Thursday, February 26, 2015

Welcome Anne Nesbet to Project Mayhem (by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin)

We are thrilled to announce the addition of a new member of Project Mayhem, Anne Nesbet. Here is Anne's bio, newly updated to include the great news that was announced yesterday: her deal with Candlewick!

Anne Nesbet reads while walking, which means she relies on echolocation (or chance) to avoid injury.  She teaches film history by day and writes novels for middle-grade readers in stolen moments. (Sometimes she steals a whole week.) She plays viola, composes strange pieces of music, and is happiest above 10,000 feet. Her fantasies for middle-grade readers are THE CABINET OF EARTHS (HarperCollins 2012), A BOX OF GARGOYLES (HarperCollins 2013), and THE WRINKLED CROWN (HarperCollins 2015), and her first historical novel for kids, CLOUD & WALLFISH, will come out in 2016 from Candlewick. She lives with her tolerant family and demanding dog in California.

(Man, I also have a tolerant family and a demanding dog. I think Anne will fit right in to the Mayhem milieu!)

Please leave a comment welcoming Anne. Her first post will be next month!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Finding Your Childlike Wonder by Donna Galanti

Childlike wonder. What was yours as a kid? I walked along rock walls under the stars at night when the whole world was asleep. Climbed trees as high as I could to sing songs to the woods. And hid away in rose bush caves with a notepad to write my stories – all the while believing that magic existed.

My son still knows how to find his childlike wonder.
What evokes childlike wonder? And as adults writing for children, how can we recapture that? 

Regaining a childlike sense of wonder isn’t about returning to a childlike state, it’s about letting yourself be awed by the little things in your grownup life. The mundane every day is what can dull our wonder. And just because those little things happen every day doesn’t mean they aren’t miraculous. 

But keeping your childlike wonder can be difficult when grownup duties mount. Recently, in a pressure-cooker twist I had final proofs to revise and edit on book one in my fantasy series, Joshua and the Lightning Road, and was committed to deliver book two on the same day. Did I say “same day”? I did. Zap! Zap!

With two books due on February 1st I had to grasp the wonder again.

So I ran away to a secret lodge to get it all done. I wallowed in editing drudgery. Line by line. Word by word. Character by character. Emotional moment by emotional moment.

Book one was the story I spent three years writing and revising with a developmental editor then, after I got an agent and book deal for it, was presented with additional story edits – all over again. Book two was the story I wrote in six months and had six weeks to revise – and know what needed to be done. But did I? Could I?

And somewhere in my editing elbow grease I lost what the stories had become. I was amuck in a mopping muddlement! Words to eliminate. Sentences to re-arrange. Ensure consistent details through the series. Repetitive scenes to cut and move. Find and replace. And…repeat. 

Each day through my prison window I rattled my chains and watched two kids sled. Up and down the hill they went. And their laughter and joy snapped me out of my trapped trance. I remembered being ten years old and how a whole day of sledding was magical. I also remembered turning twelve and sad with the awareness that I didn’t want to sled anymore. I had moved on, just like we move on into adulthood.

And I realized now that in order to do my job well as a children’s author, and to find joy in it, I needed to rekindle my kid wonder again. Just as I pondered this, a video of babies going through tunnels popped up in my Facebook feed. I couldn’t help but laugh at their wonder. And I thought, as writers of middle grade, how can we keep that kind of wonder with us? 

My wonder list:

Me with my lion ring. I
found wonder in my hero then,
Aslan, the lion from The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe
1. Re-visit pictures of ourselves as kids. Daydream about what we were doing in those photos. What we were excited about?
2. Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Go back and read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.
3. Look at the world from a different perspective. Like that tunnel. Like the snow. I went out in it and made a snow angel and looked up at the sky. Something I hadn’t done in years.
4. Create a new bucket list together with our kids or grandkids. What do they dream of doing that we could do with them?
5. Read stories by our own children, or grandchildren, to see how they view the world in their words.
6. Revive memories of being the age of our characters. Draw a map of the neighborhood we grew up in. Remember what we saw, what we felt, and how we reacted to events there and write them down.
7. Act out a scene in our book, or any book, with dramatic flair.
8. Face a childhood fear (mine was going down in our dark 200-year-old cellar where I was sure dead bodies were buried in the dark hole in the wall).

