Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Patrice Barton, Libby Martinez and Pat Mora on the release of I Pledge Allegiance (Knopf, 2014)! From the promotional copy:

Libby’s great aunt, Lobo, is from Mexico, but the United States has been her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. 

At the end of the week, Lobo will say the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. 

Libby is also learning the Pledge this week, at school—at the end of the week, she will stand up in front of everyone and lead the class in the Pledge. 

Libby and Lobo practice together—asking questions and sharing stories and memories—until they both stand tall and proud, with their hands over their hearts.

Celebrating I Pledge Allegiance at BookPeople; photo courtesy of Amy Farrier.

More News & Giveaways

Surviving Nearly There by Robin LaFevers
from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “It can be a gift, a chance to strengthen
your writing and your voice so that when you do get published, you have a
greater chance of being published well, rather than simply being
published.” See also An Open Letter to Unpublished Writers by Ginger Johnson from Quirk and Quill and Biggest Best Effort by Catherine Linka from The Writing Barn.

Staying Productive by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: “…after eight 60-hour weeks, productivity has dropped so low that most groups would be better off if they’d stuck with a 40-hour workweek the whole time.”

Where Does Your Story Fit in the Conversation of Books? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “I shunned the whole zombie thing until my hairdresser raved about ‘Warm Bodies,’ a movie that took Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and updated it with zombies. Really? You could do that?”

Picture Books for Launching Mathematicians by Lola Irele from the Horn Book. Peek: “The books need to interest students, embed rather than simply present math concepts, lend themselves well to differentiated extension activities, and of course, be fun!”

We Need Diverse Books: But Are We Ready to Discuss Them With Our Kids? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: “…if we want parents to have serious discussions about race with their four and five and six-year-olds then we need to have books that help to do this.” See also Talking Diversity with Young Children by Monica Edinger from Educating Alice and These Diverse YA Books Need to Become Movies Now by Brenna Ehrlich from MTV.com.

Mental Health in YA Lit: A Reading List by Stephanie Kuehn from YA Highway. Peek: “I thought I’d put together a list of YA books from the last ten years that address mental illness as a main focus and/or influence.”

Short Video: Insights from Jane Yolen on Writing Picture Books, Critiques, Rejections & Chasing Trends from Julie Hedlund via Lee Wind at The Official SCBWI Blog.

Making a Difference Through Publishing by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson, founders and publishers of Just Us Books, from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Purchase at least five of these (diverse) books to share with children other than our own— whether they
are our neighbors’, friends’ or co-workers’ children; children at our places of worship or local youth organizations; or for donation to other organizations in our communities.”

How An Adult White Guy Came to Write About a Latino Teen by William Hazelgrove from Latin@s in Kid Lit. Peek: “I read a lot of accounts about Dream Kids in this country and how they had made their lives and then were in danger of being deported. That was really how I got the idea of making Ricky a Dream Kid.”

Breaking the Rules in Worldbuilding by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “Let’s stick with magical world building. What happens when someone tries a spell that nobody has tried before? The answer to this question lies in more rules, not fewer.”

Concocting Fiction from Fact: Using Research to Tell Better Stories by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I recently discovered a large and densely populated forum devoted entirely to shaving with old-fashioned safety razors. There are many members with thousands of posts attributed to them, all just talking about razors and shaving.”

Writing about War in Children’s Literature by Skila Brown from Christine Kohler. Peek: “…using poetry to tell the story helped in dealing with the violence. White space and metaphors can pack a punch without the graphic details.”

Picture Book Math (And Why You Should Write Something New) from Kate Messner. Peek: “I try out lots of picture book ideas. I fail frequently and cheerfully. But I’ve also been able to work with a few great editors to make a few of those ideas into real live books.”

New Native American Release

Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Wesley Ballinger (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “The author of Hungry Johnny is Cheryl Minnema. She’s Ojibwe, and so is the illustrator, Wesley Ballinger. And the story? It is about an Ojibwe kid. Named Johnny. Who is–as the title suggests–hungry!”

The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award

Young Reader Winner: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Balzer & Bray)

Young Reader Honor Books:

Older Reader Winner: Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown)

Older Reader Honor Books:

Note: “…awarded to books that effectively promote the cause of peace, social
justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as
well as meeting conventional standards for excellence. Founded in 1953,
the award is funded by the Peace Education Project, a part of the Jane
Addams Peace Association…” See more information. Source: ALSC Blog.

Stuttering Foundation Book Awards

Learn more.

Three children’s books were honored:

To celebrate National Stuttering Awareness Week (May 12 to May 18), the Stuttering Foundation honored authors whose recent books are widely acclaimed. Foundation president Jane Fraser noted, “Authors with the courage to share their stories and inspire others hold a special place in the hearts of the 70 million people worldwide who struggle to speak.”

See also the 2013 Agatha Awards from Bookshelves of Doom, Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2014 Short List Announced from The Guardian, The Edgar Winners and Nominees from the Mystery Writers of America, the 2013 Bisexual (YA) Book Awards from Diversity in YA and PEN Literary Awards Longlist Announced by Laurie Hertzel from the StarTribune.

Cynsational Giveaways

Learn more.

See also a giveaway of the diverse children’s-YA book of your choice from Kellye Crocker (the winner picks the book, and she’ll pick up the tab)(U.S.).

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

To show her #yalove, super librarian Naomi Bates has been sharing the book trailer she created in celebration of my novel Eternal (Candlewick/Walker/Listening Library):

More Personally

What’s new? I was honored to see my picture book, Jingle Dancer (HarperChildren’s, 2000) included on An Expanded Cultural Diversity Booklist: SLJ Readers Respond from School Library Journal.

SLJ Diversity Booklist

See also Why Debbie Reese Advocates for Native American Authors & Illustrators from American Indians in Children’s Literature. On a related note, I’m touched by Debbie’s Post, Another Thank You to Cynthia Leitich Smith.

