Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Cynthia Jenson-Elliiott & Christy Hale's ANTSY ANSEL: ANSEL ADAMS, A LIFE IN NATURE wins in the California, Hawaii Division

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life In Nature

by Cynthia "Cindy" Jenson-Elliott & Christy Hale

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

Cindy: I’ve been an environmental educator most of my adult life. In recent years, I have worked as a garden educator and as a science teacher, looking for nearby natural spaces to help children explore the outdoors on a small, intimate, personal scale. Away from the classroom, away from screens and test scores, kids’ hands and feet help them connect with the planet through whole-body learning. Their eyes and ears, hearts and minds open up. They become healed, healthy and whole through outdoor play. 

Taking children outside doesn’t have to mean going someplace special --- to mountains or ocean, or a national park with spectacular scenery. It may just mean going out the back door, examining a weed growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, or a bird balancing on a telephone wire. It can mean finding the life in a pile of dirt, or in a spring puddle of snow melt. Connecting children with the outdoors, and with their own lively curiosity is my purpose as an author, educator and human being. 

In 2009, I interviewed Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder for an article in a local parenting magazine. I was teaching science and gardening at the time, and had already sold my first picture book about the outdoors -- Weeds Find a Way, --though it had not yet been published. In one of Louv’s lectures, he spoke about Ansel Adams, his self-described hyperactivity, and how Adams’s father had pulled him out of what he described as a “grimly brown” school in the early 1900s, and had let him explore nature. As I listened, the words “antsy Ansel” spun through my punning mind, and the idea for the book was born. 

As I researched, I discovered I had a lot in common with Ansel Adams. I first visited Yosemite with a school group when I was 14 – the same age as Ansel Adams on his first visit. And every summer since my daughter was 4 months old, my family has camped in Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra. It is my favorite place to be. I also had the good fortune to have had a mother and father who let us explore outdoors when my siblings and I were very young and living in Cody, Wyoming. As I wrote, I tried to help readers feel what antsy Ansel must have felt, both when he was trapped in a school room, and when he encountered nature in all its manifestations -- big and loud, and quiet and shimmering. 

I worked with two mentors in our SCBWI chapter – Andrea Zimmerman and Joy Chu – who helped me polish the manuscript. My agent Stefanie von Borstel of Full Circle Literary helped me connect with editor Christy Ottaviano with her eponymous imprint, and the rest is history. 

Christy: It’s tricky to illustrate a book about an artist. In Antsy Ansel I wanted to nod to Adams while maintaining my own artistic style. I am not a photographer, but I wondered, since Adams is primarily known for his black and white photography, if I should I forgo the use of color. I was not happy with my experiments in black and white though. Nature needed a starring role too. In my earlier book The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan, I evoked the natural world through collage work with textured papers. I decided to use this approach again, but this time to selectively add photographic elements to convey one who saw the world through a photographic lens. My first piece was the scene of young Ansel playing on the beach. To create the waves and clouds I manipulated existing public domain images in Photoshop. I de-saturated photos, exaggerated the contrast then added limited color back in. I printed out these altered photographs, cut, and adhered them along with other collage papers.

I adore research. Since I live close to San Francisco I was able to do some primary research. I walked by Ansel’s boyhood home, along Lobos Creek, and down to Baker Beach (which now includes a view of the Golden Gate Bridge). I also went to an exhibit marking the 100-year anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. There, looking at a scaled model of the buildings and grounds I imagined Ansel experiencing the fair.

I was able to peek inside Ansel’s boyhood home via the Ken Burns documentary on Ansel Adams. The fireplace, window, and furniture of his living room appear in one illustration. My photo research turned up a picture of young Ansel with his calico cat, Tommy. Tommy makes an appearance too. Research brought many treasures, including actual footage of Ansel climbing Half Dome:

I was surprised and delighted at this peer-selected award. Writing and/or illustrating books is mostly a solitary activity, so the award is a lovely reminder that I’m part of a supportive community of creators.

