Guest Post: Chris Barton on A New & Diversity Bookselling Strategy: BookPeople’s Modern First Library

Newlyweds Chris & Jenny

By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Many of my ideas — good, bad, and otherwise — originate while I’m exercising, and Modern First Library was among these.

One evening this past winter, while my wife, fellow author Jennifer Ziegler, and I were walking our dog, I bemoaned an article I’d read about an independent bookseller’s baby gift registry.

Of the classic picture books mentioned in the article — through no fault of the store, I’m assuming — the newest one was published during the first Nixon administration.

We’re in a pretty terrific era for picture books. You might even call it a golden age, and I’ve been working for years to try to contribute to it myself. But how, I griped, was the general book-buying public going to know about contemporary standouts such as I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2011) if major media outlets so readily reinforce shoppers’ tendencies to look to their own youth — or even to earlier decades — for the books they give as gifts to modern kids?

If only, I thought, there was some way to leverage the public’s interest in buying the tried and true into the purchase of classics and contemporary titles. I wasn’t interested in just shifting sales from old to new — booksellers and kids alike would benefit a lot more if those parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents and family friends bought two picture books instead of just one.

Our walk ended, and that was as far as it went. But not for long.

A couple of weekends later, the groundshifting essays by Walter Dean Myers (“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”) and Christopher Myers (“The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”) ran in The New York Times.

A widespread urge to Do Something About This led to lots of conversations among authors, editors, librarians, and other champions of children’s literature. It led to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

And it led me to email Meghan Goel, the children’s-book buyer at my beloved local indie BookPeople, to discuss a new spin on the notion I’d had on that recent walk.

Wait — email Meghan in what capacity?

As an author? Yes, but also as a BookPeople customer, and as a dad, and as a member of the community. Of various communities, in fact, large and small.

What’s important is not whether I felt especially qualified to lend my voice but rather that I had an idea that I thought might be worth trying and I decided not to keep it to myself.

Sharing an idea was the least I could do.

Here’s what I emailed, under the subject line “Getting past Goodnight Moon”:

Hey there, Meghan,

Like apparently half of everyone I know, I’ve read the Myers’ New York Times essays with tremendous interest. And those essays sparked a diversity-encouraging idea that I wanted to run past a bookseller or two before I get too enamored of a notion that may be either entirely unoriginal or totally unworkable or both.

My sense is that there a lot of gift-giving adults whose familiarity with picture books doesn’t go far beyond the likes of:

Would there be an effective way to encourage these adults to buy the classic titles they have in mind and a new picture book that reflects the modern, diverse world that the recipients inhabit? And could such an effort be widespread and long-lasting enough that it could reward publishers for doing a better job of making good on their good intentions?

Am I nuts? A simpleton? Both — and way off base, to boot?

I’d love to know what you think.

Chris

Meghan’s reply?

“I love this idea.”

Right away, she came up with the name “Modern First Library.”

Meghan suggested partnering with a small but diverse group of other authors whose voices on behalf of such a program might make it more successful. And she thanked me for reaching out to her.

We worked together to come up with a list of other authors we wanted to have involved. We tossed around ideas for great, vibrant, fun contemporary titles that we ourselves would want to have as the foundation for a child’s first collection of picture books alongside the established classics.

All the while we kept in mind the need for a program that would work specifically for BookPeople — for its staff, its available space for in-store and online promotion, and local tastes and demographics — while being potentially repeatable by indie booksellers in other communities.

Author-illustrator contributor Don Tate

We didn’t rush into anything, even as the conversation about diversity in children’s literature remained a passionate one within the publishing and bookselling industries.

By the time our planning was done and the program launched the first week in July, Modern First Library consisted of a simple in-store display of both standalone titles and starter sets of similarly themed books, plus an online campaign that soon began featuring insightful, inspiring blog posts by locally based and nationally established creators of books for children and young adults.

More starter sets are available online, and the program is still picking up momentum. Those pre-wrapped gift sets will be heavily featured at the store during the upcoming holiday season.

Let me tell you, it feels great to know that young readers will be receiving selections from Modern First Library as gifts this year.

