Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cheryl Klein on Editing If I Ever Get Out of Here

In February's discussion of If I Ever Get Out of Here on CCBC-Net, we also heard from his editor, Cheryl Klein, at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. We are reprinting it here with her permission.

Cheryl Klein
As the editor of Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here, I’m delighted to see the conversation going on here about it! If you don’t mind, I wanted to share a little bit about how the book came to be, since it ties to some of the questions we were discussing earlier in the month regarding diverse literature. 

I’ve long been interested in publishing diverse stories, and thanks to my position at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, I’ve been in a place to do so. But in my first eight years in the industry, I did not see any submissions at all from Native American authors. After a debate about multicultural literature over on the child_lit listserv in, I think, 2008, I decided to reach out to Debbie Reese about this. I told her that the #1 problem in publishing Native American books was actually getting manuscripts from Native writers, and asked her to pass along my contact info to any aspiring Native children’s or YA authors she might meet.

Debbie sent me several writers over the next few years, and one of them was Eric Gansworth. Eric had published several adult novels and collections, but he’d never written for YA before; and his writing instantly stood out to me for his emotional sensitivity, his backbeat sense of humor, and his powerful portrayal of relationships among families and friends on and off the reservation. The first thing he sent me was a short-story collection featuring a young man’s observations of the adult relationships around his reservation. I admired the stories, but it seemed more like a book about adults from a YA point of view than true YA fiction to me, so it didn’t feel right for my list. But I told Eric that if he’d be interested in writing something that was truly focused on teenagers, I’d be delighted to see it; and he responded with a proposal for a novel that had long been in the back of his mind, about friendship, the Beatles, and the great Buffalo blizzard of 1977. I said “I love this idea, write it,” he did so, and I acquired the novel. We then worked together to shape it into If I Ever Get Out of Here

So if I could point you lovely librarians and teachers to one thing in this story, it would be the crucial role that Debbie played in letting Native writers know there was someone looking for their work, and her work connecting those writers to the wider publishing world. If you work with a diverse population and you know some aspiring writers, please give them books that might inform or encourage their writing, like those we’ve been discussing all month. If they’re adults, tell them about the Angela Johnson scholarship at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where they might find support for honing their craft. Point them to this discussion, and the CBCDiversity Tumblr, and the Lee & Low Book Awards, for names of publishers and editors and readers interested in seeing their work. Remind them it often takes patience to find the right editor for the right project at the right time, and they shouldn’t be discouraged by one rejection (as I turned down Eric’s first submission); but to hang in there and keep writing, first and foremost. Be the connector and encourager for any talented writers of color you might know, and hopefully we can see more of them in print soon.

With best wishes,

Cheryl Klein
Executive Editor
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book of the Week

The Scraps Book: 

Notes from a Colorful Life

by Lois Ehlert

Published by Beach Lane, 2014
64 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-3571-1

Ages 4-9

Lois Ehlert’s creative journey began in early childhood and continues today. Here she offers an open, inviting look at some of her own work as an artist creating books for children. Page spreads dazzle with Ehlert’s colorful collage art, including images from some of her best-known books along with a brief, friendly narrative about where the idea came from and how it developed. There is a scrapbook feel to the assorted illustrations, personal photographs, and notes in an offering that is a collage both visually, and in the content that combines insight into her personal journey as an artist with information about how her art and her books take shape. Inspiration can come from everywhere. Chaos can lead to beautiful creations. This treasure trove feels like a love letter to the beauty all around us, and encourages young artists to “find your own spot to work and begin.” (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 3

The third and final part of our conversation with author Eric Gansworth from CCBC-Net.

Writing for Teens 

Did you find it restrictive to orient the novel towards a YA audience?

Bison Books, 2005
I probably went a fair amount softer than I would have for an adult audience, but that’s to be expected. Most of the edgier things that I thought were important to understanding Lewis’s world are still in the novel, if maybe a little more veiled than they were in the first incarnation. We had discussions about some of these areas, in the editorial process. Though a few of these passages, even in their muted versions, may alienate adult folks who feel protectively censorious on their constituents’ behalf, we left in the elements that were important. It’s a book about teenage guys. Even sensitive teenage guys are still, well, teenage guys.