This week, I focused on writing a short essay for School Library Journal and preparations for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, a week-long conference in Salt Lake.

On the latter, I’m teaching a class, presenting two speeches, participating in a panel and doing a reading. I’ve selected a short (two minute) section from Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) to read.

A good rule of thumb is that a standard typed manuscript page translates to two minutes read aloud.

A few tips on reading aloud?

Practice ahead of time. You want to choose a selection that offers voice, a hint of character and a sense of momentum. It should be satisfying unto itself.

Keep in mind that you’re not wed to the printed text. Parenthetical phrasing or references to off-stage characters may be cut. If you need to take a breath, split that long sentence into two. Size up your typeface and add white space as needed for your eye.

Breathe, enunciate, and have fun!

It’s Children’s Book Week!

The link I’m pondering most is On “The John Green Effect,” Contemporary Realism and Form as a Political Act by Anne Ursu from Terrible Trivium. Peek: “…when the magic in magical realism is treated as irrelevant or erased, critics are taking a profound literary tradition and robbing it of its significance and import, erasing it altogether.”

My runner up would be Notes on a Diversity Hashtag by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: “If a Twitter hashtag made me feel that way for a few hours, I could more easily imagine how decades of non-representation would feel.”

What else? Everybody, including the AAR AKA literary agents association, is talking about the Amazon-HGB fight. And did you know Rush Limbaugh won the Children’s Choice Awards Author of the Year? Here’s Horn Book editor Roger’s Sutton’s take on that and Emma Dryden’s related thoughts

Reminder: To celebrate her birthday, Kellye Carter is giving away an awesome “diverse” book of the winner’s choice. U.S. only.

Congratulations to Austin illustrator Marsha Riti, a Tribute Scholarship winner for the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles!

Personal Links

New from Joy Preble!

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Brian Yansky on Teaching Writing

Merlin, circled by Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments (Candlewick)

By Brian Yansky
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Writers often bemoan the fact that they must work a day job as well as write.

They need the day job to pay the bills, but they often don’t like it much, and it keeps them from doing the thing they love–writing.

 I’m fortunate that, while I need a day job, I like the one I have.

In fact, while I’m passionate about writing and it will always be my first love, teaching writing—essays and fiction—has become a passion, too.

Here are a few advantages to my day job:

One advantage is people understand the vocation of teaching in a way they don’t understand the vocation of writing. When I tell someone outside of the writer-world that I write fiction, they always look at me with thinly veiled suspicion. Sometimes they’ll make a half- hearted effort to understand what I might mean.

“You write all day?” they’ll ask with skepticism.

I have to say that I can’t write all day because I have a job teaching writing at a community college.

They seem relieved, “Oh, you teach writing.”

Brian & Cyn at BookPeople in Austin.

I’m sure other writers have experienced the general public’s skepticism concerning the profession of writing. For some reason though, teaching writing is another matter.

People can imagine you at a campus, standing in front of a class, instructing people how to make things up and see value in that. They have more trouble when you’re the one making things up.
This is somewhat confusing to me but then a lot of things are.

Another advantage is when I’m at home starring out my window and trying to make things up and someone calls and wants me to do something I don’t want to do, I can say, “I’d love to but I’m grading papers,” and they’ll understand.

And I’ll go back to starring out the window and making things up.

More advantages of my day job: a salary, long summer vacations, long winter vacations, a flexible schedule so I can work and still have time to write my own fiction, independence. These are all excellent reasons to teach at a college level. But they’re not the reason I’m passionate about it.

That would be the students.

Teaching essay writing is very different from teaching creative writing. However, the satisfaction I get from helping students become better writers is the same. It’s hard work. Every writer has different things to overcome and figuring out what those things are and ways to help them help themselves is difficult but very rewarding.

When I teach fiction-writing the main thing I have to remember is that while I have a lot of ideas about how to craft a novel or story, what works for me won’t work for every student.

Every writer ultimately has to find his or her own way. But I think a good teacher can do what a good coach can do; I can help them find their way faster, help them learn good habits that will make them better writers, inspire them to experiment and finish work, and push them to improve.

Often in a creative writing class, as we move deeper and deeper into the semester, I realize I’m learning as much from them as they’re learning from me. Teaching a writing class is a lot like writing itself. The discoveries we make along the way make the journey worth it.

Writing will always be my first passion but I’ve been lucky to discover that teaching is also a passion.

I think the things I learn in preparation for classes and working with students and from the students themselves help me become a better writer.

Brian & author-illustrator Frances Yansky at the Illumine Gala.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Check out Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer (Writing and Publishing Fiction). His latest post is Situation; peek: “For example, an idea might be that aliens invade the earth. That’s not really a situation yet. A situation makes it more specific. Telepathic aliens invade the earth; they’re so advanced that they conquer it in ten seconds. That’s a situation.”

Enter to win one of three copies of Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2013). Publisher sponsored. U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

Jesse has had the worst year of his life. First a race of homicidal (but very polite) aliens invaded Earth, killing pretty much everyone and enslaving the few people left behind, including Jesse; his best friend, Michael; his sort-of girlfriend, Lauren; and the girl of his dreams, Catlin.


Now Jesse is revered as some sort of Chosen One all because he managed to kill one of the alien lords and escape — even though he’s not really sure how he did it. But it’s hard to argue with the multitude of new talents he is developing, including (somehow) killing aliens with his mind and grasping glimpses of alternate futures.


With thousands of aliens already on Earth and thirty million more about to arrive, Jesse has to decide whether to embrace his maybe-destiny before the world is completely destroyed. No pressure.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Phil Bildner on The Soccer Fence

By Phil Bildner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

— Nelson Mandela

I don’t have many heroes.

 There are many people I admire, but few I consider to be personal heroes.

Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes.

The same goes for Jesse Joshua Watson, the illustrator of The Soccer Fence (Putnam, 2014). For Jesse, Nelson Mandela was something of a genesis in his life.

