In Memory: David R. Davis

for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations

David R. Davis died May 24 as Cynsations was beginning summer hiatus.

Author David Davis Was a Friend, wrote Glenn Dromgoole for The Eagle. Peek:

“I’m sad to report that David Davis, one of my favorite Texas children’s authors and a good friend, died May 24… 

“David had a wonderful sense of humor and often teamed up with fellow Fort Worth children’s author Jan Peck to put on delightful programs for schools, libraries and book festivals.”

From Jan Peck:

“My favorite story David told in schools was about how he hated math and got in trouble when he was a kid:

When Grandpaw heard about me not studying my math, he didn’t get mad at me. he just took me fishing at Cibolo Creek in San Antonio.We got out in the lake and Grandpaw said, ‘Dave, what’s this I hear about you not studying your math?’

I said, ‘Aww, Grandpaw, I don’t like math! I just like to draw.’

A school visit poster David created that includes Jan and David’s book titles.

‘Come over here, boy. I want you to feel my hands.’

I felt my grandpa’s hands, ‘They’re rough as a corn cob, ain’t they?’

‘Yes, sir,’ I said. ‘I’ve had to work like a rented mule my whole life because I didn’t get an education. I don’t want that for you, Dave. Listen, you study hard and learn all you can because a man that can read can teach himself anything else.’

And that’s what I did, I read everything. I read about drawing, and I taught myself to draw cartoons. I learned to write and got to do picture books and I learned my math.

Then David would turn to the kids and say, “You have this wonderful school with all these caring teachers and your good librarian. Use your library and read these books about things you’re interested in for at least five minutes a day. And by the time you grow up, you’ll be an expert in what you have learned.”

In addition to 16 picture books, David published pen and ink artwork, cartoons, poems, humor, and short stories.

His short story, “Black Diamond,” won the Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest.

He also self-published several humor books, including Travels With Grandpaw: A Texas Memoir (Amazon Digital, 2011), his venture into nonfiction writing for adults.

He was an active speaker and presenter at educational conferences and schools. He did programs from Pre-K all the way to graduating teachers at college level.

He presented at many book festivals and appeared on TV, radio, and as a featured author at the Texas Book Festival.

David was my partner in rhyme, my soul-brother and my friend, my writing/art/music soulmate, and my playmate (we were like kids).

We did millions of school visits together and even wrote together, The Green Mother Goose (illustrated by Carin Berger, Sterling, 2011).

He always makes me laugh, even through tears. I love him with all my heart forever! Rest in Peace, David!

From Alan Fearl Stacy:

“It is a fact that you never really get anywhere in life without close friendships. 

I met David Davis at an SCBWI conference through mutual friends. After looking at my art, he recommended I try to get book illustration work with Pelican Publishing.

A few books later with another publisher, David asked me if I would like to illustrate a book he was working on, Texas Zeke and the Longhorn (Pelican, 2006).

Before working on the illustrations, I asked David if there were any suggestions he had. He replied “no” and said that was entirely up to me. I showed him some color sketches of the character of Texas Zeke.

‘Is that me?’ he asked with a gleam in his eyes. I was a little embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t help see him as Texas Zeke. ‘Oh, that’s great! I can use that.’ He ran off with a grin like a kid who was given a Christmas present.

He had such a great wit that I dubbed him the Mark Twain of children’s literature.”

From Diane Roberts:

“As I’ve said a zillion times, laughter is the best medicine of all and when I was around David Davis I simply felt better just being with him.

He loved his work, his family, the kids he wrote for, and he was as happy as a duck in water with a pencil in his hands. He hit life head-on and didn’t dilly dally around wasting time. 

He read a million books and love to quote Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury

One afternoon as we all lingered at our 4 Star Critique Den, I asked him how could I overcome my writer’s block. I couldn’t believed I’d published two middle grade novels, (taking 50 years to get in print) and I was so stuck on my next book. 

He jumped right in with a solution and quoted Ray Bradbury: ‘Living at risk is like jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down,’ he told me.

He encouraged me to just dive in and write. ‘Take a risk,’ he’d say. ‘It’s worth it.’ 

It’s true. I have taken lots of risks, some work and some didn’t but at least I’ve done it. 

David was an honest-to-the-core author. He never met someone he couldn’t open up a conversation with. We all miss him but so blessed to have been in his circle of friends.”

From Mark Leeds:

“David Davis guided us all toward deep insights made simple. Minute to learn, lifetime to master insights like ‘cut it down and flesh it out.’

