Sunday, September 25, 2016

Author Rita Williams-Garcia & The Surely Do Dancers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

CSK Author Award Acceptance Speech by Rita Williams-Garcia from The Horn Book. Peek:
"...upon occasion, our histories are bound by peace and wonder as people of the planet Earth, looking up as we did on one night in the summer of 1969.
"In spite of some current rhetoric, very few of us on this soil can claim a separate and sole history. We are a joined people. Let’s keep looking up."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

In Memory: Lois Duncan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lois Duncan died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Lois Duncan Obituary: Bestselling author of fiction for young adults, including the thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer by Julia Eccleshare from The Guardian. Peek: "She was born Lois Duncan Steinmetz in Philadelphia, and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. Lois wanted to be a writer from childhood, and submitted her first typed manuscript to Ladies’ Home Journal when she was 10."

Obituary: Lois Duncan by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "After attending Duke University for a year... She entered her YA project Debutante Hill in Dodd, Mead & Company’s Seventeenth Summer Literary Contest and earned the grand prize: $1000 and a book contract."

Lois Duncan, 82, Dies; Author Knew What You Did Last Summer by Daniel E. Slotnik from The New York Times. Peek: "Though her books had their share of violence, Ms. Duncan said she was 'utterly horrified' when she saw the [1997] film adaptation of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which...turned her novel, about a group of teenagers desperately trying to conceal an accidental killing, into a horror tale in which the same teenagers are systematically dispatched by their hook-wielding victim." Note: To clarify, I heard Lois speak about this at an SCBWI conference. It wasn't the violence per se but rather the way it was trivialized for cheap thrills. Her novel had a strong moral center that was absent from its film adaptation.

I Know What I Read That Summer by Carmen Maria Machado from The New Yorker. Peek: "Her prose is unfussy and clean. She centered her books on young women, and her writing considers themes that have come to obsess me as an adult: gendered violence, psychological manipulation, the vulnerability of outsiders."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cynsational News & Resources

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Interview: Guadalupe García McCall: Remembering What Has Endured, What Has Been Lost by Justin Barisich from BookPage. Peek: "It takes a lot of courage to let the world see your heart, to lay it down on the ground in front of the enemy and say, 'This is it. This who I am. This is what I’ve got,' and that is what Dulceña does."

How to Find and Reach Influencers to Help Promote Your Work by Angela Ackerman from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Because if you truly appreciate what they do, you will naturally want to help them further succeed. And while of course you hope they’ll return the favor, that’s not your endgame. Creating a relationship is."

Seven Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science by John Paul Titlow from Fast Company. Peek: "In the face of a major loss, our brains often explore new creative outlets as part of the 'rebuilding' process of our lives, especially as our perspectives, priorities, and ways of thinking about things shift around. " Note: the observation about teachers at the end of the post does not apply to me.

Ten Tips for Video-Chat School Visits from Christine Kohler. Peek: "Although my stress-level skyrocketed that morning when my PC’s operating system corrupted, I thought other authors might benefit by what I did in pre-planning to ensure 'the show must go on,' and on schedule."

Children's Literature as a Vehicle for Peace by Summer Edward from Medium. Peek: "Is social justice an elite weapon to be wielded in the hands of a few acclaimed activists or is it a human imperative to which each individual is called?"

Series Beginnings by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "By providing this context but weaving it into the first few chapters of the story, you will be welcoming your existing readers back into the story while simultaneously giving new readers a chance to catch up. All without info-dumping."

Interview: Dean Gloster on Dessert First by Adi Rule from VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "...with all the intensity of residency, my constantly emailing documents to myself to print out in the library, and my mostly using my VCFA email address, I actually missed the message from the editor saying they were buying my book...."

No One Gets a Pass When It Comes to Writing Multicultural Books from Grace Lin. Peek: "I get a fair amount of flack for portraying light-skinned Asians or Asians in the stereotypical haircut of heavy bangs."

What I Leaned About Publishing an #OwnVoices Book with a Latinx Heroine by Valerie Tejeda from Bustle. Peek: "I've learned a lot about what it means to be an #OwnVoices author — the good, the bad, the ugly — but here are a few things that have stuck out to me the most..."

Four Ways "Stranger Things" Gets Middle Grade Right by Mary E. Cronin from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Kids are the stars of this show, and middle grade writers can draw much inspiration from it. Here are four ways that the creators of 'Stranger Things' totally nail middle grade...."

Give Your Characters Roots by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Growing up in Mordor gives you a very different outlook on life than growing up in New England."

What's In a (Character's) Name? by Olga Kuno from Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Coming up with just the right name can be daunting. I’d like to share some ideas on how to simplify the process."

Winnie The Pooh Makes Friends with a Penguin to Mark Anniversary by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek: "Sibley, who was asked to write a new Pooh story to mark this year’s anniversary, said that the photo of the author and his son with the penguin toy came to mind while he was 'pondering what other toys Christopher Robin might have owned but which were never written about'."

