New Cynsations Reporter: Siobhan Curham on Daring to Dream

By Siobhan Curham
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I was younger I lived in a house crammed full of books. Both of my parents are avid readers, and I certainly inherited their bookworm gene. I loved escaping into the world of fiction, and the more I read, the more I wanted to create my own worlds of words for other people to enjoy.

Sadly, lack of confidence in my writing abilities meant that my writing dreams remained just dreams for many years.

But the thing about dreams is that they don’t go away that easily. Fictional characters would keep popping into my head like imaginary friends and life seemed full of plot ideas ripe for picking. So I would fill notebooks with these ideas. And then finally, when I was on maternity leave with my son, I decided to try actually writing a book.

I started with a nonfiction book, as it felt more within my comfort zone, but when that was published in 2000, I finally had the confidence to have a go at writing a novel for adults. To my shock and delight this novel went on to get me a three-book deal with a major U.K. publisher, and I felt as if my dream of becoming a successful author had finally been accomplished.

But it wasn’t that straightforward. After disappointing sales for my third novel, I was dropped by my publisher. It’s funny how something that can feel like the end of the world at the time can end up being one of the best things to have happened to you with the benefit of hindsight.

At Paris Book Fair.

Being dropped by my publisher led me to start running workshops and coaching other writers. And this led to me becoming a writer in residence at a local high school. Teaching writing to students reminded me of the passion I used to have for books and writing when I was younger. I loved the enthusiasm and energy with which teenagers would approach their writing, and it was infectious.

Before long, I had an idea for a YA novel and writing it was nothing at all like writing my adult fiction. Whereas writing for adults had felt laborious at times, writing about teenagers felt like second nature. Clearly I am still very much a fourteen-year-old at heart! The book flowed, and creatively it was the most enjoyable experience of my writing career.

Literally, the day I finished the novel I got an email from a friend saying that a U.K. children’s publisher was actively seeking new writers. I quickly emailed the first three chapters off to the commissioning editor, and she replied immediately asking to see the rest of it.

I was offered a two-book deal within a couple of weeks. But before I’d signed the contract the publisher started back-tracking on what they’d originally offered me financially. Still feeling jaded from my experience with my previous publisher, I withdrew the book. And then I made a decision that would go on to change my writing career beyond recognition – I decided to self-publish.

I self-published Dear Dylan in April 2010 and, thanks to some wonderful reviews on YA blogging sites, it started to create a bit of an online buzz. Then one day at work I read about a U.K. book award called Young Minds that were looking for entries. I knew that most national awards didn’t accept self-published books but I figured I had nothing to lose, so I posted them a copy.

I was delighted when I heard that it had been accepted into the competition. And even more delighted when it was long-listed. That to me felt as good as winning. So I was absolutely ecstatic when it made it to the shortlist of six. All the other books on the list were from major publishers, so it was a massive boost to my confidence.

And then, in a fairytale ending, Dear Dylan actually won the Young Minds Book Award.

The whole experience was a fantastic lesson in never giving up on your dreams – and how if one path becomes blocked you should simply find another. Winning the award has transformed my writing career. Dear Dylan went to auction in the U.K., and I ended up with two-book deals in the U.K., France and Germany. It is being published by Egmont U.K. this April, with my second YA novel, Finding Cherokee Brown being published in April 2013.

I am now writing a YA series with a TV tie-in, which is massively exciting, and three days a week I work as an editorial consultant for a London-based company, helping bring younger children’s books to life. It feels wonderful to have come full circle, from a book-loving kid to a creator of children’s fiction.

Finally, I can say that my dream really has come true.

Max editing.

Cynsational Notes

Siobhan Curham lives in a village just outside of London with her teenage son –
who is mad about football, and her rescue dog, Max – who has a phobia
of footballs!

She dreams of one day living in America, which is where
her grandma was from, and she goes to visit her family there every
chance she can.

Siobhan contributes news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative, literature and publishing community in the U.K. Revision Week Interview & Picture Book/Partial Manuscript Edit Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 


Revision Week: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Deborah Halverson from Peek: “I have this unshakable belief that the answers to every story are
somewhere in those early drafts. We just have to read our own writing
carefully enough to find them.”

Manuscript Edit Giveaway

See the link for the whole scoop on entering to win today’s giveaway of a manuscript edit (first chapter or whole picture book) and Saturday’s grand prize, a full manuscript edit from DearEditor. Deadline: midnight PST tonight, March 5. Eligibility note: any category (fiction or non-fiction), published for young readers or grown-ups.

