Cybils Awards: MG Speculative Fiction

The winners of the Cybils Awards have been announced! If you haven’t heard yet, you must still be busy celebrating Valentine’s Day. The winner for the 2017 Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category is … WAIT!

First, what are the Cybils Awards? They are awards that recognize children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.

Second, I had the pleasure of being a round two judge for this category and reading the seven amazing finalists. Let me tell you, choosing a winner was very difficult, but my fellow round two judges and I did. The winner is:

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Aventurine is a young dragon ready to explore the outside world, but her family thinks she’s too young to fly on her own. She’s determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. The human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, which transforms her into one, but results in her finding her passion. Chocolate! Now all she has to do is find an apprenticeship in a chocolate house in a human city. Easy, right?

This book hooked me by the first sentences. I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human. But then, my grandfather Grenat always said, “It’s safer not to talk to your food…” I loved the twist in this creative story about passion and what it means to find it: the main character starts as a dragon and turns into a human. It was a wonderful journey to take as Aventurine taught us if you want something, you have to work for it.

As I said, all of the finalists are fantastic. I have to share them with you.

Goodreads

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Chantel would much rather focus on magic than curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems. Without magic protecting the city, it’s up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. In doing so, Chantel discovers a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Chantel has a problem with deportment, being shamefast and biddable, and I admit I may have the same problem. But that wasn’t all that hooked me. The characters are unique, the descriptions are detailed without losing the wonderful voice, and their adventure is full of tension. Plus magic and dragons? You can’t go wrong.

Goodreads

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Harper doesn’t trust her new home. It’s rumored to be haunted, but she’s not sure she believes it. It gives her a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. Until her younger brother starts acting strangely. Harper’s blocked out memories can explain her brother’s behavior and the strange happenings in the house. But will she remember it all in time?

Do you like to be scared? Well you’ve come to the right story. The mysteries of the house are just as spine tingling as the mysterious missing memories of Harper. Add to that are the descriptions of the spirit, William. Let’s just say I found myself looking over my shoulder for an evil ghost.

Goodreads

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. Rosa just moved to Ingot, the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could

want to live in a place with no ghosts. She doesn’t understand why anyone would. Jasper has always lived in Ingot. He has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Until an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down. Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need her ghost appeasement tools and help from Jasper to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

I loved the plot of this book. An unhaunted town is unheard of? Ghosts are normal? Cool! The characters, their jobs, even the setting in a renaissance festival were extremely well developed and fun ways to tell this story.

Goodreads

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. It is Earth year 2213—but there is no Earth anymore. It was burned by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. Humans fled to Mars, but only as a temporary solution while they planned a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a permanent home. It’s the last day on Mars and Liam and Phoebe are going to be a few of the last humans to leave. Until they make profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.

Normally I’m a feet planted on the Earth kind of reader, but I was intrigued by the humans’ life on Mars. The descriptions were so well done, I could almost feel the planet’s dust. This novel is full of tension, sabotage, and aliens, as well as a reality check on how we treat our planet.

Goodreads

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. The underground city of Caverna has the world’s most skilled craftsmen who create wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer. The people of Caverna are ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are blank. Expressions such as joy, despair, or fear must be learned and only Facesmiths can teach them. For a price. Then comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying, she must wear a mask at all times. Her expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous.

Once again I was struck by the creativity of this story. People not having expressions? Facesmiths having to teach them? All the while telling the story of the wealthy and poor. And at the heart of it all is a naive girl who influences both.

Goodreads

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda can’t believe she was chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. As soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening message, and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

This is a winner for science and space lovers. And inventors, people who love strong, independent female thinkers, and those who appreciate the importance of working as a team. Add tension and amazing descriptions and you’ve got it all!

You can find all of the 2017 nominated books here.

2017 Cybils Winners

2017 Cybils Finalists

2017 Cybils Nominations

All of these books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indi bookstores.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

Windows & Mirrors: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King award winner Rita Williams Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is one of my favorite recent middle grade reads. Full of voice, the musicality and raw emotion of the blues, and complex family relationships, it’s a must read for any kidlit lover.

