Native American Literature for Young Readers


Happy Indigenous People’s Day! As the wind turns from humid to crisp and the leaves begin to change colors, we can’t help but think about Thanksgiving and our mixed feelings about this celebration. My education about Native Americans as a child was woefully inadequate and wrong for the most part. Understanding that our childhood views of colonialism were misrepresented is important to our history, our culture, and our humanity and the best place to begin fixing our misunderstanding is to make sure that the books we read are representative of Native American culture.

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, we’ve been busy reading to create a list of recommended books that should be in our classrooms, home libraries, or reading stacks this fall and all year. Yes, you should read Sherman Alexie’s books too, but there are many other fine Native American authors who are often overlooked. We’ve chosen to shine a light on them.

 

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Julie Flett

A perfect book for new parents welcoming baby into the world. A lovely rhythmic read aloud, beautifully illustrated.

Board book, ages 0+

 

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julie Flett

What makes your heart fill with happiness? Holding hands? The sun on your face? This little board book does a great job of reminding us to cherish these moments. Beautiful, happy illustrations, alluring to the eyes.

Ages 0+


Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu

A joyous story filled with details about the traditions associated with the dresses jingle dancers wear. Young Jenna gets help from her family and community to give her dress its own voice. Beautiful, lyrical text with traditional Indian phrasing. Warm, inviting illustrations.

Ages 6+

 

The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz and illustrated by Sharol Graves

Originally published in 1977, the 40th edition of this book of truth about Indigenous People and colonization will be published in October. If I had to purchase only one book for my library for the fall, this might be the one. Clearly expressed text quickly explains the lives of Indigenous people as America was discovered by the Spanish and the population exploded as more settlers came here.  Ages 6+

 

Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave

This story about Shi-shi-etko and her little brother Shin-Chi’s journey to an Indian residential school shines a light on one of the darker moments in our country’s history.  The author’s note provides additional historical context for the story, context that many of us missed in our history lessons and can share with the next generation through this sweet book. Ages 6+

 

Saltypie  by Tim Tingle and illustrated by Karen Clarkson

Saltypie tells the story of a grandmother through her young grandson’s eyes. Filled with wisdom and tenderness, this story of a woman who lived a life of adversity without losing her good humor and warm heart has a surprise at the end that’s worth a read. The author notes include additional historical context and some lovely family photos.  Ages 6+

 


Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and Illustrated by David Shannon

Hiawatha, a brave Mohawk warrior, is angry. He wants revenge when his family is killed in a battle of warring tribes. But everything changes when he is visited by the Peacemaker, a prophet who wishes to end the warring and changes Hiawatha’s mind and heart. Hiawatha’s story is a timeless tale, important for all humans for understanding unity, cooperation.

Ages 8+

 

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Native Americans Ray Halfmoon and his Grampa live in Chicago, which is much different from life in Oklahoma where Grampa grew us. The fun, interrelated short stories are heartwarming and help young readers understand what life is like for many present-day Native American.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

 

Soft Rain: The Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen

Nine-year old Soft Rain’s inspiring story illuminates an important part of our American history, one that should not be forgotten–the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The author’s voice is perfect for helping young readers understand the impact of being torn from your family and forced to relocate.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

The Warriors by Joseph Bruchac

Twelve-year-old Jake Forrest has spent his whole life living on an Iroquois Indian reservation. He must leave the life he loves when his mother graduates law school and lands a job in Washington, DC. Jake, who has always been a star lacrosse player, struggles to adjust to the spirit of the game off the Indian reservation. Through this story, we learn that the origins of lacrosse are tribal. There are just enough lacrosse scenes to satisfy fans of the game, but at its heart this is a realistic story about the struggles we all feel trying to fit in. The Warriors deftly grapples with issues such as racism, violence in sports, and cultural misappropriation.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle

This. Book. Will. Keep. You. On. The. Edge. Of. Your. Seat. Unlike anything I’ve ever read and full of surprises. A story about a young Choctaw who doesn’t survive the Trial of Tears, told by his ghost. Each chapter a cliffhanger, this is a terrifically compelling tale of resilience and unity with surprisingly humorous moments.

