Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out Andrew Arnold‘s cover art for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith (Roaring Brook, 2014). According to Greg, “It’s a middle-grade story of three friends at a motel in Cocoa Beach and what happens the day after a space shuttle launch is scrubbed due to the presence of a UFO over Cape Canaveral…”

2013 Orbis Pictus Award & Honor Books

Monsieur Marceau: Actor without Words by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Gérard DuBois (Roaring Brook) is the winner of the 2013 Orbis Pictus Award. See a Cynsations guest post by Leda about the book.

The Honor Books are:

See also Orbis Pictus Recommended Books.

More News & Giveaways

Dyslexia in Middle Grade Fiction
by Joy McCullough-Carranza from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Seeing characters like Percy and his demigod friends turn their challenges into real advantages as they save the world is incredibly powerful for other kids with similar struggles. But not all kids are epic fantasy types, and Percy Jackson isn’t the only dyslexic in middle grade.”

Keeping a Professional Distance from Our Book by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: “I’d be crazy not to listen to these, but it does reach a point where I realize only I know what’s best for my stories. I’m not writing my own fan fiction, here.”

Pay Proper Attention to Your Bio by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…a brief bio has never stopped me from investigating a person I’m super interested in. But it’s an unnecessary stumbling block, and it’s usually the people with the super-short bios who have no websites or easy contact information.”

A Caricature, Not a Compliment by Kayla Whaley from CBC Diversity. Peek: “…the ‘disabled saint’—the good little cripple, perfect in personality in spite of being wholly imperfect physically. Innocent and pure and forever denied their humanity. The classic example is Tiny Tim…”

What Really Makes Katniss Stand Out?  Peeta, Her Movie Girlfriend by Linda Holms from YPR Baltimore. Peek: “…one of the most unusual things about Katniss isn’t the way she defies typical gender roles for heroines, but the way Peeta, her arena partner and one of her two love interests, defies typical Hollywood versions of gender roles for boyfriends.”

KidLit for the Philippines: An On-Line Auction to Benefit Typhoon Survivors from Michelle Cusolito at Polliwog on Safari. Peek: “…an online talent auction to benefit Mercy Corps and UNICEF relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan (AKA Yolanda). Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services and items to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to Mercy Corps and UNICEF.”

Write Outside The Lines of Your Book by Josin L. McQuein from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “That’s the beauty of an organic medium; new ideas and methods won’t break it. Things can be strange and uncomfortable. Characters can – and will – surprise you, if you stay true to the personalities and voices that develop as the story progresses.”

Keeping Your Eyes to Yourself by Lydia Kang from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “Not only are you not writing, but you’re taking little pecks of confidence away from yourself when you need it the most. It’s disheartening and can seriously cripple your muse.”

What Happens at Frankfurt Book Fair? by Keith Yatsuhashi from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “Frankfurt is all about selling and acquiring rights.”

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Award-winning children’s book illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh employs both modern images and ancient iconographies to tell the untold story of loss that Mexicans feel for their family members who make the dangerous journey to America as undocumented workers. He speaks below about his work and influences.

More Personally

Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving, and happy Hanukkah! Cynsations posts are abbreviated this week due to the holidays and will resume on Monday.

Last week’s highlight was speaking at the 2013 conference of the Florida Association for Media in Education. Thank you, Florida librarians! I also managed to sneak in a little fun time in Orlando.

At Downtown Disney

Who’s having more fun, me or the LEGO sea serpent? (Also at Downtown Disney)

At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Islands of Adventure)

Personal Links

Guest Interview & Giveaway: Kathi Appelt & Hallie Durand on Mitchell Goes Bowling

By Kathi Appelt
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Hallie Durand is the author of the middle grade books Dessert First, Just Desserts, and No Room for Dessert, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Atheneum).

Her first picture book was Mitchell’s License (Candlewick). Mitchell Goes Bowling is her second picture book. Both are illustrated by Tony Fucile who also illustrated the Bink and Gollie books by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee.

KA: We first fell in love with Mitchell when your book, Mitchell’s License, appeared a couple of years ago. Can you tell us about Mitchell and his dad?

