Write What You Know. NO!, by Anthony D. Fredericks

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A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Write What You Know. NO!

Chalkboard saying follow the rulesThere’s a rule that’s bandied around at writing conferences, via online courses, and in most of the books on writing technique. The phrase is used so often that it has almost become de rigueur for any presenter or author to include (as though it was carved on a piece of granite perched on the portal of the “Writer’s Hall of Fame”). It is portrayed as THE CARDINAL RULE for every writer—novice or experienced—to follow. Ignore it and you will die a penniless and heartbroken author . . . a shell of your former self . . . a shadow of what might have been . . . a lost and lonely scribe wandering a desert of unfulfilled desires.

Write what you know.

I reject that phrase. Categorically! That phrase, perhaps more than any other writing admonition, has probably curbed, derailed, deflated, disrupted, wrecked, and spoiled more writing projects than any other. It has put a focus on what is important to the writer, rather than an emphasis on what might be meaningful to a reader. It is less about the audience and more about self-interests. It is egocentric rather than reader-centric. And, I suspect, following it religiously, may lead to more rejection notices than any other “advice” proffered in the more than 100,000 writing instruction books currently available on Amazon.

It is a bucket of water on authorial fires.

surfingFor example, I know a lot about growing up in southern California, a lot about the best surfing spots along the West Coast, a lot about attending college in Arizona, a lot about serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, a lot about relocating to Pennsylvania, a lot about struggling as a teacher, and a lot about teaching college. Is there a book in all that stuff? Maybe yes, but most likely no. They are my personal experiences—ones that consumed large portions of my life—but that alone doesn’t make them book-worthy . . . at least for an audience of 6- to 10-year-olds.

For me, writing is a process of discovery . . . a process of learning new things and sharing my curiosity and enthusiasm about that learning with young readers. It’s discovering what I don’t know and bringing youngsters along for the ride. It’s a journey—a most incredible journey—into the unknown, the mysterious, and the unfamiliar. It’s all about opening eyes, investigating possibilities, and filling in mental blanks. It’s about new visions, rather than old familiar vistas.

Tall tall treeFor example,

  • When I initiated A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet, I didn’t know much about the flora and fauna of this unique ecosystem. So, I conferred with several environmental biologists. The book went on to win the New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award (2012).
  • When I began Tall Tall Tree, I was completely ignorant about the critters that lived high in the canopy of redwood trees. I spent a week hiking among these arboreal giants and the resulting book was selected as an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the Children’s Book Council (2018).
  • When I started The Tsunami Quilt, I knew next to nothing about the generation of tsunamis and their long-term effects on human lives. I visited Laupāhoehoe, Hawaii and talked to one of the world’s leading tsunami experts. The resulting book was eventually selected as a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year (2007).
  • When I began Near One Cattail, I had only a passing knowledge of the dynamics of wetland environments. So, I got a pair of galoshes and waded through a dozen mucky swamps. The book was honored with the 2005 Green Earth Book Award.

In last month’s column I talked about the importance of passion and awe in our writing for children. Here’s one of my statements from that posting: “ . . . without awe and passion we simply write words, rather than sharing the wonder of seeing things anew or the joy of moving beyond ‘our small bordered worlds.’” Writing what we know seldom generates the same level of awe and passion in readers as it does for our own egos. writing on a laptopTrue, it may be “enthusiastic writing”—but mostly for the author; perhaps less so for the reader. For a story (fiction or nonfiction) to resonate with a reader, it needs a fervent insight into a character’s psyche, a zealous pursuit of an obscure fact about the natural world, an ardent description of a mythical kingdom, or an obsessively detailed examination of an unknown historical figure. It needs passion and awe—commodities not always in full bloom when we write about what we know—but moreso when we write about what we are discovering . . . and what our readers can discover as well.

After all, J.K. Rowling had (I presume) little first-hand experience with wizards, sorcery, or dark lords before penning Harry Potter. Yet, her passion for the characteristic hero and all his supernatural challenges shines through magnificently.

Write what you know. NO!


Anthony Fredericks in front of tree

A retired professor of education and resident of York, PA, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also authored the book Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2XFsbbs). [“This book tells the truth about being an author of children’s books.” —5-star review]

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A Cafe Chat with Senior Designer Andrea Miller, by Berrie Torgan-Randall


We are gearing up for our upcoming 2020 Virtual Illustrator Day. Illustrator Day is less than two weeks away (September 12!), and there are still spots open if you’d like to join us. Register here.

Today at the virtual EasternPennPoints Café, Berrie Torgan-Randall had a chat with Andrea Miller, who is a senior designer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Andrea is one of our faculty presenters for Illustrator Day. Here’s what they had to say.

abstract teaBerrie: Hi, Andrea. Welcome to the EPA’s Café Chat. Would you like tea or coffee or perhaps a scoop of ice cream?

Andrea: Thanks for having me, Berrie! Great to be joining you. Yes please to tea! Perhaps a cup of Yunnan Gold. Alas, I love making a good cup of pour-over coffee for my spouse, but I never drink it. And I will never ever ever turn down ice cream.

Berrie: I see in your bio that you worked at Franklin Fountain in Center City Philadelphia while you were a student at the University of the Arts. What was the best and worst part about this summer job?

Andrea: Working at the Franklin Fountain was amazing, albeit exhausting. As a soda jerk, I found myself mixing up handmade sodas and phosphates, and I worked hard to get the perfect head of foam on my egg creams. The artistry and the history of the job were made all the sweeter by getting to teach our customers all about it. I did some part-time work in their office as well, doing hand-painted signs, design work, and helping with the archives of historical Ice Cream Ephemera—some of which was almost 200 years old! The worst part was, hands-down, the heat. We dressed in period clothing and there was no AC at the time. The freezers are cold inside but give off a LOT of heat, so always tip your ice cream scoopers!

Berrie: I had a great time coming up with ideas and creating illustrations for your Art Director assignment. For my project I chose to focus on a seasonal vignette of a Prairie family (as a child I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books). What do you think illustrators should think about when completing their Art Director assignment?

Andrea: I think you captured it perfectly—the seasons are a great theme to riff on. My main hope is that our illustrators find a character or topic that they’re excited to draw multiple times. Keeping that enjoyment up is key to making sure you don’t burn out or lose interest, whether you’re doing this assignment or working on a 32-page book!

ask signBerrie: I’ve found that when I go into a critique session with questions and goals for the session, I have success with my critique. Would you agree, and do you have any other helpful hints before a critique?

Andrea: Having questions and goals is SO valuable. When I begin crits, I like to ask the person I’m working with if they have anything specific they’d like to focus on. I often say, “This is your time, and I want to make sure you get the absolute most out of it.” I’ve been in crits where people focus on things in my work that I either already have plans to change or that I don’t have strong concerns about and it’s so frustrating to have a conversation not benefit you, or worse, to dishearten you! Definitely don’t be bashful about asking for specific feedback.

Berrie: Should illustrators still send postcards during the time of Covid? Are there hashtags that you follow on Instagram or Twitter to find illustrators?

Andrea: While I’m only speaking for myself here, I’d unequivocally say: No! While I encourage you all to support the USPS, any postcards that are sent are likely going to be sitting on empty desks. I haven’t been back to our Manhattan office since the first week of March and I have no idea when I’ll feel comfortable going back to NYC. Better to take this time to invest in digital promotions, whether newsletters, email blasts, or social media. I am on Twitter ALL THE TIME, and I really find the hashtag events useful. #VisibleWomen, #DrawingWhileBlack, #ArtistsofSEA, and #ArtMubarak all come to mind as successful tags in recent memory where I found a LOT of new illustrators to follow, especially from marginalized groups who maybe historically had a harder time promoting their work. In addition, tags like #AnimalArtistsUnite or #FaceYourLineArt specifically tap into art with a specific subject matter or a focus on style. Anything to help narrow the field to lead someone to your work is helpful!

Mira book coverBerrie: One of the books that you designed, Mira Forecasts the Future, was written by one or our own EPA SCBWI members, Kell Andrews. Can you talk about the process of finding the illustrator, Lissy Marlin?

Andrea: This particular book was special—I always pitch a range of artists to my editor by sending them slides that feature relevant samples from each artist (if they don’t already have someone attached, of course!). I was thrilled when the team decided to go with Lissy. A little backstory: Lissy and I went to the same school, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and even were in two classes together when she was a Junior and I was a Senior. (Notably, both classes were focused on children’s book illustration.) So, I was very familiar with Lissy’s style and process and knew she’d been doing some amazing work post-graduation. She went above and beyond with Mira, providing character style sheets, setting sketches, vision boards with historical visual reference—it was a lovely experience, and the end result is a book that I’m still in love with and proud of years later.

