Interview: Author Christine Marciniak & Editor Madeline Smoot on Once Upon a Princess

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The popularity of the recent royal wedding illustrates society’s continued fascination with monarchies. 

A new middle grade novel, Once Upon A Princess by Christine Marciniak (CBAY, 2018) offers a twist on familiar tropes. From the promotional copy:

After a coup in her country, Her Royal Highness, Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Morh (or Fritzi to her friends), wakes up one day no longer a princess. 

Stuck hiding in a suburban American middle school dealing with mean girls, cafeteria lunches, and teachers who don’t understand (or know about) her unique situation, Fritzi just wants to go home to her kingdom and be a princess again. 

She turns to social media for help, but will her efforts work or make everything worse? With opposition forces trying to force her father’s abdication from the throne, Fritzi discovers that being a true princess doesn’t come from a title.

I recently talked with Christine about the book’s path to publication and her CBAY Books editor, Madeline Smoot about her current manuscript wish list.

There are lots of Cinderella stories about average girls becoming princesses, but you decided to flip that trope. Can you tell me what inspired that idea?

Every little girl wants to grow up to be a princess (or a warrior, I suppose). The Cinderella tropes you mention are proof of that. It’s the classic fantasy. One day I will wake up and be something completely different, something much more fascinating.

Like you said, I took that and turned it on it’s head. What if a Princess wakes up and finds out that she’s just an ordinary middle schooler? What would that look like? How would that even happen?

The inspiration for the idea came from Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries (HarperCollins, 2000), and wondering, “what if.”

What if this story were flipped? Almost immediately I came up with the title and the name for my Princess, the rest took a while to get right. 

How did you approach developing the character of Her Royal Highness Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Mohr? (Since I’m assuming you’re not a princess….) 

I’m not a princess. I’ve complained to my father about that, but he says there’s not much he can do, since no one is likely to make him a king.

For Her Royal Highness Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Mohr (Fritzi for short), I tried to think what would make her different from the average middle school student and the thing that came to me was that as a princess she would have no shortage of confidence.

Middle school kids are at that awkward stage of growing up where they aren’t little children anymore, but they are not old enough to have real responsibility or freedom, and everything is changing and more often than not they are not sure of themselves or their place in the world.

Fritzi, on the other hand, is very sure of that. She’s a princess. She is special. This has been ingrained in her since she was small.

This confidence doesn’t go away when she goes into hiding and it colors her interactions with everyone from the school secretary to the “mean girl.”

What was your path to publication like for this book? 

Rollercoaster would probably be a good way to describe it.

I’d actually started the book about ten years ago, but only wrote a dozen or so pages before putting it aside for other projects. Several years later, I picked it up and finished it, sent it to beta readers, revised and polished and queried agents.

And then something happened that had never happened with any of my previous books: an agent signed me. This was heady stuff, and I had visions of bestseller lists and movie deals.

Alas, this was not to be the immediate path.
Although there was interest from various publishers, no one that my agent sent it to ended up buying it. As a result, after a year my agent and I parted ways (okay, he dumped me; there I said it).

Christine’s summer office

But I was not ready to give up on this book. I took all the rejection letters from the various editors and compiled them, and searched for common ground.

At that time, part of the story had Fritzi traveling back to Europe on her own to try to save the kingdom. It turned out that this part of the story was a stumbling block for quite a few people. So I took it out and revised and decided to try my own luck at submitting the book to publishers.

I chose Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books because I’d had other interactions with her and I had read and enjoyed some of the books she’d published.

Much to my delight, Madeline accepted the book and with a few more minor revisions it was ready to go.
It’s been a long road, but the destination has definitely been worth the journey.

Madeline, what drew you to this story?

I was drawn to the strong voice Christine gave Fritzi in this book. She stood out not just because of her confidence, but also from her resilience. Her world is falling apart, and she does complain about it, but she also tries to proactively take concrete steps to fix things.

I also loved the idea of turning the rags-to-riches trope on its head. There are various stories where the regular person discovers they are an aristocrat or royalty, but very few tales that go the other way. I love books that upend our expectations like this one does.

What Christine does when she’s not writing

Christine, what advice do you have for beginning writers?

Don’t be afraid to revise.

So often I see revisions that amount to not much more than changing the wording here and there or adding a few more descriptive passages. I’ve taken huge chunks out of stories and replaced them with something different. In another of my books, I re-wrote the first chapter so many times I could probably publish the outtakes as a full-length novel.

Figure out early what the core of your story is.

In the case of Once Upon A Princess, it was that a princess discovers she’s not a princess any more, and she wants to save her kingdom and become a princess again. No matter what revisions the story went through, that basic concept remained the same.

I had really liked the section of the story where Fritzi ran away to Europe and encountered adventures on her own. I did research into the airports and the youth hostels and all sorts of things. I figured out the train schedules and how you get from Charles de Gaulle airport to the train station.

Basically, it was a lot of research and a lot of words – nearly a third of the story – and I could have stuck to my guns and kept that part in, despite the overwhelming response that it was pulling the rest of the story down.

Instead, I deleted it and ultimately made the story much better. I had to realize that the important aspect of the story wasn’t Fritzi running around Europe, but Fritzi trying to save her kingdom… and in this day and age, she could do that with social media.

The key is to not give up, to keep writing, and revise, revise, revise.

Editor Madeline Smoot

Madeline, I noticed CBAY Books has a query window opening up. What would you most love to see in your inbox?

My manuscript wish list includes:

  • Tween-voiced fantasy or science fiction with a strong first person voice. 
  • Adventures or mysteries in a fantasy or science fiction setting or with fantastic elements.
  • Genre mashups (as long as fantasy or science fiction is at least one of the genres).

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews said of Once Upon a Princess, “children who have faced changes in their circumstances will welcome the message.”

Christine Marciniak was born in Philadelphia, but has spent most of her life in New Jersey.

She started her writing career as the editor of The Official Cruise Guide. When her second child was born, she stayed home full time to raise her children and write fiction.

She has written several books for middle grade, young adults, and adults and hopes to write many more.

Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director for Children’s Books of Blooming Tree Press.

She blogs about writing at Buried in the Slush Pile and is the author of several writing guides, including Story Slices: How to Make Story Plotting a Piece of Cake.

Madeline lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, son, a cat, a dog, and more books than should fit in any normal person’s house.

Guest Interview: Editor Emma Ledbetter & Writer Zoë Armstrong on Picture Books & SCBWI’s Bologna Manuscript Contest

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. 

SCBWI Switzerland Regional Adviser Elisabeth Norton talks with the judge and winner of SCBWI‘s new Dueling Illustrators Manuscript Contest.

One event that always draws a crowd to the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the Dueling Illustrators.

In the duel, two illustrators each stand before a blank flip-chart, marker, charcoal or other drawing medium at the ready. A story is read aloud in ten segments, and after each one, the illustrators have just a couple of minutes to illustrate that portion of the story.

The tricky part?

They have never heard the story before so they have no idea what is going to happen next!

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, dueling illustrators

This year, SCBWI launched a new picture book manuscript contest in conjunction with this event, which is held daily at the SCBWI booth during the fair.

The 100 entry slots for the contest filled quickly, and then it was the job of Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, to winnow those entries down to the six finalists and to select the winner.

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, photo by Christopher Cheng

Today I’m talking with Emma and with Zoë Armstrong, author of the winning manuscript.

Welcome, Emma and Zoë!

Zoë, how long have you been writing for children?

I’ve been playing with verse since my seven-year-old daughter, Elodie, was very young. But a year ago, I enrolled on to the Picture Book Programme of the Golden Egg Academy here in the United Kingdom, and it has given me tremendous focus and a determination to make space for my writing.

I trained as a journalist so I’ve always written, but creative writing is something I was doing privately at home. I think it can take a while to find the confidence as a writer to actively pursue your creative ambitions. But if you hold your nerve, anything is possible!

Zoë with her daughter.

Can you tell us more about the writing that you do? Do you write exclusively picture books? 

I am a freelance copywriter, but my real love is children’s literature.
I love that picture books are so rich in possibility, and how playful you can be with language and rhythm and ideas.

So, yes, picture books are very much where my heart is.

I tend to write quirky, lyrical stories, and I’d like to work with incredible illustrators and editors who have similar leanings. I try to write every day –– there is still so much to learn! –– and this practice has really elevated my writing.

What prompted you to enter the Dueling Illustrator’s Manuscript Contest?

I’m at that stage in my picture book writing journey where I’m determined to create opportunities, and jump in whenever they show up.

One of the things I love about picture books is the interplay between text and illustrations, so the SCBWI Dueling Illustrator’s Manuscript Contest was a dream contest to enter!

Emma’s office

Emma, there were 100 entries to this inaugural Dueling Illustrators Manuscript contest. Can you tell us about your process for narrowing 100 entries down to the top six? 

For me, this process—just like my job as an editor—had a lot to do with the gut feeling I had as a reader in response to each manuscript.

As I read the 100 entries, I sifted and organized them; those that stood out to me for any reason I put into a special pile, which started at around 20-30 manuscripts. Then I reread that pile, and continued winnowing them down from there until I landed on my six favorites!

What stood out to you about the six finalists and the winning entry, “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

As a judge and as a picture book editor, one of the most important things to me is the vision I have, when I first read a story, of what a finished book might look like: for example, what art style might work; what interesting or surprising visual possibilities are available; what freedom an artist might have to bring their own touch and perspective to the story.

Though the manuscripts I selected through this contest are quite different from each other, what they all had in common is that they were stories I’d be interested in seeing come to life on the page—and which I thought could come to life successfully.

