Friday, July 31, 2015

#LA15SCBWI – My Top Ten Verbs For The Conference Ahead

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' 2015 Summer Conference is going to be an amazing event, bringing together over 1,000 of my fellow writers and illustrators and agents and editors and publishers and art directors of books for kids and teens. All of us passionate about telling great stories, and about the power of stories to make kids' lives, and our world, better.



I will be...

#1
MODERATING
On Friday, from 5:00 pm-6:00 pm, I'll be moderating the SCBWI Success Story panel, talking with Martha Brockenbrough, Mike Curato, Stacey Lee, Lori Nichols and Anna Shinoda about "Tips On How To Realize Your Dream." They're a brilliant and varied group, and I'm excited to learn from them! (This is a plenary panel in the main conference space, the California Ballroom.)

#2
HOSTING
Later that same evening, from 7:30 pm-9:00 pm, I'll be hosting the LGBTQ Q&A. I love this informal, sit-in-a-circle, share and talk about creating works with LGBTQ characters and themes with conference attendees and our wonderful faculty guests. This year we've confirmed the participation so far of bestselling author Ellen Hopkins, legendary editor Emma Dryden, art director (and debut YA author) Laurent Linn, and my own wonderful agent, Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary. (This awesome event will be in the Westwood room.)

#3
CO-FACILITATING
On Monday morning, along with Jim Averbeck, I'll be co-facilitating the Intensive, "Your Plan For An Effective and Successful Blog: Audience. Content. Discoverability. Synergy." Jim and I have been having a lot of fun pulling this workshop together, and we're excited to get hands-on about blogging with the intensive participants!

#4
OOOOHING
Adam Rex! Dan Santat! Varian Johnson! Shannon Hale! Kwame Alexander! And those are just a few of the keynoters!!!

#5
AAAHING
The editors panel with Jordan Brown, Julie Strauss-Gabel, Allyn Johnston, Rotem Moscovich, Sara Sargent, Alison Weiss and Wendy Loggia! There's so much insight to be gained from getting to hear these editors in person!

#6
LISTENING
The "Diversity in Children's Books: Challenges and Solutions" panel with Joe Cepeda, Brandy Colbert, Varian Johnson, I.W. Gregorio, Nicola Yoon and Miranda Paul. This is such a "hot" topic right now, and I want to listen closely to see how I can be part of the solution to making books for kids and teens more diverse!

#7
LEARNING
From my fellow attendees to my fellow faculty members, I feel like everyone has something to offer. I'm going to stay open to the experience ahead, and know that it's often the unexpected moments of talking with someone that can be the most rewarding.

#8
SPARKLING
The theme of the Saturday night party is "Sparkle and Shine." I've got a plan (a secret plan...), which is happily both conceptually fun and not too hard to pull together. I hope.

#9
BELONGING
This is my tribe. My community. My colleagues. My friends. It's a great feeling, spending these days, being my authentic self in a community that values and honors me for being exactly me. It's is time that I truly relish.

#10
WRITING
Even when I'm super busy at a conference, I try to get up a half-hour earlier than I have to and squeeze in a few minutes a day of writing. Because writing reminds me that I am a writer. That I create worlds, and characters and stories. And there's power in that!


Oh, and I almost forgot... of course, I'll be BLOGGING!
#11
Once again I'll be leading the powerful SCBWI Team Blog (Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik, Jolie Stekly and Don Tate), live-blogging and tweeting from the conference floor. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #LA15SCBWI and at the Official SCBWI Conference blog here.

Let me know what your top verbs are for the conference ahead!
Lee

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Boy Scouts Lift Their Ban On Gay Scout Leaders!

BIG, exciting news!






Here's looking forward to the day when, like the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts come out with a consistent, proud message that scouting is #FOReveryKID! And now we're so much closer to that.

The New York Times article brought up that the Mormon Church is still obstructing equality, still fighting for their homophobic agenda. (And there's still a loophole for churches, where "...the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.")

