Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Editor Rosemary Brosnan on Writing Dynamic, Three-Dimensional Secondary Characters

As featured on Epic Reads, Rosemary Brosnan, Vice-President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperTeen, uses an excerpt from her debut author Gillian French's novel Grit in this article on "How To Write Dynamic Secondary Characters."

The piece has great insights, including:
"As an editor, I often see novice writers describing their characters right on the first page by having the characters pass a mirror, or by using another artificial device. Take your time, trust yourself as a writer, and let your characters reveal themselves throughout the story."
Rosemary also suggests an intriguing writing prompt that involves a main character with two friends, one true, and one a backstabber. The main character doesn't know one is a backstabber, and the challenge is for you to write it in a way that shows the reader who is who. Rosemary suggests taking this prompt and using it to write four specific and different scenes.

An excellent exercise!

Check out the full article and writing prompt instructions here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 2017 Crystal Kite Winners!

Congratulations to the 2017 Crystal Kite winners!

The Crystal Kite awards are a peer-voted honor bestowed for excellence in children’s books. SCBWI members vote in 15 regions across the world to recognize outstanding books written and illustrated by their peers. Over 1,000 books across all categories including picture books, middle grade, chapter books, young adult and nonfiction were entered in the competition.

And the winners are...

Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Wash DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Australia, New Zealand
Smile Cry by Tania McCartney & Jess Racklyeft
Australia NZ

California, Hawaii
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature by Cynthia Jenson-Elliott & Christy Hale
CA Hawaii

Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories in the Stars by Joan Marie Galat

Internationals Other
El jardín mágico by Carme Lemniscates

Mid South Division (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Middle East, India, Asia
Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Middle East

Mid West Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio)
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller (& Frank Morrison)

New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island)
FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang (& Raul Colon)
New England

New York
Saving Kate's Flowers by Cindy Sommer (& Laurie Allen Klein)
New york

SouthEast Division (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama 
Wish by Barbara O’Connor

SouthWest Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)
Space Boy and the Space Pirate by Dian Curtis Regan

Texas, Oklahoma
Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thoms by Gwendolyn Hooks

UK, Ireland
More of Me by Kathryn Evans
UK Ireland

Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Want to enter your book in next year's Crystal Kite competition? Go here for all the info.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SCBWI Members! The latest podcast is available now: A Conversation with President and Publisher of Dutton Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel

We're really excited about our new season of podcasts -- another benefit of membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

This month's episode is a backstage, intimate discussion with Julie Strauss-Gabel. Julie shares about the apprenticeship process of becoming an editor, what's important about YA, what makes it on her own list, her "tough" reputation, and so much more!

The trailer is available for everyone to listen to here.

Members, just log in at scbwi.org and click

resources -->

podcasts -->

members-only podcast page

to hear the full episode!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Anne Lamott Wisdom

This is from a couple of years ago, and reading it again now it is still so powerful. Maybe it's more impactful now, actually, since I'm a bit older, too. Here are three (of the fourteen) things New York Times Best-selling Author Anne Lamott shared with the world (via Facebook) when she was on the cusp of turning 61...

1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. 

6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born. 

7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing. 

Go here for the full piece, as republished on Salon.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Encouraging Reluctant/Dyslexic Readers: A Guest Post by Ela Lourenco

I have always loved reading and this simple pleasure was something I took for granted until my daughter, Larissa, was diagnosed with dyslexia and auditory processing disorder at the age of nine. 

Larissa told me that reading a sentence was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle piece by piece – first, she had to absorb the words and then put them together before then struggling to process them into a picture in her head. For her, reading took so much concentration it would give her headaches, and all of it combined put her off books altogether.

It was then that she asked me – a former political journalist and avid writer of fantasy stories – to write books for children and young adults. Books that would be designed for children like her who desperately wanted to read without getting lost in the words.

So I did my homework. I gained my diplomas in child psychology, dyslexia, and co-occurring difficulties. But my best source of knowledge was from Larissa herself and my students in my children’s creative writing workshops. They explained to me what would help them become engrossed in a book and how I, as an author, could make reading not only enjoyable but easier for them.

Every child with a learning difficulty is different and they each have different strengths and struggles but in my Dragon Born and Ascension series, I have endeavoured to tailor the writing to benefit as many reluctant readers as possible.

Here are some of the techniques I have used in writing my books for these readers:


Massively long books will not even be picked up by most dyslexic readers as they automatically think of how long it will take them to finish it. The same applies to books with overly long chapters with long paragraphs of descriptions – for a child who has to absorb each word individually there is nothing harder than having to read seemingly endless words strung together.

