[syndicated profile] aichildlit_feed

Posted by Debbie Reese

On September 22, 2017, a parent in Canada tagged me on a tweet about a book in his child's kindergarten classroom. He asked "What are kids learning about Canadian history? He shared four images from inside a book:



The pages are from The Royal Canadian Mounted Police by Marc Tetro, first published in 1994 by Scholastic Canada, for kids 5-8 years old. The tweet generated a fair bit of interest.

When I retweeted it, I tagged Scholastic:



Earlier today (Sep 25), Scholastic Canada replied:













I don't think there are any mechanisms by which a teacher or librarian would know that Scholastic stopped publishing this book because of the issues with its content. Clearly, it is still in at least one classroom in Canada.

I looked in WorldCat to see how many libraries have it. Given the issues in it, it shouldn't be in a public or school library. It does have use, however, in a university library. Unfortunately, it is in several public and school district libraries. If you've got it in your library, deselect it.





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for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Clete Barrett Smith, discussing his new novel, Mr. 60% (Penguin Random House, 2017). 

I heard Clete read the opening chapter several years ago for his graduate reading at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It gave me chills, and I'm so happy the book is now out in the world.

From the promotional copy:

Matt Nolan is the high school drug dealer, deadbeat, and soon-to-be dropout according to everyone at his school. His vice principal is counting down the days until Mr. 60% (aka Matt) finally flunks out and is no longer his problem. 

What no one knows is the only reason Matt sells drugs is to take care of his uncle Jack, who is dying of cancer. 

Meet Amanda. The overly cheerful social outcast whose optimism makes Matt want to hurl. Stuck as partners during an after-school club (mandatory for Matt), it’s only a matter of time until Amanda discovers Matt’s secret. 

But Amanda is used to dealing with heartbreak, and she’s determined to help Matt find a way to give life 100 percent.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I took a leave of absence from my teaching duties to enroll at the Vermont College of Fine Arts to pursue my dream of writing for young readers. 

Shortly after that, my then-wife’s uncle got in touch to let us know that he had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and had been given six months to live. We invited him to come and live with us.

This was a man who I adored; he was a talented, funny, friendly, charismatic mess of a guy. And I did not have much previous experience with the process of dying—especially not up close—and as I was at home instead of at work, I became one of his primary caregivers.

College Hall at Vermont College of Fine Arts
The experience fundamentally changed me. My relationship with death had mostly been through stories, where people offer pearls of wisdom on their deathbed and stoically accept their fate.

This is not what I was seeing. This man was furious that he had cancer. He was not “ready” to die and he did not feel like giving anybody any pearls of wisdom. It was messy and scary and heartbreaking.

And when it was over I knew that I had to tell this story, for one reason because it was the book that I wanted to see on the shelves and had not found, and also because writing it helped me find some closure.

At the same time I had been kicking around an idea about a YA book told from the perspective of a high school drug dealer.

I knew some of these kids from my teaching career—they flew under the radar and would never cause any problems with teachers, because getting in trouble would raise red flags and limit access to their teenage clients. I got to know a few of these kids (as much as they would let a teacher get close, anyway) and couldn’t stop wondering about what their lives were like when they left school at the end of the day. I ended up combining the two ideas for Mr. 60%.

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

The challenges were mostly psychological. 

Many of the difficult scenes that happen in Mr. 60% are basically exactly what happened when I was caring for this man. Some of the dialogue is verbatim from real life. 

So when I would sit down at my writing desk for the day I knew that I would be reliving some very painful memories in very vivid detail.

As an MFA in Writing student/graduate, how did that experience impact your literary journey?

I don’t think this book would exist without my experiences in the MFA program at VCFA. 

Uma Krishnaswami & Clete
First off, everyone there was encouraging people to “write the book that scares you.”

Well, the idea of this book certainly scared me.

I was used to writing funny, lighthearted middle grade stuff, and even thinking about this book took me way out of my comfort zone.

I was lucky to have a wonderful advisor in my second semester. When I initially met with Uma Krishnaswami, she asked what I would be working on. 

It was the first time that I had admitted out loud that I would be tackling this project, and as soon as I opened my mouth I just started bawling. Uma came around the desk, put her arms around me, and told me it was going to be all right. She was so helpful and supportive, not just with the writing, but with the emotional toll of writing the book.

I remember early in the process, I was going to give up and go back to writing lighthearted stuff. It was just too painful to dredge up all of these memories, and I felt very alone at my writing desk. 

Well, on the day I was going to give up, Uma called me up. It was rare for advisors to call students, at least for me—this is the only time I can remember it happening in my two years in the program—and she was calling to say that she had found a song that reminded her of the character in my book who had terminal cancer, and she sent me a link to the song.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the song, as I didn’t really connect with it in the same way. 

But that phone call made all of the difference. I didn’t feel so alone when I sat down at my writing desk anymore, and I swear I could feel Uma’s arms around me again during the really tough parts of the writing process.

After that, I have never written a book so fast. The bulk of what became the final manuscript was written over three “packets” (which is three months in real time).

With Uma’s support and encouragement, it just sort of came pouring out of me.

How was your approach to writing this book different than your previous work?

My first three novels were for middle grade and they had a first-person POV narrator who was lighthearted and fairly open about discussing the struggles he was facing as he moved from boy to teenager.

So for this one I thought it would be an interesting challenge—and fitting for this particular character—to have a main character that told the reader nothing at all about himself. This is an extension of the fact that he tells the other characters in the book nothing about himself—he has built his walls tall and sturdy.

So I really wanted to use a spare, minimalist approach, where the reader has to infer everything through words and actions.

It’s also a very emotional story, though, although nothing is explained for the reader. I am hoping that the result is emotionally resonant.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews said Mr. 60% "is well-structured, moving quickly between beats but not rushing" and calls Matt "a compelling central character."

Clete Barrett Smith is the author of the middle-grade Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast series (Disney) (Aliens on Vacation, Alien on a Rampage and Aliens in Disguise), as well as Magic Delivery (Disney, 2014). 

A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Smith taught English, drama, and speech at the high school level while continuing to write. 

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Posted by Debbie Reese

Today, AICL is launching a new feature. I'm calling it Reviewed On Twitter and it will have its own label. Sometimes, I tweet that I got a book. If I have something more to say as I look it over, I send a second tweet, and a third, and so on. I end up with something akin to a review, except that it is in a series of tweets. Too often, I never get a review written and posted. That means that anyone who reads AICL but doesn't follow me on Twitter, doesn't see what I said about the book. I don't know if this new feature is going to work out or not, but, we'll see.


****
Not Recommended


On September 17, 2017, CBC News ran a news item by Angela Sterritt. In 'A punch in the gut': Mother slams B.C. high school exercise connecting Indigenous women to 'squaw', Steritt wrote about a worksheet from a guide for a graphic novel being taught in her daughter's classroom. The graphic novel is Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush. Below are my tweets, as I read through it. I started on September 21.

----------
In today's mail; not looking forward to rdg ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH.


Page 2. Nothing in the text says anything about Thanksgiving. Why is it there?

Doesn't that look like an American Thanksgiving scene? Set in 1810, this is supposedly a story about going to Canada.

In Ch 1, Susanna meets her man, gets married; in ch 2 they set off for Canada. On Aug 30, 1832, they approach "The New World."

In ch 3, her husband, John, is out hunting. He comes home, sees Indians, aims his rifle at them; Susanna says she's ok.

The Indians (Chief Peter Nogan, his wife, their son) are teachng her their language. They name her, Nonocosoqui. It means Little Bird.

Susanna can draw. She draws a bird. The chief's wife says "your squaw is a much clever woman." 👀

Susanna draws more, there's talk of trading. She gives them pieces of her fancy mirror (it mostly shattered on its way to their cabin).

I gotta say: stories that have Indians staring into mirrors, marveling, enable a "primitive" image. Water surfaces reflect image, too!

Oh... they give her a gift... she looks in a mirror shard.... it is a bone choker (some of my Native friends will get a kick out of that).

A few days later a Black man gives her a cow. He tells her he heard she's a writer. He tells her "this is no country for writing." Damn.

That "no country for writing" is another problem. It suggests Native ppls were primitive and didn't write.

