Thursday, June 20, 2013

The 2013 Crystal Kite Winner Proflies: Utah/Southern Idaho's Jean Reagan (for "How To Babysit A Grandpa")

Jean Reagan is the winner of the 2013 Crystal Kite Award for SCBWI's Southwest region (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico!)

Crystal Kite Winner Jean Reagan

Jean won for her picture book, "How To Babysit A Grandpa" (Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Children's Books), which was illustrated by Lee Wildish.  Here's our interview...

Lee:  Congratulations, Jean!  Tell us about finding out you'd won the Crystal Kite!

Jean:  I was ecstatic when I learned HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA had won the Crystal Kite award for the Southwest (USA) region. Keeping the news quiet for 24 hours until it became official was challenging! Because this award is chosen by peers, it carried a special meaning for me. Fellow children's authors and illustrators understand that the journey towards publication is littered with disappointments, hard work, rejections, self-doubt, and luck. They know, firsthand. Thank you!  Truth be told, all my critique buddies should share this award. In fact, they should be listed as co-authors on the book cover.

Lee: Tell us a little about your book.

Jean:  In HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA (Knopf, 2012) a young boy thinks he’s babysitting his grandpa although the readers are in on the joke. The “babysitter” shares tips on taking care of a grandpa: snacks for a grandpa, how to entertain a grandpa, what to draw for a grandpa, what to do when you see a puddle, how to encourage a grandpa to nap and then, of course, how to wake him up. The hardest part of the day? Goodbye time. Fortunately, there are tips for how to say goodbye.

In picture books, the author is only half of the partnership. This book’s illustrator, Lee Wildish, created delightful characters and conveyed their loving relationship with energy and joy. And he did it so subtly. As a non-illustrator, I was blown away. He also added details and layers of humor that invite readers to revisit the pages again and again.

Lee:  Can you share with us a little about your involvement with SCBWI and your journey to publication?

Jean:  When I started writing for children about ten years ago, one of the first things I did was join the SCBWI. We have an active local chapter with monthly meetings, and I also attended local, regional, and national conferences. Through these activities and SCBWI's publications, I gained skills, found encouragement when I needed it most, and learned to cherish what we do. At my very first conference I heard Bruce Colville say that he writes for children to help them become, “kinder, gentler, and braver.” What a noble calling!

When the sting of a rejection knocked me down, his words got my butt back in my writing chair. Soon after that conference, as an offshoot of the local chapter, I formed a critique group with three other aspiring authors. By now, we probably have well over four hundred rejections between us, but we also have ten nationally published books. Without this critique group, I would have given up years ago!

My very first book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (Tilbury House, 2009), was published because of a contact I made at an SCBWI conference. An illustrator, Lea Lyon, and I deeply bonded because we share a family tragedy, a death of a child. She critiqued my picture book manuscript about sibling loss and contacted her editor at Tilbury House. Had I not attended that conference, my book would not have found its home. Finding my agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, was a direct result of the SCBWI, too.

As I “window shopped” for an agent, I watched Jamie coordinate the NYC conference as an SCBWI employee, and then at a California conference I heard her on an agent panel. I was impressed. But when my RA, Sydney Husseman, recommended Jamie after hosting her at a SCBWI conference, I was ready to seal the deal.

As for HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA, I signed up for an editor’s critique at a local SCBWI conference. Without a doubt, her comments enabled me to take the manuscript to the next level, thereby helping it catch the attention of Allison Wortche at Knopf. I would have thrown in the towel (the pen?) on writing years ago, if it hadn’t been for all the connections, support, and even magic created through the SCBWI. Thank you! Thank you!

Lee: What advice do you have for children's book writers and illustrators?

Jean:  Join the SCBWI, for sure! Attend SCBWI activities and conferences. Be brave and sign up for a manuscript critique. Join a critique group. Enter writing contests. (They provide writing prompts and deadlines. Some offer editorial feedback. And as your writing improves, they can give you a confidence boost.) Celebrate every step in your writing life: connections, beginnings, follow-throughs, completions, acts of courage and even those darn rejections. Celebrate everyone else's steps, as well. Helping children become “kinder, gentler, and braver,” should be a lifelong celebration for us all.

Lee: Well said, Jean.

Jean:  Thank you, Lee!

I also connected with Neysa Jensen, the Regional Advisor for Utah/southern Idaho, to find out more about their SCBWI region and to get the inside story on Jean's win...

Hi Lee, What a great idea to profile the Crystal Kite winners. We're very excited for Jean. I'll talk more about her in a second.

Our region is Utah/southern Idaho. Geographically, it is huge. Probably 1,000 miles from the southern end of Utah to the point north of Boise. (That north portion of Idaho is part of the Inland Northwest region, along with eastern Washington.) For perspective, our region would take two full 8-hour days of driving to go from one end to the other. While we're huge geographically, our membership is not. We have approximately 250 members. The vast majority of those are in the Salt Lake City area, the largest metropolitan area in our region. The other largest segment of members is in the Boise area. Those populations are about 350 miles apart. So you can see how managing a region like this is tricky. We have several events each year to try to reach as many of these members as possible. We hold a large conference in Boise each spring, held jointly with the Literacy Department in the College of Education at Boise State University. (We used to have a large conference in Salt Lake, but there are so many writing conferences there, it's just really not a good use of our energy.) So in Salt Lake, we have started doing a one-day intensive workshop with one person. Last year it was Cheryl Klein. This year it will be Alane Ferguson. We have an Illustrator's Day in the SLC area in February. We also have bi-monthly meetings around Utah. And we have a small workshop in the southern part of Utah. This summer, we are trying something new, we're calling it the Great Critique. People from all over the region will be gathering together in their respective corners of our two states to critique one another's work. Very excited about that. We also usually have a PAL reception before the workshop on SLC in the fall.

As for Jean: I first met Jean in NYC at the mid-winter conference. We were roommates. It was my first international conference as a newly minted ARA (so that would have been about 2004 or 2005). She and I had delicious late night discussions, the way you do with total strangers in a hotel room.

Because Jean lives in Utah and I live in Boise, we don't see each other much. However, I was thrilled when I learned she had won the Crystal Kite. She is certainly deserving of this honor. One thing Jean and I have in common is that I was raised in the Park Service--my dad was a ranger. Jean spends her summers in Wyoming as a park ranger. So we both love the outdoors and conservation. 

To find out more about Jean and her books, visit her website here.

To learn more about the Utah/Southern Idaho region of SCBWI, visit their website here.

My thanks to Jean and Neysa, and cheers to Jean for her Crystal Kite Award!

Illustrate and Write On,

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