Keep the book short with chapters that do not go beyond seven to eight pages. This is visually more palatable for the dyslexic/reluctant reader. Make sure there is action and dialogue in each chapter to keep the story moving along.

In Radiant, I started with drama, adding action and mystery with few words, to pique the reader's interest:
One shall be born from the sanctity of three

In whom all powers combined shall be

Part Sky, part Earth, and something more

To bring a new future to the fore.

This messenger a prophet shall be

For the new world order this child is key

Nothing will endure, nor unchanged remain

All shall be transformed, nevermore the same.

When the time is come and the stars align

The child, touched by all that is divine,

Will awaken finally, powerful as never before

To strip away the world to its very core.


The general consensus amongst the children who gave me input into their various conditions was a fast-paced story with very graphic, yet concise, descriptions helped them to visualise the story better in their heads and made reading easier and fun for them.

Dyslexic readers find it much more palatable for descriptive passages to be interspersed with action and dialogue in between. Descriptions are concise and sensory descriptions help ground the reader. 

Avoid paragraph upon paragraph of descriptions and repetitions. The scene can be set most graphically in fewer words; this not only is better for the dyslexic reader but also for the imagination of all children.

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 9, Origins, Book 2 of Ascension series:
Ishkan strode with the grace of the hunter that he was past the crowds. As intended no one noticed him – such were the advantages of having dominion over the darkness. The scent of spices wafted around him as he passed by where the food stalls were set up. Warming cinnamon and ginger mingled with a plethora of other smells piercing the frost in the night air.


Interestingly, research shows that the words dyslexic children are most likely to 'mix up' are the more common shorter words. Our brain is like a computer and when we are reading it looks at a word and quickly flicks past words which look similar that it has 'seen' before. Perhaps ironically, longer, less common words, are actually easier for the child to absorb whilst increasing their vocabulary at the same time (this is particularly the case for older children and young adults, in the case of younger children and those with severe dyslexia short words which are more phonetical are to be preferred). 

Here’s a line of description from Chapter 1, Radiant, Book 1 of the Ascension series:

Thick clusters of gargantuan trees rustled in the night’s damp earth scented breeze.

A word like 'big' is easily read as 'wig', 'jig', 'bit', 'bid', 'did'… and so on by a dyslexic mind. However, words such as immense, gargantuan, massive, and enormous are less similar visually to as many other words and more likely to be absorbed correctly.


Keeping the page layout staggered so that the reader is not confronted with a rectangular block of uninterrupted text is essential. Try to separate the text with dialogues and paragraph indents. This, alongside 1.5 or 2x line spacing breaks up the text making the reading experience more enjoyable and easier (many children with learning difficulties also have eye tracking difficulties – this benefits them greatly).

I did this in Chapter 11, Radiant, Book 1 of Ascension series:
     “Are you alright?” Sena asked softly, genuine concern in her face.

     “Yeah,” Kyan frowned. “One minute we were talking and the next, poof, you turned a ghastly shade of green like you had just seen a ghost.”

     Ari breathed in deeply to steady his racing heart. Kyan’s words were closer to the truth than he realised – he had seen a ghost – the ghost of the happy, loved boy he had once been… He gasped, doubling over as a sharp pain pierced his head.

     “Ari?” Kyan was calling his name repeatedly, but his voice sounded muffled as though coming from a great distance.

     Ari clutched his head as forgotten memories began to flood his mind, battering relentlessly at him. The sweet voice of his mother singing him to sleep as a young child, the perpetual twinkle in his prank-loving father’s warm brown eyes – a real home where he was wrapped in the warmth and unconditional love that he had never felt since. Images of birthdays and school days flicked past – the floodgates of his mind opened now in earnest.

With e-books the advantage is that the formatting can be personalised by and for the reader; some prefer back-lit screens, or larger font, or different font types. This is of course not the case for print books and there is no universally agreed font style or size better suited for dyslexic readers. The only consensus is that font size should be minimum 12 and that the font style be one where the letters are clearly defined. Arial and Calibri are two of the preferred choices.

If you are interested in learning more about how to help children with reading and learning disabilities enjoy books, please feel free to contact me at www.facebook.com/elaaysanlourenco/. You can also view my series of articles on learning difficulties and how to help through my LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ela-lourenco-71555071/.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Illustrators: Must-Read Advice on Your Portfolio from Art Director & Illustrator Giuseppe Castellano

There's a lot of great advice in this article, The Illustrator's Portfolio, including:

"When I look at portfolios, I don’t look for kids or cats. I look for your voice as an illustrator (“The Who”), and how well you execute your illustrations (“The How”). What should you put in your portfolio? Good art. That’s the answer. You should display art that’s executed at a high level. No matter what your visual handwriting is—from realism to abstract art—it must be done well. Show that you can convey a feeling or a narrative with a strong understanding of your medium." 

