Hooray! After keeping this under my hat for what seemed like ages, I can finally reveal the cover to my new picture book, Bartali's Bicycle, with HarperCollins' Quill Tree Books! And look at the lovely, lovely blog post the beautiful, talented Tara Lazar wrote about it. Don't forget to comment to enter for a chance to win an F&G! Many thanks to Iacopo Bruno, illustrator extraordinaire!!!
I am so grateful to have been included on this amazing podcast alongside other contributors to the Thanku poetry anthology. You are all amazing poets! What an honor! I've learned so much about different types of poetry, and when I talk about this special book with children at school visits, we sometimes practice writing poems together. Writing sonnets with children is interesting -- especially when they are about our least favorite foods!
The pickled beets and peas slipped off my plate.
I promise, Mom, they tumbled to the floor.
And all the other healthy foods I ate
Have filled me up -- there's just no room for more!
I belched and ugly beet taste filled my throat,
"Oh, thank you, Mom! This tastes just like a dream."
"That's it," Mom said, "Now, go put on your coat."
We drove around the block to buy ice cream.
A sonnet must have three stanzas (sometimes called quatrains) of four lines each, followed by a rhyming couplet. Each line of every stanza and the final couplet must be written in iambic pentameter. This means there are five (penta) "iambs" in each line. An iamb is like a horse gallop: da-DUM! Every line must have this same rhythm, which makes sonnets difficult to write!
da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM
Not only that, the first and third lines of each stanza must rhyme.
And the second and fourth lines of each stanza must rhyme.
When I'm working with students, I only try to write one stanza or sometimes two. Never an entire sonnet. That would take much too long!!
You can write sonnets, too! Here's a link to help you get started.
And here is the Children's Book Podcast. I hope you enjoy it!
I'm not sure all of my followers know this, but when I'm not writing, I teach child actors on the sets of movies like Wonder Woman 2 (It's gonna be great, ya'll!)
Well, tomorrow I'm teaching a sweet actor on the set of a movie that's coming out around Christmas. I arrived at the hotel (undisclosed location) and this is what I found outside the sliding door to my room.
Did I mention I used to LOVE horseback riding when I grew up in Texas? I miss it so much!! When you go riding in a city, it's usually a trail ride at a slowpoke pace. I miss the wind whipping across my face when I ride!
So anyway, even though it's a one-day shoot, I'm super excited to get on set tomorrow and then get back to this fab hotel where the horses graze right outside your door!
Also, I'm working on a new picture book biography that involves horses, so THIS IS SO EXCEPTIONAL AN OPPORTUNITY! The universe has smiled on me. Yee-haw!
Hit me up in the comments and share your horse stories. My favorite was the time I was riding bareback in white shorts and didn't realize the back of my shorts had become completely black with dirt and horse sweat and I wore them ALL DAY! Ha!
My friend Julie Hedlund of 12 x 12 recently shared her philosophy about new year's resolutions on her blog, and I'm with her -- resolutions frown down on us from their high and lofty thrones while building on our accomplishments from the previous year makes far more sense! So here are my successes from 2018 and how I intend to use them as a stepping stone for my 2019 goals.
1) After finding an amazing agent in 2017 (Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency!) we went on submission in 2018 with my picture book biography and sold it to a big five publisher. Hooray! As soon as it's officially announced, I will definitely blog about THAT!
2) I sold a poem to Carol Hinz at Lerner (through Miranda Paul's generous call at 12x12). I was so excited to have my sonnet included in Thanku: Poems About Gratitude! But I was very surprised to discover the other authors I would be published alongside of -- young people's poet laureate Margarita Engle, the fabulous Jane Yolen, the amazing Vanessa Brantley Newton, and so many more! I was shocked. But imagine my further surprise when I arrived at our biweekly critique group with the news only to discover that out of all the hundreds of people who sent in poems, two of my critique group members also were included. I could not have been more thrilled! ISBN: 978-1-5415-2363-0.
3) My friend Deborah Heiligman posted on her Facebook page that the Narrative Nonfiction Workshop at Highlights still had scholarship money available, so I quickly sent in my writing sample and they offered me a full scholarship! I was so excited. It had been a career-long dream of mine to attend a Highlights workshop, and here was the very one I needed to whip my next work in progress into shape! My mentor was Barb Kerley, author of What to Do About Alice and A Home for Mr. Emerson, among others. Deborah Heiligman, author of Charles and Emma and Vincent and Theo, was there, and I've been an admirer of hers for YEARS! And Betsy Partridge shared reams of information with us along with her casual charm and wry wit. When she read from her book, Boots on the Ground, we were all riveted. And it has since been chosen as a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence! What a truly gifted author she is! These are heavy hitters in the children's nonfiction world, ya'll! And I am forever grateful!
