Friday, November 14, 2014

Some Picture Books I Read

November is National Picture Book Month. Good picture books have inspired and enlightened me from childhood to adulthood. I don't believe anyone is ever too old to be entertained and nurtured by a picture book. Anyhoo, here's a list of some picture books I've read recently,* either to myself or at least one of my children. 


1. BATTLE BUNNY by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, Illust. by Matthew Myers (Simon & Schuster- Picture Book/Early Reader)  In a story that spoofs the vintage animal birthday story, the creators convert the doe-eyed Birthday Bunny into a power-hungry Battle Bunny with an "Evil Plan."

2. ME & MOMMA & BIG JOHN  by Mara Rockliff, Illust. by William Low (Candlewick- Picture Book) Inspired by a true story, this story shares the perspective of a young boy who remembers his mother's contribution to the building of the "Big John" Cathedral in New York City. 

3. IMMI'S GIFT by Karen Littlewood (Peachtree-Picture Book) An Eskimo girl who receives gifts from an unknown benefactor decides to offer back a gift of her own.

4. CRANKENSTEIN by Samantha Berger, Illust. By Dan Santat (Scholastic-Picture Book) Crankenstein has many reasons to be moody…until he meets another like him.

5. TEENY TINY TRUCKS by Tim McCanna, Illust. by Keith Frawley
(Little Bahalia- Picture Book) Industrious delivery trucks mingle with nature as they venture to their destination.

6. MY DADIMA WEARS A SARI by Kashmira Sheth and Yoshiko Jaeggi (Peachtree- Picture Book) An Indian grandmother shows her granddaughters about all the uses for her sari.  

7. ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illust. by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane- Picture Book) Told in verse, this book sheds light on the most beautiful things, and yet the most simple things, all around us.

8. HALF A WORLD AWAY by Libby Gleeson, Illust. By Freya Blackwood (Arthur A. Levine- Picture Book) Two friends miss each other terribly when one moves to another country.

9. KNUFFLE BUNNY by Mo Willems (Hyperion-Picture Book) A toddler struggling to convey a message throws a tantrum, much to the irritation of his father and other adults around him.

10.  SLEEPYHEADS by Sandra J. Howatt, Illust. by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane- Picture Book) Animals and a young child cozy up for bedtime.

11. TRAFFIC PUPS by Michelle Meadows, Illust. by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster- Picture Book) Traffic pups catch speeding drivers and red light runners. Check out my interview with the author. 

12. GOLDY LUCK AND THE THREE PANDAS by Natasha Yim, Illust. by Grace Zong (Charlesbridge-Picture Book) Goldy Luck, tasked to bring turnip cakes to a neighor, wanders into an empty house with three bowls of congee.

What picture books have you read recently? 

*I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating that when I share "recent reads," I'm not listing everything I've just read, but just some things. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop: Asthma

Today I'm participating in the Survive and Thrive Bloghop, hosted by Stephen Tremp, Michael Di Gesu, Diane Wolfe, and Alex Cavanaugh.  Copied from Alex's web site: The blogfest is meant to bring awareness of disease prevention and early detection regarding medical conditions that may be averted or treated if caught in the early stages. Our desire is to motivate people to go in for early screening, and if a condition is caught early and treated, then our world just became a little better place to live.  The topics are wide open. You can post about a particular cause you support. Or you can share a personal or family experience that is near to your heart.

I’ve had asthma since childhood. Being a non-medical professional, I really can’t say if there’s a surefire way for anyone to prevent scoring this respiratory condition that offers wheezing, shortness of breath, and the company of inhalers. But if I were to give a cocktail party response about how someone can avoid getting asthma, I’d say that a good doctor listening to your lungs when you’re miserably congested might be able to detect early wheezing, and then they can offer immediate treatment to keep the wheezing from becoming more serious.