Clayton Byrd wants to play the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather Cool Papa and the Bluesman. But when life intervenes in the most tragic of ways, Clayton goes underground–literally into the New York City subway system–to learn some lessons about life, love, family, and the true meaning of the blues.

Still not convinced? The list of awards Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is as long as the subway trains he rides in:

  • National Book Award Finalist
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2017
  • Horn Book Best Books of 2017
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017
  • School Library Journal Best Books of 2017
  • NAACP Image Awards Nominee
  • Chicago Public Library Best Books
  • Boston Globe Best Books of 2017

Check out this trailer for Clayton Byrd to hear the author read an excerpt of this stunning book:

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

Rita Williams-Garcia  is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels for young adults and middle grade readers. Her most recent novel, Gone Crazy in Alabama ends the saga of the Gaither Sisters, who appear in One Crazy Summer and PS Be Eleven. Her novels have been recipients of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award Finalists, Newbery Honor Book, Junior Library Guild, and the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction. She served on faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children MFA Program and she resides in Queens, New York.

The Literary Couples We Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

hush-naidoo (Unsplash)

The true origins of Valentine’s Day are unknown – in 496, it signified the start of spring. It was also believed Valentine was a person who gave love to the world. Similar to what we now know as Cupid? Whichever story is true, both represent joy and happiness.

At The Winged Pen, we help spread happiness by talking about our love of books and authors, but today, Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating our love of literary couples.

And a surprise! The authors who created the couples we have fallen in love with are here to share their own favorites. It’s DOUBLE LOVE!

Jessica: Alma and Evan from DREAM THINGS TRUE by Marie Marquardt. One of my favorite couples is Alma and Evan from DREAM THINGS TRUE. They come from different cultures and classes, but forge a meaningful connection while struggling with the very real issues facing undocumented immigrants.

Marie MarquardtMikey and Ellie from YOU AGAINST ME by Jenny Downham. In Young Adult, my favorite literary couple is Mikey & Ellie from the fabulous novel YOU AGAINST ME. Mikey and Ellie are classically star-crossed: when the story opens, we find that her brother, Tom, has been accused by his sister, Karyn, of rape. Needless to say, Mikey and Ellie’s relationship is complicated — but in all of the beautiful ways.

HalliSpencer and Hope from TAXONOMY OF LOVE by Rachael Allen. Spencer and Hope’s meeting was not love at first sight, at least not for Hope, but they did become fast friends. And it was a friendship that could not have happened if it wasn’t for their compassionate personalities. From the very beginning of their story, these friends suffered through bullying, relationships, sibling rivalry, and death. And through it all Spencer and Hope supported and understood each other, even if they did not always show it. What I loved so much about this literary couple was that their relationship was true, painful and joyous, just as most are in real life.

Rachael AllenVirginia and Tourmaline from DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Lemon. I love reading stories with friendships that carry the emotional punch of a love story. I can think of so many favorite female friendship books, but my most recent favorite is DONE DIRT CHEAP. Especially because Virginia and Tourmaline aren’t often the kinds of girls who get to have star-crossed friendships, particularly Virginia, who I could see becoming a trope in a weaker writer’s hands. The fact that these girls are fierce and strong, the fact that they’re on opposite sides and they should be enemies – it only made me root for them that much more. I could talk about them all day, but I’ll leave you with my favorite quote: “We’re friends because when girls – women – are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off”

Alex Martinez (Unsplash)

Rebecca: Jo and Mary Carlson, Jo and her Dad from GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown. One of my favorite themes in Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is about how sometimes we hurt the people we love because we love them. So I’m cheating and choosing two couples from Brown’s novel as my favorite: Jo and Mary Carlson as well as Jo and her dad. Both Jo and her dad make decisions, poor though they are, out of love for the other person. Jo, rightly, doesn’t want to hold back Mary Carlson, and Jo’s father (rightly?) fears for his daughter’s safety. But both Jo and her dad vastly underestimate the hurt and betrayal of their choices. Neither shy away from the fallout or their parts in causing it because love means being fear-less and heart-full. This book fills me with hope and inspiration, and the last lines are a love letter to all readers: “I can’t know what the future holds for any of us. But what I do know is I’ll never again let my own fear hurt someone I love. Because love like this, it’s the only thing that really matters.”

