The Making of a Showcase Winning Portfolio

After many years of pursuing children’s illustration, SCBWI LA County member Eliza Wheeler was experiencing a lack of focus and direction in her work, despite her efforts to be more intentional in the way that she drew. But after winning the 2010 Mentorship Award at the LA Summer Conference, everything changed.penguin_deal_ewheeler721

Taking note of the feedback she was given by industry professionals and making deliberate, insightful changes to her portfolio led to a 2011 Portfolio Showcase Grand Prize WIN.

For the full story, including the feedback she received and her reasoning for the changes, before and after portfolio comparisons, and all the illustration inspiration you can handle, click here.

Eliza Wheeler, “Portfolio Comparison: What Made an SCBWI Winner,” Eliza Wheeler (blog), August 22, 2011,

VA School Board Says No to ‘Explicit’ Warning on Books

Teachers, parents, and the National Coalition Against Censorship squared off late lasturl month in Virginia. Parent Laura Murphy’s concerns over her son’s assignment to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved led to a proposal calling for warning labels on all books with sexual content.

The ‘explicit’ label was rejected by Virginia’s board of education. Members noted that while parents do have a right to regulate what their children read, defining “sexually explicit content” was not in their purview. Critics of the proposal stated that labeling books for content would reduce them to nothing more than their sexual content. Though the measure was rejected, a similar bill is under consideration in the state legislature.

For more details, read the full piece.

Kean, Danuta. (2017, January 30). Virginia Rejects Attempt to Make Schools Warn Parents of ‘Explicit’ Books. Retrieved from:

How I Got My Agent with Stephanie Garber

How I Signed With My Agent: Third Time Isn’t Always the Charm

When I first queried, finding an agent seemed as impossible as catching a unicorn. I queried about 100 agents, ended up with zero requests, and cried countless tears. Thankfully, I knew my writing could be better. So I tried again.

The second book I queried garnered around twelve requests. After not having received any interest in the first book, I thought this was it! I believed I’d get an agent and a book deal for sure.

Author Stephanie Garber

Instead I received detailed rejections, along with an offer to revise and resubmit. I was tempted to take this R&R offer, but the amount of work it would require was almost equivalent to writing a new book. So, I wrote another novel.

When I queried this third manuscript my request ratio was fifty percent. This had to be it! Sadly, every agent who requested quickly passed. Something was still wrong.

Then a writing contest called Pitch Wars happened. I was chosen by a mentor, she helped me see exactly what was wrong with my work, and finally I signed with an agent.

Sadly, although my writing had finally gained the attention of an agent, my story still wasn’t strong enough for a publisher. So, I spent a year doing everything I could to improve my craft. I read every book, attended conferences and book signings, and when I wrote I poured everything I had into each sentence.

On the last day of December 2014 I finished writing my sixth book, CARAVAL (for those of you keeping track, I wrote two books which I didn’t query). Then, a week later my agent informed me she was leaving the business.

It was a crushing time. I’m pretty sure most people thought I was delusional by then. But I was determined to give querying one final shot. Only this time, my mentality was that I didn’t just want an agent, I wanted to query a book that was good enough to sell to an editor. So, I rewrote my query about 100 times (yes, really, I did), I had multiple people critique my manuscript, and I sent my first fifty pages to a freelance editor, just to make sure I was doing everything I could.

My request ratio was over fifty percent this time. But although people were requesting no one seemed to be reading. I won’t share how long I waited—I think it feels like forever, no matter how long the wait. Then, after an imaginary eternity, an email asking for a phone call came. An agent had read my book, loved it and wanted to represent it. I was thrilled, so I could hardly believe it when a second agent offered, followed by a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh and an eighth.

My current agent, Jenny Bent, was among the agents who offered. I’d heard her speak at an SCBWI conference years before. At the time she was way out of my league; she was the unicorn I never thought I could catch. But I now believe catching unicorns isn’t as impossible as I’d once thought, it just requires more work than I realized.

