Friday, May 23, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluck, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis (Inhabit Media): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Kalluk's words and Neonakis's art work beautifully together as we learn Inuit values in which people and animals coexist as caretakers of the land." See also Throat Singing in the Arctic and Debbie's recommendation of Arigon Starr's Super Indian.

All Hail Dilemmas: Why Your Characters Need to Make Tough Choices by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...within the limits of their world view, whenever a character is pushed out of a state of equilibrium by forces of antagonism, they will always elect to take the smallest step that can return them to balance."

We Need Diversity in Aging, Also by Lindsey McDivett from A is for Aging. Peek: "The forgetful grandpa, the beloved grandma who dies, the grumpy old man in need of childish cheering, the sad and lonely old woman down the block—they tug at our heartstrings. More than likely that’s the reason so many of these characters live in books for kids. But they don’t truly represent the diversity of people over the age of 65."

Developing Thematic Ideas in Your Fiction by Jack Smith from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "...there are several thematic techniques that can work seamlessly with story. You don’t have to trowel on ideas like icing on the cake."

Interview with Sarah Ellis on Outside In (Groundwood) by Adi Rule from WCYA The Launch Pad at VCFA. Peek: "The sparks that ignited this book were two big questions about the way we live. Why are we so busy, and why are we so afraid? What if we weren’t?"

Rejection is a Pathway, Not a Dead End by Deborah Underwood from The Writing Barn. Peek: "When I read over some of my early picture book manuscripts, wow am I glad they’re not out there in the world with my name on them. Because they’re not very good. One has no plot. One has seven main characters."

When Your Publisher Merges by Sarah Pinneo from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "...take a deep breath. Don't call your editor in a panic. She's probably having a really stressful day."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "While luck or terror may inadvertently enable a person to escape a serious situation, training is definitely an asset for someone who wants to effectively defend him/herself."

Does My Mental Illness Mean Writing Is a Bad Idea? from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "...self-doubt nags every writer. I do get that it’s particularly imposing for you, though, as I’ve worked with writers suffering mental illnesses and they share their ups and downs with me. Notice I said 'ups.'"

Lee & Low New Voices Writing Contest: "now open for submissions!" Peek: "Now in its fourteenth year, the New Voices Award was one of the first (and remains one of the only) writing contests specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented."

How to Panel Like a Lit Champ by Cecil Castellucci from The Crush Library. Peek: "Authors, do your moderator a favor and have a short bio readily available on your website. One that actually talks about the highlights of your career (and not about your dog or how much you like pie.)"

NSS Trade Book
2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Books from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "...evaluated and selected by a Book Review Committee appointed by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and assembled in cooperation with the Children's Book Council (CBC). They were written for children in grades K-12, published in 2013, and meet the following criteria..." See also Mitali on Three Novels to Help Us Remember Our Nigerian Girls.

Author John Green Has a Good Read on Teens, Tech by Gwenda Bond from the L.A. Times. Peek: "Having so many young people in the Nerdfighter community since the beginning has been really important, because they've pushed Hank and me to think harder about what are the most efficient ways to decrease what they call 'world suck.'" See also Extra, Extra: Some John Green Interview Outtakes from Gwenda Bond.

Do Men Receive Bigger Book Advances Than Women? We Crunched the Numbers. by Jan Friedman from Scratch. Peek: "Be a woman writing YA fiction to sell your next book for a large advance."

Activities for Children's Book Week in Australia (Aug. 16 to Aug. 22) by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook. The theme this year is "Connecting to Reading."

Checklist: Eight Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection from Lee & Low. Peek: "...building a diverse book collection requires contemplation, research, and awareness. But the rewards are great: a truly diverse collection of books can turn children into lifelong readers and promote empathy, understanding, and self-confidence."

Author Lisa Yee on Literary Agent Jodi Reamer

Via "Talkin' to..." with Alan Sitomer:

Cynsational Giveaways

See also a giveaway of a signed copy of an ARC of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Harper) from Adventures in YA Writing. 

The winner of A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth Dulemba (Little Pickle) was Heidi in Utah.

The winners of Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) were Janet in Arizona, Jill in Florida, Marjorie in Texas, Victoria in Ohio and the winners of Feral Curse by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) were Deena in New York, Kelly in Ontario, Vonna in Texas, and Mark in Utah. The Feral Nights bookmarks package winner was Marla in New York.


