Monday, June 29, 2015

Dispatch #39: Graduation Season

by Lupe Fernandez

High School Graduation. The end school. The end of senior year. The last of the finals. The last class. Goodbye lockers. Goodbye P.E. Goodbye cafeteria food. Goodbye to the one you want to love but never got the chance.

Oh, then there's college. But before we pack up and agonize over rising tuition, let's stop and smell the ceremony.

Last month I attended a graduation ceremony for a family friend, a Mt. Eden Monarch. I know. I know. You're thinking, "Hey! You're a Sunset Falcon. What in the crazy curriculum on your doing at Mt. Eden?" Sunset High School has ceased graduation ceremonies in 1990.

Gone are the clanging wires against the light posts. Gone are platform shoes. Gone are the names I knew. This is the 21st Century. The era of social media, wi-fi and the cell phone.

But wait.

Some things remain the same. The seniors still march to Pomp & Circumstance played by the high school band. They wear cap and gowns. And there are still those speeches. You know the ones. March to the chime of a different xylophone. Always take the path less muddy. We are the future customers. Etc...

Family and loved one still wait for that special name to be called. The audience still hollers and whistles.

Eventually, warrants were dropped.
In regards to audience cheering, the school principal mentioned a high school in Senatobia, Mississippi where the superintendent asked the crowd not to shout or applaud until after the ceremony was over. Mt. Eden's Principal responded that parents, family and loved ones also worked hard to get their kid to graduate. They deserve to shout for every name.

"Let's them hear it in Mississippi!"

A great roar went up from the audience.

Senatobia Municipal School District Superintendent Jay Foster of Mississippi, are you listening?

Diversity. Diversity. Diversity. What about diversity in the era of the 1%?

The surnames in the program reassured me. Dabu. Ezenekwe, Firethunder Euresti, Duy Ho, Van Le, Kumar, Muzammil, Raj, Safiq, Tungol and the good old American last name of Isais. Once upon a time, such names would've been considered foreign. Today, they claim their education.

Sometimes, even rainbows are the same.

Congratulations Class of 2015.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Adults In kid's Books: For or Against?

by Hilde Garcia

Eddie Money on the radio, great song about the 101. Another sunny day in LA. I am writing my blog on my iPhone in the car while we drive to the beach. 

Who needs a pencil when you have “NOTES” on your phone?
Father’s Day.  My family and I are on the way to go on a 10-mile bike ride along the beach between Santa Monica and Venice Beach with three kids between the ages of 9 and 10.
We will see how many bathroom breaks we will need or how many disagreements we will have to referee. This was supposed to be a Mother’s Day bike ride, but I was swamped with teacher stuff, so six weeks later, my hubby is sharing his day with me!
Happy Parent’s Day.


My kids were talking to me in the car and I began thinking about the novels we write and how we are often encouraged to take out the adult voices to make it more kid centered.  It’s not that the novels we write are devoid of parental units, it’s just that we really want the adult voices not to interfere with the story.

But why? Maybe a little interference is good. So much of our lives and our kids' lives are formed by what they learn from us, their parents. We are the little voice sin their head. I just saw the Pixar movie “Inside Out” with my kids.  WOW.  A must see. All those little voices in their heads, their parents’ head.  You can’t ignore them. They are intertwined.

Thinking of novels that capture the parent voice without that voice interfering with the story.  And it came to me, a few notable stories in which parental units and kid storytellers live in perfect harmony.

A Season of Gifts and the two amazing books that continue the character arc of Mrs. Dowdel, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Not only is it masterfully written by Richard Peck, but you crave to know what Grandma Dowdel will do. You find yourself wanting to be her as her granddaughter grows up to realize. I can’t imagine that story being told only from her grandkids’ perspectives, without having Grandma be the force of nature that she is in all three books.

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L.Holm is a beautifully written middle grade novel set in the 1950s, where family is central to the story, and Penny is torn between her two worlds.

The book is set in New Jersey in the year 1953. Protagonist Penny Falucci is an eleven-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother and grandparents. Since the death of Penny's father, Mrs. Falucci shuns her big Italian-American family, but she won't give Penny a good reason. Penny loves that side of the family and spends as much time with them as she can. After an accident that puts her in the hospital for several weeks, Penny learns the truth about her father, his death, and how it tore apart the two halves of her family.