Native American Contemporary YA Novel
We Are Still Here: An Interview with Debbie Reese from NCTE. Peek: "I wish that teachers would do all they could to push against that monolithic 'primitive' and 'uncivilized' depiction that is so pervasive and damaging to our youth, but all youth, too, who play and learn alongside our children."

Why I Write About the Immigrant Experience by Reyna Grande from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I read and I read, though I’d always felt a void—a yearning, a missing piece that I desperately wanted to find. What I wanted most of all: to not feel invisible."

How to Write a Latinx Character & Other Questions by Yamile Saied Méndez from The Che Boricuas= A Puerto Rican + An Argentine + 5 cute kids. Peek: "...this list isn't all inclusive. I just wanted to show all the aspects in which culture affects a person. The ways in which it will affect your character. The reader will notice if the only thing the writer did was slap a Spanish-sounding name and dark skin on a character."

Black Girl Magic: Black Girlhood, Imaginations and Activism by Dhonielle Clayton from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "I hope a new generation of black girls can cling tight to the novels of the ladies below and start to find themselves in interesting and dynamic new media. I know that if I had had even a few of these books and role models, the teenage me wouldn’t have felt so invisible."

Share Your Voice by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "A voice without action, is silence. In that silence is the potential where you could be connecting with people who will be moved by your stories."

Cynsational Awards

The 2016 Kirkus Prize Finalists: "Winners in the three categories will receive $50,000 each, making the Kirkus Prize one of the richest annual literary awards in the world."

Little, Brown Launches New Award for Illustrators by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Caldecott Medalist and five-time Caldecott Honor artist Jerry Pinkney will act as a judge and the inaugural artist mentor for the first annual Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award, recognizing new illustration talent and encouraging the development of high-quality picture books that resonate with readers of diverse backgrounds."

Ann Bausum
Children's Book Author Ann Bausum Wins 2017 Nonfiction Award from the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Peek: "In recognition of her 14 nonfiction books and the way her work has enriched the minds of our children and the life of our nation, Bausum has been selected to receive the 2017 Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award. The award is presented annually to an author for a body of work that has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children."

Congratulations to Don Tate, recipient of the Illumine Award for children's literature from the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation!

Reminder: The deadline for the Lee & Low New Voices Award is Sept. 30.

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

My heart is heavy this week, Cynsational readers. I was saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Ernie Bond of Salisbury University. He was a tremendous educator, and I am grateful to him for his support of inclusive children's-YA literature. Moreover, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a high school friend and classmate has taken her own life "after a long battle with PTSD, depression and anxiety." Please continue to support teachers, support teens and consider donating to the Lane Marrs Memorial Fund.

The Link of the Week: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "...it is basically common knowledge among minority authors that including more than one minority identity in a book is a huge risk for your career. In the real world, plenty of individuals deal with more than one minority identity at the same time, every day." See also Kick off Bisexual Awareness Week with 12 2016 YA Books by Dahlia Adler from Barnes & Noble.

Personal Links

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Hands-On Research & Getting Out of Your Character's Way

By E.M. Kokie
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the flap copy of Radical by E.M. Kokie (Candlewick, 2016):

Preppers. Survivalists. Bex prefers to think of herself as a realist who plans to survive, but regardless of labels, they’re all sure of the same thing: a crisis is coming. 

And when it does, Bex will be ready. She’s planned exactly what to pack, she knows how to handle a gun, and she’ll drag her family to safety by force if necessary. 

When her older brother discovers Clearview, a group that takes survival just as seriously as she does, Bex is intrigued. While outsiders might think they’re a delusional doomsday group, she knows there’s nothing crazy about being prepared. But Bex isn’t prepared for Lucy, who is soft and beautiful and hates guns. 

As her brother’s involvement with some of the members of Clearview grows increasingly alarming and all the pieces of Bex’s life become more difficult to juggle, Bex has to figure out where her loyalties really lie. In a gripping new novel, E. M. Kokie questions our assumptions about family, trust, and what it really takes to survive.

Determined to survive the crisis she’s sure is imminent, Bex is at a loss when her world collapses in the one way she hasn’t planned for.

Before writing Radical, I had never touched a gun. I had never wanted to touch a gun.

But in the early drafts I was struggling to get to the heart of my main character Bex. Then I realized I hadn't really thought about how Bex would feel about guns. It was a blind spot caused by my own discomfort with guns. Once I had that realization I could see all the ways I didn't yet know Bex.

Bex wouldn't just shoot or possess guns. She would have spent most of her life shooting them. They would be part of her family tradition, part of her social life, and part of her identity. She would love her guns. She would be proficient. She would be responsible in their care and maintenance.

In order to understand Bex, and to write her with any kind of accuracy and credibility, I needed to understand guns.

I started with online and print research -- reading about different kinds of guns, popular makes and models, shooting ranges and training programs, and eventually gun laws and the tradition of gun ownership within families and communities.

