Good News!

goodnewsMore 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 Hispanicsillustrated 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!


Margarita Engle, photo by Sandra Rios Balderrama
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.


Bravo Margarita Engle
Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today
Morning Star Horse Margarita Engle
A young girl stricken with rickets and her mother face the aftermath of the Spanish American War, the challenges of a new century, and innovative teachers. Dreams realized and dreams crushed exploring the freedoms only a magical horse can offer.

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



5 Minutes With…Matt Ringler

Some of you may remember Scholastic senior editor Matt Ringler as one of the great faculty members from the 2016 summer conference in LA. Recently, SCBWI caught up with Matt for an Insight Exclusive. In case you missed the interview, here it is!

Matt Ringler is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and

Matt Ringler

YA fiction. He is the editor of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Little Rhino series by Ryan Howard. His YA list includes the New York Times Bestseller Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

What elements does a manuscript need to get your attention and make you want to acquire it?

I want a manuscript to make me feel everything. If it’s funny, I want to laugh so loudly that people stare at me. If it’s heartbreaking, I want to have tears coming down my cheeks. I want to be turning pages tensely while my knuckles turn white. I want to miss my subway stop. I want to come home and not turn on the television because I need to know how the book ends. And I want the face of at least one other person who I know would love this experience to pop into my head without having to think about it all.

How do you know something is right for a series?

Most of the series that I’ve worked on have come in as multiple books from the get-go. But once in a while, you get to take a standalone and make it into a series. If a story does its job properly then you care about the characters even after the story ends. Because you should want to know what happens next (or in the case of prequels, what happened before). Giving readers more of a world they already love—that’s how you know you something is right for a series.

What is the acquisitions process at Scholastic?

The Acquisitions process is one of the most exciting parts of this job. A manuscript comes in and you love it—and you really do need to love it because you’re about to dedicate a large portion of your time and energy on doing this. The manuscript is shared with the acquisitions team, which is made up of other departments like sales, marketing, publicity, manufacturing, the publishers, and other editors. And hopefully, everyone agrees that they want to move ahead. You don’t always get every manuscript you want, there is sometimes disappointment. But when you do, it makes it all worthwhile.

Between the time you acquire a book or series and the pub date, what is your role with your authors?

Hopefully, if an author is choosing you as their editor then they have some level of trust for you already there. But it is important for that relationship to continue to grow. In my opinion, that’s the most important part of the editorial process. Trusting each other, and being able to have open and honest conversations about what is and isn’t working. The process of editing the manuscript and putting together a publishing plan all falls into place once that relationship is solidified. There are a lot of moving pieces that have to come together before anything is printed. Cover and interior design. The marketing and publicity plans. Sales materials. Putting a book out into the world is an exciting experience. It can also be nerve wracking and intimidating—sometimes all at once. So making sure my authors feels comfortable and have the tools that they need to succeed are a major part of it. Also, phone calls. Lots and lots of phone calls.

SCBWI, “SCBWI Exclusive with…Matt Ringler, Senior Editor, Scholastic,” SCBWI Insight (enewsletter), December, 2016,

Margarita Engle Named Young People’s Poet Laureate

WOW. Just wow. Member and multiple award-winning author Margarita Engle has been offered the position of national Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Spoiler alert: she accepted.

Margarita Engle, photo credit Sandra Rios Balderrama

The title, and its $25,000 prize, is given biennially in recognition of outstanding poetry for young children. In an interview after her win, Engle recently told Publisher’s Weekly, “I want to choose the theme of peace, or paz. It’s a bilingual theme, and maybe if I can draw in other poets it will become multilingual.”

Despite her new responsibilities and added work, Margarita agreed to share a bit about her journey and her love of poetry. Thanks again, and congratulations from the region!


Poetry is an Adventure

No one can prepare to become the national Young People’s Poet Laureate. There is no career map, alchemist’s recipe or scientific formula. One morning I was living in solitude, simply enjoying the process of writing. By afternoon, I had received a dreamlike phone call, and nothing seemed real anymore. The impossible had become possibleAlltheWayToHavana.MargaritaEngle through some mysterious pathway beyond my understanding or control. I was offered an honor, but it is also an opportunity, and in a certain sense, a responsibility. Now I need to figure out how to carry gifts of poetry to places where authors don’t usually go—children who live at the end of a rural road, and city teens whose schools can’t afford an honorarium.