He taught me this 10 years ago in my first critique with him and I’m still trying to do this every time I write and re-write. What can I cut from this chapter that really isn’t necessary? What cannot be cut because there is something profound about it? How do I make that thing even better?

But more than anything he ever said about writing, David made us better writers by bringing his own writing to critique group.

We saw a lifetime of craftsmanship in whatever he brought and we were all the better for having heard it, the artistry of his storytelling inspiring us to come back the next week, better than we were the week before.

New Voice: Traci Sorell on We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Traci & Frane in Tahlequah (Cherokee Nation Capital), June 2017

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Traci Sorell is the debut author of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018). From the promotional copy:

Otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is a word that Cherokee people use to express gratitude. 


Beginning in the fall with the Cherokee New Year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. 


…this nonfiction look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

What first led you to begin writing for young readers?

I decided to start writing for children when my son was four. I had collected picture books since my undergraduate days, particularly those featuring Native Nations. Having cycled through my books and those at my local library, I had difficulty finding any trade-published contemporary picture books featuring Cherokee children to read to my young son.

My tribe, the Cherokee Nation, is the largest in the U.S. with over 350,000 enrolled citizens. How could I not find a picture book about our present-day life and culture? It made me think that other Cherokee parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents must be facing a similar problem.

I contacted a friend from graduate school who I knew had trade published books for children for advice. I attended my first SCBWI conference about writing for children in October 2013 and decided to work toward a full-time career as an author in 2015.

For me, the biggest challenge was making sure I understood the craft, so I could execute the writing. I’ve written in many different formats previously, but I’ll admit writing for children is more difficult than writing a legal brief or code.

Writing sparse, lyrical text for a picture book to capture and hold the attention of discriminating younger readers is a challenge. They will put down the book, walk away, and turn their attention elsewhere when the story starts to drag – either from the words or the art. They have no sense of “I should finish this, so I’ll trudge on through it.” If they aren’t interested, it’s over.

Knowing that invigorates me to write at a higher level, knowing every word has to be precise to evoke the emotion, convey the information or provoke the question that I want reader to experience, understand or ask.

Thankfully, I have wonderful people – fellow authors, my agent and editors – who keep me on track if I stray from that.

Please share with us the story of your literary apprenticeship. How did you master the craft of picture book writing?

I read a lot of picture books written in the last three years to learn what the market wanted. That helped me shape and edit my own voice to write sparse, lyrical texts that sell in the marketplace.

I benefitted from reading Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books (Writer’s Digest, 2009) and connecting with published authors in my local KS-MO chapter of SCBWI who provided solid critiques and guided to me beneficial workshops to further develop my voice and craft.

From there, I expanded my network to connecting with other authors via social media, including you!

Congratulations on the release of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018)! What was the timeline between your creative inspiration and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Traci & Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss

I wrote We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga in November 2015 because I won a free Skype critique for a nonfiction picture book from award-winning author Suzanne Slade through Picture Book Builders and had nothing to submit!

After revising based on her direction, I submitted the second draft with a few minor tweaks to some wording to ten publishers a month later. Then I sold it to Charlesbridge through the slush pile (unsolicited/unagented) in March 2016.

After Charlesbridge bought it, my editor Karen Boss did not have any substantial changes. She moved some text around based on the design layout that she wanted for the book, but otherwise the text was finalized quickly.

Karen asked if I had any illustrators in mind. I gave her a list of Native and non-Native illustrators. Frané was on that list. I was so overjoyed when she was selected.

The whole debut process has gone so smoothly, and I’m so thankful to work with such a wonderful team of people.

What did Frané Lessac’s art bring to your text? To what extent did you work together?

Her artwork takes the text to a different level. The detail, color, humor, and vivaciousness she creates in the book humbles me. I am in awe of what she envisioned and subsequently painted for all readers to enjoy.

Initially I sent her links to a variety of webpages and videos with information about the Cherokee Nation, its citizens, culture, and history to help her start her research.

Unless you’ve been to the Cherokee Nation (in the northeast corner of Oklahoma), you don’t have a feel for the people, landscape, flora and fauna. It’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever been in all my years of living, studying and traveling elsewhere on this continent and abroad.

Even though she didn’t receive the research travel grant she applied for, she traveled to the Cherokee Nation from Western Australia last summer anyway. So we actually got to meet and spend a few days together in late June 2017.

I introduced her to fellow Cherokee citizens who work in our cultural and museum programs. She shared her rough sketches and sought their input to make sure she had details correct.

