Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crystal Kites Awards Announced!


The SCBWI is excited to announce the winners of the 2013 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for our fifteen regional divisions:


• Neil Malherbe - The Magyar Conspiracy (Tafelberg Publishers)


• Meg McKinlay - Ten Tiny Things (Fremantle Press)


• Katherine Applegate - The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Florida/Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina/Alabama/Mississippi

• Augusta Scattergood - Glory Be (Scholastic)


• Sharon Cameron - The Dark Unwinding (Scholastic)

Middle East/India/Asia

• Benjamin Martin - Samurai Awakening (Tuttle Publishing)


• Aaron Reynolds - Creepy Carrots (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Nevada/Arizona/Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/New Mexico

• Jean Reagan - How to Baby Sit A Grandpa (Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children's Books)

New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island)

• Jo Knowles - See You At Harry's (Candlewick Press)

New York

• Kate Messner - Capture the Flag (Scholastic)

Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey/Wash DC/Virginia/West Virginia/Maryland

• Ame Dyckman - BOY + BOT (Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children's Books)


• Lynne Kelly - Chained (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.)

The Americas (Canada/Mexico/Central & South America)

• Jennifer Lanthier - The Stamp Collector (Fitzhenry and Whiteside)


• Dave Cousins - Fifteen Days without a Head (Oxford University Press)

Washington/Oregon/Alaska/Idaho/Montana/North Dakota/South Dakota

• Kim Baker - Pickle (Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Publishers)

About the Crystal Kite Awards

The Crystal Kite Awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize great books from the seventy SCBWI regions around the world. Along with the SCBWI Golden Kite Awards, the Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.


Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature. For more information about the Crystal Kite Award, please visit www.scbwi.org, and click “Awards & Grants.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Information Cannot Be Free, Part II

Earlier this month  an article appeared in the main section of the National Post about Access Copyright's fight for Canadian writers. The organization is fighting on our behalf to maintain our compensation for our work that is photocopied by institutions such as schools and library.

The letters in response to the original article were full of vitriol. They made writers out to be blood-sucking fiends who scam students with our outrageous demands to be paid for our work. But what is the alternative? Government handouts? Then we'd be parasites draining the government teat. So we can't charge for our services, but we can't get government support either. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

It's a lovely utopian idea, this "information should be free" trope. In an ideal world, it would be. So should health care. And public transit. And gardening services. What about food? Yeah, I'd like that to be free too, especially caviar and truffles.

But no one really expects these goods and services gratis, do they? Yet writers' work - that should be free for the taking. We should write as a public service. From the goodness of our hearts.

I'm not quite clear on why writers come in for such misunderstanding and ire. Do people think writing isn't a "real job?" My mother-in-law might think so, because I drink a lot of coffee in my pajamas. But I work 90 hours a week, with no guaranteed income - no salary, no pension, no benefits. Words are not rain that fall from the sky. They take effort to produce, and time, and expertise. Yes - expertise.

Maybe our critics believe writing is something that anyone who can clutch a pencil can do. Yeah! Maybe that's it! They resent that we have actually sat down and done something so "easy" they haven't bothered to get around to that novel yet themselves. Or they don't recognize their own 'work,' ahem, needs a major edit and rewrite.

Or is it fear? That writers are intellectual and creative elites that wield magic they don't understand? I confess: I kind of like that idea, if not the fallout from it.

Writers are not corporate entities with huge coffers. We are not governments with enormous powers. We are not the 1% - most of us aren't, anyway. We are working stiffs, trying to get by just like retail clerks, machinists, and teachers.

The left should support us because we are workers exploited by big corporations. Shall we talk about the Big Six in publishing for a moment?

The right should support us because we are entrepeneurs who create jobs and bring wealth into our country. I've been self-employed for more than 20-odd years, have hired tons of people, and paid taxes the whole way through. Isn't this a good thing for Canada?

Clearly, society values our work. If it didn't, why would professors want to photocopy our words? Wouldn't they just write their own teaching materials?  Good content does find an audience. It should follow, then, that we are able to charge for it, just like video game producers do. Just like you, gentle reader, probably charge for your own contributive labour.

I've attached my second letter to the Post below. It was in reply to another letter, the gist of which will be self-evident.

