Saturday, September 04, 2010

Web Designer Update: Lisa Firke on the Redesign of

Learn more about Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Thank you so much for redesigning my official author site! Could you give folks new to it a brief overview, from a web designer's perspective, of the monstrous beast that it is?

Sure! Well, just in terms of literal size, at last count, your site contained nearly 2000 files, including 377 html pages, 978 images, and nearly 8,400 external links. I have to be very consistent in how I place files within the site, and the conventions I use for naming files and such, just to keep things from becoming too chaotic.

And you, in your instructions to me for updates, have evolved a very clear and careful way of indicating where changes and additions are needed. (I now teach all my new clients to indicate what changes they’d like using the format you do.)

If we didn’t work in this methodical way, we’d both have gone nuts by now.

(And, I think if we’d both known, when we first dived in six years ago, just how big the site would become, we might have opted for a more robust content-management system--and that’s something that we may still have to think about in the future--but curating it by hand has let us keep things totally custom and that’s had its advantages.)

Going in, we talked about the dualities of the site--both as an author home base and a children's-YA literature resource, and even under that author umbrella, in representing someone who offers books for both kids and teens. How did you represent the dual (quad?) goals of the site?

Well, first a tad more background: this is our third iteration of the site, and each iteration has had slightly different goals, even though all along the dualities you mention has been a major concern.

For the first iteration that launched in 2005, the major goals of the redesign were to make your large collection of resources easier to discover and navigate, to upgrade the underlying code, and, most of all, to make the site as smart and hip as you are yourself!

In 2008, for the tenth anniversary of the site, we revisited the design again. The graphics were streamlined and we were able to play much more with the site visually because of the way web technologies had advanced. I was able to incorporate more imagery and animation.

Now, in 2010, the site has undergone a more profound visual transformation.

To put the focus more on you, Cynthia, I created a digital portrait (based on a photograph) and combined this with the daisy-sun graphic (now in its most streamlined form to date) that we'd been using all along. Links to key destinations within the site are highlighted in the new masthead.

One of the more subtle ways I’ve tried to distinguish between your role as author and your role as curator of the literature resources is the horizon line in the masthead image.

The masthead shows you against a flat landscape with a large sun beginning to dip below the horizon. All the links pertaining your works as an author are above this horizon line, while the links to separate resources and information fall below the line (as does the tagline about the site being the home of the children’s and YA literature resources.) That’s one way of indicating some separation in the different parts of the site.

For a bit of extra fun, when visitors browse to the pages dedicated to your work for teens, we 'turn out the lights' on the graphics for a striking after-dark effect.

As ever, the discovery and navigation of the content—making these as simple and graceful as possible —has driven most of my design decisions.

What were the challenges?

With such a big site, with such varied content, and with a visitor not necessarily beginning their exploration at the front page of the site, letting people know where they are and what exactly “there” is becomes really important. And with so many choices of where to go, how much is too much to show at once?

I approached this challenge by making the question part of the design. When you land on a page, the navigation accordion in the sidebar opens to show what section this page is in.

This is reinforced by a background color in the submenu, by the words “you are here” and by the current page being highlighted in bold.

Also, to keep things more focused, we now show only the links in one particular section at a time (rather than for the entire site), and provide links back to the beginning and to the full site map for when a visitor has finished exploring one area and is ready to see something else.

(The trade-off here is that it is a little harder to skip around, but I think the focus we gain is worth it.)

Another challenge came with trying to make changes to a design we both liked, but which was beginning to date itself. Plus, of late, your books are being published internationally. So, I did look to some European designers for inspiration--not to copy, but to help refresh my vision.

Interestingly, though, the inspiration for this design actually came from something very American--the kitchy tourist postcards of the mid 20th century and the oversimplified use of color in paint-by-numbers kits of the same period.

That was what led me to the style you see now, which I think ends up being very fresh.

What were the rewards?

It’s funny, whenever I dive deep into, I find myself reading, making notes on books I haven’t yet read, and appreciating the community of people who make books. The content of the site is very inspiring.

Did you have any ah-ha! moments that stood out?

I need to stop telling people that I can do things quickly. Clearly, I can’t. But I did learn some things about not getting in my own way.

Also, that it’s worth stopping to clear small technical irritations out of the way even when that feels like a halt in forward progress. I did a fair amount of digital housekeeping behind the scenes this time around, and I can already tell that my process is smoother and more pleasant as a result.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that I appreciate the way you let me follow my own lights as I work. You trust me to keep the site’s interests in mind and that frees me up to do some really exciting things with it.

Cynsational Notes

Thanks, again and again, Lisa, for your vision, creativity, and technical magical making!