We traveled with Will Chavez, the Assistant Editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, our tribal newspaper, where he showed her a number of historic sites, types of foliage and animals common in the area. He also provided photos from his extensive collection for her to consult later as she created the final artwork. My brother, a trained chef, prepared bean bread and hominy soup (both mentioned in the book) for her to sample.

So I like to think she enjoyed the hospitality that Cherokee people are known for, while also working to gather the information she needed to tell her part of the story.

Tell us more about how you decided to weave Cherokee words into the story and your approach on what to include in the back matter.

For me, this was integral. I was elated when Charlesbridge wanted the book because they had published the picture book, Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival (1994), featuring Cherokee words unitalicized throughout the text. It had served as an early model for me as a writer that including my tribe’s language would be welcome.

We decided to add the Cherokee syllabary next to the English phonetics at the bottom of each page where a Cherokee word appears because that’s how Cherokee people actually read and speak the language. They are not learning and speaking it from the English phonetics.

Regarding the back matter, I knew I needed to provide a little more context to some of the text and artwork. Given how little people know about contemporary Cherokee life, adding the Definitions section allowed me to amplify any reader’s understanding of what they read and saw on the page.

The Author’s Note explains my reasons for writing this nonfiction picture book.

Including the Cherokee syllabary as it is currently taught in the Cherokee Nation helps readers to know that this language continues to be spoken and is the foundation of our cultural identity as Cherokee people.

As a Native author, how does that identity element inform your writing and your role in the children’s-YA book community?

It’s the foundation of my voice and everything I write. I can’t separate it. My educational and professional backgrounds have also been focused on Native Nations, their citizens, culture, history, law and policies and how those have been impacted under the colonial regime of the United States.

When I research primary and secondary sources or read children’s literature for example, I notice what voices and experiences are included, who is left out and how that shapes the narrative and information the reader receives.

Right now, I feel like I have three main roles in the children’s-YA book community besides getting my writing out in the world.

First, I want to bring additional awareness to invisibility of Native people in the text as well as omissions of accuracy, so other writers recognize the importance of doing the work to get it right. We all are responsible for this.

Second, I want to recruit other Native creators – writers and artists – to create great works for children. You have been extremely supportive of me and other Native creators coming into the field, and I strive to emulate that. We have amazing storytellers in word and art in our Native Nations. I want children to know about and experience the stories those creators have to share. It’s imperative to recruit, educate and encourage others to make that happen.

Third, covering Native/First Nations authors, illustrators, and publishers for your Cynsations blog allows greater visibility for the craft of Native creators in the industry. I enjoy showcasing what their stories and artwork are offering for children and teens in this field. I appreciate you asking me to assist in this way.



What advice do you have for new Native or First Nations writers, starting out?

We Are Grateful poster

I believe it’s important to read broadly across the various genres of children’s literature and determine which one resonates most with your voice as a writer. I gravitated to writing picture books first because I have always loved poetry, sparse use of language, and beautiful artwork. Any writer new to this field needs to make that same determination for themselves.

Then, I recommend studying books published within the last three years within that chosen genre. You’ll be expected to know and state what are comparable titles when you submit your manuscript for consideration. So anticipate that and be prepared.

Next, try to find fellow writers in your genre at the level just above your skill set to read and critique your work. This will pay dividends because your writing will be elevated more quickly with trained eyes providing feedback.

It is extremely helpful if some of these writers are also Native creators. In my experience, finding fellow Native creators will be a huge boost of encouragement and support as you embark on this journey.

What can your readers look forward to next?

Since Charlesbridge bought We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, I’ve sold two other picture books, At The Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Kokila, Fall 2019) and Powwow Day illustrated by Marlena Myles (Charlesbridge, Spring 2020). Both are fiction. I’m looking forward to those being out in the world alongside We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. I also have two picture book biographies, several other fictional picture books, a novel-in-verse and some poems in progress.

Survivors: Carolyn Crimi on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author

Learn more about Carolyn Crimi.

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.

Reflecting on your personal journey, what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

My kneejerk reaction to that question is, “What success?”

So I suppose one way I’ve managed to stay in the game is redefining what that word means and how important it is to me.

Sometimes success means writing the next page, or figuring out a sticky plot problem, or exploring a new genre.

Those are the successes that get you through your tough days. Because there will be tough days, I know that now.

While I’ve won some nice awards, I consider the acceptance of my first novel (Weird Little Robots (Candlewick, 2019)) my biggest success simply because I honestly thought I couldn’t do it.

It was incredibly challenging, but I amazed myself by actually completing and then selling the dang thing. I’m still gobsmacked.

I was able to do that by telling myself that even if this novel was never accepted, writing it was worth it. As a picture book author, I found the idea of spending so much time on a longer project daunting. But what if I just did it for the joy of writing and completing a novel? Of really throwing myself into a project for…fun?

5/14, “Edge of Tomorrow”

I put all thoughts of selling it aside and dived in with my whole heart. It was exhilarating, nerve-wracking, gut wrenching, and absolutely the highlight of my career.

I also have a motto, which I’m embarrassed to say I heard from Tom Cruise (yup!): “Keep your head down and do the work.”

If that means leaving Facebook for a while, do it. There will always be people more successful than you are. Big deal.

Just keep your head down and do the work.

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

I’d have a book signing party for my first book. I felt funny and shy about doing that way back in 1995, but I now realize I’ll never have a first book published ever again!

Overall, I’d celebrate more and agonize less.

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?

Picture books are much, much, shorter than they used to be when I started out. Back in the ’90s, you could get away with a 900 word picture book. Nowadays they’re usually about 500 words or less.

I’m often asked to trim something down so much that I’m left with a manuscript that’s mostly dialogue.

While I love splashy, gorgeously illustrated picture books, I also love and appreciate lyrical language. And yes,I know that the reader will understand a lot of what’s going on the through the pictures, but a few well-chosen words that are fun to say can only add value.

I’m a bit tired of snark. It’s so easy to do, and seems to have been done to death lately. In this political climate, I’d like to see a little less snark and a little more kindness.

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

Save some money from your advance and hire a publicist. They are not cheap but they’re worth it. I plan on using one for Weird Little Robots, my first novel that’s coming out with Candlewick in 2019. (And yes, I will be throwing myself a huge party!)

Like most writers, I dislike marketing and promoting intensely. I’d much rather spend my time writing my next book.

Also? Know that there will be many ups and downs in this career. If you manage to climb back up after being in a writing funk, remember how you did it so that you can do it again. Because you will be in a funk again. And again.

Know that it happens to everyone and that the people who stick with it are the ones who have strategies for pulling themselves out of that muck.

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

Courage to write the story they’re aching to write.

Courage to try a new genre.

Courage to write about what scares them.

And joy!

There’s nothing like that fizzy feeling you get after a good writing day. I would send gallons of that feeling to all my friends if I could.

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

I’d also like a healthy dose of courage to keep going in this topsy-turvy publishing environment.

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.

 

Survivors: Lisa Wheeler on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author

Learn more about Lisa Wheeler.

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.



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?

I think the biggest bump (aside from pre-publication days when I was gathering all my rejections) came during the recession.

I know I am not alone in this.

During that time, I had one editor retire and two leave for other houses. This made selling a manuscript even more difficult, and it seemed everything I wrote for about five years (except for the Dino-Sports series with CarolRhoda which continued throughout this time period) got rejected.

I was fortunate to have that series during that dry spell because it gave me deadlines and I still felt like a “real” writer.

I also took a writing job for Pearson. I wrote four short stories for use in our state testing program. These were pay-per-project, but I didn’t think twice about taking the job. The money was decent and it kept my brain occupied while also allowing me to be creative.



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

Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it? I wish I hadn’t stressed so much. I wish I would’ve believed more in myself and my abilities.

I tend to turn inward when things go wrong and point fingers of blame at myself, my talent, etc.

In truth, looking back, lots of writers had trouble selling during this time. It was a market thing, combined with being orphaned at three publishing houses.

I should have listened to my agent who kept assuring me that things would turn around. He was right!

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?



I have seen picture books get shorter and flashier.

I used to tell the folks who participated in my Picture Book Boot Camps that they had to keep their word count at 1000 or less. Now I advise keeping it below 500.

I also think that social media has played a huge part in making some books very successful. People are celebrities now because they have an online presence.

Twenty years ago, the internet was a new world and I never foresaw how it would change our world.
I am uncomfortable with all the social media showy marketing stuff and actually have mini panic attacks when I try to sit in on workshops about this topic. It’s all so out of my comfort zone.


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

Hire someone to handle your social media.


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



As always, I wish them successful careers and many book sales.

I also hope that children’s books will continue to be made with real paper.

With Deb Aronson and Lisa Rose at Book Beat in Oak Park, MI.

I love that this medium allows families to take their eyes away from the screens, experience the feel and smell of real printed books, see art that isn’t backlit, slow down, ask questions, discuss story. . .oh, all things I recall from reading aloud to my kids when they were small.

