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,

Friday, June 26, 2015


Love this news (and my husband and daughter!)

It's an historic, wonderful step – Cheers for our country bending that arc of history toward justice!



It's the Tenth Anniversary Edition of one of my favorite picture books of all time, AND TANGO MAKES THREE.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Illustrated by Henry Cole

The true – and heartwarming – story of two boy penguins, Roy and Silo, who fall in love with each other. They see what all the other boy-girl penguin pairs are doing (sitting on and hatching eggs) and so Roy and Silo try to hatch a rock that looks a bit like an egg.

They sit and sit and sit, but nothing happens. After all, it's a rock.

But when there is an extra penguin egg that has no one to care for it, the zookeeper gives the egg to Roy and Silo. And they know just what to do.

They sit and sit and sit, and this time, something happens.

They become parents.

And their child, their Tango, is the first penguin in the New York City Central Park Zoo to have two daddies.

It's a book that's been vilified (at the top of the banned books list, destroyed in Singapore.)

It's a book that's been championed (so many people standing up for the book, hundreds of parents staging a read-in at the Singapore National Library.)

It's a book with a special place in my heart, as it helped my husband and I talk to the mom-dad families at our daughter's preschool and kindergarten about our two dad family.

And it's a book that's extra sweet now, as the afterword shares that the co-authors, Peter and Justin, are now parents themselves. And their daughter, like Tango, has two dads.

Additional news about And Tango Makes Three... Simon & Schuster are also publishing a board book edition, an audio digital download (read by Neil Patrick Harris), a book and CD package, and they are adding the audio track to the existing e-book!

Add your thoughts on AND TANGO MAKES THREE in comments!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Red: A Crayon's Story - A Great Picture Book About Being Your Authentic Self... Even If That Doesn't Match Your Label!

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

I loved this story of a crayon labelled "Red" who draws everything Blue, and how he comes to find the courage and the beauty in being who he authentically is, no matter what his label says.

Here are two of the interior spreads:

Red trying to be what everyone wants him to be, and not doing so well at it...

The art supplies try to 'help' - but they're not really helping... 



And a great metaphor for anyone who is transgender* and/or gender non-conforming.

And it has a really happy and satisfying ending.

Definitely a picture book I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid!

Add your review of "Red: A Crayon's Story" in comments...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Best-Selling Author and Editor Jane O'Connor: The Pre-#LA15SCBWI Conference Interview

Best-Selling Author, Editor, and #LA15SCBWI Faculty Member Jane O'Connor

Jane O'Connor has worked at Scholastic, Random House and Penguin where she was president and publisher of mass market children’s books. She still works part time at Penguin Random House as vice president and editor at large. Jane has written more than eighty books for children including the best-selling Fancy Nancy books (HarperCollins), seven of which have hit Number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Disney Junior TV is slated to produce a half-hour animated series beginning in 2017. Jane has also written two books for grownups, Dangerous Admissions (Harper, 2007) and Almost True Confessions (Morrow, 2013).

Jane will be on faculty at the upcoming 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, July 31-Aug 3, and I caught up with her to find out more...

Lee: What I find so fascinating about your journey so far is that you’ve worked with great success on both sides of the publishing equation – as an editor/publisher and as a best-selling author. What do you feel authors should know about publishing today?

Jane: Although it’s a tough, highly competitive marketplace where publishers are often slimming down their lists in order to give greater attention to every title, editors are hungrier than ever to find something new and wonderful. At Penguin, there have been books from new authors – I’m thinking of DORY FANTASMAGORY from Dutton right now – that are fresh and funny and finding a wide audience. It’s not just recognized name authors and illustrators who are breaking out.

Lee: You’ve written more than 80 books for children, including the hugely successful Fancy Nancy series (seven of the Fancy Nancy books have hit Number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list!) What do feel was the ‘special sauce’ that made Fancy Nancy take off in the way it has?

