Author Interview: Samantha M. Clark on Being a SCBWI Regional Advisor & the Austin Chapter

Learn more about Samantha M. Clark,
photo by Sam Bond.

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Today we take a peek behind the curtain at the planning and preparation required to organize a successful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter.

I chatted with Austin’s Regional Advisor, Samantha M. Clark to get the inside scoop.

How long have you been the Austin RA and what prompted you to take the position? 

I’m now in my fifth year as the RA.

I really love doing it, but it was not something I could do before. I’ve volunteered for SCBWI for the past 10 years, first running a critique group for the Houston chapter and, when we moved to Austin, coordinating the critiques for the conference, among other tasks.

When the former RA left, author Bethany Hegedus, a good friend and generally wonderful person, said I would make a good RA, to which I responded that there was no way I could do the job.

Author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson ended up taking over from the former RA, but she asked me to be her assistant. I was a little nervous, but ultimately thought it would be an amazing challenge and experience. And I was right, I loved it.

A few months into the job, however, Shelley was finding a big squeeze on her time. She was doing her MFA (in Writing for Children and Young Adults) at Vermont College of Fine Arts at the time, so she called me up one day and said, “You should be the RA.” I told her no and that she was doing great, but at every meeting she kept saying the same thing.

So finally I said that if she was serious, I was open to it. Even though I never imagined that I’d head up an SCBWI chapter, I’ve found that it’s something I really enjoy.

Amy Farrier, Samantha and Shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI’s leadership team in 2013.

How many members are in the Austin chapter? 

We have close to 330 members, which is double the number when I first took this job. I’m astounded at the growth we’ve had in the last few years and always excited to see so many first timers at our monthly meetings and conference. Come on, join us!

Tell me about the local conference. When do you start planning it? How do you choose speakers? 

I do love our local conference. When I took over as RA, I revamped the (now two-day) conference and gave it the name Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference.

I had envisioned a blend of a retreat and a conference, and while we’ve never ended up with alone working time in the schedule, like at a regular retreat, we do try to offer sessions that go deep and get attendees working.

Our goal is the same every year—and we tell our faculty this when we send out invitations: For our attendees to go home able to lift their work to the next level.

We try to have something for writers and illustrators at all levels, from beginners to advanced, and we try to cover both craft and career.

For our Saturday breakouts, we have tracks for writers (picture books, novels or both), illustration and professional development for the business side. We also have keynotes that are geared at being more inspirational as well as learning, a panel with our speakers from the publishing side to answer attendee questions about the industry, and, on Sunday, intensives for picture books, novels and illustration.

A few years ago we added a panel of local authors and illustrators to kick off the whole weekend. I especially like this because everyone on the panel was once in the audience and I want all the attendees to know that, with hard work and perseverance, they could be the ones on the stage soon. 

We start planning at least a year in advance—I’m working on 2019 now but also thinking about 2020—and after organizing five conference, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting a handle on it.

It begins with deciding who our out of town faculty will be. We bring in one author, one illustrator, two editors, two agents and one art director. We aim to be as diverse as we can, with ethnicity as well as what they create. So, if we have an author who writes fantasy one year, we’ll try to get someone who writes a different genre the following year. Same with illustrators and their styles and mediums.

With agents and editors, we try to bring in people from different publishing houses/agencies, big and small, from year to year, as well as match agents and editors so that collectively, they represent as many age groups and genres as possible.

It takes a lot of planning, and we have to invite people early because speakers’ schedules fill up fast. We often have to do multiple invitations because people are busy, so to create the best faculty possible, it takes a lot of research and time.

While we’re looking for the out of town faculty, we also open up for proposals from our local faculty. We use a proposal system because we have so many amazing authors and illustrators in our local area and they have much better ideas about sessions than we do.

We do try to share the spots from year to year, so we can showcase as many of our local creatives as possible. But ultimately, we look at all the proposals along with the sessions from our out of town faculty and choose ones that combined will make a balanced conference that covers many different topics.
It’s a lot of planning, but my hope is that through it, we’ve got a conference that is living up to its mission to help attendees lift their work to the next level.

