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.

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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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A Cafe Chat with Art Director Ellice Lee, by Berrie Torgan-Randall AND a Portfolio 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 fourth webinar in the series will be led by Philomel Senior Art Director Ellice Lee, who will be giving first looks feedback for illustration pieces on August 23. 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 Zoom portfolio critique giveaway, keep reading!

In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, was able to chat with Ellice recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say: 

A Café Chat with Art Director Ellice Lee, by Berrie Torgan-Randall


Berrie: Good morning, Ellice. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Virtual Café. What would you like to drink in our plant-filled café? (I read that you have a green thumb, so I added a couple of succulents for you to enjoy while I ask you questions.)

Ellice: Good morning, Berrie! Thanks for inviting me. So nice to be here! And how did you know I love plants and currently have seven succulents in my window! Good sleuthing. In these summer days, I’d love to drink an iced coffee followed up with some seltzer!

Berrie: You have worked on so many award-winning books and with best-selling talent including one of our favorite Eastern PA artists—Floyd Cooper.* Do you ever get the chance to meet the authors and/or illustrators you have worked with in person?

Ellice: Floyd Cooper. My goodness, what a gentleman and a talent. His reductive technique still blows my mind. In this new world, “meet” has a whole new meaning since most everything is virtual. And we usually do a video call with our artists (even pre-pandemic) when we first start a book. But back in the day with Floyd, since he’s fairly close by, we actually did get to meet in person. He was coming through town and actually dropped his art off in real life. Since the street in front of our office was piled with snow, and finding parking in NYC is a beast, he handed his packaged art out of a slight opening in his car door because he couldn’t open it all the way! We had a good laugh. But in terms of meeting in person, in the before times, industry and SCBWI conferences were a great way to meet talent in person. Also, if they lived nearby or were stopping through the city, we’d always encourage them to stop by the office for a visit.

Berrie: Once you receive an assignment, how long does it take for a book to go from contract to book launch?

Ellice: For a non-rush/crash project, it takes roughly a year. Things can change along the way based on list balancing (making sure the books we launch each season don’t tip heavily towards one age or group/theme), the seasonality of when the book is optimal to launch, the availability of the illustrator, and just life. To my last point, things happen that are unexpected and overwhelming. So, if we need to adjust scheduling for any reason, we work that out together.

Berrie: I read in your bio that you have a BA in Sociology from UCLA and a BFA from the Art Center College of Design. How do you think your undergraduate degree in Sociology helps you with your job as an art director, and when did you decide to switch gears from Sociology and get your BFA? For me, I switched gears after art school and got my MIS in Information Studies to become a librarian. I later realized that my true passion is being an artist, so I switched gears again to be an illustrator.

Ellice: That’s awesome, Berrie! Nothing is wasted when it comes to education and life experience, right? There is always something that proves informative when we reflect. That’s amazing that you now have a librarian background to add to your brain bank! I am jealous! As for my switch, I’ve always been interested in people and their relationship to one another. So, when I made the hop over to art school, the sociology lessons applied directly. We come from many cultures and are all trying to navigate this world and the people within it. That’s what I feel we do in books as well—we are constantly learning, evolving, and showing the world through our art and writing, the perspective that each one of us uniquely holds.

Berrie: You have commented that you like to find talent on and off the grid. Where do you look for new talent—Instagram, Twitter, some other social platform that I am not in tune with?

Ellice: Yes! We look everywhere we can see art—social media, articles, bookstores, art fairs, street art, passing artists on the street, etc. So, anywhere you’re living life, we are open!

Berrie: It looks like you participate in a lot of volunteer activities. Are there one or two projects that have the most meaning for you? 

Ellice: I’ve mentored high school kids in the South Bronx for 16 years (program ended last year, unfortunately) and have loved being a part of their lives over many years. One of my favorite annual projects is volunteering together for another nonprofit or for the neighborhood (i.e., cleaning up the local park). Year after year, the S. Bronx is the poorest congressional district in America and it’s humbling to see the kids extending themselves to lend a hand even in the midst of their own tough situation. My other favorite activity is leading a healthy cooking session. The S. Bronx has long been a food desert, so we love introducing the community to cooking healthy food with products at their local grocery store.