Such a precious memory!

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

Like I tell the kids, I will continue to write books until my brain or body breaks down. I hope neither thing happens anytime soon.

I love my job!

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.

Guest Interview: Emma Walton Hamilton on Picture Book Summit

By Cate Berry

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The third annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference will be Oct. 7.

To find out more about this opportunity, which not only allows, but encourages attendance in pajamas, I interviewed one of the founders, Emma Walton Hamilton.

What prompted you to start the Picture Book Summit?


Jon and Laura Backes Bard, Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund and I are longtime friends and colleagues in the children’s lit community. We all regularly contribute to each other’s various programs and endeavors. 

One day we were chatting about the challenges of attending all the conferences we love – the travel, the accommodations, the cost factor, etc. – and it occurred to us that together we could create an online conference specific to picture books that would give people all the value of attending a conference – keynotes, workshops, submission opportunities and so forth – but they could attend from home in their PJs at a fraction of the cost. Thus, Picture Book Summit was born!

The Picture Book Summit seems like such great idea. A whole conference without ever leaving your couch…heaven! Besides the convenience of the online format, what are some specific features that attract a picture book writer?

Tomie dePaola

Picture Book Summit is a world-class conference, jam-packed with value throughout the entire day. There are keynotes from three different Superstar Speakers – this year it’s Tomie dePaola, Carole Boston Weatherford and Adam Rex – who each deliver their own complete session, discussing their craft, giving actionable advice and answering questions.

There are also four separate workshops focusing on a range of craft issues, like nonfiction, writing without preaching, the multiple layers in picture books and pitching and submitting manuscripts to agents.

There are interviews with agents and editors, addressing questions that attendees have asked and submission opportunities to them. 

There are also tons of extra bonuses, like a PJ party the weekend before, handouts and access to recordings after the Summit, networking opportunities via group chats and a Facebook group, free Facebook Live events during the year, and more.

It’s incredible value for the price!

Who is the ideal candidate for your conference?

The Summit is open to anyone who writes, illustrates, or dreams of writing or illustrating picture books. Beginners get a ton of information that helps bring them up to speed quickly, and experienced authors and illustrators get re-energized and inspired.

Is there anyone who is not qualified to attend?


No. There is no question too basic, and no publishing experience or knowledge is required to attend.

If you were attending for the first time, what is a goal you would advise a writer to shoot for during the conference?

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the work of our speakers and presenters beforehand, and to have some questions ready to ask.

Beyond that, just watch, listen and learn! It will be a lot of information, but we provide handouts, slide decks and recordings of all the presentations after the fact… so you can pace yourself and just enjoy the day.

Is there anything I haven’t addressed about the Picture Book Summit that you’d like our readers to be aware of?

Picture Book Summit is an all-day live broadcast in webinar format. You log in, sit back and enjoy each session one after the other. But even if you can’t attend on the day, or have to miss part of a presentation, the entire event is recorded and available for playback within a few days. All registrants have access to the recordings.

Also, every year Picture Book Summit donates a generous portion of our proceeds to a different charity. To date, we have donated over $10,000. Charities we’ve partnered with so far include Reading Partners and We Need Diverse Books.

This year, Picture Book Summit is giving to students “coast to coast.” Proceeds from Picture Book Summit 2017 will be donated to two Title 1 schools – Harrison Elementary in Cottage Grove, OR, and Lincoln Elementary, in New Britain, CT. A portion of each Summiteer’s ticket will go directly to each school’s library.

Cynsations Notes

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and writing coach.

With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over thirty children’s books, eight of which have been on the New York Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Little Brown, 2010).

She is director of the Children’s Lit Fellows program at Stony Brook University.

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 in Austin, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Her debut picture book, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins) releases in May, 2018. 

In Memory: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

By Gayleen Rabakukk

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Children’s Author and Filmmaker, Dies at 51 by Sam Roberts from the New York Times. In addition to 28 children’s books and two memoirs, she also wrote many essays, including the recent You May Want to Marry My Husband, published just 10 days before her death. When her obituary was published March 13, 2017, the Times reported it had been read online 4.5 million times.

The dating profile-style essay about her husband, Jason Brian Rosenthal, shared learning she had ovarian cancer in September 2015 and the changes that diagnosis triggered. “This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan ‘Be,’ existing only in the present,” Amy wrote.

What Amy Krouse Rosenthal Taught Me by Tom Fields-Myer from the Jewish Journal. Peek: “All of her work inspired two reactions: (a) it made you start noticing little things and moments and appreciating them in new ways, and (b) it made you want to be friends with Amy.”