Growing up with asthma wasn’t easy. I didn’t know many other kids, if any, with asthma. I remember sometimes getting up in the middle of the night when I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I’d sit in bed and just cough and cough and cough some more. My post-nasal drip, either from general allergies or catching a bug, would tickle my throat and trickle down to my lungs. My eyes would tear up and my back and neck would ache from the physical exhaustion of coughing and inhaling heavily. The inhalers helped some, but I still had many rough, unwanted all-nighters at home or in the ER fighting my shortness of breath.

My asthma improved by the time I was a spring-semester high school senior. And my symptoms continued to subside as I continued on to college. I am pleased to say (knock on wood!) that as an adult, my condition is mostly much more mild now than it was when I was younger. 

While asthma might've deprived me of a good night's sleep on a number of occasions and it has given me some challenges, I'm not the fragile image of the suffering asthma patient you might've seen on TV or in a movie. Having asthma hasn't stopped me from pursuing what I want to do, whether it is working, writing, traveling, exploring, playing, or connecting with others. 

I just need to remember to bring my inhaler with me.

Do you know anyone with asthma?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

IWSG: Keeping a Dream Journal

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other things. This IWSG day is different from others because the posts IWSG folks are sharing today will be put into an eBook called THE IWSG GUIDE TO PUBLISHING AND BEYOND.

A few years ago, I started a dream journal. As much as I want to spotlight all the colorful and surrealistic experiences I've regularly recorded in this notebook, the truth is, I don't write in it very often. But it is there when I need it. I write in it uninhibitedly, and I don’t show it to anyone. (That said, I frequently share dreams with my husband in that just-woke-up mumbling and grumbling way that I speak in after the alarm goes off.)

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced from keeping a dream journal:

-Writing about a dream can help me recognize unresolved feelings I have about a subject.
-Reflecting on a dream can help me see where I'm growing. It can also help me see when it’s time to reach out to a confidante about something that has been troubling me.
-Sometimes stuff from dreams become idea seeds that I can nurture into stories or story elements.  
-Just by having this journal, I’ve gotten better at remembering dreams, even those that I don’t write down.
-Thinking back on a bad dream empowers me to realize something that bugged me was just my mind playing tricks, and that I can always change a bad dream into a good one. So the next time I'm stuck with lousy company in a stranded elevator with a psycho unicorn stabbing its horn through the doors, I’d know better what to do.
-Remembering a good dream is like reminiscing about a great meal.

Do you keep a dream journal? Would you like to share a recent dream you had, good or bad?

Cynthia is a reader and writer who blogs regularly at

I give Insecure Writers Support Group permission to use this post, about writing, in THE IWSG GUIDE TO PUBLISHING AND BEYOND.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

If I were Dear Abby...

Recently, I came across a Dear Abby column titled: "Friend Has Hard Time Finding a Few Kind Words for Bad Book." To summarize the dilemma, the advice seeker's friend's husband self-published a book and he asked the advice seeker to write a positive review of his book on Amazon. Problem is, the advice seeker thought the book was terribly written. Dear Abby advised the advice seeker to find something nice to say on Amazon, nonetheless. I've enjoyed reading Dear Abby very much through the years. And I have something to add on to her response this time...

All writers, especially new writers, should be open to opportunities for developing their craft. It would be unfortunate if this author would continue to spend years of his life passionately laboring over more books after this one, and believing all of his books demonstrate "perfection" ...while those around him fear that their honesty would hurt him. Wouldn't this mirror the story about the emperor without clothes? Sometimes honesty can be a gift when it’s packaged with VERY EXTREME tact and sensitivity and consideration to the other person's feelings.  (Being aware of some of the yucky stuff out there online, I want to emphasize that honesty and mean-spirited comments are two completely different things, and should NOT be regarded as synonyms.)  

If I were Dear Abby, I would advise the advice seeker to honor her comfort zone. That is, if she is okay with leaving a positive review for this author, then she should do so. And vice versa. It should also be noted that it is possible to write a positive review about a book while weaving in a little teeny weeny bit of constructive criticism. Regardless of whether or not the advice seeker writes the review, she could also consider how she might help the author grow as a writer. For example, she doesn't have to be a literary critic to gently suggest that the author find a critique partner, someone who is not his spouse.

