Critique Carousel: Do You Ride?

Recently I asked Jen Garrett, our Critique Carousel Coordinator, to explain a bit about Critique Carousel—namely, what it is and how it can help YOU. (Hint: If you need a critique group, or just want new eyes on your latest manuscript, check out a meeting.) She did all that, and included a brief history from previous CCCs, in their own words. Enjoy!

CritiqueCarouselBanner750x273First, Critique Carousels have three purposes:

1) To let nonmembers have a peek into what SCBWI is all about.
2) To provide opportunities for peer critiques and feedback.
3) For members to connect with other writers and find or form critique groups.

That said, the idea of the Critique Carousel has evolved and changed hands (and names), but its mission has always been the same—to provide a place for children’s writers to meet and get in-person feedback on their work.

It all started when…

Lou Ann Barnett, March 2015-September 2015

The idea actually came from listening to the members of North Central SCBWI. We put together a survey asking people what they needed in terms of critiques, and it was clear in their responses that people wanted to connect with others to make their writing better. I personally had felt the benefit of small private critique groups, but how to match people up was the problem. Writers are generally more introverted in nature, and some found value in online connection, but joining private groups was more challenging for people.  Placing your baby in someone else’s hands for solicited critique can be scary. So thinking that a monthly meeting, where people can meet in a safe space, exchange their work, and have a facilitated critique session might organically grow into private critique groups for our members.

As a very geographically diverse region, I knew I couldn’t manage reaching all the geographical cities initially, but even around Sacramento is a huge area. I had experience organizing a Meet-up writers group and knew of some places that would work, Raley’s, libraries, places like that all around the city. I knew that where you met determined if some people could make it. So I didn’t want to pick one place, but choose many around Natomas, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, Roseville, Davis. All around. I didn’t come up with the name of ‘Critique Carousel’, but I love it and it really nails that vision to move the location around.

The first Critique Carousel (even though it wasn’t called that yet) was a group of around ten people, some who were members of SCBWI, but had never been to a meeting before! That was so exciting to me, that we are able to meet some of our members through this meeting. Many had never exchanged work and others were more experienced. I helped to facilitate by giving people examples of how to critique, handouts on what makes a good critique group, and encouraged people to exchange names and create their own groups to better their work. It was very encouraging.

As we started gathering steam, we got some interest in other members to help out and I thought that having a speaker begin the session would be great. Jessica Taylor was at the start of her published phase of writing, and she shared her experience with critique partners. She was not part of a critique group, but had a number of different partners that besotted her in different ways, like a critique partner support network. I loved hearing her process. And the last meeting I organized was a very well established group, “That’s why we have us”, my friends Patti, Jerri, Connie and Linda who have a very successful writing group that is almost run like a business, with a lot of heat.

I organized about six meetings before I stepped down as ARA.  I had just started a job with a mega-commute, so I handed off to the very valuable hands of Nikki.

Nikki Shannon Smith, September 2015-September 2016:

Our region has always had the goal of bringing members together to critique each other’s work, but it’s taken different forms over the years. In 2015, our then-ARA, Lou Ann Barnett, began holding regular critique meetings at local libraries. When I came on as Co-ARA the summer of 2015, I continued what Lou Ann had started and set a goal of using libraries in different local towns to provide access to as many members as possible. I named it ‘Critique Carousel.’ Critique for obvious reasons. Carousel for the cyclical/rotating meetings, and the flexibility to “ride” when it worked for you. (Changing/rotating attendance for “passengers).

Once I named it Critique Carousel I wanted to have a symbolic logo for the website. We ran a contest for our illustrators, but it didn’t yield a logo. I reached out to a member whose art work I’d recently seen and fallen in love with. Her name is Andi Burnett. She agreed and within a couple of weeks we had our beautiful logo!

The first one I organized myself made me anxious! I’m a perfectionist, and also wanted it to be valuable for the attendees. I fretted over all of the details (location, time, best way to receive and distribute manuscripts…). I made door signs, sign-in sheets, an information sheet on how to give and receive critiques, created an outline for my mini-presentation at the beginning. I got there at least an hour early to set up and I was nervous! The first group was full of fantastic people who seemed happy to be there. I met new people, saw familiar faces, and made friends.

