Author: Mary E. Cronin

Author and educator Mary E. Cronin lives on Cape Cod, where she writes and teaches college courses and creative writing workshops.

Windows, Mirrors, and Anti-Racist Course Design

This past Friday, I presented at the Teaching, Learning, and Student Development (TLSD) conference at Roxbury Community College in Boston.

The theme this year was “Employing an Anti-Racist Lens to Build Inclusive College Curriculum and Student Services.” My presentation, “Windows and Mirrors: What Children’s Literature Can Teach Us about Anti-Racist Course Design” was an opportunity for me to share my passion for the work of children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop with an audience of higher education faculty and administration, relating her concept of windows and mirrors to the foundations of how we design our courses. It was such a rewarding experience, and in the course of the day, I attended other workshops that challenged my thinking about how we support students in need, deal with issues of plagiarism (educating vs. punishing), and use the term “first generation.” An amazing day that I was proud to be a part of!

 

 

 

 

Radio Round Table on Diversity and Children’s Books

It was a delight to be part of a (remote) round-table discussion this week on WCAI-FM (the Cape and Islands NPR station) about children’s literature and diversity. On “The Point” program hosted by Mindy Todd, I was joined by an educator from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,  Jennifer Weston of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. We were also be joined by two librarians and the co-owner of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Sara Hines. 

What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors.  I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!

You can listen to the recording on the link here.

 

Signing with a Literary Agent

A ray of light in a pretty dark time– that’s how I am feeling about signing with literary agent Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.

When Lori and I talked on Zoom, I could tell she was excited about my work. She said one of my picture books gave her goosebumps! As a writer, having someone in my corner who is enthusiastic about my work is just what I need. 

Publishing expert Jane Friedman has this to say about literary agents:

“In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books published by New York houses get sold by literary agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry and represent the interests of their author-clients. They have inside contacts with specific publishers and know which editors are most likely to buy a particular work…

The best agents are career-long advisers and managers.”

Because writing can be a lonely business with a lot of waiting and rejection, it’s the role of adviser and manager that I am most excited about. What manuscript should go out next on submission? How can I improve this piece before we send it out to editors for their consideration? Those are things that Lori can help me figure out.

This represents a new chapter in my writing life, and in the midst of all the other stressful things going on in our world, it’s given me a gust of hope.

 

A Note Meant to Silence

I don’t think it’s an accident that I received a strange note in the mail recently. It was postmarked on the day after my article appeared in the Cape Cod Times.  The headline in the print edition was “Black Lives Matter: does your child’s bookshelf reflect the world?”

I like to think that my appeal to teachers and parents to think critically about what books we offer our children might have rattled someone’s defenses a bit. Might have perforated their comfort zone or upended their sense of order or privilege. Apparently my essay advocating that we place stories with Black characters front and center was a bit too much for someone, prompting them to take pen to paper (nice stationery, though!).

The letter, mailed to my workplace,  isn’t threatening, exactly– just unsettling in an off-kilter way. It made me think of the quote by activist Maggie Kuhn:

 

“Leave safety behind…Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn

 

I know there are authors and artists, political leaders and journalists who receive hate mail and threats every day. This isn’t that. To me, it’s simply a reminder of how important this work is– educating the rising generation to be actively engaged in a multi-racial and just society. That’s what I do, as a community college educator who teaches about children’s literature, about early education, about writing.

 

It might unsettle me, but it won’t keep me from the joyful intersection of social justice and children’s literature. 

 

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

~~Rep. John Lewis

 

Does Your Child’s Bookshelf Reflect the World?

One of the best things about my recent article in the Cape Cod Times about Black Lives Matter and children’s books is that I’ve heard from parents and educators who are inspired about making mindful book choices for the children in their lives. 

One delightful spark is that I heard from a guy who was here on Cape Cod– the father of Marley Dias! He shared a diverse book list that Marley developed for Parade Magazine.

The article also led the owner of a new bookstore (about to open) to contact me, and ask if I would consult with her about making rich and diverse choices for their children’s section. I’m excited to collaborate in the birth of a new bookstore on Cape Cod. More on that soon!

As always, We Need Diverse Books is a great source for book titles!

My poem in an anthology: “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown”

Being part of an anthology is an honor—being part of an LGBTQ+ anthology is a party! My poem, “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is included in the new anthology Hashtag Queer vol. 2, published by Qommunity Press.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” was inspired by an incredible portrait of Rachel, displayed last year in Jo Hay Open Studio, a Provincetown gallery.

Marveling at Jo Hay’s portrait; at Jo Hay Open Studio in Provincetown

When I saw the vivid portrait by artist Jo Hay, I began imagining the impact this work would have on LGBTQ+ kids… seeing a role model like Rachel in a larger than life scale.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is a tribute to the striking portrait, to out role models like Rachel, and to parents who do the right thing for their queer kids. I’m so delighted that it’s part of Hashtag Queer vol. 2! The anthology features short stories, poetry, and essays, and you can order it online or ask for it in local bookshops like WomenCrafts and East End Books.

 

What do Queer Kids Want to Read? Book Talk with the Middle School GSA

Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) are becoming more and more common in high schools; they’re less frequently seen in middle schools. Yesterday I had the chance to visit a local middle school as a visitor to the GSA. The students (mostly ages 12 and 13) were articulate, lively, and engaging.

Moving at lightning speed, the conversation jumped all over the place after the kids made their introductions, saying their names and pronouns. Within the first five minutes of the meeting, they brought up this week’s Supreme Court ruling,  the “This is America” video by Childish Gambino, trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, and  Stonewall. Then we got down to talking about books!

I asked them what books they would like to see, or see more of.  Here is a good sampling of their responses:

  • Stories where being queer is not the central problem.
  • Stories where kids cross social groupings: a jock falls for an artist, two kids from very different points in the social order join together in some kind of venture.
  • Stories about younger kids coming out…. in elementary school, middle school.
  • They are looking for stories that defy stereotypes; ie not all gay kids are artists or theater kids, for example. Gay guys do not necessarily have to be very feminine, or queer girls very masculine.
I laughed so much when one kid said, “Can we all pause for a minute to recognize Mary’s awesome sneakers?”
  • They criticized stories where the overly defining characteristic of the kid is that they are gay; give them other strong interests and characteristics.
  • They want books in which the main character is a “regular person who’s not in love with anyone”—not in a romance at all. (We discussed the challenge this may face if editors want to see a “romance” to validate that it’s a queer character.) They are looking for stories that are not romance-centered.
  • A book for parents about kids coming out. This was poignant, as it was clear that a lot of kids are facing this issue. It was a reminder that “coming out stories” are still relevant, necessary, and desired by this age group!

  • One idea offered: two different people, coming out in two different time periods, providing a contrast about coming out, being out.
  • One kid said, “Give me ‘Earl and the Dying Girl’ and ‘Heathers’ in middle school, but it’s gay.”
  • A trans boy talked about what it feels like to inspire others to be themselves; a girl told him that “you being free to be yourself” helped in her coming out process. He would love to see that dynamic represented in stories, placing the trans kid as a leader.

  • Stories with parental friction… a kid who is not out yet. Several kids nodded their heads in agreement. Stories of kids who are scared to come out; family dynamics or cultural context adds complications and layers to the coming out process.
  • Stories where a kid is living in a tolerant, liberal community and then moves to one that is not so accepting.
  • They want more middle school stories, not all high school stories… not all romance.

  • Stories that show that “you’re never too old to change,” ie coming out later, changing one’s identity.
  • A friendship based on contrast…. one queer kid has lived in a very accepting family and community, and one has not. How do they reach each other?
  • Friends who keep being told they would be a good couple… awkward!! (There was lots of laughter on that one!)

I left the meeting brimming with inspiration and blown away by the intelligence, depth, and clarity of their comments. I’m happy to share this with my fellow writers and educators during Pride Month. These articulate students give us both hope for the future as well as a challenge: how do we make sure they get the stories they are seeking?

Favorite Writing Podcasts

There is no denying that the writer’s life can be one of ups and downs. Having the provisions to go the distance, to weather the hard knocks and enjoy the triumphs, takes a variety of resources. One of my go-to resources is podcasts.

I can listen to them when I’m driving, cleaning, cooking, or walking; they fill my brain and keep me motivated and stimulated. I’m going to share a few of my favorites—sustenance for the writing journey!

Click here to read about my favorite podcasts— and enjoy!

 

 

Switching Things Up: How a Writing Retreat Revived Me

What happens when a dispirited writer decides to change things up and go in a new direction?

The writer’s cabin where I stayed at Highlights

I wrote about the writing retreat that turned things around for me on the Project Mayhem Middle Grade blog:

The twists and turns of the writer’s life had drained all the joy out of my writing practice. Part of my brain (the novel writing part) felt over-worked, stale, and burned out. I needed badly to play, to have fun with writing. Returning to picture books, which is what drew me into the world of children’s writing in the first place, was just what I needed.

Working on picture book dummies

You can read the rest here!

Taking Risks: NESCBWI ’17 Conference Recap

Take risks: that was the most powerful message I took away from the New England SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) regional conference, I’ve been home a week, and I’m still reflecting on moments and messages from the conference.

Lunch with writer friends!

It’s a powerful feeling to be in a conference room full of people who all care about kids, from toddlers to teens. Because that’s why we write, isn’t it? I reveled in that. In this current moment in our history, there were over 700 people gathered together who want to make the world a better place for kids. With their words.

Leading on workshop on the power of setting for LGBTQ+ characters

I took my own risks during the weekend. I gave two workshop presentations, filled with enthusiastic writers who want to write stories about LGBTQ+  kids and families.

I took part in a panel (my first!) in which we discussed the state of children’s publishing and LGBTQ+ books for kids. It was well received and many people told me it was a highlight of their conference!

Panel with Lisa Bunker, Linda Camacho, Mary Cronin, and Kevin Lewis

Jane Yolen cheered on our efforts. Nova Ren Suma urged us to be our true selves. Melissa Sweet inspired us with her artistry. Mr. Schu illuminated the room with his enthusiasm for children and their books.

Mr. Schu, ambassador to school libraries!

All of it lit a fire that warmed the room, that connected us, that dared us to keep going, to do better.

Nova Ren Suma inspires us!

No matter what stage of my career I’m in, I find a home in the SCBWI community. The conference inspired me and emboldened me, and I know there were seeds planted during that conference that will indeed make the world a better place for our readers. I’m sure of that.

Next up: I’ll be presenting at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in early June about writing about characters with LGBTQ parents, and writing about gay and questioning middle graders. More info here.