Monday, April 24, 2017

Author Interview: Jenn Bishop on Stormy Middle Grade Emotions

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Jenn Bishop to talk about her upcoming middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road (Alfred A. Knopf, June 13, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie; she’ll wear her beautiful new dress, she’ll hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. 

Most importantly, she’ll finally leave her tiny elementary school behind for junior high. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead–and then the power goes out. 

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? 

While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. 

Now that she has no choice, is she ready for it?

What inspired you to write this book? Have you experienced a tornado?

Much like Maddie, the main character in 14 Hollow Road, as a kid growing up in Massachusetts, about the last weather disaster I expected to experience in my home town was a tornado.

Blizzards: been there, done that. Hurricanes: yup. But a tornado?

Well, in June of 2011, a series of strong thunderstorms rolling across western and central Massachusetts spawned an EF-3 tornado.

Tornado damage near Jenn's home the following winter
I was living in Boston at the time, but my parents still lived in my childhood home, and I remember getting a call from my mother. Apparently while my dad was in his office in Springfield, he saw the funnel cloud forming over the river. There were a lot of frantic phone calls that afternoon between the three of us, as it was clear that a tornado was on the ground, taking essentially the same path my dad was taking home from work.

While most homes in Massachusetts do have basements, we do not have tornado sirens, so you really have to stay on top of severe weather yourself. My dad made the smart choice to pull off the road and stop in at my grandmother's apartment.

Meanwhile, as my mom huddled in the basement with her cat, the tornado, still a mile-wide at the time, crested the top of the hill where I lived and crossed my street about a half-mile from my parent's house.

When I return home for a visit, I'm still startled every time to see how bare the top of the hill is now.

While the events of that day certainly served as inspiration for the book, I think I was equally inspired by my own memories of junior high.

It's such a fraught age, filled with so much change and uncertainty: shifting friendships, crushes, cliques--all while your body is managing mood swings and hormones and growth spurts. I joked that 14 Hollow Road was basically a tornado of tweenage emotion.

What appeals to you about writing middle grade?

Everything?! The funny thing is that I came into writing middle grade almost accidentally.

I started out writing YA, having been a teen librarian, and only decided to try out middle grade on a whim while a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and fell in love with it.

I love the brevity of middle grade -- the economy of prose and storytelling and audience expectations that put middle grade in that 40,000 to 60,000 word sweet spot, instead of 80,000 plus, like most YA these days.

I love the audience -- school and Skype visits with 4th-6th graders are so much fun. There's such an energy to that age.

It's still okay to be yourself and unabashedly love things-- the self-consciousness of the teen years is only just starting to arrive. Most of all, when I think of middle grade, I think of the stories that made me a reader. The books that I read at that age held such a power over me. And the truth is, they still do.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

The surprise of it, I think.

There are good surprises--and occasionally bad surprises--but I think the one constant in the life of an author is that you can't really predict much.

While that can be terrifying for some, I've been trying to appreciate the positive aspects of it. Your next creative idea could come from the place you least expected it.

What are you working on next?

Weirdly enough, I've been trying my hand at writing picture books!

I don't know where this will lead, but I've spent the last month intensely reading and studying them and it's been such a breath of fresh air.

If you want to see the world from a new angle, try reading 100 picture books aloud in a month. I guarantee it will change you.

Cynsational Notes

A Booklist review of 14 Hollow Road said, "Bishop nails the tween voice: Maddie is a realistic heroine who deals with typical middle-grade problems amidst disaster, and she navigates upheavals with occasional grace and more frequent missteps. Tornado or not, growing up is a tempestuous business."

Jenn Bishop grew up in a small town in rural Central Massachusetts.

A lifelong reader, she was formerly a youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 

Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives in Cincinnati, where she roots long-distance for the Red Sox. Her debut novel, The Distance To Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) was described as a "piercing first novel" by Publishers Weekly.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

The Changing Face of Family by Natasha Friend from CBC Diversity. Peek: "The traditional definition of family as a married mother and father and their children living under the same roof is woefully outdated, not to mention exclusionary."

A New Voice in Kid's Books by Melanie Kletter from Time For Kids Magazine. Peek: (Hena Khan) "....I had heard of resistance to mosques being built in communities, and some vandalism at mosques. It was an important theme that I wanted to address. But I didn’t want the book to be only about that. I wanted a character that readers could relate to and get to know and love."

While We're On the Subject of Shame by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "We want to feel good now. We want to avoid what's making us feel bad (being ashamed of not working harder and longer, for instance), and we want to avoid it right away. Which usually means doing something easier and more fun than staying on task with our work."

Deprogramming Caution by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "....certain types of occupational training, especially training connected to professions like law and medicine, invite caution and steadiness, making it harder to enter the entrepreneurial mindset or take creative leaps."

Wrap It Up by Dave King from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "If it feels at all contrived, your readers will lose their suspension of disbelief.  This is most critical with your ending."

Trees, Forests, and Human Myopia by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: "Trees support one another. Some are bullies and others are loners. They have friends; they feel loneliness and pain. They communicate through networks of roots. It’s a compelling argument to rethink how we have been looking at nature for over a century...."

Dedicated Middle School Collections in the Public Library: A New Trend? by Christina Keasler from School Library Journal. Peek: "Many librarians now see the importance of providing safe places that are a haven for students in those formative years after elementary school but before high school."

Women Write About Family, Men Write About War by Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So from New Republic. Peek: "In the world of writing, gender bias has come to be seen as particularly entrenched, and in 2009, VIDA...began what they called 'the count.' The results...Men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review."

