Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It's a New Podcast: A Conversation with Publisher Allyn Johnston

We're delighted to share with you this one-on-one conversation with Vice-President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, Allyn Johnston.

Everyone can listen to the trailer here.

Members of SCBWI can listen to the full episode here (sign in first, then click on "Members log in and click here for full podcasts")

In this in-depth, behind-the-scenes chat with Theo Baker, Allyn shares about her journey to becoming a children's book editor and publisher, the questions she asks of her authors and illustrators, and she shares some great stories about how certain books -- and long-term relationships with her Beach Lane Books authors and illustrators --  happened!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The 2017 Golden Kite Award For Nonfiction Goes to "We Will Not Be Silent" by Russell Freedman - The Interview

I asked Russell to please share the spark of inspiration that became "We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler.."

Here's his response: 

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about some of the major historical events of my time. Looking back, I’ve recaptured forgotten memories and, through research, gained a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped my generation. Along the way, I wanted to add my voice to the massive body of literature about the holocaust without simply repeating what has already been said. I was searching for an approach that would convey a redeeming theme of hope and human decency amidst the ruins of history. My eureka moment–my spark of inspiration—resulted from a chance encounter with an amazing movie. A friend gave me a DVD of Sophie Scholl, a German film nominated in 1985 for an Academy Award as the year’s best foreign language film. A powerful story about youthful courage and idealism, the film introduced me to the White Rose student resistance movement in Nazi Germany—an episode of youthful courage and idealism. This was the story I had been searching for. I immediately began the research that would take me to Munich, Germany, birthplace of both the Nazi party and the anti-Nazi student resistance movement, a city dedicated today to the memory of the fearless young activists who defied Adolf Hitler.

Russell's editor Dinah Stevenson was kind enough to answer some questions as well...

Lee; What made you say “Yes!” to “We Will Not Be Silent”?

Dinah: I always say yes to Russell. Sometimes he proposes a couple of different book ideas and I choose between them. This time he didn’t offer alternative projects, and I immediately agreed that this should be his next project. I shared his vision that this book, with its young protagonists, would be fascinating and inspiring to young readers. Further, I responded to the subject on a personal level, since both Russell and I are Jews.

Lee: Did the book change throughout the process of working with Russell, and if so, how?

Dinah: Not noticeably. Russell’s manuscripts are invariably well thought out and complete, and this one was no exception. I asked him to clarify and provide context for some of the content. There were no substantive changes.

Lee: Do you have thoughts to share on Russell winning the Golden Kite for this book — the book you edited?

Dinah: I’m thrilled to see this book recognized by SCBWI, his fellow writers, and to know that you share my belief in this book. Of course I like it when discerning groups like you and the Sibert Award committee agree with me. But many editors are shy, nocturnal creatures and don’t welcome the spotlight. I’m one of them. I credit Russell’s brilliant writing and thorough professionalism with the success of his work, and I’m delighted that he dedicated this book to me—honoring our long-term author-editor relationship and our close friendship.

Thank you, Dinah!

And thanks and congratulations again to Russell!

Curious to learn more about the Golden Kite Awards? Here's that link.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Twitter Hightlights of #LA17SCBWI

What a conference! Here are some of the top moments that are still resonating on social media...

Old friends. New friends. So much love and inspiration! ❤️Thank you for an unforgettable weekend at

"Creating a picture book is the closest you can come to whispering in a child's ear." - LeUyen Pham

I danced the hokey-pokey with my hero . Life does not get any better then this, my friends!

"Readers respond when you're not trying to do what you think they want but when you do what feels most genuine to you.”

"Lean into adversity. Wrap your arms around it, shake it off, and pack it under." Vanessa Brantley Newton

LeUyen Pham has illustrated NINETY BOOKS! And is always trying to explore new styles and challenge herself. Lotsa A++++ tips!

"Writers block is the fear of sucking. Get started & maintain momentum; making the art makes you feel better." – at

You need to dream so big it scares the hell out of you -Vanessa Brantley Newton Yes!