The Black man's name is Mollineux. He knows abt writing (Shakespeare, specifically) because his master on VA plantation let him use library.

I should note that Susanna and John are Elitist Good White People. They don't like lower class men, like the ones in ch 4...

Ch 4 is about a "logging bee." Lot of working men come to work for Susanna and John. The morning they are due to arrive, Susanna's...

... maid ran away. Susanna doesn't know how to cook, but have no choice. The workers give her a hard time.

An American neighbor goes over to Susanna's. But, they're squatters! LOL. Susanna dissing on Americans. She even says that they...

... ""borrow" the land on which are farm now stood!" I guess Susanna and John got their land... legally?! Again: 👀

The American squatter woman gives Susanna heck abt not sitting down with the workers. "You invite the Indians" but not "your helps."

Susanna wants to avoid "Speechifying on Yankee democracy" so changes subject to Mollineux. Squatter woman says he used to work for her...

... and he had "good conduct" but she "could never abide him for being black." Susanna says Mollineux is "same flesh and blood" as...

... squatter woman's "helps" and asks if he sat at their table. "Mercy me, my helps would leave if I put such an affront to them."

I should have noted when I started this thread, that the teacher's guide for ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH is why I ordered this book.

I did a long thread on the guide a couple of days ago.
1. I ordered a copy of ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH (graphic novel adaptation of the 1852 book) in this news item:
2. Question for -- why did you publish ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH as a graphic novel? I'm flipping thru 1852 bk and.. 
3. I see "squaw" a lot. Here's one passage: "a very large, fat, ugly squaw" is the first example.
4. In the original, "squaw" appears 39 times. How many times is it in the graphic novel? Course, even once is not ok.
5. Hmmmm... I searched the original for the word "darkie" that is definitely in the graphic novel, but it isn't in the original.
6. The original has the n word but the author pushes back on racist ideas. See?

7. Is that passage in the graphic novel... with "darkie" used instead?
8. Teacher's guide for bk is here: [It was removed for review.] See disclaimer? Why say "not politically correct" instead of racist? 

9. And, the person who wrote "of that time" is clearly living under a rock. Those prejudices and racist language are still here, TODAY. 
10. This guide is clearly written with White students/teachers in mind.
11. Did its author and publisher not realize Native and Black kids are part of today's society? First suggested activity is to imagine... 
12. ... life as a "pioneer." It is f'ed up to ask a Native child to imagine what it was like to be a "pioneer." 
13. The guide asks students for good definition of pioneer. How about "a biased word for someone who invaded Native lands." 
14. Here's another question from the guide. I don't see a question asking students how an Indigenous person felt...
15. The next question asks if relationships between pioneers and indigenous ppl improved. Guessing the answer is supposed to be yes. 🤔
16. Next activity: build a model of a pioneer village. That kind of thing centers Whiteness. Teachers: don't do this!
17. The third activity is about "politically incorrect" language:

18. Lot going wrong in this activity. In this true/false statement about words that "everyone" used? "Everyone" means White people. 
19. And here's the activity that brought attention to this messed up book and teacher's guide for it. Guide tries to say "don't use... 
20... certain words today" but then uses them in the activity like they're facts kids must learn. 



Where was I? Oh, yeah, the squatter woman and the not squatter woman trying to out-do each other with their imagined superiority.

Well, damn. When I was looking at the guide the other day, I saw that ch 6 is about a "shivaree" but didn't know what that was. I do now.

By ch 6, Mollineux has married an Irish girl. It is nighttime, men have fiddles, drums, masks. They go to his house: "Come on Darkie!"

One calls "string him up". They pour tar on him, feathers... When I first heard of this book, I asked WHY it was published.

It seems to me that the publisher and writers of the graphic novel & guide had NO IDEA that Native or Black kids would be asked to read it.

The graphic novel, published in 2016, has an Intro by Margaret Atwood. Her recent Emmy probably makes the bk more saleable. But...

But I can't see her name anymore and not remember her involvement in the Joseph Boyden messes.

I'll stop for now with this quick look at ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH. If it was assigned to my child, I'd raise hell for sure.

-----

When I quit last night, I had finished Ch 6, "Shivaree." I didn't share any pain-inducing images from those pages. I'm still aghast at them.

The bk is marked as being for kids in sixth grade and on up. Those "Shivaree" pages are brutal.

Ch 7 is called "John Managhan." John goes to Susanna's house, asking for work. He's hurt but Susanna's new servant won't help him.

He starts to work for Susanna. Kind of heroic. Even tells Susanna's husband how to deliver their 2nd baby when the midwife can't get there.

That's because he's a Roman Catholic. An inset box tells us that enmities between religions ran high "in those days." Not today, I guess?!

Life is getting harder for Susanna. Milk, bread, and potatoes are sometimes all they have to eat. But wait!

Remember the Indian Chief from the start of the book? He comes by from time to time and gives them fish.

Susanna gives most of the food to her family. Husband notices, tells her she has to eat more because he needs her help in the fields.

Susanna cries. She is "reduced to field-labour" but understands why. She steps up but they don't have skills, really, to do this work.

Life gets harder and harder. There's a page where she's grimacing as she skins squirrels for their meals. She's also upset because...

... her sister, who had visited (briefly) in ch 5, has written a book that has "made this wretched wilderness into a fool's paradise."

Susanna's husband tells her to write, again, as she had before they left England. Write the truth of their lives, he says.

Susanna doesn't want to do that. Everyone in England would think of her, living in a log hut, consorting with vulgar ppl & Americans.

But, after a while, she does (write). War breaks out. John has to leave. Oh... here's Indians again as Indian women show her how to fish.

I've looked thru and thru the book. No mention of what tribal nation Susanna was learning words from, or learning fishing techniques...

The thread this tweet is part of is about the graphic novel, SUSANNA MOODIE: ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH that was (is?) being taught in Canada.

It is based on a book with that same title, written by Moodie, published in 1852. In the original, Moodie used "Indian" 118 times.

You can see the original, here: I don't plan to do any analysis of the 1852 one compared to the 2015 one.

Mostly, I just wonder why Second Story thought it was a good idea to make this graphic novel adaptation, for young ppl of today.

I don't recall seeing a disclaimer like this one, inside ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH. See that past tense, "were", in there? (Because text in photo is small, I am inserting it here: "Common prejudices in the nineteenth century resulting from antagonisms between Protestants and Catholics, or racism perpetuated by white Europeans against Blacks and Aboriginals, were reflected in the everyday language people used to describe themselves and each other. Today it is unacceptable to use words such as Indian, squaw, darkie, Negro,Yankee, or Papist.")




There's something like that disclaimer in the teaching guide for the bk, too. That guide got pulled. Will the book get pulled, too?

My guess is, no. It was (is?) being used in classrooms in Canada, which means it was bought in quantities. Just for one class? More?

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Posted by Debbie Reese

Today, AICL is launching a new feature. I'm calling it Reviewed On Twitter and it will have its own label. Sometimes, I tweet that I got a book. If I have something more to say as I look it over, I send a second tweet, and a third, and so on. I end up with something akin to a review, except that it is in a series of tweets. Too often, I never get a review written and posted. That means that anyone who reads AICL but doesn't follow me on Twitter, doesn't see what I said about the book. I don't know if this new feature is going to work out or not, but, we'll see.

****

This morning (Sep 24, 2017), I started reading Brad Meltzer's I Am Sacagawea and sharing my thoughts, on Twitter, as I read. I am pasting the text of those tweets, here.

1. Another of my "WHY?" threads. This one is about a new picture book about Sacagawea.
4. I'm looking at resources about Sacagawea. Wonder if Meltzer knows she's controversial?

5. When I start reading I AM SACAGAWEA, will I find anything about that controversial POV in Meltzer's book?

6. In the back of the bk, the author and illustrator thank Carolyn Gilman. She wrote a book called Lewis and Clark: Across the Divide.

7. Gilman's book is available online: I'll look at that, but the bk I am going to rely on is...

8. ... not that one! ANYTIME I see anything abt Lewis and Clark, I remember a mtg I was in with Native historians, several years ago.

9. It was in the years preceding all the big rah-rah events to mark the "200th anniversary" of the expedition. Some planners wanted...

10. ... ppl of the tribal nations along the expedition to participate in re-enactments. Paraphrasing the response; it was something like...

