Sunday, May 20, 2018

Guest Interview: Editor Emma Ledbetter & Writer Zoë Armstrong on Picture Books & SCBWI's Bologna Manuscript Contest

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children's Book Fair. 


SCBWI Switzerland Regional Adviser Elisabeth Norton talks with the judge and winner of SCBWI's new Dueling Illustrators Manuscript Contest.

One event that always draws a crowd to the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the Dueling Illustrators.

In the duel, two illustrators each stand before a blank flip-chart, marker, charcoal or other drawing medium at the ready. A story is read aloud in ten segments, and after each one, the illustrators have just a couple of minutes to illustrate that portion of the story.

The tricky part?

They have never heard the story before so they have no idea what is going to happen next!

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, dueling illustrators
This year, SCBWI launched a new picture book manuscript contest in conjunction with this event, which is held daily at the SCBWI booth during the fair.

The 100 entry slots for the contest filled quickly, and then it was the job of Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, to winnow those entries down to the six finalists and to select the winner.

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, photo by Christopher Cheng
Today I’m talking with Emma and with Zoë Armstrong, author of the winning manuscript.

Welcome, Emma and Zoë!

Zoë, how long have you been writing for children?

I’ve been playing with verse since my seven-year-old daughter, Elodie, was very young. But a year ago, I enrolled on to the Picture Book Programme of the Golden Egg Academy here in the United Kingdom, and it has given me tremendous focus and a determination to make space for my writing.

I trained as a journalist so I’ve always written, but creative writing is something I was doing privately at home. I think it can take a while to find the confidence as a writer to actively pursue your creative ambitions. But if you hold your nerve, anything is possible!

Zoë with her daughter.
Can you tell us more about the writing that you do? Do you write exclusively picture books? 

I am a freelance copywriter, but my real love is children’s literature. I love that picture books are so rich in possibility, and how playful you can be with language and rhythm and ideas.

So, yes, picture books are very much where my heart is.

I tend to write quirky, lyrical stories, and I’d like to work with incredible illustrators and editors who have similar leanings. I try to write every day –– there is still so much to learn! –– and this practice has really elevated my writing.

What prompted you to enter the Dueling Illustrator’s Manuscript Contest?

I’m at that stage in my picture book writing journey where I’m determined to create opportunities, and jump in whenever they show up.

One of the things I love about picture books is the interplay between text and illustrations, so the SCBWI Dueling Illustrator's Manuscript Contest was a dream contest to enter!

Emma's office
Emma, there were 100 entries to this inaugural Dueling Illustrators Manuscript contest. Can you tell us about your process for narrowing 100 entries down to the top six? 

For me, this process—just like my job as an editor—had a lot to do with the gut feeling I had as a reader in response to each manuscript.

As I read the 100 entries, I sifted and organized them; those that stood out to me for any reason I put into a special pile, which started at around 20-30 manuscripts. Then I reread that pile, and continued winnowing them down from there until I landed on my six favorites!

What stood out to you about the six finalists and the winning entry, “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

As a judge and as a picture book editor, one of the most important things to me is the vision I have, when I first read a story, of what a finished book might look like: for example, what art style might work; what interesting or surprising visual possibilities are available; what freedom an artist might have to bring their own touch and perspective to the story.

Though the manuscripts I selected through this contest are quite different from each other, what they all had in common is that they were stories I’d be interested in seeing come to life on the page—and which I thought could come to life successfully.

Other important factors for a strong picture book manuscript include a premise that feels unique and distinct, and thoughtful writing that draws me in—for its humor, its lyricism, or its cleverness, for example. For me, the winners I chose had these elements, too.

Zoë's office
Zoë, what was the inspiration for your winning story “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

I often start by free writing before I begin to plot, and it was the rhythm and the mouth feel of the words that provided the initial inspiration.

I’m fascinated by the way that the musicality of a text can engage a young child, even if they don’t fully understand the precise meaning of each word. It doesn’t matter!

I read a lot with my daughter and I’m sure that must feed into what I write. But I also think that the poetry of our first picture books stays with us forever.

My own childhood was filled with Maurice Sendak, Edward Lear, Judith Kerr, Roald Dahl and so on… so it’s all in there, I think.

Also my daughter, Elodie, has one or two Huggalumph characteristics herself!

View from Zoë's office
Can you tell us about finding out that your manuscript was the winning entry? 

It was incredible to discover that “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed” had won.

I’d been following the SCBWI Bologna updates on Facebook, and I saw that my text was being illustrated by two superstar illustrators –– Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, who was shortlisted for this year's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

That in itself was really exciting, and then to actually win!

It’s been an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback from an editor of the caliber of Emma. The report she has written is thoughtful and encouraging, and I can’t thank her and the SCBWI enough.