Then I moved on to watching online videos about everything from training techniques and amateur shooting videos, to videos about comparing models, and cleaning and maintaining firearms. I was fascinated by the many videos of girls and women shooting guns, and handling knives, bows and arrows, and other weapons.

But reading and video research could only take me so far. I needed to understand the tactile and visceral details of how a gun felt in my hand, the heft, and texture, and kickback. The tang in the air after shooting. The smell and feel of cleaning different models. I needed to have a vocabulary and understanding that gave her character depth and provided context for the plot.

But I also needed to get inside of how she would feel, physically and emotionally, about her guns and while she was shooting.

For Bex, shooting guns would be about more than fun or competition or even defense. It is part of who she is.

I was lucky to connect with some people who let me shoot their guns on their property, in an outdoor setting with a dirt berm and a pond, much as I pictured Bex and her brother shooting in their woods.

We started with a small, light gun that even felt small in my hand, and then worked up to larger and more powerful firearms. Then I got a crash course in cleaning and maintenance, sitting on the side of a porch, much as Bex does in the book.

I left with all these sensory details, insights into how shooting could be fun and cause a sense of competition or accomplishment, and bruises in several places.

Even the ride out to the shooting site on a homemade cart attached to an ATV unexpectedly informed the setting and context for my story.

During the writing process, I also reached out to some firearms experts online to answer questions and to seek input for crafting certain plot elements and scenes. And once Radical was in the last stages of the editorial phase, my publisher hired one of those experts to perform a content read to make sure we got the details right.

The research didn't change my mind about my own potential gun ownership, or how I would feel about having a gun in my home. But it did help me better understand Bex and her world, and, hopefully, helped me craft more organic and believable characters and scenes.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Guest Post: Roxie Munro on KidLit TV

Roxie Munro & Julie Gribble shooting Ready Set Draw!
By Roxie Munro
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In August of 2014, I traveled from my Long Island City studio to downtown New York City, lugging KIWiStorybook frames and rolled-up giant walk-in picture books, about to be the first author interviewed for the media start-up, KidLit TV.

The film crew, lighting technician, makeup artist, sound engineer, and Julie Gribble, founder, and interviewer Rocco Staino, of School Library Journal and the Huffington Post, were ready.

Four hours later we had a wrap, edited into a lively eight-minute piece, which aired that November, launching one of the most original concepts in the world of children’s literature in years.

That popular interview feature of KidLit TV is called StoryMakers. Every month, Rocco chats with several prominent authors and/or illustrators, like Paul O. Zelinsky, Pat Cummings, Hervé Tullet, Sophie Blackall, Tim Federle, Mo Willems, Rosemary Wells, and Aaron Becker. We get a peek into their creative process - making mistakes (and fixing them!), creative tricks and habits, childhood inspiration, and exciting news about upcoming projects.

Although most of the content is accessible to any literate person, there can be a lot of fun esoterica. For example, librarians may talk about how award committees work or recommend seasonal books; for the 2015 StoryMakers Holiday Special, Maria Russo (New York Times), John Sellers (Publishers Weekly), and John Schumacher (Scholastic) discussed their favorites with Rocco. Other children’s literature movers and shakers are featured, like Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, talking about founding SCBWI, and Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman discussing censorship.

Jerilyn Williams of TLA interviewed by Rocco Staino
Aimed specifically at children is the Read Out Loud show where authors engage kids with lively readings from their books. On Ready Set Draw!, illustrators inspire viewers to do art and show details on how to draw characters from their books. Dan Yaccarino taught kids how to make Doug from “Doug Unplugged”; Nick Bruel drew Bad Kitty; I showed children how to draw the owl from “Hatch!” and how to make a maze.

Children send in their own drawings based on the videos, and KidLit TV posts them online in their new Fan Art Gallery section, using #ReadySetDraw to share fan art.

KidLit Radio is launching podcasts for children, filling an important niche. Radio is as popular as ever, and podcasts are gaining ground. Audio is an important medium – many children learn, and are entertained, by listening. Recently Barbara McClintock and Peg + Cat (Candlewick) creators Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson did podcasts.

KidLit TV also covers events under their Red Carpet feature, like the Eric Carle Awards, interviewing such luminaries as Jerry Pinkney, Roaring Brook’s Neal Porter, and Hilary Knight. The most recent Field Trip is a six-minute video of the 4th Annual 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, with uber librarian and reviewer Susannah Richards doing the interviews, including one with Steve Sheinken about his process and his next book.

Founder Julie Gribble & Dan Yacarrino
All of this content is found on the main KidLit.TV site; there’s also a robust social media presence and an extensive YouTube channel. It’s the go-to place for kid friendly videos about favorite authors and illustrators, book-based crafts and activities, and to check out content dear to the hearts of children’s literature aficionados. Not to mention how to draw a Great Horned Owl!

