Kathleen T. Horning, Carling Febry, Merri T. Lindgren and Megan Schliesman from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (2010 update). Note: I’m honored to see my chapter book, Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002) on the list in the ages seven-to-nine category. The review cheers, “An excellent collection of interrelated short stories will appeal to newly independent young readers ready to tackle one or more of these accessible stories.”

From Locus Online News: “The top five finalists in each category of the 2010 Locus Awards have been announced. Winners will be presented during the Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle” from June 25 to June 27. The YA novel finalists are: The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker (Tachyon); Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte); Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; Scholastic UK); Liar by Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury; Allen & Unwin Australia); and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK). See the whole list of finalists. Read Cynsations interviews with Libba, Justine, and Scott.

2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Awards Short List from the American Booksellers for Children. Special congratulations to Kate Messner (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (Walker)) and Grace Lin (Where The Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown)). Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

Martha Alderson, Plot Consultant: an interview by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “…plot is detected most easily when you push aside the words of a story to reveal the plot strands of character, action, and theme in every good book at both the reading and the writing level.”

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson: a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: “Can he bring back the old Maddie while keeping faith with God and his parents, when he doesn’t know who he is himself?” Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Enter to Win Your Choice of Critique by Carmela A. Martino from Teaching Authors. The winner may choose from critiques of a fiction picture book (up to 1000 words), a nonfiction picture book or beginning of longer nonfiction manuscript (up to 1000 words), a synopsis of a middle grade or young adult novel; the first five pages of a middle grade or young adult novel (up to 1250 words); poetry (up to thirty lines, 12-point font)–this can be in one poem or several poems; or a middle grade short story (up to 1000 words). Deadline: May 4. See more information.

Process by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog – Writer Talk. Peek: “It’s not easy to trust your process because every writer faces moments in a manuscript when process might be blamed for any number of unfortunate situations.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Genius at Work vs. Working Writer by Mary Kole from Peek: “…you should learn novel craft, genre, form, structure and what the ‘standards’ are inside and out before you start to innovate. And you should prove to publishers that you can do well with a more conventional novel that follows the rules in terms of all these nitty gritty things (but feel free to be innovative in terms of plot points, story, language and characters, of course), before you try to recast the mold.”

Interview with Heather Brewer from Peek: “Bill and Tom are really just a summary of the experiences I had with bullies. If only I had had freaky vampire powers to get them to leave me alone! But my loss is Vlad’s gain.”

Beverly Cleary Turns 94 by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: “When I started as a children’s librarian in 1939, I would been astonished to know that that my birthday would be remembered by School Library Journal in 2010.”

Congratulations to long-time Cynsations reader Brent Watson, who recently signed with Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, and congratulations to Jill for signing Brent!

Interview with Michael Bourret, agent from Laurie Thompson: Nonfiction Author for Young Readers. Peek: “…recently signed up a novel based on a Poe story that I’m very excited about, and I’d love to see more dark, psychological thrillers. Something that makes my skin crawl would be great!”

Literary agent Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown is now accepting YA manuscript submissions to consider for possible client representation. Peek: “She loves complex characters, coming-of-age stories, and strong narrators.” Source: Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent.

Cover Artist Sally Wern Comport on One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia by Carol Brendler from Jacket Knack. Peek: “I chose a surreal landscape perspective so, rather than a montage, the scene is somewhat realistic and somewhat fantasy as are the stylizations of the three main characters.”

What a Great Critique Partner or Group Means by Mary Kole from Peek: “It’s all about growing and learning and evolving in the writing business. It’s up to you to find partners who are like-minded and who understand that. And once you get their feedback, it’s up to you to use it in your work and do the revisions.”

Wizlit: On the Wisdom and Power of Children’s Literature: a new blog from Paige Britt. Peek: “I read kid’s books because I enjoy them. But that’s not all. Lots of times, I gain amazing insights from them — insights that inspire me to approach life with wonder and profound respect. If that’s not wisdom, I don’t know what is.”

The Day Job: A Writer’s Inquiry: A blog in which we will explore the day to day jobs of writers and authors. A new blog from Erin Moulton. Peek: “My first book, Maple T. Rittle and the Quest for a Miracle comes out in Summer 2011 from Philomel A Penguin Young Readers Group. I am represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.”

How Do We Know What We Know? by Deborah Heiligman from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “How do we know what we know? Or another way of putting this is: how can we be sure that what we know is true? That it won’t be disproved in a month, two years, a decade?”