Giuseppe also covers whether you should show one style or multiple styles, presentation (like how many pieces to include) and much more. Oh, and this smart tip:
"Straighten Out! Do yourself a favor: remove all of the factory-inserted pages and burn them. You’re already printing your work, right? So why not create a Photoshop template at the actual size of the plastic sleeve? Make the background black (or a neutral, or whatever you want). Then you can place your art digitally onto this template. Hit PRINT. Voilà! Every page will fit perfectly in the sleeve, and you’ll never again need to tape one piece of paper crookedly onto another piece of paper."
He's even included a page template as a springboard for how you might organize your portfolio more like a book.

Go read the whole thing. And while you're at it, bookmark Giuseppe's Art Tips blog.

Illustrate and Write On! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Creative Process and "The Key To Being Original"

Check out this moment (about 9:30 in) of this TED talk by Adam Grant, "The surprising habits of original thinkers."

First, Adam makes a distinction between self-doubt and idea-doubt. Then, he breaks down the Creative Process as:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3. This is crap

4. I am crap

5. This might be okay

6. This is awesome.

"And so the key to being original is just a simple thing of avoiding the leap from step three to step four. Instead of saying "I'm crap," you say "The first few drafts are always crap, and I'm just not there yet." - Adam Grant

Skipping step #4 takes self-doubt out of the process entirely. Imagine your creative process being:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3. This is crap

4. This might be okay

5. This is awesome.

Sounds a lot healthier, right?

The whole talk is worth watching, but this moment really resonated. I hope it's helpful for you, too.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Round Two Voting For the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards Is Open Now (And Closes On April 30, 5pm Pacific)

Members, this is easy:

First, log in at scbwi.org. Make sure you are on your "My Home" page (if not, go there.) Click the link (bottom left column) "Vote In The Crystal Kite Awards." Now, cast your vote.

Note that you must be a current member to vote prior to voting opening, you get one vote in this round, and you may only vote for a book that is in your own division.

 US Divisions 
· California, Hawaii 
· West (Washington, Northern Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota) 
· Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico) 
· Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio) 
· New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) 
· New York 
· Texas, Oklahoma 
· Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland) 
· Mid-South (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana) 
· Southeast (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama)

 International Divisions 
· UK, Ireland 
· Middle East, India, Asia 
· Canada 
· Australia, New Zealand 
· Other International

Good luck to all the finalists!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Debbie Ohi offers some advice on how to support an author or illustrators new book (especially if you can't afford to buy it.)

Debbie offers a dozen suggestions in this blog post, Want to support an author's or illustrator's new book but can't afford to buy it? Here's what you can do., ranging from Read the book, and Read it where people can see you enjoying it, to Reserving it at the library, Reviewing it, and Talking about the book (both in person and online.)

And then there are a number of additional great suggestions from the comments, including asking your local or school librarian to help (they can put the book on display) and showing up at the author/illustrator's events!

All in all, great advice to heed and pass on...

Thanks, Debbie!

Illustrate and Write On, and support your fellow Children's and Teen Book Creators!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ellen Oh on the Power of Representation

Posted over at the Nerdy Book Club, Ellen writes of how:

"When you’re little, you don’t know what you’ve been missing if you’ve never seen it before. I didn’t know that the hole in my heart that had been filled with self-loathing and a wish that I could have been born white, had formed because of a lack of representation. I didn’t know that seeing yourself in the pages of a book would be life transforming. That book was The Joy Luck Club."

The piece is also a celebratory lead-in to telling us about Flying Lessons and Other Stories, the new anthology of short stories from #WeNeedDiverseBooks that Ellen edited.

Ellen's essay is a great reminder of how powerful it can be to see yourself in the pages of a book. And how we, writers and illustrators, can give that gift to our young readers.

Check out the full essay here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's a new season of Podcasts - and the first one is a conversation with Linda Sue Park!

SCBWI Members, make sure to check out the new season of podcasts.

The first episode is available today, a behind-the-scenes, in-depth conversation with Newbery Award-Winning Author Linda Sue Park!

In a one-on-one conversation with Theo Baker, Linda Sue speaks about poetry, revision, her process, first versus third person, and the evolution of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.