I stop by the Modern First Library display, just to admire it, every time I’m in BookPeople. Seeing it makes me glad all over again that I reached out to Meghan rather than assume I had no part to play in addressing the dearth of diversity in children’s literature.

And considering that all this began with my wife and me walking the dog, it’s certainly provided positive reinforcement for us to keep on getting plenty of exercise.

In all sorts of ways, this entire experience has been a gift in itself.

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman’s) and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children’s-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.

Author Interview: Paula Yoo on Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus

Learn more about Paula Yoo.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)! 

What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Thank you! The initial inspiration was from one of my editors at Lee & Low Books.

I worked with Jason Low on my last book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009).

After that book came out, he and I discussed what my next book should be. At the time, Jason had read Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty with Alan Jolis (Public Affairs 1999). He thought Professor Yunus would be a great biographical subject for Lee & Low Books. He suggested I read Banker to the Poor, too.

I read and loved the book – like Jason, I was very inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ work. I agreed with Jason that Muhammad Yunus’ life would make for a fantastic children’s picture book biography.

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

The timeline took about a year, from idea conception to research and writing and submission for publication and acceptance. I worked with editors Jason Low and Emily Hazel for a few months as I crafted a first draft and received their editorial input.

After several rounds of revision, they felt the book was ready to submit for official consideration. And then I received the good news – the book was accepted for publication!

I then worked with editor Jessica Echeverria for the final version.

As for any major events, I would say the biggest event was meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles for a conference. It was truly an honor to meet and interview the man who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

There are so many challenges into bringing a historical picture book biography to life for young readers. I’d say one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to balance historical facts and figures with an engaging and compelling narrative storyline that keeps the young reader’s attention.

Another challenge is making sure young readers can identify with the main character – what was Muhammad Yunus like as a child?

How can a modern-day child from America relate to a young boy growing up in Bangladesh from the 1940s to ’60s?

What are the universal elements of Muhammad Yunus’ life that any child can relate to and understand?

I discovered that Muhammad Yunus was a very sensitive and caring young boy who questioned why so many people in his country grew up in poverty. He wanted to help them. His spirit of generosity influenced all his decisions from childhood to adulthood. I wanted to share that beautiful and very universal compassion with today’s young readers.

In addition, the book also touches upon some very complex issues, from the history of Bangladesh the nation to the concept of “micro-credit” and banking and interest rates. These are topics that even adults can find complicated and confusing. So another challenge was figuring out how to write about these issues not only accurately but also in a way that did not bore or confuse a child reader.

Let’s just say there were many drafts and revisions before I finally figured it out!

What advice do you have for children’s nonfiction writers?

Paula Yoo & Muhammad Yunus

I have two pieces of advice for children’s nonfiction writers.

First, I cannot stress enough how important it is do “primary source” research. There’s so much information out there on the Internet, and a lot of it is second-hand information that is not credited properly.

Fact check your information. See if you can do live in-person interviews with sources for your book. There’s nothing wrong with “cold calling” a subject – I did that with Muhammad Yunus.

I found his website and left emails and voicemails with his office in Bangladesh. They responded immediately and graciously arranged a full sit-down interview with him.

You never know unless you try. Do follow-up interviews. Triple check facts with other sources. Make sure you footnote and credit your information.

All of this research advice is based upon my own background as a former journalist – I wrote for The Seattle Times, The Detroit News and People Magazine and received an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University. So I am very meticulous with my reporting.

Photo of Paula by Sonya Sones

I know it may seem like overkill, but trust me, you will feel so much better when you sit down to write because you really did your “homework.”

Now having said that, my second piece of advice is the exact opposite.

Once you have completed your research…walk away from it. Focus on finding out what the story is… and figure out who your main character is… a nonfiction book is not a magazine article or academic essay crammed with facts and figures.

You’re still telling a story.

So I also recommend using the same fiction-writing techniques you use for fiction picture books and novels for nonfiction books. Find out what the beginning, middle and end is for your story – what’s the conflict? What are the obstacles? How does your character change and grow on his/her journey?

Then for revisions, you can go back and figure out how to blend the nonfiction facts seamlessly into the “fictional” narrative story you’ve written.

How about those concentrating specifically on picture book biographies?

I’d say the exact same thing as above but with an emphasis on character. Your main character – the biography subject – is no different than a character in a fictional picture book or novel.