To neuter them, worrying about offending someone, would not have been a realistic representation of the world I wanted to present. Young readers know when you’re playing it safe and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s strange to me how the culture has changed. In many ways, being more sensitive is a great thing, but young people who want to read provocative, edgier material are going to find it. Why not offer them some range of choices? I hope I’m not the literary equivalent of broccoli, but you never know. This book is oriented to late middle school and high school students. In middle school, I had already read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead (one great novel, one workmanlike novelization). Most of the girls I knew in eighth grade were obsessed with Flowers in the Attic, an over-the-top contemporary Gothic novel with a primary narrative focusing on incestuous siblings locked in an attic by their dysfunctional family. It seemed like Hansel and Gretel: The Cinemax Late Nite Years.

Milkweed Press, 2010
The one real restriction I think was great for me, as a writer. I’m generally a very meditative fiction writer, perhaps even to the point of indulgence sometimes. I’m interested in the interior lives of characters, the ways their memories and histories inform who they are at any given moment. My understanding of YA, from discussions with others and from reading many many contemporary YA novels while writing, is that it’s got to move a bit faster than I normally choose to. I’m sure that has more to do with my own temperament than any issue with the field. I’m a contemplative person, the sort who still gets insomnia over conversations I had 10 or 15 years ago that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. As such, my novels for adults probably require a reader with a greater reservoir of patience than the average reader. If I wanted slower meditative passages to remain in this novel, I had to find legitimate reasons for them to exist. I learned so much about writing for an audience in search of more immediate payoffs, that I believe right now, I could probably trim another thirty pages out of the first half, and make the pace a little peppier. It’s a learning curve, like anything else.
Thanks so much for taking the time to engage with my work and again for inviting me to participate in the conversation.  


If I Ever Get Out of Here was a 2014 Honor Book for the American Indian Youth Library Award and was chosen for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2014.  You can find it at your local library and bookstore.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blog Hop in Honor of Dia de Los Ninos/Libros

Be sure to check out Latinas for Latino Literature's Dia blog hop beginning April 6. Each day they will visit a different blog with a post by such as Meg Medina, Duncan Tonatiuh, and Maya Gonzalez. The tour launches, of course, with  Pat Mora, the founder of El Día de los Niños / El Día de los Libros.

Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros

Read More at http://latinas4latinolit.org/2014/04/l4lls-2014-dia-blog-hop/, Copyright © Latinas for Latino Lit (L4LL)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book of the Week

Grandfather Gandhi

by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Published by Atheneum, 2014
44 pages pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-7

Ages 5-9

Young Arun is happy to visit his grandfather in the Indian village of Sevagram, but is frustrated at having to share him with 350 faithful followers: His grandfather is the Mahatma, Gandhi. And then there is the Gandhi name to live up to, which feels like a burden to a child who can barely sit still and has trouble controlling his temper. On one rare occasion when he and his grandfather are alone, Arun confesses his unhappiness. “I stopped short of saying that I didn’t feel like a Gandhi, that peace and stillness did not come easily to me.” After he is shoved during a soccer game, Arun comes close to throwing a rock at another boy. He seeks out his grandfather, ashamed but also in need of solace. As they sit together at a spindle, his grandfather explains that everyone feels anger, but it is what you do with the feeling that matters: anger can be used to strike like lightning and cause destruction, or to illuminate, turning darkness into light. It’s a choice, and from that day on Arun not only understands this, but knows the choice he will always strive to make. The child-centered viewpoint never falters in this intimate look at a man who inspired and taught so many about peace within, and in the world. Evan Turk’s striking mixed media illustrations are full of emotion and appear nearly three-dimensional at times. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 2

The Military

Part 2 of a conversation with Eric Gansworth, author of If I Ever Get Out of Here, which took place on CCBC-Net in February as part of a discussion of his book. We're making it available here with Mr. Gansworth's permission.