As a teen, rather than internalize the anger at the injustices he saw around virtually every corner, Jesse pursued other outlets. He turned to art.

* * * * * *

With The Soccer Fence, I set out to write a timely sports story that also introduced young readers to an important moment in history. Writing the football parts was easy. Weaving in the historical parts without sounding too much like the teacher in me posed the greater challenge.

And as I wrote and rewrote, I struggled with a lingering concern: How could I write a book that takes place in South Africa without ever having been?

I had to go.

I always wanted to visit South Africa. I wanted to visit there while Nelson Mandela was still alive.

The Soccer Fence gave me that opportunity.

I visited last August, several months before he passed. By that point, the book was about ready to go to print. Jesse had completed the art, and for him, it had been a magical opportunity to soak back into the emotions of his fifteen year-old self. On every page, he tapped into that raw anger at injustice, the not yet jaded hopes of a newcomer and the abandon of an emerging artist.

Still, I couldn’t shake my doubt. I needed to be absolutely certain that we got everything right or as close to right as possible.

* * * * * *

My first stop in South Africa was the Apartheid Museum, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being emotionally prepared. It was every bit as gut-wrenching as a visit to the United States Holocaust Museum. All that I’d come across in my research–the Pass Laws, the Sharpeville Massacre, the Rivonia Trial, Stephen Biko–it was all here.

After touring the museum, visitors are encouraged to sit in the gardens and walk the grounds in order to help process the experience and decompress.

I was out there for hours.

* * * * * * *

Since much of The Soccer Fence takes place in a township outside of Johannesburg, I needed to visit one. So my next stop was Soweto.

When I got out of the van in front of the hostel, a group of kids were playing football across the road.

It was a scene straight out of the book, and it was at that moment that my lingering doubts and concerns vanished. Jesse had attempted to paint the legacy of his greatest hero with all the care of a shaman preparing medicine for a terribly sick patient.

He had succeeded.

* * * * *

When I booked the trip, I didn’t know about the Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture Day scheduled for Aug. 17. For the first time ever, the Bafana Bafana national football team and the Springboks national rugby team were playing on the same field on the same day. They were playing at FNB Stadium, where Nelson Mandela addressed the nation after twenty-seven years in prison.

In our book, that’s where Hector and Chris, cheered “Yebo, Bafana Bafana!” and sang “Shosholoza” as they stood in the upper deck during the African Cup of Nations.

I went to Mandela Day. I cheered “Yebo, Bafana Bafana!” and sang “Shosholoza” standing in the upper deck of FNB Stadium.

* * * * * *

In every sense, the book has exceeded our expectations. Recently, a librarian told me she grouped The Soccer Fence with Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (HarperChildren’s, 2013) and The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Putnam, 2001).

Yeah, exceeded expectations.

New Voice: Kate Hannigan on Cupcake Cousins

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kate Hannigan is the first time author of Cupcake Cousins, illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes (Hyperion, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Baking a fluffy pink cupcake is awesome, but wearing a dress that looks like one? No, thank you!


Cousins Willow and Delia can’t wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding.


But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don’t exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

Join Willow and Delia in the kitchen by following their scrumptious recipes for whoopee pies, peach pancakes, and other tasty treats!

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I was lucky enough to attend an intimate writing workshop with the remarkable Richard Peck here in Illinois a few years back. And it was listening to him speak, as he explained his personal approach to writing – old-school, of course, on an electric typewriter and paper – that I had my “ah-ha!” moment.

He talked about telling his stories, and that once he reached the end and typed up that final page of his manuscript, he immediately flipped to the very first chapter of his book and threw it out.

Tossed the whole first chapter into the trash!

“Then I’ll take this first chapter, and without rereading it, I’ll throw it away and write the chapter that goes at the beginning. Because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.”

Here’s where he speaks about his approach to writing in a 2003 interview in Publishers Weekly.

Richard’s reasoning was that we don’t know where we’re going with our story until we finally get there. And that knowledge we possess at the end changes the first steps of the journey.

This was a huge revelation, and it stayed with me as I wrote my debut novel, Cupcake Cousins, as well as my historical fiction, The Detective’s Assistant (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2015), and as I am writing Books No. 2 and 3 in the Cupcake Cousins series.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

My motto for promoting Cupcake Cousins has been simple: Just Ask.

Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest child in my family, but I’ve always believed in the notion that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So in thinking about promoting this book, I’ve taken a policy of just going for it. The worst that can happen is someone telling me “no.” And while I’ve heard plenty of “no’s” so far, here are three examples of Yes:

1) My book features strong girls who are pursuing their interests. Both cousins love to cook, but curly-haired Willow dreams of being a real chef one day. I like to cook (though sometimes I’m a little dangerous in the kitchen), and when the budget allows, my husband and I love dining out.

Kate experiments with cake pops!

One of my favorite places is called Girl and the Goat, a spectacular Chicago spot owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard.

One night when we were there, Chef Izard stepped into the dining area and chatted with a few customers. Then she politely greeted my husband and me, and asked what brought us in that night.

After a quick nod to our similar hair – we both sport crazy curls – I explained that we’d come to Girl and the Goat to celebrate some good news about Cupcake Cousins.

When Stephanie heard it involved a girl who aspired to be a professional chef, she was all cheers.

Later that night, I couldn’t sleep. Stephanie and her curly hair. My character Willow and her curls. The girl-power dreams of being a professional chef in a male-dominated field.

In the wee hours of the night, I opened up Facebook and sent Stephanie a “. . . this is crazy, but I’ve just got to ask. . .” message. And I am thrilled to be able to say that super-girl-power Top Chef Stephanie Izard contributed a blurb for Cupcake Cousins!

2) The second example I have for “just ask” involves book selling. I live near a delightful indie, 57th Street Books, in Hyde Park on Chicago’s South Side. It’s where our SCBWI network holds its meetings, where my kids find birthday gifts, where we do most of our book shopping.