But for now, in the big picture, justice has won.

I'm excited and grateful to everyone who fought for this over the years, including the Eagle Scout who left the Boy Scouts because they knew me and my husband, and the prejudice against gay members and leaders felt so wrong to them.

Now, the policy has been made right. Gay kids can participate in Boy Scouts. Gay adults can be Scout Leaders.

It's a good thing.

It's progress.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Balance - A Dystopian Future, Love between Two Teen Guys and a Battle For Survival



The Balance by Neal Wooten

Piri is a nineteen-year-old boy who lives in a technological metropolis that rises up above the clouds. But when an accident drops him out of the city, everything changes. At first terrified by the atrocious reality of life on the surface, including surviving gruesome creatures known as Scavs, Piri is soon mesmerized by the bond they have for one another. He also comes to understand his own feelings for Niko, the boy who
rescued him.

In the end, Piri chooses love over comfort. But things are never as they seem. When he discovers just how far the city dwellers will go to
maintain control, and the horrific truth behind an ancient and secret alliance, he will do everything he can to protect his new family—and
disrupt the balance.

Add your review of "The Balance" in comments!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Remember Me - A teenage girl's life with grief, art and love (with another girl!)


Remember Me by Melanie Batchelor

Jamie Richards has lost a lot. Her father died four years ago and her mother is consumed by her career. Jamie finds an escape through her artistic passion and her first love--the one person who hasn't abandoned her, Erica Sinclair.
Overwhelmed by their own harsh realities, Jamie and Erica create a world of their own in an abandoned park--a place they call "Wonderland." Jamie idolizes Erica until the two grow closer, and she realizes that her ideal image of Erica is nothing shy of fiction. When cracks beneath the exterior become more prevalent, Jamie begins to question the love she thought she had for Erica, and if that love was ever reciprocated.
And then it happens. A shocking event occurs that changes Jamie and Erica's relationship forever. Jamie knows that there's no escaping this reality--she'll have to find a way to move forward without hiding behind her sketchbook.

Add your review of "Remember Me" in comments!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Waiting Tree: Simon loves Stephen, but life (and religion, and family) get in the way



The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihan
Eighteen-year-old Simon Peters wants to stand up for the truth about who he is. His love for Stephen is unwavering, but does he have the courage to defend it when his entire church community, including his eldest brother Paul, have ostracized him? Will Stephen's feelings change now that he's been banished to the Waverly Christian Center to learn how to be normal again? Trapped in a cashier's job he hates, struggling to maintain peace with his brothers after their parents have died, and determined to look after his mute twin and his friend Tina, Simon puts everyone else's needs before his own. It takes a courageous act on the part of Jude, his devoted twin, to change both of their lives forever. Jude, who is wiser than anyone ever knew. Jude, who understands that the meaning of the fig tree blooming in their scrappy backyard can finally set them free.

Add your review of "The Waiting Tree" in comments!

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Starting A Middle School GSA...



"I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle... But the G.S.A. isn't about that, and they've come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone."

Kendra Wallace, Principal of Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles, as quoted in the September 27, 2009 cover story in the New York Times Magazine, "Coming Out In Middle School: What Happens to 13-Year-Olds – and their friends, parents and school principals – when they announce they are gay?" by Benoit Denizet-Lewis.

This is from an article I saved and recently read again. And what Kendra said about starting the G.S.A. at her middle school is still very resonant about what G.S.A.s are and can do.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Sam & Aaron - A wordless online graphic short story that's free (and heartwarming!)


The website landing (and first) page of "Sam & Aaron"


Sam & Aaron by Gary Hansen

Sam & Aaron is a short illustrated story following the puppy love shared by two young grade-school aged boys. It is a story without an antagonist or conflict and dwells on the innocence and excitement of first love.

