Announcing the 2021 EPA SCBWI Mentorship Pairs!

We’re excited to announce the final pairs in our very first EPA SCBWI Mentorship Program, which officially kicks off TODAY!

Congratulations to these promising mentees, and thanks to the mentors willing to share their experience, time, and talents.

Check out where you can find our mentees and mentors on social media and the web, and be sure to say hello in the comments.

We’re looking forward to wonderful things!

Learn more about Carrie at www.CarrieRohman.com

Learn more about Kat at http://www.katyeh.com/DEFAULT.html

Say hello to Mary at MSpiersWriter@Verizon.net!

Learn more about Linda at http://www.lindaoatmanhigh.com

Say hello to Kristen on Twitter @KrisRashid

Learn more about Jamilah at jamilahthewriter.com

Say hello to Pradeep on Twitter @VelugubantlaP

Learn more about Sandy at https://sandyasher.com/

Say hi to Mark on Twitter @Magrocrag

Say hi to Lindsay on Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy or visit www.LindsayBandyBooks.com

Say hi to Berrie on Twitter @berrietr or learn more at www.berrietr.com

Learn more about Kate on her web site: Illustrated by Kate Garchinsky – Children’s Books, Natural History, and Paintings by Philadelphia illustrator, Kate Garchinsky (penguinart.com)

Say hi to Samantha on Twitter @lrwordartist or learn more at her web site https://samanthadivine.com

Say hi to Eric on Twitter @iamericbell or visit his web site at IAmEricBell.com.

Say hi to Cindy on Twitter @CL_MockWrites

Visit Hilda’s web site at HildaEuniceBurgos.com

Say hi to Charity on Facebook: facebook.com/charitymunozart or Instagram: instagram.com/munozcharity Or visit her web site charitymunoz.com

Visit Adrienne’s web site, http://www.adriennewright.com or say hello on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adiillustrate or Instagram: i.am.adriennewright

Say hi to Lorinda at lorindalende@gmail.com

Say hi to Nicole at Nicole@Valentines.net and visit her web site www.nicolevalentinebooks.com

Visit Eric’s web site at IAmEricBell.com

or say hi on Twitter @iamericbell

Say hi to Nazneen on Twitter @NazneenAkbari or visit her web site nazsnook

Visit Nadine’s web site www.nadinepoper.weebly.com or Follow Nadine on Twitter or Friend Nadine on Facebook

Say hi to Bernadette

You can find Bernadette on Instagram @bmzderod or visit her web site at https://bziembamail.wixsite.com/my-site

Say hi to Diana on Twitter @dianarwallach or on Instagram @dianawallachauthor, or visit her web site www.dianarodriguezwallach.com

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Lessons from Falling on the Ice, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Lessons from Falling on the Ice 

I knew at five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up—a professional ice skater. I decided on my chosen profession after my parents took me to an Ice Capades (Disney on Ice) show.  During that show I imagined myself as one of the skaters twirling and leaping effortlessly. I took one skating lesson and left with a sore bottom and a hurt ego. Similarly, when I watched the Nutcracker ballet, I imagined myself as the Snow Queen being lifted effortlessly in the air by a handsome and strong Snow King. Despite numerous years of ballet lessons, I left with good posture but no prima ballerina status. I was always more of a dreamer, much less of a doer, unless it was in art class. I loved everything about art class—the burlap and glue collages, the linoleum prints, and the smell of the tempera paint. In pursuit of this passion, I went to art school where I took all sorts of fine arts classes. Even though I loved art school, my Fine Arts degree left me with no sense of how I was going to make a living as an artist.   

Growing up, I loved being in the art room, and there was one other special place where I loved to be—the school library. In the library I would admire the illustrations and read about distant worlds. The books I enjoyed took me along the banks of the Charles River to ride a swan boat and through a magic wardrobe to meet a talking lion named Aslan. After working odd jobs after art school that weren’t very gratifying, I reconsidered my career options and remembered the joy of my time spent in the school library. I went to grad school to become an elementary school librarian.   

Being a librarian is my bread and butter; a profession that I love. However, my true passion is illustrating and writing children’s books. Unlike my skating and ballet lessons, I have stuck with this dream even though the experience has left me with bruises. With hope in my heart, I started attending conferences to achieve my dream of illustrating books for children. These conferences became my muse, inspiring me to use my imagination and be creative. When I began, I would shyly present my portfolio. The other illustrators intimidated me. They were published and had beautiful portfolios and websites! The harsh but realistic criticism of the conference presenters reminded me of the difficult years of critiques in art school. Despite my own fears, my family encouraged me to continue, and my husband suggested that I be inspired not intimidated. It took a few conferences to get over the intimidation and the desire to crawl under a rock.   