It's well worth your time. Listen to the trailer here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Character Development Through Music - An Excellent Exercise By Alison Green Myers At The Highlights Blog

I thought this exercise was great in how it took the idea of music and your character beyond the simple, 'what's your character's playlist?'

The idea of identifying the song that your character can't stand,

the song that breaks your character's heart,

the prompt a simple lyric can be to reveal your character through their emotion,

and music as a way to reveal how your character interacts with the world around them...

With some nice examples from Julie Murphy’s Dumplin, Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn, and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo. Great stuff!

You can read the whole piece here.

Thanks, Alison and Highlights!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It's National Poetry Month!

Here in the U.S.A., April is National Poetry Month.

Here are five ways to consider joining in the fun:

1. Write a poem. Try an Ekphrasis. or an Triolet. Or a Pantoum! (There are many more poetic forms listed here.)

2. Read "Tide Of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Today" by Mark Doty.

3. Celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day (on April 27, 2017)

4. Watch a poetry-themed movie (here's a list)

5. Share a favorite poem. With chalk on the sidewalk. On social media. In person, with a friend.

For lots more suggestions, see the full list of 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month at poets.org

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Silhouette foreground: An Art Trick, and More Tips, For Illustrators

From this Creative Bloq list of ten top tips for book illustrators, come these three suggestions:

Silhouette foreground
A good art trick is to mask over your foreground to create a silhouette. Does the foreground-background contrast make for an arresting composition? Think about it.

Add but don't deviate
Don't paint things that are obviously different to what's described in the book, but remember you're bringing the story to life. You may need to add things to complete a scene.

Think like a designer
You may receive a template indicating where the text will be - you may not. You must create your image with this in mind. Mock up the page or cover with text to see how it looks.

The points are brief, and worth checking out.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Crystal Kite Round 1 Voting Is Now Open!

SCBWI Members can vote for their favorite book in their division until April 14 (5pm Pacific time.)

Log in and find out all the info on voting here.

The second and final round of voting will take place from April 18 - April 30.

Winners are announced in May in a press release and on the SCBWI website/social media. Winners receive a crystal, engraved kite award, an opportunity to present at a regional conference, a silver sticker for their winning book, and one winner will be chosen to present at the LA Summer Conference. At this year's Summer Conference, the Crystal Kite Keynote will be given by Kat Yeh, who won the 2016 Crystal Kite Award in the New York division for The Truth About Twinkie Pie.

Who will win in your division this year?

Vote now!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Illustrators! Have You Applied For the Don Freeman Grant?

Two grants of $1,000 each will be awarded annually. One grant to a published illustrator and one to an pre-published illustrator. The money may be used in any way to help you complete your project. Acceptable uses include: purchasing art supplies, enrollment in workshops or conferences, courses in advanced illustrating or writing techniques, travel for research or to expose work to publishers/art directors, or childcare.

The deadline for this year is coming fast: March 31, 2017

Get all the info here, and good luck!

And writers, the SCBWI Work In Progress grant applications are due March 31 as well.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Innovations In Book Marketing: Bill Konigsberg's Free Short Story That Bridges His Novel and Its Sequel

I thought this was a really cool approach, so I reached out to Bill to learn more.

Lee: Your novel “Openly Straight” published a few years ago to a lot of acclaim. Now you have a sequel coming out March 28, “Honestly Ben.” Tell us about the short story you wrote that bridges the novels.

Bill: "Openly, Honestly" was my editor's idea, but as soon as she said it, I thought it was brilliant. The basic concept was to bridge "Openly Straight," which is told in Rafe's point of view, to "Honestly Ben," which is told from the point of view of his love interest, Ben. She gave me free reign to figure out what the story was, and I immediately knew I wanted it to be multi-perspective--alternating between Rafe and Ben. Then I had the idea that I wanted whatever Rafe was doing in Boulder, Colorado, to relate in an odd way to what Ben is doing at his home in New Hampshire over Christmas break. My first idea was that Rafe and his friend would dress a soldier statue as a goat, while, on the very same day, Ben and his brother would be dressing a pet goat on their farm as a soldier. That didn't pan out, but something that satisfied my desire to have them feel psychically connected as they pine for each other did.

Lee: Was it conceptualized as a marketing idea - something to give away for free that would spark interest in both novels?

Bill: It was, I suppose. It's been four years since "Openly Straight" came out, and while the book has lots of huge fans, there are just as many if not more people who read it and liked it but don't remember it that well anymore. And more who simply don't know the book. This was a way to get new fans acclimated to Rafe, and old fans ready to hear from Ben.