The author/illustrator explains (both in his about page and as part of the kickstarter video he's created to print up copies of the story) that being gay and coming out for him was full of negative emotions, confusion, fear and shame. He wrote and illustrated "Sam & Aaron" as a way to heal himself. As he says, "a hopeful view of a world I hope to see for future generations."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lumberjanes Vol. 1 - A graphic novel where five best pals at summer camp battle supernatural critters... and two of the girls find love, with each other!



Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen

Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they're not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!

I liked the recent article on "Lumberjanes" in the LA Times where Noelle revealed that "We wanted to set up this safe place that was sort of set apart from the rest of the world. No one here is going to react to Mal and Molly with homophobia. No one's going to judge their relationship. Mal and Molly aren't the only characters who have gender and sexuality to figure out."

Sounds so cool! Volume 2 is out in October 2015... Add your review of "Lumberjanes" in comments!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Girl Scouts Is #ForEVERYGirl - a wonderful story about standing up to prejudice (and being rewarded for that!)



So, here's the story:

The Girl Scouts of Western Washington got a donation. A BIG donation. $100,000.00 This was a lot of money for them, about a quarter of their fundraising goal for the entire year.

But, the money came with a catch.

"Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls," read the message. "If you can't, please return the money."

So what did the Girl Scouts of Western Washington do?

"We said Girl Scouts is for EVERY girl. And we gave the money back."

So proud of them!

Then, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington turned to the internet, launching an indigogo campaign.

They explained what had happened, and asked the larger community to help them replace the funds, so they could still help 500 girls be financially able to "join a troop, go to camp and participate in a multitude of other life-changing Girl Scout experiences even though their families can’t afford to pay for them."

As the indigogo text explains, through their participation in Girl Scouts, Every girl is empowered to:
"Use their voice to stand up for what they believe in
Be proud of who they are, and
Support each other to take action to make the world a better place."

Great goals!

So here's the even better news. They replaced that $100,000.00 donation in ONE DAY. And as of this writing, they'd raised a total of more than $330,000.00! Enough to help over 1,500 girls!

As Stefanie Ellis, the public relations director of Girl Scouts of Western Washington, was quoted in the Upworthy article about this,

"When we realized the donation would require us to exclude some girls, there was nothing else to do but return it. We were grateful to have the enthusiastic backing of our board and staff in making that decision. It was a sad one, though, because that money was for 500 girls who couldn't participate in all the life-changing opportunities we offer without financial support. So we knew we needed to find a way to get that money back. Crowdfunding came up as an idea, and we ran with it. Now here we are.
...
We wholeheartedly believe every girl means EVERY girl. And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to. The only way we're going to fulfill our mission of building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place is if we make sure there aren't any barriers in place for girls' success. We welcome all girls to join us, and get out there and make a difference in our world!"
Beautiful.

As their indiegogo video says, "our community is stronger because we are inclusive."

YES!

Now isn't that a great story?




Friday, July 10, 2015

Love Spell - A Gender-Fluid Teen Sets Out To Catch Mr. Right



Love Spell by Mia Kerick

Strutting his stuff on the catwalk in black patent leather pumps and a snug orange tuxedo as this year’s Miss (ter) Harvest Moon feels so very right to Chance César, and yet he knows it should feel so very wrong.

As far back as he can remember, Chance has been “caught between genders.” (It’s quite a touchy subject; so don’t ask him about it.) However, he does not question his sexual orientation. Chance has no doubt about his gayness—he is very much out of the closet at his rural New Hampshire high school, where the other students avoid the kid they refer to as “girl-boy.”

But at the local Harvest Moon Festival, when Chance, the Pumpkin Pageant Queen, meets Jasper Donahue, the Pumpkin Carving King, sparks fly. So Chance sets out, with the help of his BFF, Emily, to make “Jazz” Donahue his man.

An article in an online women’s magazine, Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Make a Man Fall in Love with You (with a bonus love spell thrown in for good measure), becomes the basis of their strategy to capture Jazz’s heart.