Learn more about Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Friday, September 03, 2010

New Voice: Inara Scott on Delcroix Academy: The Candidates

Inara Scott is the first-time author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Hyperion, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Dancia Lewis is far from popular. And that's not just because of her average grades or her less-than-glamorous wardrobe.

In fact, Dancia's mediocrity is a welcome cover for her secret: whenever she sees a person threatening someone she cares about, things just...happen. Cars skid. Structures collapse. Usually someone gets hurt.

So Dancia does everything possible to avoid getting close to anyone, believing this way she can suppress her powers and keep them hidden.

But when recruiters from the prestigious Delcroix Academy show up in her living room to offer her a full scholarship, Dancia's days of living under the radar may be over.

Only, Delcroix is a school for diplomats' kids and child geniuses--not B students with uncontrollable telekinetic tendencies. So why are they treating Dancia like she's special? Even the hottest guy on campus seems to be going out of his way to make Dancia feel welcome.

And then there's her mysterious new friend Jack, who can't stay out of trouble. He suspects something dangerous is going on at the Academy and wants Dancia to help him figure out what. But Dancia isn't convinced. She hopes that maybe the recruiters know more about her "gift" than they're letting on. Maybe they can help her understand how to use it....

But not even Dancia could have imagined what awaits her behind the gates of Delcroix Academy.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

I was, and likely always will be, a devout reader of romance and fantasy. I lived for stories of dashing heroes and heroines; larger than life figures who saved the world, found a love for all time, and lived happily ever after. I wanted big, unrealistic stories that took me away from real life and transported me to a magical place.

Of course, that also meant I didn’t enjoy much of what I read in school. I found “literature” was usually code for stories that were realistic and depressing.

Because of this, I didn’t major in English and Creative Writing. I didn’t think I could be a “real” writer because I didn’t love the books that were considered “good literature.”

Instead, I went to law school where I could indulge my love of writing in settings where brevity and story were valued above all else.

Eventually, though, my love of fiction won out. I wrote my first novel (a romance that will never see the light of day!) in 2005 and have been writing ever since.

Now, all you lovers of literature, don’t despair! I’m not anti-intellectual, and I love the way a good book can raise important issues and make you question your assumptions about the world. In fact, I wanted to do just that in my novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates. I simply wanted to do it in the context of romance, fantasy, and a great story.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

I did not originally connect the events in my novel with current events. I wanted to challenge the dualistic paradigm usually seen in fantasy novels because I found that fascinating, not because of any particular issue in the real world.

Yet at the same time I was writing the novel, the “war on terror” was escalating, protests against the Iraq War were growing, and domestic surveillance activities were increasing.

By the time I finished the book, the focus of the nation seemed to have turned on exactly the sorts of issues that Dancia encountered at Delcroix Academy.

Coincidence? Probably not. I don’t see how any writer can fail to be influenced by the zeitgeist of her time. But it was an unconscious evolution, rather than a conscious attempt to work out current events in a fictional setting.

What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

My first agent and I have parted ways, and I’m working now with a new agent who I just adore. Though it was difficult to make the decision to change, I’m a lawyer and a business person, and I know that when it comes to client relationships, things just don’t always work out perfectly. You can’t take this too personally or get too emotionally wound up in it.

My advice for other writers is to be realistic but optimistic. Shoot for the stars, do your research, and query the agent you think is perfect for you and your book.

But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You never know who will connect with your writing, and you may find that it’s a young, hungry agent who sees the promise in your work, rather than the “dream” agent who has a hundred clients, all of whom are already on the best seller list.

Treat your writing as a career and an evolutionary process. Listen to your gut, but don’t let emotion or fear prevent you from moving forward and becoming the success I know you can be!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Calling all Goddess Girls! Enter to win an autographed Goddess Girls: Aphrodite the Beauty by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2010)...

plus an Aphrodite the Beauty swag bag, featuring:

--24-color eyeshadow from Claire’s;

--seven lip glosses with faux rhinestones;

--multicolor bracelet;

--Goddess Girls bookmark.

From the promotional copy:

Aphrodite delights in helping mortals in love, but she's pretty annoyed at the constant attention she gets from the godboys at Mount Olympus Academy.

When she decides to give Athena a makeover, she's a bit unprepared for the result. She didn't count on all the interest Athena's new look would get. And she certainly never thought she'd find herself jealous of one of her best friends!

But when the hottest godboys at school start ignoring Aphrodite, she learns that some boys are nicer and more sensitive than others--including a mortal youth who has requested her help in winning the heart of a young maiden.

