Friday, March 6, 2015

I'll Give You The Sun - Estranged Twins (One Of Whom Is Gay) Deal With Loss and Love



I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

"I'll Give You The Sun" won the 2015 Printz Award! Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

He Said, She Said - Newbery-Winner Kwame Alexander's YA boy-girl romance with a lesbian best friend



He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

"You've heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? Well, forget that planetary ish –- Omar and Claudia are from different solar systems. Meet Brooklyn transplant Omar "T-Diddy" Smalls: West Charleston High's football god and full-blown playa. He's got a ton of twitter followers, is U Miami bound, and cannot wait to hit South Beach... and hit on every shorty in a bikini.

Then there's Claudia Clarke: headed for Harvard, straight-A student, school newspaper editor, and all-around goody two-shoes. She cares more about the staggering teen pregnancy rate than about hooking up with so-called fly homies and posting her biz on Facebook.

Omar and Claudia are thrown together when they unexpectedly lead (with a little help from Facebook and Twitter) the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi. The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, sparks will FLY! Believe that!

Claudia's best girl-friend Blu is into girls, and while it's not what the story is about, it comes up a few times. I found about about this YA novel in a conversation with the author (who had just won the Newbery for his middle grade novel, The Crossover), where I asked him if he was planning on including any LGBTQ characters or themes in upcoming work. He said he already had!

Add your review of "He Said, She Said" in comments!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary Agency): 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 Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Agent Marietta Zacker



Here's her bio:

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing & bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions & illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

Our interview:

Lee: Hi Marietta!

Marietta: Hi, Lee! Thanks for letting me shout from mountaintops ☺.

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

Marietta: I am thrilled that we are advertising the fact that we’re looking for more diversity. As individuals with varied experiences and backgrounds, we do so in our own ways, but Adriana, Danielle and you are completely right, a concerted effort is long overdue. Gracias por darme la oportunidad.

Lee: Sure! It's my pleasure. 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?

Marietta: I suspect that the number of submissions I receive of projects with diverse characters and themes skews higher than the average. Percentage-wise, though, the number is staggeringly low. I’ve never done actual calculations (although it would be interesting, for sure!), but there is no doubt that if my submissions inbox were a book, that book would not accurately reflect the world we live in. That is troubling.

Which means that we must ask ourselves: Why do some writers and illustrators not feel included in the conversation, why do some choose not to submit and why do others feel that in order to be published one needs to assimilate? What are we (as a publishing industry) not doing well enough to bring these stories to us? I was once on faculty at a conference in a city where the population is overwhelmingly People of Color. And yet, you could count on one hand the People of Color in the room. One hand! Don’t get me wrong, every writer and illustrator that was in the room was just as worthy and some were writing stories that reflected our world. Yet, it is OUR responsibility to say, “There’s something wrong with this picture; people are missing.” We can’t dismiss it by saying, but the conference is ‘open to all.’ As we look around the room it’s imperative that we admit that there is clearly a barrier to entry, even if the barrier is unintentional.

This series is one step, for sure – advertising the fact that we ARE more than happy to review projects that show the world as it is, with all its rich diversity. BRING THEM ON – I am as ready as ever to review stories and illustrations that represent those who are marginalized and that will make it possible for children and young adults to see themselves within the pages of books they read.

Lee: Yes! So well said it bears repeating: "there is clearly a barrier to entry, even if the barrier is unintentional."