Ages 8+

 

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III

Learn about Crazy Horse through a modern child’s eyes in this stunning novel. Full of the beauty of oral tradition, family heritage, and road trips, this one is perfect for you and your middle-grade reader.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

This story, and the others in the series, has the feel and tone of Little House on the Prairie and other pioneer-era stories but with a more sensitive and historically accurate portrayal of Native people. Follow the adventures of two young brothers as they navigate childhood in a rich historical setting. Novel, Ages 8+

 

Fire in the Village, by Anne M Dunn

A collection of fables, legends, and creation myths from an Anishinabeg-Ojibwe elder living on the Leech Lake Reservation. The seventy-five stories in this beautiful collection capture a piece of history that might otherwise have been lost.

Short-story collection, Ages 12+

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Wonderful story about reservation life, friendship, racism, poverty, family and something that binds all of us: music. Prepare to cry with this one, folks. It will break your heart and make you mad at points, but the journey of emotions is well worth the ride.

Novel, Ages 12+

 

My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Did you know that native Alaskans were given radioactive drugs without their permission to study whether their bodies were biologically more resistant to the effects of cold weather? Powerful, factually-based narrative about the difficulties Alaskan Native Americans children faced when they were uprooted from their families and culture and sent to a school where they were punished if their native language slipped from their lips. Multiple POVs give the reader a broad picture of the range of their struggles, all delivered in an intriguing, relatable story that would be a great classroom read for ages

Novel, Ages 12+

 

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

The importance of the Navajo Code Talkers during WWII was so secretive many historians don’t even know about it. Thanks to Joseph Bruchac’s family connection we can now all read about these brave men who helped keep troops safe during the war by using a code based on Navajo language, the same language they were forced to suppress as they were educated in schools designed to make them fit into white culture. Infused with Native American history and  culture, Code Talker helps us understand what it must have felt like to be in young Ned’s situation as he went from life on a reservation to working the front lines as an American soldier in WWII.

Novel, Ages 12+

 

Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon

This murder mystery follows 19-year-old Cash as she revisits family history on a journey to help her friend investigate the murder of a Native man on a neighboring reservation. Anyone who loves good crime fiction will appreciate this novel.

Novel, Upper YA/Adult

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

When the Robot War ignites, our government crumbles. Human resistance is led by small organized groups. The Osage Nation in Gray Horse, Oklahoma is one of these groups. Despite decades of oppression, these small tightly-knit tribal mini-nations remain strong, the perfect fighters against the collapse of humanity  This book is a sci-fi thriller written in the style of World War Z  by a Cherokee citizen who also has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon and Masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.  This gripping story is perfect for upper YA (high school age) and Adult.

 

These are all books that we can personally recommend, but don’t stop there. There are many resources for finding authentic and accurate books written by Native Americans.

Debbie Reese’s AMERICAN INDIANS IN LITERATURE BLOG

Kara Stewart’s blog FROM HERE TO WRITERNITY  We’d like to give a special thank you to Kara who helped us hand-pick some of the titles we’ve reviewed!

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Blog

And checkout/subscribe to our Native Writers Twitter List.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

JULIE ARTZ writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to contributing to The Winged Pen, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, is a Pitch Wars mentor, and contributes regularly to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. You can also follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

 

 

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Fall Releases on Our Radar!


Fall makes me long for crisply cool, slightly overcast days. Why? On days like this, I enjoy exerting myself in the yard, cleaning up my summer gardens and preparing the cool season garden, and then hopping in the hammock with a book. Here are a few new releases for fall that have caught my attention.

Picture Books

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

By Margarita Engle and illustrated by Raúl Colón

One of my favorites for this fall, definitely an award contender. It’s a fictionalized first-person biography in verse about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, father of the modern novel. As a child, his vivid daydreams of daring knights provided refuge from his family’s troubles and inspired one of the world’s most influential books, Don Quixote. Gorgeous pen and ink illustrations perfectly contrast Miguel’s dreams with his reality, speaking to the power of story in our lives. A beautiful and engaging book to treasure.