Can she put her jealousy behind her and help him find true love?

Other books in the series include Athena the Brain (April 2010)(excerpt) and Persephone the Phony (April 2010). See also a Cynsations guest post by authors Joan and Suzanne.

"The authors intertwine an enchanting mythological world with middle-school woes compounded by life as a deity or blessed mortal. The books should be popular with fans of girly, light fantasy." -- School Library Journal

To enter, just email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Aphrodite" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST, Sept. 9. One winner will be randomly chosen and announced here on September 10th. U.S. entries only.

The winner of a signed copy of Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth (Knopf, 2010) was Katie in New York, and the winner of Vampire High: Sophomore Year by Douglas Reese (Delacorte, 2010)(author interview) was Jason in Ohio. Both winners have been notified, and their books are on the way. Note: I'll announce a new YA book giveaway soon!

More News

Funny Books Featuring Multicultural Protagonists by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Feel free to add more suggestions of funny books in the comments, and I'll update the list."

My Word Playground: The Reading and Writing Blog of Children's Author Lynne Marie. Lynne writes picture books and magazine articles. Her debut picture book is Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten (Scholastic, 2011).

2010 Call for Judges from The Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. Sign-up deadline: Sept. 15. Source: Finding Wonderland.

Montana Author Launches Publishing House by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "After his latest book, The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, was turned down by 15 publishers, Sneed Collard III, the author of 50 books for children, who received the Washington Post-Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award in 2006...has formed his own publishing company, Bucking Horse Books, and is publishing the 64-page picture book himself this fall." Source: Alice Pope's SCBWI Children's Marketing Blog.

Learning from the Masters by Carolyn Kaufman from Peek: "Every time you read a line that brings you to a breathless halt, fold the page down (or up, if you're near the bottom of the page) to the line where the passage begins."

Kid-Friendly Books About the Writing Process: compiled by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna. Peek: "There are wonderful books aimed at inspiring children to write and read."

Sob Inducers by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "As I always tell agents and announce at writer's conferences, I'm a sucker for books that make me cry."

Publish Your Children's, Tween, or Teen Fiction in Today's Market: How to hook an agent with your 'Once upon a time...' and make your own fairy tale: a webinar at 1 p.m. EST Sept. 23, taught by literary agent Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Writer's Digest. Duration: 90 minutes.

Peggy Clement is the debut author of Queen of the Castle, a children's chapter book, published by Oak Tara Publishers. She is a reading teacher of over 30 years and lives in Lumberton, Texas.

Thoughts on the Fifth Anniversary of My First Book Contract by Sara Zarr. Peek: "Terrain I wanted to explore has been explored. Now the globe is spinning beneath my fingers; it’s up to me to apply pressure where I want to stop. It’s not up to me how it all might turn out."

What High Concept Means by Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "...[a] novel/movie/TV show's plot can be described very succinctly in an appealing fashion."

What Kind of Career Do You Want? by Mandy Hubbard. Peek: "The truth is, though, there are many kinds of careers. Do you want to be the Meg Cabot/James Patterson type, with a new book out every time I visit the store? Or do you prefer to be the John Green, with a book every 18 months or so? If you had to choose between Literary Acclaim and Bestseller status, which one would you choose?" Note: John, for example, has acclaim and is a best-seller, so ideally, you can pick both (to the extent such things can be controlled).

Six Months On: Emma Dryden talks about drydenbks and the state of the publishing industry: an interview from Lia Keyes. Peek: "I’d hope authors will want to learn as much as they can comfortably tolerate about digital publishing—at the very least, what the various digital options are, what their rights are when it comes to royalties and rights, and the general lingo used when maneuvering the digital landscape so they will stay apprised of what’s going on in their business..."

Daniel Powers on Picture Books: Part 1, the Physicality of the Picture Book from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "We perceive the world around us based on the earth’s horizon, and everything we see and interact with has a physical relationship to this line, making the landscape format perfect for illustrations packed with detailed settings."

Inside the Writer's Studio with Janet S. Fox by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: "Initially I try to find my beginning, middle and ending scenes. Then I work on a template that includes the overall story structure and arc, the rising/falling action, scene and sequel."

Interview with Amber Vilate - author, editor and publisher of Young Adult Literature Review by Melissa Buron from Book Addict. Peek: "It started out as just a small podcast where we reviewed books. The podcast has since grown to incorporate audio fiction as well as author interviews. I added a review blog last year to support the podcast. The magazine was introduced as a further extension of the podcast." Learn more about Young Adult Literature Review.