When Stephanie Garber is not writing young adult fantasy, she teachesa9bf57a1-b03c-4cea-87ea-a68f527158bf creative writing at a private college in northern California. She’s also a blogger on Pub(lishing) Crawl. Her debut novel, CARAVAL, will be published by Flatiron Books/Macmillan (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK) January 2017. CARAVAL has sold in twenty-five different territories and the movie rights were pre-empted by Twentieth Century Fox. Find more about her at

An original world. A legendary competition. A mesmerizing romance. An unbreakable bond between two sisters. 

Welcome to Caraval—the first book in a spell-casting fantasy series that’s perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and The Night Circus.

Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .

If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to

Mrs. Mallard Gets Political

Over the years, Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings have seen plenty of makeovers.

Usually,  Nancy Schön’s iconic sculpture, located in Boston’s Public Garden and inspired

The ducks sporting Bruins gear. Photo credit: Boston CBS local

by Robert McCloskey’s 1942 Caldecott winning book, Make Way for Ducklings, can be seen in New England sports gear. The ducks have worn uniforms for the Bruins, the Red Sox, and the Patriots. They even get dressed for the holidays.

But earlier this month Mrs. Mallard got political. She and her brood were spotted wearing bright pink knit caps, presumably in support of the Women’s March that took place in D.C. and in cities (including Boston) all over the world on January 21, 2017.

Photo credit: Allie Kroner

Buell, Spencer. (2017, January 19). Boston’s Ducklings Are Wearing ‘Pussyhats’. Retrieved from:


Good News!

Congratulations to author, member, and 2016 nonfiction Golden Kite winner Margarita Engle for her new book, Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Wordspublished in August, 2016 by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. Way to go, Margarita!

I asked Margarita about her inspiration for the new book:

I wrote Lion Island to honor the little-known history of indentured laborers in Cuba, who petitioned the emperor of China for their freedom. Many of their petitions were written as poems, so my multiple voice verse novel format seemed ideal. While there are fictional characters too, Antonio Chuffat is a historical figure. His story is interwoven withlion-island that of five thousand Chinese-Americans who fled to Cuba to escape anti-Asian violence in California. As a messenger boy, Chuffat documented both the arrival of los californios, and the freedom struggle by petitioners. His memoir was the primary resource for my novel.

Lion Island was edited by Reka Simonsen at Atheneum, and was proofread for cultural and linguistic accuracy by many writer-friends of Chinese ancestry. The beautiful cover illustration is by Sean Qualls. Lion Island is the

Margarita Engle, photo by Sandra Rios Balderrama

final volume of my cycle of biographical verse novels about freedom seekers in 19th century Cuba. The cycle began with The Poet Slave of Cuba, and continued with The Surrender Tree, The Firefly Letters, and The Lightning Dreamer. I hope Lion Island will help show young readers that the world really can be changed with words, instead of weapons.

Thanks, Margarita. We hope so, too. 🙂

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Her other books have received multiple Pura Belpré, Américas, and Jane Addams Awards and Honors, as well as a Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and International Reading Association Award. Her most recent picture book, Drum Dream Girl, received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Margarita’s newest historical verse novel is Lion Island, Cuba’s Warrior of Words. Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband train his wilderness search and rescue dog. Visit her at

Mock Newbery Programs Thrive

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Last Stop on Market Street (written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson) won not only the 2016 Newbery, but a Caldecott Honor as well. And yet, here we are.

ALA award announcements happen this Monday, 1/23/17 at 8 am EST (that’s a bracing 5 amuntitled-5 PST for you and me) and can be watched two ways: live streaming from the I Love Libraries Facebook page or with real-time close captioning at Set an alarm, have a party in your PJ’s, and root for your favorites! Why not?

Kids across the country have been doing more than that for months. They’ve been reading (and reading) and discussing (usually over their valuable lunch periods) to systematically nominate winners in their Mock Newbery. With the help of teachers and librarians many even use the same criteria as the Newbery committee. How cool is that?

Mock Newbery programs have been spreading across the country for years, but Nina Lindsay, children’s services coordinator at the Oakland Public Library in California, is credited with starting the first back in 2003. For a more detailed history of the movement and a closer look at mock Newbery programs across the country, see the full piece in Publisher’s Weekly.

Maughan, Shannon. (2016, December 16). Who Will Win the Newbery Medal? Retrieved from:

#MSWL is #KindOfABigDeal

If you haven’t discovered Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) yet, now’s the time! The website (and companion hashtag) are designed to answer the classic question: What do agents and editors want in their submission inboxes?

Here’s how it works—editors and agents create listings and profiles (that they update) on the website. And each profile is linked to that particular agent or editor’s #MSWL tweets, so you’ll always know what they’re hoping for.

So, if you see a tweet or a listing asking for a PB about robot-eating chickens that has a ton of heart with timeless appeal, then you (as the author or illustrator) will know that your MG book about chicken-eating robots is, alas, not quite right.

In addition, certain days are designated as #MSWL DAY. You can find out exactly when that is by following #MSWL on twitter, by checking ManuscriptWishList regularly, or by following our region’s SCBWI tweets, just to name a few.

SCBWI NorthCal on Twitter, keeping us all in the loop, 6/30


It’s all pretty exciting, I know. But remember, there are RULES. Familiarize yourself with them. A biggie, quoted from the website, reads: “Writers should NOT post on the hashtag. It’s mostly read by writers…and if agents do happen to see your tweet, they’ll be annoyed that you broke the rules, and this will reflect poorly on you as a potential client.” EEK!

The website is run by various folks now, but was started by Jessica Sinsheimer, now an Associate Agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. So do yourself a favor. Take an hour and explore Manuscript Wish List, then check out #MSWL. They’re both full of valuable information. And who knows? Maybe an agent or editor just tweeted that they’re dreaming of your MG book about chicken-eating robots. ;p

See to Your Gusto & Curb Toward Joy

Posts and tweets about writing tips are a dime a dozen (I know, I know)—but when I saw these from Jandy Nelson, author of I’ll Give You the Sun, they stood out. They resonated. They made me smile. I hope they do the same for you. Now see to your gusto and remember, curb toward joy! 🙂

Read the full article by Melissa Albert on the BNTeen Blog here.

author: Jandy Nelson; photographer: Sonya Sones
author Jandy Nelson; photographer Sonya Sones

Albert, Melissa. (2016, May 12). 11 Tips on Writing From I’ll Give You the Sun Author Jandy Nelson. Retrieved from: .

New Prize to Honor Anna Dewdney

Penguin Young Readers, Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader have created a new award in honor of Llama Llama series creator and author/illustrator Anna Dewdney, who died of cancer at the age of 50 in September.

The prize will be given each year to “a picture book, published in the U.S. during the five

Anna Dewdney, photo by Reed Duncan

prior years (for the inaugural award, between 2011 and 2016), that is an outstanding read-aloud and encourages compassion and empathy.” The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award celebrates Dewdney’s commitment to reading with young children and getting books into the hands of kids, and honors her life as a book creator and literacy advocate.

To nominate a book, teachers, librarians, parents, caregivers, booksellers, and book bloggers need only fill out a form. The deadline to submit titles for consideration is February 5, 2017.

The five books with the most votes will be announced next May, during Children’s Book Week. The author and illustrator of the winning book will share a prize of $1,000 from the Children’s Book Council, and Penguin will donate $5,000 in copies of the winning book to a school, library, or literacy organization chosen by the award winner or winners.

For more information and further details, read the full piece by Sally Lodge.

Lodge, Sally. (2016, Dec. 8). Penguin and CBC Launch Award honoring Anna Dewdney. Retrieved from: .

Where the Baked Things Are

Ever wonder just how sticky-sweet the sugarplums from “The Night Before Christmas” might be, or if the Queen of Hearts’ treacle tarts from Alice in Wonderland were any good? If so, you’re not alone.

Sugarplums, illustration by Leanne Shapton

Canadian artist, graphic novelist, and mother Leanne Shapton had the same thought. And then she went one step further. After a rekindled love affair with some of her favorite children’s books, the majority of which included food, Shapton decided it would be fun if she and her 3 1/2-year-old daughter baked their way through them all.

For the full story, and more details on how those sugarplums turned out, read the full piece, from the Food section of the New York Times Style Magazine.

Leanne Shapton, “Baking Sweets From Childhood Tales,” New York Times Style Magazine (blog), November 28, 2016,