Jane: Oh mon Dieu (which in French loosely translates to ‘Yipes!’). I really don’t know what the special sauce was that made Fancy Nancy become a hit. I’ve certainly thought about it a lot and the best I can come up with is this: just as practically all little boys like to dress up in towel capes and pretend to have superpowers, I think a lot of little girls are born with a glitter gene. They dress up and follow their own over-the-top fashion instinct in order to be noticed and feel significant. Little girls recognize in Fancy Nancy a kindred spirit. On a less psychological, more practical level, I think my editor Margaret Anastas at HarperCollins was brilliant in choosing Robin Preiss Glasser as the artist. I feel as if it was a match made in heaven. Robin’s pictures are pretty AND funny, a rare combination, although I must admit that when I wrote the first Fancy Nancy story, long before I saw Robin’s initial character sketch, I was imagining a much quirkier style of art. Margaret understood that the books needed to look broadly mainstream and appeal to the child who shops at Target and calls it Tar-zhay. Oh, and one other thing has really resonated with parents and teachers – the fancy vocabulary. I saw it as a fun part of Nancy’s personality, that being fancy would encompass more than just dressing up. But it didn’t hit me that her love of five dollar words would be seen as instructive.

Lee: Fancy Nancy started as a picture book, then had picture book sequels, and has expanded to Chapter Books (and soon to be an animated series!) How did approaching Chapter Books differ for you than writing the picture books?

Jane: Fancy Nancy was actually the first picture book I ever wrote. My natural inclination is to write for an older audience – beginning readers and chapter books. In fact, the first book I ever wrote, way back in 1979, was a middle grade novel called Yours Til Niagara Falls, Abby. With Nancy, I hadn’t imagined writing chapter books until I started getting letters from girls – oh, probably about four or five years ago -- asking if I ever thought about making Nancy older. The reason they asked was that they had enjoyed the FN picture books but were already onto chapter books and wanted to keep reading about Nancy. Margaret and I – and the rest of Harper – thought a series of chapter books was a really fun idea so we tried it and I am about to start writing the seventh one: Nancy Clancy Seeks a Fortune. My approach in writing the longer books differs in two important ways. Nancy is in third grade so she is not as outlandish in her style and in her moods. She is older and a little more tempered. I can dig into what she’s feeling and thinking in a deeper way – I’ve got 128 pages as opposed to the 32 pages in the picture books. Also, the chapter books have black and white illustrations – about forty per book – and so while there is still quite a bit of art, I can’t depend as much on Robin’s pictures to carry the humor of the story.

Lee: Counterpoint between words and images is such a powerful element in picture books, but can be challenging to pull off when you’re not an author who is also illustrating your own words. A moment I loved so much - and remember from reading with my daughter years ago! - was in Fancy Nancy Bonjour Butterfly, when Nancy can’t attend her friend Bree’s butterfly-themed birthday party and Nancy narrates that “When I tell Bree I can’t come, she is heartbroken.” and you see in the illustration that Bree’s fine, it’s Nancy who’s hand is over her heart, it’s Nancy who is so upset!

What’s your best advice for authors for including ‘art notes?"

Jane: It’s so amazing that you bring up that moment from Bonjour Butterfly. (Robin gave me the original artwork of that page and I have it hanging in my living room.) Fancy Nancy is often not a reliable narrator – that’s part of the humor in the books. Another example is in the first book, Fancy Nancy, when Nancy’s family make their stage entrance at the pizza place all gussied up. Nancy comments how everybody probably thinks they are movie stars but from the expressions on the other customers’ faces, readers see a very different reaction, more like “Who ARE these loony people?????”
In the beginning, I would write notes on the manuscripts to indicate to Robin when she should show the opposite of what the text implied. Now I don’t need to do that. She just knows. In general, I think authors should refrain from art notes and only offer them when there is a great discrepancy between what the words say and what the intended artwork is supposed to show.

Lee: As an author, can you share about your writing process – Do you carry around a notebook? Do you outline?

Jane: I should carry around a notebook but don’t and thus, I am forever scribbling down fancy words I overhear on the back of deposit slips and so on. I don’t outline; instead, I will get a broad idea and then jot down notes or thoughts. I email myself a lot.

Lee: As an editor/publisher, you work part time at Penguin Random House as vice president and editor at large. What kind of projects are you looking for?

Jane: At Penguin Random House I would say ninety percent of my time is spent working on a series of biographies that I started about twelve years ago. It’s called Who Was…? and has branched out into What Was…? about important events and Where Was…? about famous landmarks. I also work on Natasha Wing’s Night Before…. paperback picture book series.