During those early SCBWI conferences, more advanced illustrators offered advice about closed conferences (RUCCL) and acceptance-only classes at the Highlights Foundation. Being accepted into these programs wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. It took three years before I was accepted into a closed conference for writers and illustrators. When my self-addressed envelope came in the mail, I cried out in frustration before I opened the envelope. I imagined another rejection. Ironically, that self-addressed letter was my first acceptance. Other SCBWI and closed conferences followed, and each time I attended a conference, my portfolio matured. Through the critiques and advice, I was able to produce a dummy book, and my confidence grew. I began to get my hopes up that each upcoming conference would be the one where I got my big break and would be offered a contract. My little fire of passion and anticipation would flare up, only to be diminished at the end of the event.   

As I continued to work diligently on my portfolio and received constructive criticism during more conferences, I was no longer devastated by each rejection and less shy about presenting my work. Then, at a recent conference, a change in my thinking was more important than a big break. Heidi Stemple and Jane Yolen pointed out that writing for children is about the three Ps (Passion, Perseverance, and Patience). I did a quick self-assessment. I already had the passion and the perseverance. For the sheer love of what I do, I had already written and illustrated several dummy books, created a seasonal three-panel cartoon, and completed other art-related projects. Working without getting a contract or seeing a major publisher’s logo on my project left me psychologically bruised. It’s the third P (Patience) that I work on daily. It’s difficult to be patient and wait for an acceptance letter to a conference, a positive review of my portfolio, or an email with a contract.

As a child I was a dreamer instead of a doer. What I lacked in my physical abilities I made up for with my strong and powerful imagination; I could picture myself in the Ice Capades and the Nutcracker, but I wasn’t willing or able to put in the work to become a star skater or a prima ballerina. Now as an adult and an illustrator, I am a doer. I volunteer for SCBWI. I work hard every day to improve my skills. I have made numerous contacts and spend hours in my studio constantly improving my portfolio. Despite this, I continue to be a dreamer as well. I constantly say to myself, “If I just attend this conference . . . If I just participate in this Instagram challenge . . . If I just attend this class . . . If I just write this article, I can achieve my goals of becoming a published author-illustrator. I know now that you need to fall on the ice more than once in order to skate for the Ice Capades and practice more than pliés to be the prima ballerina, and similarly, I will continue to do what I love (even if I end up with even more bruises) and to practice patience. 


Footnote: Soon after I wrote this article, I received my first contract to write a series of graphic early readers to be published by Blue Bronco Books (Fall 2022).  


Berrie Torgan-Randall has been passionate about children’s literature since she was a little girl and has fed her desire by becoming a children’s librarian and by pursuing a career as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. Berrie is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Eastern PA region of SCBWI. She is looking forward to making connections with professionals while organizing events for illustrators who are on a similar journey of creating beautiful and meaningful picture books.

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An Interview with Upcoming Webinar Presenter: Literary Agent Paige Terlip, by Heather Stigall

Today on the EasternPennPoints blog we are featuring an interview by Heather Stigall with literary agent Paige Terlip of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Paige will be presenting at the upcoming webinar “Picture Book Building Blocks.” To learn more about the webinar and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-picture-book-building-blocks-with-agent-paige-terlip/.

Heather: Paige, thank you so much for agreeing to present “Picture Book Building Blocks” for our Eastern PA SCBWI members on May 10, 2021. I’m looking forward to your webinar!

You have experience working for publishers as well as with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. What is your favorite thing about being an agent?

Paige: I love working with such creative, talented people. My clients are all gifted in different ways, and I am so lucky to be a small part of their publishing journey. I also love that I get to read fabulous books before they hit the shelves and that I get to help bring these amazing stories into readers’ hands.  

Heather: Many of our members are looking for agents. What qualities would the ideal client have?

Paige: An ideal client would have the passion and a desire to build a career in writing. Someone who is dedicated to the process and has ideas for many books to come!

Heather: What do you wish writers and illustrators knew about agenting?

Paige: Agents get rejected too! We get rejected by editors and writers. Publishing can be a rollercoaster and we are on the ride right next to our clients. Also, my least favorite part about agenting is saying “no,” but I have to fall in love and feel a spark so that I truly can champion a client’s writing.