If Penny simply told her story and didn’t have all these parental units in her story, each adding to a piece of her background and the mystery about her past, you wouldn’t have this bittersweet story. Its cultural implications are profound and only effective when these characters are also the storytellers.

I think there are plenty of great books that have only the young voice and their perspective of the world, but then I think of all the Anne of Green Gables books and how bare they would be without Marilla, Matthew, or Mrs. Lynde.

And what about amazing classics like Caddie Woodlawn, the Little House Series and even Cheaper by theDozen, a fun story full of Father.  All so integrated with family and parental characters that these classic tales would be flat of what makes them special.  

I think of my own novel with an emotionally dead mother character and a father character who dies early in the story. In my pivotal scene, the mom tells the story. It has to be told by her point of view.  It’s the only way to connect the main characters, the sisters, to their past. The mom is integral to the storytelling. I can’t just have the girls figure it out without her and the bitter sweetness of the scene would be lost.

I was told to omit her storytelling and her in that scene, but I couldn’t. It’s also cultural. My story is true to the people and time period I write about. Why does the mid-grade or YA novel simply have to be from the kid’s point of view?

I feel there is room for both.

If you are considering killing off a parental character, also consider how they could enhance your story, if you haven’t already done so. They might not. My “father” character didn’t help the story and he had to die, which propelled the story unfold in a profound way.
I leave it up to you, the fate of your “adult” characters!

And in honor of Father’s Day (and all types of parents everywhere), I invite you to share the novels you feel capture the duality of the parent and the kid storyteller, where neither character detracts from the other’s contribution to the novel.

Monday, June 15, 2015

2015 Crystal KIte Awards part 2

By Susan J Berger
The annual Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. This is the second post on the 2015 Crystal Kite award. The first is here.
Again: The Crystal Kite is a rather odd award in that there are no Categories. Therefore a picture book may be competing against a young adult novel. 

Midwest (Minnesota/Iowa/Nebraska/Wisconsin/Illinois/Michigan/Indiana/Ohio)

I am Cow, Hear Me Moo by  Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Gus Gordon

Nadine was a truly remarkable cow.
There was nothing she feared –
so she claimed, anyhow.
“Not lightning?” asked Starla. “Loud noises? A rat?”
“I’m not scared,” Nadine boasted, “of any of that.”
“The woods?” asked Annette. “‘Cause that place scares me stiff.”
“Not me,” bragged Nadine, with a proud little sniff.
This was not available online. I contacted Jill, via Facebook and she graciously sent the first page to me. I definitely want to read this book. My kind of fun.

New England (Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire/Connecticut/Massachusetts/Rhode Island)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by  Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen –
Young naturalists meet sixteen birds in this elegant introduction to the many uses of feathers.

Birds and feathers go together like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky.

Thanks to Melissa Stewart for sending me the first line! I love it.

New York

 Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (And Their Noses) are Saving The World by Nancy Castaldo –

Eli, a four-year-old bomb-sniffing black Labrador, was assigned to work alongside Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, an improvised explosive device detection dog handler. The two left for a tour in Afghanistan on September 23, 2010, Colton's twentieth birthday and became inseparable. In fact Colton often broke protocol by letting Eli sleep with him on his cot instead of the regulation kennel on the floor. And on his Facebook page Colton wrote under a photo of Eli, "What's mine is his." There was no question of the bond the two shared.

Southeast (Florida/Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina/Alabama)

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry Cerra, illustrated by Katy Betz

September 7, 2001
I’d rather dunk my head in a school toilet than run cros country. All the tree branches and roots are like landmines. They slow me down. Besides, I’m not good for long distances –I’m more of a sprinter. You know, get from point A to point B as fast as possible, with a finish line always in sight and no surprises along the way. That’s running. Unfortunately, Coach makes us do cross country in the fall or we can’t run track in the spring. It’s stupid. They’re not the same sport at all.

