Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Scars of War

Every so often, current events intersect with a book I've edited. At the moment, the event is President Obama's visit to Hiroshima, Japan, and the book is Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson, which releases on October 1.

In thinking about Sachiko's story and the press coverage of Obama's visit, a well-known quotation from William Faulkner keeps coming to mind: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." A college English professor first introduced me to the quote, but I don't think I truly understood it until this year.

Sachiko begins in early August 1945 when Sachiko is six years old, living with her family in Nagasaki. Just days later, the atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9). The book ends in August 1995. It took fifty years for Sachiko to make peace with what she'd experienced and to find the courage to speak out. Sachiko's journey was not a passive one--she sought out wisdom from Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. For Sachiko, the key to recovering from war was studying peace.

Sachiko, at about age 12. In the years after the
bombing, she lived in a small shack with
her family, and she would often sit outside
on a rock to study. 
From all the press coverage and controversy surrounding Obama's trip, it is evident that for many people, the scars of war still remain.

Caren Stelson first met Sachiko in 2005, and telling Sachiko's story took her years as she interviewed Sachiko on multiple trips to Nagasaki, researched, and wrote. I asked Caren to share her thoughts on Obama's visit in light of all the time she has spent studying Sachiko, war, and peace. She said:

"I applaud President Obama's historic decision to visit Hiroshima this week. Obama's visit reminds us of the critical work of peace ahead of us for the world to survive intact. The destructive capabilities of the atomic bombs the US dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are puny compared to today's nuclear capability.

"Let us remember that most of the people who died in these cities were civilians—including women and children. The hibakusha, the survivors, have much to teach the world about nuclear holocaust, if only we take the time to listen. No one on earth would want to live through what the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced. Today, with the spread of growing political extremism, power struggles, racism, and technological advances in weaponry, are we headed into the same abyss of seventy years ago? Let us heed the cry of the only people in the world who have experienced nuclear war, the aging hibakusha: 'Never again. Never again.' May President Obama repeat those words loudly, 'Never again.' And may the new leaders of the world take heed."

Q&A with Cori Doerrfeld and Tyler Page

Meet Tyler Page and Cori Doerrfeld, the husband-wife team behind the Cici: A Fairy's Tale series! The first title, Believe Your Eyes, is available now in paperback and library bound, and two more titles will be released in upcoming seasons.

1. Who is Cici, and what inspired the character?

Cori: Cici is a ten-year old girl who discovers she is a fairy. That being said, I also hope Cici is a girl that a lot of people can relate to in one way or another. At ten, you’re not really a little kid anymore, but you still might not be ready for every situation coming your way. Facing new friends, new family life, new pressures, and new emotions, Cici represents how kids deal with change as they grow up. And like real kids, Cici faces it all from her own unique viewpoint ...which just so happens to include the power to make Cici see octopus tentacles on her mom, a pet dragon at home, and chickens at school.

Cici was inspired by personal experiences and people in my life. I, along with several of my friends, have daughters at or around Cici’s age. I have friends who have gone through divorce, live with extended family, or have a culturally blended family. I wanted Cici to reflect the idea that no matter how out of control life can feel at times, we always have the power to decide how to react. Change doesn’t have to be negative … it’s all in how you decide to see it.

An early Cici illustration by Cori
2. How did you decide to make Cici’s story into a graphic novel series rather than a picture book or short middle-grade novel?

Cori: I have always wanted to make a graphic novel because they are generally longer than picture books, but still use both pictures and words to tell the story. I think certain stories, like Cici, are best told with a visual element. Graphic novels are the perfect chance to not only tell a story, but show a story.

Tyler's logo sketches
Tyler: I had finished a series of books for Graphic Universe™ (Chicagoland Detective Agency) and was invited to pitch ideas for new books. I had some ideas but Cori has always been the better storyteller/generator so I asked her to come up with some ideas too, so we were only thinking of ideas for a graphic novel. Additionally, Cori had done some mini comics in the past and had been thinking it might be fun to make a longer comics work so she was really interested in the format. After looking at the few ideas we came up with, Cici was the one they decided to go with.

3. You both illustrated the series—how did you work together as a husband-wife team on that?

Cori: It was a learning process for sure! This was the first book I’ve ever written, but had someone else draw. The biggest challenge was letting go and trusting Tyler to draw the story the way he knew was best vs. what I would have done. I also learned to rely on our strengths. Tyler is the expert when it comes to laying out comics pages and panels. He is also much better at backgrounds, perspectives, and technical drawing. I tend to have strengths with characters and emotions. SO smoosh all that together, and you get Cici!

Tyler: This was definitely and interesting experience. We decided early on that I would do all of the page breakdowns, layouts, and pencils since I have more straight comics experience, and then Cori would do touch-ups and coloring.

This was initially Cori’s concept, and she had done the concept sketches of the characters. Then when Cici was picked up as a series, Cori also did the initial final character designs. So my first challenge was “learning” the characters, and drawing them to Cori’s satisfaction. Then we had to figure out a way of working through the whole book. Normally we’re both pretty independent, self-sufficient artists with our own individual work. So at first I would start with rough layouts and show them to Cori and we definitely had some intense “discussions” about what was right or wrong.

