Inspiring Change and Real Action in Readers

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by our own Patricia Newman

Patricia Newman
Author Patricia Newman

and Annie Crawley has not only won too many honors and awards to mention, including the Green Earth Book Award and the Nerdy Book Club Award for middle grade nonfiction, but recently it has inspired readers to take action. Sisters Gabriella and Francesca read the book after being motivated by a pollution unit in school. But these girls didn’t just want to learn about the garbage patch. They wanted to do something to make a difference.

The result?

A video showing their own scientific study. The girls charted and graphed their plastic use (along with the rest of the family) and are using the results to make real changes that will help reduce pollution.

Now that’s what I call inspiring! For the full story, check out Patti’s blog.


Patricia Newman is the author of several fiction and nonfiction trade books, school and library titles, and magazine articles for children, including the upcoming 2017 release, Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; the Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; and Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection and a CRA Eureka! Silver Honor winner. She is also the recipient of the IRA/Sacramento Area Reading Association’s Celebrate Literacy Award. She frequently speaks at schools and

Patricia Newman, “When Readers Heed the Call to Action,” Literacy News, Notes & Musings (blog), June 7, 2016,

Brews and Bocce at B&N? Yep.

In an effort to revive sales Barnes and Noble has announced a plan to open five new imgresconcept stores, including one at the Palladio in Folsom. The new stores will offer better food at larger cafes, bars serving beer and wine, and amenities like a bocce court and a fire pit. All five stores are scheduled to open between now and March 2017.

Though the new stores will have smaller book sections, the hope is to increase foot traffic, which could be good for sales and exposure of local authors (that’s us!). For details and the entire announcement, see the full piece by Amy Collins at The Book Designer.

Collins, Amy. (2016, Sept. 14). Self-Publishing News You Can Use — September 2016. Retrieved from:

Lickswishy Snozzberries and Frobscottle All Around—Roald Dahl’s 100!

Roald Dahl

Beloved author Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916. In celebration of his 100th, lexicographer Dr. Susan Rennie spent the last five years compiling The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary, featuring Sir Quentin Blake, Dahl’s long-time illustrator.

The dictionary contains over 8,000 words, real and invented, and was published this month. (It’s also at the top of my Christmas list, in case anyone was wondering.)51rojfueurl-_sx384_bo1204203200_

Dahl’s first children’s story, James and the Giant Peach, was published in 1961 with great success. Bestsellers like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The BFG, among many others, followed until his death in 1990.

For more on Dahl’s 1ooth and the new dictionary, see the full article from BBC News, Entertainment & Arts.

Susan Rennie has worked on many dictionaries for both children and adults, including the Oxford Primary Dictionary, Oxford Primary Thesaurus, the Oxford English Thesaurus for Schools and the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. She also writes books in Scots for children, and has translated the first Scots edition of Tintin. Susan is currently a Lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow where she teaches lexicography and the history of Scots and English.

Entertainment & Arts, “Roald Dahl’s Swashboggling Words Get Their Own Dictionary,” BBC News (blog), May 26, 2016,

Break Free From Submission Paralysis: Building an Agent Database by Allison Aubin

Even after the writing is finished—after your characters have done amazing things (or ordinary things in amazing ways) and you’ve told the story in a great voice that will connect with readers—the hard work has just begun. Seriously? Yup.

If you’re going the traditional route, now it’s time to get your masterpiece in front of the right agent. But this can seem overwhelming—how do you choose who to query, and how do you keep track of it all? Member Allison Aubin offered to share her system, hoping it might work for others. Thanks, Allison!

As creators of soon to be great works—if only we could get them into the right hands—we are told we must search for the one agent. This one agent will connect us with the one editor, the one publisher, that will treat our work with the care of a beloved child and raise it into the NY Times Bestseller list and beyond!

The problem with finding that one single perfect agent in a sea of thousands is a paralyzing one. But you aren’t looking for one single perfect agent. To get over this paralysis, rephrase the situation.

You only have until December to get 50 rejections.

Author Allison Aubin

Somewhere in those rejections, you just might find that one YES. However, the real question remains. How do you find 50 agents to query?

Once I rephrased the situation to aim for multitudes of rejections, and therefore, submissions, I developed a database of agents for my one manuscript that was ready for the market and began submitting in earnest. Sure, I’d submitted here and there with heartfelt queries and not even one request for a full, but with my database of specially targeted agents, the very first one asked for a full manuscript. This wasn’t the end of the road YES, but it was a far sight better than what I had been doing, which was wildly querying people I liked at conferences.

To create your own agent database, you will need excel or Google Sheets, The Book put out by SCBWI, and access to agent information online. This information includes further research on the agents listed in The Book and other agents seeking new clients. They often give interviews to Writer’s Digest and other writing organizations and businesses to boost submissions.

