Giveaway: 10th Anniversary of Cynsations

Speaking at KidlitCon 2013

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of Cynsations!

The blog launched on Nov. 12, 2004; and featured children’s author Chris Barton, talking about consolidation and marketing.

There was no introductory post and no images–until Blogger introduced that option.

Thanks so much to each of you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

This is a condensed excerpt from a keynote I delivered at the 2013 KidLitCon in Austin:

I embraced the earliest days of the kidlitosphere for two reasons:

First—with all the optimism of a 20-something but not a word on the page—I quit my law job in downtown Chicago to write children’s-YA books full time.

A favorite book from childhood.

For me, children’s-YA literature had been a great blessing, and I committed my life to it.

I take my own writing to heart (and sometimes to play), but my plan was bigger than that.

It included the community. It included you.

It included everyone who plays a role in the connection of books to kids.

I got busy, writing and reaching out—by mentoring, teaching, advocating in person and online.

I began in part by, in 1998, establishing a substantive children’s literature resource site and launching a monthly e-newsletter that went out to a little over a thousand people and featured two author interviews along with a handful of recommended links.

My blog, Cynsations, launched in 2004. It likewise casts a broad net, emphasizing the craft of writing, the business of publishing and the writer’s life.

Wanting to offer something positive to children’s-YA lit lovers, to the big wide world, that was my reason one.

Reason two?

My first book.

American Indians are vastly underrepresented in the body of literature for young readers and in the industry more broadly.

When I entered the field, the literary depictions of Indians were almost uniformly historic, New Age-y, and/or inaccurate.

It was time to help change perceptions or I’d never be able to publish many of the stories I wanted to write.

By putting myself out there via tech, I was able to send the message that Native people are multidimensional. And that we have a past, a present and a future.

With that in mind, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Cynsations, I’m giving away a copy of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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Guest Post: Deanna Roy on Getting By As A Writer With A Little Help From Your Friends

Kindergarten author talk

By Deanna Roy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

There are a lot of lonely jobs out there. Night security. Toll booths.

I once worked at a huge event arena, where my sole job was watching a panel of red lights in case one light up.

When I first became a full-time writer, it seemed like a dream.

No more pesky day job! No more distractions! I could write all day.

Then reality hit.

I was by myself, in my house, and expected to create fascinating people, colorful locales, and dynamic dialogue, all while sitting in a chair.

So I got on Facebook. I would Tweet. It’s part of the platform, I said to myself. I tried coffee shops. I convinced myself that people watching was research. But really, what I needed was a coworker.

Someone who understood what I was going through.

RWA book signing

I was lucky, though. In every step of my publishing journey, I had a lot of writer friends. I’m not afraid to join groups, to start groups, to coerce people to show up for my groups!

As my circles expanded from local writers to ones online, I began to understand how important these connections had become.

And it wasn’t just to keep the Total Hermit Lifestyle at bay. We could share our struggles, puzzle out our problems, cheerlead each other, and help with deadline accountability.

No matter where you are in your journey, finding others to walk beside you, whether on real or virtual paths, is critical. You may believe that you need to already have an agent, a contract, a book published, or a bestseller to feel comfortable reaching out. But it’s not true.

All along the way, I got to walk with writers who were facing similar obstacles. We subbed to agents and pored over query letters. We did overnight beta reads and tried to decipher rejection letters to divine our publishing futures as though the words were tea leaves in the hands of a fortune teller.

As you move from one phase of the process to another, your interests and needs will change.

You find hitting a new goal doesn’t mean you automatically have a million new friends, but it does involve a different set of hurdles and expectations.

Navigating success takes just as much help as working to get there.

There is no magical place where suddenly everyone opens their arms and tells you to join the party. Only as you look back do you realize the friends that you have supported, cheered, and commiserated with along the way are the ones you treasure the most.

So don’t write in obscurity.

Find a place where everyone has the same hopes and challenges as you. If you like to do it in person, find a local chapter of SCBWI (for kid lit) or RWA (romance) or Sisters in Crime (mystery) or any of the local writer groups or meet ups. If you like to start out from the quiet security of home, try places like Kboards and Verla’s SCBWI Kidlit Blue Boards and Romance Divas.

Everything that has happened to me in the process of getting over thirty titles out into the world was not just a product of my own work and initiative. I am the sum of all the things that have been taught to me, the lessons I learned by failing, and watching people approach my path from their own. I made it a priority to stay in touch with these fellow travelers, no matter where their journey took them next, or if their climb to a similar goal was faster or slower than mine.