"The author has to keep you on the road. The illustrator can show you the beauty of the road." -Javaka Steptoe on

"The darkness in fairy tales is a necessary darkness." - keynote

"I have always believed a writer never retires. ...As a writer, am I retired? Well, you never know…" - Judy Blume

"I've sold 300 books. All of them had their own paths to publication." -

"Young readers are deep thinkers and deep feelers." -

"Have faith in your art, even when others don't." -Sean Qualls

You can see all the conference blog posts here, and check out what's on social media with the hashtag #LA17SCBWI

And thanks to my fellow team bloggers for #LA17SCBWI, Sona Charaipotra, Susie Ghahremani, Jolie Stekly, and Jaime Temairik!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 6, 2017

#LA17SCBWI Starts Tomorrow! Meet Your SCBWI Team Blog

Check out these interviews with Guest SCBWI Team Blog members Susie Ghahremani here and Sona Charaipotra here.

We'll be live blogging at http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/ and you can follow along on social media with the hashtag #LA17SCBWI

Here's to wonderful conference!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Jane Yolen on All The Wonders - Matthew Winner's gift for us

In this All The Wonders podcast, school librarian, writer, and podcast host Matthew Winner and multi-award-winning and multi-best-selling author Jane Yolen have a deep conversation about the power of story, and words, and the magic of writing something that is then read by someone else... and how those words, that story, takes on a whole new meaning.

It's uplifting, and inspiring, and it truly felt like a gift.

Thank you, Jane and Matthew.

You can listen here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Cindy Sommer's SAVING KATE'S FLOWERS wins in the New York Division

by Cindy Sommer

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Cindy: I wrote Saving Kate's Flowers after my daughter asked me why flowers die in winter. I thought of a story to go along with her question. Using my knowledge about gardening, which I learned from my mother, I wove facts into the story, but kept it fun to read as well. My main character, Kate, a bunny, tries to bring all the flowers into the house. But her daddy is allergic. I also have environmental allergies, so I can relate to the father. 
I originally wanted Kate to be a human girl, like my daughter. But the editor and illustrator saw her as a bunny. Ever since I saw the first adorable drawings from the illustrator, I loved them. I've had short stories published in children's magazines before, but this was my first picture book. I've sent out hundreds of manuscripts, but this was the first time my story clicked with a publisher. For this book to win an award is so exciting! I couldn't believe my book won. To come out on top of all those other well-deserving books and talented authors was amazing! It means the illustrator and I must have done something right. Without her pictures, my story could not have come to life the wonderful way that it did. To be recognized by your peers means so much. I am proud and humbled to have won this award. It means that I'm an award-winning author! It's a great pat on the back that I've been waiting years to receive. I guess all my hard work has paid off. Thank you so much to all those who voted. I truly appreciate it. 

Author Cindy Sommer

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Cindy: I've been a member of SCBWI for 17 years. It has made a positive impact on my writing life. SCBWI's informative newsletters, conferences and events keep all writers in touch with other writers and make them aware of what SCBWI has to offer. It also brings authors and illustrators together for events. Writing is a lonely job, and meeting others who think like you do helps to stir our creative spirits. I've learned about writing courses, new publishers, and how to improve my writing through SCBWI's newsletters. They offer a plethora of information all geared to helping authors and illustrators be successful. Their website offers even more information. You never know what useful tidbits you'll find. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Cindy: My advice would be to keep reading books in the genre you want to write in. Keep writing and working to improve it with classes, and joining a writer's group. I know it is hard to do, but you need to be able to handle criticism. You need to read your stories to other authors. Most stories need revising. How can you fix errors if your story isn't heard by anyone? You have to put it out there. Sometimes you are too close to your story, you can be blinded by it's good qualities. You may not be able to see the awful ones that are ruining the story. 
You can't expect to be successful right away. It takes work. Look for a topic a publisher hasn't done yet, and try to fill that hole in their list. Don't give up! No matter how many rejections you receive, if you are passionate about a story, keep working on it until it's perfect. If it keeps coming back, work on it some more, and send it out again. Eventually someone will see what you see, and who knows? Maybe you'll be lucky enough to have an award-winning book! A lot of it has to do with luck, and submitting to the right publisher at the right time. If you don't give up, and you keep trying, you too can make it happen. 

Thanks, Cindy, and congratulations again on Saving Kate's Flowers winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Cindy at her website, www.cindysommer.com

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

#LA17SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Advice from Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary by Guest Team Blogger Susie Ghahremani

One of the most thrilling parts of attending #LA17SCBWI as an illustrator is an opportunity to show your work alongside your peers at the Portfolio Showcase. Find the guidelines for submission here.