11. 'Why would we wanna do THAT?!' -- In other words, 'no, we will not perform in your story.'

12. Some quick thoughts, now, on Meltzer's I AM SACAJAWEA. First page: "I am Sacagawea." Oh-oh. Did she, in fact, say those words?

13. Does Meltzer have evidence that she said "I am Sacagawea." in the files he put together to do this book? Or... did he make that up?

14. Next page... another 'oh-oh' from me. "What do people expect of you?" she says. I am pretty sure she didn't say that. What we've got...

15. ... is a white guy creating the speech of a Native woman who lived over 200 years ago. He's leaping over differences in...

16. ... identity and language and time and culture. What could go wrong?

17. Next lines are about what people expect of you (reader) and what people expected, in that time, of Sacagawea.



18. Meltzer's Sacagawea has an answer: "In fact, they didn't expect much at all." You should be wondering WHO didn't expect much of her.

19. Meltzer's question, in short, centers Whiteness. He doesn't name it. What he means is that WHITE people didn't expect much of her.

20. Yeah... what can go wrong with Invented Dialog that leaps across time, language, identity... easy to see, so far, right?

21. Oh, Penguin... do we need another messed up book about Sacagawea? WorldCat says there's 268 books (for kids) about her. Yours makes 269.

22. Meltzer's I AM SACAGAWEA is doing exactly what ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH did: telling (white) rds that racism is a thing-of-the-past.

23. Lines like "That's how things were back then." are lies you're telling to kids. Things are like that RIGHT NOW.

24. Hmm. Meltzer has Sacagawea quoting "Chief Meninock of the Yakama Tribe" saying "We can only be what we give ourselves power to be."

25. Did Meninock say that? , help me find it! So far, I've found it in one bk--but I need something more substantive.

26. In the final pages, Meltzer's Sacagawea tells readers: "Make your own path. Shatter expectations." Again, did she say those words?!

27. Next, she says "That's what I've always done." Oops, Meltzer. Didn't you tell us she was considered property that could be given away?

28. Based on what I've shared in this tweet thread, you are right if you're thinking that I will not recommend Meltzer's I AM SACAGAWEA.

29. Not Recommended: Brad Meltzer's I AM SACAGAWEA, published in 2017 by Dial/Penguin. Librarians: save your funds.










In Memory: Jan Andrews

Sep. 24th, 2017 12:00 pm
[syndicated profile] cynsations_feed
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Author and storyteller Jan Andrews died Sept. 2, while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Obituary Note: Jan Andrews from Shelf Awareness. Peek: "British-born storyteller and children's author Jan Andrews, who immigrated to Canada in her 20s and 'wrote books for children of all ages, often inspired by the people and landscape of her adopted home,' died September 2, Quillblog reported. She was 75."

Jan Andrews, Canadian children’s author and storyteller, dies after a fall by Shanda Deziel from Quill & Quire. Peek: “'Jan’s experience as a storyteller gave her a particularly strong voice as a writer, and she used her strong and passionate voice to write honestly and without condescension for child readers,' says Sheila Barry, president and publisher of Groundwood (Books)."

In 2016, Jan was appointed to the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian culture both as an author of children's books and for her contributions to Canada's storytelling movement.

In 2002, she founded StorySave, "a project of Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada that records the voices of elders from the Canadian storytelling community." She was also a founding member of Storytellers of Canada - Conteurs du Canada, and received their Storykeeper award in 2013. See also Jan's Storytelling Club.

In Memory: Robin Smith

Sep. 23rd, 2017 12:00 pm
[syndicated profile] cynsations_feed
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Teacher and picture book expert Robin Smith died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Robin Smith (1959-2017) from The Horn Book. Peek: "A second-grade teacher at Ensworth School in Nashville for the last twenty-four years, she was a longtime Horn Book contributor and reviewer and a founding co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog. She also reviewed for BookPage and Kirkus."


Editorial: The Incomparable Robin Smith by Martha V. Parravano for The Horn Book. Peek: "Robin was a passionate advocate of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee and its mission. She served on the jury, but she didn’t stop there: she urged people to join the organization; when she saw a lack of diversity on other ALA book committees, she encouraged CSK members to run for election."

Reviewer Salute: Robin Smith by Lynn Green from BookPage. Peek: "With her warm, vibrant personality, Robin has a knack for building bridges between authors and readers and connecting various members of the children’s book community....A self-described 'award committee addict,' Robin has served on the selection committees for the Caldecott Medal (2011), the Coretta Scott King Book Awards (2010), the Geisel Award (2008) and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award...."

Robin Lynn Smith — In Memoriam from Children's Literature New England. Peek: "For many years, Robin joined Deb Taylor in presenting 'Books Not on the Reading List,' a discussion of books related to the theme of each CLNE symposium but not included on the required or recommended reading lists. After attending this session, CLNE participants were eager to read all the books they reviewed!"

Remembering Robin Smith by Vicky Smith from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: "I think of all these roles the one she cherished most was second-grade teacher, as she applied her decades of expertise with 8- and 9-year-olds to all the rest...we sometimes talk about book people and child people as if they are two different types—and often they are—but Robin was the perfect intersection of both."

Cynsational News

Sep. 22nd, 2017 12:00 pm
[syndicated profile] cynsations_feed
By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Author Interviews

Q&A with Tracey Baptiste by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "I decided to make the setting a generalized Caribbean island because I wanted to have a lot of Trinidadian influences and wanted to embrace the islands as a whole. So anyone reading it from the Caribbean could read it as their native."

A Conversation with Cynthia and Sanford Levinson from Peachtree Publishers. Peek: "When we started working on the book in June 2012, we actually did know that it would be timely and relevant. We just didn’t anticipate in what ways it would be timely or how interested the public would become in the Constitution."

Chris Barton talks with Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, Selina Alko from BookPeople's Blog. Peek: (from Selina) "When Sean and I first read the manuscript for Why Am I Me? we fell in love with the idea of creating a picture book asking life’s biggest questions by our littlest people. Right away we connected with the themes of empathy and wonder."

Mining Memories With Patricia MacLachlan by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: "I’ve always had a true and abiding respect for the intelligence and honesty of children. I have seen their creative teachers using books in the classroom in incredibly inventive ways. Children have 'reading buddies' from the older grades...Children read to dogs. They write books of their own."

Interview: Axie Oh, Author of Rebel Seoul by Jalissa Corrie from The Open Book at Lee & Low. Peek: "...I had read a lot of dystopias set in the west, but I hadn’t read any YA Sci-Fi books set in East Asia. I wondered what that would be like, considering how different the East is from the West in terms of ideology, history and culture." Note: Axie Oh won Lee & Low's New Visions Award for Authors of Color in 2014, submission deadline for the latest New Visions Award is Oct. 31.

Erika L. Sánchez On Unlikable WOC Protagonists & I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek: "It’s tough growing up bicultural. It often feels like you don’t belong anywhere. It was important for me to portray this identity because it’s a very common experience for young people, and it’s rarely depicted in mainstream literature."

Diversity

A Letter from Young Adult Readers to Latinx Writers About Race, Gender, and Other Issues by Marilisa Jiménez García from Latinxs in KidLit. Peek: "Students noted that many of the protagonists in award-winning and popular books are light-skinned Latinos, while Afro and Indigenous Latinxs characters tend to be marginalized as the supporting characters, in problematic tropes such as the servants and slave characters, and even the bullies."

Dyscalculia and ADHD: A View From the Inside by David Howard from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "People with dyscalculia have trouble learning and understanding numbers and mathematics, as well as difficulty with spatial reasoning, telling time, and dealing with quantified information. It’s analogous to dyslexia, only relating to numbers instead of letters, and to math instead of reading."

Discuss Race, Racism & Resistance.
26 Children's Books to Support Conversations on Race, Racism & Resistance from Embrace Race. Peek: "Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression."

Marketing

What’s More Important: Author Websites or Social Media? by Jane Friedman from her blog. Peek: "I may be in the tiny minority of people who happen to think social media isn’t 100% critical for an author’s online presence.....These days, I get more noticeable results from my website and blogging efforts, email newsletters, and in-person networking than I do from social media."