Eric Gansworth

We have noted the similarities and differences between the military base George lives on and the reservation Lewis lives on, as well as the different experiences of military life represented by George's dad and Uncle Albert. Do you have any connection with the military yourself?

Lewis’s discovery of the world beyond his was like my own. My first non-Indian house visit had been at the home of my friend Chuck, the military-son friend mentioned above. So I learned quite a bit then, as we’d been very close, for a painfully short period of time. I also followed up during researching this book with one of the other guys George’s life is partially borrowed from. My two oldest brothers had been in the military. My oldest was drafted and sent over as infantry to Viet Nam, even though he was in college--deferments apparently were not available to all college students. Our next brother did not wish to share that fate, so he enlisted in the Air Force and successfully stayed on the periphery of combat in his time. My uncles and my father had all been drafted in World War II. There’s a long and complicated history of Indians, military service and patriotism, that seems very odd to me. That said, I almost wound up in the Marines, myself.

I’d been working as a laborer for minimum wage in high school and asked a guidance counselor if the SAT exam administrators took payment in installments. The counselor told me I was not really college material and shouldn’t waste my money. I didn’t know any better, so I listened to him. A number of my friends had enlisted in the Marines, and because of that, I agreed to meet a recruiter when he called my mom’s house one day looking for me. I was all ready to sign, but there was one snag.

At the time, New York State had a program for impoverished families that, weirdly now, seems sort of Hunger Games-ish. As I remember it, if you lived below a certain poverty line and had really disastrously, health-impairing crooked teeth, you could “audition” with the state health department and every year, one kid from every county was selected to have braces funded by the state. I won for Niagara County that year! Adhesive braces were available then, but as I understood it, the participating orthodontists were required to use the least expensive, base line adequate materials on these state-funded cases, so I got the braces that they hammered onto your teeth, with a spring loaded gun, fitting them by using a trial and error method, which was excruciating.

On the day The Marine recruiter picked me up to enlist, he told me I’d have to have my braces removed and reinstalled once basic training was over. I decide there was no way I could go through that again, so I asked him to turn around and take me home. I suppose I have the hierarchical nature of health-care in America to thank for my not having become a Marine. I suspect I’d have a very different life now, had I gone through with the enlistment, but the ghost of that day stays with me. I was ten minutes away from signing on the dotted line when the recruiter told me they’d have to pull my braces off and start again several months later, so naïve I had no idea what actual Boot Camp would have in store for me had I gone through with it.

Next up: Writing for Teens

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book of the Week

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

by Steve Sheinkin

Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2014
200 pages pages
ISBN: 978-1-59643-796-8

Age 13 and older

In the segregated military during World War II, Black sailors were responsible for loading munitions at Port Chicago on the San Francisco Bay. They were given no training in how to handle the dangerous cargo, and often felt pressure to increase their speed. On July 17, 1944, a tremendous explosion resulted in the deaths of 320 sailors on the dock and in the ships being loaded. In the aftermath, surviving Black sailors were soon ordered back to loading munitions. A group of them refused, saying they would obey any order but that one. They admitted they were afraid. And they were court martialed and found guilty of mutiny, sentenced to 15 years hard labor in prison. Steve Sheinkin offers a mesmerizing account of individuals and events surrounding the trial of the men who became known as the “Port Chicago 50,” revealing the impact of racism and segregation within the military at that time. The overtly racist Navy prosecutor aimed to show the men had conspired together ahead of time to refuse the order but there was no evidence of this in the testimony. Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, sat in on the trail and appealed the guilty verdict, but the appeal failed: to reverse the decision would be to admit the original trial was unjust. Political and public pressure resulted in the men’s release from prison after sixteen months. They were allowed to resume work as sailors, some serving on ships as the Navy began to desegregate, but the mutiny convictions were never dropped despite recurring efforts over the decades. Sheinkin’s compelling narrative, clearly positioned on the side of social justice, draws on the full-transcripts of interviews done with members of the Port Chicago 50 in the 1970s as well as transcripts of the trial. These accounts and other research is thoroughly documented in an offering that is sure to evoke strong emotional responses among y.a. readers. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center