Add your review of "Love Spell" in comments!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Heather Has Two Mommies - A Brand-New Edition of the Modern Classic (and it's wonderful!)



Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Laura Cornell

"Heather's favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet, two pets, and two mommies! When a child at her new school asks her about her daddy, Heather's teacher has all the children draw pictures of their families and everyone learns that "the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other."


When the original edition of "Heather Has Two Mommies" came out, it drew fire (lots of fire) and praise (well-deserved) for being what we now look back on as an "historical landmark" in both children's publishing and queer parenting.

In this all new edition, with new illustrations by Laura Cornell, the story has pulled back from its older  'let me explain you something you've never heard – or maybe even thought about – before' and feels more in sync with where we are culturally today. Ultimately this new edition feels more of a picture book for kids, and less something written for gay and lesbian parents who were so desperate to have some representation in the books we read to our kids.

In my opinion, these changes make the book stronger, and even more worthy of celebration. So, yes, "Heather Has Two Mommies" is definitely a picture book I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid.

Add your review of either (or both) editions of "Heather Has Two Mommies" in comments!



Monday, July 6, 2015

Bridget Smith (Dunham Literary): Agent Looking For Diversity

AGENTS AND EDITORS
NEED TO ADVERTISE THEIR INTEREST IN DIVERSITY

That's the idea. And this series is an effort to do just that.

For now we're focusing on agents, and today's post features agent Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc.

Agent Bridget Smith

Here's Bridget's Bio:

Bridget Smith is an associate agent at Dunham Literary, Inc, where she's worked since June 2011. She represents middle grade, YA, and adult novels, with special interest in fantasy & science fiction, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Her tastes run to literary and character-driven novels.

Previously, she was an intern at Don Congdon Associates, worked at a secondhand book store in Connecticut, and evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com under Liz Gorinsky and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. She graduated from Brown University in 2010. While there, she studied anthropology and archaeology, worked as a radio DJ, fenced on the varsity team, and helped design an experiment that she later performed in microgravity at NASA. Currently she reads, runs, and watches more television than is probably good for her.

Our interview:

Lee: Hi Bridget!

Bridget: Hi Lee!

Lee: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your interest in Diversity in Children's and Teen Literature!

Bridget: Thanks for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you.

Lee: There's been growing discussion about how the 5,000 or so traditionally published books a year don't reflect the actual diversity of our world, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the stunningly low numbers of representation revealed in "Children's Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States," put out by the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center.)

To start us off, of the submissions you get, let's say in the past year, how many of those projects included some kind of diversity of characters or theme?

Bridget: This is a really difficult question to answer, because I get so many submissions every month that it’s impossible to keep any sort of track. (I did once, for a conference panel, and it was so difficult and time-consuming that I vowed never to do it again.) Let’s estimate that I get about 9,000 queries in a year, including adult fiction. So I went and looked at the most recent 90 to get a very rough estimate. Of these, I found that 22 included diverse characters that were visible in the query. So approximately a quarter of my queries feature diversity, and it’s likely that more include diverse secondary characters. From this brief survey, I’d say the quality cross-section of those queries is roughly the same as the rest of my inbox: a few are intriguing and set aside for further consideration, a few are actively off-putting in some way, and the majority are simply not that interesting to me.

Lee: Let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Bridget: I am, yes! I think this is the largest category, and it’s also the one talked about the most. I would still, however, love to see more: the discussion is warranted, as you can see by the CCBC stats.

Lee: How about LGBTQ characters, and please break that down - are you seeing lesbian characters? gay? bi? trans*? questioning? queer or gender non-conforming?

Bridget: This is probably the fastest-growing category of diverse submissions that I get. I’m thrilled to see that increasing numbers of people are writing stories about LGBTQ characters that address more and more complex issues. Most of what I see, though, is gay boys. I don’t want fewer gay boys – but I’d like to see more bisexual boys, more girls of all stripes, more characters exploring the boundaries of gender and what it means to them personally. I want some characters who find immense satisfaction in knowing which label fits them, and some characters who prefer to eschew labels altogether!