I’ve already reworked “The Huggalumph” with Emma’s comments in mind. I guess it’s time to look for a great literary agent!

Emma, the guidelines for the contest specified that manuscripts not be longer than 350 words. For several years now authors have been advised to keep their picture book manuscripts short - 500 words or less. Do you see this trend continuing? 

Three hundred and fifty words is definitely on the short end of the picture books we publish! Word counts can vary greatly depending on things like the age group they’re targeting, and whether they’re fiction or nonfiction.

But yes, in general, there has been a trend towards brevity in recent years. I see this not as brevity for brevity’s sake, but because often, a manuscript reads as “too long” because it would simply be a stronger story if it were shorter.

When I edit a picture book text, sometimes I’ll encourage an author to condense when I find that there’s excessive description; too many different plotlines going on at once; or too much information incorporated (this can be a particular issue with nonfiction).

Every word is important in a picture book, where space is precious and limited—so every story needs focus and intent.

Based on your experience as an editor, what is the one thing that you think picture book authors should keep in mind when crafting their stories? 

Especially for authors who are just beginning or are early in their careers, it’s important to remember that once your text leaves your hands and is paired with an illustrator, it’s just as much their book as it is yours.

This idea understandably can be difficult to come to terms with, but it’s a crucial mindset for producing the best book possible.

Though the author’s input is important to me (of course!), I want the artists I work with to have the freedom to bring their own vision to the story, too.

In those early stages, when an author is first crafting their story, they can keep this in mind by asking themselves questions about how certain text might come alive visually.

For example, “is it important to the story that I write that my character is wearing a green shirt; or can I let the artist make that choice?”

Not only will this make your manuscript more appealing for an illustrator, but it will help you improve your story, too, by bringing in the focus and intent that I mention above.

Thanks so much for talking with me today! Zoë, we wish you and the Huggalumph great success! Emma, any last thoughts for our readers? 

Thanks for having me, Elisabeth! And thanks to all of you authors who submitted your work to this contest. Keep writing (and reading)!

Cynsational Notes

Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, joined Simon & Schuster in 2011 following internships with Little, Brown; Nickelodeon; and Nick Jr.

A graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in Art History, Emma has edited all kinds of books for kids. These include the picture book Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Atheneum, 2016), which The New York Times called "an example of children's books at their best" as well as the ALA Notable middle grade novel Quicksand Pond by Newbery Honoree Janet Taylor Lisle (Atheneum, 2017).

She is especially fond of Edward Gorey, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, and the Frances the Badger series by Russell Hoban.

Check out the books she’s edited, as well as some of her favorite children’s literature, on Pintrest; bonus points if you can decipher her Frances-related Twitter handle, @brdnjamforemma.


Zoë Armstrong is a British writer. After graduating from City, University of London, she trained as a journalist, and has worked in public relations within the charitable sector and in education.

She spent her childhood reading Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume in Oxford and Paris.

Her love of children’s literature persisted, and Zoë is now a member of the respected Golden Egg Academy for children’s writers.

Zoë lives with her young daughter in Brighton, on the South Coast of England, and works as a freelance writer. You can find Zoë on Twitter.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, went to University in Tennessee, and lived for many years in Texas.

After a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books and middle grade books.

She serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Guest Interview: SCBWI Volunteers at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018

By A. Colleen Jones
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children's Book Fair

SCBWI Ireland Regional Advisor A. Colleen Jones talks with the volunteer team behind the SCBWI Booth at the Book Fair.

The SCBWI Bologna team that plans, organizes, and executes everything necessary to have a booth at Bologna is comprised of many people, including Christopher Cheng (a Cynsations reporter), Kathleen Ahrens, Angela Cerrito (a Cynsations reporter), Dana Carey, Susan Eaddy, Sarah Baker, and Chelsea Confalone.

Chris, Susan, Sarah, and Dana were at the fair along with a handful of volunteers including Teacher/Librarian Bini Szacsvay, me, Elisabeth Norton (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Switzerland), Olga Reiff (Illustrator Coordinator, SCBWI Belgium & Luxembourg), and Ale Diaz Bouza (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Spain).

Special thanks also to illustrator David Liew (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Singapore) for being a funny, cheerful, and thoughtful presence at the booth.

To see our posts on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, our handle is: @SCBWIBologna. You can search for the following hashtags: #scbwibologna #BBF18SCBWI. 


While many of our volunteers were book-fair veterans, Olga, Ale, and I were first-timers.

I was curious to compare experience with them and with Elisabeth on attending the book fair and volunteering in the booth. I asked some questions of all three volunteers. Where I asked a question of just one or two of them, I have included their name in the question.

