the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Sarah Johnson on Thu, Mar 05, 2015 @ 04:03 AM

Today we celebrate TWO new picture books by Kathi Appelt: When Otis Courted MaMa and Counting Crows. Both received a star from Kirkus Reviews!

Kathi is the New York Times best-selling author of over 40 books for children and young adults.  She lives in College Station, TX with her husband Ken and five gifted and talented cats. She also teaches on the faculty of VCFA. 

Counting Crows CoverOne, two, three crows in a tree.  Crows in red sweaters, nest and caw, gather snacks, and dodge a kitty’s paw.  How many crows take to the sky? Count all the crows and watch them fly!  Open and look to see just how this counting book is the cat’s meow.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

When it comes to the crows, I have to confess that I’m fascinated by crows.  And I do admire the name of the band, Counting Crows.  For years, I carried around this idea of a picture book that featured a set of crows who counted things.  They were “counting crows.”  Not multiplying crows or dividing crows, simply counting crows.  But it took me forever to figure what they were counting, and it took me longer to figure out the rhythm of the counting.  So, I had the idea in my head for probably ten years before I finally figured it out.  After that, it only took me a few days to put it together.  And of course, then came the revisions.  Ack!

When Otis Courted Mama cover

Apart from sticker burs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful.  He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy.  They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay—Cardell is mostly used to it.  Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a GRRR form in his throat.  Otis can’t make jalapeño flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy.  And Cardell waits for Mama to say “Adios Otis.”  But what will happen if she doesn’t?

What was the spark that ignited this book?

When it came to OTIS, I had a terrific, funny and very kind stepfather.  One day, while I was working on my memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS, and thinking about my father, it occurred to me that in children’s literature, the role of stepparent is usually that of the antagonist. And yet, in real life, there are a lot of very good stepparents who are doing a great job of it, and who are making a difference in the lives of their stepchildren. But they don’t show up much in our stories.  I thought it was time for some other character besides Cinderella’s hideous stepmother to make an appearance.  And I used my own stepfather George as a role model for Otis.


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Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I loved writing the character of Cardell in WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA because he reminded me of myself after my parents divorced.  He very much wants his mama to be happy, but he’s worried about his own happiness too.  Can he share his mother?  Otis has to win him over, and it’s not easy for either of them.


What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

I love Cynthia Rylant for her everything.  For plot, it’s hard to beat Louis Sachar.  I think that HOLES is about as perfect as a book can be in that regard.  For character, it’s hard to beat Rita Williams-Garcia.  

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

I try hard to make sure that my characters are acting.  I actually love it when they’re sitting on their hands doing a lot of woolgathering.  Why?  That’s what I like to do. But that usually doesn’t work out for readers.  We want characters who are moving—either forwards or backwards, doesn’t matter so long as they’re going somewhere and doing something.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing? 

Feral hogs.  I needed to know a few things about them for my book THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

The community of excellence that is VCFA has changed who I am as both a person and a writer.  

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Listening to Alan Cumyn sing “Hallelujah."

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Do it. 

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

That insulated boots are best for the winter.

Counting Crows graphic

Thanks for joining us today, Kathi.

Connect with Kathi on Facebook at

You can also visit her at her website:


Topics: 2015 release, picture book, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, HMH Books For Young Readers, Kirkus Star

Roundup - Bank Street Honors VCFA Authors, Book Deals & More

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 @ 06:06 AM

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It may be Friday the thirteenth (and a full moon at that!) but at VCFA it's our lucky day!

Bank Street College of Education recently released its list of Best Books of 2014 and there are a slew of familiar Vermont College of Fine Arts names on the list. Check out this honor roll of VCFA writers!

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Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House). Old MacDonald and Señor Pancho both have a lot of noisy farm animals in this festive, bilingual sing-a-long. Lively ink and watercolor illustrations

Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick Press). Big brother is certain that his baby sister—who chomps everything in sight—must be a vampire, so he tries to find the right home for her. Humorous mixed-media color illustrations.

Cowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo by Nancy Bo Flood, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press/Highlights) A day of roping and riding competitions at a rodeo is depicted through photographs, poetry, and prose.