With your very own database, you will identify agents looking for your work in particular, and track what kind of response you’ve gotten. Never be afraid to add or subtract from your database, and always track to whom you’ve submitted. I created my database with headers for contact information, query package requirements, whether they accept multiple submissions, a few brief notes on what they’re looking for, or previous works they’ve handled that are similar to mine but not the same. You can add categories like comparable titles or authors in their portfolio, whether you’ve met them, and even interests that you have in common that you have perhaps gleaned from Twitter or blogs.

I spent two hours creating the first list for my agent database. This was an entry-by-entry reading of The Book. It will go by faster than you think. I needed someone who wanted a YA adventure fantasy with a male protagonist and a humorous voice. Anyone who represented only illustrators did not get an entry into my database. Likewise anyone not open to YA.

I started with a list of 46. Then I began searching my emails. I subscribed to the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents newsletter years ago. I went back six months and copied over any YA agents. I also went to the WD agents newsletter online and looked for links to other agent notices and searched for blogs that listed interviews with agents. From that first list of 60, I began to cut.

CUT? More is not always better. In this case, I didn’t need everyone who would read only YA, I needed someone interested in a new client with a specific work. You know, my work.

I researched every agent in my database and cut anyone who was not open to my protagonist or not open to fantasy. From there, I sorted people by query package. Everyone looking for a 5-page sample went in one tier, 10-pages another tier, 3 chapters a third tier. These tiers don’t have to make sense to you, because it’s my database. The way my tiers are set up, I can submit multiple submissions to multiple agents and get to one YES even faster.

Creating your own agent database is a time investment in targeting your work to the people who want to help you get your work into readers’ hands. Periodically, set aside time to go over your database and ensure future agents are still open to new clients and still eager for work like yours.

While I’m still waiting to hear back on my current submission, I’m not worried. If I get rejected, I can just move down the list and submit to the next lucky agent or agent group. You have better things to do with your time than worrying about the next agent—like starting your next project!

The links below have information on even more agents to add to your database:

Allison Aubin has written for regional magazines and newspapers and has been a member of SCBWI for four years. She loves reading and writing YA fantasy. When she isn’t writing, she works in the food industry and gets to read federal regulations and legislation. Like any normal person, she would rather be writing. Visit Allison at

My First Time: At the Big LA Conference, That Is by JaNay Brown-Wood

This past August, I attended my first national conference for the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. I have attended other regional conferences in the past such as the Oakland Conference once, and the Spring Spirit several times—which I also had the honor of being faculty on in 2016. So I was no stranger to conferences. But even with that said, the SCBWI LA Conference was more than I could have ever expected.

I want to put you in the mindset of what it was like by asking you this: Have you ever run a race—like a marathon, a 5K, or a cross-country race—and when you get near the finish line, there are lines and lines of people smiling and cheering you on, urging you to finish? And even though those people might be complete strangers, they yell for you, encourage you, and sometimes high-five or embrace you when you’ve crossed the line? And you feel this overwhelming joy and excitement and pride as you trudge forward?

This is how it felt to be at the SCBWI conference.

Even though writing for children and getting published is not easy, I was surrounded by countless individuals who smiled excitedly and encouraged one another, and I did the same. It was completely symbiotic, as if we were all running the race and cheering each other on all at the same time.

Author JaNay Brown-Wood

It started from the moment I stepped into the massive lobby of the Biltmore Millennium hotel on registration morning, the walls bouncing with voices of enthused writers and illustrators and lovers of children’s literature. The elation there was palpable. And I continued to feel it with each workshop, event, and encounter I experienced. Like the workshop for first-timers where we drew birds on our nametags in order to be able to identify other newbies in the crowd. It was here where I met a new friend, Aneeka, who I still keep in touch with now. Or like every time Lin Oliver addressed the crowd making us laugh and think and feel. Or each keynote speaker who shared their experiences and filled us with words of inspiration such as when Pam Munoz Ryan said “be contentious, unacceptable, and dangerous.” Or when Jon Klassen so eloquently described how his own art grew from the things he did well while getting better at the things he didn’t do so well, and then he gave us exceptional and meaningful examples from Pixar. Or the tear-jerking life story shared by Ellen Hopkins and some of the struggles she endured, which led to authentic books embraced by readers everywhere. And I certainly cannot fail to mention the inimitable swag that is Richard Peck.

So. Much. Good. Stuff.

As I sat in the crowd, I took countless notes, trying to capture as many morsels of knowledge from these Giants-In-Our-Field as I could. And with the jam-packed schedule (dinners, face-to-face editor critiques, happy hours, book sales, autograph sessions, lunch dates, award banquets, intensives, etc, etc. etc.), there was never a dull moment—and that’s not even including the time I spent fiercely attempting to avoid of any ghosts known to walk the halls of the Biltmore.

Upon the conference’s completion, I left feeling inspired, exhausted, motivated, and with a sense of duty. Duty to continue to write strong, well-executed stories that I can share with children and make them fall in love with reading and good writing like I have and like all the other lovely souls I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference.

So to use one word to describe my first SCBWI LA conference as succinctly as possible: Golden.

It was truly such a valuable, memorable, and fantastic experience. I look forward to the next time I get a chance to attend this conference, and I can’t wait until the day where I too will be able to grace the podium as a faculty to share my own knowledge with budding and bona fide writers in the future.

JaNay Brown-Wood is an Early Childhood Education professor at American River College and the author of the award-winning picture book Imani’s Moon. She is a frequent speaker and presenter and enjoys promoting literacy for kids. She is also the proud owner of two red-eared slider turtles, both of whom she calls “Bubba.” Her second picture book, Grandma’s Tiny House, will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing in the Fall of 2017.

Self-Publishing Through Crowdfunding: Why I Didn’t Wait For Permission To Publish My First Book by Jed Alexander

Speaking of crowdfunding and Kickstarter, our own Jed Alexander has some experience. I asked him to share his thoughts. Take it away, Jed!

Like many of you, I’d been trying to get a book published for a number of years. I did all the right things. I got Best in Show at my first local Spring Spirit SCBWI conference. Soon after I started getting work from Cricket Magazine. About three years later, I acquired my agent, Abigail Samoun, at then fledgling Red Fox Literary.

Author/illustrator Jed Alexander

From the beginning, I’d always wanted to be an author/illustrator, and have had one foot planted firmly in both disciplines. I’ve always wanted to make my own books. So as soon as I got my agent, I immediately started submitting my book proposals and dummies. And I immediately started getting rejections.

But book dummies aren’t books. They’re half-formed. Half-finished. For years I’d started project after project and never completed them, a habit I swore I’d break. And here I was doing it again. I understood it was a necessary part of the process, that this was how it was done in the publishing world. But I was tired of waiting for permission. I wanted to make a book.

In SCWBI, we’re always warned against self-publishing. A self-published book won’t be taken seriously by a real publisher. You won’t be able to put it on your resume. And when I told my agent I wanted to publish a book using the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, she let me know that we shouldn’t consider this my official debut. But for me, it was a question of: How long was I going to wait? At what point was this going to be real? I had just turned 40, and I wasn’t going to wait any longer.

It took months to prepare. I read as much as I could on the subject. I tried to glean as much as I could from successful crowdfunding campaigns. I did as much of my homework as I could until I knew I was absolutely ready. I made my video on my iPhone, editing it with the free software that came with my Mac. I researched the most economical way I could print my book—off-set printing overseas—and got the best prices I could for the T-shirts and posters I would offer as my rewards. I made sure everything was fairly priced.

School Library Journal said, “…the images feel timeless and classic…The stories have wide appeal, and the limited use of words allows for broad exploration.”

The campaign was a great success. I had almost 300 supporters and raised over $10,000. My project became a Kickstarter Staff Pick, and a Kickstarter Pick of the Day. And eventually, through an old contact, I was able to get Alternative Comics, a small press comics publisher, to agree to put their name on the book and sub-distribute it.

While my book (Mostly) Wordless was, and continues to be, a modest seller, its publication has resulted in other opportunities. I was offered a regular writing gig for the site Pyragraph, I taught a class in crowdfunding for The Children’s Book Academy. And most surprisingly, 16 copies of the book were requested by a member of the Caldecott committee for review. I might not have come even close to getting the award, but now I’m on their radar, and I can’t wait for them to see what else I can do.

So yes, everything they said at SCBWI proved true. The book isn’t taken into account by mainstream publishers when I submit my manuscripts and book dummies. It’s not likely to go further than my modest first printing of a 1000 copies. But I made a book. A book I’m very proud of. And it has readers. And I still get e-mails from parents who have enjoyed the book with their children. It’s even been used by teachers to teach pre-literate kids.

If you’re at all considering self-publishing as an option, think about why you’re doing this in the first place. Do you really want to make a book, or do you simply want to be published? How high do you have to count before your book matters? How many readers? How many dollars? Very few people make a living from making books—even those who have been published by major publishers. So you can’t be in this for the money. And you won’t have readers unless you put your book out there. And with desktop publishing and crowdfunding, publishing is easier than ever. The only permission you need to make a book is your own.

After working for over ten years in the editorial field for such publications as LA Weekly, The Sacramento News and Review and The Santa Cruz Metro, Jed returned to his first love, children’s literature. With this new focus, Jed debuted his portfolio at The 2009 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators North/Central California conference where he won Best in Show. He has since contributed to Nickelodeon Magazine and Cricket Magazine as both an author and illustrator.

Jed will be teaching a Self-Publishing Through Crowdfunding Course with Mira Reisberg at The Children’s Book Academy (10/24-11/21). He is also currently writing and illustrating a comic strip for SpongeBob Comics. Find out more about Jed at

‘Rebel Girls’ Breaks Kickstarter Record

40693-2Looking for a different kind of bedtime story, published in an alternative way? Maybe something middle grade about amazing historical female role models? Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, have got you covered!

In this June 2 ‘Publishers Weekly’ article Judith Rosen explores the authors’ motivations, the themes in the new book, and the mind-blowing amount of money they raised on Kickstarter. Hint: Rebel Girls quickly became the most funded children’s book in Kickstarter history. At the time of the article backers were still pouring in, eager to get their hands on the book, which will ship in time for Christmas.

Rosen, Judith. (2016, June 2). Kids’ Book for ‘Rebel Girls’ Makes Crowdfunding History. Retrieved from:

From the Ground Up: hatching a new picture book publishing company by Elizabeth Siggins

A little more than a year ago today my critique group and I braved the summer conference in LA for the first time. It was INCREDIBLE. We wrote poetry with Kwame Alexander, drew flamingos with Molly Idle, and were inspired in more ways than I can say. Gayle even wrote a piece about it for the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of ACORN. Luckily, we went again this year. I wanted to mark the occasion with this piece because something really special happened the first time we went. And it points to how  important these great gatherings of our tribe can be. One member of our group was so inspired she decided to act on an idea she’d been playing around with—starting her own publishing company. I asked her to start journaling about the process. Below is the first installment. Take it away, Elizabeth!

When the new editor of ACORN asked me if I’d be willing to write a series about starting a new publishing company, I was a little skeptical. What would I call it, I thought. Flying by the seat of your pants? Because the truth is—I am very much figuring this out as I go along.

If you were hoping for a “how to” about starting an independent publishing company, your search continues. But if you want to hear more about the ups and downs of one company’s experience, then I am excited to share this with you.

Author & Callepitter founder,      Elizabeth Siggins

It all started about a year ago. I had been working on my own picture book manuscripts for about five years. I was getting great feedback about my writing style (voice, tone, character development, etc.) but I kept hearing “This isn’t a picture book.” Or “You should turn this into a middle grade novel.” Most of my stories are about kids dealing with relatively heavy topics—abandonment, racism, childhood trauma—you know, typical picture book stuff. Or not.

Then one day, my brother threw out the idea. “You keep talking about all of these books you wish were out there. Instead of trying to write them yourself, why don’t you start a publishing company?” I laughed.

But I kept thinking about that idea and it started to take on a life of its own. Then, last year, my critique group took a road trip to the SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles. We live in northern California. So we had about twelve hours in a car and several days in a hotel room to do nothing but dream. After that and a couple of very inspiring conversations with Kwame Alexander, I decided to do it. I was going to start an independent picture book publishing company.

Thanks to the good judgment of friends and advisors, I held off the temptation to start with the website. Instead, we needed to focus on some of the behind-the-scenes work. In fact, we are still very much in that development stage.

I can’t wait to tell you more, in upcoming issues, about the formation of Callepitter—a new picture book publishing company. While we are not exclusively anything, we plan, at least initially, to focus on picture books about real world topics (the kinds of things that can be tough to talk about) for slightly older picture book readers (and the adults in their lives). It’s also important to know that our books will be gorgeous.

The name Callepitter was inspired by my son. It’s what he called caterpillars when he was younger. It seemed perfect for what we are trying to do—a kid’s take on the most spectacular transformation that occurs right around us and yet often goes completely unnoticed. Magical, beautiful, and a little bit awkward.

Because picture books are pretty expensive to make, we are still finalizing the business model (an intentionally nontraditional collaboration between publisher and artist/author) and identifying the first books to launch our venture.

That website I wanted to do last summer? It’s finally under construction. More soon….

Elizabeth Siggins is the Founder of Callepitter—a publishing company for books that are magical, beautiful, and a little bit awkward. When she isn’t trying to reform the justice system, messing around with her own picture books, or launching a new business, Elizabeth can probably be found curled in a corner reading with her son. Her passion for picture books is fueled by everything she believes about how art heals and how young people can change the world.




Advice for Painless Assembly Intros

Ever been in front of a gym full of kids, ready to deliver a dynamic and exciting presentation, and had a less than amazing introduction? Do you want (and deserve) a snappy and fantastic introduction that will leave kids (and teachers) on the edge of their seats? Ahh, yes please. So, listen up!

Last month Alexis O’Neill and Janet Wong of shared tips on how to refine the sometimes clunky process of being introduced at assemblies and school visits. With a little effort, organization, and the rest of the article you’ll be on your way!🙂

Alexis O’Neill, “Taking the Pain Out of Assembly Introductions,” SchoolVisitExperts (blog), May 21, 2016,