#Kavanaugh and YA Lit: Reach for “Wrecked”

Are your high school students talking about the #KavanaughConfirmation hearings? They should be. The issues of body autonomy, toxic male culture, drinking (and marijuana use) and how it affects sexual consent are critical to their lives and their futures. If you were to assemble a stack of Young Adult contemporary literature and pulled one out of the stack Jenga-style, you’d be almost guaranteed to find a red Solo cup mentioned. Why? Because alcohol-fueled parties are the reality in the lives of many high school students. That’s not to say that everyone drinks but everyone is affected by the drinking.

Therefore, when your students ask you about the hearings, don’t shy away from the news. Use this critical national current event as a teachable moment and reach for literature. Literature is a discussion starting point that takes the events of the day away from the partisanship and allows students to see a moment in time from various points of view as in the beautifully crafted book Wrecked, by Maria Padian (Algonquin Young Readers).


Told not by the victim and accused in a college sexual assault allegation, but by their friends Haley and Richard, the reader is both caught in the swirling tempest of heightened emotions and also able to pick apart the threads of each argument that makes the storm. We see the parents, the fictional MacCallum college administration, the campus organizations and each response to the allegations and investigation of the night in question. In her 2016 interview with Book Riot Padian says:

“I want readers to experience Wrecked the way we experience all reports of sexual assault: from the other side of a closed door. I want them to experience the discomfort of thinking they know what happened, then seeing from another point of view and having their assumptions challenged. Repeatedly.”

While Wrecked is set on a college campus it is a crucial read for teens. Says Padian:

“Young people are sexually active long before they reach college. Exposure to issues surrounding consent needs to happen long before they are set loose on a campus! Wrecked dramatizes the transition, from high school to college, when young people are sorting out who they are now that they have left the confines of their childhood homes. It’s a crucial period, and would interest teens on the cusp of that change, as well as those who have recently entered that new world and are currently navigating it.”

Make Wrecked and these other fine books available to your high school students and children. And for the love of all that is holy…these books should be read by girls AND boys.

Two of my other favorite YAs on this topic:

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Moxie, Jennifer Mathieau

And eleven others in this Bustle list of YA Books that tackle Sexual Assault and Rape Culture.

And these nonfiction titles:

Good and Mad, Rebecca Traister

Girls and Sex, Peggy Orenstein

Our children are watching and reading. Tell me in the comments what books on this subject made a difference to you.



Dream Big

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“[E]xperience has taught me that you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward. And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal but the quality of what you’ve done today.”

Sonia Sotomayor, MY BELOVED WORLD (Knopf, 2013).

Lunafest: Short films by, for, and about women

On Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending the Lunafest event at the Friends School of Portland. Lunafest is a series of short films by, for, and about women. The films were wonderful– poignant, touching, sad, happy, inspiring.

One of my favorite films was “Flawed,” by Andrea Dorfman. There’s a snippet of it here. Probably it was the picture book nature of the film that captured my creative side(she uses time lapse photography as she illustrates the story), but it was the story itself (about how she learns accepts herself– her largish nose specifically) that grabbed at my heart and wouldn’t let go. All of the films had something about them that I connected with deeply, but the most important take-away was much, much bigger.

I am a proud feminist and my sons are about sick of me drumming for more equality in the media. Still, it only takes one look at films like Miss Representation, or the work from Equal Visibility Everywhere- EVE,  or studies commissioned by Geena Davis’s organization See Jane?, or the literary work by VIDA to understand that there is still serious work to be done to achieve parity in media. Here’s the thing though, even as I drum for equality, I don’t what that equality looks like. I swim in the same clichéd, stereotypical, sexpot, happy homemaker, bitchy, ambitious, white, dragon lady, black housekeeper, bull shit that everyone else does. At Lunafest, my eyes were opened to what a different view of women could be– diverse, honest, vulnerable, loving, strong, tenacious. It is rare that we get to see that woman in mainstream media. 

Take a look at the Lunafest TrailerIf your organization is looking for a fundraiser with a head and heart, consider applying to host a screening of Lunafest. I promise, you’ll be glad you did it.

Member Monday: Old news or news to you?

I’m just back from a two-week research/family trip to Italy where I visited Florence and small red-roofed, hill topped towns in Tuscany. I’ll be posting more about that later this week, but first I’m passing on some of the news, blogs and articles that I missed while I was away. Perhaps these are just old news, but perhaps you missed some of these too. Hope they are helpful.

Most important on my list is this announcement from SCBWI. The On-the-verge Emerging Voices Award. I’ve been sitting on this since before my trip, itching to tell you all about this news and then they go and announce it at the LA SCBWI National Conference. Follow the link above for the full press release but here is a quick snippet.

The annual award, established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children. The purpose of the grant is to inspire and further the emergence of diverse writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Here is the link for the grant eligibility, process, and deadline. 

This issue is close to my heart. I hope that writing programs across the country, most notably VCFA, my alma mater,  and Hamlin College– and publishing programs, NYU and others will stand up and take notice. Action can be taken to increase diversity in publishing. Here are some thoughts from the CBC Diversty blog from those in the industry.

Here is a wonderful post from Laurie Halse Anderson that discusses the lack of diversity on the recently released NPR YA list.  Happy & Sad about the NPR Top 100 YA List In her post she also posts the following links which are important enough for me to list them again here:

On NPR’s Very White Best Young Adult Books List, by Shaker Laurie.
Reading in Color’s Booklists

And… one of my favorite sites The Brown Bookshelf.

(The link for the NPR Top 100 YA List is here if you haven’t seen it.)

In other old news:

Women On The Rise Among The World’s Top-Earning Authors This is an interesting article on celebrity authors but I’m not exactly sure what it says for the rest of us. The article celebrates that there are now six women on the list at all. Perhaps I’m a glass half empty person, (No, I’m not.) but what I see here is a continuation of women earning 78% of what men earn. Even if you go from the Stephen King’s $39 million (instead of James Patterson’s $94 million) 78% of that is about $30 mill. That- and below- is where we find the women.Of course, once you get into the millions of dollars, this may matter less but it is still true. For more on gender and writing see my post here or take a look at VIDA- Women in the Literary Art’s annual count for 2012. 

Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing Okay. I need a while to both read and process something like this but if you are interested in the economics of the publishing industry and are concerned/interested in the changes in traditional vs. digital, this is the article for you.

That’s it for today, friends. Read, write, draw and do at least one of those outside. Two weeks and counting until kids go back to school in the home of Creative Chaos.

Member Monday: The Children’s Book Industry, A gendered affair

A disclaimer is always at the bottom of this blog but before today’s post I just want to make sure it’s seen:

Disclaimer: As always: Any opinions expressed here are entirely my own and not the views of the SCBWI. FMI http://www.scbwi.com

Phew. Done.

Yesterday, as you probably know, was Mother’s Day here in America. Google made a super-cute, animated logo that jumped to the Wikipedia explanation of the founding of Mother’s Day by Anna Jarvis in 1908. Earlier though, in 1870 at the end of the bloody Civil War, Julia Ward Howe called for a Mother’s Day in honor of Peace. She, who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, also wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. In the spirit of activism and women– today’s post.

What does Mother’s Day have to do with the Children’s Book Industry? Well, I’d bet money that a lot more than 50% of my (small) readership is women. How do I know? Go to any SCBWI conference and check out the bathrooms. We always switch one men’s room to a woman’s room in order to handle the demand. It’s not only the writers either. A large number of the editors and other industry professionals are women too– strong, intelligent, wonderful women.

In the illustration department the numbers start to sway. More men tend to be illustrators we know. Of the 12 illustrators in the “Bookmakers Dozen” only three are women. 

Now think about the people you see keynoting at national SCBWI conferences. The folks we know have really made it. Often men. I have nothing against these strong, intelligent, wonderful, men and I have to say that the tide IS changing. At the last few big conferences I attended, the podium seemed much more balanced. Nevertheless, one might ask… no, I ask… Why is it that we have an industry that is primarily female but whose big money makers are mainly male.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this and have stitched together some thoughts on the issue. Below are four mistakes that women often make and men often don’t. (Let me mention that I do all of these things, all the time.)

1. Women often give away, that for which they should be compensated.
Think of your calendar, or list of things to do. How many times have you scheduled volunteer activities? Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but all of those duties (often in service to our children) take away from time that you might do the work.  Further, how many times do you go into classrooms, or libraries to do readings or writing workshops for free? How much do you give away your Children’s Writing/Illustrating/or Publishing expertise?

Tip: Some pro bono work helps us get quotes and recommendations for our blogs, and helps us market ourselves, but have some sort of rule about how many or what kind of visit you will do for free and when those are done, say no to free visits.

2. Women often settle for compensation that is below the market value.
Our work and our knowledge is worth something. What is it worth? That is harder to determine. Some of us are published in magazines, some have books, some have awards. The Graphic Artist Guild has a Pricing and Ethical Guidelines publication that pools payment info and organizes it according to job and region so that illustrators/graphic artist have a better idea about the going rate and therefore know what to charge. Alexis O’Neill has this PDF entitled “What do I charge?” at her School Visit Experts.com site. I think it would be interesting to have a survey of all SCBWI members about their visit and conference fees and to publish the results. Even if we knew what to charge though, women often settle for less. If you don’t believe me take a look at this book, or this book, or this article, or this one, or this one.

Tip: Do some research and ask people you respect how much they charge. I know, it’s scary. Ask anyway. Try to zero in on your worth and stick to it when a school starts telling you they don’t have any money. Research outside funding sources or grants that they could apply for in order to pay you your stated price. Ultimately, you are trying to sell books. Could they schedule a book signing event for the school where they contract with a local indie bookseller?  In terms of book contracts– get an agent. It used to be that those in the Children’s Industry didn’t need one. Those days are gone. Most publishing houses are closed to unagented manuscripts and the extra money you will get with an agent who knows editors and their contracts is significant.

3. Women often over-schedule outside events which leaves less time to do the work.
Anytime you are not writing, illustrating, sketching, revising, reading critically, you are not doing the work. Ultimately, your teaching or your school and conference visits depend on your publishing calendar. New books, mean new visits.

Tip: Be deliberate when scheduling visits. Budget out your year. Say to yourself, I want to make this much money from visits this year. I’ll need to do this many visits to make that happen. Try breaking your year into school visit season and writing season. You probably know your own work rhythms. Are you unproductive in January and February? Schedule all your travel and visits then.

4. Women have a lot they are responsible for and this keeps us from doing the work.
Many of us have a ton of domestic responsibilities. We drive children, do laundry, take care of our parents, and on, and on, and on. Ultimately, we will not get the book contracts if we don’t do the work. We can wait for another more favorable time (which may never come) or we can “write in the cracks,” a term I’m borrowing from Eileen Spinelli. Further, at-home loneliness often drives people (read: me) to social networking sites where we convince ourselves that we are building an online platform for the magical day when our book is purchased.

Tip: Value yourself and your work enough to get a babysitter, then run away and write or draw. If you have a spouse, negotiate time on your own and schedule it in the family calendar. Take a pen and notebook and write on the road. If your kid is in baseball practice, stay in the car and write or sketch. You don’t need a laptop and you especially don’t need the internet. If you are not published and that is your goal, I challenge you to find one hour each day when you are “building your online platform,” to do the work.

In closing– Value your time. Value your knowledge. Do the work.