Heather: Your website offers a lot of great tips and resources for querying. What would you say are the most common mistakes you see in queries?

Paige: The most common mistake I see is writers who don’t know the best comps for their book. I find the best comps are contemporary books that are well known but not overly aspirational. Comps should show you understand how your book will fit into the market and position the story in a clear, accurate way.  

Heather: Great tips—thank you! What are some recently published picture books that you love and why?

Paige: I adored Home Is in Between by Mitali Perkins (art by Lavanya Naidu), All Because You Matter by Tami Charles (art by Bryan Collier), and Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho (art by Dung Ho) because they feel like love letters to readers that haven’t been represented enough in children’s literature. They are poignant, simultaneously timeless and timely, and contain powerful messages of love and belonging. I can see these books becoming cherished classics in no time!

Heather: Readers, if you haven’t read the books Paige recommended, please do. They are wonderful! Thank you, Paige, for sharing a little bit about you and your expertise with our members.

I am looking forward to hearing more about picture books in Paige’s upcoming webinar, “Picture Book Building Blocks,” on May 10. Friends, if you haven’t yet registered, you can find the registration link below.


Picture Book Building Blocks

“Picture Book Building Blocks” is designed to help writers construct stories by introducing tools to create a picture book blueprint, build a strong foundation, and frame their story.

May 10, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Registration is now open: $15 for SCBWI Members; $25 nonmembers

To register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-picture-book-building-blocks-with-agent-paige-terlip/.


Paige Terlip represents all categories of children’s books from picture books to young adult, as well as select adult fiction and nonfiction. Across age categories, Paige is drawn to high-concept novels with captivating hooks, snarky characters with hearts of gold, creative magic systems, complicated relationships, and found families. She loves well-plotted twists, being a little bit scared, and stories that explore the fluidity of gender and bring the queer experience to light. Regardless of genre, she is seeking inclusive, intersectional voices and gorgeous line-level writing with emotionally compelling narratives. She loves stories that make her feel a range of emotions, even if that means she ugly cries while reading. She wants a narrative that will stick with her long after reading.

Prior to becoming an associate agent, Paige was a senior assistant for executive agent Laura Rennert, and has been with ABLA since 2017. She comes to agenting with a background in marketing, design, and freelance editorial. She’s worked at Charlesbridge Publishing, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and a ranch in the Rockies. She has an MA in Children’s Literature and an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. If she’s not reading, you’ll find her practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, rewatching the Great British Baking Show, or hiking with her Husky-Shepherd mix. Visit her website at www.paigeterlip.com. You can find her on Twitter (@pterlip) and Instagram (@pterlip).

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One or the Other, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

One or the Other

In any discussions about creativity, there is one overriding myth that refuses to go away. In fact, it is so ingrained in our collective consciousness, that it is blindly accepted as concrete proof that most of us are permanently confined to a noncreative existence. And that is, a deep-seated belief that some of us are born creative and others are gifted with a set of genes that mitigates against any sort of creative output. A few folks were gifted with creativity; the rest of us—not so much!

Truth be told, creativity is not something that is genetically determined. It is not something we inherit from our parents nor is it some “special gene” that our great-great-grandfather from Denmark passed down to us. Creativity is NOT some kind of Las Vegas magic trick, ancient Egyptian secret, or long-ago Norse legend. Nope! Quite simply, creativity is an inherent and natural sequence of actions leading to the production of dynamic ideas. Most of us are creative souls early in our lives, and it is our upbringing, schooling, and work environment that often determine the degree or comfort we have with matters creative. What we have experienced (in formalized settings) frequently determines what we can create. Creativity is never a matter of chance or genetics; it is always a matter of incubation.

The rise of this persistent myth is often attributed to the psychological reality that, as humans, we tend to compare ourselves to others. In a work environment, we wonder how much someone makes if they are engaged in the same job or position as us. (“How come Janice drives a BMW? She’s doing the same job I am.”) In your neighborhood, you may compare your lawn to that of your neighbor’s. (“Hey, look at Jake’s lawn. It doesn’t even begin to compare with mine.”)

