A Cafe Chat with Author Annette Whipple, by Kristen Strocchia

Next week we are excited to have Eastern PA author Annette Whipple presenting a webinar called “Skip the Slush: Work-for-Hire Writing Assignments” on September 20 at 7:00 p.m. You can find out more about the event and register here. In preparation for the webinar, our Eastern PA SCBWI Webinar Coordinator and Assistant Regional Advisor, Kristen Strocchia, recently chatted with Annette. Here’s what they had to say.

A Café Chat with Author Annette Whipple, by Kristen Strocchia

Kristen: Welcome to our Virtual Café in the Woods! Before we chat, pull up a stump and let’s order some grub. I could go for some chai tea and a pumpkin bar with cream cheese frosting. How about you?

Annette: Mmm. It smells good in here! I’m a tea drinker, too! How about some French vanilla? Those blueberry muffins look delicious! 

Kristen: The photography in The Truth About animals series looks amazing! Picture book authors get told all the time to leave room for the illustrator. Does the same hold true for nonfiction authors and photographs?

Annette: Thanks so much! I love how Reycraft designs The Truth About series. I think photographs support the text in this series just as much as an art-illustrated picture book. Yet, it’s a bit different. Photographs help readers to better understand nonfiction details or visualize who or what the book is about. I love photographs (especially with captions) as a nonfiction text feature! (You can read more about nonfiction text features on my blog.)

Kristen: As a fellow NEPA native, I grew up romping through the woods and splashing in the creeks (read “cricks” . . . yes, we called them that, too!). There are so many amazing creatures and facets of nature to explore. How do you begin to choose what to write about next?

Annette: I remember I thought a creek was bigger than the “crick” in our backyard when I was a kid . . . I’m certain I was a teen when I learned they were the same! And, oh! Those small bodies of running water—no matter how you say it—are teaming with life! 

I love when I’m between projects or assignments and get to dream about next topics. But often the deadlines prompt me to decide what to write next. 

For The Truth About series, the books are so full of images that when Reycraft and I discussed possible animals to include after the first book Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, we had to be selective. Though I love elephants and giraffes and think they’re beautiful, there just aren’t enough species to make the spreads in a book have enough variety. I really appreciate that Reycraft includes so many photographs, so I don’t mind having to choose other favorite animals to write about. 

A year from now there will be five books in the series including

  • Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls (2020)
  • Woof! The Truth About Dogs (2021)
  • Scurry! The Truth About Spiders (2021)
  • Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs (2022)
  • Meow! The Truth About Cats (2022)

Kristen: Besides writing, you also offer a wide variety of speaking presentations to both school children and adults. Any advice for how to balance these engagements with writing time?

Annette: This is such a great question, but someone else should probably be giving advice! I know I typically lose the day before an event to preparations and the day after to recovery. (I’m an introvert who loves people!) So, I plan accordingly. This past summer I knew I had two new workshops to prepare for a small conference. With that in mind, I gave myself nearly two weeks to prepare the details, slideshow, and several handouts. (I was also marketing my newest book Woof! and taking time to enjoy summer break with my kids.) It was worth it! The workshops felt like old friends by the time I presented. Though both topics were very familiar to me, I know I teach better when well prepared instead of “winging it.” I think the bottom line is to know yourself, your deadlines, and your events. 

Kristen: I always hear that nonfiction authors need a platform. What has your experience been with this in publishing? What kind of platform did you have when you got your start?

Annette: One great thing about writing for the educational market (for schools and libraries) is that you don’t need a platform. However, you can use your writing experiences with the educational market to help you build a platform. I used my ed market experiences to build up a social media following and author newsletter/blog. Even though I didn’t have a ton of followers, it helped me to build good habits of connecting with others and providing meaningful content instead of just self-promotion. I’ve heard from a few editors they just want to know you have at least one way you can promote a new book. Others don’t care as long as it’s the right story. 

So though my platform existed, it wasn’t large. It still isn’t. But I’m pleased with what I do and how I do it. (Feel free to follow me on IG and FB @AnnetteWhippleBooks and Twitter @AnnetteWhipple. I follow back when it’s clear that you write kidlit!) 

Kristen: It looks like a storm is moving in, so let’s wrap up with a lightning round (before a round of actual lightning starts in).

Would you rather . . .

. . . have a tongue like a dog or a frog? A sticky frog tongue!

. . . teach a group of one-room-schoolhouse students about our lives today or teach today’s students about life in the 1800s? Uh. Um. Today’s students!

. . . fly Wright brothers style or have owl wings? Owl wings for sure!

. . . have eight spider legs or eight octopus tentacles? At risk of getting squashed . . . eight spider legs! (Did you know they can self-amputate and re-grow a leg? You will once you read my book!)

. . . read and write in a tree or by a “crick”? How about in a tree by a “crick”?!  

Annette: This was such fun! Thanks so much for having me here on the blog and soon in our webinar focusing on the educational market! See you soon! 

Kristen: Thank YOU for being here! I had a lovely time and I’m very much looking forward to this Monday’s webinar.

Readers, don’t forget to check out the details of our webinar “Skip the Slush: Work-for-Hire Writing Assignments with Annette Whipple” at https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-skip-the-slush/. The webinar is Monday, September 20 at 7:00 pm Eastern time. The webinar recording will be sent to all registered participants, but live attendees will have the opportunity to take part in our live drawing for book giveaways! We hope to see you there!


Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. She’s the author of ten fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press) and The Truth About series (Reycraft Books) including Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls and Scurry! The Truth About Spiders. Get to know Annette and explore her resources for writers at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.

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A Cafe Chat with Book Designer Taylor Abatiell, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

We are getting very excited for our upcoming Virtual Illustrator Day on October 9, 2021. This year we are focusing on nonfiction and biography. There is still time to register, and we are still accepting applications for our scholarships (application deadline September 24). Follow this link for more information and to register: https://epa.scbwi.org/events/illustrator-day-2020/. In preparation for the event, our Eastern PA SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, recently chatted with Penguin Workshop book designer Taylor Abatiell. Here’s what they had to say:

Berrie: Hello, Taylor! Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. Would you like something to drink or eat from our virtual café? The scones are particularly fresh today. 

Taylor: It’s a pleasure to be here! If the scones are virtual, I might as well have a dozen. 

Berrie: Can you tell me about your journey to becoming a book designer for Penguin? 

Taylor: I like to think the journey started with the love for books my parents instilled in me as a child. I was an avid reader when I was little, and I always created my own stories, magazines, comics, and newspapers to share with family and friends. These passions led me to pursue a BFA in Communications Design with an Illustration concentration. As I studied, I worked as a creative and administrative assistant for illustrators and writers in the industry, and for a program encouraging teen mothers to read to their children. These experiences only solidified the belief that books, especially for young people, can hold a certain life-changing magic. I wanted to be a part of bringing that to others. In a way, ending up in children’s book publishing feels like I’ve come full circle. 

Berrie: For the Art Director’s assignment you are asking our participants to choose a notable person to illustrate. What type of art style catches your attention—digital, collage, realistic, etc.?

Taylor: I work with a wide variety of illustrators. The desired style is often determined by the subject matter, age range, and sometimes industry trends. I keep my mind open when it comes to artist searches, but I will say that I have a special place in my heart for people who still work traditionally with unique materials. 

Berrie: What advice would you give to participants who are just starting their journey in the children’s illustration profession? Any other advice for participants who have been in this profession for a while?

Taylor: I would encourage everyone, new or seasoned, to try new exercises or challenge yourself to create in a different way. Whether that’s trying artistic prompts, challenges, or a new material, exploration is important at any point in a career. Don’t pigeonhole yourself just because you already believe you know what you’re good at; you can be good at a plethora of things! When artists send me new styles or ideas they’re working on, it makes me feel like they truly love what they’re doing and shows they’re always thinking, which makes for a great collaborator. 

Berrie: I see from your LinkedIn profile that you have helped coordinate events for the SCBWI midwinter conferences. What do you think participants get out of going to the big conferences?

Taylor: I did! I credit my volunteerism at SCBWI as one of the reasons I have the job I do today. It’s so important to surround yourself with other creative people with similar goals, which is why I think SCBWI is so special! It can be hard to stay motivated without a sense of community and feedback as you continue to develop your craft. 

Berrie: Thank you for joining me today. Now I must put my nose to the grindstone and start working on the Art Director’s assignment. 

Taylor: Thanks for having me! I can’t wait to see what you, and the rest of the participants, come up with!


Taylor Abatiell is a New York-based book designer with Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She focuses on children’s books and middle grade novels, as well as licensed content development. Her responsibilities include art directing illustrators, designing new branding, working with longstanding series such as Eric Carle and Mad Libs, and adapting licensed content to the children’s book market, such as Paw Patrol and Mighty Express. Previous projects worked on include Clyde the Hippo, Ducks Run Amok, Mother Goose to the Rescue, Kirkus starred Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall, and the #1 NYT Best-selling series Who HQ. She also specializes in inclusive art direction, and champions diverse creators and stories for young audiences.


We hope you’ll join us for Illustrator Day on October 9 featuring Author/Illustrator Kate Garchinsky, Book Designer Taylor Abatiell of Penguin Workshop, Associate Editor Kandace Coston of Lee & Low Books, and two agents—Nicole Tugeau of T2 Agency and Chloë Morgan of Plum Pudding UK. Live attendees will also be eligible for our giveaways! Don’t forget to register: https://epa.scbwi.org/event-illustrator-day-2020/illustrator-day-agenda-2021/.

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Member News — August 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 September 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

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

“Backyard Weather Watchers” from Muse magazine, by Sue Gagliardi

Publication Announcement

Author Sue Gagliardi’s article, “Backyard Weather Watchers,” was published in MUSE magazine (Cricket Media, July/August 2021). The article introduces readers to citizen science and the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS).  Readers explore how they can help scientists and make a difference by tracking rain, snow, and hail in their own backyards.


This or That? A Story about Choosing by Kell Andrews

Cover Reveal and Preorder Announcement

Author Kell Andrews recently revealed the cover for her upcoming picture book, This or That? A Story About Choosing (Tilbury House, February 2022). Illustrator Hector Borlasca provides colorful and quirky illustrations for this funny and instructive story about making decisions. In the story, Alexander can’t decide on a Halloween costume, so he winds up as a pumpkin; he can’t decide what to wear to school, so he misses the bus; he can’t decide what school lunch to eat, so he winds up with tuna casserole. Alexander’s breakthrough comes on his birthday, when he asks for a sundae with everything but then realizes that chocolate swirl is all he wants. After that, Alexander finds his own decision-making style: not as deliberate as his mother or as quick to decide as his father, but somewhere in between. This or That? is now available for preorder.