Your character is going on a journey – he/she is going to have a goal or desire. That goal or desire will be met with obstacles that your character has to overcome.

How does your character change at the end of the story? For Muhammad Yunus, he wanted to help poor people. But he soon found out that helping poor people was a lot more difficult than he had anticipated.

Instead of just using his economics degree to teach classes at the university, he went into the rural villages and met with poverty-stricken villagers so he could truly understand the vicious cycle of poverty. This led to his “out of the box” thinking and using his creativity to set up Grameen bank and the concept of “micro credit” and small loans for groups of women in order to teach them how to become financially independent.

This led to Muhammad Yunus winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize… his journey took him from being a compassionate child to a professor who used his intellect to make a huge difference in the world and change people’s lives forever.

For anyone working on a picture book biography – think big. Your main subject should have a compelling and interesting childhood and many obstacles that he/she must overcome in order to triumph as an adult historical figure who helped change the world for the better.

My other picture book biographies – Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009) are both equally as “big” as my book on Muhammad Yunus.

Sammy Lee was not allowed to swim in his town’s public swimming pool in the 1920s-30s because he was not white. He overcame racial discrimination to win two Gold Medals as a diver in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics.

Anna May Wong grew up as a poor laundryman’s daughter in downtown Los Angeles and overcame racial discrimination to become one of the first Asian American movie stars.

For those who are new to your work, could you tell us a bit about your back-list titles?

In addition to my picture book biographies, I also have a YA novel called Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) that was re-issued in paperback in 2012.

It’s a funny and heartwarming story about a Korean American teen violin geek. I poke fun at the “Model Minority Myth” and tackle other Asian American stereotypes/racial discrimination, but the bigger story is about a young girl who learns the difference between success and happiness and following her own path.

This novel was inspired by my real life background as a violinist.

(When I’m not writing, I play the violin professionally in various local orchestras and with rock bands in Los Angeles.)

I am also a TV writer/producer. I’ve written for everything from NBC’s “The West Wing” to SyFy’s “Eureka.” I’m currently a Supervising Producer on the writing staff for Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” which is based on professional oboist Blair Tindall’s memoir of the same name. The series was created by Paul Weitz, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Alex Timbers. It’s a fun look behind the curtain of professional classical musicians.

I love how your blog pays proper attention to your cats! Please share with us how they contribute to your writing life!

Thank you for the cat shout-out!

My three cats Oreo, Beethoven and Charlotte help me write quite a bit. They will sit by my side while I write (especially Oreo!).

Sometimes I have to “pitch” story ideas out loud for my TV job as well as for my books.

So I find myself pitching out loud to my cats… that way I don’t feel as strange talking out loud to no one else in the room. The cats are easily distracted, so it’s good practice for me!

They also keep me calm with their purring. And because they get restless and want to eat or play, it helps me from procrastinating because I know I only have a limited period of time to write before the cats start nudging me with their paws and heads, demanding attention.

Cynsational Notes

Paula Yoo is a children’s book author/novelist and a TV writer-producer.

Her latest book is Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (Lee & Low, 2014), illustrated by Jamel Akib. Her YA novel Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) was a 2009 Honor Book of the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

Her other books include the IRA Notable nonfiction picture book biographies Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009), which also won the 2010 Carter G. Woodson Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

She is currently a supervising producer for the show “Mozart in the Jungle” on Amazon. Her other TV credits include NBC’s “The West Wing” and SyFy’s “Eureka.”

When she’s not writing, Paula teaches, plays her violin and hangs out with her three cats. Her website is http://paulayoo.com and you can follow Paula and her cats on Twitter @paulayoo and @oreothecatyoo

Book Trailer: The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks Fire, 2014). From the promotional copy:

This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother–and there can only be one winner. 

In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. 

The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. 

Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. 

It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.

Cynsational Notes

Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes by Cindy Rodriguez from Latin@s in Kid Lit. 

Guest Post: Barbara Shoup on The Real Jack Kerouac

By Barbara Shoup
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Few writers attained the fame Jack Kerouac experienced after the publication of his novel, On the Road (Viking, 1957). The book captured the spirit of rebellion bubbling beneath the staid and satisfied 1950’s, and inspired countless young people to throw off their parents’ expectations and set out on adventures of their own.