But I’m also a Costco shopper. Great wine, gluten-free flour in bulk, and you can’t beat the prices on vegetables! Another thing about Costco, they sell books. Tons and tons of books.

So I thought, maybe they could sell mine. So I pulled out my stationery box, picked up a pen in hand, and wrote a simple note. “. . . this is crazy, but I’ve got to ask. . .”

Bella in fall

The address and contact person to inquire about selling my book at Costco was fairly easy to find. But summoning the courage to go for it, that was a different thing. Sometimes this book-selling world feels like a great-big impersonal place. How can my sweet little book about kids and cooking and summertime adventures bubble up? But if we don’t ask, we’ll never know what we can accomplish.

I took a deep breath and called the regional headquarters; for me in Illinois, that was their Oak Brook office. From there, I was given a telephone number to their corporate headquarters in Washington. Getting bounced around from place to place made me lose steam. And I’m not so good with impersonal exchanges. “Who may I ask for once I reach the corporate headquarters?” I asked. “Can I have a name? A person to talk to?”

“Oh, honey, you’re not going to talk to anyone. It’s just an automated message!”

Once the next phone call connected me to the corporate office, I quickly wrote down the address for Costco’s headquarters and the name of the book buyer. I had to call back a few times to get it right.

After a few web searches to confirm the spelling of her name, I sent off my hand-written note (never underestimate the power of the hand-written note) and my ARC. Here’s where:

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Book Buyer
Costco Wholesale
999 Lake Drive
Issaquah, WA 98027

After a few weeks of feeling like a giant idiot – during which a few author friends scoffed at my efforts! – I received a lovely email from an assistant book buyer for Costco who said not only would she work with my publisher’s rep to sell the books in Chicago Costco stores, but she’d arrange for book signings as well. I was over the moon, and the book buyer’s warmth made it all the better.

“Our warehouses really like to support local authors, especially if they are members. Have a great weekend!”

Suddenly this great-big-scary publishing world felt very human again.

3) I realize that the personal connection matters to me. This should be a fun experience, right? I know plenty of authors who have done book events to empty houses. One friend said at one of her events, she wound up doing a reading to one, lone listener. And he was the bookstore employee sweeping up the floors. So I decided to reach out to handful of other middle-grade authors I’ve gotten to know in Chicago’s thriving, incredibly supportive writing community.

I host a blog where I interview writers of picture books and middle-grade, and I often try to spotlight Chicago and Midwest authors. So I decided to ask if any of them might be interested in doing a sort of middle-grade jam session – forming a gang of sorts, a cabal, coterie, band, posse, a Middle-Grade in the Midwest syndicate.

“. . . this is crazy, but I’ve just got to ask. . . ,” I said in my email.

And every one of them said yes.

So beginning in May, once my book hits the shelves along with the rest of theirs, look for the six MGMers – Amy Timberlake, Liesl Shurtliff, Michele Weber Hurwitz, Emily Fairlie, Wendy McClure, and Kate Hannigan – at a book event near you!

There is strength, and fun, in numbers.

Cynsational Notes

Author Of… The writers behind great children’s stories – from picture books to middle-grade, novels to non-fiction from Kate Hannigan.

Magic teacup Kate uses while writing.

Illustrator Interview: Greta Cencetti

Liam and Greta

By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Greta Cencetti is a children’s book illustrator whose work has been published in Italian, English, German and Chinese. Her artwork has been exhibited Germany, the U.K. and China.

Most recently, her series of illustrations
Migrant Children featuring children during depression era U.S.A. were exhibited at the GALATA Museum in Genoa, Italy. This project was supported by the U.S. consulate in Genoa. In addition to illustrating, Greta is also a writer, singer and music aficionado.

Your creative work (in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books) includes costume design, scenery, figurines and even glass windows. How did you get your start in children’s books?

I began as a painter and painting pictures is still an important part of my work. I started illustrating books because many years ago I fell in love with The Sandman, a short novel by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the romantic German writer. I felt compelled to paint this story. When I started, I had so much pleasure in doing it that I needed to continue. It’s wonderful to imagine locations and characters while you read a book that is capturing your mind and imagination.

I tried to publish my illustrated version of The Sandman. I started with a publisher in Italy, but I didn’t succeed. However, some English publishers expressed interest in my work; but they were more enthusiastic about my illustrations than the text. My first books were published by Nardini, an Italian publisher from Florence. Over time, I have had many books published, but not The Sandman.

The most important event for me to fine illustration work is the Bologna Children’s Book Fair: there I can meet publishers from all over the world and very interesting people.

You’re published in multiple languages (German, Italian, English, Chinese) how did this come about?

This is a direct result of going to the book fairs. First of all the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and, secondly, the Frankfurt Book Fair. At these events, I meet many publishers from all over the world.

It is very important to have keen curiosity about works of other people; illustrating is not only a job, it is a way to communicate with others. I think this is the most important thing: to be curious about and to continue to discover new things. This is something that helps me as an illustrator.

I notice that many of your books have a musical theme (the World of Composers Series from Brighter Child and Play Me a Story, published by Barefoot Books). Is music a special interest of yours?

Music is one of the most important things in my life. I can’t remember a day in my life without music. When I was very young, I was already listening to jazz music in my father’s arms and, when I was just a little older, I started listening to Mozart’s symphonies.

I love any kind of music! I sing in a choir as a soprano and I dedicate every Wednesday to music.

I’m sure the series about the composers (Bach, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Beethoven, Handel and Mozart) must have involved a lot of research. Did you run into any interesting surprises while illustrating these books?

Oh, yes, many interesting surprise! I loved learning about Chopin’s life. He was a very good person, gentle and generous and benevolent. As soon as I finished my book, I went to Poland with a little car… it was a very long journey!

I visited Chopin’s birthplace and the Holy Cross Church where they keep the heart of the composer. He wanted his heart returned from France to Poland, his beloved country.