Two Booksellers Set Date for Inaugural Texas Bookstore Day by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Texas is increasingly becoming more relevant to the national bookselling scene, and several independent bookstores are slated to open in the state this summer....Interabang Books in Dallas.... and a second branch of Deep Vellum Books in Grapevine."

On SCBWI, Advice for Authors and Illustrators by Guiseppe Castellano from #ARTTIPS. Peek: "If you think SCBWI is just a bunch of grandparents painting bunnies, you are sorely mistaken. Attendees at SCBWI conferences are comprised of authors and illustrators of every talent level at almost every point of a career."

How to Support An Author or Illustrator's Book If You Can't Afford to Buy It by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: "Post a photo of the book in the wild....Make your post more personal by taking a selfie of you holding the author's book, or another reader with the book -- photos with people in them always get more Like-love."

Congratulations to the Finalists for the SEE-It Graphic Novel Award from EBSCO and the Graphic Novel Committee of the Children's Book Council!

This Week at Cynsations
More personally - Cynthia

Cynthia is currently on deadline, polishing her contemporary realistic YA manuscript for Candlewick. It is tentatively scheduled for release in fall 2018.

Cynsational Events

Cynthia is a faculty member for the Highlights Foundation Workshop: The Joke's On You! The Scoop on Humor for MG and YA writers, Oct. 12 - 15. She will teach with author Uma Krishnaswami, writer-poetic-comedian Sean Petrie and Curtis Brown Ltd. agents Ginger Knowlton and Elizabeth Harding. Note: this program is: (a) a rare opportunity to gain insights from top writing teachers and Curtis Brown vice presidents: (b) both for comedy writers and those writing more serious works that include some comic relief.

More Personally - Gayleen

I made a quick trip to the Texas Library Association conference yesterday.

It was far too short, but I had the chance to say hello to a few friends I hadn't seen in a while, including my agent mates, Tim Tingle and Jessica Lee Anderson. We're all represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Agency.

Tim's How I Became a Ghost (RoadRunner Press, 2013) remains one of my favorite MG novels and I'm eagerly awaiting When a Ghost Talks, Listen (RoadRunner Press, Sept. 2017).

I know I'm going to be up late reading the advance copy of Jessica's Uncertain Summer (CBAY Books, Sept. 2017) - it's about searching for Bigfoot....Tim's story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories (Crown, 2017) was "Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains." I'm beginning to feel a little Sasquatch peer pressure here.

Personal Links




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Video: Celebrating Día with Pat Mora

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations



El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), commonly known as Día, is a celebration every day of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.

Visit author Pat Mora's website for a Children's Day, Book Day Planning Booklet.

To find a Día celebration near you (or to list your own) visit Together with Día!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Story Begins

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, July 4, 2017) is now available for pre-order. From the promotional copy:

From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.

For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.

For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.

For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?


Featuring: "Dreams to Write" by Cynthia Leitich Smith



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Author Interview: Marianna Baer on the Twisty Turns of Becoming a YA Author

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We welcome Marianna Baer to talk about her new YA novel, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn (Amulet, April 2017). From the promotional copy:

Quinn Cutler is sixteen and the daughter of a high-profile Brooklyn politician. 

She’s also pregnant, a crisis made infinitely more shocking by the fact that she has no memory of ever having sex. Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father’s campaign for Congress. 

Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers’ home, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah. Quinn’s desperate search for answers uncovers lies and family secrets—strange, possibly supernatural ones. 

Might she, in fact, be a virgin?

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I never grew out of my childhood love of picture books and novels for kids/teens, but it wasn’t until my 30s that I discovered my passion for writing them—through a somewhat circuitous route!

In college and after, I was all about visual art—I both made art myself and was the director of a gallery in New York City. On a bit of a whim, I took a class in editorial cartooning at the School of Visual Arts

At the end of the semester, the teacher asked if I’d considered illustrating children’s books – he thought my style would lend itself well to them. Despite my love of children’s lit, this possibility hadn’t occurred to me before. Taking his advice, I moved onto classes in illustrating kids’ books, taught by the wonderful Monica Wellington (a mentor to many in the field).
One of Marianna's illustrations

Monica had us write stories so we could practice illustrating complete narratives. 

After the class ended, I continued writing and illustrating book dummies. I still didn’t consider myself a Writer—I just wanted to have dummies to show publishers my illustration abilities. 

To strengthen my stories, I took an online class in writing for children of all ages. At the end of the semester, the teacher told me she thought my YA voice was particularly strong and that I should give a novel a try. 

Uh…what??? I had never considered myself capable of writing a novel. But, hey, what did I have to lose? I came up with an idea and started writing a draft.

And I never looked back. As much as I loved picture books and considered myself a visual artist, writing YA felt like coming home. (Not to mention that novels are easier than picture books. After 15 or so years of trying, I still haven’t written a great picture book!)

So, long story to say that while I always loved literature for kids, my path to writing for young readers was shaped by following my interests, listening to teachers, trying new things, and staying open to where I was led.

What inspired you to write this book?
 

I saw the Virgin Mary.

Well, sort of. There was this girl I used to see running in the park near my house, and something about her intrigued me. She looked like a “good girl” who was dealing with some difficult things behind the façade of perfection. 

Around that same time, I saw a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met. And it was the girl from the park! Caravaggio’s Virgin Mary from 1610 looked exactly like her. 

I thought to myself, “Aha! So that’s what the ‘good girl’ is dealing with!” A contemporary virgin pregnancy in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

I knew it was a book I wanted to write.

