Saturday, April 02, 2005

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen!

Master storyteller Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805--two hundred years ago today--in Odense, Denmark.

Books to look for include:

The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Anderen by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Dutton, 2005)(Jane herself has been oft called "America's Hans Christian Andersen");

Hans Christian Andersen: A Celebration by Newbery Medal Winner Karen Hesse (Scholastic, fall 2005).

The best overview resource on the Andersen 200th birthday is "Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen! Preschool through elementary school" by Marjorie R. Hancock from Book Links (March 2005).

April 2 also is International Children's Book Day (see IBBYs latest related news and information).

Cynsational News & Links

Hans Christian Andersen's Life and Works: Research, Texts, and Information from the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark.

Hans Christian Andersen 2005: official site for the 200th birthday celebration; requires a Flash plug-in.

An Interview with Children's Novelist Kashmira Sheth, author of Blue Jasmine (Hyperion, 2004), winner of the Paul Zindel First Novel Award, from Debbi Michiko Florence's Web site. Read chapter one and visit Kashmira Sheth. Debbi also updated her interview with author Vivian Vande Velde and offers a Buzz Review of A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2005)(see my blog entry on the same novel).

Greg Leitich Smith blogs about Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (Harcourt, 2005).

Thanks to Julie Lake for meeting me for lunch this week at Suzi's China Grill & Sushi Bar. Julie is the author of Galveston's Summer of the Storm and regional advisor for Austin SCBWI.

And I'm honored to hear of sightings of two of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), on sale at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005). Comfort Snowberger, age 10, and her family "live to serve." As owners of a small-town funeral home, they honor the dead and support those left behind. Comfort has grown-up sensitive but matter-of-fact about death, even when it strikes those she loves most. Her cousin Peach, on the other hand, is a messy, mortifying disaster, a burden and an embarrassment, and her best friend Declaration at times a prickly mystery. Not that Comfort is left to cope alone. She has a family, a whole community behind her, and the world's best funeral dog, Dismay. Ages 8-12.

My Thoughts

Those who keep up with my blog know that this book has taken me longer to read than most, partly because I've been busy getting my revision in and partly because it was so deeply felt that it seemed best to absorb it in small doses.

Each Little Bird That Sings may be the most honest and profound look at life and death ever crafted for a middle grade audience. It offers truth, hope, and, most impressively of all, perspective. Humor is also a welcome ingredient as is a small-town charm, both benefts of Deborah's powerful voice.

Deborah was the Alabama Children's Author of the Year, 2004, and the recipient of the 2004 PEN/Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

More Thoughts

Yesterday's trip to the dentist reminds me of Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller (Henry Holt, 2000). Y'all will be thrilled, I'm sure, to learn, that I have excellent oral hygiene.

Note that Laurie is also the author of another picture book I love, The Scrambled States of America (Henry Holt, 1998), especially for its emphasis on one of my home states, Kansas.

I'm getting ready here for the Texas Library Association conference in Austin next week. If you're incoming, see Greg's Austin Restaurant Guide for TLAers.

Cynsational News & Links

The YA Authors cafe topic for April 5 is YA Comes Out: Queer Themes in Teen Lit with guest host Brent Hartinger, and guests Ellen Wittlinger, Julie Anne Peters, Alex Sanchez, and Chris Tebbetts. All chats are held on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 Central.

The 1st Annual Community Literacy Fair, serving Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles and the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, will be April 8 from noon to 2 p.m.

Learn more about National Poetry Month.

More personally, take a virtual tour of one of my alma maters, The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tribal Thoughts

In the past few days, more than one friend has asked me whether I'd consider writing a YA novel set on a reservation, possibly linked to the recent real-life shooting tragedy. It's an interesting question, but the truth is that I wouldn't be the best person to do such a book.

I'm personally familiar with the urban and tribal-town structures, not reservation life, and while there are some universalities to the indigeneous experience, it's largely more specific than most folks probably realize. Reservations, each and as a whole, have their own culture.

While I definitely do believe that with respect and thorough research, it's possible to write crossculturally (and do so myself with increasing frequency), I also think that to do justice to such a setting, I would have to live in such a community myself for some time, take time to see if I had the voice and perspective right, and then consult with people there for their insights and permission.

I don't see that happening, at least in my near future. My muse is leaning heavily toward comedy and fantasy (gothic and festive) these days. But I strongly agree that there is a need for quality fiction and non-fiction about reservation life. See Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Cynsational News & Links

Anne Bustard debuts her author Web site. Anne's books include T Is For Texas and Buddy: The Buddy Holly story. She's also a university professor of education and, not surprisingly, offers top-notch curriculum support for her books as well as a list of her favorite picture book biographies. If you haven't already, read my recent online interview with Anne.