Lee: Yup. Lables. That could be an entire other interview. We need more of it all! How about characters with disabilities?

Bridget: This is the smallest category that I see, and one of the hardest as well: very few people start a manuscript about, for example, a gay character with an explanation of what it means to be gay, but many of the characters with disabilities that I encounter spend more time focusing on the disability than on the story. I understand the urge! Writers want to make sure readers understand the character. And when you care about representing a particular disability well, you want it to be clear to the reader. But a disability, like any other facet of a character, needs to unfold within the story. Show me what it’s like to live with this disability rather than telling me all the symptoms. I’m particularly interested in the ways a disability can shape a person’s perception of the world and the stories that live within that space.

Lee: Are you seeing other types of diversity in the works submitted? - And please share any specific categories that spring to mind.

Bridget: I’m seeing a nice increase in socioeconomic diversity, as well. Class intersects with other kinds of diversity in important ways, and we’re still recovering from a recession that is the only reality most YA and MG readers have ever recognized. (Similar to how a current 14-year-old has only ever lived in a “post-9/11 world” and a United States that is at war, that same 14-year-old was 7 when the recession hit in 2008.) Most YA and MG readers are used to some form of austerity: whether their family is struggling from day to day, or there’s just some vague awareness that discounted clothes are preferable, they know that money matters. I’m seeing authors recognize and use this fact, and it’s appreciated.

Lee: How about the creators? Are you seeing under-represented writers and illustrators submitting to you?

Bridget: This is even harder to answer, because it’s entirely self-reported: barring a profile photo that shows up in Gmail, or a name whose background is easily recognizable, I only know as much about the writers as they choose to tell me. I’m sure there are more of them in my slush pile than I know about! I do see some, though, and I always welcome more. Would love to see more, in fact.

Lee: There's a lot of discussion about who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Bridget: Honestly, I’m not sure I have the right to decide this! But my thoughts, in brief: I’d rather see a male author strive to include fully-formed female characters (even if he doesn’t always succeed) than write a world entirely without women. So I apply that feeling more broadly, with the understanding that other people’s thoughts may differ.

I do prefer to see stories that are written by people with that background, not simply because it’s more likely to be “authentic” or respectful, but because they are more steeped in the variety of experiences associated with an identity and can thus write it in more varied, more intersectional ways. But I also think talented writers can and should look beyond their own background to create characters. Do the research, talk to willing members of that group, stretch your empathy muscles, know that you will get something wrong, and be ready to learn from criticism – polite or not.

The opposite side of this coin, of course, is that if you’re a member of a marginalized group, you don’t have to tell that story. You are never required to be an advocate. If you want to write straightforward escapism about a ragtag group of space adventurers or a charming and low-stakes YA romance (though, of course, both of those can effectively include diversity), I’d still love to see that!

Lee: When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Bridget: Honestly, most of the editors I know are looking for diversity in submissions. They want to find really good books that feature under-represented characters and their experiences, and they tell me this frequently. The intention is there! I think it can sometimes be hard for individual manuscripts to break through, especially when editors (like agents) know that they’re going to reject most of what they read and thus are looking to be blown away. I’ve recognized this pattern in my own reading and am trying to pay more attention to whether I’m not connecting with a manuscript because of a real mismatch or simply because it’s written from a point-of-view that’s different from mine.

Lee: I often feel the sense of ‘otherness’ is transferable. That from my own experiences being marginalized (for being Gay, being ill as a teen, being Jewish, being an Atheist, etc…) I feel tremendous empathy for people who are marginalized for other kinds of ‘otherness’ as well.
Can you share what’s driving your desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books?

