A Word from the Author or Illustrator

Q&A with Camryn Garrett

Off the Record

What inspired you to write OFF THE RECORD?

With my first book, I could tell you the exact moment when I decided to pull all of those threads together. With Off the Record, I had really been wanting to write something about a teen journalist because I had that experience. With #MeToo all over the news, I had been thinking about those stories and the way they were reported. There was a lot of emphasis put on the survivors who came out with stories first, but even when other celebrities, like Gwenyth Paltrow, shared their stories, they all seemed to be white. There were women like Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o who also had Weinstein stories, but to me, they were reported almost as an afterthought. I wanted that to be addressed in the story; is it because there are less WOC who have been abused? Because they’re uncomfortable speaking with the (usually white) reporters? What dynamics are there?

What was the most difficult part about writing this story? What part was the easiest?

I think the hardest part was trying to figure out how realistic to make the story. It’s a blend of realism and wish-fulfillment, and I wasn’t always sure which moments should fall into each category. The easiest parts were the moments that reflected my own experiences, especially when it came to fat acceptance. I’ve read a lot of books with fat main characters and they’re so important to me, but it felt like a lot of the times they were either super confident or hated their bodies. I feel like I’m more in between. With Josie, I wanted to show readers that you can love your body and still have difficulty being positive about it all the time.

Writing plays a major role in the story. What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?

I’d say to start writing! I think a lot of people think they have to reach a certain age or attend college to write, and you really don’t need to. I would start writing so that you can learn more about yourself as a writer—and a person. It’s such a cool experience.

Josie is a teen journalist navigating the complexities of uncovering the truth and exposing injustice through her journalism. Could you talk more about these themes?

I wanted to be a journalist for a while in high school; I was part of my school newspaper for all four years and followed the news religiously. I’m still inspired by journalists who can break really sensitive stories about topics like sexual assault. They have to be able to comb through records, interview the accused perpetrators, and then switch gears to interview survivors. I really wanted to highlight how many things journalists have to juggle, especially when covering stories like these.

As a young author yourself, what do you hope teens take away from this story? How might you talk to them about it if we were able to do author visits?

I hope teens read this story and realize that they can use their voice to make a difference, even if they’re shy or anxious or scared.

We are sharing this with the greatest book advocates – teachers and librarians! Do you have a memory involving a teacher or librarian that you would like to share with us?

I have so many! In high school, I ate lunch in our school library every day, and one of the library workers at the front desk always talked to me about the new YA books they had in (she also saved some of them for me!). I still talk to one of my English teachers from high school because I love her very much.

We love to hear from authors about their inspirations and favorite things! What books, shows, hobbies, etc. have been getting you through this difficult time?

The show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was great for me! One of my friends and I have tried to have a standing movie night where we usually watch teen movies from the early aughts, like A Cinderella Story and Freaky Friday. It’s one of the main things that is helping me get through the pandemic!

Any hints as to what’s next for you?

I’m going to take a little vacation! But after that, I’m working on a really cool queer rom-com I’m excited about.

Camryn Garrett

CAMRYN GARRETT grew up in New York and began her writing career at thirteen, when she was selected as a TIME for Kids reporter, interviewing celebrities like Warren Buffett and Kristen Bell. Since then, her writing has appeared on MTV and in the Huffington Post and Rookie magazine, and she was recently selected as one of Teen Vogue's "21 Under 21: Girls Who Are Changing the World." When she's not writing, she studies film at NYU, and she's a proud advocate for diverse stories and storytellers in any medium. Her first novel, Full Disclosure, received rave reviews from outlets such as EW, Glamour and SLJ, which said in its starred review, "Readers will fall in love." Off the Record is her second novel.

Q&A with Jodie Patterson and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

Born Ready

What inspired you to write/illustrate BORN READY?

Jodie Patterson: My first book, THE BOLD WORLD, was a memoir and it was dense, layered, and sometimes sad. This time around I wanted to write something for children that was triumphant, uplifting, and victorious. I wanted to write a book that talked about the complexities of gender and identity – without honing in on the crisis. I wanted to speak about love and optimism. BORN READY is from the voice of my kids and from Penel’s perspective and it shows how promising the exploration of gender can be. 