4) I took my middle grade mess of a novel to The Writing Barn to work with Phoebe Yeh and Lamar Giles and found just the support I needed -- in a laid back setting with deer grazing. It was hard to shift gears and dig in deep immediately after the Highlights workshop, but I did it! Thank you, Bethany Hegedus!
5) I won a prize in Vivian Kirkfield's 50 precious words contest and made a new friend, the author of Lizzie and Lou Seal -- Patricia Keeler! She sent me a copy of her book along with line art and post cards. What a treat!
6) I was asked to speak about lyrical writing at the SCBWI-Carolinas conference in September. Despite a cold and fever and a tiny case of nerves, I think it went pretty well! And I was contacted later by someone from SCBWI Nevada. They want me to speak there via Zoom in 2019!
7) I joined two new critique groups -- one for Jewish writers and one just for picture book biographies. I'm very excited! These are two targeted areas, and I'm proud to be learning and growing among such gifted authors.
8) I wrote five new picture books this past year, and three of them are viable, in my opinion. (The other two are a hot mess, but that's okay, too!) I will be revising the heck out of my top three in January, and I hope to get them on submission soon.
My goals for 2019 are to continue building relationships with other authors, with my agent and editor, somehow pay back the amazing mentors who have helped me along the way (talking about you, Miranda Paul, Stacy McAnulty, and Kim Norman!), to give that kind of support to others, to get those three picture books sold, and to finish my middle grade novel and revise it. I am also applying to Tent (for Jewish authors) again this year -- I was waitlisted for it last year, so maybe this will be my year to get in!
If these things happen, fabulous! If they do not, I will continue writing, developing new concepts, and sticking by my clan. Children's book authors are the best friends a girl could ever have.
I wasn't the only successful family member this past year. My daughter Hannah was featured as an opera-singing klingon at a Star Trek Convention in New York. My other daughter is graduating with honors this year and has already landed her dream job. My son got married (it was a Lord of the Rings themed wedding!) and is in high demand as a lead performer in Charleston's theater scene. And my other son continues to amaze us with his natural talent at creating games and apps! We are a quirky, eclectic bunch of creatives, and I wouldn't have it any other way!
Joyous new year to you all!
I just got back from the 2018 SCBWI Carolinas Conference, where I gave a talk on lyrical writing. It was my first time speaking at an SCBWI event. Yea! Of course, I over-prepared. For the past two months, I have immersed myself in dazzling picture books that filled my heart with rich loveliness. And since my heart is still bursting, I want to share a bit of what I learned with you.
From PW: Carol Hinz at Lerner/Millbrook has bought Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul (l.) and illustrated by Marlena Myles in her picture book debut. The anthology explores themes of thankfulness and gratitude through poems written by contributors including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen. Publication is planned for fall 2019; Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary represented the author, and the illustrator represented herself in the deal for world rights.
And I forgot to blog about it! In my excitement over getting another manuscript on submission, writing picture book biographies, attending a Highlights workshop on narrative nonfiction (it was spectacular!) and heading to The Writing Barn for a middle grade weekend (also lovely), I was a little busy! Add in a trip to Michigan and a flurry of other exciting things I can't talk about yet -- so many wonderful opportunities are opening up! And did I mention I WENT TO ITALY? WHEEEEEEE!!!! Can I just move to Firenze now? Or Arezzo? Or Lucca? Italy is such a sweet place. I felt like I had finally come home -- not that I don't love my own beautiful city.
And I'm so excited about speaking at SCBWI-Carolinas. I can't wait to share what I've learned about writing lyrically. Meanwhile, here are ten book recommendations (in no particular order) that I think will be especially helpful for anyone planning on attending my session the conference:
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin Stead
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Carmela, Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith
Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell and Richard Jones
Ocean Meets Sky by brothers Terry Fan and Eric Fan
If I Had a Little Dream by Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon
You Belong Here by M. H. Clark and Isabelle Arsenault
What Color is the Wind by Anne Herbauts
The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo
BONUS: I couldn't find this book in our city library system, maybe because it's French? But it's charming and sweet and wonderful.
This is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Siméon and Olivier Sorman
And then, of course, my book Hildegard's Gift is written in lyrical prose.
More later on the thing I can't talk about. Stay tuned!
I'm so excited about this -- I have struggled for years to write lyrically. I studied craft books; I went on long nature walks pondering the meaning of life; I read and reread lyrical picture books until beauty oozed out of every pore of my being like rainbows!
Now I am leading a breakout session on writing lyrically, and I could not be more thrilled about this opportunity. Let me show you what works (and what absolutely DOESN'T!) as we journey together down glitter-glowing magical trails. Come to the SCBWI-Carolinas 2018 Regional Conference!
To register, click here.
Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this lush, beautifully-illustrated picture book last week and was blown away. Not only is it gorgeous, as a piece of art, it addresses the very real, serious issue of depression in a way that children can readily relate to and understand. It's also FUN! It's witty, charming, and delightful. A must read, especially for boys.
View all my reviews
Brandon Reese is one of my favorite critique partners. He always has a kind word to say and an insightful comment to leave on our manuscripts. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese! Oothar was born a fully-fledged barbarian, and he's available here. Go buy Oothar the Blue for the discerning child reader in your household, girl or boy (but especially boy!) and find out how Oothar beat the blues!
Hooray! Hooray! It's Dr. Seuss's birthday!
That means it's also time for Vivian Kirkfield's #50preciouswords contest. Yea!
Here's my official entry -- although I could tweak and revise and smoosh words around all day if I had the time!
The Peasant and the Peacock
A Prince arrayed in finest silk,
His robe the color of buttermilk,
Travels the kingdom puffed with pride,
A thorny heart nestled inside.
“My kingdom is yours if ever you see
Anyone quite so handsome as me!”
A peasant girl in a dirty frock
Quietly points to a dazzling peacock.
The news about the gender pay gap in Hollywood is out. It began in 2014 when a hacker caused a security breach at Sony and the salaries of highly paid women were laid bare -- I'm talking serious movie stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, who were both paid far less than their male co-stars in American Hustle.
It was hideous.
It was also a golden opportunity. The kind that comes along once in a lifetime.
Jennifer Lawrence stood up for every woman in every field across America with her no holds barred letter (linked above). Here are the highlights:
" ... I would be lying if I didn't say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn't want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn't worry about being 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' ... If anything, I'm sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share."
If you are a woman, you know this was not news. We have been experiencing this type of treatment for generations. And now, four years later in 2018, these issues are being exposed within the children's publishing industry. Did we think we were immune to the pains that plague society as a whole? If we did, we were naive.
Now that women have found their voices and inequality has been exposed, we are seeing some tiny bursts of momentum, which is wonderful! But there is still much work to be done. And with each new revelation, stomachs churn and spirits are crushed. We need one another now more than ever before. It's never been more important to walk in solidarity and community as women.
Exposure is good. Uncovering sexual harassment and preferential treatment is important. But it hurts to hear that our beloved community needs this course correction. I want to thank Christine Taylor Butler for her extensive research on Caldecott winners. Other authors and illustrators will be shining a spotlight on gender disparities this month, too, which I think is brave considering our careers are at stake whenever we speak out, even if it's out of a love for our industry and a desire to see it healthy, stable, and strong. Stay tuned to #kidlitwomen every day in March for more posts from these extraordinary women.
I am also grateful for the support of male authors like Josh Funk who consistently retweets our efforts (he doesn't believe men should get pats on the back for supporting feminism, however):
Other men are asking what they can do. What do we tell them? I have no ready answer. I'm still dealing with the sting of the yanked off bandaid. My wound is fresh. It's red and inflamed. Maybe others who are not quite so raw will recommend solutions, but right now all I see are obstacles. Obstacles men don't have to face.
These are the hypotheticals I'm thinking about right now:
A man negotiates a pay raise and is lauded by his peers for being honest and straightforward. He is rewarded monetarily and applauded for being persistent. He's called a tough nut to crack (pun intended), a straight-shooter, a hard ass (in that way you know it's a compliment), and a strong negotiator. If he's an author, he is given all the marketing tools he needs to be successful. It's a strong sales partnership. His fame skyrockets.
A woman asks for a raise, and one of two scenarios invariably plays out.
The first scenario:
"It's not like her husband isn't already making great money."
"What a hard ass!" (not in that way you know it's a compliment).
"I don't know if I can work with someone that inflexible."
"She looks like trouble."
"She's such a diva. I just don't know..."
The second scenario (after a woman settles for less than she deserves):
"What a sweetie!"
"Oh, I LOVE her, and she's just a joy to work with!"
"She's like, I dunno, my ideal human being, like Mother Teresa."
"I just love being around her. She's so nurturing. She's full of grace, even in the way she walks and how she shares such profound wisdom with everyone."
"She's such a cutie!"
"Oh, she's just adorable!"
"She lights up the room whenever she walks in."
"Wow, she's so pretty! And photogenic! And look! She loves dogs! Awwww."
This isn't a blog post about money. We all know we're paid less than men in almost every profession, and I'm sure someone else with stats and figures to share will write THAT blog post. This post is about the importance of societal perceptions, unspoken rules, and expectations. The sorts of expectations that allow for women to be paid less in the first place. If we change THESE, we may well see gender disparity in salaries and book sales and book tours and marketing opportunities change for the better.
But first, we need to stop telling women they have to be gentle, sweet, kind, polite, and passive in the workplace, that they must be amiable or they will be blacklisted. We need to stop telling OURSELVES that. Take a lesson from Jennifer Lawrence. Go read her letter again. Memorize it. We don't have to be weak and frail and submissive. It's feminine to be powerful, strong, intelligent, direct, resilient, and firm.
If only companies across America agreed with me.
What can be done?
Here's a short video that outlines a few ways we can "design" gender equality.
And here are a few of my ideas.
1) Check yourselves.
Even if you have to do it ten or fifteen times a day, check constantly to make sure you are not allowing gender bias to come into play in your daily work as an author, agent, editor, publicist, art director, illustrator, or publisher.
2) Remain open to change.
Sometimes change is painful. We humans dislike discovering ugly things about ourselves, and this may be one of those times of adjustment that turn society as a whole in a positive direction. You may need to take a long, hard look at yourself and come to terms with the sins of the past. Have you behaved in ways that supported gender bias within this industry? Have you provided stronger marketing support for books written by men? By young authors as opposed to more seasoned ones? Have you ignored the work of marginalized groups? Of people of color or people of other sexual persuasions than your own? Ouch. It hurts to see your bad side reflected. Look anyway. Change.
3) Talk about it.
The more we discuss gender issues within children's publishing, the stronger the chance we will have of correcting the problems we find. Be willing to sit down and talk it out with a fellow author, author to agent, agent to editor, author to editor. Especially when there is a power disparity (author to editor). Like Amy Adams, we sometimes walk a fine line, waiting for that offer to come, only to discover we were paid far less than the man next to us who is at a similar place in his career. A frank conversation with an editor who is not in a power position over you can help, too. Especially when it's a public conversation on Twitter.
If you are an Amy Adams or Jennifer Lawrence within the children's publishing industry, you represent us all. If you are a Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, or Bradley Cooper, it's even more important that you speak up on behalf of women authors.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of talking and listening and walking this out in community. If you are guilty, don't stand your ground, calling out those who are trying to help you "see" and telling them they're just being reactionary, overly sensitive, unyielding. I've seen people do that. It's ugly and it perpetuates the inequality from generation to generation. That's enabling behavior.
Women have had enough "Bless your heart's" and "Aren't you adorable's" to last a lifetime. We have had enough judgment, criticism, gossip, back-biting, and lackluster success. It's time for us ALL to scrutinize our own scarred hearts and uproot the gender bias that's grown there for so long unfettered.
We can do this.
For further information on the Science behind cognitive dissonance and how the brain adapts to societal change, read this enlightening post by children's book author Angie Isaacs.
We're celebrating Women's History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens' literature community.
Join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.
About the Author
When Megan Hoyt first stepped into a tiny library in East Dallas and checked out The Fairy Doll, time stood still for one brief moment. A book! A lovely, magical book about a little girl, overshadowed and overlooked, the youngest of four, just like me! she thought. Rumer Godden gave way to Madeleine L’Engle and Frances Hodson Burnett. Soon, a sturdy, low-hanging backyard branch became a thoughtful spot where some rather large ideas began to take shape. If reading James Barrie can make a girl flap her arms and jump off a garden wall fully expecting to fly, books truly do pulse with life.