Guest Post: Carmen Oliver: Cover Reveal & How to Create An Author Program That Schools Will Want

Carmen signing her first book contract

By Carmen Oliver
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

You’ve inked your first book sale. Congratulations!

Now, you’re busy getting ready for your big launch date, and you’re beginning to think about doing school visits.

But before you can connect with your student audience, you first have to create a presentation.

If you’re like most authors, this is where you begin to listen to your IE (internal editor), who is nattering incessantly in your ear.

  • You have nothing to say. Zilch. 
  • Everything has already been said. 
  • Why would they want you? You are a nobody. 

And because your IE is great at intimidating you – you begin to believe it and think that maybe they have a point.

Wrong. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got this. You’re in control.

And the reason why is this….

The key to creating an author program that schools will want is all about tapping into your authenticity. Let me say that again. Authenticity.

So what do I mean by that?

“What Are You Passionate About?” 



Carmen speaking at Sommer Elementary

I’m passionate about making a difference in the world…one word at a time. Serving is one of my gifts.

One of the reasons I joined the Canadian police force known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), at the age of nineteen was that I wanted to contribute to the world in a way that would have a positive impact.

My passion was there, but my focus was misguided.

After I did a lot of soul searching, I remembered how much I loved to tell stories when I was young. And write poetry. And share other people’s stories.

When I realized that I knew I could pour myself into writing books for kids. If I could write stories and create books, then they could, too. I believe that you can follow your dreams no matter how old or young you are. Age is not a factor. It’s not a condition I ever consider. And I also believe in never giving up. That if you set your mind on something, you can accomplish anything.

I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Those elements make up my core beliefs. They’re in everything I do. So shouldn’t some of those things be included in my presentations for students? They should, right?

Carmen writing at author Donna Janell Bowman‘s Lake House

What are you passionate about? What matters to you?

Just like our stories – what you have to say matters. So spend some time thinking about this and journaling. Tap into your authentic self and then massage this into your presentations. Your heart. Your soul. Your passions. And you will always stand out from the crowd.

Because no one has your voice.

Because you have something important to say.

Because there’s no one else like you.

With my next book A Voice For The Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions To Save A Rare Animal, illustrated by Katy Dockrill (Kids Can Press, May 7, 2019), I’ve already begun to think about new presentations based on that book and how my own personal journey can be shared in authentic ways with my audiences.

How has my own struggles mirrored those of the protagonist D. Simon Jackson? How can I share my passions with readers in a way that will make a difference with them and resonate? What are the takeaways?

With every book you write, there’s a new piece of yourself for readers to discover. Each book reveals another one of your passions.

You need to incorporate this into your presentations. And if you do, I’m positive that schools will want to book you.

Passion is contagious and courageous. So turn off your IE and get to work. I, along with your readers, want to hear about what you’re passionate about. We want to be inspired.

Cynsational Notes

The faculty from Crafting Successful Author Visits in 2018 at the Highlights Foundation

Carmen will co-teach a related workshop, Crafting Successful Author Visits, from April 28 to May 3 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher

By Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Check out the cover of Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher (McElderry, Oct. 2018). From the promotional copy:

A runaway boy befriends a polar bear that’s being transported from Norway to London in this lyrical and timeless adventure story about freedom, captivity, and finding a family.

The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. 


That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.



Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. 


When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?



Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.

From author Susan Fletcher:

Journey of the Pale Bear is based on the true story of a polar bear given by King Haakon IV of Norway to King Henry III of England in the year 1252.

When you put a polar bear at the heart of your novel, you’re almost guaranteed a good cover. I mean: a polar bear. Those guys are inherently gorgeous and magnificent.

Still, it took me a moment to catch my breath the first time I saw the jacket art. I wasn’t prepared for just how stunningly beautiful it would be.

It’s the light—the puddles of light on the surface of the water, the streaming undersea light, the tips of light on the polar bear’s snout and neck and crown.

It’s the texture of the bear’s fur. It’s the masses of intense underwater blue.

It’s the expressions of the bear and the boy—worried but not hopeless, setting off on an adventure not of their own choosing, straddling the boundary between documented history and some kind of dream.

I love this cover, and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped to make it happen, especially my editor, Karen Wojtyla, and illustrator Shane Rebenschied.

Cover Reveal: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Wow! Today, BookRiot is hosting the official cover reveal for my upcoming realistic YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, Oct. 2018).

Click this link for the inside scoop on my initial inspirations for the story. You can also pre-order the book from IndieboundBarnes and NobleAmazon and other book retailers.

And then keep reading here to learn more about my thoughts on the cover art itself.

From the promotional copy:

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off immediately and dumps him over email. 


It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time on her family and friends and working on the school newspaper.



The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school music director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town.


From the newly formed “Parents Against Revisionist Theater” to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students—especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man.



As tensions heighten at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey—but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

Cyn says:

What I adore about this cover is that it’s so unabashedly casual and contemporary. Accessible and inviting.

Learn more about Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Modern depictions of Native teens, especially girls, are rare. Showing a character in a T-shirt and jeans, simply standing, comfortably relaxed, is fairly revolutionary.

Centering the T-shirt imagery is something I discussed with my Candlewick editor, Hilary Van Dusen, who was working with Pamela Consolazio, the jacket designer.

To me, the art vaguely suggests the feel of a powwow T-shirt. So, it’s grounded in daily life, but intentionally not groundbreaking. You’d find a few similar Ts in my closet.