So what did I pick to do on my retreat? I paced and read my books aloud, acting them out with great dramatic flair. I became the hero running for his life (in my son’s voice of course) and his fierce but loyal mentor (Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit) and the bad guy (Liam Neeson). 

And I remembered how awesome it was to be a kid again and lost in the moment. And that every day as a kid was about being lost in the magical moments. Kind of like tiny miracles over and over – in the little things.

So…I made my deadline. 

I turned in the best stories I could for my Joshua and the Lightning Road series with the time that I had.

And on my way home at dusk through the snow covered Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Tunnel loomed in twilight. Its lights were ablaze in the dark. I raced through it like a wide-eyed rider surfing a lightning road. Fitting I think. And I was once again, lost in the wonder – and the small things.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Get "PRO"-active by Robert Lettrick

One of the best parts of being an author is that I get to work at home in my boxer shorts. I don’t have to shave or comb my hair or even get out of bed if I don’t want to (thank you, William Grant Moggridge, inventor of the laptop). After years of being an office guy, this new ultra-casual work environment was a wonderful change of pace. But writing is not always a solitary existence (even the Unabomber had to go out for stamps). Obviously there are times when we need to look and act the part of a professional (I know, I know, but I promise it’s not ALL the time). There are tools writers can use to project a polished image to the publishing community. You've probably seen these lists before. They tell you what tools you need, but rarely where to find them. My goal today is to point you in the right direction. Keep in mind, my intent is not to endorse any particular company, and I encourage you to explore options, but I’ll mention some I've used personally and with satisfying results.  

This one may be a bit daunting to those of you who aren’t very savvy when it comes to the whole interwebby thing. Despite the boxer shorts uniform, a writer still works for a company, except now that company is YOU. Companies benefit from websites in so many important ways. 
Maybe you assume your only option is to pay big money to have a web-designer build a site for you. I assure you, that’s not the case. There are some terrific one-stop shopping sites that make it simple to purchase a domain name and then build and update your own website. Pre-made templates and drag-and-drop editing make the process almost as easy as changing your cover pic on Facebook. Frankly, building an author website can be kind of fun. and offer easy design solutions, but for my website I went with I built my site and had it up and running in a day, and my total cost was less than $200 a year (broken down into 12 monthly payment of $15 a month.) Not too shabby. The great thing about sites like WIX is that they let you build your site before you have to pay for anything, so there’s no harm in trying the do-it-yourself method before turning to a professional designer. If you like what you've built then just pull out a credit card and pay for it. If you don't, just walk away.
Here’s what the WIX design editor looks like. Friendly, right? You don’t need to know html or java or any coding at all. You can even integrate some rudimentary Flash with the click of a button.

Don’t forget to add links to your social media pages, like Blogger, Facebook and Twitter, to make it easier for people to find you elsewhere on the internet. Updating your website often is the best way to get people to keep coming back. If you build the site yourself, it’s a snap to update. Updating it yourself saves money.  

You’re an author. Which means you’re a business person. Which means you need business cards (or you probably will at some point). There are plenty of office supply stores and printers you can visit or you can make your own online. I’m a fan of because their editing tools are user-friendly, they ship quickly and they make a quality product. Like WIX, Printrunner offers a simple drag-and-drop design experience. Here’s a screenshot of their editing bay.

Nothing too complicated about it. Last month I ordered 75 postcard-sized business cards for around $50, but there are more affordable options based on size, coating, quality and quantity. They also have a wide range of print products, like posters, stickers, banners and bookmarks—all the best promotional swag. 


I’m not sure how useful video trailers are for promoting books, but if it’s something you want on your website (or on Youtube) then you have a couple options. You can hire someone to film it and put it together for you (typically pricey!) or you can make your own. Learning video editing software takes a little more patience than building a website online, but once you learn the basics, you can make your own book trailers for years to come. I use Cyberlink Powerdirector because it came with my computer, but there are plenty of inexpensive software options available, starting at $20 on the low end. Corel’s Video Studio Pro looks good and it’s less than $80. Can’t go wrong with Corel and most of their software is downloadable from their website. 

If you have a good video camera and a little gumption, why not give it a try? You can also use the software to make short, informative videos of yourself promoting your work. Creating an author Youtube channel is easy and can be an effective way to let readers connect a face/personality to your books (which is great, unless you're the Unabomber). Authors from John Green to Rick Riordan have their own Youtube channels, so why not you?

Self-promotion is an important part of being an author. It's a wise idea to put your best foot forward. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a publisher will assign a publicist to help out, but most of the time we are our own one-employee PR-team. Making a great impression both in person and on the internet doesn't have to be a costly or overwhelming proposition if you know where to find the right tools.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Must Read Mid-Grade for 2015: February Edition by Caroline Starr Rose

There are so many incredible middle-grade titles releasing this year, I decided to dedicate my posts these next months to sharing as many as I can with you. My list is not exclusive and is actually just the tip of the iceberg. I hope these glimpses get you excited enough to ask your library to purchase a copy or buy one yourself. All descriptions are taken from

Happy Reading!

Bandits Peak — Chris Eboch (January 13) *

While hiking in the mountains, Jesse meets a strange trio. He befriends Maria, but he’s suspicious of the men with her. Still, charmed by Maria, Jesse promises not to tell anyone that he met them. But his new friends have deadly secrets, and Jesse uncovers them. It will take all his wilderness skills, and all his courage, to survive. Readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen's Hatchet will love Bandits Peak. This heart-pounding adventure tale is full of danger and excitement.​

Red Butterfly — A. L. Sonnichsen (February 3) **

Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has…but what if Kara secretly wants more?

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Red Butterfly is the story of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.

Fish in a Tree — Lynda Mullaly Hunt (February 5) ***

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

Moonpenny Island — Tricia Springstrubb (February 10)

Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds for miles and miles—and Flor couldn't be happier. But come the end of summer, unthinkable things begin to happen. Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously, whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor's mother leaves to take care of Flor's sick grandmother and doesn't come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it's a dangerous one.

Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.

Listen, Slowly — Thanhha Lai (February 17)

A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Linda Sue Park, Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) — Alison DeCamp (February 24) ****

It is 1895. Stan is on a mission to find his long-lost father in the logging camps of Michigan. And he's embellishing all of it in his stupendous scrapbook. 

There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan's missing dad isn't "dearly departed" after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan's fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama's suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow's peavey is at risk.

It's a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, "augmented" with his commentary and doodles. 

What February releases are you looking forward to?

* Project Mayhem author!

** I'm a little biased, as I was privileged enough to blurb this book. It's fantastic.

*** Reading this with a fourth-grade book club soon!

**** So. I've wanted to read this book since it first sold. Author Alison DeCamp was kind enough to send me an ARC. It is a riot!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Surviving Bear Island: Four Details

Below are a few brief things about Surviving Bear Island. A little history and a look toward the future.

1. Surviving Bear Island, my debut novel, a survival story set in the wilds of Prince William Sound, Alaska comes out March 25th (Move Books). Having completed the first draft of this novel 10 years ago, and then countless drafts since then, I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a home for this book. As my agent was trying to sell a different manuscript we started working on getting Surviving Bear Island ready for submission.

2. When I wrote Surviving Bear Island I didn’t envision it being illustrated. In fact, I first wrote it as a young adult novel and then six years into the revision process, it morphed into both first person and middle grade. One thing the illustrator James Madsen said about Surviving Bear Island is: "This book in particular has been one of my favorites because I grew up an avid outdoorsman and there’s no where I’d rather be than in the mountains or around wildlife."

I feel fortunate to have my book matched with an artist who has spent a lot of time in the outdoors. In the past fifteen years James has illustrated more than 75 books. Below is one illustration from the book. James also did the cover.

James Madsen

3. Surviving Bear Island is a 2015 Junior Library Guild selection. Again, I feel incredibly fortunate that the Junior Library Guild is putting their energy into getting my book into school and public libraries.

