Interview: Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson on Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014)! What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Betsy: Well, back in the day (I think it was about 2009 or so) I noticed that there were a great many really top notch children’s literature bloggers out there that had sites that were unique and interesting.

Two of them in particular caught my fancy.

There was Peter Sieruta, who ran a historical children’s lit blog called Collecting Children’s Books, and there was Jules Danielson, who with another person was running the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast illustration blog.

I don’t think anyone would have read those blogs alongside my own and thought we necessarily had similar voices, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to them and saying, “Hey! Let’s write a book!”

Of course I had no idea what kind of book to propose. So we put our heads together and came up with the notion of writing about the true and often little known stories behind children’s books.

It was just our great good fortune that we ended up with Liz Bicknell at Candlewick as our editor. She took one look at our behemoth of a manuscript (every time I tell this story it gets bigger, but I swear it was around 700 pages) and said that the first thing we needed to do was cut it down and the second was to rally round a theme.

 After some discussion we realized that one point that kept coming up time and again in our manuscript was the fact that people have this view of children’s literature that it’s some cute little fluffy bunny, sunshine and daisies world where all authors and illustrators skip through meadows with a childlike sensibility. The truth is far more interesting, so we took that interesting truth and made a book out of it.

Why mischief?

See notes for copyright information.

Jules: As Betsy said, we wanted to debunk the romanticized notion of children’s literature that is so prevalent today (with, say, the Average Person on the Street).

There’s also some condescension that occurs too (“oh, it’s just kiddie lit,” as if it’s not worth anyone’s time to discuss or study), and we do address that in our book as well.

So, taking a look at acts of mischief can go a long way in showing that these are books written by adults, who don’t necessarily live infantile lives.

One illustrator with whom we spoke said that when she tells people she illustrates children’s literature for a living, she gets the sense that a lot of people expect her to act like a well-behaved child herself. And that’s an unfortunate thing.

As for the word itself, the sub-title of our book comes from a lecture that Patricia Lee Gauch once gave at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2011. It was called “Picture Books as an Act of Mischief,” and it’s a wonderful lecture. (It can be read here.) We secured her permission (and the Carle’s permission) to use it for our book.

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

Betsy: Jules may have to correct me on this but as I remember it we first came together as authors in 2009. We tapped my agent, the amazing Stephen Barbara, and he hooked us up with Candlewick and Liz. Then for the next three years we worked on it together. 2010 and 2011 weren’t particularly significant. There was a lot of running to libraries, consolidating ideas, and editing one another.

In 2012, however, things took a significant turn. By this point we’d
submitted the manuscript to Liz and been told to cut it down. We were
in the midst of doing that when I received a phone call from Jules on
the evening of May 26th. She said she’d been on Facebook and saw that
Peter’s brother John had written via Peter’s account that Peter had died
the night before.

Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what Jules meant by that. Neither of us had ever met Peter in person but we were fairly certain it would happen someday. His “voice” online was so clear and distinctive that there was no confusing it with anyone else. The idea that it was now gone . . . well, it was inconceivable.

 By this point Peter had turned in all his writing and we were just culling things down, but now Jules and I found ourselves in the odd position of having to edit the manuscript for the first time without Peter’s guidance, wit, and humor.

We did so, happy at least that the book would carry on his voice in some form. In 2013 we spent the better part of the year making absolutely 100 percent sure that our sources were dead on and that we had permission for everything in this book. It was hard work, the hardest I think it’s safe to say we’ve ever done on a piece of writing, but in the end it was worth it. Voila. Wild Things.

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

Betsy: Peter’s death was the biggest challenge, no question.

How do you cut a chunk of the book that he loved without getting his permission to do so? It was some comfort that we got to put some of his stories onto our book’s blog, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

See notes for copyright information.

That was a challenge and so was getting the permissions for the book. I guess you could say that the permissions were both the biggest challenges and the biggest triumphs.

 Every time we got a permission to use something, whether it was a photo or a quotation, we felt like breaking out the champagne.

Jules: What Betsy said! Peter’s death really threw us for a loop, and it’s a really bittersweet time now, since the book is finally out and we’re excited – yet he was really pumped for this day to happen, and he’s not here for it. It’s not the same without him.

Our only consolation is that his voice lives on in this book.

And, yes, permissions can be the devil, so each one we tracked down and nailed (from image permissions to text permissions) was, as Betsy said, a little triumph.

Who is your intended audience?

Betsy: That was a question we had right from the start. To what extent do you specialize?