Please write  to Letters@NationalPost.com to keep this story alive and get our plight back into the main pages. And consider contacting other media outlets as well. We need to tell our side of the story, even if that means stopping work for a moment - paying work - to do so.

---Helaine, blogging for free

"In his letter of April 25, James Homuth says, "for every author who insists they need an Access Copyright equivalent to get paid, there are at least two that can do without it." Can he please provide his data for this statistic?

He also says, "Make the content worthwhile, and you'll get paid." I'd like to see his business plan for this too. How, exactly, does Homuth think that magic happens? E-books on average pay far less than print. Magazine article revenue has stagnated for 15 years; rates for on-line articles are pitiful or nonexistent. Blogging? Not profitable, and problematical if you don't want weight-loss ads beside your posts. Self-publishing? The infamous "long tail" only works if you live as long as Methuselah - that's "if-come," not income.

The publishing business is changing at an unprecedented rate. True, writers do need to figure out new ways to make a living from our words. But "build it and they will come" doesn't work for books any more than it does for baseball parks. I'd be happy to sit down with Mr. Homuth and your own Post columnists to provide a clearer picture of how self-employed writers actually put bread on the table."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea Wins the Outstanding Youth Award!

I'm so thrilled that my book about the ocean won this fabulous award from the Canadian Science Writers Association so close to Earth Day.

Here's the Press Release. Congrats to Jay Ingram, who won the Adult Book award, and to all the others on the shortlist. I was told it was a very tough call, as all of the books are terrific. I must say I agree, so feel very lucky indeed.

The Canadian Science Writers’ Association offers two $1000 annual book awards to honour outstanding contributions to science writing 1) intended for and available to children/middle grades ages 8-12 years, and 2) intended for and available to the general public for books that were published in Canada during the 2012 calendar year.

The general audience book winner is Fatal Flaws by Jay Ingram. The youth book winner is The Big Green Book about the Big Blue Sea by Helaine Becker. Entries were judged on the basis of initiative, originality, scientific accuracy, clarity of interpretation and value in promoting a better understanding of science by the public.

The judges appreciated the way Jay Ingram brought excellent plain language story telling to an exceedingly complex topic in Fatal Flaws.

“The structure drove me forward as a reader. Good use of verbal imagery.”

Another judge said, “This book is well written and does not require a scientific background. The flow is good. The book provides a great overview of the status of prion diseases and does not fall into sensationalism.”

Clarity and the ability to engage the audience with a complex topic were also important factors when the judges considered The Big Green Book about the Big Blue Sea by Helaine Becker.

One judge commented that it is, “Clearly written with lots of information and discuses topics about the ocean and what happens in oceans. Well thought out, activities are good and relate well to the content being presented. Great use of experiments and observation. A good book for younger kids.”

The younger judges from grades 4 and 6 agreed, “I liked this book because it had many interesting experiments. I even did one myself.” “I really liked the experiments and it was very informative.”

The winners will be presented with their awards during the CSWA annual conference in Montreal at the gala and awards banquet on June 7.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Teaching with Poetry

I love the article posted on the fab blog, Teach with Picture Books about ways to use poetry in the classroom. I particularly love the sweet mention of AlphaBest.
Author and brill book reviewer Keith Schoch says:

Alphabest: The Zany, Zanier, Zaniest Book about Comparatives and Superlatives probably isn't a poetry book, since each page contains just three words (such as Fuzzy, Fuzzier, Fuzziest) but it reads like poetry, and helps kids understand how adjectives can be changed to compare two or more things. Author Helaine Becker sets the scene in a busy amusement park, and illustrator Dave Whamond delivers the goods with his spirited and wacky illustrations. Students can likewise choose a single adjective, and create images to illustrate its comparative and superlative forms.

Information Book Award Shortlist includes the Big Blue Sea...

The Vancouver Children's Roundtable released their longlist for Information Book Awards for 2013.

The link is http://vclr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/2013-Info-Book-Award-Preliminary-List.pdf

I'm delighted to announce my own book, The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea has made the first cut!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Information Should Not Be - Cannot Be - Free

The National Post printed an article early this week about the ongoing battle regarding copyright and what constitutes 'fair usage" in Canada. Universities, such as York, no longer feel they need to pay writers for work used for "educational purposes." I'm wondering if  Michael Geist, the law professor at the University of Ottawa quoted in the article, would like to donate his teaching time since it's also for "educational purposes?"