Phil Bildner Launches the Author Village Booking Agency by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "One of the benefits of his service, Bildner explained, is that if a requested author or illustrator is already booked, another author or illustrator can quickly be recommended to the client. 'We strongly feel that every kid deserves an experience with an author visit to their school,' Bildner said of his commitment to facilitating school visits..."

Writing Life

If You Write a Book That Nobody Reads, Are You Really a Writer? by Susan Wolfe from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "When our readership falls far short of our dreams, what if anything keeps us writing? Should we try to dial our hopes back?...If a tree falls in the forest, how many people need to hear it for the tree to have really fallen?"

Writing Insights

Say a Little Less, Mean a Little More by Kathryn Craft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Understatement invites your reader’s active participation by leaving small gaps into which the she can insert understanding from the vast warehouse of images in her own mind."

The Writing Lesson I Never Forgot: Write with Kindness by Claudia Mills from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: "It's not enough to see 'through' our characters. We need to see 'into' them. We need to understand not only how they are, but why they are this way."

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally -- Cynthia


Madeline and Jessica talk about their new releases at BookPeope in Austin.
This week's highlight was the launch party for Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson, illustrated by Jeff Crosby and The Monsters in Your Closet, edited by Madeline Smoot (both CBAY Books) at BookPeople in Austin.

Cakelustrator Akiko White's "Baby Bigfoot" cake in celebration of Jessica and Madeline's new releases; see video!
I'm taking applications for a Cynsations intern, and there are a couple of spots still available for my October humor writing workshop with Uma Krishnaswami at Highlights!

Congratulations, Métis author Cherie Dimaline, one of six finalists in the young readers' literature category for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize!

More Personally -- Gayleen

Lately my life has been a whirlwind of classes, writing and book launches. (Special shout-out to my agent sister, Jessica Lee Anderson!)

I also attended an SCBWI critique group. At first I planned to go mainly because librarian and writer Gail Shipley would be there to collect books for a Houston school library destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

As the week went on I decided why not also participate in the critique? I contacted the group's organizer, Susie Kralovansky to find out how many pages/copies to bring. I got good feedback on my manuscript, enjoyed spending time with other writers and had delicious barbecue. (Yes, the group meets at a barbecue joint! But then, this is Austin.)

Perhaps most wonderful of all, I met illustrator Judith Stanfield, who solved my looming anniversary dilemma when she said several of her lovely sketches are available as cards. You just never know what kind of awesomeness will happen when a bunch of kidlit folks get together!

Illustration by Judith Stanfield, used with permission.
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By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Although Ruth Freeman has authored several picture books, she made her debut as a novelist earlier this year with One Good Thing About America (Holiday House, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Is it ever easy being new?

Anaïs was the best English student in her class in Africa. Now in Crazy America she feels she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense…chicken
fingers

In letters, she writes to her grandmother back home about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese and princess sleepovers. She misses her father and brother and hopes the fighting is over soon. 

In the meantime, she writes about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and wonders if she will ever feel at home in this strange new country.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

When I found that I could read chapter books, it was like falling in love. My seven- or eight-year-old self wouldn’t have known to call it that, but it absolutely was. I couldn’t believe the places I could go and the people I could meet, all between the covers of a book! Words melted away on the page, time stopped, and I would go off with fairies, pioneer girls, knights or rabbits. Being so absorbed and transported at that age was as close to real magic as I will ever get.

I think when you’re young and fall in love with reading, it never leaves you. You’re hooked.

As I got older, the notion of recreating the magic I found in books began to take hold. I wanted to reverse the process. Could I weave words together in such a way that the picture in my head would show up (similar but different) in someone else’s head? How cool would that be?

Of course, it’s one thing to catch the desire to write and another thing to do it, as I found out. But that’s another story (see below).

Students reading at Ruth's school
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Two words: my students. I teach English language learners (ELL) at an elementary school in Maine, so everyday I work with young people, some of whom arrived in this country a week ago, some of whom were born here but speak another language at home.

It takes five to seven years to become fluent in English, both the basic conversational language as well as the academic language.

As ELL teachers, we often work with the same students over several years, which means we get to know them, hear their stories, answer their many questions and meet their families.

I wrote this book for two reasons. The first was so that my students, and students like them, could see themselves in a book. There aren’t enough children’s books about the experiences of newcomers. At least, not yet.

The second reason was so that all readers could get a glimpse of what life might be like for a girl new to this country.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, I write that there’s no way I can truly understand the experience of a refugee or asylum seeker but my hope, and expectation, is that one day my students, and others like them, will write their own stories...and I can’t wait to read them!

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

Because I was writing from the protagonist Anaïs’ point of view, the biggest challenge was to make her writing, her voice, sound authentic.

I limited the words I could use to the ones used by a typical newcomer.

I added a few expressions she might have picked up such as, “for sure,” “for goodness’ sake,” and “crazy” to describe anything that didn’t make sense (which was a lot of things!). She uses “cool” and “bingo” she hears from her teacher. Because her vocabulary is still growing, she repeats words for emphasis, such as “I am not happy. Not not not happy.” Other vocabulary lessons spill over into her writing, too, such as her use of comparative adjectives: “big, bigger, biggest.”

Anaïs’ grammar and spelling was also a challenge. I wanted her writing to look as realistic as possible, so I decided it shouldn’t be perfect. I tried to include enough misspellings to make it authentic but still keep it legible.

As time goes by, her spelling, verb tenses, grammar and vocabulary improve. I worked long and hard to make the progression plausible (though her improvement is probably faster than it would be in real life). It was tricky remembering what words she had learned and what misspellings she had corrected as the story unfolded!

A fourth grade class decorated their door as the cover.
Using an entirely epistolary format must have been particularly challenging, but it works beautifully. Can you tell us what drew you to this format?

I have to admit I had never thought about writing a story in letters before. The idea for a “school” story was rolling around in my head, but that was as far as I’d gotten with it.

One spark came when I was helping some ELL students in a 2nd grade classroom. The class was writing persuasive letters, first having to state an opinion, then writing a letter to persuade someone to their point of view.

However, it wasn’t until later that the letter writing and the “school” story idea came together.

I had these bits and pieces in mind, but in the end, it was my students’ voices that made everything click. I can often hear their distinctive voices and accents in my mind long after we’re together, and it was these voices that I wanted to preserve on paper.

I felt the best way to do this was writing from my character’s point of view through letters she was writing home to her grandmother.

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

If you have a burning desire to write for young people, try it! Even though I had wanted to write for a long time there came a point when I felt time was passing and it was now or never!

But...there’s always a but...be prepared for a long, slow, hard slog. If you want it badly enough, you will stick with it. If it’s not for you, you’ll find that out and discover some other wonderful creative path to follow. It’s a journey, right?

But, if you get more and more determined to write, here are a few tips from one (and only one) writer:

Ruth in her elementary school library.
Read children’s/YA books! Haunt your local library, make friends with the children’s librarian, ask what everyone is reading, but don’t forget to read the classics as well.

Learn about the publishing business. One excellent way is to join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They have a lot of information online, they hold great conferences, and they can hook you up with local chapters and writers groups.

Find what works for you in the way of writing. You can read everyone else’s tried and true methods, but in the end, you have to figure out which way is best for you.

For example, I cannot wake up at 4 a.m. and write! I work full-time at the moment, so I take notes and glean ideas during the week and carve out Sundays for writing. And I work hard on stories in the summer when I’m not teaching. It is not easy. When I had small children, I wrote nonfiction picture books partly because I could do the research whenever I could find the odd moment of free time.

Write about what grabs you and you’re passionate about--not, I repeat not, what you think will sell and make you a million dollars. Your heart won’t be in it. Don’t get hung up on “brands” and “platforms.” Keep it real.

Lastly, when you are ready to plunge into your first draft, learn to banish the critics sitting on your shoulders (they keep coming back, so keep shooing them away), take a deep breath and enjoy making a mess!

You have the freedom to write whatever you want...and it in no way has to be perfect!

Keep an image of a mud puddle in mind.


Later, you can make everything pretty.

In the beginning, it is time for delight, freedom, creativity, humor and the joy of being subversive. Readers come later. In the beginning, you’re writing just for you. Go for it!

Ruth Freeman
(photo by Molly Haley)
Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal called One Good Thing About America "highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience."

An educator's guide is available from the publisher.

Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English Language Learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She's worked with students from every continent except Australia and Antarctica. She has also authored several nonfiction picture books on subjects ranging from hairstyles to the history of chocolate.

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By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

LaTisha Redding is the debut author of Calling the Water Drum, illustrated by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2016) From the promotional copy:

Henri and his parents leave their homeland, Haiti, after they receive an invitation from an uncle to come to New York City. 

Only able to afford a small, rickety boat, the family sets out in the middle of the night in search of a better life. Out at sea, Henri dreams of what life will be like “across the great waters.”

Then the small boat overturns, and Henri is placed on top of the boat as his parents drift further out at sea. 


Overcome with grief, Henri retreats into himself and is no longer able to speak once he reaches land. Encouraged by his uncle and neighbor, Henri takes a bucket and plays on it like a drum. The drumming becomes a link to his past and a conduit for his emotions. 

Slowly, through his drumming and the kindness of his uncle and friend, Henri learns to navigate this new and foreign world without his parents.

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

more from illustrator Aaron Boyd
I keep a notebook with me almost all of the time. But I didn't write down the idea for this story right away. It stewed in the back of my mind for several months. When I finally stilled myself to write it, I let the story pour out onto the page without editing.

As I wrote, the first challenge was capturing Henri’s voice. Henri narrates the story and it took me a few revision rounds to discover how much dialogue he would have. I'm not a poet or a musician, but Henri's voice had formed a certain cadence when I read the draft out loud.

Then I immediately tucked the story away. After that, I researched details of the Haitian language, which is Kreyol, and the culture; it was important that I presented it properly. I also researched drumming, the origins, and its ceremonial use within the African diaspora.

When I returned to the story months later, I shaped it with those elements, chose more precise words and tightened the structure. Later, when I worked with my editor Jessica, she helped me revise it further by adding the day-to-day details of life in Haiti, which required more research. That added another layer to Henri's story.

For the psychological aspects of the story, I knew from the onset that Henri was dealing with great loss, which was balanced with hope. But I never considered the themes in Calling the Water Drum too heavy for a child to understand.

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

The advice that I have, is what's been given before and it's advice that I followed, and still practice. Read a lot and write a lot. That's the bedrock of being a writer. I have yet to personally meet another writer that didn't begin as a voracious reader. The reading comes easily. The writing can be the hard part. Over the years, I've discovered that just because I'm compelled to write and I enjoy telling stories doesn't mean it's not hard.

LaTisha at a classroom visit
One piece of advice that I always found interesting was the adage to "write what you know." I like to modify that: write what you want to know more about. I write what intrigues me or gets under my skin. And centering a child as the protagonist in a story gives me the chance to explore with wonder. Kids are curious about the world and, as a writer, so am I.

When it comes to actually learning how to write, I view it as a skill, like anything else. You read something, a poem, a short-story, a picture book, a novel and then you apprentice the story--you take it apart to see how the author put it together. Of course the "recipe" of read a lot, write a lot has to be seasoned with patience. Life gets so busy sometimes and it gets difficult to make time for writing.

It helps to set realistic reading and writing goals. I read the classics and read what's on the market. I decide how many stories to write and complete in a month or three-month time frame if a year feels too lengthy. And completing the story is key. It's better to complete two short-stories or one novel than have a hard-drive worth of half-finished stories.

What would you have done differently? 

I've been a storyteller since I was a child. But, I'm not one of those writers who have been writing since I was a kid or wrote for my high school newspaper or took creative writing classes in college. I had graduated from college and worked for several years before I took a writing class.

If I could do it differently, I would've taken creative writing classes in college and started to learn the craft earlier. I also would've sought out other writers and writing organizations sooner.

The community has been invaluable. It's important for me to gather with other writers; but it was critical for me in the beginning stage to be around other writers and experience that camaraderie. I've learned that writing in isolation doesn't benefit me at all.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

More from illustrator Aaron Boyd
Being an author is still very new to me. It's true that having a book published is a delicious feeling. I'm still amazed. But I keep my focus on getting my butt-in-the-chair and writing. I have more stories to tell. And since I want to get more of my stories out into the world then I need to write more.

The pragmatic side of me has approached marketing and promotion with the understanding that it's part of the book publishing process. It's a business, after all. So I setup a website and I'm on Twitter joining the conversations about writing or the writing life, which is fun. I've been steeped in the writing world for years, but publishing is a whole other beast.

In terms of my self-image, it's pretty much the same, again, because I've been a storyteller since I was little. So for me, at the end of the day, it's all about story.

As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story? 

I'm African-American and the story is from the vantage point of a Haitian boy named Henri. But there's another child named Karrine in the story, who is African-American.

Now, I didn't write a Haitian story or the Haitian experience. There are Haitian writers who can express that from a place of vision that I never could. But, I wrote this story entwining two children from different cultures and that was intriguing to me.

Since I grew up in New York City, I'm familiar with being immersed in my culture while living parallel to many other cultures. I definitely wanted to give life to that experience and I did.

Cynsations Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Calling the Water Drum a starred review, calling it "a powerful story of loss and survival, human connection and hope... Redding’s distinguished text sensitively portrays the tragedies young Henri and Karrine have faced..."

A teacher's guide is available from the publisher.

LaTisha Redding is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop and busy working on a middle grade novel. She lives in Florida and when she's not wilting from the humidity,  she writes!

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By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out this author-illustrator interview video with Daniel W. Vandever on Fall In Line, Holden! by Tyler Mitchell from Salina Bookshelf. From the promotional copy:

Fall in Line, Holden! follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through his day at boarding school.

Although Holden is required to conform to a rigid schedule and strict standards of behavior, his internal life is led with imagination and wonder. 

Whether he is in art class, the computer lab, or walking the hall to lunch, Holden’s vivid imagination transforms his commonplace surroundings into a world of discovery and delight.

Explore the world through Holden’s eyes. Join him for the day, and celebrate the strong spirit of a boy who rises above the rules surrounding him.

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By Gayleen Rabakukk
For Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bonnie Pipkin is the debut author of Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Books, 2017). From the promotional copy:

“Troubled.” That’s seventeen-year-old Genesis according to her small New Jersey town. She finds refuge and stability in her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter—until he abandons her at a Planned Parenthood clinic during their appointment to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The betrayal causes Gen to question everything.

As Gen pushes herself forward to find her new identity without Peter, she must also confront her most painful memories. Through the lens of an ongoing four act play within the novel, the fantasy of their undying love unravels line by line, scene by scene. 

Digging deeper into her past while exploring the underground theater world of New York City, she rediscovers a long forgotten dream. But it’s when Gen lets go of her history, the one she thinks she knows, that she’s finally able to embrace the complicated, chaotic true story of her life, and take center stage.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

What came to me first was a vision of the opening scene: A girl named Genesis would have an abortion, walk out into the waiting room, and find her boyfriend gone. From there, I had no idea where the story would go, but I always knew this was where it started.

It went many different directions in the drafting process—the first round even had a traveling ghost theater troupe!—but that scene was the anchor. Beyond that, I knew I wanted to write about abortion but I never wanted the journey to the choice to be part of the story. We were going to enter the world with the choice made.

I also wanted to tackle the subject without shame. These were the bits and pieces. Then I just had to get to know Genesis in order for the rest to come out.

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The worst moment of my publishing journey came while I was revising the novel with my agent. I was full of momentum after finishing my MFA program and signing with an agent right out of the gate, ready to finish the manuscript and put it out into the world.

I read the opening scene for my graduate reading to a tremendous response, and was full of confidence about how edgy and boundary pushing I was going to be. Opening the book with a minute-by-minute abortion scene was going to Blow. People’s. Minds. I told myself this.

Bonnie with her VCFA diploma
Then one day, I received feedback from my agent that she thought we should cut that opening scene and start the story somewhere else. That maybe opening with that scene was a bit too intense for the people sitting around acquisitions tables. That maybe it was a little too much like staring at a car crash. After all, this is one of the most divisive subject matters in this country.

I was shattered by this suggestion. I have a punk rock spirit, and have always thought I should never think about stuff like that when making art. To me, agreeing to cut this scene felt like the first time that I had to make a business decision over an artistic one.

