Posts Tagged Newbery

Editor Spotlight: Interview with Krista Vitola

Krista Vitola is a Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Follow her @kav_tepedino.

What books were you reading at 11 or 12? Do you think those books influenced your taste in children’s literature?

As a child, I read anything I could get my hands on. I would go through the stacks of books and pick out title after title. I read so many wonderful stories that would transport me out of my small suburban town on Long Island. I didn’t care where the author took me, so long as I could escape from the world where I currently lived. The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, Number the Stars, novels by Louis Sachar, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl.  These books took me under their wing.

My characters didn’t care that I had glasses and braces and frizzy hair. They didn’t care if I had the newest Adidas sneakers or Gap jacket in jolly rancher grape. All that was required of me was that I listen and learn. They taught me many precious nuggets of information on life and love and relationships. It was definitely the age in which I relied on books the most. They were my friends as much as any human sitting next to me in the classroom or playing with me on the field.

Working in publishing now, I hope that every title I acquire will do the same.

When you speak about middle grade books, it sounds like you have a real soft spot for that age level. What is it that appeals to you specifically about middle grade?

There are so many shifts that occur when you’re in the middle-grade age range. You’re not yet an adult but you’re definitely not a child and you relish in these moments of autonomy. Your parents listen more to what you have to say, and yet there’s only so far you can push. The world you live in takes on a different hue and you want to read about characters that feel the same way. Things aren’t as black and white as they were before you turned this age, everything is complicated and feelings are messy; you begin to explore the world of your own accord.

And with all of these balls juggling in the air that is your life, there are, of course, so many questions that arise. This is the meat of a middle-grade novel. Answering these questions that seem essential for you as you age another year older and start to understand how all these factors—friends, family, school and feelings—of loss, shame, need, anxiety, happiness— fit into the life puzzle. You still need help but the answers you find are your own and arise when you’re ready. You’re not too self-aware yet or jaded and it’s chaotic and hard and beautiful.

How have middle grade books changed since you have been editing and publishing?

Middle grade novels have always been a pillar in children’s literature. But I think they’ve recently been receiving more recognition in the marketplace. And rightfully so! Middle grade will always have its audience, but I would say it’s widened in the past five years. More readers are coming to these books and weekly numbers have seen an increase. This may be a slow effect of the Harry Potter novels or the beauty of Wonder. Novels that transcend age.

I also think that the world we live in isn’t always kind or safe. Middle grade books have a way of holding your hand through these dark periods.

What themes or subjects remain constant?

One of the many reasons why I love editing middle grade is that, for the most part, they don’t follow “trends”. At the core of every middle-grade novel are these questions about who we are and how we fit in the fabric of our everyday lives. They touch on the importance of family—and friendship and siblings and teachers and coaches. It’s exploring new places and making your own choices. And above all learning more about yourself and those values, beliefs, and joys that make you tick. Adventure stories, sibling stories, and realistic fiction are additional subjects that will always appeal in this age range.

Is there a disconnect between the MG books that win awards and books most kids are actually buying, requesting, or reading?

I wouldn’t say there’s a disconnect per se, but there are certain titles that appeal to a wider audience of readers. Books that win the Newbery may not be every reader’s cup of tea–the language may be challenging or the subject matter esoteric, so a more straightforward, comedic novel may be more appealing. A novel that wins an award does so for a reason–it stands out in the genre. And to do this, there needs to be a quality present that may not be as highly valued by the target audience.

How much have the recent movements helped bring more diverse writers into children’s publishing?

Each and every day we try to do better, to find those talented voices whose stories must be shared with the world. Organization like We Need Diverse Books and twitter trends like DVpit have provided a forum for diverse authors and content to find a pathway into the publishing sphere, and the more outlets are available to writers, the better able we are as agents and editors to acquire this content and share it widely.

What kinds of books are you looking for now to round out your list?

I would love to acquire more middle grade graphic novels, novels that focus on girls turning their hobbies into grassroots businesses, and novels in verse. But I will always buy more novels that make me cry and question and wonder.

Are there any controversial or dark topics that you try to steer clear of?

There are a few topics that I’m unable to take on as an editor: novels about abuse (whether that’s verbal, physical or substance) and eating disorders.

Is there any one piece of advice you give again and again to the authors you work with?

Stop comparing yourself to other authors!

Write. Enjoy the writing process. Thrive in tapping into your amazing and vast imaginations. The writing process is a long and arduous one, yet it is also one of the most gratifying. No one goes into publishing for the fame and the fortune. You do it because you love it and there’s no other profession that will offer as much joy on a daily basis.  Your book will find its way into the hands of a young reader needing it. You’ll receive your first fan letter or be asked to sign your novel. And you’ll remember why you started typing away at your computer. To share your story. Not anyone else’s.

Can you talk about a couple of books you have forthcoming this year and next? What you love about them?

Sure! I’ve been working on a fabulous book about cadaver dogs called What the Dog Knows. It’s brilliant and reads like a dog and his owner adventure. I have a sweet young middle-grade novel called Meena Meets Her Match about a girl who’s dealing with the everyday ups and downs of third grade, all while dealing with epilepsy. I’m working on additional books in a chapter book series, Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist that follows an eccentric and hilarious young lady who loves science and likes to perform experiments in her bedroom (these experiments also have a habit of running rampant in her hometown). I have two middle grade novels coming out in Spring 2020—one that discusses important topics on immigration, the other about the power of kindness and community—both have a dash of magical realism. And finally, I recently bought a beautiful historical fiction novel about The Merci Train (if you don’t know what this is, I highly recommend you look it up!).

Thank you, Gail!

Interview with Newbery Winner, Erin Entrada Kelly

I recently had the pleasure of talking to 2018 Newbery Winner, Erin Entrada Kelly, about her her newest middle-grade novel You Go First, which hit bookstores this week. In addition to winning the Newbery for Hello, Universe, Erin has won many other awards for her middle-grade novels, including the 2017 APALA Award for The Land of Forgotten Girls and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for Blackbird Fly. You Go First was a Spring Indie Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Erin was raised in Louisiana, but now lives in the Philadelphia area. She is a professor of children’s literature in the graduate fiction and publishing programs at Rosemont College. Erin is also a short story writer. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and liberal arts from McNeese State University and an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont. Welcome, Erin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First let me say congratulations on winning the Newbery Medal and on the release this week of your fourth middle-grade novel. I know that you’re also an accomplished short story writer, and I’m wondering what attracts you to writing for the eight-to-twelve-year-old reader. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important phases of life. Tweens are not quite children, but not quite teenagers. At that age — particularly 11 and 12, which is the age of virtually all my characters — you’re looking for acceptance from your peers and trying to figure out who you are as an individual. Unfortunately, these two things don’t always go hand-in-hand. You want to be yourself, but you also want to fit in, so the pressure to conform is palpable. It’s a difficult age. It takes resilience to emerge unscathed. I remember being 12 as easily as I remember yesterday. That’s how weighty, difficult, and impressionable that phase was for me.

You Go First is such a heartfelt novel about two lonely kids who live far apart. What was the spark that gave you the idea to write about these two characters? Thank you! I wanted to write about two people who struggle with the pressures of middle school and tweendom while dealing with their unusual adult sensibilities. I love writing about underdogs and outcasts, and Charlotte and Ben are both of those things.

One of the many things I loved about You Go First was all the interesting facts at the beginning of Charlotte’s chapters. I pictured your head spinning with all of that wonderful knowledge. I’m curious as to whether you were like Charlotte and had been collecting these facts all your life or whether you looked them up specifically for the novel. Most of Charlotte’s “rabbit holes” were specifically researched for the book, but there were several that I already knew. I’ve traveled down many rabbit holes in my life. When I was a kid, I loved looking things up in the encyclopedia. This was before the internet, back when people actually had encyclopedia sets. I would sit down, pick a letter, open a page, and start reading.

One thing that struck me while reading the two point-of-view characters in You Go First is that although you’re writing in third person, it feels like first person. We’re so much in the minds of these characters. Can you share your secret on how you do this? I wish I could! I’m not sure how it happens. My characters come to me fully formed before I ever put a word on paper. I get to know them very well.

The characters in your novels tend to be outsiders. Is there a reason you’re attracted to writing that type of character? Because I was an outsider, and I know how difficult it can be. I have an affinity for kids (and adults) who veer away from the beaten path. It takes moxie to be an outsider. And they are often underestimated — by themselves and others.

I know you’re a professor of writing, and I’m sure our readers, who might also be writers, would love to hear a couple of your best tips on how to create the type of characters you write about–characters with a great deal of depth, heart, and authenticity. What an incredible compliment! A few pieces of advice I like to give: Know what your character is most afraid of. Know what they want most out of life. And find out how they feel about their name. Names are very personal. You’d be surprised the things our characters will reveal when we ask them how they feel about theirs.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? I’m currently working on my first MG fantasy, which is inspired by Filipino folklore. I can’t wait to share it with readers. It’s tentatively scheduled for summer 2019.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Thank YOU! 

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch. Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways, as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school.