My next project is absolutely a product of the friendships with kidlit writers I’ve met along the way.

The Adventure Collection is a boxed set of books for middle grade readers from writers I know both online and locally. When Apple iBooks wrote me to ask what I could put together to be featured on their site, I knew exactly who to call. The people who had been with me all along.

Cynsational Notes

Deanna Roy is the author of many books for children and tweens, as well as a long line of adult fiction.

At book signing.

Author-Illustrator Interview: Lita Judge on Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Born To Be Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014):

What do grizzly bear cubs eat? Where do baby raccoons sleep? And how does a baby otter learn to swim? 

Every baby mammal, from a tiny harvest mouse “pinky” to a fierce lion cub, needs food, shelter, love, and a family.

Filled with illustrations of some of the most adorable babies in the kingdom, this awww-inspiring book looks at the traits that all baby mammals share and proves that, even though they’re born in the wild, they’re not so very different from us, after all!

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I wanted to show the amazing ways in which animals protect and raise their young and how remarkably similar a baby animals needs are to our own.

When I was a little girl, I watched my grandparents raise Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owl chicks. We played foster parent to Green Herons, Red Tailed hawks, raccoons, otters and any other animal that was orphaned or injured.

My grandparents were biologists, and they taught me to respect animals and to study how they live and interact in the wild. My work reflects my upbringing, and the fact that I’ve always felt compelled to bring a better understanding of animals to young readers.

Lita with a Great Horned Owlet

Lita’s grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

Lita’s grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

This book went fairly quickly as far as my picture books go.

When I say quickly, I mean three years. That’s how long it takes me to build up the text and sketches after I have an initial concept in mind.

The initial sketching is always the most time consuming for me. When I illustrate wild animals, I want to reflect not only how they look, but how they move and relate to each other.

That means I actually do hundreds of sketches of animals from life, videos, and pictures before choosing a gesture that I feel says what I’m trying to convey.

Final art is a mere three months or so after the months and months of drawing and playing around with text. And then there is that year-plus time at the end where you are done but have to wait for release.

What were the greatest triumphs and challenges along the way?

For this book, I wanted to show the topic of baby animals in a universal way, depicting not only the needs that all baby animals have, but also showing the connection between our own needs when we are young to theirs.

This meant I had to do a very broad approach and choose the animals to illustrate each point carefully. For every animal that you see in the final book, there are dozens more on the cutting room floor. Taking out a detail, whether it be text or drawing, that you love is always the hardest part for me, but in the end, you find the best way to depict the topic.

What was your connection to the topic?

I have spent most of my life observing and drawing animals. Whether in zoos, or in the wilderness, I carry a sketchbook, binoculars, and camera with me always, recording what I see.

I’ve always been fascinated particularly with baby animals, their playfulness and open expressions.

How did you go about your research process?

Research for a nonfiction book is always an intense and joyful part of my creative process.

For a book on animals, I rely on a lifetime of watching, drawing, and photographing animals. I chose many of the animals in this book particularly because I had spent time observing them in nature.

If it’s an animal I can’t observe easily in nature, I can often go to zoos to draw them, observing not only their appearance, but how they move. Wildlife videos are also a great help for this.

My parents are wildlife photographers and have built up an amazing reference library of photographs over the years.

There is always a lot of reading about animals that goes into a project like this, but the most important thing for me to be able to capture the expressions and likeness of an animal is to spend a lot of time observing and drawing them.

Lita with her grandfather

How did you approach the art?

For me, drawing animals really comes down to capturing its gesture or body movement and expression. I don’t want my readers to just know what a chimpanzee of meerkat looks like; I want them to feel a connection to them. I want them to look into the faces of my animals and feel like there is an animal looking back at them.

I also want them to get an understanding of the intimate world of animals within their own world; how does a mother panda hold her baby, or a baby orangutan curl up and feel safe with its parent.

To capture all this I first do hundreds of very loose sketches, focusing on body language long before I worry about details.

Once I feel like I’ve captured that intimate portrait between the animals, I start focusing on the details, which describe their faces and bodies.

Slowly my drawings become more refined until at last, they are ready for a light watercolor wash at the end.

Looking back on your career, how have you grown and changed as a writer and artist?

I started writing only nonfiction but have grown to love creating both fiction and nonfiction stories.