So how did this come about? Well, multiple Emmy-award-winner and Stony Brook Children’s Literature Fellow, Julie Gribble, who worked in the television industry for years, founded KidLit TV to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives– it’s the first online resource of its kind for kids, parents, librarians and teachers. She’s an author in her own right, with Bubblegum Princess, illustrated by Lori Hanson (NY Media Works, 2013)(based on a true story about Kate Middleton) and another picture book out soon.

Julie’s KidLit TV family of teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and tech folks are all deeply committed to working together to bring great books to kids.

Cynsational Notes

Roxie Munro, Julie Gribble, and Sarah Towle (Time Traveler Tours & Tales) will be doing several programs, including “Promoting your Library Community through Social Media & New Technology: Cutting-Edge Techniques,” at the Texas Library Association Conference in April 2017 in San Antonio.

In addition, Julie and Rocco Staino are doing a KidLit TV presentation. KidLit TV will cover the conference, doing author and librarian interviews, live-streaming events, and attending award presentations. Come visit Booth 2301!

And Roxie has contributed a piece to TLA’s Disaster Relief Coloring Book, which will be available at the Conference.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Scholastic Book Club to Offer Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Scholastic Book Club will soon be offering my debut tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, as a diversity selection through book clubs.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins and Listening Library, 2001)(ages 10-up). Available as an unabridged audio download. From the promotional copy:

The next day was my fourteenth birthday, and I'd never kissed a boy -- domestic style or French. Right then, I decided to get myself a teen life.

Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn't know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his.

It's been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia's Indian Camp in their mostly white Midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again -- at least through the lens of her camera.

Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved She wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?

In a voice that resonates with insight and humor, Cynthia Leitich Smith tells of heartbreak, recovery, and reclaiming one's place in the world.

Cynsational Notes

Rain Is Not My Indian Name was an Oklahoma Book Award finalist and earned Cynthia the title of 2001 Writer of the Year from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

“Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself. What’s amazing here is Rain’s insights into her own pain, and how cleanly she uses language to contain it.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It’s Rain’s story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her ‘patch-work tribe.'”
 — School Library Journal

“…readers will feel the affection of Rain’s loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.”
— Publishers Weekly

Note: the trailer--while long and old-fashioned by today's standards--was cutting edge at the time, and I still love the sweetness of it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

New Voice: Hannah West on Kingdom of Ash and Briars

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hannah West is the first-time author of Kingdom of Ash and Briars (Holiday House, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular and wholly original debut.

Bristal, a sixteen-year-old kitchen maid, lands in a fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she has elicromancer magic in her blood. Elicromancers are an ancient breed of immortal people, but only two remain in Nissera after a bloody civil war. 

Bristal joins the ranks of Brack and Tamarice without knowing that one of them has a dark secret . . . Tamarice is plotting a quest to overthrow the realm’s nobility and take charge herself. 

Together, Bristal and Brack must guard the three kingdoms of Nissera against Tamarice’s black elicromancy. There are cursed princesses to protect, royal alliances to forge and fierce monsters to battle—all with the hope of preserving peace.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Boy, am I the right person to ask about revisions. When I started querying, I was fresh out of college with no industry knowledge (I studied French) and had a manuscript so thick it could have knocked someone out, no hard cover needed.

Hannah West
After my not-yet agent, Sarah Burnes, initially showed interest, she gave me some revision advice and passed on the manuscript. I made the cuts that she suggested, and continued querying and receiving requests from other agents.

It didn't occur to me until a few months later that Sarah might actually be open to seeing the revision even though she didn't explicitly request an R&R.

I'm so glad I thought of that! We ended up signing with a plan to continue revising it pretty heavily (read: cut left and right). We did three rounds, I believe, and then I did a few more with my lovely editor after signing with Holiday House.

I think a huge amount of cutting can be a dangerous thing, as it can really throw off the pace - such a delicate thing to begin with. But I am so so pleased with the result of talented professionals putting me through the ringer. It's so worth it. The story itself is essentially the same, which goes to show you how many unnecessary words were lurking in that initial submission.

For debut authors, I would say never be too protective of the draft that you submit. It's actually really freeing to put yourself in the hands of professionals, and if you're a gifted writer, you can work in their suggestions while still retaining your voice and the aspects you love about the story.

Never react to a hard critique on the spot. Take time to think about it, and you'll usually find that you agree, or can at least envision a compromise that will improve your work.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

This brings me to the other Sarah in my life - the one who lives in rural Arkansas with nary a strong internet connection, eating 'coons for supper (okay, maybe the last one only applies to her church potlucks).

Having a critique partner is a wonderful thing, but having a CP-best-friend is even better. Querying and revising and waiting was a hard phase for me.

I was fresh out of college with only a part-time job, living with my parents, so I had a lot riding on getting an agent and pressing onward (who doesn't?).

In the hardest moments, Sarah was there, reading my revisions and offering encouragement even though we live in different states. (I hadn't met her yet when I submitted my abominably large manuscript, so she's off the hook).