In addition to the satisfaction of putting your hard work together and sharing it with the world, the showcase also presents opportunities to win awards and scholarships — for all levels of experience, from student to seasoned professional.

As a former mentorship winner, I can’t speak highly enough about this opportunity. A portfolio mentorship entails the opportunity to get detailed, focused feedback from the conference Illustration Faculty during the conference. Consider more than just the technical specifications when you enter your portfolio in this show; each judge and visitor comes to the portfolio show with her own sense of what she is looking for.

To find out a bit more, I interviewed Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary about what an agent attending the conference might be looking for, and for her feedback and advice for illustrators entering this show:

Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary

Susie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer: I'm a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I rep authors and author-illustrators for books from PB through YA. 

Susie: How much of your roster is made up of illustrators (as opposed to authors, and author-illustrators)? If you’re primarily interested in author-illustrators, do you want to see a book dummy?

Jennifer: My own list is primarily authors - I do rep about 15 author-illustrators. I'd be open to somebody who was "just" an illustrator, but might have goals to be an author as well. As an agency we rep about 100 illustrators - you can see our roster here

If you are querying an author-illustrator piece, I'd want to see the text, a sketch dummy, and a couple of finishes. 

Susie: When browsing the portfolio show, what are some of the key things you look for (as an agent, or as a judge)?

Jennifer: I like a strong sense of MOVEMENT in illustration - dynamic pictures, rather than static. I like a picture that really tells a story, rather than just being a beautiful image or decoration. The thing is - lots of people are good at design and good at drawing, and might make swell editorial artists, or be great at surface design, textiles, cards, etc... but that DOESN'T automatically mean that they will be awesome at children's book illustration. 

Photo of the SCBWI LA Portfolio Showcase by Debbie Ridpath Ohi / @InkyElbows from the KidLitArtists blog

Susie: What’s something you recommend for the portfolio that illustrators might not think of doing?

Jennifer: It can be very helpful to see a couple of page turns. If you aren't an author, consider doing a couple of spreads from a well-known fairy or folk tale in your own way. 

Don't forget - illustration isn't JUST for picture books! It can be fun to see how an artist might approach book jackets and/or b+w interior spot art. If these are things that appeal to you, you might find your own way to interpret a "classic" book jacket or iconic literary scene. 

Susie: What are common portfolio or book dummy missteps you recommend illustrators avoid?

Jennifer: I think sometimes illustrators put in everything and the kitchen sink just so the portfolio is "big" but some pieces are obviously of lesser quality, or in a more amateur style, etc. I'd rather have fewer pieces of higher quality, than a portfolio bursting with filler. 

Susie: What subjects would you like to see appear more in portfolio pieces?

Jennifer: For illustrators doing humans, I'd like to see diversity. 

Susie: As an agent, what do you look for in a takeaway promo piece?

Jennifer: I look for pretty art and contact information. And if you are already agented PLEASE put your agent info on there, too. 

Susie: Any other general SCBWI conference advice?

Jennifer: Have fun. Stay sober. Drink lots of water. 

Susie: Thank you, Jennifer! Good luck to all the illustrators working hard to be part of this amazing show!

Grand Prize winner at #LA16SCBWI, Oge Mora, a student of the Rhode Island School of Design

For more portfolio advice, visit the SCBWI conference mentorship alumni blog, KidLitArtists here. And this post on the SCBWI site, Portfolio Tips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners.

Registration is still open - get all the details on the 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference, July 7-10, here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Neal Porter Podcast Is Live!

SCBWI Members, make sure to check out our latest podcast, A Conversation with Neal Porter.

Covering how a background in theater paid off in picture books, the many different roles of an editor, the business of children's books… and where it's going! Join Neal Porter, Editorial Director of Neal Porter Books at MacMillan's Roaring Brook Press, in a one-on-one conversation with Theo Baker.