How much preparation did you do for the fair? Did you bring your portfolio? Business cards? 

I know Elisabeth lugged a lot of gear for the booth all the way from Switzerland on (was it) five trains! 

Ale: Every year I try to begin with the preparations earlier than the last one. Most of the time, this means I begin with two or three months minimum, and every year when I come back home I think about preparing next year as soon as possible.

I think about improving my portfolio, new projects I would like to show to editors, about people I should like to meet, and promotional material I need to bring with me like postcards, business cards, badges, etc.

Olga: I had business cards and postcards, which I also used as a giveaway. But I would recommend bringing a small poster too, to hang on the illustrator’s wall. I had a portfolio, which turned out to be too big. Next time, I will do a smaller and handier one.

Elisabeth in Switzerland
Elisabeth: You’re right! It was five trains on the way there, but only three on the way home. My preparation for the fair took place in phases.

The first phase (November) was to find a place to stay and a roommate. The next phase started in February. I inventoried and restocked our booth supplies—everything from markers for the Duelling Illustrators contests to batteries for strings of lights that hung in the booth.

I had a “Bologna Pile” in a corner of the study for more than a month. I did bring my business cards, but not enough of them! My advice is to bring more cards than you think you will need, because you can always bring the extras back home.

Have you volunteered for the SCBWI booth before? What did you do as a volunteer?

Ale: This was my first year at the booth and it was a wonderful experience, very different with regard to other times that I attended the fair.

I helped with little things about promoting our organization, spoke to visitors in Spanish (that brings SCBWI a more international direction), helped members after their portfolio reviews, welcomed members to the booth, and so on.

Olga: It was my first time. During my service hours, I had the chance to explain the SCBWI’s activities to young Russian illustrators and an editor from Slovakia. I did a short portfolio review for a young Italian illustrator who visited the booth. That was fun.

A member of my Belgium chapter came along, and we talked about our future activities in the region. I also helped set up an Indonesian colleague’s showcase and took photos for her, and followed with some social media activity on Instagram.

Elisabeth, You have volunteered for the SCBWI booth before. How does this time compare to your previous experience of the fair? What did you do differently? What were your primary duties this time? 

My primary responsibility this time, as before, was to greet the visitors to the booth. Some publishers or art directors who visit the booth are interested in one of the books that is on display. We talk to them and direct them to the contact and rights information for that title.

Elisabeth in the SCBWI booth
Many visitors to the booth are creators themselves, mostly illustrators, but a fair number of writers too. Some are members of the SCBWI and have stopped by to see the booth and chat about their experiences at the fair.

Others don’t know about our organization, and this gives us the opportunity to explain how the SCBWI supports writers and illustrators at every stage of their career.

I always ask where the person is living. Often, they are in a region where I know their regional team. This means I can tell them a bit about the activities and meetups going on in their area.

I would say the difference between my experience at the fair this time versus the last time had less to do with what my responsibilities were (since they were essentially the same) and more to do with me feeling more comfortable.

The fair can be an overwhelming experience the first time you go! This time the logistics (where the booth is, where the bus stop is, how to get to/from the fair) were familiar, so I was able to focus more on other aspects of the fair.

What was your first impression when you arrived in Bologna? When you first arrived at the fair?

Ale: I feel the fair is more open to artists. I think the fair is expanding their programs for writers and translators, which is a very good thing.

Olga: I was surprised by the dimensions of the fair buildings.

Elisabeth: My first impression of Bologna was the oranges and reds and terracottas of the buildings, because this palette is so different from where I live. Then I was struck by how big the sculpture of Neptune in the famous fountain is. You don’t get the sense of the scale in most of the photos.
Neptune's Fountain in Bologna
My first impression of the fair was, like Neptune’s statue, “This is bigger than I expected!” Each of the halls is huge, and there are four of them.

My next impression was People! There are so many people involved in this fair— both exhibitors and attendees. It is awe-inspiring to realize how many people around the world are focused on making quality books for young readers.

What were the top three things you liked best about the fair? 

Ale: The fair is full of opportunities at different levels. You can have professional meetings, learn from trends you can see at different booths that in some way could inspire your work, and also meet and learn from wonderful creators at talks and master classes.

Olga: The fact of being part of the SCBWI and volunteering at the booth was the best part. The variety of exhibitions and conferences, the illustrations, the books. The beauty of Bologna downtown.

Elisabeth: In reverse order—
3. How organized it is. (What can I say, I live in Switzerland. I have a highly developed appreciation for a well-organized public event.) 
2. The chance to browse publications on display at the exhibitor booths. It’s like the children’s section of the world’s largest library! 
1. The people. The ones you meet who come by the booth, and the ones you work with. I’ve met so many amazing people through the SCBWI, and working at the booth over a period of several days really gives you the chance to get to know them.
What was one thing you would like to see changed or improved about the fair?