Jaye Robin Brown: Grace and Luca from HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring Blake. Though I loved the girl/girl romance in HOW TO MAKE A WISH, it’s the friendship between Grace and Luca I’m going to highlight. In the book, Grace is dealing with a problematic mom. Bouncing between apartments, crazy business ventures, and always a different man, Grace’s mom often leaves Grace in the role of adult instead of child. Mostly Grace handles it, but on occasion things get the best of her. Enter best friend, Luca (and his awesome mom, Emmy). From the time they were children and Grace was left at home alone for a couple of days when her mom was out gallivanting, Luca has had her back. Now, as teens, Luca and Grace work together at LuMac’s, the family diner owned by Luca’s mom. When Grace’s mom secretly moves in with a new man while Grace is out of town, Luca is there to pick up the pieces. He’s the kind of bestie who understands the stress of her home life and just shows up, pizza fries in hand. He doesn’t ask prying questions or make judgements. He’s that kind of friend who’s simply there.  And to quote mutual friend Eva (and Grace’s love interest), “…Luca would commit legit murder for you and you’d do the same for him.” I loved their friendship. It was all the things—funny, biting, caring, loyal, honest— that make a relationship between two people work.

We would love to hear your favorite literary couples! Please put them in the comments below.

I could not write a post about love and romance without wishing my husband an early 25th year anniversary!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

February Four on 400 Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

 

Tainted Seeds, Young Adult, Contemporary Suspense, Chapter 1

Bree turned back to her older sister, who lagged behind despite her longer strides. Lily’s Adidas sneakers scuffed the cracked sidewalk with each unhurried step through the deserted neighborhood.

“What a waste of a summer day,” Lily said once she caught up.

“Come on, this is important to me.” Bree pressed the voter pamphlets protectively against her sweaty Say No to GMOs T-shirt. She’d spent the entire week mapping a route and rehearsing her speech. The least Lily could do was be more cheerful.

Her sister flicked her blond hair over her blistering, red shoulder. “You’re always chasing rainbows and leprechauns. No one’s going to vote for higher taxes to buy lettuce and light bulbs for schools.”

Bree forced a laugh. “People just need to be educated,” she said, but her voice had lost some of its earlier conviction as she took in yet another row of bungalows with peeling paint and weed-covered lawns.

“Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face? It’s your sixteenth birthday. We could go to the mall, and I could help you spend that birthday check.”

Her sister had a point. Few residents in their working class town could afford much beyond the basics, and their resistance to change was only one of a thousand reasons she needed to get out of Boren Valley—or Boring Valley as she and her best friend Madeleine called it. Too bad she was tied up with camp counselor training today. She would’ve been more encouraging.

“I’m never going to make a difference around here.” Bree sighed. “Don’t know why I even bother.”

Lily bumped Bree affectionately and changed her tone. “Hey, that’s what makes you, you. It’s in your DNA.”

Bree fiddled with the glossy leaflets. “You’re not like me. And I’m nothing like Mama-Meri.”

“Nope. You must’ve gotten your ‘drive and determination’ from Mr. Banks.” Lily snickered as they climbed the crumbling steps to the next house. “And the stubbornness that’s always getting you in trouble too.”

Bree rolled her eyes. Mr. Banks was code for their shared sperm donor. All her differences from the rest of her family had been attributed to him from her darker coloring to her curves to her book smarts.

An elderly woman opened the door. With her hunched spine, she was even shorter than Bree.

Lily thrust a pamphlet into her wrinkled hand.