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

Ha! This question made me laugh, as an easier one to answer would be “What wasn't a challenge in bringing the text to life?”

Everything was a challenge! Finding the right point of view, figuring out what the character would do in this very strange situation, crafting the mystery, handling the religious aspects thoughtfully…

So, yes, I’m actually going to answer the alternate question, “What wasn't a challenge?” 

What wasn’t a challenge in bringing this book to life was maintaining my interest in the story. 

It was nine years from conception to publication, and while I wasn’t working on it that whole time, there were many years of labor and many challenges involved. And I can’t think of a moment when I lost my sense of engagement with the story. 

Sure, there were times when I wanted to give up because I felt like I couldn’t do it. But I never lost the desire to get the story out of my head and onto the page. 

I can’t say I love every single word in the book – I’m the type of writer who will lie in her grave wishing she could edit the words on her headstone – but I do love the story.

I understand you already knew your editor before she acquired The Inconceivable Life of Quinn? What was it like working with a friend?

It was great!
Marianna with editor Maggie Lehrman

I knew Maggie from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both got our MFA in writing for children and young adults. 

Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t nervous that having a previous friendship with my editor might cause sticky situations. But, in any case, the nerves would have been misplaced. 

Knowing Maggie made me comfortable communicating with her, helped me trust her advice (because I already knew how smart she was), and generally made me feel that my book was in very, very good hands.

And can I just give a shout out to the entire team at Amulet/Abrams? 

During the whole publication process, I felt like they cared so much about the book. For example, not only is the cover the most gorgeous cover ever (thanks largely to the illustration by Christopher Silas Neal), but the book is beautiful without the jacket, too! 



And instead of using black ink in the interior, they used deep blue! I will never stop being amazed by how beautiful the whole thing is as an object. 

 

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

This is all very common advice, but it can’t be said enough:

1. Read! Read widely and voraciously in your genre—classics and contemporary, best sellers and award winners, books recommended by librarians and booksellers.... 

When you fall in love with a book, tear it apart. Figure out why you love it. Analyze every aspect. If it’s a picture book, type out the text to see what that reveals. If it’s a novel, type out a scene to feel the rhythm of the prose. 

I think reading widely and critically is the single most important thing a beginning writer can do.

2. Get feedback on your stories. Not from your kids and family members. Or, at least, not only from them. Find other writers in your area or online and join a critique group. Take a class if you can.

3. Know that the process of writing and revising a book, and the process of getting published, can take a verrrrrrry long time. Don’t be in a hurry. It’s like any skill—you need to put in the hours to get where you want to be. 

In some ways, no matter what happens in your career, your pre-publication days of experimentation and learning will be glory days—enjoy them!

Cynsational Notes

Marianna Baer received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a BA in art from Oberlin College.

She also attended boarding school, where she lived in a tiny dorm called Frost House, the inspiration for her first novel, Frost (Balzer & Bray, 2011). She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, the setting for The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.

Publishers Weekly gave The Inconceivable Life of Quinn a starred review. Peek: "In a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel, Baer tackles the illusiveness of memory (especially in regard to trauma), media firestorms, fear of the unknown, and the complexities of faith, without ever turning didactic or allowing Quinn’s story to fall into melodrama."


 


Monday, April 17, 2017

In Memory: Patricia C. McKissack

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Patricia C. McKissack, honored children's author from Chesterfield, dies at 72 by Jane Henderson
from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Peek: "...'I think my mother died of a broken heart.' Fredrick McKissack Jr. said his mother and father were 'best friends and partners.'”

Before becoming an author, Patricia earned a master's degree from Webster's University and taught English at a junior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri.

In a 1998 story by Renee Stovsky from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Patricia said frustration over lack of information on poet Paul Laurence Dunbar to share with her students fueled her drive to write children's books. Peek: "I realized then that if someone didn't start preserving these stories, an extremely important part of our heritage could be lost forever."

Not surprisingly, Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Poet to Remember (Children's Press, 1984) was one of her first published books. Dozens more quickly followed.

Before long, Fredrick left his civil engineering job to work on books with Patricia. Together, the McKissacks published more than 120 children's books on a wide range of topics from African history and customs to supernatural stories.

In For the McKissacks, Black is Boundless, Barbara Bader wrote for the Horn Book about the couple's prolific list. Peek: "The McKissacks do think big. 'We’re Kennedy products,' Pat McKissack has said — idealists and optimists."

In 2014, Frederick and Patricia McKissack received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association.

Patricia's The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, 1992) won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1993 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. The same year, Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman (Scholastic, 1992) co-authored by Frederick and Patricia also received the Coretta Scott King Honor Award.

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman also received the Boston Globe-Horn Book award for nonfiction. The McKissacks delivered the acceptance speech together. From Patricia: "Like most children of my generation, I was not introduced to African-American heroes through textbooks. History in the 1950s didn’t contain much information about African-American contributions....but we got our history in other ways." She explained how her Sunday school teachers combined spirituals and Bible truths. "We decided to use that format and begin each section of our book with a spiritual..."

Her Horn Book essay with Fredrick, You Can Be President, explores the magical things that can happen at family dinner.

In A Literary Love Story's Final Chapter, Kenya Vaughn from the St. Louis American wrote,"the couple decided that little black boys and girls deserved positive images of themselves and a broad scope of their people’s rich history as they turned the pages of books. The McKissacks knew that these words would be critical in shaping what they think, feel and know about who they are..."