Southwest (Nevada/Arizona/Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/New Mexico)

All Four Stars by  Tara Dairman 

Chapter 1

Gladys Gatsby stood at the counter with the spout of her father’s heavy blowtorch poised over the ceramic cup. Her finger hovered over the trigger button that was supposed to turn her plain little custards into crunchy, tasty treats. That’s when she heard a car door slam outside.


  Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood  by Varsha Bajaj

Chapter 1
Be careful what you wish for.
The one thing I want most in life . . . ? Hmm.
Miss Cooper needs to know that? Really?
My eyes dart from Zoey on my right to Priya diagonally across from me to the clock directly above Miss Cooper’s head. Three minutes to the bell. Unlike me, my friends are scribbling furiously.
I know I want to read this.


The Year of the Rat by Claire Furniss

I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”
Virginia Woolf’s diary, 17 February 1922
The traffic light glows red through the rainy windscreen, blurred, clear, blurred again, as the wipers swish to and fro. Below it, in front of us, is the hearse. I try no to look at it.

                                                                                                                      West (Washington/Oregon/Alaska/Idaho/Montana/North Dakota/South Dakota)


Be a Change Maker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson 

It's Your Turn Now

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek.
 Barack Obama, 44th President of the United Stated of America in a speech to his supporters in Chicago on February 5, 2008

You've heard the saying, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." I've found this to be true more often than one might expect. Sometimes it's because other people can't do it. They just don't have t skills or the tools that you do. Other times they just won't do it. It is, after all, what  you want, and it's your definition of right.
I kept reading this online. A very empowering book.

I hope you found a book you want to explore further. What's your favorite book you've read this year?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Author Stacey Lee In Conversation

Author Stacey Lee
by Lupe Fernandez

Stacey Lee is the author of Under a Painted Sky, a YA, historical western. Two girls, Samantha and Annamae, flee arrest and slavery on the Oregon Trail disguised as boys. They fall in with a couple of cowboys headed for California's gold rush.

There's stompin' stampedes, cross-patched chuckleheads and confused courting. Don't worry, friendship gets 'em through the whole caboodle.

Would Sammy's dispatching of Ty Yorkshire have read more severely if this story had been a contemporary YA? Does historical fiction offer leeway with violent scenes?
I think historical has the potential to be equally graphic. For example, MT Anderson's THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING is skin crawlingly graphic in its depiction of small pox, as is any western by Larry McMurtry (a scene that sticks in my mind is the disembowelment of an unfortunate settler by a Native American). For me, it came down to my main character. She is classically educated, a sheltered city girl. It was important to write the story as how she would've seen and filtered it. This means, the violence is PG, borderline PG13. It's there, but the story isn't the violence.

You describe Oregon Trail landscape vividly. Did you travel to any of the locations featured in the book?
I spent a fair amount of time on the California Trail on which there's a wealth of experts, rangers, trail leaders, and wagon builders who are more than happy to speak with you about this important part of American history. For hardcore OT enthusiasts, there's an annual trip down the OT in caravan, and you can live how the pioneers lived. If I wasn't such a light sleeper and a bad traveler, it would've been fun to do that!

During your research for this book, did you discover anything surprising about the 1840's?
Yes. I learned so much about the trials the Pioneers went through. They had all sorts of interesting remedies for the problems they encountered on the Trail, such as cholera. At the time, there was no cure, so they had to come up with their own, including tying a raw chicken to one's leg. I don't know if anyone was actually cured through this method, but they were probably put off chicken for a long time.

I also enjoyed learning about the cowboy life, and how incredibly diverse the cowboys were. There were blacks, Mexicans, but probably no Chinese (except in Hawaii, eventually).

Would you have preferred extra-curricular reference material at the end of the book, such as historical maps and websites for further information? Perhaps for the second printing?
Yes, this would've been fabulous to have. I am always getting asked questions about where to get more information. Also, I'm a big fan of maps.

Do you feel the Chinese experience in 19th century America as portrayed in popular media has been confined to helpless immigrants, wandering Kung Fu masters and cheerful laundry workers?
Don't forget the dragon ladies and the nerds. I read a book recently which I loved and was a recent Newbery Honor, but failed me in one regard - the only Asian person in the book was a Karate teacher. We still get saddled with these roles, in books, and in other forms of entertainment.