Linda Joy Singleton debuts her new blog, talking most recently about Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2005), which is in my to-be-read stack. You can read from chapter one online.

Congratulations to pal Shutta Crum, who along with authors Doreen Rapport, Doreen Cronin, Susie Crummel, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Miss USA 2004 (who apparently has written a book), was honored at the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. Shutta is the author of Bravest Of The Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2005).

I received a query this week about where to obtain in books in languages other than English. This is a frequent question, and, in case anyone's interested, I usually recommend the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Angels, Monsters, and Austin Area Events

Let the angels and monsters rejoice as I sent my YA novel revision via Fedex to my Candlewick editor yesterday. I dropped it off at the box at BookPeople, which is Austin's super indie.

I figure all that good-book vibe wears off on the package. While I was there, I ran into bookseller/buyer Jill, of the lovely long red hair, who was stacking books for an upcoming signing with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen.

So cool, except that it's scheduled at 6 p.m. on April 7, which is during the publisher party at the Omni Hotel in conjunction with the Texas Library Association conference, so I'll be there instead.

I went ahead and bought a copy of Sarah's The Truth About Forever (Viking, 2005) and Laurie's Prom (Viking, 2005), the latter of which I've already read via the ARC (read my related blog entry). That way, the books will be waiting, so I can still get autographed copies, support the authors, and support the store.

Read Sarah's journal and Laurie's, too (note that Baker & Taylor/Penguin Young Readers Group are sponsoring a fan fic contest in conjunction with the release of Prom).

In other news, San Antonio author Diane Gonzales Bertrand will read from her works and discuss Texas Latino literature at noon April 9 at the St. John Branch of the Austin Public Library. However, I'll have to miss that, too, because I'm already gong to the Anne Bustard and Kurt Cyrus signing of Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005) that same day from 1 to 3 p.m.

It greatly vexes* me that I cannot be in two places at once.

Status: reading Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).

*I'm trying to bring back the word "vex;" please try to use it today in a sentence.

Cynsational Links

Author Anastasia Suen debuts Create/Relate, her new blog, and kindly links to mine. Thank you, Anastasia!

Speaking of blogs, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers has launched a page listing member blogs, including mine and Joy Harjo's (poet, musician, and the author of a wonderful contemporary Native American picture book, The Good Luck Cat, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000)).

And Greg Leitich Smith blogs about Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Gathering Of Readers

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything" invites schools serving indigenous children from all parts of the world to participate in the International Indigenous Youth Reading Celebration during the week of April 18-22, 2005. Schools from Zambia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are already signed up. See A Gathering Of Readers for more information.

I received news yesterday that I'm one of the program's honored authors, along with Pat Mora and Robert Sullivan. I'm deeply touched by this and, more globally, also heartened by the mission of the program.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet Lauren Barnholdt and learn about her debut YA novel, In The House (Simon Pulse, 2006).

E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (Random House, 2005), talks about her writing and YA as a genre at

On March 23, Jane Yolen blogs that she's thinking of running for Congress. I'd be tempted to move just so I could vote for her.

Max Elliot Anderson, author of the Tweener Press Adventure series, writes that he has a new Web site. Read an interview with Max Elliot Anderson from

Monday, March 28, 2005

Author Interview: Elisa Carbone on Last Dance On Holladay Street

Last Dance On Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (Knopf, 2005). It's 1878, and young Eva, 13, has lost Daddy Walter to tetanus and Mama Kate to consumption. All she has left is a name and address that lead her to Holladay Street, a half sister, and a biological mother from a house of ill repute. Desperate and indebted, Eva tries to make due as a dance-hall girl, which is still better than working upstairs. But is this the life Daddy Walter and Mama Kate would've wanted? A tender, thoughtful story of perseverence and loyalty. Highly recommended. Ages 10-up. Read my related blog entry.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

When I first learned about the brothels in the 1800's and how young women and girls were coerced and pressured into working there, I was struck by the parallels with what is going on today, with young girls often being pressured into sexual activity when they are much too young. I wanted to write a story that would be empowering to young readers, that would help them see the value in sticking up for themselves. I wanted to inspire them to be strong, be true to themselves, and most importantly, NOT give in to peer pressure.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The spark alighted in fall of 2000, and the book was published in March of 2005. That is a pretty typical timeline for me for historical novels--they always take years to research, mull over, and write.

In November of 2000, I was in Arizona on a rock climbing trip at Cochise Stronghold. On a rainy day (when we couldn't climb) my climbing partner and I decided to drive into Tombstone, the nearest town. We stopped in to see the "Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral" exhibit, and my attention was drawn to a book about the fallen women of the old west. As I flipped through the pages of the book, I was riveted by a photograph of a young girl, "Jackie." The caption said that she began her career as a prostitute at "age 15" but the photograph is obviously of a much younger girl, probably 12 or 13 years old.