Kerouac himself became an icon, a role he both gloried in and despised—and which, ultimately, undid him.

Looking for Jack Kerouac isn’t about Kerouac himself, but about a boy, Paul, who takes off in search of him because he believes Kerouac can help him figure out what to do with his life.

“Lost in the pages of On the Road, I felt like…myself,” he says. “Like the book knew who I was, what I wanted, and was speaking back to me somehow.”

But the Jack Kerouac Paul finds is nothing like Sal Paradise, the character Kerouac fashioned after himself in the book. He’s living in a tacky little house with his elderly mother in St. Petersburg, Florida—an alcoholic, a bigot, a right wing fundamentalist and full of rage about where his life has taken him.

What could a guy like that offer a grief-stricken, idealistic young man in love with the idea of freedom? That was the biggest challenge I faced, writing the book.

Like most people in my generation, I’d read On the Road. I thought of Kerouac as the ultimate in cool, shaking his fist at the world, going where he wanted to go, doing what he wanted to do. I knew Kerouac was wild and reckless, that he squandered his career and died young of cirrhosis of the liver.

But reading his books and books about him, especially those by people had known him, made me begin to understand what a complex person he had been, what a bundle of contradictions.

The more I read about Kerouac, the more real and sympathetic he became to me. The icon faded, leaving a just a wrecked man, who had just enough left in him to give a grieving kid what he needed to accept his mother’s death and begin the next phase of his life.

I don’t want to do a spoiler here, so I’ll just say that answer lay not in On the Road, but in Visions of Gerard (FSG, 1963), an autobiographical novel about the death of Kerouac’s saintly older brother.

I worried a lot about getting Jack right. I didn’t want to glamorize him, nor did I want to make him seem only pathetic. So I was thrilled when David Amram, a close friend of Kerouac, said this about my novel:

“Like Kerouac’s own writing, Barbara Shoup’s new book Looking for Jack Kerouac brings you right into his world and gives the reader a chance to spend time with him. Shoup’s portrayal of Kerouac is astonishingly real and provides a whole fresh look of what it was like for those few of us left who spent time with him.” 

No matter what happens to the book from here on out, the knowledge that I succeeded in capturing Kerouac’s spirit will always mean more to me than anything else.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

#LookingForKerouac @barbshoup @SamiJoLien
Set in 1964, Looking for Jack Kerouac tells the story of Paul Carpetti, a boy from a working class family in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana, whose dreams of a different kind of life and grief at the loss of his mother set him on a road trip that includes a wild night in Nashville, Tennessee, an all-too-real glimpse of glimpse of racism; and an encounter with a voluptuous mermaid named Lorelei—landing him in St. Petersburg, where he finds real friendship and, in time, Jack Kerouac. 

By then a ruined man, living with his mother, Kerouac is nothing like the person Paul has traveled so far to meet. 

Yet, in the end, it is Kerouac who gives him the key that opens up the next phase of his life.

Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Where Books Meet Disaster: A Brief Reading List About Kids and Migration from Meg Medina. Peek: “The difficult story of migration is the Latino story, and it is the human story since time began.” See also Eleven Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration from Lee & Low.

Hidden Emotions: How to Tell Readers What Characters Don’t Want to Show by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them.” See also Angela on Taking Your Character Further and Deeper with…Anger? and Character Skills & Talents: Promotion.

Drawing From Real Life to Enrich Fiction by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…in my own fiction, I’d spent a lot of time and energy focusing on being funny or clever, but it wasn’t until I really dug deeper emotionally and explored some areas that hit very close to home that I actually succeeded in selling a book.” See also Sarah Callender on Doubt, Fear and Constipation and Robin LaFevers on The Crushing Weight of Expectations from Writer Unboxed.

Submit Your Novel to New Visions Award for New Authors of Color from Tu Books. Peek: “…will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color.” Deadline: Oct. 31.

What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon by Aimee Bender from The New York Times. Peek: “It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure.”

a Scheider Book Award winner

Interview with Alyson Beecher, Schneider Family Book Award Chair by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: “…there is an increase in the quality, as well as, the number of books being published each year that portray individuals with disabilities. This is a fabulous thing; however, there still needs to be more, especially for young children under the age of eight years old.”

In Defense of “Real” Realism in Children’s Books by Emma Barnes from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: “…creating something entertaining and captivating out of the mundane is challenging – maybe more challenging than ‘the big stuff’.”

Formatting to Indicate a Mid-Scene Break by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “This is more an issue of clarity than of rules.”

When Happily-Ever-After Ends Between Writing Client and Literary Agent by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: “We’re quick to announce on our blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter about signing with an agent. We’re not so quick when it comes to announcing we’ve split ways.” See also Stina on Balancing Your Writing Career Against Social Media.

Diversity in Children’s Books: It’s a Question of Power by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “…if the adult is saying, ‘This is about this,’ sometimes that gets in the way of the child’s imagination.”

Character Buy-In by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “Before we’re ready to believe that dinosaurs roam the earth again (or whatever), the character has to believe it. Only then will the reader go along with the story and feel safe suspending disbelief.” See also Mary on Interiority in the Third Person.

2013 Woodson Award Winner

Carter G. Woodson Book Award Call for Submissions from the National Council for the Social Studies. Peek: “…presented to the most distinguished young reader non-fiction books depicting ethnicity in the United States.” Note: Nominations due postmarked Oct. 10.

100+ Picture Book Agents from Mondays with Mandy and Mira.

Did Harry Potter Help Shape the Politics of Millenials? by Anthony Gierzynski from Slate. Peek: “Reading the books correlated with greater levels of acceptance for out-groups, higher political tolerance, less predisposition to authoritarianism, greater support for equality, and greater opposition to the use of violence and torture.”

Interview with Little, Brown Editor Alvina Ling from Goodreads. Peek: “I do think that the quality of books featuring characters of color has improved (fewer stereotypical depictions, more variety), and also, if you look at the total number of diverse characters in books, I believe the numbers would be vastly improved.” Note: Alvina makes an important point here; most statistics of representation reflect only protagonists.

Picture Book Builders: Published authors/illustrators Linda Ashman, Kevan Atteberry, Jill Esbaum, Pat Zietlow Miller, Jennifer Black-Reinhardt, Barb Rosenstock, Tammi Sauer, and Eliza Wheeler post twice/week about one element of a specific picture book that impresses them and, more importantly, why that element works so well. They hope aspiring picture book writers will return for inspiration again and again.”

Innate Identity versus Imagine “The Other” from Karen Sandler. Peek: “Based on who I am, how well can I get into this character’s head? How authentically can I write her identity, her culture?” See also Are We Ready for Unstoppable Characters of Color? by Sharon G. Flake from CBC Diversity.

Cynsational Screening Room


 

Cynsational Giveaway

Jean Reidy is holding a contest with the grand prize being a first pages critique from a New York editor!
Until high noon on Sept. 26, children’s author Jean Reidy will be holding a contest on her blog. The grand prize is a critique, from a New York editor, of the first five pages of your picture book, middle grade or young adult novel. The contest benefits Reach Out and Read Colorado. See more information.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

With fellow Austin authors Sam Bond and Bethany Hegedus
Chatting books with Belle at Epcot!

Congratulations to SCBWI’s Tomie dePaola Award Semi-Finalists!

This Book Is for You by Cynthia Leitich Smith from BookPeople’s Modern First Library. Peek: “When we imagine the books our children will hug, what do the covers look like? The heroes? What do heroes look like?”

Dedication Delights from Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Note: Includes the story behind Kathi Appelt‘s dedication of The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) to me and Greg Leitich Smith.

Links of the Week: Lower 9th Ward Librarian Wins First Lemony Snicket Prize, J.K. Rowling Sends “Dumbledore”-Penned Letter to Texas Shooting Survivor, Matt de la Pena on Secrets Spawned of Machismo, Matchmaking & MySpace and The Writers’ Retreat.

Personal Links

Happy 100th birthday to my literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd.!