Reminder! For every copy of The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic, 2014) purchased before or during the first week of sales (next week!), author Varian Johnson will donate $1.50 to Girlstart, a nonprofit focused on increasing girl engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Note: please signal boost!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Exciting news! The rights to two of my picture books, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott, and Santa Knows, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (both originally Dutton) have been acquired by Into Print Publishing and will be available again later this year! Watch Cynsations for details!

What else? I had a great time this week reading a revision of "Chronal Engine: Borrowed Time" by Greg Leitich Smith, which will be published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015! If you haven't already, be sure to check out the already-published companion book Chronal Engine.

I can't share them yet, but my genius Candlewick editor did send me a sneak peek of the cover and front matter for Feral Pride (2015)(Book 3 in the Feral trilogy). I'm hopeful that readers, especially Austinites, will be wowed.

The highlights of my week included meeting YA author Pam Bachorz, newly relocated to nearby Westlake, for lunch at Z'Tejas, and author-illustrator Yangsook Choi, relatively newly relocated to Austin, for tea at Sweetish Hill.

I haven't had the honor yet of meeting newcomer and soon-to-debut YA author Chandler Baker, but she's here, too! I look forward to seeing her soon!

Beyond that, I continued working on my second speech for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, Utah.

And I saw "Godzilla"--ROAR! Which, in turn, made me ponder this: Godzilla's Godzilla Problem: It's Not the Screen Time; It's the Focus.

My link of the week, though, is Why Write for Children? from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...artists of every stripe are dependent on something as easily defined as energy to fuel their work, and for me—as, probably for all of us who choose to write for a young audience—that source of energy lies in my own formative years." A close second? How Awesomely Awesome We Are by John Vorhaus from Writer Unboxed. Go ahead, read it! Need another shot of happy? Try this!

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Cynthia Levinson on the sale of a middle-grade biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton to Kristin Daly Rens at Balzer + Bray (winter 2016)!

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Mari Mancusi on the release of The Camelot Code in paperback!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See more information.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Catch up the with Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Guest Post: Nora Raleigh Baskin on Magical Realism, Setting & Subway Love

By Nora Raleigh Baskin
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Subway Love (Candlewick, 2014) is my tenth novel for young readers, my third YA, but it is my very first true magical realism.

It is also my first New York City setting. I was born in New York City, in Brooklyn, and although we moved when I was seven, I still would travel back and forth to visit my grandparents in Manhattan for many years.

The sights, sounds and smells of New York were very real to me and were easy for me to access as the setting of this book.

My familial experiences with the grown-ups in my life behaving poorly, sometimes dangerously, is also very real. In that way, not only was the physical setting easy to replicate, but the time travel piece was also very easy to create.

In a way, time travel is really no different than jumping from memory to story, from fact to fiction, from historic to contemporary. It is the allegorical bridge between reality and imagination, and by using actual autobiographical material it is something I’ve done in all my novels, whether the reader was aware of it or not.

The magic of time travel, for me, was simply the “magic” of creation, of writing, of story telling, of expression, of self-exploration, of literature itself. Time travel in this book is a literary device (magical realism) rather than a genre device (fantasy).

In Subway Love, Laura and Jonas can only see each other while on the train and on the train is where they fall in love. In this book, more than any of my others, setting itself propels the story forward, both literally and figuratively.

The New York subways of the early 70s (that I remember) were filled with graffiti, top to bottom, inside and out. It was the pinnacle of underground visual hip hop artistry. Famous “writers’ were making a name for themselves tagging trains all over the city and much of it was captured by well known photographers like Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.

But the New York of 2013, in which Jonas lives (and, of course, I also know), graffiti has been nearly eradicated due to changes in the laws as well as innovations in the material used to construct the subway cars. So this strange and wildly colorful train is the first thing Jonas notices. Then he sees Laura. And his life is never the same. Jonas quickly figures out that following the graffiti-covered subway train is the only the way he can find Laura.

But as I was writing, not only was the New York City underground subway system important as a setting (I went on a wonderful information-gathering trip with my friend, Susan, to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn), but the art itself came to life, literally, in the form of the character Max Lowenbein a.k.a. Spike. Spike is an amalgam of many of the well-known “writers” from that era, their lives, their experiences, the creative techniques they developed for their use of spray paint.

Like Max ”Spike” Lowenbein , I am a writer; the writer of this story. When it goes out into the world, speeding by on a subway car or the pages of a book, I can only hope (as does Max) that my words, my feelings, my memories and expression, will be read, seen, heard--and maybe, just maybe felt--by a stranger, by someone I don’t know, by chance. And in that act of reading, that creation, mine creation, will be brought to life again, for a fleeting moment.

Each time.