After a lot of back and forth I think we reached a place where we had to just trust each other and let go a little bit. Cori had to let go of that initial stage of art that I was doing, and I had to let go of that art after I passed it on to her. As Cori would go through and finish each page, she inevitably fixed some things or made some art edits to satisfy her own artistic senses, and in most cases, I didn’t push back. So it’s really interesting to see this finished product that is in many ways a real collaboration and mixture of both of our styles.

Once we were into a groove, especially with the first book, it was great to have Cori come out of her studio and compliment me on the way I drew a character or their expression. And it was really fun for me to see what an amazing job Cori did of finishing the art—from the way she may have edited some of my art to her coloring choices.

4.  #1 Believe Your Eyes is available now, and two more books will come out in the next year. What adventures does Cici have in store?

Cori: I will admit, Cici has a lot to learn as she begins to figure out what being a fairy means, and more importantly, how to deal with the insight her powers give her. Cici will discover just how her magic can affect those around her and how it all stems from her personal attitude.  In the process, Cici will find herself face to face with a troll-haired voodoo doll, a new man in her mom’s life, a chance to show off her camping skills, and a mysterious forest creature. But, no matter what, with abuela’s guidance and Cici’s ultimate desire to make her friends and family happy, Cici will begin to see how beautiful her magic can be.

Cori and Tyler at Gooseberry Falls

5. Right now you live in Minneapolis, but if you could live and work anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Cori: From a very young age, it has been my dream to help create animated films. If I could live and work anywhere in the world I would head to California to be a part of Pixar Studios. If I could go back in time, I would go work for Warner Brothers but sadly I have yet to grow any magical fairy wings or build a time machine, so until then…

Tyler: I am a native Minneapolitan and I like to think I’ve stayed here by choice. I’ve been to many other cities but Minneapolis, and Minnesota seem to have a great balance of urban versus rural, and lots of culture while still feeling a little laid back. That said, I wouldn’t mind living in Colorado. I like biking, camping, and hiking, and think it would be great to live a little closer to some more rugged outdoor recreation options. Plus, having grown up in the Midwest, the mountains still hold this kind of magic for me.

Thanks, Cori and Tyler!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On Picture Books for a Diverse Readership

I love picture books.

As an editor for Carolrhoda Picture Books, this work out well! I love how the accessible, engaging format of picture books can belie profound depth in the characters and stories they hold, as in this Spring's Luis Paints the World. I love how illustrations bring text to life with humor and wonder, and especially how the interplay of text and illustrations can take the reading experience to a more complex level (say, when the art reveals sarcasm or an unreliable narrator). I've been so glad to see more teachers and educators sharing how they use picture books with upper-elementary groups to explore storytelling concepts at a more advanced level. But I also still treasure reading a picture book with a young child full of fascination and curiosity.

I recently had a chance to see the author and illustrator of Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, speak about their Newbery Award-winning picture book at an event in St. Paul. (Thanks, Red Balloon, a fantastic indie children's bookstore, for organizing!) Each spoke about the process of making the book, as well as about how their backgrounds led them to be interested in this story of CJ riding the bus with his grandma, wondering about the world along their journey.

Both Matt and Christian have become kidlit rock stars, of a sort, with multiple award-winning and honored books under their belts. So it was especially fun to hear about the process of creating Last Stop and how, while the finished product is at the top of its class, it still started out with draft after draft of the manuscript. An idea was developed and then morphed significantly. The text was finished, edited, revised, then revised more, and it continued to be tweaked as the art developed through thumbnail sketches on Post-Its to character explorations to scenes to a whole book. The final art progressed through painting, collages of paper cut-outs, and an evolving combination of the two until each piece felt truly finished. Picture books are magical, in the sense of evoking wonder, but they are rarely if ever magically assembled.

Here's Christian Robinson with some of his character explorations for Grandma and CJ:

My favorite moment of their talk, though, was hearing Matt de la Peña explain that he wanted to write this book as a modern story that would serve a young, diverse audience--without focusing explicitly on issues of race. As he noted, among the vastly white-dominated world of picture books, many of the books that feature children of non-white backgrounds are historical stories about the Civil Rights movement, slavery, leaders and pioneers from non-European cultures. These books can be powerful, inspirational. But they are not enough.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign of the past few years is doing wonders to call out this imbalance in the market, and is prompting publishers to focus on creating books that serve as a mirror to the increasing majority of "minority" students in the United States. I'm thrilled to see books such as Last Stop earning acclaim, bringing the everyday, authentically told story of CJ and his wise grandma--and the relatable adventure of riding the city bus--to kids who look like CJ, kids who rarely encounter other kids who look like CJ, and everyone in between.

