Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Neal Porter Podcast Is Live!

SCBWI Members, make sure to check out our latest podcast, A Conversation with Neal Porter.

Covering how a background in theater paid off in picture books, the many different roles of an editor, the business of children's books… and where it's going! Join Neal Porter, Editorial Director of Neal Porter Books at MacMillan's Roaring Brook Press, in a one-on-one conversation with Theo Baker.

Everyone can listen to the trailer here. Members can log in at now and then navigate to the episode [Resource Library --> Podcasts] or click here to listen to the full episode!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Art of Diversity: A CBC Panel, Reported in Publishers Weekly

"The world is your palette, but do it in a respectful, educated way." -Award-Winning Author/Illustrator Pat Cummings

As reported by Matia Burnett at Publishers Weekly, on June 13, 2017 at Random House's New York offices, the Art of Diversity panel took place. Moderated by Martha Rago, executive creative director at Random House, the panelists were Phoebe Yeh, v-p and publisher at Crown Books for Young Readers; author/illustrator Pat Cummings; and author/illustrator Selina Alko.

It's well-worth reading.

Illustrate and Write On!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Janet Fox's THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE wins in the Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)

Winner for the Western Division

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

Janet: I must begin with what this award means to me. I wouldn't be a published author without SCBWI, so the fact that my fellow members in the western states voted for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is both humbling and thrilling. I'm deeply grateful. 

THE CHARMED CHILDREN actually began as an SCBWI story, for it was one of my friends from the Houston region who posted an image on Facebook that formed the kernel of inspiration. The image was that of an 18th century piece of jewelry called a chatelaine, and the instant I saw it, that chatelaine drew me in because it was so peculiar. 

Originally a chatelaine was a ring of keys to the chateau, or castle, worn dangling from the belt of the keeper of the keys. As time went on, the chatelaine changed composition. Most later chatelaines contained useful trinkets, like my protagonist Kat Bateson's chatelaine: scissors, thimbles, and pens were common. Other chatelaines were like a charm bracelet for the waist, with small charms that would be significant to the wearer. 

The chatelaine my friend posted (which you'll find as an image in the book) contains some reasonable charms, like a dog, cat, heart, and anchor. But...what about that eel? The hunchback boy? And oddest of all, the hand-sign that was used to ward off evil...and the mystical number 13? 

It struck me that this peculiar chatelaine, which in my story is worn by the Lady of the Scottish castle where the story is set, is a stand-in for magic and mystery and that Kat’s chatelaine is a stand-in for all that is normal and useful. What happens when magic - especially evil magic - goes up against something practical? Which object contains more power? And why? 

As I developed the story, it seemed only right to place it in Europe, so I chose England during the early days of World War 2 in homage to one of my favorite childhood series, the Narnia books. Kat and her siblings are sent from their home in London to escape the Blitz in the fall of 1940, and they land in that Scottish castle that purports to be a school, but is in fact a place of terrible danger. The novel is a mix of magic, mystery, the war, spies, ghosts, steampunk, fairy tales, fantasy, and most importantly family. 

Author Janet Fox

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

Janet: I've been an SCBWI member for almost 15 years, and there is no question that my involvement with the organization has been the springboard for all of my successes. 

When I first began writing for children, we had just moved to College Station, Texas. While Texas was not a natural habitat for this New Englander, I couldn't have landed in a better place. For one thing, I met Kathi Appelt early on, and she introduced me to the local writing community, to SCBWI, and she became my mentor and dear friend. She encouraged me to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA, and when I was at my lowest point, she gave me feedback on an early draft of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE that kept the novel - and my writing career - alive. 

 The SCBWI conferences I attended around the state of Texas were crucial to my understanding of both craft and the children's publishing market. I met my first and current agents at SCBWI conferences. I grew as a writer through the support of my SCBWI critique partners. After a few years of volunteering I became the Regional Advisor for our small Brazos Valley region, and served for seven years. I consider my SCBWI family in Texas and now in Montana, where I'm currently the assistant Regional Advisor, as invaluable and precious. 