HD: My favorite thing about Mitchell and his dad is that Mitchell’s dad has his son’s “number.” He knows exactly what kind of kid he is dealing with—in the first book, when Mitchell doesn’t want to go to bed, his dad knows just how to get him to capitulate, by letting Mitchell drive (and Mitchell is quite pleased to be issued a driver’s license—his dignity is definitely intact!).

And in the new book, Dad knows exactly what to do with Mitchell’s knock ‘em down personality—go bowling. I think that’s what so many of us yearn for—to be understood as individuals, embraced, and met where we are.

KA: This book gives us such a close up of Mitchell, a boy who loves to knock things down. I’m especially fond of the page where he tries to knock down his dad. But what I love above all is the way that Dad channels Mitchell’s otherwise destructive impulses. And then, in a stroke of genius, you sent your characters to the bowling alley, the home of knock downs. Can you tell us about your own experience with bowling? I’m fascinated with bowling!

HD: I’ve liked the game since I was in middle school and I could hang with other seventh graders (without parents!). It was a safe place to go and we could order a whole pitcher of soda.

Now as a parent, I love it more—in part, because the lanes are just about exactly as I remember them, but more importantly because we’re all together, but we’re all doing our own thing, and that’s kind of who we are as a family too. On top of that, the crashing noise when the pins go down is incredibly satisfying, and no matter how unskilled you are (like me) you can pretty much count on a few pins going down (especially with gutter guards).

I’m also fascinated with the accessories: the shoes, the intricacy of drilling the proper holes in the ball, the tiny suitcases called “piggyback bags” that are used to carry an extra ball (for serious bowlers!), the machine that “dresses” (oils) the lane, the “ball elevator” . . . there’s no end to the cool stuff about bowling.

KA: One of the best things about this story is the very fun language. I love the “steamin’-hot-potato dance.” Is this something that you practice in your off-hours?

Eleanor praying

HD: You know, I always do a dance for a strike and I also have a Yahtzee dance. But I don’t practice in my off-hours—it has to be organic! My husband recently told me that when he was in the ROTC, based in Germany, he had a “turkey” dance (that’s three strikes in a row).

Channel John Travolta then: Point to the sky (right), point to the sky (left), 360 degree turn, and SPLIT. I’ve never had occasion to make up a “turkey” dance . . .

KA: Tony Fucile’s art feels like a perfect fit for your Mitchell stories. Did you participate at all in the art? If so, in what ways?

HD: Yeah, we loved collaborating. Quite a few of the gags came directly from Tony—his daughter Eleanor actually does “pray” when she bowls, and the “hand dryer” gag was totally his idea. His family loves bowling as much as mine, so it was pretty much a marriage made in heaven! And in the first book, where the dad is a car, we worked together to use as many car parts as we could think of.

The only one we couldn’t nail was the “trunk.” It’s not that standard for the author and illustrator to brainstorm but for us it was essential (and so much fun).

early sketch for Mitchell Goes Bowling

KA: This is definitely a father/son story, but I wouldn’t call it “typical.” There’s no mushiness about it, but there’s nevertheless an underlying sweetness. It feels sort of jazzy for lack of a better word. Lots of improvising going on here. And maybe that’s the way all father/son relationships are? A mixture of competitiveness and team sports. What do you think?

HD: Aw, I love “jazzy”! The inspiration for this story was something my son said when we “tied” at Monopoly, cause I felt bad for him. He said, “You winned and I winned.” And that stuck in my mind cause it was so perfect and poignant. You can both win.

KA: I love the line, “With his dad, he couldn’t lose.” When I talk about picture book texts with my students, I always encourage them to find a line that is both summary and pay-off. I don’t think it gets any better than that line. But there are plenty of other wonderful lines throughout this book. Do you have a favorite?

HD: My favorite line is an offering from my husband: “That’s just how he rolled.” For me, it’s really meaningful because if we watch and listen, we can meet our kids “where they roll,” and no two kids “roll” the same way.

KA: On a more personal note, what is your overarching goal as a picture book writer? Do you have one?

HD: I can’t say I have a goal, but I hope to continue to make stories around things I hear or see that I can’t get out of my head because they touched me in some way or demanded to become a story.

KA: Any words of advice for aspiring picture book writers/illustrators?

HD: For me, there’s one thing that has seen me through both the dark and the light—do the very best work you are capable of at the time. This doesn’t mean you won’t get better and more skilled, but no matter what any reviewer has to say, no matter how your book sells, no matter if it is even acquired by a publisher, if it is the very best work you are capable of at that time in your life, you’ll be okay. Doing the very best you can is a “no-regrets” policy. It’ll stand up to the toughest critic, who, of course, is yourself.

KA: What is Mitchell up to next?

HD: I’m not sure what Mitchell is up to next! But you can look for Marshall in next fall’s Catch That Cookie! illustrated by David Small. It centers around a gingerbread-cookie hunt, and was inspired by my own son Marshall, who once locked all the doors on our mini-van so the cookies couldn’t escape—that’s an example of something that demanded a story!

sketch from Catch That Cookie!

KA: Here’s a very fun downloadable Story Hour Kit.

Learn more about Hallie!

About Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt’s books have won numerous national and state awards.

Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the Pen USA Award, and was a finalist for the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award. Her most recent novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, was also a National Book Award Finalist. Kathi serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

Her cats are named Jazz, Hoss, D’jango, Peach, Mingus and Chica.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two sets of Mitchell Goes Driving and Mitchell Goes Bowling (both Candlewick). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Anne Broyles on “In Its Own Sweet Time”

By Anne Broyles
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My first picture book, Shy Mama’s Halloween, took 2.5 hours to write and sold on the fifth submission. Revision required only a few word changes. Fifteen months after an editor called with an offer, I held the published book in my hand. That didn’t take long!

Book #2, Priscilla and the Hollyhocks, was also a quick write. It sold on the second submission after requested revisions. From acquistion to publication? Four years. Not so bad.

My third picture book just came out… thirteen years after the initial idea. In 2000 after decorating our Christmas tree with our German foreign exchange daughter, I quickly wrote four pages of notes about a Costa Rican grandmother and her American-born grandson decorating The Memory Tree.

Over the next months, I focused on a young adult novel and occasionally pondered The Memory Tree. I created back-stories for Abue Rosa and Arturo, but knew their current relationship would be the book’s heart.

In July, 2001, I wrote the first draft (two languages, three hours, 2000 words) and compiled a list of possible publishers. I shared my manuscript with a Costa Rican friend to ensure cultural and language accuracy. Over the next six years when I needed breaks from other projects, I revised with the help of critique partners, deleted words (2000->1540->1330->933) and changed the title to The Empty Christmas Tree after one reader said that The Memory Tree “sounded genealogical.” Arturo became more active. A broken ornament provided conflict.

Between 2004-2011, I submitted the 738-word manuscript to editors and received five rejections. Pelican’s Nina Kooij e-mailed they would hold the submission on their “possibles list,” but I was free to submit elsewhere.

Eleven years had passed since my initial idea. Despite editors’ encouraging comments I wondered if this bilingual, multicultural, holiday book fit too small a niche. I gave The Empty Christmas Tree a rest even though I believed in its story of love, forgiveness and the healing power of stories.

In January, 2012, the SASE I’d sent to Pelican over two years earlier arrived. Is the book still available? Kooij asked. Yes! Over the next months, I cut my English/Spanish text to make space for side-by-side Spanish-only text and changed the title to Arturo and the Navidad Birds.

After Spanish-speaking friends from seven countries read the manuscript, I tweaked the story for general Hispanic cultural appeal, in hopes that more readers would find themselves in the story. The color palette and details of illustrator, K.E. Lewis’ beautiful paintings reflected Abue’s cultural background and brought her to life, but it didn’t matter if she was Costa Rican, Nicaraguan or Mexican.

This fall, Abue and Arturo’s story entered the world. In its own sweet time!

Humans need nine months of gestation. Elephants spent two years pregnant. Writers commit to an even longer haul. We know that even good writing may not quickly find a home.

In the thirteen years between my idea and Arturo and the Navidad’s publication I completed other picture books and two novels, none of which are yet published. Arturo’s journey to publication reminds me that as writers, we need to:

  • Believe in our work. 
  • Trust the process of creation. 
  • Understand the road to publication. 
  • Work on multiple projects, simultaneously or successively. 
  • Persevere! 
  • Enjoy and celebrate one’s book from idea to bookshelf.