A reincarnation of sorts, just like the love between Jonas and Laura that can’t exist but also can’t not continue to exist--because it is Beshert--destined, soul mates fated to be together, if not in this time, then in another.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guest Post: Salima Alikhan on Private Writing Study with an Author-Teacher-Mentor

Salima at Bethany Hegedus's Writing Barn
By Salima Alikhan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We’re a lucky community here in Austin to have fantastic, established local authors offering private mentorships.

When it first dawned on me that my unwieldy story was beyond the help of the wonderful critique group I’d had for years, I talked to others who had mentored with local author Bethany Hegedus. I heard glowing reviews.

One of these authors had been in my critique group, had worked with Bethany on her own unwieldy story, and had managed to unlock the puzzle of how to make it work at last.

My experience as a mentee, therefore, is limited to working with just one person, but it was exactly what I needed. I’d written fiction all my life---since I could hold a pen---but had never taken a creative writing class, nor had I done any writing workshops by the time I decided to work with Bethany.

I was relieved to find that Bethany shares my philosophy that artistic nurture and support are far more productive than harsh or shaming criticism. Yet that’s not to say I didn’t work incredibly hard in my mentoring program, and inevitably go through growing pains as a writer. Lots of reading homework, assignments on craft and structure, re-shaping the way I thought about story.

I had to wrestle myself out of old writing habits, which can be painful to break.

In terms of what it felt like to be a mentee, it was basically as though someone had reached into my mind as an invisible facilitator and asked me deep and resonant questions about what I wanted to say.

Bethany & Salima at a themed launch party for Dear Teen Me
Bethany is very concerned with characters’ emotions, desire lines, and motivations, but first and foremost, with whether those align with what you as an author want to say. That is her priority.

I also don’t know if this is due to the hallowed privacy of the mentoring process itself, or Bethany’s method in particular, but she is naturally patient and nonjudgmental in her teaching, and you’re therefore never really afraid of disappointing her---which sounds like a small thing, but I think for us tender creative minds, it’s immensely liberating.

For someone to respond with nuance, empathy and knowledge to you as a hopeful, emotional, hardworking writer feels like a miracle, especially if you’ve been wondering for a while how to make your story work.

To me, the most important thing the mentoring process offers is not only a deeply expanded knowledge of craft, but a sustained self-belief that I can carry into whatever I create next.

Watching people from all backgrounds soak up this faith and fly is a great thing to see.

It’s an essential ingredient for writers in this precarious industry, and I’m so very lucky I received it in my mentorship.

Quick Tips

Salima's buddy Auri
  1. Word of mouth trumps all. Speak to the mentor's clients. If I had looked at Bethany's published books alone, I might not have known she was right for me since she writes contemporary and historical fiction, whereas I write fantasy. It was from speaking to clients of hers that I learned that she is great at serving a story regardless of genre.
  2. Ask the instructor about their teaching philosophy and approach to story criticism. Since a mentorship is a big commitment/investment, don't be shy about first asking for a phone chat or personal meeting to gauge whether you think you can work with the instructor.

Cynsational Notes

Salima Alikhan has illustrated three picture books: Pieces of Another World (Arbordale Publishing, 2006), Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas (Pelican, 2008), and Lawyer's Week Before Christmas (Pelican, 2009), as well as The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2010), which she wrote and illustrated.

She is a member of SCBWI, and lives in Austin, Texas, where she is currently working on her first fantasy novel. An American Eskimo dog named Auri and a cat named Esme frequently help her in her literary journeys.

Bethany Hegedus is the author of Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010) and Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009). Her debut picture book is Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum, 2014).

Bethany has served as the Hunger Mountain Young Adult & Children’s Editor since 2009. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, she is the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. Learn more about private instruction with Bethany Hegedus.

Salima's assistant Esme (in a mood)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Guest Interview & Giveaway: Cookies for Breakfast? Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell on Children's Poetry

By Mysterious Anonymous Interviewer
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

An anonymous interviewer sat down this week with Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell to ask some “unusual” questions...

Is Poetry Month a good idea? I mean, by the end of April, aren’t a lot of people sick of poetry?

JW: For many people, having something—anything—every day for a month is too much. You might love cookies, but by the 20th day you’ve had enough.

SV: Having a poetry post like this one-- in May-- is a terrific way to increase support for poetry.

JW: It’s like having cookies for breakfast.

Cookies for breakfast? I know some kids who could get behind that. Seriously, poetry is sweet and all, but do we really need (so much of) it?

JW: Well, do we need cookies? They make us happy. Your mom gives you one, and you know you are loved. They make us feel like a child again. You can can devour it in 15 seconds or stick one in your pocket for later.

