WOMEN MAKE PICTURE BOOKS TOO…

September 8th, 2018

Five years ago, I noticed that there were many mock Caldecott committees predicting male artists would win the medal.  This bothered me, but then I discovered, looking back at my blog, that my predictions had also been overwhelmingly male, for years.  (Gender bias is buried deep y’all.  It can be a shock when you spot it in yourself)

Of course, in making such predictions, all of us had helped generate buzz about those same male-authored books.  And it’s hard to guess at what effect that buzz has on the award itself, in the end.   So, in an attempt to create a little grassroots buzz for the women I admired,  I wrote this post, and enlisted the help of my online community. Together, we created a list of amazing picture books illustrated by women.

For a number of years after that, I recreated the post, and each year I was truly shocked to discover many wonderful books I’d never even seen.  Despite the fact that I now actively seek out women illustrators in my own reading.

Today, five years have passed. And guess what?  The medal has been won by four men and one woman in that time.  Those numbers are… not great.  So here we are again, making a list! As usual, I’ll start off with a handful of books with art  I especially love, and I invite you all to leave comments with your own suggestions (American artists, please, 2018 titles, illustrated by women, though they can be written by men). I’ll try to add them as quickly as possible.

Because WOMEN MAKE PICTURE BOOKS TOO!

(note: it’s important to me to say that I don’t mean to diminish the accomplishments of the individual men who have won the medal.  Bad art doesn’t win this important award, and I know the committee takes its job very seriously each year, works hard. But we are all biased in so many ways, and it’s very clear that historically, the Caldecott reflects the systemic elevation of men in our industry. I’d really love it if we all became a little more aware of how our bias affects our preferences.)

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Jillian Tamaki

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Jessica LOve

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Yuyi Morales

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Corinna Luyken

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Ekua Holmes

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Sophie Blackall

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Grace Lin

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Emily Hughes

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Dana Wulfekotte

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Hyewon Yum

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Jessie Sima

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Melissa Iwai

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Laura Vaccro Seeger

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Catia Chien

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Lauren Eldridge

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Jennifer Thermes

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Suzanne Kaufman

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Juana Martinez-Neal

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Giselle Potter

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Sarah Lynne Reul

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Sara Palacios

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Vashti Harrison

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Lily Williams

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Jessie Sima

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Kate Berube

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Anne Sibley O’Brien

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Dow Phumiruk

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Katherine Roy

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Stasia Burrington

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Micha Archer

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Thao Lam

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Patrice Barton

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Lita Judge

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Hannah E. Harrison

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Vanessa Brantley-Newton

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Airlie Anderson

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Jen Betton

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Ebony Glenn

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Julia Patton

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Melissa Larson

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Ekua Holmes

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Hadley Hooper

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Lucy Ruth Cummins

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Jen Hill

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Keturah A. Bobo

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Galia Bernstein

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Molly Idle

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No More All-White Panels: A PLEDGE

March 27th, 2018

 

Our industry marginalizes people of color. We know this.

In a multitude of ways, we do not include or promote their voices as we should.  This is problematic for the authors, editors, illustrators and other people of color who must work twice as hard for far less attention and reward.  But it is also problematic for the children we claim to serve, who desperately need to hear a range of voices. Our young readers are increasingly diverse.  It makes no sense that their literature not represent them.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to improve this situation.  We Need Diverse Books has had a dramatic impact, and many now recognize the need for more inclusive literature. We give lip service to this need. We talk about mirrors and windows, as well as the importance of #ownvoices. And yet, though we now see a lot of conversations about the need for diversity, in practical terms, not much has changed.

Our industry is a complicated machine, with many moving parts.  We are authors and illustrators, editors and publicists. But we are also booksellers, teachers, and librarians. We are event organizers and reviewers. This complexity can make it extremely easy to pass the buck.  “What can I do?” each of us thinks.

For several years now, I’ve sat on the programming committee for a book festival. In the past, I’ve helped coordinate conferences and reading series as well. This has given me an interesting vantage point.  I’ve gotten to see how few people of color are supported with marketing dollars.  There are always a few superstars pitched—bestsellers and award winners—but not many.  The publishers, who I assume must answer to their company’s bottom line, send out the authors likeliest to sell lots of books. In an economy built on systemic racism, this means they send out mostly white authors.

But festivals and conferences are exactly how new authors become bestsellers and award winners.  In addition to selling books, these events bring visibility. They draw the attention of award committees and open the door to financial opportunities like school visits and other paid events. So this marginalization becomes a cycle. Success breeds success.  Money follows money.

Today, I’m calling on my fellow authors and illustrators to make a change. To refuse to play a part in this cycle.  We can’t change everything overnight, but we can refuse to participate in the marginalization of our colleagues and friends.  We can hope that our example draws attention from conference and festival organizers, from publishers, booksellers, educators, reviewers, and others. If enough of us join together, perhaps diverse panels will become the rule, not the exception.