I think my background as a geologist, and having grown up helping my grandparents with their research projects in the field, made me very comfortable with the research involved with creating nonfiction.

But the more I drew and wrote, the more I began to want to push myself into creating fictional characters that emoted expressions full of exuberance and whimsy.

I think my background with wildlife made my fictional drawings of animals better because they were rooted in an understanding for anatomy and how animals move.

And I think my work with fictional characters made my nonfiction better because it really helped me focus on building connections between my readers and my subject through studying the subtlety of expressions.

Good Morning to Me!, to be released spring 2015

What advice do you have for budding author-illustrators?

Focus on our craft. Put your emphasis there more than worrying about how, when, and where to get published. I see so many people that are very eager to get published; they really put a lot of energy into trying to make connections or getting published before they’ve had a chance to let their work blossom into a unique voice. There will be time for all that, but until then, draw, write, draw, write, draw, write…. until you have stories dancing out of your mind!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just that I’m really thankful to get to do the work I love. And thankful to the muses that keep me inspired by all their delightful expressions and loving companionship!

Cynsational Notes
Born in the Wild has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Cynsational Screening Room

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Picture Books Are Important by Kelly Bingham from Picture Book Month. Peek: “Picture books teach us – young and old alike – lessons about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities.” See also Chris Barton on Why Picture Books Are Important.

You’re Such a Character by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Even if you do want to tell your readers all about your life, they’re not likely to be interested. You’re going to be selecting details regardless. So it’s not too much of a stretch to give some thought to those details, and what you’re going to emphasize, and what’s going to fall by the wayside.”

Is It Ready to Send Out? by James Mihaley from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Obviously it makes sense not to submit a ragged manuscript but in my opinion writers often hold onto their novels far too long before sending them to agents.” See also Micro-Level Revision by Kimberley Griffiths Little from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement by Jill Eisenberg from Lee and Low. Peek: “Pairing a news article with a book on a similar topic or theme offers students greater context and a sense of relevancy for the content they are learning, and perhaps a jolt to the creeping apathy over a curriculum students had little input in selecting.”

Considerate Craft: Pitching Diverse Characters by Amy from Pub Hub. Peek: “Short answer is it’s up to the writer, and there are lots of choices, including leaving it out of the query. After all, the full complexities of a character or person cannot be summed up in a couple paragraphs.”

Interview: Stacy Nyikos and Waggers by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: “Word count helps keep me on task. At 500 words, all of them play double duty. Dialogue reveals plot, and if I choose correctly, also reveals character.”

Hope for Non-Artists Submitting Concept Books by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “If you have an opportunity to submit directly to an editor, she likely wouldn’t acquire it until she gets an illustrator to commit.”

First Person Point of View: Building Kinship with the Reader by Jim Hill from Project Mayhem. Peek: “First person narratives work by bringing the reader inside a private club for two. Reader and protagonist become confidantes in a shared adventure.”

Industry Q&A with FSG Editor Grace Kendall from CBC Diversity. Peek: “If I’m editing a book featuring a culture, heritage, or place that I feel unfamiliar with, I will definitely enlist the help of an expert or someone intimately experienced with the subject matter at hand. I do this most often with nonfiction titles, even if the author might be considered an expert in the field or has had an expert read over their work.” See also What? Me Worry? by Charlesbridge Editor Yolanda Scott. Note: includes bibliography of picture books that deal with anxiety.

Patience Or How To Wait and Wait and Wait by Donna Janell Bowman from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “What I have learned is that hovering over the calendar, waiting for a response from an editor, or an impending book release, can be maddening. Forget patience! Just stay busy!”

About Native American Heritage Month, Thanksgiving and Children’s-YA Literature by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “In schools across the country, Native peoples appear in the curriculum at specific times of the year. Like this month. November. Thanksgiving. Coincidentally (?), November is Native American Month.”

Cynsational Screening Room

The We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign is ongoing — check it out and signal boost!

Happy Picture Book Month!

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations 

More Personally

K.A. Holt, Salima Alikhan, Lindsey Lane, Anne Bustard, Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia Leitich Smith
celebrating new releases by K.A. and Chris Barton at BookPeople in Austin.
Cheers to Sam Bond on the release of Cousins In Action: Operation Tiger Paw!

Ready for a rockin’ take on Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015), just in from Kirkus Reviews? See:

Look for Feral Pride in the Candlewick Catalog!