There are several scholarships connected to the conference. Can you tell me about those? 

Yes! I’m very proud of our scholarships and awards. Through our Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Award, named after our oldest member, who’s now 102 and a huge inspiration, we honor three young writers every year, giving a $500 scholarship to the high school student when they start college. We hear these writers read their work at the conference and I’m always so impressed.

Betty X. Davis with the 2017 Young Writers winners and Lindsey Lane,
SCBWI volunteer. Photo by Sam Bond.

Our Creators of Diverse Characters Scholarship offers one full scholarship and one half scholarship to a picture book writer, novel writer and an illustrator to go to our annual conference. This is designed to encourage the creation of diverse worlds, in race, sexuality, religion, etc. We’re also working on a program that will award scholarships to writers and illustrators in marginalized groups and hope to begin that next year.

We also have two-year-long mentorships, one for writers and one for illustrators. Our newest is the Emerging Voice Illustrator Mentorship. The winner is chosen from the Portfolio Showcase at our conference. We rotate the mentors, and this year, it’s Don Tate, who’s a wonderful author-illustrator.

For illustrators at the conference, we also have a Portfolio Showcase Contest, which awards two honors with gift certificates and a winner with gift certificates and a free year’s membership to SCBWI.

On the writers’ side, we have the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award, named after Cynsations’ own Cynthia Leitich Smith to honor how generous she is to those starting out. The mentorship is modeled after the Houston SCBWI chapter’s Joan Lowery Nixon Memorial Award.

I won the mentorship years ago with the manuscript that will be published by Simon & Schuster next month, The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast (June 26, 2018), so it was really important to me that Austin have a similar program to help other writers.

Cynthia was our first mentor for the award, and since then, other local authors have been the mentors on a rotating basis.

Our 2018 mentor is Jennifer Ziegler, who is choosing her mentee from manuscripts nominated by our conference faculty from their critiques.

How has SCBWI helped you in your path to publication?

I could write a whole blog post on this question alone!

SCBWI has helped me enormously, with learning at conferences, meeting people, making friends… But I can give you a specific example with the journey of my debut book, The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast.

Laurent Linn

I started writing the manuscript when I was volunteering for the Houston SCBWI critique group. They helped me hone the opening pages.

The manuscript won the Houston chapter’s Joan Lowry Nixon Award, which was a year’s mentorship with the fantastic Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt.

I was recommended to my agent, Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency, by agent Liza Pulitzer Voges, who had met me at the first Austin SCBWI conference I organized. Liza loved my work, but said she wouldn’t be the right agent for it. She recommended me to Rachel, and after being in the query trenches more than two years, the manuscript finally found its agent home.

Coincidentally, the art director we had brought in for that same conference, Laurent Linn with Simon & Schuster, is now the art director for my book. I had told him about the book at the conference.

Four years later, when he heard my editor talking about it in a production meeting, he remembered the story and asked to work on it. I couldn’t be more grateful for the work he has done to make it beautiful.

All of these things I can directly point to SCBWI, but as I said, over the years, I have learned so much at SCBWI conferences, webinars, books, podcasts, articles…

And, perhaps, most important are the friends I’ve made through SCBWI. The organization promotes support and encouragement, and its members follow suit. I’ve made friends in the chapters where I’ve been a member and, as an RA, I’ve made friends with chapter volunteers from around the world. SCBWI has been and continues to be my teacher, my guide, my cushion. I wouldn’t have a career without it.

Samantha with other RAs at the 2016 SCBWI LA Conference

Are there other Austin events beyond the monthly meeting and the annual conference?

Oh, yes! We stay busy. We have webinars at various times throughout the year, but we also organize workshops, networking events, and new since last year, retreats.

Last year, we held our first Novel Writing Retreat, with workshops, roundtables and lots of writing and social time. This year, we’re working on our first Picture Book Retreat, Sept. 14-16.

We also have Online Book Clubs for PB, MG and YA, where members can discuss and analyze books to help their own work. We have critique groups all over the Austin area and more being organized all the time. And from time to time, we try to arrange a lunch with an author or illustrator so people can ask questions.