Releases October 1, 2017

Brave by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

This book celebrates BRAVE kids and reminds us that all kids have the power to be brave and kind…

–when they face new challenges

–by helping others

–by speaking up

Great inspiration, reminding us to follow our hearts and find courage to do what is right, even when it’s hard, and showing us that there’s a little superhero in all of us.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

After the Fall by Dan Santat

From the New York Times–bestselling and Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Dan Santat, we finally find out what happened after Humpty’s tragically famous fall. When his beautiful paper airplane lands on that dreadful wall he’s been trying so hard to avoid, his paralyzing new fear of height haunts him. Stunning illustrations carefully balance whimsy and the gravity of his situation. My favorite thing about this book is the story behind Santat’s dedication. Watch the video where he shares why this story is a love letter to his wife.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

Red and Lulu by Matt Taveres

A pair of cardinals becomes separated when their lush, shady home is cut down and sent to New York City to become a Christmas Tree. Such a beautiful, poignant story about miracles. Because of this and the dazzling watercolor illustrations with amazing perspectives, my family may have a new holiday favorite.

 

 

Middle Grade

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Red, the ancient oak who’s been watching over the neighborhood for about two hundred years, is known as the wishtree because every year locals tie notes with their wishes to Red’s branches. You would think Red’s seen it all, but then a Muslim family moves in to the neighborhood. Red has to take things in his own hands to protect the family’s young daughter when a community member makes them feel unwelcome. With interesting, fun characters, this beautiful story of hope, friendship, and community,  is guaranteed to make you laugh and cry both happy and sad tears. Beautiful!

Releases October 3rd, 2017

 

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt

Thirteen-year-old orphan and pickpocket-extraordinaire, Nicki Demere, has been chosen by the U.S. government to join a mother, father, and son who are being protected by Witness Protection from dangerous mobsters. Are her tough-girl skills enough to keep the family safe? Though the plot may seem unbelievable, this fast-paced, captivating story with relatable characters and fun family dynamics will make for some very fast page turning. Highly recommended!

Releases October 3rd, 2017

 

Young Adult

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen-year-old Will’s older brother Shawn was just murdered. He knows what he must do. He must follow The Rules, which means that Shawn’s killer must die…by Will’s hands. He hops on the elevator on his way to get revenge. But on each floor, a new passenger gets on. A passenger that is in some way connected to Shawn. 7 floors with 6 visitors.

This book is BRILLIANT. Told in free-verse, every word is precisely chosen to grab your heart and mess with your head. This is a book to be shared and talked about. IT WILL CHANGE LIVES. I love a lot of books, but this is my favorite read of 2017 so far. Buy it and share it. There should be several copies in every high school in America, so donate one if you can. I predict this one will win multiple awards, and it will deserve every single one. To be devoured again and again.

Releases October 17th, 2017

 

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m starting today! My daughter tore through it in two days and said, “Mama, you’re going to love this book.” Then she handed me a box of tissues. “And you’ll need the whole box.” I do love books that make me think and feel, and she has assured me it will do both. It’s the story of three siblings who were given up for adoption at birth. When the middle sibling, sixteen-year-old Grace, gives her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family and discovers that she has siblings. This story about family, relationships is on the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People along with Long Way Down (above) and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (below). There are so many great books on the longlist this year, so please check them out.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

I haven’t read this one yet either, but it’s up right behind Far From the Tree. I normally read all the books on the longlist and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. This is the description on the back of the book: “From debut author Erika L. Sanchez comes a laugh-out-loud and poignant novel about losing a sister and finding yourself.” It’s about Julia, a girl who dreams to be a writer and refuses to let her family’s expectation get in her way.

Releases October 17th, 2017

We’d love for you to share your fall favorites in the comments!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Dear Anne of Green Gables

Welcome to a brand new series on The Winged Pen!

Here, we write love letters to our favorite books—the ones that shaped us, as writers and as people.

First up is the book that inspired me to start this series: Anne of Green Gables!

In case you haven’t read it, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is the story of an orphan girl who, after being shipped to various abysmal foster homes, lands with an older couple (actually brother and sister) on an idyllic farm on Prince Edward Island.

I am an Anne girl. I get a glow just holding the book (especially the lovely edition from Puffin and Rifle Paper—yum!). My red-haired daughter is named Lucy, after Lucy Maud Montgomery.

There are a few things that made this book so influential to me.