I couldn't take my eyes off her face, so innocent and yet determined and somehow worldly. I wanted, desperately, to save her.

My mind began to race with questions: what pressures had caused Jackie to choose this profession? With the right help, could she have made a different choice? How was she like the young girls of today who, at younger and younger ages, are feeling pressured into becoming sexually active? I knew I had to write a story about Jackie, and give her a chance to choose a different path. That was how, at least in my imagination, I would be able to reach back in time and save this young girl. At the same time, I hoped to create a parable for modern young readers that would offer them the strength and insight to choose their own different path. Jackie, of course, became Eva.

I never did see the shoot out at the O.K. Corral. The small museum there in Tombstone also has a fascinating exhibit about the Tombstone prostitutes. My climbing partner, Eric, kept coming to find me and I¹d be engrossed in reading yet another plaque or article about the ladies of the evening. I told him I was thinking of writing a book about it and he shook his head in dismay, saying, "You're a children's author. What are you thinking?!"

I presented the idea to both my editor and my local children's librarian, Diane Monnier. Diane hesitated at first, then said with conviction, "I think it could work. If you save her, it could work." My editor asked for an outline, and we were on our way.

When I had finished the first draft of Last Dance on Holladay Street, I happened upon the book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. In her therapy practice, Dr. Pipher works with adolescent girls, many of whom have been brought to her because they have slipped into depression or trouble or both. She describes a pattern she sees over and over again. At age 12 or so, girls are typically happy, interested in sports or other activities, and they talk freely with their parents. As adolescence progresses, and as peer pressure mounts for experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, many of these girls draw away from their parents, are tempted into destructive behavior, and in the process, lose their sense of self. The way out of this pit is through a reclaiming of their own inner strength and, with the right guidance, finding a sense of purpose through meaningful work.

As I read Pipher's book, I was stunned to realize that in Last Dance on Holladay Street, Eva had gone through each of the stages Pipher describes. Mama Kate plays the part of Eva's real mother, Sadie, Pearl and the others at Miss B's create the peer pressure, and by the end, with the right help and guidance, Eva finds her sense of self and her meaningful work. As I edited Last Dance on Holladay Street, I actually molded it to fit Pipher's paradigm even more closely.

The pressures of economic survival that plagued the girls and women of the old west are no more real than the social pressures and need for love and acceptance that young girls are faced with today. It is my hope that this story can act as a bridge from past to present, and as a springboard for discussion.

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

I'll speak to research, since that's one of my favorite parts of writing, and for me it's the cornerstone of how I seek to bring my stories to life. I do the usual book, article and photo research, though I focus mostly on original sources rather than secondary sources because they have more life to them. Also, I'm an experiential learner, so I use a lot of fun research methods to help make the story come alive for me. For Last Dance on Holladay Street, I got a private tour of a Colorado silver mine (because one of the characters is a miner). I rode a narrow gauge railroad train up into the Rocky Mountains the way Eva did. I even got to touch an old fashioned curling iron (tongs that were placed into a kerosene lamp to heat up) in a museum, and this inspired me to add a scene where Lucille is talking to Eva while curling her hair for her evening's work (the scene includes the smell of burning hair -- those curling irons were hard to regulate!). I find that if I can touch and experience the things my characters did, I will discover the details that will make the story vivid for my readers.

Cynsational Links

Historical Fiction for Hipsters: Stories from the past that won't make you snore from Reading Rants features a review of Last Dance On Holladay Street (among other recommendations).

The First Amendment First Aid Kit from Random House.

Author Greg Leitich Smith blogs today that Just Because It Happened Doesn't Mean It's Realistic.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

Greg and I will celebrate Easter. We have eggs, we have dye, we have shrimp for an appetizer, turkey breast with green bean casserole and whole wheat stuffing for the main course, strawberries for the grand finale. We even have company coming for dinner.

But we'll also work. We have another forty some pages of my YA manuscript to read aloud so I can key in changes and send it back to my editor. The read is going blessedly well.

I'd rather have done it on a day not Easter, but it's a 50,000 word manuscript, Greg has his day job during the week, and I have lots to do before the Texas Library Association conference in early April.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it, and have a beautiful Sunday to those who don't!

Cynsational Links

Brent Hartinger's Journal: brand new from the author whose name it bears. Brent is the author of Geography Club, The Last Chance Texaco, and The Order of the Poison Oak, all published by HarperCollins. Learn more about his books.

YA Writer Blogs: courtesy of Lara Zeises. Her books include Contents Under Pressure and Bringing Up The Bones. Learn more about her books.
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