When our book was still in its monolith state, we had a lot of stories that were hugely interesting to us, but might not catch the eye of someone who wasn’t already into children’s literature.

So when we honed things down, we realized that we’d have to narrow our focus a bit. That tale about the true story behind the Newbery Award winning book Onion John (Crowell, 1959) might be awesome, but how many people have ever heard of Onion John (or care to)?

 In the end we hope that this book will appeal not only to people who already work with children’s books in some fashion but also to those adults that have fond memories of the books of their youth and might be curious about some of their back stories.

 Judging from the current trend of children’s book biopics (“Saving Mr. Banks,” the upcoming Shel Silverstein picture, the upcoming C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien feature, etc.), there’s a definite interest.

What did you learn about writing nonfiction?

Betsy: Source everything from the start so that you don’t have to go back over your work a million times just to make sure you got things right.

Learn how to make Source Notes. Keep your Bibliography in order. And definitely be flexible.

Third circle of hell, illustrated by Stradanus.

If the estate of a great big author or illustrator decides that the only way you can include a piece of information is to pay them untold gobs of money, have back up material to replace the stuff you’re not allowed to use.

Oh. And photos permissions belong in a circle of Dante’s Inferno that few people should ever have to visit.

Jules: Yes, keeping notes of each and every little thing cannot be emphasized enough. Also, be clear on what you are expected to do and what your publisher will do.

Candlewick was great to work with, but since this was my first nonfiction book (well, it was my first book), I admit to some naïveté over the amount of work involved regarding permissions.

I thought, for instance, that surely some intern at the publisher’s camp would handle, say, image permissions for us! Nope, you as the author handle all of that yourself. This is fine, but be prepared.

I’d also add: Be willing to let go of that really great quote you wanted in the book but can’t quite afford (I have a Madonna story along those lines … oh, Madge), because it’s outrageously expensive, and embrace paraphrasing.

What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?

Jules: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my first piece of advice would be, once again, to keep copious, seriously nerdy and detail-oriented notes about each and every source and where you got it, and become one with the notation of page numbers.

Also, I should say: It was a joy to write with Betsy and Peter, so my advice would be much different if I had done it alone. I had them to lean on; I had them to turn to with questions or teeth-gnashing or advice. We probably went a long time without saying word one to our wonderful editor, because we had each other. I feel like they made me a better writer.

Visit Wild Things!

How did your tie-in website come to be?

Jules: There were many stories we wanted to share that were cut from our book. We turned in, as Betsy noted, a manuscript that was much longer than what was required. I think we cut about a third of the book.

We also had to re-organize and re-structure the book, and after that happened, many stories no longer fit. We thought sharing them at a site would be a fun thing.

It’s a lot like, as Betsy puts it, the Director’s Cut version of the book.

Would you like to admit to any mischief of your own?


Betsy: Golly. What kind would you prefer?

I can definitely say that I’ve been a bit mischievous in my promotion for this book. You see, there were certain stories out there that we knew and just couldn’t use because the perpetrators (so to speak) were still alive and kicking and probably wouldn’t appreciate us bandying about their names.

Still, I’ve slipped references to these stories into some of our blog posts. For those in the know, when I say “the dead cat story” they know exactly what I’m referring to. Or when we mention “the most infamous Caldecott speech of all time” (the one that more librarians claim to have witnessed than could have actually fit in the banquet hall), you’ll see some surreptitious nods. Or the story that involved someone punching someone else out.


I can’t use it. I can’t even allude to who might have been involved or where it might have taken place.

But buy me a drink some time and I might easily spill all.

Jules: Most people don’t know about the great Pooh Bear Heist of ’99. … Nah, I’m too guileless, and I’d get caught.

Instead, I’m going to answer for Peter – in a way. Peter pulled off many an April Fool’s joke at his site, Collecting Children’s Books, and they were so much fun.

Here’s one bit of mischief, probably my favorite.

I think he really got some people goin’ for a while there.

Cynsational Notes

Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and the author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (HarperCollins, 2013). She has also written a nonfiction text for library students, called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career (ALA, 2009). In addition to writing for The Horn Book, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives with her family in New York City.

Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and has also written for The Horn Book. At her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and/or interviewed hundreds of picture-book creators. Julie, who lives with her family in Tennessee, also teaches picture books as a Lecturer for the School of Information Sciences’ graduate program at the University of Tennessee, where she got her library degree in 2002.

Wild Things!. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Guest Book Recommendation: Chris Barton on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying

By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

As a reader, I’ve lately accumulated a large pile of books I’ve read only halfway. Getting all the way through a single book lately has been challenging.