First, Anne is not perfect. She tries really hard to be good, but she loses her temper, she messes things up royally, and she is given to fits of despair. I was a kid who worried all the time about doing the right thing, and seeing Anne’s horrid mistakes and tantrums gave me a gleeful thrill, and permission for my own imperfection. (Imperfection is good! I wrote a whole post on it.)

Second, L.M. Montgomery taught me about writing description. Here is how she describes the road to Anne’s new home, when Anne first sees it:

The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Isn’t that lovely? Oh, it makes me sigh every time.

Montgomery elevates the scenery of her beloved home while also being so specific that I can picture it. I see it perfectly, and I feel the same awed reaction that Anne experiences in that moment. I strive in my own writing to make descriptions that not just make a place real, but make it magical and inspiring.

Finally, Anne loves with her whole heart. Her joy at her new home is palpable. She takes the time to feel every moment and savor it. She doesn’t dwell on her unhappy background, but she is constantly amazed at her good fortune to end up in a place so enchanting. May we all be so grateful for the good in our lives!

Here’s my favorite quote:

“Dear old world”, she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

In the comments, please share yours!

Kate Hillyer writes middle grade novels in the D.C. area, but is certain she’s going to make it to Prince Edward Island someday. Look for her in long red braids soon. In the meantime, she blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, and maintains her own book blog at Kid Book List. She’s also a 2017 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katehillyer.com. 

 

 

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Book Recommendation: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding

I am a huge fan of creepy. Books, movies, decaying abandoned houses. So when The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. This book is the whole package of eerie while still having the humor middle grade readers love.

Goodreads

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness .”
Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history-that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made-and then broke-a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type. The fiend has reawakened with one purpose–to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts to trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his afterlife without a side of eternal servitude, thanks. But with the help of his long-lost uncle, Barnabas, and his daughter, Nell, a witch-in-training, it seems like Prosper has at least a fighting chance of ridding himself of Alastor before the demon escapes and wreaks havoc on his family.
Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it? (NetGalley)

We meet Prosper on the first page and that’s where I fell in love with his voice.  He’s not the best student or the most popular, but he has a personality you can’t help but root for. Especially when we’re introduced to an ominous stranger who spies on Prosper, an angry and sadistic grandmother, a basement he’s forced into, and a ritual that involves a knife. (We haven’t even gotten to the haunted house yet!)

The fantastic characters don’t stop with Prosper. All are well-developed and have such strong motivations, it is easy to cheer them on, including the demon, Alastor, trying to possess him. It’s because of the strength of the characters that we don’t see the plot twists, and at one point, you have no idea who is good or evil.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is not just a tale to send chills down your spine or give you goosebumps. It’s not just about a boy who may or may not escape (no spoilers!) a centuries old pact with a demon. This story is about an underdog who puts others first and learns his own self worth.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is now available! You can find it at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and IndiBound. And don’t forget to check out author Alexandra Bracken’s website here.

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. You can find her on Twitter.

NEW AGENT ALERT! Meet Hilary Harwell of KT Literary

I am thrilled beyond belief to introduce you to Hilary Harwell. Full disclosure, she’s one of my dearest friends, a long-time critique partner and a member of The Winged Pen critique fellowship. NOW SHE’S AN AGENT TOO–for the renowned KT Literary agency.  I’m also excited to share that Hilary will be a participating agent in Pitch Wars this year. She’s opening up to queries at the start of August, and here’s your chance to get to know her!

G: Hi Hilary. *grins*

H: Hi Gab. *grins*

G: So, what made you want to become an agent?

H: Besides loving the art of storytelling, I’m in love with being able to bring amazing, impactful stories into the world and into the hands of children just as they’re opening their minds to the power of story. To help all children and young people find themselves inside the pages of a book, I mean, how incredible is it to be a part of that?!

G: What would you say sets KT Literary apart from other agencies?

H: Well, first of all, we have a ton of knowledge and talent amongst all of our agents. Kate, Sara, Renee, and Hannah are all brilliant and well-connected, and all around great people. Then, of course, there are our amazing clients. I had the privilege of meeting many them on our annual KT Literary retreat this past February in Lake Arrowhead, California (and yes, our agency hosts an annual retreat – that in and of itself sets us apart!). They are all such wonderful, supportive, talented folks and we’re lucky to have them!

G: Talk a little about what you’ll be looking for in the slush? What kind of books are you hoping to find?

H: At the present moment I’m focusing on middle grade and young adult projects. I’m interested in all genres – dark fantasy, thrillers, psychological horror, contemporary, mystery – though I’m probably not the best choice for slasher horror, suicide stories, or high fantasy unless it’s 100% original. I’m generally not a huge fan of elves, fairies, and their ilk. I especially love heartfelt contemporary, and though I recently signed an amazing author and her Chinese adoption middle grade contemporary, I still have a soft spot for these types of stories, especially if they’re told from diverse perspectives.

G: What are some of your favorite books?

H: So many! My more recent faves are: The Hate U Give, Exit Pursued by a Bear, Frost Blood, Caraval, The Diviners, The Blackthorn Key, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Out of My Mind, The Thickety, Anna and The French Kiss (and ISLA and LOLA), Open Road Summer, The Duff, We Were Liars, The Night Gardener, Rules for Stealing Stars, Salt to the Sea, The Wrath and The Dawn, The Scorpio Races, A Curious Tale of the In-Between, Seraphina and the Black Cloak, The Grisha Trilogy, I’ll Give You The Sun, Splendors and Glooms, A Snicker of Magic, The Graveyard Book, The Mysterious Benedict Society, An Untamed State, The Bourbon Thief, The Girl on The Train, and Crank (anything by Ellen Hopkins)

I don’t want to leave out the older faves though, because they’re such classics and I find myself returning to them again and again. I love books like: Bridge to Terabithia, The Hobbit, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion series, Hatchet, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Westing Game, James and the Giant Peach, THE BFG, IT, A Wrinkle in Time,  and The Secret Garden.

 G: Okay. When do you open for queries, and how can authors submit to you?

H: I open to queries August 1st. Authors can find our complete submission instructions on the KT Literary website (www.ktliterary.com). But for the sake of convenience, you can reach me at hilaryquery@ktliterary.com. Please send me your query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript. I’m looking forwarding to reading your work!

G: Okay, Pally. are you ready for this? *hands Hilary mirrored sunglasses*

H: Let’s do it.

LIGHTNING ROUND:

G: Coffee or Tea?

H: Both, but usually coffee.

G: Sweet or savory?

H: Both, but usually savory.

G: Cats or Dogs (or other)?

H: Both. And horses. And fish. And toads. And salamanders. (I grew up in the woods. Catching things was kinda my thing. As was climbing trees.)

G: Curve Ball! Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot?

H: I don’t know? I guess I have to go with Lynda Carter because I have a thing for originals.

Thanks, Hilary, for joining us today (and everyday) at the Winged Pen! 

Hilary joined the KT Literary team to support office operations and assist with queries and manuscripts, and now acts as Associate Agent with clients of her own. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a degree in Anthropology and went on to work in the back office of a major Swiss Investment Bank for eight years before deciding to trade numbers for letters. When not reading or editing or writing stories of her own, Hilary likes to hike the Rockies with her family and dreams of one day owning her own horses. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her blog.

—Gabrielle Byrne (G.K. Byrne) writes fantasy for middle graders. Gabby has a Master’s degree in literature and a second bachelors in environmental studies. When she’s not writing, you can frequently find her fishing spineless critters out of the Salish sea with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Gabby is also a Pitch Wars mentor. Her web site is here.

 

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The Unicorn in the Barn: Review/Author Interview with Jacqueline Ogburn

Today we welcome to The Winged Pen the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, THE MAGIC NESTING DOLLS. Jacqueline Ogburn is the author of ten picture books and, in just a few short days, the world will be able to read her beautiful debut middle-grade novel, THE UNICORN IN THE BARN.

 

… the presence of the unicorn and other magical creatures adding just a touch of whimsy to a story about very real emotions. A sensitive, moving debut.-Kirkus reviews

Eleven-year-old Eric Harper lives on his family’s farm in Chinaberry Creek. Due to his grandmother’s illness, they’ve sold her home to a new veterinarian in town to help pay bills. The veterinarian takes care of the many wild and unusual animals that live in the area around the Harper’s land. One day, Eric spots a lame unicorn and the veterinarian invites him to work with her and her young daughter to treat the animals. As Eric learns there are magical creatures that live in their woods, he also discovers family secrets that will change his life forever.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN is both deeply imaginative and real at the same time. It deals with family death in a tender way for young readers. It is a coming-of-age story fully of whimsy, appropriate for ages 9-12 and would make a great read-together book. Rebecca Green’s black-and-white illustrations beautifully compliment the simple and heartfelt prose.

 

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN goes on sale on July 4th, 2017  at your local indie or here:

Goodreads

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble  

IndieBound

 

Welcome to The Winged Pen, Jackie! Reading THE UNICORN IN THE BARN was like a walk down memory lane for me, hanging out on the farm and playing the mysterious woods near my home. Does the fictional Chinaberry Creek represent an actual place from your childhood?

JO: Yes, the setting is based on my grandparents’ farm in Cabarrus County, in-between Concord and Albemarle. I would spend at least week there every summer.  When I was little, they still had cows, chickens, barn cats and for while goats, as well as several Chihuahuas that were house pets. Several of my cousins lived in houses and land that used to be part of the original farm. The house is a rambling two story and there are lots of smaller buildings clustered around it—the tractor shed, a couple of chicken houses, a potato house, corn crib, and of course, a barn.  I moved things around a bit, as the barn was in a pasture down the hill, not next to the house. There are still a lot of woods around and a creek and a pond in the pasture.  I named the nearby town Chinaberry Creek, because my mother loved Chinaberry trees. 

 

It’s interesting how the story seems so simple and innocent, yet deep and moving. I think this may be related to your experience as a picture book writer. How was the process different for writing a middle-grade novel different from writing a picture book?

Novels have so much middle!  A picture book I could figure out the structure and characters in my head, then write a draft that would be very close to that.  I tried outlining this, but as I wrote, the number of scenes and chapters kept expanding.  I knew the beginning and the end, but the rest of the novel, all the middle, kept growing, as I realized more things had to happen to get to the end.  Novels also require a lot more description of the setting and action.  Even though this book ended up with a lot of illustrations, I couldn’t count on the art expressing those things.

While I love fantasy, I wanted this story to be a contemporary fantasy, for it to be as realistic and matter-of-fact as possible.  Moonpearl isn’t a rainbow sparkle unicorn, she needs someone to muck out her stall and pick the burrs out of her mane.

 To achieve that, I did some interesting hands-on research. For six months, I was a volunteer at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, and did most of the same chores Eric did – sweeping, mopping, cleaning out cages, washing dishes, fixing food and water.  That’s how I met Bobby Schopler, the vet who read the manuscript for me and now works at the Duke Lemur Center. I read dozens of books by vets and visited a couple of horse barns to make sure the physical details were well grounded.

 I knew early on that if I was going to have a story about healing, that there also had to be loss. At one point, I called a writer friend nearly in tears because I realized that I had to include the death of an animal for the story to be properly grounded.

 

From the story, it’s obvious that you care deeply for animals. Can you tell us about your how your real-life experiences turned into this beautiful story that is partly a love letter to animals?

The book is a lot of wish fulfillment for me. I did love animals as a kid and read tons of books about them, especially horse stories. We only had one dog, Rusty, when I was growing up. He was a sweet red-brown Chihuahua. I also kept lots of caterpillars and grasshoppers in jars, and had goldfish and guppies. Fish are nice to watch, but not very cuddly. My mother had enough to do with raising five kids, and as a farm girl, she was less sentimental about animals.  Her brother, my Uncle Jackie, adored them, and there is a lot of him in Eric.

Now I am a cat person. Our tuxedo cat, Java, likes to sit on my chest, just under my chin while I read in bed.  I spent about a year in between cats while working on the book and it made me realize how much I like having a nonhuman companion. They deserve attention, affection and respect as much as people do.   

 

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I have a few chapters on a sequel, where Allegra is the main character. She’s more complicated and prickly than Eric. Timothy the Cheshire cat and Prissy the goose are still around, but there will be other magical creatures as well.

 

Lightning round (hands Jackie a cookie, for strength)!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Flying

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden

Coffee or tea? Hot coffee, but ice tea

Sweet or salty?  Salty

Dog, cat, or other?  Cat

Plotter or pantser?  Both. Even when it’s tightly plotted, like a picture book, there are surprises and detours along the way.

 

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Read widely, not just in the genre that you love, but other things, including nonfiction. Curiosity is an important trait for a writer, to wonder “what if” and then to be driven to find out the things that could and would happen after that. 

 

Excellent advice and thanks so much to Jackie for stopping by to talk with us! Want to see unicorns in the real world?. Follow Jacqueline Ogburn on Instagram, and you can also find out more about her here!   

And click here for a special limited-time Instagram giveaway!!!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

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Cover Reveal, Interview, and Giveaway with Oddity Author Sarah Cannon

Photo of Author Sarah Cannon

The Winged Pen is thrilled to reveal the cover for Oddity, by debut author and pal Sarah Cannon. Read to the end, because there is a giveaway, too!

JA: So Sarah, tell us about Oddity.

SC: I can’t wait for everyone to read Oddity! It’s a Welcome to Night Vale-inspired adventure, so it’s both life-or-death and very tongue-in-cheek. It’s a love letter to geeky fan-children of all ages (and a lot of fun to read aloud!)

JA: The cover is gorgeous. How did it feel when you finally saw it?

SC: I love this cover with the fire of a thousand suns.

I’m so grateful to Katlego Kgabale for her wonderful work, which gives me actual chills. You should definitely follow her on twitter, and keep an eye out for more of her art.

JA: Tell me more about the cover design!

SC: One thing I specifically asked for was to have Ada Roundtree, the main character, featured front and center. Too often, children of color on middle grade fantasy covers are positioned to the left or right of (and behind) a white main character, and over time this communicates a clear message about who gets to have the adventure, and who gets to support the adventure. Oddity‘s cover is one small move toward countering that narrative.

Now for the reveal…

 

 

Do you want to see it? 

 

 

Are you sure? 

 

OK, here it is:

Full Book Jacket for Oddity

JA: I can tell you’re passionate about this topic (as am I). Can you talk about how this book fits in the ongoing conversation about diversity in children’s literature?

SC: Well, obviously, I’m a white lady, so the first thing I’ll say is that while this is a pluralistically-cast book, I’d stop short of calling it a diverse one.

Around three out of every ten Americans are non-white.  Two of ten are disabled. At least one in twenty identifies as LGBTQIA+. Obviously, these groups overlap, but as a general rule of thumb, if more than half of my characters are white, non-disabled, and cisgender/straight, I’m not representing the demographics of my community. Full stop.

As someone who has worked with children since I was old enough to work at all, it’s important to me write for all readers, and to provide a book in which every student I’ve taught can find a reflection of self. I’ve worked hard to get as many sets of eyes on this book as possible, through betas and sensitivity readers. I’ve done my very best to provide quality representation, and I welcome feedback from readers on areas where I could improve. But Oddity doesn’t belong on lists of diverse books, books by marginalized writers do— and let’s be honest— the publication of Oddity does nothing to put more books by diverse authors on the shelves.

JA: Which leads into this giveaway…

Exactly! As an author and a reader,  I actively support #ownvoices writers in a variety of ways, and so I wanted to do a cover reveal that furthers that goal. One of the reasons that children’s books lack diverse representation is because the staff at many publishing houses doesn’t reflect America’s diversity. One organization that has tackled this problem is We Need Diverse Books. Through their Internship Grant program, they make it possible for diverse applicants to accept publishing internships, which are often unpaid and favor candidates who are financially privileged. That’s where I’m focusing my energy today.

JA: Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah. And now for the fun part: FREE BOOKS!!!!!

In support of WNDB’s program, Sarah’s giving away copies of five middle-grade books by #ownvoices authors to readers who make a donation to We Need Diverse BooksThe Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste (sequel out in September 2017!), The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, Cilla-Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, by Susan Tan, Flying Lessons and Other Stories (a short story collection edited by the inimitable Ellen Oh), and last but not least, she has a signed copy of Ghost by Jason Reynolds! Enter to win by posting in the comments below, then emailing proof of your WNDB donation to hellosarahcannon @ gmail.com. Entries will remain open through May 23rd. Good luck!