Oregon Reader's Choice Award: a new award from Oregon’s youth librarians and reading teachers. The junior division is fourth to sixth grade. The intermediate division is seventh to ninth grade. The senior division is tenth to twelfth grade. Note: Oregon students in grades four to 12 may vote.

Secrets to Author Promotion by Carolyn Kaufman from Query Tracker. Note: especially recommended to introverts and the self-conscious.

Congratulations to Paul Fleischman, winner of the Pen Center USA 2010 Literary Award in the Children's-YA division for The Dunderheads, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick) and to finalists Kate DiCamillo for The Magician's Elephant (Candlewick); Benjamin Alire Saenz for Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos); and Liz Garton Scanlon for All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane).

Making a Picture Book Dummy by Don Tate from Devas T. Rants and Raves. Don offers photos and insights into the creation of images for Duke by Anna Celenza (Charlesbridge, forthcoming).

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the trailer for The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O'Connor (FSG, 2010), and read a recommendation of the book by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

More Personally

Ask Winston: Mitali Perkins and Cynthia Leitich Smith on Time Management from Kirby Larson at Kirby's Lane. Peek: "...take responsibility for your success, protect your writing time, and remember that you're only human. Change things up, when you need to! "

Regarding Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), The Reading Teacher cheers in its September issue: "The illustrations gracefully complement Smith'’s heartening portrait of a harmonious meshing of old and new."

Thank you to Carmen Oliver for featuring my book trailer for Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010)! And thank you to Cynthia Lord for mentioning Holler Loudly among her friends' upcoming fall books! Most appreciated.

Giveaway Reminder

Surf over to Mundie Moms to read the latest interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, and enter to win bookplate-signed copies of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)!

With Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) coming soon; now is a great time to get caught up on the series, if you haven't already. Or enter to win a book to give to your local high school or public library.

All you have to do is fill out a short form. Deadline: Sept. 15; U.S. entries only.

Cynsational Events

The launch party for Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! by K.A. Holt, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Roaring Brook, 2010) will be at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with K.A.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

New Voice: Stephen Messer on Windblowne

Stephen Messer is the first-time author of Windblowne (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Every kite Oliver touches flies straight into the ground, making him the laughingstock of Windblowne.

With the kite-flying festival only days away, Oliver tracks down his reclusive great-uncle Gilbert, a former champion. With Gilbert's help, Oliver can picture himself on the crest, launching into the winds to become one of the legendary fliers of Windblowne.

Then his great-uncle vanishes during a battle with mysterious attack kites—kites that seem to fly themselves!

All that remains is his prize possession, a simple crimson kite. At least, the kite seems simple. When Oliver tries to fly it, the kite lifts him high above the trees. When he comes down, the town and all its people have disappeared.

Suddenly, the festival is the last thing on Oliver's mind as he is catapulted into a mystery that will change everything he understands about himself and his world.

Inspired by the work of Diana Wynne Jones, debut author Stephen Messer delivers a fantasy book for boys and girls in which the distance between realities is equal to the breadth of a kite string.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

Like a lot of avid young readers, I read everything I could lay my hands on, without much discernment or filtering.

There was lots of classic children’s literature--like The Story on Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting (1920) and Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (1934) and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Harper, 1950-1956)--but also loads of books on baseball, astronomy, and even a few historical romances (which I didn’t really understand).

I read a lot of things that were over my head as a 10-year-old boy, like Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862) and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1970). But I still read them and was shaped by them.

Eventually, I grew up and something terrible happened--I became picky about books.

But I still want to be like that un-picky young reader and read outside my narrow interests and also bring that spirit of eclecticism to my writing. It helps to have all those different resources to draw from.

When writing Windblowne, I kept a stack of books at hand, not only reference works on kites and tree houses, but also volumes of P.G. Wodehouse and The Art of Final Fantasy IX by Dan Birlew (Brady Games, 2000), and whatever else struck me as fun or conducive to sparking that unexpected idea. I want to pull lots of disconnected bits into my work and link them together.

We do this easily when we’re kids, and it’s a good challenge for us when we’re grown.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

There’s a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai called “Caught By the Ejiri Wind” (1831-1833), in which a group of travelers on a road have been caught by a wind gust. They lean hard into the blast as papers fly from their hands, their clothes billow, they lose their hats, leaves blow from the trees. It’s a powerful evocation of the unpredictable force of nature.

The mountain town of Windblowne in my book is constantly buffeted by vigorous winds, and everything from the construction of homes to the daily life of the inhabitants is influenced by this fact. All buildings in Windblowne are built up in the branches of giant oak trees, which are the only things that can reliably withstand the winds, particularly at night when the winds blow strongest.