I started writing poetry as a small child whose life alternated between urban northeast Los Angeles and a farm at the end of a muddy dirt road in a remote corner of Cuba. As an adult, I studied agronomy and botany, then changed directions after taking a creative writing seminar from Tomás Rivera. At first, I was dizzy with joy every time one of my haiku was accepted by an obscure literary journal, or one of my opinion columns was published by Hispanic Link News Service. Miguel'sBraveKnight.MargaritaEngleWhen I wrote novels for grownups, one reviewer accused my fiction of being too poetic. It was intended as criticism, but it felt like praise. Writing is an adventure. I needed to explore. I returned to my poetic roots, eventually discovering young adult verse novels.

After writing The Poet Slave of Cuba, I never returned to prose. In fact, at this point in my life, I only veer away from poetry when I’m asked to do a guest blog or interview, and even then, I find myself wishing I could answer prose questions in verse.
Why? Because poetry makes me happy. I could say that I choose verse in order to offer a welcoming expanse of white space to reluctant readers, and that would be true. I could add the fact that verse novels allow me to distill complex historical situations down to their emotional essence, and that would also be true. Some people might want to know about various awards, a Newbery Honor, multiple Pura Belpré Medals, Américas Awards, a Golden Kite, the Charlotte Zolotow Medal. Yes, it’s true, all those highlights of my writing life were received by verse novels, a verse memoir, and a poetic picture book, ForestWorldMargaritaEngleand as much as I treasure them, they are not my reason for devoting my life to poetry. I choose verse because no matter how much rage and resistance is encompassed by my stories of social justice, I feel peaceful whenever I have
a chance to communicate with young readers in rhythmic language, trying to offer them the beauty and hope they deserve, because they are adventurers, eager to explore.

Margarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She 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 recipient. 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. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She lives in central California with her husband, and continues to visit Cuba as often as she can. Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World. Visit Margarita at her website.

Kantor, Emma. (2017, May 16). Margarita Engle Named Young People’s Poet Laureate. Retrieved from:

Destiny Calling, or How SCBWI Happened

Ever wonder how SCBWI started? You may know Lin Oliver and Steven Mooser co-founded the organization over 40 years ago, but do you know why? 

SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver

It all started with a job Lin didn’t want…and a bit of destiny.

Read David Henry Sterry’s full article and interview with Lin that appeared in The Huffington Post last June.

David Henry Sterry, “Lin Oliver on Founding the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators,” The Huffington Post (blog), June 23, 2016,

How I Got My Agent by Linda Whalen

Sitting by the phone, my nerves running wild, I double check the prepared list. I’ve checked it at least a hundred times. Maybe not a hundred but it feels that way.

  • Make sure dogs are in another room (no barking)—check

    Linda Whalen
  • Glass of water in case throat goes dry—check
  • Notepad and pencil—check
  • Ask family not to interrupt—check

The phone rings and my heart does a flip.

Now, let me back up a bit. When I first started to explore writing for children, I didn’t even know I needed an agent. Thankfully, I followed the advice of my children and got on the computer. I typed “writing for children” in the search bar. Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators came up. Sometimes it pays to listen to your children. An SCBWI conference was being held not too far from where I lived. I admit I was kind of scared to go, but my desire to be a children’s book author was stronger. Conference registration in hand, off I went.

At the conference there were so many people wanting to write for children, writing for children, illustrating for children, publishing books for children, and agents representing children’s book authors and Illustrators. Besides being a mother, my profession as owner/operator of a Child Care Facility carried with it a great love for children. These people loved children, too. I was right at home. However, was I good enough? After all there were so many good authors already. Self-doubt tried to sneak in.

I signed up for critiques, attended more conferences and workshops. Getting to know and appreciate the creativeness and willingness of SCBWI members to help newbies (like me) was a wonderful experience.

It was at one such conference that I met Suzy Williams, the RA for Reno, NV. There were no critique groups in my area, so she steered me to local author Linda Joy Singleton, who in turn introduced me to Danna Smith. They became my critique group plus so much more. By then I had learned the etiquette of looking for an agent from a conference speaker.

  • Be polite and do your research.
  • Don’t take it personally when rejected.
  • Don’t post angry feelings on social media about the agent who rejected you.
  • Don’t ask your friends to recommend you to their agent.

I learned to take rejection as a learning experience and not a career stopper. Because I followed what I’d learned, when one of my writer friends, Linda Joy Singleton, ran into agent Karen Grencik at a conference, she recommended Karen contact me as she thought we would be a good fit. Within a few days Karen had emailed me asking for two Picture Book manuscripts of my work. Linda Joy informed me of her recommendation to Karen and after researching and contacting some of Karen’s clients, I agreed.