I served as coordinator for a year. I hosted the last one Lou Ann organized as my first meeting. It was “That’s Why We Have Us” in August of 2015. I hosted one meeting a month, skipping only April (Spring Spirit month) and December (Holiday Mixer time). I guess that adds up to ten!Acorn Critique Carousel Slide Graphic.001 (3)

One of the most memorable meetings was the January 2016 Critique Carousel. I called it Rejuvenate Your Resolve, and each member of the regional team presented 5-10 minutes of inspiring or encouraging advice. I loved having Bethany Telles (CoARA) and Rose Cooper (former Illustrator Coordinator) there with me. Bitsy Kemper (Regional Advisor) had to cancel for health reasons, but she sent in a hilarious video she recorded in her pajamas. We also had more “first timers” than usual at that meeting. We had a blast.

Jen Garrett, September 2016-present:

It was a serendipitous bunch of circumstances that led me to become Critique Carousel Coordinator. I was the facilitator of a very similar group called the Writers Bloc—a monthly drop-in critique group open to writers of all genres—that met at the Placerville Library. Sometimes in lieu of regular critique meetings we had authors, publishers, and book buyers speak to us with their tips about the industry. Many of the speakers were SCBWI members.

After a year or so, I realized the Writers Bloc needed to be retired. The attendance had dwindled, and the feedback wasn’t really helpful. I would bring my picture book manuscripts to a group of novelists and memoir writers, who didn’t feel familiar enough with kidlit to give me constructive criticism. Luckily, I also had my own picture book critique group (shout out to the Bookstormers!), so I emailed the individuals on the Writers Bloc list and suggested other groups that might better benefit their writing.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I was on RA Bitsy Kemper’s radar to be Critique Carousel Coordinator, because soon after I announced that the Writers Bloc would be retiring, I got an email from Nikki. Critique Carousels had everything I loved about the Writers Bloc, and it was in kidlit so the feedback would be pertinent to my writing. It was a perfect match!

To help me transition into the role of Critique Carousel Coordinator, my first meeting was combined with September’s Quarterly Meeting in El Dorado Hills. I messed up on the time and was not-so-fashionably late, but Bitsy smoothed the whole thing over and proved to be the gem she is in guiding me through my part of the event.

For October’s meeting, I received a little ‘on the job’ training from Nikki, but it was my first “I’m the offical host” event. Nikki has continued to be on hand to be a mentor and liaison for me, especially if anything comes up I don’t know how to handle.

November was my first speaker Critique Carousel event. We had the fabulous Margaret O’Hair give tips on “Never Give Up on Your Writing.” Her speech was originally scheduled as a Writers Bloc event, but because she is a published SCBWI member it converted very nicely to a Critique Carousel.

In January, we did a reprise of “That’s Why We Have Us” as a kickoff to Critique Carousels this year. I enjoyed it immensely and learned something new about formatting my manuscript. At February’s Critique Carousel, I witnessed a brand new picture book critique group form when participants exchanged contact info. I was so excited!

One thing I always strive to do as Critique Carousel Coordinator is help more writers connect and hone their craft. We’re working on scheduling events in the coming months, including (we hope) a few speakers. While Critique Carousels are by and large free events, some of our speakers will be offering a unique opportunity to get a professional critique from them for a fee. Stay tuned for details!

Acorn Critique Carousel Slide Graphic.002

Stay up to date on Critique Carousel meetings by checking the SCBWI North/Central home page under ‘Critique Groups‘ (found on the purple sidebar). For questions, suggestions, or concerns, email Jen Garrett.

Blog Tips (hint: relationships rule)

Want to dive into the blogosphere but aren’t sure how to get it right? Or are you already there, but your blog isn’t getting the clicks and views you’d hoped?

Blogger Ti Roberts has six basic tips to get you (and your traffic generation) right where you want them. Good luck!


Roberts, Ti. (2013, January 6). 6 Simple Action Steps to Create Ridiculously Solid Connections with Influential Bloggers. Retrieved from:

New Imprints!

Tons of new imprints have popped up over the last few months. (Okay, there are six, but it feels like tons.) With missions and focuses ranging from picture books on health and healing to mythological middle grade, you might just find the perfect fit for your manuscript. Dig in, and good luck!

Rodale Books is launching Rodale Kids, to be distributed by Macmillan. Books will be 42444-v2-600xfiction and non-fiction, targeted for infant through teens, and like Rodale’s adult books will focus on health, fitness, and happiness. Ten titles are due fall 2017, with the intention of eventually reaching 30-45 titles each year. For more details, read the full article.

Rick Riordan Presents, launched by Disney-Hyperion, is intended to address the seemingly insatiable need for middle grade books about all kinds of mythology. Though Riordan won’t be writing the new books, he will be involved in curating and editing, and has agreed to provide endorsements for new titles. The imprint, which hopes to publish the first two titles in summer 2018, says the mission is to “find, nurture, and promote the best storytellers for middle grade readers.” The new imprint will focus on diverse, mythology-based fiction by new, emerging, and under-represented authors. For more details, read the full piece.

Elsewhere Editions, launched by Archipelago Books, hopes to find books with “entire universes” in the pages that both children and adults will love. Like its adult counterpart, Elsewhere Editions will focus on the beauty of the physical book as well as the story. The imprint will be run by Jill Schoolman, who began her career at Seven Stories Press. It was there she first thought of starting Archipelago, a nonprofit press focused exclusively on international titles. Schoolman hopes that Elsewhere Editions will publish “creative, innovative books from around the world.” For more details, read the full piece.

Tiger Tales, best known for picture and novelty books, launched 360 Degrees in September, a new imprint focusing on middle grade non-fiction. The Connecticut publisher, with parent ties in the U.K., says “the imprint is dedicated to creating interactive, illustrated books that explore the world from multiple angles.” For more details, read the full article.

St Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, is launching Wednesday Books, an imprint focusing on YA and adult titles with coming-of-age themes. With first titles due in fall 2017, the imprint is looking for “bold, diverse, and commercial voices in fiction and nonfiction who speak to readers looking for stories in and beyond the YA category.” Sara Goodman, editor of noted author Rainbow Rowell, will be the editorial director for Wednesday Books. For more details, see the full article.

Penguin Teen, launched by Penguin Random House Canada, will be the new imprint for all YA titles previously published under Doubleday Canada Books for Young Readers and Razorbill Canada. First titles are expected in summer 2017. For more details and effects on imprints due to the larger Penguin Random House merger see the full piece.

Reid, Calvin. (2016, Sept. 2). Rodale to Launch a Kids’ Imprint Next Fall. Retrieved from:

Corbett, Sue. (2016, Sept. 13). Disney Announces New Rick Riordan imprint. Retrieved from:

Burnett, Matia. (2016, Oct. 6). Here, There, Elsewhere: Archipelago Books Launches a Children’s Imprint. Retrieved from:

Lodge, Sally. (2016, Sept. 29). Tiger Tales Adds Nonfiction Imprint. Retrieved from:

Deahl, Rachel. (2016, Oct. 12). SMP Launching Crossover Imprint, Wednesday Books. Retrieved from:

Godfrey, Laura. (2016, Oct. 13). PRH Canada Launches New Penguin Teen Imprint. Retrieved from:

Poster for Children’s Book Week!

The Children’s Book Week poster is here! Revealed in January, and designed by illustrator44749-v1-350x Christian Robinson, the art will serve as the official poster for CBW, which is May 1-May 7 this year.

The poster includes this year’s CBW theme: “One World, Many Stories.”

“Christian Robinson’s playful and distinctive style made him the perfect choice to create this poster. His body of work already exemplifies this year’s slogan, ‘One World, Many Stories,’ and we knew he would bring this message to life,” said Shaina Birkhead, programming and strategic partnerships director for CBC and Every Child a Reader.

For more details, read the full piece.

For a free download of the poster and lots of information on how to participate in CBW, visit Every Child A Reader.

Maughan, Shannon. (2017, January 19).Children’s Book Week Poster Revealed. Retrieved from:

Mem Fox Detained at LAX

“I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now,” author Mem Fox said in a Feb 27th piece for ‘The Guardian’. Fox, the iconic Australian children’s author of many books including Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, was detained earlier this month by immigration officers at Los Angeles International airport for nearly two hours and, she says, rudely questioned about her visa status.

Mem Fox reads aloud at SCBWI LA Summer Conference in 2015. Photo by Alan Baker.

Ironically, she was headed to Milwaukee to a conference of the Wisconsin State Reading Association  to receive an honorarium for delivering a keynote on the importance of tolerance and acceptance. Fox noted in a piece for the Washington Post that after 117 trips to the United States, following this experience she is unlikely to return.

Fox’s 2015 keynote, along with her inspired reading of Hattie and the Fox, was a highlight at the 44th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

For more details, read Nora Krug’s piece for The Washington Post and Mem Fox’s piece, as told to Lucy Clark, for The Guardian.

Fox, Mem. (2017, Feb 27). Mem Fox on Being Detained by US Immigration: ‘In that moment I loathed America’. Retrieved from:

Krug, Nora. (2017, Feb. 26). Beloved children’s author speaks out about her detainment at U.S. airport. Retrieved from:

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