Lee: Did it go through an editing process like the books?

Bill: It did. Scholastic (my publisher) is nothing if not super-professional. I'm pleased with how it came together for sure. It's funny and there are touching moments. It was so much fun to write in Rafe's voice again. He's so funny, and in a totally different way than Ben is.

Lee: How does this differ from offering a free excerpt of a novel (which I see you’ll also be doing with “Honestly Ben”)?

Bill: It's pretty similar, I suppose. For me as an author, it's far more work intensive, but it was truly a labor of love. I truly love these characters. In fact, who knows? Maybe if this book is as successful as the first, we'll make it a trilogy!

Lee: Any lessons you’ve learned from getting word out about your books that you can share with SCBWI members and readers?

Bill: I never want to sound negative, but I will say that it's incredibly challenging to get people's attention. To do any sort of campaign that "moves the dial" in any significant way has been tricky if not impossible. The thing I've done that has worked the best is to write a book in "Openly Straight" that creates word of mouth. It's four years after its release, and it is still selling because fans are telling their friends. And I don't say this to toot my own horn; my novels "The Porcupine of Truth" and "Out of the Pocket" have failed to get this level of attention, and I think in part that's because they don't have the same kind of great elevator pitch that "Openly Straight" has. And a good, catchy title. That helps, too.

Thanks so much, Bill and congrats on the new book!

Bill Konigsberg is the award-winning author of three novels. The Porcupine of Truth won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award in 2016. Openly Straight won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor in 2014, and Out of the Pocket won the Lambda Literary Award in 2009. When not writing, Bill teaches in the Your Novel Year online certificate program at the Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. He lives in Chandler with his husband, Chuck, and their dogs, Mabel and Buford.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

PW rounds up a baker's dozen of children's and YA agents heading to Bologna

The article is a fascinating snapshot of 13 agents and agencies' take on what's going on in the children's and YA marketplace, both in the US and internationally.

While it's good to know about the movements (like #ownvoices) and trends (like middle grade adventure), it's also fascinating to see that, as with everything in this industry, there's a huge amount of subjectivity: YA is either "hot" or "fatigued," depending on an agent's unique perspective.

Overall, it's well worth reading!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Registration For The 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference Opens Today (10am Pacific)

What a lineup for #LA17SCBWI!

Get all the details, and register, here.

We hope to see you in L.A.!

Illustrate, and Write, and conference on!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

SCBWI Books For Readers

It's SCBWI's new literacy initiative, aimed at increasing book access, promoting SCBWI authors and illustrators, and advancing the mission of SCBWI: to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world.

Here's the elevator pitch:

1. Wherever they are in the world, members nominate a local cause or organization in desperate need of books for children and young adults.

2. One or two recipient organizations are chosen.

3. SCBWI members donate their published books to SCBWI Headquarters (including reaching out to your publishers about available ARCs, overstocks, and other copies that could be donated.)

4. Two large-scale celebrations will happen in the recipient's regions.

5. The books get into readers hands, building dreams and changing lives.

You can find out all the details at the SCBWI Books For Readers webpage here. The deadline for nominations is April 30, 2017.

Illustrate and Write On!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Diversity Initiatives: SCBWI Illinois’ Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize

Today’s post is from SCBWI Illinois Diversity Committee Chairperson Susanne Fairfax, who writes in to tell us about their Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize:

Graphic created by Diversity Committee member Cedric Gilane

The burgeoning initiatives of the SCBWI-IL Diversity Committee include the second annual Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize. The MVOMP, funded in part by an anonymous donor, is to be awarded to a manuscript that features a diverse main character or is written by a diverse author. This contest gives SCBWI Illinois members an opportunity to win a written critique of the submitted manuscript and a 30-minute phone/Skype call with Marietta Zacker of Galt & Zacker Literary Agency.

As part of this initiative, the Diversity Committee wanted to encourage people to do the research, reading and thinking necessary to truly understand diversity and inclusion in children’s literature rather than seeing “diversity” as the latest trend. We combined resources that we had gathered with contributions from Marietta Zacker:

Understanding marginalization and privilege requires deep work. Writing outside one’s own lived experience takes great care. This is especially true when writing diverse characters that have historically been stereotyped, misrepresented, subjected to erasure, etc. We hope these resource lists can facilitate rich understanding among our membership.

The first MVOMP was initiated in March 2016 at Creating Stories for Every Reader, an event that ramped up our region’s conversation on diversity and inclusion. The 2016 MVOMP winner, Katie Otey, received a critique and call with agent Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle Literary. Katie submitted an excerpt from her YA novel, Crossroads.