In Rocco Stanio's article from School Library Journal, Jacqueline Woodson said of Patrica, "She was lovely and groundbreaking and doing the work that set so many of us in motion."

Patricia McKissack, Prolific Author Who Championed Black Heroes, Dies at 72 by Sam Roberts from the New York Times. Peek: "Ms. McKissack, who grew up in the segregated South and was the only black student in her sixth-grade class, wove the back-porch fables she remembered from childhood together with her own personal anecdotes (including a false accusation of thievery and a dinner at a whites-only restaurant) in fictional narratives."

Remembering the Life and Writing of Famed St. Louis Children's Author Patricia McKissack aired on St. Louis Public Radio. St. Louis librarian Jennifer Ilardi talked about Patricia's impact on her life. "...I’m biracial and finding other books that represented my father’s side of the family was tricky. Books are windows, mirrors, and doors....I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have access to these type of books and her books when I was a child."

In reviewing Patricia's most recent book, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, January 2017), Roger Sutton from the Horn Book called her "children's book royalty and storyteller supreme" and described the book as "a rich compilation."

The Horn Book called Patricia's death "a huge loss to the children's literature community."

Edith Campbell had a moving tribute to Patricia on Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "I’ve learned that we are all libraries, each carrying in us the stories that make us unique. And yet, there are those who are more than that; they’re the people who create the stories that express our shared identities, that inspire us to be more than we’ve planned for ourselves and who question."



Friday, April 14, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

The Power of Representation by Ellen Oh from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "In books, you can be anything you want. A rock star, an astronaut, a warrior queen.... Books allowed me to escape from the hardships of real life....But I didn’t know that it also helped me develop a complex. You see, all I ever read were books about white kids."

The Convenient Indian: How Activists Get Native Americans Wrong by Melanie Benson Taylor from the Los Angeles Review of Books. Peek: "Indians have been in all the headlines about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline....The narrative here is so timeworn as to be banal: every epoch of American history has featured the callous removal of indigenous obstacles to the expansion of corporate capitalism."

Angie Thomas Says The Hate U Give, Proves There's a Market for Books With Black Characters by Victoria Sanusi from BuzzFeed. Peek: "'Publishing does have a diversity issue...It's easier for a young black boy in America to pick up a gun than to find a book where the main character is a young black boy and that's a problem.”

Dhonielle Clayton on How The Belles Allowed Her to Explore Teen Issues by Nivea Serrao from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: "I write about things that bother me and this is something that Teenage Me was very bothered by: my body, it’s limitations, and why it didn’t look like magazines. I wanted to talk about a world where if you could change yourself down to your bones, what would it be like and what could you do?"

Children's Institute Talks Diversity and Numbers by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “'We believe our work with We Need Diverse Books, the Children’s Book Council, and the Children’s Institute sponsors, whose event scholarships help broaden participation, is working toward the important goal of greater diversity.'”

Cover Reveal: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "...apparently during World War I it was believed that if you painted a ship in a dazzle pattern it could make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the correct range, speed, and heading. In other words, the perfect subject for a work of nonfiction by Chris Barton."

Terry Pierce and Mama Loves You So! by Adi Rule from The VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: "My son Greg, and a song, were the inspiration. I got the idea when he was a baby (he's now 32!).....after hearing the song 'Longer,' by singer Dan Fogelberg, I thought that someone should write a children's book using nature as a metaphor to show a mother’s love for her baby."

Third Person Narration: Using the Zoom Lens by Sarah Callender from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "Likewise, in fiction with third person narration, we have control over the distance between the narrator and the reader. Sometimes we want to snuggle the reader inside the head of a character. Other times, like when I am trying to work in a coffee shop, a more distant narration is preferred."

The Importance of a Strong Opening Scene by Hallie Ephron from Jane Friedman's Blog. Peek: "Your opening scene can be long or short. It can be action packed, or moody and rich in description, or skeletal and spare....Regardless of what’s in that scene, the reader should have some idea of what the novel is going to be about after reading it, or at least have a good sense of the theme. Most of all, when they finish, readers should be eager to keep reading."

The Most Common Entry-Level Mistake in the Writing Game by Larry Brooks from Jane Friedman's Blog. Peek: "By far the most common entry-level mistake in the writing game, the thing that can get a perfectly good story rejected by an editor on the first page, is overwriting: a writing voice that is laden with energy and adjectives, that tries too hard, that is self-conscious in a way that detracts from the story...."

Q&A With Rebecca Van Slyke by Deborah Kalb from Book Q&As. Peek: "I love playing with words, and I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl. Putting the two together just seemed natural! I was on a road trip over the mountains when the phrase “word wrangler” popped into my head....Her name, Lexi, came easily: it’s Greek for word!"

Is Your Character's Face the Window to Her Soul? by David Corbett from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "To know the face is to know the person. Our faces are the roadmaps of our lives—they reveal our lingering innocence and hard-won experience, our openness and suspicion, our capacity for laughter, our bitterness, our anxiety, our lightness of heart."

Planning the Perfect Love Triangle by Roz Morris from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Consider why the lovers are attracted. For the cheating character, it’s usually something missing or unsatisfied. What does the lover add? It might be a dash of excitement or danger in a life that’s become too routine, but it might be the other way round."

The Do's and Don'ts of Query Letter Writing by Mark Gottlieb from Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog. Peek: "A query letter that reads well is usually a good indication to the literary agent that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the literary agent to request a manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy, were the publisher to acquire the manuscript via the literary agent."