Edie in Between by Laura Sibson

Book Release

Author Laura Sibson released her new YA book, Edie in Between, on August 24 (Viking Books for Young Readers). It’s been one year since Edie’s mother died. But her ghost has never left. According to her GG, it’s tradition that the dead of the Mitchell family linger with the living. It’s just as much a part of a Mitchell’s life as brewing healing remedies or talking to plants. But Edie, whose pain over losing her mother is still fresh, has no interest in her family’s legacy as local “witches.” When her mother’s teenage journal tumbles into her life, her family’s mystical inheritance becomes too hard to ignore. It takes Edie on a scavenger hunt to find objects that once belonged to her mother, each one imbued with a different memory. Every time she touches one of these talismans, it whisks her to another entry inside the journal—where she watches her teenage mom mourn, love, and hope just as Edie herself is now doing. But as Edie discovers, there’s a dark secret behind her family’s practice that she’s unwittingly released. She’ll have to embrace—and master—the magic she’s always rejected . . . before it consumes her. Tinged with a sweet romance with the spellbinding Rhia, who works at the local occult shop, Edie in Between delivers all the cozy magic a budding young witch finding her way in the world needs.


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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Meet Us In Lititz, PA, for a Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair at Aaron’s Books!

Support our Eastern PA PAL members and an awesome indie book store on Sunday, September 12 from 2-4 p.m. Stroll through beautiful Lititz Springs Park, make a day of it and enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the many cafes and restaurants within walking distance, and visit the eclectic variety of shops in Lititz, voted the COOLEST small town in the US!

We’ll have prizes, swag, and signings, so drop by and pick up some signed books for the kids and teens you love! There will be a wide range of fiction and nonfiction for all ages, so consider purchasing a book to donate to your local public or school library, a teacher friend’s classroom library, or just treat yourself to a great read!

Learn more about each of our participating authors/illustrators:

Sandy Asher is an author, poet, and playwright. She has written over 25 books for young readers, including the award-winning Too Many Frogs! She lives in Lancaster County with her husband.

Lindsay K. Bandy writes historical and contemporary young adult fiction as well as poetry. Her debut novel for teens, Nemesis and the Swan, published in 2020. She lives in Lancaster County with her husband, two daughters, and two cats and currently serves as the PAL Coordinator of the Eastern Pennsylvania region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She also works at Manheim Community Library.

L.E. DeLano was raised in New Mexico and now lives in Pennsylvania with two adventurous kids and two ridiculous cats. When she’s not writing, she’s binge-watching Disney+ and planning road trips. Her debut novel, Traveller, was selected as a Keystone to Reading Secondary Book Award finalist by the Keystone State Reading Association.

Robert H. Mayer is the award-winning author of When the Children Marched: The Birmingham Civil Rights Movement and editor of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a teacher, Mayer’s passion has been and continues to be making history relevant and accessible to young people. His time spent in Jackson, Canton, and McComb, Mississippi, as well as meeting scholars and activists integral to the civil rights movement, fueled Mayer’s desire to write In the Name of Emmett Till—which will be released early only for attendees of this event. He resides in Bethlehem with his wife, Jan, where he continues to write, teach, and tutor middle school students.

Patrick O’Donnell is a writer and children’s book author who lives in Boyertown with his sons. He is the author of picture books including Do Penguins Have Pediatricians? and Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists?

Lisa Papp grew up telling stories. With a notebook full of sketches, her early tales featured her cat, stuffed animals, and other nature-y things. Today, Lisa is still making up stories and painting pictures, only now, they fill the pages of children’s books. Lisa is the author and illustrator of the popular Madeline Finn picture books. She is the recipient of the PA Keystone to Reading Award. Lisa lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Robert, also an artist, and three wildly creative cats—to whom she does read.

Diana Rodriguez Wallach is a multi-published, award-winning author of young adult novels, including Small Town Monsters, the Anastasia Phoenix series, and the Amor and Summer Secrets series. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two kids.

Annette Whipple writes informational books to inspire curiosity and wonder in children. She’s the author of several published books about topics like soil, insects, flowers, and continents. Her most recent titles include The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion, Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls, and The Story of the Wright Brothers. She’s also written articles and activities for magazines including Highlights for Children. Today, Annette provides interactive programs and workshops to engage participants in topics like writing, science, and history. Annette lives in Oxford, PA with her husband and three children.

Adrienne Wright grew up in Benoni, South Africa near a bird sanctuary, which was home to ostriches, amongst other species. After concentrating in graphic design and illustration at art college, she worked in ad agencies in Johannesburg before finding herself in Washington D.C. She now lives in Gulph Mills, PA. Her debut picture book is Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph That Changed Apartheid. It was inspired by a photograph from award-winning South African photographer Sam Nzima and earned many accolades including two starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and ALA Booklist; Kirkus List, Best of 2019 (middle grade biographies); and a Children’s Africana Book Award.

Aaron’s Books (35 E. Main Street Lititz PA 17543), established in 2005, is Lancaster County’s independent bookstore, offering books and events for all ages and interests in the heart of downtown Lititz.