Cynsational Notes

Revision Week at, from March 4 to March 10, features eight prolific, bestselling, award-winning authors for a week of revision tips, insights, and stories from the trenches. Learn from writers who turn first drafts into lauded books every day–and enter the daily drawings for Free Partial Edits and the grand prize Full Manuscript Edit giveaway. Featured authors: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kathleen Krull, R.L. LaFevers, Nathan Bransford,
Mark A. Clements, and Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Theo Baker. Check it out at

Celebrating Poetry: Sylvia Vardell on Teaching, Awards, Trends, Challenges & New Releases

By Kate Hosford
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Sylvia Vardell is a professor at Texas Woman’s University. She also is the author of Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library (ALA, 2006), Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), and Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarians Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2008). In addition, she edits for Librarians’ Choice.

Sylvia is a avid reader, movie lover, and zealous traveler.

As a writer, a professor of library science, a blogger and an anthologist, you have devoted yourself to the celebration and promotion of poetry for young people. What role did poetry play in your own childhood? How did that interest continue to develop?

My parents were new immigrants from Germany, so German was my first language. Rhymes and poems helped me to learn—and enjoy—my new language, English. I felt tuned in to the music of language—how words sounded in German and English—and I still enjoy the sound qualities of poetry, in particular.

In school, I enjoyed hearing poetry read aloud by teachers and librarians (again, that pleasure in the spoken word), but I didn’t seek it out to read in print, although I was an avid reader.

I found an outlet in writing poetry in my angst-filled teen years, and in college, I had a knack for analyzing poetry. (I was good at identifying the appropriate symbolism!)

I taught sixth grade in the late 1970s and shared all kinds of books with my students. Shel Silverstein was a new author, and I saw firsthand what a huge hit his work was with my students. That led me deep into exploring contemporary poetry for kids—and I haven’t quit since!

What are some of the new and innovative ways in which librarians and teachers are promoting poetry? 

Teachers and librarians who love poetry have long been creative in getting kids excited about poetry—from creating classroom poetry cafés, complete with tablecloths and bongos, to holding open mike readings, to filling school hallways with favorite poem displays, to starting the school day with a school-wide poem to linking poetry across the curriculum.

And now with technology tools, they’re hosting guest poets via Skype, creating digital trailers to promote poetry books, using blogs to encourage student responses to poetry, etc.

One of the things I find especially gratifying is how educators now promote a more multidimensional approach to poetry—listening to it, performing it, filming it, as well as reading and writing it.

Are there any poetry collections, anthologies or novels in verse that you are particularly excited about in 2012?

I’m excited at the abundance of titles I’ve seen scheduled for publication in 2012—over 50 so far.

Some of my favorite poets have new books coming out. They include Douglas Florian, Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Margarita Engle, David Harrison, Helen Frost, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, and even Jack Prelutsky.

My friend and collaborator Janet Wong has a very timely new book of election year poems, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems on Liberty (CreateSpace, 2012)!

I’m looking forward to not one, but two collections focused on featuring poems for performance since that’s one of my favorite angles on poetry: Mary Ann Hoberman (Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, April 2012)) and Caroline Kennedy (Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Hyperion, March 2012)).

And I’m always especially to read the work of new and up-and-coming poets and anthologists, so I’m excited to get my hands on: Jill Corcoran’s collection, Dare to Dream…Change the World (Kane Miller, fall 2012), Carol-Ann Hoyte’s and Heidi Bee Roemer’s anthology with poets from around the world, And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester (Friesens Press, 2012), and Tim McLaughlin’s book of poetry by young people themselves, Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky; Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, illustrated by S.D. Nelson (Abrams, April 2012).

Are there any trends in poetry that we should look for this year?

Last year was a bumper crop for novels in verse with some amazing works by first-time authors—like Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011), the National Book Award winner.

I’m seeing more interesting verse novels on this year’s lists, and I’m looking forward to checking them out.

I hear Leslea Newman’s October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (Candlewick, 2012) is very powerful, and I am always blown away by Stephanie Hemphill’s work (look for Sisters of Glass (Knopf, March 27, 2012)).

I’m also so excited to see more multicultural poetry on the docket, including bilingual works by Jorge Luján and Jorge Argueta.

You have worked hard to raise the public’s awareness of poetry awards. Why are these awards so important, and what can the reading public do to support them?

Yes, I do believe promoting the awards is critical primarily because we work in such an award-conscious culture. Awards help people notice poetry.

The downside is that awards by their very nature recognize only a few books, so many wonderful works of poetry don’t get the attention they deserve. That’s one reason that I try to promote lists, rather than single titles alone, to give a taste of the poetry diversity that is possible and available.

I would love it if the reading public would take notice of the poetry awards, buy multiple copies of each winner and honor book, and then hold their own “mock” awards to get kids (and families) reading and talking about even more poetry.

Could you talk a bit about the challenges that both new and established poets face at this time, both in terms of getting published and getting their poetry into the hands of readers?

Yes, there are so many challenges in poetry publishing—getting it accepted and published to begin with, then getting the book sold and promoted, too. Most poets are now heavily involved in the “after” part, using web sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to get the word out about their books. And it’s still a tough sell in a fiction-centric world!