Marlon Bundo coverBerrie: Okay, fangirl question time! I see that you directed and designed John Oliver’s A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. Did you get to meet him and talk with him?

Andrea: I WISH! Unfortunately, going to a taping just never happened, despite me living in New York at the time. I still watch the show weekly, though. That book was an adventure with tight turnarounds happening during December. I worked really closely with our project manager and editor, Alli Brydon, and E.G. Keller, the illustrator, to make it all come together in a matter of weeks! A picture book normally takes months or even years, so this was a really speedy schedule.

Berrie: After working all day at HMHkids, how do you still have energy for your own creative pursuits, including your hand lettering and comic creation? Do you have any tricks you can share with our members who often work day jobs and write/illustrate at night?

Andrea: As I get older, I have less and less energy, admittedly. I remember staying up drawing until 3:00 a.m. when I was 23 and needed no sleep. Six years later, that’s just not gonna fly anymore! That said, I truly love the stories that I want to tell and leaving them untouched physically hurts, so I do my best to fit in drawing when I can, after dinner, on weekends, or while watching a movie. I’ve been known to even shirk other things (like laundry—oops!) to make the time for it. That said, I’ve tried to remember that taking care of myself is key to not burning out, and getting nervous or upset when I don’t draw for a while only makes me stall more. Better to stay loose, not be too harsh on myself, and try to keep creativity flowing in a way that isn’t forced. Setting goals and deadlines can also be helpful, so long as you’re good about sticking to them!ice cream sundae

Berrie: Thank you for joining me for this time together. One of these days I’ll treat you to a coffee—or an ice cream sundae, if you prefer. 

Andrea: It’s been great! I’ll happily make a special sundae for us; it’s a hobby of mine!

andrea miller

Andrea Miller is a senior designer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, working diligently from a folding table in her Philadelphia apartment. Her work ranges from picture books and nonfiction to middle grade and YA novels. In addition, she has a special focus on graphic novels, helping to start HMH’s new imprint, Etch. She has a background in illustration, and enjoys working on her own comics with her partner when she isn’t otherwise preoccupied with their cat.

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Member News — August 2020

Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our 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 e-mail Laura Parnum at epa-ara@scbwi.org before September 20.

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

Pearl Goes to Preschool

Just in time for back-to-school, author-illustrator Julie Fortenberry’s picture book Pearl Goes to Preschool has been released in the United States by Candlewick (July 2020) and in the United Kingdom by Walker Books (August 2020). The book tells the story of Pearl, a timid child who warms to the idea of preschool with her mother’s tactical nudging and her own ingenuity. The story is accompanied by Julie’s warm and soothing illustrations. Here’s what the reviews are saying:

“Tender and sweet comfort.” —Kirkus Reviews

“. . . with a winsome quality that suits the story well. A pleasing picture book for young dance lovers.” —Booklist

“This charming antidote to preschool anxiety contains a deftly measured dose of sweetness.” —Publishers Weekly

Be A Maker cover

Be A Maker by Katey Howes with illustrations by Elizabet Vuković was recently awarded the 2020 Social Justice Literature Award by the International Literacy Association (ILA). The SJLA seeks to “recognize outstanding books that address social responsibility towards individuals, communities, societies and/or the environment and which invite reflection and socially responsible action by the reader.”

It was also announced this week that Asia Citro at The Innovation Press has acquired Katey’s picture book, A Poem Grows Inside You, to be illustrated by artist Heather Brockman Lee. Katey says, “A Poem Grows Inside You is an honest, delicate little piece of my heart—and one I hope will serve to show young writers how incredible it is to nurture the seed of an idea into life.” Publication is planned for fall 2022.


BerrieTorganRandall E&I slideshow illustration

Eastern PA SCBWI’s own Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, has had her illustration featured on SCBWI’s Equity and Inclusion training slideshows. The Equity and Inclusion training has been implemented this summer for all of SCBWI’s regional team members worldwide. This has been an important initiative for the SCBWI mission to become agents of change by affirming the need for increased representation in every facet of the children’s and YA book industry.

If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ara@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column.

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Register for the Eight & Under Webinar Series

Eight & Under Webinar Series


Are you a writer for picture books or chapter books for children ages eight and under? Then this webinar series is for you!

Many people enjoyed our recent webinar “The Start, The Art, the Hearth of Revision” with Beth Ferry. This was the first in our four-part webinar series for writing for children ages eight and under. If you missed Beth Ferry’s highly informative webinar, there is still time to purchase the recording (accessible until September 8), and if you enjoyed that webinar, you won’t want to miss the next webinars in our Eight & Under series. You may register for one, two, three, or for the whole bundle of four webinars!

Here are the details:

1. The Start, the Art, the Heart of Revision, with author Beth Ferry

This webinar is available as a recording only. Registration for the recorded webinar closes August 31. Within 48 hours of registering, you will be sent a link to the recording and have access to the recording until September 8, 2020.

In this recorded webinar, Beth Ferry discusses revision essentials and explores creative ways to examine your work-in-progress critically in order to make it submission ready. Please note: Recording will be available only until September 8, 2020.

Beth Ferry is the author of numerous picture books, including Stick and Stone, Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, and The Scarecrow. She lives with her family by the beach in New Jersey, where she finds inspiration in the salty air. In addition to writing picture books, Beth has begun writing graphic novels for emerging readers. Beth has three children who are not so little and a not-so-little bulldog who is almost three. You can learn more at Bethferry.com.

2. The Author-Editor Relationship: How to Navigate the Publishing Industry from Pitched to Published, with associate editor Cheryl Eissing

Live Webinar: Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). A recording of Cheryl’s webinar will be available to registered participants for 30 days following the live event.

Cheryl Eissing, associate editor at Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers, discusses crafting your pitch letter, revising your manuscript, and navigating the author-editor relationship.

Cheryl Eissing, associate editor at Philomel Books, holds a BA in English from Rutgers University. She edits picture books, middle grade, and young adult and is specifically interested in stories that expose their readers to experiences and perspectives that the children’s book world hasn’t seen before. Cheryl is the editor of the Pages & Co. series by Anna James, The Little Ghost Who Lost Her Boo (written by Elaine Bickell and illustrated by Raymond McGrath), and a number of upcoming picture books, including Love Is Here by Mike Malbrough and P.S. Wildwood Elementary Stinks! (written by Becky Scharnhorst and illustrated by Julia Patton). Cheryl is always looking for fresh YA fiction, whether it be contemporary, thriller, romance, horror, or fantasy; silly yet profound picture books; and above all, stories that entertain, educate, and inspire. Cheryl considers fiction and nonfiction picture books and chapter books.

3. The Art of Reading: Engaging Your Audience, with children’s curator Christopher Brown

Live Webinar: Monday, September 14, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). A recording of Christopher’s webinar will be available to registered participants for 30 days following the live event.

Reading your work aloud to a group is an important part of book promotion. Christopher A. Brown, the curator for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Children’s Literature Research Collection and a former Children’s Librarian will lead a discussion on the best practices for storytime visits.

Christopher A. Brown is the curator for the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He has worked in public, academic, and special libraries, and has logged thousands of hours reading to children. Brown served on ALSC’s 2013-2015 Children’s Literature Legacy Award (formerly the Wilder Medal) and the 2018-2020 Notable Children’s Book committee. In his spare time, Brown reviews Children and Teen materials for Kirkus.

4. The Art of Pacing and Pagination, with agent Rachel Orr

Live Webinar: Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). A recording of Rachel’s webinar will be available to registered participants for 30 days following the live event.

Pacing and pagination are essential skills in the art of picture-book making, whether you’re an author or illustrator. Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency will show the process of taking a story from manuscript to dummy form, encouraging creators to think about pacing, page turns, and possible visuals—and then using the dummy as a tool for further revising the text. She’ll also give some helpful tips in pacing your chapter book too.

Rachel Orr is celebrating her thirteenth year at Prospect Agency, where she represents both authors and illustrators in projects ranging from picture books through YA. She previously worked for eight rewarding years at HarperCollins Children’s Books and uses those editorial skills to help prepare her clients’ work for submission. Her clients include Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Purrmaids, Penguin Random House), David Bucs (Sleepover at the Museum, Crown), Barbara DiLorenzo (Renato and the Lion, Viking), Cori Doerrfeld (The Rabbit Listened, Dial), Leeza Hernandez (Mia Mayhem, Simon & Schuster), and Emma Wunsch (Miranda and Maude, Abrams). Rachel lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband and two children. She has no spare time, but, if she did, she would spend it dancing, running, and reading, of course.

Register for one webinar or the entire series!

