Thursday, May 23, 2019

Illustrators – Do You Know About the Portfolio Showcase at #LA19SCBWI?

It's a showcase.

It's a contest.

It's an amazing opportunity to get your work seen by SCBWI judges, mentors, and the art directors, editors, agents, and other publishing professionals attending the SCBWI Summer Conference.

Nifty illustration by Priscilla Burris, SCBWI U.S. Illustrator Coordinator & Advisor

It's a chance to meet a professional deadline.

It's a chance to get feedback on your work.

It's a chance to put your work out there!

Read all the details here.

We hope you'll join us at the 48th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 9-12, 2019. Find out all about the conference at this link:

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Funny, Harsh, and Even a Bit True: Harlan Coben's Writing Tips

Harlan Coben has written "dozens of novels," and over at Publishers Weekly's BookLife, he shares five writing tips.

#3 surprised me, though given Harlan's genre, maybe it shouldn't have:

3. Write like there is a knife against your throat.

The knife is right there and if you bore us, flick, you’re dead. Write with that kind of energy. Make every word count. The great Elmore Leonard said it best: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

#4 felt very true.

4. The distance is nothing. It is only the first step that is difficult.

I don’t know who originally said this, but the first word you write each day is the hardest, the second word is the second hardest, and so on. Once you start, it does get easier.

Take a look, and see if these tips are helpful for you.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Matt de la Peña and Christopher Paul Curtis Create SCBWI Scholarships for IPOC Women

Two new scholarships are available for this summer's SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles (and there will be two new scholarship opportunities for #NY20SCBWI as well!)

SCBWI is proud to announce the creation of two new scholarship awards for SCBWI members to attend the international Winter and Summer Conferences. Four scholarships will be given in total: the two scholarships for the Los Angeles Summer Conference are sponsored by author, SCBWI Board member, and Newbery Award recipient Matt de la Peña; the two scholarships for the New York Winter Conference are sponsored by Newbery Award-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis. Both of these awards are for Indigenous and People of Color who identify as women.

All four winners of the two awards will receive an all-expense paid trip to one of the two SCBWI conferences, as well as two follow-up mentorship conversations with an industry professional. All expenses, such as travel and hotel, will be included, as well as a $250 stipend for additional costs, such as home or child care.

Eligible SCBWI members for the Summer Conference Matt de la Peña Award can apply from May 1 through June 15. The application form for the Summer Conference can be found here. Applications for the Christopher Paul Curtis Award will be available after October 1.

In sponsoring the scholarship, Matt de la Peña said,
“It is an honor to provide a small boost to hard-working and talented writers and artists in a time when it is such a challenge to make a career in the arts. I’m so thankful that SCBWI has provided me this opportunity to give back.”
Christopher Paul Curtis added this about his scholarship fund:
“My hope is that this scholarship serves as a nudge. A small encouragement to help a writer who is a woman of color get to the point where she listens to the voice that has asked day after day, ‘What are you waiting for? You are a writer. Do something about it.'”
SCBWI conferences provide a gateway for people to advance their careers. With the establishment of these awards, SCBWI hopes to increase the diversity of children’s books by providing four deserving IPOC women authors or illustrators a chance to seek creative and professional fulfillment and find a path to publication.

SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver noted,
“The generosity exemplified by Matt de la Peña and Christopher Paul Curtis in funding these scholarships will change the lives of four new children’s book creators, and help feed the pipeline for getting more diverse books into the hands of all children.”
Illustrate and Write On—and, if you are indigenous and/or a person of color who identifies as a woman, and you're ready to take your career as a writer and/or illustrator of work for children to the next level, apply!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How Do You Know If You've Written a Picture Book?

This question comes up so often, I'm grateful to Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski who, over at the Highlights Foundation blog, wrote a great piece that helps us writers figure it out, How Do You Know If You've Written a Picture Book?

They offer us nine questions off the bat, including:
Does the MC change or evolve over the course of the story? Is there tension and a narrative arc? and Does the story have a universal connection and kid-relatable problem?
And then, a breakdown of what each of the fourteen sections of a picture book must accomplish, from the foundational make the reader want to turn the page to the more meta If this section is left out does the story change or suffer?

Overall, it's well-worth reading—especially when you're trying to figure out if a new idea is a picture book, a magazine article, or something else entirely.

Illustrate and Write On, 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Janice Hardy on "Why Conflict Is so Hard to Create in Romance"

Recommended by the wonderful Cynsations blog, this article by Janice Hardy on "Why Conflict Is so Hard to Create in Romance" is well-worth reading.

With a helpful mini-synopsis of three different romance novels, Janice illustrates how:
"Unlike most novels, there is no mustache-twirling antagonist standing between the lovebirds and happiness. And since the protagonists need to come together in the end, you can’t have one defeat the other. Without these common antagonistic elements, finding a conflict strong enough to drive a plot can be quite the challenge.

Until you realize that most romance novels have a person vs. self conflict.

There is no bad guy in a romance. The issues keeping the two people apart are their own personal issues. A fear of commitment. An impulsive nature. A lack of communication skills. Some flaw that’s been getting in the way of their happiness that they need to overcome and/or learn to accept to find love and be happy."
Read the full article here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Netflix on a Book Acquisition Spree

The appetite for IP—sourced from books—is growing, according to this article in Publishers Weekly, The Netflix Literary Connection.

Standout quotes:
“There’s just no other substitute for the amount of work and creativity that goes into a book,” said Matt Thunell, v-p of original series at Netflix.

“The reason I love books—especially a book-to-series translation—is that they often provide this incredible landscape, mythology, and opportunity for worldbuilding that’s really hard to come by in the everyday pitches I’m hearing,” Thunell said.
Read the full article here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Registration is now OPEN for #LA19SCBWI - 2019 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles!

What a lineup!

The keynotes: M.T. Anderson, Meg Media, Yuyi Morales, Christian Robinson, Darcey Rosenblatt, Anna Shinoda, Raúl The Third, and Renée Watson!

A special lunch with Mem Fox!

A main stage editor panel, "What speaks to me in the books I aquire," moderated by Lin Oliver with Simon Boughton (Publishing Director, Norton Young Readers), Carol Hinz (Editorial Director, Millbrook Press & Carolrhoda Books), Tiff Liao (Editor, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), Melissa Manlove (Senior Editor, Chronicle Books), Denene Miller (Editor, Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster), and Sara Sargent (Senior Executive Editor, Random House Books for Young Reader)!

A main stage "Creating Books That Matter" panel moderated by Linda Sue Park with Adib Khorram, Lesléa Newman, Elizabeth Partridge, Jewell Parker Rhodes, and Lilliam Rivera!

And more panels, on picture books, publishing options, agents, book series,

and 72 breakout sessions,

a day of optional intensives,

a portfolio show,

booksales and author signings,

socials for illustrators, nonfiction, diveristy, new members, and the LGBTQ and Allies social,

a life drawing lunch,

yoga and meditation,

and the Saturday night gala, "Woodstock West: 50 Years Later Party"!

There's so much fun, and community, and inspiration, and craft, and business, and opportunity available to us all... Check out all the conference offerings and register here.

Illustrate and Write and Conference On,

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Conversation with Francesco Sedita - Listen to the Latest SCBWI Podcast!

Francesco Sedita is the president and publisher of Penguin Workshop at Penguin Young Readers, as well the author of the Miss Popularity series. In this two-part conversation with Theo Baker, Francesco speaks of his vision for Penguin Workshop, his approach as a publisher, the influence of books like “Wimpy Kid,” and how co-writing a graphic novel has helped his own writing.

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Elizabeth Partridge - The Golden Kite Award Interview—Non-Fiction for Older Readers Winner for "Boots on the Ground: America's War In Vietnam"

Elizabeth Partridge was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Non-Fiction for Older Readers for "Boots on the Ground: America's War In Vietnam" at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York City on February 8, 2019. 

Award-winning author Elizabeth Partridge

 Here, we catch up with Elizabeth about her book and winning this honor... 

Lee: Congratulations, Elizabeth! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Elizabeth: Lin Oliver called and left a message on my cell phone. I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t even check my message for a couple of days. Then I heard her message in which said she had “important news.” It didn’t even occur to me she was calling about the Golden Kite! I was working on a deadline, and my mind was far, far away. I was totally blown away when I called her back and she told me the important news was that I’d won the Golden Kite!

Lee: Pitch us to move Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam to the top of our To-Be-Read pile — What's it about?

Elizabeth: Nearly three million Americans served in Vietnam during the war, almost ten percent of their generation. They came home to a divided, disillusioned country. I interviewed men who fought, a nurse, a refugee, and a protestor to hear their stories of what the war was like for them. What did courage look like to them? Honor? How had their morals changed? Their answers were not what I expected.

The Vietnam War changed America forever. It cost the lives of nearly 60,000 young Americans, took down a president, and forced us to deal with a wave of refugees we were ill-prepared for.

We’re divided again as a nation, and the seeds of our divisiveness were planted during the Vietnam War. What lessons can we learn from the turmoil and anguish of the war, so that we can make better decisions for our country today?

Lee: I love how relevant to today you made it! Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Elizabeth: There were so many amazing, intense, overwhelming moments in putting together Boots on the Ground. One that struck me early in interviewing veterans is how the war was still totally vivid for every one of them. As they spoke with me, it was as if they were back in Vietnam.

As I got closer to finishing the book I realized that each individual story is both highly personal, and also woven deeply into the fabric of what makes history. I love the place where personal and political meet up. It’s an intense, powerful cross-current.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Elizabeth: I’ve been a member of SCBWI since before I was published, 25 years ago. At first, SCBWI helped me sort out my beginner questions: who can I submit to? What is the proper format for a manuscript? How do I write a picture book manuscript? After getting published, I started presenting at SCBWI chapters and really enjoyed meeting other authors and lending a hand/giving advice to the people coming up.

When my friend, illustrator Martha Weston, died unexpectedly, her family wanted to create a tribute to her, and asked me what would be the best organization to sponsor a grant in her name. Without hesitation I said SCBWI, and they set up a terrific grant that is going strong. Check it out.

I’ve always kept my membership current and have loved watching SCBWI stretch its wings to be helpful to more long-time published authors as well as aspiring authors. It really ticks me off when people label SCBWI as being just for beginners. It is so much more! The huge network of local groups all over the United States and a few overseas are invaluable for making our community a real community.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Elizabeth: Very few people are excellent at writing when they start out. It’s a craft, like cider-making, or weaving. Take classes, read, write. Try out different genres. And in our crazy-busy world, you have to make sure you actually DO it, not just think about doing it. Get your butt in the chair, and keep at it.

Lee: Super advice, yes, we must DO it! Thanks so much, Elizabeth, and again, congratulations!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SCBWI Member Lee Wardlaw Leads Our Children's Literature Community To Restock Libraries in a Recovering California Town

This article in Publishers Weekly, Donations Help Rebuild Libraries in Paradise, Calif., made me so proud of Lee Wardlaw and our children's literature community!

The article covers Lee's personal stake in recovering from wildfires (her own life experience and her debut book for children in 1990) to her leading the effort in the last months to gather and sort 5,300 donated books, and then, this April 2019, driving more than 1,000 miles roundtrip to deliver them to Paradise, California where they are so needed!

 “The kids really needed books... Books bring a sense of familiarity, family, and normalcy—something that’s not chaotic in their lives." —Lee Wardlaw

Well done, Lee Wardlaw! We're cheering you on!

You can find out more about Lee Wardlaw here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Crystal Kite Round Two Voting Opens Today! #SCBWI19CK #scbwicrystalkites

Get your "I voted in the Crystal Kites" badge by... voting!

Vote between today, April 18, 2019 and April 30, 2019 (by 5pm Pacific) to cast your round two vote to help choose the winner from your geographic division!

To cast your vote, log on to

Once you are on your Member Home page, go to the left navigation bar, scroll to the bottom, and click on Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.

That takes you right to the voting page where you'll see the finalists in your division. Then click the VOTE FOR THIS BOOK button below your chosen book and you are done!

Winners will be announced in late May or early June, 2019. Good luck to all!

Find out more about the SCBWI Crystal Kite Members Choice Awards here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Brendan Reichs and a new metaphor for plotting vs. pantsing

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panel (left to right): Brendan Reichs, Ally Condie, Carlos Hernandez, Lee Wind (moderator), and Quinn Sosna-Spear

A great moment in the middle grade panel I moderated on the YA Stage this Saturday, Middle Grade Fiction: Magic and Mysteries with Quinn Sosna-Spear, Carlos Hernandez, Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs was a question from the audience about process that had everyone on the panel share whether they plotted things out in advance or they wrote by the seat of their pants, making it all up as they went along...

Turned out, Carlos, Quinn, and Ally all mix the approaches, and then Brendan shared that instead of "plotting" and "pantsing," he liked a different metaphor—architects and gardeners. He expanded on the idea, saying that gardeners work with what happens, while architects plan everything out.

And then, it occurred to me that for those of us who combine the two approaches, maybe we're landscape architects?

The idea got a spontaneous wave of applause from the 100+ folks in the audience.

So there you go, another way to describe process... I hope it's helpful.

Illustrate and Write On (no matter your method!),

Thursday, April 11, 2019

SCBWI Members: First Round of Voting for the Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards Is Now Open (Ends April 14 at 5pm Pacific)

The annual SCBWI Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. Those divisions are:
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
To cast your vote, log on to

Once you are on your Member Home page, go to the left navigation bar, scroll to the bottom, and click on Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.

That takes you right to the voting page where all of the books in your division appear. Then click the VOTE FOR THIS BOOK button below your chosen book and you are done!

Good luck to all!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The American Library Association Releases Their List of the Top 11 Most Challenged Books of 2018

In 2018, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services. Overall, 483 books were challenged or banned in 2018, with the following comprising the top 11 most frequently challenged:

1. “George,” by Alex Gino
Reason: for including a transgender character

"George" by Alex Gino was the #1 Most Challenged Book in the U.S. in 2018

2. “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” by Jill Twiss, illustrated by E. G. Keller
Reasons: for LGBTQIA+ content, political and religious viewpoints

3. “Captain Underpants” series, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: for including a same-sex couple, perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior

4. “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas
Reasons: for profanity, drug use, sexual references, deemed “anti-cop”

5. “Drama,” written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reason: for LGBTQIA+ characters and themes

6. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher
Reason: for addressing teen suicide

7. “This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: for profanity, sexual references, certain illustrations

8. “Skippyjon Jones” series, written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Reason: for depicting cultural stereotypes

9. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: for profanity, sexual references, religious viewpoint

10. “This Day in June,” by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Reason: for LGBTQIA+ content

11. “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan
Reason: for LGBTQIA+ content

There are eleven this year rather than the traditional ten, as "This Day in June" and "Two Boys Kissing" were tied for challenges.

You can find out more about the Top Banned Books of 2018 list here.

Illustrate and Write On (even if you worry it might be challenged or banned.) Sometimes, the gatekeepers aren't going to be pleased, but your message, your book, will make all the difference and transform a child or teen's life for the better. And that's worth fighting—and illustrating and writing—for.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Becca Stadtlander - The Golden Kite Award Interview—Picture Book Illustration Winner for "Made By Hand: A Crafts Sampler"

Becca Stadtlander was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration for her illustration of "Made By Hand: A Crafts Sampler" (written by Carole Lexa Schaefer) at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York City on February 8, 2019.

Award-winning Illustrator Becca Stadtlander

Here, we catch up with Becca about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Becca! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Becca: Thank you! It was exciting, and totally unexpected. I found out on a Friday night when I was in the back of a friend's car on my way to a dinner party. Lin Oliver called me as I was about to step into a wine store to buy a bottle for the party. Hahaha, I was shocked, but completely thrilled. It was all I could think about all night, and then all I could think about for the following weeks. I was happy, but very very nervous about delivering the acceptance speech.

Lee: Pitch us to move Made By Hand: A Crafts Sampler to the top of our TBR pile — What's it about?

Becca: Made by Hand is a unique historical fiction book, that would please a huge age range, including adults. Carole Lexa Schaefer has created something beautiful about actual American folk art artifacts that remind me of the feeling I get when appreciating a family heirloom or well loved object. All of the items in the book are placed into individual stories about the people and hands that created them, ranging from the 1700s to 1950s.

Lee: Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from creating the book’s illustrations that you can share?

Becca: I joked a little about this in my acceptance speech, but for me it was all the hands I had to paint in the book. I'd love to report that I paint everything perfect all the time, but I'm a human, and that is not the case. At the time I started working on this, I was having troubling painting hands with confidence. This assignment really showed me that "practice makes perfect" or at least "perfectly acceptable". I drew them over and over and took so many photos of my own hands doing things, that I started gaining a much better understanding of what I was doing. Absolutely an "ah Aha" moment!

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Becca: I have been a member of SCBWI member since 2017, so very new for me! I think it's been good to feel like I'm part of a larger community. Working from home can sometimes be very isolating, so it's been great to make me more aware of all the other artists and writers doing what I do. I got to meet some fantastic people at the Golden Kite Gala recently, and that was the best part!

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Becca: I think the best advice I have ever received that I would be happy to pass on is to always be nice. The children's book world may seem like a big place but it is actually very small, and you can get far just by being nice and professional.

Lee: Great advice—hurray for nice! Thank you, Becca, and again, congratulations on winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for your illustration of Made By Hand: A Crafts Sampler!

Find out more about Becca at this website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Trends in Children's and Teen Literature? A Dozen Agents Weigh In On Their Way to the 2019 Bologna Children's Book Fair (from Publishers Weekly)

We all know we shouldn't write and/or illustrate to trends.

Having said that, these brief interviews, compiled by Diane Roback for Publishers Weekly in the article, Trends to Watch for at Bologna 2019, are fascinating.

Check out what Rachel Hecht (of Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting), Marcia Wernick (of Wernick & Pratt Agency), Mia Roman (of New Leaf Literary & Media), Samantha Fabien (of Laura Dail Literary Agency), Addison Duffy (of United Talent Agency), Josh and Tracey Adams (of Adams Literary), Kelly Farber (of KF Literary Scouting), Ammi-Joan Paquette (of Erin Murphy Literary Agency), Cecilia de la Campa (of Writers House), Molly Ker Hawn (of The Bent Agency), Victoria Wells Arms (of Wells Arms Literary), and Michael Stearns (of Upstart Crow Literary) have to say!

Read the full article here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Conversation with Malinda Lo - Listen to the latest SCBWI Podcast!

Malinda Lo is the author of several award-winning young adult novels, including most recently A Line in the Dark. Her novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. Malinda speaks with Theo Baker about the difference between popular fiction and literary fiction, the role of research in her writing, revision, her dual coming out, and so much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Cooperative Children's Book Center Releases Their 2018 Diversity Publishing Statistics

With the caveat (brought up in an excellent #KidLitCon2019 panel on Diverse Fantasy in the Real World) that quantity tells us some things, but we shouldn't forget about quality, these 2018 numbers from The Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison are informative.

Over the past five years, while there's been a modest growth in the number of overall books submitted for consideration (2014 had 3,500 compared to 2018's 3,617) there was significant growth in the number of books about African/African Americans (2014 had 181 and 2018 had 401), Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans (2014 had 112 and 2018 had 308) and Latinx (2014 had 66 and 2018 had 247). Feels like progress.

Less growth in the books about American Indians/First Nations (2014 had 38 and 2018 had 52).

And in 2018, only about half of the books about African/African Americans were by African/African American creators (401 about, 202 by).

Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans were the only group who created more children's books than there were children's books about their own stories (308 stories about, with 339 stories by.) Which does feel like progress, that there are stories outside of their Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American identities/communities that these creators are telling, and that are being heard and published by our industry.

What do the numbers tell you? Click here for the full chart. And here for the background on CCBC's Publishing Statistics on Children's Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Susan Hood: The Golden Kite Award Interview—Middle Grade Fiction Winner for "Lifeboat 12"

Susan Hood was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction for her debut middle grade novel in verse, Lifeboat 12, at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York City on February 8, 2019.

Award-winning Author Susan Hood

Here, we catch up with Susan about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Susan! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Susan: It was funny and a little embarrassing. I was away visiting my newborn granddaughter when Lin called my home phone. It was a Friday afternoon and Lin left a cryptic, congratulatory message and asked me to call her over the weekend. She called again on Monday morning when she hadn’t heard from me. We arrived back home Monday afternoon and my husband went to listen to the messages. He came back and told me someone named Lynn wanted to talk to me about a kite. Whaaattt? Then I found out that this so-called Lynn was Lin Oliver!

Lee: (Chuckling.) Pitch us to move Lifeboat 12 to the top of our To-Be-Read pile — What's it about?

Susan: Lifeboat 12 is a novel in verse, based on the true, but little-known WWII story of the SS City of Benares, a British ship evacuating working class children to Canada during the Blitz. Six hundred miles from shore, the ship was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sank in thirty minutes. Six boys (ages nine through thirteen) escaped aboard Lifeboat 12 and attempted to sail back to shore. After eight days at sea, on the day their water would run out, thirteen-year-old Ken Sparks spotted the plane that saved all forty-five people aboard. It’s not often you find a story where a kid is truly the hero.

As an author, what spoke to me about this true tale was the role stories and books played in this astounding rescue. During their eight days at sea, the boys told Bulldog Drummond stories to stay sane. When Ken spotted the plane, the captain ordered everyone down, suspecting it was a German aircraft that would strafe them. Ken disobeyed. He jumped up, waved his arms, and yelled, “I know that’s a Sunderland!” For the passengers of Lifeboat 12, plane spotter guides (bestsellers of the time) and stories about heroes quite literally saved their lives. It’s a good reminder that for many kids and for many reasons, books are lifesavers.

Lee: What a story! Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Susan: There were two Ah-ha Moments. The first was when I discovered the SS City of Benares and Lifeboat 12 in the childhood letters of my British mother-in-law. She, herself, was a child evacuee sent to Canada and she wrote home about this subsequent disaster.

The second Ah-ha moment was when I FOUND Ken Sparks, the hero of the story, the boy who spotted the plane. He was 88-years-old, living north of London. I asked if I could interview him and he said, “Come on over any time, Lovie!” My husband and I traveled to England and spent two weeks interviewing Ken and doing research in the National Archives, the British Library, and the Imperial War Museum.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Susan: I’ve been a member for nearly twenty years, including the time I was a children’s book and magazine editor. When I became a full-time author, I joined an SCBWI writers’ group and I’ve been with them for ten years. They’ve helped me in so many ways—finetuning my craft, sharing a laugh, celebrating the good stuff, smoothing the rough stuff. The conferences are a godsend where you can learn from the best in the business. I took an all-day intensive about novels in verse at the NYSCBWI conference and it was a huge help in writing Lifeboat 12.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Susan: Read. Read hundreds, if not thousands, of books in your genre, both classic and contemporary titles. You’ll see what’s been done in the past and how new authors are shaking things up.

Focus on your craft before you worry about getting published. You’ve got to learn the rules before you break them. If you want to write in rhyme, master poetic techniques, especially meter. To see how picture books work, here’s a tip. Type up the text from a favorite book. Seeing the text separate from the art will illustrate how the two work together to tell a story.

Take the time to do your homework and find the right agent. It may be the most important research you ever do; he or she will make all the difference in your life! A good place to start the hunt is at on the Dealmaker’s page.

Develop a thick skin and patience. There’s a lot of rejection along the way and it may have nothing to do with your book. Publishers have many criteria for each season’s list and your book may not be a good fit, considering what else is on the editor’s plate. Once you make a deal, a picture book takes two to three years to produce (if not more!) so patience is key. In the meantime, keep writing!

Don’t be afraid to try something new and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on the extraordinarily generous community of SCBWI.

Lee: Excellent advice, thank you Susan. And again, congratulations on winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Lifeboat 12!

Find out more about Susan at her website here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Would it Change How You Wrote (Or What You Wrote) If You Knew It Would End Up On The Moon?

This news story, A 30-million page library is heading to the moon to help preserve human civilization, really captured my imagination.

Especially wondering about the whole selection process of which stories would represent humanity.

As creators of creative content for children and teens, we often think of our stories being collected in the personal libraries of our readers, in school classrooms and libraries, in public libraries and even the  home libraries of other adults who love literature for kids and teens, but the idea of a digitized library that represents who we are and who we have been as human beings, designed for future humans (or for other species) to study feels different...

“We want the archive to last longer than the moon itself,” Nova Spivack, co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation said. “If we place enough copies in enough places, some will make it into the distant future, no matter what happens on Earth, the moon, Mars or any other location.”

Which brings us to the headline question: Would it change how you wrote if you knew it would end up being studied in some distant future? Would it change what you're working on?

Every book, TV show, movie, song, story, instagram post, is a time-capsule, of both the era its written about and the era its written in. The Star Trek TV episodes presented a very late 60s vision of the distant future, but the hair styles always reminded us it was a vision envisioned in 1968.

And it's not a unique thought that our books, our stories, are a legacy we leave behind when we're gone.

Maybe the knowledge that your story would end up part of this archive wouldn't change anything. Maybe it shouldn't.

But it is fascinating to consider...

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jane Yolen: The Golden Kite Award Interview—YA winner for "Mapping the Bones"

Jane Yolen was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for her YA novel, Mapping the Bones at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York on February 8, 2019.
Jane Yolen

Here, we catch up with Jane about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Jane! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Jane: My snarky answer is by hard work and not writing to get an award. The true answer is the phone rang and it was Lin. I thought she wanted to talk about either a project we were considering doing together or my decision to leave the board or ask for advice about something else going on. We've been friends since SCBW (without the I) began. And she said that MAPPING THE BONES had won and I (and you know me so this was BIG!) was speechless. Then she said "Who would you want to introduce you and say a few words about you and the book?" And I said, "Can I have two people?" She said, Sure." And I said, "(My daughter) Heidi who gave up the two weeks on a small island in Maine to sit out while the others were kayaking to be my beta reader. She had also been moral support in the 4 1/2 years I worked on the book, and you, Lin, because we have been friends for so long."

Lee: It was a lovely moment. Can you pitch us to move Mapping The Bones to the top of our To-Be-Read pile?

Jane: A Holocaust novel hung on the armature of Hansel & Gretel, set first in Lodz ghetto, then in the forest with the partisans, and lastly in a labor camp. And yes, there's a witch character (A Nazi of course) and an oven.

Lee: Wow. Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Jane: I didn't know until about five chapters from the end who the witch character was going to be though given this was a Nazi camp, I had the oven ready. But since the main characters are twins, Chaim and Gittel. and I'd seeded the Mengele twin experiments earlier, it was just a matter of time till I figured it out.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Jane: I was actually the second member, right after Sue Alexander who told me about the nascent group started by Lin and Steve. Right after me, or at least the next pro to join after me was Sid Fleischman, so we were the first speakers at the first (not conference) dinner I think there may have been 50 people there, including Lin's parents, my dad, Steve's parents. Sue is, alas, dead as is Sid. But Lin and Steve and I keep plugging along. As for what SCBWI has done for me--given me a huge subset of book friends, some I have introduced to the organization. Others took over the region after I invented New England Region of SCBWI, the very first region and I was the very first regional advisor. I ran it for ten years. and the conference for ten years. And I ran the monthly the critique critique group for 25 years. Trust me, the RAs and their crew do a MUCH better job that I ever did! And now things are no longer just centered in the Pioneer Valley where I lived then and live still.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Jane: BIC: Butt in Chair. HOP: Heart on Page. Don't clutch your pearls or sob over a rejection. Get up and move on. Be a colleague with your editors, agents, art directors, not an adversary. Learn about the field, go to conferences, workshops, meet-and-greets. Read about the field in books, online, subscribe to Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, etc. Read widely in the field. Take chances, learn new skills. I learned to write graphic novels in my 60's and verse novels in my 70's. And volunteer for your local region. You will be surprised at how much you will leaern, how many friends you will make (and how many editors and art directors you will become on a first names basis with!)

Lee: Thank you so much, Jane. And again, Congratulations on your win!

Find out more about Jane Yolen at her website here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A "Hot Tip" from Frances Gilbert (Editor-in-Chief, Doubleday Books for Young Readers) On Keeping Up On The Industry

How do you know who publishes what? Where can you get a comprehensive glance at what each publisher—what each imprint—is publishing? How do you know where your book might fit?

Frances Gilbert highlights an upcoming title

Frances Gilbert, at this past week's SCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day Conference, suggested, a free resource that lets you look at (and study) publishers' catalogs.

Check it out here.

Thanks, Frances!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 2)

There's so much that's worthwhile in Natalie Goldberg's landmark melding of Zen and Writing, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Today, I'm sharing another resonant moment, from the chapter, Make Statements and Answer Questions (pg. 93 of the 2005 print version):

In the early seventies there was a study done on women and language that affected me very deeply and also affected my writing. One of the things the study said was that women add on qualifiers to their statements. For instance, “The Vietnam war is awful, isn't it?” “I like this, don't you?” In their sentence structure women were always looking for reinforcement for their feelings and opinions. They didn't just make statements and stand behind them: “This is beautiful.” “This is terrible.” They needed encouragement from outside themselves. (By the way, what they found to be true for women they also mentioned was true for minorities.)

Another thing women did in their speech was to use a lot of words like perhaps, maybe, somehow. Indefinite modifiers. For instance, “Somehow it happened.” As though the force were beyond understanding and left the woman powerless. “Maybe I'll go.” Again, not a clear assertive statement like “Yes, I'll go.”

The world isn't always black and white. A person may not be sure if she can go some place, but it is important, especially for a beginning writer, to make clear, assertive statements. “This is good.” “It was a blue horse.” Not “Well, I know it sounds funny, but I think perhaps it was a blue horse.” Making statements is practice in trusting your own mind, in learning to stand up for your thoughts.

After I read the article, I went home and looked at a poem I had just written. I made myself take out all vague, indefinite words and phrases. It felt as though I were pulling towels off my body, and I was left standing naked after a shower, exposing who I really was and how I felt. It was scary the first time, but it felt good. It made the poem much better.

So important to hear, to consider, to look at our own words and consider if we're avoiding the truth of what we want to say. And then being brave enough to take the towels off, one indefinite modifier and qualifier at a time.

Thank you, Natalie!

Check out the whole book, in print or audio, and Natalie's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 1)

I'm listening to the audiobook version of Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, the 1986 book that is widely credited with synthesizing Zen and Writing. It's a version that Natalie recorded fourteen years after the book was first published, and in-between each chapter she shares what's changed, how her thoughts have matured, and additional elements of what she observed then and understands now.

There's so much that's useful and insightful in here, so this week I'll share two stand-outs.

Today, from the Chapter Original Detail (pg. 45 of the 2005 print edition)

Use original detail in your writing. Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transport the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York in a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness.”

This is so true, and such a good reminder! Natalie continues,

“‘Oh, no, that bar was on Long Island, I can't put it in New Jersey’—yes, you can. You don't have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

Excellent advice. The whole book is well-worth reading (or listening to.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep - A New Blog Series Hosted by Melissa Stewart on "Celebrate Science"!

Inspired by this quote from Laura Purdie Salas,
“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out.

The reality is very different. I think my personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I end up writing ” —Laura Purdie Salas

Melissa turns the spotlight on 33 other authors of nonfiction for kids in this ongoing series "Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep." It's packed insights into their process, tips, and inspiration, and is well-worth checking out!

As Melissa explains in this launch post,
“Again and again, what you’ll hear is that crafting nonfiction involves much more than just cobbling together a bunch of facts. The books we choose to write and the perspectives we choose to explore are often closely linked to who we are as people and our experiences in the world. Nonfiction writers—all writers—have to dig deep. If we don’t, our writing will fall flat, and no one will want to read it.

Our passion for a project, our author purpose, is what drives us to dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. It spurs us on despite the obstacles and setbacks, and of course, through the inevitable criticism and rejections.” —Melissa Stewart

Some highlights from the series so far:

Laurie Wallmark

“Writers are often told to write what they know. As far as I’m concerned, we should write what we’re passionate about. We can always research (and who doesn’t like research?) a topic, but if we’re not interested in it—boring!

Which brings me to why I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Doing so lets me combine two of my passions—STEM and equal opportunity for all.” —Laurie Wallmark

And Laurie Ann Thompson, who shared about the long process behind writing Emmanuel’s Dream,
“At one point, my well-meaning and incredibly supportive husband said something along the lines of, “Why are you [an able-bodied white woman from Wisconsin] writing this story anyway? Maybe it’s time to move on to something you know more about.” I had to wonder if maybe he was right. What did I have in common with Emmanuel? Why was I writing this story in the first place?

It turns out these were just the questions I needed to ask to come up with an approach that finally worked. You see, I’d had all the facts lined up in a satisfying order, but what was missing was… me. I’d been so focused on writing the facts that I’d carefully removed all of my own feelings about it. But isn’t authentic human emotion just another kind of truth? And isn’t it, perhaps, the most important kind of truth we can share with one another?

When I finally sat down and got clear about my “why” for telling that story, the “how” to best tell it revealed itself almost immediately. For me, it isn’t really a story about having a disability or even Emmanuel himself. It’s about being left out and overlooked, feeling frustrated by injustice and inequality, and wanting to make the world a better place.

Those are all things I felt deeply as a child, and things I can still relate to as an adult. The book reveals as much about me, I think, as it does about Emmanuel.” —Laurie Ann Thompson

And Steve Swinburne, who shares,

“I wrote Safe in a Storm (Scholastic, 2017) shortly after the 9/11 attack on the United States. I felt like we’d been struck by a storm that day. As I thought about what I could write after the initial shock and grief subsided, I began, as I often do, to view writing ideas through the lens of nature.

How do animals survive storms? For instance, how do a whale and her calf ride out an ocean squall?

And, yes, it took 15 years to find a publishing home for Safe in a Storm, but I never gave up. I kept on believing in this story about how animals find cozy places to keep them safe and warm, no matter how loud the storm rumbles or how dark the night gets. Bear cubs huddled together in a den, mom and baby owl nestled in a sturdy tree, and a bobcat family sheltering on a ledge, all while the winds and rain bluster and blow. I kept on believing in the protective, healing power of home and family.” —Steve Swinburn
It's a wonderful series. Check it out here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Conversation with Jenny Bent - Listen to the latest SCBWI Podcast!

Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency in 2009. The agency now has nine agents, offices in New York City and London, and a focus on international rights. Jenny speaks to Theo Baker about the difference between Y.A. and Adult, what she's looking for, the decision to launch her own agency, what happened that changed her approach to agenting, and much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Lindsey Lane Writes About "Reframing the Reality" of Books Going Out Print

Hosted on Cynthia Leitich Smith's indispensable Cynsations website, Lindsey Lane dives into the reality of books going out of print in this four-part series.

Part One dives into some publishing numbers and the culling of books from library collections. The bottom line, when going out of print happens to your book, is that it shouldn't be a surprise.

As Lindsey writes, a book going out of print “is part [of] its life cycle.”

Check out the whole series as it publishes on Cynsations. Well-worth reading.

Links to help:

Part One - An overview

Part Two - Six authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators weigh in with their perspective 

Part Three - Three agents weigh in

Part Four - Three editors share their take

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Craft Wisdom from Stephen King

"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." —Stephen King, pg. 137 of "On Writing"

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is well-worth reading, or listen to the audiobook. (I don't know that I'll ever look at adverbs the same way again.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Daniel Stolle's "50 tips that will make you a better illustrator"

Find what resonates for you among these pearls of wisdom from Daniel Stolle's article on Creative Bloq.

Paper is one of the oldest technologies we have. Cultural creation has been based on it for millennia. Let's not abandon it just yet, especially in the early stages of a project.

While you're studying illustration – either formally, or by yourself – you are exposed to great work by others. You feel jealous of your peers and in awe of the masters. You're inspired, you're confused, you try to create, and then you're frustrated by what you produce and how badly it compares. And in spite of it all, you're still driven to make something, so you try again. Although you are dealing a lot with your emotions in that whole turbulent process, you might not have learned to observe yourself and what you are doing yet. To be successful, you need to find out a lot of things about yourself first: What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? This is easier said than done, but start with simple things first. For example, what are your most productive working hours? Whether you work best at 6am or midnight, don't miss out on these hours, and try to plan the rest of your day around them. Once your needs are taken care of, you will become less anxious. You are the person you have to work with for the rest of your life, so get to know yourself. Be disciplined, of course, but also be accepting and tolerant.
it's a list of advice that's well-worth checking out.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ten Inspirational #NY19SCBWI Highlights from the SCBWI Winter 2019 Conference!

So many amazing moments, so much wisdom shared, and so much inspiration...


“What a privilege I have to be welcomed into the imagination of kids. What a responsibility I have to give them my best work.” - Jarret Krosoczka


‘Don’t just plot the story. Plot the characters.’ — Varian Johnson


"don't just change the skin color and think you've drawn diverse characters" talking truth around in and to draw difference with accuracy and empathy


Write for your audience. "Other people will learn to read it." — Elizabeth Acevedo


“...remember that you, that I, are worthy of every poem.” Elizabeth Acevedo


I love this distinction by Marla Frazee on picture books: It’s not the author and the illustrator who collaborate. It’s the *words* and the *pictures* that must collaborate.


"The goal is to construct the kind of art that can change outcomes." We children's book creators create opportunities. When kids see it in our books, they can imagine creating opportunities for themselves. — Cornelius Minor

"You can't be what you can't see." — Julia Torres

"You need multiple conflicts." — Alvina Ling

"There needs to be a purpose for every character in the story." And for each character in each scene. — Emma Dryden

"Voice = Word Choice + Rhythm.
 Rhythm  is two things: Punctuation and Sentence Length."
It may be hard to do, but it's not hard to define. — Linda Sue Park

What are your highlights? Share them in comments...