Saturday, September 21, 2013

Event Report: Readers Theater with Kathi Appelt, Susan Fletcher & Uma Krishnaswami

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Last week's highlight was a readers theater event, featuring authors Kathi Appelt (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp), Susan Fletcher (Falcon in the Glass) and Uma Krishnaswami (The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, The Girl of the Wish Garden) at the Unitarian Universalist Church in College Station, Texas.

The event featured cover-art cakes, live music, a readers theater, a book sale (in conjunction with a local indie seller) and a book signing.

A readers theater is an excellent alternative to a traditional reading. It's lively, engaging and leaves fans clamoring for more. To prepare, modify the text for the ear and performance, and be sure to practice in advance! See also Readers Theater Tips from Aaron Shepard.

Austinites Carmen Oliver, Greg Leitich Smith and Frances Hill Yansky study the program.

The band plays during the welcoming reception and, later, during the book signing.

Uma drafts Greg as a special guest reader for The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic.

Featured author Susan with fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member April Lurie.

Featured authors Kathi and Uma

Greg, Uma, Kathi and Susan perform the readers theater.

Kathi, Uma, and Susan sign for their fans.

I'm celebrating with College Station author-librarian Debbie Leland...

and Houston children's author Varsha Bajaj!
Cynsational Notes 

The three featured authors are members of the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and Uma is the faculty chair.

Congratulations to Kathi Appelt on being named to the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People's Literature.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"I'm Just Like Everybody Else" - Believing in Yourself as a Writer, Despite Naysayers by Kelly Braffet from Books for Better Living. Peek: "I was 17, and I told her my dream, and she told me to give it up." See also Ten Things Emerging Writers Need to Learn.

Interview with Jessica Young, Author of My Blue Is Happy, by Gayle Rosengren from OneFour Kidlit. Peek: "Looking back, I counted eighty-nine revisions of My Blue, not including the ones I didn’t save. There were so many directions I tried taking it, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the help of wonderful crit partners and my fantastic agent and editor to support me in getting to the final version."

Sneaking Telling Into Questions by Mary Kole from Peek: "We tell because we desperately want that information out there in black and white instead of leaving it as a delicious little gray area clue for the reader to find. There’s tension in the latter, though, there’s intrigue, there are even higher stakes..." See also Expand. Contract.: Mapping Out Story Slashing by Rachel Wilson from Quirk and Quill.

Likeability in Novels by Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "When I'm in this mood, I don't mind if people are unlikeable so long as they're real, and presented with full histories and friends and enemies and contexts, so I can find sympathy through understanding and empathizing with them rather than needing to be entertained or pleased by them."

Chop! Chop! Writing in 20 Minute Slices by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I pick a task–not necessarily in the order listed–set my timer, and get going! Since getting started has always been my biggest hurdle, the list goes a long way toward getting me over that hump."

Children's Space Stories are Ready to Take Off Again by S.F. Said from The Guardian. Peek: "Publishers have been wary of this kind of science fiction for years, but it's set to thrill a new generation."

Diversity in Writing by Ellen Oh from Peek: "...people are afraid of being called a racist. So they avoid diversity because of it. However, let me reassure you that by not including diversity, you are also being called a racist. Maybe not to your face, but you are. And guess what? Being called a racist is nowhere near as painful as dealing with actual racism." See also Transgender Characters in Teen Literature: An Interview with Ellen Wittlinger from The Hub and Taking the Risk, Taking the Heat by Patricia McCormick from CBC Diversity.

The Route to Publishing as an Author-Illustrator by Eliza Wheeler from Peek: "You can send your promotion to everyone within a publishing house (where-as with a manuscript it is not acceptable to submit to more than one editor in the same house at a time). This gives illustrators the advantage of having wide exposure to their work."

Physical Attributes: Muscular Characters by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Muscular individuals are not that way naturally, and so either go to the gym or work in an environment that requires strength, building them up over time."

Is It Perilous to Pitch the Whole Series? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "Series can do well in most markets, so publishers buy them when they see marketable concepts and strong writing from authors who can consistently deliver."