Event Photo Report: Florida Association for Media in Education

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Last week’s highlight was a trip to Orlando for the 2013 conference of the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME). Thank you, Florida librarians!

Meeting Florida librarians with Greg Leitich Smith

About to start the author panel with Lisa Yee, Duncan Tonatiuh, Jessica Martinez & Ginny Rorby

With Duncan & Lisa

Book sales were brisk!

Keynote author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & librarian Satia Marshall Orange

Greg signs Chronal Engine (Clarion)

Signing Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins)

Signing the Tantalize series for Rosa (Candlewick & Walker UK/Aus/NZ)

Cynsational News & Giveaways

More on this cover reveal!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Authors for the Philippines: “The auction is now live and you can bid on the items via the comments on the individual posts. Once the auction has ended (Wednesday 20th November), we will contact the winning bidder and ask them to donate the funds directly to the Red Cross and send the confirmation of payment to us.” Note: auction includes editor critiques, original illustrations, author visits, mentoring and much more.

Conflict vs. Tension by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Conflict should create tension. But it doesn’t, not all the time.”

“I Don’t Want an Honest Critique” by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “…I don’t want to hear it. Minor problems? OK, I’ll fix those. But major structural, plot or character problems? Don’t tell me.”

Re: NaNoWriMo a No-No? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: “Publication can be the eventual result of NaNoWriMo. I know a novelist whose debut started there. ‘Started’ being the key word.”

Hey Writer, What Are Your Strengths? by Michael G-G from Project Mayhem. Peek: “David Biespel argues that in workshops and critique groups we tend to focus on trying to improve each other’s weaknesses, in the process paying hardly any attention to each other’s strengths (I mean, they’re strengths, so they’re working, right?), and end up by reinforcing our writer’s negative self-talk.”

Make Your Hero Complex by Choosing the Right Flaws by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “When it comes to flaws, it is the why behind the negative trait that is compelling.”

Spotlight: Julie Berry on All the Truth That’s In Me: an interview by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBTastic Reads! Peek: “I firmly believe we must invest the same care and attention in getting to know our secondary characters as we do our main character. If we believe that all humans are of equal worth, then our writing should reflect that belief.”

Need a Little Humor in Your Life? by Crystal from Rich in Color. Note: recommended comedic books featuring protagonists of color.

Querying Multiple Manuscripts by Jane Leback from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “…some books are just not good ‘debut’ titles. They’re solid books, but they would do better as a writer’s second book because they’re a little more risky.”

Recurring Events: When to Tell & When to Show by Yahong Chi from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Unless the events all have massive emotional potential to develop throughout, reading about the same actions would become tiresome and flavourless.”

The Top 7 Lessons I Learned About Blogging Children’s and Teen Literature from Kidlit Con 2013 by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Indies First – Authors and Illustrators To Become Booksellers For A Day (Nov. 30) from SCBWI: The Blog. Peek: “Sherman Alexie has cooked up a great idea, and the American Booksellers Association is helping out.”

Cynthia Kadohata Wins the 2013 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature from CBC Diversity.

This Week at Cynsations

By Austinite Susan Signe Morrison

Cynsational Giveaway

See also a giveaway of Angel Fever by L.A. Weatherly and Red by Alison Cherry from Adventures in YA Publishing.

A Dino A Day Strikes Back (Con’t)

Surf over to GregLSBlog for A Dino A Day Strikes Back, featuring author Greg Leitich Smith and shot at various landmarks around Austin, Texas!

It’s a dinosaur T-shirt celebration of the paperback release of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2013) and new editions of Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex (IntoPrint, 2013)(originally published by Little, Brown).

Day 9: Nightwing Sculpture
Day 10: Austin Nature & Science Center
Day 11: The Japanese Garden
Day 12: Moody Gardens

And for those who missed last week…

Day 1: Palmer Events Center (Austin Marathon Expo)
Day 2: Texas Memorial Museum (Exterior/Statuary)
Day 3: Waller Creek Boat House
Day 4: Hartmann Prehistoric Garden
Day 5: UT Alumni Center
Day 6: O. Henry House and Museum
Day 7: Santa Rita No. 1 oil rig
Day 8: Texas Memorial Museum (Interior/Fish)

Q&A with Author Greg Leitich Smith by Jennifer Dee from Riffle. Peek: “Of books this year, I think that young middle grade me would pick Kathi Appelt‘s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum). It just has such a nice, quirky atmosphere and a lot of heart.”

