Thursday, March 30, 2017

Illustrators! Have You Applied For the Don Freeman Grant?

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

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

Get all the info here, and good luck!

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

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

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

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

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

Overall, it's well worth reading!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

What a lineup for #LA17SCBWI!

Get all the details, and register, here.

We hope to see you in L.A.!

Illustrate, and Write, and conference on!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

SCBWI Books For Readers

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

Here's the elevator pitch:

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

2. One or two recipient organizations are chosen.

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

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

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

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

Illustrate and Write On!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Diversity Initiatives: SCBWI Illinois’ Many Voices Outstanding Manuscript Prize

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

Graphic created by Diversity Committee member Cedric Gilane

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen: Thank you!

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