By the same token, when it comes to matters literary, we frequently compare ourselves to creative giants—those authors who are celebrated for their creative novels, innovative picture books, or mind-boggling nonfiction: Katherine Paterson and her heart-thumping Bridge to Terabithia, Jeff Kinney and his engaging Wimpy Kid books, Julia Donaldson and her very playful The Gruffalo, Mo Willems and his iconic Knuffle Bunny, and Kwame Alexander and his lyrical novels are all ceremoniously raised upon a pedestal of creative expression that few can ever hope to achieve. They are icons, celebrities, idols, and modern-day gods. We’ll never rise to their level; we’ll never achieve their creative greatness. They are a different breed, in a different universe, and products of a different gene pool. “They are the creative writers” and “I am not a creative writer” thus become two clearly defined groups. If we don’t belong in the first, then it stands to reason that we must certainly belong to the other.

The unfortunate consequence of this mindset is that we significantly diminish our individual creativity. By casting writers into two distinct (and highly unequal) categories, we have a psychological tendency to assign ourselves to the “lower” of the two groups. As writers, we may tell ourselves, “Well, I guess I’m never going to be as creative as Dav Pilkey or Sharon Creech.”

It’s unfortunate that we frequently put those “famous creatives” on an altar that we can never ascend. We tend to see ourselves in their shadow; celebrating their works, but never attaining their glory. Often, it looks as though creativity is so far away—a concept honored but infrequently (if ever) attained. And that opens a door, a door that allows fear, insecurity, and negative self-judgement to enter. We begin to believe that we will seldom generate new and innovative ideas, that any ideas that we do spawn will wither and die when sent to prospective publishers, and that we are burdened with a significant disability that will internally quash any creative endeavors for all of our lives.

Part of this enormous myth is based on the reality that we are a comparative society. (Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Short or tall? Young or old? Female or male? Blond or brunette? Gay or straight?) But, by the same token, the myth is also supported by the belief that creativity is mutually exclusive. It’s a province of a few but unavailable to the many. That thought, as you might imagine, further cements this myth in our consciousness—so much so, that it becomes a self-defeating prophecy.

The reality: We are all inherently creative.

The challenge: Assume the “I am a creative writer!” mindset.

The result: A conflagration of creative ideas!


Tony is the author of more than 50 award-winning children’s books including A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet (Sleeping Bear), Mountain Night, Mountain Day (Rio Nuevo), and In One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails and Salty Tails (Sourcebooks/Dawn). His latest children’s book, “All Aboard!” Starts with A, will be released in April 2021.

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An Interview and Upcoming Webinar with Agent Laurel Symonds, by Virginia Law Manning

Today on the EasternPennPoints blog we are featuring an interview by Virginia Law Manning with literary agent Laurel Symonds of The Bent Agency. Laurel will be presenting at the upcoming webinar “Picture Books as Physical Objects.” To learn more about the webinar and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-picture-books-as-physical-objects-with-agent-laurel-symonds/

Virginia: Laurel, thank you so much for agreeing to present “Picture Books as Physical Objects” to Eastern PA SCBWI members on April 22. I’m looking forward to your webinar! 

You have an amazing background! You’ve worked in many areas of the book world: at large and small publishers, in a library, and in a bookstore. How have your past positions helped you become a better agent?

Laurel: Oh my gosh, in more ways than I can count! When I began my career in publishing, I never could have predicted the path I’ve taken, but my well-rounded background and variety of experiences allow me to put on my “editor hat” or “marketing hat” to bring my expertise and give my clients context for revisions or an editor’s response to a submission or what is happening inside a publishing house during launch or a marketing plan or brainstorming opportunities for promotions and so much more.

Working at The Book Stall as a bookseller is also what I credit for sparking my interest in representing picture books. It’s hard to not fall in love with picture books when you see the newest and best-selling on beautiful display week after week. This allowed me not only to broaden my horizons on what a picture book could be but also to do a deep study of the form. I loved being able to hand sell books—especially to proud new grandparents, family and friends on their way to a baby shower, or young readers themselves.

Virginia: Like you, I’ve worked in many areas of the children’s book world. I have often thought about becoming an agent. What is your favorite thing about the profession?

Laurel: There are so many great parts of being an agent but what drew me to this career path is the ability to work closely with authors and illustrators. I love strategizing with them on how to build their careers and take them to the next level and be a resource for understanding the always unpredictable nature of this industry. 

Also, as someone who is an introvert, self-motivated, and loves to travel (in nonpandemic times), the ability to work from wherever I want on my own hours is really appealing. Most of the time I’m working at home with my dog at my feet, but I’ve read manuscripts on the beach in Hawaii, received offers on a train, and reviewed queries at 30,000 feet.

Virginia: What do you wish picture book and chapter book writers knew about agenting? 