Chronal Engine now in paperback + new editions (& covers) for Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo & Tofu & T. rex

Author Greg Leitich Smith Discusses His Writing at Crisman School
by Angela Ward from The News-Journal in Longview, Texas. “I like that
his books are about dinosaurs because I want to be a paleontologist when
I grow up,” Webber said. “It’s really, really amazing that he’s
actually here to talk to us.” See also the Chronal Engine Activity Kit.

More Personally

Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight by Debbie Reese from Indian Country Today. Peek (re: Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)): “Sprinkled with humor and warmth, each story is rich with details about Native life.” See sidebar for readers’ theater script and teacher guides.

A Gate Crashers Thanksgiving! What are Gate Crashing Kid Lit Authors Grateful for This Year? by Pamela K. Witte from Ink & Angst.

Personal Links

In Memory: Charlotte Zolotow

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Charlotte Zolotow, Author of Books on Children’s Real Issues, Dies at 98 by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: “Ms. Zolotow’s own picture books — she wrote more than 70 — were cleareyed explorations of the interior landscape of childhood by one who had obviously not forgotten what it felt like to dwell there.”

Children’s Author and Editor Charlotte Zolotow Dies at 98 by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “During her tenure as an editor, Zolotow worked with such noted authors as Patricia MacLachlan, Francesca Lia Block, Paul Fleischman, Paul Zindel, M.E. Kerr, and John Steptoe. She was honored in 1998 when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison established the Charlotte Zolotow Award, an annual prize for the best picture book text published in the U.S.”

Charlotte Zolotow, Author of Ethereal Children’s Picture Books, Dies by Annalisa Quinn from NPR. Peek: “She once wrote: ‘We are all the same, except that adults have found ways to buffer themselves against the full-blown intensity of a child’s emotions.'”

R.I.P Charlotte Zolotow by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “I had eviscerated a YA novel by her daughter Crescent Dragonwagon in an SLJ column, and Harper’s Bill Morris tracked me down and told me that Charlotte wanted to talk to me. In her hotel suite. Right now, if possible.”

Lee & Low Books Acquires Shen’s Books

From Lee & Low Books

Lee & Low Books, an independent children’s book publisher focused on diversity, has acquired children’s book publisher Shen’s Books. The acquisition is a new milestone in the growth of Lee & Low, which published its first book twenty years ago and has maintained its commitment to diversity in children’s books for two decades.

Originally based in California, Shen’s Books was founded as a retailer in 1985 and began publishing books in 1997. Its books emphasize cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Titles include the popular Cora Cooks Pancit, about a young girl cooking up a favorite Filipino dish with her mother, and the Cinderella series, which features retellings of the Cinderella story from cultures around the world.

“I am thrilled that our titles will be joining the amazing catalog of books at Lee & Low,” said Renee Ting, president and publisher of Shen’s Books. “There is no better publisher I can think of to carry on the values and spirit of Shen’s Books and advance the cause of diversity in children’s publishing.”

Shen’s Books will now become an imprint of Lee & Low, which will publish both backlist Shen’s titles and new books. The Shen’s Books imprint of Lee & Low will release seven reprints in early 2014, as well as one new title in the spring: Summoning the Phoenix, a collection of poems about Chinese musical instruments by Emily Jiang and illustrated by April Chu.

“We have admired the work that was done by Shen’s in the past, and we are honored to continue their legacy,” said Jason Low, Publisher of Lee & Low Books. “Lee & Low’s emphasis on diversity, cultural authenticity, and high-quality artwork makes it a perfect home for Shen’s Books.”

The acquisition comes a year after Lee & Low’s acquisition of Children’s Book Press, another California-based multicultural children’s book publisher. Since then, Lee & Low has brought over 85% of Children’s Book Press’s backlist titles back into print, with several more planned for the upcoming year.

Lee & Low is the largest children’s book publisher in the country specializing in diversity. The company provides a comprehensive range of diverse books for young readers, from Bebop Books for children just learning to read to picture books from its Lee & Low and CBP imprints, to gripping speculative fiction for young adults from Tu Books.

Guest Post: Lisa Williams Kline on Character Relationships & Series Potential

By Lisa Williams Kline
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When my editor at Zondervan bought Summer of the Wolves (2012), my book about stepsisters in a newly blended family, and asked for three more books about the same characters, I panicked.

I had written the book several years before, so I hadn’t been “with” those characters for awhile. I hadn’t planned on returning to them. Many writers dream of getting a series, but I hadn’t.

When I started brainstorming, though, I found lots of ideas for more books. The first book had taken place on a family vacation. There were plenty of other interesting places I could take the family on subsequent vacations. The first book had featured an adventure with animals, and I felt confident I could come up with plenty of other animal adventures. I relished the idea of researching those.

But the most important element for the series was the relationship between the two girls. I recently read a thoughtful article in The Kenyon Review by Amy Boesky, a literary writer who has formerly written many books in the Sweet Valley Twins series, and she said the crux of the success of that series was that one twin was mischievous and fun-loving and rebellious while the other one was a rule follower. Almost every activity resulted in conflict between the two girls, and this was the axis upon which the entire series turned.

My girls were very different, too. Diana is physically bold but socially awkward and reclusive, while Stephanie is socially adept but physically fearful. By nature, if one girl is happy in a certain situation, the other is likely to be miserable. With almost any activity, my two girls were going to want opposite outcomes.

This may seem obvious, but if you’re interested in writing a series, developing characters with this inherent conflict in their personalities can help drive the action of more than one plot. The conflict won’t seem manufactured, but can naturally arise from who your characters are.

Relationship triangles also drive conflict. An example of a relationship triangle is the one that drives The Hunger Games – between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale – where two people vie for the attention of a third. I saw that in my blended family, there were many opportunities for these relationship triangles, between the girls and their parents, both natural and step, between the stepsisters and other girls in their extended family, between the stepsisters and boys they met, and between the stepsisters and their grandparents.

In the second book, Wild Horse Spring, the girls both like the same boy. In the third book, Blue Autumn Cruise, the girls go on a cruise with extended family members, one of whom is a cousin Stephanie knows well but Diana has never met. There is instant probability of “odd man out” conflicts.

Again, the need to create these relationship triangles seems obvious, but now that I understand the way that these character dynamics can drive multiple stories about the same characters, as a writer I have tried to become more intentional in my use of them.

Mister Mo
Little Buddy

Sesame Street Parody Video: The Hungry Games: Catching Fur

Shared by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”–releasing November 22–is the latest film adapted from a YA novel to hit screens. From the promotional copy:

The film begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. 

Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a “Victor’s Tour” of the districts. 

Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) – a competition that could change Panem forever.

(See also 700 Fans Camp Out for “Catching Fire” Premier by Sandy Cohen from ABC News.)

However, the major motion picture isn’t the only adaptation:

New Voice: Susan Signe Morrison on Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Susan Signe Morrison is the first-time editor of Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America by Joan Wehlen Morrison (Chicago Review Press, 2012)(author blog and facebook page). From the promotional copy:

This diary of a smart, astute, and funny teenager provides a fascinating record of what an everyday American girl felt and thought during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II. 

Young Chicagoan Joan Wehlen describes her daily life growing up in the city and ruminates about the impending war, daily headlines, and major touchstones of the era—FDR’s radio addresses, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Goodbye Mr. Chips and Citizen Kane, Churchill and Hitler, war work and Red Cross meetings. 

Included are Joan’s charming doodles of her latest dress or haircut reflective of the era. Home Front Girl is not only an entertaining and delightful read but an important primary source—a vivid account of a real American girl’s lived experiences.

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

Joan and Susan, 2005

My book is nonfiction. I found the diaries of my mother, the oral historian Joan Wehlen Morrison, in a file cabinet after her death in 2010. The diaries she wrote as a teenager, ages 14-20, from the year 1937 through 1943, just before she married my dad, Robert Thornton Morrison.

Some of the volumes of diaries are missing; three of the original six still exist. The missing ones must have been lost during the war years when my folks traveled many times when my dad was in the Navy.