Ale: The corners for writers and illustrators are now great, full of activities and talks. But I think they could grow to become very strong meeting points and a community for sharing much more about the industry.

Olga: It is a huge fair and some things were a bit difficult for me as for many others (food, toilets, crowded halls). I didn’t know that the entry is only for professionals. My parents wanted to meet me at my showcase, and they couldn’t enter the fair. Perhaps the organizers could put a warning about that on their Internet site? Or is this clear to anybody except me?

Elisabeth: I’m not sure I can think of anything! They do a pretty amazing job of organizing that many exhibitors and visitors.

Colleen and Olga at the SCBWI booth
What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as an illustrator?

Ale: In some ways, the fair is like a massive bookstore, full of books from all around the world, where you can see trends all together. This could be a great way to know where your path is, taking inspiration from other artists’ works, and give you clues about knocking at the right publishing house's door.

Olga: I had some difficulties to get back on my feet and continue my work after seeing the impressive quality and quantity of illustrations at the fair. On the other hand, I understood that there is a market for nearly every style, and that I just have to know what I want and be more consistent with what I do, and to improve the way I do it.

Some editors I spoke to said that my style is too soft, and I took this as very helpful feedback to improve the contrast and variety of value in my illustrations. Perhaps the German market is not the right one for my style.

Elisabeth, What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as a writer?

Some writers who attend the fair have appointments or engagements that have been arranged by their editors or agents.

For other writers, I would say it depends on the programs on offer (this can be viewed online). An illustrator might attend the fair on multiple days in order to take advantage of portfolio review opportunities with publishers, whereas a writer might find that a one- or two-day visit is enough to get a sense of what the fair is about and attend any programs of interest.

Ale and Olga, how easy or difficult was it to show your portfolio to prospective clients at the fair?

Ale: As an illustrator, it is not so difficult, because publishing houses are giving more portfolio reviews every year. The difficult thing is to know how spend your time wisely, because you can lose very valuable time in a queue where your work doesn't fit. But on the other hand, very good feedback about your work is always valuable.

Ale shows her portfolio.
Olga: It was easy to find out when the German editors had their open portfolio hours just by checking every day and writing it down in my notebook. It was more difficult to decide which of them I should choose, depending on their books. I didn’t manage to do more than five in two days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to speak to any U.K. editors. My schedule was too full.

Ale, you designed and printed up notebooks with samples of your Spanish members' work. What was it like for you to go around giving those notebooks as gifts to publishers and agents? 

Since the first time I went to Bologna, I thought about doing a specific collective promotion for the fair. A couple of years ago, we decided to commission a handmade book by a local artisan to give as a SCBWI Spain gift to editors and agents. It was a successful effort, so we keep doing it.

We have a very good team that helps to deliver the notebooks at the fair, and we always receive a very good response.

Axier Uzkudun, César López, Ale Diaz Bouza and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the SCBWI team from Spain.
Elisabeth, did you make any professional contacts at the fair?

I always try to at least say hello to some of the Swiss publishers and illustration agencies that are at the fair. That said, I find that it’s easier to network with them in a more meaningful way when we’re not at the fair. I’m mindful of the fact that they have a different focus during that week—the marketing and acquisition of book rights and seeking fresh illustration talent.

Ale and Olga, what did you think about your illustrator showcase? What did you get from that experience? 

Ale: I must confess, I wasn't sure about my showcase at home, when I was planning it. But now I think it was a wonderful opportunity to show my work.

Doing live painting and drawing was fantastic. I had the chance to share ideas with people that came to the booth. I could also promote my illustrated products and portfolio works.

Olga doing live painting during her showcase.
Olga: I was happy to talk to people who walked by, and I was glad they liked my postcards. I did a live watercolour painting session, too. I think the experience of seeing other people’s showcases was very valuable. I was very inspired by their work and presentations.

Elisabeth, what was your favourite SCBWI booth event? Why? 

I love the illustrator showcases! Many of them were painting or drawing while they attended their display, others had portfolio slideshows on tablets. I love watching artists work. Then when I see an illustration that they’ve done for a book, I have more insight into how that illustration was created.

Olga during the Duelling Illustrators event.
Olga, what did you think about participating in the Duelling Illustrators event? What did you like best and least about it? 

I was glad I could do it, and it was really fun to duel with David Liew, who is a lovely person! I will bring more charcoal next time!

I also loved watching Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley’s duel. I guess it would be very difficult to organize, but it would be nice to have feedback about the duel—like the pros in football do after the play, to see what has been done and what could be improved.