Cynsational Notes

Hannah "lives in the Dallas area with her husband, Vince, and their rambunctious blue heeler, Robb. She proudly writes articles about sustainable living and home renovation for Modernize.com."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Publisher Interview: CEO Nancy Traversy of Barefoot Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by two young moms working from home with the dream of creating beautiful books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations."

There's been an ongoing conversation about diversity in children's literature. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Children's publishers, and the media industry as a whole, have a huge responsibility to create diverse, inclusive content for kids. Barefoot Books has always been committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion; but our mission, and the task of nurturing empathy in our children, has never felt more urgent than it does today.

As our culture faces what President Obama has called an "empathy deficit," it's important for us to work hard to do better by our children. All children deserve to see themselves, their families and their experiences represented in the books they read. They also need to see and understand others, in order to develop empathy, and grow into compassionate, responsible global citizens, prepared to thrive and contribute in their communities and in professional and academic spheres in the 21st century.

Our children look up to us; they're listening to our conversations, soaking in and internalizing our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others. It is now more important than ever for parents, educators and caregivers to share diverse and inclusive books with the children in their lives and to start conversations about empathy and compassion.

How is Barefoot Books responding in terms of diverse representation on your list?

This month, we are particularly excited to be introducing what is perhaps our most meaningful, and certainly most timely, publication to date, The Barefoot Book of Children, which empowers caregivers and educators to start important conversations with children about diversity, inclusivity and acceptance.

We worked with a team of both U.K.- and U.S.-based diversity and inclusion experts to represent a wide range of children as accurately as possible; and the result, with meticulously researched hand-painted art by award-winning illustrator David Dean, is a playful, powerful and thought-provoking celebration of both the big ideas and everyday moments that reveal our common humanity and tie us all together.

At Barefoot, we've always been passionate about celebrating diversity of all kinds in our books: it's one of our core values and central to our mission as a company.

We began nearly 25 years ago by publishing myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from all over the world.

We started to introduce children to other cultures more overtly with our "Travel the World" series by author Laurie Krebs, which includes titles like We All Went on Safari, We're Sailing to Galapagos and Up and Down the Andes, all with fascinating additional information about people, cultures, history and more.

However, we aim to celebrate more than just cultural diversity. Many of our picture books - such as Mama Panya's Pancakes and The Girl with a Brave Heart - immerse readers in the experiences of children from around the world and also foster compassion for others.

From The Animal Boogie, which has sold well over two million copies, and our other other best-selling singalongs, to The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which was written by the author for her brother who has autism, our books strive to offer positive, strong, relatable characters to children who may feel different from others.

We also strive to introduce children to other faiths and religions with books like The Wise Fool, a light-hearted introduction to Islamic culture; and The Mountains of Tibet, a gentle story from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

A couple of years' ago, we published My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words, which depicts a multi-racial family in a contemporary urban setting - "Richard Scarry for the 21st century". We worked with Beth Cox, founder of Inclusive Minds, to ensure that we accurately represented people of all races, cultures, abilities and lifestyles.

This book is now available in bilingual Spanish/English and French/English versions.

How about diverse voices (AKA authors) and visions (illustrators)? Do you have a message for those children's book creators?

Being inclusive means relating to each other in ways that give a voice to everyone - and that means publishing books not only for all children, but by a wide range of creators!

When introducing children to cultures from around the globe, it's vitally important to ensure that they're getting an accurate perspective from the authentic voice of a local creator.

From the very beginning, we've commissioned authors and illustrators from all over the world, including Tehran-born Israeli pop star Rita Jahanforuz, author of The Girl with a Brave Heart; Lebanon-born Wafa' Tarnowska, author of The Arabian Nights; and Mexico-born Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Sand Sister.

We continually strive to find contributors who can provide that authentic voice and vision; it's a core part of our editorial conversation.

How are you doing outreach to Native children and children of color?

Barefoot is unique in the publishing industry because of our emphasis, not only on creating beautiful books, but also on growing a vibrant community of people who share our core values. We sell our books to schools, libraries and independent retailers as well as through our passionate network of home-based sellers called "Ambassadors" who are united by our mission to share diverse, inclusive and inspiring books.

Many of our Ambassadors use their businesses to give back and raise funds to promote causes that are important to them. Some are involved in promoting literacy in various underserved communities whose children have historically been underrepresented in children's books, including children of color. We are so proud of the incredible work our Ambassadors are doing to advance our mission to share stories, connect families and inspire children.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

For nearly a quarter of a century, Barefoot has been creating beautiful books for children that nurture creativity and compassion, and that celebrate diversity in all its forms. Discussions about race, diversity and inclusion are happening everywhere - in homes, in our children's schools, even in their playgrounds.

Books offer an essential and accessible resource for parents and educators to kickstart crucial conversations about these important topics with our children.

Since our founding in 1992, Barefoot has put nearly 20 million books into the hands of children and we would love to make that 100 million!

We believe the time is ripe to build some real momentum and create a movement of people who want to change the conversation and start to create a more accepting, inclusive world for our children.