Interview with Author R.L. LaFevers by Leah Cypress from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “In addition to researching the British Museum, I poured over antique street maps of London, pictures of buildings, studied the Edwardian period and its differences from the Victorian period, London street life, clothing, funeral customs.”

Ready for a Coffee Break? Join author Debbi Michiko Florence in chatting with Vivian Vande Velde, Jerry Spinelli, Jo Whittemore, Erin Dionne, Elizabeth Scott, and Sara Zarr.

How a Blog is Like a Puppy by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Do you want your blog to be a ferocious watch dog or a gentle lap dog? Like puppies, blogs have personalities. Will you write book reviews? Will you interview authors? Will you focus on marketing or your agent hunt or the daily work of a writer?”

Ma’am, Put Down the Laptop and Step Away from the Blog! by Hilary Wagner from The Prairie Wind. Peek: “Before you admit defeat and inter your blog in the vast online graveyard of blogs that had their last post in May of 2007, take a step back, take a breath, and realize you can do this.” Note: includes some tips from me and a few of my favorite fellow authors.

Bid to Win Critiques

Hunger Mountain Fund-raising Auction is ongoing now to May 9 on Ebay. Bid to win full length manuscript critiques with Tanita Davis, author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Mare’s War (Knopf, 2009), Michelle Poploff, Vice President, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, and picture book writer Tanya Lee Stone, who won the Sibert Award for Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick, 2009). In addition, National Book Award finalist Deborah Wiles and Jacqueline Kelly, author of Newbery honor book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, 2009), will offer young adult and middle grade manuscript critiques. Bidding ends at midnight EST May 9.

Celebrating Betty X Davis

Betty X. Davis: new official website of one of my favorite Austin writers.

For those who missed it last time, meet Betty in the video below, talking about her 90+ years, eight kids, tennis, and publishing dreams. She’s a wonderful, inspiring writer.

Cynsational Screening Room

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow, 2010): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: “…the deliciously Machiavellian follow-up to The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia…” Check out the book trailer.

Check out the book trailer for Dead Is Just A Rumor by Marlene Perez (Graphia, August 2010).

Check out the book trailer for Sea by Heidi R. Kling (Putnam, June 2010).

In the video below, find out what books inspired Scholastic YA authors and more recent favorites, books they wish they’d written, what they’d do if they weren’t an author, and more! Source: Angie Frazier.

In the video below, Girls in the Stacks report on Houston Teen Book Con. See also my report on the event.

TeenBookCon – home bound from GITS on Vimeo.More Personally

Thank you to YART and Candlewick Press for your enthusiasm and support at the April 14 to April 17 annual conference of the Texas Library Association in San Antonio. Thanks also to everyone who came to my panel and signing. It was great to see y’all there! (Photo report coming soon).

Thanks to librarian Mike and everyone at Pechanga Chámmakilawish School for a great school visit last Thursday! (Photo report coming soon, depending on how well my disposable camera worked).

Raising Your Voice: a recommendation of my upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly, from Professor Nana at The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: “This is a perfect read aloud, one with an important message about when to be loud and perhaps when to be a tad quieter.” Note: my upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly, is illustrated by Barry Gott and will be available in November 2010.

Inquiry 1: Cynthia Leitich Smith: an author interview by Erin Moulton from The Day Job: A Writer’s Inquiry. Peek: “With love to the literature and logic of the law, it’s perhaps not the most poetic or action-packet reading, and it was a treat to come home again to those [children’s-YA] books.” Note: Erin’s debut novel, Maple T. Rittle and the Quest for a Miracle, will be released by Philomel in summer 2011, and it’s utterly splendid.

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008) is being made available through Scholastic Book Club in its high school markets.

Attention Austinites: look for signed stock of Tantalize at Barnes & Noble in Round Rock and at the Arboretum. Signed stock of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010) also is available at the Round Rock store. And, as always, you can find signed copies of my books at BookPeople downtown.

An Interview with Ming Doyle [Illustrator of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011)] by Jim at Bostonist. Peek: “I can’t deny the appeal of drawing werevultures, werepossums, werearmadillos, and all other manner of Texan werecreatures along with some more conventional monsters on a daily basis.”

Thanks to Naomi Bates for creating this wonderful book trailer in celebration of Eternal.

Cynsational Events

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. See faculty bios. Note: I’m honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

SCBWI Florida: Mid-Year Workshop and Intensives will be June 4 and June 5 at Disney’s Coronada Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. Note: I’m honored to be leading the marketing track with author/social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs. Picture book, middle grade, YA, and series tracks also are available.