Other important factors for a strong picture book manuscript include a premise that feels unique and distinct, and thoughtful writing that draws me in—for its humor, its lyricism, or its cleverness, for example. For me, the winners I chose had these elements, too.

Zoë’s office

Zoë, what was the inspiration for your winning story “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

I often start by free writing before I begin to plot, and it was the rhythm and the mouth feel of the words that provided the initial inspiration.

I’m fascinated by the way that the musicality of a text can engage a young child, even if they don’t fully understand the precise meaning of each word. It doesn’t matter!

I read a lot with my daughter and I’m sure that must feed into what I write. But I also think that the poetry of our first picture books stays with us forever.

My own childhood was filled with Maurice Sendak, Edward Lear, Judith Kerr, Roald Dahl and so on… so it’s all in there, I think.

Also my daughter, Elodie, has one or two Huggalumph characteristics herself!

View from Zoë’s office

Can you tell us about finding out that your manuscript was the winning entry? 

It was incredible to discover that “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed” had won.

I’d been following the SCBWI Bologna updates on Facebook, and I saw that my text was being illustrated by two superstar illustrators –– Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, who was shortlisted for this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

That in itself was really exciting, and then to actually win!

It’s been an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback from an editor of the caliber of Emma. The report she has written is thoughtful and encouraging, and I can’t thank her and the SCBWI enough.

I’ve already reworked “The Huggalumph” with Emma’s comments in mind. I guess it’s time to look for a great literary agent!

Emma, the guidelines for the contest specified that manuscripts not be longer than 350 words. For several years now authors have been advised to keep their picture book manuscripts short – 500 words or less. Do you see this trend continuing? 

Three hundred and fifty words is definitely on the short end of the picture books we publish! Word counts can vary greatly depending on things like the age group they’re targeting, and whether they’re fiction or nonfiction.

But yes, in general, there has been a trend towards brevity in recent years. I see this not as brevity for brevity’s sake, but because often, a manuscript reads as “too long” because it would simply be a stronger story if it were shorter.

When I edit a picture book text, sometimes I’ll encourage an author to condense when I find that there’s excessive description; too many different plotlines going on at once; or too much information incorporated (this can be a particular issue with nonfiction).

Every word is important in a picture book, where space is precious and limited—so every story needs focus and intent.

Based on your experience as an editor, what is the one thing that you think picture book authors should keep in mind when crafting their stories? 

Especially for authors who are just beginning or are early in their careers, it’s important to remember that once your text leaves your hands and is paired with an illustrator, it’s just as much their book as it is yours.

This idea understandably can be difficult to come to terms with, but it’s a crucial mindset for producing the best book possible.

Though the author’s input is important to me (of course!), I want the artists I work with to have the freedom to bring their own vision to the story, too.

In those early stages, when an author is first crafting their story, they can keep this in mind by asking themselves questions about how certain text might come alive visually.

For example, “is it important to the story that I write that my character is wearing a green shirt; or can I let the artist make that choice?”

Not only will this make your manuscript more appealing for an illustrator, but it will help you improve your story, too, by bringing in the focus and intent that I mention above.

Thanks so much for talking with me today! Zoë, we wish you and the Huggalumph great success!

Emma, any last thoughts for our readers? 

Thanks for having me, Elisabeth! And thanks to all of you authors who submitted your work to this contest. Keep writing (and reading)!

Cynsational Notes

Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, joined Simon & Schuster in 2011 following internships with Little, Brown; Nickelodeon; and Nick Jr.

A graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in Art History, Emma has edited all kinds of books for kids. These include the picture book Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Atheneum, 2016), which The New York Times called “an example of children’s books at their best” as well as the ALA Notable middle grade novel Quicksand Pond by Newbery Honoree Janet Taylor Lisle (Atheneum, 2017).

She is especially fond of Edward Gorey, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, and the Frances the Badger series by Russell Hoban.

Check out the books she’s edited, as well as some of her favorite children’s literature, on Pintrest; bonus points if you can decipher her Frances-related Twitter handle, @brdnjamforemma.

Zoë Armstrong is a British writer. After graduating from City, University of London, she trained as a journalist, and has worked in public relations within the charitable sector and in education.

She spent her childhood reading Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume in Oxford and Paris.

Her love of children’s literature persisted, and Zoë is now a member of the respected Golden Egg Academy for children’s writers.

Zoë lives with her young daughter in Brighton, on the South Coast of England, and works as a freelance writer.
You can find Zoë on Twitter.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, went to University in Tennessee, and lived for many years in Texas.

After a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books and middle grade books.

She serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

Guest Interview: SCBWI Volunteers at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018

By A. Colleen Jones
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

SCBWI Ireland Regional Advisor A. Colleen Jones talks with the volunteer team behind the SCBWI Booth at the Book Fair.

The SCBWI Bologna team that plans, organizes, and executes everything necessary to have a booth at Bologna is comprised of many people, including Christopher Cheng (a Cynsations reporter), Kathleen Ahrens, Angela Cerrito (a Cynsations reporter), Dana Carey, Susan Eaddy, Sarah Baker, and Chelsea Confalone.

Chris, Susan, Sarah, and Dana were at the fair along with a handful of volunteers including Teacher/Librarian Bini Szacsvay, me, Elisabeth Norton (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Switzerland), Olga Reiff (Illustrator Coordinator, SCBWI Belgium & Luxembourg), and Ale Diaz Bouza (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Spain).

Special thanks also to illustrator David Liew (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Singapore) for being a funny, cheerful, and thoughtful presence at the booth.

To see our posts on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, our handle is: @SCBWIBologna. You can search for the following hashtags: #scbwibologna #BBF18SCBWI. 

While many of our volunteers were book-fair veterans, Olga, Ale, and I were first-timers.

I was curious to compare experience with them and with Elisabeth on attending the book fair and volunteering in the booth. I asked some questions of all three volunteers. Where I asked a question of just one or two of them, I have included their name in the question.

How much preparation did you do for the fair? Did you bring your portfolio? Business cards? 

I know Elisabeth lugged a lot of gear for the booth all the way from Switzerland on (was it) five trains! 

Ale: Every year I try to begin with the preparations earlier than the last one. Most of the time, this means I begin with two or three months minimum, and every year when I come back home I think about preparing next year as soon as possible.

I think about improving my portfolio, new projects I would like to show to editors, about people I should like to meet, and promotional material I need to bring with me like postcards, business cards, badges, etc.

Olga: I had business cards and postcards, which I also used as a giveaway. But I would recommend bringing a small poster too, to hang on the illustrator’s wall. I had a portfolio, which turned out to be too big. Next time, I will do a smaller and handier one.

Elisabeth in Switzerland

Elisabeth: You’re right! It was five trains on the way there, but only three on the way home. My preparation for the fair took place in phases.

The first phase (November) was to find a place to stay and a roommate. The next phase started in February. I inventoried and restocked our booth supplies—everything from markers for the Duelling Illustrators contests to batteries for strings of lights that hung in the booth.

I had a “Bologna Pile” in a corner of the study for more than a month. I did bring my business cards, but not enough of them! My advice is to bring more cards than you think you will need, because you can always bring the extras back home.

Have you volunteered for the SCBWI booth before? What did you do as a volunteer?

Ale: This was my first year at the booth and it was a wonderful experience, very different with regard to other times that I attended the fair.

I helped with little things about promoting our organization, spoke to visitors in Spanish (that brings SCBWI a more international direction), helped members after their portfolio reviews, welcomed members to the booth, and so on.

Olga: It was my first time. During my service hours, I had the chance to explain the SCBWI’s activities to young Russian illustrators and an editor from Slovakia. I did a short portfolio review for a young Italian illustrator who visited the booth. That was fun.

A member of my Belgium chapter came along, and we talked about our future activities in the region. I also helped set up an Indonesian colleague’s showcase and took photos for her, and followed with some social media activity on Instagram.

Elisabeth, You have volunteered for the SCBWI booth before. How does this time compare to your previous experience of the fair? What did you do differently? What were your primary duties this time? 

My primary responsibility this time, as before, was to greet the visitors to the booth. Some publishers or art directors who visit the booth are interested in one of the books that is on display. We talk to them and direct them to the contact and rights information for that title.

Elisabeth in the SCBWI booth

Many visitors to the booth are creators themselves, mostly illustrators, but a fair number of writers too. Some are members of the SCBWI and have stopped by to see the booth and chat about their experiences at the fair.

Others don’t know about our organization, and this gives us the opportunity to explain how the SCBWI supports writers and illustrators at every stage of their career.

I always ask where the person is living. Often, they are in a region where I know their regional team. This means I can tell them a bit about the activities and meetups going on in their area.

I would say the difference between my experience at the fair this time versus the last time had less to do with what my responsibilities were (since they were essentially the same) and more to do with me feeling more comfortable.

The fair can be an overwhelming experience the first time you go! This time the logistics (where the booth is, where the bus stop is, how to get to/from the fair) were familiar, so I was able to focus more on other aspects of the fair.

What was your first impression when you arrived in Bologna? When you first arrived at the fair?

Ale: I feel the fair is more open to artists. I think the fair is expanding their programs for writers and translators, which is a very good thing.

Olga: I was surprised by the dimensions of the fair buildings.

Elisabeth: My first impression of Bologna was the oranges and reds and terracottas of the buildings, because this palette is so different from where I live. Then I was struck by how big the sculpture of Neptune in the famous fountain is. You don’t get the sense of the scale in most of the photos.

Neptune’s Fountain in Bologna

My first impression of the fair was, like Neptune’s statue, “This is bigger than I expected!” Each of the halls is huge, and there are four of them.