Stepping into the Void by Sarah Jamila Stevenson from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "...there are countless sources of fear for any creative person, from the fears that well up from deep inside our innermost selves to those that bombard us from outside, but what they all have in common is they keep us from creating, keep us from producing."

Don't Let Words Get in the Way of What You Write by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "...telling us it is raining is fine but going on and on about it because you like the sound of words often leads to indulgence and bad choices."

Sign. Query. Submit. with Literary Agent Tina Wexler from I Write for Apples. Peek: "I know I want to sign an author when I’m reading their manuscript and the names of editors who must read it start coming to me." See also Successful Schmoozing with Agents at Conferences by Jenny Bent from Bent on Books.

Giveaway ABCs by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "If the goal is to increase book sales, giving away copies of your book will help."

I'm Your Neighbor: Children's Books and Reading Projects Build Bridges Between "New Arrivals" and "Long-term Communities."

Unpacking Why Adults Read Young Adult Fiction from Malinda Lo. Peek: "A lot of reception studies focus on how consumption of a media product (TV show, book, etc.) is tied into an individual’s identity formation. Watching a show or participating in a fandom is part of your construction of who you are." Source: Gwenda Bond.

Native YA Protagonists: Three Recommended Reads by Audrey from Rich In Color. Note: I'm honored to see my own debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), among the recommended titles, which I likewise endorse.

Five Reasons to Use a Facebook Profile (Not a Page) to Build a Platform by Lisa Hall-Wilson from Jane Friedman. Peek: "While there’s a 5,000-friend limit on Profiles, there’s no limit to Followers (previously known as subscribers). Many professional athletes and other media personalities—journalists for instance—are using this option instead of maintaining a Page." See also How (and Why) to Create a Pinterest Board for Your Book by Dee Garretson from Project Mayhem.

IBBY Appeal for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon from IBBY: Sharing Books, Bridging Cultures. Peek: "The Lebanese Board on Books for Young People (LBBY) is a registered organization that is concerned with the well being of children and the promotion of reading. It has participated in the development and installation of numerous school libraries." Donations welcome.

Jane Addams Legacy: An Interview with Author Susan C. Griffith by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (JACBA) is an honor given annually by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Jane Addams Peace Association to children’s books of high literary quality, published in the United States, that best engage young readers in thinking about peace, social justice, world community and equality of all sexes and races."

How Old Should My Middle Grade Protagonist Be? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "Consider the sophistication of your concept, themes, and storytelling style as you determine where your project falls."

SCBWI's New Spark Award

The SCBWI is pleased to announce the creation of the Spark Award, an annual award that recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route. The award is open to current writer and/or illustrator SCBWI members who have independently-published a board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel through an established self- publishing enterprise or individually self-published. Submissions must be submitted in traditionally bound form, contain an ISBN number, and provide evidence of Copyright registration.

Entries may not have been previously published in any print or digital form prior to the self-published form and SCBWI reserves the right to disqualify books published by enterprises that we believe, in our discretion, operate in a predatory or unprofessional manner.

One winner and one honor book will be chosen by a panel of industry professionals and will focus on quality of writing and concept, quality of illustrations (if applicable), professional presentation, and editing and design.

The winner will receive a Spark seal to display on their book, a commemorative plaque, have their book featured in the SCBWI online bookstore and marketed on SCBWI social networking sites, and receive the opportunity to sell their book at the SCBWI Summer or Winter Conference in Los Angeles or New York. See more information.

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Giveaways  

See also Five New Giveaways & New Releases from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

More Personally
Wowza! I'm honored to be the recipient of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation’s 2013 Illumine award for excellence in literary achievement in the category of young adult fiction. The honorees in other categories are Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg and Stephen Harrigan. See recipient biographies, and check out the whole scoop from Austin SCBWI. Note: I'll post photos after the gala in November.

Don't miss Samantha Clark's interview with me about reading and writing graphic novels (includes giveaway) from earlier this week!

Congratulations to Kathi Appelt and her fellow authors named to the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People's Literature.

Stalked by velociraptors at Moody Gardens in Galveston.
Picabu, the king penguin from my Penguin Encounter
The painting Picabu created with her feet!
Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Katherine Paterson and Katherine Applegate Headline Authors to Appear at National Book Festival Sept. 20 and Sept. 21 at the National Mall from the Library of Congress.

