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 firstname.lastname@example.org before April 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”
Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:
SCBWI’s March Recommended Reading List featured several author from our Eastern PA region. Each month, SCBWI features books written and illustrated by our members, and every month highlights a new theme that will foster discussions, activities, and enjoyment. The theme for March was “Celebrate Women.” Books featured from our members included The Magician and The Cloud Artist, both by Sherri Maret; A Girl Like You by Frank Murphy; and Nemesis and the Swan by Lindsay Bandy.
Eastern PA Members Katey Howes and Annie Lynn teamed up to celebrate the release of Rissy No Kissies (Carolrhoda Books, March 2, 2021; illustrated by Jess Engle) with a song. With permission from the publisher, Annie composed and recorded the song using Katey’s words from the text. Since its release, the book has received numerous starred reviews, including from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and has been hailed in the book-blogging community as a tool to help teach children about body autonomy and consent. Katey made a recent appearance at the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL) Spring 2021 Mini-Conference and will also be appearing in the “Women in Pictures” panel at the Lehigh Valley Book Festival in April.
Author Sherri Maret‘s newest book, The Book of Untold Stories (Roadrunner Press, April 2021; illustrated by Thomas Hilley), will release next month. With fourteen colorful illustrations, the book encourages readers to use their imaginations and become the storyteller. In addition, Sherri’s book Lela and the Butterflies (Muddy Boots, September 2020; co-written by Tim Maret and illustrated by Merisha Sequoia Clark) was chosen as a Franklin County Library StoryWalk selection!
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, June 2019) was the recipient of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for young adult fiction. The Lambda Literary Awards celebrate exceptional LGBTQ books and authors. Alexandra was featured in the Yardley Voice this month. You can read the interview here: https://www.timespub.com/2021/03/02/yardley-novelist-wins-literary-award-for-book-exploring-immigration-issues/.
Tony Fredericks (who writes our monthly “Write Angles” column) just had his latest picture book released. “All Aboard” Starts with A! is an alphabet book about the mechanics of trains, interesting train facts, and the joys of train travel. Commissioned by the Northern Central Railway of York (the same rail line that transported Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg and his coffin to Springfield, IL) and illustrated by Phyllis Disher Fredericks, this book offers insights, history, geography, science, and a range of discussion questions for families to share and elementary classrooms to explore. A collection of S.T.E.A.M. activities and extended learning projects is also included.
A Teacher Like You (Sleeping Bear Press, March 2021) by Frank Murphy and Barbara Dan (illustrated by Kayla Harren) was released this month. Teachers have the power to change the life of a child with every new school day. Whether they’re discovering math or reading, practicing a new instrument or a new sport, or learning about our wonderful, diverse world, students can count on the kindness, innovation, and patience of a teacher. This is a wonderful celebration of all the ways teachers help their students bloom.
Author-illustrator and Eastern PA SCBWI’s very own Illustrator Coordinator Berrie Torgan-Randall has signed a book contract with Blue Bronco Books, Jr. for Bella & Blue, a graphic early reader series following eight-year-old Bella and her dog, Blue. Bella & Blue celebrates life’s everyday struggles, silliness, and surprises. Blue Bronco Books, Jr. is an imprint of The Little Press. Book One in the series is scheduled to release in fall 2022.
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.
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.
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+.
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).
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 email@example.com 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.
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.