Of course, our industry does not only marginalize people of color. We have a great deal of work to do in supporting other underrepresented populations as well.  We must strive to include LGBTQUIA authors and illustrators, those with disabilities, women, and Native authors, among others.  Until our conferences and festivals fully represent this country’s diverse population, there will be serious work to do.  However, for the purposes of this pledge, it feels useful to focus on one specific goal. One clear mission.  Which is this:

In a world of wildly talented authors and illustrators of color, there is simply no reason for an all-white panel, ever.  If you agree with me, I hope you’ll make this pledge, by leaving a note in the comments below.

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WE PLEDGE TO SERVE ONLY ON PANELS THAT INCLUDE VOICES OF COLOR.

Due to the ubiquity of all-white panels in the professional and academic spheres of publishing, literacy, and children’s literature, we feel it has become necessary to take a stand.  We pledge to decline service on all-white panels of three or more speakers (excluding the moderator), at any conference or festival, and to decline invitations from any conference or festival without meaningful representation overall.  We know that the voices of people of color are essential to any meaningful conversation in our field, and we do not want to contribute to their exclusion.


*this post is written in partnership with #kidlitwomen, a month-long effort to highlight the voices of women authors and illustrators, and to address the issues they face.
**this post is also made in conjunction with No More All-Male Panels

 

And then this happened…

March 6th, 2018

Author Laurel Snyder and illustrator Emily Hughes are the 2018 recipients of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for “Charlie & Mouse,” published by Chronicle Books. The award was announced today by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), during the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibition held Feb. 9–13, in Denver.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year. The award is named for the world-renowned children’s author, Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Award winners are recognized for their literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading. Award and honor book recipients will receive their awards in New Orleans, during the ALA Annual Conference in June.

In four short chapters that could each stand alone, readers join young brothers Charlie and Mouse on a full day of imaginative adventures. The brothers talk to sleeping lumps, invite friends to an impromptu playground party, fail to sell rocks, and invent the bedtime banana. (Bedtime bananas—they’re a thing.)

Emily Hughes’ playful illustrations and Laurel Snyder’s clever text work together to highlight an inclusive cast of friends and neighbors, capturing a unique sense of place while reflecting the diverse world in which all children live. Snyder demonstrates both her understanding of and respect for the child reader though these stories, which encourage creative play and capture the childhood experience.

“Through authentic dialogue, thoughtfully repeated phrases, and distinctive illustrations, every reader will know that they too are invited to the party,” said Geisel Award Committee Chair Sandra J. Imdieke.

 

What a year this has been…

January 17th, 2018

(beware, here be spoilers)

 

I don’t post here much anymore, but I’ve just returned from the last trip of a very busy year, and I’m sitting in my house, making soup, watching the snow outside my window, and feeling things.

In 2017, I began teaching in the MFAC program at Hamline University, published five (FIVE?) books, and logged about 2 trillion Delta skymiles, visiting bookish conferences and festivals.  At the same time, Mose started middle school, Lew and he were separated for the first time, and lots of other big events occurred in my family/personal life.  I lost some dear friends.  My sister bought a bookstore and moved home! 2017 was a year of newness, challenge, growth, for me and for the people I love best.

Of course, more than anything, this year was also full of political insanity.  So we all woke up. We marched and marched and shouted. We knocked doors. We called our reps. We wrote letters, and made posters, and donated money to ease our frazzled and desperate consciences.  We flew to DC to shout at our senators (oh, those poor staffers).

But somewhere in all of that newness and insanity and marching, another thing happened. I published a book called Orphan Island, about a girl on an island, the oldest of a group of kids. A smart, capable, but imperfect girl, afraid to grow up.  A girl who, when the little green boat arrived, didn’t want to get into it.

This was, absolutely, a “book of my heart.”  It was a book I never really expected to see in print.  It was a book about the inner workings of my own mind/heart, more than anything.  About childhood, and leaving it. About not knowing where we come from, or where we go. About not having answers. About what it means to be the eldest child in a confused and fractured home. What it means to parent, and let go. What it means to know you are imperfect, to examine yourself and see your flaws, and still love yourself.  What it means to take what you need… or not to take what you need, because it isn’t always your turn.  Orphan Island was a book that let me explore ALL THE THINGS INSIDE ME.

Much as I never expected the book to be published, I never expected people to find and point out ALL THE THINGS INSIDE ME.  And because, somehow, this book found a really huge readership (compared to my other books), I got to see what lots of people thought about ALL THE THINGS.  I had laid bare my paradoxical, incongruous, conflicted, inner self– the twelve year version and the 44 year old version. So I received emails and letters and google alerts telling me just what people thought of that messy inner self.