Bridget: I could talk here about empathy and self-recognition, about the value of seeing yourself in books and the importance of seeing others from the inside. I could talk about how certain books, read at the right moment, fixed something inside of me that I knew was broken but didn’t know how to name, and about how I want other children and teenagers to have those moments too. And all of that is true! But in the end, I must admit my driving reason is rather selfish: I think it makes for more interesting stories. I want more variety in my books, more voices and experiences brought to vivid breathing life. There are so many people with so many different stories in the world: how could I not want to hear as many of them as possible?

Lee: Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you (maybe even ones you wish you represented). What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Bridget: Here’s where I have to acknowledge that I’m not really a picture book reader. I moved past them very quickly as a kid, and I’m not looking for them as an agent, so I can’t name a favorite. I do think Lee & Low does some really wonderful diverse (and intersectional) picture books, so I recommend checking out their catalogue.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Bridget: Like everyone else, I think THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie is fabulous. HOLES by Louis Sachar is also a little older, but it’s been a lifelong favorite and inspiration. Tim Federle’s BETTER NATE THAN EVER is a delight. Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCK uses its medium very cleverly to depict a deaf character. And I have to put in a plug for one of my boss’s clients: WAITING FOR NORMAL by Leslie Connor (which won the Schneider Family Award in 2009) is a beautiful depiction of a girl living in poverty with her neglectful, possibly bipolar mother and surviving through sheer optimism and tenacity.

Lee: Young Adult?

Bridget: Among others, I love ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King, WILD AWAKE by Hilary T. Smith, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by emily m. danforth, 17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma, THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan. All really beautiful, compelling books that explore a variety of issues, some at the center of the story and some not. All of these are also, not coincidentally, really wonderful feminist books as well.

Lee: Okay, here’s your wish list moment. What are you looking for? Put out the call...

Bridget: I’d love to see some diverse fantasies, whether they draw on non-Western cultures from our world or create something entirely new. For example, a recent wish was for something akin to the Black City from Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA. I love those books dearly, but I would have loved to see the Nameless Ones vanquished by a teenage Bazhir girl who had grown up knowing and fearing the legend. Send me things like that, where the culture shapes the story. I’m also interested in cheerful, optimistic, contemporary YA with diverse characters: so much of the time, the diversity discussion calls to mind heavy, serious books, and while those matter, I think it’s equally worthwhile to include diversity in pleasure reading!

Lee: And for writers reading this who feel a resonance with what you’ve shared and who want to submit to you, how should they go about that?

Bridget: Please send me a query and the first five pages of your manuscript at query@dunhamlit.com! I’d love to know if you found me through this interview, too. As a reminder, I’m mostly looking for MG and YA in all genres, plus upmarket women’s fiction and SFF for adults.

Lee: Anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?

Bridget: It’s impossible to cover everything in a discussion like this, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. This isn’t a comprehensive list of the kinds of diversity I’m looking for: please do send me anything and everything! I’m always interested in intersectional diversity, too, as well as feminist and/or girl-driven books.

Lee: Getting the world of Children’s literature to better reflect the diversity of our world -- the world kids today are growing up in -- is so important. Thank you so much for working to make things better!

Bridget: Thanks so much for having me here, and I look forward to reading some great books!


Thanks Bridget! Look for another AGENT LOOKING FOR DIVERSITY interview on the first Monday of next month. Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee

Friday, July 3, 2015

A High School Junior Peacefully Counter-Protests Two Homophobes... And Starts A Movement!

This is so inspiring!


"TILLAMOOK, Ore. – When she noticed two men carrying signs condemning homosexuality and yelling insults at passersby outside her mother’s workplace yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, May 19, Makaila Ragan decided to fight hate with love.

“I was so irritated because I see them all around town and all they ever do is make people feel like crap about themselves,” said Ragan, a junior at Tillamook High School. The men were standing outside Eyes of Oregon, on 1st Street and Main Avenue, where her mother works. “I went inside and asked her and her boss if it would be all right if I made a poster that stands up for what I believe in,” she said. “They were totally all for it. So I made a sign that said, ‘I love Gays.’”