Kristi: There’s a lot to love here. Lots of little seeds have been planted that are sure to play into the suspense aspect of the story. My biggest overall comment is that I find this all very telling instead of showing. Bree is already wearing a Non GMO t-shirt and passing out pamphlets, so we don’t need an overload of details about her and her mission. The paragraph about the town was also too telling. I thought the details of the weeds in the yard and peeling paint were so perfect–THAT shows me the neighborhood! Having said that, I do really like these girls and I really have an idea of who both of them are. Kudos for creating two great characters!

Gita: Nice opening! You’ve done a great job, in a very short amount of time, of creating two distinct characters, each with her own personality and a shared backstory. Knowing that it’s YA suspense, I’d love more details to create an even more ominous feeling. So far the only details that read ‘suspense’ to me were the deserted neighborhood and crumbling steps. A signal characteristic of suspense is the feeling that something vital to the character’s well-being is at stake. Could you amp that feeling up—and create more tension about whatever that something is—in these opening lines? The more of that you have, the more hungrily your reader will turn the page. Good luck!

Halli: Thank you for sharing! This genre is one of my favorites. I loved the descriptions of the neighborhood: cracked sidewalk, peeling paint, and weed-covered lawns. That shows so much about the socio-economics of the neighborhood and how it contrasts with Bree’s mission. You did a nice job giving us a peek at Bree and Lily, with their clothing and comments, however, I agree with Kristi and Gita that some parts are too telling. I would like to see less telling – give us just enough to let us get a feel for each character –  then add a little suspense. At the beginning, that’s what the reader is there for. Thanks and good luck!

Karin:  Lots of great stuff here from the topic of GMOs to their sperm-donar father and intrigued to learn how you will play the two off! I agree you can cut some of the telling, which will also work to make it more suspenseful.  Bree’s mission can also be a little clearer as we learn she’s distributing voter pamphlets and she has a T-shirt against GMOs, but then Lily mentions  light bulbs in the schools. But you can show this later when she introduces herself to the elderly woman. One way you could tighten and hook the reader is cut paragraphs 2-5, so second paragraph would be “Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face?” which I love! Remember you don’t need to tell the reader everything–you want us to be curious about finding out what’s going to happen. Thank you sharing this with us!

 

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The Magic of Friendship

I’m working on revising one novel and pre-writing another, and one thing keeps coming up with both projects: friendship.

I have two teen daughters, and I can tell you that EVERYTHING revolves around friends. And I remember that from my own teenage years – friendships were all-consuming, intense, up and down, and central to my daily life.

So as I’ve worked on these two projects, it has been especially important to me to make sure that the friendships in my stories are as vivid and central to my characters’ lives as they are in the lives of the teens I know.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially if your story and its conflicts aren’t based on your main character’s relationship with his or her friends. How can you ensure that your character’s friendships always feel authentic, rich and real?

I recently attended a talk at my local SCBWI led by editor Abby Ranger. She called friendship a key entrance to your story. Whether you’re writing an epic fantasy set in a completely new world, or a contemporary set in a world that is familiar to nearly all of us, your character’s friendships give readers a view of the heart of your character and her journey.

And friendship is different than other relationships your character has in his life. For one, it’s completely voluntary – friends don’t have to love you like family does. And the relationship isn’t clouded by romantic feelings.

So friendship is important to get right in any story for middle grade or YA. But how?

Take a minute to think about your own friendships. What are they based on?

I have a few friends who have known me for more than 20 years. We share some things in common – kids in some cases, hobbies in others – but our primary bond is one of time and deep understanding. They know what skeletons I have in my closet, they remember when I was a vegetarian who refused to eat beans, and at least one of them was there to drive me home from work when I had a horrid case of the stomach flu.

I have other friendships that have grown from a common interest. My knitting friends know a bit about my life, but they are even more well versed in what yarn-based project I’ve got in my bag at the moment. And of course my Pennies know each and every up and down I have with my fiction writing.