Everyone can listen to the trailer here. Members can log in at scbwi.org now and then navigate to the episode [Resource Library --> Podcasts] or click here to listen to the full episode!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Art of Diversity: A CBC Panel, Reported in Publishers Weekly

"The world is your palette, but do it in a respectful, educated way." -Award-Winning Author/Illustrator Pat Cummings

As reported by Matia Burnett at Publishers Weekly, on June 13, 2017 at Random House's New York offices, the Art of Diversity panel took place. Moderated by Martha Rago, executive creative director at Random House, the panelists were Phoebe Yeh, v-p and publisher at Crown Books for Young Readers; author/illustrator Pat Cummings; and author/illustrator Selina Alko.

It's well-worth reading.

Illustrate and Write On!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Janet Fox's THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE wins in the Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)

Winner for the Western Division

Lee: Congratulations, Janet! Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Janet: I must begin with what this award means to me. I wouldn't be a published author without SCBWI, so the fact that my fellow members in the western states voted for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is both humbling and thrilling. I'm deeply grateful. 

THE CHARMED CHILDREN actually began as an SCBWI story, for it was one of my friends from the Houston region who posted an image on Facebook that formed the kernel of inspiration. The image was that of an 18th century piece of jewelry called a chatelaine, and the instant I saw it, that chatelaine drew me in because it was so peculiar. 

Originally a chatelaine was a ring of keys to the chateau, or castle, worn dangling from the belt of the keeper of the keys. As time went on, the chatelaine changed composition. Most later chatelaines contained useful trinkets, like my protagonist Kat Bateson's chatelaine: scissors, thimbles, and pens were common. Other chatelaines were like a charm bracelet for the waist, with small charms that would be significant to the wearer. 

The chatelaine my friend posted (which you'll find as an image in the book) contains some reasonable charms, like a dog, cat, heart, and anchor. But...what about that eel? The hunchback boy? And oddest of all, the hand-sign that was used to ward off evil...and the mystical number 13? 

It struck me that this peculiar chatelaine, which in my story is worn by the Lady of the Scottish castle where the story is set, is a stand-in for magic and mystery and that Kat’s chatelaine is a stand-in for all that is normal and useful. What happens when magic - especially evil magic - goes up against something practical? Which object contains more power? And why? 

As I developed the story, it seemed only right to place it in Europe, so I chose England during the early days of World War 2 in homage to one of my favorite childhood series, the Narnia books. Kat and her siblings are sent from their home in London to escape the Blitz in the fall of 1940, and they land in that Scottish castle that purports to be a school, but is in fact a place of terrible danger. The novel is a mix of magic, mystery, the war, spies, ghosts, steampunk, fairy tales, fantasy, and most importantly family. 

Author Janet Fox

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Janet: I've been an SCBWI member for almost 15 years, and there is no question that my involvement with the organization has been the springboard for all of my successes. 

When I first began writing for children, we had just moved to College Station, Texas. While Texas was not a natural habitat for this New Englander, I couldn't have landed in a better place. For one thing, I met Kathi Appelt early on, and she introduced me to the local writing community, to SCBWI, and she became my mentor and dear friend. She encouraged me to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA, and when I was at my lowest point, she gave me feedback on an early draft of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE that kept the novel - and my writing career - alive. 

 The SCBWI conferences I attended around the state of Texas were crucial to my understanding of both craft and the children's publishing market. I met my first and current agents at SCBWI conferences. I grew as a writer through the support of my SCBWI critique partners. After a few years of volunteering I became the Regional Advisor for our small Brazos Valley region, and served for seven years. I consider my SCBWI family in Texas and now in Montana, where I'm currently the assistant Regional Advisor, as invaluable and precious. 

When I attended my first New York conference my appreciation for the organization expanded, with the wealth of information presented and the generosity of other SCBWI members and regional advisors. I still remember the feeling of being an unpublished newbie in that huge conference hall, yet I was warmly welcomed by the more experienced members of the organization. The kidlit community is exceptionally welcoming, and SCBWI serves to gather and foster that community. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Janet: I've been writing for many years, and have experienced my share of both ups and downs. So my first piece of advice is don't quit. 

Learn the craft, practice what you learn, and keep growing.

Read. Read everything. 

Write, every day if you can. Write across genres, even those that are hard for you to write. 

Engage with this fantastic community of writers, who will support you. And remember to give back. 

Write from your heart. You have a unique story to tell, and the world is waiting for it.

Thanks, Janet. And again, congratulations!