When the man began insulting her she didn't back down, and soon Makaila was joined by supporters. Altogether, about 45 people joined her in counter-demonstrating. They stayed at the intersection until the men left at 10:30pm.



Her mother is "so, so proud of her."

And so am I!

You can go here to read the whole story.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jon Stewart On Caitlyn Jenner (and the sexism of our media)

I thought this moment from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was great:


Caitlyn is incredibly brave.

And Jon Stewart is awesome, for pointing out what women are faced with in our culture every day.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Picture Book Author and We Need Diverse Books Executive Vice President of Outreach Miranda Paul: The Pre-#LA15SCBWI Interview



Picture Book author Miranda Paul has blogged about the importance of Writing “Multicultural” literature and how “it’s extremely important for authors who are not of color to remain encouraging and supportive of the organizations who are consciously making an effort to address the call for diversity in children’s books” – both in terms of stories and the creators of those stories.

She’s walked the walk, involved in the 1 Million Books For Gambia project, in her role as Executive Vice President of Outreach for the newly formed nonprofit We Need Diverse Books, and in her own writing, whether it’s as co-author of digital app short stories like “Kumba Am and Kumba Amul: A Gambian Folk Tale” (co-adapted with Gambian folk-tale historian Cornelius Gomez) or her picture book “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia” (Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon.)

Miranda Paul, Picture Book Author and #LA15SCBWI Faculty Member


Miranda will be on faculty at the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference, coming up on July 31-Aug 3, 2015 in Los Angeles. Here’s our interview:

Lee: You have two picture books out and four more that are forthcoming from publishers. What is it about picture books that you love?

Miranda: I love that picture books can be read on many levels. A picture book is an experience. Reading a picture book is seldom an individual endeavor—they are meant to be read visually, read out loud, and read in the company of friends or loved ones. I also consider picture books the gateway to a lifelong love of literature. It’s exciting to think that one of my books might inspire a child to love reading for the rest of her life.

Lee: You’ve got a ninja toddler bedtime book (the upcoming "10 Little Ninjas"), a science-inspired lifecycle of water book (The newly released "Water Is Water"),



a creative nonfiction biography (One Plastic Bag) – do you have an over-arching vision in your mind of how each story fits into the 30 years down the road bookshelf of Miranda Paul picture books, or does each story come in its own way?

Miranda: I strive to inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. My overarching vision is that each story I write is more than a book. One Plastic Bag is a chronicle of an environmental movement and an action-sparker; Water is Water is a poem and celebration of water that serves as both a bedtime book and a solid classroom text; Whose Hands Are These? (forthcoming in January 2016) is a book and a game in one; and 10 Little Ninjas is both song and book. They’re all illustrated, mostly for the very young, and I strive to use language in fun and rich ways that will appeal to and engage kids—so there’s definitely common ground—but I don’t feel trapped into a single type of writing or topic.

Lee: What was it that initially drew you to Gambia, and kept you returning?

Miranda: I had a professor ask me if I wanted to start a program in the Gambia, and I accepted the challenge. I kept returning because after I got that program off the ground, there were other projects I wanted to be involved with. (But maybe those projects were just excuses so that I could go back and spend time with the wonderful friends I’d made year after year).

Lee: One Plastic Bag is the story of a women-led recycling initiative and the change for good it created, and it also reads as a sort of love letter to the country and people of the Gambia. Can you share with us the process of writing (and re-writing) you went through with the manuscript?

Miranda: At school visits, I share with students how the timeline of this book spans a 12-year period of my life. I received one of Isatou’s recycled purses in 2003 (while in the Gambia), but it took me nearly four years after that to get the chance to meet her. In 2007 and 2008 I did a lot of primary research, interviews, and took photographs in the village of Njau, Gambia. In 2010 I decided to write the story as a children’s picture book. Isatou came to the United States twice and I visited Gambia one additional time during the writing of the book, which took place from 2010-2012. I think I rewrote the manuscript about 30 times in all. I’ll never forget the night Isatou translated the final draft into Wolof and read it to the women of Njau. I’m so honored for their support in being the author to tell this story.