4. As of a couple days ago you can now pre-order Surviving Bear Island on Amazon.

As Surviving Bear Island nears publication I'm working on two books. One is an MG adventure set in Interior Alaska. The other is a contemporary YA novel.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cover Reveal & Giveaway for A SLIVER OF STARDUST, by: Marissa Burt

**Update: Three winners for the ARC giveaway have been selected through rafflecopter's random number generator and notified. Thanks so much to all of you for reading Project Mayhem's blog and for entering the giveaway! I'll let you know of other ARC giveaways for A SLIVER OF STARDUST via my twitter or facebook page. Happy reading! M**

You Guys.

I am beyond excited to reveal the cover for my next book, A SLIVER OF STARDUST.
Many, many thanks to the extremely talented people behind this gorgeous cover: to Jakob Eirich who created the jacket art, to David Coulson who did the lettering, and to Michelle Taormina who designed the jacket, and to everyone else on the Harper Team who continues to overwhelm me with their brilliant creative work.
But wait! Before you see the cover, a little bit about the story from the jacket copy:

I am a gold lock.
I am a gold key.
However high and low you hunt,
You'll never find me.

Wren Matthews outgrew nursery rhymes a long time ago. Little did she know that songs of twinkling little stars and four-and-twenty blackbirds are the key to the ancient magic of stardust - a magic that only a few people can see and use. And Wren is one of them.

Wren has always preferred to stick to herself. But when she is invited to the faraway fortress where an ancient order has long studied and guarded the stardust, she doesn't hesitate to accept.

Soon Wren is swept up in strange dreams, buried secrets, and rumors that an old enemy is plotting his return. As she tries to master her new abilities, Wren only knows one thing for sure. there's magic in the world - and it's waiting for her.

In the stars, a world of wonder and
magic awaits...but it is in grave danger,
and only Wren can save it.

And now...

And, because I want you to see how fantastic the back of the cover is:

Wow. I just can't stop gushing about it...prepare yourself for exclamation points! The aurora! The fantastic details! The glow of the lights in the Crooked House! The excitement on Wren's and Simon's faces! The shadows and spray of the water! The wingspan of Wren's falcon! I love Wren and Simon and their story so much and am so delighted that this cover captures the spirit of their adventure.

Count down the days with me until A SLIVER OF STARDUST will make its way into the hands of readers on October 20, or you can pre-order it now at Amazon!

But if you can't wait that long, enter below for a chance to win one of three ARCs that I'm giving away. Tweet or facebook about the giveaway every day from now until Friday 2/27 for more chances to win. This giveaway is open to US addresses only, and I'll send out the ARCs as soon as they become available.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Life on the Backlist -- by Kell Andrews

The industry calls them backlist titles. For kids, they're just books. 

The calendar officially turns a page on January 1, but in many ways, a different date marks the passing of the year in children's books: the announcement of ALA Youth Media Awards. This year, Newbery wins and honors for Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Cece Bell -- among a wide broad slate of spectacular and diverse winners in all categories -- energized readers, writers, and book lovers.

But what about the 2014 books that didn't win? The Mock Newbery contenders that weren't called out on that podium? The middle-grade books that didn't make it to any bestseller or "best of" list at all?

It's the backlist, baby.

2014 books everywhere are being moved from the "new" shelf at the library to spine-out in the stacks. They're being boxed up in bookstore backrooms and returned to the distributor. Some of them will be remaindered. Some will go out of print.
Out of Print but not forgotten:
The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon (1955 novel from her
1944 play). Farjeon sued Disney for using some of her
ideas in their 1950 film Cinderella. She lost the suit
but I see the similarities, especially in the opening.

The publishing industry moves forward -- that how all businesses works. We writers count on this cycle too -- our debuts, and then our next books. Publishing reps and book bloggers are talking about the books coming in 2015, and editors are acquiring books to be published in 2016 and beyond.

But kids aren't talking about 2016 -- they can hardly imagine it. These cycles don't mean anything to our readers. Ask a 10-year-old what a backlist title is, and she'll look at you blankly. If you told her that Harry Potter and Harriet the Spy were backlist, she'd think backlist was the greatest thing ever.