Early in March, when Sherry Richert Belul learned of Amy’s illness, she started the Plant a Kiss Kindness Project for AKR and shared it on Facebook where more than 100 people pledged to offer an act of kindness to celebrate Amy’s loving spirit. Peek: “Being in this community over the past couple weeks has helped ease the grief. I hope these stories help keep Amy’s kind heart alive in spirit.”

Always Trust AKR by Justin Kaufman from WGN Radio. Justin worked with Amy on a show called “Writers Block Party” and several other radio, video and performance projects. Peek: “I’ve had a hard time articulating Amy’s strength as a writer. Maybe cause it’s not really about writing. Amy was on a mission. And that mission was to get us all to stop, for just a second, and recognize that there was beauty nearby.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal Brought Wonder into Our Lives by Melissa Northway from Dandelion Moms. Peek: “I am so saddened that this beautiful soul has left us. If you haven’t seen her short films please check them out. It will give you the reminder and nudge to embrace the here and now and live life to it’s fullest.”

Amy’s film 17 Things I Made, see also The Beckoning of Lovely Story (from start to finish-ish)
Amy’s Ted Talk: 7 Notes on Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, We Wished You More by Victoria Rock on the Chronicle Books blog. Introduced the hashtag #loveforamykrouserosenthal and provided a card to print and share. “So please be inspired by Amy; tell those around you what you wish for them,” Victoria wrote.

How Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Daughter is Carrying on Her Legacy by Elise Sole from Yahoo News. Paris Rosenthal posed on Instagram that she would be continuing her mother’s Project 1,2,3 on Instagram. Amy started the project on Dec. 3, 2016, challenging herself “to come up with something new every day that can be expressed in a list of 3” to be posted daily at 1:23 p.m. for 123 days.

Amy reached 61 posts on Feb. 1, 2017 when she wrote that she had to pause the project. “There are other things I need to be tending to, creating, and focusing on with my limited time.”

Now each day at 1:23 p.m., Paris is posting “a photo that represents something about Amy Krouse Rosenthal” @akr.par on Instagram.

Musician Sam Hawksley recorded a song based on Amy’s I Wish You More, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle, 2015)

Guest Post: Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick on Co-Writing Picture Books

By Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick

Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“Writing is a solitary occupation and one of its hazards is loneliness.” – Joyce Carol Oates

“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement.” – Will Self

“Writing is an antisocial act.” – Martha Grimes

Writing.

Solitary, lonely, antisocial – except for when it’s not.

Erin, Audrey and Liz at the Writing Barn

Most of us choose to write partly because we don’t mind (read: are desperate for) some alone time. But even antisocial writers wearing sweats and old socks know that sometimes, two heads are better than one.

A few years ago, we were agent-mates with a mutually gushy appreciation for each other. Before long, we became accountability and commiseration partners. Then one day, our agent (Erin Murphy) said something about the two of us having a book baby together, and we were off to the races.

A lot of collaborators are married folks who write together over the kitchen table. Our method is more platonic and long distance. Wondering how that works?

Well… here are a few FAQs!

Do we use Google Docs? We do not.
Do we use the edit mode in Word? We do not.
Do we hash out each and every change over the phone? Nope. We don’t do that either.

This is what we do do:

We know for sure Matt did all the illustrations

One of us gets a brilliant idea and tosses it out to the other over email. It’s generally received with great enthusiasm because we’re game like that. Next comes maybe a title and a few lines in a Word doc – a beginning. And from then on, we’ve both got full-on freedom to make of the manuscript what we will. We take turns adding, omitting, and rearranging lines and phrases – without permission, explanation or conversation.

It’s kind of mad-cap. It’s kind of brutal. It’s kind of fun and insanely liberating.

Several days or weeks later, twelve or twenty-two drafts later, we have this shiny new thing that is neither hers nor mine, but ours.

And here’s one of the great and unexpected results of this practice: Somehow, we both find it easier to love that final product – maybe because we’re a little less hard on each other than we are on our own solo selves, maybe because someone else did half the work, or maybe just because we had such a good time all the way along.

Even still, lots of our originally brilliant ideas end up on the cutting room floor. Which is why we’re particularly tickled to be celebrating the debut of Bob, Not Bob (Disney-Hyperion, 2017), illustrated by Matthew Cordell today. (Dear Substitute, illustrated by Chris Raschka, follows next year, also from Disney-Hyperion).