“…the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (‘Our legal rights are slippery,’ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle (like the wedge driven between Clyde, a werepossum/werelion hybrid, and his human girlfriend, Aimee, because of her father’s prejudice). …witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy…”

Congratulations to Lee Wind on signing with Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary and to Danielle for signing Lee!

Personal Links

Arthur Slade‘s graphic novel Modo: Ember’s End is in the house!
  • Why Writers Love Low-Residency MFA Programs
  • Joy Preble on Stuff People Say to Authors
  • Donald Maas on the Meaning of Everything
  • Marion Dane Bauer on Why I Don’t Want to Die at Age 75
  • How Going Electronic Changed Dictionaries
  • 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People 
  • The What Ifs that Haunt “Ghostbuster” Ernie Hudson
  • Brief History of Racial and Gender Diversity in Super Hero Movies
  • Transgender Model Lea T Stars in Big Beauty Campaign
  • Joss Whedon on Sexism
  • U.S. Racial Diversity by County
  • Shedd Aquarium Teaches Orphaned Pup How to Be an Otter 
  • 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 & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on Making the Switch: from MG to YA, YA to MG & Back Again

    By Kimberley Griffiths Little
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    Over the last decade I’ve published seven middle-grade novels with Random House and Scholastic, focusing my last four titles on contemporary magical realism stories set in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana with page-turning plots and a lot of heart and family issues.

    But I also write young adult and always have. I’ve just never published one—until now.

    It’s funny because as promotion and publicity has been ramping up for the launch of Forbidden (HarperCollins, 2014), my YA trilogy debut, I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries filled with curiosity about my sudden change from writing middle grade to YA. Which is kind of humorous because, in some ways, it’s just the opposite.

    During the craze of vampires, werewolves, and Harry Potter, I was writing an epic historical set 4,000 years ago with goddess temples, belly dance, and betrothals gone very, very bad.

    When I first started trying to learn the craft of writing back in the DABI: Dark Ages Before the Internet, I took writing classes through the Institute of Children’s Literature, SCBWI, and the Southwest Writers organization in Albuquerque, that offered local classes and some terrific conferences. I experimented with every children’s genre trying to find my niche/voice: picture books, easy readers, chapter books, and novels. Toddlers to high school.

    Back in the DABI, I printed out my short stories and full-length novel projects, and hauled them to the post office with big fat SASE’s. A practice unheard of in today’s fast pace of email and social media with hashtags like #PitchMadness.

    My first writer’s conference was in Santa Fe and sponsored by a local independent children’s bookstore (which is now long extinct). The owner of that bookstore had chutzpah though!

    She went big, and brought in Steven Kellog, Rosemary Wells, Richard Peck, Lois Duncan, and Katherine Paterson. This was before I even knew SCBWI existed!

    (I helped start our state chapter a few years later).

    Rosemary Wells, a well-known author of dozens of picture books, was overwhelmingly generous. After the conferences she let us newbie attendees send her a project and gave feedback—free of charge. When she read a couple of my picture book manuscripts she told me that she believed my true voice was for older readers.

    I took her advice to heart (and agreed with it!) and began focusing exclusively on my stack of currently-drafting novels for 8-12-year-olds. Which finally garnered some success many years later.

    Novels were my first love, and I’d written the first two longhand, typing them up on my college typewriter (DABWP = Dark Ages Before Word Processors).

    I have filing cabinets filled with practice novels.

    Well over 10 years ago I started the research and writing of Forbidden, which has experienced more reincarnated lives than Shirley MacLane.

    The novel received interest from agents as well as a few editors I was developing a relationship with (when I switched agents and was querying new agencies for over a year). But they were skittish about some of the mature themes; abuse, rape, prostitution, and even though they loved the book they weren’t sure where to sell it—or if it was even young adult. Maybe it was adult—but it wasn’t clearly an adult novel, either.

    Then the Vampire/Werewolf/Fairy/Mermaid/Zombie/Harry Potter decade hit.

    My epic ancient historical floundered. Historical fiction got pushed aside, but I kept rewriting the book because I loved it. The almost fantasy-like time period and sensuous belly dance tapestry of the storyline wouldn’t leave me alone.

    I changed the point of view. I added plot. I experimented with twenty different versions of the first chapter. In the middle of all this, I was orphaned three times on my first three novels – and changed agents because she left the business.

    My new agent loved both my middle-grade and my YA novel. We went on submission. Six weeks later, we had a three-book deal with Scholastic for two MG novels and my YA ancient romance.