On another note, I’m glad that the design largely leaves facial casting to the young reader’s imagination.

I love the covers of two of my previous novels, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), both of which clearly show the face of the protagonist.

But prose novels are such deeply interior experiences. Sometimes it’s best for young adults to envision the story, including its hero, in their own theaters of the mind.

Beyond that, I highly approved of the decision to use a teen-friendly handwriting font for “Hearts” and a firmer, more formal one for “Unbroken.” When I think of real-life teens like my fictional Louise, I am optimistic about the future. Young Native hearts are strong.

Don’t forget to read about the inspirations behind Hearts Unbroken!

Cover Reveal: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime


By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Debut author Cate Berry interviews illustrator Charles Santoso about Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins, May 2018)

Cate: Hi, Charles! I’m here with Penguin and Tiny Shrimp to talk about—

Penguin: Hey, Charles! Love the cover, but what’s with the pajamas?

Tiny Shrimp: We don’t do bedtime, Charles. (Although I love my nightcap and I’m keeping it.)

Cate: Guys! Let’s slow down here! I want to talk about the cover for our new book Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (J’dore, Swoon, Applause!).

Charles: Hi, Cate! Hello, Penguin! Hello, Tiny Shrimp! Thank you for the kind words about my work.

Cate: You’re such a versatile illustrator. I’ve fan-girled over your books I Don’t Like Koala (by Sean Ferrell, Atheneum, 2015), Ida Always (by Caron Levis, Atheneum, 2016) and Peanut Butter and Brains (by Joe McGee, Abrams, 2015) just to name a few.

You don’t seem afraid to try new styles.

Can you talk about this as it relates to our book and the cover?

Charles: Yes, I’m weird like that. I always try different styles for different books I’m illustrating.

I try to “listen” to the story carefully and let my gut feelings guide me towards finding the right style for the book. I want to make sure the words and illustrations blend in and compliment each other as much as possible. It’s all about the story!

Cate: Yes! It’s always about the story! Hey, speaking of story, can we get a glimpse into the illustrator’s life and peek at your studio?

Penguin: Yes!

Tiny Shrimp: Ooooo, where the magic happens.

Charles: Here you go. My other pictures are unfortunately super messy.

Charles’s studio

Cate: Hey, don’t knock messy. I love how sly Penguin and Tiny Shrimp’s expressions are on the cover. There is so much there. They seem indignant—

Penguin: We are indignant. We’re not sleeping.

Tiny Shrimp: Dial back the big words, lady.

Charles: There you go, Cate! I told you they would evolve on their own!.

Cate: It sure seems so! The cover makes me laugh. When I teach, I like showing how humor is a mix of something serious with something silly. You have to find the balance. Does this come into play with illustrating for you?

Charles: I have to care about the characters. When I said that I “listened” to the story, I really meant knowing how both characters sound for me personally.

Both Penguin and Tiny Shrimp say things that might be funny to us but they are 100 percent sincere! So I have to make sure I’m portraying them genuinely— as close to their unique characters and personalities as I hear and see them in my mind.

Cate: That’s so neat. I love what you say about listening. I feel that’s true with the whole picture book making process. It’s like a duet at first, writer and illustrator. I’m writing and discovering these characters. And then you listen and have them come to life through your art. Then it’s a quartet when the editor and art director collaborate with us. Making picture books is so amazing.

Penguin: Hey, let’s get back to basics!

Tiny Shrimp: Did he ever answer about the pajamas?

Cate: Oh! You’re right, Tiny Shrimp! Let’s talk about those adorable red striped pajamas.

I love the entire color palette throughout the book. Can you talk a little about the choices you made?

Charles: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp love things that are fun! Full of energy! But, I did want them to go to sleep too, so I added more night colours to balance things out.

Cate: What else should we know about the cover?

Charles: The illustrations are done digitally but with the same attention to detail as I normally do with traditional media. It was time consuming, but I’m happy with the result.

Cate: I’d love to hear about something that’s unique to our book. Something you discovered along the way that shows up on the cover?

Charles: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp weren’t looking like they do now. I went and did lots and lots of explorations before finding the final look.

Cate: Did I miss anything else other than…

Penguin: Shhh! Don’t spill!

Tiny Shrimp: They have to read the book!

Charles: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cate… Ha!

But, yes! Go read the book when it’s out!

Cynsations Notes


Charles Santoso (Chao) loves drawing little things in his little journal and dreaming about funny, wondrous stories. He gathers inspiration from his childhood memories and curiosities he discovers in his everyday travels.

He has illustrated several picture books, including The Snurtch (Atheneum, 2016) and I Don’t Like Koala (Atheneum, 2015) – both written by Sean Ferrell, Ida, Always by Caron Levis  (Atheneum, 2016), Peanut Butter & Brains by Joe McGee (Abrams, 2015) and Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent by Jessica Young (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

He worked at Animal Logic as a concept artist/art director and was involved in various animated feature film and tv commercial projects.

His work has been exhibited in Sydney and also internationally in North America and France. He currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

Cate Berry is a recent graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Writing for Children and Young Adult MFA program (July/2017), receiving her Picture Book Intensive Certificate in the process.

Cate is an active member of SCBWI and the Austin children’s literature community.

She teaches numerous picture book classes at the Writing Barn, including the upcoming Perfecting the Picture Book II, starting January 8, 2018.

She lives in Austin with her husband and two children.