This reader pictures the author dunking herself in a rushing river to capture the details of Sammy's watery perils. With all the roping and riding and river crossing, you must be an experienced cowboy, yes?
I wish! The truth is, I'm deathly allergic to horses, though I actually went so far as to research hypoallergenic horses because I really do want to learn to ride a horse one day (maybe even stand on one). :) And yes, there is a hypoallergenic horse called the Bakshir Curly. I'm saving up.

You and author Stephanie Garber make a dynamic duo in your video blogs. Will you two ever collaborate on a book? Or at least come out with your own line of hats?
Thank you, we try! We always talk about collaboration. And then we devolve into hapless giggling and eat dessert instead. It's inevitable. Actually, the first picture book I wrote was "The Math Monster" and her first PB was "The Jelly Monster." We've been on the same wavelength even before we met! We've started a tumblr together and big plans are in the works for it. And that reminds me. It's time for dessert.

The Management would like to thank Stacey Lee for this interview. For more Stacey Lee, saddle up and ride on over to Then mosey on over to your local independent book store and wrangle yourself a copy of Under a Painted Sky. Now get a wiggle on!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Will Hillenbrand In Conversation With

Spring is HereOur guest blogger Cate Lee interviews illustrator Will Hillenbrand.

What is the best part about being a children’s picture book author/illustrator?
The very best part is my audience. When I see the faces of young children who are engaged with books- my books- it delights my heart. To think that I might play a part with their becoming readers and thinkers is an additional benefit.

Have certain authors and illustrators influenced your work?
My favorite illustrator is Ernest Shepherd. I just love his work; it touches me so deeply. The first illustrator/storyteller that I remember from my childhood is Beatrix Potter. My grandmother read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to me; that book was my welcome mat to the world of children’s books. I have met and known so many talented and wonderful picture book creators that my list would be longer than Santa’s Christmas list, too long to share with you here.

Kite DayWhat was your inspiration for the Bear and Mole series?
My inspiration was my relationship with my son, Ian. When he was little, my wife (Jane) and I read a book to him that he fell in love with- The Mole Family's Christmas by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Ian loved that book so much that he role-played the boy character by digging everywhere like a little mole. For his third birthday, I drew a picture of him as if he were a mole and we transferred that picture onto a couple of t-shirts and a book bag.

A month or two later, Ian tried to wake me up early in the morning to play (Jane was at school teaching Kindergarten). I was very sleepy and he tried everything to wake me up but nothing worked until he came up with a specific plan. He went to the foot of the bed, untucked the sheets, climbed underneath and tunneled, like a little mole, until he found my big fat toe which he then gave a gigantic tweak. That is what I call A MOLE ALARM CLOCK with no snooze button.

After making him breakfast that day we drove to his favorite playground where he played and played. When he was tired/sleepy, we drove home. Then he asked me to tell him a story. I told him that I couldn’t think of any. That made him very unhappy which in turn made me unhappy. So, I thought about the main character being a little mole. He then perked up, knowing that the coming story would be about him. I then said that the Mole had a best friend... and Ian suggested a bear. I thought, now I have two characters but no story, what to do? Then I remembered what had happened between us that morning and with a little embellishment I retold the morning's events adding sound effects including an enormous snore for the bear. Ian loved the story. I sketched out the story in my journal so I could remember it. Many years later, I made it into the book, Spring Is Here.
The first book was so successful that the publisher wanted to make it into a series. Spring Is Here was followed by Kite Day and Off We Go! 

What's your next project?
I’ve completed a fourth Bear and Mole story entitled All for a Dime! and Bear and Bunny written by Daniel Pinkwater. It’s a companion book to Bear in Love which was published two years ago. Both books will be out later this year. Currently, I’m working on the illustrations for Me & Annie McPhee which was written by Olivier Dunrea. It’s a fun, cumulative rhyme featuring an ever-crowded tropical island and is set to be released in Spring 2016.

Need more Will Hillenbrand? See this SCBWI Kite Tales Interview.


The Management would like to thank Will Hillenbrand and Cate Lee, SCBWI Kite Tales Illustrative Liaison - SCBWI LA Region Online Blog for this interview.