In Luis Paints the World, a Dominican boy in Lawrence, Massachusetts, struggles with his older brother's departure for deployment in the army, creating a mural of their neighborhood universe to "see the world" as his brother is doing--and certainly to cope with his anxiety. The gorgeous painterly illustrations by Oliver Dominguez bring Luis and his Dominican community to life, while the story will resonate with any child who has turned to art as a form of expression, who has missed a loved one deployed in the military, who has had to say a hard goodbye, or who has felt frustrated by the lack of control over their life.

As a (co)creator of picture books, I want to see more like these! Diverse picture books can be lyrical or funny. They can feature animals and monsters alongside diverse humans. They can be urban-focused or not. Above all, they just need to be engaging and relatable, an entry point for kids of all backgrounds to identify themselves in books. Authors, please write more of these stories and send them to your agents! Agents, please send them to me.

Because I love picture books, and I want all young readers to have the opportunity to love them too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Meet a Lerner: Rebecca Rowell

Today, meet Rebecca Rowell, our digital intern.

1.      What brings you to Lerner?
I’m here to help the Digital team and to learn about eBooks. This summer will mark ten years that I’ve been freelancing (I edit, write, proofread, fact-check), which can be a feast-or-famine affair. This year has been particularly slow. Wondering what to do, the opportunity to intern at Lerner came up. I knew nothing about eBooks and thought learning even just a bit about the digital aspect of publishing would be good for me. And the department needed help, so I became an intern in March.

2.      Describe a day in the life of a digital intern.
Mostly, I QA interactive books—at least that’s been the case thus far. This involves listening to the audio to make sure it matches the text in the book. I check other things, too, such as links.
            Another task is noting phrasing for interactive books, which have three speeds of audio. Speeds 1 and 2 highlight by word. Speed 3 highlights by phrase. Marking phrasing in the PDF version of a book shows the development team how to highlight text for that speed.
            Sometimes, I help with eBook creation by cleaning up code (i.e., HTML) and working with metadata. Occasionally, a special project comes up, such as testing an e-reader app or doing some research. And I contribute a blog post here and there.

3.      What are you reading now?
Honestly, for leisure, I’m not. I check out books from the library regularly to read for fun, but I rarely get to them. Recent topics include gardening and typography. Reading more has been on my to-do list for years. Someday, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I read a lot of nonfiction children’s books for work.

4.      What’s your best source for finding new book recommendations?
Sometimes, I hear about a book from people I know. More often, I just wander through the stacks at the library and see what catches my eye.

5.      Top 5 (or so) favorite books. Go!
Pat Conroy is my favorite author, so I’ll pick a couple of his titles for starters: The Prince of Tides and My Winning Season. Several years ago, I remember laughing out loud on the bus while reading David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. And I recall thoroughly enjoying Tom Robbins’s novel Jitterbug Perfume many, many moons ago. And Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is lovely.

6.      Who do you admire, living or dead, and why?
Hmm…I can’t think of any particular person. I do admire creative types: people who can sit down at a piano or pick up a guitar and play something beautiful seemingly effortlessly, people who can draw and paint, people who can get on stage in front of a crowd and do improv or belt out a song.

7.      What is your ideal vacation?
Generally speaking, truly letting go of doing and just being. As for where, there are so many places I’d like to visit. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to go to Holland in spring to enjoy the fabulous flowers. I lived in Austria briefly, near Vienna. I would have liked to have visited Salzburg (and much more of Europe, such as London, Prague, and Florence). I’ve been to the ocean but never in it. Australia would be great for the animals, and I’ve heard the people there are quite friendly. Thailand appeals to me, too. And I’ve seen so little of Minnesota and the United States. Goodness, I need to get traveling! During my journeys, perhaps I can do some reading while relaxing.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Waiting, Waiting

As Danielle Carnito pointed out just a couple weeks ago, we frequently find ourselves simultaneously working on books will release in different seasons. I recently returned from showing off our new Fall 2016 titles at BEA, and this afternoon I'll be presenting Millbrook's Spring 2017 books as part of our spring launch.

As exciting as the not-yet-launched and (in most cases) not-yet-finished books are, I thought I would highlight a book that will be available within the next few months.

Coming in September is Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song. This book is a fascinating collaboration that began with illustrator Michele Wood, who decided to create paintings inspired by a number of spirituals. The final book features thirteen songs. Accompanying the stunning illustrations is a musical excerpt for each song and text by Cynthia Grady. For most picture books, the starting point is the author's text. But in this case, the text was the final element! Cynthia's text serves as a metaphorical bridge between the art and the music, providing historical context and highlighting key details.

Click to view image much larger--I promise you won't regret it!

If you're thinking this must have been a challenging book to put together, you'd be correct! The music was all rendered by an engraver. (I love that despite the fact it's done digitally, it's still called engraving.) Since no one involved in the project is a musician, we went searching for a consultant to review the music in the book. We were lucky enough to end up finding two consultants, and they commented on both the music and on the historical content of the book. In the end, all of these elements came together beautifully, and I can't wait to see this book take flight. For further inspiration, check out the links to sound recordings from the Library of Congress here.