My mom, Joan, always told us she had kept a diary. She even told us where it was and wanted to get a hold of it. But my dad was also a writer and there were all sorts of papers and junk in front of the file cabinet. After they died after 66 years of marriage within two months of each other, my brothers and I had to clean out and sell our family home. There, just as Joan had said, were the diaries!

So the following year, as I grieved for my parents, I read and re-read the diaries. I decided to transcribe sections of them as a family project (and therapy for me).

But at a certain point in the transcription, I realized these diaries were important. They were a unique source for those studying World War II, teenagers in the pre-war and war years, feminist historians, and others.

So I sought out a publisher. I’m a professor of medieval literature at Texas State University and have published scholarly books and articles. But this book was different.

At first I sent it to the presses I knew: university presses. But they were not quite right. One company published war diaries, but soldiers’ diaries. My mom’s book got very nice rejections (believe me, I know rejections—these were personal!), but I just hadn’t found the right publisher.

Then—I did: Chicago Review Press that specializes in young adult nonfiction. I heard from the editor in early November 2011. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2011 she proposed it to her board and they were all enthusiastic. Home Front Girl was out by November 1, 2012.

As for roadblocks, there were really none. Occasionally I couldn’t make out my mom’s handwriting, though generally it was pretty good. I would enlist my husband—sometimes even my kids—to help me figure out a word or two. But mainly it was fascinating and so emotionally wonderful to reconstruct her teen years. I used about 2/5 of the material I found and am now working on an edition of her poetry.

I’m also working on a second book for Chicago Review Press: a young adult history of women in the Middle Ages!

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

Friday, Dec. 6, 1940

Clearly my inspiration was totally personal. I was truly blessed that my mom had left me this gift after she died. It fascinated – and consoled – me because the writer of the diaries is my mom. To see how a girl – a very smart girl, who reads a lot, is witty, self-ironic, and philosophical– perceives the political situation as war is brewing in Europe is totally riveting.

I love the 1930s and 1940s period anyway, and now I got to see it first hand.

Diaries exist written by girls in Europe from that time period, but I never knew of one from the U.S. home front perspective. It adds something to the historical record. And the fact that Joan becomes a historian in later life makes her writing even more resonant.

My mom had the same sense of humor she had as an older woman. She had the same anti-war stance (one of her oral histories is about Vietnam). You can see her books here:

And some moments were so “Mom.” For instance, when she gets in trouble in Study Hall.
Monday, April 19, 1937; Age 14

Mr. Lucas thinks I’m a communist. Today in Study, you see, Ruth and I were—well—you know—doing Latin together. Which isn’t approved of.

Then Alice asked me what onomatopoeia is and, while I was explaining, Mr. L. came over and said, “Can’t you work by yourself?” to me. “Are you helping these girls or are they helping you?”

And I said, “Well, it’s sort of community work, you see.”

And he said, “Well, you know we can’t have a lot of little communities in study hall.” And I said, thinking of Latin, “No, but why not one big community.”

I guess he must have thought I was a communist then, ’cause he looked sort of frightened and said we’d better work alone.

And I said, “Uh-huh.” And that was that. Once before he made me (and Ruth) stand in the corner for community work—me the socialist! And I had my red sweater on, too!

Desk with current YA history research

I wanted young readers (it’s geared for 12 & up) to read it. First of all, to see the importance of keeping a diary—for getting into the daily habit of writing even when it seems like “nothing” is happening.

 Often you can have your most profound insights on days devoid of action when you are just thinking and daydreaming.

I kept to the following themes: the war and politics; romance (plenty of “necking”!); nature; speculations about the meaning of life and God; literary musings; and just beautifully written passages.

It’s amazing what kids read back then—very difficult novels. After all, there was radio, but no television or internet to take up one’s time. And Joan went to the movies a lot. The book also has her doodles she drew in the corners of her pages, so they are especially cute to see.

And I’m thrilled it’s been named by the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education to the Best Children’s Book of the Year 2013 list (Memoir: Ages 14-up).

Now I’m planning to work on fiction set in the 1930s and 1940s. My mom’s life still inspires me!

Cynsational Notes

Check out the curriculum guide, book club discussion questions and excerpts.

Susan says: “In my blog, I try to include entries that link to a current event or issue, such as in this post that was one of the featured “Freshly Pressed” posts on WordPress.