Duelling illustrators Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley
Can you sum up in a few sentences your overall impressions and experiences of volunteering at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair? 

Ale: Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a must for the book industry professionals. Every year is full of new opportunities, and you can plan your trip based on your professional goals for your career.

If you don´t want to miss anything, have a good plan for each day before you arrive at the fair, so you can be at the right place at the right time. Planning and saving time for yourself is necessary.

Being part of the SCBWI team at the booth gave me a different and interesting perspective of the fair. The most important thing for me was sharing time and valuable experiences with the other members.

Finally, Bologna is a lovely and very comfortable city. There are lots of activities outside of the fair that you don´t want to miss: sightseeing, dinners out, and our funny SCBWI party at a lovely book shop.
Olga's first picture book in Luxembourgish, De Poli geet an de Bësch,
will be published by Editions Guy Binsfeld in fall 2018.

Olga: It was the best part of being at the fair. Belonging to this community made me very happy, and I was glad I could help. I was impressed by the work of the Bologna team who prepared all this! I was glad to be able to talk to people I knew and feel at home.

Elisabeth: I love volunteering at the SCBWI Booth at Bologna. I love the contact with the people, both the booth visitors and the people I work with at the booth.

It’s also exciting to be able to promote the work of our illustrators and writers through the books on display, the Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG) that hangs in the booth, and the Duelling Illustrators drawing based on the manuscript contest winners.

One of my favourite things about being at the fair doesn’t actually happen at the fair—going out to dinner! While in Bologna, I had the chance to have dinner with the SCBWI members from France, Ireland, Spain, Michigan, Australia, and Singapore.

I love talking with people from around the world about their activities in their region, the projects that they’re working on, and their experiences at the fair. That’s why in my list of “Top 3 Things,” “people” was number one.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences of Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018! 

Cynsational Notes

Ale Diaz Bouza spent most of her childhood in Galicia, Spain inside books and secret worlds.

She draws and writes about them all the time. Music, astronomy and cinema (animation) also become her passion. Out of her desire to learn, and to find stories hidden in the stars, Ale studied Physics at the University Santiago de Compostela, at Galicia, Spain.

Later, she embarked on a course in children’s illustration and changed her vocation, so she settled in Madrid to study Illustration, Creative Writing, and Graphic Design.

Currently she’s immersed in personal projects, like her own line of illustrated products, and is the volunteer Regional Advisor for the Spanish chapter of the SCBWI. Find her on social media: @alediazbouza (Facebook, Behance, Instagram, Pintrest and Twitter.)

Currently based in Luxembourg, Olga Reiff was born in Austria, and has a master’s degree in translation, French, and Russian from Innsbruck University.

After she got married, Olga mainly worked as a freelance translator, loving books passionately, keeping in touch with kidlit through her four children. But then Olga felt that she needed more creativity in her life, so she quit her job and started taking art and illustration classes, read nearly everything about picture-book making, and began to write stories for children—both in German and Luxembourgish.

Finally, Olga started to write and illustrate her first picture book—a story about a kindergarten boy who tries to get along with his best friend, a little girl. For her illustrations, which she does at her workspace at home, Olga uses ink and nib pen and colours her work with light layers of watercolour. Olga found an editor in Luxembourg, and publication of her book is scheduled for fall 2018.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years in Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books. She serves as the Regional Advisor for the Swiss chapter of the SCBWI.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

A. Colleen Jones is Canadian, but has lived in Ireland since 2005. She is involved in the children’s literature community in both Canada and Ireland.

Colleen is the current SCBWI Regional Advisor for Ireland and Northern Ireland, a member of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Children’s Books Ireland and Ibby Ireland, and was the “Social Media Beast” for the SCBWI Bologna team for 2018.

She also volunteers for Fighting Words Cork, which provides creative writing tutoring to groups of both younger children and teens. She is focusing on a younger middle grade novel at the moment while honing her writing skills.

Colleen is not averse to offers of dark chocolate and Sicilian pistachio gelato. Find her on Twitter @acolleenjones