There is a lot of good advice out there for finding an agent. You have put in the work—and eventually the right connection is made. No one likes rejection and some of the best things we can do are hone our craft, take advice, learn from speakers, and always take some time to relax. We need to let our creative side flow and not be hindered by the business side of writing.

I believe if you don’t turn away from your love of writing and keep trying to find the right agent you will be able to announce your book sale, like I was with the sale of Little Red Rolls Away.

It may take longer, like it did for me, or might happen sooner, but either way I do believe it will happen.

And so that brings us back to the beginning.

“Hello, this is Karen Grencik. May I please speak with Linda?”

All the right answers and several minutes later, I had an agent. Yay!

Linda will be a featured author at the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca on October 14, and has two book launch signings coming up, details listed below.
May 21, 11:00 am-1:00 pm   
El Dorado Hills, CA
June 3,  1:00 pm
Davis, CA

little-red-rolls-away-linda-whalen-pbWhen Little Red Barn wakes one morning he finds his animal friends have gone. He’s empty and alone. And then big noisy machines lift him up and put him on truck. As Little Red is transported across the countryside, down a major river, and through city streets, he feels anxious and a little afraid. Where is he going? Who will be there when he reaches his destination?

When Little Red does finally reach his new home in a surprising location, he finds things are even better than before. The story of the little red barn’s relocation and adjustment to a new place will reassure and comfort young readers facing changes in their own lives.

Linda Whalen lives with her husband on a plot of land in Northern California. Born a city kid, she married a farm boy from the midwest and fell in love with country life. Surrounded by family, pets, and bunches of wild creatures, life is never dull. After working in and owning her own childcare facility, Linda now pursues her passion of writing for children. She also enjoys time spent with her art supplies. Visit her at

Good News!

goodnewsCongratulations to member Jed Alexander! Jed’s new book, Red, was acquired by Amy Novesky at Cameron + Company and will be published in the spring of 2018. Red is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood and is the first in a series of wordless retellings of classic fairy tales for young children. The deal was made by Jed’s agent, Abigail Samoun at Red Fox Literary. I first learned of Jed’s new success when I read the announcement in the 11/17/16 Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf. Way to go, Jed!

I asked Jed to share his inspiration for the new book and a bit about his journey to publication for this manuscript/series:

I’ve always been interested in the universality of wordless narrative—the idea that anybody can pick up the book and connect with it. This was the inspiration for my first book, funded through Kickstarter, (Mostly) Wordless.

Red, though, started as a mailer. A short, condensed, wordless version of Little Red Riding

Jed Alexander

Hood in a two-color trifold mailer. In the story, Little Red Riding Hood is confronted by a very menacing looking wolf. Later we find that the wolf is stalling Little Red, while grandma and the other animals in the forest are preparing a birthday party for her. My agent, Abigail Samoun, liked the mailer so much she suggested I turn it into a book.

So, unconventionally, I decided to draw the whole book instead of a dummy. I’d submitted book dummy after book dummy, and it was time. It was the same with (Mostly) Wordless, which was eventually picked up by the publisher, Alternative Comics. I’m in this to make books, not book proposals, and so that’s what I did. And I very much recommend it.

We’re told over and over, “That’s not how it works, don’t send the publisher a completed project, they won’t be interested.” But my background in small press comics informed me otherwise. When I was doing small press comics, people made books. You submitted a completed project, or you published it yourself, and in small press comics, self-publishing had no stigma attached to it. Whether is was photocopied or conventionally printed, if it looked good, people bought it. You might not have had many readers, but you had readers. And this is often still how it’s done. This is how Raina Telgemeier started. Before Smile she was doing photocopied ‘zines. That’s how she got the attention of Scholastic and was commissioned to do the Babysitter’s Club series.

I’m not saying I’ve given up on the conventional submission process. I’m just saying there’s only so long I’m willing to wait. And if you want to make a book, nothing’s stopping you.

So I finished the book, which I called “Red,” along with covers for two other prospective books in the series, “Yellow” and “Blue,” all based on fairy tales and designed for a two-color format. Abi took it to New York. Nobody was interested. Wordless books weren’t selling. Or that was one of the reasons they sited. I try not to think too hard about why a book is rejected. All I can do is do the best work I can. The fact is nobody knows what sells or why it sells. Not editors or publishers. If they had that magic formula, every book they published would be a bestseller and there would be no midlist books or failures.

My agent and I had already established a relationship with Cameron + Company, and Amy Novesky had shown interest in expanding one of the short pieces in (Mostly) Wordless into a full-length picture book. I’d put together a dummy, but ultimately they passed. Still, Amy really liked my work, and asked, “Do you have anything else, particularly with animals?”  And I said, “Of course I do.” I sent her Red. She got back the same day. She said she loved it, and asked if I had any ideas for a “Green.”

An excerpt illustration from Red

Eventually, Amy and the rest of the fine folks at Cameron + Company asked me to expand my little 24-page square book to a more conventional 32-page 7×10 format. This required me to redraw most of the book, but I’m glad for the opportunity to improve it. It’s going to look great!

What I particularly like about the concept of Red is that even the title is universal. The whole series is designed for very young children. I’d love to have them say, “I want the red one,” or “I want the yellow one,” and that could be “red” or “yellow” in any language. The story is all told in pantomime. This too comes from my background in comics, in which so much of the story has to be communicated with attitude and body language. Other influences are turn of the century books by Wilhelm Busch, and Rodolfe Topffer, which also rely very much on pantomime.

I think more than ever, right now we have to ask ourselves as artists—what is the value of what we’re doing? What am I adding here? And that’s why I think wordless books are so important, because any kid can connect with any other kid through a book like this, or see themselves in it. And in a culture where we have so many other barriers beyond just language, we need as much common ground as we can get.

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, Spongebob Comics, and Cricket Magazine as both an author and illustrator. Find out more about Jed at

What Motivates Us? by Josh Nash

I recently read the following quote: “Insecurity breeds quality.” Is that true? And no, not the kind of insecurity where you worry that your nostrils are bigger than everybody else’s (for example). The quote in question comes from Don Robinson, the editor of a small WWII infantry division newspaper, for whom “insecurity” meant the constant fear of the paper being shut down, which in turn pushed his work to the highest standard of quality. It really got me thinking. What is it that motivates us as illustrators to create and achieve great things with our art? There are undoubtedly countless causes for motivation—probably as many as there are illustrators. But I am one illustrator, and I can think of a few.

One good motivator is having a goal, a brass ring to reach for. My wife would very much

Josh Nash

like to win the lottery. Which would be really great for me. I could finally put that animatronic jungle cruise in the backyard, and she could finally build those schools in Africa or whatever. But if I really think about it, a winning lottery ticket for me would look a bit different. For me, it would be walking into my local independent bookstore, and seeing a book I made, wrapped in a shiny, beautifully designed dust jacket, spread across the lap of mom and child as they lose themselves in the magic of storytelling. Eventually they buy 24 copies and pass them out to friends, family, grocery clerks, mail carriers and random motorists waiting at red lights. What does your winning lottery ticket look like? What is your brass ring?

Competition motivates. I look at art by Marla Frazee and Adam Rex and I see a level of intention and excellence that is so inspiring. So inspiring that it makes me want to run straight to my studio, close the door, tear my current work into confetti-sized pieces, toss it into the air and let it rain over me in a shower of ordinary. But just before I go in for such dramatics, I remember that if I want to make great art, my competition is the place to look for inspiration. There are vast amounts of talent among the throbbing mob of hopeful illustrators just waiting to be tested, dying to be published. And we can learn so much from each other. Though, I find it very motivating to turn to the illustrators at the top of the heap as well. These are the artists who are making amazing books, and theirs is the level of excellence I strive for in my art.
Closely tied to that sense of competition is the desire to improve, which is also a strong motivator. How many times have you completed a work of illustration and compared it to that first vision you had in our mind? How many times has that initial vision eluded you? When you realize that the only way to improve is to keep working, you can turn that into a kind of purpose. A working mantra.
Another catalyst for improvement is critique. I have found that the most valuable critiques come from the professionals in the industry. SCBWI conferences are obviously a great place to sit down with an art director, agent, or professional illustrator and say “Please look at the very embodiment of my naked soul which I have delivered onto page from the absolute furthest reaches of my ability and do please indicate in the most precise language possible, just how I have fallen short.” I have also come by great critiques by following Penguin Random House Executive Art Director, Giuseppe Castellano on twitter (@pinocastellano). Giusseppe will periodically offer twitter crits in 140 characters or less. I was happy for the benefit of his expertise on one particular piece I was working on. He pointed out to me that it could certainly use a splash or two of color throughout. I took his advice and I think the illustration is better for it.
Finally, it seems to me that there is one motivator that ensures all others—the need to create. We would not even be discussing these subtler instruments of motivation were it not for the very need we feel deep in our bones to make art! This is the same need that, when neglected, can make us feel cranky and out of sorts, kind of like skipping breakfast—only imagine breakfast contains all the essential soul-sustaining minerals and life-affirming vitamins a healthy body requires.

Whatever it is that motivates you to create, be it a brass ring, or simply an innate need, keep letting it push you to achieve greatness with your art. It may even lead to a winning lottery ticket—whatever that might look like to you.

Josh is 50% eraser shavings, 50% animal cookies and 50% Café Americano. Josh is also horrible at math but he loves to draw. Josh has been drawing professionally since 2004 and has done so for the nice folks at Scholastic, Hooked on Phonics, and singer-song writer Kenny Loggins. When he isn’t drawing he can be found enjoying beautiful Northern California with his wife and dog, traveling to a rainy European city, reading a book or doing any number of activities that don’t require math. He may also be busy writing his own stories, querying agents, or working on a new board book for Beacon Publishing.

Visit Josh at joshuanashillustratesFacebook, and Twitter.

Spring Spirit 2017 Summaries

With an inspiring keynote by Grace Lin, professional head shots available for the first time, and a fantastic panel on diversity, 2017’s Spring Spirit was great. And that doesn’t even include all the other sessions, the networking, or the manuscript critiques that happened throughout the day. If you missed it, you missed a lot. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below you can find summaries from volunteer members who attended each session and agreed to steward for the region. Thanks everyone!

And if you were at Spring Spirit, don’t forget to fill out the survey. USE THE LINK, not the email (or you’ll have to fill out the form twice—like me). The link will be live until April 17th.


Pitch Perfect: Finding Your Novel’s Voice with Peter Knapp by Martha Longshore

Peter Knapp acknowledged that voice is elusive if you come at it from every angle at once. He suggested that a character’s relationship to time is a useful angle for creating immediacy in your book and for developing voice. He also offered some questions to ask of your character, such as What future event is your character not prepared for? What does your character anticipate and what does he/she dread? What is your character proud of and what does he/she regret? What does your character think of as temporary and as permanent, and how is he/she right or wrong about those assumptions?


Exploring the Unexpected in Picture Books with Amy Fitzgerald by Shirley Espada-Richey

Amy encouraged us to avoid copying cool approaches you see others use. Instead, innovate with a purpose/goal, not just for the sake of being different. Think outside the box; there are stories, experiences and perspectives that are worth exploring, and be prepared to fail and try something else.


The Whole Submission Package: From Researching Agents to Signing With One with Beth Phelan by Sally Spratt

When submitting a query letter it’s important to establish your main character at the start.  State their goals, the escalating conflict, what’s pushing them.  Don’t give away the climax, you want to entice the agent or editor to read.


Public Speaking for the Introverted with Grace Lin by Joanna Rowland

She had us think about these questions:
What do you want to share about your work? and What does your audience want to hear? She told us to write like we’d talk for speeches: with short sentences, contractions, and small words. And, she told us to forget grammar. 😉
Also, she suggested using visuals like in a power point. She advised making sure our speech has a beginning hook, a middle and an end. And to make sure there’s an emotional arch and we tie it together at the end.
She suggested talking about your books in a way that no one else can.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols: Enriching your Draft with Kate Sullivan by Suzi Guina
Kate gave writers tips on how to get to the emotional core of our stories using theme, symbolism, and motifs. One way to find the theme in our stories is to ask ourselves what our story is about, not plot-wise, but emotionally. And Kate reminded us that theme should be more than one word. Our theme wouldn’t be death, but it could be we can learn from death. Symbolism and motifs help distill our theme and enrich our stories.

An Editor and Art Director Panel with Amy Fitzgerald and Pamela Notarantonio by J.D. Silverwood

Amy Fitzgerald and Pamela Notarantonio shared the process from submission to publication, including: revisions, pagination, art direction, artist selection, revisions, final proofs, etc. The panel was open to audience participation in an open and honest discussion about what publishers are looking to buy.

An Agent Panel with Peter Knapp and Beth Phelan by Karen McCoy

The author/agent relationship can be built on many things, such as the way an author approaches craft, the agent’s strategy, and the way feedback is exchanged, but most importantly, it needs to rely on trust from both sides.

Finding the Heart in your Non-Fiction with Patricia Newman by Louis Arredondo

In the “Finding the Heart in your Non-Fiction” workshop, author Patricia Newman presented the awesome fact that nonfiction does not have to be dry and boring. Examples of her own exciting nonfiction writing include the now classic Plastic, Ahoy! and the recently published Sea Otter Heroes. Here are some of Patricia’s inspiring facts for nonfiction writers: We still try to put a lot of heart and feeling into nonfiction; stories that can still tug at the heart. Facts about things that matters; stories about people!


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!

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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: