24 Oct

Jennifer Ziegler on #kidlitwomen*, Cynsations, and again on #kidlitwomen*

Jenny and me, literary nerds in love

This week, My Favorite Author in the Whole Wide World has been featured on two of my favorite sources for insights and information about the world of children’s literature.

For those of you who don’t know, Jennifer Ziegler — author of the Brewster Triplets series of middle-grade novels as well as YA novels including How Not to Be Popular — is also my wife, and I’ll admit to being a little bit biased in favor of every single thing she does.

But I’m also a loyal listener to the #kidlitwomen* podcast and a big fan of author Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations blog. Since very early in my career, I’ve craved a deeper understanding into the workings of the business and culture of books for young readers, and a deeper understanding of my fellow creators of those books.

#kidlitwomen* and Cynsations — a newcomer to the conversation and a leader in the conversation from way back, respectively — both satisfy that need.

So you can imagine how happy I’ve been to hear Jennifer on this week’s two episodes of #kidlitwomen*.

Monday brought Jennifer’s reading of her essay “It’s the Grown-ups with the Hang-Ups — Not the Readers,” in which she challenges adults’ assumptions that the boys in their lives won’t read books about girls.

“I’ve tried [to get boys to],” some might say, “and they still won’t read them.” To that I say, Shouldn’t you be worried about why they won’t? Isn’t this something you need to talk with them about?

And this morning I woke up to find a new episode of #kidlitwomen* in which Jennifer discusses her essay with Alvina Ling, VP and editor-in-chief of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

In between those two podcast episodes, Jennifer was featured on the newest edition of Cynsations’ Survivors Interview Series, which “offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.”

I especially love Jennifer’s response to the question, “What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?”

She talks about the importance to authors of finding a writing community, learning as much about the industry as possible, and never being afraid to ask questions.

That advice all rings true to me, and the community and education offered through #kidlitwomen* (including but not limited to the podcast) and Cynsations are great places to start.

01 Aug

“Why are these two criminals so well known?” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for August 2018)

Welcome to the Q&A for the August edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here)!

My conversation this month is with Dallas-based author Karen Blumenthal, whose YA nonfiction title Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend will be published on August 14 by Viking Books for Young Readers.

In Bonnie and Clyde, Karen — whose previous subjects have ranged from Steve Jobs to the Tommy gun to Title IX — cuts through mythology and pop-culture perceptions to get at the truth of what the notorious Texas outlaws did and why they did it.

Booklist gave a starred review to this “exquisitely researched biography,” also calling it an “extraordinarily successful resource about a painful time in history and a complicated, infamous pair.”

If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you to win Bonnie and Clyde, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on August 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Karen Blumenthal.

Chris: At the Texas Library Association conference this past April, as you were signing copies of Bonnie and Clyde, an attendee nearby pulled me aside and wondered aloud if your book glorified violence. Knowing you — even though I hadn’t yet read the book — I knew that you would have had other reasons for telling this story for young readers. So, what did motivate you?

Karen: That’s a great question! I actually came to this story with a similar idea — but from the opposite angle: Why are these two criminals so well known and, well, iconic? Why do they have that level of fame despite their unforgivable actions? And what would that tell us about celebrity today?

The modern comparison that stuck in my head are the Kardashians. Honestly, why are they famous?

Young people are familiar with the names Bonnie and Clyde. They are all over music lyrics and other cultural references, even though young people have likely not seen [the 1967 movie starring starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty] and know little about them. So telling their story seemed like a provocative way to show how a modern legend — even a questionable one — is made.

And then, as I got into the story, there were other themes about what contributed to who they became: intense poverty, police abuse (at a time when police forces were very different than today), and prison.

And, to answer the observer’s concern, the book does not glorify violence. In fact, the School Library Journal review says: “This historical true-crime story is recommended for providing nuanced perspective without glorifying the misdeeds that shaped its subjects’ lives and deaths.”

Chris: In addition to creating your books, you’ve also been an involved advocate for public libraries, and earlier this year you and Grace Lin cofounded the #kidlitwomen* online campaign to address women’s and gender issues in the children’s literature community. What are the common threads running through those three passions of yours?

Karen: Tough one! I guess I got involved in each because I care deeply about them and was foolish enough to believe I could bring something to the table.

I started writing nonfiction for young people after struggling to find strong narratives for a daughter who loved layered true stories. I felt like my decades as a journalist gave me the research and story-telling skills to make complex subjects accessible to younger readers. Honestly, I love everything about it!

Because I do a lot of research and I care about my community, libraries are incredibly important to me. In the years after the financial crisis, the Dallas city manager cut and cut and cut the library’s budget. And then one day, she proposed cutting the hours to 20 a week.

I think my head exploded. I did some research and discovered that the Dallas Public Library had become the worst funded urban library in the U.S.

I took this research to the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and ended up on the board and then as chair. An amazing team of library advocates worked for several years to help the City Council understand why libraries matter. Today, the budget has been restored and all branches are open at least six days a week for the first time ever.

We have a great director in Jo Giudice — in fact, this Bonnie and Clyde book is dedicated to her and the awesome library staff!

#kidlitwomen* came out of a conversation that Grace Lin and I started at a gathering in January and turned into an active Facebook group, with dozens of provocative essays in March. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully, we have spurred some conversation and thinking about women’s and gender issues that will help make our community more fair and equitable.

04 Apr

“Even though I’m a boy and the main characters are girls…”

A young reader recently wrote my wife, Jennifer Ziegler, a letter that began, “Even though I’m a boy and the main characters are girls, I quite enjoy your book Revenge of the Flower Girls.”

Jennifer and I have had discussions along these lines so many times — discussions that boil down to the facts that

1) often the books she writes are described as “girl books” whereas mine are categorized as “books,” and

2) some adults would consider her books to appeal to half a classroom while mine are there for everyone.

We were both so glad that this student read what he wanted to read and felt free to say so. But Jennifer went further and wrote something powerful in response.

Here’s a bit of it:

If we want boys to read, why are we limiting their choices? Why are we effectively cutting the number of books available to them in half? If we want boys to be able to empathize with women, to be good friends, siblings, spouses, bosses, coworkers, etc., why are we going along with the idea that a story told from a girl’s/woman’s POV is not for them to read?

Read the rest of “It’s the Grown-Ups with the Hang-Ups — Not the Readers.”

15 Mar

How to Diversify Your KidLit-Related Lists #kidlitwomen

Often, those of us involved in children’s or young adult literature make lists without realizing that we’re making lists.

Four panelists that you’re considering for a session proposal for an upcoming conference? That’s a list.

Books selected for display face-out on a library or bookstore shelf? Also a list.

Authors or illustrators selected one by one for a recurring feature on your blog or in your newsletter? It may come together gradually, but over time, that’s a list, too.

Whether you’re creating a list of your own or thinking about sharing one that somebody else made, you’ve got an opportunity to better reflect the diversity that exists among the readers of children’s and YA books.

But how, exactly?

For my contribution to the March 2018 conversation on #kidlitwomen (join on Facebook,and Twitter), I’m happy to offer this downloadable guide, How to Diversify Your KidLit-Related Lists.

It’s an updated version of a graphic I’ve previously posted here. This new version has been edited by Karen Blumenthal, redesigned by Janie Bynum, and considerably improved by their efforts.

We hope you will share it widely (don’t forget the #kidlitwomen hashtag) and refer to it often (wouldn’t a color print look great on a wall in your office?). And, of course, we welcome your feedback in the comments below.