The deadline for submission to the 2017 Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize is March 15. Marietta Zacker will announce the winner via Skype at the SCBWI-IL event, Spring Thaw: Pitch Perfect. We’ll let you know who wins.

If other regions have questions about our SCBWI-IL diversity initiatives and our process around diversity, inclusion and intersectionality, give a holler. You can email me at susannefairfax (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll bring it to our committee.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Professional Writer Skill Set - A Guest Post By Children's Book Writer and Editor Heidi Fiedler

I'm a big fan of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, who encourages readers to make a list of the skills that are needed to excel at their craft.

So I've been thinking about what makes a writer skilled and where I can focus my attention, building on what I'm already good at and developing what still needs more practice. It's a lot to balance, and no wonder that we're all still figuring this out as we go. I hope the list below will help articulate the many elements that go into building a writing career. As you read through it, I encourage you to ask yourself:

• What skills have I mastered?
• Where am I still growing?
• What else would I add to this list?

Rather than feeling guilty for not shining in every area, study what skills feel more natural to you and celebrate them as your special blend of magic. Only then, set an intention to develop the skills that don’t come quite so naturally but feel important to your work. And remember growing as a writer is about more than practicing writing. It’s about growing as a human being. So be gentle with yourself. Being human isn’t always easy.

 • Pacing, plot, story structure
• Character development
• Tension and transformation
• Organizing ideas
• Describing and dramatizing rather than declaring (Thanks to Cheryl Klein for this clearer way of saying "show don't tell!")

• Word choice
• Natural dialogue
• Point of view
• Having something to say about the world
• Economy of language
• Distilled, distinct ideas

• Knowing how to wait for an idea to ripen
• Combining the inevitable ending with a surprise
• Paying attention and understanding psychological truths
• Empathy and the ability to see a story from multiple POVs
• Addressing universal themes
• Focusing on the essentials
• Capturing details that ground and engage the reader's thoughts and feelings
• Knowing when to break the rules
• Believing this craft has the ability to change lives
• Self awareness and understanding your creative process

• Diplomatically working with agents, editors, illustrators, designers, and marketing experts
• Meeting deadlines
• Collaborating and communicating
• Dedicating time to the craft
• Cheerful, warm outlook, having a sense of humor
• Understanding the business of publishing
• Seeing a book through from idea to shelf to sales
• Being entrepreneurial

• Studying the canon and those you admire
• Researching best sellers and comps
• Exploring new trends and techniques

• Being willing to take risks
• Always experimenting
• Constantly seeking inspiration
• Studying favorites and looking for patterns
• Including wild, random elements in the process

What combination of skills makes you the writer you are? How about the writer you aspire to be?

Heidi Fiedler is a children’s book writer and editor. Whether it’s a poetic picture book, a zippy chapter book, or a kid-friendly take on the physics of time travel, the books she works on are quirky, playful, highly visual, and often philosophical. Heidi is also the creator of Visualize Your Story: An Instagram Workshop for Writers and Editors. Learn more about Heidi and the work she does at helloheidifiedler.com.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Wisdom From Animators Who Have Crossed Over To Illustrating Children's Books

Giuseppe Castellano, Executive Art Director at Penguin Random House, asked 12 animators to share their kid lit #arttips on his blog, in this post, Animation and Children's Books.

Among the great bits of wisdom shared were these three::

"In those 32 pages, I not only want to illustrate what has been written, but I also want to be able to show the reader who the character is and let them get a sense of the world that lives in between the words of the story."

- CLAIRE KEANE Visual Development Artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios (Tangled, Frozen) and a Children’s Book Author/Illustrator
Here's an interior spread from Claire's Once Upon A Cloud:

"In film school, I studied the 5 C’ of Cinematography: Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, Composition. Every single one of those applies to picture books. Too often, I see animator’s illustration portfolios with a well-designed, solidly-constructed character that is just standing there, static. Make them act! Or there are characters, but no background. In animation, you may have a specific task (character designer, colorist, background designer), but as an illustrator, you need to wear all of those hats."