Berrie: I enjoyed chatting with you and look forward to meeting you during our Eastern PA SCBWI “First Page Center Stage” webinar.

Ellice: Same here! Thanks, Berrie, and looking forward to our webinar!

* Shortly after this Café Chat was conducted, esteemed illustrator Floyd Cooper passed away. Floyd was always willing to give a presentation, a review, and a dose of encouragement to our Eastern PA illustrators. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Floyd’s family.


Ellice Lee, Senior Art Director of Philomel Books, joined the team in 2017. She holds a BA in Sociology from UCLA and a BFA from Art Center College of Design. Ellice has worked with award-winning talent including Alexandra Boiger, Rafael Lopez, Loren Long, Le Uyen Pham, Christian Robinson, Kadir Nelson, Angela Dominguez, Ed Young, and Floyd Cooper. Titles she has worked on have appeared on the New York Times best-seller lists, such as Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor and She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, featured in New York magazine, TIME magazine and have won Caldecott honors, Coretta Scott King awards, as well as being a finalist for the National Book Award. Ellice loves working with talent who have a compelling story to share—from the political to the social to the inane.


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 15-minute Zoom critique with literary agent Jemiscoe Chambers-Black (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) for an illustration portfolio (6 or fewer portfolio pieces) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Friday, July 23. 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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Two for One, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Two for One

This month, I’m dividing my usual 700 words into two mini columns. Enjoy!

One

The air was pungent with the bouquet of pine. Streams of early morning sunlight echoed through looming stands of trees. A blue jay, swooping over rippled waters, squawked loudly, his cries permeating the stillness. Squirrels, out searching for a breakfast morsel or two, were dancing over fallen logs with quick abandon. A solitary deer—oblivious to my presence—rambled through an adjacent meadow, nibbling on tufts of grass. The river, rippled with small eddies and the trace of water bugs, meandered past my post, reflecting a panoply of solar iridescence.

It was early June and my wife and I were camping along the Clarion River as it flowed through virgin stands of Cook Forest in Northwestern PA. I had set up a small table and camp chair on the river bank this morning to continue work on a pressing project. But, I was distracted by the sights and sounds all around. And . . . that’s when “Ralph” showed up.

“Ralph” was a hyperactive chipmunk, who quickly claimed the horizontal expanse of a fallen log as his immediate territory. He would scurry ten feet, stick his nose in the air, cautiously observe me, and then scamper down his arboreal highway for another ten to twenty feet. Occasionally, he would look around, chatter riotously, or scratch his face. He was on a mission—although it was never clear to me what that was. But he was definitely animated.

I scarcely glanced at my notebook; my eyes and ears were fixated on the sights and sounds of this transformative environment. My senses were awakened, my vision sharpened, my hearing clearly tuned to each screech, murmur, or rustle. “Ralph” continued his antics up and down the log, and I took careful note of each movement, each pause. He was my teacher this morning, making sure I was attuned to singular elements of this forested wonderland. I noted the nascent harmony of this environment and became keenly focused on small elements—tiny bits of information that sharpened my awareness and focused my attention. Little writing was accomplished that morning, but clear musings—applied later—were learned.

Lessons

  1. Get out in nature—you’ll sharpen your authorial focus.
  2. Pay attention to details—you’ll scribe a larger picture.

Two

We lost a giant!

It was early in my teaching career, and I was standing in front of a chattering group of kindergarten students with a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in my hands. I was talking about the cover illustration—its dynamic colors, the simplicity of its design, and the incredible image it created. My students were mesmerized by both its richness as well as its wonder. It spoke to them with a visual voice five-year-olds could both see and understand. Here was an illustrator who knew his audience and knew how to capture their attention.