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

Marietta: As I mentioned, I think I see more Protagonists of Color than others. (Protagonists of Color – Can we make that a thing?). Still, I am certain there are many who are not coming forward with their stories and illustrations. In looking at submissions that I do receive, over the years there has been an increase in inclusiveness, yet there’s still quite a bit of superficial representations of diversity – names of characters, foods they eat and possibly physical features as clues within illustrations (as an example, for Latino characters, that means names with a letter that includes an accent mark or tilde, eating arroz con frijoles and skin color described as café con leche and tinted in brown). Yet we know that a character is fully realized only when the writer or illustrator conscientiously and deliberately breaks the surface and goes much more than skin deep. I mean, if you remove the superficial qualities, does the character still add to the story? Because if the answer is ‘no,’ then you might be adding a diverse character, but not writing a story that includes diversity of thought, theme, feelings and experiences. The great news is that there are many authors and illustrators whose work can inspire a writer or illustrator to do just that – Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Jenny Han, Mitali Perkins, Yuyi Morales, Raúl Colón (I could go on!). This list, no doubt, brings up the topic of authenticity and who has ‘the right’ to write and illustrate these stories. I know we’ll get to that later! But yes, more Protagonists of Color are finding their way to the pages of our books; I would simply encourage us not to rest until the books we see as a whole accurately represent the world we live in. We’re not there yet.

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

Marietta: I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear that stories with gay and lesbian characters are more prevalent than bi, trans, questioning, queer or gender non-conforming. I see very few BTQI stories a year … certainly, not nearly enough. Truth is that it’s tough to tell stories from those perspectives when you feel others aren’t willing or ready to listen. So I get the hesitation, but I know those who identify as LGBTQ, or who are writing characters who do, are writing. Bring them on as well! We ARE listening.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Marietta: Again, not as many. Like with the last two questions you asked, the barriers to entry are present even when we think the way is clear. What writers and illustrators should keep in mind is that the focus should always be to create a story that reflects the actual world we live in, not simply to put forth a diverse cast of characters. And if the characters you’ve labeled as ‘other’ represent those who are marginalized (i.e., unless otherwise indicated, your default character is the same one the media presents as the ‘standard person’) then you may want to go back to the drawing board. We really do come in all shapes and sizes with a range of strengths and abilities and with various beliefs and traditions. Let your stories and illustrations reflect that.

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

Marietta: I think we’re finally seeing more characters with mixed heritage which, to me, points to the fact that the message does get through. For years now, we’ve talked to writers and illustrators about digging deeper into their own backgrounds to see some of the diversity in their own lives (that is always where you start in any conversation about diversity). As people have searched for ways to define themselves in this world, it seems that this has seeped into the narratives, which is wonderful. Now, along with looking at yourself, you have to look beyond yourself.

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

Marietta: I mentioned before that there is no doubt in my mind that there are many writers and illustrators who are not submitting their work. Some are skeptical, feeling that the industry wouldn’t welcome them, so they may be hesitant to put pen to paper or brush to canvas. Some, we are not reaching at all. If you’re marginalized and reading this, I can assure you … I want to see your work. I know I’m not the only one and I recognize that each of us can only represent a small number of clients to begin with, but don’t let the hurdles and barriers stop you. If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions.

Lee: I want that on a T-shirt:

"If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions."  

Yeah!

As you mentioned earlier, this question comes up in nearly every conversation I have about diversity in kid lit: who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Marietta: I don’t believe that any one person owns the ‘right’ to tell these stories, but I will say this … if it has taken you your entire life to gain enough knowledge about yourself to be able to write about someone like you, then the same criteria should apply if you choose to write about someone whose background is different from yours. It’s not enough to say that you’ve done research and you’ve observed (or even that you’ve had personal interactions) because that can lead to superficial and general conclusions. Having the ‘credentials’ to write about under-represented characters means you’ve experienced something at a deep enough level to understand how someone would think, react, feel, express themselves and how their background affects who they are as people in this world.

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

Marietta: I don’t, but I think every step the manuscript takes toward publication means one step away from those who understand and champion the story the most. That is the same for any book, but it’s especially problematic for books with under-represented characters. Remember, there’s a reason they’re under-represented in the first place and our society plays a role in this! With that said, walking into an editor’s or art director’s office, the worry is never ‘will this project be a harder sell?’ In the end, a story I know I can champion and an editor and art director wants to work on is one which strongly, accurately and effectively expresses the human experience. Period. Are there hurdles? No doubt about it. As I said, there are a ton of people that have a hand in publishing a book, and despite everyone’s best intentions, there are some within the process who put up those hurdles and barriers. We’re fighting every day to remove those hurdles and knock down those barriers, we can only do so with work that represents our world.