My next impression was People! There are so many people involved in this fair— both exhibitors and attendees. It is awe-inspiring to realize how many people around the world are focused on making quality books for young readers.

What were the top three things you liked best about the fair? 

Ale: The fair is full of opportunities at different levels. You can have professional meetings, learn from trends you can see at different booths that in some way could inspire your work, and also meet and learn from wonderful creators at talks and master classes.

Olga: The fact of being part of the SCBWI and volunteering at the booth was the best part. The variety of exhibitions and conferences, the illustrations, the books. The beauty of Bologna downtown.

Elisabeth: In reverse order—

3. How organized it is. (What can I say, I live in Switzerland. I have a highly developed appreciation for a well-organized public event.) 

2. The chance to browse publications on display at the exhibitor booths. It’s like the children’s section of the world’s largest library! 

1. The people. The ones you meet who come by the booth, and the ones you work with. I’ve met so many amazing people through the SCBWI, and working at the booth over a period of several days really gives you the chance to get to know them.

What was one thing you would like to see changed or improved about the fair?

Ale: The corners for writers and illustrators are now great, full of activities and talks. But I think they could grow to become very strong meeting points and a community for sharing much more about the industry.

Olga: It is a huge fair and some things were a bit difficult for me as for many others (food, toilets, crowded halls). I didn’t know that the entry is only for professionals. My parents wanted to meet me at my showcase, and they couldn’t enter the fair. Perhaps the organizers could put a warning about that on their Internet site? Or is this clear to anybody except me?

Elisabeth: I’m not sure I can think of anything! They do a pretty amazing job of organizing that many exhibitors and visitors.

Colleen and Olga at the SCBWI booth

What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as an illustrator?

Ale: In some ways, the fair is like a massive bookstore, full of books from all around the world, where you can see trends all together. This could be a great way to know where your path is, taking inspiration from other artists’ works, and give you clues about knocking at the right publishing house’s door.

Olga: I had some difficulties to get back on my feet and continue my work after seeing the impressive quality and quantity of illustrations at the fair. On the other hand, I understood that there is a market for nearly every style, and that I just have to know what I want and be more consistent with what I do, and to improve the way I do it.

Some editors I spoke to said that my style is too soft, and I took this as very helpful feedback to improve the contrast and variety of value in my illustrations. Perhaps the German market is not the right one for my style.

Elisabeth, What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as a writer?

Some writers who attend the fair have appointments or engagements that have been arranged by their editors or agents.

For other writers, I would say it depends on the programs on offer (this can be viewed online). An illustrator might attend the fair on multiple days in order to take advantage of portfolio review opportunities with publishers, whereas a writer might find that a one- or two-day visit is enough to get a sense of what the fair is about and attend any programs of interest.

Ale and Olga, how easy or difficult was it to show your portfolio to prospective clients at the fair?

Ale: As an illustrator, it is not so difficult, because publishing houses are giving more portfolio reviews every year. The difficult thing is to know how spend your time wisely, because you can lose very valuable time in a queue where your work doesn’t fit. But on the other hand, very good feedback about your work is always valuable.

Ale shows her portfolio.

Olga: It was easy to find out when the German editors had their open portfolio hours just by checking every day and writing it down in my notebook. It was more difficult to decide which of them I should choose, depending on their books. I didn’t manage to do more than five in two days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to speak to any U.K. editors. My schedule was too full.

Ale, you designed and printed up notebooks with samples of your Spanish members’ work. What was it like for you to go around giving those notebooks as gifts to publishers and agents? 

Since the first time I went to Bologna, I thought about doing a specific collective promotion for the fair. A couple of years ago, we decided to commission a handmade book by a local artisan to give as a SCBWI Spain gift to editors and agents. It was a successful effort, so we keep doing it.

We have a very good team that helps to deliver the notebooks at the fair, and we always receive a very good response.

Axier Uzkudun, César López, Ale Diaz Bouza and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the SCBWI team from Spain.

Elisabeth, did you make any professional contacts at the fair?

I always try to at least say hello to some of the Swiss publishers and illustration agencies that are at the fair. That said, I find that it’s easier to network with them in a more meaningful way when we’re not at the fair. I’m mindful of the fact that they have a different focus during that week—the marketing and acquisition of book rights and seeking fresh illustration talent.

Ale and Olga, what did you think about your illustrator showcase? What did you get from that experience? 

Ale: I must confess, I wasn’t sure about my showcase at home, when I was planning it. But now I think it was a wonderful opportunity to show my work.

Doing live painting and drawing was fantastic. I had the chance to share ideas with people that came to the booth. I could also promote my illustrated products and portfolio works.

Olga doing live painting during her showcase.

Olga: I was happy to talk to people who walked by, and I was glad they liked my postcards. I did a live watercolour painting session, too. I think the experience of seeing other people’s showcases was very valuable. I was very inspired by their work and presentations.

Elisabeth, what was your favourite SCBWI booth event? Why? 

I love the illustrator showcases! Many of them were painting or drawing while they attended their display, others had portfolio slideshows on tablets. I love watching artists work. Then when I see an illustration that they’ve done for a book, I have more insight into how that illustration was created.

Olga during the Duelling Illustrators event.

Olga, what did you think about participating in the Duelling Illustrators event? What did you like best and least about it? 

I was glad I could do it, and it was really fun to duel with David Liew, who is a lovely person! I will bring more charcoal next time!

I also loved watching Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley’s duel.
I guess it would be very difficult to organize, but it would be nice to have feedback about the duel—like the pros in football do after the play, to see what has been done and what could be improved.

Duelling illustrators Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley

Can you sum up in a few sentences your overall impressions and experiences of volunteering at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair? 

Ale: Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a must for the book industry professionals. Every year is full of new opportunities, and you can plan your trip based on your professional goals for your career.

If you don´t want to miss anything, have a good plan for each day before you arrive at the fair, so you can be at the right place at the right time. Planning and saving time for yourself is necessary.

Being part of the SCBWI team at the booth gave me a different and interesting perspective of the fair. The most important thing for me was sharing time and valuable experiences with the other members.

Finally, Bologna is a lovely and very comfortable city. There are lots of activities outside of the fair that you don´t want to miss: sightseeing, dinners out, and our funny SCBWI party at a lovely book shop.

Olga’s first picture book in Luxembourgish, De Poli geet an de Bësch,
will be published by Editions Guy Binsfeld in fall 2018.

Olga: It was the best part of being at the fair. Belonging to this community made me very happy, and I was glad I could help. I was impressed by the work of the Bologna team who prepared all this! I was glad to be able to talk to people I knew and feel at home.

Elisabeth: I love volunteering at the SCBWI Booth at Bologna. I love the contact with the people, both the booth visitors and the people I work with at the booth.

It’s also exciting to be able to promote the work of our illustrators and writers through the books on display, the Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG) that hangs in the booth, and the Duelling Illustrators drawing based on the manuscript contest winners.

One of my favourite things about being at the fair doesn’t actually happen at the fair—going out to dinner! While in Bologna, I had the chance to have dinner with the SCBWI members from France, Ireland, Spain, Michigan, Australia, and Singapore.

I love talking with people from around the world about their activities in their region, the projects that they’re working on, and their experiences at the fair. That’s why in my list of “Top 3 Things,” “people” was number one.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences of Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018! 

Cynsational Notes

Ale Diaz Bouza spent most of her childhood in Galicia, Spain inside books and secret worlds.

She draws and writes about them all the time. Music, astronomy and cinema (animation) also become her passion. Out of her desire to learn, and to find stories hidden in the stars, Ale studied Physics at the University Santiago de Compostela, at Galicia, Spain.

Later, she embarked on a course in children’s illustration and changed her vocation, so she settled in Madrid to study Illustration, Creative Writing, and Graphic Design.

Currently she’s immersed in personal projects, like her own line of illustrated products, and is the volunteer Regional Advisor for the Spanish chapter of the SCBWI. Find her on social media: @alediazbouza (Facebook, Behance, Instagram, Pintrest and Twitter.)

Currently based in Luxembourg, Olga Reiff was born in Austria, and has a master’s degree in translation, French, and Russian from Innsbruck University.

After she got married, Olga mainly worked as a freelance translator, loving books passionately, keeping in touch with kidlit through her four children. But then Olga felt that she needed more creativity in her life, so she quit her job and started taking art and illustration classes, read nearly everything about picture-book making, and began to write stories for children—both in German and Luxembourgish.

Finally, Olga started to write and illustrate her first picture book—a story about a kindergarten boy who tries to get along with his best friend, a little girl. For her illustrations, which she does at her workspace at home, Olga uses ink and nib pen and colours her work with light layers of watercolour. Olga found an editor in Luxembourg, and publication of her book is scheduled for fall 2018.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years in Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books. She serves as the Regional Advisor for the Swiss chapter of the SCBWI.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

A. Colleen Jones is Canadian, but has lived in Ireland since 2005. She is involved in the children’s literature community in both Canada and Ireland.

Colleen is the current SCBWI Regional Advisor for Ireland and Northern Ireland, a member of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Children’s Books Ireland and Ibby Ireland, and was the “Social Media Beast” for the SCBWI Bologna team for 2018.

She also volunteers for Fighting Words Cork, which provides creative writing tutoring to groups of both younger children and teens. She is focusing on a younger middle grade novel at the moment while honing her writing skills.

Colleen is not averse to offers of dark chocolate and Sicilian pistachio gelato. Find her on Twitter @acolleenjones

Cynsational News

7th Generation, 2018

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robin Galbraith, Gayleen RabukukkKate Pentecost for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview: Tim Tingle, Author of A Name Earned by Gordon West from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“Tragedy happens in everything I write, but the tragedy is never gonna win. I want the kids who live in that environment to know that…just because your home situation doesn’t change, doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Everyone Has a Right to a Story That Feels Like Truth by Maxine Kaplan from YA Interrobang. Peek:

“If there is still only one acceptable way to be a girl in a rape culture, then we’re only doing half the work when we say, ‘Me too.’ Rape culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum and its stories can’t either.”

How School Librarians Will Save the World by Josh Funk from The Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“…it’s most often the librarians that are teaching coding. While budgets are always tight, it’s fallen to the librarians to carve out time for Hour of Code. School library bookshelves are being rearranged to make room for makerspaces.”

Interview: Children’s Author Mike Jung from DiversifYA. Peek:

“Find the emotional heart of your character and be true to it from start to finish. That’s the core of your story; that’s where its true power ultimately lies.” 

Kelly Loy Gilbert Talks About Representation, Picture Us in the Light (Hyperion, 2018) & More by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek:

“I didn’t set out to consciously write an unlikable narrator! But, of course, he can be selfish and impulsive and obtuse, and he makes some questionable choices, and there are things he still hasn’t forgiven himself for (and probably shouldn’t, frankly, be forgiven). My two entry points into narrators are always their voice and the lens they use to see the world….”

No, I Will Not Stop Talking About Queer Pride from Robin Stevenson. Peek:

“I didn’t know what to do. I was so shocked that this was happening. I thought he would take his students and leave, and I felt like that would be even more upsetting to the kids. And it didn’t seem right that the students should lose out on an author visit because of their teacher’s ignorance.” 

What are the ingredients of a universally appealing early fiction series? By Chitra Soundar from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek:

“These books deal with emotions that children of this age group are coming to grips with – from anger and jealousy to empathy, hope and joy; but with a twinkle in the eye, a wink here and a smile there.”

Conducting Informatioal Interviews for Story Research from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“Here are pointers for before, during, and after the interview that can make an initially intimidating experience more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved.”

Writing Craft

Creating Unlikable Protagonists Readers Can Love by Helen Pyne from Through the Tollbooth. Peek:

“The trouble is, a protagonist is more likely to be ‘unlikable’ at the beginning of a novel when she’s only just figuring things out. Character transformation is a gradual process; it takes time to mature and change. That means she needs to make mistakes before achieving success.”

See also Making an Anthology by Sarah Blake Johnson and In This Together: The Power of Collaboration: Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison by Linda Washington from Through the Tollbooth.

Stuck in a Rut: How to Amp Up a “Boring” Story Setting by Angela Ackerman from Writers in the Storm. Peek:

“When described well, a specific location will draw readers into the scene’s action and the mindset of the POV character at the same time. Our description should provide an experience, encouraging readers to emotionally invest.”

See also Angela on How to Accurately Write About Your Character’s Physical Pain from Writers Helping Writers.


Hulu Ordering ‘Looking For Alaska’ Limited Series From Josh Schwartz Based On John Green’s Novel From Paramount TV by Nellie Andreeva from Deadline Hollywood. Peek:

“Schwartz first fell in love with Looking For Alaska (Dutton, 2005) in 2005 when he was given a then-unpublished manuscript for what would become Green’s debut novel. That was years before Green penned his hugely popular teen book The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012), which was made into an equally successful movie.”

Starting Later & Starting Over: Launching a Writing Career When You’re No Longer “Young” by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Features literary agent insights, including those of children’s-YA agent Sarah Davies. Peek:

“If the individual deserves to succeed, then let’s be their champion, whatever their age. However, if the writing doesn’t have what it takes, then age can’t be a smoke-screen for that fact.”

The Trouble with (and Triumphs of) Trends by Elizabeth Bluemle from Shelf Talker at Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Look at YA; it’s hard to believe it was ever endangered. It’s possible that the burgeoning of YA couldn’t have happened without that steep decline. The same is true of picture books.”


New Voice Interview with Jeanette.

School Visits Survey: Is There a Gender Gap? by Jeanette Bradley and Michelle Cusolito from Polliwog on Safari. Peek:

“While there is not a large gap between male and female/non-binary respondents in terms of rate, there is a significant difference in the total number of school visits done in the last year.”

School Visits Survey: Free and Reduced-Fee Visits by Jeanette Bradley and Michelle Cusolito from Polliwog on Safari. Peek:

“Female/non-binary respondents who have won a national ALA/ALSC award had a lower average of publisher-sponsored visits than men who had not won one of these awards.”

See also Jeanette and Michelle on School Visits Survey: Virtual School Visits.

How to Make a Good Author Website from Nathan Bransford.

“Opportunity can’t knock if it can’t find your door.”

Book Treats Brought by the Postal Service by Meghan Dietsche Goel from Shelf Talker at Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“…love getting posters. We don’t have room for every single striking poster we receive, but we do spread them around and switch them out periodically to keep things fresh.”


Learn more about Feral Nights, Feral Curse and Feral Pride.

Top 15 List of Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Kristyn Dorfman from Nerdy Book Club. Note: Honored to see the Feral trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013-2015) on this list. Peek:

“Speculative fiction is amazing because it can take the experiences and problems of our current world and investigate them deeply under the guise of a world not our own or a world long past.”

2018 Summer Reading List from We’re the People. Honored to see Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith  (HarperChildren’s, 2002) on this list. Peek:

“Are you looking for a curated summer reading list that celebrates diversity and all its intersections? 

“The team at We’re the People select books that are by and about IPOC (Indigenous and People of Color), people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ+ community. Chosen books are thoroughly discussed, vetted and given second reads.”

Muslim Voices 2018 by Crystal from Rich in Color. Peek:

“…the Ramadan Readathon is back and there are several other associated activities. There is a blog tour from May 17 to June 15 and there is also a photo challenge and a hashtag so people who aren’t necessarily doing the readathon can still have opportunities to participate. Visit Nadia’s blog to learn more about participation and to find lists to help plan what to read or to purchase for your library.”

2018 Walter Grants from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:

“Are you an unpublished, diverse writer or illustrator in need of financial support? Application submissions…are open now!”

WCYA MFA News – Hamline

Brandy Colbert and Elana K. Arnold have joined the faculty of the Hamline MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Learn more about Brandy Colbert & Elana K. Arnold.

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning author of Little & Lion (Little, Brown, 2017), Pointe (Putnam, 2014), and the forthcoming Finding Yvonne (Little, Brown, 2018) and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (Little, Brown, 2019).

She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Missouri State University and works now as a copyeditor for magazines and books. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Elana Arnold is the author of eight novels for young adults and middle grade readers, with one YA novel and two picture books forthcoming. Her most recent novel, What Girls Are Made Of (Carolrhoda Lab, 2017), was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature.

Elana has a Master’s degree in creative writing/fiction from the University of California/Davis where she has taught creative writing and adolescent literature. She lives in southern California with her family.


Cori McCarthy has joined the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Learn more about Cori McCarthy.

Cori graduated from VCFA in 2011 and they are the acclaimed author of four YA novels, as well as a forthcoming coauthored space fantasy duology and a nonfiction picture book about Arab American poet Kahlil Gibran.

Cori’s feminist romcom Now A Major Motion Picture (Sourcebooks, 2018) is, according to Kirkus Reviews, “a war cry and a love letter all at once.”

Cori holds a BA and MFA in creative writing as well as a degree in screenwriting. They cofounded the annual Rainbow Writers Workshop with their partner and, like many of their characters, are a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Cyn Note: I had the pleasure of hearing Cori speak on a panel, “Fandomonium: Fandoms and Fanfiction for Young Adults,” this April in Dallas, and I was impressed not only by what they had to say but also by their collection of superhero action figures. Welcome to the faculty, Cori!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

In late-breaking news this week, I’m officially a soon-to-be published poet!

I’m deeply honored to have contributed a poem to be featured in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul and illustrated by debut Native artist Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota-Mohegan-Muscogee (Creek))(Lerner, fall 2019).

Featured poems are also by Joseph Bruchac, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kimberly Blaeser, 신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin, Ed DeCaria, Becky Shillington, Padma Venkatraman, Gwendolyn Hooks, Jane Yolen, Janice Scully, Charles Waters, Carole Lindstrom, Sylvia Liu, Carolyn Dee Flores, Sarvinder Naberhaus, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Baptiste Paul, Patti Richards, Chrystal D. Giles, Margarita Engle, Kenn Nesbitt, JaNay Brown-Wood, Diana Murray, Megan Hoyt, Jamie McGillen, Rénee M. LaTulippe, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Edna Cabcabin Moran, Charles Ghigna, Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell, and fellow VCFA faculty Liz Garton Scanlon.

What else? Did you receive the Fall-Winter 2018 Candlewick Press catalog? If so, please look for my October 2018 YA releases, Hearts Unbroken (hardcover, p. 74) and Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral trilogy)(paperback, p. 113). Both books are available for pre-order.

Feral Pride was originally released in hardcover in 2015. The October release means that all the books in the TantalizeFeral verse will be available in paperback. Huzzah!

A peek at Feral Pride reviews:

“Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed.  

“High-demand Backstory: Smith’s fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility.” 

— Booklist

“…the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects…witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy…” 

— Kirkus Reviews

“With its focus on supernatural creatures and its subplots involving teen romance, the fast-paced and action-packed series could easily lend itself to cinematic or television adaptation.” 

— Literacy Daily

Congratulations to Olivia Abtahi and Luisana Duarte Armendáriz, winners of the 2018 Lee & Low New Visions Award! Congrats also to the winners and honorees of the 2018 South Asia Book Award, especially Mitali Perkins, Hena Khan and Uma Krishnaswami!

Link of the Week: Success Story Spotlight: Kim Rogers from The Writing Barn.

More Personally – Gayleen

Authors Varsha Bajaj and Paige Britt at BookPeople

Our Austin SCBWI meeting last weekend focused on reducing stress and nurturing creativity.

Children’s authors Varsha Bajaj, a former counselor, and Paige Britt, a meditation instructor, shared tips especially geared toward writers and illustrators. My favorite: “Relax about the attachment to the outcome and revel in the process of creating.”

They also each recommended a book. Paige suggested If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (Martino Fine, 2011) and Varsha suggested The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Volger (Michael Weise Productions, 2007).

Illustrator Interview: Jonathan Thunder on Bowwow Powwow

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child, translated (Ojibwe) by Gordon Jourdain, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018) From the promotional copy:

Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. 

Windy can tell such stories herself—about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. 

When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. 

Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers—all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.

Bowwow Powwow gives readers a fun, imaginative and colorful story about Windy Girl and her dog at the summer’s last powwow. Told in both English and Ojibwe, it helps those in Ojibwe language programs and immersion schools have a beautifully illustrated story to read.

Now about those illustrations . . .
Jonathan, you’re an award-winning painter and digital media artist. Your animation work has won first place at the SWAIA – Santa Fe Indian Market the past three years. Previously you’ve digitally illustrated a Native comic book for grown-ups and a children’s book. But what brought you to illustrate Bowwow Powwow?

I have worked in a range of different creative mediums from canvas to digital over the years. I think the collaborations I have been part of won me some recommendations to be a part of this project.

When the folks at Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) Press approached me in January of 2016 the book had already been written for some time.

Illustration from Naadaamaading by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.

I had illustrated one other children’s book in 2011, called Naadaamaading (Wiigwaas Press, 2013), with much success. So I drew from that experience and from being an animation artist, applying both to this task. When I was given the chance to make some concept art for the book I went with a drawing that I considered to be both magical and luring to readers to want to see more.

I also drew influence from my childhood memories of the Pow Wow in Red Lake where I was born. After reviewing my drawing and several talks with MNHS Press, I was commissioned to do the full book.

Interior illustration from Bowwow Powwow by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.

I didn’t grow up in the Pow Wow culture. My parents would bring me to Pow Wows when I was a boy. I knew doing the art for Bowwow Powwow would take a bit of research on my part but I was up for the challenge.

Typically with picture books, the author and illustrator do not meet or discuss the work as each craft their part of the story separately. Did you already know author Brenda Child, a fellow Red Lake Ojibwe Band citizen? Or did the editor put you all in contact? 

I knew Brenda Child from meeting her at art exhibits where I would be showing my paintings. We would chat and discuss art and the careers of various artists at these events.

Jonathan working on pencil drawings for Bowwow Powwow.

When the project started to come into its early production planning stages she visited my studio in Duluth. We talked about the origin of her story and compared notes of Red Lake memories, family life and Pow Wows. This gave me a feel for what Brenda had in mind when she wrote the book.

After that meeting my contact for the book was Shannon Pennefeather at MNHS Press. She helped me develop the feel and look of the scenes and main character, Windy Girl.

Interior illustration by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.

What craft and career advice do you have for Native artists who might be interested in illustrating? 

For me it took some looking into the illustration world and finding out as much as I could. I looked for illustrators that jumped off the page at me and thought about why they stood out.

Illustrate stories that move you; it will show in the work.

Interior illustration by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.

What do you have coming up next?

I have been writing a picture book about bees which I will illustrate as well. The book will be the first I have written and illustrated since I was 12.

I look forward to seeing more of your work in children’s literature, Jonathan.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews wrote of Bowwow Powwow, “Simultaneously fanciful and reverent, this is a joyous look at a crucial tradition.”

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature also offered praise,“I love seeing Indigenous languages in kids’ books!”

Jonathan Thunder and Brenda J. Child discussed Bowwow Powwow on a recent episode of Native America Calling.

To learn more about the Misaabekong Ojibwe Language Immersion, listen to this story from Duluth Public Radio.

Jonathan Thunder is an artist currently residing in Duluth, Minnesota. He has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics from the Art Institutes International Minnesota.

His work has been featured in many state, regional, and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder has won several first place awards in SWAIA’s annual Class ‘X’ Moving Images competition for animation and experimental film. Find him on Facebook at Thunder Fine Art.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Watch a video of Naadaamaading, featuring Jonathan’s illustrations.

New Voice: Sarah Lynne Reul on The Breaking News

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m always amazed by those creators who can both write and illustrate their stories. Okay, I’ll admit a little jealous too. My talents do not lend themselves to do both.

 So shining the Cynsations’ spotlight today on Sarah Lynne Reul is a treat.

She shares about how she creates her art and why she ultimately decided to become a children’s book author-illustrator instead of focusing solely on illustration. 

The Breaking News, by Sarah Lynne Reul (Roaring Brook, 2018). From the promotional copy:

When devastating news rattles a young girl’s community, her normally attentive parents and neighbors are suddenly exhausted and distracted. At school, her teacher tells the class to look for the helpers—the good people working to make things better in big and small ways. 

She wants more than anything to help in a big way, but maybe she can start with one small act of kindness instead . . . and then another, and another. Small things can compound, after all, to make a world of difference.

Welcome, Sarah! How did you take your art from a beginner level to publishable? How has your style evolved over time? 

I’ve come to the winding path of writing and illustration in sort of a roundabout way, as so many people do.

I didn’t really see art as a viable career when I was in college, so I only took a couple of drawing classes during my undergraduate years. I worked in retail, social ventures, nonprofits as well as science museum education, but there always seemed to be something missing.

Eventually, personal events propelled me into going back to school to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in 2D Animation from the online program at the Academy of Art University.

I had always loved the idea of making drawings come to life through animation, and I imagined a career working in one of the several studios located in the Boston area. Unfortunately, two out of three of these companies closed just before I finished my degree.

After a few months of unsuccessfully trying to find work in the field, I attended my first SCBWI conference and began to pivot towards kidlit, applying the drawings skills I’d gained in my MFA program to picture book illustration.

There are so many 2D animation principles that transfer to picture book illustration – design, staging, clear communication, exaggeration, appeal… and so much more. I taught a workshop on this subject at the 2018 New England SCBWI conference.

In traditional animation, there are usually 12-24 drawings per second to create the illusion of life.

For my two-and-a-half minute MFA thesis film, The Search for the Monster of Lake Quannapowitt, I created literally thousands of individual character drawings, not to mention countless reference sketches, designs, animation planning and background drawings.

The experience of drawing so much (as well as getting over the fear of redrawing things when necessary) has contributed greatly to my progress as a professional illustrator. Since I completed all of my traditional animation through a digital pipeline (hand-drawing each image on a Wacom Cintiq tablet attached to my desktop computer), it’s been a natural progression to create picture book illustrations by drawing in Photoshop.

My style is definitely still evolving (and I hope it always will!). So far, I’ve digitally produced all of my professional work.

However, I would love to explore some traditional media like gouache painting, collage, linocut and diorama-building. Personal, daily projects, like 100 Days of Drawing on Photos give me the space to explore new ideas.

I’ve been dreaming about building some models out of cardboard and drawing on the photos – I’m hoping to create some sample pieces in this style soon!

As an author-illustrator, how did your writing journey inform your artistic journey and vice versa? 

I started out in this industry thinking that I’d mainly work as an illustrator. However, after starting to share my work through portfolio reviews and postcard mailings, I began to realize that publishing timeframes are a bit too long to wait for someone to come to me with a project.

So, I started to write my own stories, in order to give myself something to draw (as well as to create more things to submit to agents and editors).

I hadn’t studied writing as part of my MFA, so at first it was a little difficult to think of myself as a writer. Eventually, I realized that my favorite illustrations are a vehicle for communicating a story, so it wasn’t that far of a leap to creating the story from scratch.

In addition to the 100 Days of Drawing on Photos projects that I mentioned above, daily writing challenges have also been super useful to help keep me going and creating new ideas.

The story for The Breaking News came to me while participating in my first Storystorm, which is a challenge run by author Tara Lazar, to generate 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

Creating daily, whether through writing, illustrating or animating, is key to thinking of myself as a person who creates – even when I’m not working on a professional project.

My process of writing and illustration goes back and forth quite a bit. I’ll often start with a rough draft of the words, will attempt to figure out the page breaks, and then will make super rough thumbnail sketches of how I’d like to communicate each spread.

Often I’ll find that I need to change some of the language, or shift the page breaks to heighten the impact of each scene. I’ll go back and forth, refining each side, and when I think it’s going somewhere, I’ll bring it to my two critique groups (one for writers and one for illustrators) for feedback.

What were the challenges (artistic, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the images to life? 

My debut picture book, The Breaking News, focuses on a girl who wants to make things better after she notices how negative news has impacted her family and her community.

Animated interior spread by Sarah Lynne Reul, used with permission

In creating the text and the images, there was a delicate balance of telling the truth about a difficult topic without saying too much. The actual news that we are exposed to regularly is often so awful – I didn’t want to go overboard with details, but I also didn’t want to gloss over the experience with false cheer.

I had feedback from some critique partners early on that a book like this wasn’t necessary or appropriate. Some people commented that they always made sure to shield their children from hearing the bad news. And I definitely agree that is an important thing to do, up to a certain point – there is only so much that is appropriate at each age, for each child.

However, I also know from my own experience that I can’t shield them from what they might hear out in the world, and I can’t shield them from noticing when the grownups in their lives have been deeply affected by the news, no matter how we might try to hide it.

If you read the book, you might notice that the little girl’s teacher paraphrases this quote by Fred Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

In my research for how to handle the issues in this book, I came across that quote and then the wonderful parent resources of the Fred Rogers Foundation. This article, which talks about about how to help young children when there are tragic events in the news, provided inspiration and grounding as I worked on the story. 

Throughout the process, I tried to say true to the legitimate feelings that I have seen our own family go through, that I have seen friends go through.

Of course, the wonderful feedback of critique partners, family, friends, as well as my agent Emily Mitchell and my Roaring Brook editor, Claire Dorsett, were all hugely instrumental in finding the right balance.

It was important to me that we never quite understand the nature of the actual news that is reported within the story. I wanted to leave it open ended, and to leave that question unanswered so that each reader could interpret, drawing from their own experiences.

The Breaking News is ultimately about our reactions to the worst things that we can’t control – and how we can’t give up hope just because there is so much fear, doubt and despair in the world.

Cynsational Notes

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly described The Breaking News as “wise and timely.” Peek:

“Ruel doesn’t specify the nature of the event, but her astutely composed, wonderfully sympathetic cartoon-style drawings capture how kids are impacted by worried and distracted adults, and how it feels to be small in the face of something too big to grasp.”

Sarah Lynne Reul is an author, illustrator and award-winning animator who likes science, bright colors and figuring out how things work.

Originally from Brooklyn, she now lives near Boston with her family.

Her first three books will debut in 2018: The Breaking News (Roaring Brook/Macmillan), Pet All the Pets (Little Simon, August 14, 2018) and Allie All Along (Sterling, August 7, 2018).

You can find friendly monsters, colorful patterns and animated gifs at her website.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Survivors: Kathi Appelt on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

Learn more about Kathi Appelt. Photo by Igor Kraguljak.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field, yes?

I would agree with that. Over these many years I’ve seen superstars come and go. And I do realize that some of that is just basic human nature—we all want to see who is the new best thing, right?

There are so many ways to interpret the old adage “chasing the dream.”

I feel fortunate because I’ve caught a few of those dreams, and in doing so, they remind me of how utterly grateful I am to be able to do this good work. But I also understand how ethereal it all is, how fleeting. And there are some days when I think that I’d be perfectly happy waiting tables again (although my back would probably resist).

It’s a conundrum in many ways. Those of us who have been around for a while know how difficult it is to stay in this world, but lately I’ve felt a real longing to slow it all down, do a little less chasing, and maybe at the same time, up the ante.

I still feel like my best work is yet to come. But that means—at least to me—less chasing and more contemplation. That would not have been possible even a few years ago when I was constantly on the road, teaching like crazy, trying to get my kids through college, working to make ends meet.

So, I’m able now to slow it down a bit, but at the same time I understand the crushing need to produce something that is relevant and worthy. At least I feel that need, especially in these super-charged times. It feels like the very soul of the world is at risk.

I’m constantly asking—what is my role here? How can my stories matter? What do I even have to say that can make a dent or a difference, especially because every morning since the election of 2016, I wake up wondering what major screw up awaits the new day? It’s paralyzing.

I’ve been telling people that my next book is going to be called “Things that Frolic,” and it will feature only leaping animals, like bunnies and baby deer and unicorns. It will have lots of rainbows and candy-apple trees.

Ish! Makes my teeth hurt, just thinking about it.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed
to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

When the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, I had an existential crisis.

By then, I had published a whole bevy of picture books, plus a collection of middle grade poems, and I had several works in the pipeline. I had a terrific team that I worked with—three editors and my long-time agent. I was super cozy.

But then, my father passed away, followed by my sweet little grandmother, and shortly after that those towers fell, and everything I was doing came into question (kind of like now, actually).

And my beloved team! My agent, Marilyn Marlow, passed away after a long bout with cancer. A week later, my editor Meredith Charpentier, died unexpectedly. Another of my editors left to work as a freelancer. I was heartbroken. Bereft.

The very ground that I had been standing on shifted beneath my feet. I realized I was at a crossroads with my writing. There was that familiar cozy path that I knew so well, and that had supported me.

I could continue on that route. It was safe. I knew how to do it. There was a lot of reliability there, lots of encouragement. I could write rhyming picture books until the proverbial cows came home. I could write good-enough poetry, and even well-received nonfiction. I knew where my boundaries were, and how to exploit the territory within them.

But at the same time, I felt this kind of soul-ache. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the work I was doing or had done. I love all of my books. But at that moment, I felt like I needed to do something significant, even if it was only for me.

At that time, I met with my new agent, Holly McGhee, and she asked me, “Where do you want to take your writing?”

Even though it wasn’t a question I had ever been asked, I knew the answer. I needed to write a story that would crack open the heart, and the heart I needed to crack open the most was my own.

We always say, “write what you know.”

But we forget that eventually what we know can squeeze the life out of our work.

So, at first, I thought, okay, I’m going to write what I don’t know. And I realized that wasn’t exactly right either. What did that even mean? I don’t know anything about quantum physics, but I can guarantee you that I’m never going to write about them.

Serendipitously, I stumbled over Georgia Heard’s “heart maps.” So I got out a piece of paper and drew one, making all sorts of spaces on that map for the things that mattered to me. Then I drew another one, and another. They were so enlightening really. To actually see, in a visual way, the things that I loved. But with each one, I discovered that I had left a space that was unnamed.

Every time I drew a map, there was always an open, unlabeled space. I started calling that “the hole.” And for me, that hole was something I missed. Or someone I missed. Or some place or time that I missed.

It was, I discovered, where I needed to go. To dive into that place of missing, and find the story that was there. With The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) I realized that I missed wild places, I missed my baby boys who were no longer babies, I missed the old dog that guarded me and my sisters when we were girls. So much missing. I confess that at times it was overwhelming.

Tobin with Martine Leavitt and Nancy Werlin

And then, on a particularly rough day, my friend Tobin (M.T.) Anderson called me out of the blue, and in our conversation, he said, “you should always write what you think you can’t.”

I’ll never forget that because in that short sentence is the absolute permission to fail.

After all, if you didn’t think you could do it in the first place, then what harm is there in trying? Right? If you fail, well, you didn’t think you could do it anyways.

There is so much liberation in allowing yourself to fail! Once I gave myself that permission, it was like I hit the go button and couldn’t stop.

When Tennessee Williams was working on his first important play, “Battle of Angels,” he noted in his journal that he was working with “seven wild-cats under [his] skin.”

I’ve learned to love that feeling, that furious itch to get the words down, to put all that missing, all that longing, all that failure onto the page. I’m no Tennessee Williams, but I understand that compulsion to dive into the hole.

With VCFA faculty Shelley Tanaka & Rita Williams-Garcia

Another thing that saved me was my work as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Joining that esteemed group of writer/teachers gave me some grounding. They taught me so much.

Mostly, I learned that not everything was about me. My students forced me to be better, to be wiser, to be more circumspect and careful with our stories.

We are traders of stories. It’s what makes us fundamentally human—our stories. And so care has to be taken, both in the stories we write and the ones we read. The work was hard. But it was a necessary thing for me.

I know I’m a better writer because I’ve been a teacher. I might have been a more prolific writer if I hadn’t been a teacher, but I know I would not have been a better writer.

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

I would try to be less seat-of-the-pants opinionated. I believe that there are a lot of things I’ve missed because I saw (and continue to see) the world through my own set of privileged lenses.

As such, I recognize that there are so many things I’ve refused to see or hear, or actually that I couldn’t see or hear. Fortunately, I have people who love me and are patient. But is it their responsibility to rip off the blinders? I’m not sure.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

Obviously, there is still a resounding need for more stories by and about citizens of Indigenous Nations and people of color. One only needs to check the data to see that we are so far behind, especially when demographics are taken into consideration, and especially with Native/First Nations writers.

I am glad to see new, young and gifted, really genius authors claiming their place in the canon. It makes my heart happy.

And it scares me, too. In so many ways, it’s forced me to really examine the myriad ways that the “system” has failed all of us, that system that has created what Will Alexander calls “fallback norms,” in which we just assume that the nondescript hero is white. So, what challenges me is the necessary work of peeling off those layers that perpetuate the fallback norms, and finding a way past them.

I can’t help but wonder who I’m going to find underneath those layers—my racist Southern grandmother, my great-great grandfather who fought for the Union, my alcoholic father, my encouraging first grade teacher, my great-grandmother who died in childbirth at age 25, the wool rakers of my father’s family?

None of them were perfect, and neither am I. But I can’t deny their influence.

So this is my challenge, and I am so grateful to my inner circle of fellow authors who have been patient, who listen, who guide, who are working so hard to be sure that all of our children are represented in our books, and that all of them can see themselves as heroes, no matter their racial or ethnic make-up, their gender, their abilities….

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

One day, long ago, I was having breakfast with a woman who had just traveled across the country by hitchhiking. Over eggs and bacon, she told this rather hair-raising tale about it all, and my response was a very trite, cliché “I can’t even imagine it.”

Her reply: “Imagine it.”

She said it with such force that it opened up something in me. It was like a directive, and maybe the truer meaning was: “don’t be a wimp, Kathi, imagine it.”

Do it. Don’t just sit there, saying you can’t.

She wasn’t a writer. I can’t even remember her name. We were with a group of other people at the table and I had never met her before. Never saw her again.

But I learned that day that possibly the best phrase in our lexicon is “imagine it.”

So, I would say to do that, to imagine it. Imagine it all. Dream it up, and do it in a big way.

You are built for this, made for telling stories.

Imagine it.

llus. from The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, (c) 2008 by David Small. (2)All rights reserved. Used by permission.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

With Cynthia Leitich Smith.

If I could wave my magic wand, I’d wish for starred reviews and movie deals and cafeterias full of children all sitting crisscross applesauce, waiting to hear you read your books to them.

I’d wish for long signing lines, and great copy editors, and first class air tickets, and great friends to share your highs and lows with.

I’d wish for good cats, and long walks, and plenty of music. You know, things that frolic.

I’d wish that they could each know, even at a small level, how much love plays a role in all of this.

It does.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

A unicorn would be sweet.

Cynsational Notes 

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

Tenth Anniversary Giveaway: Fifteen winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008). In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book, plus a 30 to 40 minute Skype visit for their school, classroom, or library with Kathi Appelt. Enter here!


Intern Insight: LGBT Spotlight Interview with Honey St. Claire

Honey St. Claire, photograph by Kadaver

By Kate Pentecost
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m sure everyone has seen the buzz that the movie “Love, Simon” has gotten and is still getting from audiences across America.

As part of the LGBT community myself, I can tell you from experience that representation for LGBT kids can be and frequently is absolutely life-changing as they grow into confident, valued adults.

The children’s book community has been doing a great job as of late telling the stories of LGBT kids, whether it be realism or fantasy.

Authors like David Levithan, Cori McCarthy, Malinda Lo, and Amy Rose Capetta come to mind, as well as a score of others who are out there writing for and about LGBT kids.

I also think it’s important for kids to see actual real-life LGBT folks who are out there being their best, most authentic selves. And I believe that we as authors can learn a lot from them as well, so every month, I’m going to be interviewing a different LGBT activist, author or artist about life, art, and children’s books.

I’m delighted to start this project with an LGBT artist and fellow Texan I’ve known for over 10 years, drag performer Honey St. Claire, the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Kate: So, Honey, tell us a little about you and your art. 

Honey: Well, I am a Drag Queen/Performance Artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m Transfemme (which means that I’m somewhere between male and female but much much closer to female).

When I’m not performing or hosting shows I like to read, play video games, and take long baths. I have a background in theatre going all the way back to my youth and then acted and performed frequently in both high school and college.

I have a degree from the University of Texas where I studied ancient history and classics, specifically Egyptology, which has been a huge passion of mine as well as an enormous artistic inspiration. Oh! And if I had to choose an animal to have for a pet, it would be a capybara.

K: Tell us a little bit about what you do and your current projects. 

H: I’m the hostess of Geeks on Fleek, Austin’s only recurring cosplay drag show. I’m a cast member of Die Felicia! Austin’s drag horror review. I am also the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Drag queens Moana Lisa, Honey and Zane Zena at BookPeople

K: What is Drag Queen Storytime? It sounds delightful!

H: It’s exactly what it sounds like. A few Drag performers reading books to children in full, colorful drag—sometimes with props. Sometimes we have a theme, sometimes not.

Other cities have had drag queen storytimes, and they’ve been great tools for outreach, so I thought, why not try to bring that to Austin?

The first one in February was themed around “Loving You” So it was very Valentine’s themed with hearts and pink and red etc. But instead of being focused on giving your love away to another person it was focused on loving yourself, which I feel is a valuable thing that you can’t learn too early.

We try to have treats, which is enjoyed by the kids and the adults! Also, I looked like a walking disco ball, whats not to love?

K: And how did it go over?

H: The kids had a blast! Not only were there cookies and fun stories, but the stories were read to them by these gigantic colorful creatures. They were shy at first but all quickly warmed up and had a great time!

The community reaction was fantastic! It was a little surprising to be honest because I was expecting a smaller turnout and mostly for it to be LGBTQIA families that were showing up, but I saw a ton of cisgender heterosexual couples bring their kids to the reading because they wanted their kids to experience different kinds of people and to grow up with an open mind which was, honestly, very heartwarming.

K: That’s amazing! Though it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d be the one to get this started in Austin. I know that books were a very important part of your life growing up. How did books affect you in your youth? 

H: Books were my escape. Since I was bullied often I didn’t really like to stay too long in the realm of reality. I used books to run away.

I got lost in far off worlds and other universes where everything seemed so much better than where I was.

K: What were some of the books you escaped into?

H: As a kid (and now, actually) I was a big fan of Cornelia Funke. I loved Imogene’s Antlers by David Small  (Crown, 1985) which, while not queer, is a great book to talk about diversity within a family.

I also loved Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer (Parents Magazine Press, 1976), The Magic Shop Books by Bruce Coville (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and in high school, Freak Show by James St. James (Dutton, 2007) was a queer favorite.

K: What books for kids exist now that you wish you’d had growing up? 

H: One particular book for children, Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury, 2016), is so wonderful! It’s a great way to introduce smaller children to gender and trans issues.

I also loved Libba Bray’s inclusion of a transgirl in the book Beauty Queens (Scholastic, 2011). I wish that would have been out back when I was a kid.

These are just a couple that come to mind.

K: What books for LGBT kids would you like to see written?

H: I want to see more LGBTQIA people take starring roles in different genres rather than mainly realism. I want to see more LGBTQIA characters in sci-fi. I want to see more of them in fantasy. I want to see more of them in horror (but horror that doesn’t rely on their identities as a source of fright or a reason they’re being targeted. We have enough bashing stories already, both in literature and on the news.)

And, more specifically, I want portal fiction like C.S. Lewis’s books and Neil Gaiman’s books, where portals open up to different dimensions when this dimension gets too rough for queer kids.

I mainly just want more LGBTQIA protagonists, period!

K: More! I definitely feel you there. Though recently Simon–Simon Vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins, 2015)(and the film version, “Love, Simon“)–has been a huge hit, as have notable other YA books with LGBT themes. 

This is a big deal! Yet, the book and others like it are still frequently banned and challenged. What would you say to people who think that LGBT content in children’s books isn’t appropriate? 

H: That is only because of their misconceptions of LGBT people. For years, all we have had are bars and places of secrecy—because for so long even loving someone would have been a crime that was legally punishable. But as time is moving forward, we are coming out of the shadows and more people are starting to see that being LGBT is not only about sex.

We aren’t deviants. We aren’t predators. We are everyday people. A lot of us love kids and want families. A lot of us already have families. And for queer kids, its important to have events and activities that they can take part in.

When you have to wait as a queer kid until you are 18 to really be able to go to a “Queer Space” well…that can do a number on you psychologically. These kids are already queer. They shouldn’t have to wait to be able to express it. And we shouldn’t make them wait to feel accepted.

K: Do you think that public consciousness is changing toward LGBT issues? 

H: I do. I think its changing slowly. But I do think its changing.

More and more people are seeing LGBTQIA individuals as fully fledged human beings. I think the rise of technology is helping with that a lot.

Thanks to Youtube and Tumblr and any other number of websites, kids and young adults are able to experience and to interact with LGBTQIA people in a way that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

Back then, it was you either knew someone or you didn’t. But now they can interact with other queer individuals all over the world.

Whether that means straight kids being introduced to the culture and meeting queer friends, or queer kids reaching out to queer adults with their questions and concerns, the increase in communication is a great thing.

K: So what can we as authors do to support LGBT kids in our lives?

H: The most important thing to do is listen. To hear them out and listen to their thoughts and their feelings. Don’t put too much pressure on them to fit into a mold. Don’t write off their emotions and their feelings as just hormonal and meaningless.

Yes, hormones play a big part, but the things they are going through are valid. We should know, because we all went through them too.

K: Do your research, use LGBTQIA sensitivity readers, and above all, keep writing!

Cynsational Notes

The next Drag Queen Storytime at BookPeople is scheduled for May 29.

Honey will be reading books that celebrate all things fierce and fabulous, including I Am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, 2018).

Kate Pentecost holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

She is obsessed with the Romantic Poets and can be identified by the enormous tattoo of Percy Bysshe Shelley on her arm.

She lives in Houston with her husband.

Kate is the YA author of Elysium Girls (Hyperion, winter 2020). 

She is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.

In Memory: Alice Provensen

By Gayleen Rabukukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Alice Provensen, a Star in the Children’s-Book World, Dies at 99 by Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times. Peek:

Working with her husband, Martin, Alice Provensen created dozens of books for young readers. “The books they illustrated and wrote covered a wide range — educational, fictional, biographical, historical. They liked to travel to research them, and did so for the most acclaimed book they both wrote and illustrated, The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel With Louis Blériot July 25, 1909 (Viking, 1983)… It won them the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1984.”

According to the Publishers Weekly obituary by Shannon Maughan, both the Provensens were “fascinated by airplanes and airshows.”

In 2001 Alice talked with Leonard Marcus for A Collaborative Effort in Publishers Weekly, about sharing that lifelong fascination with young readers through Blériot’s story. Peek:

“A friend sent research materials from France…and an antique airplane museum and flying school called the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome had opened in a town not far from their farm. Alice and Martin enjoyed attending the weekend air shows…. Martin was also taking flying lessons there.”

The Provensens won a Caldecott Honor in 1982 for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, written by Nancy Williard (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).

After Martin died in 1987, Alice wasn’t sure if she’d be able to keep working, but editor Linda Zuckerman encouraged her to keep creating. From Eureka! by Sally Lodge for Publishers Weekly in 2005. Peek:

“Working on this (Klondike Gold, Simon & Schuster, 2005) and other books, I’m not ever really alone. I always feel as though Martin is looking over my shoulder, telling me what I should do over—and letting me know what work is good.”