Delve into the world of graphic novels on Oct. 5 with a Graphic Novel Workshop, featuring author/illustrator Dave Roman, author Cynthia Leitich Smith and First Second Books Senior Editor Calista Brill; sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak Oct. 17 at Lampasas ISD in Lampasas, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will offer several presentations the week of Oct. 20 in conjunction with Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) being the featured title for children as part of the 2013 One Book, One San Diego campaign, sponsored by KBPS, more details forthcoming.

Cynthia Leitich Smith joins featured authors at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the State Capitol Building in Austin.

Cynthia Leitich Smith and P.J. Hoover will sign their new releases from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Florida Association for Media in Education Conference Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 in Orlando.

The Craft & Business of Writing: Everything You wanted to Know About Writing, a fundraiser featuring C.C. Hunter, Miranda James and Lori Wilde for the Montgomery County Book Festival, on Nov. 16 at Lone Star College Montgomery Campus in Houston. Fee: $100. Registration deadline: Nov. 10. See more information. Register here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Voice: Pat Zietlow Miller on Sophie’s Squash

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Pat Zietlow Miller is the first-time author of Sophie’s Squash, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Schwartz & Wade, 2013). From the promotional copy:

On a trip to the farmers' market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. 

From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents' gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot.

As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes.... What's a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble?

With absolutely delightful text by Pat Zietlow Miller and downright hilarious illustrations from Anne Wilsdorf, Sophie's Squash will be a fresh addition to any collection of autumn books.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Sophie’s Squash was inspired by two adorable things my youngest daughter did when she was quite small. So my challenge was to take those two true memories and add enough fictional material to turn the story into a book with an actual plot that was worth reading.

Because by themselves, the memories were sweet, but they were definitely not a story. Here’s how it all went down.

Sonia & Bernice
Memory one: I was grocery shopping with my daughter, Sonia. She was small enough where she could still sit in the front basket of the cart, and she often chose items from the main portion of the cart to hold.

When we got to the checkout line, I busily unloaded our purchases onto the conveyor belt. But I couldn’t find the butternut squash I was sure I had put in the cart. I turned around to look again and Sonia was holding it like a baby. She held it all the way home, drew a face on it and treated it like a doll until I sneaked it out of her room many days later because I was afraid it would rot. (I did take a photo for posterity first.)

Memory two: A year or so later, our cat, Lucy, passed away. We planted a tree and sprinkled her ashes around its roots. When we finished, Sonia looked at me with hopeful eyes and said, “Now, will a new kitty grow?”

My first attempt at the story focused on the first memory with my main character, Sophie, falling in love with a squash and her parents’ unsuccessful attempts to direct her affection to something more enduring.

That version got a few positive editorial comments, but it wasn’t until I added elements of my second memory – death and the hope that things we love might return to us somehow – that the story really took flight. In the end, it was focusing on the feelings my two Sonia memories inspired rather than exactly what she did and said that led to Sophie’s Squash coming together as a viable book.

As a picture book writer, how did you learn your craft? What were your natural strengths? Greatest challenges?

I learned to write picture books because I started out knowing I didn’t know how.

I’d written a lot in my life, working as a newspaper reporter and columnist, a magazine editor and a corporate communicator. But I knew picture books had a style and structure all their own.

So, I read. I brought piles of picture books home from the library and spent weekends reading them and analyzing them. Once I found an author I especially liked, I read everything he or she had written and tried to figure out why it worked. I still do this.

My natural strengths were that I’d always had a bit of a way with words and a very strong appreciation for language and the feelings it can evoke. And, no matter what format I’m writing for, I am a stickler for tight, vivid writing.

My other natural strength was that I didn’t go in thinking writing a winner of a picture book would be easy. I was always looking to learn from other writers and apply those lessons to my writing. All that takes time, and I was definitely willing to put the time in.

My greatest challenge is probably plot. In the nonfiction writing I’d done before, I was quoting people and writing about something that had actually happened.