The cost of a single webinar is $15 for SCBWI members and $20 for nonmembers. The cost of the four-part webinar bundle is $50 for SCBWI members and $65 for nonmembers. To receive the entire bundle, please register by August 31.*

Here is the link to register: https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinarseries-eight_and_under/.

We hope you’ll join us for this exciting series of presentations!

*If you previously registered for the Beth Ferry webinar and would like to register for the bundle now, please check your inbox/SPAM folder for a coupon code for the series. Please remember to use the coupon code when ordering the series.

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New Webinar with Critiques Available: Storyboarding for Novelists with Sarah Aronson


New Webinar:

Storyboarding for Novelists

A new way to look at your story and reimagine your next draft

Thursday, September 10, 2020, 7:00 p.m. EST

$15 for SCBWI members, $25 for nonmembers


Join Sarah Aronson for an interactive lecture and workshop all about the foundations of story: characters, plot, and scene. She will introduce you to basic storyboarding techniques as well as how she uses them to strengthen logic, uncover new ideas, and reimagine twists, backstory, and emotion. Get ready to dive deep into revision. Bring a pencil and paper. No drawing skills required. Be prepared to embrace the power of play!

Can’t make the live session? The recording will be available for two weeks following the event.

A limited number of written critiques are available for MG/YA manuscripts only.

Manuscript Critiques (at additional cost of $45)

Submissions are due on or before Friday, September 11, 2020. Send up to 10 pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis. (Include synopsis in the same document; please don’t send two documents.) Sarah requests, “In the synopsis, I want to know who the main character is, what they want, and how the story resolves, if the author knows. Please encourage them to also include any questions they may have and/or why this story is important to them. Critiques are about opening doors and creating new possibilities!”

Format your work in 12-point font, with one-inch margins, and double spacing. Please include your name on every page of your work as a header or a footer, as well as identifying information on page one: first and last name, email address, title, genre. Please name your file with the following format: Webinar Faculty Last Name_Your Last Name_TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT and save as a PDF or DOC or DOCx (example: Aronson_Strocchia_PURPLE CARROTS). Then send your file to Kristen at epawebco@gmail.com. The subject line should be formatted as follows: Webinar Faculty Last Name_Your Last Name_TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT (same as saved file name).

To register, click here.

Get to Know Your Instructor

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three stand alone novels (Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe), a young MG series (The Wish List), and the picture book biography Just Like Rube Goldberg (illustrated by Robert Neubecker).

When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at  the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net (www.writers.com). She currently serves as PAL coordinator for SCBWI-Illinois and the SCBWI-IL initiative, Read Local. Warning: She overuses exclamation points. When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. She lives in Evanston, Illinois. Find out too much at http://www.saraharonson.com.

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Passion and Awe, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Write Angles Logo

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Passion and Awe

grand-canyonI stood on the brink, a palette of colors splayed before me like a surrealistic painting. It was just before 6:00 a.m., and I was alone—lost in a vision unlike anything else I had ever seen. The panoramic spectacle before me had been played a thousand times before . . . no, a million times before . . . but never in this manner and never before these eyes. I was without words. I was transfixed. I was stilled by unimaginable beauty.

I was perched on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, watching a sunrise sweep up and over geological monoliths and multi-chromatic rocks—painting the rugged horizon with flashes, blushes, and a moving panache of hued encounters and tinted strokes. The pigments were disparate, but precise; random, yet artistic. My breath was stilled and my mind calmed as I watched the sun begin its daily arc over this enchanted and ancient landscape.

I was in awe!

For her 70th birthday, I had brought my wife to the edge of the Grand Canyon—her first encounter with this transformative geological carving. After an overnight train ride from Chicago, we checked into a refurbished cabin perched along the precipice of the Canyon—a room with both a view and an experience. That first morning of our (ad)venture, I rose early, walked less than 25 feet to the edge of the abyss, and observed a world unlike any other. My laptop stayed closed, but my mind and eyes were gaping with both wonder and reverence. I was swallowed by a vision unlike any other . . . a vision without equal, without measure.

wow in speech bubbleMany times, in writing workshops or conference presentations, I am asked about my inspiration for writing. I always smile and say that two conditions must be present before I can write a story: passion and awe. Although my specialty is nonfiction writing, I do not write about animals, or nature, or environmental concerns. I write about the sentiments those constructs engender. If I look at a mountain lake, a croaking bullfrog, or a redwood forest and am not overwhelmed with passion and awe, then there is no writing . . . or, more precisely, there is no incentive to share that scene with young readers. Writing is not telling readers about what I see or what I researched, it is about getting youngsters interactionally engaged in the deep dynamics of the subject. My emotional connection to the scenes I describe with letters, words, and sentences must be passionately evident and fervidly detailed. It must be embraced—not just read—by the audience.

man writing on pad of paperAnne Lamott, in her classic book Bird by Bird writes, “I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. The alternative is that we stultify, we shut down.” Writers, according to Lamott, don’t write about things; they write with things. They share insights, they share glimpses into the soul of their subjects—whether those subjects are riddled with teenage angst, wrestling with life-altering decisions, soaring over forests of towering redwoods, or hiding in the nooks and crannies of a vanishing coral reef. Nonfiction or fiction—without passion and awe we simply write words, rather than sharing the wonder of seeing things anew or the joy of moving beyond “our small, bordered worlds.”

grand canyon with shadowsMy experiences with the magnificence of dawn along the rims and rocks of the Grand Canyon that morning resulted in a children’s picture book manuscript—Hello Grand Canyon—currently under review by several publishers. I was inspired by the ever-changing palette of shades and paints that crept over the geography of northern Arizona but knew that mere words would never capture the sentience of that time-worn environment. My written symbols had to be wrapped in vibrant layers of passion and awe; they needed the natural enthusiasm of my targeted audience to achieve their intention. Without passion and awe, they are simple linguistic sentinels, rather than shared emotions and vibrant connections.

The shape of words is insignificant; but their tenor paramount.


Tony Fredericks in woodsA retired professor of education and resident of York, PA, Tony (www.anthonydfredericks.com) is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He is also the author of Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2AsNmWw).

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Member News — July 2020

Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our 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 e-mail Laura Parnum at epa-ara@scbwi.org before August 20.

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

Neva Beane book cover

Author Christine Kendall’s new middle grade novel, The True Definition of Neva Beane (Scholastic, 2020), is set to be released on September 15. Being twelve isn’t easy, especially when you’re Neva Beane. She knows she’s beautiful and smart but there are so many confusing signals in everyday life about, well, everything including the changes taking place in her pre-adolescent body; her relationship with her best friend, Jamila; and her admiration for the activist on the block, Michelle.

Mom and Dad are on tour in Europe and Neva and her brother, Clay, are left at home with their traditional grandparents. The household descends into intergenerational turmoil and Neva is left with what comforts her most—words and their meanings. While the pages of her beloved dictionary reveal truths about what’s happening around her, Neva discovers the best way to define herself.


Author Sue Gagliardi’s Makerspace Cardboard Challenge! book series will be released August 1 from ABDO Publishing’s DiscoverRoo Pop! imprint. Titles include Cardboard Castle ChallengeCardboard Rocket Challenge, and Cardboard Robot Challenge. Readers explore real-world castles, rockets, and robots and discover how the design of each structure helps fulfill its purpose. Readers are challenged to build their own cardboard castle, rocket, and robot models. Features include a table of contents, an infographic, a supply list, Think About It critical thinking questions, Making Connections questions, a glossary, and an index. QR codes in the book give readers access to book-specific resources to further their learning.

If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ara@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column.

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Eastern PA SCBWI Webinar: The Start, the Art, the Heart of Revision, with Beth Ferry

Webinar: The Start, the Art, the Heart of Revision, with Beth Ferry


Eastern PA SCBWI is excited to embark on a series of webinars just for picture book and chapter book writers. Our first webinar in this series is “The Start, the Art, and the Heart of Revision.” Please join celebrated author Beth Ferry for a craft-based webinar on writing for children eight & under. This presentation will discuss revision essentials and explore creative ways to examine your work in progress critically in order to make it submission ready.

The Webinar will be held on Saturday, August 8, 2020 from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. (EST). Registered participants can watch the webinar live on August 8 and will have access to watch the recording for 30 days.

To register go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/rock-polishing-webinar-with-beth-ferry/.

This webinar is open to all! The cost is $15 for SCBWI members and $20 for nonmembers. (No cancellations after August 1.)

About the instructor:

Beth FerryBeth Ferry is the author of numerous picture books, including Stick and Stone, Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, and The Scarecrow. She lives with her family by the beach in New Jersey, where she finds inspiration in the salty air. In addition to writing picture books, Beth has begun writing graphic novels for emerging readers. Beth has three children who are not so little and a not-so-little bulldog who is almost three. You can learn more at bethferry.com.