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

Cindy: I have been a member of SCBWI since around 2005. I had written two books for the school library market when I brought a manuscript to an adult writers conference, and met agent Steven Malk, who suggested I join SCBWI to understand the market better. Since then I have published 12 more nonfiction books in the school-library market, and three trade pictures books. 

Cindy Jenson-Elliott

At SCBWI I have found my tribe of nerdy nonfiction writers, the kindest tribe of people on the planet. At my very first SCBWI conference, a few months after I joined, I went to our local conference to get an editor’s critique on an early nonfiction picture book manuscript – my first attempt at writing a PB. The manuscript, about allergies, received an unkind critique from an editor who wondered/suggested I stop writing all together. As a teacher, I knew this was no way to treat a learner, so I did not take it to heart. Even better, however, was the response of my RA. She stepped in immediately, apologized, and sent my manuscript to Stephen Mooser, who sent me an extremely helpful and kind critique. That kindness, and the focus of SCBWI on teaching and learning, changed my life. Now I try to give back to the writing community by teaching Nonfiction and Informational Writing for Children through the UCSD Extension Program in Writing and Illustrating for Children. I hope I never forget that we are here to help each other grow. 

Christy: I have been a member since 1991, the year SCBW changed to SCBWI! As art director for Macmillan/Four Winds Press, I was invited to give a keynote address and review portfolios at a SCBWI conference in Pasadena, CA. Over the years I have presented for additional SCBWI events and attended others for my own growth. 

Christy Hale

Currently I teach an online “Writing for Picture Books” course through the illustration department at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I encourage all students to join the SCBWI. The organization is a tremendous resource to both those aspiring to enter the industry, and to professionals. 

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

Cindy: Take any opportunity you can find to learn. Focus less on getting published and more on learning to write well. The publishing industry can be fickle. Even well-published writers go through dry spells when nothing sells. Keep the focus on your own values as a creator, your own joy in writing and exploring, and find new ways to grow. That is the way to have a personally satisfying career. 

Christy: Read. If you want to create picture books, immerse yourself completely in them. Analyze what you read from both writing and illustration angles. Understand what verbal and visual languages each accomplish separately, and how they work together. 

Know your target audience. Spend time with children. Learn about their developmental phases and universal themes important to them at different ages. 

Join a critique group of children’s book creators. The SCBWI can help with this. Regular meetings will give you deadlines to keep producing. A support network will help you understand your own strengths, give you ideas to get unstuck, and help you work through problems. Learning to provide this kind of support to others will also help you understand your own work better. 

Thanks, Cindy and Christy, and congratulations again on Antsy Ansel winning the Crystal Kite Award! 

You can find out more about Cindy Jenson-Elliott here and about Christy Hale here

Illustrate and Write On, 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Scamming The New York Times Bestseller List - And how The YA community stopped it.

Here's the story, in brief:

Last week, a book from a first-time publisher and debut author hit #1 on the New York Times YA bestseller list in it's debut week.

YA Author Phil Stamper and others questioned how that happened... How did a book that didn't have wide buzz suddenly sell 18,000 copies in one week, when the next book down on the list (The Hate U Give) sold 6,000 copies? So Phil and some others contacted bookstores... and found out that someone was calling bookstores, inquiring if those stores reported to the Times list, and then placing orders for 29 copies for an upcoming event. If the orders had been for 30 copies, the sale would have been flagged. They did it at enough stores, and they hit the list at #1...

But as the evidence of their gaming the system started piling up, it was only 8 hours later that the New York Times took the fake-bestseller off the list.

This piece by Jackson McHenry on reveals some possible motivation -- both the author and the publisher are angling to make the fake-bestseller a movie franchise.

Here's a great run-down by agent Michael Bourret in Entertainment Weekly about what happened, with some context on how the Times Bestseller list works.

And if you want more, there's this piece in Publishers Weekly that oddly (to my mind) only places the onus on what happened on the author.

For all the challenges of social media, the increased scrutiny (and transparency) it creates is a good thing. As Phil tweeted, no one should be able to buy their way onto the New York Times bestseller list.

And this time, they didn't.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Dian Curtis Regan's SPACE BOY AND THE SPACE PIRATE wins in the SouthWest Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)

Space Boy and the Space Pirate

by Dian Curtis Regan

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

Dian: The Space Boy books are my “back in the saddle” books. In the 80s, I stopped teaching school to write full time. Writing became my identity and passion, and I’ve been doing it ever since. 

My husband always said he envied the fact I had something in my life that gave me a “fire in the belly.” Something that got me out of bed in the morning, eager to get back to it. 

Then, in 2010, after an unexpected and devastating tragedy, I stopped writing. I did not have the heart for it, nor the motivation. My days were spent dealing with the aftermath, clearing out my house to sell, and moving home to Colorado. 

Luckily, the fire in the belly refused to die. I tiptoed back into that wonderful place of creating. I was very fortunate to receive an offer for publication for my Space Boy picture book, plus a request to write two more titles. 

There is great healing in getting back to doing what you love. To receive a Crystal Kite Award for Space Boy gives me the validity that this is still who I am and what I do. I could not be more honored that Space Boy received this recognition. 

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

Dian: I can’t believe I’m typing this number: 35. That’s how many years I’ve been a member of SCBW/SCBWI. 

Dian Curtis Regan

Going to those early National Conferences in Santa Monica meant gathering with a small group of writers, illustrators, editors, and agents. I’m still good friends with many who were just starting out as well. 

Knowing that today, attendance at National runs over a thousand is quite startling. It’s been pure pleasure to watch this supportive organization grow in leaps and bounds—and become international. 

When people ask how I got my start, I answer, “SCBWI.” And a huge part of that is thanks to the Rocky Mountain Chapter. 

When my husband’s job moved us to other states, the first thing I did was find “my people.” In one case, no local chapter of SCBWI existed—so I started one. 

SCBWI’s guidance and education, plus opportunities to meet editors and agents, is equal to the amazing friendships in my life today, all thanks to this organization. 

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

Dian: I don’t recall a time in the world when there were this many distractions pulling us away from our creative work. The constant and ever-startling barrage of news, plus social media in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. 

You will never “find time to write someday.” You must guard your time and your focused attention in order to do the important work of your life you were meant to do. Resist and persist! 

Thanks, Dian, and again, Congratulations on Space Boy and the Space Pirate winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Dian here and about the Space Boy books here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Carme Lemniscates' El Jardín Mágico wins in the Internationals Other Division

El Jardin Magico

by Carme Lemniscates

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

Carme:  El jardín mágico is a little story for the very young where poetry and information converge with the aim of awakening children’s interest and love for nature. Chloe lives in a magic garden, but she does not know that. Most of the time she goes over her garden absent-minded. But one day, she stops and listens. She seems to hear a voice whispering in her ear: “Marvelous things happen in this garden…!” —Is the voice of the wind, inviting her to discover all those extraordinary things that continuously happen around without her notice. Things as mysterious as the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, and as marvelous as the passing of seasons in an endless cycle of life: “From the flowers, fruits grow, and from the fruits, new seeds. And if a seed falls on the ground, with the passage of time, it will grow into a new tree; and all begins again… just magic!” 

This way, like in a dream, Chloe awakens to the mysteries of the natural world and when the wind voice disappears, she decides to know as much as possible about all these amazing things. The picture book ends, with a didactic informative non-fiction section where children find easy but scientific explanations of the previous events. 

As you may guess I love nature and I am constantly inspired by it. I believe we need nature to support our lives in the same way we need it to feed our spirit with its beauty and mysteries. This book says: Stop and listen, pay attention! Nature is much more interesting and magic than what it seems at first sight! 

I had a great time working on this book and I am very happy with this award. It has been a great honor to receive it from SCBWI, because I admire the task that SCBWI does for authors and children’s literature, and specially so because it is an award decided upon by its members, the only peer-chosen award in our field. Thanks so much to all members and congratulations to the other award winning authors. 

Carme Lemniscates

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

Carme: Living and working in Barcelona, I only discovered SCBWI when I was first published in the US. This happened four years ago and since then I am a fan, and a member! 

As I said before, I admire the work SCBWI does for authors. From the first moment I had the support of my regional chapter coordinator in Spain. SCBWI not only provides really useful information to its members, it really also promotes their work. Thanks to the SCBWI Illustrator’ Dossier, my actual agency Full Circle Literary had notice of my work. 

I experienced again this same collaborative spirit when I attended the last Winter Conference in New York, and met so many people helping and contributing to its success. To attend a SCBWI Conference is a great opportunity to know first hand the reality of our profession, to know about the industry and its professionals, to meet other authors, to exchange information and open our minds to other ways of working and creating. You can also promote your artwork participating in the Illustrator’s Portfolio Showcase. 

Finally, I would like to remark that SCBWI is an international professional organization, bringing opportunities and connecting authors from all parts of the globe. I am happy to have been for the first time an author from the Spanish division selected among the 15 winners. 

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

Carme: Well, I would say: work, work and work with joy, as well as to look at everything with curiosity, and be flexible and open to others’ opinion; and I would add do not intent to please anybody but you. 

Thanks, Carme, and again, Congratulations on El jardín mágico winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Carme here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's A New Podcast Episode: A Conversation With Sean Qualls!

Check out this awesome interview with award-winning illustrator, artist, and author Sean Qualls. He spoke with Theo Baker, about Sean's journey to becoming a children's book creator, what inspired him, and how his own style evolved!

There's so much great stuff, and everyone can listen to the trailer here.

SCBWI members can hear the full podcast episode by signing in at and then going here.


and Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Debbie Levy's I DISSENT: RUTH BADER GINSBURG MAKES HER MARK wins in the Atlantic Division (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark 

by Debbie Levy 

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite Winning Books!

Debbie: I Dissent begins like this: "You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life has been . . . one disagreement after another." 

The book tells RBG's story, from childhood to her tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, through the lens of her many disagreements--disagreements with unfairness, with discrimination, with inequality. The theme here is that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable--and that important change can happen one disagreement at a time. 

From objecting to school rules that required girls to take sewing and cooking while boys got to learn how to use tools, to arguing in court as a lawyer for the ACLU in the 1970s against rules and policies that treat women and men differently for no good reason, RBG has used dissent as a force to change society. Her example shows kids (and adults): go ahead and say no. Dissent. Push back. But: do it in a way, if possible, that causes people to join with you. Listen to the arguments on the other side of your position. Choose your battles. Think before speaking. 

Is it any wonder that I thought she was a great person to introduce to young people in a picture book? When we--the people at Simon & Schuster, my agent Caryn Wiseman, me, and the illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley--realized in 2015 that there wasn't yet a picture book about RBG, we were surprised. And then we worked really hard and really fast to make our picture book the first one. 

A couple of other things that were intentional in creating this book: Early on, once I realized the "I dissent" theme for telling RBG's story, I also realized that this presented a fun opportunity to fill the book with lots of great vocabulary words. So I Dissent stresses lots of vivid synonyms for "dissent," and they are rendered in Elizabeth's strong, bright hand lettering. I also realized that RBG, known as a very serious person, is so much more--she can be quite funny, and she certainly appreciates humor. So while the book doesn't portray her cracking jokes, both text and illustrations include humorous touches, to capture the humor and fun of Ruth Bader Bader Ginsburg. 

Having I Dissent recognized by my SCBWI colleagues through the Crystal Kite Award, in a field of many outstanding books and in a vote by so many talented writers and illustrators, is so meaningful and rewarding.

Author Debbie Levy

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

Debbie: I have been a member of SCBWI for many years--at least fifteen, maybe more. When I started writing for children, SCBWI offered information, instruction, and advice through its publications, conferences, and informal gatherings. It offered a community and new friends. And as I've gained more experience as an author, you know what--those same offerings still make SCBWI an indispensable part of my writing life! 

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

Debbie: If they're reading this, presumably they're SCBWI members, so they've already taken the first piece of advice I would have given them!

Thanks Debbie, and again, Congratulations on I Dissent winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Debbie at her website,

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Five Lessons from 100 Published Picture Book Authors - A Guest Post by Hannah Holt

I saw Hannah talking about this research on social media, and invited her to blog about it here. I'm so glad she took me up on it...

2018 Debut Picture Book Author Hannah Holt

Earlier this year, I joined Epic Eighteen—a group of picture book authors and illustrators with 2018 debuts. It’s been great rubbing shoulders with other almost-authors, and it’s made me think deeply about the practical aspects of this beautiful yet challenging career.

For example, everyone in the group has another source of income besides writing. Are any picture book authors living solely on writing? Also, some authors have agents. Others don’t. How essential is an agent? To answer these and other questions, I created an anonymous survey. So far, 135 published picture book authors have participated, and I’ve learned things, like...

1. You don’t need an agent to break into the picture book trade market. 

Almost half (48%) of the authors surveyed sold their first book without an agent.

2. However, having an agent is advantageous. Really advantageous. 

Overall, agented authors sold books to larger houses for more money than authors pitching their own stories. Average advances were 500% higher for authors with agents. Authors were also more likely to have sold multiple books with an agent.

3. Picture book advances range from $0 to $50,000+. 

The most common picture book advance for a small house falls between $1,000 to $4,999, while the most common advance for a Big Five publisher is between $5,000-$9,999.

Here’s the spread.

Advances at small houses:

Advances at large houses:

4. You don’t need a regular writing schedule to become a published author. 

About a third of published picture book authors don’t have a set writing schedule.

Also, those earning the largest advances tended to be authors without a schedule. In contrast, picture book authors working 40+ hours a week earned smaller book advances (<$5,000).

“Butt-in-chair” doesn’t necessarily translate into more dollars in your pocket in the short-term. 

However, the more years an author had been writing, the more likely she would have a sizeable annual salary. Two picture book authors in the survey earned more than $100,000 last year. They have both been writing professionally for 20+ years.

So find a writing groove that works for you, and settle into it for a decade or two.

5. Rejection is normal. 

Picture book authors are usually rejected at least ten times before signing a book deal. Fifteen-percent of authors are rejected 100+ times prior to selling a book. Also most picture book authors write six or more stories before selling anything.

Keep calm and query on!

(Bonus) 6. There is an exception to every rule. 

Perhaps you’ve heard about overnight successes and wildly successful authors without agents. These things happen. They are just outliers.

Three-percent of published picture book authors sold a book on the first query. The first query! Oh, those lucky (and talented) ducks.

Also having an agent doesn’t guarantee success. While most authors love their agent, ten-percent hate theirs. No agent is better than one you don’t trust.

Finally, many authors find success with a regular writing schedule. In fact, the majority of published authors have some kind of consistent writing routine. Good news for me because I’m one of them.

I’ll publish a full summary results in the fall. Until September 15th, I’m still collecting data. If you’re a traditionally published children’s author, please consider taking my survey: Picture Book Author Survey 

I also have a survey for chapter book, middle grade, and young adult authors. I’ve had over 100 replies so far and am still taking more: Chapter Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Author Survey 

A HUGE thank you to all the authors taking the survey! Here’s to demystifying a career as a children’s author!

Hannah Holt is an engineer by training and a picture book author by trade. Her first two books, Diamond Man (Balzer+Bray 2018) and A Father’s Love (Philomel 2019), showcase science stories with heart. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter, working on her website, and eating chocolate chip cookies with total abandon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"SCBWI ROCKS!" A #LA17SCBWI Photo Collage by Carolyn Wooddall

I noticed Carolyn Wooddall asking different conference faculty members to pose in unusual ways during the autograph party... She was having them spell out "SCBWI ROCKS!!!" and here are her final collages:

 Thanks, Carolyn! And thanks to all who participated.

 (It's even a game - how many of the faculty members can you name?)

Illustrate and Write On,