The 10th Anniversary of Indian Shoes

My “grandpa” book.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Indian Shoes (HarperCollins) celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. The chapter book, illustrated by Jim Madsen, is a collection of humorous, touching short stories, celebrating the daily life of a young boy, Ray, and his Grampa Halfmoon–their adventures in the city of Chicago and tribal town Oklahoma.

Though urban Indians make up the majority of the Native community in the United States, Indian Shoes is one of very, very few children’s books that reflect that experience.

Authors tend to have themes in our work, and “inter-generational relationships” would be near the top of my list. I tend to think of my first book, Jingle Dancer, as my “grandma” book and Indian Shoes as my “grandpa” book. However, Aunt Georgia from Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Nora from the Tantalize series clearly carry on that tradition.

That said, Indian Shoes is the book I dedicated to my grandparents. I’m honored that it’s still connecting with young readers. Thanks to all for your support.

Indian Shoes Reviews & Resources

My “grandma” book.

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

CCBC: “An excellent collection of interrelated short stories will appeal to newly independent young readers ready to tackle one or more of these accessible stories.”

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

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

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

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

BookPage: “Images of sitting around the kitchen table with the smell of bacon frying are almost palpable, and the relationship between these two [Ray and Grampa] is as heartwarming to see as an old family photo album.”

Check out the Indian Shoes Reading Guide and the free Indian Shoes Readers Theater.

Writers & Illustrators! Is there an Indian college or community center or nation in the region served by your SCBWI chapter?
Next time you’re promoting an event, please consider sending a flyer or a few
brochures to the local Native community. Reach out, welcome, encourage.

See also The 10th Anniversary of Rain Is Not My Indian Name: Reflections on a Debut Novel (book trailer below) and The 10 Anniversary of Jingle Dancer.

Shayne Leighton | Myspace Video

Summer Reading Giveaway: Signed Diabolical Bookmarks

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

YA book fans & librarians, summer reading is almost upon us!

Librarians, enter to win one of three sets of five signed Diabolical
bookmarks & a Tantalize series button! Please indicate your affiliation (the specific school(s), public library/system) in your entry. 

YA readers! I’m also happy to send up to five individual signed bookmarks!

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 “Diabolical” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: midnight CST May 14.

Interview: Emma Walton Hamilton on the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference

Emma Walton Hamilton & Peter H. Reynolds

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

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…”

What is the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference?

The Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, now in its fourth year, is a unique forum in which to study and discuss the craft of writing for children.

Sponsored by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, the conference offers inspiration, training and guidance to aspiring and established authors through workshops, lectures, panel discussions and special presentations led by world-renowned authors, illustrators and editors.

The conference is located in the Hamptons, at the Eastern End of New York’s Long Island, and is offered in two sessions: a five-day session one (from July 11to July 15) and a ten-day session two (YA only – from July 18 to July 29.)

During session one, participants will have the opportunity to workshop picture books with bestselling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, middle grade novels with bestselling/Horn Book award-winning author Kate McMullan and young adult novels with none other than you, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Greg Leitich Smith.

In session two, the YA novel workshop will be led by National Book Award finalist and ALA Best Book of the Year award-winning YA author Patricia McCormick.

Patricia McCormick workshop.

How did you come to be involved in the conference?

My first involvement with the conference was as a guest presenter, and later as faculty member, teaching picture book writing. I began working full time for Stony Brook Southampton in 2009 as executive director of the Young American Writers Project, an outreach program to area middle and high schools, and was invited to takeover the directorship of the Children’s Literature Conference soon thereafter. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!

Could you tell us a little about the history of the conference?

The Southampton Writers Conference, as it was long known, began in 1976 with just a few offerings in fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Over the three and a half decades since, it has gradually grown to include dozens of creative writing workshops across multiple mediums, and serving hundreds of participants annually.

Creative writing in this area has a long and distinguished history. The Hamptons are a renowned resort area only 80 miles from New York City, so writers, artists and entertainers have been summering here for over a century. The area’s literary legacy stretches back through Kurt Vonnegut and Elizabeth Hardwick to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck and even Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose father was a 19th-century minister in East Hampton.