In fiction, you make up what happens, and it generally follows a story arc. Learning the basic story arc (initial incident, rising action, climax, falling action, dénouement) was easy enough, but adding in the items to make the story compelling – so the reader cares what happens to the characters and wants to keep turning the pages – took lots of redrafting and rewriting. Usually, just when you think you have it, you realize you don’t.

Anyhow, I’m very glad that Sophie’s Squash got to where it needed to be and is now a real book in real bookstores and on real library shelves.
Pat's cats -- Vince (gray and white) and Sunny (orange)
Cynsational Notes

Pat Zietlow on If I Were a "Glee" Librarian from Read, Write, Repeat. Peek: "Below are the books I’d give each character if I were a "Glee" librarian. Each title is a link to a post about why this book is just right for that particular person."

In Memory: Barbara Robinson

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barbara Robinson, ‘Best Christmas Pageant Author,’ Dies at 85 by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: "Barbara Robinson, author of the popular children’s novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Harper, 1972), died on July 9, 2013. She was 85.... The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has sold over 800,000 copies and was adapted into a play...ABC television also produced a television movie of the story in 1983...."

Obituary: Barbara Robinson by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Robinson followed her passion for both drama and writing when she attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1948.... Robinson was a Breadloaf Fellow in 1962 and wrote more than 40 short stories for newspapers and magazines, including McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal. In 1962, she published her first book for children, Across from Indian Shore (Lothrop).

Barbara Robinson, Children's Book Author, Dies at 85 by William Yardley from The New York Times. Peek: "She was born Barbara Jean Webb on Oct. 24, 1927, in Portsmouth, Ohio. She was an only child. Her father, Theodore, died when she was 3. She was raised by her mother, Grace, who taught school, and she grew up surrounded by an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles. Mrs. Robinson wrote poems from an early age and earned a bachelor’s degree in theater at Allegheny College."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest Post: P.J. Hoover on Author Travel Tips

P.J. at the Solstice launch party
By P.J. Hoover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

P. J. Hoover here, author of the dystopian/mythology YA novel, Solstice (Tor, 2013), and today I’m talking about travel.

Specifically traveling as an author.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling lately, with pre-publicity stuff, book tour stops, conferences, and yes, even general family trips. And the thing is that traveling can be exhausting.

So why not make it as easy on yourself (and those you may be traveling with) as possible?

A few simple travel techniques can make all the difference in the world.

Before You Travel...

First, let’s talk about preparation. Spending a bit of time before the trip can make everything easier.

Start with a list.

P.J. with fellow Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels
No matter what the situation in life, a list will make it better. Travel is no exception. I keep a handful of travel lists on my computer, organized as needed.

Are you heading to ALA? Have you been before? Then it’s easy. Pull up the list you made last year, copy it to a new file for this year, and update it. Haven’t been before? Then create your list today.

I suggest organizing it in sections such as (a) toiletries, (b) book/author related stuff, (c) carry-on bag items to have handy, etc. The more you can put on this list the very first time you make it, the easier each year will be.

Side note: This list is great for family vacations, too. DisneyWorld, the beach, the parents’ house. I organize by family member, print it out, and let them gather what they need.

Travel size items

Redundancy is a great asset in the case of travel. If you always use a certain hair gel, invest in a travel size of it that you can keep in your toiletry bag. Ditto skincare products. I personally am a fan of Clinique products. So for all those skincare products, I have separate travel size items I keep in my bag. Same thing for general items like toothpaste and shampoo. It makes picking up and going so much easier.

Most grocery stores have a whole section of travel items. Buy liberally because not only will it make the packing and unpacking easier, it will way reduce the risk of forgetting that face cream you can’t live without.

Side note 1: Use Ziploc bags to pack all your toiletries. You seriously don’t want them leaking all over your carefully chosen clothes, do you?

Side note 2: If you’re trying to cram everything into a carry-on bag on the airplane, keep airports restrictions in mind.


With fellow YA author Mari Mancusi
If you’re like me, then you have either a curling iron or a flat iron. Invest in one of those curling iron travel bags . . . you know, the kind where you can put your curling iron away just seconds after using it. That way, when you finish getting ready, all you have to do is stuff the curling iron into the bag and go.