What’s the best part of being an RA?

This is a fun question because there are so many best parts of being an SCBWI RA:

  • Working with our fantastic Assistant Regional Advisor P.J. Hoover and Illustrator Coordinator C.S. Jennings, as well as our other wonderful volunteers.
  •  Meeting new writers and illustrators—I feel like I gained a huge friendly family when I took on the job.
  •  When one of our members says they learned something or made a positive connection through one of our events.
  •  Getting thank you emails from members after I’ve helped them in some way. Everyone is seriously so nice!
  •  When one of our members signs with an agent or gets a book deal that came out of a connection or advice received at one of our events…

    I could go on.

Being an RA is a lot of work, but the rewards are endless.

C.S., Sam and P.J. planning Austin SCBWI events.

Are there any downsides? 

Well… the job is a lot of work.

Outside of what our members see, the events require a lot of organization and brainstorming, much of which is time consuming. Plus, the RA has to submit a number of reports to the SCBWI HQ, keep up with what’s going on with international SCBWI programs as well as other chapters, and respond to emails from members, prospective members and people seeking information about kidlit.

A lot of emails…

Being an RA is a voluntary position and I have a lot of commitments outside of that—especially right now, with next month’s release of The Boy, The Boat, And The Beast—so I have to fit in all the SCBWI work when I can.

But I try to get as many volunteers involved as possible, which I think is key for two reasons:

  1. If I have less to do, I can do more for the chapter with the little time I have. And, perhaps more importantly, 
  2. It’s important for our members to feel like it’s their chapter and they’re contributing as part of the greater family. 

We give lots of perks to our volunteers to thank them for their time, but people sign up to volunteer because they want to get involved and meet other members. Volunteering is the best way to do that, so to me, having lots of people involved is the best all around.

Cynsational Notes

Samantha M Clark has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own.

In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas.

Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Guest Post: Don Tate on Proactive Promotion & Strong As Sandow

By Don Tate
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My newest book babe, Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017), published earlier this fall.

To welcome “Sandow” into the world and to provide my new book babe with tools needed to flourish, I planned a full marketing blitz.

Marketing a new book is a shared effort between a book’s creators and its publisher. My publisher supported our book in many ways. For instance, they sent me to various conferences to promote and sign “Sandow.” But I want to be sure I do my part, too.

Here is a look at how I launched Strong As Sandow into the world:

Stand-alone Website: StrongmanSandow.com

Sources for telling Sandow’s story were like a gold mine of visual gems.

There were books, photographs, collectible items, old-time physical culture magazines. Unlike previous subjects I’d written about—Bill Traylor, George Moses Horton, people who were enslaved and therefore few records and/or photographs available— there was a good deal of visual information out there on Eugen Sandow.

In the end, however, much of the research got chopped out, left on the cutting board. With a stand-alone website, I could include some of those resources that didn’t make the book. What a great tool for teachers and librarians.

Strongman Sandow website

Friend Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio, created the site using WordPress. Basically, he created a shell of a site that I could easily personalize and update. Adding new information is as simple as creating a new blog post.

On the site, I celebrate receiving author copies of Strong As Sandow. I talk about other picture books on the topic of strongmen . I discuss the process of creating the book’s cover. And I include many of the photos and videos that I used to bring the story to life.

The site is linked from my main website, and I advertise it on my bookmark swag.

In addition to the website, I created a Pinterest page with even more visual references.

Curriculum Guide

My publisher had a very nice discussion guide created as a free download. It is aligned to the Common Core, nationwide academic standards used in classrooms. Having a Common Core-aligned guide adds value to your book.

I loved the guide, but I also hired Debbie Gonzales of  Guides by Debbie to create a second educator’s guide. It is Common Core aligned, too, but also incorporates a lot of what I’ve offered on the stand-alone site—making the site and the guide an extra nice pairing with the book.

My favorite part of Debbie’s guide is the fitness plan, where kids can log their weekly exercise goals and accomplishments. We made the guide available on Sandow’s launch day and promoted it heavily.