SV: And there’s such a wide variety-- something for everyone. The key to keeping poetry fresh and appealing is to change things up. For example, you can use props when you share poems aloud, bring students in for an echo read, use poems to start a social studies lesson or to reinforce a science concept, or show poem movies. (Look for the poem movies posted on my blog each day last month.)

JW: Yes! We need to serve up a variety of poems, and serve them in different ways.

Image source: by:, public domain, via usa.go
Monday’s cookie (chocolate chip) with milk = poem movie

Tuesday’s cookie (shortbread) with hot chocolate = poems for your pocket

Wednesday (snickerdoodle) with ice cream = poem with a science lesson

Thursday (gluten free mini-macarons) with tea = writing a progressive poem

Friday (sugar with icing) = a whole “Take 5!” from The Poetry Friday Anthology!

What’s a “Take 5!”?

JW: It’s like a takeout dinner: good and easy and ready-to-serve and exactly what you need when you are a tired teacher who needs to deal with ELA standards. Sylvia is the genius behind the “Take 5!” mini-lessons in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, so I’ll let her explain.

SV: A “Take 5!” mini-lesson is provided for each poem in the Teacher’s Editions of our anthologies, to provide a simple and consistent way to share poems with students, emphasizing enjoyment of the poem but also covering the CCSS or state standards (such as TEKS). These are the five components of the “Take 5!”:

  1. The first step in sharing a poem is to read it aloud to the students. Experiment with different ways of making the poem come alive by pairing the poem with a prop, adding gestures or movement, trying out specific choral and dramatic reading techniques, and so on.
  2. The second step suggests how to engage students in reading the poem aloud together. There are many ways to involve students in large groups, small groups, partner pairs, and as single volunteers. One example is echo reading, asking them to repeat certain words or lines after the teacher reads the lines.
  3. The third step in sharing a poem is to provide a moment for students to respond to the poem. Try an open-ended question with no single, correct answer and encourage diversity in responses. Ask a question suggested BY the poem, rather than a question about the poem.
  4. The next natural step is to focus on a specific science skill or concept that may be present in the poem-- just one. This includes the key state standards or CCSS/NGSS disciplinary core ideas. Any given poem may demonstrate many of these ideas, but it is best to focus on one key element that is particularly significant for one mini-lesson per poem.
  5. Finally, in this last step we share other related poems and books that connect well with the featured poem. Look for another poem by the same poet, another poem about the same subject, or a related book of nonfiction.

These steps can be applied to any poem in any book for a quick and meaningful way to introduce and integrate poetry and science, building literacy in incidental, but intentional ways.

Wow--thank you, Dr. Vardell!

JW: I think it’s easier just to say that a “Take 5!” is like takeout fried poems (which you can eat while reading this).

I see that you do like food metaphors. Final question: What advice do you have for parents, teachers, and librarians who want to keep kids reading this summer?

SV: Science is the summer reading theme at many public libraries across the nation this summer-- and poetry is a perfect complement. Poems can enrich science learning, be part of science instruction, offer content-rich poetry lessons in reading and language arts, or simply provide fun poetry sharing.

A parent, teacher, or librarian can use the index found in poetry books such as The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (or any of the science books listed in the science-themed bibliography of The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists) to identify relevant science topics in poems such as ecosystems, magnets, or recycling.

In sharing science-focused poetry, we can encourage children to think like a poet and a scientist, carefully observing the world around them using all their senses, maintaining an avid curiosity about how things work, and gathering “big words” and key vocabulary in their reading and their writing.

As Albert Einstein reminds us,

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

JW: Yes. Absolutely. (What she said!)

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Sylvia Vardell is a professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas. Janet Wong is a poet/author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Together, they are Pomelo Books, the publisher of The Poetry Friday Anthology series.

Enter to win one of three copies of the teacher's edition of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading and Language Arts (each will include a complimentary copy of a student edition). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 19, 2014

Videos: Help! We Need a Title! by Hervé Tullet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out these videos in celebration of Help! We Need a Title! by Hervé Tullet (Candlewick, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Take a peek inside this book and you’ll find some characters (though they’re still a bit sketchy). They’ll be perplexed to see you, so they’ll quickly try to track down their author (who has a lot more work to do).

What you won’t find is a story, or a title, because -- guess what? The book isn’t finished yet! But surely the author must have a story to tell?

In this charming "meta" picture book, children of all ages are encouraged to interact with a book still in the process of being invented. And that’s a story in itself!

What if you picked out a book to read, but the characters weren’t ready for you yet?

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