    Wowza!

    The Famine was over, right?

    The first two middle grade novels came out to great reviews and enjoyed wonderful Scholastic Book Fair reception. I wrote two new proposals. Scholastic bought those. After the third middle grade novel was finished we turned our attention to Forbidden. After a fresh read, my editor confessed that she had forgotten just how sensuous and mature the book was.

    Conference calls with my agent and editor ensued. Verdict: Based on the success of my middle-grade novels in the Scholastic Book Fairs, would I be willing to rewrite the YA and try to make it more middle grade?

    I was flabbergasted. But I’m a pleaser.  

    Okay, I agreed, albeit with trepidation.

    I did the work, but in my heart the story, characters, tone, and theme was for older readers.

    My agent wholeheartedly agreed.

    We discussed the issue of censoring myself. But the story is what it is—and historically accurate.

    My agent agreed again.

    Learn more from Kimberley!

    So what to do? What to do? The next few months were a combination of agony and strategy as we ended up pulling the book from Scholastic and giving them another middle grade in its place. (That book just came out, The Time of the Fireflies (Scholastic, 2014)).

    Once again, Forbidden was an unsold manuscript. The original book deal happened in 2008. It was now the summer of 2011. I rewrote the book again, putting back in all that I had taken out.

    We went on submission. It was nail-biting. I seriously wondered if this book would ever become a real book.

    But miraculously, three weeks later we had a significant pre-empt from HarperCollins for the entire trilogy, not just a single title.

    They loved it just as it was.

    I began my first, tentative draft of this book in early 2003, after researching the time period and the people and culture and history for several years—and selling short stories set in ancient Arabia and Egypt to Cricket Magazine. I’ve watched the ups and down of young adult publishing run the spectrum from Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005) to The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008) to The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012).

    As we used to say in the DABI, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

    Is the young adult world ready for an ancient historical with danger, murder, blackmail, and goddess temple prostitution? I’m counting on it!

    After all, there have been rumblings in the publishing world since 2012 that readers are ready for juicy historical novels, and there are authors who are already obliging.

    HarperCollins has designed a most spectacular book. I’m deeply grateful to my editor and my agent who took many risks with me to see that this book stayed “in the game” —and now, hopefully, will thrive.

    Cynsational Giveaway

    Enter to win a signed copy of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little (HarperCollins, 2014) and Book Club Cards. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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    Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author

    By Lindsey Lane
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    It’s opening night. I am sitting in the audience at the debut of a play I had written.

    I remember thinking as I watched, “This is as much as I know right now.” It wasn’t a negative thought. I simply knew that this play was the culmination of everything I knew up to that moment.

    The next play I wrote would be the sum of more knowledge. I knew that I would learn from each attempt. I knew I would grow every time I came to the page.

    And I did.

    The thing is, in my career so far as a writer, I have come to a lot of different pages: plays, newspaper and magazine stories, a screenplay, a picture book. I used to look at that pathway and say stuff like, ‘Well, you’ve certainly wandered all over the place.’

    Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel–all of those teachers showed up.

    My first playwriting professor Len Berkman used to say you need something new to happen every three inches on the page. This doesn’t mean that a bomb drops at the top of the page, a bigger bomb drops half way down the page and then the annihilating bomb drops at the bottom of the page.

    No, Len was talking about pacing, about dropping breadcrumbs so that the audience is learning and going deeper into the world of the play with you. His measurement was three inches.

    It’s not a bad pace, but I’ve learned to play with it.

    Theater also helped hear the voice of a character. It helped me with dialogue and intention. I love revealing character through what they say. How little. How much. I love hearing their secret desires in their words and silences. Dialogue also moves the pace of your writing along.

    Journalism helped me probe for truth. I loved interviewing people. I loved watching how they would open up. I would watch how they would avoid certain topics.

    From those interviews, I became aware of the lies that certain characters told. We are all tell ourselves lies, some greater than others.

    But when I’m developing a story and a character, I always ask them, “What do you not want people to know? What are you hiding? What are you lying to everyone about?”

    Answering those questions will often lead me to the emotional arc of the book.

    Though I have only had one picture book published, I wrote many more and every time I did, I remember thinking, How can a story with 300-700 words be told so many ways?

    That’s the magic of picture books. You have to pare down your storytelling to the bare minimum and then spill it on to the page in such a way that it is light and fresh and surprising.

