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.
Claire Ward-Dutton is a web designer, a mother, and the founder of Little Parachutes, a website that finds and categorizes picture books that help children with some of life’s challenges. She was kind enough to take 5 minutes and answer a few questions!
1. What is Little Parachutes?
Little Parachutes is a website which provides a unique and simple way to search for picture books that address situations and issues that young children experience. By browsing the Little Parachutes library you can quickly find stories which feature subjects such as sharing, moving house, potty training, eating healthy and visiting the doctor. Also included are more challenging situations such as bereavement, adoption, divorce and serious illness in the family.
2. How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Little Parachutes came to me at the time my son (who was then a toddler) started to be frightened at bedtime, claiming there were ‘monsters under the bed.’ He has always been comforted and entertained by picture books, so I instinctively started searching for a story that I thought might address his fears. I quickly realized, despite the fact that there is an abundance of picture books published which cover situations and issues affecting the very young, they are often very tricky to find.
As an adult facing a problem, we tend to browse for titles, and these titles invariably describe the problem (eg, ‘Coping With Divorce’). This searching method simply doesn’t work with children’s picture books , which often have completely abstract, unrelated titles (such as ‘The Last Noo Noo’ by Gill Murphy, which is a story about a little monster giving up his dummy, but you wouldn’t guess this from the title!) Even if you do ‘get lucky’ and find a title that gives you a clue to the content within, it is often still very hard to ascertain whether the story is suitable for a child’s particular situation (book publishers rarely provide a full synopsis of fiction books—adults don’t want to know what happens at the end of the story—but this is often vital if you are trying to judge the suitability of a picture book.)
So I embarqued on a journey to provide a service which would soothe this particular headache and Little Parachutes was born.
3. What’s the most interesting or unusual experience you’ve had establishing the site?
Something quite interesting and unusual about Little Parachutes is that it was built, and continues to run, on no budget whatsoever. My husband and I used our web development backgrounds to design and build the site. Friends and family were enormously generous with their time and helped to review books, write articles, and provide illustrations and other expertise. Despite the lack of budget, it has had millions of visitors from all over the world and seems to do the job it was intended for!
4. How much of an impact is Little Parachutes having? Are you getting much feedback?
The feedback I get is overwhelmingly positive. I get a lot of emails from parents and carers telling me how books they have found through the website have helped a child who is going through really troubling times. It is a great honour to be able to have a positive impact in situations such as these. I also get lots of inquiries from authors and illustrators who think their book might be a good match to the website and a good deal of book theme suggestions!
5. How can authors, illustrators, or publishers let you know of a book that should be listed on Little Parachutes?
I’m in the process of re-designing the website to include more submission guidelines, this is coming soon, but in the meantime you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there such a thing as a ‘girl’s book’ or a ‘boy’s book’? Not according to Shannon Hale, author of The Princess in Black series, and her fiery keynote at the 2015 SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in LA where she encouraged ending this common distinction. In addition, the conversation around gender norms, and who gets to decide what they are, continues to be at the forefront of social discourse. And while some readers have always seen covert LGBTQ undertones in classic characters like Harriet the Spy, Ferdinand the Bull, and Pippi Longstocking (among others), the reference to being other than heteronormative, along with the movement itself, is coming out. Some industry professionals are paying attention.
Literary critic and University of California–San Diego professor Seth Lerer discusses the history of children’s books, the invention of YA, and the transformation from Newbery’s morality tales to the subversion and playfulness of our time with Slate correspondent Katy Waldman.
If you haven’t seen this amazing resource, created and maintained by editor Harold Underdown, you’re missing out. Not only does Underdown list information on staff changes in the publishing world, but he orders it by date and color codes it, too. (I know, right?) As he states, “The latest information is added at the top. Companies losing or laying off staff are coded in red, while those adding staff or filling vacancies are in green.”
Great stuff, right? There’s even more. Imprints! New imprints are listed as well, with hotlinks for more information. Once you’ve gotten all you can from that page, click around the whole site. There’s a TON of good information. This is big, people! BIG! What are you still doing here? You have work to do!
Harold Underdown, “Who’s Moving Where? News and Staff Changes at Children’s Book Publishers,” Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children’s Books: The Purple Crayon (blog), May 2017, http://www.underdown.org/chchange.htm.
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
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.