But I see now how I was still in this cloud of overconfidence. I didn’t write for two months after this suggestion. I didn’t know what this book was without that opening scene. My agent assured me that after I made that cut, if the book didn’t feel authentically me, then we could always go back. But I really didn’t know how to do it. I felt like I had come so far and maybe the story wouldn’t actually go anywhere now.

After killing the biggest darling of my life, and basically skinning myself alive, I had to grieve and then I had to heal a bit. But then something amazing happened. Without my dependency on the impact of the opening scene, I had to make the whole damn book live up to that kind of weight. It pushed me to think about the rest of the book and what it needed.

That opening scene was my anchor, but that was also drowning me. I don’t know how my wizard agent, Emily van Beek, saw that, but I’m so grateful she pushed me that way. I revised this manuscript with her for nearly two years before it went on sub (minus the two months I was paralyzed by my own ego. Okay, it might have been three. Or four.).

In an intellectual way, I always knew that I agreed with the notion of killing your darlings. But until I felt this so closely, I didn’t really get it. It’s deep. And it hurts. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say.

Launch party for Aftercare Instructions at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

I recently traveled to Ireland, and upon landing had to fill out a card for immigration. When it asked for my occupation, it was the first time that I allowed myself to put “author” instead of all the million other occupations I’ve identified with and as. But when I handed it to the border agent, I felt a momentary panic that maybe he would tell me I wasn’t really an author. That’s the irrational self-doubting part of my brain on overdrive right there. Like I would have to prove to him that I really was an author or I wouldn’t be allowed entry!

But those moments of uncertainty aside, I’m slowly acclimating to the beast of marketing. Marketing and promotion and social media and all kinds of administrative work that I didn’t anticipate can easily fill up my days. At first, my thinking was, I will take care of all that business in the morning, then have the afternoon free and clear for writing. However, free and clear never really comes once you start the other stuff. I realized that if I don’t do my creative work in the morning, then I can never fully focus on it. The other stuff creeps in. I think I’ll probably always have to strategize to maintain this balance, but for now that seems to work. If anything is going to creep into my afternoon, I would much rather have it be the new story I’m working on!

Cynsational Notes

Publishers Weekly described Aftercare Instructions as a "sensitive and big-hearted debut" and Kirkus Reviews wrote: "leads readers on a journey through grief to hope again."

Bonnie Pipkin believes in prose, performances, puppet shows, and public displays of affection. Originally from California, Bonnie now lives in Brooklyn.

She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches literature courses at Kean University, officiates weddings, and looks after a very cute cat.

In Memory: Geoffrey Hayes

Sep. 17th, 2017 12:00 pm
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Author and illustrator Geoffrey Hayes died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Obituary: Geoffrey Hayes by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...Hayes, best known for the comics-style artwork and expressive animal characters in his many titles for emerging readers, died suddenly on June 2, of apparent natural causes, in Asheville, N.C. He was 69."

His first book, Bear by Himself (Harper & Row, 1976) was edited by Edite Kroll. "It was a wonderful 40-plus years of first working as his editor and then his agent—and friend—and to enjoy watching him hone his talent as both artist and writer."

Hayes worked as an author and illustrator and also illustrated books by other authors including When the Wind Blew by Margaret Wise Brown (Harper, 1977). It was selected as the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year.

In 2010, Hayes won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! (TOON, 2009). During his career, he created more than 50 books for young readers.

In his final blog post from April 2017, The Intimacy of Small Things, Hayes has powerful advice. Peek:
"If something in you needs caring for — a vulnerability, a disappointment, an emotion, care for it. And do it all with devotion, love and with everything you’ve got. 
"Be the guardian of your moment. 
"These are such small things, but they open into the big thing, which is boundless."
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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



Cynsational News

Sep. 15th, 2017 02:30 pm
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Chandler & Christina launch This Is Not the End (Hyperion) at BookPeople.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Chandler Baker on the release of This Is Not The End (Hyperion, 2017) in August at BookPeople in Austin! Note: Chandler is shown in conversation with author Christina Soontornvat. See also a video interview with Chandler about the book from Mr.Media.com.

OurStory App from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "OurStory is a tool for kids, parents, educators, and librarians to discover diverse books. An interactive quiz helps you find the perfect book, and membership levels include access to exclusive content from authors and illustrators and materials that educators and librarians can incorporate into their curriculum and programming."

Struggling With & Regaining Your Confidence in Writing by Sara Letourneau from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "I don’t want you to give up, and I’m sure you don’t want to, either. So, together, let’s pick ourselves up, dust each other off, and lean on one another as we find our way back to believing in ourselves." See also Creation and Doubt are Conjoined Twins from Jane Friedman.

What to Do When You Realize Classic Books from Your Childhood are Racist by Grace Lin from PBS News Hour. Peek: "She offers her humble opinion on how you can keep loving your favorite classics while acknowledging the out-of-date or harmful parts." See also There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times by NCTE's Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English.

Clete Barrett Smith on Writing Something Messy and Raw by Jocelyn Rish from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "My agent advised that we not follow up a humorous sci-fi adventure for young readers with such a raw, emotional, perhaps edgy book for teens like Mr. 60%. So I wrote four middle grade books...."

Your Book, The Movie: Interview with a Hollywood Producer by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "My studio receives about 25 books per month. To put that in perspective, we also get about 90 to 100 scripts a month, and produce about one movie, one documentary, and one TV series each year."

Ten Tips for Writing Realistic Dialogue by Pamela M. Tuck and Glenda Armand from Lee & Low. Peek: "In trying not to overuse 'said' we sometimes get carried away. One cannot smile or frown words. A way to get around that inconvenient truth is to make a statement about the character just before the line of dialogue...." See also Five Common Mistakes with Dialogue from September C. Fawkes.

Troubleshooting for Writers: 7 Questions to Ask When You Lose Desire to Finish Your Book by Denise Jaden from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Perfectionism equals high standards misdirected. It’s great to try to make your shoes match your purse when you’re going out or to take an extra thirty seconds to buff the hood of your car on a sunny day, but when making art, especially a first draft of art, you don’t want to lose the creative energy that births new ideas."

The Trouble with Action by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...even an Indiana Jones-like tunnel-to-cliff-to-river-rapids 'who’s-got-the-stolen-sacred-relic?' type scene can tempt me to start skimming. And the older I get, the more I skim ‘em."

What Does A Book Editor Do? Macmillan's Rhoda Belleza Has Some Insight On The Covetable Job by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. Peek: "'...I’d say everything I do falls into three major categories,' Belleza says. 'Editing the book and supporting the author; advocating for the book and author; and networking and finding new content.'" See also Interview with Candlewick Press Assistant editor Melanie Cordova by Isabella Corletto from CBC Diversity.

Telling Tales: Strengthen Your Novel Using Oral Storytelling by Christina Soontornvat from Middle Grade Minded. Peek: "I can’t write a book until I tell it out loud to someone else first."

Getting a Reversal of Rights from Elizabeth S. Craig. Peek: "If the contract doesn’t grant you termination rights, and publisher isn’t in breach, your options may well boil down to persuading the publisher to agree to termination—or waiting until the contract allows you to terminate without the publisher’s consent."

How to Keep a Short Story Short by April Bradley from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...the contemporary short story has a word count up to 10,000 words, although I’ve seen mention of much higher, and I’ve read ones with greater heft and complex effect."

All Your Questions about Gender-Neutral Pronouns Answered by Desmond Meagley and Youth Radio from Teen Vogue. Peek: "From grammar to what to do if you mess it up."

Which Childhood Experiences Are Appropriate and Says Who? by Christina Berchini from NCTE. Peek: "For my colleague, teaching a text that is far below grade level by nearly every measure was more appropriate than teaching a book that, while containing troubling content, was more intellectually challenging."

50 Years of Young Adult Literature by Edith Campbell from CrazyQuiltsEdi. Peek: "... these here, these outstanding writers? To paraphrase Javaka Steptoe, they are gold."

Author Interview: Cynthia and Sandy Levinson from The World of Peachtree Publishers. Peek: "Young people feel fervently about unfairness. They want to live in—and take action to create—a society that is just and equitable. Some aspects of our Constitution promote those qualities; other, fundamental ones undermine them."

