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.
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.
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 possible 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. When 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, and 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.
I asked Gayle to share her inspiration for the new book and a bit about her journey to publication for this manuscript. Take it away, Gayle!
In 2012, I started working on a research project that explored the lives of LGBT/queer people who existed on the edges of their communities in some way—because of their race, their age, their gender status, their disability, or other factors. I interviewed about a dozen people, one of whom was Phyllis Lyon. I don’t think most people know Phyllis’ story, but she and Del Martin were like the goddesses of the San Francisco lesbian community. I got her number out of the phone book (who uses the phone book anymore?), but I put off calling her for weeks. What would I say? It sounds so ridiculous now, but I felt like a groupie who feared rejection from her favorite rock star. Finally I called her. She answered the phone on the first ring, and within two and a half minutes we had an interview scheduled for later that week. Just like that!
Phyllis’ house is located near the top of Castro Street in San Francisco, which
I think is so richly symbolic. But the inside of her home held even more power for me. Her house is tiny—maybe about 700 square feet—but the panoramic view of San Francisco from her living room window is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. During our interview, I learned that Phyllis rarely left her home because getting around was hard for her, and it seemed so Hitchcockian and depressing to think that she spent her days cooped up in her house, looking out her window. But later, my perception of Phyllis’ experience shifted, and it occurred to me that every day, she gets to look out her window and see how she and her partner Del transformed that city. And then, I thought, “Why not write a children’s book about Phyllis and Del?” So I did. There are so few children’s picture books out there that focus on LGBT history, and it seemed like a great opportunity to help fill that need.
Journey to publication:
This is a great SCBWI story! I attended the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles for the first time in 2015, and I submitted When You Look Out the Window for a manuscript critique. I met with a Big-Time Editor (who shall remain unnamed) from one of the Big Four publishing houses (which shall also remain unnamed). She LOVED the story, and wanted my agent to make a formal submission to her! Beyond that, it was clear from the beginning that this editor and I had a lot in common. What should have been a critique session ended up being a great conversation about writing, politics, and building a career in publishing. It was an amazing experience, and a huge confidence booster for a neophyte author like myself.
Postscript: That publishing house didn’t end up buying the manuscript. The editor wanted some significant changes made, and Phyllis wasn’t comfortable with the direction the story would take as a result. Even though publishing with that house would have been a great opportunity, it felt important to me to honor what Phyllis wanted. Meanwhile, my editor at Magination Press (who published my first book, This Day in June) REALLY liked the story, and she offered me a contract! It worked out perfectly, and I learned during this process that it’s not always about getting the big contract right away. It’s about building relationships, exercising patience, and trusting the process. When You Look Out the Window is a gorgeous book, and I’m so grateful that I get to share the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin with children.
By day, Gayle E. Pitman teaches Psychology and Women/Gender Studies program at Sacramento City College. By night, Gayle writes children’s books and engages in other forms of subversive creativity. Her debut picture book, This Day in June, won the 2015 ALA Stonewall Award, was a Rainbow List Top Ten pick, and won the IRA’s 2014 Notable Books for a Global Society Award. A frequent speaker at colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and professional conferences on topics related to gender and sexual orientation, she has been featured in publications ranging from School Library Journal to The Advocate. Find more about Gayle at her website, on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.
THE YELLOW HAT SYNDROME
(Colors have been changed to protect the innocent.)
I loved my yellow hat with the little ball on top. When I saw it gleaming in a bin at a thrift shop, it called to me. “Hello! Ain’t I sunshiny!” I picked it up. No doubt, someone’s granny had crochet it. And now it would be mine. MINE!
I tried the hat on. Oh, yeah, baby! Don’t I look fine as sunshine dancing on a dewdrop! I couldn’t stop wearing it.
Then one day, my dear friend (and she’s the kind that will tell you ANYTHING) saw me wearing my bright-as-daylight find.
With eyes focused on my hat, she frowned and said, “Never wear that again. Never.”
“What? Never? You don’t like it?”
“No,” she said.
“But look at the color! And the little ball on top! And the way it slants to the side, like a French beret! You really don’t like it?”
“No. It’s…it’s… Well, it’s…ugly.”
“Ugly!” I said. “I don’t think so!” And I pulled the hat tighter around my head.
I was hurt. Offended. Angry! How dare she call ugly what I love!
I had loved it when a little girl at the grocery store peered over her mamma’s shoulder and said “Hat! Hat! Hat!” and her mother said “Haaaatt.” (Mom liked it so much, she would
craft one later. I was sure.) I loved it when at the library folks did double takes. (They liked it so much, they were trying not to stare. I could tell.) I loved it when a workmate said “A new hat, eh?” then belly-laughed. (She liked it so much, she was jealous. I knew.)
I loved it then. And I loved it still! Something was wrong with my friend (and the rest of the world) to think my hat ugly. End of story.
Little did I realize it, but I was inflicted with the YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.
On the way home, I calmed down. (It was, after all, only a hat.) And then I began to reason: Was it possible that, because I loved my hat, my objectivity about its aesthetic value was clouded? Was it possible that my hat was not all sunshine-and-skipping-through-the-meadow? Was it possible that my hat was not all that? I had to admit, it was possible. My friend did have fashion sense, the kind I never had. My friend did care about me. My friend did only try to help.
When I got home, I looked myself over and tried to see my hat through my friend’s eyes.
And it was then, and only then, that I began to rethink the yellow hat.
And you know what? I decided my head-topper needed to be removed from my wardrobe. The hat needed to be history. The hat needed to be deleted.
I’ve noticed a similar tendency in us writers. Oftentimes, when a critiquer doesn’t join us in loving what we’ve written, we tend to get defensive and dismissive. Sometimes we get fuming mad. Sometimes we hold on to what we’ve written and refuse to reevaluate its place in the manuscript. Objectivity may be obscured by our love—The YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.
Of course, a critiquer’s opinion may simply be proving the truism that one person’s ugly is another person’s beautiful. Who knows? The critiquer may simply have an aversion to the color yellow. And so, after graciously thanking them for sharing their opinion, we may decide not only to keep our yellow hat but wear it loudly. That’s what owning our own voice is all about.
Either way, viewing our work through the lens of a thoughtful critique can increase our objectivity. It can cause us to pause and ask: Is what I’ve written as beautiful as I imagine? Is my yellow hat all that? In that case, we’ll be willing to re-write, revise, re-order, or retire those yellow-hat darlings. After all, don’t we all want our manuscripts to be as sunshiny-beautiful as my yellow hat?
Dionna L. Mann, an SCBWI Mid-Atlantic PAL member since 2005, considers herself more of a re-writer than a writer. Her current work-in-progress is a nonfiction picture-book about a surrogate owl papa that has helped no less than 30 owlets pass mouse school. Dionna can be found celebrating all things kidlit at www.dionnalmann/blog.
New Adult (NA) books aren’t new, in fact the category has had its own BISAC code (FICTION/Romance/New Adult) since 2013. But what constitutes a NA book versus a YA book? Does the protagonist have to be 18-25? Is romance required? Where are the boundaries, guidelines, and limits, if any? How are readers, and writers, responding?
For an in depth discussion, and a list of books pushing the boundaries and crossing category lines, read the full piece from School Library Journal.