Educator’s guide from Guides by Debbie

Book Teaser & Trailer

By far, the fitness video was the most fun aspect of my Sandow marketing efforts. I’d already created a short teaser for the book using iMovie. For that video, I used the original art, panning and zooming, in what is called the “Ken Burns effect.” For drama, I used royalty free music found on the web. And I recruited my friend, Maggie Gallant, to record a voiceover.

We released the the teaser several months ahead of publication day to create anticipation.

The trailer turned out nice, but I also wanted a longer video where I could go deeper into Sandow’s story, emphasize the importance of exercise, while highlighting my own fitness journey—especially since I participated in natural bodybuilding myself many years ago!

For this, I commissioned Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She and her husband, Mark Mattos, flew to Austin where I live. They spent an entire day interviewing and videotaping me at my local YMCA, while I exercised in the weight room, swam laps in the pool, and practiced yoga.

Needless to say, I was all nerves. It’s one thing to work out in busy weight room. It’s another thing to work out with a cameraman following me around, with a huge microphone, an interviewer, and the director of the YMCA.

We caused such a stir that some teenagers tried to sneak into our filming, thinking we were shooting some kind of celebrity reality TV show. (Watch until the end; don’t miss the after-credits scene!)

We debuted our “Nothing In Moderation” physical fitness video along with an interview at “Watch. Connect. Read.” a blog hosted by John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu).

The video has been uploaded to YouTube and TeacherTube, and will sit on the internet indefinitely, serving two purposes. For one, it will continue to promote my book well into the future. Two, it will support future author visits, offering students a glimpse into the life of the author-illustrator who will visit their school.

At a recent visit, many students had watched the video, and they had all sorts of questions about Strong As Sandow, physical fitness, and—how much could I bench press!

Check out the site, but don’t forget to see the bloopers and outtakes!

Social Media Blitz

On the week leading up to book release day, I posted interesting and inspirational tidbits of information about historic, little-known physical fitness figures, like Professor K.V. Iyer and Mlle LeZetora —bodybuilders, weightlifters, strongwomen, with the hashtag #Strong_As_Sandow.

I also had a drawing where I gave away copies of of the book to those who shared my social media posts.

The idea was that while people may not remember the name of my book, they might remember that Don Tate has a new book out on the subject of a bodybuilder, health, fitness.

Launch Party

During the year leading up to my book’s release, I’d made arrangements to have a launch party at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in Austin.

It features classical statues and paintings of Greek and Roman athletes. It also features the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture. The Stark Center has what is probably the largest collection of Eugen Sandow artifacts in the country. This research and sports museum was the perfect place to launch a book like Sandow.

But there were hurdles. Many hurdles. And a hurricane.

The Stark Center is on the campus of the University of Texas—it’s a huge bureaucracy! There were parking issues. There were book-selling restrictions. Since the book would publish during football season, there were more challenges.

Thankfully, the librarian there came to my rescue. She jumped all the hurdles—even kicking some down. She made sure the event could happen  . . well, except that two days before my launch party, the “hurricane of Biblical proportions” caused me to have to cancel.

Bummer.

Two weeks later at BookPeople, though, we launched Strong As Sandow with a cake, topped with “The Sandow” statuette. We partied with raw food and health guru (and strongman) Andrew Perlot. We gave out healthy treats and played games designed to get the kiddos moving their bodies.

Akiko White, cake illustrator

While the party was meant to celebrate the birth of my new book, it also served as promotion and book buzz. I had a lot of photos taken, which were captioned and sent to “Publishers Weekly”—who then publicized my party in their “In-Brief” section.

Andrew Perlot lifts author Lindsey Lane during book launch.
Standing-room only crowd at book launch.

On her blog, Debbie Gonzales described me as a “master marketer.”

I’m not. I just do my best to support my book babes.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal gave Strong as Sandow a starred review, calling it “An excellent introduction to a historical figure that will appeal not only to children already interested in sports and fitness but also to those in need of encouragement.”

In The Horn Book‘s starred review, Patrick Gall wrote, “Tate’s chronological narrative depicts an ambitious, hardworking showman with a drive for excellence — from ‘feeble’ boy to acrobat, strongman, fitness guru, and creator of the first organized bodybuilding contest.”

Don Tate is the author of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree,2015); It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2102), both books are Ezra Jack Keats award winners.

He is also an award-winning illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, including Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2016) The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton (Eerdmans, 2015); The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting (Charlesbridge, 2013); Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons (Penguin, 2012), many others.

Don is a founding host of the The Brown Bookshelf –a blog dedicated to books for African American young readers; and a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

Event Report & Videos: Don Tate Launches Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author-illustrator Don Tate hosted a tremendous, successful book launch for Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017) Sept. 9 at BookPeople in Austin. From the promotional copy:

Friedrich Müller was born sickly and weak, yet he longed to be athletic and strong, like ancient Greek and Roman gladiators. Little Friedrich Müller exercised and exercised but to no avail.

As a young man, Müller found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. He learned to work out harder. He lifted heavier weights. Over time, he got bigger and stronger. Then he changed his name to Eugen Sandow.

After defeating the strongest of all strongmen in Europe, Eugen Sandow became a super star. Eventually, he become known as “The Strongest Man on Earth.” Everyone wanted to become “as strong as Sandow.”

Inspired by his own experiences in the sport of body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness.

Backmatter includes more information about Sandow, with suggestions for exercise. An author’s note and extensive bibliography are included.

Fans wore fake mustaches in honor of Sandow’s.

 About the Event

Don’s wife, Tamera Diggs-Tate, welcomed the crowd, introduced him and explained his personal connection to the book’s subject matter–a history of competitive body building. Then Don took the podium, offering the stories behind the stories. From there, the event featured strong-man lifts, a push-ups and popcorn eating competition for kids and a jaw-dropping tie-in cake by Akiko White.

A celebration of conditioning, strength, and grace. 

Book & Cake Videos

Summer Hiatus & Publishing Preview

Gayleen and Cynthia at the Austin SCBWI conference

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Cynsations is now officially on summer hiatus. We will return in the fall with more inspiration, insights and information on children’s-YA writing, illustration, literature and publishing.

In the meantime, keep up on all those topics with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Cynsational Queries

If you have an idea for a Cynsations post, please email Gayleen to discuss options: CynsationsIntern(at)gmail.com.

Guest posts are approximately 500 words of inspiration and information with real reader, writer, gatekeeper takeaway. Debut authors are eligible for the New Voices interview series, and established authors are welcome to suggest ideas for topic series or interviews about new releases and/or the craft of writing, the writing life, and/or publishing.

For your reading pleasure, we asked a few authors with books publishing this summer to tell us:

What makes your book a great summer read?

May

(Middle Grade novel)

K.A. HoltGnome-a-geddon, illustrated by Colin Jack (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, available now) makes a great summer read because it’s a crazy adventure that we all wish for during those lazy, hot days of the summer doldrums.

Buck and Lizzie get pulled into the world of their favorite books, and they have to figure out what to do when everything they think they know turns out to be just a little bit… off.

It’s a fast-paced fun read with an ending that you might not see coming.

(Middle Grade Novel)

Sheela Chari: If you love mysteries, Finding Mighty (Abrams, May 30, 2017) is a perfect way to spend a warm summer day.

In this middle grade novel, set north of New York City, follow twelve-year-olds Myla Rajan and Peter Wilson as they team up to find Peter’s missing brother, Randall. It turns out Randall is after something, too: a cache of missing diamonds that might clear the mystery behind his father’s death.

With graffiti clues, parkour moves, and a daring climb along one of NYC’s oldest bridges, this book has something for everyone. Using Myla’s lists, Peter’s secret black book, and Randall’s smarts, see if you can figure out where the missing diamonds are hidden before they do.

Join Sheela at the Hastings-On-Hudson Multicultural Book Fair June 15, and for her book signing from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. May 27 at Books of Wonder in New York City.