Eric Carle books became a staple of our classroom. Students would rush into the room each morning to grab one of his many titles and curl up in the pillowed “Reading Center” to spend time with an old friend and his rainbow of characters. On our way to the library each week, we would gleefully chant Bill Martin Jr.’s words, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a [student’s name] looking at me.” Eric Carle’s books and illustrations transformed literacy education as never before. His artistic talents drew kids into books with both a passion for color and a commitment to details. He created new worlds of pigment and expression.

The genius of Eric Carle as an illustrator was his simplicity of execution. His artwork was the design of collage—hand-painted papers cut and layered to create bright and cheerful images. His artistic genius enriched stories and added magic to words and sentences that kids could embrace and sing. He transformed the concept of picture books . . . opening up new vistas for discovery and exploration. I am certain that many readers of this column (along with their children) grew up with Eric Carle as both their literary friend and creative guide. Indeed, his books—books I used to teach reading a half century ago, books I’ve read to both my children and grandchildren, and books I frequently consult in my own authorial pursuits—still remain on my bookshelves.

Like the artist who created them, they are icons!

Lessons

  1. Bring color into a child’s life—create a book.
  2. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.

A retired educator, prolific author, and passionate environmentalist, Tony (www.anthonydfredericks.com) is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He is also the author of 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/2SuiaPL) [“From one of the most creative and innovative authors of our time, this is a resource that you will find informative and inspirational.”  —5-star review.]


EDITOR’S NOTE: Tony also authors a monthly newsletter about creativity: Creatively Speaking: Ideas to Ignite Your Creative Fires (https://www.smore.com/u1rha-creatively-speaking). If you’re interested in fresh ideas and some innovative thinking skills, check it out!

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A Cafe Chat with Editor Holly West, by Lindsay Bandy 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 third webinar in the series will be led by Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads Senior Editor Holly West, who will be giving first pages feedback for YA novels on August 19. 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 PAL Coordinator, Lindsay Bandy, was able to chat with Holly recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say!

A Café Chat with Editor Holly West, by Lindsay Bandy

Lindsay: Hi there, Holly, and welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café! Can we get you something to drink as we settle in?    

Holly: I’ll grab a coldbrew coffee. 

Lindsay: And how about something to munch on? 

Holly: Avocado toast for me . . . unless there are scones! 

Lindsay: We’ve got a whole case of scones, and I think you and I can make a serious dent in that case if we work together. So, fangirl to fangirl, what have you read and loved recently—and how did the first page hook you? 

Holly: Ummm . . . to be honest, I haven’t had a huge amount of time for non-work reading, so most of the stuff I’ve been reading and loving recently are books for work, either manuscripts that I’m actively editing or submissions I am hoping to acquire, and none of them are out yet, so it’s a bit hard to fangirl over them together. Although, I did just start reading The Good for Nothings by Danielle Banas, which is a sci-fi novel with a sense of humor about a Guardians of the Galaxy-style crew of prisoners, which opens up mid-heist with a guard laughing at the main character.

But, if I’m allowed to gush a bit about books I’ve worked on, I’ve got a couple of great first page examples. In YA, I will always go back to Tricia Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us. The first lines are: “They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart. And they never will.” There’s so much drama there, and a bit of an unexpected reversal. Just from those two sentences you can get a good sense of the kind of character that Alessandra is. The author describes the book as a villainous love story, and the first page shows you just how ruthless Alessandra can be. Especially when she’s slighted. 

Or for a lighter, more humorous tone, I really love the introduction to Mike Thayer’s middle grade novel The Double Life of Danny Day: “My name is Danny Day. I’ve ditched school 346 times, and I still have perfect attendance. I broke my leg last week, but I don’t have a cast. I never study for a test or quiz until I’ve seen what’s on it. I’ve played more than four thousand hours of video games in the past three years, and yet my parents have hardly seen me play. How is this all possible, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty simple: I live every day twice.”  Again, right away, you get a strong sense of character and voice from just the opening sentences, and as a bonus, the author illustrates the main hook right in the first paragraph. This is a book about a kid who lives every day twice, and right from the start you can see the advantages that gives him.  