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?

Marietta: Being marginalized sucks. I feel I’ve spent my whole life trying to shake that feeling and at times, I wonder if I ever will. It fuels me to think that I can have a hand in helping young children and young adults feel less marginalized.

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?

Marietta: THE RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall, RAISING DRAGONS by Jerdine Nolen and Elise Primavera, ONE HOT SUMMER DAY by Nina Crews, any book by Kadir Nelson, any book by Gary Soto (picture book or otherwise!), THE CASE FOR LOVING by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (and I’ll sneak in an early reader: LING & TING by Grace Lin)

Lee: Middle Grade?

Marietta: Any book by Pam Muñoz Ryan, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER by Dana Alison Levy, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Oh, who am I kidding? Any book by Curtis), THE VINE BASKET by Josanne La Valley, CONFETTI GIRL by Diana López, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander (for the record, called it BEFORE 2015!)

Lee: Young Adult?

Marietta: Any book by Matt de la Peña, IF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan, THE QUEEN OF WATER by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango, FAT ANGIE by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, any book by Rita Williams-García, SHABANU by Suzanne Fisher Staples. To be published in 2016: TOYA (tentative title!) by Randi Pink

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

Marietta: If you’ve dug deep, your story has a unique perspective and you present children & young adults with stories that speak to them and characters with whom they can identify, send your work way my way.

If you think We Need Diverse Books is a necessity rather than a mere trend and if you believe in its mission wholeheartedly and you’ve been working toward that end (even if you didn’t know it!), send your work my way.

If your characters feel marginalized (even if those particular feelings are not the focus of the story), send your work my way.

If you look at your portfolio and it reflects the world we live in, then send your work my way.

¡Y, Latinos, se que están escribiendo e ilustrando, mándenme sus cuentos y sus dibujos!

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

Marietta: All instructions are on our website, on the submissions page. I will say this, if you write and illustrate with some of the same beliefs and thoughts I’ve shared with you, chances are that your submission will stand out for me. Feel free to add that you read this interview with Lee Wind as an answer to the question ‘How did you hear about us?’

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

Marietta: Diversity in our world is a fact, not a trend. So while you need to be true to yourself and your characters, as a writer or illustrator, also remember that you owe the most to the readers who will be picking up your books hoping to see themselves, so that then they can see beyond themselves. Pick up your pens, pencil, brushes and laptops with that in mind.

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!

Marietta: It does take a village, doesn’t it? … a village with a good marketing plan in place now ☺. Thank YOU, Lee.

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

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Purim Superhero: A Jewish-Holiday Themed Picturebook With A Two-Dad Family... And A Nice Story About Being True To Yourself (And Still Being Super!)


The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, Illustrated by Mike Byrne

Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads (and his big sister) he makes a surprising decision.

With Purim a week away, it's great to add this title to my list of picture books I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid! Especially as it's been touted as "the first LGBT inclusive Jewish children’s book in English!"

Add your review of "The Purim Superhero" in comments!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Grasshopper Jungle - A Bi Teen Accidentally Unleashes The End Of The World



Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby, which is totally confusing -- but his bigger issue is the end of the world, which he and Robbie sort of unleashed... In the form of six-foot tall praying mantise soldiers... who only want to have sex and eat.

Which, when Austin thinks of it, isn't all that different from what human teens want...

Anyway, it's the end of the world, and Austin's decided to record it all for history.

This dark comedy was the Fiction winner of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, as well as a 2015 Printz Honor recipient

Add your review of "Grasshopper Jungle" in comments!