That was totally great!  As authors go, I’m pretty thick-skinned, the product of many years of workshop-bruisings.  I believe that our readers are our collaborators, and I will fight anyone who argues that point. Every reader is entitled to interpret any book they like, and to feel their viewpoint is valid.  So, to the people who are bothered by the puzzling inner workings of my twelve year old (or 44 year old) soul, I say, thank you!  Thank you for reading. Learn and grow and YOU DO YOU.   I’m so happy the book made people think and feel things.

But there is one thing I’ve been sitting with, that I want to say.  One response I want to offer, not because anyone’s interpretation/collaboration of my book is wrong. But because  I did have my own intentions in writing it.   I haven’t wanted to share my thoughts very much, because I don’t want my own authorial intent to squelch the way others read my book.  I don’t want to suggest any simplifications to the conflicted moment Jinny is in. But…

But my intent is valid too, right? And there’s an issue I think about all the time, that I wove into these pages, in and around the other themes.  An issue that matters to me deeply, that I think about daily, as a citizen and as a person, as a member of my family, and my school community, and my synagogue, and my city and state. That issue is called THE SOCIAL CONTRACT. And I want to unpack that, just a little. For anyone who might care to read this.  But perhaps especially for anyone who thought that Jinny was punished for doing what felt right to her, for following her gut.

Jinny is both an individual and a member of a society that works (so far as we can see) really well.  As a member of that society, she has a role and a responsibility to others.  When her individual desires bump up against her role as a member of that society, she struggles.

We all experience this in the world. We all have moments when we want to break the rules for our individual reasons. We all long to jaywalk when we’re in a hurry, steal things we can’t afford, ignore the dishes in the sink, show up late to the surprise party.  But in those moments, we try to remember all the other people who are engaging in the contract alongside us.  We bear in mind that the system only works when we participate in it. So we do the dumb dishes.

That said, when the system does not work, the social contract also demands that we pursue justice, fairness, a system that works better.  The social contract gives us a right to use our individual instincts to take care of ourselves, but also to change the system, seek something more. And this is where Orphan Island bumped into 2017, into history!  Because in 2017, many people stopped thinking the system was working.

When I wrote the book three years ago, I never expected this underlying theme to be as relevant as it is today, politically.  But here we are, in a society that has revealed its deep fractures and fissures. A society that suddenly sees those fractures, and is engaging with them, trying to figure out what to do. I think that has affected some of the most interesting conversations about the book. And the thing I want to point out is:

When, in the middle of the story, Jinny’s individual desire is to not get into the boat, her world is still working, so far as she can see.  She ignores that she’s part of a larger picture, and does what she wants to do.  In her way, she is breaking the social contract.  This doesn’t make her evil. It makes her human. But it is, according to the contract of the island, a mistake. And so (as might happen if eleven percent of “society” broke the rules) the world falls apart a little bit. She senses that, and feels bad, because she’s a good person.  There are consequences to her choices, and she knows it.  There are misunderstandings, and ripples in the world around her.

I will not go any further with this, as an explanation of the book. I won’t get into the details, or reveal anything I haven’t already revealed. As I said above, I believe firmly that my own interpretation is no more valid than anyone else’s.  I have not yet read a single explanation of the book I don’t find valid and interesting, or that revelations would radically alter.  But it’s important to me that I point out this distinction.  That the question I had in mind was not whether Jinny’s initial desire was bad, but rather…  how do we decide when to listen to our individual needs, and when to think of others?

This matters to me. Not just for the kids on the island, but for the kids in Atlanta, or Baltimore, or anywhere else. For all the kids.  It matters to me that the social contract works both ways. It requires that we think of others, as we make our own individual decisions. That we hold up the aspects of society that work, even when we don’t want to. We pay our taxes, and join the PTCA, and open the door for the woman with her arms full of groceries. We do our part.  We think of other people, the whole world, as we navigate what it means to be an individual.

BUT!  It also matters that then, when we see that the system ISN’T working, that the world is collapsing around us, that the laws no longer work or apply, we need to find another way to make decisions. When the sky is falling and the laws stop working as they’re supposed to work… we turn inward, search for our own moral compass, and figure out what to do as individual, so that we might fix the world.  Not because we want to do our own individual thing, but because when the system fails, we need to look for more creative solutions than obedience.

Jinny follows her instincts when she doesn’t need to.  And then she follows her instincts when she does.  Like any kid, she is learning how to be a person.

And so, here we are. It’s 2018.  Many people are noticing that the boat isn’t coming on schedule any more. The snakes are biting.  What are we going to do?  Most of us are out of practice at breaking the rules for the right reasons.  Most of us are rule-followers.  But not all rules are the same, and not all moments are the same.   What makes something a bad decision in one moment can make it the right decision in another.