Zuckerman talked with Shannon Maughan for the Publishers Weekly obituary. Peek:

“I know Alice has always credited me for getting her back to work, but she couldn’t have known the enormous satisfaction I felt on seeing the bound books of The Buck Stops Here (HarperCollins, 1990/ Viking 2010) for the first time. I learned a lot from her and I will miss her.”

Her most recent book, Murphy in the City (Simon & Schuster, 2015) was published just three years ago, when Provensen was 96 years old. Kirkus Reviews wrote of the sequel to A Day in the Life of Murphy (Simon & Schuster, 2003),

“For children who love their dogs, hate long car rides, and fear the new and different (until they try it), much will be comforting in this unassuming, appealing tale.”

In addition to her contributions to children’s literature, Alice Provensen and her husband Martin also created an iconic advertising image, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger (link includes Provensen’s 1952 drawings).

Illustrator Leif Peng details the Provensen’s work on the ad campaign in his 2009 post, The Provensens & Tony the Tiger, including a quote from their nephew, Erik Provensen. Peek:

“They invented Tony the Tiger, and Katie the Kangaroo for Kelloggs, I should know, I, and my little brother in the early 50s were part of a children’s group brought together to access which charters we liked best. Tony and Katie were the winners.”

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithRobin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk & Kate Pentecost for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Jacqueline Woodson’s Upcoming Book is a Moving Letter to Kids Who Feel Alone by M.J. Franklin from Mashable. Peek:

“My mom used to tell us there’d be moments when we walked into a room and no one there was like us. 

“I’ve walked into those rooms many times during my childhood and beyond so I had the sense that this was true of most people and began writing the story.”

Kathi Appelt & The Underneath: “Terrifying Beauty” by Kathi Appelt from Janet Fox. Peek:

“One of the higher purposes of fiction is to allow us to discover how seemingly random elements can combine to create that instance of bravery in exactly the moment that it is called for.”

Kelly Loy Gilbert Talks About Representation, “Picture Us in the Light,” & More by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek:

“My stories always take their real shape in revision, and usually there’s a point I finally hit in every project where I feel like I’ve found my way into the center of the story at last…”

Video: Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out from Strand Bookstore. Peek:

“Contributors discuss Things We Haven’t Said, [edited by Erin E. Moulton (Zest 2018)] a powerful new anthology of writing by survivors of sexual violence.”

Hitting the Road with Sheba Karim: The YA Author Talks Islamophobia, Identity, & Family by Mahnaz Dar from School Library Journal. Peek:

“…if you are writing characters who exist as brown-skinned Muslims in the contemporary United States, they will be conscious of their identity. 

“They don’t have a choice, or the ability to pretend. In the role of writer, you must consciously think about it because your characters are thinking about it.”


Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Season of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by Lindsay Barrett from Lee & Low. Peek:

“The intent of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is to celebrate the love and care of family members. A broader celebration of families is a natural option that encompasses more students’ actual experiences.”

Q & A with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Why Children Need More Diverse Books from Penn GSE. Peek:

“Unless everybody in your story is from the same culture, they are going to encounter the Other eventually. How you write that Other is going to depend on your perspective…we can do better at representing each other humanely….”

Top Ten LGBTQ+ YA Novels For All Tastes by Haylee Geisthardt from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“…if you know where to look in YA lit, you can find characters all over the LGBTQ+ spectrum traversing many genres and having their experiences represented in a lot of ways.”

On Writing About Race and Racism by Irene Latham from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek:

“So right away we knew we just had to be ourselves and be willing to make mistakes. Our goal was to bring to kids a way to talk about race and racism in an open, accepting way.”

20 Books for Young Readers to Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month & Year-Round by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek:

“Looking for titles to highlight in May for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?  

“These 20 works, from recent award winners to debut middle grade outings, cover a diverse array of genres, time periods, and formats.”

Writing Craft

Writers Write, Right? By Jo Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“…there’s a certain level of privilege underlying the idea that if people just prioritized better, they’d be able to find time to devote to their writing, or their art, or whatever their passion may be.” 

One Space Between Each Sentence, they said. Science Just Proved Them Wrong by Avi Selk from The Washington Post. Peek:

“Some insisted on keeping the two-space rule…. Some said this was blasphemy… And so the rules of typography fell into chaos.”

Plot Problem? Fix It Fast with a Retcon by Laurence MacNaughton from Fiction University. Peek:

“Stopping in the middle and going back to fix things tends to have a cascading effect. Before you know what’s happening, you’ll find 20 more things to fix, and suddenly you’ll feel overwhelmed…So what do you do instead? It’s time you met a handy little trick called the retcon.”

Think Your Writing Is Brilliant One Day and Horrible the Next? Here’s Why. by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed.

“But, if you continue through all of your shades-of-self work—the crossing off and rewriting and doubt and angst—you’ll find it: the center of that thought you’d been trying to capture, smooth and vibrant and true from all angles.”


School Visits Survey Part 2: Pricing by Michelle Cusolito from her blog. Peek:

“Pricing transparency helps us all. 

“Knowing the going rate in your region, your genre, and your career stage, is key to pricing your services to maximize your ability to book school visits at a price that is fair and respects your time and expertise.”

Want to Support an Author’s or Illustrator’s New Book But Can’t Afford to Buy It? Here’s What You Can Do. By Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek:

“The quandary: You want to support someone’s new book and as much as you’d like to buy it, you can’t. 

“Here are some other ways you can show support for an author’s book:”

The Perks and Perils of Being a Ghostwriter by Cathy Yardley from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“If you’re on the fence about pursuing ghostwriting, here are some pros and cons to help you decide if might work for you.”

Gina Gagliano to Head New RHCB Graphic Novel Imprint by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“(Gagliano) emphasized that the imprint will hire ‘editors, designers, and publicists,’ and will focus on ‘all genres and all age categories. 

“Kids need to grow up with graphic novels and publishers need to provide a complete reading experience.'”

Why Are Women Authors’ Books Cheaper Than Men’s’? By Aimee Picchi from CBS News. Peek:

“…even after adjusting for genre, the researchers found that books penned by women sell for 9 percent less than those by men.”

Visit Lee & Low.

How to Write A Nonfiction Book Proposal by Nathan Bransford from his blog. Peek:

“The art of writing a nonfiction book proposal is sort of like cooking lasagna. 

“There are a thousand ways of making it, everyone has their own recipe, but most every lasagna will have a few basic ingredients and chances are it’s going to taste good in the end.”

The Diversity Gap in Children’s Book Publishing, 2017 from Lee & Low. Peek:

“Even as the number of diverse books increases substantially, the number of books written by people of color still has not kept pace. 

“Not much has changed since last year when Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just 6% of new children’s books published. 

“This year the number is only 7%.”


Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards from Every Child a Reader. Peek:

“Voting is now open! Click on a circle above to begin!”

Announcing the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards 2018 Honored Titles from The Jane Addams Peace Association. Peek:

“Congratulations to the 66th Jane Addams Children’s Book Awardees Malala Yousafzai, Kerascoët, Sara Holbrook, Lesa Cline-Ransome, James Ransome, Laura Atkins, Stan Yogi, Yutaka Houlette, Renée Watson, and Linda Williams Jackson!”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Huzzah! Congratulations to Varian Johnson, winner of the Austin Book Award, given by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation!

It was a thrill to be at the new Central Library on Friday night, along with YA author April Lurie and author-illustrator Don Tate.

I had the honor of introducing Varian and presenting him with the award. His acceptance speech was timely and moving. He’s such an excellent author-speaker.

In other news… Wow! Congratulations to Kim Rogers on signing with agent Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and to Tricia for signing Kim!

She’s an absolute gem and the latest Native children’s writer to sign with a major literary agency.

What else? In case you missed it, last Sunday on Cynsations, I shared the full (front and back) cover for my upcoming realistic contemporary YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, Oct. 9, 2018).

This also included sharing the supporting quotes about the book from fellow authors, An Na, Joseph Bruchac, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

In 1995, as a new fiction writer, I walked into the Barnes & Noble on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago and took the escalator downstairs to the Children’s Section. I distinctly recall finding a copies of Heart of a Chief and Eagle Song (both published by Dial in the late 1990s) on the shelf. I marveled at the fact that they were contemporary stories written by a Native author. All these years later, it feels like coming full circle to have Joe blurb my upcoming book.

I’m hugely grateful to him, Na, and Guadalupe for their support and enthusiasm.

Books by An Na, Guadalupe Garcia McCall & Joseph Bruchac

And what did they say?

“I loved her irreverent, hilarious, and subversive dismantling of stereotypes. Cyn’s trademark, spot-on dialogue captures the teen spirit perfectly. I want Lou to be my best friend!” —An Na, author of A Step from Heaven, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and a National Book Award finalist

Hearts Unbroken is a rare blend of teenage romance and social consciousness that never insults the intelligence of its readers. Truly shows what life is like for a contemporary American Indian teeenager trying to fit into the larger context of American society.” —Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), author of Code Talker

“Smart, quirky, and slightly flawed, Louise Wolfe is like a lot of teenage girls in America. Cynthia Leitich Smith has crafted a heartfelt book with an important message about loyalty, intepersonal connections, and the power of love to tear down barriers. This story will dissolve boundaries and knock down walls.” —Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Pura Belpré Author Award Winner for Under the Mesquite

Learn more about Hearts Unbroken, and pre-order today!

More Personally – Robin

I got my hands on a copy of J.H. Diehl‘s Tiny Infinities (Chronicle, 2018) at her book signing at Politics and Prose.  Her middle grade characters are so true to my neighborhood in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D. C. Can’t wait to read this one!