In order to help me summon this sense of omnipresent wind and nature, I surrounded myself with art and objects and music that conjured up this world.

Above my desk in my study I hung a framed print of “Ejiri Wind” and a crazy colored dragon kite that reminded me of kites used in the book.

The list of music goes on and on, but one work that always helped put me in the right frame of mind was Sibelius’s 5th symphony, which has a motif inspired by the sight of 16 swans taking flight.

For my next book, The Death of Yorik Mortwell (Random House, summer 2011), I did the same thing, with a completely different set of artifacts -- spooky art by Edward Gorey and spacy music from Terry Riley.

I sort of trick out my study in this way, so that when I go in to write, I’m entering the world of the book.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Interview: Elizabeth Kennedy on Children's Books

Elizabeth Kennedy is celebrating ten years as the Guide to Children's Books at Children's Books.

Children's books have played a prominent role in Elizabeth's career in PreK-12 education. As a journalist, She has reviewed and written about children's literature for more than eight years.

Elizabeth has an extensive background in education, having worked as an early childhood educator, elementary school teacher, museum educator, and PreK-12 arts-in-education program director over the past thirty-five years.

As a writer, her work has been recognized with first-place awards from Kansas Press Women and the National Federation of Press Women.

What kind of young reader were you?

Voracious! I have always loved to read. My favorite book as a child was The Secret Garden [by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)]. The edition I have was my mother's. It has wonderful color illustrations. I still love it and try to reread it annually, although now I have to borrow it from my daughter. My granddaughter is already asking when her mother will hand the book down to her.

Could you tell us about your background in youth literature?

I majored in English Literature and also studied children’s literature. During my work as an early teacher, a museum educator and the program director for an arts-in-education nonprofit, I read and utilized a lot of children’s books.

When I was a child, my mother took me to the library every week. My parents read to me regularly, and I did the same with our children. When my kids were in school, one was an eager reader and the other was a reluctant reader, so reading aloud was particularly important in reinforcing vocabulary development and comprehension.

What is is part of the New York Times Company. As the company states, “ is an online neighborhood of hundreds of helpful experts, eager to share their wealth of knowledge with visitors.”

The sites are organized into 23 different channels, including Education, Entertainment, and Health, as well Parenting & Family, where you will find my children’s book site.

What approach do you take in your coverage of youth literature?

I tend to concentrate on books for children for babies through middle school age. In addition to book reviews and subject lists of children’s books I recommend, I have developed a calendar of children’s books, with links to books and other resources related to each month of the year. It tends to be particularly popular with teachers.

I try to provide helpful advice to parents. This includes such things as how to encourage reluctant readers to read, information on the major children’s book awards and the winners, and online children’s literature resources.

My readers are also a great source of advice for other parents, providing tips on such topics as keeping kids reading during the summer and sharing stories about how they introduced children’s books to their babies and toddlers.

What do you love about it?

I love having the opportunity to read so many different books. I like learning about children’s books about (and from) different cultures. I enjoy hearing from site visitors from many different countries. I love finding wonderful books and being able to introduce them to others through my site. I am always delighted when parents and teachers tell me that my site helped them find the perfect book for a particular child or occasion.

What are the challenges?

For every three or four books I cover on my site, I read/look over about 100. Since I don’t have the time to cover everything, I am constantly making choices between this good book and that good book. I receive about 70 emails a month asking me to review books, on top of the packages of books from publishers seeking reviews that arrive several times a week.

Sometimes, I feel that I am buried in books!

However, precisely because so many children’s books are published every month, I hope my site is a helpful resource for parents, teachers and others eager to learn about good books for children.

How do you decide who and what to feature?

I feature books appropriate to the seasons and annual events on an ongoing basis. I also cover certain topics related to children’s books, like raising a reader and banned books, as well as authors, illustrators and publishers of children’s books.

I visit one or more public libraries, two major book chains and an independent bookstore one or more times a week to discover new books, and I read, read, read review copies and library books as well.

Who usually approaches you--authors, illustrators, publishers?

All of them, as well as publicists from marketing firms. I am on the regular mailing list for a number of children’s book publishers and also receive emails and news releases when they are promoting a new book or series.

Some publishers and authors use publicists from private firms to promote their books, and they send me information and query letters.

I have been hearing directly from more authors and illustrators lately, many of whom have self-published their books.

What Dos would you recommend to someone interested in pitching material to you as an online reviewer?

1. Do include information about the book in the body of the email; even better, provide a link to a Web site that includes cover art (and additional illustrations if it’s a picture book), a summary and an excerpt.

2. Before emailing a pitch, do your research. Make sure the reviewer covers your type of book and the age group your book targets.