Learning to Outsource and Then Let Go by Sharon Bially from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "...I’m convinced it’s incredibly important for writers to learn to let go. True, as writers we value our solitude and the control we have over our work. But for our work to have broader appeal, to speak broadly to readers and to transcend our immediate networks, we will have no choice but to outsource at least certain core tasks at some point.  After all, it takes a village to create a great book and bring it out into the world."

Illustrator Catia Chien On Failing by Mel Schuit from All The Wonders. Peek: "In early 2012 my life fell apart. I guess you can say it was a long time coming. I was raised in an emotionally and physically abusive family....I was working, illustrating two children’s books simultaneously. And I was trying to carve out some kind of life for myself. I was spread thin."

How Are Children's Publishers Talking About President Trump by Paula Willey from School Library Journal. Peek: "Only with a vast amount of context, much of which requires sophisticated analysis, can these elements be faithfully explained. Further, Trump’s public record is typified by negative, disputed, and sometimes vulgar statements. How do you fit that into 32, 60, or 100 pages using a low unique word count?"

Teaching a Novel by Teri Lesesne from Professor Nana's Blog. Peek:"...when I read a number of tweets and posts about 'teaching' a novel, it simply set my curmudgeon teeth on edge. I teach students, not novels. My children's lit class reads ore than 75 books a semester. The YA class reads about 25 books. I do not teach any of them. Students read the books. They respond to the books on a blog they create. They tie in other books, trailers, and the like. I do not take any title and 'teach' it.

Bookshare's Free Ebook Library Making a Difference for Students with Print Disabilities by Omar Gallaga from the Austin American Statesman. Peek: "...before technology such as Bookshare, schools typically had the option of setting up a reading-disabled student with a 'buddy reader' student assistant, or sending the student to a content-mastery room, isolating them from the classroom. 'Bookshare has allowed those students to be back in the classroom.'”

Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 Bank Street Children's Book Awards! The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones by Wendelin Van Draanen (Knopf, 2016) received the Josette Frank Award, Ada's Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster, 2016) and March by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf Books, 2016) and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda, 2016) won the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) won the Claudia Lewis Award. See also, the complete list of  Best Children's Books of the Year.

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Screening Room



More Personally - Cynthia

How blessed am I? Last weekend, I had the opportunity to keynote at two diversity-focused children's-YA literature/writing conferences--the Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State in Ohio and Kweli: The Color of Children's Literature in Manhattan (NYC). At both, I spoke on my journey as a Native author, the importance of #ownvoices, writing across identity elements and how the conversation of books has evolved over the past twenty years.

Thank you so much to my hosts, especially those of you who came through with delicious dining and warm outwear for this naturalized Texan who'd forgotten about April snowstorms. Most appreciated!

Now, I'm joyfully polishing my YA novel in progress for my mid-May deadline. At this point, it's mostly a matter of line-level work, though I have expanded a few scenes. Huzzah!


Carole Boston Weatherford & Don Tate at the Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State University.

With Native writers and illustrators at Kweli: The Color of Children's Literature Conference in New York.

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen

At last week's Austin SCBWI meeting, I was honored to see the F&G's (folded and gathered) of Paige Britt's upcoming picture book, Why Am I Me? illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (Scholastic, September 2017). 

Several months ago, I had a writing meet-up with Paige and saw a few digital copies of the illustrations. That made it even more exciting to witness the next step in the publishing journey of this story.  

Personal Links


Thursday, April 13, 2017

SCBWI Initiative: Lin Oliver on Books For Readers

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators recently announced a new initiative: Books for Readers. To learn how this program would get books into the hands of more young readers, I interviewed SCBWI's Executive Director Lin Oliver.

So, each region will be nominating an organization, and then the SCBWI Board of Advisors and staff will pick one or two organizations that will receive the books, right?

Most of our SCBWI regions have been doing book drives for local organizations for a long time. The idea for SCBWI Books for Readers came from our desire to join our regions’ individual efforts to make a greater national and worldwide impact on the lives of readers in need. 

This initiative will advance our mission, as an organization of children’s book creators and literacy advocates, to place good books in the hands of all children.

Our regions will nominate organizations from their local communities. A selection committee made up of members of our Board of Advisors will select two recipients who will receive a library of books from SCBWI authors and illustrators, along with a big celebration party for the kids who are receiving the books.

We always want kids to associate books with a joyful experience. Presently, our members are in the process of nominating their top causes or organizations that are in need of books. The selection committee will begin their deliberations at the end of this month.

Can you tell us some of the factors the selection committee will be considering?

The SCBWI Books For Readers selection committee will choose two organizations or causes, based on their immediate need for books, and their ability to benefit from receiving a large donation of children’s books.

The collected books will be curated prior to the donation based on the type and number of books desired. Surplus books will be donated to other causes and/organizations who were nominated.

Tell us about the logistical aspects of this - members send their books to SCBWI Headquarters in L.A., then what? Have you rented a warehouse to store them? 

We are asking all interested SCBWI members to send no more than three copies of each of their books to our SCBWI HQ in LA. We will be renting a storage unit to house the books until we deliver them to the selected recipients.

The announcement mentioned, "soon to be out-of-print titles that could be donated instead of being pulped or remaindered." Have any publishers stepped up to contribute their remainders to this effort, or should individual authors initiate this conversation directly with their editors or marketing staff?

We’ve made a change where this point is concerned. In order to make this a finely curated shipment of books to the recipients, we will not be taking large numbers of books either through remainders or those that will be pulped.

The mission of the Books For Readers initiative includes promoting SCBWI authors, illustrators and their books; can you tell me more about that aspect? What sort of promotion do you envision? 

Participating members’ names will be printed in an official SCBWI Books For Readers program, and all members are encouraged to attend the distribution events!

There will also be extensive publicity and promotional efforts surrounding the book drive, the donors and donations, and the distribution and celebration events on a national and regional level.

These efforts will focus on shining a light on the crucial need to increase book access for readers in need worldwide, to spotlight our donor members and their books, and to highlight SCBWI as a professional organization of book authors, illustrators, and literacy advocates.

Supporting literacy efforts seems like a natural fit for the book creators of SCBWI (our Austin region does a much smaller version of this - collecting books at our holiday party and donating them to a local organization) Has the larger organization been involved in an effort like this before? Is it something you hope to make an annual event?

Yes, yes, and yes!

Yes, it is a natural and organic fit. We create books for readers. There are so many kids who are in need of books, and we’d like to help change that. Yes, it is our first literacy initiative, and Yes, we plan to make this an annual event.

For more information, you can visit SCBWI Books For Readers. Thanks for your interest, for your help in spreading the word, and for all you do for children’s literature and our community!

Cynsations Notes

Nominate an organization from your region before the April 30 deadline.

Lin Oliver is the co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For much of her career, she was an executive in the film and television industry, including being the Executive Vice President of MCA Universal Studios for over 12 years. She is the writer and executive producer of over 300 episodes of television and three feature films directed at the family audience.

During her career in film and television, she served as Executive Director of the SCBWI as a volunteer spending nights and weekends and vacations in the service of SCBWI while earning her living in filmed entertainment.

Since 2000, she has not only led the SCBWI as Executive Director but simultaneously has pursued her career as a children’s book author, publishing more than 35 books for children including a best-selling series about a child with learning differences.

She also manages staff and personnel matters, establishes programs with partner organizations (such as First Book or We Need Diverse Books or The American Library Association) and oversees much of the work of the regional advisors.  She has a BA in English from the University of California, Berkley, a Masters in Educational Psychology from UCLA, and has completed course work for an doctorate in Education from UCLA. She is recognized as a leading voice in promoting literacy and children’s literature.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New Voice: Hena Khan on Amina's Voice

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Hena Khan, a well-published picture book author makes her novelist debut with Amina's Voice (Salaam Reads, March 2017). From the promotional copy:

A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. 

Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” 

Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I was working as a communications specialist for an international public health organization when I unexpectedly got the opportunity to first write for kids back in 2001. 

I had a very good friend who worked as an editor with Scholastic’s continuity department. She was editing a series called Spy University and, since we had worked together on our high school newspaper, asked if I could help out with the writing. 

It was perfect timing for me because I was looking to transition out of a full-time job that required international travel as a new mother. I thought it could be the perfect stay-at-home alternative and a great way to balance my consulting work.

I soon realized that writing for kids was far harder than I had imagined! 

I’d grown a bit tired of writing and editing jargon- and data-filled technical documents with the aim of making them more accessible to lay audiences. 

And I thought that writing for kids would be a welcome change, which it was, but it took hours of practice for me to finally nail the lighthearted tone and fun style of the series. 

I had to learn to write in an upbeat, pun-filled manner, and to present a serious theme (espionage) in a kid-friendly and appropriate way. 

It was challenging at times but it helped to have an amazing mentor.

In the end, I loved writing those initial children’s books, and went on to write for three other series before my first trade-published picture book, Night of the Moon came out in 2008 with Chronicle Books.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Amina’s Voice?

I first thought about and started writing Amina’s Voice more than four years ago. 

I had published two picture books about Muslims, and wanted to write something for a middle-grade audience. Since books spoke to me the most when I was a middle grader myself, I loved the idea of connecting with that age group.

Also, parents often asked me to recommend mirror books for their tweens and I struggled since so few of them existed.

I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was an “every girl” who happened to be an American Muslim. I hoped that readers of all backgrounds would be able to relate to her as much as I did to the characters I had grown up reading and loving—none of who had resembled me in any way. 

At the time, Islamophobia was growing in our country, and I was alarmed by reports of anti-Muslim campaigns, and an increasing number attacks on Islamic centers, bullying of Muslim kids, and hate-motivated crimes. 

I wanted to offer a Muslim friend to people who didn’t have one through storytelling, and a window into my often misunderstood and misrepresented faith and culture.

Amina is a girl that struggles with common challenges—friendship changes, family conflict, finding confidence. 

Yet the story also allows readers to get to know a Pakistani American family, gain access to an Islamic center and Muslim traditions, and to perhaps see how they’re not as different as they might have imagined. 

At the same time, the story introduces the idea that Muslims are not a monolith, and that there are variations in the way we approach our faith and integrate it into our daily lives, which is an important if subtle idea in the book.

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

The biggest challenge for me was trying to make sense of the various feedback I received from editors who initially passed on the book. 

Some said they loved the writing, connected with Amina and were emotionally moved by her story, but that it wasn’t the right fit for their list. Others said they didn’t connect with Amina’s voice enough or find her story compelling. Others said the book was too “quiet,” which was a term that was new to me, or—perhaps the hardest to hear—that they felt the book didn’t reflect the type of diversity that they were seeking. 

No one actually said what they recommended I do to “fix” the story or make it work better.

I was determined to tell the story I wanted to tell, even if it wasn’t likely going to be an extremely commercial book. 

After sitting with all the opinions for a while, and getting some helpful comments from my writers group, I finally realized what was missing in the story. 

We knew all the things Amina was afraid of or didn’t want, and not enough about what she did want. She was too much of a bystander in her own story. 

When I set about to change that, and give her more of a presence, I felt that she lost her sweet quality and had a personality change. So then I rewrote the book in the first person voice, which allowed me to really get into her head, see things from her perspective and get the voice right. 

I was also able to shed unnecessary details and edit out the 40-year old woman voice that had snuck in from time to time. But the story remained essentially the same.

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

As a child of Pakistani immigrants who was born and raised in America, and now as a mother to third generation American Muslims, I have a diverse background that also feels very common. 

I grew up witnessing my parents struggle to both assimilate and hold on to their culture, balancing two cultures myself, and reconciling my American identity with my Pakistani heritage and my faith. 

My children, who in many ways are much more grounded and comfortable with their identity that I was at their age, understand that they are as American as anyone else, no matter what they might hear. I like to think that growing up in a fairly diverse community, and having exposure to diverse books from a young age helped in that regard.

In a nutshell, what I essentially bring to my writing is an example of the amazing American immigrant experience, from a Pakistani American Muslim perspective. 

Pakistani Americans make up the largest percentage of immigrant Muslims in America, but the story I tell and the family I describe in Amina’s Voice is very familiar to people from a variety of cultural backgrounds and faiths. 

To me it was important to create a character who is unashamed of her culture or faith, who is unapologetically American and Muslim. It means a great deal to me for kids like mine, and all others, to be able to identify with, empathize with, and root for a character like Amina.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus Reviews all gave Amina's Voice starred reviews.

Kirkus Reviews wrote, "Khan deftly—and subtly—weaves aspects of Pakistani and Muslim culture into her story, allowing readers to unconsciously absorb details and develop understanding and compassion for another culture and faith. Amina’s middle school woes and the universal themes running through the book transcend culture, race, and religion."

School Library Journal called it, "A universal story of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. A welcome addition to any middle grade collection."

Booklist wrote, "Khan gracefully balances portraying the unique features of Amina’s cultural and religious background with familiar themes of family, belonging, and friendship worries, which should resonate with a wide range of readers. Written as beautifully as Amina’s voice surely is, this compassionate, timely novel is highly recommended for all libraries."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Voice: Andrea Page on Sioux Code Talkers of World War II

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Andrea M. Page is the first-time author of Sioux Code Talkers of World War II (Pelican Publishing, 2017). From the promotional copy:

In World War II, code-making and code-breaking reached a feverish peak. The fabled Enigma Cipher had been broken, and all sides were looking for a secure, reliable means of communication.

Many have heard of the role of the Navajo Code Talkers, but less well-known are the Sioux Code Talkers using the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota dialects.

Told by the great-niece of John Bear King, who served in the First Cavalry in the Pacific Theatre as a Sioux Code Talker, this comprehensively informative title explores not only the importance of the indigenous peoples to the war, but also their culture and values. The Sioux Code Talkers of World War II follows seven Sioux who put aside a long history of prejudice against their people and joined the fight against Japan.


Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?

Great question. When I really set my mind to writing this story for publication, I enrolled in children’s writing courses at our local Writers and Books. I remember the first course was Writing Children’s Picture Books.

When starting out, I really thought the story would make a fine picture book. Very quickly, the instructor, Jennifer Meagher, gently informed me that the story was not a picture book and suggested a middle grade format. 

I tried fiction, then nonfiction, and over time, she helped me frame my book based on some mentor texts we located. Once I accepted the lengthier format, I knew what parts needed more research. 

In addition, I joined our local writing group, the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators (RACWI) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

 I formed a critique group, then another, and a third one with Jamie Moran and Kathleen Blasi. We added a few more writers to the group. People came and went, leaving Kathleen, Elizabeth Falk, Keely Hutton, and me. 

During all this time, I devoured every craft book I could find. I attended SCBWI conferences, including the one in New York City. Then I landed on a novel idea- the online course. I took a non-fiction writing course from Laura Purdie Salas and began to look at myself as an author-in-training.

Eventually, I sent a round of query letters out and Pelican Publishing Company responded. After reading my manuscript, editor Nina Kooij explained they might be interested if I doubled my word count. 

I was excited, but at that time, I had no idea how to double my word count. I knew I put all my solid research in the manuscript, I didn’t know what to do. But, I was not going to give up.

I took a self-imposed sabbatical to study the craft of writing. 

I studied mentor texts, I joined online writing groups, and heard tips about other intriguing books on author’s craft. I read and I wrote. And then one day, I found the Call of the Writer’s Craft (Simon & Schuster, 2009) by Tom Bird. His technique opened the door for me. 

Basically, you access the right brain, write fast, and write a lot. I stopped editing lines and wrote about topics in my book in no particular order. I filled a huge, blank sketchbook. (I still write this way today) I found my voice while piecing together the chapters in my book. 

Mailing final version of manuscript
In a few months, I more than doubled my word count. Revisions were easier. I resubmitted to Pelican Publishing Company five years later. I had more tasks to complete before I received a contract. But my contract finally came!

I still take online courses, most recently from Joyce Sweeney and attend writing conferences with my critique partners. I’ve enjoyed writing retreats with other writing buddies like Sharon Lochman, Leah Henderson, Patricia Miller, Agatha Rodi, Janie Reinart, Kristin Gray, Jenna Grodzicki, and Julie Rand.

 One cannot do this job alone. Having lots of writing friends helps raise the bar, sets high expectations, and keeps me moving forward.