Think about your character and his or her friends. How did they meet? What drew them together? How did they cross that threshold between acquaintances and friends? What keeps them coming back to each other?

What do they know about each other that other characters don’t know? What are their power dynamics – is one the bold go-getter, dragging the other along? Is there a protector and a protected?

As you sketch out this important relationship, consider these tips, loosely gathered from Abby Ranger’s fantastic talk (and with examples from Harry Potter, an epic fantasy series with friendship at its core), for creating authentic friendships that push your characters to grow over the course of the novel:

Lean into contrast/conflict. Friends don’t always get along, and they often grow in different directions at different times. Show those conflicts – big and small – and use them to challenge your main character’s inertia.

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: When Hermione and Ron begin to recognize their feelings for each other, they each approach those feelings in different ways. That conflict is amped up by the ball and the character of Viktor Krum and adds a great layer of complexity to the story.

Communication between friends often consists of their own language. Show that in both dialogue and in non-verbal communication. Our closest friends can often say a LOT with a tiny change in expression!

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: How many times do Ron and Harry crack each other up with just a glance?

There is an intimacy in details, so be specific. Use details to show your characters knowledge of each other and their expectations of their friends. HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: When Hermione explains Cho’s feelings of sadness, grief, guilt and confusion to Harry and Ron after Cedric’s death, she shows a relationship with Cho that we don’t see on the page, but that is clear from those few details she shares. And Harry’s and Ron’s responses show that they never expected such complexity from either Hermione or Cho.

Teen friendships have DRAMA. Emotions are bigger and more unwieldy when you’re a teenager, and most of the situations you face, you’re facing for the very first time. Let the drama out! And that drama can crop up in many different ways – does your character have to sacrifice something for his or her friend? How do your characters earn their relationship? Do they fight for it? Do they risk something – parental or societal disapproval, say – to keep the friendship?

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: Right at the beginning of the first book, Harry faces a choice between being friends with Draco (and joining ranks with the “right sort” of wizard) and being friends with Ron (the “wrong sort”). He chooses Ron. Later, the two friends together choose to befriend the unloved Hermione. Both times, Harry is risking his social capital for his friends – and that choice continues to create drama that resonates throughout the series.

Friendships, particularly groups of friends, have their own circuitry. How do your characters connect to each other in the world of your story? What are the layers of friendships, from inner circle, to outer ring? What role does each character play?

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: Harry, Ron and Hermione each have their own specific role to play in their trio. But they’re not an independent entity. They’re also influenced and influence Ginny and Neville and Fred and George and Luna. Their influence also spreads to enemies like Draco. The various connections between the characters come back over and over again throughout the series, and the picture that network forms is complex, dynamic and rich.

Friendship should have an arc throughout the book. Even if the friendship doesn’t supply the main core of conflict in your story, your character’s relationship with friends should still have some sort of beginning, middle and end related to the journey he or she takes in the book.

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: While the first book in the series is about Harry learning his true history and facing his greatest enemy for the first time, it is also about his journey from a lonely boy to a boy with friends. His friendships with Ron and Hermione wouldn’t be enough on their own to fuel a book about wizards, but they do give Harry a personal arc to go along with his hero arc, making him much more relatable in the process.

But perhaps the biggest clue that two (or more) characters are friends? Fun! Don’t be afraid to let your characters – even in the darkest and grittiest of dramas – have fun with their friends. That joy is the glue that has kept them together and that shows your reader the depth of your characters’ friendships.

Friendship is one of the most central relationships tweens and teens have. Whether you’re writing a space opera, a modern rom-com, a historical fantasy, or something else entirely, friendships are a great way to zero in on your novel’s heart.

 

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

Windows & Mirrors: Grandma’s Purse

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

 

 

Today we’re featuring Grandma’s Purse authored and illustrated by the amazing Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

I fell in love with Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s art the first time I laid eyes on it. Her illustrations are always bustling with energy and her carefully-chosen color palettes are candy for the eyes. She dreams up evocative characters and images that I want to know more about, making her books irresistible. Here are examples of artwork from her Instagram account:

See what I mean! I’m always torn with wanting to let my eyes linger over the gorgeous details and turning the page to see what other wonders might be in store.

But Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s latest creation spoke to my heart as soon as I read the title, before I’d seen a single brush stroke or inking.

Grandma’s Purse is a delightful story about a young girl who is fascinated by the treasures in her Grandma Mimi’s purse. It immediately brought back memories of my childhood when we’d visit with my grandma every Sunday. She’d always have gum or candy for me as well as other treasures to explore with her permission, of course.

Mimi’s purse is filled with sparkly fashion accessories, an old flip phone, gorgeous lipstick, glamorous sunglass, and more importantly every object has a story, inspiring dreams and memories. The text is charming, and the pictures are even more so, every scene magically speaks about family bonds with whimsy and delight.

Vanessa is also the author of two other books, perfect for black history month:  Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and Let Freedom Sing. She has illustrated numerous gorgeous picture books:

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

One Love: Based on the Song by Bob Marley

Mary Had a Little Glam

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

A Night Out with Mama

Every Little Thing: Based on the song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley

and other picture books and novels such as the Jada Jones series by Kelly Starling Lyons and many, many more!

Check out Vanessa’s inspiring TedX talk about diversity and adversity:

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

 

 

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books including Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and Every Little Thing, words by Bob & Cedella Marley, and Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her wonderful books and designs.

Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes. Learn more about Vanessa and her artwork at her website here or here or follower her on Instagram.

Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Get Ready for WriteOnCon!

WriteOnCon is near and dear to our hearts at the Winged Pen because it’s where a lot of us first connected. I’ll be attending this year and I hope you will be too! If you haven’t before, here’s some tips on making the most of it.

What is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon is an online writing conference. No pricey registration fees. No hotel rooms required. No extended time away from the family. All you need is $5 and Internet access.

And if you’re asking yourself if it’s worth $5, let me tell you, it’s worth a whole lot more! Not sure? You can check out a the keynote presentations for free. If you want access to everything, pay a few dollars more. Check this post for all the details.

The presentation schedule opens this Friday, the 9th, but the forums are open now. Check them out!

How Do You Do WriteOnCon?

First, Register and Create Your Profile

Register here. You can add as much or as little info as you like in your profile, but remember, what you get out of WriteOnCon depends on what you put in. Yes, you can be anonymous and just view/read the presentations. But we’re writers so it’s all about the words. Don’t you want to meet some writers in your favorite genre and/or category?

A quick bio is all you need to introduce yourself to other attendees. Don’t have a bio? Start with a simple one. Just give us a glimpse of what you write and a bit about your personality. Need an example? There’s one at the bottom of this post and every other Winged Pen post.

Don’t forget to include your social media accounts. You can keep up with new writer-friends more easily after WriteOnCon if you’ve followed each other on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Check Out the Schedule

There are three-days’ worth of presentations, some video and some written. The conference covers everything kidlit from picture books to young adult. And new this year — new adult! Craft topics include researching historical fiction, creating strong character voice, writing romance, outlining plot and character arc and more. Gain insight on the publishing industry by checking out talks by literary agents and the truth about being a New York Times best-seller from Beth Revis. You can even pitch agents your manuscripts! Whether you’re a newb or have been writing for years, there is something worthwhile!

The Forums: Get Feedback on Your Writing and Help Other Writers

Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, it’s time to dig into the central part of WriteOnCon, the words. You can post your query, the first page of your story, and/or your first five pages for feedback by other conference attendees. You can also pay it forward by helping other writers hone their words. To do this, go to the forums. The forums are broken up by category, so head over to picture book, middle grade, young adult or new adult whichever is appropriate. Remember to be kind and use the critique sandwich – something you liked, something you think can be improved, and a last shot of encouragement.