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Gay Hug (A Homophobia Experiment)

I thought this was really cool. Watch. Discuss. Engage...







*** UPDATE SAT FEB 28, 2015 ***

It would have been nice if the makers of "First Gay Hug" had been more upfront about it being a work of fiction. My appreciation to Janice who shared this in comments. And yes, check out the actress speaking out video here.

* * *

Friday, February 20, 2015

When Everything Feels like the Movies - flamboyant Jude likes to raid his mother's closet and wants Luke to be his date to the Valentine's Day dance



When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid

School is just like a film set: there's The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn't fit in. He's not part of The Crew because he isn't about to do anything unless it's court-appointed; he's not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he's not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn't invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.
Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It's a total train wreck!
But train wrecks always make the front page.

"When Everything Feels like the Movies" won the the Canadian 2014 Governor General's Literary Award. Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sam Smith Shares Some Serious Wisdom in His Grammy Acceptance Speech

Check this out:



Here's the best part:

"...I just want to say that before I made this record, I was doing everything to try to get my music heard, I tried to lose weight, and ... I was making awful music. And it was only until I started to be myself, that the music started to flow and people started to listen, so thank you guys for accepting me to be just me. Thank you!"

- Sam Smith, on winning Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

And if you want to see an example of how sometimes hard things create beautiful art, check out how Sam thanks his ex in his speech accepting the Grammy for Record Of The Year:

"I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart - cause you got me four Grammies!"


Thanks to my awesome husband for sharing this with me, so I could share it with all of you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Be-You-tiful, a music video by Johnathan Celestin

I really liked this video, and its message. Enjoy,




Here's the lyrics:

Be-You-tiful
Written and composed by Johnathan Celestin
Copyrighted 2014

Verse 1:
It don't matter if you're black or blue,
Baby, just be you.
It don't matter if you're thick or thin,
Love the skin you're in.

Cause people always got something to say,
I know it sounds cliche.
But try your best to love them anyway,
Let's change the world today.

Pre-Chorus:
Cause you deserve to feel good,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.
There's only one you in the world,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.

Chorus 1:
If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you're a star, yes you are.

If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you'll go far,

Post-Chorus 1:
So tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Verse 2:
It don't matter if you're boy or girl,
We all can change the world.
It don't matter to us who you love,
Hold on to your love.

Cause people try to put you in a box,
Afraid the boat will rock.
But one day those folks who made you feel less than,
Will be your biggest fan.

Pre-Chorus 2:
Cause you deserve to feel good,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.
There's only one you in the world,
So don't feel bad about it, bad about it.

Chorus 2:
If it wasn't said before
You are your own beautiful
And in my eyes, you're a star, yes you are

If it wasn't said before,
You are your own beautiful,
And in my eyes, you'll go far,

Post-chorus 2:
To tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Tell them you're a star,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are,
Yes, you are.

Bridge/outro:
You've gotta
Be your own
Kind of Beautiful
You're beautiful.
(3x)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lies We Tell Ourselves - Lesbian High School Romance and Desegregation in 1959 Virginia



Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

1959 Virginia.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

...And how they feel moves from focusing on the different colors of their skin to feelings of romance!

Add your review of "Lies We Tell Ourselves" in comments!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Far From You - A Murder, A Secret Love, And A Mystery



Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places, and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina, and about the secret they shared.

Add your review of "Far From You" in comments!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Loved This Disability "Don't Be Awkward" Video

This video was great.




And I totally loved the gay moment in it!

Excellent for all...


Friday, February 6, 2015

If you're at #NY15SCBWI, I hope you'll join me (and faculty friends) at the "Find The LGBTQ in SCBWI" Session!

I'm excited to once more host and moderate this great Q&A session at the 2015 SCBWI Winter Conference, where we'll dive into the dos, don'ts, ins and outs of including LGBTQ characters and themes in writing and illustrating for children and teens.

We'll be joined by faculty guests, including Agent Tina Wexler (of ICM) and Simon and Schuster Art Director (and 2016 Debut Author) Laurent Linn.

The LGBTQ session will be on Saturday February 7th from 8pm - 9pm, right after the Gala party!


More about Tina:

Tina Wexler is an agent at ICM Partners, focused on middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is particularly interested in modern folklore, non-linear storytelling, magical realism, humor, weepies, and most anything with a feminist slant. Current and forthcoming titles include Teddy Mars, Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham, Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann, Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. She holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College and is the mother of two boys. On Twitter: @tina_wexler.

Agent Tina Wexler

And here's Laurent's debut book announcement:


"David Gale at Simon & Schuster has acquired world rights for Laurent Linn's debut illustrated YA novel, Draw the Line. Obsessed with superheroes and Renaissance art, 16-year-old Adrian creates his own unique but secret comic-book style superhero... who happens to be gay. Thrust into a dangerous spotlight at his Texas high school, Adrian must use his own superpower - art - in a struggle to discover how to become a true hero. Emmy-winning author Linn, an art director at S&S, also creates the illustrations for the novel. Publication is scheduled for summer 2016. Brenda Bowen at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates negotiated the deal.

Art Director and Author Laurent Linn


It promises to be a great discussion!

Lee

*** UPDATE SATURDAY MORNING FEB 7, 2015 ***

Additional Confirmed Faculty Guest: Agent Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency!


Jennifer's bio:

Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She joined ABLA in 2007 after many years as a buyer and event coordinator for an independent bookstore. Jenn is always on the lookout for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction with unusual and unforgettable characters and vivid settings; the common thread in all her favorite stories is an offbeat world-view. She loves funny books, thrilling books, romantic books, books that make her cry, and all-around un-put-downable books.

Agent Jennifer Laughran

*** UPDATE SATURDAY EVENING FEB 7, 2015 ***

CONFERENCE FACULTY & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR JANE YOLEN TO JOIN US!



Jane Yolen is the author of well over 350 books, including Owl Moon, Devil's Arithmetic, and the How Do Dinosaurs books. A past president of SFWA (Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America) she's written books and stories that have won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, two Golden Kite Awards, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among others.

Best-Selling and Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen



*  *  *

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The American Library Association announces their Stonewall Book Award - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award

Given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

(drumroll...)

The winner of the 2015 Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award is:

This Day in June,” written by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., illustrated by Kristyna Litten and published by Magination Press, an imprint of the American Psychological Association.



Three Honor Books were selected:

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” by Susan Kuklin, photographed by Susan Kuklin and published by Candlewick Press.


I’ll Give You The Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson, published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.


Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,” written by Christine Baldacchio, pictures by Isabelle Malenfant, published by Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press.



Have fun reading them all - I know I will!


Monday, February 2, 2015

Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity


AGENTS AND EDITORS NEED TO ADVERTISE THEIR INTEREST IN DIVERSITY

That's the brilliant idea. (And I wish it was mine, but full credit to literary agent Adriana Dominguez (Full Circle Literary), who brought this up in discussion with me and my agent, Danielle Smith (Red Fox Literary) at the LGBTQ Chat at SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

To achieve more diversity in the world of Children's and Teen literature (a goal so many of us believe in - cue the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement), publishing gatekeepers (agents and editors and art directors and publishers) need to do more than just be 'open' to diverse characters and themes, authors and illustrators. They need to get the word out that they are looking for, and want, diverse stories and creators.

This series is an effort to do just that.

For now, we’re focusing on agents, because to get more diverse books published, editors need to get more diverse books submitted to them by agents. And to have more diverse books to submit to editors, agents need to see more diversity in the submissions they get from writers and illustrators.

I'll interview each literary agent about their take on and interest in diversity in children's and teen literature, and they'll get to share what they love, what they're looking for, and why diversity in children's and teen literature is important to them.

Today's post features agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.