When I attended my first New York conference my appreciation for the organization expanded, with the wealth of information presented and the generosity of other SCBWI members and regional advisors. I still remember the feeling of being an unpublished newbie in that huge conference hall, yet I was warmly welcomed by the more experienced members of the organization. The kidlit community is exceptionally welcoming, and SCBWI serves to gather and foster that community. 

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

Janet: I've been writing for many years, and have experienced my share of both ups and downs. So my first piece of advice is don't quit. 

Learn the craft, practice what you learn, and keep growing.

Read. Read everything. 

Write, every day if you can. Write across genres, even those that are hard for you to write. 

Engage with this fantastic community of writers, who will support you. And remember to give back. 

Write from your heart. You have a unique story to tell, and the world is waiting for it.

Thanks, Janet. And again, congratulations!

Find out more about Janet here:

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Diversity Social At #LA17SCBWI

The Diversity Social -- a partnership between We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI -- is another great reason to attend SCBWI's 2017 Summer Conference in Los Angeles, CA, this July 7-10.

Here's Linda Sue Park, Miranda Paul, and Alex Gino, all of whom will attend, with some thoughts to share:

Lee: Why is this so important to you?

Linda Sue: I am on the Board of Advisors for both SCBWI and WNDB. They are the two organizations nearest and dearest to my heart. I firmly believe that together, we're an unstoppable force for helping young readers grow up to save the world.

Alex: Children are learning what's in the world and what to think of it. Kids who are marginalized for their gender, race, religion, disability, language, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and/or family structure deserve to see themselves represented well in literature. And kids with privilege in any of those areas who read diversely are more likely become adults with compassion, which we as humans sorely need more of. I appreciate WNDB's broad vision of diversity, and our approach of addressing the need for increased diversity at every level of the publishing industry, from writers to publishers to booksellers and librarians to readers. And the more good diverse literature is available, the more those readers will turn into writers and publishers and booksellers and librarians.

Miranda: The diversity social is important to me because diversity is an important issue, period. Representation in books is a matter of social justice. Event after event from diversity campaigns lead to connections, and opportunities, and ultimately books that build empathy in our citizens. As a child, I grew up with characters who looked like me, but what about creators who are still overcoming a lack of childhood representation? The creators who will attend this event are making books for my children, who unfortunately don't have the same random chance to see themselves represented as I did. Every event WNDB and SCBWI does can help turn the tide, even if it's only a small amount. The audiences we write for are young and forming their identities. Our literature needs to honor and reflect the lives, stories, and experiences of all young people. Every event that helps to support diverse book creators ultimately helps children be more able to find books that speak to them or open their minds to others' experiences.

Lee: Why it should be important (or should it?) for every creator of content for kids and teens attending the conference?

Linda Sue: The goal is for children's books to accurately include and reflect the glorious diversity of children in this country. Until then, creating, publishing, bookselling, and sharing books will always be fraught with questions of representation and fairness. Only when we reach the point of true inclusion will we ALL be able to create and publish with total freedom. The long game: Creating a diverse landscape in children's literature BENEFITS EVERYONE.

Miranda: I don't think it's important for every creator of content for kids and teens to attend this event. I do think that diverse writers and illustrators, outspoken and considerate allies, and publishing professionals who are looking to acquire more #ownvoices material should definitely come. You're not alone!

Lee: What are your hopes for the social?

Linda Sue: It's my fervent hope that the 'Diversity Social' will be THE gathering to attend at the conference! I hope all such gatherings will grow and grow until they're so inclusive that we won't need them any longer. Every facet of children's literature--creators, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, SCBWI members!--should be as diverse as the world we live in. It's the first step toward the ultimate dream of 'liberty and justice FOR ALL.'

I also hope it will be REALLY REALLY FUN. ;-D

Alex: My hope is that the social will connect burgeoning and unpublished diverse writers and illustrators with information about WNDB and our programs, including our grant and mentorship programs, as well as with authors and illustrators working in the field. I also hope that writers and illustrators interested in learning more about WNDB and possibly getting more involved with what we do will take this opportunity to drop in, meet us, and ask questions about what it's like working with WNDB.