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Nature and the Creative Writer, by Anthony D. Fredericks

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A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Nature and the Creative Writer

FowlersHollowStatepark[1]The other day, my wife and I drove up to Fowler’s Hollow State Park, a 104-acre enclave on the edge of Tuscarora State Forest in Perry County. It is remote and isolated from all the clamor of “civilization”—a verdant sea of tranquility in a noisy world. We brought a picnic lunch, parked our camp chairs beside a meandering stream, and listened to the quiet. A long hike on a woodland trail, the errant fluttering of a swallowtail butterfly, the whisper of trees, and the scamper of chipmunks over ancient logs were additional highlights. After a full day in this arboreal wonderland, we returned home to York, refreshed, rejuvenated, and reinvigorated.

Ruth Ann Atchley, a cognitive psychologist, notes that modern-day humans are beset by a host of mental distractions and threats (witness the personal and professional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic). Atchley states, “[These threats] sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of—things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood. Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax, and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over—to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve—that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”

TreehouseRecall times in your youth when you escaped to a quiet environment (a treehouse, a fort in the woods, a slow-flowing stream) just to be alone; just to contemplate an event in your life or a decision you had to make. You may have remembered how things seemed to slow down, how the atmosphere became peaceful and contemplative. Your mind was quieted, your pulse was lowered and your thoughts turned inward. Without all the usual disturbances, you were able to refocus and recharge. The bombardment of stimuli was stilled, and boundaries to your thinking were diminished. A “wide open space” offered you an unfettered opportunity to think and, perchance, to solve.

Those sojourns freed your mind from the constraints of an overburdened schedule and a seemingly endless parade of obligations. You may have concluded, as did one group of researchers, that nature has the ability to evoke a creative way of thinking by making us more curious, able to embrace new ideas, and by stimulating us into becoming more flexible thinkers. “Nature is the great visible engine of creativity, against which all other creative efforts are measured,” said Terrance McKenna in a talk in the early nineties. “Nature’s creativity is obviously the wellspring of human creativity. We emerge out of nature almost as its finest work of art. And human creativity emerges out of that.”

brain light switchSo, what’s the connection to writing? Well, when our prefrontal cortex (the region of the brain involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, decision-making, and personality expression) is quieted, our brain’s default mode turns on and is activated. As a result, flashes of inspiration and insight hit us. According to one researcher, “It’s akin to an ‘imagination network’: it’s activated when we’re not focusing on anything specific, and instead we’re engaged in mellow, non-taxing activities, such as walking in the woods. Our minds are allowed to idly wander or to dip into our deep storehouses of emotions, ideas, and memories.” Time in nature flips a switch—turning on our creative juices and “electrifying” our innovative tendencies.

What’s the practical lesson here? When we deny ourselves a regular exposure to nature as part of our everyday experiences, we also deny ourselves an opportunity to expand and extend our authorial capacities. Unfortunately, time outdoors—even with its attendant impact on creative inclinations—is something we find difficult to schedule. We often envision it as a personal “extra,” rather than as a professional “essential.”

Here are some questions for consideration: Given all the stressors and conflicts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, is there a way we can effectively deal with those tensions and still keep our writing on track? How can we maintain our productivity in concert with our creativity? How can we achieve a sense of tranquility in an ocean of disruptions? What is the secret to becoming a more creative and productive writer?

hikerPerhaps the answers to all those queries can be summed up in three words: Take a hike!






A retired professor of education and resident of York, PA, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also authored the book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2XFsbbs). [“This book tells the truth about being an author of children’s books.” —5-star review]

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Meet April Powers, SCBWI’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, by Laura Parnum

April Powers headshot

I couldn’t be happier. Really, this is my dream job. And I’ve said it in some of the meetings, but I’m totally not joking. My sons have chores, they’re eight and ten, and my eight-year-old looked at me and said, “We have to do chores. Meanwhile, you have your dream job.”

—April Powers


This past winter, SCBWI’s leadership team set out to hire a full-time Equity and Inclusion Officer for the organization. After a months-long hiring process encompassing a large pool of highly qualified candidates, we are thrilled to have April Powers join SCBWI as Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer.