Now, who wrote what bits of those books – or what bits of this post? We wish we could stay to reveal that but we’ve got to back to our solitary, antisocial efforts now.

Thanks for having us!

Cynsational Notes


Bob, Not Bob received a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly. Peek: “Scanlon and Vernick
understand the way that being sick makes kids need comfort that they don’t usually need, how it makes them unrecognizable even to themselves, and the comfort a mother’s presence brings. Every page offers a giggle.”

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World (Simon & Schuster, 2009), illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer (Simon & Schuster, 2015). She is a poet, teacher, and presenter at schools, libraries and conferences and a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Colorado and Wisconsin, and now lives with her husband and two daughters in Austin, Texas.

Audrey Vernick is the author of books for young readers, including the award-winning Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team (Clarion, 2012), illustrated by Steven Salerno and the acclaimed novels Two Naomis (Balzer + Bray, 2016), co-authored by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Screaming at the Ump (Clarion, 2014) and Water Balloon (Clarion, 2011). She has also published more than a dozen picture books and speaks at conferences and elementary schools around the country. She lives near the ocean in New Jersey with her family.


New Voice: David A. Robertson on When We Were Alone

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David A. Robertson is the first-time children’s author of When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett (Portage & Main Press, Jan. 6, 2017)(available for pre-order). From the promotional copy:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?


As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.


When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

So much of my writing is aimed at creating social change, especially in the area of relations between First Nations people and non-First Nations people.

I believe that change comes through education; what we learn from history, and its impact on contemporary society. In Canada, we have a long history of mistreatment concerning the First Nations people. As Canadians, we need to learn about this history. So, my work tries to educate in this way.

In terms of young readers, I believe that change comes from our youth. These are the people who shape our tomorrows, and they need to walk into tomorrow informed on the important issues and histories. If they do, we’ll be in a pretty good place.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

graphic novelist-writer of Irish-Scottish-English-Cree heritage

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada looked at the history of the residential school system, and its impact, and from that research, including residential school survivor testimony and documentation, it came up with a list of recommendations.

One of those recommendations was that the residential school system’s history needed to be taught in school as early as kindergarten.

When I saw this, I recognized that there weren’t many resources for teachers (i.e. books) that addressed the residential school system for younger learners.

So, I set out to write one, and that’s how When We Were Alone came about.

I wanted kids at that young age to learn about the system in a way that they could understand and engage with.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

For me the challenges mostly involved sensitivity and appropriateness. This is a difficult history to tell, especially to younger learners. So, I needed to tell the story in a good way.

It took a lot of research and consultation, it took finding the right rhythm in the passages to connect with readers, and we needed to find the right illustrator, too, which we did in Julie Flett.

Of course, writing these stories always has a psychological effect on you as the writer, too. Understanding that the kids you are writing about really went through these things is tough. But knowing that kids will be learning and growing and sharing makes it worth it.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Also illustrated by Julie Flett

I have the benefit of having five children. So, I’ve read my share of children’s books. This helped in terms of finding a good structure for When We Were Alone, and rhythm.

These two things are very important, and there are certainly some commonalities in books that really work in terms of how they are told, not just what is told in them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of children’s books, or YA books. Figure out styles, structures, approaches from the best. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to write a good story that really connects with your reader.

It always comes down to reading first, and then hard work and a bit of skill.

Guest Post: Carolyn Dee Flores on Achieving Deeper Color in Illustration Using Oil on Cardboard

By Carolyn Dee Flores
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Illustrators bear witness.

Nothing could be more important.

One hundred years from now, when someone wants to know what it was like to be a seven-year-old girl in New York City on her birthday – or what it was like to be a Mexican-American child growing up in Texas – they won’t go to a reference book and look it up. They will look at a picture.

Illustrators, we must:

See with our fingers.
See with our hands.
See with our pencils.
So much depends upon it.

The world “literally” depends upon it!

The process for the bilingual picture book – A Surprise for Teresita/Una Sorpresa Para Teresita, written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Arte Publico, 2016) – I knew I needed to concentrate on community. I looked at 10, 000 photographs of New York City. I’ve been to New York City before – so I tried to remember it and “breathe” it in.
A Surprise for Teresita is about a little girl in a Nuyorican (Puerto-Rican/New York) neighborhood.

I loved the idea of the tropical Puerto Rican culture splashed against the New York City buildings and brownstones.

I got to work immediately.

I made models from foamboard.

I ordered a snow cone machine.

I studied the difference between “snow cones”, “raspas”, and “piraguas.” Delicious!

It became obvious to me that my color palette was going to be “snow cones.”