Lindsay: Is it just me . . . or are you seeing a sort of . . . twinkling in here? Woah. Um, Holly, look over there by the bakery case! It’s your fairy godmother, offering you calorie-free scones AND ready to grant life to one fictional book character. He, she, or they will magically materialize to become your BFF. However will you choose? 

Holly: Oh no! Not choices. Choices are the worst! But if I have to choose . . . I think I’d love to be BFFs with Daine from Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series. She’s strong and tough and smart and very protective of her friends. And she has wild magic, so she can talk to/heal/shapechange into animals!  

Lindsay: Well, the fairy godmother is in a generous mood today, and she has decided to arrange for the band, singer, or musician of your choice to record a custom soundtrack for an upcoming book you’re excited about. Tell us about the book and who would cut the perfect record to accompany it. 

Holly: Okay, so . . . here’s the thing. I love to listen to music, but I really don’t think in terms of favorite bands, singers, or musicians, or of creating custom soundtracks. If I need a playlist, I borrow/steal one from someone else, or let YouTube Music’s algorithms create one for me. I tend to be more visual . . . so, maybe we could convince my fairy godmother to have DreamWorks Animation Television make a Netflix animated series for me? I would LOVE to see Aiden Thomas’s upcoming duology The Sunbearer Trials (F22) and Celestial Monsters (F23) brought to life. Inspired by Latinx culture and mythologies, Aiden has created a really bright and vibrant fantasy world featuring a trans semi-dios, who is unexpectedly chosen to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. Winners gain fame and glory, but the loser is sacrificed as part of a ritual to keep the sun shining in the sky. Aiden’s writing is so beautiful and atmospheric and, even in these early drafts, I already am head over heels in love with these characters, and I really feel like this is the kind of story and world that would just shine in animation. Bright and bold and filled with action and supernatural powers and creatures.   

Lindsay: Do you have any pet peeves or automatic “That’s a no from me” triggers when reading through YA submissions?  

Holly: I have a few. My three biggest pet peeves are:  

1) when authors are writing in a contemporary setting and don’t take technology into account. I get really annoyed when a major plot problem could be solved by texting someone or by Googling something on the internet.   

2) when authors overuse their thesaurus and pick the wrong words. I feel like this often happens in an effort to avoid repetition, or when authors are trying to be more poetic in their descriptions, but I always find it distracting. A few times is understandable, but if it happens too often, it will make me put the book down. I would much rather have a plainer or repeated word with the right meaning than trip over a more poetic term that is wrong, or which might be technically correct, but has the wrong connotations.  

3) “issue” books. I don’t mind addressing some hard topics in my books, but for me, the story and the characters need to come first, and I tend to get annoyed when it feels like the author is pausing the story to lecture me on something (whether or not I agree with the message). 

As for automatic “no” triggers, I’m probably not the right editor for books featuring rape or sexual assault, or for books about cancer or other really serious illnesses, or for books with tragic endings that are meant to make you cry. 

Lindsay: We all know that even successful writers deal with rejection on the path to publication. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors as they receive feedback and navigate subjectivity while seeking to create the best manuscript possible?  

Holly: Don’t lose heart, and don’t sacrifice the soul of the book. First, make sure you are sending your book to the right agents and editors. Do some research and confirm that these are people who love the kinds of books you are writing. Not every book is for every reader, and the same is true for editors and agents. Then, once you are sure that your feedback is coming from the right people, take time to think about it. Step away from the feedback for a bit, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Is there something in the feedback that you connect with? Something that makes you go, “Oh! Yes! I see how that could work”? If so, then run with it! But make sure that any changes you make feel right to you. This is your book, and there is something about this story that you love, some element that inspired you to write it, and you need to keep track of that as you start revising. And if you feel like a revision or change is threatening those elements, then you should step back and see if there is some other way to approach the issue. Because the most important thing is to make a book that you are happy with and proud of!  

