Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#NY13SCBWI Conference Prep - 7 Tips To Consider... and to keep in mind for your next conference!

1. Do Your Homework

Read the conference faculty bios now.

Check out the pre-conference faculty interviews.

There's also still time to stop at a bookstore, your library or download the books they've written, illustrated, edited, art directed, or agented to your ebook reader.  Having read their work will change what you hear, understand and feel about what these luminaries in the world of children's literature share.

2.  Be Prepared To Talk About Your Work

It shouldn't be the first thing you say, but you will have moments where you are asked about what you are writing and/or illustrating.  You shouldn't be surprised by this question.  It's often called the elevator pitch.  You should be able to briefly (30 seconds) summarize your current work-in-progress or work that you think is ready to submit.

If they're interested, it would be great if you're prepared to share more.  Consider talking about what gets you excited about the project.  With luck, they may get excited, too!

Your fellow writers and illustrators will ask you this... tell them.  This isn't just something you should do with agents or editors.  Talking to a peer may not be the break-through you're hoping for career-wise, but you might start a conversation that sparks a life-long friendship, and the practice will help you be better when you are talking with a gate-keeper.

3.  Be Professional

Don't get drunk and messy at the gala, or in the hotel bar.  Really.  Keep it professional, because ultimately you want to work with these people professionally.  That doesn't mean you can't sing karaoke poorly, or have a drink.  You don't have to (and shouldn't try to) be 'perfect' - just be yourself, be human, have fun... and keep it professional.

4.  Networking Is Not a Four Letter Word - this is YOUR community.  Enjoy that.  Revel in it.

This is a weekend of hanging out with your tribe.  Indulge in that.  Make new friends and catch up with familiar ones.  Everyone here is crazy for children's books, for teen novels, and open to hear what you love, too!

Nametags serve three functions - they let you know someone's name, give you an excuse to say hello (ask them about where they're from, what sessions they've attended...), and most important they let you know that they're part of the tribe, too.

Wear your nametag ALL the time at the conference.  Really.  Okay, take it off to sleep, but otherwise, when you're out and about in the hotel (and even in the food court in Grand Central) wear your SCBWI conference nametag with pride.  It's how you'll find your people, and we'll be able to find you!

5.  Be open to inspiration.

Keep a notebook with you.  Sketch.   Doodle.  Free-word associate.  Brainstorm.  Work on a character sketch.  Figure out how a scene might work differently.  Let the conference re-charge your creative batteries and leave you humming with purpose and direction!

6.  Follow along with the conference on twitter. 

The hashtag is:  #NY13SCBWI - it works lower-case, too:  #ny13scbwi  You don't have to have a twitter account to do this.  Just click here.

7.  SCBWI's Team Blog will be reporting live from the conference floor starting Saturday morning.  Check out all the great information and excitement at the Official Conference blog here.

I often say that SCBWI offers Business, Craft, Inspiration, Community and Opportunity to those of us in the children's literature community, and this 14th Annual Winter Conference in New York City will be bursting with all of those!

Safe Travels!


Monday, January 28, 2013

The 2013 ALA's Youth Media Awards are Announced!

It is a BIG day in Children's Literature here in the United States.  Announced this morning in Seattle at the ALA's MidWinter Meeting, the awards for the top books, video and audiobooks for children and young adults include these winners...

The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature:

The One and Only Ivan,” written by Katherine Applegate, is the 2013 Newbery Medal winner!  The book is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:

This Is Not My Hat,” illustrated and written by Jon Klassen, is the 2013 Caldecott Medal winner!  The book is published by Candlewick Press.

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America,” written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is the King Author Book winner!  The book is published by Disney/Jump at the Sun Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

The Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award:

I, Too, Am America,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, is the King Illustrator Book winner!  The book is written by Langston Hughes and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:

In Darkness,” written by Nick Lake, is the 2013 Printz Award winner!  The book is published by Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers.

The Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Back to Front and Upside Down!” written and illustrated by Claire Alexander and published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., wins the award for children ages 0 to 10!

A Dog Called Homeless” written by Sarah Lean and published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, is the winner of the middle-school (ages 11-13) award!

The teen (ages 13-18) award winner is “Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am,” written by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. 

The 2013 winner is Katherine Paterson!

Paterson was born in China in 1932 to missionary parents and grew up in the American South, moving eighteen times before she was 18. After graduating from King College in Bristol, Tennessee, she herself became a missionary in Japan. She returned to the U.S. to attend the Union Theological Seminary in New York, where she met and married John Paterson, a Presbyterian minister. Her first book, “The Sign of the Chrysanthemum,” was published in 1973. Katherine Paterson currently lives in Barre, Vermont.

The Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement:

Demetria Tucker is the 2013 recipient!  Tucker has served as youth services coordinator within the Roanoke (Va.) Public Library System and library media specialist at the Forest Park Elementary School, where she was selected 2007 Teacher of the Year. As family and youth services librarian for the Pearl Bailey Library, a branch of the Newport News (Va.) Public Library System, Tucker now coordinates a youth leadership program, a teen urban literature club and many other programs that support the youth of her community.

The Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults:
Tamora Pierce is the 2013 Edwards Award winner!

Pierce was born in rural Western Pennsylvania in 1954. She knew from a young age she liked stories and writing, and in 1983, she published her first book, Song of the Lioness. She continues to write and even record her own audiobooks. She currently lives with her husband (spouse-creature) and a myriad of animals in Syracuse, New York.

The Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:

The Fault in Our Stars,” produced by Brilliance Audio, is the 2013 Odyssey Award winner!  The book is written by John Green and narrated by Kate Rudd.

The Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience:

Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert,” illustrated by David Diaz, is the Belpré Illustrator Award winner!  The book was written by Gary D. Schmidt and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

The Pura Belpré (Author) Award:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, is the Belpré Author Award winner!  The book is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Aristotle and Dante also won The Stonewall Book Award - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience!

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children:

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon,” written by Steve Sheinkin, is the Sibert Award winner!  The book is published by Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

Bomb also won The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults!

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book:

Up, Tall and High!” written and illustrated by Ethan Long is the Seuss Award winner!  The book is published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

And The William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:

Seraphina,” written by Rachel Hartman, is the 2013 Morris Award winner!  The book is published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

To read more about all the awards and the honor books in each category, check out the ALA's official press release.  And for all of us in the world of Children's Literature, here's our newest reading list!

Congratulations to the winners and honorees!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workouts - a new offering from Teaching Authors

Teaching Authors, the group blog of April Halprin Wayland, Carmela Martino, Esther Hershenhorn, Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, Jill Esbaum, and Mary Ann Rodman has launched a new regular feature:

The Wednesday Writing Workout.

Each week, they are sharing writing exercises designed for we writers (and that teachers can also use  with their students!)

This week, Esther Hershenhorn shares revision tips from a mystery author (including how to kill your adverbs and finding twenty words to cut on every page),

Last week, April Halprin Wayland walked us through the inspiration of writing a tree poem,

and earlier in the month, Jill Esbaum got us playing with setting and Carmela Martino had another mystery author teach us to 'give Logic a Lollipop.'

It's a great new resource to check out.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Great Resources for Writers and Illustrators

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a powerhouse.  She is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of the TANTALIZE series and FERAL series. Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins) and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton).

Her website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in our SCBWI "To Market" column.

One of the great features of her website is the section, "Goodies for Writers and Illustrators."

It is PACKED with great stuff!

With gems like...

A Character's Controlling Belief by Mary Atkinson from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "A character’s goal is different. Goal answers the question, what does a character want? Controlling belief answers, why does she want it?"

6 1/2 Ways to Impress an Agent by Tina Wexler from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: "Demonstrate knowledge of their list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever sold—I leave that job to my mom — but by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query."

All Answers are Yes from Editorial Anonymous. [On pre-contract revisions,] Peek: "This is also a test: the good writers are the ones who are good at rewriting. Some people are only good at first drafts, or terrible at using feedback effectively, and I'd like to know that about someone before I commit to working with them for months/years and spending many thousands of dollars on their project."
it's a go-to place for links and lists on craft and publishing, education, promotion, professional critiquers, writing reading lists and so much more!  An excellent resource to know about.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mitali Perkins Shares Ten Tips On Writing Race in Novels

This article, Ten Tips On Writing Race In Novels is well worth reading.

Many points resonated for me, like your story with different readers in mind -- some living across borders and oceans, some dwelling on the margins of mainstream culture, and some in generations to come where race and ethnicity will be defined in completely different ways.

Will your descriptions of physical appearance confuse or exclude such readers? What's lost by leaving a few words out or replacing them with others? Do some wordplay with physical descriptions, and think about how the descriptions might empower or limit young readers.
 and #10,

Unleash your creativity when it comes to descriptions of appearance.

It's unanimous: stay away from food metaphors when it comes to describing skin color. Scrupulously avoid cliché when talking about a character's appearance.

Let's invent fresh ways of describing the human diversity on our planet, and set our young readers free to enjoy fresh ways of seeing it.

My thanks to Cynthia Leitich Smith for listing this post among her resources for writers and illustrators!

It's also really interesting to note that Mitali published this post on writing race in novels back in 2008... and yet because it's so useful, it remains a go-to resource, not just a dusty file in an archive.  One of the amazing truths about online content - when it's good, it has lasting power!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lisa Schroeder's Timeline and Checklist for a YA or MG Book Release

This timeline and checklist post by Lisa Schroeder, written in the run-up to her third novel coming out, is a good starting point for figuring out what you want to do in the months leading up to your book's release.

And more than that, I think Lisa's post is a great example of being useful to others.  As she herself writes as one of her tips,

"Do some informational blog posts that will hopefully drive people to your blog, but which have nothing to do with your book. Some of the best promotion is simply getting your name out there by offering up helpful information to other people."

This is that idea in action - Lisa wrote up a useful post about her strategy for what to do in the six months prior to her book launch, I'm telling you about it, and so more people are finding out about Lisa and her books.

But it's even cooler... because this is also a great illustration of how the world of people who blog and communicate online about children's books is so connected.  I was at Cynthia Leitich Smith's amazing blog, reading interviews and posts by debut PB and YA authors, and in the post about J.A. Souders' debut science fiction novel "Renegade", J.A. wrote,

My biggest issue was what to do when, but Lisa Schroeder has a great timeline/checklist that I check all the time to see what I should be doing and when. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

Being useful to others is a great thing to do, and it's also a great way to promote yourself and your books... Which reminds me of this debate I had in a college course - if you feel good when you help others, is there really such a thing as altruism, or are all good deeds ultimately self-serving?

Happily, we don't need to solve that puzzle, but it's good to know that good for others online is good for you, too!

Illustrate and Write On,

Friday, January 11, 2013

The 2013 Comment Challenge - A Community-Building Event!

MotherReader and I have teamed up once again to host The 2013 Comment Challenge - for 21 days in a row (starting today and ending on January 31) challenge yourself to leave five comments a day on other kid lit blogs.

What ends up happening is lots more connections, conversations and a much greater sense of community - wonderful things to start off the new year!

So head over to sign up, and join us in The 2013 Comment Challenge!

Comment On,

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Winners of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award!

The SCBWI established the new On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award with funding from Martin and Sue Schmitt of the 455 Foundation.  The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.  The grant is designed to be given to two writers or illustrators who are from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America.  But this year, three writers have been selected!

I had the chance to ask each of our inaugural winners a few questions to find out more.  And here they are, the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award Winners...

Alex Brown!

Alex Brown

Lee:  Tell me a bit about the work you submitted that won you the grant.

Alex: Seventeen year-old Sebastian Reynolds just met Sora Walton, who happens to be the other universe’s version of his dead girlfriend – which was freaky enough without the whole “she can predict violent crimes before they happen” thing.  Sora’s ability causes her to dream about Bastian’s death every night, and it involves her, a knife, and lots of blood.  But, hey, at least she doesn't want to kill him.  Now they’ve got two months to figure out why Bastian ends up on the wrong side of her knife.  Great.

Lee:  Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?

Alex:  I'm fairly new to the world of children's literature (at least from the writing perspective - I've been consuming children's literature ever since I could read, and, before I could read, I'm pretty sure I was all about the pictures in whatever books I could find!).  In the summer of 2012, I finished my first novel, which was an attempt at YA high-fantasy.  It was a fairy tale re-telling that I'd been working on for a couple of years, and when I finished it I was pretty amazed that I'd actually finished writing a book that had started out as a way to pass the time during the nights when I was the Resident Advisor On-Duty and couldn't leave my residence hall.  

I had no idea I could actually write a whole book, and, honestly, those feelings still haven't gone away, and probably never will.  I nervously sent the book to some friends, just to see if I was any good at this writing thing, and their feedback was more enthusiastic than I deserved - but, without their cheers and pushing, I wouldn't have had the courage to start my second novel.

I wrote ASTRAL after I got a little more involved in the writing community online, and had a good bit of it written by the time my Regional SCBWI conference came around (shout-out to all the wonderful people in the Midsouth Region!).  All of the positive feedback ASTRAL received at the conference pushed me to believe not only in myself and my abilities, but also to believe in my characters and their story.

I was very excited that I finished revising ASTRAL in time to apply for this award. I knew I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't at least throw my proverbial hat in.  So, I closed my eyes, hit send, and still can't believe that I was lucky enough to be one of the three winners selected!  There aren't enough words out there to describe how it feels to be selected as one of the Inaugural winners of the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award, but the ones that come kind-of-close are: proud, amazed, shocked, grateful, and honored!

Lee:  Can you share with us your hopes/plans for the 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference?

Alex:  I had such an awesome time at my regional conference in September because I got to meet people who were as passionate about children's literature as I was, so, I hope that I can meet even more people with this passion at this conference!  I'm very excited to absorb all of the information that I can about the publishing industry and hopefully take away a few techniques to make me a better writer!  I also can't wait to meet the other Emerging Voices award recipients, and hopefully talk them into swapping stories! 

My biggest priority, though, will be to just enjoy my time at SCBWI New York because, well, it's in one of my favorite cities, and I'll spend two days talking about children's literature.  Oh, and Julie Andrews is going to be there.  I can't wait!

Mary Louise Sanchez!

Mary Louise Sanchez

Lee:  Tell me a bit about the work you submitted that won you the grant (pitch me!)

Mary:  Some nuggets of truth about my mother's life in Wyoming and my father's life in New Mexico inspired my middle grade story, THE WIND CALLED MY NAME.  The dust storm winds of the Great Depression blow Margarita, an eleven-year-old Hispanic girl, from her ancestral New Mexico home to Wyoming where she wants to maintain her culture and yet make a new friend, but challenges to her family's security cause Margarita to ask an unfamiliar saint for help.

Lee:  Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?

Mary:  The Golden Books, my travels with Heidi to the Alps in the third grade, and the Grimm Brothers and Andersen fairy tales were my introductions to children's literature. In college I took a children's literature course where we read many Caldecott and Newbery books and I discovered the award winning story,...And Now Miguel, which was authentically like my father's sheep herding childhood in the same northern New Mexican Sangre de Cristo mountains. The seed to read the best in children's literature had taken root probably because I saw my culture depicted in a story!  I continued to read the honor books and later introduced them to our children and to the children I taught. Eventually I became an elementary school children's librarian and became even more passionate about children's literature. As I continue to read, I read with a writer's eye. My many stuffed children's book characters now look down at me from our bookshelves and inspire me to share my own stories which are worth telling and reading.

Lee:  Hopes/plans for the conference?

Mary:  I plan on being awestruck at the conference, yet know I'll meet people who can help me make my stories the best they can be. I hope this inaugural Emerging Voices Grant will motivate the children's literature world to publish stories so that Hispanic families see themselves in high quality, universal stories. All children need to be exposed to different viewpoints and to the variety of Hispanic cultures.

and Sandra Headen, Ph.D.!

Sandra Headen, Ph.D.

Lee: Please tell us about the book that you entered into the contest!

Sandra:  CATO'S LAST HOME RUN is an historical, young adult novel about two baseball teams; one black, one white; and their experiences with racial violence and reconciliation in the Jim Crow south of the 1930’s. The teams are hostile towards one another at first, but when black players are attacked by white boys who call themselves, The Rebel Clan, they work together to keep the players safe. Their actions build stronger ties between black and white communities.

Lee:  Tell us about your journey so far as a children’s book writer.

Sandra:  Most of my career was spent in academia, conducting research in public health and collaborating with federal, state and local agencies on community-based initiatives to prevent tobacco use. The Ujima Youth Initiative with African American teens was one of the most satisfying programs I participated in. When I left the university, I became a consultant and, finally, had time to write. The resulting novel, CATO'S LAST HOME RUN is a reflection of my upbringing in the south as well as my passion for communicating with teens like the ones I worked with in public health. Interestingly, I was writing a different book when I discovered two books about baseball that changed everything: We are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, about Negro League baseball, and The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz about a family of baseball players in different historical periods. Although I waited most of my life to become a full-time writer, I have been enormously blessed. Excerpts from CATO'S LAST HOME RUN garnered second place finishes in two contests sponsored by the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow and placed third in SCBWI’s Works in Progress. My selection as a winner in SCBWI’s On the Verge-Emerging Voices competition is surprising and exhilarating! I see it as the first pillar in my journey as a children’s book author and look forward the adventures that await in the coming acts.

Lee:  What are your hopes for the conference?

Sandra:  My primary goal for the conference is to sell my novel, CATO'S LAST HOME RUN. I am planning to pitch the book to as many agents and publishers as I can find who have advertised their interest in young adult novels with historical, sports, or multi-cultural themes. For starters, I have enrolled in Breakout Sessions with Julie Scheina of Little and Brown and Nancy Siscoe of Random House. In addition to selling my book, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to network with so many writers of children’s books. I know that I will acquire a wealth of contacts who will enrich my life for years to come. Finally, I am excited to connect with writers in the Carolina region whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting. 
Congratulations to Alex, Mary and Sandra!

And if you'll be at the upcoming 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference, make sure to say hello to these On-The-Verge Emerging Voices!  Not yet registered?  While Friday's intensives are sold out, there are a limited number of spaces still available for the Saturday (February 2, 2013) and Sunday (February 3, 2013) of the conference.  You can find all the details here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Inspiration as we 'commence' 2013 - The Art Of The Possible

Poet Kenneth Koch crafted this poem, published in his "The Art of The Possible! Comics Mainly Without Pictures"

It reads:


Vanishing is impossible

Lasting is impossible

Being in two places at once is impossible

Speaking the entire truth is impossible

Instantly knowing Spanish is impossible

Living in the midst of ten thousand panes of glass is impossible

Being simultaneously masked and unmasked is impossible

except in art


Inspiring words as we launch ourselves into 2013!  Happy New Year!

Illustrate and Write On,

ps - my thanks to Tony Kushner for quoting Koch's poem in his speech at Columbia's School of the Arts 2011 graduation (40 minutes in.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Where would we be without books? - A Song For 2013

The new theme song by Sparks for the Bookworm public radio program on KCRW (Santa Monica, CA) is pretty wonderful...

Enjoy! (And just like a book, you can imagine the images in your own mind!)


Here are the lyrics:

Where Would We Be Without Books
Where would we be without books
Where would we be without Gutenberg
Even the thought of it's so absurd
Where would we be without books
Where would we be without books
(Where would we be?)
Where would we be without Gutenberg
(No Gutenberg)
It's a rhetorical question, sir
But, where would we be without books

I Am A Bookworm
I am a bookworm
He is a bookworm
She is a bookworm
We are all bookworms
And we just read, read, read, read
(Read this, read that, read this)
Read, read, read
(Read this, read that, read this)
Read, read, read
(Read this, read that, read this, read that)
I am a bookworm
We are all bookworms
© Sparks/Ron and Russell Mael 2010.

Illustrate and Write On,