Cynsational Events

Austin SCBWI Fall Workshop: Research for Fiction, Nonfiction & Historical Fiction Writers will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Laura’s Library in Austin. Speakers include: Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at Highlights magazine, along with authors Cynthia Levinson, Greg Leitich Smith, and author-librarian Jeanette Larson.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl’s Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel “Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?” from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Events Report: Kathi Appelt & Rita Williams-Garcia at The Writing Barn & BookPeople

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Highlights of summer included a visit to Austin by two dear friends and coleagues New York City author Rita Williams-Garcia and College Station author Kathi Appelt. While in town, they taught a full-novel workshop at The Writing Barn and teamed up for an event at BookPeople.

Greg Leitich Smith and I also had the opportunity to visit with workshop students at The Barn

With Rita at County Line on the Lake
With Rita at The Driskill
With Rita and Kathi at Maudie’s Hacienda
With Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn
Greg entertains students by singing opera at The Barn.
Workshop students & faculty with director Bethany Hegedus; photo courtesy of The Writing Barn.
With Anne Bustard, Kathi, Rita & April Lurie at Trace.
With Greg, bookseller Mandy Brooks, & Kathi at BookPeople.

New Voice: Rachel M. Wilson on Don’t Touch

Book Club Guide

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Rachel M. Wilson is the first-time author of Don’t Touch (HarperTeen, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A powerful story of a girl who is afraid to touch another person’s skin, until the boy auditioning for Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.


Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Touch another person’s skin, and Dad’s gone for good.


Caddie can’t stop thinking that if she keeps from touching another person’s skin, her parents might get back together… which is why she wears full-length gloves to school and covers every inch of her skin.


It seems harmless at first, but Caddie’s obsession soon threatens her ambitions as an actress. She desperately wants to play Ophelia in her school’s production of Hamlet. But that would mean touching Peter, who’s auditioning for the title role—and kissing him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn’t sure she’s brave enough to let herself fall.


Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, this debut novel from Rachel M. Wilson is a moving story of a talented girl who’s fighting an increasingly severe anxiety disorder, and the friends and family who stand by her.

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

Because of how things work at Harper Collins, there were many “calls” with several stages of increasing excitement: They’re interested! It’s going to an editorial meeting! It made it through editorial! It’s going to acquisitions!

All these different people have to sign off on the book, and on the days of those various meetings, it was surreal going to work knowing that in New York, people I’d never met were making decisions about my book.

We had other interest as well, so I had the opportunity to speak with the prospective editors.

“The call” I remember is the one in which I heard the final offers and needed to make a decision by end of day.

At the time, I was coordinating an after-school program. The kids would be arriving any minute, but I ducked into a classroom to hash out the pros and cons with my agent, Sara Crowe. I also called my friend Varian Johnson for moral support.

I’m terrible with big decisions—I always mourn the loss of the path not taken even when I’m confident I’ve made a good choice—and I needed to hear voices I trusted supporting my decision. I couldn’t really go wrong, but at the same time it felt like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where any path might lead to a swamp monster devouring my book deal.

After I made my choice official, I had to continue on with work and have a normal afternoon, and none of it felt real.

It finally hit me when a friend said she’d seen the announcement in Publishers Marketplace. I saw her message in a parking lot, started to drive away, and then had to pull over and sob.

It was the weekend of AWP in Chicago, so I walked around the conference all weekend with this secret knowledge, wanting to tell everyone.

Luckily, I had plenty of writerly friends in town to share the good news. A few of us went to The Magic Parlour at the Palmer House Hilton, and I went to the VCFA meetup at AWP and won a VCFA teddy bear in the raffle, which was the nicest coincidence since he always reminds me of how unstoppable I felt that whole weekend.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

How have I approached it? Like a mascot on ice skates, which is to say with much enthusiasm, limited foresight, and little regard for my personal well-being. It seriously feels like a full-time job, and it can become one if you let it.

Organization is key. A production manager friend of mine recently helped me overhaul my task management and email systems. For the first time in my life, I have an empty inbox, and I’ve been using Trello to track to-dos. I try to say “yes” to every opportunity, so anytime I’m offered an interview or guest blog, I add it to Trello and set a deadline so I won’t fail to follow through.

Remy Frankenstein

My main support system and fount of ideas has been the OneFour Kidlit debut author group. On our forum, we ask each other questions like, “What’s the deal with book plates?” “Where does one get book plates?” “What does one do with book plates?” “Do I seriously need book plates?” etc., etc.