Navajo Author Daniel Vandever Increasing Native Representation in Children's Books by Alysa Landry from Indian Country Today. Peek: "Holden, who is constantly reminded to 'fall in line,' can’t stop his imagination from transforming his bleak environment into one filled with wonder. As he progresses through the school day, Holden’s carefree spirit begins to influence the other students."

Top Six Things Not to Pack for a Writers' Conference by Vicky L. Lorencen. Peek: "I still cringe when I think about some of my behavior at my very first conference. I was so intent on fitting in and making sure people knew that I knew what they knew, that I know I must have been a pain in the bookend."

What's More Important: Author Websites or Social Media? from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What would happen if you not only built a site that strongly associated your author name with your category, genre, or work’s themes, but you also posted content on those themes?"

Rainbow Weekend Writing Intensive (for those identifying as LGBTQIAP+) from March 22 to March 25 at the Writing Barn in Austin. Peek: "Join popular YA authors and Rainbow Box Creators Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy and Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Vice President and agent Jim MCarthy for the first ever weekend intensive designed and created for LGBTQIAP+ writers of young adult and middle grade, for a weekend of lectures, connection and workshop."

Revising and Re-Imagining Your Novel or Chapter Book: an online class from Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson at Kid's Book Revisions in October-December 2017. Peek: "...beginning Oct. 3. Intended for anyone revising a novel or chapter book, or planning to get started on revising one soon, the class presents a variety of techniques to help writers both find problems and create new material. The class sessions are slide presentations with a video of the presenter, and students can discuss and ask questions via a chat room. We record all sessions and students can watch or rewatch them as needed. In addition to the class sessions, each student has a 'personal teacher,' who will answer questions, give feedback on 'homework' (trying out the techniques), and provide a manuscript consultation."

Congratulations to National Book Award finalists in the Young People's Literature category! Note, all releases 2017: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (Carolrhoda Lab), Far From The Tree by Robin Benway (HarperTeen), All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry (Algonquin Young Readers), You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Farrar Straus & Giroux), Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum), I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Knopf Books for Young Readers), Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (Walden Pond Press), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray), Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad) and American Street by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray).


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally -- Cynthia

Kudos to Cory Putnam Oakes on Witchtown (HMH Teen, 2017)
The big news is: My Candlewick editor approved my revision, and the novel is off to copyedits! It's Native YA realistic fiction.

The new title is Hearts Unbroken, and we're tentatively looking at a Jan. 2019 publication date on the fall-winter 2018 list.

ARCs should be available in time for the Texas Library Association conference in April in Dallas, and I'll be there!

What else? It's been a week of grading and speechwriting here. I've connected with an anthologist on a poem and another to write a middle-grade short story--more on those projects to come!

Want to work with me? Consider applying for a fall-winter internship!

Congratulations to Mindy McGinnis and the other winners and honorees of the 2017 Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult & Children’s Writing from Hunger Mountain: A VCFA Journal of the Arts. The competition was stiff, and it was an honor to judge the competition.

Please consider supporting the VCFA Young Writers Network and hurricane-impacted SCBWI Houston members.

Reminder: Unfortunately, I have time to read very few books for blurbs. That said, any requests should come through editors or agents, not authors or illustrators.

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith and the YA Book Club to discuss Tantalize: Kieren's Story, edited by Ming Doyle (Candlewick) at 11 a.m. Sept. 30 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Register now for The Joke’s On You: The Scoop on Humor, Middle Grade Through Young Adult with faculty Uma Krishnaswami and Cynthia Leitich Smith and special guests: author-comedian Sean Petrie and literary agents Elizabeth Harding and Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania. See also Cynthia Leitich Smith and Uma Krishnaswami: A Conversation about Humor from The Highlights Foundation.


Personal Links
AICL Recommended

More Personally -- Gayleen
Chris Barton launches Dazzle Ships.

There's nothing like competition to get people involved! I suspect Chris Barton has perfected his audience-engagement skills through many school visits.

A trivia game at his recent BookPeople release party got us all thinking about history and paint patterns from Dazzle Ships: WWI and the Art of Confusion, illustrated by Victo Ngai (Millbrook Press, 2017).

Personal Links
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By Tara Dairman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Moving 1,000 miles was not the way I anticipated kicking off 2017, but hey, not much about the last year has been predictable. So when my husband received a new job offer in January, we found ourselves relocating from Colorado to Austin, Texas, in a few short weeks.

Austin has a well-established kidlit community, and I was lucky to have a few friends here already. But still, it was hard for me to leave Colorado, where I had strong bonds with local authors, indie bookstores, and librarians.

Now—and with a brand new middle-grade novel on the way—I needed to start all over again??

Yep. But a few steps I took made the landing much softer than it could have been.

Here’s how I linked up with the writing, bookselling, and library communities in my new hometown—tips that I think would also apply to debut authors looking to get more connected wherever they live.

An Erin Murphy Agency gathering in Austin with authors Dan Richards and Lindsey Lane, along with Tara's husband and daughter, standing: agent Tricia Lawrence, authors Sean Petrie, Liz Garton Scanlon and Tara.

1. Seek out other local authors.
Kidlit authors are among the friendliest and most supportive colleagues a person could wish for. But how do you find them?

If you’re agented, ask your agent if she has other clients in your area. (I didn’t know a soul when I first moved to Colorado, but quickly made some of my best writer friends through agency connections!)

Take advantage of social media. Someone in your network probably knows someone they can connect you with.

Attend events at your local bookstore. Kidlit authors tend to turn out en masse for each others’ launch parties and panels, making the bookstore a great place to meet folks in person.

Austin authors Samantha Clark, Donna Janell Bowman, Tara & her family
at a BookPeople book launch. (photo by Dave Wilson)

2. Connect with local booksellers. Speaking of bookstores, one of the first things I did upon moving to Austin was reach out to the children’s bookseller at local indie BookPeople.

Along with another author who was also new to town, I set up a coffee meeting at the store--which I’d recommend if you and the bookseller have time, since it’s always nice to get to know each other in person!

In this case, I wanted to make sure that the bookseller knew about both my already-published titles and my upcoming one, and that meeting even led to my partnering with the store for this preorder campaign for The Great Hibernation (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, Sept. 12, 2017).

Sometimes you can even set up a system for signing book orders on demand throughout the year, which is what I did with my local indie where I used to live in Colorado.

But also, remember that it may take some time for a bookstore to warm up to you if you’re new in town or a debut author, and try not to be offended if they’re not suddenly stocking your entire back catalogue the day after you first introduce yourself.

It may not be until after you’ve held a launch event there and brought in a nice crowd that a store will be willing to stock your titles regularly or recommend them.

3. Attend a conference (even if it’s on your own dime). One of the biggest perks of moving to Texas is its statewide network of librarians, who come together each year at the massive Texas Library Association conference.

I sent myself this year so that I could participate in a kidlit “speed-dating” event, where I got to meet lots of librarians—and thanks to that, I’m now on the radar of the organizer for the “What’s New With Texas Authors?” panel, which I hope to participate in at next year’s conference.

And it’s always smart to ask your publisher if they’ll send you; even if they won’t spring for all your travel expenses, they’ll usually at least set you up with a badge so you can attend sessions and wander the exhibit hall for free.

Another conference I made sure to attend soon after moving to Texas was our Austin SCBWI conference. Even though I wasn’t presenting, it was a great way to meet local authors, get my books out in front of members at the bookstore and silent auction, and—most importantly—get inspired by all the amazing craft talks.

If the stress of moving and/or debuting has put you into a writing rut, then attending a local creative conference can be a great way to jumpstart a new project.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal said The Great Hibernation "explores some rather important political ideas about individuality and the need for a balance of powers in governance. A strong selection for most middle grade shelves."

Tara Dairman is the author of the All Four Stars middle-grade foodie series (Penguin Random House)—the first of which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner.

She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and—thanks to an epic round-the-world honeymoon—has visited more than 90 countries.
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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. 
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Posted by Debbie Reese

Check out the cover for Jen Storm's Fire Starters: 



Who are those two boys on bikes, riding away from that burning building? Are they the fire starters who set that building ablaze?