But … there was a dilemma.

How to capture the intense color I needed, using only the mediums of pencil and watercolor?

The answer: I couldn’t.

I needed oil paint – the brilliant color of oil paint!

So … encouraged by my mentors – Caldecott winner Denise Fleming and Caldecott winner E.B. Lewis – I set out to create a new illustration process.

And, thankfully, it worked!

Here is what I did:

The Problem:

1. Oil paint takes five months to a year and a half to dry.

2. Oil paint on a “raw” surface, such as untreated cloth or cardboard, tends to bleed and is very difficult to control.

The Solution:

1. Liquin medium. “One stroke” at a time. I squeeze each tube of oil paint separately onto my palette. I dip my brush into each color. Then I dip it into the Liquin. I mix the colors as I paint, directly on the cardboard.

2. After each application, I clean the brush, and start again.

3. Similar to “watercolor technique,” I use the “cardboard” as my “white.” In the close-up of Teresita (below) – the highlights in Teresita’s hair are cardboard showing through.

4. As I paint, the oil seeps deep into the cardboard.

5. The cardboard remains wet for weeks “on the inside” – but the “skin” of the painting dries within four and a half hours! It is ready to scan immediately!

This process enabled me to paint A Surprise for Teresita without bleed, quickly, and using the saturated colors that I desperately wanted! All the difference in the world!

Guest Post: David Jacobson on Trusting the Illustrator & the Publishing Process

By David Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

For the last eight years, I have worked for a small Seattle book publisher called Chin Music Press.

I’ve done everything from fact checking and copy editing to developmental- and line-editing, from setting up book tours to reading through the slush pile (a task I actually enjoyed).

But during all that time, my name never appeared on the cover of a book.

That changed this September with the release of my first title, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A picture book, it’s both biography and anthology of a much-loved Japanese children’s poet, whose work has yet to be introduced to English-language readers.

Becoming an author, I learned, is a humbling experience. I had to endure the red-penciling of my not-so-flawless prose (something I used to dish out myself), and the frustration of waiting for each cog in the publishing machine to take its spin—editing, illustrating, book designing, leveling, printing, marketing, reviewing, even mailing—as deadlines came and went.

The experience opened my eyes to the anxiety authors feel as they lose more and more control over their creation, something that had not really dawned on me despite my years working in publishing.

As a staff member at a publisher, I had dealt with authors who continued to rework small details of their text until the bitter end, who agonized over each cover illustration, or who fretted over how their book page appeared on Amazon. Indeed, the degree to which authors continued “meddling” in their books sometimes affected how well we worked with them.

But being on the author side of the equation taught me just how important it is to give up control, regardless of the anxiety it might cause. That was particularly true of my interactions with Are You an Echo? illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.

David

When it came time to decide which cover to use, I requested multiple cover sketches, asking for one thing after another to be changed. But I couldn’t get satisfied.

 Finally, since I was unsure of how to proceed, I asked our book designer Dan Shafer for advice. He recommended limiting how much I was trying to steer the illustrator. Illustrators, he said, do their best work when they have freedom to react to the text in their own way.

Ultimately, I left Toshi to his own devices and he ended up producing a glorious painting of Misuzu and her daughter at sunset.

We went with that.

During my time at Chin Music, there have been many occasions when interactions between writer and editor, or writer and designer have produced unexpected results.

Current author A. V. Crofts tells of her own positive experience of letting go how she thought the cover of her book should look. In another of our titles, Todd Shimoda’s Oh! a Mystery of Mono no Aware, book designer Josh Powell brilliantly conceived of the idea of printing the entire book (both text and illustrations) in shades of black-and-white except for the very end.

Photo credit below.

Though initially intended to reduce the cost of the book, his solution resulted in a final explosion of color that dramatically enhanced the conclusion.

Writing is often thought to be a solo activity where one can wield total control over ones craft.

Oddly enough, its twin, publishing—the business of connecting writers to readers—is more of a team sport, requiring the combined input of different players with different skills and sensibilities.

So, as an author, don’t try to control everything in your book. Find really good people to join your team. Then let your editor, illustrator, designer, or translator bring something of him or herself to the process.

The result may surprise you.

interior illustration from the book

Cynsational Notes

Photo of Misuzu, Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko’s Work.

Review of the Day: Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson from Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: “I hope that the fame that came to Kaneko after the 2011 tsunami will take place in America, without the aid of a national disaster. And I hope that every child that reads, or is read, one of her poems feels that little sense of empathy she conveyed so effortlessly in her life.”