Oddity book jacketSarah Cannon, author of Oddity, has lived all over the U.S., but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids and a misguided dog. Sarah holds a B.S. in Education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee, and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human.

Connect with Sarah on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram, and check out
Oddity on Goodreads, IndieBound, and Amazon.

Happy Release Day to The Outs!

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome my friend and critique partner E. S. Wesley to The Winged Pen to talk about the release of his debut, The Outs.

JA: Congratulations on your debut! Can you tell us a little bit about The Outs’ journey toward publication? 

ESW: Sure thing! The Outs was the culmination of other work I’d done in the past, developing this idea and exploring what a world like this would look like. When I finished it, I threw it into the mix with an online contest called Pitch Wars, and the manuscript landed me an awesome mentor (JA Souders—go read her stuff!). Throughout the process, I got some really great agent interest, but Curiosity Quills saw the pitch as well, and asked to have a look. I’d heard great things about CQ, and when they offered on the book, I was happy to take them up on it.

JA: This story is a great mashup between a psychological thriller and a comic book-style adventure story. Can you talk a little bit about what gave you the idea and what other works from those genres inspire you?

ESW: I love, love, LOVE psychological thrillers. Something about having an author toy with my mind really adds a nice punch. As the story of The Outs began to form, I knew that it was the perfect vehicle for something like this.

As for the comic-booky thing: Kitzi (one of my two main characters) pretty much demanded it. In fact, Kitzi made herself come to life and demanded stage time. When I wrote my first draft of the story, she wasn’t even in there at all, but once she entered the scene she took center stage. And she demanded to be a superhero all her own, with her disability forming the core of her superpowers (can’t say much more about that, because SPOILERS!). From there, it was just a matter of seeing where she took the story, and I couldn’t be happier with her.

I’ve always loved the idea of people whose weaknesses double as their strengths anyway. There’s something so amazing about seeing someone take a rotten deal and turn it into something good that gets me where it counts, you know?

Also, if you love superhero stories and haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners series (starting with Steelheart), then you’ve got some catching up to do. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

JA: You also write middle grade. How is MG different than writing YA and which do you prefer?

ESW: I totally love both, but for different reasons. Writing YA, I get to explore what it’s like to step into adult decisions for the first time, and take your life into your own hands. Middle grade can get some of that, but only so far. The strength of middle grade writing lies in the freedom to explore EVERYTHING. I think YA readers tend to have certain expectations—romance, angst, sequels—but middle grade readers haven’t come up with those limitations just yet. And besides, who doesn’t love stories about friendship?

The Outs does that, too, though. It shows a grittier version of life, more like what we discover when we see for the first time that our actions can have far-reaching consequences. And Caleb and Kitzi’s actions have really far-reaching implications.

JA: I know you work with children and teens. How does that reflect in your writing, and in the voice of your characters?

ESW: I think a lot of people have this idea that teens don’t have deep thoughts, or they don’t look beyond themselves. Having spent time with them and heard their deepest struggles, I know that’s a load of garbage. Teens think about all the same things adults do, but their thoughts and feelings about those things are heightened because they’re learning to handle life for the first time. Adults are jaded; teens are fresh. They see the world with new eyes. They allow themselves to feel their fears and make mistakes, and there’s something cool and honest about that.

JA: What does your writing day look like? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share with our readers?

ESW: For me, it’s all about routine. Getting up at the same time and putting my butt in the chair to work is all it takes to get started, and I won’t let myself whine about writer’s block or anything like that. Always move forward, you know? I typically work from around 7:30/8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Sometimes I go a little longer, but not often. Gotta rest sometime!

JA: Congratulations and thank you for joining us!

E.S. Wesley is an author and advocate for the safety and mental health of young people. A long-time mentor and counselor, Wesley has worked for years to protect, encourage, and empower young adults to navigate a life that rarely makes sense. He believes all people are just waiting for someone to relate to their stories, so he makes up stories in the hope that someone will read and find a home there.
His stories are often strange and twisty.
Wesley lives with his wife in Texas, where he’s always writing. Texas has a lot of things that he likes, but Shelly is the best of them. Second best is his son, who introduced him to his wife. Sometimes we do things out of order—that just makes life more interesting.
Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or subscribe to his mailing list.

 

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