For the record, I have not ordered bookplates.

I may regret that.

That’s the thing about promotion—there’s no end to what you could do, little agreement on what you should do, and definite limits on what you can do. This way lies madness.

Knowing myself, I’m more likely to follow through with something I’ll enjoy on multiple levels. And since there is limited time and money for all of this, I might as well spend it on the fun parts.

For example, I proposed a giveaway contest to Fashion by the Book. I enjoy that blog, I want to get more involved with Tumblr, and the contest is something I’d want to do—I like making outfits with Polyvore. After seeing several of my fellow debut authors running giveaways of annotated ARCs and thinking that would be fun, I decided to make my own.

I’m also making a book trailer. That might not be fun for every author, but as a theater person in a major city, I’m able to wrangle many helpful friends, including an amazing director and casting director, Matt Miller, whose webseries, “Teachers,” was recently picked up for a pilot with TV Land.

Beyond getting organized and having fun, my advice is to brainstorm all the possibilities—even the ones that seem out of reach, make wish lists, prioritize, be generous in helping out other authors, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to bloggers and suggest promotional posts or giveaways; ask your friends and your publisher for support. As long as you’re being kind and respectful of people’s time, the worst they can say is “no,” and I’ve found that “yeses” are far more common.

train tracks in Irondale, AL, where the book is set

Cynsational Screening Room

In Memory: Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers at the 2001 Bookfest at the Library of Congress

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Over the summer, children’s-YA literature lost a legendary author. My sympathies to his family, friends, and readers.

Walter Dean Myers, Prolific and Beloved Author of Award-Winning Children’s Books, Dies at Age 76: Myers Touched So Many with His Eloquent and Unflinching Portrayal of Young African American Lives by HarperCollins from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek:

In a career spanning over 45 years, Walter Dean Myers wrote more than 100 books for children of all ages.

His impressive body of work includes two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books.

Sept. 2014

He was the winner of the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

In 2010, Walter was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and in 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, serving a two-year tenure in the position.

Also in 2012, Walter was recognized as an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree, an honor given by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his substantial lifetime accomplishments and contribution to children’s literature.

Walter Dean Myers: Yesterdays by Lee Bennett Hopkins from Onto Tomorrows. Peek: “This post is not about Walter’s incredible literary accomplishments; it is about my relationship with one of the greatest human beings one could encounter in life.”

Celebrating the Poetry of the Late Walter Dean Myers by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: “His deep, resonant voice sticks with you. Perhaps because of his own struggle with spoken speech, his pacing in his poetry is so thoughtful and meaningful.”

Cynsational News & Return

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations!

I hope y’all had a joyful summer.

By Austin standards, it was blessedly cool in the 80s and 90s.

I finished up edits on the pass pages for Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015) and focused on the business of being an author, deep-cleaning and reorganizing my home, and reconnecting with my close friends and family. Having finished the ninth (and final) book in the Tantalize-Feral ‘verse, it felt like a good (and long overdue) time to exhale.

Now, we’re back to school, so to speak. Perhaps because I’m a graduate of the 20th grade, I still see September is a time of renewal. New backpacks, new pencils, new friends and opportunities for fun and adventure.

For those of you who stepped away from the Internet this summer, I’ll modestly attempt to begin updating you on the important events in the kidlitosphere while moving forward into the fall.

Cynsational News

On Overnight Success (Surprise! It’s a Lot Like Failure) by Laurie Ann Thompson from Emu’s Debuts. Peek: “Having just the right wait time will eventually put me on the right track with the right skills and life experience for the right idea for the right editor at the right time (hopefully!).”

Public Twitter lists of K-12/Teen Librarians and Children’s-YA editors by Debbie Ridpath Ohi @inkyelbows.

Just Walk Away: Authors and Illustrators Who Do by Betsy Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: “Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Will she ever write another children’s book again?”

Rita Williams-Garcia’s CSK Author Award Acceptance Speech from The Horn Book. Peek: “On the one hand, children need to feel secure. They need a stable environment to thrive and to be able to look forward to the future. On the other hand, the change needed to secure that stability, that future, that chance to thrive — it can’t happen without volatile struggle. We enjoy a good deal of what we have today because someone struggled.” See also CSK Illustrator Award Winner Bryan Collier’s Acceptance Speech.