Laurel: I wish picture book and chapter book writers knew that if you’re not an illustrator, there is no pressure to do your own illustrations or hire someone to illustrate your book! Although there are exceptions to every rule, most agents and editors who work on picture books or chapter books are happy to review text-only submissions.

Virginia: How can writers benefit from building their community in the book world? And what steps can they take to build their community?

Laurel: I firmly believe in the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I recommend writers join SCBWI! I’m not saying that to pander; I truly recommend all creators consider becoming members of SCBWI for the community and educational opportunities. I also recommend joining or forming critique groups.

You can support other creators when their books publish by spreading the word. This can be in person in your own community through word of mouth or recommending your local library or bookstore carry the title. Support can also be shown online through social media and reviewing titles on retailer sites.

Virginia: Laurel, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today! I’m glad we had this opportunity to get to know you better before your webinar on April 22. 

Friends, if you haven’t registered yet for Laurel’s webinar, Picture Books as Physical Objects, you’ll find the registration link below.


Picture Books as Physical Objects

April 22, 2021 at 7:00 to 8:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

Registration is now open. $15 for SCBWI Members; $25 non-members

The youngest of readers interact with picture books in very physical ways—and we’re not just talking about chewing the cardboard or ripping out pages! We’ll consider how interactive elements, line breaks, page turns, and other techniques enhance the reading experience, focusing on picture books for ages 4+.

To register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-picture-books-as-physical-objects-with-agent-laurel-symonds/


Laurel Symonds launched as a literary agent at The Bent Agency in Fall 2018 after nearly a decade of experience in the publishing industry. She began her career in the editorial department of HarperCollins Children’s Books/Katherine Tegen Books in New York City and has also held positions in the marketing department at a small publishing house, in a library, and as a bookseller at one of the nation’s best independent bookstores. As a literary agent, she is seeking children’s fiction and nonfiction, from picture books to young adult, particularly focusing on voices that have previously been underrepresented and stories that have been overlooked. Her profile and submission guidelines are at www.thebentagency.com and she can also be found online on Twitter and Instagram (@LaurelSymonds).

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An Interview with Award-Winning Author Wendelin Van Draanen, by Laura Parnum

Today on the EasternPennPoints blog we are pleased to have award-winning author Wendelin Van Draanen. Wendelin has written more than thirty novels for young readers and teens, including three book series: the Sammy Keyes series, the Shredderman books, and the Gecko & Sticky books.

Laura: Hi, Wendelin. We’re so glad to have you here on the EasternPennPoints blog. Today we’re going to talk about writing a book series. You have successfully launched three book series. When you started writing, did you set out with the intention of writing a series, or did your series evolve after you wrote your first book?

Wendelin: For the Sammy Keyes series, it evolved. I was still unpublished, and basically, I wrote the first book, fell in love with Sammy, and found myself wanting to spend more time with her. Also, by the end of that first book I had built her backstory and world and there were things left unresolved (in her life, as opposed to in the story), and I felt the need to deliver her to a better place. So, I started writing the second book almost immediately, and it built from there. With the Shredderman series I had been published for a while and had three books planned, but my editor asked me to expand it to four. So, the general concept for each and the overarching storyline and series ending were all in mind before I began. The Gecko & Sticky series was a spin-off of Shredderman and became four books as well. 

Laura: When someone sets out to write a series, is it best to write the first book and query it, mentioning that the book is intended to be the first in a series, or do you have a few books written for the series before querying? Or perhaps one book written and several outlines?

Wendelin: The way I approached it was/is unconventional, and I really wouldn’t recommend it in today’s market. I had the first four Sammy Keyes books written before they found a home. I queried and submitted each one as it was finished, so this submission/rejection process went on for a number of really discouraging years. Staying in the story, though, helped me keep believing in what I was doing. I loved this girl, I just needed to find an editor who loved her too. 

What I would recommend is to write smarter than I did. Yes, write the first book. Yes, be able to articulate or outline how a sequel or trilogy would shape up. Yes, set yourself up for a series, but—unless you want to spend time with your main character regardless of outcome—stop there. An interested editor may have things they want changed in Book 1 that might take a lot of work—work that you may have to do before you get a contract, and work that will likely affect the storyline of subsequent books or the series arc. Write the first one. Polish it to a blinding shine. Outline ideas, but don’t hamstring placing your book by insisting it’s a series. Sales of Book 1 will likely be the main factor in the publisher’s decision to move forward with a sequel, trilogy, or series.