But when I heard comedian and TV writer Carol Leifer (“Seinfeld,” “Modern Family”) on a podcast several weeks ago talking about the attitudes toward professionalism and creativity that have come in handy during her four-decades-and-counting career, those reflections sounded to me like they could have come from an experienced, successful children’s/YA author.

And when Leifer mentioned her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy, I suspected it was one I should read.

I’ve now read it twice. Let me tell you: Its applicability to the kid lit career that I and so many of my friends have chosen far exceeds my expectations. Plus, it’s really funny. You should read it.

Seriously — whatever your professional or creative path, this entire book is worth your time. But in case your not-yet-finished reading pile resembles mine, I’d like to share some of the especially resonant parts of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying:

Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler & Cynthia Leitich Smith

1. “What is the topic for which the discussion never ends? The subject that could keep a conversation going on a train from New York to Florida, if you met a stranger interested in the same thing? The answer is a good indicator of what career to aim for.”

I’ve found this to be true for me for children’s writing in general — I confess that I get disappointed by any social gathering that doesn’t provide an opportunity for discussing books for young readers — but also for specific story ideas or research topics.

Writing a book can take a long time, and when setting out on that journey it’s best to be paired with a subject that you never grow tired of discussing.

2. “[W]hatever job you’re in or aspire to get, you’ll never go wrong sharing your genuine enthusiasm with those involved and keeping tabs with folks you meet as you pursue your goals.”

This is especially true in an industry where folks move around so much. Editors, publicity and marketing folks, and librarians with whom you connect often land elsewhere not long after you’ve made that connection.

Even if that connection involved an opportunity that fell through, you made an impression, and you’ve now got memorable ties to where they currently work as well as to where they used to be. Cultivate those ties. Make the most of them.

3. “As a writer, I find that connecting to my body via exercise has become the essential counterpart to spending so much time inside my brain.”

And, I might add, to spending so much time in front of a screen. As I try to always tell kids when I visit schools, I do much of my best creative thinking while exercising.

I’m tempted to say that I’d type this post while walking or running if only I could figure out how, but that’s not true. I cherish the time I get to think about the right words without having any possibility of writing them up at that particular moment. If they’re truly the right words, they’ll still be in my brain by the time I get back home.

I could go on and on about Carol Leifer’s new book, but she’d probably like me to leave you wanting (to buy) more, and I’ve got my own books to write.

So I’ll leave you with just one more lesson from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying — one I aim to keep in mind the next time I review an editor’s changes (and every time after that):

4. In the making of “Seinfeld,” she says of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David‘s final passes on the scripts, “I pored over their drafts, studying which parts of my script they kept, what they threw out, and what they altered. …Whenever your ideas don’t rise to the top, or if they get changed along the way, it’s important to understand why.”

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.

E-Volt Oct. Special: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith for $1.99

E-Volt Deal!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thrilling news!

The electronic edition of my novel Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for $1.99!

It’s the third novel in the Tantalize series, but it can stand alone and is a perfect read for Halloween!

You’ll try to fight it. But you’ll only be fighting your true self.
It’s done. It’s destined. In time, you’ll come to accept it.” He pulled
back his sleeve to reveal two dress watches. “In time, you’ll come to

Quincie P. Morris, teen restaurateuse and neophyte vampire, is in the
fight of her life — or undeath. Even as she adjusts to her new
appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love, the hybrid
werewolf Kieren, of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of
Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who “blessed” her; and
keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running.

She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful
Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the
rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon
reveals his true nature — and a flaming sword — and they hit the
road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late.

Even if they save the world, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?

With a wink and a nod to Bram Stoker, New York Times best-selling
author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites the casts of Tantalize and Eternal
in a delicious dark fantasy her fans will devour.

Blessed was a YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee.

“Off-handed humor, clever wordplay, and a host of supernatural beings
will delight fans of Smith’s Tantalize and Eternal, the two novels that precede this one,
though Blessed can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.”
–School Library Journal

“Wild and ultimately fascinating…
“..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren] attraction….” 
–Kirkus Reviews

“Quincie is a capable, independent and appealing heroine
who has matured considerably since her debut in Tantalize.
…Blessed raises expectations for a complex (and thrilling) conclusion.” 
–The Austin American-Statesman

See more reviews, interviews and blog buzz, sample chapter, media kit and reading group guide.