Find more diverse and inclusive books. Explore our free tools to help start conversations with children about diversity and inclusivity.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

In Memory: Joyce Carol Thomas

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joyce Carol Thomas, Berkeley children’s author, dies at 78 by Shradha Ganapathy from The Daily Californian. Peek: "Celebrated local children’s author Joyce Carol Thomas — a poet, playwright and winner of the National Book Award — died Aug. 13 at Stanford University (Medical Center)."

Obituary: Joyce Carol Thomas by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Thomas was born on May 25, 1938 in the small town of Ponca City, Okla., where she lived until the age of 10. Her family then resettled in rural California where Thomas learned various farming chores and would work long summers harvesting crops alongside Mexican migrant workers from whom she learned to speak Spanish and developed a love of the language."

Joyce Carol Thomas, Who Wrote of African-American Life, Dies at 78, by Daniel E. Slotnick from The New York Times. Peek: "Ms. Thomas wrote mostly adult plays and poetry before the publication of her first young-adult novel, Marked by Fire, in 1982. It won the National Book Award for children’s fiction in 1983."

Prize-winning author Joyce Carol Thomas dead at 78 by the Associated Press from The Times Free Press. Peek: "Other works included Bright Shadow, Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and The Blacker the Berry. Thomas was also a three-time nominee for the Coretta Scott King award for outstanding children's books by an African-American."

Joyce Carol Thomas, children’s author who accented black rural life, dies at 78 by Matt Schudel from The Washington Post. Peek: "Although she had lived in California since she was 10, Ms. Thomas found a never-ending source of literary inspiration in the rural fields and small towns of her native Oklahoma. She sought to draw portraits of black life different from stories in modern urban settings or in the time of slavery."

In Memory: Joyce Carol Thomas by Edith (Edi) Campbell from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "Ms Thomas taught for more than two decades at the University of California Santa Cruz, University of Tennessee and at Purdue University. She is survived by children and grandchildren. And, her books."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cynsational News & Resources

New Infographic of CCBC Publishing Statistics by David Huyck
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the new infographic Diversity in Children's Books 2015 by David Huyck.

We have made very modest gains, but as Sarah Hannah Gomez has pointed out, it's important not to compare it to the 2012 graphic and gauge progress that way.

The math is different. In the original graphic, those books starring non-human characters were subtracted and then the percentages were calculated. This time, non-human characters are included. So, look at the new graphic as its own baseline.

Please also note that this infographic reflects inequities in books about various communities. There also is under-representation among children's-YA book creators and throughout the publishing industry.

See also A Close Look at CCBC's 2015 Data on Books By/About American Indians/First Nations by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature and It's Official: The U.S. Is Becoming a Minority-Majority Nation from U.S. News.

 More News

13 Picture Books That Celebrate Hispanic Heritage by Wesley Salazar from Brightly. Peek: "Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15 and what better way to celebrate Hispanic culture and history with kids than with picture books?" See also Why Write About Luchadores? by Xavier Garza from Latinx in Kidlit.

#OwnVoices Review Series from Reading While White. Continues through the month of September. Peek: "We want to shine the spotlight on some of the amazing books that have been written by authors and artists of color and Native authors and illustrators." See also YA Fantasy by Women of Color by Nicole Brinkley from YA Interrobang.

The Importance of Storytelling in Turbulent Times by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...if you can cause even a few to confront their fears in a more honest way; provoke just one of your fellow humans to renew their belief in the power of kindness and love over resentment and hate—well, isn’t that worthy of our diligent effort?" See also Invented Expressions & Linguistic Holes by David Corbett from Writer Unboxed.

Gene Yang Issues "Reading Without Walls Challenge" by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Instead of leading readers to books in the same genre or format, Yang is spearheading the Reading Without Walls Challenge, a program designed to help readers find books they might otherwise never choose on their own."

Religion & Careers in Publishing by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...religion is rarely discussed as a daily component of individuals’ lives, but becomes relevant during holidays or during moments of contention. Instead, he suggests, workplaces can and should remain open to and cognizant of how a person’s faith plays a role in their lives on a regular basis."

A Wave of 9/11 Novels for Young Readers by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek: "Many worried that the material was too traumatic for young readers, and feared that parents and teachers would be skittish about engaging with the subject. Others thought using the attacks as a plot device might seem insensitive and exploitative." See also 9/11 Survivor Bethany Hegedus Releases Children's New Book from KXAN.

Author Cori McCarthy Shares Her Book Marketing Strategies by Beth Bacon from Digital Book World. Peek: "My publicist put in motion programs that my publisher doesn’t have the time or the budget to do. We hadn’t quite reached Air Force or Navy families, so I opted to promote to this audience myself."

Hunting Down Holes in Your Story by David H. Safford from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Does time pass with realistic pacing and flow?"

Roald Dahl at 100: Why His Legacy Lives On by Jennifer Sheehy Everett from Bayside Parent. Peek: "Magic comes, however, when the put-upon child characters demonstrate strength, courage, and smarts beyond their years to conquer the parents, aunts, teachers, principals, etc. who mistreated them."