    In my mind, picture books are masterworks. Every time I come to the page now I bring a spareness to my storytelling. And a massive respect for verbs. If you get the right verb in a sentence, it tells a story all on its own.

    All of these pages led me to my debut young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FSG, 2014).

    I hope you can hear the theatre in my first person sections.

    I hope the pacing makes you turn the page and draws you deeper into the story.

    I hope you can see the characters struggle with the truth of their lives in the third person sections.

    And I hope you appreciate the spare quality of the writing and all the spaces that allow the reader to enter in.

    What’s next? Something, for sure. Because no matter what, I am a writer. And the next page will logically turn after this one.

    As always, I’m excited to see what it will be.

    Cynsational Screening Room

    Guest Post: Jane Sutcliffe on The White House is Burning & Bridging a Two-Century Gap

    By Jane Sutcliffe
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    The seed of The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814 (Charlesbridge, 2014) was planted on 9/11.

    Sometime during that day, as we all tried to get a handle on what had happened, a TV reporter compared the terrorist attacks with other national tragedies like Pearl Harbor.

    The burning of Washington was on the list, too, and right away I was intrigued.

    I remembered from some long-ago history class that the British had burned Washington, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So I began the long process of “finding out a little more” that culminated in The White House is Burning.

    For those people who lived through it, the burning of Washington in 1814 was their 9/11. They must have felt the same sick shock I remember so well as they watched first the Capitol, then the White House go up in flames. I wanted my readers to feel it, too.

    I knew some readers would get it immediately. There will always be a certain kind of kid who loves the feeling of being transported by history.

    (Full disclosure here—I was one.)

    But what do you do for the reader who looks at history like a plateful of Brussels sprouts?

    (Full disclosure again—I hate Brussels sprouts.)

    Dolley Madison

    Oh, I knew there was a great story there, with thrilling battle scenes and a last-minute escape. I had a brave heroine in Dolley Madison and a deliciously despicable villain in Admiral Cockburn. I had comic relief in the naïve Private Kennedy, who was so over-confident in his first battle that he brought along his dancing shoes for the party at the White House that would surely follow an American victory.

    And that would be enough for some readers. I would connect with them and they would feel the shame of the American defeat and the tension of Dolley’s narrow escape. They would feel the horror of seeing the Capitol and the White House in flames.

    But I knew there were some who wouldn’t be able to get past—well, to get past the past. They’d take one look at those unsmiling portraits of people long dead and decide that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common.

    My friend calls it MPS Syndrome: male, pale, and stale.

    I had to do more than just transport those readers to 1814. So I decided to leave them right there in the comfort of 2014 and bring the burning of Washington to them instead.

    What if, I asked those readers, they thumbed on their cell phones to see the news that enemy troops had just invaded Washington, D.C.?

    What if cameramen in helicopters captured live images of foreign soldiers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue?

    What if people on the scene tweeted photos of the Capitol and the White House being torched and lighting up the sky for miles?

    What if, instead of Dolley Madison, it was Michelle Obama who had narrowly escaped being captured?

    And I wrote this: “Had it happened in modern times, it would have been called ‘breaking news’.”

    Guest Post & Giveaway: Shirley Parenteau on Ship of Dolls

    By Shirley Parenteau
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    This picture of my then three-year-old granddaughter Michelle inadvertently sparked the idea for Ship of Dolls (Candlewick, 2014) and a forthcoming sequel, Dolls of Hope.

    My son and daughter-in-law had taken Michelle to visit her maternal grandparents in Japan in time for the traditional girl’s day festival of Hintamatsuri.

    I’d just begun writing a series of picture books for Candlewick Press. Michelle’s blend of formal Japanese kimono and getas with American girl exuberance suggested a new picture book.

    Online research whisked me through time and space to a surprising and little-known true event, The Friendship Doll project of 1926.

    The exact number is in question, but that year American children collected an astonishing twelve to thirteen thousand dolls for children in Japan, to create friendship between the countries.

    Five ships found space for the dolls, each in her own packing box, to leave for Japan on Jan. 10, 1927, arriving in time for Hintamatsuri on March 3.

    My hope for a picture book took shape instead as a middle-grade novel featuring a fictional 11-year-old Oregon girl who takes part in the project in hope of reuniting with her mother.

    In 2015, Candlewick Press will publish a second novel telling the story through the eyes of a Japanese girl.