Lee: Your school visits sound like a major part of your career focus - what’s the best part of doing those?

Miranda: Ice cream, hugs, and the things they say. Kids are smart and inspiring and hopeful and creative. Seeing them excited about reading and writing is wonderful. I tend to get them all riled up with dancing and drumming and then send them back to their teachers—mwahahahaha! Other than working in pajamas, meeting kids is the best part of the job. (Fingers crossed for an author visit on pajama day!)

Lee: How long have you been part of SCBWI, and how do you feel it’s helped you on your career journey?

Miranda: I’m kind of an SCBWI poster child. Since I joined six years ago (credit goes to Harold Underdown’s Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books), SCBWI has had a hand in almost every step along my career. I found my critique group at a local SCBWI meeting. I received a year-long picture book mentorship with Lisa Moser through SCBWI. One Plastic Bag received its first editor attention through an SCBWI event submission, and I met my agent and second editor at my first SCBWI annual conference in Los Angeles. People of the world: Take advantage of what the SCBWI has to offer, people!

Lee: Your Friday morning breakout workshop is on “Creative Nonfiction Picture Books” – can you give us a sense of what you have in store for attendees?

Miranda: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intersectionality (is that a word?) of educational and trade markets, and how nonfiction for young ones can be presented in fresh and engaging ways. I’m going to introduce attendees to some of what I consider the best creative nonfiction picture book titles out there, as well as encourage them to examine their own ideas and manuscripts in terms of originality and versatility.

Lee: On Saturday afternoon you’ll be moderating the main room’s panel on “Diversity in Children’s Books: Challenges and Solutions” in front of over 1,000 writers and illustrators of works for children and teens. The panelists are: illustrator and President of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Joe Cepeda; author Brandy Colbert; author Varian Johnson; practicing surgeon and novelist I.W. Gregorio; and debut novelist Nicola Yoon. What are you hoping comes out of that discussion?

Miranda: I’m planning to focus on the theme of “representing responsibly.” Jacqueline Woodson recently commented at one of our WNDB BookCon panels (and I’m paraphrasing here, sorry) that she’d rather see no representation rather than inaccurate or stereotyped representation in literature. I think that’s a discussion we need to have—not necessarily who is allowed to write about whom, but how we accomplish the tasks of writing, illustrating, and editing authentic, human characters. We must make it a priority to explore and acknowledge our own biases, ignorance, and lenses. I’m also hoping to facilitate a discussion that includes a broad range of diversity, renews a sense of unity, and inspires continued action within all levels of publishing—because that’s what We Need Diverse Books is all about.

Lee: On Sunday you’ll be co-facilitating an afternoon breakout session with I.W. Gregorio and Nicola Yoon, “Research Tools: Writing Outside Your Diversity.” Can you give us an example of a one great tool we might not have considered?

Miranda: Writing can be a deeply personal act, so sometimes we need the tweaking—not just our manuscripts. I recommend that we honestly examine our own circles (or bubbles), habits and routines, and comfort zones. Reading and researching are important parts of the writing process, but who you are (or aren’t) will come through your writing. Living more diversely can incorporate travel, new foods, languages, events, activities, and friendships. Through these experiences we can discover some of what we “didn’t know we didn’t know” and ultimately be reminded to listen.

Lee: What’s your favorite writing advice that you’d like to share?

Miranda: Read. Shut off the Internet.

Thanks so much, Miranda!

To find out more about Miranda, visit her website.

And to learn more about We Need Diverse Books, check them out here.

To attend one of Miranda's breakout sessions and/or be there for the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference main room Diversity panel, you'll have to join us in Los Angeles! Details and registration information here.

Illustrate and Write On,
Lee