 -TINA KUGLER Former Storyboard Artist for Walt Disney Television Animation, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros. Television and a Children’s Book Author/Illustrator

"I think the one thing that I learned in animation (from doing storyboards particularly) is to not be too precious about my drawings initially. I draw probably thousands of storyboards on any given film and you have to be willing to throw away something you just drew in order to draw a better idea. The whole point is to get the film up in storyboards as fast as you can so you can get it wrong as fast you can and change/fix it. If we spent all our time rendering our storyboards so that they look pretty but don’t really tell the best story in the animation reel (rough cut of the film in storyboards) then we just wasted all that time polishing storyboards we now have to throw out and redraw. So to apply that to book making is great because I can rough out a book in a day or less and then take a look at it and fix the story structure before I even worry about tones or useless details that will change as the story evolves and gets better. If you spend a lot of time on rendering your sketches or drawings then you start to become attached to them and it will be harder to toss them out and start over to get a better idea and story across. remember, STORY is KING. Focus on the story, not the rendering. If the story doesn’t work, the rendering won’t make it better. So my advice to anyone would be to focus on the visual story structure, character development, staging, compositions, pacing and word play and THEN you can add the details and rendering later.

-OVI NEDELCU Picture book Author/Illustrator, Visual Development, Character Design & Story Artist for Laika, Sony, Disney, and Cartoon Network
Here's an interior spread from Ovi's The Cat, The Boots, The Legend, from Simon and Schuster.

Illustrators, go read the whole piece - it's well worth your time!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Helen Wang, Winner of the 2017 Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation: An Interview By Nanette McGuinness

Helen Wang accepts her 2017 Marsh Award for translating "Bronze and Sunflower" by Cao Wenxuan

Helen Wang is the translator of Jackal and Wolf by Shen Shixi (Egmont, 2012) and of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan (Candlewick Press, U.S. release on March 14, 2017; Walker Books, U.K., 2015), which won her the 2017 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation and received starred reviews at Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. Writing in Chinese, Cao Wenxuan also won the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. A blogger and translator of numerous essays and short stories—as well as a curator at the British Museum—Helen Wang earned her Ph.D. in archaeology and her B.A. in Chinese.

Bronze and Sunflower comes out from Candlewick Press in the US on March 14, 2017

Nanette McGuinness: Congratulations on your well-deserved award, Helen! One of the things that struck me in reading Bronze and Sunflower was its lovely, almost sensual use of light and color. What were the challenges involved in finding the right words and ways to convey those shadings in English? Would you say this is typical of Cao Wenxuan’s writing or more typical of children’s literature in Chinese, in general?

Helen Wang: Thank you, Nanette! Cao Wenxuan is a professor of Chinese literature at Peking University, and can draw on one of the richest literary traditions in the world. His writing is very different in style from, say, Shen Shixi’s Jackal and Wolf, which is about life in the animal world.

In Jackal and Wolf, the story is about a mother jackal who raises an orphaned wolf cub. For English readers, it’s written in quite an unusual style, interspersing facts about the animal world with an anthropomorphic approach. It’s so different from anything else in English, that readers seem to respond strongly to it, either loving it (an American reviewer “devoured” it; a German reviewer called it “ein absoluter Pluspunkt”) or not liking it at all. In Bronze and Sunflower, the land is vast, the reed-lands seem to go on forever, there’s a lot of sky and there’s a lot of water. Cao Wenxuan knows that landscape and he knows how to describe it.

When translating Bronze and Sunflower, often I would picture the scene in my mind, then cover the Chinese, and ask myself how would we say this in English—and only when I was happy with the English would I go back and check against the original Chinese, and tweak the English if I’d strayed too far. That might mean imagining the sky full of water, or the mud underfoot, or the sunlight shining throughout the reed leaves.

Nanette: Another wonderful aspect of Bronze and Sunflower is the use of repetition in a poetic, almost structural way, as well as the book’s gentle lyricism—the sense of rhythm, cadence, and flow in the writing. How much of these—if any—derive from the nature of the original language itself, in your opinion, or would they more rightly be considered hallmarks of Cao Wenxuan’s style? Was there much of a balancing act involved in rendering that lyricism for an idiomatic, modern children’s book in English?

Helen: It has been awhile since I translated Bronze and Sunflower, and looking back at the Chinese recently, I noticed that the most descriptive passages are often the densest in Chinese, typically containing what are called “four character phrases.” These are idioms consisting of four Chinese characters—they can sound good, and look good, and they’re often packed with information referring back to earlier poetry or historical or cultural references. When you see them and read them in Chinese, you immediately know that they’re different from the rest of the narrative, even if you don’t fully understand them.