April brings over 15 years of experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion training, recruiting, community outreach, and leadership to the position. Recently, some SCBWI volunteers from various regions had a virtual chat with April to get to know her a little more and to find out about her background, her goals for SCBWI, and why this is her dream job. Here are some of the things we found out.


April has made it her life’s work to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and civility. She is a bilingual multihyphenate person: multicultural/religious, mixed race, cisgender straight woman with an LGBTQI+ and multi-ethnic family that also includes neurodiversity and family members with disabilities. Her latest role has been running her own global inclusion consulting and training firm, First Impression Rx, which serves Fortune 50 government and nonprofit organizations. She previously held diversity roles at Nestlé USA and Amgen, in addition to nonprofit organizations, all of which helps her bring a depth of knowledge to SCBWI from a global perspective with a nonprofit lens.


April told us that her first order of business as SCBWI’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer is to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all SCBWI staff and regional team members. Within weeks of joining SCBWI, these training sessions have already gotten underway. She also hopes to offer training in the future for anyone who volunteers at events, with the objective of making sure that everyone who is representing SCBWI in some way is clued in to how we present ourselves in the world. She uses an expression from author and educator Cornelius Minor when she says that, “We as an organization are ‘radically pro kid.’ We’re here for all children and their families in whatever capacity. That means we need to support writers, illustrators, and translators who create for all of those children, and make sure that we provide safe spaces for all of our members.”

Another one of April’s goals is recruitment. Not only do we strive for diversity and inclusion among SCBWI members, but in our regional team volunteers and leadership as well. She explains, “We’re looking at scholarships, we’re looking at ways to reach out, and we’re looking at how to incorporate people more in leadership and ambassadorship roles within the volunteer corps.” She urges anyone who wants to be included in leadership in this organization to reach out to her. She has a recruiting background, and she wants to know who you are. In terms of underrepresented members, April hopes to be able to help SCBWI reach out to those members so that we can make sure their stories are told. Similarly to the Own Voices initiative in publishing, April has suggested implementing an option on members’ profile pages to be able to indicate whether they are from an underrepresented group, if they choose to do that, so that SCBWI will be able to reach out to those members with opportunities.

Another objective that April has put forth for SCBWI is in regards to inclusivity. What she would like to see for any underrepresented creatives is to have their work highlighted during their recognized month (for example, Pride Month or Hispanic Heritage Month). It is very important to April to make sure that everyone feels welcome, included, and counted. This includes those from indigenous populations from other parts of the world. April is very open to hearing from all underrepresented members so that SCBWI can help their work be seen.

It is also very important to April to ensure that SCBWI is accessible to those with disabilities. Our online summer workshops now include an American Sign Language translator, and we are also looking into ways to make sure that we include proper formatting on our websites and social media platforms for people to be able to receive the information and hear it accurately on their translators. April mentioned that one of the struggles with inclusivity is that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” She says, “If there are ways that we can better accommodate members in our events, let us know. We’ll do our best, the best that we can with our ability. I know that we’re a global organization, but this team here is small, mighty, and fierce.”

Why This Is Her Dream Job

We know that April has an extensive background in diversity, equity, and inclusion roles, but in addition to that she is also an aspiring children’s book writer. April explained that she had just finished writing a children’s book when she got the e-mail asking if she would like to be considered for this role with SCBWI, a role that was, as she puts it, “my life’s work . . . my passion.”

But it wasn’t just the converging of two passions that sealed the deal for her. As an example to her children and to her value system, April felt that, in order to make a move to another organization, she would have to believe in her heart that they were serious about being committed to the work. She had been in other organizations in the past where they “needed the title” but weren’t willing to put in the effort needed to make real change. She could see that SCBWI, and in particular with Lin at the top, was determined put in the work. It was evident to her that, as an organization, SCBWI is working toward something greater than ourselves. She said, “Whether you have children or not, we are all the ancestors of future generations on this planet. Let’s leave something great for them!”

April does believe there is much work to be done. Part of SCBWI’s mission is to support all children’s book writers, illustrators, and translators, but she says, “What we really need to do is to reach out to those who are not traditionally in this space, because our society is failing at that.” She sees the truth of it because she has children who read books. And when asked about getting pushback, she says, “Trust me, we’re going to hear everything from everybody. It’s going down because we’re taking a stance. We said, yes, Black lives matter. We are putting our stake in the ground and saying, yes, we are an antiracist organization. We have to be. We’re for kids. Why would we be anything else?”

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