Lindsay: Okay, it seems that the fairy godmother is standing near the restrooms somewhat awkwardly. She either needs to go potty, or she’s waiting to give you one more wish. Um, what’s that? Another wish? Okay! This time, you get to give her THREE adjectives to describe the perfect YA book that will make your editorial dreams come true!  

Holly: Smart, snarky, and sneaky 

Lindsay: Adjectives and alliteration? That is magical. Thanks so much for hanging out with us today, Holly! We can’t wait to learn more from you at First Page Center Stage, and we hope all of your bookish dreams come true 🙂 


Holly West is a Senior Editor at Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads, imprints of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. She has worked with authors such as Mo O’Hara (My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish); Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14); Tricia Levenseller (Daughter of the Pirate King); Sarah Cannon (Oddity); Dustin Hansen (Game On!); and Aiden Thomas (Cemetery Boys). She edits books for kids and teens of all ages, with a focus on fantasy, sci-fi, and other genre elements, along with a few (mostly tech and video game related) nonfiction titles. In general, she’s drawn to books that feature smart kids and combine magic, technology, and whimsy with snark and heart. She would almost always rather laugh than cry, and likes to describe her job as being a professional fangirl: it allows her to look through all the pop culture shared with her, find stories to fall deeply in love with, nitpick over them obsessively until they are as close to perfect as possible, and then shove them at other people with great enthusiasm.


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 Masha Gunic (Azantian Literary Agency) for a middle grade or YA manuscript (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 16, 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.

And be sure to keep your eye on our blog in the coming weeks for more critique giveaway opportunities for this webinar series!

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A Cafe Chat with Editor Foyinsi Adegbonmire, 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 first webinar in the series will be led by Feiwel & Friends Associate Editor Foyinsi Adegbonmire, who will be giving first pages feedback for middle grade novels on August 12. 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, Kristen Strocchia, was able to chat with Foyinsi recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say!

A Café Chat with Editor Foyinsi Adegbonmire, by Kristen Strocchia

Kristen: Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. Before we get started, I think I’d like a pistachio muffin and some ginger-peach-turmeric tea. Would you like something to drink or munch on? 

Foyinsi: Thank you, and I’m fine :). I always keep snacks in a basket perfectly located between my bed and desk.

Kristen: Your MSWL bio really gives a lot of insight into you as both an editor and a person. Your love for bullet journaling sounds fascinating. Can you tell us a little about it and if/how you think it shapes you as an editor?

Foyinsi: I’m so glad to hear that! Bullet journaling, at least the way I use it, is basically a method of creative planning where instead of buying a ready-made planner, you create your own using a dotted notebook/journal. I love it because it allows you to create/design each page (aka spread) for your exact needs, and it can look as artistic or as bare-bones and minimal as you want! I love organization but never really used traditional planners, and since learning about bullet journaling, I realized it was because the planners I came across never fully fit my needs. But with my journal, I can keep track of important dates, books I’ve read, expenses/spending, random thoughts, etc., all in a way that makes sense to me. Plus, it can be fun to have a specific theme/color for the month, even though I’m not a good artist at all! I’m going to try to stop rambling now, but I highly recommend watching AmandaRachLee or TemiDansoArt on YouTube to get a better idea (or reach out to me on Twitter because, as you can see, I love talking about this).

In terms of being an editor, I think bullet journaling helps me more with keeping track of what I need to do or submission(s) to read on any given day, especially because I assist two editors along with doing my own stuff. It makes it a lot easier to see my day laid out and plan for the future so that I don’t miss deadlines and such. Plus, sometimes I’ll write updates about certain auctions I’m in and I imagine it’ll be fun to read over those years from now. (Hopefully the sting of losing some would have worn off by then . . .)

Kristen: That sounds like such a powerful organizational tool for a creative. I’ll have to check that out. We’d love to know a little about your journey. What got you interested in children’s publishing? 