Copyright Greta Cencetti; used with permission.

Bach was very interesting as well. He had 15 sons and many of them became composers, too. In the evenings, the Bach family used to gather and play as an orchestra …very convenient!

Here’s a funny story I learned about Handel’s escape from Lubeck. He was offered a job there to succeed the famous organist Buxtehude. Handel was young and handsome and shocked to discover that the job agreement required he marry Buxtheude’s daughter. Unfortunately, she was neither young nor beautiful. So Handel abandoned the job and ran away from Lubeck.

Handel had immense success in London and Dublin. Theatres were so crowded that women in attendance were forbidden to wear petticoats so there would be more space!

I spent many years working on the assignments about music composers. It was one of the most important experiences I had while illustrating children books.

You’ve recently illustrated Wunderschöne Märchenwelt (Beautiful Fairy Tale World) for F. X. Schmid, an imprint of Ravensburger in Germany. The illustrations are bold and in primary colors (a very different illustration style from the pastel watercolors of the folk tales and composer books.) How do you decide on the style for each project?

Beautiful Fairy Tale World is a more commercial book than the other books I have illustrated. So I used colors that customers would expect. I have to adapt my style to the publisher’s requirements.

Your work has been exhibited in galleries in Italy, Germany, Great Britain and China, how did these gallery exhibitions come about?

It depends on the country. When Barefoot Books published Play me a Story, they invited me to exhibit the illustrations in a London gallery; I was very glad to agree. It was Christmastime, the gallery was full of children and a storyteller told fairy tales; it was a very emotional experience.

In China, my illustrations for the first edition of Fantasy of Musicians (a series about composers for Ta-Chien publisher in Taiwan) were exhibited by the publisher throughout China and Taiwan.

I exhibited in different places in Germany, including a collective exhibition at the International Youth Library, which is housed in a castle in Munich.

Italy is my home country, so I often exhibit in museums or art galleries here. My last exhibition was two months ago at the Galata Museum in Genoa. This museum is dedicated to sea life and migration. My exhibit “Migrant Children” was displayed.

How did you become interested in the subject of children during the depression in the U.S.A.?

First of all, I’m very interested in the American art of the 20th
century. I particularly love works of American photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Russel Lee. When I read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, I was impressed and I thought to myself “I must do some work about these people”.

Copyright Greta Cencetti; used with permission.

I chose to depict children because I was particularly moved by the deep, melancholy eyes of these little migrant children during the time of the Great Depression. I saw them as proud, beautiful, little heroes going through the adversities of life.

I made use of a wide range of bright colors. In the background, I included very high and colourful skies. It was a way to give those children of the past some joy, some kind of happiness, some hope for a better future.

I’ve been living with the children in this project for three years, always thinking of them. It was a very important and emotional work for me.

I really enjoy the page of your website La grenouille ivre (the drunken frog) where you share your thoughts for new books and stories. Is this a collection of works that are in progress or finished projects?

It depends. I finished the Gretika project. It is a series of short stories about two children and a dog who have special powers; they can detect problems connected with nature. I’ve fully finished two short stories, but I still have many ideas about Gretika!

The Dog and the Baby is also finished. I wrote the text and painted some illustrations. The content is a tribute to my beloved dog, while the style is a tribute to the American magazine Camera Work which was issued at the beginning of the last century.

The others works are still in progress….ideas, beloved things, an ideal world, anything comes to my mind when I think about something connected to children… and while I’m waiting for a suitable publisher for each idea also!

Considering that you are both a writer and an illustrator, how do stories first come to your mind, as text or images? How do you dig deeper into your stories, by writing or illustrating?

First of all, I get an idea… it is very strange the way it comes to me…sometimes it starts with a situation or a landscape, or a person’s expression, even the expression of an animal…other times a piece of music or memories occupy my thoughts; all those things, I visualize as images and the initial idea takes shape in my imagination.

I write and I sketch, I always have a little notebook and a pencil with me, and the idea sometimes remains for a long time on the pages, before it becomes something that I try to develop as a project. Illustrations and texts go together!

What is a typical work day like for you?

I have a little studio in my home. In front of it there is a terrace filled with many different types of plants. Before I start to work, I spend time with my plants…I always listen to music, always.

Very rarely I am working on a project that requires silence; otherwise I’m always listening to music. Music is food for my soul and imagination. While working I take the phone off the hook and switch the mobile off. I need to be left alone.
I like to work in the evening. I’m often work until I am oblivious of the time, including mealtimes!

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?

It is wonderful and very difficult work. It is not really a work, it is a necessity. Every time one meets difficulties, there is still the desire to continue, therefore, illustrating is a necessity.

It is important to have the necessary preparation. I suggest drawing as often as possible in the open air, trying to master any technique and never being afraid of changing.

Changing always improves one’s spiritual life and art. One must be aware that, at any time, there are things to learn from history, art history, music, literature. All these are wonderful treasures, they are food for one’s creativity and imagination.

Cynsational Notes

More on Angela Cerrito

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric therapist by day. Her debut novel,  The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011), was named to VOYA’s top of the top shelf, a YALSA quick pick and a Winchester Fiction Honor Book.

Her forthcoming novel A Bright Flame (Holiday House, Fall 2015) is based
on her research in Warsaw Poland including interviewing Irena Sendler, a
mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance, who helped over
2,500 children escape the Warsaw ghetto.

Angela volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is the
co-organizer of SCBWI events at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Angela contributes news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative,
literature and publishing community in Europe and beyond.

In Memory: Kate Duke

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Kate Duke by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Children’s author and illustrator Kate Duke, known for her playful concept books starring an affable cast of guinea pigs, died unexpectedly at her home in New Haven, Ct., on Sunday, April 20.”

Writer and Artist Kate Duke Dies at 57 by Mahnaz Dar from School Library Journal. Peek: “Charmingly illustrated, Duke’s works were also informational, conveying concepts such as letters and counting or the idea of storytelling.”

Learn more about Kate Duke.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to debut YA Author Catherine Linka on the release of A Girl Called Fearless (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014)! From the promotional copy:

Avie Reveare has the normal life of a privileged teen growing up in L.A., at least as normal as any girl’s life is these days. After a synthetic hormone in beef killed fifty million American women ten years ago, only young girls, old women, men, and boys are left to pick up the pieces. The death threat is past, but fathers still fear for their daughters’ safety, and the Paternalist Movement, begun to “protect” young women, is taking over the choices they make.


Like all her friends, Avie still mourns the loss of her mother, but she’s also dreaming about college and love and what she’ll make of her life.

When her dad “contracts” her to marry a rich, older man to raise money to save his struggling company, her life suddenly narrows to two choices: Be trapped in a marriage with a controlling politician, or run. Her lifelong friend, student revolutionary Yates, urges her to run to freedom across the border to Canada. As their friendship turns to passion, the decision to leave becomes harder and harder.

Running away is incredibly dangerous, and it’s possible Avie will never see Yates again. But staying could mean death. 

See also An Interview with Catherine Linka on A Girl Called Fearless by Tami Lewis Brown from WCYA: The Launch Pad at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Peek: “Technically speaking, it is not easy to kill 50 million women in a relatively short span of time. But I was undaunted. Yes, I am dauntless.”

More News & Giveaways

Let’s All Make the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign an Ongoing Movement by Patrick Flores-Scott from Latin@s in Kid Lit. Peek: “The movement needs to push us published authors of all colors and stripes, to mentor diverse up-and-comers, to include pro-bono school visits to underfunded schools, and to write real, complex, fallible diverse characters who live the entirety of the American experience.” See also A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing by Lisa Yee from Red Room and The Stories We Tell by Zareen Jaffery from CBC Diversity.

The Green-Eyed Conference Monster by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “If your goal is to learn something about craft, are there lectures or workshops you could participate in, either in-person or online?” See also Do You Suffer from Fragile Writer Ego? by Judy Mollen Waters from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Now that I’d seen it exhibited by two big name authors, I realize that no matter how successful, every writer must have it.”

HarperCollins to Buy Harlequin by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…the biggest upside in acquiring Harlequin is the huge boost it gives to HC’s global presence. According to the companies, about 40 percent of Harlequin’s revenue comes from titles that are published in languages other than English.” See also Toon Books Adds Imprint for Older Readers by Brigid Alverson from Publishers Weekly.

Interview with Nikki Grimes by Laura Purdie Salas from Poetry for Children. Peek: “A poem might be needed to create back-story, or to explain the emotional state of the character, or to establish the story arc. Whatever the case, it is always Story that drives my choices.”

On Personal and Collective Memory: An Interview with Marjorie Agosín by Lyn Miller Lachmann from The Pirate Tree. Peek: “Although this book mirrors Chilean history and the era of Pinochet, the names [of the historical figures] are invented and I reimagined the time frame. I could not bear to make Celeste Marconi endure 17 years of a fierce dictatorship. Three was enough.”

Writing & a Survey of YA Lit with Muslim Protagonists by Sajidah from YA Highway. Peek: “…it looks like female Muslim characters have just raised their boots to kick the door open in the publishing industry. Which leaves us to wonder about boys and books again…well, Muslim boy characters and books.”

Crafting Powerful Sentences by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: “These juicy sentences (I love that term, by the way) are the ones that evoke the most emotion, imagery, tension, etc.”

Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award from Crazy QuiltEdit., Peek: “currently seeking submissions to be considered for the 2015 award in two categories….”

I Am Not My Book by Tara Dairman from Emu’s Debuts. Peek: “Note that I didn’t say that ‘my’ jacket arrived, or that ‘I’ got reviews, or that I’m planning ‘my’ launch parties. I did that on purpose, because—as I’ve been trying to remind myself daily of late—I am not my book.”

Love or Market: Which Is More Important? Agents Reveal Their Thoughts by Lisa Gail Green from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek from Sarah Davies: “My fallback position is always, ‘If I see something to love here, if I respond emotionally, then I believe there will be an editor who feels the same way.'”


Interview with Debut Author Rebecca Petruck by Tamera Wissinger from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: “I love how willing middle grade readers are to suspend their disbelief and go with a story that catches their attention no matter how outrageous the idea—even if the ‘outrageous’ idea is only that they might ever live on a farm and raise cattle.” See also Interview with Award-Winning Author Shutta Crum by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf.

Disabled Characters in YA Literature by Carly Okyle from School Library Journal. Peek: “Reading and carrying literature in libraries that do disabled characters ‘right’ is something librarians can initiate as part of their own nod toward recognizing the disabled community.”

Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding After the Apocalypse by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: “We usually don’t need to know every detail of the apocalypse in the first chapter, or even by the end of the book.”

Confessions of an Edgy YA Writer from Lindsey Lane. Peek: “My goal is to write books that hold grit and dirt right next to faith and mystery.”

I Am Not My Book…Or Am I? by Laurie Ann Thompson from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “As readers, I think we tend to equate the author with the work more often than we might care to admit. We ask ourselves, ‘Would I like this person?’ and we base our answer on whether or not we liked the book and the ideas it contained.”

Planing, Preparing and “Performing” School Visits by Caroline Starr Rose from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Check in with author friends who more experienced and ask them for advice. This is how I learned I needed a City of Albuquerque business license and an Albuquerque Public Schools vendor number. I also found out I would have to pay gross receipts tax for any visits conducted within the state of New Mexico.”

2014 Whitney Awards

Note: “The Whitneys are an awards program for novels written by LDS authors.”

Aurealis Award for Excellence in Speculative Fiction
Compiled by Cynsations Reporter Christopher Cheng

The Aurealis Award for Excellence in Speculative Fiction is an annual literary award for science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction for Australian works published the preceding year. There are four categories: science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult and children’s fiction (ages 8-12 years). The YA and children’s categories cover works in all three speculative fiction genres and each have two separate awards, one for novels and one for short fiction.The Aurealis Awards were held at University House, Australian National Uuniversity on April 5. See full list of winners.

“Never Counted Out”

You’ve heard about Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Candlewick, 2013). See the documentary trailer about the book’s life-changing tour to empower at-risk youth. Learn more here.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

More Personally

Writer Me is resting as Author Me and Personal Me take over for awhile.

This week has been filled with dear friends, administrative tasks, responding to media requests and event preparation, which, granted, includes speech writing.

So maybe Writer Me never rests completely.

The link lingering on my mind this week is Staying Published by Sophie Masson from Writer Unboxed, and on the geek front, there’s The Amazing Gwen Stacy Problem by Brett White from Comic Book Resources (warning: major spoilers).

I’m pleased to welcome YA author Pam Bachorz to the Austin area! We all look forward to getting to know her better.

Congratulations to Cynsations Europe reporter Angela Cerrito  on the sale of “A Bright Flame” to Holiday House! The novel is based on her research in Warsaw Poland including interviewing Irena Sendler, a mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance, who helped over 2,500 children escape
the Warsaw ghetto.

Congratulations to Texas YA debut author Kristin Rae on the release of Wish You Were Italian (Bloomsbury, 2014)!

Congratulations to author Doris Fisher, who won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award for the Oklahoma-Texas district for Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert, illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner (Pelican, 2013)! See the entire list of regional winners.

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Mari Mancusi on the sale of “Cross My Heart” to Alyson Heller at S&S/Aladdin. “‘Cross My Heart’ tells the story of an eighth-grade snowboarder who returns to her elite mountain boarding school after an accident nearly destroys her dreams of Olympic gold, and finds herself faced with pressuring parents, frenemies, and first love. It’s slated for late 2015/early 2016; Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency brokered the deal for world rights.”

Personal Links

With Greg Leitich Smith & Nikki Loftin

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award (deadline Monday!). See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

#BringBackOurGirls by children’s book illustrator Micah Player

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kami Kinard on Middle Graders Make Great Characters

By Kami Kinard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My world is peopled with middle graders – my daughter, her friends, and the students I see when I volunteer or do school visits. Additionally, most of the fictional characters I’ve come to know and love are middle graders.

I met a lot of them in the books I read, and others have sprung into my head and then onto the pages of the books I write.

Middle graders are awesome! So I love creating middle grade characters.

When writing for middle graders, it’s important to think about who these young people are. All characters, no matter what their age, need distinguishing physical traits, goals, and backstories.

Of course middle grade characters should sound like kids and tweens in the dialogue. But on a deeper level, how are middle grade characters different from others?

First and foremost, no matter what attributes we give our middle grade characters, the child within them should remain visible.

I love this about Eoin Colfer’s character Artemis Fowl, a teenage criminal mastermind who is still young enough and child-like enough to believe in fairies. This makes him all the more dangerous!

Artemis’s genius intellect allows him to craft elaborate schemes which drive the plots in Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series (Hyperion). Yet he still has embraces the belief that he can achieve the impossible, and because he believes it, he often does!

Middle graders are becoming independent and solving problems on their own or with limited parental input.

In my latest novel, The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy (Scholastic, 2014), Tabbi plans a cupcake-selling fundraiser to help buy new books for the library of her cousin’s hurricane- demolished school. The fundraiser is fraught with mathematical (and comical) problems that Tabbi and her friends must work though. Though her mother is present in the story, Tabbi’s emotional growth occurs because she solves the most significant problems alone.

Despite their growing independence, middle graders still require nurturing love.

Diggy, the main character in Rebecca Petruck’s debut novel, Steering Toward Normal (Abrams/Amulet, 2014), struggles with this throughout the novel when a half-brother he hadn’t known about moves in. Diggy, who was abandoned by his mother as a baby, needs his father, but he’s also mad at him, and jealous of Pop’s new relationship with the son he hadn’t known he had.

Although Diggy aspires to raise a prize winning steer, to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, and to pull the best April Fools prank ever, his story is grounded in the need for familial love.

An unfortunate truth about middle graders is that they deeply care about what their peers think of them.

This is often a motivating force in a middle grade novel. The entire plot of H. N. Kowitt’s The Loser List (Scholastic, 2011) revolves around this truth. Danny Shine, the protagonist, desperately attempts to get his name removed from the humiliating list of male losers written on the wall of the girls’ bathroom.

Kowitt employs peer-consciousness through subplots as well as Danny bends to the will of school bully Axl, must win back the faith of his best friend Jasper, and tries to impress his crush, Asia.

Who are middle graders?

They are children merging into adulthood who still need love, friends, goals, and independence.

They are learning to deal with the pains of rejection and to find humor in embarrassment.

They are fantastic, complicated, fun, people. Fiction couldn’t ask for better characters!

Cynsational Notes
 

Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister and The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy, both from Scholastic.

Other than being a writer, she has been a camp counselor, a bookseller, a preschool teacher, and a high school English teacher.

She is known for making ridiculous analogies, an obscure talent that serves her well.

You can find her on her blog, on Twitter as @kamikinard and Facebook. See also New Voice Kami Kinard on Writing Humor and The Boy Project from Cynsations.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a bookplate-signed copy of The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy by Kami Kinard (Scholastic, 2014). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Tabitha “Tabbi” Reddy believes in signs. Like fortune cookies. Magic 8-Balls. Shooting stars. And this year, she hopes, looking for the right signs will lead her to the right boy! 

Inspired by her BFF, Kara (star of The Boy Project), Tabbi starts her own “project” in the hopes of finding a cute crush. With the help of a math lesson on probability, Tabbi tries to predict who the right boy for her might be! Where is she most likely to meet him? What is he most likely to look like? 

Full of fun illustrations, hilarious equations, and lessons in cupcake-baking, life, love, and friendship, this book has a 100% probability of awesomeness.

“For any spirited, entrepreneurial teen that’s ever had a crush, this sweet read is sprinkled with lessons on life, love and business.” – Kirkus Reviews

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Elizabeth O. Dulemba on What To Do When The Story Finds You

By Elizabeth O. Dulemba
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve heard authors say they didn’t feel like they wrote their story—more like they were a conduit to some greater force writing through them.

It sounded like a bunch of hooey until it happened to me.

They say you write what you read. Well, I grew up reading fantasy. I called it my brain candy.

So why was I suddenly writing this historical fiction middle grade, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle Press, 2014)?

It began during a meeting between copper miners and the company owners who wanted to open a scenic railway going from a Southern Appalachian mining town north to a rare and interesting turn-around at the top of a mountain. The company wanted to fund the railway by reopening the mine and shipping out one load of sulfuric acid per week. The miners said “no way.”

They stood like gnarled oak trees in denim and flannel telling stories of lost friends, family, and coworkers to injury and illness, all because of the mine. They made thinly veiled threats that if the company’s plans went forward, the railroad tracks would be sabotaged.

I sat in the meeting feeling like a Muse had put her hands around my throat. She whispered, “You’re a writer. I need you to write about this.”

But I was a picture book author. I had no idea how to tackle such a complicated and very real topic. I tried to write the story in a format I knew, but of course it wouldn’t fit. I did research and interviews, and the story grew bigger. My agent sent it out as a chapter book, but the Muse wasn’t satisfied.

Although I received lovely compliments on my writing, it didn’t sell.

And then I remembered… I loved Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows (1961). I loved Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001).

Maybe historical fiction middle grades weren’t as alien to me as I believed. I realized that each of those stories had a believable and likable boy in the center of bigger things. So I met my boy (I don’t say I created him), Jack, and I set out to tell this enormous story through his eyes.

It took ten years. It went into a drawer for a while. But the Muse wouldn’t let me forget or give up. I owed the people living in the Copper Basin community to complete the story.

This wasn’t a creative endeavor for me. This was a responsibility.

Then one day, while talking to my now publisher about a picture book project, she said, “You know, we’re really looking for an environmental novel. You don’t have one of those lying around, do you? Ha, ha.”

The story sold.

My wonderful editor helped me take the story apart like a puzzle and put it back together upside-down and backwards, but better.

I gave it the best I had, for I’d grown in my skills over the years.

Finally, the Muse was pleased. An enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A Bird on Water Street will be released on May 7, 2014. I have fulfilled the purpose I was assigned.

How the story goes from here—well, I suppose that’s up to greater forces than me.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy of A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle Press, 2014):

When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? 

A miner’s strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. 

Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children’s book author/illustrator with two dozen titles to her credit. She is Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Southern Breeze region, a board member for the Georgia Center for the Book, and a Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program. She speaks regularly at schools, festivals, and events, and her “Coloring Page Tuesday” images (free to parents, teachers and librarians) garner around a million hits to her website annually with over 3,000 subscribers to her newsletter.

A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle Press) is her first novel. It’s a SIBA (Southern Indie Booksellers Association) Spring Okra Book Pick, a (Gold) Mom’s Choice Award Winner, and the 2014 National Book Festival featured title for Georgia.

Scroll past gallery (below) to enter the giveaway!

Cynsational Gallery

Photos shared with permission.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Little Pickle Press, 2014).  Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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New Voice: Megan Jean Sovern on The Meaning of Maggie

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Megan Jean Sovern is the first-time author of The Meaning of Maggie (Chronicle, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Maggie Mayfield can’t stop thinking about Oreos and this is just one of her many conundrums. 

She also has two older sisters with bods that don’t stop and she has to wait to campaign for president for almost an entire quarter century.


Then in one summer, her conundrums triple when her father takes a fall at work. What happened? The truth? It’s not what happened to him, it’s what’s happening to him.


The Meaning of Maggie is a novel set in a house too small for all the big problems plaguing a smart girl just trying to survive adolescence armed with after school snacks and deep thoughts.When her father’s legs permanently fall asleep, Maggie begins a search for meaning that she never expected.


And just like that, getting a B doesn’t seem like such a huge deal*.


*Okay getting a B is still a huge deal. But you get the idea.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Maggie’s story is inspired by my own. But she’s so different, cooler, more confident and more hotheaded than I ever was. I didn’t want her to have any of my meekness especially when it came to getting to know her dad and what was happening to him. I really shied away from ever wanting to know more about the progression of my own dad’s MS. But Maggie faces it head on. And I love that about her. I love that she goes all in. She pulls up her bootstraps. She’s always searching for more.

The secondary characters of Maggie’s mom, dad and sisters take turns leading her in and out of darkness. But I wanted the reader to always trust them. They really do always have Maggie’s best interest in mind even when that best interest drives her bananas.

And I really consider Maggie’s dad’s MS to be the main antagonist. It has a personality and purpose all its own. And it constantly challenges the family and how they relate to one another. It’s the villain that pulls them a part but eventually pushes them back together.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like?

Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Fate and Google connected me with my super agent Marietta Zacker.

I really had no idea what I was doing. So I researched online how to put together a query letter and then I made a list of twelve agents who represented work that I really loved. I received a few notes of interest right away but they didn’t pan out for one reason or another. And then a month after I had queried Marietta, she called me.

And it was magic. I felt instantly connected and inspired by her. She’s funny and fiery and everything I needed. And she ruined my life and told me to start over completely and write Maggie from first person. And she was totally right. She encouraged me to give it all I had.

My initial manuscript was very timid. And she shook that out of me. So maybe she didn’t ruin my life. Maybe she made it 1000% better.

I took her advice and she disappeared. And then almost a year later, I sent her a completely revised and ready Maggie. She read it in one night and signed me the next day.

I cried buckets.