WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR

Puppy – Bear Special



Do you have a youngster who will be heading off to school for the first time next month or in September? Perhaps you know of one who will be making that trek and leaving behind a friend. Or perhaps you know of a child, too young yet for school, who will be left behind while an older friend starts school. For a limited time, Two Lions Press is making Puppy & Bear: The First Day of School available in its Kindle Edition for only $1.99. Strike now, while you can. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/First-Day-School-Puppy-Bear-ebook/dp/B01KA2MCWG/ref=sr_1_68?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1530447336&sr=1-68




IT’S JUNE, AND THINGS ARE BUSY HERE AT LA CASA DE LOS CUENTOS. To begin with, I’m making preparations to attend the the annual meeting of the American Library Association in New Orleans, Louisiana, to receive the Robert F. Sibert Medal for Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. If I remember to take any pictures, I post them in the future. Right now there’s a speech to rehearse, a wardrobe to decide on, and some meditation and hypnosis sessions to get over my nerves. When I’m not doing that, I’m reading through dozens of letters sent to me by the California children I visited during the last week of April. Sometimes their letters make me weep, but other times they bring smiles and laughter. They help explain why I think author visits are important and why I still do them Below, you’ll find a sampling:

(This one opened with a “hook” or “teaser” and followed on a second page.) “Eduardo just met his hero. How does he thank him? Read to find out. (p. 2) You inspired me to do my best work. I will never forget the moment I asked you where you met your editor and you told me how to find one. –Sincerely, Eduardo”

“When I meet pepole [sic] your age, they’re not funny. You are and that is good. –Love, Maxine”

“You look just like my grandpa. As a matter of fact, I think of you as my grandpa. You are a funny author and kind, but when the other authors come they are mean to us. Not you. You are nice and funny, even a little goofy. –Sincerely, Erik”

And one that tugged at the heartstrings:

“Thank you for inspiring us to become professional authors. Maybe one day I will be writing stories and going to schools and telling them my stories just like you. –Love, Aritza”

That’s a wrap for this month.



SPRING IS THE TIME of rebirth, growth, looking at the world afresh. It’s also the time of school visits and conferences of educators and librarians. The first week of April found me ensconced at the aptly named “Lorenzo Hotel,” a modern establishment with a youthful vibe. I was in Dallas to speak at the conference of the Texas Library Association. I highly recommend both the hotel, if you find yourself in Dallas, and the conference, if you’re a librarian or educator. My partners-in-crime, Cynthia Levinson, Karen Blumenthal, and Kelly Milner Halls, and I spoke about connecting the past to the present to a full house.


A few days before the TxLA conference I received even more good news about TWELVE DAYS IN MAY: FREEDOM RIDE 1961. The National Council for the Social Studies awarded it the Carter G. Woodson Award for the secondary level. The Woodson is given to the most distinguished books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States, and is named in honor of the noted African American historian and educator who wrote books for adults and young people. I am most grateful for this recognition.


It’s time to pack for another week of school visits, this time in California. It is definitely spring. Happy travels!


WOWZERS, or when the call comes

February was quite the month! Well, let me back up to November. In November, Calkins Creek Books released my newest title, TWELVE DAYS IN MAY: FREEDOM RIDE 1961. It was a quiet release, too late to be considered even for the California Eureka! Award. There were many nice reviews, even a few great ones, that understood what I was trying to do, but I was busy writing another book and didn’t have time to worry about the one just released. You know, you send your child into the world and hope that it will survive and find its proper audience.

In February, Sunday February 11th to be exact, in the middle of somebody’s ice dance routine on NBC’s Olympic coverage at around 8:00 p.m., the phone rang. I don’t know how you handle phone calls, but I don’t pick up unless I recognize the number because I get an awful lot of telemarketers. Typically, I wouldn’t even have had my phone with me, but for some reason as I walked out of my upstairs office I shoved my phone into my pocket. I hesitated, hearing the familiar ring and the vibration against my thigh. Finally, I pulled out the phone and noted the call was coming from a New York number. It continued to ring, as I thought about who I knew in New York. That was easy: Nobody who would be calling. Still, hesitantly, I answered. It was the Robert F. Sibert Committee calling from Denver and the Youth Media Awards. I was making my way back upstairs to the quiet of my office. Mid-stairs, I heard the lovely person–I’m sorry but the name came and went by what happened next–say “Robert F. Sibert Committee,” “Freedom Ride 1961,” and “medal” all in the same sentence. It took three or four beats for those words to register, and she repeated that the book had won the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Medal. I literally could not breathe. I sat down on the stairs. I rose. I sat. I rose. I paced the landing, trying to catch my breath. My hands began to shake uncontrollably. For some reason I thought the Youth Media Award calls came early on the morning they were announced, and the release had been so quiet I didn’t think the book was on anybody’s radar.

If you know me, you know that I am generally pretty calm and unemotional. Not so the night of February 11th. I managed a half-dozen thank-yous, mentally bleeping the joyful expletives that wanted to rush out of my mouth–Holy s**t was prominent among them–and mumbled that I was speechless. True enough. My throat constricted, and every time I attempted to utter more than a single-syllable word, the sobs and tears threatened to flow. And then the person on the other end of the call said such beautiful things about my book, about my words, and about why it was chosen, and I could hear the laughter and cheer of the committee in the background. The sobs came–even as I tried to stifle them. Speaking was not possible. I am not accustomed to receiving praise, but if I’d been able to speak I may have said, “Can you call back in half an hour to give me time to process this?” Of course, I didn’t. I just blabbered a few more thank-yous and disconnected. It was the best phone call ever!

The next morning as I watched the live streaming of the announcements alone in my office, I cried with abandon. Thank you, Robert F. Sibert Committed for recognizing my work. I promise not to be such a wreck in June when the medal is presented.  Or at least I’ll try.

Sibert Medal_Yoon




EVERYONE OF US HAS AN AUDIENCE. It doesn’t matter if we’re actors, writers, teachers, or peeps on the street. We are the observed and observer in turn. (This coincides with my belief that we are all role models, whether we think of ourselves as such or not.) One of my favorite audiences, tied with kids themselves, happens to be librarians. In early February I had the opportunity to meet with school librarians at the conference of the California School Library Association just outside Yosemite National Park. Being that close to the park brought back memories of childhood. My family and I would camp there for two weeks every summer. My maternal grandfather, who spent most of the year in Fresno when he wasn’t traveling around Arizona, would meet us there. We roughed it in a tent and ate food cooked over an open fire. Papa stayed in a lodge–usually the Wawona Lodge just inside the southern entrance to the park. And we would hike and swim in the Merced River (something I can’t even imagine at this age). Papa and I would go around sticking our noses against the bark of trees. Did you know there is a certain type of conifer that smells just like vanilla? (Alas, time and age have erased exactly which type.) But I digress. Gretchen Woelfle (author of Answering the Cry for Freedom)  and I were charged with speaking about our creative processes and the importance of freedom, given today’s political climate. Thank you, CSLA, for inviting us and for making us feel so welcome. All y’all were a wonderful audience.

Twelve_AmaAnswering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution


 I CAN’T BEGIN TO SPECULATE HOW MANY REJECTIONS I’VE RECEIVED OVER THE COURSE OF MY CAREER. At one point, before I had any book manuscripts accepted, it was 2 1/2 Xerox boxes full–some form, some good (meaning the editor wrote something personal and encouraging). There was one that said simply, “This really stinks.” (Seriously, it happened. Admittedly, that one stung.) While the form rejections don’t teach you much, sometimes the “good rejections” are worth studying. The editor may tell you that the characters are too thinly drawn or that the plot needs more complications or that your story just won’t work on their list. Those are things to consider–consider, not necessarily to act on. I did ask an editor once what she meant by edgy, a term she used in her rejection, and she admitted she didn’t know, but “I know it when I see it and like it.” I have been skeptical of the term ever since. I recall one nonfiction rejection I received where the editor said, “Why would I publish this? Nobody has even heard of that person.” The same manuscript received another rejection from another editor that said, “The topic is too narrow.” I read the manuscript again, decided these two editors didn’t know what they were talking about (or at least they weren’t the right editors for the project), and submitted it to another editor. The book went on to win starred reviews and major awards when it was published.

When I was doing a lot of school visits, I used to ask for a book’s ephemera (“dead matter” in publishing parlance) to be sent to me so I could share it with children. One editor accidentally sent along with it her note to the editorial director: “Here’s another one from your boy, Larry Dane Brimner. Do you think we should take a chance on it?” (Explanation: When you have been writing as long as I, you sometimes have more than one contact at a publisher and, in this case, I did.) Well, it wasn’t a rejection, because they accepted the book and it went on to sell 75,000+ copies, but still…..I’m sure the editor would cringe if she knew she’d sent it, and I was a bit taken aback when I read it. (On the other hand, when a publisher sent me another writer’s royalty statement I found that intriguing!) Just proves we all make mistakes.

