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1. Guest Post: Brian Anderson Collaborating with His Daughter Amy on Space Dictionary for Kids

By Brian Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Have you ever wondered why the spacecraft that carried the first U.S. astronaut into space in 1961 was named the Freedom 7? Was George Lucas already planning six prequels, or what?

When my daughter Amy turned 21 years old in July 2014, she was doing summer research in astrophysics at Baylor University. Her birthday coincided with a stargazing party at Meyer Observatory, so I offered to make a piñata and have the star party double as a birthday party.

I started making custom piñatas when Amy was five years old, and over the years her birthday party piñatas had grown increasingly elaborate.

"How about a black hole piñata," I joked. I imagined one round balloon, decorated all black. She would never agree to that.

"That'd be fantastic!"

I knew right away something was wrong. I told her nothing escapes the gravity of a black hole, not even light. It's just a black dot in space. That's when she told me about accretion disks and X-ray emissions and Hawking radiation. Apparently, I had a lot to learn about black holes, and now I also had a challenging piñata to make.


The following summer my friend and fellow Austin children's book author Christina Soontornvat told me that Prufrock Press was looking for an author to write an astronomy dictionary for kids.

Christina and I are both science educators as well as children's book authors, and she thought I'd be perfect for the job. But after the way that black hole piñata joke backfired on me the summer before, I knew I didn't know enough astronomy to write a book about it.

But I knew someone who did.

Brian & Amy--back in the day.
Amy had just graduated from college and was taking the summer off before starting graduate school in the fall.

When I suggested we write it together, her first question was the same as mine – isn't there something like this already available online for free?

Her search turned up the same thing mine had: some highly technical glossaries that were clearly not intended for kids, and a scattered collection of incomplete and sometimes incorrect astronomy glossaries for students.

My nine-year-old self was screaming at me that space-loving kids needed this book. Amy felt the same way, and agreed to help write it. We have liftoff!

We compiled a word list of about 450 terms, grouped them into five subject areas, then dived into researching and writing.

The fact that Amy understood the science content much better than I did is part of the reason our collaboration on Space Dictionary for Kids (Sourcebooks, 2016) worked so well. She brought content mastery and I brought a learner's perspective.

Together we were able to create an astronomy dictionary that's both scientifically accurate and understandable to young readers.

Collaborating with my daughter will always be one of the highlights of my writing career, and Amy taught me a lot of astronomy along the way. I finally understand retrograde motion!

I already knew quasars were the brightest objects in the universe, brighter than an entire galaxy of stars, but until I started working with Amy I never knew exactly what a quasar was. And I also learned (a little too late) that I should have offered to make Amy a black dwarf piñata instead of a black hole piñata.

Cynsational Notes

To answer the opening question, each of the Project Mercury astronauts, known collectively as the Mercury 7, was allowed to name the ship that would carry him into space, and each ship's name would end with the number 7. In addition to Freedom 7, the other Mercury spacecraft were Liberty Bell 7, Friendship 7, Aurora 7, Sigma 7, and Faith 7. If you're keeping score, you probably noticed that that was only six. To find out what happened to the seventh Mercury astronaut, flip to page 144.

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2. New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Janell Bowman on Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Janell Bowman is the first-time author of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

A Horse that can read, write, and do math?

Ridiculous! 

That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. 

Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This question ties so perfectly into my belief that there’s a piece of us in everything we write.

In 2006, I read a book about Beautiful Jim Key, authored by Mim Eichler Rivas (William Morrow 2005/Harper Paperbacks 2006). It was a given that I would be drawn to a horse book. I grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch, where life revolved around raising, training, and showing horses, and caring for the myriad livestock and other animals. I have always been an animal lover, and I know firsthand how powerful the human-animal bond can be—how the combination of time, trust, and affection can create such synergy that you can practically read each other’s minds.

Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.
That kind of relationship bonded William “Doc” Key and his horse, Beautiful Jim Key. While the horse was what drew me to the story, I was immediately awed by Doc. His greatest historical contribution was an unmistakable message about kindness, in a time of extreme racial prejudice, and brutal treatment of animals.

How could I not love the story of a man who overcame so much to make a real difference in the world?

Thanks to Doc, “Jim,” the horse, became a sort of poster child for the emerging humane movement, while Doc overcame injustices, broke racial barriers, and helped change the way people thought about and treated animals. Doc was awarded a Service to Humanity Award, and Jim was awarded a “Living Example” award.

So, back to your question, Cyn, about what inspired me to write this story—it spoke to my heart. I dived into research with zeal.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

There were a number of challenges to writing this story, but three that most stand out:

First, the research. It was claimed that Beautiful Jim Key could read, write, calculate math problems, compete in spelling bees, identify playing cards, operate a cash register, and more. I had to get to the bottom of how this could be possible.

I used the adult book as my jumping off point, but I wasn’t satisfied to rely solely on somebody else’s research.

This is a story that straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, so I read a great deal about the period, including slavery, the Reconstruction Era in the distinct regions of Tennessee, the history of the humane organizations; the related World’s Fairs, Doc’s business interests, etc.

Emotionally, the most difficult part was reading about how animals were treated in the 19th century, and, more importantly, how enslaved people were often treated with similar brutality. Only a tiny fraction of my research appears in the book’s back matter, but it all deeply affected my approach to the story.

I visited the Shelbyville (TN) Public Library and skimmed through their microfilm. Then I spent some time at the Tennessee State Archives, donning white gloves as I perused the crumbling scrapbooks from the BJK collection.

During that 2009 trip, I also visited the humble Beautiful Jim Key memorial in Shelbyville, TN, and Doc’s grave site at the Willow Mount Cemetery. (I might have shed a few sentimental tears.) We then tracked down what I think was Doc’s former property, though the house is long gone.

This kind of onsite research, along with old photos and local news accounts, allowed me to imagine the setting of Doc’s hometown. Back home, I collected binders-full of newspaper articles, playbills, and promotional booklets. Through these, I got a feel for how people thought about Doc and Jim.