Check out the sale at E-volt!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Firstborn Cover Analysis & Author Interview: (Former Editorial Director) Lou Anders by Matthew MacNish from Project Mayhem. Peek: “To create the countries of Norrøngard, Ymiria, and all the lands on the continent of Katernia, I researched numerous cultures. I worked out time lines to five thousand years. I invented cosmologies and religions. I have an entire book’s worth of notes that isn’t in the book.”

Age 14: The No Man’s Land Between Middle Grade and YA by Dianne K. Salerni from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Is it just a random benchmark applied by one giant book store chain that some publishers buy into, and others don’t? Why does this particular age matter so much?”

2014 Cybils Nominations Are Open from The Cybils. Peek: “The big one: the book needs to be published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014. Oh, and one book per category per person. No exceptions.”

How to Write What You Don’t Know by Crystal Chan from National Novel Writing Month. Peek: “Are you willing to dig deep and analyze systemic racism—not just in our society but within themselves?”

History and Magic by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…anyone who writes in my genre can tell you that the historical research still needs to be done, and done thoroughly. A novel containing fantasy elements should be consistent to its time and culture, whether that time and culture are historical, imaginary or some blend of the two.”

Cyn’s favorite Halloween Book!

October 2014 Calendar of Children’s Books by Elizabeth Kennedy
from Note: autumn, National Bullying Prevention Month,
National Hispanic Heritage Month, Star Wars Day, Teen Read Week,
Halloween and more. See also Are You Ready for Some Football…Books? by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book. 

The Writer of Faith by Martine Leavitt from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “Some of my students who love their religion have asked me how I, as a writer, cope with the expectations of people in a faith community. These young writers have no desire to rebel, and yet in an effort to portray the truth, sometimes fiction offends.”

Advice from Authors by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I now schedule exercise just as I would a meeting and find that it makes me that much more effective. And happy.”

Stuck in the Writing Doldrums? by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “The writers who last, who keep producing quality writing, are usually those who have found a way to stay on an even keel most of the time.”

Kirkus Prize Finalists

From The Washington Post: “On Tuesday, Kirkus announced the finalists for its first prizes — 18 books in fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. The winner in each of the three categories will receive $50,000, making it one of the largest literary awards in the world.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Exciting News! My novel Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series)(Candlewick, 2013) has received the Writers’ League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award. See finalists and more information.

Thank you to Mr. Gray and the students, teachers, administrators, staff and families of Harvard Elementary School (Houston) for a wonderful school visit on Thursday evening and Friday.

With fantastic Harvard Elementary librarian Mr. Gray and Greg Leitich Smith.

Greg and I enjoyed visiting with kids (from PreK to grade 5) and their families as well as leading workshops for the fourth graders! One of the best schools we’ve ever visited! Loved it!

Last week’s highlights also included the Tweens Read panel at South Houston High in Pasadena, Texas. I wasn’t on the program, but I went with Greg and played fan girl to many author friends and soaked up the book love from 1500 young readers. Yowza! The enthusiasm was sky high!

Brava to Blue Willow Bookshop and the entire volunteer committee for an excellent event! See full coverage via Greg’s event photo report.

With author pals Jenni Holm & Jennifer Ziegler outside Blue Willow Bookshop.
Matt London, Jessica Brody, Jennifer Brown & Greg on the “Houston! We Have Problems!” panel.
With morning keynoter Jacqueline Woodson.

Six Minutes with an Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith from LitPick at Facebook. Peek: “Don’t forget to floss, eat something green every day, and if you’re suffering from writer’s block, try dancing in the dark to Olivia Newton-John‘s ‘Xanadu’ album.” Note on Facebook? See the LitPick site instead!

Personal Links

Inspired by “My Fair Lady”

Cynsational Events

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.

Guest Post: P.J. Hoover on Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

Cynthia & P.J. at Texas Book Festival

By P.J. Hoover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014) is my fifth novel, but given how long the publication road has been, it’s possibly the one I am the most excited about.

Tut follows the adventures of an immortal King Tut who is stuck at the age of thirteen and has to repeat eighth grade over and over again (talk about perpetual puberty!).

The first couple chapters are set in the past, in ancient Egypt, as we find out how and why Tut is immortal, but after that, we switch to present day Washington, D.C. where the remainder of the book takes place.

My last published novel was Solstice (Tor, 2013), a book solidly planted in the young adult market.

With Tut, I’ve gone back to the middle grade market. The book is aimed at those Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans out there, third-to-eighth-grade kids, people who adore King Tut, or anyone who enjoys fun fantasy.

It’s been a four years since my last middle grade title, and one thing I’ve discovered more than anything else is that marketing to this age group has changed!

Not only are kids online more, librarians and educators are, too.