**** 

Jen Storm's Fire Starters is a graphic novel published by Highwater Press in 2017. Its gorgeous illustrations are by Scott B. Henderson; Donovan Yaciuk did the colours. Here's the description:
Looking for a little mischief after discovering an old flare gun, Ron and Ben find themselves in trouble when the local gas bar on Agamiing Reserve goes up in flames, and they are wrongly accused of arson by the sheriff’s son. As the investigation goes forward, community attitudes are revealed, and the truth slowly comes to light.
In an interview at CBC Books, Storm said that she wanted to:  
..."explore how all the people in a town — the bully, the bystander, the underdog, law enforcement — would react and what their role can be in reconciliation because I think a lot of people hear that word and think really big grand picture and don't see how they can fit into it."
Reconciliation? Some readers of AICL know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. For those who don't, here's the introduction, from the commissions's website:
There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future. The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing. This is a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future. The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.
Storm is Ojibway from the Couchiching First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. With her story, she moves reconciliation from a concept to an on-the-ground example of what reconciliation could mean, in action, in a small community that is predominantly White.

Within a few pages, we know that the building is owned by a Native man. We also know that Ron and Ben, the Native teens, did not set that building on fire. We know that it was done by Michael, the sheriff's son, and we know why he did it. Ron and Ben are being held at the jail. People think they're the ones responsible for the fire. When they're let go, they are taunted on the school bus and at school, they're surrounded by kids who call them fire starters. A fight breaks out. There's more of this kind of thing later, at a hockey game.

Finally, the sheriff figures out that it is his son, Michael, who set the fire. After that, the story shifts to a circle justice gathering. It is a Native system of justice. In the next scenes, we see Michael helping to clean up the inside of the burned building.

Storm's story is a very thoughtful look at the two systems of justice. The Native boys are in the White system, being interrogated and intimidated. It is a stark contrast to what the White boy experiences in the Native system of justice. It points to the path Storm is looking for: how a community can heal, rather than how it could punish and inflict more harm on people.

There are two especially poignant aspects to the story. First is the poster on the wall of the building that was set on fire. It is of a Native woman. She's missing, and the poster is asking for help, to find her. For information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, I suggest you read the news stories archived at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). The second is Michael's friend. His name is Jason. Though he keeps it quiet, he is Native, too. He's torn between his friendship with Michael and his own strong sense of doing what is right, especially because he--like the Native boys being mistreated by the justice system and the townspeople--is Native.

I recommend Jen Storm's Fire Starter. There's a lot to study, think about, and of course, talk about.
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Posted by Debbie Reese

I'll likely catch heck from people who think it is unfair to criticize a book for what it leaves out. In some instances, I'd agree. Sometimes, it isn't fair. Sometimes, though, it is.

If you're an American, you think of the Grand Canyon as a spectacular place. It is that, for sure, but if you're a Native person, particularly one from the tribal nations for whom the canyon is significant as a site of origin or of spiritual importance, you may think of it as a spectacular place, but you are also likely to think of it in other ways that you may or may not feel ok to talk about.

The point of view in Jason Chin's Grand Canyon is not a Native one. Kirkus describes the little girl as Asian American. Other than her and her dad, there aren't any people in the book. They're on a solitary journey into the Grand Canyon. I think it helps readers focus on the land and animals of the present, but of the past, too. There are pages where the little girl is transported to the past. All in all, the book is packed with good information. Science teachers will like it, a lot. It has gotten starred reviews from most of the major children's literature review journals. It may likely be considered for awards this year!


****



I'd like to offer some thoughts on how Chin can "kick it up a notch" (remember the Food Network chef who used that phrase?!).

In the closing pages, Chin touches on the Human History of the canyon. He starts with humans of 12,000 years ago and then moves forward from there, saying:
Later, several different cultures settled in and around the canyon, including the Ancestral Puebloans, farmers and skilled potters who lived in multi-room buildings called pueblos. Today's Hopi and Zuni peoples trace their heritage to the Ancestral Puebloans. It wasn't until Hopi guides led Spanish explorers to the South Rim in 1540 that the first Europeans saw Grand Canyon. 
He follows that with a paragraph about John Wesley Powell being there in 1869 and that in 1919, President Wilson designated it a national park. Then,
The park covers more than one million acres of land and most of the canyon lies inside the park boundary, while parts of it are within the borders of the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Navajo Indian reservations. The canyon remains a place of cultural and spiritual importance for many Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Paiute, Apache, Hualapai, and Havasupai.
If a second printing is ahead of Chin, I suggest he replace "tribes" with "tribal nations." And, it'd be great for kids to see a map of the reservations Chin references in that paragraph. Google includes some on their maps. Here's one of that area that shows Grand Canyon National Park. To the left is the Hualapai Indian Reservation; to the right are the Hopi Reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, the Zuni Reservation, and at the bottom, the Fort Apache Reservation.



Another suggestion is to bring Native languages into the book. On that first page, where we see the mountain lion descending into the canyon, Chin could use the borders in the same way he did elsewhere in the book. On this first page, they're blank. He could get in touch with the tribal offices for each of the reservations and ask them what--in their language--they call the Grand Canyon. He could do a small sketch of a Hopi child saying "At Hopi, we call it ___" and so on. And on that page about the Kaibab Formation, Chin could add a note about the word, "kaibab" and what it means.

Another addition could be a paragraph about President Wilson's actions to designate it a national park. How did tribal leaders feel about that, then? How do they feel about it, now?

Wouldn't all that additional information be cool? Do you have additional suggestions?


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Yolanda Ridge and her sons
By Yolanda Ridge 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When my stepdad finished reading my debut novel, Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011), he told me he enjoyed learning about my childhood.

(He also proudly proclaimed to have read it in two straight hours – a compliment that missed the mark since it had taken me over a year to write the book – but that’s a different post.)

The main character is nothing like me, I protested, easily dismissing the idea because he’d met me in my thirties.

But when I started writing my new release, Inside Hudson Pickle (Kids Can Press, Sept. 5, 2017), I realized he was more right than I’d wanted to admit.

Telling a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl (who may not be me, exactly, but definitely the person I wanted to be when I was that age) was so much easier than trying to get inside the head of a thirteen-year-old boy.

In the early drafts of Inside Hudson Pickle, I focused on plot, drawing on my previous career as a genetic counselor to portray a family dealing with Alpha-1, a genetic disorder that increases the risk of liver and lung disease. 

I chose basketball as Hudson’s sport (because I’ve actually played it) rather than hockey (because I’ve only watched it). I did research to fill the gaps in my knowledge on asthma and house fires.

But when it came to character development, web searches didn’t cut it. I didn’t grow up with brothers and though I do have two sons, they were too young to provide insight on puberty. 

What was it like for a young athlete to go through a growth spurt? How do boys deal with voice changes?

I turned to my male critique partners for help. He’d be angrier, one suggested. You haven’t captured his growing pains, said another. 

I went back and tried to fold these things into the manuscript. But it was like mixing oil with water.

Giving the manuscript some time to rest, I read middle grade adventure books - a few of my favorites are The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster, 2014), the Rex Zero series by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar Straus Giroux) and Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt (Clarion, 2015).

I watched family sitcoms. I listened to music recommended by my friend’s sons. I eavesdropped on conversations in the library, on the bus, at the skateboard park.

Returning to the manuscript, I peppered it with “boyness.” But in the end I had to admit: Hudson was still a lot like me.

In talking to other writers I now understand that we all incorporate bits of ourselves into our characters. 

I could give Hudson large doses of testosterone and his heart would essentially remain the same. Emotional reactions aren’t dictated by sex or age or skin color. Everyone is more complex than that, including our characters (if we’re doing it right).

I hope what I’ve captured in Inside Hudson Pickle is how one person might cope with the turmoil of health issues, family secrets, changing friendships and the simple desire to make a school basketball team. 

Sure, Hudson’s big feet get in the way at times. But overall, his experience is not male; it’s human.

Cynsational Notes

Inside Hudson Pickle is a Junior Library Guild Selection and School Library Journal said, "fans of novels about sports and family drama, such as Kwame Alexander's The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), will appreciate this realistic tale."

Yolanda Ridge is the author of three middle grade novels. With a master's degree in science and ten years of experience working as a genetic counselor, she's adept at making complex concepts understandable --- a skill she uses when crafting middle-grade novels, teaching and author visits.

She lives in the mountains of British Columbia in a log house brimming with boys, including one husband, two twin sons, one dog and one cat.

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