Agent Jennifer Laughran

Here's her bio:

Jennifer Laughran is a Senior Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She began her career as a long-time children's bookseller, event coordinator and buyer for one of the largest independent bookstores in the country, and joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007. She splits her time between NYC and the Hudson Valley of New York, where she resides in a book-stuffed cottage run by a fiendishly clever corgi.

And our interview:

Lee: Hi Jennifer!

Jennifer: Ahoy, Lee!

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

Jennifer: No no thank 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?

Jennifer: Maybe... 5%? I'm guessing. I can say that since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign there's been an uptick, but diverse queries still represent a relatively tiny percentage of my queries, and many of the queries that claim "diverse" status are really for stories with only peripheral diversity.

I'm actively looking for diversity in both the stories and authors I read and represent. Writers from marginalized groups are encouraged to query. Diversity is hugely important to me, and I really want to have a list that reflects ALL kinds of perspectives. That means (and I'm gonna go ahead and put this in bold too):

I am MUCH more likely to read further, to spend more time, and really to give a story more of a chance to wow me if it has diverse themes.

Despite that -- I still don't see nearly enough stories that are both diverse (yay!), and also that resonate with me and I feel like I have to make them one of the 3-4 new authors I take on a year. That isn't because those stories aren't out there, btw! I think part of it may be, writers from marginalized groups might be most likely to "self reject" - perhaps they aren't querying agents at all, or they just aren't querying ME. Maybe they'll start?

The other thing, too, is -- just cause I am begging for diverse books, that doesn't mean that I am going to TAKE ON everything diverse I am sent. People get mad at me sometimes, like "Hey, you asked for diversity, and I sent it to you, and you rejected me!"-- but real talk: 8,000+ queries a year vs 3/4 new clients a year? I reject MOST things. I'm going to continue to reject most things. But I'd love a wider, deeper and even more interesting pool to choose from. And my rejecting something doesn't mean it sucks... it just means I don't have the time or energy (or the passion to MAKE the time or energy) to deal with it, or I don't see a clear way that I can be useful to the author.

Err... tl;dr: I don't know, but I'd say approximately 5%

Lee: I loved that answer - passionate and real. I read it all! But let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Jennifer: Some, but not nearly enough. I am much more likely to get a PoC from the "white friend" perspective -- for example, I have had several recent queries about subjects like school integration from the perspective of a white child witnessing the issue. I definitely don't want to tell people that that is a BAD thing to want to write about, or that their perspective isn't valid... it's just a perspective I've read a lot before.

I also see a lot of what I'd consider surface level explorations of kinda tired tropes, like "high achieving Asian teen with super overbearing mother" -- that isn't to say that those teens (and those moms!) aren't out there - but again, it's a familiar story and doesn't quite stand out if there isn't more to it than that. I'm more likely to be interested if the book has a super-fun or compelling hook that takes reader expectations and flips them, or comes at an already well-explored theme or subject from an entirely fresh angle.

A few of my favorite authors of color: On the realistic side, Kekla Magoon, Coe Booth, Rita Williams-Garcia are great examples; on the fantasy side, Malinda Lo and Nnedi Okorafor, if that gives you the sense of the level of writing I'm talking about wanting to see.

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

Jennifer: Maybe a few LGB a month, though I see VERY little on the "T-Q-I" part of the spectrum - maybe a few a year.

The majority of LGBTQI queries I get are from the perspective of the straight girl best friend with a sassy gay boy sidekick, or are extremely depressing or very brutal coming out/bashing stories, and/or they are set in the late 80's/early 90's, probably reflecting the age of the author. I can sympathize, that's how old I am, too! But I'm sorry to say that many of these narratives feel dated and stale. Whenever I see something that is LGBTQI-but not-any-of-these, I definitely perk right up!