Miranda: I hope the diversity social at SCBWI's Summer conference helps attendees to kickstart new relationships or bolster previous acquaintances. Writing or illustrating books and navigating the publishing industry are not easy feats, but especially so if you're someone who is consistently in the minority at writer's events. Most creators work in isolation, and have questions about craft or business that are best answered or explored through relationships with experienced professionals. But how does one gain access to professionals who might have been through similar experiences or be writing from a similar viewpoint? The idea of gathering like-minded individuals in one room will allow some of those relationships to naturally begin through shared experience, heritage, or identity. SCBWI and WNDB, among many organizations, have been working to change the dismal diversity statistics in children's publishing. We've moved beyond hosting panels stating that we need diversity—we all know and agree. Our initiatives have shifted to taking action. I have no doubt that POCs, writers with disabilities, or those from or focused on underrepresented populations in children's literature will benefit from making connections in this casual setting.

We hope to see you there!

Get all the information about #LA17SCBWI here, and learn more about We Need Diverse Books at their website, here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Pat Zietlow Miller's THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE wins in the Mid West Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio)

Winner for the Mid West Division

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

Pat: THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE took a while to come together. Here’s what happened:

I wrote a first draft after being inspired by Jacqui Robbins’ and Matt Phelan’s THE NEW GIRL ... AND ME and its take on friendship. I’d also been hanging around my youngest daughter’s school, and the voices of the kids had gotten stuck in my head and made their way into my manuscript. This draft was titled THE FASTEST FEET ON FLEET STREET and had two girls competing to see who was the better runner, jumper and rope-skipper. 

I sent the draft to my critique partners and revised based on their suggestions. Then, I took the manuscript to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference. Chelsea Eberly from Random House turned on a huge light bulb for me by suggesting a historical angle. I decided to set the story in 1960, when African-American sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals at the Olympics in Rome. I rewrote the story so both girls idolized Wilma and wanted to be just like her.

The story went on submission and the inevitable rejections arrived. But then, I received a note from Chronicle Books, saying they liked the story, but thought there wasn’t enough Wilma Rudolph. I did more research and learned Wilma grew up in Clarksville, Tenn., which was still segregated in 1960. Blacks and whites went to separate schools, saw separate doctors and ate at separate restaurants. But after Wilma’s Olympic victories, Clarksville wanted to throw a victory parade. Wilma agreed, if the event was integrated. So that parade was the first integrated event in Clarksville history. Knowing that, I moved my story’s setting to Clarksville and had both girls attend Wilma’s parade. I removed the jumping and rope-skipping elements and had the girls’ competition focus only on running events loosely patterned after Wilma’s three Olympic events. And the title became THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE.

And THAT was the book that sold to Chronicle Books and won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite.

Author Pat Zietlow Miller
Lee: Love learning the story behind your story! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Pat: I’ve been an SCBWI member for almost 10 years, and it’s been invaluable to my writing career. I still remember how nervous I was at my first event. I sat in back rows and lurked in corners, worried that someone would discover I didn’t belong and ask me to leave.

After that first conference, I met people, joined a critique group and kept coming back. I learned a ton from the other aspiring writers and the published authors, agents and editors I encountered. And, when I finally sold my first picture book after 126 rejections, everyone celebrated with me. That support continues today.

SCBWI is a spot where writers, illustrators and children’s book lovers at all stages of the journey can interact, learn from each other and revel in the wonder of children’s literature. The state and national conferences are great, but there also are online opportunities and local events. At $80 a year to join, it’s a bargain.

[Note: First year of SCBWI membership is currently $95. Renewing is indeed $80 a year.]

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


· Read everything you can in every spare moment you have. Never stop doing this. You will never have read enough.

· Write and rewrite and repeat. This is an infinite loop you will never escape.

· Write something new and try to be better.

· Don’t take rejections personally. Use them to learn where your manuscript needs improvement.

· Persevere. Improve. Believe.

Thanks, Pat! And again, congratulations!

Find out more about Pat here: and on Twitter at @PatZMiller

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Inspiration From Chris Baty, The Founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

From Chris' interview on the podcast Writers on Writing (at 37:00):

"For you and other writers, you know that the magic is in the momentum, right? If you're coming to the page every day your characters are becoming more alive and interesting, you're connected to the guts of the thing in a way you never are if you're just trying to parachute in every weekend and kind of try and remember who are these people again?

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft's SMILE CRY wins in the Australia, New Zealand Division

Winner for Australia, New Zealand

Lee: Congratulations Tania and Jess! Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Tania: Smile Cry is an early childhood picture book that looks at emotion in a creative, nuanced and accessible way. Its flip-book format features two episodic narratives, one about smiling and one about crying—with the two meeting in the middle. It highlights the many shades of grey when it comes to feeling happy and sad, with scenes carried by an adorable trio—cat, bunny and piglet. 

Working with Jess on this book was heavenly. She really understood my desire to access the emotional responses of very young children, and show them that feelings are never black and white. Her dreamy watercolour illustrations carry the story so beautifully, and I’m thrilled to be working with her on two further books—one a follow-up to Smile Cry entitled See Hear. 

Winning the Crystal Kite for our region was totally overwhelming. To receive this nod from industry peeps who know books inside out, upside down and with purity of heart—it’s an absolute honour, and a thrill for our little book. 

Author Tania McCartney

Jess: A few years ago, I was an active part of a Facebook illustration group called the 52-Week Challenge, dreaming of illustrating picture books (something I had hoped for since I was a child, scrawling with crayons and pasting glitter everywhere). Tania and the publisher, EK Books, announced a competition to find an illustrator for Smile Cry, and provided a few lines of text for entrants to illustrate. I immediately came up with the three characters and a soft, dreamy look to illustrate the text, then nervously posted it in the group Facebook page. You couldn't imagine my surprise when I found out I had won the opportunity, and even more surprised that the same month I got a call from another publisher to illustrate another book—it was like my long-held dream had finally bubbled to the surface, and exploded glitter! 

Working on the book was just so much fun with the publisher and Tania, and we bounced ideas around the three of us the whole time. When I received my advance copies, I was so thrilled to have something tangible, and we are currently working on the next book together—just as much fun, and a real collaboration, which has worked so brilliantly. Tania and I have also gone on to work together with another publisher, and I'm busily working as a freelance children's book illustrator as a pretty much full time job now. A total dream come true. 

It was such a thrill to receive the Crystal Kite for this award, and we were also honoured to have it achieve Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s annual awards. It gave us such a boost to know our writing and illustrating community cheered for our work—a fantastic and supportive community indeed. 

Illustrator Jess Racklyeft

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

Tania: I’ve been a member for around 6 or 7 years, and for me, SCBWI membership is priceless. Many of my memberships are about industry or gatekeepers. SCBWI is all about the creator. Not only are the resources phenomenal, the comradery, support, networking, opportunity and creative inspiration is everything. Everything! 

Jess: I've been a member for several years (I think around five? I've lost count!) and I've found it so beneficial for several reasons. I work from home, and to have the opportunity to attend SCBWI events quarterly and catch up with the other members has been invaluable and inspiring; I've been lucky enough to have a few drawings in the fantastic magazine that SCBWI creates (I love reading it too!); and I've had my portfolio shared with Australian publishers via the SCBWI conference. I love the website and the great resources that can be found there. 

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

Tania: Get industry involved. So many of us tend to focus on our market and our peers, and while this is important, industry nous and backing will exponentially forward your career. Start something. Share something. Be there for others. Teach, review, blog, be a judge, present and speak. Be an innovator and an inspiration. Go to festivals and conferences and book launches and other industry events, and be sure to invest in memberships with children’s book organisations in your region. Not only is it smart, it’s fun. Your career will grow, and you may just make some incredible friends.  

Also—invest in your craft. Those seemingly endless hours will leave an indelible mark on your skillset. And, of course, it’s never, ever ‘work’! Work with heart, and work on only what you love. Oh—and shine. Always, always shine. 

Jess: My main advice is perseverance! It can feel like a long battle (and for me it was/is) but by working on my craft every day, meeting experienced writers and illustrators, as well as networking with the SCBWI community, you keep chipping away and moving forward towards your goal. And the good news is—the battle is a fun one! There are so many good folk in the industry who are there to support you and share their experience, as well as share a wine with. 

Thanks to you both, and again, congratulations!

Find out more about Tania here: 

And Jess here:

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Only One More Day To Vote For Your Favorite Illustration For The Bologna Illustration Gallery Member's Choice Award!

It's a new award! Out of 500 entries, 43 finalists (selected by Simon and Schuster Art Director and Author/Illustrator Laurent Linn, Author/Illustrator Naomi Kojima & Author/Illustrator Doug Cushman) were displayed at the SCBWI booth at the 2016 Bologna Book Fair.

Now, members get to choose our winner from those 43 finalists. SCBWI members, go here to vote (you'll need to log in first.) Voting end May 31st.

And for everyone interested in seeing some wonderful children's book illustrations, check out all the entries.

Good luck to all the finalists!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Words of Pay-It-Forward Inspiration From Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry

"...there really isn’t any competition in the writing biz, however too many writers are reluctant or even afraid to give advice to newbies for fear that they’re helping the upstart who might displace them. That’s nonsense. In truth, if we encourage new writers to enter the business, but to enter it with their A-game, bringing quality writing to market, then that will attract more readers. If a reader is drawn to a piece of writing it’s like getting hooked on crack. Once they have a taste they’re hooked, and they’ll keep coming back for more. So, the more good writers in the business, the more readers we’ll hook.

And, on a more personal level, I absolutely LOVE what I do. I can’t imagine a better job. Why wouldn’t I want everyone I know to have as much fun as I’m having? A pool party is more fun when a lot of kids are in there splashing around with you." - Jonathan Maberry

What a great mindset!

You can read Gretchen Haertsch's full interview with Jonathan at the Birth of a Novel blog here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Editor Rosemary Brosnan on Writing Dynamic, Three-Dimensional Secondary Characters

As featured on Epic Reads, Rosemary Brosnan, Vice-President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperTeen, uses an excerpt from her debut author Gillian French's novel Grit in this article on "How To Write Dynamic Secondary Characters."

The piece has great insights, including:
"As an editor, I often see novice writers describing their characters right on the first page by having the characters pass a mirror, or by using another artificial device. Take your time, trust yourself as a writer, and let your characters reveal themselves throughout the story."
Rosemary also suggests an intriguing writing prompt that involves a main character with two friends, one true, and one a backstabber. The main character doesn't know one is a backstabber, and the challenge is for you to write it in a way that shows the reader who is who. Rosemary suggests taking this prompt and using it to write four specific and different scenes.

An excellent exercise!

Check out the full article and writing prompt instructions here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 2017 Crystal Kite Winners!

Congratulations to the 2017 Crystal Kite winners!

The Crystal Kite awards are a peer-voted honor bestowed for excellence in children’s books. SCBWI members vote in 15 regions across the world to recognize outstanding books written and illustrated by their peers. Over 1,000 books across all categories including picture books, middle grade, chapter books, young adult and nonfiction were entered in the competition.

And the winners are...

Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Wash DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Australia, New Zealand
Smile Cry by Tania McCartney & Jess Racklyeft
Australia NZ

California, Hawaii
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature by Cynthia Jenson-Elliott & Christy Hale
CA Hawaii

Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories in the Stars by Joan Marie Galat

Internationals Other
El jardín mágico by Carme Lemniscates

Mid South Division (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Middle East, India, Asia
Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Middle East

Mid West Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio)
The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller (& Frank Morrison)

New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island)
FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang (& Raul Colon)
New England

New York
Saving Kate's Flowers by Cindy Sommer (& Laurie Allen Klein)
New york

SouthEast Division (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama 
Wish by Barbara O’Connor

SouthWest Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)
Space Boy and the Space Pirate by Dian Curtis Regan

Texas, Oklahoma
Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thoms by Gwendolyn Hooks

UK, Ireland
More of Me by Kathryn Evans
UK Ireland

Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Want to enter your book in next year's Crystal Kite competition? Go here for all the info.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SCBWI Members! The latest podcast is available now: A Conversation with President and Publisher of Dutton Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel

We're really excited about our new season of podcasts -- another benefit of membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

This month's episode is a backstage, intimate discussion with Julie Strauss-Gabel. Julie shares about the apprenticeship process of becoming an editor, what's important about YA, what makes it on her own list, her "tough" reputation, and so much more!

The trailer is available for everyone to listen to here.

Members, just log in at and click

resources -->

podcasts -->

members-only podcast page

to hear the full episode!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Anne Lamott Wisdom

This is from a couple of years ago, and reading it again now it is still so powerful. Maybe it's more impactful now, actually, since I'm a bit older, too. Here are three (of the fourteen) things New York Times Best-selling Author Anne Lamott shared with the world (via Facebook) when she was on the cusp of turning 61...

1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. 

6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born. 

7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing. 

Go here for the full piece, as republished on Salon.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Encouraging Reluctant/Dyslexic Readers: A Guest Post by Ela Lourenco

I have always loved reading and this simple pleasure was something I took for granted until my daughter, Larissa, was diagnosed with dyslexia and auditory processing disorder at the age of nine. 

Larissa told me that reading a sentence was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle piece by piece – first, she had to absorb the words and then put them together before then struggling to process them into a picture in her head. For her, reading took so much concentration it would give her headaches, and all of it combined put her off books altogether.

It was then that she asked me – a former political journalist and avid writer of fantasy stories – to write books for children and young adults. Books that would be designed for children like her who desperately wanted to read without getting lost in the words.

So I did my homework. I gained my diplomas in child psychology, dyslexia, and co-occurring difficulties. But my best source of knowledge was from Larissa herself and my students in my children’s creative writing workshops. They explained to me what would help them become engrossed in a book and how I, as an author, could make reading not only enjoyable but easier for them.

Every child with a learning difficulty is different and they each have different strengths and struggles but in my Dragon Born and Ascension series, I have endeavoured to tailor the writing to benefit as many reluctant readers as possible.

Here are some of the techniques I have used in writing my books for these readers:


Massively long books will not even be picked up by most dyslexic readers as they automatically think of how long it will take them to finish it. The same applies to books with overly long chapters with long paragraphs of descriptions – for a child who has to absorb each word individually there is nothing harder than having to read seemingly endless words strung together.

Keep the book short with chapters that do not go beyond seven to eight pages. This is visually more palatable for the dyslexic/reluctant reader. Make sure there is action and dialogue in each chapter to keep the story moving along.

In Radiant, I started with drama, adding action and mystery with few words, to pique the reader's interest:
One shall be born from the sanctity of three

In whom all powers combined shall be

Part Sky, part Earth, and something more

To bring a new future to the fore.

This messenger a prophet shall be

For the new world order this child is key

Nothing will endure, nor unchanged remain

All shall be transformed, nevermore the same.

When the time is come and the stars align

The child, touched by all that is divine,

Will awaken finally, powerful as never before

To strip away the world to its very core.


The general consensus amongst the children who gave me input into their various conditions was a fast-paced story with very graphic, yet concise, descriptions helped them to visualise the story better in their heads and made reading easier and fun for them.

Dyslexic readers find it much more palatable for descriptive passages to be interspersed with action and dialogue in between. Descriptions are concise and sensory descriptions help ground the reader. 

Avoid paragraph upon paragraph of descriptions and repetitions. The scene can be set most graphically in fewer words; this not only is better for the dyslexic reader but also for the imagination of all children.

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 9, Origins, Book 2 of Ascension series:
Ishkan strode with the grace of the hunter that he was past the crowds. As intended no one noticed him – such were the advantages of having dominion over the darkness. The scent of spices wafted around him as he passed by where the food stalls were set up. Warming cinnamon and ginger mingled with a plethora of other smells piercing the frost in the night air.


Interestingly, research shows that the words dyslexic children are most likely to 'mix up' are the more common shorter words. Our brain is like a computer and when we are reading it looks at a word and quickly flicks past words which look similar that it has 'seen' before. Perhaps ironically, longer, less common words, are actually easier for the child to absorb whilst increasing their vocabulary at the same time (this is particularly the case for older children and young adults, in the case of younger children and those with severe dyslexia short words which are more phonetical are to be preferred). 

Here’s a line of description from Chapter 1, Radiant, Book 1 of the Ascension series:

Thick clusters of gargantuan trees rustled in the night’s damp earth scented breeze.

A word like 'big' is easily read as 'wig', 'jig', 'bit', 'bid', 'did'… and so on by a dyslexic mind. However, words such as immense, gargantuan, massive, and enormous are less similar visually to as many other words and more likely to be absorbed correctly.


Keeping the page layout staggered so that the reader is not confronted with a rectangular block of uninterrupted text is essential. Try to separate the text with dialogues and paragraph indents. This, alongside 1.5 or 2x line spacing breaks up the text making the reading experience more enjoyable and easier (many children with learning difficulties also have eye tracking difficulties – this benefits them greatly).

I did this in Chapter 11, Radiant, Book 1 of Ascension series:
     “Are you alright?” Sena asked softly, genuine concern in her face.

     “Yeah,” Kyan frowned. “One minute we were talking and the next, poof, you turned a ghastly shade of green like you had just seen a ghost.”

     Ari breathed in deeply to steady his racing heart. Kyan’s words were closer to the truth than he realised – he had seen a ghost – the ghost of the happy, loved boy he had once been… He gasped, doubling over as a sharp pain pierced his head.

     “Ari?” Kyan was calling his name repeatedly, but his voice sounded muffled as though coming from a great distance.

     Ari clutched his head as forgotten memories began to flood his mind, battering relentlessly at him. The sweet voice of his mother singing him to sleep as a young child, the perpetual twinkle in his prank-loving father’s warm brown eyes – a real home where he was wrapped in the warmth and unconditional love that he had never felt since. Images of birthdays and school days flicked past – the floodgates of his mind opened now in earnest.

With e-books the advantage is that the formatting can be personalised by and for the reader; some prefer back-lit screens, or larger font, or different font types. This is of course not the case for print books and there is no universally agreed font style or size better suited for dyslexic readers. The only consensus is that font size should be minimum 12 and that the font style be one where the letters are clearly defined. Arial and Calibri are two of the preferred choices.

If you are interested in learning more about how to help children with reading and learning disabilities enjoy books, please feel free to contact me at You can also view my series of articles on learning difficulties and how to help through my LinkedIn:

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Illustrators: Must-Read Advice on Your Portfolio from Art Director & Illustrator Giuseppe Castellano

There's a lot of great advice in this article, The Illustrator's Portfolio, including:

"When I look at portfolios, I don’t look for kids or cats. I look for your voice as an illustrator (“The Who”), and how well you execute your illustrations (“The How”). What should you put in your portfolio? Good art. That’s the answer. You should display art that’s executed at a high level. No matter what your visual handwriting is—from realism to abstract art—it must be done well. Show that you can convey a feeling or a narrative with a strong understanding of your medium." 

Giuseppe also covers whether you should show one style or multiple styles, presentation (like how many pieces to include) and much more. Oh, and this smart tip:
"Straighten Out! Do yourself a favor: remove all of the factory-inserted pages and burn them. You’re already printing your work, right? So why not create a Photoshop template at the actual size of the plastic sleeve? Make the background black (or a neutral, or whatever you want). Then you can place your art digitally onto this template. Hit PRINT. Voilà! Every page will fit perfectly in the sleeve, and you’ll never again need to tape one piece of paper crookedly onto another piece of paper."
He's even included a page template as a springboard for how you might organize your portfolio more like a book.

Go read the whole thing. And while you're at it, bookmark Giuseppe's Art Tips blog.

Illustrate and Write On! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Creative Process and "The Key To Being Original"

Check out this moment (about 9:30 in) of this TED talk by Adam Grant, "The surprising habits of original thinkers."

First, Adam makes a distinction between self-doubt and idea-doubt. Then, he breaks down the Creative Process as:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3. This is crap

4. I am crap

5. This might be okay

6. This is awesome.

"And so the key to being original is just a simple thing of avoiding the leap from step three to step four. Instead of saying "I'm crap," you say "The first few drafts are always crap, and I'm just not there yet." - Adam Grant

Skipping step #4 takes self-doubt out of the process entirely. Imagine your creative process being:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3. This is crap

4. This might be okay

5. This is awesome.

Sounds a lot healthier, right?

The whole talk is worth watching, but this moment really resonated. I hope it's helpful for you, too.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Round Two Voting For the SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards Is Open Now (And Closes On April 30, 5pm Pacific)

Members, this is easy:

First, log in at Make sure you are on your "My Home" page (if not, go there.) Click the link (bottom left column) "Vote In The Crystal Kite Awards." Now, cast your vote.

Note that you must be a current member to vote prior to voting opening, you get one vote in this round, and you may only vote for a book that is in your own division.

 US Divisions 
· California, Hawaii 
· West (Washington, Northern Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota) 
· Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico) 
· Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio) 
· New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) 
· New York 
· Texas, Oklahoma 
· Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland) 
· Mid-South (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana) 
· Southeast (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama)

 International Divisions 
· UK, Ireland 
· Middle East, India, Asia 
· Canada 
· Australia, New Zealand 
· Other International

Good luck to all the finalists!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Debbie Ohi offers some advice on how to support an author or illustrators new book (especially if you can't afford to buy it.)

Debbie offers a dozen suggestions in this blog post, Want to support an author's or illustrator's new book but can't afford to buy it? Here's what you can do., ranging from Read the book, and Read it where people can see you enjoying it, to Reserving it at the library, Reviewing it, and Talking about the book (both in person and online.)

And then there are a number of additional great suggestions from the comments, including asking your local or school librarian to help (they can put the book on display) and showing up at the author/illustrator's events!

All in all, great advice to heed and pass on...

Thanks, Debbie!

Illustrate and Write On, and support your fellow Children's and Teen Book Creators!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ellen Oh on the Power of Representation

Posted over at the Nerdy Book Club, Ellen writes of how:

"When you’re little, you don’t know what you’ve been missing if you’ve never seen it before. I didn’t know that the hole in my heart that had been filled with self-loathing and a wish that I could have been born white, had formed because of a lack of representation. I didn’t know that seeing yourself in the pages of a book would be life transforming. That book was The Joy Luck Club."

The piece is also a celebratory lead-in to telling us about Flying Lessons and Other Stories, the new anthology of short stories from #WeNeedDiverseBooks that Ellen edited.

Ellen's essay is a great reminder of how powerful it can be to see yourself in the pages of a book. And how we, writers and illustrators, can give that gift to our young readers.

Check out the full essay here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's a new season of Podcasts - and the first one is a conversation with Linda Sue Park!

SCBWI Members, make sure to check out the new season of podcasts.

The first episode is available today, a behind-the-scenes, in-depth conversation with Newbery Award-Winning Author Linda Sue Park!

In a one-on-one conversation with Theo Baker, Linda Sue speaks about poetry, revision, her process, first versus third person, and the evolution of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.

It's well worth your time. Listen to the trailer here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Character Development Through Music - An Excellent Exercise By Alison Green Myers At The Highlights Blog

I thought this exercise was great in how it took the idea of music and your character beyond the simple, 'what's your character's playlist?'

The idea of identifying the song that your character can't stand,

the song that breaks your character's heart,

the prompt a simple lyric can be to reveal your character through their emotion,

and music as a way to reveal how your character interacts with the world around them...

With some nice examples from Julie Murphy’s Dumplin, Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn, and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo. Great stuff!

You can read the whole piece here.

Thanks, Alison and Highlights!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It's National Poetry Month!

Here in the U.S.A., April is National Poetry Month.

Here are five ways to consider joining in the fun:

1. Write a poem. Try an Ekphrasis. or an Triolet. Or a Pantoum! (There are many more poetic forms listed here.)

2. Read "Tide Of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Today" by Mark Doty.

3. Celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day (on April 27, 2017)

4. Watch a poetry-themed movie (here's a list)

5. Share a favorite poem. With chalk on the sidewalk. On social media. In person, with a friend.

For lots more suggestions, see the full list of 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month at

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Silhouette foreground: An Art Trick, and More Tips, For Illustrators

From this Creative Bloq list of ten top tips for book illustrators, come these three suggestions:

Silhouette foreground
A good art trick is to mask over your foreground to create a silhouette. Does the foreground-background contrast make for an arresting composition? Think about it.

Add but don't deviate
Don't paint things that are obviously different to what's described in the book, but remember you're bringing the story to life. You may need to add things to complete a scene.

Think like a designer
You may receive a template indicating where the text will be - you may not. You must create your image with this in mind. Mock up the page or cover with text to see how it looks.

The points are brief, and worth checking out.

Illustrate and Write On,