Off the Cuff, But On the Record by Liz Spayd by The New York Times. Peek: "Kim and a few other authors retreated to a small room in the hotel for what was billed by the conference hosts as an 'artist-only' private conversation over cocktails. But four days later, Kim found herself quoted in The New York Times"

Among 100 Great Translations
100 Great Translated Children's Books from Around the World by M. Lynx Qualey from Book Riot. Peek: "September is #WorldKidLit Month. This is a month to celebrate, discover, and discuss the state of literature for children and teens in translation."

The Power of Myth in Fiction & Life by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The creation and establishment of family myths are usually not intended to deceive or manipulate, but to protect and edify. But they are always untruths. And they are fascinating in their power."

Modern First Library: Divya Srinivasan on Mama (Amma) from BookPeople's Blog. Peek: "The text refers to Little Owl’s mother only twice in the book, and it would have been obvious who Amma was. No one had told me not to use the word." See also Asian American YA Authors Roundtable by Wendy Xu from Angry Asian Man.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

This week I've been Writing Teacher Cyn. My VCFA students turned in their second packets, and I've been reading and responding to their critical and creative writing. Fellow faculty Liz Garton Scanlon joined me one morning, which was a treat. Meanwhile, Cynsations intern Gayleen Rabakukk is continuing to update the listing of Texas Children's & YA Authors & Illustrators. Please comment with a website URL if you see anyone missing.


My new favorite TV show is "Supergirl." I love the reinvention of Cat Grant--Calista Flockhart is fantastic in the role--and James Olsen in particular. I like that it's a show centered on sisters and friendship, that it's funny and tender, with a fully rounded strong female lead and mentor.


Personal Links

Now available (Charlesbridge, 2016)!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Flaws: Fatal - Or Not

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Has the wisdom of time and life positively affected my ability to write flawed characters? Or is it the other way around?

I muse about this during an early summer morning’s coffee and writing time.

In much younger days, a painful flaw in a friend’s makeup would end the friendship. I could not tolerate – or truthfully, did not know how to negotiate the waters of – imperfection.

I don’t mean to imply that some relationships, whether romantic or friendship, never change beyond repair, or don’t have some Shakespearean-level fatal flaws. Some people come and go in our lives, as we come and go in theirs.

In retrospect, I believe flaws frightened me. You can guess at the multiple reasons, but there it was: a problem, a serious bump, a major difference in opinion or belief used to pose a threat to the relationship itself. I did not have the courage to stay for discussion, argument, confrontation. I did not believe in my own value in such a confrontation.

I did not know the inherent beauty of flaws.

I could spend time regretting the relationships that I left behind – the ones, that is, that could have benefited from conversation that pushed each of us to accommodate the other’s differences and flaws. But instead I devoted effort to accepting my own and others’ flaws, and developing the capacity to, more times than not, gently nudge myself past the historically embedded impulse to head the other direction. In life, I’ve learned that flaws, disappointments, failures are part of the tapestry.

Appreciating, although not always loving, has made for a better life story.

So as a writer, you’d think that I’d “get” the need to make my characters imperfect, create their flaws with a more complete understanding that this is part of what makes them human, engaging, and even universal.

But it’s always a struggle. I want to idealize them. In first drafts, or even in the daydreams that happen before the first drafts, deeper imperfections, the roiling internal conflicts that make us human, are absent.

I steer myself deliberately into the “deep” later on. And more often than not, it will take repeated efforts to comb away my idealizing vision of a girl, her family, her friends, until they all become flawed.

Not fatally, but naturally. Like most of us.

Decades ago, when I read and fell in love with so many magnificent middle grade novels, I participated in an online “chat” (no visuals in those days, just typed questions and responses) with Katherine Paterson. As a new-ish writer for children, I typed in a question:

How did you create a character with so many flaws that we still fall in love with by the end of the first page?

 Ms. Paterson’s answer was simply stated, but profound. The typed words appeared on my screen:

Because I love her.

I knew how important these words were, and also knew that it might take me years of practice to fully understand.

In fact, as I’ve worked on multiple revisions of my middle grade novel in verse, it has seemed that I created the love by creating flaws. As I made everything and everyone less perfect, I grew fonder and fonder of them, and of the story.

We know the flaws of being human make for better characters, and a deeper story. They also probably make for a better life.

Or the other way around.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cynsational Summer Awards Roundup

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Boston Globe-Hornbook Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature: "Winners are selected in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction. Two Honor Books may be named in each category."



The National Book Awards Longlist: Young People's Literature from The New Yorker. Peek: "...a novel in verse about a twelve-year-old soccer nut, an illustrated adventure story that draws on Chinese folklore, a work of nonfiction about a woman who survived the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki, a surreal love story involving rumored witches, and a graphic novel about the civil-rights movement co-written by a sitting U.S. congressman."

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award: "This year’s winner is Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir written by Margarita Engle, published by Atheneum...."

Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Peek: "NCTE honors Matt de la Peña for his courage in standing up for intellectual freedom with the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award, given for de la Peña’s efforts to fight censorship not only through his words but also through his actions."

Willa Award Finalist
Willa Award Winner and Finalists from Women Writing the West. Peek: "Chosen by professional librarians, historians and university affiliated educators, the winning authors and their books will be honored at the 22st Annual WWW Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Oct. to Oct. 16..."

Carter G. Woodson Book Award and Honor Winners: "NCSS established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards for the most distinguished books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States."

Lammy Award from Lambda Literary. Peek: "Exciting news for Alex Gino and all of us who want this beautiful and important story of a transgender child in 4th grade to get into the hands of everyone who needs it."

NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children: "...established in 2014 to promote and recognize excellence in the writing of fiction for children. This award recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder."

Parents Choice Book Awards: "Parents' Choice Foundation, established in 1978 as a 501c3, is the nation’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys."

Finalists Announced for the 2016 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards"The winners of the English-language awards will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at The Carlu in Toronto on November 17, 2016. The winners of the Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at Le Windsor in Montreal on November 1, 2016. Overall, $135,000 in prize monies will be awarded."

International Latino Award (Chap Book)
2016 International Latino Book Awards: "...now the largest Latino cultural Awards in the USA and with the 257 finalists this year, it has honored the greatness of 2,171 authors and publishers over the past two decades. These books are a great reflection that books by and about Latinos are in high demand. In 2016 Latinos will purchase over $675 million in books in English and Spanish."

Writers' League of Texas Book Award Winners, Finalists and Discovery Prize Winners: "With over 1,200 members statewide and growing, the Writers’ League of Texas is a vibrant community that serves to educate and uplift Texas writers, whatever stage they may be at in their writing careers. In addition, the WLT offers valuable service to communities across the state with free programming in libraries and local schools."

Cynsational Notes

Submissions Guidelines Walter Dean Myers Book Award for YA Lit from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "A submission must be written by a diverse author and the submission must be a diverse work. If a work has co-authors, at least one of the authors must be diverse..." Deadline: Nov. 1.

Lee & Low New Visions Award: "Manuscripts should address the needs of children and teens of color by providing stories with which they can identify and relate, and which promote a greater understanding of one another. Themes relating to LGBTQ+ topics or disabilities may also be included." Deadline: Oct. 31.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Guest Post: Denis Markell on Once You've Found Your Story, How Do You Tell It?

By Denis Markell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As an aspiring writer for children, one of the many dividends of marrying my beautiful and gifted wife Melissa Iwai...

(am I right or am I right?)

was finding someone to collaborate with on picture books.

Seeing as I knew she was an extraordinary illustrator, this was to be expected.

What came as a surprise, however, was how deeply her personal experience as an Asian-American woman in America and the history of her family would affect me and my other work as well.

As a Caucasian, It was quite an education for me to see firsthand the tiny slights and assumptions that she would deal with on a daily basis on the streets of New York.

Because of this, I felt that when I finally wrote my first middle grade novel it would involve the Asian experience in our country in some way.

One of the family stories I learned from Melissa, was of her uncle, Takateru Nakabayashi, who had taken the American name of his favorite Jesuit teacher, brother Nicholas.


Uncle Nick, as he was always called, had been a member of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, the all Nisei army brigade who had fought in Europe in World War II.


I was dimly aware that such a unit existed, so I did some research and found that there are some quite wonderful books which chronicle the story of these amazing men, who fought for their country so bravely while their fellow citizens, whose only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, languished in internment camps.

But it was a story woefully untold for middle grade readers.

Now I had my subject, but how to tell their tale in such a way that it would reach the largest audience? Nonfiction?

There are gifted writers such as Candace Fleming and Steve Sheinkin who can bring history to life with the drama and craft that enthrall young readers, but that’s not really my strength. I’ve spent years as a comedy writer in other fields, and humor and fiction are more where I’m comfortable.

Historical fiction? While I could have set the story in the 1940s, I wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to kid readers today, so involving a young Asian-American boy in today’s world felt right. By now we’d had our son, and as he grew older, I observed his fascination with computer and video games. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a way in!

Maybe I could hook kids with an adventure, one involving computer games, puzzles and suspense. I could weave the story of Melissa’s uncle throughout, using him as a character and the clues could relate to the 100th Battalion.

If I could pull this off, my readers might get a history lesson without even realizing it! Of course, there would be enough there for teachers to expand on and amplify, if they wished to use my book in the classroom. But my goal was to tell the story with lots of humor and keep the kids laughing as they learned.

Finally, to honor my half-Asian son (who still faces many of the same micro-agressions his mother does), I decided to make the protagonist hapa, as half-Asians are called within the community. Note: for positive examples of hapa characters in Disney films please read this excellent post.

So now I knew what the story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it. I rolled up my sleeves (okay, I pushed up my sleeves. I wear sweatshirts) and started to write. Click Here To Start was the result.
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