Lee: On Friday morning, you’ll be leading a morning breakout workshop on “Pacing In Picture Books.” Is this a hands-on workshop where attendees should bring a draft of their current Work In Progress to play with?

Jane: The workshop on pacing a picture book manuscript is not one where attendees need to bring a manuscript. I want to explain how I approach the structure of a story and try to make it translate in an interesting way on the pages. I want to talk about the process of revising the latest Fancy Nancy picture book and how I’ve needed to rework it because of the way-too-long lead up to the real meat of the story.

Lee: You’ll be giving a Saturday afternoon keynote, “The Genesis of Fancy Fancy: That’s Fancy for ‘How I Thought Her Up.” Can you give us a sneak peek?

Jane: How did I think up Fancy Nancy….I’ll let the picture of four year old Jane speak for me!

Lee: Perfect! You’ll also be leading a Saturday afternoon breakout workshop on “Writing Biographies” – is that focused on writing for your “Who Was…?” chapter book series, or does it apply to picture book, middle grade and YA biographies as well?

Jane: I'll be focusing on chapter book biographies, mainly the Who Was/What Was/ Where Is series but also will speak a little about older biographies (for fifth and sixth graders).

Lee: Can you share your favorite piece of writing advice?

Jane: My favorite piece of writing advice is to eavesdrop. Listen to other people's conversations and you'll pick up the natural rhythm, the fits and start in dialogue. Dialogue is so key in fiction; how a character talks tells so much about who the character is and therefor listening to real people having real discussions or fights has been very helpful. (Plus I am naturally inquisitive -- that's fancy for nosy.)

Thanks, Jane!

To have the chance to learn from Jane directly, join us at the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference. You can find details and registration information here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Friday, June 19, 2015

Perfect – Ellen Hopkins’ Bestselling YA novel in poems about four high school seniors whose goals of perfection are as different as the paths they take to get there

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Everyone has something, someone, somewhere else that they’d rather be. For four high-school seniors, their goals of perfection are just as different as the paths they take to get there.

Cara’s parents’ unrealistic expectations have already sent her twin brother Conner spiraling toward suicide. For her, perfect means rejecting their ideals to take a chance on a new kind of love... with another girl.

Kendra covets the perfect face and body—no matter what surgeries and drugs she needs to get there.

To score his perfect home run—on the field and off—Sean will sacrifice more than he can ever win back.

And Andre realizes that to follow his heart and achieve his perfect performance, he’ll be living a life his ancestors would never understand.

Everyone wants to be perfect, but when perfection loses its meaning, how far will you go? What would you give up to be perfect?

Another powerful novel in verse from Best-Selling Author Ellen Hopkins. Check out her website's "What Makes You Perfect" Wall of reader comments - it's really amazing.

Add your review of "Perfect" in comments!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

More Happy Than Not – A Teen Who Finds Happiness Being Queer Turns To Newfangled Science To Wipe His Memories And Straighten Himself Out

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he's can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Add your review of "More Happy Than Not" in comments!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Project UROK - No Matter What You're Going Through, You're Not Alone

Billing itself the It Gets Better of mental health issues for teens, Project UROK [pronounced you are O.K.] recently launched and is a great resource and movement to know about.

Both in terms of support and in working to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues so we can talk about them and deal with them and know that each of us, in our own authentic and unique way, is okay!

Check out this UROK video by writer and transgender rights activist Parker Molloy,

And this one by UROK founder Jenny Jaffe,

Project UROK's website, with lots more videos and a great sidebar of resources, is here.

some resource links on the UROK website

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Bitter Moon Saga - A Four Book Bisexual Teen Fantasy Series

Book One: Triane's Son Rising by Amy Lane

Torrant Shadow and Yarrow “Yarri” Moon grew up sheltered in Moon Hold, a place where Torrant’s goddess gifts were meant to be celebrated, and love of any form was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, in Clough, within a stone's throw of Consort Rath, having beliefs of that sort will get your family killed.

Grief-stricken, Torrant and Yarri are suddenly alone against the elements and a world that would rather see them dead than see them safe. Torrant's goddess gift, which had previously been used for truth and healing, must be honed for violence and protection if either of them are to survive. When Torrant, Yarri, and their new friend Aldam reach safety, will Torrant be able to put this part of him aside? Or will Triane's Son grow to fight the forces that forged him?