Laura: Once you have a publishing contract for a series, how quickly do you need to submit manuscripts for successive books?

Wendelin: In my experience and observations, publishers don’t usually offer contracts for “a series.” Since I had the first four Sammy Keyes books written when they were bought, I did get a contract for all four and they were able to release them in quick succession (every six months). But thereafter, the books were contracted two at a time and the release pacing slowed to about one a year. And whether I got offered a contract for the next two was dependent on how well the previous books sold. Getting to the end of the story arc over eighteen books was unusual then, and would be even more so now. That said, I think the rate of submission depends on your targeted readership. If you’re writing MG, books are usually shorter and can come out more quickly. With YA, it’s usually paced a little more slowly. But once the books are in the hopper, things do tend to move at a stressfully fast rate—especially if you’ve got a real job and children at home! And since stress is a creativity killer, it’s good to have story ideas worked out ahead of time. 

Laura: When you write a series, do you follow a formula for the storyline?

Wendelin: It might make my life so much easier if I did, but no! I have a basic structure—with the Sammy Keyes series that has to do with three interwoven plotlines present in each book—but there’s no “formula” and I don’t write to “beats.” I like to keep things feeling fresh to me because that translates to the story feeling fresh to the reader. We’ve all read series where the author starts off with a bang and then a couple of books in, things start feeling very predictable or tired—like the author is under the grind of writing these books to meet deadlines. I never wanted to feel that way about Sammy, and I kept my “relationship” with her fresh by letting her surprise me. 

Laura: With eighteen books in your Sammy Keyes series, did you run into any consistency issues the farther along you got? If so, what was the wackiest consistency problem you ran into? What was the most difficult to write around?

Wendelin: Haha, yes! And no, it wasn’t funny! I tell the details of it in Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life, but basically (and because of fan mail asking when Sammy’s birthday was), I realized around Book 6 that I had her age wrong. It was a huge mistake, and one that I could not gloss over. I was determined to find a fix for it that was consistent with Sammy World and the characters who inhabited it, and that took some thinking! It is definitely best to have things totally figured out before Book 1 comes out, because after it does, there’s no going back.

Laura: Do you have any more series books in the works, or are you focusing on stand-alone projects these days?

Wendelin: After the final Sammy Keyes book came out a few years ago, I swore off series. Eighteen books was huge, and building that world was amazing . . . and exhausting! To expand on what we talked about earlier, I became obsessive about keeping all of the details straight. Which way does the neighbor’s door swing? In? Out? It has to be the same every single time that door appears in a story. You should see my bible for the series! The spreadsheets, the character descriptions and language, when they appear, all of it for eighteen books that spanned as many years . . . it’s huge. But fans of a series hate it when you make a mistake—Why should they be more invested in the world you’ve created than you are?—and I felt a real responsibility to not let the Sammiacs down! So . . . yeah. I swore off series. Stand-alones are so much more . . . manageable. But during this past year, locked in my house, escaping daily into fictional worlds, well, I had an ideaaaaa . . . It’s on my editor’s desk now, and yeah, I think it may become more than one book. But not eighteen! I swear! 

Laura: Ooh, how exciting! And finally, what advice do you have for authors who wish to break into series books?

Wendelin: In addition to everything I said before, I’d say . . . make sure you love your characters. Make sure you want to spend time with them. Make sure they have flaws and room to grow. Make sure they come from your heart, not from a desire to catch some hot trend. And make them feel so real to you that when you type the final line of your eighteenth book you sob your silly eyes out. Because as clever and as interesting as world building can be, in the end, placing your book—series or stand-alone—will come down to other people falling in love with your characters. 

Laura: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me on the blog!

Wendelin: Thanks for inviting me! May I add, please, that I wish I’d known about SCBWI when I was first starting out? It sure would have saved me from learning so many things the hard way! It’s a great organization for inspiration, comradery, and connection, and I’m grateful to be part of it now. 


Wendelin Van Draanen has made her way from disaster survivor to high school teacher to best-selling, multi-award-winning author of books that are sold internationally and have been produced as films, including the Rob Reiner-directed Warner Brothers feature film Flipped. She now has an in-print catalog of more than thirty YA and MG novels, all published by Knopf/Random House, and her latest book, Hope in the Mail, Reflections on Writing and Life is part memoir, part writing guide, and part publishing insight, suitable for teen and adult readers, especially those who want to write. For more information about Wendelin, visit her website at www.wendelinvand.com

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Member News — February 2021

Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please email Laura Parnum at epa-ra2@scbwi.org before March 20 or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:

Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow recently announced that her book Hold Them Close has been acquired by Luana Horry at HarperCollins with illustrations by Patrick Dougher. This ode to Black children encourages them to hold on tight to their proud history, loved ones, and moments of joy in the face of racialized violence and oppression. Publication is set for fall 2022.