What would your advice to the advice seeker be?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Author Interview with Jessica Spotswood

Witches have always interested me as a reader and writer. So I was giddy to discover Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles (Putnam), a trilogy showing an alternate history of the New England witches. The main protagonist, Cate, is a bold but reluctant witch who struggles with a number of things, including the menacing Brotherhood, an organization that prosecutes witches. After reading Jessica Spotswood’s BORN WICKED, the first book in the trilogy, I quickly read STAR CURSED, the sequel. I look forward to landing my hands on SISTERS’ FATE, the final book, which is coming out in August.

Today, I bring to you Jessica Spotswood.

How did you decide to write an alternate history of the New England witches?
I wanted to explore a world where clever, strong, powerful girls weren’t valued – were in fact feared – by the men in power. And while that was true in the 1890s (is still true today, I think, alas!) I wanted to make things even more difficult for my characters. I wanted to create a situation where, while the men definitely abuse their power, they also have a legitimate reason to fear these women. In the Cahill Witch Chronicles, magic can only be inherited and practiced by women, and in the past, the witches took horrible advantage of their ability to erase the memories of their enemies. It creates a situation where neither the witches nor the ruling Brotherhood are entirely good or bad, and the Brothers’ restrictions have created a powder keg situation where the witches are secretly gathering and ready to rebel!

Your books show rich world building. What things do you consider when you construct a world?
Thank you! I think it depends on the world. Since my New England is an alternate history version where witches settled the New World, fleeing persecution, and then were overthrown by a group of patriarchal priests called the Brotherhood, I thought a lot about how that history would trickle down. I explored the legal system a bit but focused mostly on culture – music, books, fashion, home decor, the rules governing conduct between men and women.

How did you construct the use of magic in your stories? How did you decide on the language of the spells? (e.g. "evanesco" to make something disappear, or "dedisco" to make one forget) 
For my spells, I totally took a lesson from J.K. Rowling and used Latin! I took five years of Latin in high school. Evanesco means to vanish or disappear, and dedisco means to forget or unlearn! As for constructing magic, I decided there would be different kinds of magic, with varying levels of difficulty. In the world of the trilogy, illusions are easiest to create, followed by animation spells, followed by healing, followed by compulsion. Most witches can do illusions and animations; fewer are gifted at healing; and it’s very rare to be able to do compulsion.

In BORN WICKED, there’s also a running theme of girls needing to make the "right" choices (e.g. the intention ceremony). How do you feel about female characters making the "wrong" choices?
I think it’s really important to allow characters to make mistakes, regardless of gender. Female characters are often judged more harshly  – called any number of slurs that would never be applied to boys who made the exact same choices. But I think that’s all the more reason to write about flawed female characters. Seeing characters in fiction who make mistakes – or even choices that aren’t mistakes but can be easily judged by readers - can hopefully start great dialogues and help us all learn to be more empathetic.

In STAR CURSED, there's a theme of imprisonment- there is physical and emotional imprisonment. Tell me more about Cate’s imprisonment. What elements, in your opinion, go into a story about imprisonment? 
I think Cate experiences both – she doesn’t want to be in New London, away from Maura and Tess and Finn and her garden, and she also feels very alone, literally cursed, by her magic and the prophecy. She doesn’t want to be a witch, and making peace with it is one step forward and two steps back, because even as she learns that she can do a lot of good with her healing, she fears that magic will cost her true love and one of her sisters’ lives. I think one difficult element for me was walking the line between making her believably, understandably despondent at being put in this situation without making her unlikably whiny. I don’t feel like characters need to be likable all the time, but we do ask readers to spend a lot of time in our protagonist’s head, so it’s a tricky balance. Cate’s also not one to take action rashly; she thinks things through a billion times first; so you could also say she’s stuck in her own head sometimes. Not as dreadful as being imprisoned in Harwood, but still frustrating for her as she struggles to figure out what the right thing to do is. 

Tell me about your favorite books/authors when you were growing up.
Some of my favorites were LITTLE WOMEN, the EMILY OF NEW MOON and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series (Rilla in STAR CURSED is named after RILLA OF INGLESIDE), WUTHERING HEIGHTS, JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and EMMA. My absolute favorite was GONE WITH THE WIND, though. I read a ton of historical romance!

What upcoming projects would you like to share about?
Actually, I just announced a new book deal! I’m going to be editing PETTICOATS & PISTOLS, a YA anthology of short stories that explore clever, strong, resourceful American girls throughout history. All the stories are written by female authors. Some will be realistic historical and some will be historical fantasy. I’ll be contributing a story, and so will Elizabeth Wein, Robin LaFevers, Andrea Cremer, Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Jillian Anderson Coats, Katherine Longshore, Lindsay Smith, Robin Talley, and Caroline Richmond. I’m so excited to work with these amazing authors! It will hopefully come out in Spring 2016.

Thanks for having me!

Thanks for letting me interview you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

IWSG: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other stuff. I'm a few hours late with my post today, but hey, it's still Wednesday! 

My family and I moved to a new place on Monday. So it's been craaazy in my household these past few days. I had been planning to take a short break from social media but something came up last week on Twitter that caught my attention. Some authors put together the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to address their concerns about the need for more diversity in literature. 

People supporting the #WeNeedDiverseBooks were asked to "put their money where their mouth is" last weekend and post pictures of diverse books they bought. Things get shuffled around when you move, but I still managed to uncover some, if not all, books I own that feature some element of diversity, big or small. (If you know me, and you don't see your diverse book in this image, it's probably because I haven't unpacked it yet.;)) I bought most of the books below; a couple of items were gifts/prizes. Featured in the photo below is SUMMONING THE PHOENIX (Lee & Low), a picture book about Chinese instruments that I bought at the end of April when I attended author Emily Jiang and illustrator April Chu's bookstore presentation. 

I can be a picky reader, and I mostly base my reading selections and book purchases on whatever sparks my interest and the suggestion of a reading experience I'm looking for. So while I like seeing diversity in books, this doesn't mean it's a given that I'll buy or read any book just because it's supposed to feature diversity. And while I support #WeNeedDiverseBooks, I am also interested in books that feature other stuff as well. 

For example, one book I have been waiting for to hit the shelves is Dianne Salerni's THE EIGHTH DAY. Dianne mentioned in a recent blog post that her book was coming out around this time. Today, I visited my local Barnes & Noble and I spotted Dianne's book sitting comfortably on a shelf, surrounded by Neil Gaiman and Angelina Jolie. This was the book purchase I made today. 

What was your most recent book purchase?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Breaking Bad's Series Finale and Loose Ends Endings

I hope you enjoyed Easter weekend. And no, I'm not doing the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year. But for those of you who are doing it, I hope you're having fun. 

Last month, I finished watching the entire five seasons of the Breaking Bad series. Great show, really excellent writing. Once I got started on the last eight episodes of Season 5, there was no turning back.  The talented writers of the show tied many loose ends together in the series finale.  At the same time, there were some loose ends that weren't tied up, and these open endings were left up to viewer interpretation or musing. I don't believe loose ends always need to be tied up. But there were some loose ends in Breaking Bad that kept me thinking after I finished the show. And that's what I want to talk about today.
Readers, before you continue, I just want to warn you THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you don't want to know what happens during the fifth and last season of Breaking Bad and the season finale, you can stop reading HERE.

...Okay, so here I go...

...again...SPOILERS AHEAD...

...So one of the things that popped out at me while watching the series is that it's not a good place for a child to be associated, even indirectly and/or unintentionally, with the meth producing and drug dealing underworld of Breaking Bad. As a kidlit writer, I'm invested in experiences of children, and so after watching the series finale, I was left wondering what happened to the surviving children on the show. 

What happened to that peek-a-boo kid Jesse rescued from that house in season 2? For a minute, I thought that peek-a-boo kid was the same kid that Todd killed in Season 5 by the train tracks, and that when the kid waved to the men after the train passed, it was because he recognized Jesse. But I was wrong, and the peek-a-boo kid is still out there somewhere. As is Brock, now without his mother Andrea, who was killed by the neo-Nazis in another grim moment of the series.  And what happens to Lydia's daughter, Kiira, who might've fulfilled Lydia's worst nightmare by finding her dead in their home? What happens to Mike's granddaughter, Kaylee, who only knows that her doting grandfather disappeared without a trace? What will Walter Jr. do with all that money the Schwartzes hand over when he turns 18? How will Holly handle the stigma of who her father was while growing up? 

And what happens to Jesse? He might be a man but I found him as vulnerable and impressionable as a child for most of the series. I can only hope that during the time he was incarcerated by the neo-Nazis, he thought hard about what he would do if he found freedom again, and now that he's out, he would stick to his escape plan....even though his taped confession is in the neo-Nazi's possession, which law enforcement is sure to find after they recover Walter's body at the hideout.

In addition to thinking about these loose ends after seeing the Breaking Bad finale, my kidlit writing brain also explored how a story about Grown-ups Behaving Really Badly would play out if it was told from the perspective of the children in the story, if each chapter bounced from character to character in a risky third-person omniscient narrative. While the children might not be able to fully explain or understand what's going on, the reader can absorb the clues offered by the green and honest voices of children, and put the pieces of the puzzle together. 

What did you think of the series finale of Breaking Bad, if you've seen it? Were there any loose ends you wanted to see get tied up?

Do you consider the third-person omniscient narrative a less desirable approach to storytelling over the first-person or third-person narrative?

Image from:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Author Interview with Mike Jung

For my first author interview of this year, I bring to you Mike Jung, who wrote GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine). Illustrations were by Mike Maihack. This MG book is a science-fiction and superhero story with a superhero fan club, robots, and a middle school crush. The story is told from the perspective of Vincent Wu, the president of the Official Captain Stupendous Fan Club. Vincent and his friends live for sightings of their local superhero. My page turning sped up when Vincent learns the identity of his beloved superhero and when someone close to him is threatened by the evil Professor Mayhem. The book had the right amount of heart and humor, as well as action and suspense.

I recently interviewed Mike. He currently lives in Oakland, CA and works as a library professional for a liberal arts college in the East Bay.  

What did you study at U.C. Irvine?
I was one of the more dysfunctional students in the UCI Department of Fine Arts. My specialty was ceramic sculpture - earthenware, to be more specific. I conducted one incredibly brief experiment with throwing vessels on a wheel, but the other 99.9% of my time there was spent making handbuilt forms. People described my work (such as it was) with terms like biomorphic abstraction, but I'm afraid I was not the most scholarly art student in the world, so that was more credit than I truly deserved. Despite my unhappiness during those years, however, I did genuinely love working in clay, and I miss it - it's much easier to work in clay when you have free rein in a university's ceramics lab than when you're trying to make space in your kitchen. 

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES is refreshingly funny. How do you weave humor into fiction writing?
I wouldn't say that I deliberately try to weave humor into my writing, at least not anymore - it's more that over time I've developed a voice that naturally skews toward irreverence. I've always been more comfortable and effective with written communication than verbal communication, but high school and college were the years when I made more conscious efforts to write fiction - I took a bunch of fiction and playwriting classes at UC Irvine, for example - and those were probably the years when I was most deliberate about TRYING to write in a way that I thought was funny. That very self-aware effort to be humorous became more organic and internalized with practice, however, and eventually became an integrated part of my writing sensibility.

What books/authors did you like to read as a child?
I was (and remain) a devoted fan of fantasy and science fiction, so authors like Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L'Engle, T.H. White, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and Orson Scott Card were very important to me. I'm so sad and horrified by what I've learned about Orson Scott Card's beliefs in recent years - I couldn't disagree with him more strongly than I do - but ENDER'S GAME hit me with the force of a hurricane. In middle school and high school, I became a fanatical reader of Stephen King - this was back in what I consider his true heyday, when I was able to procure books like CUJO, FIRESTARTER, and PET SEMATARY at their original publication dates. I sometimes feel surprised by the fact that I haven't tried to write a horror novel yet, but I suspect that day will eventually arrive.


You’re welcome, Mike!