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Creativity for Authors, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Creativity for Authors

I was recently accorded a professional honor by the editors of Psychology Today. They invited me to author a recurring blog on creativity (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/contributors/anthony-d-fredericks-edd). The column examines why creativity is often a challenge and how certain strategies can change readers’ lives as well as their thinking. Ever since I first began writing professionally almost 40 years ago, creativity has been both a passion and a constant search for literary innovation. My quest has yielded a plethora of transformative practices that have led to several celebrated books.

And, so, for this month’s column, I would like to offer you three creative writing techniques. These are some of the most productive strategies I’ve used in my own writing, and they offer you similar experiences in your desire to write children’s books (and get them published). Feel free to share these with friends and colleagues, too.

Journey Through New Fields. We frequently get comfortable . . . way too comfortable . . . in our chosen occupations. Architects see the world through the lens of a drafting table. Plumbers see the world as a leaky pipe. Teachers see the world as a classroom. Lawyers see the world as a courtroom. Move away from your “comfort zone” and look at the world with a new (and refreshing) lens. If you’re an artist, watch a carpenter at work. If you’re a dentist, read a book about archeology. If you’re a computer programmer, visit a children’s museum. If you’re a seamstress, take time to talk with a physical therapist. If you’re a videographer, have a cup of coffee with a blues guitarist. Like most people, you’ll see the world a little differently and you’ll also be able to generate new ideas a little more easily. New lenses give you new vision. Change your outlook and you’ll change your perspective.

Steal It. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, makes a case for stealing ideas from others. No, he isn’t talking about plagiarism or stealing another creator’s intellectual property. He points out, quite emphatically, that there is no such thing as an original idea. All creative work builds on what has come before—something tagged “creative” is just the juxtaposition of two or more ideas that have never been combined before. He enthusiastically pens that “Nothing is completely original . . . every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.” The trick is to collect as many different ideas as you possibly can and put them together in wild, random, nonsensical, silly, ludicrous, harebrained, and cockamamy patterns or arrangements to create your own idea. In short, the more ideas you collect from various sources, the more possible combinations you’ll be able to make. The trick is not to look for the best ideas (that prejudgment will stifle your creativity), but to look for all kinds of ideas from a wide variety of sources and resources. Creativity results when you put two or three of those ideas together in a unique and distinctive combination.

Another Mind. As a children’s author, I’ll often visit a park, a playground, or even a shopping mall. I’ll see a group of children and identify one (the one with the yellow t-shirt, for example). I’ll give that child a fictitious name (“Mitch”) and then imagine how “Mitch” would view a book I’m working on. What would he say, what would he think, and what improvements would he offer? In an airport, while waiting for a flight, I’ll randomly select someone (a harried businessperson sprinting up the concourse, a teenager waiting for a cup of coffee, a mother guiding three kids into a restroom). Again, the person gets a fictitious name and I imagine having a conversation with her or him about a current writing project. How would they suggest I handle the first chapter? How would they describe this book to a friend? What else could be added to the main character? Interestingly, there’s some compelling research to suggest that we think more creatively when we are able to remove ourselves from a project or problem. By putting myself into the mind of someone else, I’m able to trick my brain into seeing a writing project in a new way. Take some time, on a regular basis, to people-watch and imagine how they might handle a situation or challenge in your current project. Seeing a problem with a different set of eyes may reveal different kinds of solutions—ones you normally would not see.

Final point: Creativity is not a noun; it is always a verb!

_______________

A retired educator and prolific author, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also penned the critically acclaimed Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3kl74YQ). [“If I could give this book ten stars, I would!”]

My two favorite nurses!

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A Cafe Chat with Editor Katie Heit, by Joanne Roberts

We are excited to be hosting a FREE webinar series this summer dedicated to those all-important first impressions. We call it “First Page Center Stage.” In this webinar series, industry professionals will provide live feedback of participants’ First Pages (for manuscripts) or First Looks (for illustrations). Each webinar in the series will focus on a single category: PB, CB, MG, YA, and NF. The second webinar in the series will be led by Scholastic Editor Katie Heit, who will be giving first pages feedback for nonfiction manuscripts on August 16. To find out more about the webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Good News Coordinator, Joanne Roberts, was able to chat with Katie recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say!

A Café Chat with Editor Katie Heit, by Joanne Roberts

Joanne: Good morning, Katie. We’re thrilled to have you as a guest editor for our First Page Center Stage Nonfiction Night on August 16. Did you always intend to edit children’s books? What is most satisfying about your work at Scholastic?

Katie: I always had the idea that I would edit children’s books, but picture books were a surprise! I was sure I would always be a YA fantasy author, but I fell in love with nonfiction picture books. At Scholastic, it’s been so satisfying to be able to focus almost completely on exploring nonfiction!

Joanne: Speaking of nonfiction, I’m looking forward to the upcoming You Are a Star picture book series from Scholastic. Can you tell us what makes it special to you? I’ve heard biography is difficult to pitch right now because the market is highly saturated. How can creators write a biography submission that stands out?

Katie: I completely adore how You Are a Star is coming together! The first book, You Are a Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is out this December. I think this is a perfect example of how any topic—even one as popular as RBG!—can become fresh with the right approach. Dean Robbins takes a humor-first approach with this series. Every page includes a two-panel comic that connects to the texts and makes you laugh aloud, and Sarah Green has done an amazing job on the illustrations. I’m always looking for ways that authors appeal directly to the child reader, and humor is a great way to do it.

You Are a Star Ruth Bader Ginsburg, written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Sarah Green

Joanne: That’s great advice. In your work with nonfiction manuscripts, which historical time periods do you see too much of? Which not enough?

Katie: In picture books I don’t see a ton of historical manuscripts, but I always feel any historical topic has the potential to be expanded. What is the angle that hasn’t already been covered? I think a good example is the Civil Rights movements. So many of our books focus on one or two of the same historical figures and events, but there are so many important people and moments quickly becoming lost to history. If a child’s textbooks are only going to cover so much of a rich topic, what element of an event could be fresh and new to the reader? 

Joanne: Thank you. As nonfiction writers we have lots of work ahead of us. You also work with chapter book series. Are you open to untested authors who show series potential? Or would you recommend they try to break into a different target age with their first manuscript?

Katie: I definitely think new authors can break into chapter books! My recommendation would be to educate yourself on what type of chapter book you want to work on. For instance, our Acorn and Branches chapter books at Scholastic are crafted to be early readers and have very specific guidelines to keep it within certain reading levels. Other brands have longer chapter books, like Judy Moody or Amelia Bedelia, and focus on key topics like school, friendship, and family. With chapter books, it’s just really important to be familiar with the market. 

Joanne: I love all the Branches series! Our First Page Center Stage series will be starting this week. How can participants get the most out of this webinar experience? Any tips?

Katie: I think the most important thing is to pay attention to patterns that may pop up. Any group of 10 manuscripts that I see will have broad notes that apply to many of the manuscripts. Even if the manuscript being reviewed doesn’t seem connected to your own, it’s great to see what critiques come up again and again that could apply to your own work. 

Joanne: You’ve been such a good sport. Are you ready for the lightning round? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask—

  • What’s at the top of your TBR pile? 

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States—I’m about halfway through!

  • Which book would you most like to reread? (if you had the time LOL) 

I reread Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series every few years! 

  • Which book would you love to see made into a movie or Netflix series? 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

  • What do you miss most about pre-pandemic NYC—something you can’t wait to get back to once things return to normal? 

Working somewhere other than my living room!

Joanne: Thanks for your kindness and generosity. If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to contact Kristen and me regarding the webinar. Otherwise, we’ll see you on August 16. Thank you, and enjoy your summer!


Katie Heit is a picture book editor at Scholastic Books where she edits nonfiction picture books and chapter books as well as select fiction picture book titles. She works with many nonfiction authors, including Monica Clark-Robinson, Charles R. Smith Jr., Sandra Markle, and Denise Lewis Patrick, among others. She is drawn to books that approach nonfiction in a unique, kid-friendly way and is especially on the lookout for nature and STEAM topics. You can keep up with Katie on Twitter @KatieHeit and see what she’s looking for at #MSWL.



Webinar Info

To find out more about our First Page Center Stage FREE webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

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An Interview with Editor Sylvie Frank, by Heather Stigall AND a Critique Giveaway

We are excited to be hosting a FREE webinar series this summer dedicated to those all-important first impressions. We call it “First Page Center Stage.” In this webinar series, industry professionals will provide live feedback of participants’ First Pages (for manuscripts) or First Looks (for illustrations). Each webinar in the series will focus on a single category: illustrations, PB, CB, MG, YA, and NF. The sixth webinar in the series will be led by Disney Hyperion Editor Sylvie Frank, who will be giving first pages feedback for picture books on September 13. To find out more about the webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/ and for information about our FINAL critique giveaway for this series, keep reading!

In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Critique Group Coordinator and Meet & Greet Coordinator, Heather Stigall, was able to interview Sylvie. Here’s what they had to say: 

An Interview with Editor Sylvie Frank, by Heather Stigall

Heather: Sylvie, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in Eastern PA SCBWI’s “First Page Center Stage” webinar series. I’m looking forward to your webinar! You recently joined Disney Hyperion as Executive Editor, but your bio says you were with Paula Wiseman Books for eight years. Can you tell us a little about the path that led you to children’s publishing?

Sylvie: Yes! I joined the Paula Wiseman Books team at Simon & Schuster in January of 2013. Before that, I was an editor at Holiday House for four years. I come from a family of writers. Both of my parents have worked as journalists, and my dad is a journalism professor and my mom a children’s book writer. In college I studied Classics and Spanish, and for a while assumed I’d get a PhD and become a professor. But the summer before my senior year of college I was lucky enough to land an editorial internship at Holiday House. I spent the summer immersed in books: reading submissions, writing reader’s reports, looking at original picture book art, and learning about the path from Word document to publication. I was hooked immediately and knew I would never want to do anything else. I found picture books particularly magical. One of my jobs was to literally photocopy the original art that came in (a very old-school practice), and I couldn’t believe I was entrusted with holding the magnificent art.

Heather: It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you were meant to do. And I’m envious you got to hold all that original art! What is/are your favorite thing(s) about editing children’s books?

Sylvie: There is a phase with every picture book where I feel lost: the text and art aren’t quite gelling, or there’s something about the plot that doesn’t feel right. But then, usually during a conversation with the art director, something clicks and the whole book falls into place. It’s a magical moment—and one I remind myself will come with each and every project.

I love that every book starts as words and a few sketch lines on my computer screen before it becomes a physical work of art that can be held and enjoyed. That process never ceases to amaze me, and I find great joy in holding a finished copy of each book I edit in my hands for the first time. 

Heather: That sounds magical! What are a few recently published picture books (either acquired by you or not) that you are particularly excited about and why?

Sylvie: I’m particularly excited about Thankful by Elaine Vickers, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill, which is forthcoming on September 7, 2021. It’s a lyrical celebration of the small things in life we should all remember to appreciate: warm soup on a cold day, color, seatbelts, etc. It works beautifully as a Thanksgiving book, but really it’s perfect for anytime sharing. It’s the third book I worked on with artist Samantha Cotterill, and she amazes me at every turn! Her diorama-style illustrations are nothing short of extraordinary and warrant extra-close attention. 

A recent book I’m totally smitten with (that I didn’t edit!) is called My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. It’s written in this delightful, breathless voice that perfectly reflects kid excitement at making a new friend. The imaginative play that follows is relatable and charming, and the ending is a wonderful, spot-on surprise. Jillian Tamaki’s limited-palette illustrations are whimsical and joyful to behold.

Heather: I love My Best Friend too, and I look forward to reading Thankful. You’ll be participating in our region’s “First Page Center Stage” webinar series, focusing on picture books. What are some things you look for in that all-important first page of a picture book? Related to that, are there any common problems you see in the opening of a picture book manuscript?

Sylvie: In the first page of a picture book, I want to be swept away by the voice, first and foremost, and I want a clear understanding of the characters, stakes, and what I’m reading for. That can mean the establishment of a conflict that needs resolution, a question I want answered, or just sheer surprise and eagerness to turn the page to see what happens next.

The most common issue I see at the beginning of a picture book manuscript is wordiness: too much backstory, description, or scene-setting. I want the writer to dive right in and carry me away.

Heather: Great advice! Now, for some fun: What is your superpower? What is your kryptonite?

Sylvie: Superpower: I take great pride in my bullet journals and ability to create and follow to-do lists. In other words, I’m organized, and I like my organization to look pretty.

Kryptonite: If I don’t run every day, I am not a nice person and can hardly function. (Just ask my husband!)

Heather: We must be kindred spirits. I can relate to both of these very well! Thank you, Sylvie, for sharing a little bit about yourself. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you on September 13.

Friends, if you haven’t yet registered for Sylvie’s or the other faculty webinars in our FREE First Page/First Look series, you can find the registration link below.


Sylvie Frank joined Disney’s trade publishing team as Executive Editor in June 2021. She spent over eight years as an editor with Paula Wiseman Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Division. She is the editor of award-winning and critically acclaimed books including Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo; I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Scott Magoon; The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by John Parra; The Crossroads by Alexandra Diaz; and OCDaniel by Wesley King. In her new role at Disney, Sylvie is looking for kid-focused, snappy picture books, especially those by author-illustrators. She is drawn to original and diverse voices across all genres. One of her favorite pastimes is browsing agents’ and illustrators’ websites for new talent. When she’s not reading, Sylvie can be found running while listening to audiobooks.


Webinar Info

To find out more about our First Page Center Stage FREE webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

Critique Giveaway

Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a free written critique with literary agent Minju Chang (Book Stop Literary Agency) for an illustration portfolio, picture book, middle grade, young adult, or graphic novel manuscript (up to six illustrations, OR one full picture book manuscript plus 2- to 3-sentence pitch, OR the first 10 pages plus 1-page synopsis of your MG, YA, or GN manuscript) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Friday, August 6, 2021. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment. Materials for the critique are due August 13, 2021. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner! Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.

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Member News—July 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 August 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

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

Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Cover Reveal and Preorder Announcement

Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow recently revealed the cover of her upcoming picture book, Abdul’s Story (illustrated by Tiffany Rose, with art direction by Tom Daly), on Tara Lazar’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). In this picture book, Abdul loves to tell stories. But writing them down is hard. His letters refuse to stay straight and face the right way. And despite all his attempts, his papers often wind up with more eraser smudges than actual words. Abdul decides his stories just aren’t meant to be written down . . . until a special visitor comes to class and shows Abdul that even the best writers—and superheroes—make mistakes. Abdul’s Story is available for preorder and will release March 29, 2022 from Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


Woof! The Truth About Dogs by Annette Whipple

Book Release

Author Annette Whipple released her latest picture book, Woof! The Truth About Dogs, on June 30 (Reycraft Books). How do dogs communicate? Why do dogs sniff butts? Are dogs just tame wolves? These and other questions are answered, along with some extra information provided by the dogs themselves in this second book in THE TRUTH ABOUT series.


Book Deal Announcements

We are excited to announce two book deals for author Alyssa Reynoso-Morris. Her debut picture book, Platanos Are Love, about a young girl who learns the cultural significance of plantains while cooking alongside her abuela, will be released in spring 2023 from Atheneum. The book will be illustrated by Mariah Rahman. In addition, Alyssa’s second picture book, The Bronx Is My Home has been acquired by Little Brown/Ottaviano. This picture book, which will be illustrated by Kim Holt, features a family’s weekend adventure in their native borough, with destinations including Orchard Beach, Grand Concourse, Yankee Stadium, the High Bridge, and Aurthur Avenue. The book is also slated for 2023.


Grandpa & Jake by Julie Fortenberry

Cover Reveal and Preorder Announcement

We are delighted to reveal the cover of author-illustrator Julie Fortenberry’s upcoming new picture book, Grandpa & Jake, which is now available for preorder. In this heartwarming intergenerational story, Grandpa Bear and his grandson Jake walk through the busy town. Grandpa shares the favorite places he and his own grandpa went together . . . and little Jake keeps guessing where they are going. The movies? The baseball park? The beach? “Not this time,” says Grandpa, and has Jake close his eyes before going into . . . the library! Grandpa & Jake will release on March 29, 2022 from Viking Books for Young Readers.


Blog Announcement

Tony FredericksEasternPennPoints’s monthly columnist (“Write Angles”), was recently invited by the editors of Psychology Today to write a recurring blog (“Creative Insights”) on the nature and nurture of creativity (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/contributors/anthony-d-fredericks-edd). The column examines why creativity is often a challenge and how certain strategies can change readers’ lives as well as their thinking. New articles will be posted frequently throughout the year.


Grandma Lisa’s Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden
by Lisa Doseff

Book Release

Author Lisa Doseff’s picture book, Grandma Lisa’s Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden (Pollination Press; illustrated by Duncan Robertson) was released on July 27. Join Grandma Lisa as she enlists the enthusiastic help of her grandchildren in transforming her yard into an attractive garden for wildlife. Along the way she explains why planting native species is so important and allays the children’s fear of insects by lovingly showing them how these critters are so essential to our world. Told in rhyme, children will enjoy learning about important concepts such as host plants, compost, food webs, and so much more.


SCBWI’s Recommended Reading List—July 2021

SCBWI’s July Recommended Reading List features several creators 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. July’s list celebrates books written and/or illustrated by our members who have published without the help of a traditional publisher. Books featured from our members included Becoming Jesse by Patsie McCandless, Risking Exposure by Jeanne Moran, Whiz Tanner and the Uncommitted Crime illustrated by Alexander T. Lee, The Cicadas are Coming: Invasion of the Periodical Cicadas by Doug Wechsler, Mooshu Worries written and illustrated by Yona Diamond Dansky, Sleepy Ted by J. Bub, and A Thousand Years to Wait by L. Ryan Storms.


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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A Cafe Chat with Editor Bunmi Ishola, by Kristen Strocchia AND a Critique Giveaway

We are excited to be hosting a FREE webinar series this summer dedicated to those all-important first impressions. We call it “First Page Center Stage.” In this webinar series, industry professionals will provide live feedback of participants’ First Pages (for manuscripts) or First Looks (for illustrations). Each webinar in the series will focus on a single category: PB, CB, MG, YA, and NF. The fifth webinar in the series will be led by Penguin Random House Editor Bunmi Ishola, who will be giving first pages feedback for chapter books on August 26. To find out more about the webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/ and for information about our critique giveaway, keep reading!

In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Assistant Regional Advisor and Webinar Coordinator, Kristen Strocchia, was able to chat with Bunmi recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say: 

A Café Chat with Editor Bunmi Ishola, by Kristen Strocchia

Kristen: Hi, Bunmi! Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Virtual Café. Before we get started, would you like a munchie or something to drink? 

Bunmi: I’m always down for a cup of lemon ginger or hibiscus tea. And I recently was introduced to dried seaweed and can eat through an entire package in one sitting. 

Kristen: Ooh, a cup of plum ginger hibiscus tea does sound perfect right now. And maybe some sesame brittle. As a former middle school educator myself, I know that I often see my classroom experiences seeping into my work. What kind of books would you like to help put in the hands of your former students? 

Bunmi: I was always searching for more books that reflected my student’s actual lives and/or fueled their imaginations and helped them dream big. A lot of the “fun” books seem to mostly have white characters, and if you got books with a BIPOC main character, then there was a lot of violence or some level of trauma being explored. Those stories are important to tell, but they aren’t the full story of what being a BIPOC kid is like. I just think it’s important for all kids to be able to have their identity reflected in all kinds of stories. It would be nice to see more BIPOC characters as leads in adventure, sci-fi, and fantasy—although as a Nigerian American who grew up between two countries/cultures, I’ve yet to find books with an African main character that isn’t fantasy. If anyone has recommendations besides Anna Hibiscus, let me know—and on the flip side, it’d be nice to have BIPOC characters in contemporary realistic stories that show a wider breadth of childhood experiences. 

Kristen: That insight is so helpful in understanding the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices discussions. And it’s also a perfect segue. Your involvement with The Word, A Storytelling Sanctuary seems very rewarding. Can you share a little about your work with this organization? 

Bunmi: The Word focuses on creating a more diverse publishing world, and so all of our programs are geared toward supporting writers from marginalized backgrounds. I’ve been president of the board for the last three years, and also have been the Editor-Writer Mentorship coordinator. While I love all the programs we do, managing the mentorship program is one of my favorite things—and my favorite part is getting to call the mentees and let them know an editor has selected them to mentor. A lot of these writers have been working for years on their manuscripts, and in some cases, have applied multiple times to our program, so getting to hear their excitement and joy on the phone is awesome. We also now have a few former mentees who have gotten book deals, and we love knowing that our program played even a small role in that success. But even if an author is not chosen for mentorship, I try really hard to make sure we’re able to pass on some feedback to every writer who applies, which I think is a unique aspect of what we do.

Kristen: What an amazing thing to get to be the good news bearer. It must be an enjoyable part of acquiring a manuscript as well. So, I know that our members will get a good sense of what you’re looking for during our First Page Center Stage Chapter Book Night, but give us a sneak peek if you could. What kind of chapter book series would be a good fit for your team? Any chapter book-specific MSWL details you hope to find in your inbox? 

Bunmi: The best chapter books have really strong characters—big (or at least distinct) personalities that kids can fall in love with and want to follow on many adventures. I prefer books about humans but recognize that animals are a huge draw for kids too. Since I work for a faith-based publisher, we’d be looking for a series that helped kids learn life lessons and values—nothing too heavy-handed, but in a way that real kids would organically learn about the world and how to live out their faith. Or perhaps a series based in Bible times or exploring Christian history in a really fun and unique way could be a cool thing to see in my inbox. Think The Dead Sea Squirrels, or if there was a faith-based version of The Bailey School KidsThe Time Warp Trio, or The Magic Treehouse, or a new take on PsaltySuperbook, or that old Hanna-Barbera show The Greatest Adventure

Kristen: It’s exciting to hear that there is a market for more of these stories. I’ve seen that you’ve participated in some Twitter pitch parties. As an editor with WaterBrook & Multnomah, does an author have to write specifically faith-based stories to publish with your house? 

Bunmi: An author doesn’t have to write specifically faith-based stories, but there needs to be a clear reason why their book would be a WaterBrook book. If the stories themselves are not explicitly about faith, what elements of the story or author’s background would connect to a faith-based audience? Is the author well connected in the faith space and are they comfortable doing publicity in that space? We definitely have some books on our children’s list that do not have any mention of God, and we have others that are “faith-lite” (where they mention God, prayer, etc. but aren’t necessarily referencing a specific religion or theology), but with every book we choose to publish, we need to have a clear vision for how this fits with our overall purpose as a publisher/imprint. 

Kristen: Good to know! It’s definitely important that we creators do our homework before submitting to any house or agency. 

Okay, time for a few Lightning Round questions . . .

  • Name a book you wish you wrote. Gah! This is so hard . . . and I just want to go on the record that this answer could be different if you asked me this an hour later. But let’s go with . . . Nevermoor, The Vanderbeekers series, The Mysterious Benedict Society, or Front Desk. Although, I would settle for simply wishing to have been the editor for them. 🙂
  • Favorite childhood read? Depends on what age we’re talking about, but as an adult, I re-read Ella Enchanted and Anne of Green Gables every year (and sometimes more than once in a year). 
  • Favorite place to read? I’m not super picky. I can curl up anywhere and get lost in a book. (I am dying for a hammock though.)
  • One favorite thing each from Texas and Nigeria that you would love to see fused (either in life or in kidlit)? I’m thinking hard about this because both Texans and Nigerians have a lot of pride in their identities, and I mock us but also love it to death. I’m not sure which side would win in a “home pride” face-off! I also have an odd sense of pride knowing that I grew up in the city that has the original Six Flags (if the parks aren’t in Texas then they completely don’t get why it’s called SIX Flags!), and then one of the things I miss most about living in Nigeria are all the fresh fruit trees all around our house (mangoes, guava, tangerines, grapefruit, and so much more!) . . . No clue how Six Flags and fruit trees would fuse together, but those were hallmarks of my childhood.

Kristen: Now that does sound like a fun childhood fusion! Maybe a fruit tree section of Six Flags . . . with hammocks and books! (I’ll keep thinking on it.) 

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Bunmi! It has been amazing to get to know more about you and the stories of your heart. We’re looking very forward to continuing this discussion on August 26 for our First Page Center Stage: Chapter Book Night.


Raised in Texas and Nigeria, Bunmi Ishola spent most of her childhood reading. She thought she wanted to be an author, but Nigerian practicality encouraged her to pursue journalism instead. After working for different newspapers and magazines, Bunmi left journalism to teach middle school social studies and English. After seven years in the classroom, she decided to take a chance and find a job working with one of her biggest passions: books. She now works as an editor for Penguin Random House, primarily focusing on faith-based children’s books, and serves on the board for The Word, A Storytelling Sanctuary.


Webinar Info

To find out more about our First Page Center Stage FREE webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

Critique Giveaway

Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a written critique with literary agent Kortney Price (Raven Quill Literary Agency) for a Picture Book, Early Reader, Chapter Book, Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Graphic Novel manuscript—both fiction and nonfiction (first 10 pages plus 1-page synopsis) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Friday, July 30, 2021. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment. Materials for the critique are due August 13, 2021. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner! Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.

Posted in Cafe Chat, Giveaways, Interviews, Uncategorized, webinar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Remembering Floyd Cooper

Floyd Cooper
1956-2021

We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Floyd Cooper last week. Floyd was an amazing artist and a generous educator in our region and beyond. We were honored to have him on our faculty for our 2020 virtual Pocono Retreat. Our community will miss his talent, his humor, and his kindness.

We invite you to spend time remembering Floyd with these tributes:

And here is a throwback interview from 2020 when our Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, interviewed Floyd for our 2020 Pocono Retreat: https://easternpennpoints.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/an-interview-with-illustrator-floyd-cooper-by-berrie-torgan-randall/. It was a highlight of our program to have Floyd join us and do a live demonstration of his subtractive technique.

The Highlights Foundation has established a scholarship in honor of Floyd Cooper. Information about this scholarship and ways to contribute can be found here.

There is also a GoFundMe campaign to assist Floyd’s family with memorial costs. The fundraiser can be found here.

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