Book Two: Triane's Son Fighting by Amy Lane

Outraged by the destruction of innocent lives and the threat to his family’s safety, Torrant Shadow and Aylan Stealth-Moon ride to Dueance, the capital of Clough, with a desperate plan: Torrant will impersonate Yarri’s dead brother, Ellyot Moon, and infiltrate the Regent’s council to help change to the government’s policy toward the Goddess’s chosen from the inside.

But from the very first night, Torrant and Aylan are pressed into service in the shadows of the ghettoes, fighting for the lives of the brutalized people within. It’s a bitter job, made more so by close scrutiny and mockery from Consort Rath, the ruler whose policies have created the discrimination and cruelty wreaking havoc in their country.

Torrant’s only bright moments come from Aylan, whose love and loyalty never falter, and the hungry, compassionate minds of the younger regents. Believing that all they need is a worthy song to follow, Torrant sets about leading them to accomplish the salvation of their country. But not even Torrant can be everywhere at once. When faced with one disaster too many, he realizes one man alone cannot right the wrongs of an entire government—not even Triane’s Son.

Book Three: Triane's Son Learning by Amy Lane

When Torrant Shadow fled his homeland of Clough, he hoped to leave its threats behind. He spent four years living with the Moons, making sure Yarri had a home; now it's time for Torrant and his foster brother, Aldam, to leave for the University of Triannon, where Torrant hopes to create a new life enmeshed in healing arts and politics.

Torrant's new school friends Trieste and Aylan want to teach him about love as he settles in, and at first, Trieste's tenderness seems to make her the logical choice for an interim lover, while Torrant waits for Yarri to grow up. But Torrant has learned the hard way that nothing is simple when Clough still wields its influence over their lives. More and more, Torrant must call on the cold predator in himself, the part that Aylan most admires. The truth is, Torrant has certain gifts that give him an advantage of self-defense, but using them to protect the ones he cares for may destroy the part of him Trieste and Yarri love best.

As the four schoolmates progress to life beyond education and the evil from Torrant’s homeland becomes too pernicious to be ignored, Torrant must choose his destiny: Will he be a healer or a hero? Only Triane's Son can be both.

Book Four: Triane's Son Reigning by Amy Lane

From the moment Torrant Shadow realized Consort Rath murdered his family, he’s lived a dual identity: a healer and poet by nature, a predator out of necessity. It’s not just exhausting, it’s perilous.

In the deadly city of Dueance, Torrant must succeed in both lives, because while the predator may save the Goddess’s folk from Rath’s brutal policies, it is the poet who will sway the minds of the people to revolt against the oppressive government. As his cause falters, Torrant finds his worst nightmares come to pass as the people he loves most—his family from Eiran, his former lovers, and his moon-destined, Yarri—all come to his aid, despite the danger.

They must succeed—there is no other option. If they fail, Rath will eliminate joy from the heart of the lands of the three moons, and all that Torrant and his family cherish will be lost. But success could exact devastating cost, one Triane’s Son was never prepared to pay.

Add your review of any or all of the Bitter Moon Saga books in comments!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Porcupine of Truth - A Road Trip involving family history, gay history, the girlfriend the hero can't have (because she's into girls) and a missing grandfather

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

Start at the hot girl.

Carson Smith isn't thrilled to be spending the summer with his estranged dad in Billings, Montana. But then he meets Aisha Stinson, the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. And the smartest. And the funniest. They connect like he never has with anyone...

Also she's a lesbian. So there's that.

Turn left at the missing grandpa.

Carson's dad is still bitter about the disappearance of his dad more than thirty years earlier. When Carson and Aisha discover a box full of cards from his grandfather, some of them recent, they realize the old man is still out there somewhere.

What are two bored teenagers in the middle of nowhere to do?

Proceed for 1,293 miles.

So Carson and Aisha begin a journey with no destination, to find a man who wanted to be lost, in an unreliable Dodge Neon, with one very prickly mascot. And what comes next is an extraordinary, enlightening, hilarious, inspiring, complete and utter mindblower of a road trip that will transform both their lives.

You have arrived at the Porcupine of Truth.
Add your review of "The Porcupine of Truth" in comments!