Also, unless you’re living in another century, you have a cell phone. There is something about conferences that makes my cell phone drain faster than a puddle in the Texas summer. So invest in an extra power cord and keep it in your travel bag. Ditto headphones. That way, you’ll never be without.

While Traveling...

Hopefully the actual travel portion of your trip is a short one, but no matter the length of time, it’s important to make the most of it and keep yourself happy.


Drink water. If you’re flying, buy a water bottle after you get through security or bring an empty one and fill it up. Lots of times, we get headaches when we travel because we aren’t getting enough water. Whether flying or driving, drink up. Don’t let your goal be to not use the bathroom the entire trip. Stop often.

Side note: If you see a Buc-ee’s, stop there. They have the best bathrooms in the world. And then there are the pickles. Delicious! Which brings me to the next item...

Snack Smart

P.J. at Comic Con
Traveling without giving any thought to food ahead of time can lead to unhealthy eating which will end up making you feel worse. Think about your snacks ahead of time. What do you like to eat? Is it something that you can put in your carry-on luggage? Is it something you need to bag-check? Is there a grocery store nearby your destination where you can run in and grab a couple must-have foods?

Whether it’s fruits or nuts or Twinkies that make you feel great, prepare ahead of time.

Side note: It’s also a good idea to scope out restaurants. If you must have your sunny-side-up eggs each morning, find a diner online and check the menu to make sure they have what you want.


What are you going to do while you are actually traveling? If you’re driving somewhere alone, can you use that time to listen to an audiobook? If so, download it ahead of time. If you’re on an airplane, what are you going to read? Or write? Plan it out so you can make the most of your time. And remember, you can’t e-read for those first and last fifteen minutes of a flight. What else can you do in this time?

Side note 1: I was able to download a version of Word for my iPad so I could edit on a flight without having to drag my computer along.

Side note 2: Decide which electronic device will meet your needs for the trip. Is your smart phone enough? Your iPad enough? Or does this particular trip demand your computer?

Once You Are There...

Great! You’ve made it to your destination. Now is the time to relax and enjoy the show (or conference as the case may be). But don’t think all the travel planning is behind you.

Here are a few tips for making the time at your destination that much better.

Be a considerate roomie.

Lots of times when I travel, I share rooms with other people I know. Whether this is due to friendship or cost-sharing, it’s important to be considerate of those around you.

For starters, if you are the type who has to blow dry your hair (like me), then bring your own hair dryer. Sure, most hotels supply them these days, but you aren’t the only one who needs to get in that bathroom. Take your shower, brush your teeth, and then let your roomie have the bathroom. You can blow dry your hair in the main room. (Unless of course your roomie is still sleeping. Then the most considerate path is to stay in the bathroom.)

In addition, please keep your stuff neat. Piles of dirty clothes and suitcases all over the floor aren’t going to make anyone happy. And it certainly won’t make anyone want to room with you again. So pick a spot (be it a drawer, a chair, whatever) and keep it tidy.

Side note: Silence your phone at night. I adore my "Star Trek" notifications, but my roomies may not have that same love for ST:TOS that I do.


Practicing kung fu
Right. So there could be (and should be) an entire blog post dedicated to the importance of exercise. It’s a great habit to be in and really helps relieve the stress of travel and the author life. So let’s assume for the moment that we’re all in that habit.

Don’t let travel get in the way of your amazing routine. Pack exercise clothes and shoes when you go. Almost every hotel out there has some sort of exercise room. When looking at hotels, make sure you choose wisely. And then make sure you follow through and keep your momentum going.

Side note: This is where packing those headphones for your cell phone also comes in handy. Pandora. Netflix. It’s all right there to help you stay motivated.

Be comfy

Think about what makes you more comfortable when you travel. For me, it’s a travel blanket and a light weight jacket (because my temperature threshold tends to run a bit lower than everyone else). For others it may be a favorite stuffed animal. Whatever you specifically need, bring it along.

Side note: Conferences are typically chilly. A lightweight sweater can help you concentrate on the conference and not on the goosebumps forming on your arms.

Never Leave Home Without...