    In the mid-1920s, fathers earned about twenty-five cents an hour so it wouldn’t have been easy to find the money for the 16-inch “Mama” dolls, plus passports and steamship tickets. However, children across America, working with school classes, church groups and clubs, sent more than 12,000 of the dolls to children in Japan.

    After receiving the dolls with celebration and ceremony, Japanese children sent back 58 elegant dolls of gratitude, each about three feet tall, with many accessories to show life in their country.

    All the dolls carried messages of friendship and peace.

    Sadly, a few years later World War II erupted and the dolls became symbols of the enemy. The Japanese government ordered the American dolls destroyed. American museums packed the Japanese dolls into storage and forgot them. A few were sold. Others were lost to natural disasters such as flooding. However, the story has a happy ending.

    The surviving dolls are now on display in both countries.

    Once again, children are exchanging letters of friendship.

    I’m thrilled that the Japanese publisher of translations of my “bears” picture books, beginning with Bears on Chairs, has also purchased Ship of Dolls and Dolls of Hope. He plans to publish in Spring of 2015 to tie the story to the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific. He feels Dolls of Hope will help express to his young readers his company’s wish for world peace and friendship.

    As an author, I can think of nothing more humbling or more gratifying.

    Cynsational Notes

    Shirley says:

    My husband and I recently moved from a three-acre farm to a one level home about a mile away.

    Our calico cat Folly, once a barn stray and then an indoor/outdoor cat, has settled nicely into strictly indoor urban living. The previous owner’s craft table in a sunny room serves as my desk for now.

    Here’s my current writing space and Folly pretending she hasn’t once again walked across the keyboard.

    Cynsational Giveaway

    Enter to win a copy of Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: N. America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:



    It’s 1926, and the one thing eleven-year-old Lexie Lewis wants more than anything is to leave Portland, Oregon, where she has been staying with her strict grandparents, and rejoin her mother, a carefree singer in San Francisco’s speakeasies. But Mama’s new husband doesn’t think a little girl should live with parents who work all night and sleep all day. 

    Meanwhile, Lexie’s class has been raising money to ship a doll to the children of Japan in a friendship exchange, and when Lexie learns that the girl who writes the best letter to accompany the doll will be sent to the farewell ceremony in San Francisco, she knows she just has to be the winner. But what if a jealous classmate and Lexie’s own small lies to her grandmother manage to derail her plans? 

    Inspired by a project organized by teacher-missionary Sidney Gulick, in which U.S. children sent more than 12,000 Friendship Dolls to Japan in hopes of avoiding a future war, Shirley Parenteau’s engaging story has sure appeal for young readers who enjoy historical fiction, and for doll lovers of all ages.


    Can a ship carrying Friendship Dolls to Japan be Lexie’s ticket to see her fun-loving mother again? A heartwarming historical novel inspired by a little-known true event.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Event Report: Texas Book Festival

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    About The Texas Book Festival: “…celebrates authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination.”

    Author Michelle Knudsen and moderator Sean Petrie in the green room.
    TBF committee member Carmen Oliver and moderator Anne Bustard in the green room.
    Tim Tingle, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Jacqueline Woodson, Pat Mora, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Don Tate
    With author Kelly Bennett in the Writers’ League of Texas booth
    With authors Greg Leitich Smith, Varsha Bajaj and Trent Reedy at the author party.
    With authors Monica Brown and Cynthia Bond at the author party.
    With author-illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores at the author party.

    See another Texas Book Festival photo report by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

    Giveaway: What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

    Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Enter to win one of two signed hardcover copies of What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky (namelos, 2014). Eligibility: U.S. From the promotional copy:

    Most folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. 

    Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.



    Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.


    But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he
 can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for 
no reason. 

    As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save
 as many memories as she can. 

    Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.


    What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.

    Cynsational Notes

    A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association. November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month in the United States.

    In a recent interview with Cynsations, Shannon says:

    “There was a lot of truth I could have drawn from. Moments when we
    battled the disease and sometimes my grandfather, too, as his
    personality, as well as his physical and mental abilities changed. In the end, I included only one truth.

    “The emotion of being forgotten.” 

    Reviewers say:

    “[Delia’s] frustration, fear and sense of loss will be readily
    recognizable to others who have experienced dementia in a loved one, and
    her story may provide some guidance on how to move down that rocky path
    toward acceptance and letting go. …What do flowers remember? The
    stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s
    sensitive novel compassionately conveys.” – Kirkus Reviews

    “Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup
    for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the
    goodness of life and people.” 

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