This (only partly) facetious comment brings us to the crux of the matter.

Access Copyright is a collective of publishers and writers (and yes, I am an affiliate) - real people, not Borg or ants or government functionaries. The organization  manages licensing for reproduction rights to our work, and provides an important source of revenue for us. But Access Copyright has been forced into a corner. We don't want to sue universities. We love universities, and elementary schools, and libraries - all the public institutions that we rely on to keep us all educated.

But we writers simply can't afford to create work that we will not be paid for. Nor should we be asked to do so. If Professor "Information Must Be Free" won't pay for the use of our work, we will not make it available to him or anyone else.

This is already the sad case in Canada. Our children's publishing industry, which is vibrant and productive and brings tons of money into our economy, is threatened not only by the digital revolution and globalization, but by people who don't understand that writers are not public servants. We are entrepeneurs. We only make money when our books and articles are SOLD. And then, we earn only a fraction of the cover price of a book as royalties.

Schools and libraries are a big part of our business, especially for those of us who write mainly for children. Access Copyright and its licensing arrangements were set up to correct the imbalance that happens when single books are purchased by institutions who then photocopy them for entire classrooms, year after year. Licensing fees recognize the inherent value of our work, and the fact that reproduction technology robs us of legitimate income. 

But what happens if institutions decide not  to pay us for fair use of our materials? Then that market effectively evaporates - poof!

When a market disappears, so does the rationale for producing goods and services for it. Would Gilette produce razors for hairless people? No. Would coffee shops exist if no one liked caffeine? No. So how many Canadian writers and publishers do you think will produce books for Canadian schools and libraries if we can't get paid for them?

How about a big fat zero?

That's already what's happening. There's been a "chill" on Canadian subjects for kids books for the last few years as uncertainty about revenue simmers.

In the meantime, writers like me start focusing on topics we can sell internationally, where we can sell both more print and digital copies of our works. This may one day to turn out to be a boon for me - perhaps I'll wind up selling even more books overall. But it won't be so hot for Canadians, especially Canadian school kids, parents and teachers. What books will students learn Canadian history from? What sources will tell them about great Canadians? What stories will they see themselves reflected in?

None. If Access Copyright loses its legal and moral rights to collect money for my works from users, I'll be writing books set in "Chicago," not Toronto. And writing biographies of American heroes, American history, American scientific advances.

So to those who think this issue is a cash grab by a faceless corporate or government entity, think again. You're taking money from educators whose role is just as important as the teacher who uses our books, articles, etc. in the classroom. Most of us aren't rich. Taking away our livelihood does not help taxpayers, it justs shifts the expense to the welfare rolls, - a less fair, less efficient, and certainly less intelligent model than paying us for our work is.

To read the article in the Post, click here. You'll see my comment there too (a slight variation of the letter that appeared in the print edition of the Post this morning).

Please put your own comments on the Post site so our voices are heard!

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea - nommed for CSWA Science Writing Award!

The Canadian Science Writers’ Association offers two $1000 annual book awards to honour outstanding contributions to science writing 1) intended for and available to children/middle grades ages 8-12 years, and 2) intended for and available to the general public. Entries, in either French or English were published in Canada during the 2012 calendar year. The winners of this year’s award will be announced in mid-April and the award will be presented during the CSWA awards banquet at the annual conference in Montreal on June 7th.

Here is the shortlist in alphabetical order for outstanding youth book published in 2012:

Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea, Helaine Becker

Earth Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, Etta Kaner

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies, Carol Pasternak

World in Your Lunchbox, Claire Eamer

Here is the shortlist in alphabetical order for outstanding adult book published in 2012:

Bébé Illimités, Dominique Forget

Devils Curve, Arno Kopecky

Fatal Flaws, Jay Ingram

Seeking Sickness, Alan Cassels

Truth or Beauty, David Orrell

The final winner in each category will be announced in mid-April and the awards will be presented during the CSWA awards banquet at the annual conference in Montreal on June 7th.

Because: Science!