Learn about the Forgotten Worlds trilogy
And there are, of course, a handful of must haves. Don’t leave home without them.
  • Irreplaceables (medications, retainer) 
  • Excedrin (for post-late night recovery and dehydration survival) 
  • Extra set of clothes (for those unexpected coffee spills while traveling) 
  • Swag (always have a business card or postcard or something to be able to hand to people) 
  • Sharpie (have one on you at all given times for book/swag signing) 
  • Breath mints (no one wants to smell your coffee breath)

Hope your travels are safe and successful in every way!

Cynsational Notes

From Cyn:
Print and pack backup copies of your itinerary and any presentation texts--one for your purse, one for your suitcase, and one for your carry-on bag. Also be sure to email yourself copies of them (that you can access online) and your visual presentation (PowerPoint, etc.).

You may also want to email your visual presentation to the event planner in advance of your trip; just be sure to emphasize that some materials are under copyright and should not be used outside of your event or without your consent.

See also Event Report: P.J. Hoover's Solstice & Mari Mancusi's Scorched from Cynsations.

P.J. Hoover first fell in love with Greek mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton.

After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips for a living, P. J. decided to take her own stab at mythology and started writing books for kids and teens.

When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching "Star Trek."

Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor, 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own.

Her middle grade novel, Tut (Tor, 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat.

Event Report: P.J. Hoover's Solstice & Mari Mancusi's Scorched

Mari and P.J. model their novels & stuffed dragon unicorn.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Austin YA authors P.J. Hoover and Mari Mancusi debuted their latest novels this month at BookPeople. P.J.'s new release is Solstice (Tor, 2013), a mythology-dystopian, and Mari's is Scorched (Sourcebooks, 2013), a dragon fantasy.

The event included a viewing of book trailers, tie-in refreshments, Q&A, trivia questions with prizes and a signing. Plus, attendees were encouraged to rock their mythology and dragon enthusiasm.

Joint author events can attract a wider (hopefully crossover) fan base, split up the preparatory work and expenses, and multiply the fun.

You typically want to team up with someone who has a new book with a complimentary theme or one for the same age-market. Be sure you're on the same page in terms of budget, program, and promotion and choose someone who genuinely enjoy spending time with.

See also event photo reports from P.J. and Mari.

YA author Cory Putnam Oakes models a dragon of her own.

And so does children's author Nikki Loftin.

Author-illustrator Emma Virjan and Cynthia Leitich Smith

Children's author-ilustrators Frances Hill Yansky & Salima Alikhan

P.J. and Mari field questions from the audience.

Mari and P.J. sign for their enthusiastic fans!

Cynsational Notes

Check out the book trailer for Scorched by Mari Mancusi (Sourcebooks, 2013). From the promotional copy:

An ordinary Texan teen. A dragon with devastating power. 

Together they can save the future...or destroy it.

Sixteen-year-old Trinity is sure her grandfather's "dragon egg" is a hoax, but the government agents attacking her house seem to think otherwise. And a strange boy is telling her the world as she knows it will be wiped out in a fiery dragon war—unless they work together to stop it.

All the while, the dragon inside her egg whispers to Trin, not ready to give up without a fight.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Post: Melissa Stewart on Layer Upon Layer: Building a Nonfiction Manuscript

Teachers & Writers! View the NMNC interactive timeline!
By Melissa Stewart
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the biggest challenges for children’s nonfiction writers is structure, figuring out the most engaging way to tell a true story or present information to young readers.

One structure that has become increasingly popular in science-themed picture books over the last decade is layered text, which offers information in two (or more) different ways.

In Move! and What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, Steve Jenkins employs a spare main text, stunning paper-collage illustrations, and masterful design to propel readers from one page to the next. The rich back matter includes blocks of additional information written at a higher level.

In A Rock Is Lively by Diana Hutts Aston, The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre, Wings by Sneed B. Collard, and A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart, each double-page spread features two layers—a short, simple main text set in large type and longer, more challenging secondary text set in smaller type. While the main text works on its own, the secondary text enriches the presentation.

Layered text is win-win-win—a winner all around.

Publishers like it because it broadens a book’s audience—the main text is perfect for beginning readers and the secondary text offers slightly older readers additional details.

Teachers like layered text because it’s perfect for Reading Buddy programs, which pair students at two different grade levels (usually a first grader and a third grader). The younger buddy can read the larger, simpler text and the older children can focus on the longer, smaller text. As a result, each child plays a role in “digesting” the spread, and reading becomes a shared endeavor. The buddies can then look at the art together and discuss what they’ve just learned before turning the page.

And writers like this structure because they can accomplish two things at once. In my six-book A Place for . . . series, the large, simple main text running across the tops of the pages provides general information and can stand on its own. The smaller, more sophisticated secondary text provides additional background and context that fleshes out the story.

In Meet the Howlers!, April Pulley Sayre’s main text is written in delightful verse that describes a howler family’s daily activities. The more straightforward secondary text provides a plethora of fascinating information about the monkeys.

In Just Ducks!, Dolphin Baby!, Bat Loves the Night, and One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, the main text has a strong narrative thread, while the secondary text is chock full of fascinating facts.

Taken together, the information presented via layered text in Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone and Sneed Collard’s Beaks!, Leaving Home, and Animals Asleep is clear, straightforward, and fascinating.

Books like An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston offer a lyrical main text. While the language is simple, the statements are sometimes surprising. For example, in An Egg is Quiet, the main text on one spread says, “An egg is clever.” Most children (and adults) have never thought of an egg in this way before. But after reading the secondary text scattered across the page, the meaning of the main text becomes clear.

As I was writing my new picture book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, layered text seemed like the obvious choice. But no matter how much I wrote and revised, wrote and revised, the manuscript wasn’t coming together. Some of the complex idea needed so much reinforcing that the secondary text felt too long, too clunky.

It took more than a year to come up with a solution, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my nieces and their Halloween costume conundrum. As the girls discussed (read ‘argued about’) the pros and cons of various costume options, I decided to break the tension with a funny story. They loved family stories, and this one starred their dad (my brother).

I told them how much we loved "The Muppet Show" as kids and provided a detailed description of my brother’s prize-winning Swedish Chef costume. I told them the oversized puffy white hat was hilarious, but the pièces de résistance was the rubber chicken that my brother frequently and vigorously smacked in the butt with one of my mom’s wooden spoons.

Maybe they should dress up as Kermit and Miss Piggy, I suggested. They looked at one another, then shook their heads in unison.

What about Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the Muppet balcony? As the girls laughed at my “ridiculous” idea, something clicked in my mind. That’s what my book needed—characters to comment on the text and add humor. It didn’t need two layers of text. It needed three.

But I knew two grumbling old guys wouldn’t work for my book. What would? Bookworms!

With that final piece of the book’s structure in place, it wasn’t long before No Monkeys, No Chocolate was born.

Great Books that Feature Layered Text

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Animals Asleep by Sneed B. Collard, illustrated by Anik McGrory (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies (Candlewick, 2004)

Beaks! by Sneed B. Collard, illustrated by Robin Brickman (Charlesbridge, 2002)

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins (Sandpiper, 1997)

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne (Charlesbridge, 2006)

A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2011)

Dolphin Baby! by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Brita Granström (Candlewick, 2012)

An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)

Here Come the Humpbacks! by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge, 2013)

Just Ducks! by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (Candlewick, 2012)

Leaving Home by Sneed B. Collard, illustrated by Joan Dunning (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

Meet the Howlers! by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Woody Miller (Charlesbridge, 2010)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge, 2013)

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Chapman (Candlewick, 2005)

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2012)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2009)

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2011)

A Place for Fish by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2011)

A Place for Frogs by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2010)

A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond (Peachtree, 2013)

A Rock Is Lively by Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2012)

A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2007)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Sandpiper, 2008)

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photos by Dan and Cassie Hartman (Walker, 2008)

Wings by Sneed B. Collard, illustrated by Robin Brickman (Charlesbridge, 2008)

Cynsational Notes

Interactive Creative Timeline for No Monkeys, No Chocolate from Melissa Stewart. See also Innovations in Book Marketing by Melissa from the Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "I decided to create an Online Interactive Timeline that tells the story behind the book. It’s a combination of clickable elements—videos, WIP manuscripts, an interview with my editor, sample sketches, and even 'final' art that didn’t make it into the book."

Reading Buddies

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