3. Do request that the reviewer confirm receipt of your email.

What are pitfalls to avoid?

1. Don’t send attachments. For security reasons, I have been advised to never open attachments from people I don’t know.

2. Don’t expect a reviewer to review your book from a description or a PDF. My policy is that I never review a book unless I have seen it and read it.

3. Don’t write, “If you are interested in receiving a review copy of the book, let me know.” If you do that and don’t hear from the reviewer, you will never know if it’s because the reviewer didn’t receive your email or if the reviewer is not interested in your book.

4. Once you have sent a query and the reviewer has confirmed receipt of it, don’t keep emailing the reviewer. There is no need, and if the reviewer is already getting as much email as I do, it is apt to annoy the reviewer.

5. If the reviewer asks for a review copy, please send it promptly. It’s very discouraging to receive a wonderful Halloween book the week after Halloween, especially when the request was made three months before.

Do you consider self-published or e-published work?

Yes, I do consider them. However, for reasons of quality, I have not covered a great deal of self-published or e-published books. I look for good production values (paper, book design, layout, etc.) as well as excellence in the story and illustrations in every book I cover.

What advice do you have for new online youth media journalists?

You need to not only learn as much as you can about traditional children’s books, reading, literacy, and the general field of children’s literature, but right now, you also need to learn more about the various ways in which children’s books are increasingly available--from iPads and e-book readers to phone apps.

I am working on an article on the subject and have discovered that there are an enormous number of things to consider.

What were your top three favorite 2009 books published for young readers and why?

I am still discovering books published in 2009 and haven’t really made my choices, except in the case of picture books. For my nine favorites, see my feature about the Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009.

Who are a few of your favorite authors and illustrators and why?

I keep discovering new ones, so that’s hard to answer. I’ll limit it to just a couple here.

I like the novels of Sharon Creech and Kate DiCamillo because the authors are so good at capturing the “voice” of their protagonists.

I have enjoyed Jerry Pinkney’s artwork for years and was delighted when he won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his picture book The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown, 2010). His artwork always evokes an emotional response that enhances the story.

What do you do when you're not reading and writing?

I spend time with my family, read cozy mysteries and nonfiction, serve on the boards of the Kansas Citizens for the Arts and Kansas Professional Communicators, attend arts events and take classes in kiln-fired glass jewelry.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Voice: Meg Wiviott on Benno and the Night of Broken Glass

Meg Wiviott is the first-time author of Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon (Kar-Ben, 2010). From the promotional copy:

A neighborhood cat observes the changes in German and Jewish families in its town during the period leading up to Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass that becomes the true beginning of the Holocaust.

This cat's-eye view introduces the Holocaust to children in a gentle way that can open discussion of this period.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view in your book? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

When I started working on this project I began with an omniscient, distant narrator. I wanted to present the information simply as facts. No emotion. Without getting personal.

When dealing with the Holocaust for young readers, I was conscious of the balance between being accurate and not frightening the child reader. I wanted to tell the story and let sidebars spell out the historical and political facts of Kristallnacht.

I thought of Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, 1999), an excellent example of a story with sidebars. That way children and their parents could read the story and add in the facts as the child became ready for them.

The problem with this approach was that it was boring. My critique group wisely told me that no one would care, that I had to get personal. They suggested I tell the story through the point of view of a child.

I had many long conversations with one of my critique-mates over this issue. I did not want to tell the story from the point of view of a Jewish child for many reasons.

First, I thought it would be too frightening, bringing the child reader too close to the anxiety and fear of the story child.

Also, because Kristallnacht is considered by many to be the beginning of the Holocaust, the end of the story is not happy or uplifting. The ending has to be ambiguous and terrifying.

Nor did I want to tell the story from the point of view of a German child because I did not want to enter the head of a German child or their parent. I wanted the story to be historically accurate. I did not want to give the impression that all Germans were either Righteous or Nazis.

In trying to think of a way to tell the story, I remembered when my husband and I were first married, we lived in an apartment building where the super allowed a stray cat to sleep in the boiler room. Hobo was a tough, street-smart cat and everyone in the building loved him.

So what finally came to me was "Benno" (though he was originally named "Kater," which means "tomcat" in German).

Using distant third person point of view, Benno is an unbiased observer. And, being a cat, he has a child-like innocence about him. He is befriended by the people of Rosenstrasse, welcomed into homes and shops, and through his eyes the reader experiences the grim changes occurring in Nazi Germany and the events of Kristallnacht.

Writing from Benno’s point of view was easy and solved my problems. He gave me the distance I needed at the same time allowed me to show the emotions of the story. Besides, I love cats!

How did you go about identifying your editor?

Benno had a two unsuccessful ventures into the publishing world before I decided to attend the Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in November 2006.

I signed up for a 15-minute critique with Judye Groner, editor and founder of Kar-Ben.

Before the conference, I visited Kar-Ben’s website. They were the perfect publisher, a small house that publishes only picture books with Jewish themes. How perfect for a picture book on Kristallnacht. I went off to the conference like a woman on a mission.

Now anybody who has signed up for one of these 15-minute critiques knows that 15 minutes is not a lot of time. Judye asked those of us who she’d be critiquing to send our first pages to her via email before the conference. I did that, but because I saw the book as a story with sidebars, I divided the page in columns with the story on the left and the facts for the sidebars on the right. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it was confusing.

So, in our 15 minutes together, Judye had to read the whole manuscript. I sat there. Then she didn’t have much to say. She suggested that I give Sophie a favorite book that would later be thrown onto the fire, it would be something the kids could relate to. That was it.

Usually, when I’ve done these types of critiques before the editor has a lot to say about what could be changed. I came out of the meeting feeling disappointed, as if it had been a waste of time.

The next day, I got two emails from Judye. The first was to all the writers whose manuscripts she had critiqued saying thank you. The second was for me. She thanked me for coming to the conference and encouraged me to make the change we’d talked about and resubmit because there were no children’s books on Kristallancht.

I made the changes, took the revision to my critique group, and then submitted it to Judye. A month later, Judye emailed to say she was recommending that the story be taken to the acquisitions committee in the spring.

Ta-da! The rest is history. In revisions, Kar-Ben did ask me to do away with the sidebars and use an afterword instead, which provides the facts without intruding on the story.

Cynsational Notes

Read a Cynsations interview with Judye Groner on Kar-Ben Publishing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Guest Post: Liz Garton Scanlon on the ALA Conference and the Caldecott

By Liz Garton Scanlon

In late January, soon after the American Library Association children's-YA book awards were announced at the Midwinter Conference in Boston, I received my official invitation to attend the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

I was fairly floating at the time, and all thoughts turned to dresses and shoes.

June, I thought, was right around the corner.

But then five months of life intervened, and on June 25, I found myself on an airplane, unsure of whether I had a layover, where my hotel was, and who knows what was in my suitcase.

Thank goodness I went straight from the airport to a restaurant with round tables laden with tapas and sangria.

And, thank goodness again, there were my poetry sisters, many of whom I’d only met online until then. But we’d been writing together for a couple of years and, over time, had grown into friends. Really good friends.

So we sat there – five of the seven of us (Tanita S. Davis and Andromeda Jazmon were still on their way), and the floaty feeling I’d had in January started coming back.

This was going to be fun.

("Poetry Sisters" - top row: Kelly Fineman, Laura Purdie Salas, Sara Lewis Holmes; bottom row: Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Liz Garton Scanlon.)

We could have stayed right there with our glasses of fruity wine ‘til Sunday, but the social calendar called. Next up? Kidlit Drinks Night – where we ran into bloggers galore. It’s funny to meet in person people whom you feel you already know. Sometimes they are blond instead of brunette, or short instead of tall. They are invariably at least as nice. Also, I unexpectedly ran into my agent (Erin Murphy). Double-whammy bonus.

Saturday, I took a morning run around The White House and all the monuments because, believe it or not, this was my first time in D.C.

At The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, there was a man about my dad’s age, crying and crying, as his daughters each held one of his hands. I walked instead of ran back to the hotel.

Next, I made my way over to the ALA exhibit hall, which was rather overwhelmingly super-sized – until I remembered it was filled with people who loved books, making it just the right size. First up was a short, sweet interview with the kind and tireless Barb Langridge. It went well except for the fact that my voice dropped about two-and-a-half octaves as I spoke.

Afterward, I lunched with my All the World (Beach Lane, 2009) editor (Allyn Johnston) and illustrator (Marla Frazee), during which my voice returned to normal.

I trolled the exhibit hall after lunch and ran, pell-mell, into practically all the authors and illustrators and editors I’ve ever dreamed of meeting.

(Lois Ehlert and Marilyn Singer.)

(Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover, Harold Underdown with Liz in the gray sweater [Jessica and P.J. are members of an Austin-based author group called the Texas Sweethearts].)

(Erin Dionne and Heidi R. Kling with Liz (center).)

And from there, I was off to an afternoon tea at the exquisite Georgetown home of Tami Lewis Brown (where I met everyone I hadn’t met at the convention center). And that includes the current National Ambassador of Children’s Literature Katherine Paterson.

