You’re kid lit people. You’ve been around. You know stuff. You probably know that the beasts drawn by Maurice Sendak in Where the Wild Things Are were almost horses (totally true), or that Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham after a bet (also true). But did you know that nearly everything you think you know about Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline is wrong? Seriously. She’s not even French.
For thirteen weird and wonderful facts about kids’s books (including the unbelievably earth-shattering and worldview-changing facts about Madeline) check out this fun piece from Buzzfeed. Enjoy!
There are all kinds of books for kids, from classics like Where the Wild Things Are to insane
successes and cult classics like Goosebumps. But what makes them good? Does a book have to be socially conscious to qualify? Do you measure by book sales? Does it need to do anything other than make a child want to turn the page? Where is the line between pulp fiction and literature? And ultimately, does it matter?
Children’s author Adam Gidwitz examined the issue in October 3rd’s New Yorker. For more on the interesting discussion, see the full piece.
Ever wonder what inspired the character names in Bill Watterson’s iconic cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes? The answer is philosophy.
Watterson knew that while philosophy might not be for everyone, studying it can develop one’s ability to ask meaningful and sometimes hard questions about life. And that, he believed, WAS for everyone. He called this discerning ability ‘the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools’ and encouraged hundreds of graduating seniors to give it a try during a commencement speech in 1990 at Kenyon College. It’s a great pep talk. You might want to squirrel it away for the next time you feel low, or beaten by rejections, or just like giving up on your art. Not that any of us ever feel that way…
For Watterson, it took some tough questions, years of rejections, and hard decisions about life before he found Calvin and Hobbes—who, by the way, were named after philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Now that’s a thing you know. 😉
For the full speech see the hotlink above. For highlights and excerpts, read this blog post from Better Humans by Charles Chu. Enjoy!
After finishing my first young adult manuscript, like many writers, I set out to see it published. At that time, I hadn’t yet made the wise decision to join SCBWI—I didn’t even know other writers! But I’d always been goal oriented, so I started by making a list of goals for my writing career. I soon realized the only way to accomplish those lofty goals was with a literary agent on my side. The first time I fired off a query letter, I was full of hope, so sure the agent would connect with the work, offer me representation, and sell my book in a career-making deal. I know I’m not alone in beginning the query process with those feelings, and I’m also not alone in the disappointment that followed.
By my third novel, I was discouraged but still hopeful, and a few months into querying that book, I received that exciting I’d-like-to-schedule-a-phone-call email. I was literally jumping up and down, and for a long time, I regarded the day I signed with my agent as the happiest day of my writing career. Even though that agent sold one of my books, it soon became obvious that our union wasn’t working.
Writers love to discuss signing with agents, but what they don’t often talk about is when that relationship isn’t working, when that agent you’ve signed with isn’t the agent for you. In reality, most writers have more than one agent over the course of their career, and that means many of us go through the disheartening experience of saying goodbye to an agent. As I’ve watched my friends go down this road, I’ve seen many of them consider compromising their goals. There’s nothing wrong with publishing without an agent, but in my case, I had promised myself I would stick to my original plan.
In September of 2015, I jumped back into the query trenches and did a lot more research on who would be a great match for me. This time, I selected only ten agents. A couple weeks later, I had an offer of representation from a fabulous agent. At this point, I hadn’t heard back from the other agents, so I emailed everyone to let them know I had an offer. My next offer came from Melissa Sarver White at Folio Literary Management. While she wanted the most extensive revisions, her ideas strongly resonated with me and my vision for the book; I knew she was the agent for me. A few months later, Melissa sold my contemporary YA, A Map for Lost Girls, in a fabulous two-book deal she negotiated with Dial/Penguin. By staying true to my plan, and by acknowledging the fact that my first agent and I were not a good match, I’d met many of my goals. Now I couldn’t be more excited to bring A Map for Lost Girls into the world with Melissa by my side.
Jessica is also the author of Wandering Wild (Sky Pony Press).
Sixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. Then in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave tradition behind has never been so strong. But the Wanderers live by signs, and all signs say that Tal and Spencer will end in heartache and disaster. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction?
Jessica adores sleepy southern settings, unrequited love, and characters who sneak out late at night. After graduating from law school, she realized she’d rather write her own stories than read dusty law books. She lives in Northern California with a sweet-yet-spoiled dog and several teetering towers of books. Visit her online at jessicataylorwrites.com or on Twitter @JessicaTaylorYA.
If youhave an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What the heck happens when a parenthesis (or is it parenthesi? Nope. Singular = parenthesis, plural = parentheses) occurs at the end of sentence? Does the punctuation go inside or outside? Maybe you’re already clear on this, but it’s always made me wonder.
Well, according to Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl to you and me), it depends. She says:
When a parenthetical statement falls at the end of a sentence, the placement of the terminal punctuation depends on whether the words inside the parentheses are a complete sentence.
If the words inside the parentheses aren’t a complete sentence, the period, question mark, or exclamation point that ends the sentence goes after the parenthesis:
Squiggly likes chocolate (and nuts).
Could Aardvark bring home candy (quickly)?
If the words inside the parentheses are a complete sentence, the period, question mark, or exclamation point that ends the sentence goes inside the parenthesis:
Bring chocolate. (Squiggly likes sweets.)
Buy candy. (Bring it quickly!)
There you have it! And it’s actually not as complicated as I expected. 😉
Source: Fogarty, Mignon. “Periods and Parentheses.” Web blog post. Quick and Dirty Tips. Grammar Girl, 21 February 2011. Web. 08 April 2016.
Image: Helvetica Paintings: ( ) Parentheses, Shane Becker at Flickr. CC BY 2.0.
It’s not news that using our senses to describe a scene is a great way to help connect the
reader with your characters. But are you doing it in the best way possible? Are you using the amazing resource of smells, touch, taste, sounds, and sight to not only put the reader in time and space with your characters but to build emotion, suspense, and bring nuance to your manuscript?
Tony Carmack is a librarian and the manager of the Granite Bay Library in the Placer County Library system. He was a member of the 2017 Newbery Committee and a member of the 2011 Caldecott committee.
Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
First, what’s missing from kids’ books right now? What types of books would you like to see more of, and what’s on your kids’ book wish list?
You may have heard that there’s a movement afoot to make children’s books more inclusive called “We Need Diverse Books.”Their mission (and frankly, the mission of our community of librarians) is “Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”The vision, succinctly stated, is one in which “all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” We have seen more books of children of diverse experiences—Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, and CeCe Bell’s El Deafo. And I encourage everyone—writer or reader—to look at the quiet brilliance of Matt de Peña’s and Christian Robinson’sLast Stop on Market Street.
What types of kids’ books are making the most impact right now? What’s hitting the mark and getting it just right?
It may sound cliché, but the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is popular, and I don’t think that impact can be dismissed. What is it about that series?It’s the honest—if ordinary observations of a 21st century tween.Diary writing is nothing new, but the phenomena of DOAWK seems to have spawned dozens of similarly structured diary books from the POV of a kid.
As a Youth Services Librarian in our region, how can local authors or illustrators help you and the library?
Reach out to us!Youth Services librarians are eager to promote local author/illustrators.I met author Jen Barton at a local school where she and I were speaking before an assembly—she about her new book and being a writer, me about the library’s Summer Reading Program.I’ve not only added her titles to our collection, but Jen has both read her picture book in a storytime and presented two very well-attended writing workshops.I look forward to future collaborations, all after that one serendipitous meeting in a gymnasium full of squirmy students in June!
(It’s funny to think back to that gymnasium right before summer—those kids were squirmy! But Tony couldn’t be more right, librarians love supporting local authors. Reach out and see!)
Name one thing you’d want local authors and illustrators of kids’ books to remember.
Children are persons.The best authors/illustrators speak to children not as vessels for instruction but as fellow companions on this life’s journey.Forgo didacticism, speak to the heart and the experience of being a human.Works by centenarian Beverly Cleary are still being read because she respects a child audience, not because grownups tell kids we should read her books.Kids know.
What are you reading right now, and how’s it going?
I am honored to be a member of the 2017 Newbery Committee, the charge of which is to pick the most distinguished book for children published in 2016 by an American author or resident of the United States.And I’m having a blast reading those books!As a committee member, though, I am not allowed to disclose what I’m reading.An author/illustrator that is not eligible (she’s English) whose work is unparalleled is Emily Gravett.I love all of her works, each one is a work of art—I can’t wait to read her next one, whatever it is!
(Tony and I spoke in 2016 before the ALA awards were announced.)
While discussions continue about whether authors or publishers should pay for the service (some great comments were made about this at the editor/agent panel at Spring Spirit ’17), sensitivity readers are happening. With the push for diversity in publishing and some authors writing outside of their experiences, these specialized readers are adding a new level to vetting a manuscript, lending an experienced eye to try and catch negatively charged language, implicit bias, and/or accidentally offensive material.
So, where does that leave you? Are you writing outside of your experience? Do you need a sensitivity reader? Do you think the whole thing is hooey? Or maybe this is the first time you’ve even heard of such a thing. Regardless of where you are—whether it’s neck deep in a project about a queer teen from Vermont who’s captain of her high school ski team but you’re a fifty-two year old straight man from Folsom who’s never even seen snow, or you don’t feel comfortable writing outside of your experience because you believe it’s someone else’s story to tell, or anywhere in between, this article from Slate is for you.
I got my agent because she got me. This sounds incredibly simple and easy yet, as many of you have experienced, finding an agent is anything but. You should also know everyone’s Agent Quest is different. But here, in a nutshell, is mine: SCBWI.
The longer version:
Step 1: My first picture book, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX (Atheneum/S & S), was a slush pile success story. After my second book, LITTLE BO PEEP CAN’T GET TO SLEEP was acquired, I asked my editor, the fabulous Caitlyn Dlouhy, for some agent recommendations. List in hand, I researched each one, certain my publishing success would soon be skyrocketing.
The good news: I had two published picture books and a list of magazine articles on my resume.
One problem: Each of the agents concentrated on a specific genre, while my project ideas and manuscripts ranged from board books to YA.
Step 2: Several very sage #kidlit articles—though their advice varied—agreed on one thing: Finding an agent is like a marriage. While this is absolutely true and key to your Agent Quest, unlike dating, there’s no gym/social group/singles bar where all the hot agents hang out. Except for SCBWI events. Upcoming conferences in my area featured a few stellar agents on their faculty, but I wanted more options. And I wanted an agent NOW. In retrospect, it was almost like my #kidlit clock was ticking—definitely NOT a great way to approach marriage or your Agent Quest, by the way. So I took a different plunge, attending the annual SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC.
The good news: I could scout an entire panel of agents (Think The Dating Game.) and find my perfect match.
One problem: Although said agents were knowledgeable and highly successful, the more they talked about their clients and their wish-lists, I knew they weren’t for me.
Step 3: I rebounded. I mean, who needs an agent anyway? I’d heard about authors who were published after they’d submitted manuscripts for SCBWI conference critiques. I followed suit at several regional conferences—submitting directly to editors and eager for that magic book deal.
The good news: I got some extremely helpful feedback and my manuscripts truly improved.
One Problem: No magic book deals.
Step 4: Maybe I’d paid enough Agent Quest dues, or maybe I’d gotten over the off-putting I-NEED-AN-AGENT-NOW pheromones, but I relaxed. I wrote wherever there was an opportunity—books for reading companies, work for hire. I joined a critique group. I focused on making my NEXT manuscripts the absolute BEST they could be—instead of assuming someone would want me because of past successes.
The good news: Conferences were fun. I learned from editors and agents and fellow SCBWI members and enjoyed the journey. My writing improved.
Even better: At an SCBWI SF/South’s Golden Gate Conference in Asilomar, I met Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency and we hit it off. She reps everything from board books to YA, including manuscripts in rhyme. She GOT me.
Step 5: I signed with East/West Lit. We submitted my best manuscripts. Huzzah!
One problem: In the decade of downsizing at publishing houses, editors were saddled with manuscripts left by editors who were let go, leaving no time nor room for new acquisitions.
The good news: Deborah continued to believe in my work and I in her, like a marriage, in good times and not-so-good. I volunteered with SCBWI; kept busy with author visits and writing. DECK THE WALLS was published.
Even better: I have FIVE new picture books under contract COMING SOON!
ERIN DEALEY (@ErinDealey—Twitter~Instagram~Pinterest) writes in many genres, from board books to YA, including DECK THE WALLS (Sleeping Bear Press) a kids’-eye view of the holidays. Among her five forthcoming picture books are BABIES COME FROM AIRPORTS (Kane Miller/ 2017), and PETER EASTER FROG (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Atheneum, 2018). Her first picture books with Atheneum, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX, and LITTLE BO PEEP CAN’T GET TO SLEEP have taken her to school visits as far south as Brazil and as far north as Tok, Alaska. Dealey is an experienced K-12 Language Arts/ theater teacher, actor, former Co-RA of CA North/Central, frequent conference presenter, 12×12 faculty, and the social media/ PR Coordinator for East West Literary. She lives in northern California and lasted one full day as an employee at a Pineapple Factory in Hawaii. If you’re still reading this bio (thanks!), check out her FB page WRITE NOW! An Occasional Day in the life of author Erin Dealey and her youtube Writer’s Rap at Writers – Erin Dealey
If youhave an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to email@example.com.
More congratulations are in order for author, member, 2016 nonfiction Golden Kite winner, and Young People’s Poet Laureate for the Poetry Foundation Margarita Engle for her latest books: Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, illustrated by Rafael López and published with a simultaneous Spanish edition by Godwin Books, an imprint of Holt/Macmillan (3/17/17), and Morning Star Horse, published with simultaneous bilingual and Spanish editions by HBE Publishing (1/30/17).
Way to go, Margarita!
Bravo is a collection of biographical poems about Latinos—both famous and forgotten—who accomplished amazing things in many fields.
Morning Star Horse is historical magic realism about the Raja Yoga Cuban Kids, Spanish-American war orphans who were sent to an unusual school in San Diego.
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 margaritaengle.com.