And, most importantly, I found some of Doc’s explanations for how he taught the horse. What became clear was, though we may never know exactly how the horse was able to do so many remarkable things, the countless news reporters and professors who tried to prove trickery or a hoax, never found anything beyond “education.” Jim only rarely made mistakes.

Ultimately, what Doc and Jim did for the humane movement is even more significant than what the horse performed on stage.

Originally, I had planned the story for middle grade audiences until my agent (who wasn’t my agent yet) suggested that I try a picture book version. I already had half of the chapters written by this time, so I was aghast at the thought of starting over. And I didn’t know how to write a picture book biography. I spent the next two years analyzing and dissecting a couple hundred picture book biographies to figure out how they work.

I decided to blog about some of my craft observations, using the platform as a quasi-classroom for myself and anyone else who might happen upon my site.

Many, many, many drafts later, I had a manuscript that attracted the attention of a few editors. Lee and Low was the perfect home for Doc and Jim.

There was a built-in challenge in writing this story about a formerly-enslaved African American man. Because I don’t fit any of Doc’s descriptors, it was doubly important that I approach the subject with respect and sensitivity.

I couldn’t merely charge through with the mindset that I’m just the historian sharing documented facts.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

It is so exciting to finally be crossing the threshold into this new role. The past nine years, which is how long I’ve had the story in my head and in my heart, have felt like the longest-ever pregnancy.

There’s a mixture of joy, relief, and fear during this delivery stage. Fortunately, so far, very nice starred reviews have praised the book, and each reviewer wisely sings the praises of Daniel Minter’s spectacular lino-cut acrylic art.

As I think ahead to marketing and promotion, I’m planning for the Oct. 15 release, the Oct. 23 launch party, and how the book might raise awareness of the need for more kindness in the world—not only toward animals but toward each other.

From my very first draft, nine years ago, I knew I’d revive the original Beautiful Jim Key Pledge—originally signed by two million people during Doc and Jim’s time.

I plan to incorporate the pledge into my author presentations, and it will be downloadable from my website soon. I also hope to align with some humane organizations to help them raise awareness.

I have two more books under contract, several others on submission or in revision, and a novel-in-progress.

In 2018, Peachtree Publishers will release En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, followed in 2019 by King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.

Such is the author’s life, right? We write, we rewrite, we revise, we sell, we wait, we celebrate, then we do it all over again. Because we can’t imagine not writing something that moves us. And we can’t imagine not writing for young people.

Cynsational Giveaway

Book Launch! Join Donna Janell Bowman at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Donna will be speaking and signing.

Fundraiser: Step Right Up and Help The Rescued Horses of Bluebonnet Equine Human Society: "They are horses, donkeys, and ponies that are helpless and hopeless. And they are hurting. The lucky ones land at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Under the loving care of professional staff and volunteers, the animals are medically and nutritionally rehabilitated, then placed with trainers to prepare them for re-homing/adoption." See also Interview: Step Right Up Author Donna Janell Bowman by Terry Pierce from Emu's Debuts.

Enter to win two author-signed copies of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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3. Don, Tom, and me

Don Tate, Tom Lichtenheld, Chris Barton

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel at last month’s Austin SCBWI conference with illustrators Don Tate (shown on the left) and Tom Lichtenheld (the guy in the middle). If those names sound familiar, it’s because I’ve created a book with each of them.

In fact…

Today (no fooling) is the publication date not only of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which Don illustrated, but also of the board book version of the Tom-illustrated Shark Vs. Train. Both books give readers something to chew on — one figuratively, one literally — so if you know someone with a big appetite for something new to read, won’t you please keep these in mind?

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4. New Voice & Giveaway: Paige Britt on The Lost Track of Time

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Paige Brittis the first-time author of The Lost Track of Time, illustrated by Lee White (Scholastic, 2015). From the promotional copy:

A magical fantasy, an allegorical cautionary tale, a feast of language, a celebration of creativity--this dazzling debut novel is poised to become a story for the ages.

Penelope is running out of time.

She dreams of being a writer, but how can she pursue her passion when her mother schedules every minute of her life? And how will she ever prove that writing is worthwhile if her mother keeps telling her to "get busy " and "be more productive"?

Then one day, Penelope discovers a hole in her schedule--an entire day completely unplanned --and she mysteriously falls into it. 

What follows is a mesmerizing journey through the Realm of Possibility where Penelope sets out to find and free the Great Moodler, the one person who may have the answers she seeks. Along the way, she must face an army of Clockworkers, battle the evil Chronos, take a daring Flight of Fancy, and save herself from the grip of time.

Brimming with clever language and masterful wordplay, The Lost Track of Time is a high-stakes adventure that will take you to a place where nothing is impossible and every minute doesn't count--people do.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Jill Santopolo
I absolutely do have a most memorable workshop! It was actually one you gave in 2008 with Jill Santopolo, author and editor at Philomel Books. Even though it was over seven years ago, I’ve never forgotten it.

The workshop was organized by the Austin SCBWI and hosted by Debbie Gonzales, who was regional advisor at the time.

To register, you had to submit three pages of a work-in-progress. A few weeks before the event, everyone received a packet with copies of all the three-page submissions. Then during the workshop, you and Jill went through each submission and discussed it with the entire group.

You were both kind and encouraging, but also very honest. Jill told us that editors were looking for a reason to say “no” when they read a manuscript. Together you discussed each submission and pointed out the potential “no’s.” Meandering openings, overly long backstory, and hazy plot lines were the most common mistakes.

Even though what you had to say was tough, it was clear you were invested in everyone’s success. You wanted to turn those no’s into yes’s.

Here’s the funny thing. I didn’t even submit my three pages. I registered too late to be a part of the critique, but I went to the workshop anyway. And I’m so glad I did! After the workshop I went home, re-read my three pages, and guess what? They were meandering, “explain-y,” and vague. But because of your input, I could see it. And if I could see it, I could fix it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Debbie Gonzales
The Lost Track of Time opens with an alarm clock going off, “Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.” It’s 6 a.m. and even though it’s summer vacation, the main character, Penelope, has to get up and get busy. Right from the start, you know that the central conflict in the story is time.

I did that because of what I learned from you and Jill.

After I fixed my first chapter, I submitted it to two conferences and had sit-down conversations with agents at both. The first agent asked for thirty more pages and the second one, Marietta B. Zacker, signed me. There is absolutely no way that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that workshop. I’ve always wanted to tell you and Jill how much you helped me!

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

From the beginning, I knew The Lost Track of Time was intimately connected to real-world issues. When I started writing it, I was working for an internet startup. I was constantly on the clock, from morning until night and over the weekends, trying to make the company a success. Everyone was fighting for more time—but no matter what we did, there was never enough. And what time we did have, had to be spent Constantly! Achieving! Results!

Not surprisingly, The Lost Track of Time is about a girl who likes to do nothing. Doing nothing seemed to me like a radical and counter-cultural act. I’m not talking about the nothing where you lie around flipping through TV channels because you’re too exhausted to engage in life.

I’m talking about moodling.

I learned about moodling from Brenda Ueland in her book, If You Want to Write. She writes:

“The imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” 

I agree. When you moodle, you’re quiet, still, and (horrors!) unproductive. You let your mind wander until it becomes calm and curious and open. It’s a space of quiet contemplation and intense creativity.

During this busy time in my life, I had no time for quiet contemplation. But when I discovered Brenda Ueland’s words, I suddenly felt I had permission to sit, stare out the window, and moodle. Not only did I have permission, it was imperative that I do so if I wanted to let my own ideas and stories to “develop and gently shine.”

Ueland’s encouragement that everyone moodle touched me so deeply that she inspired a character in my book. She’s the Great Moodler and Penelope fights the tyranny of Chronos and his Clockworkers to save her from banishment in the Realm of Possibility.

As Penelope faces each trial with both imagination and courage, she moves from being an insecure, apologetic daydreamer to a great moodler in her own right.

Paige Britt
Research shows a marked decline in U.S. children’s creativity, due to a lack of unstructured free time to play and, I would say, to moodle.

This is terrible news! Not just because creativity is wonderful and life-giving, but because it’s the best predictor we have of a child’s future success, not just in the realms of art and literature, but in the world of business, science, and technology, too.

I’m not sure if you can teach creativity, but I do think you can encourage it. And that’s what I wanted to do in The Lost Track of Time.

I wanted to hold up moodlers as heroes.

Not because they can wield a sword, but because they dare, like Penelope, to enter the Realm of Possibility—to live in the present, to be creative and contemplative, and to believe anything is possible.

Paige's desk


Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt, illustrated by Lee White (Scholastic, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligible territory: U.S. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5. Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Turning The Bright Idea Of Creating A Legacy Award Into A Reality

Betty with the 2016 award recipients
By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bright ideas are wonderful things. They spark imagination, energy, and excitement. That’s good, right?

Executing ideas and fulfilling their promise takes a lot of hard work. The more excitement the better because, along the way, you will learn a lot and some of that knowledge will be hard won.

In 2012, I had a bright idea to create an award in honor of the oldest member of Austin SCBWI community: Betty X. Davis who, at the time, was a stalwart ninety-six years old. She joined the first year Austin started an SCBWI chapter twenty years ago. She has cheered and supported all of us at our book launches, read manuscripts for school writing contests and been a thoughtful critique partner.

Really, in terms of support, Betty X. Davis is a pillar of our community. Why not create an award in her honor? I had never done it before but how hard could it be? People do it all the time, right?

By the time you finish reading this post, hopefully, you will be a whole lot smarter about creating honorary awards.

Maya, grade 3
Because I knew Betty would definitely have an opinion about this award, I took her out to lunch. I will admit that I had my own notion about what this award should be. I wanted to offer a scholarship in her honor to, say, a writing retreat or an SCBWI conference or workshop.

“Boring,” she said and dismissed my idea with a wave of her hand. Then she leaned in, “But I will tell you what I would like.”

Uh-oh. I knew right then that whatever came out of Betty’s mouth was going to have to happen. After all, it’s an award to honor her, right? Now I would have to obey her wishes.

What Betty wanted was an annual writing contest for youngsters. You see, what is important to Betty is encouraging young people to write. She believes that a love of writing and reading is essential to a well-lived life. If people wrote more letters to the newspaper, the world would be a better place. If people wrote kind thoughts to one another, the world would be a better place. If people wrote good books with exciting characters, the world would be a better place.

So for Betty, creating a contest that would encourage young people to write and award them for their efforts was absolutely essential.

Frankly, this idea looked like a lot of work: creating a submission system, reading manuscripts, choosing winners. The Austin SCBWI membership is entirely volunteer-based. We are writers and illustrators and many of us have day jobs and families.

Creating a contest looked like a big job that no one, including me, had time to execute. But I knew I wasn’t going to walk away from that lunch without saying yes to her.

While I was feeling a little daunted, Debbie Gonzales, the Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time, jumped in. “No problem. Let’s find an organization which already has a strong outreach with kids and who can easily corral the submissions.”

Fortunately Austin has two very good organizations which fit that description: BadgerDog and Creative Action. Both were willing.

“Partnering with like-minded organizations not only builds community,” says Debbie. “It ignites enthusiasm with the donors and creates a domino-effect of good will.”

With Debbie as my partner in award creation, we turned our attention to funding the award. What would the contest winners receive for their efforts? And who was the contest open to? Even if we gave a blue ribbon and a certificate to the winners, these items cost money.

Austin SCBWI is not a wealthy organization. It couldn’t fund an annual reward. It has to be self-supporting. Fortunately, Betty has a large loving and supportive family and they were willing to seed the award for five years.

“No matter how much trouble it takes to establish an award like Betty’s Young Writers of Merit Award,” says Debbie. “It is worth every turn and twist along the way because young lives are changed when their voices are recognized and celebrated.”

Gabrielle, grade 11
Once we had the seed money commitment, it was time to get busy implementing the award. We joined forces with Creative Action, which has a huge presence in Central Texas schools. Currently they employ eighty teaching artists and serve sixty five schools in three districts. They reach twenty thousand students in forty elementary schools, eleven middle schools and fourteen high schools.

We decided to give an award to one student at each of these school levels: elementary, middle and high school. The three winners would each receive a personalized writing journal and a certificate. The elementary and middle school winners would receive a gift certificate to BookPeople, Austin’s independent bookstore, and the high school winner would receive $500 upon matriculation to college.

Betty was not keen to attach a monetary prize to the award. The journals, gift certificates were fine. But money? “What did money have to do with the joy of writing?” she wondered.

I convinced her that a monetary award to a high school senior on their way to college, would be really meaningful and give the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award a bit of heft and prestige.

“Oh I suppose that’s all right,” she said.

From that initial lunch with Betty to the first presentation of the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award at the annual Austin SCBWI conference took seven months. It was fast but bright ideas can have a limited shelf life. They need to be acted on when the enthusiasm is high.

Current Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor Samantha Clark agrees, “It's a lot of work to put these awards together, and it makes it a lot easier if you're really dedicated because you believe in what you're doing.”

Samantha has been instrumental in getting information about the award up on Austin SCBWI website, creating a donation button making it super easy to contribute and thanking all of the donors.

For the past three years, Betty X. Davis has presented the Young Writers of Merit Award to a diverse group of students from a wide variety of schools, including Austin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Garza Independent High School, Westlake High.

This year, at one hundred years young, she will present the elementary award to Maya McNeil, a third grader at Ridgetop Elementary; Keelin Bell a sixth grader at Dailey Middle School and Gabrielle Lewis, a junior at Meridian High School. Once again thanks to the vision of Betty X Davis, young writers will have their voices recognized and celebrated.


Finally, here is quick list of helpful things to remember if you wish to create an award in someone’s honor. Thanks to writer Sarah Azibo for contribution to the list.

Her expertise in this area comes creating many such awards both on her own and through the Denver Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise, which helps set up legacy gifts as well as provide a not for profit tax umbrella.

The Austin counterpart is the Live Oak Foundation. Many cities have these foundations.

Keelin, grade 6
  • Secure seed money for the award. It takes a while to build momentum until people remember to give on their own. If you are creating a mentorship award, secure commitments for a few years of mentoring.
  • Take time to develop a strategy for the fund.
  • Create a tracking system to manage donations.
  • Designate one person (a bit removed if fund is in memory of a dear one) to be the administrator of the fund.
  • Determine who, what, when, where funds are given as specifically as possible from the start.
  • Envision ways to keep the fund alive and actively growing with continued donations.
  • If it’s not managed through an organization, set-up a separate checking account for the fund.
  • Title the fund so that people know who and what it supports.
  • Thank all donors with a personal touch.
  • Never toil in isolation. If your award is meant to benefit a group of people, reach out to other organizations, which can share the labor and the benefits.
Cynsational Notes

Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author from Cynsations. Peek: "Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel--all of those teachers showed up."

Photographs by Sam Bond Photography; used with permission.

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6. Book Trailer: Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker (Feiwel & Friends, 2016). From the promotional copy:

High school meets classic horror in Teen Frankenstein, Chandler Baker's modern re-imagining of Mary Shelley's gothic novel.

It was a dark and stormy night when Tor Frankenstein accidentally hits someone with her car. And kills him. 

But, all is not lost―Tor, being the scientific genius she is, brings him back to life...

Thus begins a twisty, turn-y take on a familiar tale, set in the town of Hollow Pines, Texas, where high school is truly horrifying.

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7. Book Goings On

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople.  The title of my talk was "The Impossible and the Improbable and Willing Suspension of Disbelief in Science Fiction and Fantasy."  The talk generally covered, among other things, the fact that reality is not realistic, and the discussion ranged from survival cannibalism to the Titanic to time travel in CHRONAL ENGINE.  A version of the speech will appear in this fall's Hunger Mountain.  If you're not already reading it, you should :-).

After a brief interlude, we celebrated the launch of IT JES' HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW (Lee and Low, 2012) with author Don Tate.  He provided the background of the book and how he and illustrator R. Gregory Christie interpreted the events in the life of the folk artist.

All in all, a fun way to spend a Saturday!  Thanks, everyone for coming, and happy reading!   

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8. How this nonfiction PB “Jes’ Happened”

Children’s book illustrator Don Tate never thought of himself as a writer, despite his many children’s author, publishing and librarian friends — a small army’s worth — and being surrounded by journalists all day in his work as a graphics reporter for the Austin American Statesman.  He’s illustrated more than 40 educational books and 11 children’s [...]

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9. What the heck is an e-book, anyway?

Children’s book illustrators, artistrators, writers take note: These guys kind of say it all. The trailer is by animator, web designer, online comics creator Erik Kuntz  (who also happens to be our SCBWI chapter’s webmaster.) Briefly, the Second Annual Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium is October 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. But for the [...]

3 Comments on What the heck is an e-book, anyway?, last added: 9/8/2012
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10. 2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt: 19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that [...]

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11. Catching Willie Mays (in a children’s book illustration)

How perfect that award-winning children’s book artist Terry Widener has done the pictures for the new picture book by Jonah Winter (just released by Schwartz and Wade) about the greatest all around baseball player ever – Willie Mays. Terry brings a background of high level advertising and editorial illustration and something else to the many [...]

3 Comments on Catching Willie Mays (in a children’s book illustration), last added: 2/19/2013
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12. An amazing way to learn illustration

So what is musician-performer-dancer-composer Lindsey Stirling doing on this blog about children’s book illustration? She’s an artist but she works in a different medium. She hasn’t published a children’s picture book. (Not yet, anyway, but give her time.) I’m sharing this video of her 2011 tune Shadows, because twenty-two million YouTube viewers are not wrong […]

2 Comments on An amazing way to learn illustration, last added: 6/6/2013
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13. “A marvelous way to tell a difficult story”

The upcoming Austin SCBWI Graphic Novel Workshop on Saturday, October 5 promises to be a day for writers and illustrators, writer-illustrators and anyone interested in exciting alternative literary forms for children, teens and young adults. OK, plenty of adults read them, too. Webcomics creator, animator, digital content creator and our SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book […]

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14. “A marvelous way to tell a difficult story”

The upcoming Austin SCBWI Graphic Novel Workshop on Saturday, October 5 promises to be a day for writers and illustrators, writer-illustrators and anyone interested in exciting alternative literary forms for children, teens and young adults. OK, plenty of adults read them, too. Webcomics creator, animator, digital content creator and our SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book […]

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15. Portrait of an Aspiring Illustrator: Marsha Riti


marsharitiMarsha Riti grew up in Texas where everything is big, including dreams. So I assumed that she had always dreamed of becoming a children’s book illustrator. Truth is, Marsha knew she had a place in the arts, but it took her a while to discover where that place was.

Marsha currently resides in Austin but she was raised in “the sticks.” Living in a sparsely populated town forced Marsha to use her imagination for entertainment. (Good training for a children’s book illustrator, huh?)

When Marsha’s not at her desk, you might find her cleaning, cooking, gardening, creating pottery, doing math homework, and hanging out with her boyfriend and friends.

bringing-in-the-harvestMarsha, how did you evolve from doodler to doer? What got you started in children’s book illustration?

I was always the best at drawing in high school so when I went off to college it was a no-brainer. In college I tried doing a little bit of everything. My only regret would be not taking metal working or lithography. Even though my interests were (and still are) all over the place I have always loved drawing.

After receiving my BFA from the University of Texas at Austin I went to work for a string of locally owned businesses, some of which were related to the arts, others were not. These jobs were great learning experiences: I can now show great professionalism in the face of adversity and I have also found my true love, illustration.

How did you find your true love?

I took a children’s book illustration class at a local art school. My teacher Mark Mitchell did a great job inspiring me to pursue children’s book illustration. He made the idea of being an illustrator accessible. Before I took his class I had no idea about where to start, but he did a really good job outlining ways to get into the field. I also got a better understanding of watercolor form taking Mark’s class.

fullmoonovertreehouse1funintherain1

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your illustrations?

Two of the sample paintings were assignments given to me by my boyfriend, artist and designer Adam Norwood. He just gave me a simple phrase like: “full moon over the treehouse” and “fun in the rain.” Then I thought of an image that would best fit the words.

The other sample painting titled “Treasure Apartments” is for a book dummy titled Treasure Hunt that I have not yet finished. Here is a description of the painting:

treasure-apartmentsEach apartment has a very specific owner: the top is a fashionable twenty-something who loves the mid-century look. The next apartment houses the main character, the little girl. Her father (behind the paper) has been everywhere and has the trappings to show it. Then there is the pink apartment—she has lived a long life and loves to listen to her vintage record collection. The bottom apartment is a stay-at-home programmer who is also a bike enthusiast.

I really enjoy using my imagination to think up all kinds of interesting scenarios and characters. Then I get to think about the attire and items that would best show their persona. It is like playing with a really elaborate doll house.

treasure-apartments-detailHow would you describe your illustration style?

I think my style is illustrative and cartoony with an emphasis on fun.

Some of my favorite children’s book illustrators are: Samuel Ribeyron, Jean-Baptise Monge, Graeme Base, and Lisbeth Zwerger. These illustrators are inspiring to me because their work is visually deep both in the sense of space but also because they have texture and substance.

I am inspired by the composition of Japanese woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai.

For figure study and line inspiration I like to look at drawings and etchings by the old masters: Rembrandt, Titian, and Durer.

I have a fondness for minimalist art by Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Carl Andre. For an artist to be able to break their aesthetics about line, weight, color, composition, and form, down to its base level is very inspiring to me.

I love the color field paintings by Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. They amaze me–the scale of their paintings envelopes you in color and can really change your mood.

I also find inspiration from installation art by James Turrell. His installations show beauty in nature in a deceptively simple way.

Other influences would be the early cartooning done by Winsor McKay and George Herriman. Their innovation, imagination, and humor are strong influences on me.

I guess I subscribe to the “less is more” school of thought that I am trying to merge with my love of lush illustration.

What are your goals for the future?
 
Finishing my first book dummy, getting work, and improving as an artist and storyteller.

Marsha, thank you for sharing your amazing art! Good luck to you!

Marsha Riti is a member of Austin SCBWI. To learn more about her work, visit MarshaRiti.com and follow Marsha on Twitter @MarshaRiti. (Besides her daily doodles, I enjoy Marsha’s daily vintage furniture picks from the Austin Craigslist.)

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16. “Toast” and “Toons”


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Could it have been the book trailer that led to the exciting auction in New York for the picture book proposal Toast Friday?

Or was it just the exquisite color illustrations by illustrator-author and animation concept artist Clint Young of Austin, Texas?

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17. “Toast” Trumps


Could it have been the book trailer that led to the exciting  publishers’ auction for the picture book proposal Toast Friday?

Or was it just the exquisite digital and mixed media paintings by illustrator-author and animation concept artist Clint Young.

Young’s imagery for his story of Toast, a sweet pig on a quest for someone to love him has been causing jaws to drop wherever it’s been shown at gatherings and critique groups and Austin chapter meetings of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Agents and editors first noticed his portfolio at the annual regional conference of Austin SCBWI that was held last May at the University of Texas Club. There Young met Little, Brown and Company Editor Alvina Ling and agent Erin Murphy who both expressed a strong interest in the project.

Over the many months that the work sat at the offices of Little, Brown,  Toast portraits began to show up in Young’s art blog, as the former LucasFilm animation concept artist developed and redeveloped his notions  and story and talked about his attachment to his character.

Young’s agent Erin Murphy put the project up for auction last week and it wasn’t just publishers bidding, but a  film studio, The Weinstein Company.

In the end, Toast went under contract to Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. Liz Szabla will edit.

We’ll have the fun of covering this story as it unfolds in coming months since
Clint is a regular member of our Central Market Cafe Inklings, (picture book author-illustrator critique group.)

                                                                      * * * * *

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18. Illustrators On Pet Parade


We don’t purport to cover the waterfront here. But every once in a while it’s fun to do a roundup of items under the tag of children’s book illustration, which is another way of saying “string some things together that aren’t really  related.”

Or lazy writing, in other words.  But hey — it’s  summertime  in Central Texas.

So let me start with this image of a few of the Inklings basking  in the July heat  at the Central Market Cafe.  The Inklings are a picture book critique group in the Austin, Texas  Chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Some of the Inklings of Austin SCBWI during a recent Sunday a.m. huddle: Louise Shelby, Amy Farrier, Torran Anderson, Salima Alikhan and Marsha RitiWe converge on our own one Sunday morning each month. There’s almost always a new face  and anywhere from four to 12 familiar faces.

We’ll read each others stories aloud,  or leaf through someone’s portfolio, or ponder a storyboard or two, or bring our latest book discoveries.

Mostly we all talk at the same time, everybody at once like the mice in Diane Stanley’s  picture book  The Conversation Club.

(Nobody seems to be talking too much here, though. We must not have had our second cups of coffee yet.  Left to right are  Louise Shelby,  Amy Farrier,   Torran Anderson,   Salima Alikhn and Marsha Riti.)

A Glowing Afternoon

was enjoyed by picture book author  Chris Barton and his many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople earlier this month.

The Day Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors (Charlesbridge Publishers 2009) is narrative science writing for kids at its best.

The Day-Glo Brothers" by Chris Barton, illustrated by Bill Slavin It’s illustrated in a smart & sassy 1950s cartoon style  (with some nice day glo hues thrown in) by Tony Persiani.

The combination of crisp text that keeps you excitedly turning pages and the plentiful, high energy line-art that suits the narrative perfectly has garnered the book starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Which is a little like lightning striking three times (in a good way.)

Through years of trial and error and a few happy accidents the Switzer brothers learned  how certain resin and dye mixtures could result in an orange that was “oranger-than-orange.”  They had found an interaction of certain chemicals with  light wavelengths that we now take for granted as Day-Glo paint.

Their experiments began as an enhancement to  one brother’s magic act and led to production of the paint on a massive scale in World War Two. (The colors were used for signaling and signage–  and probably saved many, many  lives!)

Reading this little known story is an unfolding experience of  discovery.

A Glowing Moment for Picture Book Author Chris Barton and his many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople July 11 for "The Day-Glo Brothers."  Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton.

Chris and a helper and a standing room only crowd at Austin’s BookPeople.

Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton

These days, some of the best information on children’s book illustration is

Found on the blogs

English Children’s picture book illustrator and author-illustrator Lynn Chapman shows us on her blog, An Illustrator’s Life For Me “before and after versions” of a double page spread — replete with her notes to herself  for one book assignment.

She says she’s just mailed in final art for  Bears on the Stairs by Julia Jarman to their editor at Anderson. Now she’s waiting to learn how many changes she’ll have to make.

Vancouver illustrator Kirsti Anne Wakelin gives us a generous glimpse into her line art on her blog My Secret Elephant. She talks about her tools, how she uses reference in her work.

Click on the tab that says “Illustration Process” for her posts  showing progress reports on a book assignment she’s been working on all year.

James Gurney amazes…

He’s the creator of the  Dinotopia books.

He also maintains one of  the premier ” artist’s process” blogs with his daily  Gurney Journey.

A lot of  art instruction is shared here as he allows you to follow him at work over his drawing board with  with photos and close-up videos

You can follow him with photos and close up videos of him at work. Below are some posts in which he lets us look over his shoulder as he completes a commissioned poster for an upcoming festival in France.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Three (b)

Part Four

Part Six

Part Seven

Jumping Juxtapositions, Batman!

Mark  Blevis interviews illustrator Raul Colón at the Jewish Libraries 2009 Convention. Click here for the podcast on the engaging blog hosted by him and Andrea Ross Just One More Book.

In a second interview Colón goes into more detail with Blevis about how he and his illustration students will find inspiration by bumping two unrelated things into each other,  the way Stanley Kubrick bumped The Blue Danube Waltz into his shots of the massive spacecraft in 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Common sense or experience might have told us this,  but now researchers have found that multi-tasking can reduce your performance level to that of someone who is inebriated.  Check out the post  on Lateral Action, a blog on creativity.

Did you eat, Stanley?

Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

"Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

Stanley’s Beauty Contest by Linda Bailey (Kids Can Press, Toronto) is a funny romp (Stanley’s,  of course and his new foo-fooed friends.  He’s hungry because he missed breakfast.) through a Best of Show (read: many, many dogs) competition.

The scratchy/warm ‘n fuzzy textured illustrations are by Bill Slavin.

Several famous children’s book illustrators are included in the Publisher’s Weekly exerpt from Anita Sibley’s new book from Roaring Brook,  Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book.

My favorite part of fondthe excerpt was  Thatcher Hurd fondly talking about Kenneth Grahame’s  The Wind in the Willows (originally illustrated  by Ernest Shepard.)  Hurd refers to Mr. Toad as “surely the id personified.”

Ernest Shepard's depiction of Mr. Toad from "Wind in the Willows

Ernest Shepard's brilliant version of Mr. Toad from "The Wind in the Willows"

Can’t contain yourself? Click on  “Leave a comment” at the top of the post. Think of  the box that opens as your op-ed page.

For some free lessons on using color with cunning  in watercolor,  click here.



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19. One Illustration Reverie; Two Real Deals


What does this short animated clip have to do with John Singer Sargent  or children’s book illustration?

A quoi ca sert l’amour,  a short animation by Louis Clichy, with thanks to illustrator  and animation/game artist Amanda Williams for finding this.  She called  it “brutal and adorable.”

If a child-friendly story had illustrations with these lines — and visual characters as memorable as these,  and color the way John Singer Sargent used it in his painted scenes, it would be some picture book, right?

I’m assembling my fantasy football — I mean  illustration project  — team here.

So, starting with the cartoon: What makes these stick figures tug at your emotions as they do?

The honesty? That we know these people? And been these people?

The “simple” (but oh-so-sophisticated) graphics with their varied perspectives and 360 degree “camera revolutions”?

All the fast cutting and surprise transitions?

The song? Edith Piaf’s and Theo Sarapo’s singing?

The subject?

Could some of this aplomb be translated into picture book illustrations?

Are these enough questions for now?

OK,  so let’s add some color and texture.  John Singer Sargent had a knack  for these.


Thanks to Chicago based painter Raymond Thornton for finding this.

I know.  Sargent is the painter who gives all other painters inferiority complexes.  We don’t now a lot about how he made his palette choices. (We know that he looked carefully.)

So enough with dream teaming. We’ve got some housecleaning items today.

Two powerhouse chapters of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have announced their 2010 pow-wows — both set for early next year.

It’s Time to Mingle in Texas

Awesome Austin

Austin SCBWI comes first with Destination Publication featuring  a Caldeecott Honor Illustrator and Newberry Honor Author, along with agents, editors, more authors, another fab illustrator, critiques, portfolio reviews and parties.

Mark the date – Saturday, January 30, 2010 from 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Get the full lowdown and the registration form here. Send in your form pronto if you’re interested — more than 100 people have already signed up. Manuscript crtiques are already sold out. But a few portfolio reviews are still open at this writing!

Destination Publication features Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky and Marla Frazee, author-illustrator of A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, which received a Caldecott Honor Award, and more recently All the World penned (all 200 words of it) by Austin’s own children’s author/poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Frazee teaches children’s book illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.  She and Scanlon plan to talk about their collaboration. You can read wonderful essays by them on this very topic here.

All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

The  faculty also includes: Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Lisa Graff, Associate Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, Stacy Cantor, Editor, Bloomsbury USA/Walker  Books For Young Readers, Andrea Cascardi agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency (and a former editor), another former editor, Mark McVeigh who represents writers, illustrators, photographers and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets,  and agent Nathan Bransford.

The conference also features authors  Sara Lewis Holmes, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Jacqueline Kelly, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates,  and illustrator Patrice Barton.
Read more about everyone here.

Happenin’ Houston

Houston SCBWI has announced the (still developing)  lineup for its conference just three weeks after Austin’s:   Saturday, February 20, 2010.  Registration is NOW OPEN.

It headlines Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of short stories, funny picture books, Native American fiction, and YA Gothic fantasies,   Ruta Rimas, assistant editor Balzer & Bray/HarperCollin, and Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Collins art directs and designs picture books, young adult novels and middle grade fiction.

Among the recent picture books he has worked on:  Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, Old Penn Station and Rosa, which was a Caldecott Honor book.

The conference also features Alexandra Cooper,  senior editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lisa Ann Sandell,  senior editor at Scholastic Inc., and Sara Crowe, an agent with Harvey Klinger, Inc. in New York.

You can download Houston conference info and registration sheets from this page.

No, you don’t have to be Texan to register for either of these big events. You just have to be willing to get here for them.

Remember that just about any SCBWI conference or workshop is a great education for a very modest investment.

* * * * *
Speaking of  great educations for a very modest investment,  Mark Mitchell, author of this post and host of this blog  teaches classes in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School and online. Learn more about the online course here — or sample some color lessons from the course here.

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20. Contests and conferences


Done today: More on chapter 4

Revision remaining: 149 pages

Daily pages needed to be finished by end of November: 3.5

So, today I started the revisions I had thought of a couple days ago, and then came up with an even better solution to the problem! That’ll be tomorrow morning’s revision exercise, but I think it’ll be a keeper. It will improve flow, pacing and shorten these early chapters so we can get to the bulk of the adventure quicker. I’m excited.

I’m going to the North Texas SCBWI conference this Saturday, and I’m also very excited about that. I’ll be getting a critique, which is exciting, as well as hearing from Dutton Children’s Books’ Lisa Yoskowitz and Foundry Literary & Media agent Lisa Grubka, as well as others.

Last week, I sent in my registrations for the Austin SCBWI conference in January and the Houston SCBWI conference in February. Unfortunately, I was too late to get a critique from one of the great agents or editors who will be in Austin (word to the wise, register early because spots will fill up fast), but I am in time for an author critique at the Austin event and an agent critique at the Houston event, so that’s also something great to look forward to.

These are all conferences around where I live, and I feel blessed to have so many good ones within a drive or cheap flight.

I don’t think conferences are necessary to success in publishing. I’m sure there are plenty of people who write a book, send out queries and get published without ever going to a conference.

But, whenever possible, I like going to conferences for a number of reasons:

  • Motivation – It’s always great to hear people talking about the work. Makes you want to run home and start writing immediately.
  • Inspiration – Every conference I’ve been to has had a healthy dose of encouragement. Book writers tend to be a helpful bunch.
  • Meeting new people – I reiterate: Book writers tend to be a helpful bunch, and it’s always nice to meet others who are going through the same things you are.

Even though I go to conferences as much as possible, I don’t do much in the way of contests, mainly because by the time I hear about them, the deadline has passed. I’m so on top of things!

But contests can be a great way to a) get a read on where you are as a writer, and b) get your name out there as a writer.

Even if you don’t win, your writing can be noticed. A query contest I entered earlier this year got an agent interested in my first book.

This is why I’m entering the KidLit.com query contest run by Andrea Brown Literary agent Mary Kole. Contests provide an opportunity, and opportunities should never be passed up. The deadline is Dec. 31. Wanna join me?

What are you looking forward to?

Write On!

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21. Should you advertise in an Illustration Directory?


For some children’s artists, this interview might be a little hard to hear and to bear.  For others it could offer new hope.

Jo Ann Miller of Serbin Communication’s Directory of Illustration suggests that illustrators and would-be illustrators think a little bit outside the book.

Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications' Directory of Illustration Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications’ Directory of Illustration greets a Transformer at this year’s San Diego Comic Con

You’ve seen artists’ directories –  the big glossy annuals where artists or their reps buy display ads.  There were more of them around in the days before the Internet.  The ones that are make sure to also provide their content online.

A couple,  Picturebook and the UK-based ChildrensIllustrators restrict their focus to children’s artists.

But the Directory of Illustration is the dreadnought battleship of illustration directories, aiming its marketing guns at not just children’s publishing but the waterfront of graphic arts. That means children’s products,  fashion and cosmetics merchandising, corporate and retail promotion, medical illustration, the animation industry  and, well, even landscape design.

With the Toy Industry Association as a partner, the Santa Barbara, Ca. based publisher also turns out Play! (“Illustration for Toys and Interactive Games — Your primary source for hiring toy and interactive game artists.” ) Serbin Communications’  other  publications include the Best of Photography Annual, the Medical Illustration Sourcebook and Designer Jewelry Showcase — to name just a few.

It’s  not cheap being in the Directory of Illustration. $2,500-$2,600 gets you a full page with 30 portfolio images. Artists  sometimes share pages with others who have the same agent or art rep, for example. Artists re-up year after year.  Program benefits include national advertising, distribution to 30,000 illustration buyers, free website design and cross promotion with Contact (described as the leading talent directory in Europe and the UK.)

If you’re like me and some other freelancers who keep a death grip on their wallets,   you question trading your hard earned cash or IRA nestegg for a paid showcase.

Why do it when you can upload  images for free to your Flickr page, WordPress.com  blog,  SCBWI portfolio,  or favorite art web ring?

Why do it when you can mail out your own Christmas postcards to the small ranks of children’s

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22. Conference debrief


More than 200 children’s book writers and illustrators (aspiring and professional) converged on a little Unitarian church just north of Austin for the 2010 Destination Publication SCBWI conference January 30.

Poet Liz Garton Scanlon and Illustrator Marla Frazee

Poet Liz Garton Scanlon and Illustrator Marla Frazee talk about their many months of collaboration with each other and Beach Lane Books V.P. and publisher Allyn Johnston.

Guests and speakers arrived from Texas and everywhere for a day of inspiring presentations and professional critiques of manuscripts and portfolios.

“The most expensive people, all of those those who were trained by the great editors Ursula Nordstrom and Margaret McElderry are gone,” agent and former editor Mark McVeigh said in his rivetting keynote,  “Defending Your Muse.”

Still children’s publishing is  “not an industry in ruins, but in transition,” he continued.  He spoke about the emerging digital media and mobile media (Kindle, iPhone, etc.) marketplace.  But he kept returning to the sovereignty of language, individual creativity — and the Emily Dickinson poem he keeps in his wallet.  You can read  Mark’s recapping of his time with us in Austin and see the full text of the Dickinsin poem  on his agency blog here.

Later in the day, Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford elicited a gasp or two with his comment that he sees 15,000 to 20,000 submissions a year and might take  four to five clients per year from that pile. Yet his presentation, like Mark’s,  hit inspiring notes.  He refers to the Austin conference and much more in his  blog

Liz reads one of Marla's e-mails

Liz reads one of Marla's e-mails

“Designing the ‘page-turns’ is the most important thing,” asserted two-time Caldecott Honor illustrator Marla Frazee in an extraordinary presentation on the the picture book creation process.

“Use the page turn in the narrative when you want the mood to shift and your images to really stand out,” she continued.

“Save diagonals for the most dramatic parts of your story. They’re like exclamation marks!”

Marla demonstrated how she filled the imagery for  All the World (2010 Caldecott Honor book penned by Austin poet Liz Garton Scanlon) with imagery from her own life  — landscapes of the central California coast, 

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23. WordPress for artists?

Children’s book illustrators,  like all artists, can reach their markets and audiences more easily than ever before, thanks to the Internet!

And I believe that WordPress, the open source content management system is one of the best ways to establish a presence on the web.

Erik Kuntz, designer, web consultant, instructor and web comic artist feels the same way I do about WordPress. Except he knows tons more about it than I do.  He consults with small businesses and big companies on this stuff.  (He’s also the intrepid webmaster of our Austin, Texas SCBWI chapter.)

Erik Kuntz with Austin illustrators

Erik (standing, right) is joined by Austin illustrators and writers Don Tate, Christy Stallop, Amy Farrier, Torran Anderson, Louise Shelby, Ross Carnes and Martin Thomas.

A couple of weeks ago he conducted a special online workshop session for my Make Your Marks; Make Your Splashes class.

He did a brilliant presentation, showing us different ways to put up our illustration galleries on our WordPress blogs.  By galleries  I mean the tiny thumbnail pictures you click on to see much larger higher res versions of them.  After showing us a trick for doing it on WordPress.com blogs, he showed us how to do it on our WordPress.org blogs using the free plug-in, NextGen Gallery.

Alas, things do not always work out perfectly.  The recording did not take.

We were all so counting on the replay.  Erik shared so much with us that it was hard to get it all down in our notes!  I did what I had to:  Asked him if he’d be willing to walk us through the workshop again.

He agreed to — characteristically, because he’s a helpful soul.

So we’re doing the same w

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24. “Little toddler feet and hands all over my wall…”

Children’s book illustrator Patrice Barton begins a picture book with a spiral ruled notebook that she soon fills with ideas, tactics and to-do checklists related to the project.

It’s almost as if the words come first. The drawings, which for her are a series of tireless explorations only a tiny fraction of which make it to the book, spring forth after she’s worked out the notions, notations and marching orders for herself.

In the previous post she told how she assembled her scraps of sketches on tracing paper to develop finals for Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf Books for Young Readers.) This time she reveals the earliest stages of her artwork for the picture book Mine! by well-known children’s author Shutta Crum.

Released in June, Mine! is Patty’s second book for Knopf.

At the end of our video interview minutes before class time at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art Patty walked through the F&G’s for her third Knopf title, Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Knopf editor Allison Wortche — due for publication in December. Here are sophisticated first graders, not babies or toddlers. With their glances, gestures and placements on the pages, Patty orchestrates a very funny elementary school drama of evil plans, remorse and redemption.

Watching her interpret Wortche’s scenes as text gives us insight into how she thinks about her characters and re-constructs a story in its most telling images.

SCBWI happenings for your calendar

Southern Breeze Illustrators Day poster

Southern Breeze Society of Children’s BookWriters and Illustrators Illustrators Day   – Friday, September 2 on the lower floor of the DeKalb County Public Library, 1 Comments on “Little toddler feet and hands all over my wall…”, last added: 8/29/2011

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25. The miracle month

I’ll go off the topic of children’s book art — just for today. You might have noticed that the blog has been left with the lights still on, but untended in recent months. Not a lot of discussion about illustration, drawing or painting has been going on here.  I want to explain, rationalize and ask your [...]

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