Thursday, June 23, 2022

From the SCBWI Video Vault - Linda Sue Park Tells Us To Get Out Of Our Characters' Heads

More wisdom and inspiration from the SCBWI youtube channel...

In this under-six minute video recorded back in 2002, Linda Sue Park schools us in story...

screen shot of Linda Sue Park presenting at an SCBWI conference in 2002


"In writing and in life it's what happens that matters."

and

"Story does not happen in someone's head - it happens in the world."

and

"All the books I love have a character I care about in situations that interest me."


Thanks, Linda Sue!

And for everyone else reading this, Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Have you registered for the SCBWI 2022 Summer Conference yet? #SCBWIsummer22

 

SCBWI Summer 2022 Online Conference graphic, showing a young boy and a book flying over a field of flowers with two butterflies

It's online and it's going to be amazing! 

We hope you'll join our community for: 

Keynote presentations from Dhonielle Clayton, Jessixa Bagley, and Donna Barba Higuera!

Panels of agents, editors, and art directors discussing the current state of children’s publishing!

A half-day of programming just for illustrators offered at no additional cost! 

Over 35 breakout sessions with tracks for illustrators, self-publishing authors, traditionally published authors, and nonfiction authors!

An opportunity to pitch to acquiring agents and editors!

The career-launching Portfolio Showcase!

Online socials and peer critiques and more!

There's even an orientation for first-time attendees, to help you get the most out of the experience.


Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, June 16, 2022

F(o)UN(d) in Translation – a Guest Post by Lawrence Schimel

While it's a cliché to talk about what is "lost in translation" I prefer to think of all the things that are found thanks to translation. And for me one of the best things about being a translator is to help people find stories they couldn't otherwise access because they didn't speak the language.

I define myself first and foremost as a reader, and while some of the books I translate are projects that publishers come to me with, quite a lot are books I read and fall in love with and want to share with more readers in one of my other languages.

The Fun of Translation

There are plenty of articles that talk about the CHALLENGES of translation, and while there are certainly obstacles and hardships, having to do with both the nature of the work itself and also the business-side of the profession (badly paid, lack of credit, etc.), I think there isn't enough emphasis placed on how FUN translation can be. Even (or especially) the literary challenges.

So I asked some fellow translators to share some of what is fun about what it is we do.

photo of Gili Bar-Hillel Semo
Gili Bar-Hillel Semo


Gili Bar-Hillel Semo is a translator from English into Hebrew, and also the editor of YA publisher Utz Books. She loves Diana Wynne Jones and all things Oz, and is perhaps best-known for having translated the Harry Potter series into Hebrew; she just finished a new Hebrew translation of The Catcher in the Rye.

She said:

I guess what I love about translating is that it can sometimes be like solving a crossword puzzle or a riddle. You just know there has to be a clever way of solving something, and when the idea finally springs on you it's immensely gratifying. This is particularly true for wordplay and rhyme, of which there are plenty in children's books.

And then I go around for awhile very pleased with myself because I found a way to translate this impossible thing that seemed untranslatable. Which can probably only be appreciated by other people capable of translating those languages...

photo of Laura Watkinson
Laura Watkinson

When I first approached Laura Watkinson, award-winning translator from Dutch, German, and Italian into English, with this question, she quipped: "It's all fun. Except for the admin!"

But like Gili, she also enjoys the challenges of wordplay. Laura said:

It's also fun – and often a challenge – coming up with translations that involve puns and jokes that require a little more freedom in translation. And funny poems for children too. You have to work with the rhymes and keep it fun but the meaning may change a little so that you can keep the same kind of pace and rhythm. That's always interesting. I sometimes go and sit in cafes to do that kind of work, as it helps me to escape the page a little.

Oh, and picture books with funny pictures can be a real laugh too. Sometimes the pictures will suggest a translation that wouldn't have occurred to me if I'd only seen the words.

Laura also had a unique experience in that one of the books she translated was made into a series and she got to visit the set:

It was great fun going to the Czech Republic to see some of the filming for the Netflix series of The Letter for the King. Fascinating to see some of the words that you've written coming out of actors' mouths. I also came up with a few "translations" of the characters' names, just small shifts generally, to capture the same sounds and sense in English as in the original, and it was good to see those names attached to actual people.

Sometimes translation can be not just fun, but also glamorous, even if it is often borrowed glamour (our work is in some ways a reflection of the author's original).

Like Gili and Laura, some of the "tricky" challenges of translating are the parts I enjoy most--like working on rhyming picture books. The words that rhyme in one language won't necessarily rhyme in the other, and the translator doesn't even have complete freedom to invent new rhymes because they can't contradict anything in the existing artwork.

But for a word nerd like myself, these are not simply obstacles in my path to be surmounted, but are the kind of puzzles I'd do in my free time: basically, I'm getting paid to play wordgames! And the best fun can be making up new puns!

Very often you can't translate puns literally but in order to recreate the reading experience you need to come up with a new pun in the target language that serves the same function.

For instance, when I was translating into English the middle grade bibliofantasy novel The Wild Book by Mexican author Juan Villoro, I got a chance to make up lots of new puns and twists off classic titles. 

cover of "The Wild Book"


At one point, the protagonist's uncle goes through a culinary obsession, and there are lots of jokes with food twists. When the original used Sobras completas as a book title, it was so perfect because that pun plays off Obras completas (or the Collected/Complete Works of an author) and "sobras" which are leftovers. I love brainstorming this kind of thing, and in the end I wound up using A Room with a Stew to evoke both a literary classic and to fit the scene (where everything is being tidied in the kitchen and more or less thrown into the pot). 

It's definitely more fun for me to translate works like these, with a playfulness and a sense of humor, than a dry academic text, say. (Actually, all that latinate jargon translates fairly straightforwardly, so even if you don't know what it means, you can often accurately translate it without even needing to look things up.)

The research can be its own kind of fun. Not so much tracking down quotations that are quoted in your text in translation but were originally written in English (or another language but where an English translation is already published and widely-known). But for instance, when I translated the middle grade novel The Treasure of Barracuda by Llanos Campos, about a pirate crew that learns to read after discovering that the famous treasure is his memoirs, I got to basically spend months of Talk Like a Pirate Day!

the cover of "The Treasure of Barracuda"

And one of the things I value about even some of the purportedly "boring" kind of translations is that I get to learn about all sorts of things. I no longer have a physical encyclopedia set like I used to consult at the library–or at home (although we never bought the whole alphabet's worth of the encyclopedia subscription, so I could only read the early volumes)–when I was a kid, but translation gives me a chance to (temporarily) get lost down a rabbit hole investigating things like locomotives or crystal formations or bonsai–and it's all legitimate and necessary research for work, so it's not even like I'm slacking off in letting my inner geek get to play for a while. 

But I agree with Laura, all the admin is a chore!

***

Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual (Spanish/English) author & anthologist who has published over 120 books in many different genres. He won a Crystal Kite Award for his picture book Will You Read a Book With Me?, illustrated by Thiago Lopes, and his books have also been chosen for the White Ravens and by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Children with Disabilities (three times). His children's books featuring rainbow families, Early One Morning and Bedtime, Not Playtime!, both illustrated by Elina Braslina, have been published in 46 editions in 37 languages, including Romansch, Welsh, Icelandic, Changana, isiZulu, and Luxembourgish. He is also a prolific literary translator, both into Spanish and into English, of more than 130 books. He lives in Madrid, Spain, where he founded the SCBWI Spain chapter and served as RA for the first 5 years. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Kaz Windness Shares Advice and the story behind her writing/illustrating picture book debut, "Swim, Jim!"

Debbie Ridpath Ohi interviews Kaz Windness at Debbie's blog, and it includes so much great stuff. Like the wacky real-life origins of "Swim, Jim!"

two photos of a crocodile swimming in a canal on top of a yellow pool noodle, and a cartoon balloon of dialog next to a photo of Kaz saying "Please help me find Jim. I wrote him a book"

I particularly liked Kaz's advice for other authors and illustrators:

Children’s books is a career that requires a deep and abiding passion. It’s not like in the movies where you have a book idea one day and get a huge book deal the following week and save the family farm from foreclosure. SWIM, JIM! is my debut picture book, and I’ve been out of art school for 20 years this summer. It’s also not the kind of money that saves the farm. But it is a career that saves kids (books saved me!) so it’s worth being persistent– but only if it’s something you can’t not do. If you can’t quit, keep going. Your breakthroughs are coming!    

My advice for illustrators is cast a larger net for art inspiration. While it’s important to be on social media and also devour children’s literature, especially recent publications, if we only look Instagram and other picture books, we’re just stylistically regurgitating what’s already been done. Go to the museum. Get inspired by musical theatre. Fall down the rabbit hole of Victorian fashion or hip-hop music or cave paintings. You are standing on the creative shoulders of thousands of years of artists and its a proud and inspiration-rich heritage. That can all becomes compost and fertile ground to draw inspiration from.   

Read the full interview here.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Word's-Eye View - A Guest Post by Lawrence Schimel

Learning another language will literally change how you think--something I think can be healthy and helpful to all writers and creators.

For instance, one of my favorite words in the Spanish language is "escampar" which is a verb to describe when the sky clears up after it rains (usually, although it can just be changing from cloudy to blue skies). While I had seen that happen many times before, it was only once I had the vocabulary for this action that I began to recognize this moment as having an existence of its own. It was only by naming it that it came to life for me, and changed how I view the world even if I lack equivalent vocabulary to talk about it in my mother tongue, English.

I am constantly being surprised, while translating, when I run into a conundrum that reveals how the underlying worldview from one language/culture to another is so different, as inherent in what words exist or don't exist, or what they describe. 

Some years ago, I took part in a poetry translation workshop in Slovenia with a group of poets from different countries in which we all translated one another into our languages, using English as the bridge.

And I was surprised and delighted to learn that Slovene has a dual case in its grammatical structure, "you and I," in addition to just the first person singular ("I) and plural ("we of three or more"). Neither English nor Spanish uses this, but ever since I discovered this fact, it's changed how I think and also how I write. Now, I am always aware if a we is an intimate we (a you and I we) or a more general group we (three or more). Obviously, I knew that both kinds of "we" existed before learning that Slovene distinguishes between them, but it was only by my exposure to Slovene that I became aware of this distinction, that solidified it for me.

And because my worldview was changed as a result, my writing was forever changed afterwards–even though neither of my primary languages, English and Spanish, use this as part of their grammars. 

I had already noticed that I write differently in both Spanish and English. And one major aspect of that, for me, is how Spanish uses four different words for what in English is just one: you. I have much more specificity and control, as a result, in Spanish, especially when addressing poetic subjects in poetry, say: tu (informal singular you), usted (formal singular you), vosotros (informal plural you), and ustedes (formal plural you). (And there are regional variants in other Spanish-speaking countries, too, like Argentina, which uses "vos" instead of "tu".)

So whenever I am writing in or translating into English, I find myself at a loss for words when trying to use "you" and having only one vague, general term instead of the specificity and nuance my brain wants to be able to avail itself of, that Spanish offers me. 

And at the same time, I am constantly being forced to consider questions of gender, and inclusive language, because of the differences in how English and Spanish work. Spanish is an inflected language, which mean all nouns are assigned a gender, either male or female. There is no existing neutral form which means that individuals are having to invent new language or grammar to try and be more inclusive, and to reject an artificial and historic cisheteropatriarchal binary even on a linguistic level, which likewise colors thinking when using that same language with its limitations.  

We often have blindspots that we're not even aware of because we lack the vocabulary to discuss them--or the language we use colors our view--and as a result, we don't often stop to recognize or think about these things.

One of these biggest of these is how privilege affects both our thinking and our vocabulary. Ableism, for instance, is so ingrained in English (and also Spanish) that we have the word "disability" without ever having its un-negatived state: it is so taken for granted there isn't even a word/concept for being able-bodied. (Or how we use "blind spot" ableist-ly in non-anatomical situations.)

I recently translated into English a middle grade memoir about a boy from Andorra, a landlocked principality in the Pyrenees, who was born without part of his forearm, and who when he was 9 years old built himself a prosthetic arm out of a LEGO set.

cover of "Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required)" by David Aguilar  (Author), Ferran Aguilar  (Author), Lawrence Schimel (Translator)


The book is titled Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required) and is written by David Aguilar with his father, Ferran Aguilar, and forthcoming in October from AmazonCrossingKids. One of the first issues that came up when I read the book, before starting the translation, that I had to consult with my editor on, was how we would handle the Spanish word "manco." Because Spanish has a term that means having only one-arm or one-hand (or to be missing one arm or one hand). Curiously, Spanish also has the term "tuerto" for being only one-eyed, but doesn't have a term for having only one leg/foot.

But English lacks vocabulary for all of those three states, so I was left not just with a linguistic question but also a philosophical one, confronting inherent ableisms that were so ingrained in one of the languages I think with.  

Figuring out how to deal with the word manco in the translation was important because not only does it feature often as a simple, everyday word/concept in Spanish, and one which is very integral to this memoir, but David also has a delightful sense of humor and makes a lot of jokes and plays on words throughout the book, some of which riff off the word manco. Like "mancopedia" to refer to someone as an "encyclopedia of being one-handed."

David also rejects the term "disabilty" and instead uses "diff-ability" for "differently-abled" (which fortunately was constructed exactly the same).

Which takes us back to the ableism inherent in both Spanish and English, in which the word "disability" exists, but the status of being able-bodied is so taken for granted that there isn't even vocabulary for it.

Translating this memoir was eye-opening in that I didn't just need to re-create all of David's wordplay and dad-jokes in the translation, but it made me stop and think about how each of my two primary languages conceives bodies and what we can do with them.

This is why, beyond opening the possibility for communicating with more people, and reading stories written in other languages, I stated at the beginning that learning language is something that I think can be helpful for all writers and creatives because of how access to new vocabulary will create new ways of thinking about the world or offer different insights about how you already think and speak about the world. Which can only add nuance and understanding to our stories, not just how we conceptualize them but how we shape them, word by word.

##


Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual (Spanish/English) author & anthologist who has published over 120 books in many different genres. He won a Crystal Kite Award for his picture book Will You Read a Book With Me?, illustrated by Thiago Lopes, and his books have also been chosen for the White Ravens and by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Children with Disabilities (three times). His children's books featuring rainbow families, Early One Morning and Bedtime, Not Playtime!, both illustrated by Elina Braslina, have been published in 46 editions in 37 languages, including Romansch, Welsh, Icelandic, Changana, isiZulu, and Luxembourgish. He is also a prolific literary translator, both into Spanish and into English, of more than 130 books. He lives in Madrid, Spain, where he founded the SCBWI Spain chapter and served as RA for the first 5 years. 


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Cheers to the Winners of the 2022 SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards!

SCBWI is proud to announce the winners of the 2022 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards. Given to books in fifteen regions that represent excellence in the field of children’s literature, the Crystal Kites Awards are peer-selected, voted on by SCBWI members from local regions. Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 publishing year, proudly presented here by regional division: 

Asia

Temple Alley Summer

Written by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Miho Satake, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa






Temple_Alley_Summer__by_Sachiko_Kashiwaba_-_9781632063038_Batchelder.jpg

Atlantic 

(Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)

A Place to Hang the Moon

by Kate Albus





albus.jpg

Australia / New Zealand

Heroes of the Secret Underground

by Susanne Gervay





gervay.jpg

California, Hawaii

Hello, Star

written by Stephanie Lucianovic, illustrated by Vashti Harrison





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Canada

Tough Like Mum

written by Lana Button, illustrated by Carmen Mok





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Other Internationals

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

written by Sandra Nickel, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro





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Midsouth

(Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana)

I'll Meet You in Your Dreams

Written by Jessica Young, illustrated by Rafael Lopez 





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Midwest

(Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio)

Headstrong Hallie! The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female "Fire Guard”

Written by Aimée Bissonette, illustrated by David Hohn





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New England

(Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island)

Red, White, and Whole

by Rajani LaRocca





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New York

Dumplings for Lili

by Melissa Iwai





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Southeast

(Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama)

The Longest Letsgoboy

written by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catia Chien





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Southwest

(Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)

Watercress

Written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin





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Texas, Oklahoma

Dark and Shallow Lies

by Ginny Myers Sain




9780593403976.jfif

United Kingdom, Ireland

The Bear and her Book

Written by Frances Tosdevin, illustrated by Sophia O’Conner



51FjwBiWdDS.jpg

West

(Washington, Northern Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)

The Last Cuentista

by Donna Barba Higuera



51m1fT76dFL._SX337_BO1_204_203_200_.jpg

You can learn more about the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards here.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Queer Joy of Numbers - A Guest Post by Lawrence Schimel

It seems lots of people have been writing about LGBTQIA+ content in kidzbooks recently, although my feeling is that so much of it is reactionary or in defense of these books, in the face of the rash of book bannings across the US and elsewhere in the world. And while it's important to fight against this homopobia, biphobia, and transphobia, I can't help feeling sometimes that *their* hate is coming to set or dominate the agenda or the public discourse. We creators don't set out to write books to be challenged or attacked, or to have to defend ourselves--even if that is often a reality. 

I know that for my own board books illustrated by Elina Braslina, Early One Morning and Bedtime, Not Playtime!, our goal was to create more books featuring queer families that were not about being different or overcoming homophobia, but were just fun stories that celebrated queer joy. 

interior spread from Lawrence's two dad board book


And it's been wonderful for so many kids and families to discover these books. Even if they (as well as Elina and myself, as the creators behind them, and often our translators and publishers) have also come under attack, by governments or individuals, in many parts of the world, and much of my own last year was spent learning how to weather a constant onslaught of hate and negativity.

To that end, while many alarming things are happening to books with LGBTQIA+ content (and it's important to both be aware of what's happening and know how to fight against it), I'd like to take this space of my guest blogging on the SCBWI Blog to focus instead on highlighting some of those people who've been celebrating and uplifting these books.

When I was a kid, growing up in the 70s in New York, I had access to zero books that featured any sort of LGBTIQA+ representation. 

So I think it's amazing and incredible that there are now over 1,000 items in Mombian's database of books LGBTQ Family books!

https://mombian.com/database/

(And, of course, that's not all kidzbooks with LGBTQ content, but just books for or featuring LGBTQ families.) 

Mombian is a site that's the brainchild of Dana Rudolph, begun in 2005 because there was a lack of resources or information for lesbian moms (and other LGBTQ parents). Two years later, it also became a syndicated column running in regional LGBTQ newspapers in cities like Boston (Bay Windows) Chicago (Windy City Times), DC (Washington Blade), Philadelphia (PGN), etc.

Dana Rudolph

The site features much more than just the database, of course, with lots of information for queer parents, news about books and other media with LGBTQ families, thematic booklists (inclusive mother's day books, bedtime books for LGBTQ families, books about pride, etc.), politics and news from a point of view of queer families, and more. 

Rudolph is not an uncritical cheerleader by any means; not all representation is well-done (no matter how well meaning).

I can't help but be awed--not just by all the underlying creative work by authors, illustrators, translators, publishers, musicians, animators, etc. of the 1000+ items she has catalogued, but the constant work Rudolph has put in over close to two decades, an impressive critical body of work that doesn't often get the same kind of attention or recognition that creative work does.

So here is a shout out and a thank you to Dana Rudolph, and all she has done and continues to do to track down, write about, and generally inform the world about, all these books featuring LGBTQ families.

photo of Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo, photo by Sharona Jacobs


Someone else who has been performing an enormous task of not just breaking barriers with her own novels is author Malinda Lo, who has created not so much a database of LGBTQ content in YA but has/was for many years been doing the number crunching to chart the evolution of these themes in books, particularly paying attention to those published by commercial, mainstream publishers:


There is some overlap in the books focused on by Randolph and Lo, but each clearly defines the scope of their coverage, and I particularly admire how Lo goes about unpacking the language she uses, in each of her pieces and evolving over time, clearly defining her parameters and outlining her sources (and the problems or lacks sometimes inherent in these). 

Some of Malinda's number crunching


As someone who identifies not just as an author and translator, but primarily as a reader (and one who had no LGBTQ content in books when he was growing up), I can't help but find it encouraging to see the infographics of her number crunching over the years, and to see how more and more YA featuring LGBTQ+ characters and concerns are being published each year.

And I also admire how her analyses shine a spotlight on many of the problems and gaps within the industry and how it treats these LGBTQ+ titles or who is writing them or giving them awards (or not). 

My hope is that the publishing industry pays attention to this panoramic view of what is being published--and what is missing and can be done better. And that I, as a reader, will in the hopefully-near-future be able to read those stories at last. 

*   *   *
Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual (Spanish/English) author & anthologist who has published over 120 books in many different genres. He won a Crystal Kite Award for his picture book Will You Read a Book With Me?, illustrated by Thiago Lopes, and his books have also been chosen for the White Ravens and by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Children with Disabilities (three times). He is also a prolific literary translator, both into Spanish and into English, of more than 130 books. Recent translations into English include Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile by María José Ferrada, illustrated by María Elena Valdez, which won the 2022 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and was an Honorable Mention in the 2022 Américas Award, and the forthcoming middle grade memoir Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required) by David Aguilar and Ferran Aguilar, about how David, who was born missing part of his forearm, built a prosthetic for himself out of LEGO bricks when he was 9 years old. Lawrence lives in Madrid, Spain, where he founded the SCBWI Spain chapter and served as RA for the first 5 years.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

From the SCBWI Video Vault - Mike Curato "Beats the Second Book Blues"

Have you checked out the wisdom and inspiration at the SCBWI youtube channel?

In this four minute video recorded in 2017, Mike Curato shares so much insight and heart...

screen shot of Mike Curato presenting in 2017 at an SCBWI conference


"Make things that make you smile... or cry, because you know it's true."

and

"Making a book is about discovering who we are... and in each one I find a new truth."

and

"What if everyone told their story?"

What if you told your story? We hope you do.


Thanks, Mike!

And for everyone else reading this, Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Write like no one is watching

Soul train
When I was a kid, I loved watching SOUL TRAIN, the African American music-dance show that beamed the coolest dance moves across television screens throughout the nation. But I was raised in a Seventh-Day Adventist home, so we were not allowed to watch TV on Saturday mornings when it aired. Occasionally, though, we got a sneak-peek during overnighters with our cousins. 

Soul Train dancers wore large, proud afros and colorful bell bottom pants, that flapped gracefully around six-inch platform shoes. I took it all in, learning dances like The Watergate (the Black Hustle), The Robot, and the Bump. I was much too shy to dance along with my cousins as we watched. But later on at home in my room alone, I’d turn the funk music up loud and cut loose—dancing like no one was watching, because, well, no one was. I was free to express myself in the absence of judgmental eyes. Years later, I learned to apply the same principle to writing.


My career in children’s books began as an illustrator, uninterested in writing at all—at least, that’s what I told myself. I’m a visual artist, I thought, I need to stay in my lane. Besides, writing was for people much smarter than me. I wasn’t being honest with myself, though. Secretly, I wanted to get published as a writer, too. But I was too afraid of putting my words out into the world for other people to see. Writing buddies suggested that I get started by writing in a blog. My anxieties skyrocketed, but a blog was the right answer for me.


I had to start from scratch. In grade school, I never paid much attention to those silly, erudite English rules. I was a grammar rebel. I was proud of my ain’ts and gots. And who cared if an "I came before E, except after C?” I was an artist. Spelling was subjective—a matter of personal perspective. When I started blogging, though, I began to conform. As ignorant as I might’ve been at the time, I didn’t want my writing to sound dumb. So, I Googled: “How to structure a paragraph,” “How to use a comma?” And other things I probably should have already known.


After that, I just jumped in—dumping my thoughts into the content area that cradled my words, safely protecting them from the eyes of the world until . . . I was brave enough to hit the “publish” button. Mostly, I wrote about publishing and the day-in and day-out of being a children’s book illustrator. But eventually, I branched off and started writing about current events, religion, my aversion to dogs and spiders and popular politicians—things I’d never get away with writing about in today’s you’d-better-agree-with-me-or-else climate. Writing was liberating! I experimented with different forms of writing, too, like poetry and prose, letters, sequential graphic novel-type posts with illustrations. It was some of my most honest, authentic writing to date. 


Soon, people were actually reading my words. In fact, as per my blog traffic counter, they were returning to read my blog daily by the thousands. My words made people laugh. They made people cry. Some people got so angry, they’d fire off nasty retorts in the comment box. I learned the power of words, and I absolutely loved it. I did a lot of things wrong, but I also did a lot of things right. Most important, I learned a lot about myself as a writer and my confidence grew. It was time to write less in the blog, and to spend more time pouring what I had learned into a picture book manuscript.


What followed was my first book, IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW, which published with Lee & Low Books in, 2012. It earned several starred reviews and awards like the Ezra Jack Keats honor for new writer. That book kicked off a successful full-time writing career, and I never looked back. 



So to my illustrator friends who are considering crossing over into the lane of writing for children, too, my advice: Yes—do it! Dance like no one is watching, and then write in that same space.



Don Tate is the award-winning author and/or illustrator of numerous picture book biographies, including PIGSKINS TO PAINTBRUSHES: THE STORY OF FOOTBALL PLAYING ARTIST EARNIE BARNES (Abrams, 2021) and SWISH! THE SLAM-DUNKING, ALLEY-OOPING, HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS (Little Brown, 2020). His WILLIAM STILL AND HIS FREEDOM STORIES: THE FATHER OF THE UNDERGROUND  RAILROAD (Peachtree, 2020) was an SCBWI Golden Kite winner in the nonfiction category. Don is a founding host of the Brown Bookshelf, a blog dedicated to advocating for Black authors and illustrators writing for children. When Don isn’t writing, illustrating or visiting elementary schools, he enjoys working out, swimming, yoga, and anything sweet and chocolaty.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Registration opens TODAY (May 24, 2022) for the SCBWI Online Summer Conference (Aug 5-7)

 

SCBWI Summer 2022 Online Conference graphic, showing a young boy and a book flying over a field of flowers with two butterflies

It's going to be amazing! 

We hope you'll join our community for: 

Keynote presentations from Dhonielle Clayton, Jessixa Bagley, and Donna Barba Higuera!

Panels of agents, editors, and art directors discussing the current state of children’s publishing!

A half-day of programming just for illustrators offered at no additional cost! 

Over 35 breakout sessions with tracks for illustrators, self-publishing authors, traditionally published authors, and nonfiction authors!

An opportunity to pitch to acquiring agents and editors!

The career-launching Portfolio Showcase!

Online socials and peer critiques!



Thursday, May 19, 2022

On book banning

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Here’s the thing, banning books is not new; it’s been around for as long as publishing has been around. Words are the seeds of knowledge and knowing is powerful. It’s exactly why enslaved people were punished for learning how to read. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, considered by some to be one of the most influential pieces of literature in American history, was a best-selling novel of the 19th century. While it was problematic in many ways, particularly in its stereotypical portrayal of an enslaved Black man, the book had a pro-abolition message. That raised the ire of the Confederacy, who didn’t like anti-slavery messages tainting folks’ minds, and so UNCLE TOM’S CABIN was banned in the south before the Civil War. 


Walter Farting Dog

Throughout my thirty-plus years in publishing, banned book controversies came and went. I mean, heck, CHARLOTTE'S WEB was challenged because “talking animals were disrespectful to God.” WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE was challenged for “depicting child abuse” (and for Max being depicted too dark skinned). And remember the whole WALTER THE FARTING DOG brouhaha (I loved Walter)? So when recent book banning conversations started during the Covid-19 pandemic, I didn’t think much about them—it's just an ebb and flow issue in publishing, I thought. 


At worst, I figured, if one of my books actually got challenged or even banned, that might be a good thing, right? It might be seen as a badge of honor, as some authors trumpet. Would a banned book boost my sales? Soon after that, chatter about book challenges turned to full-out book bans when politicians began to pass laws demanding that certain books get removed from school libraries—books they deemed “pornographic” or taught “Critical Race Theory.” There was even a list circulated in Texas of some 850 books librarians were asked to remove. Things were getting scary. 


Globetrotters

You see, most of my books are biographies about Black historical figures who overcame obstacles to make important contributions to the country. There’s the story of George Moses Horton, an enslaved man who became the first Black man to publish a book in the South—his poetry protesting slavery. Then there’s the story of John Roy Lynch, a former enslaved man who rose up through politics to become Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1872, in the backdrop of the Reconstruction period. And most recently, a book that I illustrated about the Harlem Globetrotters, a basketball team who became known as “The Global Ambassadors of Basketball.” The biggest obstacle each of these figures faced: racism.
Might my books be on these banned lists, too? I was afraid to look. 


In the past few months, I heard stories about authors of diverse books needing to hire security while at school visits. I heard about speakers at conferences wearing bulletproof vests. I learned about librarians  losing jobs for refusing to remove challenged books. I could no longer live in the false security of ignorance—I turned to Google. 


Ron's Big Mission

Turned out, a book that I illustrated, RON’S BIG MISSION, written by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden (Dutton, 2009), which is probably my bestselling book, was featured on BEYOND THE BUBBLE, an episode of NBCs SOUTHLAKE. It's podcast that examines the so-called critical race theory battle. I shuttered. RON’S BIG MISSION is an empowering story. It’s about a brave Black boy (young Ron McNair the astronaut who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident in the 80s) who staged a protest when he was denied access to a library card due to the color of his skin. Eventually, the librarian gave in and issued him a card, and so that day he desegregated his community library. It’s a story that all children need to know about—to see Black people doing positive things, which can smash biases and build empathy. Thankfully this particular saga ended well, when parents supported the book, and the principal read the story to the entire student body over Zoom.  


But the situation made me think about what more I should be doing. I’m thrilled that there are more diverse books today than when I was a kid. I’m happy that when I enter a library today, I see many more brown faces on bookshelves. I remember a time when publishers shied away from featuring brown faces on the cover of a book—even when the book was about a brown person. I certainly don’t want to return to the days when libraries featured people who looked like Dick and Jane, Goldilocks, and Harry Potter—only! But I’ll be honest, I felt small—powerless. 


Then I thought about young Ron McNair. On the day he protested at his neighborhood library, he faced a Goliath—the giant of racism. Still, he didn’t cower and run away, he made a stand. And his actions made the library a better place for everyone in the future. 


So, what can I do—what can we all do in this book banning conundrum? Shoot, I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure, we need to support librarians. They are strong, but they are hurting. Last month at the Texas Library Association in Fort Worth, Texas, I attended a session where two librarians spoke on the issue of censorship and offered Intellectual #FReadom Resources. Later in the day, I saw the librarians on the exhibit floor, and I was overwhelmed by the gratitude they showed me for simply showing up—for being there to support them. Librarians are doing the tough work of supporting diverse books and student access to books. They need to know that they’re not in the battle alone. 


In his Publishers Weekly article, STAND BY OUR TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS, author Chris Barton speaks

WNDB

to supporting libraries by saying, “pick an institution that we cherish and make sure the people at that institution know that we appreciate them and have their backs. (Not sure how to effectively demonstrate your support? Ask them!)." Just this week, two-time Newbery Honor-winning author Christina Soontornvat penned a letter to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, condemning the current wave of book suppression that specifically targets titles by creators who are LGBTQIA+ and Black, Indigenous, and people of color. The letter was signed by over 1,300 children’s book authors—including me! 


Thirdly, everyone needs to take this book banning seriously. Banning books is not a badge of honor, as author Nikki Grimes speaks about on her popular blog NOTES FROM NIKKI. After all, publishing is a moneymaking business. If diverse books become unprofitable because books can’t reach kids, publishers, I believe, will stop making them. 


Most importantly, we should not give up hope. We need to keep doing the work—writing the stories so all children can see themselves and know that they are important in the world in which they live. 


Also read: 


AUTHORS RESPOND


'DEAR MARTIN' AUTHOR RESPONDS TO BOOK CONTROVERSY IN MONETT


BEST SELLING AUTHOR FROM CHESAPEAKE KWAME ALEXANDER TALKS ABOUT BOOK BAN CHALLENGES



Don Tate is the award-winning author and/or illustrator of numerous picture book biographies, including PIGSKINS TO PAINTBRUSHES: THE STORY OF FOOTBALL PLAYING ARTIST EARNIE BARNES (Abrams, 2021) and SWISH! THE SLAM-DUNKING, ALLEY-OOPING, HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS (Little Brown, 2020). His WILLIAM STILL AND HIS FREEDOM STORIES: THE FATHER OF THE UNDERGROUND  RAILROAD
 (Peachtree, 2020) was an SCBWI Golden Kite winner in the nonfiction category. Don is a founding host of the Brown Bookshelf, a blog dedicated to advocating for Black authors and illustrators writing for children. When Don isn’t writing, illustrating or visiting elementary schools, he enjoys working out, swimming, yoga, and anything sweet and chocolaty.