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Great New Video From Teen Line-- LGBTQ: Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities

I really liked this:

Cheering all the students in this (and the supportive adults) on!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Guardian - The Sequel To The Gay Teen Science Fiction Thriller "Proxy"

attn: Spoilers if you haven't read Proxy yet.

Guardian by Alex London
In the new world led by the Rebooters, former Proxy Syd is the figurehead of the Revolution, beloved by some and hated by others. Liam, a seventeen-year-old Rebooter, is Syd’s bodyguard and must protect him with his life. But armed Machinists aren’t the only danger.

People are falling ill—their veins show through their skin, they find it hard to speak, and sores erupt all over their bodies. Guardians, the violent enforcers of the old system, are hit first, and the government does nothing to help. The old elites fall next, and in the face of an indifferent government, Syd decides it’s up to him to find a cure . . . and what he discovers leaves him stunned.

Add your review of "Guardians" in comments!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The LGBTQ Q&A sessions at SCBWI's Twice-Annual International Conferences - A Resource And Community For Writing (and Illustrating) LGBTQ Characters & Themes For Kids, Tweens and Teens

It started in 2007, after Ellen Wittlinger, the author of Parrotfish (which at the time was one of only a handful of transgender teen novels), gave a session at the SCBWI Summer Conference about writing LGBTQ characters. After her session, a bunch of us writers and illustrators hung out, wanting to talk more about our work, and challenges, and triumphs and questions, and really – maybe more than any of the rest of it – just continue to bask in the company and knowledge that within our larger tribe of writers and illustrators for kids and teens, we were not alone in wanting to tell stories about and including queer characters and themes.

Starting in 2009, I've been thrilled to both moderate and host the LGBTQ Q&A sessions (sometimes called 'Find the LGBTQ in SCBWI') at both the New York Winter and Los Angeles Summer SCBWI International Conferences.

The New York 2013 LGBTQ Q&A

Chatting after the New York 2015 LGBTQ Q&A

Poolside Cabana-Style LGBTQ Q&A in Los Angeles 2011

The format has been this: We sit in a large circle (we've ranged between 30 and 50 attendees) and we go around and everyone introduces themselves and what they're working on, and then we get into the questions for our conference faculty guests and a great discussion. Afterwards, everyone hangs out, exchanging cards and basking in the sense of community.

Those conference faculty guests have included Ellen Hopkins, Emma Dryden, Jane Yolen, Arthur A. Levine, Kristin Venuti, Tracey Adams, Bruce Coville, Michael Stother, Natalie Fischer, Danielle Smith, Neil Porter, Sonya Sones, T.S. Ferguson, Jen Laughran, Alvina Ling, Laurent Linn, Ari Lewin, Jim McCarthy, Aaron Hartzler – we've even had Judy Blume attend!

Most of the sessions have been covered on the SCBWI Conference Blog, with photos and brief write-ups. There's lots of information and great advice there, including:

Bruce Coville: "Write what you believe in. Anything else is going to be false to you and false to the world as well."

Tim Federle: "You will get pushback and you will be celebrated."

Danielle Smith: "Don't be afraid to write the characters you want to write. Kids need them."

Ellen Hopkins: "Books don't create queers. They just offer empathy and understanding to that space."

Emma Dryden: ""Stop thinking about them as queer and just think of them as people."

Jane Yolen: "There's nothing off the table when you're writing a novel… if you do it well. And then you set a new benchmark."

There will be another LGBTQ Q&A session at the upcoming 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Friday evening July 31 from 7:30pm - 9:00pm. You can find out more information about the conference here.

And as I always sign off at the SCBWI Blog,

Illustrate and Write On!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Joanna Volpe (New Leaf Literary and Media): Agent Looking For 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 Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary and Media.

Agent Joanna Volpe
Joanna's bio:

Joanna Volpe is the president of New Leaf Literary & Media, as well as an active literary agent.  She represents books for all ages (picture books to adult), both fiction and non-fiction. Overall she's looking for books that feature under-represented characters and people.  More diversity, please! Follow her on twitterfacebookpinterest, or instagram.

And our interview...

Lee: Hi Joanna!

Joanna: Hi, Lee!

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

Joanna: Well, thanks for having me.

Lee: 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?

Joanna: This is very hard to say without going back through every submission (and there are thousands), but if I had to venture a guess based on memory, I'd say about 10-15% (though 15% might be generous). I did notice an increase of these submissions after #WeNeedDiverseBooks picked up steam, which is great. In previous years, that number was probably closer to 5%. So that means the campaign is working!

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

Joanna: In terms of the diversity represented, protagonists of color are the most prominently represented in that 15-20%. Most common being African American, Asian American and Indian American.

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

Joanna: I do see some stories featuring gay characters, but I don't even think I can give it a percentage – it's pretty infrequent. And even less frequent to see lesbian protagonists, bi, trans, or non-conforming. I don't get zero, but it's probably only a handful a year out of thousands of queries.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Joanna: I get some of these, but most are of characters who are injured and became physically disabled – very few of characters born with a disability. And a fair number feature characters who are somewhere on the autism spectrum. Prior to working in publishing I worked in special education, so I'm particularly sensitive to how these characters are portrayed.

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

Joanna: I do see a lot of stories featuring characters from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, which is good. There was a time when I didn't see enough of that either, but my submissions have had more balance in that category is recent years. And I do see books that showcase a variety of religions as well.

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

Joanna: Yes, I do. This more so than the characters in the books, I think. Of course, I wish I saw more diversity in the authors and illustrators who submit to me. But most of the time I don't even know. Unless they specifically mention it in their query or their name gives a hint to their ethnicity, I wouldn't know unless I got to a deeper point of discussion in the submission process with them. That doesn't happen often in itself.

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?

Joanna: As long as an author treats an under-represented type of character with respect by doing the right research, then I don't see a problem with who writes the story.

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

Joanna: Sometimes. But mainly, I think the big struggle comes closer to publication-time, once we're dealing more with the sales and marketing process. Then I really have found myself having to work double or triple hard to "sell" the book. You'd think the hard part would be over once the book is sold to an editor, but that's not the case.

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?

Joanna: It's just always been something that's important to me. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by people from all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, etc. My parents are very kind and thoughtful people who never (almost to a fault) judge anyone for anything. Ever. And that mindset has made its way down to me and my sister. But they also never made the world seem easy, so it's not like I looked at everything through rose-colored glasses. And I'm one of those people who is deeply affected by injustice of any kind – I literally can't sleep when I think about it. And let's face it: there is a lot of injustice going on every day.

Having grown up with such a rich exposure to the world, it's something I want to share with others, especially children. I know how much my experiences from childhood have shaped me – that's where it all begins!

In addition to the above, I mentioned that I worked in special education. I worked in this field for almost 5 years in one capacity or another, and it has definitely further influenced my desire to see more diversity in children's and teen's books.

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?

Joanna: Dizzy by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Sean Qualls. I love this book and how it tells the story of a little slice of history in such a fun, read-aloud kind of way.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Joanna: Oh, this one is tough since it's my favorite market of books! (I swear, I'm still an 11-year-old at heart.) Ok, I think I can narrow it down to three:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin - I adore fantasy and folklore, and this one is particularly magical!

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron - Lucky comes from a very, very poor, tiny, tiny trailer park down. And yet her struggles with understanding the world around her were so relatable. I loved this book.

Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper - Well, this one just struck me right in the heart. The main character in this one goes to school and works in a classroom similar to one I used to work in myself. Such a wonderful book!

Lee: Young Adult?

Joanna: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills - This is about a transgender teen, born as Elizabeth, but moonlights as a disc-jockey named Gabe (his true self). I worked on this book as a second reader very early in my career (before I was representing anything), and I'm pretty sure it took the agent more than a few years to sell. At last year's ALA awards, I was there when it was given a Stonewall Book Award, and I think the whole auditorium heard me scream out loud!

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

Joanna: Well, anything like the above favorites. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is the exact kind of YA I'm looking for right now: character-driven books that tell me a new story, a coming-of-age from a different perspective.

Picture books that can really bring the art in to showcase a different culture that we don't see every day. I loved this past year's Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth.

I've always had a fascination with world religions, so just putting that out there.

And really, any book in all 3 markets (picture book, middle grade and YA) that tells a good story from a fresh perspective--please think of me!

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?

Joanna: Our submission guidelines are here - remember to include my name in the subject line!

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!

Joanna: Here, here! Thanks so much for working to make things better yourself!

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

Illustrate and Write On!