Yes, Let’s by Galen Goodwin Longstreth, illustrated by Maris Wicks (Tanglewood) A family trip to the woods, including a hike, a picnic, and swimming, packs a lot of fun into one day. Colorful, humorous illustrations.

Robot, Go Bot! by Dana Meachen Rau, illustrated by Wook Jin Jung (Random House). Simple words, in comic-style balloons, tell the engaging story of a bossy girl and her robot.

Penelope Crumb Never Forgets by Shawn K. Stout, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (Philomel Books/Penguin) When a quirky, spirited girl establishes her Ultra Museum of Forget-Me-Notters, her choice of objects to represent her loved ones causes havoc. Black-and-white puppet-like illustrations.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad Press/HarperCollins) Life gets complicated for the Gaither sisters in 1968 Brooklyn—Dad’s in love, uncle Darnell’s home from Vietnam, and the Jackson Five are coming to town.

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley (Clarion/HMH) Mehrigul, a Uyghur farm girl and gifted basketmaker, longs to go back to school but must battle her aggressive father, her depressed mother, and the Chinese rulers who have invaded her homeland.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing) Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn, along with the Sugar Man and two raccoons, must save the Texas swamp and its rare inhabitants from animal and human predators. Fast-paced and funny.

Parched by Melanie Crowder (Harcourt Children’s Books/HMH) Sarel and Musa use their knowledge of the land to survive after the violent deaths of family members and abuse by gang members brought on by a devastating drought.

Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (Candlewick Press) Jane, a high school senior recovering from the loss of her arm from a shark attack, discovers her special talents as well as her responsibilities to herself and others. Told in narrative verse. (Sequel to Shark Girl)

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson (Viking/Penguin) Emotional eater Ann has allowed her weight to control her life, until she is faced with her aunt’s wedding. She then acquires a greater understanding of her family.


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Hailed for its creepy cool cover (we think it's a twisted tip of the hat to Downton Abbey!) Fuse #8's blog at School Library Journal featured Julie Berry's upcoming release The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook Press).

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With months still to go before its publication date, Dianne White's Blue On Blue (Beach Lane Press) has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Way to go, Dianne! This is the first of many accolades this beautiful book will receive!


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Happy launch week to Makeover Magic, the third book in Jill Santopolo's delightful Sparkle Spa series! Jill stopped by The Launchpad to talk about this series back in March -- read about it here if you missed it!

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A. B. Westrick's critically acclaimed middle grade novel Brotherhood (Viking 2013) is out this week in paperback!

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Coretta Scott King/Steptoe Award winner Kekla Magoon's The Guerilla Life of Manolo Cabesas, the story of a rural teen's transformation into a hardened soldier for a rebel army in South America, to Andrea Tompa at Candlewick, by Michelle Humphrey at the Martha Kaplan Agency (World). Congratulations, Kekla!!

Cynthia Surrisi sold her debut middle-grade mystery, The Maypop Kidnapping to Carolrhoda. It's set in a small coastal Maine village filled with eccentric locals; when 13-year-old Quinnie's beloved teacher goes missing, Quinnie leads a relentless, sometimes misguided search – against her mother's orders and it's scheduled for publication in 2015! Hooray Cynthia!

Erin Hagar sold a biography that's sure to be near and dear to our hearts-- and tummies! Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures, beautifully illustrated and aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, will be published next spring by DUOPRESS Books. We can't wait, Erin. Bon Appetit! 

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And last but not least...

The deadline for the Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain is fast approaching! (June 30th) Enter your Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Picture Book manuscripts (up to 10,000 words). This year's judge is Katherine Applegate, Newbery-winning author of The One and Only Ivan and dozens of other books. There's a $1000 first prize, and past winners have found literary agents and ultimately sold books to major presses following the publication of their winning pieces at Hunger Mountain. Please visit Hunger Mountain at for guidelines.