Because of this, the program has been able to attract world-class authors to its faculty, authors who are also experienced, accessible teachers. The late Frank McCourt was a beloved member of the summer faculty for a decade, and the equally beloved regular faculty includes Billy Collins, Meg Wolitzer and Roger Rosenblatt.

The Children’s Literature Conference was added to the summer offerings in 2008, and our stellar faculty members and guest presenters over these four short years have been no less prestigious: Arlene Alda, Chris Barton, Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Amy Krouse-Rosenthal, Leonard S. Marcus, Kate and Jim McMullan, Margaret McMullan, Tor Seidler, Gahan Wilson and Ed Young, to name just a few.

2011 faculty Peter H. Reynolds, Chris Barton, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Tor Seidler, Patricia McCormick

Last summer, Rocco Staino of School Library Journal visited the conference and wrote in a subsequent article, “If you’re dreaming of becoming the next J. K. Rowling, we’ve got the perfect place for you—the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference!”

What can participants expect from the workshops?

Workshops are the heart and soul of the conference experience. Enrollment is limited to 12 lucky writers, who spend their mornings workshopping their manuscripts in an intimate, rigorous and friendly setting. Each workshop has its own focus and tone as set by the teacher, but generally speaking there is a lively balance of writing, reading and group discussion.

Afternoon and evening hours are devoted to electives – lectures, readings, performances and panel discussions featuring faculty members and distinguished guests. Participants also enjoy a rich schedule of formal and informal social gatherings— author receptions, an open-mic night, breakfasts, lunches and dinners under the tent, and a few surprises.

During free time, participants can visit the beautiful Atlantic beaches or explore charming nearby towns. Courtesy shuttles run regularly to the beach and downtown Southampton.

What highlights of past conferences come to mind?

The Children’s Literature Conference runs concurrently with the Southampton Playwriting and Screenwriting Conferences, as well as with other workshops in poetry, memoir, novel and creative non-fiction, so the synergy is rich. There are many exciting crossover events featuring well-known authors, playwrights, and filmmakers.

We’ve had the privilege of seeing readings and workshops of plays in development that subsequently go on to receive professional productions (including “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “Flat Stanley”), as well as enjoying performances and presentations from such distinguished guests as Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, James Salter and Julie Andrews.

A big highlight each year is the participant readings on the final morning. This is where everyone shares the work they have been developing all week, and it’s a marathon – but it’s thrilling and galvanizing. The amount of talent on display just takes your breath away.

Do you have any success stories to share?

More than we have the space or time for! But by way of example, two-time conference attendee Susan Verde just signed a deal for her first picture book to be published by Abrams, and which will be illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds – whom she met when she attended his workshop last summer.

Tell us about the facilities, dining, setting, etc.?

The Stony Brook Southampton campus is located in Southampton, NY, the heart of the Hamptons – a beautiful and renowned resort area on the East End of Long Island.

The campus is verdant and airy, and the classrooms are light-filled and spacious. Weather permitting, all meals are held under a large hospitality tent outdoors, and catered by an excellent local catering company.

Andrea Davis Pinkney at the buffet.
Lunch and readings in the tent.

There are several lovely spaces for larger gatherings and presentations: the Avram Theatre, the Duke Lecture Hall and the Radio Lounge.

Attendees at Duke Lecture Hall.

Most attendees stay in the college’s dorm accommodations, which are Spartan, but neat and clean. The rooms are generally double occupancy with a small selection of singles available for an additional price. They have occupant-controlled air conditioning and internet connections, and there are TVs in the common rooms along with vending machines. Some attendees prefer to stay off campus, and there are several hotels and motels in the area in different price ranges.

There is a fitness room equipped with cardio equipment and some weights as well as a beach volleyball court and tennis courts. And of course, the famed Hampton beaches and historic villages are just a short shuttle ride away.

What is the cost? Is financial aid available?

The cost – which includes graduate credit, if desired – is as follows:

Session 1, ON-campus (tuition, room & board): $1655

Session 1, OFF-campus (tuition & partial board – breakfast & lunch): $1355

Session 2, ON-campus (tuition, room & board): $2595

Session 2, OFF-campus (tuition & partial board – breakfast & lunch): $1875

Sessions 1 & 2 combined, with bridge housing: $4550

The optional Single Room Guarantee is $375/session (non-refundable).

Some partial scholarships are available.

What do you love about the conference?

The faculty and staff enjoy themselves as much as the participants do! They often sit in on elective sessions, readings and other special events, so it’s not unusual to look around and see Jules Feiffer or Billy Collins sitting next to you in the audience. 

Also, everyone is encouraged to cross over and explore other mediums, so we have poets taking acting classes or playwrights sitting in on children’s lit electives or poetry readings. The cross-pollination is rich and provides for a truly unique creative experience.

What’s new and exciting for summer 2012?

A lot! This is the first year we’ve offered two sessions to choose from. We’re also – by popular demand – adding an extra workshop for Session 1, so there will be a total of four workshops across the five days as opposed to three.

In addition, new workshops in our sister conferences include Visual Arts, Digital Film-Making, Acting, Poetry and more, all of which will provide enormous enrichment and crossover opportunities.

Participants can visit to see the full scope of what will be on offer concurrently with the Childrens Lit Conference. It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime experience… though having said that, many attendees return year after year!

Cynsational Notes

Study with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference from July 11 to July 15 in Southampton, New York.

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Emma.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enchanted Interview: Bethany Griffin, author of Masque of the Red Death by Elizabeth C. Bunce from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “I’m terrified of all reptiles, more snakes than anything, but having killer crocodiles roaming the streets was terrifying to me, and repulsive, so I threw it in there!”

Writing to Answer Your Central Question by Barbara O’Neal
from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “What it took was not shirking away from taking another step into my central question, allowing the writing to carry me deeper.”

Are We Underestimating Children? by Katherine Langrish from Seven Miles of Steel Thistles. Peek: “Friends of mine who are children’s authors were recently having a conversation about words their editors had asked them to alter, or explain, on the grounds that children would be puzzled by them.”

Perfecting Your First Page: Three Tips or Exercises from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Here are three of the best exercises or tasks you might undertake when thinking about your first page and how you can improve it before sending
it to agents or editors.”

Character Trait Entry: Persistent by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “…stubbornly continuing on, despite opposition, difficulty, or danger.”

Adjusting Expectations for Conferences and Critiques by Mary Kole from Peek: “Expect great things, but don’t require them. Screw your determination to its sticking place, and get into this game to learn and grow as a writer.”

Interview: Editor Stacy Whitman of Tu Books/Lee & Low and Kimberly Pauley, author of Cat Girl’s Day Off by Ellen Oh from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: ” I have to say that what I loved about Cat Girl was Nat, your main character, and how you just nailed her voice. She was alive in my head as I was reading. She made me snort Diet Coke out of my nose.” Note: Comment at the link for a chance to win one of two copies.

Beware of the Perils of Social Media from Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. Peek: “Sometimes it’s simply embarrassing (like when you accidentally send a private message to the whole world). But other times, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can endanger business relationships and make your life very difficult for awhile.” Source: Stina Lindenblatt at QueryTracker.netBlog.

SingTel Asian Picture Book Award: to be launched at the 2012 Asian Festival of Children’s Content and “presented annually starting 2013 to an outstanding unpublished picture book with an Asian theme.” Source: Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind.

The One Thing You Should Do To Sell More Books by Nick Thacker from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: “The benefits of having your work posted on another site are many. First, you’re getting exposure—for free.”

The Exclusive Query by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Here’s a thought: any agent who demands an exclusive query must feel confident that s/he is the very first agent you are going to query.”

Tips for Non-corny Romance Scenes by Deborah Halverson from Peek: “Because teens lack the words and experience to express themselves well
in romantic situations, they try to read each other’s body language and
become hyper-conscious of their own bodies. Mine that!”

Margaret J. Anderson on Publishing Out-of-Print Books as E-books by Sarah Blake Johnson from Explorations. Peek: “I do think it’s a great way to make books that might have a limited
audience available to readers. It’s hard for publishers to justify the production and storage costs for a physical book that isn’t going to jump off the shelves.” See also Debi Faulkner on the Teamwork of Indie Publishing, also from Sarah, at Through the Tollbooth.

YA Authors on Pinterest by Kirsten Hubbard from YA Highway. Peek: “It’s an easy, visually appealing way to collect book inspiration, for starters (some author pinboards are stunning).”

Associate Editor Position Available at Lee & Low. Peek: “We have an opening for an associate editor of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. Candidate must have three (3) to five (5) years experience working with illustrated books.”

Souped-Up Story Hour by Elizabeth Bluemle from PW ShelfTalker. Peek: “One of our staff members, Juanita (aka JP), suggested enhancing our weekly Wednesday morning story hours with one special visit from a Vermont picture book author or illustrator each month.”

Cheers to Mitali Perkins for establishing Twitter Book Parties! Peek: “It’s hard to believe we’re about to throw our 250th book birthday party on twitter, and even more amazing to realize that the first one took place almost three years ago. If you’re an author with a children’s or teen book releasing from a traditional publisher, feel free to sign up. Here are the details…”

Scwartz Children’s Picture Book Category.

2012 short list for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards from the Ontario Arts Council. Winners in both the children’s picture book category and the young adult/middle reader category will be announced on May 31 in Toronto. “The Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were established in 1976 by Sylvia Schwartz in memory of her sister, Ruth Schwartz, a respected Toronto bookseller. In 2004, the family renamed the awards to honour both sisters.” Source: Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

The Crime Writers of Canada announced the nominees for the 2012 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing, including the nominees for the best juvenile/young adult work. Winners (announced at a banquet on May 31)
receive a figurine of a hanged man. Source: Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

Change of Heart by Mary Kole from Peek: “A lot of the time, climactic plot moments should rub up against these instances of deep personal change.”

How to Get a Publishing Internship (In Three Steps) by Emilia Plater from YA Highway. Peek: “The process of internship-getting wasn’t easy or simple, but it was totally doable.”

What About Historical Fiction? by J. Anderson Coats from Cari’s Book Blog. Peek: “…if you like dystopian secondary worlds like these girls seemed to, let
me tell you something: the best-kept secret about history is that the
past is the ultimate secondary world.”

Process Talk: Leda Schubert and Bonnie Christensen on The Princess of Borscht by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk (Part One and Part Two). Peek from Leda: “The dream-come-true part is that Bonnie and I were in a writing group
back then, and when I read the draft, she wanted to illustrate it.”

Happy 20th Birthday, Junie B. Jones! Check out the new Junie B. facebook page!

Should You Focus on Writing or Your Platform? by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…general guidelines to help any writer understand how to balance writing with platform building.”

Character Relationships: Three Adjustments to Make by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “When a first draft is slightly off in the Show-Don’t-Tell of a relationship, how do you correct the relationship?”

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a giveaway package celebrating The Veil by Cory Putnam Oakes (Octane, 2011). The giveaway package includes: a signed copy of The Veil; a Cable Car tin full of Ghirardelli chocolates; a tin of illy coffee (medium roast); a “Caffeine Gives Me Annorasi Powers” mug (extra large, to hold extra caffeine for extra powers); and “I *HEART* Luc” stickers. Note: Cory says: “Ghirardelli Square and caffeine are both very important in The Veil.”

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.Or email Cynthia directly with “The Veil” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 7.

Enter to win a signed, personalized copy of Puzzled by Pink by Sarah Frances Hardy (Viking, 2012). 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. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 2. Note: Plan your own Puzzled by Pink Birthday Party, featuring party plans, tips, crafts, activities, printable invitation and more!

Congratulations, Elizabeth & Patricia!

The winners of the prize packages celebrating Robot Zombie Frankenstein! by Annette Simon (Candlewick, 2012) were Elizabeth in Georgia and Patricia in California.

Poetry lovers! Enter to win a signed copy of A Suitcase of Seaweed and/or one of three signed copies of The Declaration of Interdependence, all by Janet Wong, from Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. Deadline: noon EDT April 28.

YA readers! P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth is giving away a copy of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber (Houghton Mifflin). Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: 12:01 a.m. May 5.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I’m thrilled to have been named the first Spirit of Texas featured author for high schools at last week’s conference of the Texas Library Association in Houston. See my full report on the conference.

If you are a middle school/high school author or illustrator from Texas, currently living in Texas or having published a book set in Texas, don’t miss the information on registering for the SPOT speaker directory under “notes.”

Thanks again to TLA, especially YART/the SPOT committee, the Permabound team, Candlewick Press, my co-panelists, and everyone who came to my signings and panels! Congrats again to SPOT middle school author, Andrea White!

Remember Shayne Leighton, creator of several of my book trailers, including the most recent one for Diabolical? She and Frantisek Mach have launched Kino Pictures, offering photography, music videos, web design, film production & development, and graphic design. Congratulations Shayne and Frantisek!

Don’t miss: Writing Links from Children’s & YA Lit Resources. Learn more about agents, editors and publishers, promotion, publishing, and more. See also Inspiration in Writing Children’s & YA Books.

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors,
in celebration of 100 Years of School Libraries in Austin, which will
take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in
Northeast Austin.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith this summer?

Author Interview: Sundee T. Frazier on Brendan Buckley’s Sixth Grade Experiment

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

Sundee, welcome back to Cynsations, and congratulations on the release of Brendan Buckley’s Sixth Grade Experiment (Delacorte, 2012)! The novel is a sequel to Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It (Delacorte, 2007). What inspired you to revisit the character?

Three things, actually.

One, reader response. I kept getting asked, “Will there be a sequel?” I had no plans for a sequel, so this was surprising. Nice, but surprising.

Two, I had finished The Other Half of My Heart (Delacorte, 2010) and needed a new project, but now I also had a two-and-a-half year old and a newborn. The thought of coming up with a whole new cast of characters, frankly, sounded exhausting. So, it was also a decision of convenience in a way.

Three, and without this I wouldn’t have proceeded in spite of my second reason, I returned to the first book and found that I still loved Brendan and his family (time away from them allowed me to see this!). There were also some loose threads I had unintentionally left myself that hinted at there being more to the story.

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

It was more like a slow burn than a spark, but I’d say I started working in earnest on the project in June 2009, researching possible science projects and brainstorming plot complications and scenes. I turned in my final draft in February 2011. The book was released in January 2012.

One significant event was discovering the perfect science project for Brendan. I knew Brendan was interested in the environment and earth sciences (the first book centers on his budding interest in geology). I found a great website for students looking for projects for science fairs. On the site, I answered all the questions as if I were Brendan, and they provided me with a list of projects suited just for him!

When I saw an experiment involving cow manure and two-liters (a two-liter bottle figures prominently in one scene in the first book), I knew I had the perfect project around which to build the story.

How does the story take Brendan Buckley in new directions?

Brendan is entering middle school in this book, so he’s trying to figure out a lot, about friendship, girls, his relationship with his parents (especially Dad). He’s still very likable, but as a pubescent boy he’s developed some edges, particularly in how he relates to Morgan as he wrestles with his conflicting feelings about her.

One way that Brendan surprised me (I love it when characters do this to us writers) was when I was writing the middle school dance scene and I expected him, as a science kid, to be kind of awkward, but he totally busted a move. That was a new direction I wasn’t expecting!

What thoughts do you have for writers interested in setting a story during middle school?

Previously, I had only written stories that took place during the summer. I was totally intimidated by the idea of having to create the school setting—all those kids and teachers and classes, etc., etc. (not to mention having to return to my own memories of junior high).

But writing a school story was actually a lot of fun! School is rife with drama and scene potential—think locker room showers, lunch times, classroom pranks . . .

One bit of advice is to consider how much of the school year you want to cover. My first completed draft (the one I showed my editor) took place over the whole school year. She advised that the story was spread too thin, there were too many lapses in time with no mention of what had happened, and suggested that the tension and pacing would be served by tightening it up to a few months. She was absolutely right (as usual!).

How about for those interested in writing a sequel to a previous novel?

I’d say the most important question to ask is simply, “Do you love the character and need to know what happens next in his/her life?”

Also, try not to worry too much about whether the second story will measure up to the first. I did, and it was wasted energy (I’ve already been told by one young reader he liked the second one better than the first!). You can’t assume the reader who comes to the sequel will have read the first one anyway, so the story really needs to be able to stand on its own.

Could you talk a little about your decision to feature a biracial protagonist? How did this aspect of the character manifest to you? What responses has it generated?

Brendan being biracial was never a decision to make. The drama in the first book centers on his parents’ interracial marriage, so as their biological child, Brendan was necessarily biracial. Also, being biracial has been such a salient shaper of my identity that it comes very naturally to write from this perspective.

I deeply appreciate the words of African-American novelist Paule Marshall, who said, “Once you see yourself truthfully depicted, you have a sense of your right to be in the world.”

In terms of responses to Brendan’s (and my other characters’) biracial-ness, it has been astounding. I love hearing from readers who tell me how validated they or someone they know has been by seeing a biracial main character or interracial family in one of my books.

What advice do you have for your fellow authors of color, as well as to those writing both within and across cultures?

I have a prayer I offer each time before I start writing:

“Because there will only ever be one of me, if I don’t tell the stories you give to me in the way only I can, they will never be told. So help me to be brave, and to do my work today, even when I don’t feel like it and I’m afraid what I’m writing is of no worth or value.”

The world needs our stories. So be brave, get them down, and send them out!

And for extra motivation, check out the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s data on books written by and about people of color each year (found in their “Thoughts On Publishing” summary of children’s publishing).

When I read this, it really fired me up to keep persevering in the often-difficult task of getting my stories down (see the “Multicultural Mandate” section).

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Play with my kids, of course! And make meals, wash dishes, go for the occasional run, drink a lot of tea, try to have a decent marriage . . .

I do very little housework—truly, I stall as long as my conscience will allow, basically until I’m concerned about my children contracting a disease. That, or I’m hosting guests (and sometimes not even that will move me).

I’m really looking forward to an upcoming trip to Uganda and Kenya.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m writing a younger middle grade novel (for ages 7-10) . . . possibly a
series. I like the challenge of leaner, more focused plotting, and I’m
anticipating testing it out on my almost six-year-old. Wish me luck!

Thank you for your support and particularly your efforts to promote books by and about people of color, Cynthia!

New Voice: Ben Clanton on Vote for Me!

By Ben Clanton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The idea for Vote for Me! (Kids Can, 2012) came to me on November 17, 2010 at 1:03:53 P.M. (or some time around there) when I was working on another story idea called “Don’t Eat Me!” which is about a turkey who is willing to try anything and everything to convince the reader not to eat him.

I had been thinking about what other stories this turkey might have in him (counting on him to somehow escape being eaten) and one of my thoughts was that this was the sort of turkey who might run for mayor.

But on my way to work I realized that even better than having a book in which a turkey tries to get the reader to choose him as mayor would be a book in which a donkey and an elephant (the classic party characters) compete for the reader’s vote.

Well, at least I hoped it was a better idea! It certainly felt right at the time because in the few minutes after that thought had come to me the book pretty much laid itself out in my mind. I could see Donkey on the left page with a blue background and Elephant on the right with a red background. I envisioned the gutter of the book as a natural divide between the two characters and that when that line was crossed it either would mean the characters had gone too far in insulting each other or had managed to find a way to come together. Even the small surprise at the end of the book and the bulk of the jokes came about in those initial moments.

Of course, the struggle would be to get the book to look as good as it did in my mind at that point of inspiration. Unfortunately, I think that is pretty much impossible. Those moments when an idea is first planted hold so much promise and potential that the idea really becomes more of an ideal . . . something that can only be striven for but never truly reached.

I love those moments. For me, that ideal is the best bit of making a book.


As expected, (perhaps this was self-fulfilling) trying to actually make Vote for Me! proved fairly difficult. I really struggled with the character designs. At the time, I didn’t really draw many elephants and certainly not donkeys.

For inspiration and reference, I looked at the work of such illustrators as Chris Riddell, Bob Staake, Bill Peet, and Steve Breen. You might have noticed that the majority of those I just mentioned are not only children’s book illustrators but also editorial cartoonists. I knew that I wanted the artwork to have a bit of the feel of editorial cartoons, but be fully intended for a kid audience.

Ben’s creative space.

After about a month, I finally came up with character designs I was happy with and began the process of making a mock-up. The rough drawings for the book went really quickly. The one problem was it was a bit too long. Most picture books are 32 pages long. My first mock-up was around 48 pages long. I managed to cut it to 40 and decided to see if I could interest a publisher.

I had been in contact with editor Tara Walker who was working at Kids Can Press. Tara had seen a feature about me on a fantastic blog called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and she contacted me to see if we might find a project to work on together.

I had submitted several stories and none of them were quite right for Kids Can, but when I submitted Vote for Me! we had found it . . . my first picture book.

I was thrilled (still am!). Tara had worked on some fantastic books, and I knew she could help me take the book to a new level and she did. The editing process went really smoothly.

The one big hiccup was when it came to making the final art. I usually use ink and watercolor, and I had thought that would fit for Vote for Me! but it just didn’t.

The solution ended up being drawing the characters in pencil on copy paper (something fitting about doing those characters on a cheaper material), doing watercolor on elephant poop paper, scanning, and then putting it all together in Photoshop. I had a bit over a month to do final artwork because we really wanted this book to be out for the 2012 election.

Vote for Me! children’s book from Ben and Kelsey Clanton on Vimeo.

I’m really happy with it, and I hope kids will enjoy it, too.

This is Ben Clanton, and I approve this message.

Guest Post: Kate Hosford on Writing a Picture Book Sequel

By Kate Hosford
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

What do authors need to take into consideration when writing a sequel? It seems to depend somewhat on the intended audience.

In middle grade and young adult literature, we often expect the unresolved action at the end of the first book to pique our curiosity for the second.

Picture book sequels, however, do not continue the action from the previous book. Instead, the author usually takes the protagonist from the previous story and simply places her in a new adventure. This seems appropriate for a younger child who would rather have her book represent an entire world.

Without unresolved action as a device, what can a picture book author do to make sure that a sequel is more than a thinly veiled rehashing of the first book? I decided to deal with this challenge by putting my protagonist in a more outrageous situation in the second book.

In my first book Big Bouffant, (Carolrhoda/Lerner 2011) Annabelle is determined to have a bouffant, and will not stop until she has one. In Big Birthday, (Carolrhoda/Lerner 2012) Annabelle goes for broke and decides to host her birthday party on the moon.

A young Kate.

On a personal level, the moon birthday resonated with some of the more unrealistic plans I have dreamed up in my life, like the time I decided to make my husband a quilt two weeks before our wedding, even though I don’t sew, or my urge to try new complicated recipes when guests come over, even if I have never made them before.

What could go wrong at a moon birthday, and how would Annabelle react?

However, I also knew that it was crucial to have many aspects of the sequel remain just as they were in Big Bouffant.

Children understand this as well. When I asked several classes of third graders what an author needs to write a good sequel, it became clear that they understood the importance of a little change grounded by a lot of consistency.

Here is their advice:

Use the same main character in the sequel as you did in the first book.
Change the plot but not the personality of the main character
Use the same style of writing; like if you are rhyming, use the same rhyming pattern.
Make sure the illustrator makes the main character look the same and uses the same illustration style.

In fact, without this sort of consistency between the first book and its sequel, it is impossible for us to suspend our disbelief. In keeping with this idea, I wanted to keep most of the structural elements in my story the same the second time around, except for the story arc, which I tweaked a bit.

In Big Bouffant, Annabelle tries to make a bouffant by herself, fails, asks her mom for help, and then becomes so stylish that everyone wants to copy her. Once she is bored with bouffants, Annabelle manages to start a new trend.

In Big Birthday, the arc started out the same way: Annabelle wants a birthday on the moon, tries to build a rocket ship, fails, and then enlists her dad, who rents one out for the party. However, the moon party is not a success. When the moon birthday bombs, Annabelle dreams up a backyard pirate party for the following year, and it’s clear from the illustration that the party is a big hit.

While Annabelle’s problem in the first book was dealing with a trend that became too popular (a rather nice problem to have), here she had to deal with a birthday party that became less popular every time the reader turns the page. Yet regardless of the different arcs, the themes of the two books are still similar. If our initial creative vision creates problems, we need to be resilient and come up with new ideas. In the end, it is our creative vision that allows us to express our individuality.

Hopefully, after watching Annabelle make bouffants and gowns, rocket ships and pirate ships, the reader will see that she is a girl who never gives up on the idea of being herself.

Does Big Birthday succeed as a sequel? That’s up to the reader to decide, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to write another book about a little girl who thinks big.

TLA Spirit of Texas Author & 2012 Annual Conference

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What terrific fun I had last week at the Texas Library Association annual conference in Houston!

As for highlights…

The lovely Deborah Wayshak, my Candlewick editor, was there! It was such a treat to spend in-person time with her.

I also had a chance to connect, at least briefly, with a bounty of rockin’ librarians, publisher marketing pros, Texas authors like Joy Preble, Jennifer Ziegler, and Kelly Bennett, new voices like Lynne Kelly, Cynthia Levinson, Nikki Loftin and Augusta Scattergood, and author pals from the national scene like Sara Zarr, Toni Buzzeo, David Lubar, and Dom Testa while snagging a few drive-by hugs from folks like Barry Lyga and John Green. I considered saying “howdy” to living legend Judy Blume, but she was of course mobbed.

On Wednesday, I spoke on the panel “Connecting Teens and Authors: Teen Book Festivals and Awesome Author Visits” with Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop, Lisa Stultz of Hastings High School and Margaret A. Hale and Julie Mulkey of Bobby Shaw Middle School.

We talked about how librarians can work with independent booksellers to bring authors to schools and festivals for teens and tweens. Thanks to my fellow panelists for sharing their wisdom and for inviting me to chime in! I greatly enjoyed it. Thanks also to everyone who came to my signing (even though it was at the same time as Judy Blume’s talk). It was wonderful visiting with you.

On Thursday, I met with teens in conjunction with the TT4L program, wherein Candlewick sponsored a giveaway of my graphic novel Tantalize: Kieren’s Story. I had some terrific conversations with teens at the conference–at TT4L and also at my hoppin’ signing with Permabound. (Here’s a quick shout out to a certain blonde writer/reader girl — loved talking to you; take it scene by scene!)

And on Friday, I was deeply honored to be named the first featured Spirit of Texas author for high-school aged readers. See more information tying into use of the Tantalize series in classrooms, including an Evening at Sanguini’s program, Origins of Our Myths (with curriculum tie-ins), and Vote for Your Favorite Character! Really, check it all out! The committee worked so hard. I’m hugely wowed and grateful.

The featured middle-school author was Andrea White. See more information and related resources about her novel, Windows on the World (Namelos, 2011). Andrea and I spoke briefly together on the panel. She has been instrumental in working with TLA on Texas-author programming.

Thanks to everyone who came to my panels and signings! Thanks also to YART, especially Natasha, Jennifer, Renee and the whole SPOT committee…to Barb and the whole crew at Permabound…and of course Deb, Hilary, Jenny and Sharon from Candlewick!

Before leaving, I signed Diabolical giveaway bookmarks on the treadmill desk.
Greg signed Chronal Engine with Clarion.
My heroes! Spirit of Texas committee members in Sanguini’s T-shirts.
Check out Chronal Engine on the sign at the HMH booth.
Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels in action!.
Author-illustrator Don Tate.

Cynsational Notes

Texas middle and high school authors and illustrators are encouraged to register with SPOT’s Texas Author and Illustrator Directory. Note: you qualify if you currently live in Texas, have lived in Texas in the past or have created a Texas setting/topic book.

See also Thanks, TXLA 12! by Joy Preble from Joy’s Novel Idea; On How I Got “Dorked” at TLA by Don Tate from Devas T Rants and Raves; TLA 2012 from Nikki Loftin.

The Sanguini’s/Tantalize series logos were designed by Gene Brenek.

YA Giveaway Package: The Veil by Cory Putnam Oakes

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a giveaway package celebrating The Veil by Cory Putnam Oakes (Octane, 2011). From the promotion copy:

Read a Q&A interview with Cory.

Seventeen-year-old Addison Russell is in for a shock when she discovers that she can see the invisible world of the Annorasi. 

Suddenly, nothing is as it appears to be—the house she lives in, the woman who raised her, even the most beautiful boy in town all turn out to be more than what they seem. 

And when this strange new world forces Addy to answer for a crime that was committed long ago, by parents she has never known, she has no choice but to trust Luc, the mysterious Annorasi who has been sent to protect her.

Or so he says…

The giveaway package includes:

  • a signed copy of The Veil 
  • a Cable Car tin full of Ghirardelli chocolates 
  • a tin of illy coffee (medium roast) 
  • a “Caffeine Gives Me Annorasi Powers” mug (extra large, to hold extra caffeine for extra powers) 
  • and “I *HEART* Luc” stickers 

Cory says: “Ghirardelli Square and caffeine are both very important in The Veil.”

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 “The Veil” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 7.