June

(Middle Grade Novel)

Leah HendersonOne Shadow On The Wall (Atheneum, June 6, 2017) takes place during the summer months in Senegal, West Africa. So it would be a wonderful way for young readers in the States to draw parallels between their summer experiences and that of my main character, Mor, who has to spend his summer choosing between what is right and what is easy to keep is family safe while honoring a promise he made to his father.

For me, great summer reads are books that I can spend lazy afternoons getting lost in while discovering new things. And I think, within the pages of this story, readers may find themselves strolling a dirt path in no time with the sun glimmering over their heads as salty air clings to their skin.

Those interested in a book that peeks into another culture, focuses on family, friendship, and self-reliance might find One Shadow on the Wall the right book to get lost in.

Join Leah at her book launch and presentation at 6 p.m. June 6 at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond and a book signing, hosted by Politics & Prose, at 7:30 p.m. June 8 at the Takoma Park Library in Takoma Park, Maryland. Also, a book celebration and family craft event 11 a.m. on June 10 at Old Fox Books in Annapolis, Maryland.

(Young Adult Novel)

Kayla Olson: The Sandcastle Empire (Harper Teen, June 6, 2017) was inspired, in part, by my longing for a beach vacation.

The island setting sprung out of that—a desire to spend imaginary time in the sand, the sun, the waves—all of which call to mind the feeling of summer.

I’ve also heard from numerous people that it kept them up late into the night, so if you’re looking to get lost in a book while on summer vacation, this might be a good fit for you!

Join Kayla for her book signing at 5 p.m. June 10 at BookPeople in Austin.

(Young Adult Novel)

Bonnie Pipkin: What better way to cool down this summer than with a book that takes place in the dead of winter?

Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron, June 27, 2017) may not seem like an easy breezy summer beach read at first glance: seventeen-year-old, Genesis Johnson is abandoned at the Planned Parenthood in Manhattan by her boyfriend during the procedure to terminate her unwanted pregnancy.

But the book isn’t all heavy duty, grief reconciliation. It’s also romance, and re-discovering what makes you feel whole and complete and cared for. It’s about letting go of what weighs you down in order to find your place center stage. Those are themes for any season!

Join Bonnie at her book launch at 7 p.m. June 27 at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn.

July

(Picture Book)

Emma J. Virjan: Start your engines!

What your summer reading list needs is a pig in a wig, rushing to her a car, dashing into place, ready to start the cross-country race!

Pig zooms off and takes the lead! But oh, no! There’s a rumble, a pop, and a hiss, and Pig gets stuck in the mud.

Will she be able to get back on track and finish the race?

Whether you’re sunbathing on the beach or on your lawn chair in the back yard, What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom (HarperCollins, July 4, 2017), the fifth book in the Pig In A Wig series, will fill your summer days with catchy, rhythmic text, bold illustrations and tons of laughter.

See activity pages and book trailers for the series on Emma’s website.

(Young Adult Novel)

A Very Terrible Witchtown Summer Poem – Cory Putman Oakes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 18, 2017)

In the shade or in the sun,

Witches are always lots of fun!
At the beach or at the pool,
Witches are always totally cool!
Mystery, magic, spells galore,
Witchtown has them all—and more!
Moonstones, pizza, a poltergeist,
A lonely girl who can only plan heists.
Magical plants, a goth, a baker,
A really cute boy (but he might be a faker).
A mean girl, a murder, a troubling past,
Locusts, lessons, and spells to be cast.
A mother and daughter, always in strife
Trust me, you want this book in your life.
So sit yourself down and grab a brew,
The witches can’t wait to entertain you!

Cory has a summer solstice recipe for Lemony Herb Scones and will have a launch party for Witchtown at 3 p.m. on September 10 at BookPeople in Austin.

(Picture Book)

Jason Gallaher: Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, illustrated by Jess Pauwels (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, July 18, 2017)

Whobert puts a little mystery back into your summer! We all know that the sun will be shining, the temperatures will be rising, but what in the heck happened to Perry the Possum?

Whobert will make your summer one of sunshine and strengthening those sleuthing skills.

Join Jason at his book launches at 7 p.m. July 18 at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, and at 2 p.m. July 22 at BookPeople in Austin.

August

(Middle Grade Novel)

Deborah Lytton: Ruby Starr (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, Aug. 1, 2017) is the perfect summer read because:

  • It’s a book about books.  (If you love books as much as Ruby loves them, this is all you need to know.)
  • Summer is a time to set your imagination free, and Ruby’s imagination is so powerful that it sometimes takes her right into the pages of a story.
  • Ruby’s very best friends are characters from her favorite reads. With her honesty and humor, Ruby just might become one of your very best friends.
See reading guide on Deborah’s website. This is the first book in a series.

Signing set for noon on August 5 at Barnes & Noble, 160 S. Westlake Blvd. in Thousand Oaks, California.

(Picture Book)

Liz Garton Scanlon: Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter Books, Aug. 8, 2017).

It’s a great summer read because it’s about an avid tree climber living life to the fullest!

Until she’s stuck inside with the flu and has to figure out how to love the trees from there….

(Picture Book)

Tracy Marchini: The chicken in Chicken Wants a Nap (Creative Editions, Aug, 15, 2017) just wants to sit in the warm grass for an afternoon snooze. And in the summer, that’s what I love to do too! There’s nothing quite like stretching out on a picnic blanket with a good book on a bright summer day.

Chicken is fun and funny, and Monique Felix’s pastel illustrations are warm and inviting. And fortunately for readers, they’re far less likely to be interrupted by cows and other barnyard animals than our poor Chicken!

Last – but not least – as a picture book, Chicken Wants a Nap is short enough that you won’t even have to reapply your sunscreen!

(Picture Book)

Don TateStrong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth (Charlesbridge, Aug. 22, 2017) is a fun story for everyone anytime of the year. It’s especially a great book for summer as kids head outside to run, jump, swim, and play.

Young Sandow loved to do all of these things, but most times, he was too sick and weak to play. Through exercise, he built himself up to become known as the “Strongest Man on Earth!” And he had the biceps and a six-pack to prove it.

Everyone will want to get into better physical shape and become “As Strong As Sandow.”

See Don‘s classroom discussion guide and more about Sandow – including historic photos available online.

Podcast: Pat Mora, Cynthia Leitich Smith & Don Tate

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What an honor to be interviewed for a podcast also featuring author Pat Mora and author-illustrator Don Tate by Professional Book Nerds.

Peek from my segment:

“It [writing for kids] was a heart decision, not a head decision and part of that heart decision wasn’t just about my work.

“It was about the power and importance and necessity of bringing goodness into the world, specifically goodness for kids, and so I was going to do what I could to uplift all storytellers and young readers.”

Click here to listen.

Cynsational Notes

About Professional Book Nerds: “We’re not just book nerds: we’re professional book nerds and the staff librarians who work at OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools. Hear about the best books we’ve read, get personalized recommendations, and learn about the hottest books coming out that we can’t wait to dive into.”

Summer Children’s-YA Lit Diversity Conversations

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Over the summer, the children’s-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.

Mirrors? Windows? How about Prisms? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “…cultural content in children’s books needs to be woven into the story so the authors intention is not stamped all over it.” See also Uma on Tolstoy Was Not Writing for Me.

Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The “Other” and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: “Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma.”

Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too by Jean Ho from NPR. Peek: “For past projects, she has researched segmented audiences ranging from retired African-American women’s books clubs, South Asian soccer organizations, Trinidadian-interest media outlets both stateside and abroad, to extracurricular programs geared toward South Bronx teens.”

Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “…that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others.”

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: “We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?”

Children’s Books and the Color of Characters by Kwame Alexander from The New York Times. Peek: “They all believe I am writing about them. Why is this so much harder for the grown-ups? Is race the only lens through which we can read the world?”

On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: “…we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we’re invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they’re not majority white.”

When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses from NPR. Peek: “Here is a not uncommon experience. Writer Emily X.R. Pan was told by the white writers in her workshop that the racism in her story could never happen — though every incident had happened to her.”