I’ve had many opportunities at RACWI meetings to meet and learn from established authors. Studying the craft under mentors like Carol Johmann, Vivian Vande Velde, Linda Sue Park, Marsha Hayles, Ellen Stoll Walsh, Robin Pulver, M.J. Auch, Peggy Thomas and many others has been quite a gift over the years.

It’s been quite a journey from novice to published author. I’ve been blessed with wonderful writing friends who stand by me, cheer me on, and encourage me to dedicate my life to the craft of writing because that is who we are- writers and readers.

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

I encountered many hurdles while writing this book.

While researching at first I couldn’t find any documentation about the Sioux Code Talkers. Back then and even today, people are well aware of the Navajo Code Talkers. (There are a few reasons for that, which I explain in my book.)

My uncle’s unit only had seven men used as code talkers and their orders were top secret, so they couldn’t talk about their service for many years. 

By the time the papers were declassified, several men had died. I had the opportunity to interview one several times, but I wasn’t asking the right questions and his memories were vivid but not detailed enough for me to follow a solid trail.

Once I had a path to follow, I ran into other obstacles. 

Service records were destroyed in the St. Louis fire years before, historical records for the unit were minimal since the 302nd Rcn Troop was an unusual unit. Most members never attended the Cavalry Associations reunions. I did manage to meet the commanding officer of the unit at one reunion. We became close and he started sharing copies of his documents.

Literary & Logistical Struggles

I mentioned my determination to become a better writer in the previous answer. One added hurdle was trying to figure out the best way to tell this story. I kept planning, organizing and revising. 

One revision meant that I pulled everything apart, reorganized and wrote again – 35 different ways over 20 years.

Psychological

There were many times over the course of 20 years that I had negative, internal thoughts: 

What if I’m not meant to do this? What if I get it wrong? I’m not a history person, I’ve never been in the military. So many people are expecting me to get this right. I’m a terrible writer. I’m too shy to put myself out there in the world. What if nobody likes my writing? I know I have no style or writing voice. I’m so tired- this is taking too long. 

This is where critique partners and a writing group are needed. They helped me re-frame these negative thoughts and keep moving forward. They are my biggest cheerleaders and I am theirs. 

We all know what we (writers) are going through with each low point as well as each highlight. We are connected to each other and share the highs and the lows together.

What would you have done differently?

I tried to stay organized by recording names, dates, all the citation information as best I could. 

Research bins
However, I wish I would’ve logged the details right from the beginning. 

When I was going through my final edits, I realized I couldn’t find one source for a quote. I looked through my nearly 10 bins of research, but couldn’t locate the quote’s documentation. I had to bail on that quote and find a similar one that could be cited in the bibliography. 

The second quote was adequate but not as powerful. So, I learned a valuable lesson as a nonfiction writer.

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

Watching historical movies became part of my research process. My teenage daughter sat down with me one night to watch, eventually asking, “Why aren’t we learning this stuff in school?”

I thought that was a great question. Our schools teach about historical events, but often times from the non-Native point of view. I hope my book opens the eyes of students and teachers to the two points of view. Both sides need to be studied. This is part of our history as a country.

Growing up in two worlds myself (Native and non-Native) as well as learning about different cultures (Lakota Sioux, German) made me knowledgeable and accepting of many differences and cultural viewpoints. 

Mary Monsees (Andrea's mom), John "Teton Jack" Gibbons Langan & Andrea at Yellowstone. Jack was the first person to confirm the use of Lakota language in coded messages by the 302 Rcn TroopAs a member of the First Cavalry Division, he witnessed the use of the Code Talkers sending and receiving the top secret messages. He pushed Andrea to tell the story of the Sioux Code Talkers.  He died in 2002 and did not have the opportunity to see the finished book.
We were blessed with determined, hard-working parents who took us on many trips to South Dakota, Germany, and Australia to visit our family members. Many times, these experiences opened our eyes to the way people connected with each other, good and bad. We learned both sides and became stronger, more resilient people because of our experiences. This is my hope for my readers as well.

Code Talkers were awarded Congressional
Medals in November 2013
Lastly, I wanted to share a story about a Congressional hearing that took place in Washington D.C. Veterans provided testimony in support for the Code Talker Recognition Act. Some elders testified in their own language. 

Since the hearings are recorded, this may be the first time testimony was documented in Lakota. I heard the pride in the veterans’ voices when they explained this, and it made such an impression on me that I pursued trying to have some of the code messages translated. 

The incoming and outgoing messages are documented in the military files and I asked an elder who knew how to read and write the language if she would translate for me. Therese Martin worked tirelessly to complete this task for me. 

Once I typed the messages, I wanted to make sure that the language was authentic and readable from another source. I contacted another elder, Vernon Ashley, who verified the coded messages. I’m pleased and thrilled that these two elders supported the efforts to include the Lakota language in the book.

Mary Monsees, Andrea's daughter Alana and Andrea with Law Honoring Code Talkers
Andrea and her mom, Mary Monsees with the Gold Medal honoring
John Bear King for his service in World War II.
Cynsations Notes

Andrea M. Page is a sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Her interest in her great-uncle’s story began in 1994 when a family member found a newspaper article about John Bear King, revealing his previously unknown World War II service. For 20 years, she gathered information on his story through interviews and research. 

She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Rochester Area Children's Writers and Illustrators and the New York State United Teachers.

Kirkus Reviews said Sioux Code Talkers of World War II is "an engagingly written, deeply researched account of a little-known part of World War II" and "Page explores not only the importance of these soldiers to the war, but also their history, culture, and values." 

Book Trailer


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