A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine has been nominated for the PA Young Readers Choice Award. The award is sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. The purpose of the award is to promote the reading of quality books by young people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to promote teacher and librarian involvement in children’s and young adult literature, and to honor authors whose works have been recognized by the students of Pennsylvania.


Author Annette Whipple released two books recently. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press, August 2020) encourages children to engage in pioneer activities while thinking deeper about the Ingalls and Wilder families as portrayed in the nine Little House books. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion provides brief introductions to each Little House book, chapter-by-chapter story guides, and “Fact or Fiction” sidebars, plus 75 activities, crafts, and recipes that encourage kids to “Live Like Laura” using easy-to-find supplies. Thoughtful questions help the reader develop appreciation and understanding of Wilder’s stories. Every aspiring adventurer will enjoy this walk alongside Laura from the big woods to the golden years.

Annette’s latest release, Whoo Knew? The Truth About Owls (Reycraft Books, September 2020), is a question-and-answer picture book. Each page spread focuses on one Q&A. In addition to the main text and lots of stunning photographs, each page spread includes a visit from an illustrated owl whooo shares from his perspective—often with a bit of sass.


If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ra2@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

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Starting Your Own Critique Group, by Heather Stigall

Starting Your Own Critique Group

Quite some time ago I wrote a series of blog posts about critique groups. In them, I tackled five “Ws” and one “H”: Why join a critique group? How do you find or start a critique group? Who do you include in, and where and when do you hold a critique group? What to do when giving and receiving a critique, and what do you consider when joining or starting a critique group? You can refer back to those posts to read how I addressed those questions, but today I’d like to zero in on one aspect—starting a new critique group

To date, the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI has 39 active critiques groups listed on our website. That means that many of our members are taking advantage of a valuable resource to help them on their writing and illustrating journeys. But I know there are many out there who are not in a critique group but want to be. How do I know? As the Critique Group Coordinator for our chapter, I receive emails from these members. Some of them decide to start their own groups, and you can too!

Who can start a new critique group?

Any of our Eastern PA SCBWI members! Are you looking for a critique group for picture book illustrators? Middle grade fiction? Poetry? YOU decide what genre you want to include in your group.

Where can your critique group meet? 

One perk of being a critique group leader is that you choose your meeting location. Currently, SCBWI is recommending that all events meet virtually, but when we are finally feeling comfortable with in-person events, you can choose a location that works for you. That can be a local coffee shop, bookstore, community center, or Zoom, Google Docs, or email.

When can your critique group meet? 

This is another advantage to leading your own group—you determine your group’s meeting time and frequency. You can choose a day and time that suits your needs and schedule. Or you can use that as a starting point and, once you have members, adjust to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Why start your own critique group? 

Sometimes members reach out to me after they have already looked through our critique group listings but couldn’t find a group that suited their needs. Sometimes members are already part of a critique group but want to be in a second group (for another genre or to have more eyes on their work, for example). Whatever the reason, you are welcome to lead your own group.

How do you start your own critique group? 

First, contact me at scbwiepaCGC@gmail.com to tell me you want to start your own group. I will ask you to provide me with some basic information so I can post your group on our website. I will also provide you with resources you might find helpful. Then I will send out an email to our members announcing your group is open. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to take the initiative to start a group and, before you know it, you have a full group. Some groups take longer to gain members, but you won’t really know if there are other writers looking in your area unless you advertise.

What are the critique group leader’s responsibilities? 

Critique groups are a collaborative experience, but at least one person needs to be listed as leader. Interested writers/illustrators will contact you if they are interested in joining. You can form your group on a first-come-first-serve basis until you are “full” (whatever “full” means to you), but you might want to utilize some sort of “screening” process. Some things to consider when forming your group are genre, experience, critique style, commitment, and career goals. You can ask potential members some screening questions, ask them to submit samples of work, or you can hold a meeting or two to see if you work well together. Once your group is established, you will likely have all your members weigh in on decisions about adding more members. You also act as leader during and in between meetings by doing things like making sure everyone has equal time or sending reminders about deadlines, meeting dates, and Zoom links. 