 

Charnelle Pinkney Barlow: What drew me to this story was the ability that Jodie had to hold space for Penelope. Instead of chalking up Penelope’s frustration and anger as a kid acting out, she took the time to sit with him and get to the root of what he was feeling. Then not only did Jodie listen to Penelope, she took action on what she was told. Holding space for kids to be who they are is an important thing to show in children’s books. 

What was the most difficult part about writing/illustrating BORN READY? What part was the easiest?

Patterson: Condensing years into just a few stand-out moments was challenging. There are so many moments that make up the gradual shifts in family dynamics – and choosing the few that resonate the loudest almost felt impossible. But in the end, with the help of my kids, we were able to pull out key memories that highlight our journey.  

 

Trusting that an illustrator will capture your family precisely can be nerve wracking. At first I was focused on each character looking exactly as we do in real life. But as with writing, illustrating is a layered process and as that process moved forward and the details began to come through, I realized that the key is to capture our essence. I think Charnelle Pinkney Barlow captured the essence of each of us beautifully. 

 

Barlow: The most difficult part about illustrating BORN READY was visually showing Penelope’s frustration without making him look like a mean kid. He’s not a mean kid, he just needed the space to express himself and be seen. The easiest part was showing Penelope’s joy as it really shines through in the writing and illustrating all of the fun ninja sequences. 

For Jodi: How does Penel feel about seeing his story in a picture book? Was there any part of his personal journey that he wished could be included, but didn't work for a picture book audience or length?

Patterson: Penel and his siblings are all smiles about the book! Each time they pick up BORN READY, which is often, they beam with pride and they marvel at how we all look and sound just like ourselves. I made sure to include all the kids in the process of writing BORN READY. I had them help with language, but also with choosing which memories to share and what feelings to convey. Now when they hold the book, it’s a trip down memory lane for them. BORN READY feels truthful and authentic to them.  

 

And I think I’m the one who has more ideas and wishes that I want to share with our audience. And maybe those ideas will come out in forthcoming books. But, for Penel, I think he has a sense of accomplishment – with this book for sure, and from life in general. I believe Penel feels both seen and heard and this book will be a prized accomplishment for him for years to come. 

For Charnelle: What character or element of the story do you identify with the most and why?

Barlow: The character I identify with the most is Penelope’s friend Big D. While he only plays a small part in the story, I identify with the way he accepts Penelope as he is with no second thoughts. 

 If you could put any character from another book into this story, who would it be and why?

Patterson: I would invite James Baldwin into our lives. Baldwin sitting at our kitchen table, sharing his wisdom on gender and how it relates to race and sexuality and humanity would make for an epic moment of invocation.  

 

Barlow: I honestly can’t think of a character that I’d insert into this story; mainly because this story is about real happenings, so it is complete in and of itself. On another note, it would be fun to see Penelope hop into another book and go on an adventure with another character. 

What do you want kids today to take away from this story?

Patterson: Kids have a unique power. They see the world with fresh eyes. I want kids, especially trans identified and gender nonconforming kids to know they were born ready, ready for anything that comes their way. Kids: You can move through any problem or person, any construct or system that stands in your way. You can even fly over obstacles because you are bigger than obstacles. You’re a ninja – and what you’ve come here to do is important. 

 

Barlow: I want kids to see that they have the freedom to be who they were born to be and belong in this world as they are. I love that this story acknowledges different questions of what it means to be trans and gender nonconforming that both children and adults have at times (such as Grandpa G exclaims that there aren’t any gender pronouns in his native language or when Penelope’s principal asks him if he is feeling embarrassed about the other kids asking him about his school uniform). This book shows what it means to ask questions while listening and giving support. BORN READY says it best: “‘Not everything needs to make sense. This is about love.’” 

Jodie Patterson

Jodie Patterson is a social activist, entrepreneur, and writer. She has been lauded for her activist work by Hillary Clinton, The Advocate, Family Circle, Essence, Cosmopolitan, and Yahoo!, among others. She sits on the board of a number of gender/family/human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, and is a sought-after public speaker addressing a wide range of audiences about identity, gender, beauty, and entrepreneurship. Patterson was appointed by the United Nations as a Champion of Change and, perhaps most impressively, she is a former circus acrobat who performed in the Big Apple Circus. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she co-parents her five children with love, education, and family solidarity.

Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

CHARNELLE PINKNEY BARLOW grew up surrounded by art, and was inspired by the world of watercolor. She received her BFA in Illustration from the University of the Arts and her MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts. Charnelle's children's book illustrations include Everything In its Place and The Real Santa. Charnelle lives in Indianapolis with her husband. When she's not drawing, she is baking, sewing, or reading with a cup of tea by her side. Find her online at callmechartreuse.com and follow her on Instagram at @callmechartreuse.

Rachel Ignotofsky Author Essay

What's Inside A Flower?

Happy Earth Day, Readers!

Earth Day is here! Which means countless teachers and scientists will be shouting from the rooftops about why we should protect our planet! You will surely see posts about cuddly pandas and cute baby elephants. You’ll learn silly trivia, like that wombats poop in cubes or that bees talk by dancing. You may even tear up learning about the koalas who lost their homes in Australia’s fires or the polar bears who are desperate to find sea ice in the Arctic Circle.

The sad stories, the cute photos, the fun facts . . . these are all told to make you stop, listen, and learn more about our planet. I love these stories (and have told them myself). But sometimes I feel like they distract from the main point scientists want to make: our planet provides us with irreplicable ecological benefits that people need to survive.

Food, nutrient-rich soil, breathable air, bountiful oceans, natural protection from storms—these are just a few of the things our natural world does for us. And if we ruin those natural resources, it is not just the cuddly critters that will be in trouble.

In my books about nature and science, I put a spotlight on the hard work our planet does for us.

I want young readers to understand this concept early as they begin their science studies. That is why I introduce the concept of ecological benefits in my elementary-school level book What’s Inside a Flower?

My book The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is written for middle school and young adults. Here we dive deeper into the topic by highlighting different ecosystems all over the world and the biggest benefits these places provide us.

Once kiddos and their adults understand how our planet is working hard for them, they will be even more inspired to do the work to help protect our planet.

I’m not going to lie—fun animal facts will always be one of my favorite things. But this Earth Day, let’s go deeper and celebrate and protect the bounty that our planet provides us!

Rachel Ignotofsky

RACHEL IGNOTOFSKY is a New York Times-bestselling author, illustrator, designer. She graduated from Tyler School of Art's graphic design program and formerly worked as a senior designer and illustrator at Hallmark Greetings. Rachel and her work have been featured in many print and online media outlets such as Babble, the Huffington Post, Scientific American, and Buzzfeed. She is the author of The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth, Women in Science, Women in Sports, and I Love Science.

Books to instill respect for and curiosity about our Earth

Sarah Miller Author Essay

Violet and Daisy

Let me tell you a secret: the research is the best part. I’m supposed to say that it’s the writing, but it’s not. Writing is work. It’s necessary work if I want to share the stories that enthrall me, but it’s hard work. Research, though? That is a playground.

The most fascinating thing, the thing that nothing but research reveals, is how stories evolve. Even nonfiction, which is built of facts, is affected by our perceptions. As the years and decades pass, the way we look at people and events undergoes drastic transformations, even when the facts remain the same.

For instance, Lizzie Borden is perceived today as an axe-wielding psychopath, even though the facts inform us that she was a Sunday school teacher who was acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother.

Or consider the Ontario government’s move to take custody of Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne—the first surviving quintuplets in history—and raise them as wards of the crown. In 1934, that decision looked like a heroic act of protection for five premature babies, but eighty years later, it reeks of exploitation.