Topics: Candlewick Press, Holiday House, Elwood Smith, 2014 release, round-up, Shawn K. Stout, Philomel, Penguin Random House, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, HMH Books For Young Readers, A. B. Westrick, Kekla Magoon, Kelly Bingham, Paul Meisel, Roaring Brook Press, Viking, 2013 release, Jan Sonnenmair, Maris Wicks, Cynthia Surrisi, Kelly Bennett, Nancy Bo Flood, Wordsong, Amistad Press, K. A. Barson, Random House, congratulations, Julie Berry, Melanie Crowder, Rita Williams-Garcia, Rene Colato Lainez, Jill Santopolo, Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Dianne White, Valeria Docampo, Beach Lane Books, Boyds Mills Press, Highlights, Galen Goodwin Longstreth, Tanglewood, Josanne La Valley, Clarion, Dana Meachen Rau, Wook Jin Jung

Kathi Appelt and MOGIE!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 @ 14:06 PM

Today the LaunchPad is honored to welcome an author and friend who's nearest and dearest to our hearts, long-time VCFA faculty member Kathi Appelt and her new tug-at-your-heartstrings picture book MOGIE!

describe the imageMogie is a real-life Labradoodle with a special talent: he always knows just what a sick kid needs! Get to know this passionate pup with this story by a Newbery Honoree.

Give that dog a puddle and he’d splash. Give him a whistle and he’d roll over. Give him a rule and he’d break it.
One day a passel of puppies was born. Each puppy was designated for a Very Important Job, like Service Dog, or Search and Rescue Dog, or Groomed for the Show Ring Dog.
Each puppy, that is, except Mogie. Mogie was a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup. Not the kind of pup for any of those jobs!
But there is a place that is just right for Mogie: a very special house where sick children and their families can stay while they undergo long-term treatment. A place with children who NEED a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup.
And there’s one little boy in particular who needs Mogie. And Mogie is about to prove he’s the best darn pooch in the passel. Based on a true story, this heartwarming picture book is published in conjunction with the Ronald McDonald House.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and many picture books. She has two grown children and lives in Texas with her husband Ken. She is also a member of the faculty in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
The challenge in writing this book was that when I interviewd some of the folks at that Ronald McDonald House in Houston, whenever I spoke to an adult, they would recall a particularly touching anecdote about how Mogie helped one of the kids, and before I knew it we’d all be weeping.  But when I interviewed the kids about Mogie, they typically started laughing.  Like most pets, he’s a combination of sweet and silly.
Trying to find the balance between sentimental and happy-go-lucky was really difficult.  Lots of drafts later, I finally realized that I needed to make this story about one dog and one boy, and hopefully that way I could find the heart of the story.

What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
Sentences:  Cynthia Rylant
Plot:  Pat Conroy
Character:  Kimberly Willis Holt
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you? 
When I was writing The Underneath, Tobin Anderson told me to “write what you think you can’t.”  I feel like I should have that tattooed on my wrist so that I can remember it every single day.

Who were your advisors at VCFA? 
Each and every one of my fellow faculty mates and students.  I learn so much from them.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Be willing to set aside everything you think you know, and listen, listen. listen. Be willing to be surprised.
Mogie is already receiving rave reviews- here's one from the Wall Street Journal.
Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
MOGIE, THE HEART OF THE HOUSE (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) in bookstores everywhere June 10, 2014
For a huge treat check out Kathi's trailer for Mogie, with music composed and performed by her son Cooper Appelt.

Topics: nonfiction, 2014 release, picture book, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Hawaii Loves VCFA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Jun 09, 2014 @ 14:06 PM

The nominees for the 2015 Nene Awards are in, and we're thrilled to see some familiar names on the list. The Nene is Hawaii's official state children's book award, and the nominated books are read and voted on by grades 4-6 statewide. How cool is that?

Huge Launchpad congratulations to all the wonderful nominees, with a special shout-out to the following VCFA faculty members and alums:

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Kathi Appelt and The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2013).

Marion Dane Bauer and Little Dog, Lost (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2012).

Sue Cowing and You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011). (Sue is an alum of VCFA's fantastic MFA in Writing program and is a wonderful advocate of children's lit in Hawaii and beyond!)

Annemarie O'Brien and Lara's Gift (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2013).

Trent Reedy and Stealing Air (Arthur A. Levine Books 2012).

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Of course, the biggest winners are the kids of Hawaii who get to read all these great books!

Topics: Marion Dane Bauer, 2011 release, Knopf Books for Young Readers, Carolrhoda Books, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Trent Reedy, middle grade, 2013 release, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012 release, Sue Cowing, congratulations, Annemarie O'Brien

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