To give a very simple example, in “the sky was vast and the earth was huge” you can see a matching pair (sky and earth), and parallel descriptions (vast and huge). In Chinese, you can say this very compactly in four characters (sky vast, earth huge). I tried to keep these where I could, but at the same time didn’t want the English to sound clichéd. What permeates the entire book is the love within Bronze’s family and their determination to do the best they can for Sunflower. I wanted that to permeate the English in a totally credible way, and the best way to do that was to totally believe in it myself.

Nanette: I’m intrigued by some of the mechanics and choices that I imagine went into bringing Bronze and Sunflower to English readers, ranging from the large scale—the historical note at the end—to the middle level (the list of English translations for a chart of Chinese characters Bronze learns)—and the small scale, a description of a fish weighing a jin, followed by the simple statement, “This was almost a pound.” How did you—or you and your editor—decide how to handle situations like these? Was the historical note part of the original book?

Helen: In the first chapter, the reader comes across “Cadre School.” Although few English readers will have come across this term, I wanted to keep it for the simple reason that it is the standard translation for ganxiao, and if anyone wanted to look it up, they would be able to find it. Also, Cao Wenxuan describes what it’s like before introducing the term, and then says the villagers had a vague idea what it was, but didn’t really know. So most of the characters in the book don’t know any more than the reader! As for the chart of Chinese characters, I wanted the reader to get as close to Bronze’s experience as possible, and I thought the best way to do that was to keep the Chinese characters. I wasn’t sure if my editor would agree to have Chinese characters in the text, but she did! Most of the glosses in the book (e.g. saying the jin was almost a pound) were in order to keep the original Chinese word—they’re not big glosses, but they’re true to the atmosphere of the story. There are two notes at the end of the book: one is a historical note (which the editor had in mind from the beginning, and which I wrote); the other is about how the story came to Cao Wenxuan (which came from another source). There was also a note in the edition I translated from, the gist of which was “don’t be afraid of hardship: do your best for the right reasons; find joy in the world around you”—all sound advice, but presented in a way that English readers would probably find longwinded and overly earnest. Many Chinese children’s books come with a long note to readers or their parents as to how to read the book, which is quite different from the “show, don’t tell” and “avoid explicit moralizing” approach in English.

Nanette: Being a curator of East Asian money at the British Museum gives you a wonderfully rich background and expertise in the language and culture—as well as a full schedule! Could you tell us what drew you to Chinese, first of all, and to literary translation on top of that? Also, what parts of your background and training have helped you the most in translating children’s books?

Helen: I started learning Chinese at university when I was eighteen. I’d done A-levels in French, German and Spanish, and was vaguely going in the direction of art and archaeology of somewhere beyond Europe, but I decided to learn a language first, and chose Chinese. I liked translating, and my first translations were published in the early 1990s, but there was no payment, no feedback and no more translation work came my way. So I went in another direction. I’ve learned a lot working in the Museum, but perhaps the most important experience for translating children’s books was when my children were little and chose Chinese books off the shelf for me to read to them. They don’t speak or read Chinese, so I read in Chinese, and translated on the spot. That also meant editing on the spot. Little children wriggle and fidget if you’re too slow. They complain if the storytelling is wrong, or you miss their favorite words. In other words, I learned that it has to work for the reader.

Nanette: You blog at both Read Paper Republic and Chinese Books for Young Readers. Would you tell us more about them?

Helen: Paper Republic is a collective of translators. “Read Paper Republic” was this group’s project to publish a Chinese short story in translation, once a week for a year, which we did from June 2015 to June 2016: https://paper-republic.org/pubs/read/. We were a team of four editors, and we called up people we knew and asked if they’d like to join in. And they said yes! We couldn’t have done it without them. So there are now 53 short stories available online free to read. Then, Global Literature in Libraries asked if we would run their blog with a China focus in February 2017. So, again, we called on people and posted a new piece every day for a month, at https://glli-us.org/articles/. And, again, we couldn’t have done it without everyone who joined in.

Chinese Books for Young Readers is a web resource compiled by Anna Gustafsson Chen (translator), Minjie Chen (who works at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton), and myself. We met at a workshop in summer 2016 and decided to work together. My experience was that people are interested in children’s literature from China, but there is so little background information that it’s difficult to find out more. So we blog, and introduce authors, illustrators and new books, with the aim of creating an interesting and useful resource in English: https://chinesebooksforyoungreaders.wordpress.com/.

Nanette: Thank you very much and congratulations again, Helen!

Helen: Thank you!

Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 40 books and graphic novels for children and adults, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton graphic novels published by Papercutz. Her latest translations, California Dreamin’ (First Second Books) and Thea Sisters #7: A Song for the Thea Sisters (Papercutz), will be released in March 2017.