As writers, we deal with rejection all the time (at least most of us), and it is important to figure out what, if anything, we can learn about our writing when an editor takes the time to include a brief note. Sometimes we learn it’s not the right house or not an editor with the same creative vision (or even any vision). Sometimes we realize we need to sharpen our skills or focus on characterization or intensify the plot or recast the story structure. When we can learn something from editorial comments, we should learn. But realize that as writers, we are creators and sometimes it takes a turn or two around the block before our creative vision finds its editorial audience. (Or as somebody once said to me, “I wish you could illustrate because it’s as plain as day what you’re doing here, and I don’t see why they’re [the editors who were rejecting it] not getting it.” I sometimes wonder if Uri Shulevitz, the master of picture books, would ever have gotten anything published had he not also been an illustrator. )


AS WE ROLL INTO 2018, I want to pass on a bit of advice that has sustained me for over 30 years in this business: MAKE A GOAL LIST AT THE START OF EACH YEAR. This is something I routinely do, and it’s important to post it in a place where you’ll see it every day when you go to your writing space. Mine is posted on a magnetic board above my computer. The list doesn’t have to be long, or even all that specific. It just has to be present to remind you of what you hope to accomplish during the year. The one I posted for 2017 had only three items on it. It also isn’t imperative that you complete each item on your list. Of the three items on my 2017 list, I accomplished only one. But I also accomplished a couple of things not on the list, so that was a plus. At the end of the year, I rejoice in those things I achieved and evaluate the ones I did not. Do I still think they’re important enough to roll over to 2018? Maybe. Maybe not.



NEWS BULLETIN JUST IN: TWELVE DAYS IN MAY (9781629795867) has been selected as a Top 10 Diverse Book for Middle-Grade and Older readers by Booklist. This news will appear in the February Booklist issue.


. . . OR featured at your Christmas Eve book exchange.  Two books I hope you’ll find are Puppy & Bear: The First Day of School and Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. For the younger set (ages 3-7): All summer long, Puppy and Bear play hide-and-seek under the oak trees, fly down the lane on Bear’s bike with Puppy’s ears flapping in the breeze like a bird’s wings, and pretend to be pirates. But when Bear starts school in the fall, everything changes. Suddenly, Puppy feels abandoned, alone, and lonely. (“Fits the bill for readers whose own best buds have been lost to school.” – -Kirkus Reviews)


For history buffs (or anyone with an interest in Civil Rights), May 4, 1961, should be significant. Thirteen activists–men and women, young and old, black and white–board two buses in Washington, D.C., bound for New Orleans, Louisiana. They plan to reach that city by May 17 to help celebrate the seventh anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Their mission is clear. The laws prohibiting segregation on buses crossing state lines and at bus stations are being violated. These nonviolent Freedom Riders are determined to draw attention to the laws’ lack of enforcement. But as their journey takes them deeper into the South over the course of twelve days, their peaceful protest turns violent. This is their story. (Starred reviews: Booklist & School Library Journal)



. . . FIRST PARTY. How to tell the difference and why it matters to authors and illustrators.

Books that are sold through Amazon and other online retailers through third-parties are done so with NO BENEFIT to the creators of those titles. On a typical book, the author and illustrator split 10% of the retail price–5% to the author and 5% to the illustrator. When a book is purchased through a third-party–sometimes advertised as “used” or “almost new”–the share going to the book’s creator(s) is 0%. To put it another way, on a $15.00 book, the author and illustrator each will receive 75-cents, BUT ONLY IF IT’S A FIRST-PARTY PURCHASE. How can the consumer tell the difference? Here’s an example from Amazon.com. Just above the “Add to Cart” button, you will see the following: “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” This indicates it is a first-party sale and will benefit the creators of the title. On the other hand, you may see the following:  Sold by (any name other than the Amazon). This indicates the sale will not benefit the book’s creators. The exception to this is if the author or illustrator has set up his/her own online outlet, in which case, they usually make it obvious that the merchandise is theirs and original to them.

Admittedly, when doing research for my historical nonfiction titles, I sometimes have to resort to purchasing from third-party sources because the materials I’m seeking are so old that there aren’t first-party sources available. But if your intent is to buy a wonderful gift and also benefit its creators, then please make certain you are purchasing from a first-party retailer.

22 YEARS OLD . . .

. . . AND COUNTING! Twenty-two years ago MERRY CHRISTMAS, OLD ARMADILLO made its debut on the publishing stage to a starred review in School Library Journal. The best Christmas present ever would be to see it reach the ripe old age of twenty-five. You might help. “How?” you ask, and I’m so happy you did. Between now and December 10, you might order a copy from your local independent bookseller or favorite online bookshop. (Be sure you are NOT ordering the book from a third-party (“used”) or it won’t trigger a count at the publisher, and the sooner you order the better.) Here’s one place you might order from:  http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Merry-Christmas-Old-Armadillo/Larry-Dane-Brimner/9781563973543?id=7116256365142.  (Those at Amazon and B&N all seem to be third-party books.) I can’t tell you how much it would mean to me to get this book about love and friendship back into the hands of young readers.


With heartfelt thanks,