Ten Reasons to Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper (Or, Go Team Writers!) by Gwenda Bond from A Writer on the High Wire of Life. Peek: “…writers are not competing against each other in some sort of book sales Hunger Games, especially not in districts of self-published/indie authors versus traditionally published authors, with hybrids as jabberjays or something. We’re just not. If there are sides, writers are on the same one. But I don’t think that there are sides.”

Life Doesn’t Permit…and Other Wise Words on Making Time to Write by Cynthia Lord from Kate Messner. Peek: “Writing is that still small voice that is easily drowned out by the hundreds of other voices of things you care about or should do.”

Character Talents and Skills: Photographic Memory by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “The perception about photographic memories is that people with this gift can perfectly recall everything they’ve ever seen, even in moments when they weren’t particularly paying attention. They often describe their brains as being ‘cluttered.'”

Should You Hire an Editor Before Querying? Agents Weigh In. By Lisa Gail Green from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Using Picture Books to Teach Satire by Teddy Kokoros from The Horn Book. Peek: “We have failed our students if they graduate from high school and post Onion articles on Twitter and Facebook thinking they are real…”

Why Design Matters for Your Author Website by Maria Ribas from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Design is your brand. And agents and editors want to know that you’re treating your brand like a business, not like a hobby. This means that you’re willing to invest significant time and money into creating a website that clearly communicates your brand.”

Five Stereotypes Positive-Aging Picture Books Avoid by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging. Peek: “…people who internalize positive stereotypes of aging, from childhood, live up to 7.5 years longer than those who internalize negative age stereotypes.”

Be Brave by Donna Bowman Bratton from Emu’s Debuts. Peek: “This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life.”

South Asian Children’s-YA Book Award

Winners: A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2013); Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Kids Can Press, 2013).

Honor Books: Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013); Gandhi: The March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013); The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013); Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013).

See also Highly Commended Books from Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape.
 

Note: “The South Asia Book Award (SABA) is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diaspora, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books are also recognized by the award committee.” 

More Personally

Celebrating the release of Heap House with fellow Austin YA author Edward Carey at 24 Diner.

Congratulations to Stacey Lee and Don Tate, winners of SCBWI’s Book Launch Award, and congratulations to Jennifer Sommer of Ohio, winner of SCBWI’s Philip and Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award! See How Don Is Planning to Spend His Grant and How Stacey is Planning to Spend Her Grant.

Cheers to Janet S. Fox on the sale of Chatelaine: The Thirteenth Charm in a pre-empt to Kendra Levin of Viking! (Click the link to view a video sneak peek!)

Seeking Diversity in a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Cynthia Leitich Smith from BookPeople’s Modern First Library. Peek: “I decided that Leia must’ve been like me, a mixed blood Native girl. I didn’t know what she was doing a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or how she’d become a princess and senator. But she was strong and smart and a leader, all of which were compatible with my vision of Native women.”

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Her Tantalize and Feral Series from Printasia. Peek: “Feral Pride will bring to a head the tensions between shifters and humans, even as the greedy, media-savvy yet secretive yeti-like species manipulating them both comes closer than ever to public exposure. Also, there’s a giant, egomaniacal snake, cool classic cars, and prom.”

Crazy QuiltEdi says of Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2014): “The witty dialog and use of present tense writing keep the story moving at a brisk pace. Leitich Smith smoothly packs in a unique, descriptive backstory as she builds an incredible world…”

I love this story: How a VA Middle School Librarian and Her Book Club Raised Funds to Provide 15,000 Meals for Students in South Sudan by Lauren McBride from School Library Journal.

See also The Johnson County First Amendment Foundation Remembers Nancy Garden.

Personal Links

With fellow Austin YA writer H. Scott Beazley at Hyde Park Bar & Grill!

Cynsational Events

Austin SCBWI Fall Workshop: Research for Fiction, Nonfiction & Historical Fiction Writers will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Laura’s Library in Austin. Speakers include: Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at Highlights magazine, along with authors Cynthia Levinson, Greg Leitich Smith, and author-librarian Jeanette Larson.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel “Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?” from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin.