Thursday, June 28, 2018

Listen to SCBWI's Newest Podcast: A Conversation with Sara Varon

Sara Varon is a graphic novelist and children's book author/illustrator living in Brooklyn. Her books include Odd Duck, which was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children's Books of 2013, Bake Sale, which was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams, which was on Oprah's Kids' Reading List in 2008 and selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the 150 best books of 2008. She was a recipient of the 2013 Maurice Sendak Fellowship and an Eisner nominee in 2014, and currently teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

In this interview with Theo Baker, Sara shares about the evolution of her art, her career, and insights she's gained on the journey.

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full podcast here (log in first!)

Illustrate and Write On, 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The 2018 Caldecott, Newbery, and Legacy Award Speeches

One of the highlights of attending the American Library Association's Annual Conference was attending their Caldecott, Newbery, and Legacy Awards ceremony on Sunday night, and getting to hear the acceptance speeches from the winners.

Here, some notes and impressions:

The Caldecott Medal went to...

“Wolf in the Snow,” illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, and published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. As the ALA Caldecott page describes it,

"In this spare, nearly wordless picture book, a girl and a wolf cub each get lost in the snow and rescue each other. Cordell uses pen and ink and watercolor wash to capture the frenzied snowfall and the brave girl’s frantic, frightful journey. Fairy tale elements and a strong sense of color and geometry offer an engrossing, emotionally charged story.

“HOOOOOWWLLLL!!” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Tish Wilson. “Committee members were astonished that a deceptively simple book could be such a dramatic story of survival.”

Matthew shared how the mistrust humans have of wolves is based on stereotypes, and how his book helps us reflect not just on how people mistreat wolves because of what we wrongly believe, but on how people mistreat other people because of what we wrongly believe.

His speech was laugh-out-loud funny, and then there were bittersweet moments that made the audience (and Matthew himself) tear up. One of the most poignant was when he told an hysterical story of years ago wishing another book of his might win this very same award, how he set his intention, and then how it didn't happen... and now, it had.

Peppered with lots of standing ovations and applause, it was a great moment to witness.

The Newbery Medal was awarded to...

"Hello, Universe", written by Erin Entrada Kelly, published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. As the ALA Newbery page describes it:
Filipino folklore and real life converge at the bottom of a well. Even while following signs and portents, the characters are the definition of creative agency. Masterfully told through shifting points of view, this modern quest tale shimmers with humor and authentic emotion.

“This reading community celebrates the panoply of American literature for children published in 2017. We are delighted to share our selections with the world,” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Cecilia P. McGowan.
Erin's speech was funny, and so heartfelt. She shared growing up the only Filipino student in her class, her grade, her school. On how she felt so alone. And on how books helped her escape. How she has always been a writer.

And then, she said this, and it resonated so strongly for me:

"My greatest wish as a writer... is that the person reading my book feels less alone." 

I found myself nodding so hard. Yes! It was a beautiful, powerful moment of connection for everyone there, and we all leapt to our feet to give Erin Entrada Kelly a standing ovation.

And then, the newly named Children's Literature Legacy Award.

(From the ALA website: "At its meeting on Saturday, June 23, 2018, the Association for Library Service to Children Board voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children's Literature Legacy Award. This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness." You can read more about this here.)

This year's winner of the Legacy Award is Jacqueline Woodson.

As the ALA Legacy Award page put it,

 If children’s literature today addresses themes of racism, sexuality, and class; if previously invisible characters have come to the fore; if different voices are now heard; if more children see themselves and others in books, look to Jacqueline Woodson as a prime-mover. For over 25 years, in elegant poetry and prose, she has courageously explored issues once ignored and nurtured her readers’ self-esteem and empathy.

Jacqueline's speech opened with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, and then proceeded like the best kind of poem - words full of meaning, and power, taking us through a landscape of injustice all around us, and yet, through some navigational magic, letting us off at a place of hope.

How what we write is "the deepest essence of ourselves, translated into characters and plot..." and all the elements that make a story.

And that, for we creators of stories for children and teens,
"It is the work for people to feel safe and seen in this world."
Another standing ovation, just as wonderful, and yet distinct from the previous ones of the evening.

One of the evening's many standing ovations!

I feel so fortunate to have been there for all that magic.

Illustrate and Write On,

p.s.: The full acceptance speeches are in the current issue of The Horn Book Magazine. (Though the speech Jacqueline Woodson gave was revised the afternoon she gave it, so there will be some differences.)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sara Shepard shares "12 Ways To Hook Readers" at the BookBub Blog

Sara's the bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars, and this article about How to Start Your Novel With a Bang! was a useful and inspiring dive into craft...

With strategies like,

1. Startle readers with the first line. Shocking readers immediately with a jarring moment, visual, or confession will get them excited to read on. One of my favorite novels, the Pulitzer-winning Middlesex, starts with a doozy of a first line:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

It’s surprising and mysterious, and it gets the reader right into the main character’s head — it’s a confession of sorts, which unravels throughout the novel. For me, there was absolutely no way I could put the book down.
2. Begin at a life-changing moment. A life-changing event for a protagonist can be their “inciting incident” — a moment that thrusts him or her into the conflict they must resolve or overcome by the end of the story. The first chapter of Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care talks about a baby’s birth — always exciting! But things get even more interesting when the baby emerges with a whole host of health problems — forcing her parents to make a heart-wrenching decision.

This “inciting incident” all happens within the first ten pages of the novel. By the end of chapter one, the reader knows the whole situation at hand, and can’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happens next.
You'll be hooked! (And so, we hope, will your readers!)

I also loved this tidbit in the article:
"A professor in my MFA program gave me great advice once: Pretend your characters are at a party, and they’re talking to you, the reader, for the first time. Would they really tell you their whole history right away, or would they do so only getting to know you? A few telling character traits here and there can go a long way toward getting us to sympathize with a character. Once the reader is hooked, then it might be time delve into that backstory. It’s a delicate balance, but in the beginning of a novel, less is often more!"

Read the whole piece here.

Illustrate and Write On, 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards from Pop Culture Classroom and Denver ComicCon

Check out this brand-new award from Pop Culture Classroom and Denver ComicCon, who just announced their 2018 winners (for books published in 2017):

The first winners are...

Book of the Year: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfield and Alex Puvilland (First Second)

Best in Adult Books: The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson and Landis Blair (First Second)

Best in Young-Adult Books: Home Time: Book One by Campbell Whyte (Top Shelf)

Best in Middle-Grade Books: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (Iron Circus Comics)

Best in Children's Books: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (First Second)

Mosaic Award: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (Abrams Comic Arts)

Congratulations to the winners - you can find out more about the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Inspiration from Louis L’Amour

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
—Louis L’Amour
image of Louis L'Amour from this online biography 

That's some pretty great advice, for all us creative types. Start writing, start drawing, start creating. Turn on the faucet!

Find out more about the American novelist Louis L’Amour here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

We Need Diverse Books' Walter Grant Deadline: June 15

Our friends at We Need Diverse Books™ are giving five grants of $2,000 each to unpublished writers and/or illustrators from marginalized backgrounds who are working on children's or young adult literature projects.

The submission window is open until 11:59PM EST on June 15th, 2018, and application information can be found here. As they explain at the WNDB blog,
The Walter Grant program was initiated in 2015 to provide financial support to promising writers and illustrators from diverse communities. The program’s co-chair Marietta Zacker adds, “Our aim is to give voice to the voiceless, to amplify and elevate people who for too long haven’t had fair or equal representation in the world of books for children and young adults.”
Go here to learn more, and good luck!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"The Santa Thief" Wins The 2017 SCBWI Spark Award! An exclusive interview with the book's author, Alane Adams, and illustrator, Lauren Gallegos

The picture book that won the 2017 SCBWI Spark Award, The Santa Thief

Award-winning author Alane Adams

Award-winning illustrator Lauren Gallegos

Here's the interview...

Lee: Please tell us about The Santa Thief!

Alane: The Santa Thief is the third book in my “Thief” series inspired by stories my 96-year-old father told me about growing up in rural Pennsylvania. After hearing some of his tales, I decided to write this series so that kids today could catch a glimpse of what life was like in the 1920s. In The Santa Thief, young Georgie is hoping to receive a new pair of ice skates for Christmas, but times are tough, even for Santa, Papa explains. Georgie is so disappointed, he doesn’t see the point of celebrating Christmas any longer, until Mama gently reminds him it’s about family and being together. Georgie decides to take matters in his own hands and “steals” Santa’s identity to give his parents a Christmas to remember. The Santa Thief helps kids understand that Christmas is about more than just the gifts they receive, and hopefully helps them appreciate the spirit of the season in a more meaningful way, especially how hard their parents work!

Lee: In traditional publishing, illustrators sometimes don't even speak to the author. Were you able to collaborate?

Alane: Working with Lauren has been a dream. I originally found her through the SCBWI illustrator gallery and immediately connected to her work. Plus, she was (at the time) living local to me and I liked being able to meet face-to-face to discuss ideas and concepts. Once we got through the first book, the next books flowed quite easily. Lauren is so skilled at interpreting the words and transforming my simple little stories into beautiful moving picture books. I always describe the relationship between author and illustrator as a kind of dance. I write the manuscript, then she brings it to life in pictures, then I mend the words to better match the pictures, going back and forth until the final product is perfect.

Lee: How is this book non-traditionally published, and can you share the decision process behind taking this path?

Alane: When I drafted the first book in the series, The Coal Thief, I didn’t know as much about the industry as I do today, and I wanted to expedite the process so that my father who was almost 94 at the time, would be alive to see the finished book. If I had known he would keep on ticking, I might have pushed harder for a traditional route! I chose to work with SparkPress because they have full Ingram distribution and are very skilled at getting books through the publishing stages.

Interior art from "The Santa Thief"

Lee: What was (or is) the biggest challenge of publishing in this non-traditional way?

Alane: Independent publishing can be challenging for children’s authors because so much of what young kids read is on printed books, not electronic, so reaching schools, libraries, and bookstores is always more of a challenge. It is still very hard for independently published authors to be on the shelf at Barnes and Noble or other big retail stores, so they have to be creative at marketing their books. I was fortunate to have The Coal Thief showcased on and read by actor Christian Slater which has garnered over 1 million views, generally by teachers in classrooms. Its very rewarding to think that millions of kids have been exposed to my father’s childhood stories!

Lauren: The greatest challenge of publishing non-traditionally as an Illustrator would being your own art director. Alane has always given me a lot of freedom to take the illustrations where I want, as long as it fits her story and the time period. But with that freedom comes a lot of self-critique and questioning if something is good or not. It can be hard to be in your own head that much. And there are times when it's easy to just let something slide instead of pushing yourself to go back and make it better - something an Art Director would surely do. Thankfully I also have art buddies that I can bounce ideas off of or just get a second pair of eyes when I am unsure of myself.

More interior art from "The Santa Thief"

Lee: What was (or is) the greatest benefit?

Alane: The greatest benefit is having control over the process and being able to publish on your own schedule.

Lauren: For our situation, I feel like being able to collaborate on this series has been a big benefit for both of us. In reality, without a traditional publisher to mediate, it is necessary for us to communicate. Going the non-traditional route has also allowed me to explore my own ideas and techniques with the artwork, which I have been able to do for each of the books in the series. That has allowed me a great opportunity to grow as an artist.

Lee: Anything else you'd like to share about the adventure so far?

Alane: I really look forward to bringing out the next book in the series, The Circus Thief coming this Fall. The Circus Thief tells the story of Georgie’s adventures at the circus where he ends up rescuing a circus horse named Roxie. I think the book showcases some of Lauren’s best work with colors and details. For the future, I’d love to come up with a new series about life during the Great Depression, and maybe try traditional publishing this time around!

Congratulations to both Alane and Lauren!

You can learn more about The Santa Thief and author Alane Adams here, and illustrator Lauren Gallegos here.

And if you'd like to find out more about SCBWI's Spark Award that recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route, here's the link to all the information.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Great Article By Tom McAllister About Being A Writer, Expectations, Reality, And Why We Live This "Writing Life"

Empty seats at a reading...

The piece is "Who Will Buy Your Book?" by Tom McAllister, posted at The Millions.

Some choice moments:
"The point of this piece is not to shame those people or to complain about not getting enough support. It’s just to say: whatever you think it’s like after you publish a book, it’s actually harder than that."
This part cracked me up:
"I admit to having felt betrayed by my friends’ indifference, especially after the first book, but I remind myself that I do the same thing all the time. I have friends in bands that I haven’t seen live in years. I’ve never been to any friends’ improv shows. I skip a lot of readings, even when I know the readers. I have friends with books I haven’t bought or read. I have explicitly lied to colleagues about having read and enjoyed their books. The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit."
and this really resonated:
"I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do. Though their validation feels great, it’s important to remember that it’s also not the point. As a writer, you need to approach every project with the understanding that you’re doing this work for yourself, and everything that happens once it’s in the world is out of your control. Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it. You can do the work, and you can keep showing up, and that’s all you’ve got. Most of the time, it’s all you need."
The article is well-worth reading. 

Illustrate and Write On,