If you get a great AH-HA! moment from comments you receive, revise real-time. Post revised queries or pages at the top of your entry so that new readers will see that, not point out the mistakes others have already noted. And remember, the best way to get help revising your own work is to reach out and help others.

Superheros

The WriteOnCon Superheroes are authors, agents and editors who will be visiting the forums and providing pro-level critiques. This is a great opportunity!  Because the early fund-raising campaign for WriteOnCon was so successful, the superheroes will be trying to provide feedback for everyone. I can’t image how they could make it through all the queries and pages. There were hundreds of posts last year. But that’s the plan. Look for superhero comments on your own posts and on others because you can a learn a lot from their critiques even if they aren’t on your writing.

Will I see you at WriteOnCon this week? I hope I do! Stop by and say hi! And remember amid the rush to hear all the presentations and to give and receive tons of feedback, to relax and enjoy the words and make sure you make a couple new writer-friends!

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult speculative fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS Book Award – YA Speculative Fiction category and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

 

February Four on 400 Contest!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of February, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the 14th of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the February Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on February 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Windows & Mirrors: Betty Before X

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

 

 

Today we’re celebrating Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson!

Ilyasah Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. She’s the author of several books about her revolutionary family, including the critically-acclaimed adult memoir Growing Up X, a beautiful picture book about her father Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X as well as a fictionalized middle-grade biography about him entitled X, a 2016 Coretta Scott King honor book. Now, she’s sharing the story of her mother who is just as inspiring as her father, both icons for the Civil Rights Movement.

Set in Detroit in 1945, Betty Before X is the heart-rendering fictionalized account of Betty Shabazz’s tween years. Betty struggled to understand problems with segregation and racial hostility in her community, and she had a very difficult home life due to her unloving mother. But Betty didn’t let those problems define her. She paid close attention to the positive role models in her community, which helped her develop admirable responses to hardship and injustice––forgiveness, gratitude, and a yearning to work for a better future. Those traits helped Betty bloom into the community leader and civil rights advocate who later married Malcom X.  This story of a girl learning self-acceptance and overcoming the feeling that she didn’t belong is sure to resonate with young readers. The short, vividly-detailed chapters make for fantastic historical fiction for ages 10+. We can’t think of a better story to highlight during Black History Month, and we’re happy to report that, though it just released in January, it’s already in its second printing!

Ilyasah Shabazz is just as fascinating as her iconic and amazing family. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Check out this interview with her to learn more about her and her important work.

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

 

Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Introducing Windows & Mirrors

The phrase “windows and mirrors” has become a catch-phrase of the movement for more inclusivity in children’s literature. Borrowed from a scholarly paper written more than twenty-five years ago by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, the words remind us why children need to see themselves, and others who are not like them, in books:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. –Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990, p. ix

And yet, the statistics around who is telling children’s stories are sobering. Even with the ongoing discussion on social media and at bookish conferences and gatherings, the numbers have only slightly budged and are not even close to representing the actual demographics of our country.

Early last month, a few of us at The Winged Pen took a moment to discuss our reading goals for 2018. Several of us had goals specifically around reading more from marginalized voices and in the process of comparing notes, we realized we could share the books we’d found with our readers in hopes that you, too, could read more of these amazing books in the coming year.

We hope that someday, all book lists will represent the beautiful diversity of our world. Until then, we’d like to introduce Windows & Mirrors, a new series of book recommendations from The Winged Pen. Three Fridays per month, we’ll feature a mix of new and upcoming releases, as well as some favorites from the past few years that you might have missed, all written by writers who come from marginalized groups in need of having their voices heard.

 

Although this is a new series, this topic is not new to the bookish community or to this blog.

While you wait for tomorrow’s first recommendation, check out these past posts from The Winged Pen:

And here are some additional recommendations from other groups who are leading the way on this important topic:

To kick things off, we’ve teamed up with Libro.fm to create this list of amazing audiobooks by black authors to celebrate Black History Month! Purchases at Libro.fm support your favorite Indie Bookstore. Please check it out!

Black History Month Audiobook Playlist