As the writer Robert Graves noted, “There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money either.”

Digital publishing offers promising opportunities for new writers and my collaborator, Janet Wong (herself a poet) and I have tried our hands at that. We published three e-book anthologies of poems by some of the biggest names in poetry for children (PoetryTagTime for kids, P*TAG for teens, and Gift Tag, holiday poems for all ages).

If it’s any consolation, poetry has the longest “shelf life” of all the genres, in my opinion. It has staying power. Just look at Mother Goose (1695), “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (1806), or even “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout/Would not take the garbage out” by Shel Silverstein (1974).

Poetry has legs. We just need to be sure not to cut it off at the knees by our short-sightedness!

Cynsational Notes

More on Kate Hosford

Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield,
Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to
return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
teacher, and an illustrator.

Kate is publishing three picture books with
Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant
(spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity
and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry
and middle grade novels.

She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

Revision Week at

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

Revision Week at, from March 4 to March 10, features eight prolific, bestselling, award-winning authors for a week of revision tips, insights, and stories from the trenches.

Learn from writers who turn first drafts into lauded books every day–and enter the daily drawings for Free Partial Edits and the grand prize Full Manuscript Edit giveaway.

Featured authors: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kathleen Krull, R.L. LaFevers, Nathan Bransford,
Mark A. Clements, and Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Theo Baker.

Check it out at

Interview: Laura Watkinson on Children’s-YA Book Translation

SCBWI Netherlands’ Laura at Bologna

By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laura Watkinson’s translation of Soldier Bear (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) was recently awarded the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. The award is given by the American Library Association to an American publisher for the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States and translated into English for publication in the United States.

I met Laura years ago at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair where she was representing SCBWI’s chapter in The Netherlands, and I really enjoyed learning about her work translating books.

A true story about a bear enlisted into the military would be beyond fascinating but that this took place during a world war and the bear, Voytek, traveled on such a long journey sounds like a fantasy. Have you ever read anything like it before?

I have to say that the story came as a complete surprise to me as well. I knew that army regiments sometimes have mascots, such as a goat or a dog, but a bear! I’d never heard of such a thing before.

Then I started looking into Voytek’s story and reading other books about him, and I was amazed to hear that this really was a true story. There are photographs of him and even short pieces of film footage on YouTube. It’s a fantastic story, and I’m pleased to have played a part in getting it out there.

And, of course, Voytek wasn’t the only animal in the camp. Kaska, the monkey, is also an important character, along with her baby, Kubus, and she actually existed, too. There’s a photo of the real Kaska and Kubus in the back of the book, along with the photos of Voytek.

After the war, Voytek went to live in Edinburgh Zoo, and I found out as I was translating the book that my Scottish mother-in-law had seen this famous bear at the zoo when she was a girl. It felt good to have a very vague personal connection to Voytek. I’m related to someone who actually saw him in real life!

What a wonderful personal connection to Voytek! Voytek was actually a soldier in the Polish military, yet traveled from Iran to Italy and then to Scotland with his group. What was it like to translate about such a diverse mix of cultures in a historical and wartime setting?

Ah, incidentally, at this point I should probably comment on the spelling of the bear’s name. Technically speaking, the correct Polish spelling is “Wojtek.” However, his name was often written as “Voytek” in the English-speaking press, and we decided to retain that spelling for the book, as it’s probably easier for younger readers to handle.

Voytek’s friend Peter was also a “Piotr” in fact, but he’s often called “Peter” or “Pete” in the literature. It’s just one of those things that happen when you travel across borders and into different languages.

As for the setting, the focus of the book is on Voytek and his relationships with his friends and fellow soldiers and the other animals on the camp. He travels in a bubble, as part of a gang. There’s definitely a sense of moving and different environments in the book, though, and you can follow his movements on the maps: he travels a long way from his life in the desert as a cub, crossing the sea to Italy on a military ship, and serving as a soldier in Italy, before moving on to Scotland.

The most important thing is always his bond with his friends, but there are also some hilarious encounters with other people and animals. Voytek manages to capture a spy at one point (a true story) and lands himself in trouble with farmers in Italy and Scotland. His camping holiday with his friends in Italy was one of my favourite episodes. That poor goose!

Kathleen Merz who edited Soldier Bear wrote that the process of acquiring a book to be translated comes first with a synopsis and sample chapters provided by the publisher and next a readers report from a translator who speaks both languages. Do you ever create these reader reports for publishers? If so can you tell us about the process? 

Yes, the typical route to translation will involve a report from a reader who is familiar with both languages and cultures, the source and the target. I write a number of these reports every year for various publishers in the U.K., U.S. and Australia. They’re usually a page or two, no longer than three pages, and will include a summary of the plot and the reader’s impression of the strengths and possible weaknesses of the book.

As a translator, I comment on whether I think the book would translate well or if there might be some cultural or linguistic issues that would prove tricky to get across.

I also like to provide a survey of how well the book has been received in its home country and in any other translations that have already come out.

One children’s-YA editor stressed to me that she’s particularly interested in hearing about the emotional impact of the book: what feeling does it leave you with?

She’s right. I often feel that my emotions on putting the book down are a good indicator of my feelings about the book as a whole – and whether I’d like to translate that particular book!

As a translator, it’s always best to read the actual book before you get started on the translation, so that you can form your own impression. I don’t need to see the reports; they’re just intended for the publishers.

Perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that these reports aren’t only written by translators, but also by interested readers who have an understanding of both markets. It’s just that translators are an obvious choice for the job, but often I’ll end up translating a book that I haven’t written a report on.

It’s a funny old process. The publishers from the various houses meet at the book fairs in, say, Bologna or Frankfurt and discuss the books that sound like interesting options for translation.

However, it’s most often the case that the English-speaking publisher can’t read the book in the original language, so they have to call in someone they trust for another opinion. Often, at this stage, they don’t even have sample translations to go on, so they have to rely on the reader.

One literary publisher is taking a new approach to the issue of acquiring titles for translation. And Other Stories led by Stefan Tobler, has formed reading groups to focus on particular languages. The groups read a number of books in the foreign language and then discuss the titles to see if there are any books that they’d like to put forward for translation. It seems like a great approach for finding good new books and means that the publisher doesn’t have to rely on just one or two readers’ opinions, which has to be healthy.

I haven’t heard of anyone doing something similar for children’s books though. Might be a fun idea!

Your experience includes translating a wonderful variety of books from novels for children and adults, graphic novels and nonfiction. What is the process like to make a work come to life in a new language?

Learn more about Laura.

When I’m translating, I translate what the author writes and aim to reflect the voice and atmosphere that he or she has chosen.

I read, think, put words down on the page, ponder, come back again, tweak, polish – pretty much the same process as most writers, I think.

However, you do of course have the figure of the author lurking in the background.

You have a responsibility to that person and you want to make certain that you do justice to their words, which sometimes involves asking for second opinions from friends and other translators, and perhaps getting in touch with the author if he or she is still alive.

What languages do you speak? Do you translate between each of these languages?

Hmm, well, probably about 80% of my translation work is from Dutch. I translate a wide variety of texts from Dutch, from children’s books and graphic novels to literature and texts about art. I’m probably more connected to the Dutch language and publishers because I live in Amsterdam.

However, I’ve also translated a number of children’s books from Italian and the occasional piece from German. German was always my first foreign language – it’s what I studied at school and university. I’ve also lived in various places in Germany, for about four years in total.

I only ever translate from the foreign language into my native tongue. There are plenty of native speakers of Dutch who can do a far better of translating into Dutch than I can! They’ve been speaking the language all their lives, after all.

What are the best and worst things about working as a translator? Is it solitary work like writing? What would you say is the difference between writing and translating?

Zorba guards the writing space.

Best thing: you get to work with books. I’ve always been a big reader and it’s wonderful to work with stories professionally. It’s always interesting to help bring different cultures together.

And most of the other translators, authors and publishers are really great people to work with, too, which is a huge plus point about the job.

I also love the fact that it’s a job you can do anywhere. I was recently translating a book about Berlin, and I took my laptop off to Berlin and spent six weeks there doing research and working on the translation.

Worst thing: it’s possibly the lack of recognition. Reading some reviews, you might think that a book gets magically translated into English at the press of a button in Google Translate.

I think that perhaps the funniest – you have to laugh – review of a translated book I ever saw included a great long list of facts at the beginning, including the name of the author (of course), publisher (yes), price (okay…), number of pages (hmm), font (maybe interesting from a design point of view), and type of paper used (huh?), but neglected entirely to mention the name of the translator, i.e. the person who had written every single word of the book that was being reviewed.

I laughed – and then I wrote a note to point out the critic’s omission. They were very apologetic, but said that it hadn’t actually occurred to them to mention the translator’s name. Sigh.

And then there are the occasions when the perceived weaknesses of a book are blamed on the translator. There’s honestly only so much you can tweak when you’re translating a book. You have various options at word and sentence level and you can spot consistency issues, but plot and character issues are generally out of the translator’s hands.

It’s so frustrating to see that tired old “lost in translation” line trotted out when you know how much work goes into the process of translation and how many tricky issues the translator has to solve.

Visit SCBWI The Netherlands

Good and bad: yes, it’s a solitary profession like writing, but I don’t mind that so much. It can be a little difficult though, when you suddenly find yourself in company after a few days of battling away with a text and it feels as though you’ve forgotten how to talk properly to real people. You can find yourself getting a little too excited! Wheee!

Translators are a pretty friendly bunch, though, and a bunch of us use Facebook as a kind of water cooler, for sharing our news and just chatting about translation problems and other stuff.

Goodness knows how translators ever coped before the internet came along! And, of course, organisations like SCBWI are also fantastic for meeting other people who are enthusiastic about great stories and books.

Soldier Bear has certainly been recognized. How did you find out that this book had been awarded the Mildred L. Batchelder Award? What it is like to be an award winner?

Well, strictly speaking, the award goes to the publishing house, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, as recognition for their work in publishing translated books, but I’m delighted to have been involved in the process and so pleased that the book has been recognized by the American Library Association.

I heard about the award when Kathleen Merz from Eerdmans dropped me an excited email. It completely blew me away, as I had no idea that Soldier Bear was even up for the Batchelder. It had felt like just any other Monday afternoon up until that point.

Anyway, I was just in the middle of responding to Kathleen (I’m sure there were lots of exclamation marks involved…) when my SCBWI friend Roxie Munro messaged me and posted on Facebook to ask if I’d heard about the award. There was then a bit of a party on my Facebook page, and my husband and I went out for a couple of glasses of champagne that night.

Bibi Dumon Tak, the author of Soldaat Wojtek, the original Dutch book, also got in touch, which was actually our first contact. Of course, we’re both absolutely delighted that the bear is a winner.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you are working on now?

I’m currently translating a wonderful middle-grade book for Enchanted Lion in Brooklyn. It’s called Mr. Orange, and it’s written by a Dutch writer called Truus Matti and set in New York during the Second World War.

Linus, the protagonist, is a boy whose father runs a fruit and vegetable store. One of the customers on Linus’s fruit delivery route is an artist with whom he develops a close friendship. Linus calls him Mr. Orange, because of all the oranges he orders, but we later find out that he is in fact the artist Mondrian. Matti subtly tells the reader about just how innovative Mondrian’s art was, but she also creates a wonderfully rounded character in Linus through her depiction of his relationships with his friends and family, particularly his big brother, who has gone off to fight in Europe.

Comic books and superheroes are also very important to Linus and his brother, which is an element of the story that I’m really enjoying.

Mr. Orange sounds like it is packed with great characters. Can you recommend any resources for people who would like to know more about becoming a translator?

I’m a member of the Society of Authors, which has a section for translators (Translators’ Association) and also a children’s/YA section, CWIG, the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group.  And, of course, there’s SCBWI. Both memberships are very useful, for professional advice and support from other writers/translators.

This free downloadable book on literary translation also gives a good overview of the profession for anyone who is thinking of making the leap (scroll down for the PDF).

I also have a list of links on my website.

Translation is a great profession to work in. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys getting really, really wrapped up in stories.

Thanks so much for the interview, Angela. Hope to see you again in Amsterdam soon! Hey, how about paying another visit to our SCBWI chapter?

Laura, thank you for sharing your expertise. I dream of visiting Amsterdam again someday!

Cynsational Notes

Interview with Translator Laura Watkinson by Sarah Blake Johnson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “In this case of a picture book, that’s nice and easy – the translator
produces a translation of the whole text and the American publisher has
access to both the pictures and story and can assess the book there and
then. …if a foreign-language publisher is trying to sell something
like a YA novel, it makes little financial sense for them to have the
whole book translated and time is also an issue, so they’ll usually have
just an excerpt translated to take along to the book fair.”

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric physical therapist by day.

Her debut novel The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011) was selected for VOYA’s Top of the Top Shelf 2011 and Top Shelf for Middle Grade Readers 2011.

She is the Assistant International Advisor for SCBWI and regularly attends the Frankfurt and Bologna Book Fairs.

When she’s not writing, Angela enjoys eating, climbing in caves and
jumping off cliffs. She lives in Europe with her husband, two
daughters, a big black cat, a little white dog and a talking parrot.

Angela covers the children’s-YA book scene in Europe and beyond for Cynsations. Read an interview with Angela.

Giveaway: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter for a chance to win:

  • a signed hardcover copy of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2012);
  • a trivia book Donna used during research for the novel;
  • and an awesome “Nerd Power” pin, which no self-respecting nerd should be without.
  • (Sumo wrestler not included.)

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST March 26.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

Olivia Bean knows trivia. She watches “Jeopardy!” every night and usually beats at least one of the contestants. If she were better at geography, she would try out for the show’s kids’ week. Not only could she win bundles of money, she’d get to go to the taping in California, where her dad–who left two years ago and who Olivia misses like crazy–lives with his new family.

One day Olivia’s friend-turned-nemesis, Tucker, offers to help her bulk up her geography knowledge. Before Olivia knows it, she’s getting help from all sorts of unexpected sources: her almost-stepdad, superannoying Neil; her genius little brother, Charlie; even her stressed-out mom. 

Soon she has breezed through the audition rounds and is headed for Hollywood! But will the one person she wants to impress more than anyone else show up to support her? 

More Giveaways

Enter to win one of three copies of Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelisky (Greenwillow, 2012) from Kelly Bingham. Deadline: March 31. Note: Z Is for Moose has received six starred reviews. Source: Leda Schubert.

Enter to win a copy of Firelight or Vanish, both by Sophie Jordan (Harper) from Cynsations. To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Please specify if you already own one of the books and are looking to win the other. Or email Cynthia directly with “Firelight,” “Vanish” or “Firelight/Vanish,” if you’re
open to winning both, in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST March 5.

Enter to win an ARC of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion) from P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Peek: “This is the kind of adventure I would have desperately wanted to go on as a kid (or heck, even as an adult). It’s smart and witty and 100% engaging!” Deadline: 11:59 p.m. March 3. Eligibility: North America.

3000 Thank Yous Giveaway from Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Enter to win books by Janice Hardy, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, and one of 10 pre-release copies of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Guide to Character Expression. Deadline: March 12.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Reminder! 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature
from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “To celebrate children’s authors and
illustrators of color, during the twenty-eight days of Black History
Month, we’ll profile a different artist (each day).” See Day 24: Sofia Quintero, Day 25: Malorie Blackman, Day 26: Alice Faye Duncan, Day 27: Elizabeth Zunon, Day 28: Margaree King Mitchell, and Day 29: Meet the Brown Bookshelf: Paula Chase Hyman, Crystal Allen, Don Tate, Gwendolyn Hooks, Tameka Fryer Brown, Kelly Starling Lyons &
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Check out the whole series!

Character Trait Entry: Diplomatic by Angela Ackerman
from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Astrophil, Petra’s tin spider (Cabinet
of Wonders); Alfred Pennyworth (Batman); Minerva McGonagall (Harry

Writing Guys: Tips from YA Author Jennifer R. Hubbard
from Laurel Garver at Laurel’s Leaves. Peek: “…there are real
cultural differences. In our world, for example, aggression is still
encouraged, or at least tolerated, far more in boys than in girls. On
the other hand, talking about emotions is expected more of girls.”

Business: E-Books & Libraries – What’s the Vision? by Lee Wind from the Official SCBWI Blog. Note: a quick-hit roundup of relevant, ongoing considerations.

Who Thinks Picture Books are Just for Kids?
by Anna Cavallo from Lerner Publishing Group. Peek: “Picture books
texts, whether rhyming or not, involve a certain poetry. The more
limited the text, the more thought put in to each word selected and the
weaving of those words into a narrative.”

2012-2013 Tejas Star Book Award List
from Regional One Education Center. Peek: “…to promote reading in general and for readers to discover the cognitive and economic benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism. All the children of Texas will have the opportunity to select their favorite book from the Tejas Star list….” Source: Lupe Ruiz-Flores.

New Mexico Centennial Author Series by Rebecca Donnelly from The Chained Library. Featured authors include: Jan Thomas, Katherine B. Hauth, Uma Krishnaswami, Caroline Starr Rose, and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Figment will acquire inkpop, the teen writing community from HarperCollins. Peek: “As Figment continues to establish itself as the premier creative social site for teens and young adults, this acquisition represents a major leap forward for us.”

The Writing Process by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “For me, character and plot aren’t completely separate entities. Rather, they are two points on a continuum. Some stories will lean closer to the character side, while others will lean nearer to the plot end.”

Help Is Here: Eliminating Author Anxiety by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “I found some blog posts by agents and former agents that will lower your
blood pressure, reduce your writing anxiety, make you more
optimistic–and maybe even make you laugh.”

Breaking Stalin’s Nose: Author Book Reading from Audio in which Eugene Yelchin introduces and shares some of the backstory for creating Breaking Stalin’s Nose.

Alliteration Always Annoys by Mary Kole from Peek: “A lot of people seem to think that the bulk of their characterizing work
or word choice craft in picture books comes down to alliterating. And
that’s it. Just name him Sammy Skunk and kick up your feet because your
work here is done! Right? Not quite.”

Weenies Topical & Literary Index from David Lubar. Peek: “Yes, there are anthropomorphic hot dogs on the covers, but they conceal a broad and deep variety of short fiction….find the perfect story for any classroom need.”

A Brief History of the Children’s Picture Book and the Art of Visual Storytelling by Maria Popova from The Atlantic. Note: “From cave paintings to Maurice Sendak, a look at the masters of the form.”

More Author Insight: Coveted Characters from Wastepaper Prose. Several authors chime in on the question: What character in any book do you wish you had written?

Build a More Effective Author Website from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Every author website should include these elements, whether on the homepage or elsewhere.”

