Posts Tagged historical fiction

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour — Interview with Honor Book Award-winner Author Sofiya Pasternack and a GIVEAWAY

 

 

The Mixed Up Files Blog is proud to be a host for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.  To learn more about this prestigious award and to see a list of all of the winners, please visit this website: https://jewishlibraries.org

Today we are thrilled to introduce Sofiya Pasternack, author of the author of Anya and the Dragon  a Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the

Middle Grade Category. CONGRATULATIONS Sofiya!

 

 

In this book, headstrong Anya is the daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of Fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus.

This seems easy enough—until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.

 

Reviews:

Anya is a new and mem­o­rable Jew­ish char­ac­ter who has forged her way into fan­tas­tic literature. Anya and the Drag­on is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed, not only for chil­dren but also for adults eager to find high-qual­i­ty fan­ta­sy books with Jew­ish themes. — Jewish Book Council

With this clever, fast-paced debut, Pasternack draws upon the myth and folklore of Kievan Rus’ to deliver a delightful tale filled with supernatural creatures…a tale that never loses its sense of fun or wonder. –Publisher’s Weekly

An irresistible blend of moral quandaries, magic, humor, danger, and bravery. Imaginative details bestow a fairy-tale-like quality to the story, which will effortlessly ensnare historical fantasy fans.– Booklist

This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions. –Kirkus

The plot keeps readers on their toes with skillful pacing … [it] puts a spin on the usual dragon story without losing its excitement. –Center for Children’s Books

 

 

Thanks so much for joining us today at the Mixed-Up Files, Sofiya

What inspired you to write this story?
One of my favorite fairy tales of all time is wrapped into this book, and I spent a long time trying to retell it for adults. Once I finally realized that it was a children’s story, it really started to flow.

 Why did you decide to myth and folklore of Kievan Rus’?
 Russian folklore is told largely in byliny, or oral epic poems. These were grouped into cycles depending on the area the stories took place, and all my favorites are in the Kievan Cycle. The general time period was around the reign of Vladimir I, who ruled Kievan Rus’ from 980 to 1015 CE, so that’s why I picked that era and those specific stories!

 

Your book has such a wonderfully well-constructed setting, do you have any tips for writers on how to world-build?

You boil some water! Seriously. A friend of mine introduced me to this method of worldbuilding and it’s been so amazing for really forcing me to think through the entire world. I just ask myself the question, “What has to happen to allow my character to boil some water?” That seems really simple, right? Put some water in a pot and throw it on a stove and turn the heat on. Okay. Where did the pot come from? The store? A blacksmith? Handed down through the family? How? From who? From where? What’s the water source? Is it safe? Was it dangerous to get? Are waterborne illnesses a concern? Why? Who made the stove? Is the stove gas? Electric? Wood? Nuclear? Magic? Where did the gas come from? The electricity? The wood? What’s the deal with magic? And so on. You just keep asking yourself questions, and you keep answering questions, until your world is fleshed out.

 

I love how you weave the magic throughout your story, and dragons! Did you do a lot of research on dragons before writing this book?
 I’ve kind of been a dragon nerd my whole life, so I didn’t have to do a ton of research. I knew exactly what kind of dragon Håkon was before I started: a lindwurm! And then I had to ask myself, “Well, if he’s a lindwurm, he must be Scandinavian, because that’s where lindwurms are from. Why is he in Anya’s Russian village?” And that’s why Kin is from where he’s from, why Håkon has a Scandinavian name, and why he has ties to Istanbul/Constantinople. Dragons are important in Russia, but I didn’t want Håkon to have multiple heads, as most Russian dragons do. I wanted him to be unique and unexpected, and I think a lot of people are pleasantly surprised by him.

 

 Kirkus said of your book, “This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions.” How important was it to you to include your heritage in this book?
 I didn’t start this book out as a Jewish story. I was afraid to do that, because in my mind, who would want to read a fantasy about a Jewish girl that had nothing to do with the Holocaust or a specific holiday? So Anya and her family were incidentally Jewish in a way that maybe someone who was Jewish might pick up on. But then after some encouragement from people who knew much better than I did, I added more visible Jewishness to the book until it reached the point it is now. I’m so glad I did. I came to be very passionate about Anya being a visibly Jewish character who wasn’t defined by trauma: bad things happened to her (they happen to everyone!) and she used her unique perspective to manage them. I also wanted to include more Jewish and Russian folklore creatures than people are familiar with. Everyone knows what a golem and a dybbuk are, but do people know about helpful possession? Everyone knows who Baba Yaga is, but do they know what a leshy is? I love learning about the folklore of other cultures, and being able to introduce lesser-known creatures from my own background has been really great.

 

Anything you’d like to add?
 For all the authors out there who are struggling with their story, don’t give up! The world needs your unique perspective. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing!

 

Awesome! Thanks so much for joining us, Sofiya. Your book is amazing. Congratulations again on your award!

Sofiya has generously donated a copy of her fantastic book to be given away (US only). Please comment below to be entered. You can also tweet it out and tag us at @MixedUpFiles  or like our post on Instagram at @mixedupfilesmg

Agent Spotlight: Alexander Slater, Trident Media Group

Alex Slater has been with Trident Media Group since 2010. His clients include Ali Novak, Janae Marks, Jodi Kendall, and other award winning and bestselling authors. He is most interested in stories that blend genres, in characters that have been historically underrepresented, and in voices that enrapture him to the point of missing his subway stop. His list focuses intently on middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction, but peppered throughout are adult thrillers, literary fiction, Coen Brothers-esque crime noir, pop culture, narrative nonfiction, and in particular, graphic novels for all ages. Alex lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.

It’s not often I get a rush of excitement reading an agent’s manuscript wishlist, but Alex Slater’s tweets hashtagging #MSWL set my heart aflutter. Just one of my many favorites:

Please send me #MG that you’re afraid pushes the envelope, concerning topics some might think “aren’t suitable”…yet that’s exactly why you had to write it. Send me your truth. #MSWL

Who could resist a request like that? Slater’s wishlists beg for qualities like “empathy,” “heart” and “humanity,” paired with concepts that “burn down white supremacy,” in genres including creepy MG, graphic novels, and work by marginalized authors. This lit agent also gets serious props from current clients like Keah Brown, who gushed not long ago: “he just lets me be and fights for the things he knows I want. He’s a real one.”

Slater’s clients include two 2020 middle grade debuts, Claire Swinarski (What Happens Next) and Janae Marks (From the Desk of Zoe Washington). He reps graphic novelist Breena Bard (Tresspassers) and middle grade authors Amy Ephron (The Other Side of the Wall), Jennifer Blecher (Out of Place), historical nonfiction kidlit author Tim Grove (Star Spangled, May 2020), and Adam Perry (The Magicians of Elephant County).

Welcome Alex!

I love that you’re actively soliciting middle grade fiction that addresses topics that some may consider unsuitable. I’m drawn to books like this myself. But aren’t you courting a massive headache? How would you go about persuading an editor (or for that matter, a librarian, parent, bookseller) that envelope-busting middle grade subjects are not “niche” books with low sales potential (or perhaps worse, books likely to be censored or rejected by gatekeepers)?

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks is an important and timely debut about systemic racism, criminal justice, and cupcakes.

The Congressman, and award-winning children’s book author, John Lewis has devoted his life to getting into “good trouble,” that is, engaging in types of civil disobedience, and it’s an activity we should all participate in. Getting into necessary trouble that pushes boundaries and changes minds for the better is my goal as an agent and as a human being.

In regards to the books I help publish, that means seeking out stories with the themes, characters, or plots that the gate-keepers of the past didn’t trust children enough with. That gate-keeping got us to where we are today. If we don’t push past it, if we don’t ask more questions, or seek more stories, we don’t progress to where we need to be for our children’s children. So yes, it’s a risk to ask editors, booksellers, or teachers to step into this same frame of mind, but I will point out that it’s only bestselling books that ever get banned.

You’ve been in the lit agent business for a decade now. What’s changed in the middle grade marketplace in that time? What changes are you excited about, what changes less so?

In the past decade, publishers finally began believing that audiences want more diversity in their literature. The bestseller lists don’t lie, and more stories that exist outside of the white American experience have been breaking on to it. Middle grade books with people of color on their covers are no longer automatically shelved, artwork hidden, into a section at the back of the bookstore. They are now face out, front and center, on display when you walk inside, or featured on websites. And while diversity is no longer as hidden, and in fact it’s celebrated and sold, the numbers continue to show that predominantly white stories are being published, and the marginalized stay marginalized. There is still much work to be done.

Breena Bard’s graphic novel, TRESPASSERS, publishes in May 2020.

Another part of the marketplace that cannot be ignored is the explosion of graphic novels and their high demand among readers. In just the past couple years we’ve seen practically every major publisher establish their own graphic novel imprint, if they didn’t have one already, and a vast majority of the graphic novels that are selling so well are for middle grade audiences. Five years ago most agents were barely looking for or taking on graphic novelists because the books were so costly to produce and the advances were too small to justify the time. Now, the exact opposite is going on. I had a graphic novel sell last year in a six-figure auction, on only a proposal. Some might say this is just a bubble, but again, whole imprints operate now for these stories, and as a category they’re selling better than any other book in all of publishing. It’s a really exciting time because it feels like creators have all the control.

What do you consider the biggest challenges for new authors trying to break in at this moment?

If we frame this question with the theory that fewer books are being bought in bookstores, and therefore even fewer manuscripts are being acquired by publishers, the big challenge is getting an editor to see and strive for the long-game in children’s publishing. What I mean is, editors are under a lot of pressure within their companies to acquire books that will make a big splash, and usually, those tend to be debuts.

However, if an editor truly just loves a beautiful, quiet, meaningful novel that doesn’t have real film/TV potential yet, it’s harder for them to ask their companies to invest in it. And if they do, it’s harder still to ask them to invest in that author’s second book, because the sales numbers “weren’t there” to continue justifying that investment. My main goal is to launch careers, and that shortsightedness makes it difficult for everyone.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, by Claire Swinarski, is a beautiful middle grade debut about sisters, secrets, and astronomy.

How do you help your clients build a career, rather than just being one-hit wonders?

Well to expand on my last answer, the way to build a career is to make the best decisions you can along the path of that career. That means going with the right publisher, if you’re lucky enough to get a book offer. It means, at the outset, asking them what marketing and publicity plans they intend to engage in when the book publishes. I’ve had auction situations with my clients that presented us with options like: a higher advance here, but no marketing plans yet; or, a lower advance there, but a fully dedicated team and set of criteria aimed at marketing the book in a great way. In the end, we’ve gone with the lower advance, but with the publisher and editor we feel the most confident in.

That’s having your eye on the long-game. And having an agent to discuss these choices and decisions with is essentially just career managing. When you don’t have these options it of course gets much tougher, and ultimately, I work with my clients to help them make the best work they can so we can get to that place.

How editorial are you as an agent? Can you give us an example of the kind of editorial advice you might offer a middle grade debut author? What kinds of traps or mistakes do you see new authors making/falling into most often? What kinds of editorial work do you think you’re particularly good at or suited to?

In THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL, internationally bestselling author Amy Ephron takes readers to London at Christmastime, where a fantastical journey awaits.

Once at an SCBWI event I was critiquing an excellent opening chapter. I told the writer to please send me the full manuscript after the conference. When she did, I realized the rest of the novel needed substantial work. But I loved the ideas she had and, more than anything, the character’s voice was stunning. So we spent about 9 months going back and forth with edits, working on the novel act by act. I’m happy to say it eventually sold to a major publisher.

So that’s the advice I would give: break the book down to its parts. Map the project out with index cards; storyboard it. Scene by scene. And always, always, read the book out loud to yourself. It helps fine tune the characters voices, and shows you trip-ups in the prose.

You seem to really get around as an agent, particularly since you worked in the foreign rights department for Trident. Two questions: What qualities make a middle grade book likely to be picked up by foreign publishers?

Foreign publishers are looking for the same thing domestic publishers are looking for; stories their readers will connect with. If you have a novel about baseball, for example, it’s going to be difficult to convince those editors to buy a book about a sport their audiences know nothing about. However it’s all relative. A country like Japan though, would be interested in baseball! But the UK? Not likely. Meanwhile, genres like the Western actually do work in places like Germany!

Anyway, it’s a fun part of the business. Overall, foreign publishers love irresistible characters, like everyone else. And indeed, some foreign publishers are a lot slower in adding necessary diversity to their lists, but they usually follow the lead of American houses, so that is changing.

And: I’m assuming you hear a fair amount of juicy gossip. What’s the hot topic of the moment for people in the kidlit industry worldwide?

I’m hearing that vampires are back, pass it on.

Author Tim Grove tells the little-known and inspiring story behind the national anthem and the stars and stripes.

Tell us about some of the new and debut books your clients have coming out in 2020. What do these books have in common—or rather, what’s the thread that connects your sensibility to the books you acquire?

A book that just published, and was mentioned previously is FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks. I’m very proud to represent this important and timely novel about systemic racism, criminal justice, and cupcakes. Also out soon is WHAT HAPPENS NEXT by Claire Swinarski, which is a beautiful middle grade debut about sisters, secrets, and astronomy.

And STICK WITH ME by Jennifer Blecher will be out later in the year (cover to be revealed). It’s her second book, and it continues to discuss bullying and finding your voice during those difficult middle grade years. Personally, all these books share a strength of narrative voice that makes me gasp with how alive the characters feel, and with how permanently they etch themselves onto my heart.

Anything you’d like to elaborate on that I haven’t asked you? How’s life treating you?

Life is great, thank you! Our son Miles just recently turned one, and while my reading pile is getting backed up these days, my peek-a-boo skills have never been sharper.

Follow Alex’s infrequent tweets @abuckslater.

Movies Inspire Reading!

Bringing Books and Movies Together

Robyn Gioia

Teaching today’s students is a different ballgame than twenty years ago.

Even ten years ago. This is a generation of visual learners. Students in middle school down through elementary have grown up on cell phones and tablets. Visuals accompany almost everything they read. There isn’t a day go by that my students don’t say, “Can we see a picture of that?”

In the forefront are movies, moving visuals that provide setting, plot, memorable characters, action, and a storyline that comes to life in a different era.

This provides a great opportunity to take advantage of the stage movies produce.

Heroes stand out. It is from their hardships and the trials that follow that make history. One such hero is Harriet Tubman, a slave and political activist, who escaped captivity, and returned as a “conductor” to lead slaves through the “underground railroad” to freedom during the 1800s. She did this repeatedly, even though it put her in grave peril and she carried a bounty on her head.

Enter the Harriet Tubman Movie:

teacher's guide

A tremendous opportunity for children to understand what these women worked so hard to accomplish—one succeeding and one coming close. —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Give students rich opportunities to learn more. Set the background. Provide students with information that provides historical depth and broadens the movie’s perspective.

Go beyond the internet. Teach your students the value of book research. Provide the class with a broad collection of books, both informational and historically based. Encourage them to be detectives. Encourage them to find the clues that tell us more. (Adjust as needed for your level of students.)

Brainstorm with the class. Discuss the different aspects of the movie. What questions do they have? Was the movie historically accurate? What was correct and what was fiction? Were the characters true to life? Did the plot follow the facts?

Examine the bigger picture. What drove the economy? What kind of  society was it? What was happening politically? What were the customs? How did these things contribute to Harriet’s plight?

Divide the class into topics that were generated from their discussion. Let your students discover the answers through research. Teach them how to use the book index and chapter headings to speed up fact finding. Groups love to share what they’ve learned with others. Provide time each day to let them tell their favorite fun facts. Help them become experts.

Make an Experts’ Bulletin Board: At the end of each session, have students post fast facts and visuals from their book research. Provide a parking lot for questions. Let the specialized experts research the answers and post them on the board.

Have a Socratic Seminar: Pose thought provoking questions and let students discuss the answers citing evidence from their research.

Stage a Debate: Students choose an historical issue and debate the pros and cons.

Read historical novels.

Below are some of my favorite activities for Book Reports or/and Research Projects:

  • Write a Readers’ Theater.
  • Produce a historical newspaper with student journalists.
  • Write a picture book for first grade.
  • Create a Jeopardy game.
  • Design a board game of the Underground railroad. Create a schoolwide simulation.
  • Make a Slideshow to teach others.
  • Write and perform a skit.
  • Design posters.
  • Produce a new book jacket cover.
  • Design an informational brochure.
  • Produce a video clip.
  • Create trading cards.
  • Write a story using historical evidence based on a different perspective.
  • Write and perform a song.
  • Create a dance.
  • Write a poem.