There Is No Secret to Writing About People Who Don’t Look Like You: The Importance of Empathy as Craft by Brandon Taylor from LitHub. Peek: “The best writing, the writing most alive with possibilities, is the writing that at once familiarizes and estranges; it’s writing that divorces us from our same-old contexts and shifts our thinking about ourselves and the world around us.”

How Canada Publishes So Much Diverse Children’s Literature by Ken Setterington from School Library Journal. Peek: “Considering that the entire Canadian market is about the size of the market in California alone (roughly 36 million), publishers must rely on sales
outside of the country.”

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Related Links

Don Tate & Phoebe Wahl Win Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

By The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
from Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced the winners of the 30th annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.

Each year, a new writer and new illustrator are celebrated. The 2016 award ceremony will be held April 7 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The winners receive a gold medallion as well as an honorarium of $1,000.

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday! So we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

“The Keats Archives at the de Grummond Children’s Collection is a happy reminder of the joy that Ezra’s books have brought to readers and the impact they have had on children’s book makers.

“Once again, we see that influence in the work of this year’s EJK Book Award winners. We are confident that they’ll join the long list of illustrious past winners whose books continue to delight and make a difference,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Lois Lowry, two-time winner of the Newbery Award for Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994), will present this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards. Michael Cart, columnist/reviewer for Booklist and a leading expert on young adult literature, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new writer is:

Don Tate for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree)

In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read, but George Moses Horton loved words too much to be stopped. He taught himself to read as a child and grew up to be a published poet, while still a slave.

Writing about slavery for young readers is challenging but important, and Don Tate succeeds brilliantly, in an engaging, age-appropriate and true narrative.

Tate said, “Three years ago, I won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award, one of the proudest moments of my career. I never imagined being considered again… this time [for] the top award. There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats. When he chose to picture brown children in his books, he chose to acknowledge me. I wasn’t invisible to him.

“As a creator of color in a field that sorely lacks diversity, it can be easy to sometimes feel unseen. This award serves as a reminder to me that I am not invisible and that my work matters.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new illustrator is:

Phoebe Wahl for Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra)

Sonya’s dad presents her with three baby chicks to care for, and she does her job well, providing food, shelter and lots of love as they grow into hens. Then one night, Sonya discovers that one of her hens is missing! But as her father explains, the fox stole the hen because he loved his kits and needed to feed them.

The circle of life is gently and exquisitely depicted in Wahl’s rich and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations of a multicultural family’s life on a farm.

Wahl said, “Keats’ work stands out as some of the most impactful of my childhood. I can directly trace the roots of my obsession with pattern, color and my use of collage to my affinity with the lacy baby blanket in Peter’s Chair. Keats inspired me to create stories that are quiet and gentle, yet honor the rich inner lives of children and all of the complexity that allows.

“I am humbled to be associated with Keats’ legacy in being presented with this award, and I am so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the children’s literature community for this show of support and encouragement.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winners are:

2016 New Writer Honors

Julia Sarcone-Roach for The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, also illustrated by Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)

Megan Dowd Lambert for A Crow of His Own, illustrated by David Hyde Costello (Charlesbridge)

2016 New Illustrator Honors

Ryan T. Higgins for Mother Bruce, also written by Higgins (Hyperion)

Rowboat Watkins for Rude Cakes, also written by Watkins (Chronicle)

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Criteria

To be eligible for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the author and/or illustrator will have no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

How To Throw A Book Launch Party

Learn “How to Throw a Book Launch Party” via an article I’ve written that has been posted to Anastasia Suen’s blog, Create/Relate: News from the Children’s Book Biz.

Speaking of which, the lovely Elizabeth Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink is the latest blogger to chime in about my Tantalize launch party. Liz is the author of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004). Visit her author site and read her recent interview at Cynsations.

Don’t miss the other party reports from Cynsations, GregLSBlog, Don Tate’s Devas T. Rants and Raves, Camille’s Book Moot, Jo Whittemore’s LJ (great pics!), and Alison Dellenbaugh’s Alison Wonderland. Read Cynsations interviews with Greg, Don, and Jo.