Foyinsi: Since like middle school, the goal was to be an author (my reason for majoring in Creative Writing & Literature). Sometime during my senior year of undergrad, I realized that my plan of being an NYT-bestselling author by the time I graduated college was woefully off track. (I didn’t have even half a novel drafted by that point.) I can’t remember what made me realize publishing was an actual industry, but thank goodness I eventually did! I’d briefly thought about becoming a copyeditor because I was like, do I know enough about stories to help people actually develop them?? Gotta love imposter syndrome :). That’s clearly not a good reason for pursung a career path, and I also didn’t actually know much of what a copyeditor did, but it seemed within reach for me. Now that I do know more of what they do, I realize I would not have made a good one at all. They are superheroes who catch so much that you never even think about! Anywho, I thought about how I enjoyed helping people with their stories during my workshop classes, so I decided to give editor a shot. I’d always loved reading children’s books (particularly YA), and those were still what I gravitated to, even in college, so I knew I wanted to work with them in some way. It seemed like the logical next step was trying to get an internship in children’s editorial. I always tell people that I’m so glad I loved the work because I had no back-up plan!

Kristen: It’s always amazing how experience can make our core desires more clear as we move through life. I wish I had realized that author was an actual career path way back when. As an editor who leans toward MG and YA, how do you feel about the Upper MG and Young YA spaces?

Foyinsi: I think there definitely needs to be more stories in and about that in-between age of MG and YA, not only because so many people read up and may not be ready for certain things, but because every group deserves representation. I’ve heard it can be a tough market, but that’s not reason enough not to pursue them, and hopefully I can help with that!

Kristen: Thank you for your openness about that tricky niche! That’s super encouraging. Is there something in particular—a trope, an opening scene, a character trait, or a plot device—that you see all the time in your inbox?

Foyinsi: One of the really great things about my inbox is that I get sooo many different types of stories so that very rarely do any begin the same way or use the same kind of tropes in the same way. Probably the most they have in common is usually having a really intriguing opening sentence that’s funny and/or drops you right in the middle of things.

Kristen: That’s a fantastic nugget to reach for in each of our submissions. Okay, a few lightning-round questions before we go.

Lightning Round: Answer in a sentence or less.

  • What is the current #FoyinsiWeekendRead and what’s next on your TBR pile? I just finished CHARMING AS A VERB by Ben Philippe (it was everything) and next is MEET CUTE DIARY by Emery Lee!
  • Favorite sitcom of all time? Such a tough question because I love SO many: My Wife and Kids, One on One, Everybody Hates Chris, The Nanny, The Parkers . . . I could go on . . .
  • Favorite GIF? (Loving these questions!) I don’t think I have one favorite, but my go-tos usually involve Wendy Williams or Nene Leakes, who both give content for dayssss!
  • A Nigerian food or experience that everyone should try? Rice and stew with plantains . . . such a simple meal that hits EVERY time!!  
  • Kristen: That sounds amazing! I’m definitely going to have to give that a try. Thank you, Foyinsi. It has been such a pleasure to have you here in the café with us today. We hope you have a fantastic rest of your summer, and we’re looking forward to First Page Center Stage—Middle Grade Night with you on August 12.


    Foyinsi Adegbonmire is an Associate Editor at Feiwel & Friends, under the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. She acquires Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, from contemporary to mystery to grounded science-fiction, and enjoys stories with lighthearted and/or conversational narrative voices. She’s in love with romance and forever searching for fluffy YA contemporary romances that will give the same feels as the To All the Boys series. When not reading or thinking about her very large TBR pile, she can be found watching Black sitcoms from the 1990s/early 2000s and crime shows like Criminal Minds, or obsessing over journals and bullet journaling.


    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 Serene Hakim (Ayesha Pande Literary) for a middle grade or YA manuscript (first 10 pages plus 1-page synopsis; fiction or nonfiction) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Monday, July 12, 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.

    And be sure to keep your eye on our blog in the coming weeks for more critique giveaway opportunities for this series!

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