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cynsational News

7th Generation, 2018
By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robin Galbraith, Gayleen RabukukkKate Pentecost for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview: Tim Tingle, Author of A Name Earned by Gordon West from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:
"Tragedy happens in everything I write, but the tragedy is never gonna win. I want the kids who live in that environment to know that…just because your home situation doesn’t change, doesn’t mean you can’t.”
Everyone Has a Right to a Story That Feels Like Truth by Maxine Kaplan from YA Interrobang. Peek:
"If there is still only one acceptable way to be a girl in a rape culture, then we’re only doing half the work when we say, 'Me too.' Rape culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum and its stories can’t either."
How School Librarians Will Save the World by Josh Funk from The Nerdy Book Club. Peek:
"...it’s most often the librarians that are teaching coding. While budgets are always tight, it’s fallen to the librarians to carve out time for Hour of Code. School library bookshelves are being rearranged to make room for makerspaces."
Interview: Children's Author Mike Jung from DiversifYA. Peek:
"Find the emotional heart of your character and be true to it from start to finish. That’s the core of your story; that’s where its true power ultimately lies." 
Kelly Loy Gilbert Talks About Representation, Picture Us in the Light (Hyperion, 2018) & More by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek:
"I didn’t set out to consciously write an unlikable narrator! But, of course, he can be selfish and impulsive and obtuse, and he makes some questionable choices, and there are things he still hasn’t forgiven himself for (and probably shouldn’t, frankly, be forgiven). My two entry points into narrators are always their voice and the lens they use to see the world...."
No, I Will Not Stop Talking About Queer Pride from Robin Stevenson. Peek:
"I didn’t know what to do. I was so shocked that this was happening. I thought he would take his students and leave, and I felt like that would be even more upsetting to the kids. And it didn’t seem right that the students should lose out on an author visit because of their teacher’s ignorance." 
What are the ingredients of a universally appealing early fiction series? By Chitra Soundar from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek:
"These books deal with emotions that children of this age group are coming to grips with – from anger and jealousy to empathy, hope and joy; but with a twinkle in the eye, a wink here and a smile there."
Conducting Informatioal Interviews for Story Research from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:
"Here are pointers for before, during, and after the interview that can make an initially intimidating experience more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved."
Writing Craft

Creating Unlikable Protagonists Readers Can Love by Helen Pyne from Through the Tollbooth. Peek:
"The trouble is, a protagonist is more likely to be 'unlikable' at the beginning of a novel when she’s only just figuring things out. Character transformation is a gradual process; it takes time to mature and change. That means she needs to make mistakes before achieving success."
See also Making an Anthology by Sarah Blake Johnson and In This Together: The Power of Collaboration: Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison by Linda Washington from Through the Tollbooth.

Stuck in a Rut: How to Amp Up a "Boring" Story Setting by Angela Ackerman from Writers in the Storm. Peek:
"When described well, a specific location will draw readers into the scene’s action and the mindset of the POV character at the same time. Our description should provide an experience, encouraging readers to emotionally invest."
See also Angela on How to Accurately Write About Your Character's Physical Pain from Writers Helping Writers.

Publishing

Hulu Ordering ‘Looking For Alaska’ Limited Series From Josh Schwartz Based On John Green’s Novel From Paramount TV by Nellie Andreeva from Deadline Hollywood. Peek:
"Schwartz first fell in love with Looking For Alaska (Dutton, 2005) in 2005 when he was given a then-unpublished manuscript for what would become Green’s debut novel. That was years before Green penned his hugely popular teen book The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012), which was made into an equally successful movie."
Starting Later & Starting Over: Launching a Writing Career When You’re No Longer “Young” by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Features literary agent insights, including those of children's-YA agent Sarah Davies. Peek:
"If the individual deserves to succeed, then let’s be their champion, whatever their age. However, if the writing doesn’t have what it takes, then age can’t be a smoke-screen for that fact."
The Trouble with (and Triumphs of) Trends by Elizabeth Bluemle from Shelf Talker at Publishers Weekly. Peek:
"Look at YA; it’s hard to believe it was ever endangered. It’s possible that the burgeoning of YA couldn’t have happened without that steep decline. The same is true of picture books."
Marketing

New Voice Interview with Jeanette.
School Visits Survey: Is There a Gender Gap? by Jeanette Bradley and Michelle Cusolito from Polliwog on Safari. Peek:
"While there is not a large gap between male and female/non-binary respondents in terms of rate, there is a significant difference in the total number of school visits done in the last year."
School Visits Survey: Free and Reduced-Fee Visits by Jeanette Bradley and Michelle Cusolito from Polliwog on Safari. Peek:
"Female/non-binary respondents who have won a national ALA/ALSC award had a lower average of publisher-sponsored visits than men who had not won one of these awards."
See also Jeanette and Michelle on School Visits Survey: Virtual School Visits.