A recently sold book is GEORGE, an absolutely AMAZING middle grade I am so beyond thrilled about, I can't wait to share it with the world. GEORGE is about a girl whom the world identifies as a boy, but who decides she needs to tell the truth about herself when she loses out on the role of Charlotte in her fourth-grade production of Charlottes Web. GEORGE will be coming out (so to speak) in Fall 2015, from Scholastic. The author Alex Gino worked on this for years, and I personally went back and forth with them working on the book for another whole year, but the end result was well worth the time and hard work on their part. I sold the book within 12 hours of sending it out, and the publisher is very excited about it!

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Jennifer: Again... not nearly enough! My favorite book that I didn't rep (though my agency colleague Caryn Wiseman did) last year was EL DEAFO -- that's a great example of the kind of book I love, where disability is certainly important (hell, it's in the title) -- but it is never condescending or didactic feeling at all.

I do see lots of manuscripts with characters on the Autism spectrum or with diagnoses like Bipolar disorder; far fewer with characters that have physical disabilities. Like.... virtually none that I can think of in recent years, actually. (I'm sure there have been some! Just few enough that I can't remember.)

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

Jennifer: I couldn't say, of course, I don't make people take a survey or anything when they query me. But based on the query letters alone and what authors choose to disclose to me, and just sort of somewhat-educated guessing, I'd say that probably at least half of the already VERY small number of diverse narratives I see are not written by people who share the diversity of their manuscript, shall we say.

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?

Jennifer: I would hate to tell anyone they don't have the RIGHT to tell a story from a point of view not their own. I mean, hello, we wouldn't have MOST great books if the authors didn't stretch out of their own lives for their subject matter. Authors need to write the stories that compel them. That said, if they are writing outside their own experience, they'd damn sure better do plenty of research, listening, and have their empathy powers on full blast.

Lee: Empathy powers on full blast - I want that on a T-shirt! When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Jennifer: I think that most editors of my acquaintance are, like myself, very much seeking diverse storylines, especially as the "We Need Diverse Books" movement has really started to take root. I mean... don't get me wrong - ALL books take a fair amount of work to sell. But my list-of-diverse-titles and my list-of books-that-took-a-long-time-to sell don't seem to overlap too much.

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?

Jennifer: I'd like the books on the shelves to more accurately reflect the beauty of the world. We don't live in Leave It To Beaver-land, and I wouldn't want to. Stories are a huge way that kids learn both who THEY are, and how to have empathy for others. As Mitali Perkins talked about in her memorable BEA speech - books can act as both Mirrors and Windows. If we don't have books that both reflect the readers own experience AND allow the reader to experience what the world is like for people who are different then them, we fail.

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).

Jennifer: OK - I'll stick to ones I DON'T rep:

Lee: What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Jennifer: ALL THE WORLD by Scanlon and Frazee. It's just a beautiful, perfect book.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Jennifer: ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia.

Lee: Young Adult?

Jennifer: TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan.

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

Jennifer: As I kinda mentioned above, I LOVE an outsider perspective. I LOVE a point of view character I haven't heard from before. I LOVE new and unexpected stories. I'm not a fan of cliche.

I'd love a book set in the world of drag balls, like, the Paris is Burning of YA novels. (I'm seriously not even sure how that would be possible, but hey.) I'd love a YA novel that captured the spirit of something like IN THE HEIGHTS. I'd love to see a YA Bollywood story.

I do love a great big sprawling laugh-and-cry-and-re-read love story, and I'd love to see an epic romance featuring a F/F or M/M couple - maybe a huge fantasy or historical, even. Like a YA Sarah Waters (dare to dream!). Or, a contemporary book that really feels contemporary. Or just something... different? Like a weird creepy literary early-Jeannette Winterson style YA?

Mostly... I want to be surprised.

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

Jennifer: Visit our website at www.andreabrownlit.com and follow the query guidelines.

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

Jennifer: No, I think this was pretty comprehensive.

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!

Jennifer: Thank YOU, Lee!


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

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee