Thursday, October 12, 2017

Inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert's "BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear"

Just started reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I had to share what's at the end of chapter one:
"But I will never forget what the real Jack Gilbert told somebody else––an actual flesh-and-blood person, a shy University of Tennessee student. This young woman recounted to me that one afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer.

He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, "Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes."

Thank you, Elizabeth. And thank you Jack, for those words.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Racism, Growth of an Author/Illustrator, and Context: A Museum and Children's Book Creators Grapple with the "right" thing to do

So the Dr. Seuss museum had a mural painted on a main museum wall, illustrations from Dr. Seuss' first book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.." (Mulberry street is only blocks from the museum's Springfield, Massachusetts location.) These illustrations included what today is understood to be a racist stereotype of a Chinese man.

Three children's book creators, Lisa Yee, Mike Curato, and Mo Willems were invited to a festival at the museum. They pulled out to protest the museum's lack of context for the mural, protesting the idea that the image would be seen by children and not interpreted in the scope of Dr. Seuss' evolution as an artist and a human being.

The festival was cancelled and the mural will be "replaced."

It's been reported in multiple sources, but I'd suggest you read the very well-considered post about this at Grace Lin's blog here.

It's interesting to consider both our power as children's book creators and how people (and even institutions) can evolve over time and go from buying into racial stereotypes to promoting tolerance, acceptance, and even celebrating differences.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Continuity of Subject: A Portfolio Checklist from Rosanne Kakos-Main courtesy of Harold Underdown's

Getting out of the Art File over at Harold Underdown's The Purple Crayon website has lots of great advice for illustrators.

Harold's amazing resource, Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books: The Purple Crayon website

What struck me most was the list of tips from designer Rosanne Kakos-Main for illustrators to consider when putting together their portfolios, that included:

Continuity of Subject: Can you illustrate the same subject from different points of view, in different situations, showing different feelings?
It's a point well-worth considering, because it can prove to an editor and art director that you're ready to handle a project where we visually follow the same character in different circumstances.

Read the full article here.

Thanks, Rosanne and Harold!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

#PubForPR! An Auction to Aid Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief

A very worthy cause!

The Publishing for Puerto Rico auction starts Monday, October 2nd at 9 AM Eastern and ends Thursday, October 5th at 10 PM Eastern.

Find out more (and get bidding) at

And as Lily Meade explains in the video above, if you can't contribute money, know you can still help by amplifying the message!

Here's to doing good, and moving our career journeys forward at the same time!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Melissa Stewart's Nonfiction resource on the four year journey to writing her picture book, "Can an Aardvark Bark?"

Created for teachers, but with lots of value for all of us who write picture books, Melissa Stewart's timeline of her creative process for "Can an Aardvark BARK? is packed with information,


and insights.

It's well worth exploring, and then considering the elements that might help you with your own creative process.

Can an Aardvark BARK? Maybe not, but Melissa's process can certainly inspire!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Zareen Jaffery On The Latest Episode of the SCBWI Podcast

Zareen Jaffery wears two hats as an editor at Simon & Schuster - she focuses on commercial and literary young adult and middle grade fiction and teen nonfiction, and she also acquires picture books through young adult for Salaam Reads, an imprint that focuses on publishing books about Muslim children and families.

In this in-depth, behind-the-scenes interview with Theo Baker, Zareen shares about the challenges of being an editor, her thoughts on world-building and character, the drive behind Salaam Reads, and much, much more.

Listen to the episode trailer here.

And SCBWI members can hear the full pocast here (log in first!)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wrong Hands "Horror Movie Plot Generator" -- or, a useful list of clichés to avoid for everyone creating scary stories

This is brilliant! (And next month there is a pre-Halloween Friday the 13th - maybe you'll be inspired!)

Cheers to John Atkinson for the Chartoon fun!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Health Lang's FEARLESS FLYER: RUTH LAW AND HER FLYING MACHINE wins in the New England Division (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island)

The Crystal Kite-winning Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, written by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raúl Colón 

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Heather: Every book I write is a new adventure, and this one was packed with exciting discoveries and personal growth. FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine tells the true story of a daring early aviator, who made up her mind to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City in 1916. No one had done it in before. Aviation experts thought the flight was doomed, but that didn’t stop Ruth Law!

I am a fearFUL flyer, so friends were surprised to hear I was writing a book about an early aviator. Actually, exploring my own fears has been the spark for several of my books. When I read about Ruth Law, I couldn’t imagine the courage it took to navigate from an open cockpit in a flimsy flying machine made from bamboo and cloth. And what about the huge obstacles Ruth faced as a woman? Her persistence was remarkable. I especially admired how she immersed herself in her passion, becoming a mechanic and learning every nut and bolt on her machine.

Early on in my research, I read that Ruth kept a scrapbook. I tracked down the enormous book at the National Air and Space Museum archives. It was a gold mine, filled with hundreds of articles, ribbons, photos, and Ruth’s own handwritten notes. With so much material I could really focus the book and bring readers along on Ruth’s thrilling flight.

When it came time to do my experiential research for this book, I knew I needed to dig deep and find my own courage. What was it like to fly in an open cockpit? Since I couldn’t find an early biplane, paragliding seemed like a good alternative. As I stood on the edge of the mountain, ready to jump, I tried to internalize Ruth’s words: “I wouldn’t give a cent for any experience that didn’t scare me a little. The scare is part of the thrill.” Once I recovered from the initial panic, it was a wonderful experience—soaring up and down like a bird. It inspired me to weave the theme of liberty into the story—the freedom Ruth felt as a pilot and sought as a woman. Raúl Colón’s stunning art captured this so beautifully. He lifted my words to a higher level. I am still in awe when I look at the illustrations.

Author Heather Lang

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Heather: I can honestly say I wouldn’t be a published author without SCBWI. That’s why receiving this award from my New England peers is so incredibly meaningful.

In 2003 when I first started writing children’s books, I became an SCBWI member and joined an SCBWI critique group at the Concord Library in Massachusetts. I immediately gained a community of writers, as well as inspiration and encouragement to keep pursuing my dream. I attended SCBWI conferences and learned invaluable skills that helped me grow as a writer. I began volunteering at our regional conferences. From managing the new members’ table to helping with freebies to organizing critiques, my connections in the community grew. SCBWI gave me the confidence to have faith in myself and take my writing seriously. I am deeply grateful for the many gifts SCBWI has given me.

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Heather: Surround yourself with writers and illustrators. Go to book launches, kid lit events, kid lit drink nights, conferences, and workshops. Go on writing retreats. Join a critique group! You will improve your craft immeasurably by critiquing others’ work and getting feedback on your own.

Just as important is the emotional support you will share with each other. This is a tough business with lots of ups and downs. Whether you are struggling with a revision or discouraged about a tough critique or a rejection, support from peers will get you through the rough patches. And there’s nothing like celebrating each other’s successes. I have made life-long friends during my journey and rely on them tremendously for support.

And don’t forget to treat writing like your profession, not a hobby. Take yourself seriously as a writer, be open to feedback, work hard, and NEVER GIVE UP!

Thanks, Heather, and congratulations again (to you and Raúl) on Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine winning the Crystal Kite Award! 

You can find out more about Heather at her website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How Do Publishers Find Their Illustrators? Editorial Director Amy Dean of Blue Manatee Press Shares Their Publisher-SCBWI Success Story!

As an illustrator, you have probably felt the worry of trying to find new projects from publishers; wondering when and how you will get your artwork matched with the right book project. If it helps, I can assure you that at times, we publishers have this same worry in reverse. Sure, we often have a bevy of illustrators that we have worked with in the past that we may reach out to for a specific project, but what happens when a project comes along for which we don’t already have a match? 

Pairing an illustrator with an upcoming board or picture book project is of the utmost importance. The text of a project is always key, but finding the right illustrator can really bring the words to life. And while it’s great to find a talented illustrator (and to my mind all of you are crazy talented—anybody want to see my sad stick drawings?), as a publisher, when pairing artists to projects, we are mostly looking for that illustrator that really “gets” the new project, and in doing so, can bring that extra magic to the book.

Happily, we have had such luck with SCBWI by posting call-for-artists on the job thread of the SCBWI Blueboard. Allow me to share with you a little behind the scenes of what this looks like from my perspective as Editorial Director for blue manatee press. First, we start with the text. I’ll select passages from the text and I’ll make them available in our call-for-artist posting. I ask for illustration submissions based on the provided text. The passages I select are typically either passages that are essential to the heart of the story, or have some tricky element to them that I am curious to see how an illustrator might approach. For example, here is a post for what became our picture book, Sleepy Solar System:
Project 2: A children's picture book on the Solar System, that will serve as an introduction to the planets as they get ready for bed. We're looking for something blending accurate portrayals of the planets with gentle whimsy. Below are three lines from the book, anyone interested should do his or her best interpretation of how he or she would illustrate the book based on these three lines. Candidates need only provide a single illustration for the line of their choice:

It’s been a long, busy day in the starry Milky Way. --> Opening Spread (2 pages)
Sleepy, setting Sun whispers, “Bedtime, everyone."
Saturn brushes rainbow rings with a bubbly toothbrush thing. --> a single page later in the book
Next, we wait. Waiting is tough. Soon enough though, the submissions start pouring in, and my Inbox is filled with delightful artwork.

For the next step in the process, I’ll let you hear directly from the selected artist for this project: Doug Cenko:
“What illustrator wouldn't want to draw the planets getting ready for bed? It's such a great idea for a book and I knew right away that I wanted to work on it. Once I submitted my artwork, it seemed like an extremely long wait before I heard back from them. [They] let me know that they narrowed the submissions down to me and one other illustrator. Fortunately, [they] gave me some feedback on what they liked and didn't like about my submission. I took that feedback and created an entirely new piece which ended up sealing the deal.”
Yes, yes, remember all that delightful artwork I mentioned earlier? Well, it often takes a long time to consider each piece and reach out to the illustrators we’re considering with additional feedback. Again, waiting is tough, and we’re often working on numerous projects at once. We do try to be as quick as possible.

Finally, the moment comes when we have selected an illustrator and everyone is on board with the project. It’s a happy moment. From this point, it becomes a straight forward editing process of sketches, feedback and approval progressing to final artwork.

For us, using the SCBWI job board resulted in an adorable picture book: Sleepy Solar System (yes, I’m a little biased, but look at it!).

Sleepy Solar System was a 2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist, and recently we were honored when it won the 2017 Gold Medal in the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards.

Furthermore, in reaching out to the SCBWI community we were able to connect with Doug Cenko, who has since gone on to illustrate two more projects for us: Dogs! (April 2017),

and its follow up, Cats!,

which will release this month. All three of the books that Doug has illustrated for us were written by Dr. John Hutton—a pairing of words and illustration that has been a fruitful one and we look forward to future collaborations.

If you’re not doing so already, I absolutely encourage you to make use of the SCBWI job board. I will certainly continue to do so. As Doug says, “It’s pretty amazing when you first get to hold your own book.” This is very true. The first step is submitting to a call-for-artists. Perhaps, I’ll next see your illustrations in my Inbox—I hope so!

Amy Dean is the Editorial Director of Blue Manatee Press.

The SCBWI Blueboard Discussion Boards is a benefit of membership, and can be found here.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

World Kid Lit Month Interview: Helen Wang talks with Cathy Hirano, Translator of Batchelder and Andersen Award Winners

September is World Kid Lit Month, a time to notice if global stories are reaching kids in the form of translations. Translator is now a member category in SCBWI, and two translator members are Helen Wang, winner of the 2017 Marsh Award and translator of 2016 Andersen Award laureate Cao Wenxuan from Chinese—and Cathy Hirano, translator of two Batchelder Award winners, and of 2014 Andersen laureate Nahoko Uehashi from Japanese.

The Andersen Award, conferred in alternate years on one writer and one illustrator, is a prestigious prize sometimes dubbed the Nobel prize for children’s literature.

It is an honor to have the translators of the two most recent Andersen winners in SCBWI. Here, Helen Wang asks Cathy Hirano about her life, career and latest publication.

Helen: Cathy, it’s a pleasure to meet you on Skype. Please tell me your life story!

Cathy: I was born and raised in Canada, and lived there until I was twenty, when I went to Japan. It wasn’t really about going to Japan; it was more about how I was going to live my life. When I was twelve, I ran into the teachings of Baha’u’llah, a 19th century Persian teacher. His words resonated with me, in particular, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” I decided that one day, when I was grown up, I would travel the world.

Cathy Hirano

Helen: What happened when you were twenty that took you to Japan?

Cathy: I realized I was grown up! Instead of going to university (I didn’t want to study at the time), I had learned carpentry. But it wasn’t a good time to be a carpenter, let alone a woman-carpenter, because there were no jobs. My Japanese-Canadian friend wrote to me from France, saying her parents were moving back to Japan, and although she looked Japanese, she didn’t feel Japanese, and was scared to go. Would I go with her?

So I went to Japan, and stayed with her parents. My plan was to stay for a year, master Japanese, then go traveling, and master the language of every country I went to! But after six months in Japan, I realized that one year would not be enough to learn Japanese. By this time, I also wanted to study what makes Japanese and Canadian people so different. We feel the same emotions, things like love, sorrow and joy, in response to similar circumstances, and yet we express them so differently. So I went to university in Japan, and studied cultural anthropology.

Helen: Then did you go straight into translation?

Cathy: Not exactly. I went back to Canada, but felt I didn’t really belong there, that I wasn’t meant to be there. So I came back to Japan, and found a job translating for a Japanese construction company. They were doing international development work, and I was there for three years, translating project reports into English. I learned on the job, and my experience as a carpenter came in useful.

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy)

Helen: And you’ve been in Japan ever since?

Cathy: I’ve been in Japan for 39 years. I don’t feel particularly Canadian, and I will never be Japanese. Mostly I feel human. When you live with two cultures, it forces you to confront and let go of many assumptions. You belong to the world not to one culture. That’s probably why I enjoy translating.

Helen: I imagine you translate from home, mostly on your own.

Cathy: Yes, while I was working for the construction company, I got married, and when our first child was on the way, we decided to move out of the big city to a smaller one (the Japanese would call it a “rural” city) in southern Japan. When we moved here, I began translating freelance while raising the kids.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit  and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy), winner of Batchelder Award and Batchelder Honor, respectively for Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc.

Helen: How did you start translating children’s books?

Cathy: A friend who worked for a Japanese publisher asked if I’d read some Japanese children’s books and give an opinion on them. I enjoyed that so much that when she asked me if I’d try translating, I said, “Yes!” It was just as well I enjoyed it, as there wasn’t any money in it.

Learning Japanese had expanded my ability to think and perceive things in different ways. I found working on children’s books an enriching experience. And through translation, I was in a position to give children another way of seeing the world.

Hannah's Night by Komako Sakai, translated by Cathy Hirano (picture book)

Helen: When I myself started translating again after a long hiatus about seven years ago, it was a revelation to discover a friendly and supportive community of literary translators. I wonder if you have the same experience?

Cathy: Actually, until a few years ago, I didn’t know of any such community, and, living out in the “country”, I hardly ever met other J-E translators, let alone anyone involved in children’s and YA lit. Then, a few years ago, Avery Udagawa and Sako Ikegami of SCBWI Japan came to visit me, and invited me to a translators’ workshop. Thanks to Avery, Sako, author Holly Thompson and others, there is now a thriving kidlit translation community in Japan—the SCBWI Japan Translation Group.

For the translators, it’s wonderful to feel part of a community, to know there are others like you, where you can ask questions of all kinds and receive practical advice about contracts and copyright, things that before I had never thought to pay attention to. SCBWI Japan has organized workshops with translators, discussing and critiquing samples, introducing useful tools and so on.

The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto,  translated by Cathy Hirano (MG realistic contemporary), winner of the  Batchelder Award for Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Helen: I’ve noticed how dynamic the SCBWI Japan translators are!

Cathy: It’s a very inclusive group. There is a strong desire to provide opportunities for developing skills, for sharing knowledge, and for providing much needed moral support. There is so little out there for many of us. But they also see it as a platform to increase awareness of the role and importance of kidlit translation among people of related professions, including writers, publishers and agents. If we want quality translators and quality translations, we need to raise awareness of what translators do so that they can be recognized and compensated appropriately.

In recent years, dedicated SCBWI members have also introduced Translator as a third member category, along with Writer and Illustrator, and lobbied to have content for translators included SCBWI-wide.

The "Translator" box ticked on an SCBWI profile

Helen: Your most recent book is Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Cathy: It’s about a giraffe who writes to a penguin, and then decides to visit him dressed up as a penguin. But he doesn’t know what a penguin looks like, and he gets it wrong. But everyone has a good laugh about it, and everything works out fine in the end. It’s a lovely, warm, humorous book.

Helen: I heard there’s an interesting story behind the story?

Cathy: Yes, there is. Megumi was not a writer, but one day she dreamed that she published a book called “The Giraffe that Pretended to be a Penguin”. When she told her husband, he asked what the story was about, but she didn’t know! So she jotted her ideas down in a notebook and put it away, waiting until the time felt right.

After her two sons were born, she kept thinking of the story, but the timing still didn’t seem right. She tried drawing the story, but that didn’t work either. One day her husband bought a copy of A Picture Book of Fathers by Jun Takabatake. She loved his work. After that, whenever she thought of her story, she saw it with Jun’s illustrations!  

One night, Megumi decided to read the giraffe story-so-far to her sons. By then, her youngest son was eight. “What happens next?” they asked, “tell us tomorrow.” This, she felt, was a sign that the timing was right and she completed the story.

Sometime later, she attended a storytelling event at her son’s school. And who should she meet there but the illustrator Jun Takabatake! He just happened to be visiting and had tagged along with the storyteller who was his friend. Megumi told Jun about her story. A few months later, he sent her an invitation to his solo exhibition in Tokyo, near where she lived. She went with her whole family, and Jun asked what had happened to her story. They exchanged a couple of letters, after which Jun asked if he could show the unfinished book to a publisher, and if the publisher was interested, if he could do the illustrations. And so the book came about. Megumi had never intended to be a writer, but a series of little miracles had made her one.

Helen: It’s funny how some things come into our lives, and stay with us, sometimes latent for years.

Cathy: Yes! And the story doesn’t end there! The Japanese edition was published in 2001. The publisher, Kaiseisha in Tokyo, and Yurika Yoshida at The Japan Foreign Rights Centre (JFC) worked together to promote it at book fairs. Somewhere along the way, someone also provided an English translation, but still no publishers expressed interest. One year, at the Bologna Book Fair, Yurika was yet again telling Julia Marshall at Gecko Press how humorous the book was, when Julia remarked that she had read the English, but didn’t find it that funny. Julia wondered why Yurika was so persistent in promoting the book.

Realizing that the humour was not getting through, Yurika and Julia decided to ask me what I thought. I found the Japanese very funny, in an understated way. The humour is in the situation, rather than in the storytelling. It warms the heart and makes the reader chuckle, rather than drawing out big belly laughs.

Humour, however, is one of the hardest things to translate. I decided to try my hand at it to see if I could get it across. Fortunately, it seems to have worked! Looking back over how the Japanese and English editions of this book came into being, I think that this story was meant to be, but it liked to take its own good time being born.

Helen: What is it that draws you to translating children’s books?

Cathy: There’s an innocence, a kindness, in some Japanese children’s books that I find inspiring. When I first came to Japan, it was understood that children were children; young children in particular were allowed to just be, whereas I came from a background where children were expected to behave almost like little adults.

I also think that books like Yours Sincerely, Giraffe speak to our common humanity. It isn’t being cool or sophisticated that brightens our livesit’s things like the warm bonds of family and friendship and little acts of kindness that we do for or receive from others. Books like Giraffe also encourage us to enjoy and celebrate our differences, rather than fearing them.

I have received so much from being in Japan, and translating is a chance to give back. I hope to share through my work all the gifts I have received, to open a door for someone and let them see with a new perspective.

Helen Wang is the Marsh Award-winning translator of Bronze and Sunflower by 2016 Andersen laureate Cao Wenxuan. Wang was interviewed by fellow SCBWI member translator Nanette McGuinness earlier this year on SCBWI: The Blog.

Our thanks to Helen and Cathy for this interview, and to SCBWI's International Translator Coordinator, Avery Fischer Udagawa, for coordinating.

Illustrate and Write – and Translate! – on,

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Kid Lit Cares - A Community Response To Aid The Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort

KidLit Cares is a great way to get involved, by either giving back or advancing your writing and illustrating career. Spearheaded by author Kate Messner, the project is
"an online talent auction to benefit the Red Cross and Global Giving relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey & related flooding. Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to the Red Cross or Global Giving.
Where else could you get a full-novel manuscript critique by Laurie Halse-Anderson? Or a Tag-team picture book critique & free pass to the Chronicle Books editorial meeting from author Kate Messner & editor Melissa Manlove? Or a “skip-the slush-pile” pass and manuscript critique of a picture book text by Executive Editor Mary Kate Castellani of Bloomsbury Children’s Books?

As Kate writes,
"We are heartbroken that Hurricane Harvey and related flooding is having such a devastating effect on those in the storm’s path. Today and in the weeks to come, relief organizations will be serving thousands of families displaced by Hurricane Harvey and related flooding. Those families include so many kids who read our books. We’d like to do what we can to help, and that’s what KidLit Cares is all about."

Cheers to Kate, Linda Sue Park, the whole KidLit Cares team, and everyone who donated their time, books, and expertise to make this happen.

Now don't spend any more time here – go to Kate's KidLit Cares page right now and check out the more than 200 items to bid on - many of the bidding deadlines are soon!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Cynthia Jenson-Elliiott & Christy Hale's ANTSY ANSEL: ANSEL ADAMS, A LIFE IN NATURE wins in the California, Hawaii Division

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life In Nature

by Cynthia "Cindy" Jenson-Elliott & Christy Hale

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite Winning book!

Cindy: I’ve been an environmental educator most of my adult life. In recent years, I have worked as a garden educator and as a science teacher, looking for nearby natural spaces to help children explore the outdoors on a small, intimate, personal scale. Away from the classroom, away from screens and test scores, kids’ hands and feet help them connect with the planet through whole-body learning. Their eyes and ears, hearts and minds open up. They become healed, healthy and whole through outdoor play. 

Taking children outside doesn’t have to mean going someplace special --- to mountains or ocean, or a national park with spectacular scenery. It may just mean going out the back door, examining a weed growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, or a bird balancing on a telephone wire. It can mean finding the life in a pile of dirt, or in a spring puddle of snow melt. Connecting children with the outdoors, and with their own lively curiosity is my purpose as an author, educator and human being. 

In 2009, I interviewed Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder for an article in a local parenting magazine. I was teaching science and gardening at the time, and had already sold my first picture book about the outdoors -- Weeds Find a Way, --though it had not yet been published. In one of Louv’s lectures, he spoke about Ansel Adams, his self-described hyperactivity, and how Adams’s father had pulled him out of what he described as a “grimly brown” school in the early 1900s, and had let him explore nature. As I listened, the words “antsy Ansel” spun through my punning mind, and the idea for the book was born. 

As I researched, I discovered I had a lot in common with Ansel Adams. I first visited Yosemite with a school group when I was 14 – the same age as Ansel Adams on his first visit. And every summer since my daughter was 4 months old, my family has camped in Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra. It is my favorite place to be. I also had the good fortune to have had a mother and father who let us explore outdoors when my siblings and I were very young and living in Cody, Wyoming. As I wrote, I tried to help readers feel what antsy Ansel must have felt, both when he was trapped in a school room, and when he encountered nature in all its manifestations -- big and loud, and quiet and shimmering. 

I worked with two mentors in our SCBWI chapter – Andrea Zimmerman and Joy Chu – who helped me polish the manuscript. My agent Stefanie von Borstel of Full Circle Literary helped me connect with editor Christy Ottaviano with her eponymous imprint, and the rest is history. 

Christy: It’s tricky to illustrate a book about an artist. In Antsy Ansel I wanted to nod to Adams while maintaining my own artistic style. I am not a photographer, but I wondered, since Adams is primarily known for his black and white photography, if I should I forgo the use of color. I was not happy with my experiments in black and white though. Nature needed a starring role too. In my earlier book The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan, I evoked the natural world through collage work with textured papers. I decided to use this approach again, but this time to selectively add photographic elements to convey one who saw the world through a photographic lens. My first piece was the scene of young Ansel playing on the beach. To create the waves and clouds I manipulated existing public domain images in Photoshop. I de-saturated photos, exaggerated the contrast then added limited color back in. I printed out these altered photographs, cut, and adhered them along with other collage papers.

I adore research. Since I live close to San Francisco I was able to do some primary research. I walked by Ansel’s boyhood home, along Lobos Creek, and down to Baker Beach (which now includes a view of the Golden Gate Bridge). I also went to an exhibit marking the 100-year anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. There, looking at a scaled model of the buildings and grounds I imagined Ansel experiencing the fair.

I was able to peek inside Ansel’s boyhood home via the Ken Burns documentary on Ansel Adams. The fireplace, window, and furniture of his living room appear in one illustration. My photo research turned up a picture of young Ansel with his calico cat, Tommy. Tommy makes an appearance too. Research brought many treasures, including actual footage of Ansel climbing Half Dome:

I was surprised and delighted at this peer-selected award. Writing and/or illustrating books is mostly a solitary activity, so the award is a lovely reminder that I’m part of a supportive community of creators.

Lee: How long have each of you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Cindy: I have been a member of SCBWI since around 2005. I had written two books for the school library market when I brought a manuscript to an adult writers conference, and met agent Steven Malk, who suggested I join SCBWI to understand the market better. Since then I have published 12 more nonfiction books in the school-library market, and three trade pictures books. 

Cindy Jenson-Elliott

At SCBWI I have found my tribe of nerdy nonfiction writers, the kindest tribe of people on the planet. At my very first SCBWI conference, a few months after I joined, I went to our local conference to get an editor’s critique on an early nonfiction picture book manuscript – my first attempt at writing a PB. The manuscript, about allergies, received an unkind critique from an editor who wondered/suggested I stop writing all together. As a teacher, I knew this was no way to treat a learner, so I did not take it to heart. Even better, however, was the response of my RA. She stepped in immediately, apologized, and sent my manuscript to Stephen Mooser, who sent me an extremely helpful and kind critique. That kindness, and the focus of SCBWI on teaching and learning, changed my life. Now I try to give back to the writing community by teaching Nonfiction and Informational Writing for Children through the UCSD Extension Program in Writing and Illustrating for Children. I hope I never forget that we are here to help each other grow. 

Christy: I have been a member since 1991, the year SCBW changed to SCBWI! As art director for Macmillan/Four Winds Press, I was invited to give a keynote address and review portfolios at a SCBWI conference in Pasadena, CA. Over the years I have presented for additional SCBWI events and attended others for my own growth. 

Christy Hale

Currently I teach an online “Writing for Picture Books” course through the illustration department at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I encourage all students to join the SCBWI. The organization is a tremendous resource to both those aspiring to enter the industry, and to professionals. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Cindy: Take any opportunity you can find to learn. Focus less on getting published and more on learning to write well. The publishing industry can be fickle. Even well-published writers go through dry spells when nothing sells. Keep the focus on your own values as a creator, your own joy in writing and exploring, and find new ways to grow. That is the way to have a personally satisfying career. 

Christy: Read. If you want to create picture books, immerse yourself completely in them. Analyze what you read from both writing and illustration angles. Understand what verbal and visual languages each accomplish separately, and how they work together. 

Know your target audience. Spend time with children. Learn about their developmental phases and universal themes important to them at different ages. 

Join a critique group of children’s book creators. The SCBWI can help with this. Regular meetings will give you deadlines to keep producing. A support network will help you understand your own strengths, give you ideas to get unstuck, and help you work through problems. Learning to provide this kind of support to others will also help you understand your own work better. 

Thanks, Cindy and Christy, and congratulations again on Antsy Ansel winning the Crystal Kite Award! 

You can find out more about Cindy Jenson-Elliott here and about Christy Hale here

Illustrate and Write On, 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Scamming The New York Times Bestseller List - And how The YA community stopped it.

Here's the story, in brief:

Last week, a book from a first-time publisher and debut author hit #1 on the New York Times YA bestseller list in it's debut week.

YA Author Phil Stamper and others questioned how that happened... How did a book that didn't have wide buzz suddenly sell 18,000 copies in one week, when the next book down on the list (The Hate U Give) sold 6,000 copies? So Phil and some others contacted bookstores... and found out that someone was calling bookstores, inquiring if those stores reported to the Times list, and then placing orders for 29 copies for an upcoming event. If the orders had been for 30 copies, the sale would have been flagged. They did it at enough stores, and they hit the list at #1...

But as the evidence of their gaming the system started piling up, it was only 8 hours later that the New York Times took the fake-bestseller off the list.

This piece by Jackson McHenry on reveals some possible motivation -- both the author and the publisher are angling to make the fake-bestseller a movie franchise.

Here's a great run-down by agent Michael Bourret in Entertainment Weekly about what happened, with some context on how the Times Bestseller list works.

And if you want more, there's this piece in Publishers Weekly that oddly (to my mind) only places the onus on what happened on the author.

For all the challenges of social media, the increased scrutiny (and transparency) it creates is a good thing. As Phil tweeted, no one should be able to buy their way onto the New York Times bestseller list.

And this time, they didn't.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Dian Curtis Regan's SPACE BOY AND THE SPACE PIRATE wins in the SouthWest Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)

Space Boy and the Space Pirate

by Dian Curtis Regan

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Dian: The Space Boy books are my “back in the saddle” books. In the 80s, I stopped teaching school to write full time. Writing became my identity and passion, and I’ve been doing it ever since. 

My husband always said he envied the fact I had something in my life that gave me a “fire in the belly.” Something that got me out of bed in the morning, eager to get back to it. 

Then, in 2010, after an unexpected and devastating tragedy, I stopped writing. I did not have the heart for it, nor the motivation. My days were spent dealing with the aftermath, clearing out my house to sell, and moving home to Colorado. 

Luckily, the fire in the belly refused to die. I tiptoed back into that wonderful place of creating. I was very fortunate to receive an offer for publication for my Space Boy picture book, plus a request to write two more titles. 

There is great healing in getting back to doing what you love. To receive a Crystal Kite Award for Space Boy gives me the validity that this is still who I am and what I do. I could not be more honored that Space Boy received this recognition. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Dian: I can’t believe I’m typing this number: 35. That’s how many years I’ve been a member of SCBW/SCBWI. 

Dian Curtis Regan

Going to those early National Conferences in Santa Monica meant gathering with a small group of writers, illustrators, editors, and agents. I’m still good friends with many who were just starting out as well. 

Knowing that today, attendance at National runs over a thousand is quite startling. It’s been pure pleasure to watch this supportive organization grow in leaps and bounds—and become international. 

When people ask how I got my start, I answer, “SCBWI.” And a huge part of that is thanks to the Rocky Mountain Chapter. 

When my husband’s job moved us to other states, the first thing I did was find “my people.” In one case, no local chapter of SCBWI existed—so I started one. 

SCBWI’s guidance and education, plus opportunities to meet editors and agents, is equal to the amazing friendships in my life today, all thanks to this organization. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Dian: I don’t recall a time in the world when there were this many distractions pulling us away from our creative work. The constant and ever-startling barrage of news, plus social media in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. 

You will never “find time to write someday.” You must guard your time and your focused attention in order to do the important work of your life you were meant to do. Resist and persist! 

Thanks, Dian, and again, Congratulations on Space Boy and the Space Pirate winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Dian here and about the Space Boy books here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Carme Lemniscates' El Jardín Mágico wins in the Internationals Other Division

El Jardin Magico

by Carme Lemniscates

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Carme:  El jardín mágico is a little story for the very young where poetry and information converge with the aim of awakening children’s interest and love for nature. Chloe lives in a magic garden, but she does not know that. Most of the time she goes over her garden absent-minded. But one day, she stops and listens. She seems to hear a voice whispering in her ear: “Marvelous things happen in this garden…!” —Is the voice of the wind, inviting her to discover all those extraordinary things that continuously happen around without her notice. Things as mysterious as the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, and as marvelous as the passing of seasons in an endless cycle of life: “From the flowers, fruits grow, and from the fruits, new seeds. And if a seed falls on the ground, with the passage of time, it will grow into a new tree; and all begins again… just magic!” 

This way, like in a dream, Chloe awakens to the mysteries of the natural world and when the wind voice disappears, she decides to know as much as possible about all these amazing things. The picture book ends, with a didactic informative non-fiction section where children find easy but scientific explanations of the previous events. 

As you may guess I love nature and I am constantly inspired by it. I believe we need nature to support our lives in the same way we need it to feed our spirit with its beauty and mysteries. This book says: Stop and listen, pay attention! Nature is much more interesting and magic than what it seems at first sight! 

I had a great time working on this book and I am very happy with this award. It has been a great honor to receive it from SCBWI, because I admire the task that SCBWI does for authors and children’s literature, and specially so because it is an award decided upon by its members, the only peer-chosen award in our field. Thanks so much to all members and congratulations to the other award winning authors. 

Carme Lemniscates

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Carme: Living and working in Barcelona, I only discovered SCBWI when I was first published in the US. This happened four years ago and since then I am a fan, and a member! 

As I said before, I admire the work SCBWI does for authors. From the first moment I had the support of my regional chapter coordinator in Spain. SCBWI not only provides really useful information to its members, it really also promotes their work. Thanks to the SCBWI Illustrator’ Dossier, my actual agency Full Circle Literary had notice of my work. 

I experienced again this same collaborative spirit when I attended the last Winter Conference in New York, and met so many people helping and contributing to its success. To attend a SCBWI Conference is a great opportunity to know first hand the reality of our profession, to know about the industry and its professionals, to meet other authors, to exchange information and open our minds to other ways of working and creating. You can also promote your artwork participating in the Illustrator’s Portfolio Showcase. 

Finally, I would like to remark that SCBWI is an international professional organization, bringing opportunities and connecting authors from all parts of the globe. I am happy to have been for the first time an author from the Spanish division selected among the 15 winners. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Carme: Well, I would say: work, work and work with joy, as well as to look at everything with curiosity, and be flexible and open to others’ opinion; and I would add do not intent to please anybody but you. 

Thanks, Carme, and again, Congratulations on El jardín mágico winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Carme here.

Illustrate and Write On,