How to Make a Good Author Website from Nathan Bransford.
"Opportunity can’t knock if it can’t find your door."
Book Treats Brought by the Postal Service by Meghan Dietsche Goel from Shelf Talker at Publishers Weekly. Peek:
"...love getting posters. We don’t have room for every single striking poster we receive, but we do spread them around and switch them out periodically to keep things fresh."
Diversity 
Learn more about Feral Nights, Feral Curse and Feral Pride.
Top 15 List of Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Kristyn Dorfman from Nerdy Book Club. Note: Honored to see the Feral trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013-2015) on this list. Peek:
"Speculative fiction is amazing because it can take the experiences and problems of our current world and investigate them deeply under the guise of a world not our own or a world long past."
2018 Summer Reading List from We're the People. Honored to see Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith  (HarperChildren's, 2002) on this list. Peek:
"Are you looking for a curated summer reading list that celebrates diversity and all its intersections? 
"The team at We’re the People select books that are by and about IPOC (Indigenous and People of Color), people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ+ community. Chosen books are thoroughly discussed, vetted and given second reads."
Muslim Voices 2018 by Crystal from Rich in Color. Peek:
"...the Ramadan Readathon is back and there are several other associated activities. There is a blog tour from May 17 to June 15 and there is also a photo challenge and a hashtag so people who aren’t necessarily doing the readathon can still have opportunities to participate. Visit Nadia’s blog to learn more about participation and to find lists to help plan what to read or to purchase for your library."
2018 Walter Grants from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:
"Are you an unpublished, diverse writer or illustrator in need of financial support? Application submissions...are open now!"
WCYA MFA News - Hamline

Brandy Colbert and Elana K. Arnold have joined the faculty of the Hamline MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Learn more about Brandy Colbert & Elana K. Arnold.
Brandy Colbert is the award-winning author of Little & Lion (Little, Brown, 2017), Pointe (Putnam, 2014), and the forthcoming Finding Yvonne (Little, Brown, 2018) and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (Little, Brown, 2019).

She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Missouri State University and works now as a copyeditor for magazines and books. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Elana Arnold is the author of eight novels for young adults and middle grade readers, with one YA novel and two picture books forthcoming. Her most recent novel, What Girls Are Made Of (Carolrhoda Lab, 2017), was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature.

Elana has a Master’s degree in creative writing/fiction from the University of California/Davis where she has taught creative writing and adolescent literature. She lives in southern California with her family.

WCYA MFA News - VCFA

Cori McCarthy has joined the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Learn more about Cori McCarthy.
Cori graduated from VCFA in 2011 and they are the acclaimed author of four YA novels, as well as a forthcoming coauthored space fantasy duology and a nonfiction picture book about Arab American poet Kahlil Gibran.

Cori’s feminist romcom Now A Major Motion Picture (Sourcebooks, 2018) is, according to Kirkus Reviews, “a war cry and a love letter all at once.”

Cori holds a BA and MFA in creative writing as well as a degree in screenwriting. They cofounded the annual Rainbow Writers Workshop with their partner and, like many of their characters, are a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Cyn Note: I had the pleasure of hearing Cori speak on a panel, "Fandomonium: Fandoms and Fanfiction for Young Adults," this April in Dallas, and I was impressed not only by what they had to say but also by their collection of superhero action figures. Welcome to the faculty, Cori!

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally - Cynthia

In late-breaking news this week, I'm officially a soon-to-be published poet!


I'm deeply honored to have contributed a poem to be featured in Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul and illustrated by debut Native artist Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota-Mohegan-Muscogee (Creek))(Lerner, fall 2019).

Featured poems are also by Joseph Bruchac, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kimberly Blaeser, 신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin, Ed DeCaria, Becky Shillington, Padma Venkatraman, Gwendolyn Hooks, Jane Yolen, Janice Scully, Charles Waters, Carole Lindstrom, Sylvia Liu, Carolyn Dee Flores, Sarvinder Naberhaus, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Baptiste Paul, Patti Richards, Chrystal D. Giles, Margarita Engle, Kenn Nesbitt, JaNay Brown-Wood, Diana Murray, Megan Hoyt, Jamie McGillen, Rénee M. LaTulippe, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Edna Cabcabin Moran, Charles Ghigna, Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell, and fellow VCFA faculty Liz Garton Scanlon.

What else? Did you receive the Fall-Winter 2018 Candlewick Press catalog? If so, please look for my October 2018 YA releases, Hearts Unbroken (hardcover, p. 74) and Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral trilogy)(paperback, p. 113). Both books are available for pre-order.

Feral Pride was originally released in hardcover in 2015. The October release means that all the books in the Tantalize-Feral verse will be available in paperback. Huzzah!

A peek at Feral Pride reviews:
“Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed.  
"High-demand Backstory: Smith’s fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility.” 
— Booklist
“…the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects…witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy…” 
— Kirkus Reviews
"With its focus on supernatural creatures and its subplots involving teen romance, the fast-paced and action-packed series could easily lend itself to cinematic or television adaptation." 
— Literacy Daily
Congratulations to Olivia Abtahi and Luisana Duarte Armendáriz, winners of the 2018 Lee & Low New Visions Award! Congrats also to the winners and honorees of the 2018 South Asia Book Award, especially Mitali Perkins, Hena Khan and Uma Krishnaswami!

Link of the Week: Success Story Spotlight: Kim Rogers from The Writing Barn.

More Personally - Gayleen

Authors Varsha Bajaj and Paige Britt at BookPeople
Our Austin SCBWI meeting last weekend focused on reducing stress and nurturing creativity.

Children's authors Varsha Bajaj, a former counselor, and Paige Britt, a meditation instructor, shared tips especially geared toward writers and illustrators. My favorite: "Relax about the attachment to the outcome and revel in the process of creating."

They also each recommended a book. Paige suggested If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (Martino Fine, 2011) and Varsha suggested The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Volger (Michael Weise Productions, 2007).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Illustrator Interview: Jonathan Thunder on Bowwow Powwow

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda Child, translated (Ojibwe) by Gordon Jourdain, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018) From the promotional copy:

Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. 

Windy can tell such stories herself—about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. 

When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. 

Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers—all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.

Bowwow Powwow gives readers a fun, imaginative and colorful story about Windy Girl and her dog at the summer’s last powwow. Told in both English and Ojibwe, it helps those in Ojibwe language programs and immersion schools have a beautifully illustrated story to read.

Now about those illustrations . . . Jonathan, you’re an award-winning painter and digital media artist. Your animation work has won first place at the SWAIA – Santa Fe Indian Market the past three years. Previously you’ve digitally illustrated a Native comic book for grown-ups and a children’s book. But what brought you to illustrate Bowwow Powwow?

I have worked in a range of different creative mediums from canvas to digital over the years. I think the collaborations I have been part of won me some recommendations to be a part of this project.

When the folks at Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) Press approached me in January of 2016 the book had already been written for some time.

Illustration from Naadaamaading by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.

I had illustrated one other children’s book in 2011, called Naadaamaading (Wiigwaas Press, 2013), with much success. So I drew from that experience and from being an animation artist, applying both to this task. When I was given the chance to make some concept art for the book I went with a drawing that I considered to be both magical and luring to readers to want to see more.

I also drew influence from my childhood memories of the Pow Wow in Red Lake where I was born. After reviewing my drawing and several talks with MNHS Press, I was commissioned to do the full book.

Interior illustration from Bowwow Powwow by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.
I didn’t grow up in the Pow Wow culture. My parents would bring me to Pow Wows when I was a boy. I knew doing the art for Bowwow Powwow would take a bit of research on my part but I was up for the challenge.

Typically with picture books, the author and illustrator do not meet or discuss the work as each craft their part of the story separately. Did you already know author Brenda Child, a fellow Red Lake Ojibwe Band citizen? Or did the editor put you all in contact? 

I knew Brenda Child from meeting her at art exhibits where I would be showing my paintings. We would chat and discuss art and the careers of various artists at these events.

Jonathan working on pencil drawings for Bowwow Powwow.
When the project started to come into its early production planning stages she visited my studio in Duluth. We talked about the origin of her story and compared notes of Red Lake memories, family life and Pow Wows. This gave me a feel for what Brenda had in mind when she wrote the book.

After that meeting my contact for the book was Shannon Pennefeather at MNHS Press. She helped me develop the feel and look of the scenes and main character, Windy Girl.

Interior illustration by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.
What craft and career advice do you have for Native artists who might be interested in illustrating? 

For me it took some looking into the illustration world and finding out as much as I could. I looked for illustrators that jumped off the page at me and thought about why they stood out.

Illustrate stories that move you; it will show in the work.

Interior illustration by Jonathan Thunder, used with permission.
What do you have coming up next?

I have been writing a picture book about bees which I will illustrate as well. The book will be the first I have written and illustrated since I was 12.

I look forward to seeing more of your work in children’s literature, Jonathan.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews wrote of Bowwow Powwow, "Simultaneously fanciful and reverent, this is a joyous look at a crucial tradition."

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature also offered praise,“I love seeing Indigenous languages in kids’ books!”

Jonathan Thunder and Brenda J. Child discussed Bowwow Powwow on a recent episode of Native America Calling.

To learn more about the Misaabekong Ojibwe Language Immersion, listen to this story from Duluth Public Radio.

Jonathan Thunder is an artist currently residing in Duluth, Minnesota. He has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics from the Art Institutes International Minnesota.

His work has been featured in many state, regional, and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder has won several first place awards in SWAIA’s annual Class ‘X’ Moving Images competition for animation and experimental film. Find him on Facebook at Thunder Fine Art.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children's-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Watch a video of Naadaamaading, featuring Jonathan's illustrations.