I admit it. I love spending time online and playing computer games.

And maybe it makes me a slacker parent, but I often let my kids play longer on their games so I can play, too. (I’m a firm believer that one of the best family time activities is Mario Kart.) My kids never complain. And seeing how much time my kids want to spend on the computer or game consoles, I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between gaming and reading.

There are a few exciting things I managed to pull together for Tut.

Why are they exciting? Because they are exactly the kind of book extras that I would have wanted if I were a kid. Heck, I’m an adult, and I am loving them. So get your gamer thumbs ready and read on!


The first thing I came up with (with the help of my kids and their friends) is a MINECRAFT server for Tut. If you don’t know what MINECRAFT is, ask any later elementary school or middle school kid, and they will enthusiastically tell you.

The server for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life has many locations used in the book. Not only can kids visit the world of Tut, they can interact in the same ways that Tut does. They can escape from his tomb. They can find secret tunnels under Washington, D.C. There is also be a place on my website where kids can “apply” to become builders on the server.

In addition, there is a MINECRAFT scavenger hunt. Kids can warp around from place to place on the server piecing out hidden words that can then be strung together to reveal a secret message.

Just a note: MINECRAFT is also starting to get more traction in the educational market. My daughter’s third grade class used it to learn about perimeter and area. You can read more about the educational version of MINECRAFT and the regular version.

Learn more about the TUT MINECRAFT WORLD.

Video Game (using SCRATCH)

The second thing I came up with is a video game for Tut. The video game itself is pretty cool (with ten levels, codes to decipher, patterns to recognize), but what really makes it exceptional is the platform where I designed it.

I used SCRATCH which is a website designed by MIT and used widely in schools to teach and encourage kids to computer program and write video games. Kids can play games written by others (such as my TUT game), they can remix games, or they can write games of their own.

SCRATCH has millions of users worldwide.

Learn more about the TUT SCRATCH video game.

Pick Your Own Quest

I have to mention first that my favorite books in elementary school (besides Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden) were those Choose Your Own Adventure books.

So the third thing I came up with for Tut is a Pick Your Own Quest adventure (which is similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure except done up King Tut style and on the computer).

The Pick Your Own Quest TUT adventure is a fun way for kids to immerse themselves in the world of TUT online and to try their hand at being pharaoh while seeing how their choices will affect their fate.

For starters . . .

You are about to embark on a great adventure as King Tut, Pharaoh of Egypt. Whatever you do, don’t turn back. Once you make a choice, it cannot be changed! One path may lead to you saving the world. Another may lead to your end. Choose Wisely.

Learn more about the TUT Pick Your Own Quest adventure.

Yes, it’s all about gaming, but my goal is to encourage educators to get kids excited about reading by relating to things they know and love. I would love to see educators assign video game programming or MINECRAFT world development as possibly curriculum tie-ins when reading books in addition to (or instead of) traditional book reports.

I adore the idea of kids writing video games based on books they love. And I believe that encouraging creative writing in a fun form such as a Pick Your Own Quest adventure is a great thing for reluctant writers!

I leave you with the book trailer for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life which pulls it all together.

Now it’s time for reading, writing, and gaming!

About P.J. Hoover

At Comic Con

After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer, P. J. Hoover started writing books for kids and teens.

When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik’s cubes, and watching Star Trek.

Her middle grade novel, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who’s been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat.

Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor, 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own.

About Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

From the promotional copy:

You’d think it would be great being an Egyptian demigod, but if King Tut has to sit through eighth grade one more time, he’ll mummify himself.

Granted the gift of immortality by the gods—or is it a curse?—Tut has been stuck in middle school for ages.

Even worse, evil General Horemheb, the man who killed Tut’s father and whom Tut imprisoned in a tomb for three thousand years, is out and after him.

The general is in league with the Cult of Set, a bunch of guys who worship one of the scariest gods of the Egyptian pantheon—Set, the god of Chaos.

The General and the Cult of Set have plans for Tut… and if Tut doesn’t find a way to keep out of their clutches, he’ll never make it to the afterworld alive.

Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith Wins Writers’ League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the Writers’ League of Texas: “The 2013/2014 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, awarded in 2014 and recognizing outstanding books published in 2013, honor Texas authors across five categories with three distinctions: Winner, Finalist, and Discovery Prize Winner, all of whom will be celebrated at the WLT booth at the Texas Book Festival in October.”

Middle Grade/YA Winner

(Candlewick, 2013)


Discovery Prize Winner

Picture Book Winner

(Pelican, 2013)


Discovery Prize Winner