I almost asked her to pinch me.

(Tea Photos: Katherine Patterson in the striped ribbon with some familiar faces.)

(Sara Lewis Holmes and Jama Rattigan.)

(Helen Hemphill and Liz)

That evening, we had a lovely, celebratory Beach Lane Books dinner at the most delicious Italian restaurant. Beach Lane, a Simon & Schuster imprint, brainchild of the inimitable Allyn Johnston, and publisher of All the World and my next few books, is less than two years old but they’ve already put together the most perfect little lists.

So, there was a lot to toast, and we did – Allyn and her editorial partner, Andrea Welch, Marla Frazee, Mem Fox, Lois Ehlert, Debra Frasier, M.T. Anderson, and the smart, funny, generous Powers That Be at Simon &Schuster.

I could not get over the fact that I got to sit smack-dab in the middle of this amazing group of people. Maybe writing books isn’t such a lonely endeavor after all.

(Editor Andrea Welch and M.T. Anderson.)

(Mem Fox, Simon & Schuster Children’s Field Sales Director Brian Kelleher, and Debra Frasier.)

(A peek at the table.)

Sunday morning felt remarkably nearby, but I entered it gently when my dear friend Sara Lewis Holmes showed up at my hotel room with her dear friend Suzie Celentano – for yoga with the furniture pushed aside. An hour-and-a-half later, signing books in the Scholastic Book Fair booth, my skin was still thrumming.

From Scholastic, we moved to Simon & Schuster and kept signing, Marla and I together. We had color-coordinated Sharpies and a good groove, except that I was apparently too chatty so the lines crept along.

Lunch that day was with my beloved agent, Erin Murphy and the lovely Michelle Nagler of Bloomsbury, the editor of my forthcoming picture book, Think Big (spring 2012). We talked about books and babies, and we ate quite a lot of good food. (Quickly becoming a theme of the weekend…)

There’s no time to elaborate, though, since The Newbery Caldecott banquet is right around the corner and there’s primping to be done. I was to meet Allyn and Marla in the lobby of our hotel.

They looked dynamite, and the whole affair was starting to feel like a cross between prom and something really fun.

(Liz with Marla Frazee and editor Allyn Johnston).

How to describe that night? I thought it might feel overwhelming or anticlimactic, but it wasn’t either one. It was just really special.

We met the librarians on the Caldecott Committee – the ones who’d chosen to recognize All the World as an honor book. We listened to the happy, happy speeches by Jerry Pinkney and Rebecca Stead. We hugged friends and strangers and shook a lot of hands.

And when Marla walked onto stage to receive the honor for All the World, I had to swallow very, very carefully to keep from spilling tears all over my dress.

(Editor Allyn Johnston with literary agent Erin Murphy.)

Liz and Marla pose with some of the Caldecott Committee librarians.

(Liz with 2010 Sibert Honor Author Chris Barton.)

There were other events over the next two days, not the least of which was lunch with the Caldecott Committee on Monday – I had no idea the work and passion put into that project each year – and The Coretta Scott King breakfast on Tuesday, where my friend Tanita was awarded an honor for her funny, moving book, Mare’s War (Knopf, 2009). And either each and every one of these events was perfect, or I must’ve been wearing magic shoes because things sure looked dreamy to me.

(Caldecott Award Committee.)

(Coretta Scott King Award Brunch: Andromeda Jazmon, Coretta Scott King Honor Author Tanita S. Davis, Liz, and Kelly Fineman.)

A little dose of reality? By the time I headed home, I had lost my voice in earnest and was nursing a case of pinkeye. Funny how, in the end, neither really mattered.

I mean, really, even Cinderella probably had sore feet….

(Liz and Marla’s feet at the banquet!)

Cynsational Notes

Top photo of Liz by

From Simon & Schuster: "Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the critically acclaimed picture books All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004). She is an adjunct professor of creative writing at Austin Community College, and her poetry has been published widely in literary journals. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas."

Read Liz's LiveJournal, Liz In Ink. Don't miss today's post, The Calendar Year of a Caldecott Book.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2010) is a Caldecott Honor Book. It also earned the following recognition:
  • ALA Notable Children's Books;
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year - with Outstanding Merit;
  • New York Times best-seller;
  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon;
  • Capitol Choices List (DC);
  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book;
  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council);
  • Horn Book Fanfare;
  • IRA Children's Book Award;
  • Kirkus Best Children's Book;
  • New York Times Best Illustrated Books;
  • NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing;
  • Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner;
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books;
  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year;
  • Texas 2x2 Reading List.
Check out the book trailer for All the World from Circle of Seven Productions.

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