Guest Editor Melissa Wiley on Facebook vs. Google as Author Tools from Peek: “At this point, however, Google+ users tend to be early adopters and
tech-lovers; it’s a smaller audience and you may find it harder to
connect with readers there.”


Golden Kite & Sid Fleischman Awards from SCBWI.  The 2012 Golden Kite Award winner for fiction is Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel); the nonfiction award winner is Amelia Lost: The Life And Disappearance Of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade); the award winner for picture book text is Over And Under The Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle), the award winner for picture book illustration is Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin), and the Sid Fleischman Award For Humor goes to The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander (HarperCollins). See The Official SCBWI Blog by Lee Wind for details.

Cynsational Blogger Tip: any time you mention a book, be sure to include the publisher’s name. This information can be quite helpful to event planners, librarians, and readers seeking more information and resources. 

Notes on Building Characters by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! Key considerations.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Middle Grade and Were Willing to Ask: a conversation between literary agent Michael Bourret and editor Molly O’Neill from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Peek: “…there can be a fine line between stories that feel familiar and those
that feel, well, dull. This is a big reason I often encourage my authors
to push past their initial ideas and explore the unknown creative wilds
beyond the very first idea/solution/problem/mystery/story point/etc
that they think of – because often the really fresh ideas live deep in
writer’s minds, not at the very forefront.”

Interview: Trend Spotter: A Sneak Peek at 2012’s Top Kids’ Books by Laura Weiss from School Library Journal. Peek: “Nonfiction is the most requested genre, specifically, science,
biographies, and history. We also get many requests for graphic novels
and fantasies and, for high schools, historical fiction.” Notes: (a) an interview with Susan Marston, editorial director of Junior Library Guild (JLG), (b) Susan mentions YA historical fiction, but Cynsations is seeing an uptick in middle grade historicals as well. Check out some of this week’s new voices posts, for examples.

Feeling Festive? Check out the February Carnival of Children’s Literature from The Fourth Musketeer. See also This Week for Writers: Our Favorite Articles & Blog Posts from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Firelight or Vanish, both by Sophie Jordan (Harper). To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Please specify if you already own one of the books and are looking to win the other. Or email Cynthia directly with “Firelight,” “Vanish” or “Firelight/Vanish,” if you’re open to winning both, in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST March 5.

Enter to win an ARC of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith from P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Peek: “This is the kind of adventure I would have desperately wanted to go on as a kid (or heck, even as an adult). It’s smart and witty and 100% engaging!” Deadline: 11:59 p.m. March 3. Eligibility: North America.

3000 Thank Yous Giveaway from Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Enter to win books by Janice Hardy, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, and one of 10 pre-release copies of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Guide to Character Expression. Deadline: March 12.

Cynsational Screening Room 

In the video below, the Asian American Author Series celebrates author-illustrator Grace Lin. 

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

More Personally

Great news! Alfa Basim Yayim Dagitim in Istanbul has bought Turkish-language rights to Tantalize and Eternal. Thanks to my newest international publisher and my literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Beyond that, I thrilled to report that my revised draft of “Smolder” is off to my Candlewick editor, Deborah Wayshak. Yesterday’s highlight was receiving an email from Deb calling me “the world’s BEST reviser” and saying that the revision had a “grand polish.” It’s off to the copy editor!

Smolder will be book 1 in the spin-off series; feel the heat! Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen.

My current focus is preparing for my upcoming trip, reading student manuscripts, and helping Greg Leitich Smith prepare for the Chronal Engine Launch Party on March 24 at BookPeople.

Personal Links: 

From Greg Leitich Smith:

About Greg Leitich Smith:

Dino-Mite! An Exclusive Interview with Greg Leitich Smith by Susan VanHecke  from Authorlink. Peek: “I had to pick a time and place and ecosystem. Fortunately, I knew enough
by then that Texas had a terrific Late Cretaceous dinosaur population
including tyrannosaurs and some of the last sauropods, like Alamosaurus. It also had some amazing non-dinosaur fauna.”

Book Reviews and More says of Chronal Engine: “It was incredibly well written. I found it hard to put the book down the few times that I had to while reading it. The characters were amazing, and the loops in the story and the logic behind them was stunning. The way Greg has scripted this story sets it up for a number of wonderful reads in the same world.” More on Chronal Engine.

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at an Alamosa Books Author Event from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 7 in Albuquerque.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith on March 10 and March 10 at Tuscon Festival of Books. Panels: from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 10 “Blood and Kisses: Paranormal Romance with Courtney Rene and Aprilynne Pike,” followed by signing and from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 11 “What’s New & Who’s Reading Now? with Janni Lee Simner, R.L. Stine & Aprilynne Pike,” followed by signing.

Greg Leitich Smith will launch Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012) at 2 p.m. March 24 at BookPeople in Austin. The program will include an author presentation and refreshments. Pre-order the book.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors, which will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia this summer? Try the 13 Annual Conference of Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers from June 18 to June 22 in Sandy, Utah; the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference from July 11 to July 15 in Southampton, New York; or the 17th Annual Postgraduate Writing Conference from Aug. 13 to Aug. 19 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. See more of Cynthia’s upcoming events.

Note: Due to volume, I can’t feature the author/illustrator events of all of my Cynsational readers, but if you’re Austin bound for an appearance here, let me
know, and I’ll try to work in a shout out or two.

Join Cynthia from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 7 in Albuquerque

New Voice: Debra McArthur on A Voice for Kanzas

Debra with Midge, Italian Greyhound and writing helper

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Debra McArthur is the first-time novelist of A Voice for Kanzas (Kane Miller, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy: 

“Kanzas” Territory in 1855 is a difficult place to settle, particularly for a 13-year-old poet like Lucy Thomkins. 

Between the pro-slavery Border Ruffians and Insiders like her father who are determined to make Kansas a free state (not to mention the snakes and the dust storms), it’s hard to be heard, no matter your age.

But after Lucy makes two new friends – a local Indian boy and a girl whose family helps runaway slaves – she makes choices to prove to herself and others that words and poems are meaningless without action behind them.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Writing historical fiction is a real challenge. I wanted the story to be authentic to 1855 Lawrence, Kansas, and I always imagined a historian reader who would be looking for anachronisms.

I had previously written a history book on the subject, so I felt pretty well grounded—at least until I got started.

Even the smallest details required research. What kind of shoes did they wear? What kind of pen would Lucy use? What kinds of merchandise would be in Lucy’s father’s store?

I had to do research every single day as I wrote the first draft. I used a lot of materials from the Kansas State Historical Society, including newspapers, photos, and other documents. I read literature of the time and considered how Lucy would respond to what she read. I visited the Steamboat Arabia Museum to look at the collection there. I used online resources like Territorial Kansas Online. I interviewed historical re-enactors about horses, wagons, and Sharp’s rifles. I visited Lawrence and walked down Massachusetts Street, looking for historical markers and imagining where Lucy’s store would be.

But the biggest breakthrough was a single document. I had been working on the book for a couple of years when I found “Information for Kanzas Immigrants,” a pamphlet published by the Boston Emigrant Aid Society in 1855. That document really helped me find the focus for the book, and it helped me know Lucy’s real story.

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react?

More about Louise Hawes.

My mentor Louise Hawes suggested that I submit to Kane Miller. I don’t have an agent, so I simply went to their website to read their submission guidelines. I followed their instructions and submitted the first two chapters in July 2010, with a return envelope.

Two months later, I received my brown envelope back with an invitation to send the whole manuscript. One day in November, I remember thinking “It should be about time for my rejection letter to arrive.”

A few days later, I was visiting my parents in my hometown when I opened my email to find a message from the editor, Kira Lynn. “Yup,” I thought, “Here’s that rejection.”

But the first line of the message said “We’d like to offer…” and I couldn’t move. I read the message three times through, thinking I was surely misinterpreting something here.

When I finally realized it was really an offer to publish my book, I went downstairs to tell my dad. He was watching a basketball game on TV. He turned his head away from the TV a little, said “Well, that’s real nice,” and turned back to the game.

Then I knew I had to share my news with a writer. I called my friend Amy and I jumped up and down while she screamed into the phone. I could hear her husband cheering in the background.

When I hung up, I thought, That’s more like it.

Then I called my husband to tell him.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

By Debra (Marshall Cavendish, 2009)

I’ve always juggled writing around my full-time job. When I began writing nonfiction books in 2000, I also did volunteer work at my church, I was a Girl Scout leader, and my daughter was doing Irish Dance competitively.

I wrote during my lunch hours at work. I took my research materials with me when I drove my daughter to her dance class across town, then sat in the back seat of my car during her class to write.

You know how the doctor’s nurse always takes you to the examination room, gives you a gown, then leaves you there to sit for 20 or 30 minutes?

My doctor was pretty surprised to come into the room and find me with 3 x 5 cards spread out on the examining table as I outlined a chapter in my notebook!

When you don’t have time, you have to find time and make time. You can’t wait for your muse to show up. You have to invite her in, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.

Illustrator Video: Kevin Henkes

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations
Source: HarperKids

Award-winning, New York Times best-selling author and illustrator Kevin Henkes shows us his childhood drawings and paintings, talks about creating such memorable characters as Lilly and Owen, and demonstrates his illustration process.

Award-winning and New York Times best-selling author and illustrator Kevin Henkes introduces us to his newest mouse, Penny! The Penny series is perfect for brand-new readers and starts off with Penny and Her Song (Harper, Feb. 28, 2012).