Find out more about Janet here: http://janetsfox.com/

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Diversity Social At #LA17SCBWI

The Diversity Social -- a partnership between We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI -- is another great reason to attend SCBWI's 2017 Summer Conference in Los Angeles, CA, this July 7-10.

Here's Linda Sue Park, Miranda Paul, and Alex Gino, all of whom will attend, with some thoughts to share:

Lee: Why is this so important to you?

Linda Sue: I am on the Board of Advisors for both SCBWI and WNDB. They are the two organizations nearest and dearest to my heart. I firmly believe that together, we're an unstoppable force for helping young readers grow up to save the world.

Alex: Children are learning what's in the world and what to think of it. Kids who are marginalized for their gender, race, religion, disability, language, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and/or family structure deserve to see themselves represented well in literature. And kids with privilege in any of those areas who read diversely are more likely become adults with compassion, which we as humans sorely need more of. I appreciate WNDB's broad vision of diversity, and our approach of addressing the need for increased diversity at every level of the publishing industry, from writers to publishers to booksellers and librarians to readers. And the more good diverse literature is available, the more those readers will turn into writers and publishers and booksellers and librarians.

Miranda: The diversity social is important to me because diversity is an important issue, period. Representation in books is a matter of social justice. Event after event from diversity campaigns lead to connections, and opportunities, and ultimately books that build empathy in our citizens. As a child, I grew up with characters who looked like me, but what about creators who are still overcoming a lack of childhood representation? The creators who will attend this event are making books for my children, who unfortunately don't have the same random chance to see themselves represented as I did. Every event WNDB and SCBWI does can help turn the tide, even if it's only a small amount. The audiences we write for are young and forming their identities. Our literature needs to honor and reflect the lives, stories, and experiences of all young people. Every event that helps to support diverse book creators ultimately helps children be more able to find books that speak to them or open their minds to others' experiences.

Lee: Why it should be important (or should it?) for every creator of content for kids and teens attending the conference?

Linda Sue: The goal is for children's books to accurately include and reflect the glorious diversity of children in this country. Until then, creating, publishing, bookselling, and sharing books will always be fraught with questions of representation and fairness. Only when we reach the point of true inclusion will we ALL be able to create and publish with total freedom. The long game: Creating a diverse landscape in children's literature BENEFITS EVERYONE.

Miranda: I don't think it's important for every creator of content for kids and teens to attend this event. I do think that diverse writers and illustrators, outspoken and considerate allies, and publishing professionals who are looking to acquire more #ownvoices material should definitely come. You're not alone!

Lee: What are your hopes for the social?

Linda Sue: It's my fervent hope that the 'Diversity Social' will be THE gathering to attend at the conference! I hope all such gatherings will grow and grow until they're so inclusive that we won't need them any longer. Every facet of children's literature--creators, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, SCBWI members!--should be as diverse as the world we live in. It's the first step toward the ultimate dream of 'liberty and justice FOR ALL.'

I also hope it will be REALLY REALLY FUN. ;-D

Alex: My hope is that the social will connect burgeoning and unpublished diverse writers and illustrators with information about WNDB and our programs, including our grant and mentorship programs, as well as with authors and illustrators working in the field. I also hope that writers and illustrators interested in learning more about WNDB and possibly getting more involved with what we do will take this opportunity to drop in, meet us, and ask questions about what it's like working with WNDB.

Miranda: I hope the diversity social at SCBWI's Summer conference helps attendees to kickstart new relationships or bolster previous acquaintances. Writing or illustrating books and navigating the publishing industry are not easy feats, but especially so if you're someone who is consistently in the minority at writer's events. Most creators work in isolation, and have questions about craft or business that are best answered or explored through relationships with experienced professionals. But how does one gain access to professionals who might have been through similar experiences or be writing from a similar viewpoint? The idea of gathering like-minded individuals in one room will allow some of those relationships to naturally begin through shared experience, heritage, or identity. SCBWI and WNDB, among many organizations, have been working to change the dismal diversity statistics in children's publishing. We've moved beyond hosting panels stating that we need diversity—we all know and agree. Our initiatives have shifted to taking action. I have no doubt that POCs, writers with disabilities, or those from or focused on underrepresented populations in children's literature will benefit from making connections in this casual setting.

We hope to see you there!

Get all the information about #LA17SCBWI here, and learn more about We Need Diverse Books at their website, here.

Illustrate and Write On,