Still have questions? 

Don’t be afraid to ask! You might find the answers you’re looking for in the blogs I referenced above. If not, please contact me at scbwiepaCGC@gmail.com. I’m happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have. I can also provide you with resources about leading critique groups and giving and receiving critiques. 

If you’d like to consider creating your own critique group, please let me know.

I know first-hand how valuable critique groups can be, and there may be several others like you who want to find a group with openings in your area. 

Additional Opportunity:

If you’re interested in hearing more about critique groups, I’m planning a FREE virtual Meet & Greet on Tuesday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m. I’ll be giving an overview and some tips, but mostly I want to address YOUR questions and concerns. Maybe some of you will connect to form your own group! Whether or not you are already in a critique group, are considering forming one, or just want to hear about critique groups, all are welcome. I hope you’ll join me!

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He Said, She Said . . . , by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

He Said, She Said . . .

A fourth grader in the rear of the auditorium raised her hand and asked, “What inspires you to write for children?” I thought for a moment and responded by saying that kids are my inspiration. Their energy, their enthusiasm, and their unfettered curiosity about the world drive me to my desk every morning, keep my fingers dancing across the keyboard, and generate a million creative possibilities.

Later, as I contemplated my response, I concluded that, like other children’s authors, I also stand on the shoulders of many writers before me. In my writing workshops, I always admonish prospective authors to unfailingly read a plethora of children’s books before and during their own literary journeys. Knowing how other writers have drafted compelling themes, paced a plot on a faraway world, or invented sinister characters is critical to the development of one’s own philosophy and style. In short, our writing comes from experiencing the writing of others—not to emulate them, but rather to understand the power of vocabulary and the wonder of story.

So, too, have those writers penned inspirational homilies that give us counsel in writing our own books. While not all are children’s authors, they share profound thoughts that can solidify our mission, drive our enthusiasm, and propel our literature. Here are a few of my favorites. Write them down, post them over your computer, and embrace their wisdom. Consider them as new views on a familiar journey.

  • “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” —E. L. Doctorow
  • “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” —Benjamin Franklin
  • “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” —Ray Bradbury
  • “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” —Gustave Flaubert
  • “Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.” —Meg Rosoff
  • “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” —Octavia E. Butler
  • “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” —E. L. Doctorow
  • “You fail only if you stop writing.” —Ray Bradbury
  • “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” —William Strunk, Jr.
  • “You know that I write slowly. This is chiefly because I am never satisfied until I have said as much as possible in a few words, and writing briefly takes far more time than writing at length.” —Carl Friedrich Gauss
  • “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” —E. B. White
  • “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” —Truman Capote
  • “Life throws surprises, sorrows, sadness, and hardship, and I think that writing has actually grounded me. It kept me grounded when everything else was falling apart.” —Sandra Brown
  • “Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.” —Amy Tan
  • “I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.” —Lena Waithe
  • “I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” —James A. Michener
  • “Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.” —Cyril Connolly
  • “I’m writing all the books I wish I had when I was a kid.” —Jason Reynolds
  • “The point always is to be writing something—it leads to more writing.” —Susanna Moore
  • “When I’m writing, I am concentrating almost wholly on concrete detail: the color a room is painted, the way a drop of water rolls off a wet leaf after a rain.” —Donna Tartt
  • “I like myself better when I’m writing regularly.” —Willie Nelson
  • “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” —E. L. Doctorow
  • “I think you become a writer when you stop writing for yourself or your teachers and start thinking about readers.” —Avi
  • “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” —Stephen King

OK, readers, what’s your favorite writing quote? Please share it with your fellow authors in the “Comments” section below. Spread the word; spread the wealth!

Editor’s note: Since Tony asked . . . I couldn’t help but include some more inspiring writing quotes. —Laura Parnum, EasternPennPoints Editor

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” —Toni Morrison

“I do believe writing is thinking. Sometimes we can’t untangle what’s happening in our brains, but we get our pen moving and all of a sudden, as we write, we figure it out.” —Elizabeth Acevedo

“Even the silence has a story to tell you. Just listen. Listen.” —Jacqueline Woodson

Tony is the author of more than 50 award-winning children’s books including Tall Tall Tree (Dawn), Desert Night, Desert Day (Rio Nuevo), and The Tsunami Quilt (Sleeping Bear). His latest book, “All Aboard!” Starts with A, will be released in April. For more information, check out www.anthonydfredericks.com.

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