Just something to think about…

 

 

Meet GRUMPY!!!

September 28th, 2017

One of the BEST INVENTIONS EVER was the invention of the grandparent!  I say this as a former-kid who had some great ones myself, and also as  a mom who benefits from the fact that my kids have a spectacular array. We’ve got ALL KINDS of fun grandparents over here.  I feel pretty lucky about that.

Of course, Charlie & Mouse have grandparents too!  Some of them have yet to be written and illustrated.  But in book 2, readers meet GRUMPY!


Heeeeere’s GRUMPY!

Since Charlie & Mouse are based on my own boys, Mose and Lew, Grumpy is based on my dad.  In real life, we call him Boppy, but the truth is that he and Grumpy are pretty much identical, from their resting eyes to their snoring noses.  When Grumpy (or Boppy) comes to visit, everyone has a good time, in an easygoing, pizza-eating, fort-building, walking-the-dog sort of way.


Heeeeere’s BOPPY! (with a little baby Mouse)

Today, in honor of Grumpy (and Boppy), and to celebrate the publication of my new book, I’m giving away five signed copies!  All you have to do to enter is to tell me a funny or sweet or goofy story (in the comments below) about YOUR grandpa.  Every grandpa is different, but in my experience, they’re all special.

I’ll start the ball rolling, by telling you about my own Grandpa Bob, who was larger than life, and full of stories. He liked martinis.  He wore a ring with a star sapphire in it, and a cartouche he’d gotten in Egypt, and I thought he could do magic. Once, when I was a kid, he flew to Baltimore for my birthday, all the way from California, with a gigantic pinata and a suitcase full of green avocados (not things you could easily find on the East Coast in those days).  When he opened his suitcase, the avocados spilled out all over the floor!  Grandpa Bob was an adventure, always. He  glittered.

Now YOU go!  Tell me about your Grandpa Bob, or your Boppy, or your Grumpy, or your Gramps, or your Papa, or your Pappaw, and while we’re at it, tell me what you call him!

I’ve joined a village!

September 27th, 2017

I’m so proud to have joined a new venture called The Author Village– the brainchild of my friend and fellow author, Phil Bildner!

From the website: “The Author Village is a community of forward-thinking and award-winning children’s book authors and illustrators available for school visits, library visits, festivals, conferences, panels, workshops, and special events.”

This isn’t just a group of writers.  It’s a group of especially inspiring authors, who all share a vision and a desire to create and a more inclusive community of readers, who want to make the world a better place for the kids we serve.

I seriously couldn’t be happier about this.  It’s a big honor.

A thing that happened…

September 22nd, 2017

A thing that happened… is that Orphan Island is somehow nominated for a National Book Award.

Four years ago, when I was starting over, trying to get back to dead-tree-writing, I thought this book was unlikely to be published.

Certainly, I never ever ever could have imagined this.

I want to thank everyone who has read and embraced this weird book of mine.  Seriously.  The little kid I was, the girl who dreamed of writing books someday… she never thought to dream of this.

I’m still pinching myself.

Ummmm…

September 14th, 2017

This is now a thing that has happened to me.

 

Welcome to the KINGDOM OF THINGDOM!

September 4th, 2017

A number of years ago, I was talking with my son, Mose.  Who was (and still is) an avid reader of picture books.

“Mommy,” said Mose.  ”I wonder why there are books with robots in them, and there are books with superheroes in them, and there are books with dragons in them, and there are books with kittens in them.  But there are no books with robots AND superheroes AND dragons AND kittens in them.”

In his mind, it only made sense that if you liked a bunch of things, you should put all the things together.  (proven by the deliciousness of ice cream covered in cherries AND gummi bears AND M&Ms AND sprinkles)

“I don’t know why there are no books like that,” I said to Mose.  ”Do you think we should try to make one?”

Mose thought that sounded like a good idea!

And so, tomorrow, many years later… I am pleased to announce the arrival of my new picture book, The King of Too Many Things! With candy-colored, perfectly-over-the-top art from Aurore Damant, and edited by my friend Eric Wight, this book is part of the very first season of Rodale Kids. I hope you’ll check it out, and I hope you’ll love it!

The King of Too Many Things is the story of King Jasper, a boy-king who has access to EVERYTHING HE WANTS. With a magical wizard for his advisor, and the realm at his command, there’s nothing to stop Jasper from living the dream.  Except that, as he finds out…. sometimes, less is more.

The irony here, of course, is that even as this book teaches kids that they shouldn’t always get their heart’s desire… the book owes its very existence to the fact that, when my son asked for ALL THE THINGS IN A PICTURE BOOK, I did everything in my power to give him what he asked for.

Hmmm…

Hmmmmmmm….

On Orphan Island’s open ending…

May 24th, 2017

I wrote something, about unsolved mysteries and open endings…