And it is. The middle-grade publishing is driven by bestsellers, but middle-grade readers are driven by the backlist -- the books in the library, on reading lists, and their older brothers' shelves. This is especially true for kids with under-funded schools and libraries, but not only. More than adults and teens, middle-graders count on the books in the library, on reading lists,  on their older siblings' shelves, as well as gifts from nostalgia-minded adults.

When I was a kid and an avid reader, I went through libraries shelf by shelf. I read both popular titles and dusty old books that I was sure I was the first to read in decades. One of my favorites was The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon, an enchanting fairy tale retelling in the original 1955 edition. (I am delighted to find others who loved it on Goodreads and I now own a copy.)

I still discover books the same way. One of my favorite middle-grade reads of the past year was Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl, an enchanting fairy tale retelling from way back in 2002 that somehow caught my attention on the library shelf.

My debut came out in 2014, and in publishing terms, it's consigned to the past. But as long as it's still on library shelves, it's still has a chance to gain child readers. As long as it's at online retailers, it's still available for people who cannot resist a book about a cursed tree and some dubious science. 

The industry moves on, and that includes me as a writer. But books live on, even in the obscurity of the unsung, not-yet-a-classic backlist.

What backlist titles have you discovered in the past year? What books from 2014 and earlier deserve more attention?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation (aka Revision) by Joanna Roddy

Photo courtesy: Moving Picture World
Wikimedia Commons

It was just before Christmas two years ago and I was on the phone with my agent...having the conversation everyone dreads.

Back when I first signed with my agency, I knew they wanted a big revision and I was more than willing to do it. I *wanted* someone to tell me what to do next. I was good at being a student--doing my assignments, acing tests, and regurgitating my teacher's ideas--but all this author-ity was kind of unnerving to me. The creative process was so lonely and hard and I had no one to tell me if I was doing it right. So I took my agent's revision notes and treated them like my study guide. When I was done checking off all the boxes, I sent off my manuscript, sick of the thing and glad to be done working on it.

But then my agent let me know that although I had made some good changes, I still wasn't done. The manuscript needed more work. I was honestly a bit lost about what to do. The new revision notes reiterated problems I had tried to fix the first time. I wrote up a sample chapter and asked my agent for some feedback, desperately hoping I was now moving in the right direction. 

And here we were on the phone just a few weeks before Christmas when my to-do list was miles long (and the last thing I wanted to do was take on a major writing project) and she was telling me what I absolutely did NOT want to hear:

This revision wasn't working. Maybe I should take some time off and reassess. Maybe I needed to get a book doctor to work with me. Maybe I should go back and revisit craft. 


So I took some time off, tried not to think about it, and enjoyed the holidays with my family.  

Then I thought hard about what to do next. I was embarrassed and confused and a big part of me wanted to give up--the part of me that didn't know if I had whatever skill it would take to revive my book. 

But after a few months, I swallowed my bruised pride and I started to reach out. I contacted two published authors I know and asked if they'd meet with me to talk about my situation. I shared with them the painful truth and each in their own way offered perspective, advice, and got me thinking about craft in new ways. ON WRITING by Stephen King and Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling were game-changers for me.

After these conversations, something shifted inside me. I realized that I had to stop waiting for someone else to tell me how to write my book. I *already knew* what I needed to do to make it what I wanted it to be. I just needed to do it and stop waiting for someone to give me permission. I also needed to roll up my sleeves for some more(!) hard work and stop clinging to my earlier efforts.

I dropped the first five chapters and rewrote the beginning from scratch. I cut characters and scenes. I combined repetitive elements, reordered the plot, and even mashed two major characters together into one. I tied up loose plot ends. I took two-dimensional aspects of the book and examined them from new perspectives until I understood them more deeply. I clarified my point of view. I thought of new plot twists. I simplified unnecessary complications. 

By the time I was done, not a single scene was left untouched, much of the previous draft was discarded, and I'd estimate at least 60% of the manuscript was entirely new. It wasn't so much a revision as a rewrite.