And then there’s Violet and Daisy Hilton. These conjoined twin sisters were abandoned by their mother and abused and exploited by their guardians from the time they were three weeks old, and no one at that time batted an eye. At least, I was pretty sure that’s what happened. Turns out, Violet and Daisy had a habit of stretching the truth for the sake of publicity almost as often as they themselves had been lied to as children.

How do you suss out the truth in cases like this? Dig. And keep digging until you hit facts that won’t yield. Then dig a little more, just to be sure.

My career began with historical fiction and might have continued exclusively in that direction if I hadn’t started reading about the Borden axe murders. Once I delved deep enough to discover how drastically the Lizzie Borden of pop culture differs from the verifiable facts about her, the challenge of uncovering the real Lizzie instantly had much more appeal than (re)creating an imaginary one. So I read the Borden murder trial transcript. All of it. As well as the witness statements, inquest testimony, and preliminary hearing transcript—2,578 pages in all. That was not 100 percent fun, but it’s how I learned that if you go back to the bedrock facts and begin creeping steadily forward—chronologically, if possible—you start to catch glimpses of how people’s memories metamorphose, even when they’ve sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Next came the Dionne Quintuplets and four trips to North Bay, Ontario, with a stop at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. Imagine reading the handwritten diaries of the first nurse who attended those five identical babies. Imagine slipping on white cotton gloves and opening folder after folder of original photographs of Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne—1,400 images in all. At the Callander Bay Heritage Museum, I got to sit at a table covered with boxes and sift through snapshots, blueprints, and scrapbooks stuffed with newspaper clippings. Every box was a surprise—I swear to you, it felt just like Christmas. The sisters’ baby clothes were hanging on the walls, and the basket they were placed in the night they were born was in a glass case. No less dazzling, and even more valuable to me, were long-neglected newspaper and magazine interviews with the Dionne sisters and their parents and siblings, which enabled me to let their voices be heard for the first time since the 1930s.

These trips aren’t just about learning what can’t be learned elsewhere. They’re also about feeling what can’t be felt elsewhere. It’s one thing to read about how five fragile preemies were whisked out of their family’s farmhouse and into a custom-made hospital across the road. It’s another to stand outside of the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the remains of the hospital and think about what that fence meant to not only the five children locked inside, but the rest of their family, who were locked out.

Pondering the evidence in the Borden case for a year, wondering how all those tiny pieces fit together, is not the same as standing in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery before four headstones marked Andrew, Abby, Lizbeth, and Emma (Lizzie’s sister). It’s only in the cemetery that you fully realize that the Borden murders are much more than a puzzle—they were crimes that brought about the destruction of an entire family.

I don’t always get to go in search of one-of-a-kind artifacts and experiences, though. There’s a lot of sitting in one spot, turning virtual pages until, if I’m lucky and tenacious enough, I uncover something vital that nobody’s looked at in decades. In the National Library of Australia’s digital collection, for example, I stumbled across a 1915 newspaper article protesting Violet and Daisy Hilton’s treatment at the hands of their guardians that made me stop and blink in disbelief, because somebody did care. Somebody saw them not as freaks, but as eight-year-old girls. In its own way, that was as affecting as standing in front of the barbed-wire fence in Ontario.

Then, to sit down in front of a blank page and condense all of that information and all of those experiences into a couple hundred pages—that’s when the real work begins.

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is the author of the historical fiction novels Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, which was called “an accomplished debut” in a starred review from Booklist and was named an ALA–ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and The Lost Crown, a novel hailed as “fascinating” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and named an ALA–YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

The Gilded Ones

12 years of failure, the journey of a Black woman to be seen in publishing

Namina Forna, the author of the bestselling YA trilogy The Gilded Ones talks about her fraught journey to publication and the pitfalls that dog BIPOC people in publishing.
The Gilded Ones

The Gilded Ones By Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

The start of a bold and immersive fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther

Namina Forna

Namina Forna has a MFA in film and TV production from USC School of Cinematic Arts and a BA from Spelman College. She now works as a screenwriter in LA and loves telling stories with fierce female leads. The Gilded Ones is her debut novel. Visit her on twitter at @NaminaForna and on Instagram at @namina.forna.

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