And for the first time, I truly loved my book. It felt right in a way it never had before. 

I sent it off. When my agent and I had that next call, she said words that I almost never thought I'd hear: "Joanna, this is such a huge leap forward! How did you do it?"

Are you stuck? It's pretty likely you already know what you need to do. Keep learning your craft, trust yourself, trust your work, and don't give up.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My 2015 Caldecott Quandary by Jim Hill

It has been a fantastic, groundbreaking awards season for graphic novels. El Deafo was named a Newbery Honor, and This One Summer earned both a Printz Honor and a Caldecott Honor.

*Record scratch*

Wait, what? There’s a book that can get both a Printz–the YA award–and a Caldecott? The Caldecott? The one for picture books? For little kids? You’re seriously telling me this? Shut up.

Right? I thought the same thing. I hadn’t yet read This One Summer when the awards were announced. I had seen the cover, and thumbed through it at the bookstore, so I knew it to be a beautifully illustrated book. As soon as the snow stopped and the libraries opened again (hash tag snowmageddon), I got my hands on it.

The illustrations are fantastic. Evocative, well paced with an artful use of splash pages that break out of the panel format to mark chapter endings and important story points. It’s blue–a choice made in production by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki that, in my opinion, elevates the art and the emotional stakes while at the same time softening a sometimes difficult story by providing a little psychic distance for the reader. Blue is a calming color after all. It’s also entirely appropriate as it relates to the setting at Awago Beach, and the importance that water plays in the story.

So why don’t I love the idea that it received a Caldecott Honor? Age range and subject matter.

Let me try to explain. Um, justify. Er, rationalize. Crap, this is awkward.

The material in this book is not easy stuff. It’s a coming of age story that deals with newfound sexual desire, teen pregnancy, infertility/miscarriage, parental disharmony, and even touches on class/socio-economic issues.

So, first let me say, holy cow, well done Jillian and Mariko. This is great stuff, handled authentically, honestly, and experienced deftly through the eyes of the main character.

Slap two Printz awards on the cover, and call it a day. I am all in.

But the Caldecott? You’re killing me.

To me, and I’m willing to bet to most people, the Caldecott is the picture book award. I fear there will be censorship/banning discussions fueled by parents who are upset that this material landed in their children's hands by virtue of a sticker. One look at the negative Amazon reviews reveals exactly that. What boggles my mind about those negative reviews is the objection to language, not subject matter. But that’s an argument for another day–tentative title, “What’s Wrong with You? Words Are Not the Problem, You’re the Problem.” But I digress.

Technically, This One Summer totally qualifies for the Caldecott Honor. But emotionally? Instinctually? I think the committee misstepped.

Yes, the Caldecott's second criteria says, "A ‘picture book for children’ is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered." But has there ever been one recognized that pushes that upper limit so hard?

Parents, teachers, and librarians are confused. That doesn’t help the credibility of the award. The negative Amazon reviews and this post (with subsequent discussion in the comments) on the Hornbook blog illuminate the issue nicely.

I don’t know. On the one hand, I am over the moon that graphic novels are getting attention, sales, and shiny award stickers. Cartoonist Dani Jones might have said it best on twitter:

And Matthew Winner, of the excellent Let’s Get Busy podcast, nails the reason we should all read El Deafo in his Washington Post op/ed piece.
Graphic novels matter. This is great. In an online discussion with alums and students of VCFA about this issue, it was suggested that maybe it's time for a specific graphic novel award. Not to eliminate graphic novels from contention for other awards, but to shine a light on them alone. Skip age ratings–that’s a big ol’ can of worms that almost no one can come to consensus on, but celebrate the writing, the art, and the storytelling for what it is by virtue of its unique format.

David Elzey suggested an excellent name for it: The PILKEY YANG award (for Dav Pilkey, Gene Luen Yang, naturally). Sounds good to me.

My thanks to that secret board of VCFA’ers for helping me clarify my thoughts, and a special shout out to Robin Herrara for rightfully turning me around on my second (undisclosed) problem with this award for This One Summer.

Do yourself a favor–read the book and make up your own mind.

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