Author-Illustrator Feature: Peter Hannan

Peter Hannan is a writer, producer, and artist. He is the creator and executive producer of the Nickelodeon animated series, “CatDog,” overseeing all aspects (writing, storyboarding, character design, art direction, post-production) of a hundred and twenty-something 11-minute episodes and holiday specials. He produced “Fetch,” the “CatDog” theatrical short and a ninety-minute TV movie called “CatDog and the Great Parent Mystery.” He wrote and sang the “CatDog” theme song, which he will sing for you even if you don’t want him to. He wrote many other songs for the series, five of which are included on “The Newest Nicktoons” from Kid Rhino.

He has a new animated television series in development and is working on a variety of other film, TV, game, and book projects, including his current series of middle-grade illustrated novels for HarperCollins called Super Goofballs (2007-), featuring a staggering group of avenging lunatics: Super Goofballs #1: That Stinking Feeling, Super Goofballs #2: Goofballs in Paradise, Super Goofballs #3: Super Underwear…and Beyond!, Super Goofballs #4: Attack of the 50-Foot Alien Creep-oids!, Super Goofballs #5: Doomed in Dreamland!, and Super Goofballs #6: Battle of the Brain-sucking Robots!

Next up is a picture book and another series of middle-grade illustrated novels—also for HarperCollins—called Wally, King of Flurb in which an Earth kid is abducted by aliens and taken to the planet Flurb, where—to his utter amazement—instead of being eaten or at least vaporized, he is proclaimed king.

Hannan wrote and illustrated The Sillyville Saga: Sillyville or Bust, Escape from Camp Wannabarf, School After Dark: Lessons in Lunacy, and The Battle of Sillyville: Live Silly or Die! He contributed stories to the anthologies Speak! Children’s Illustrators Brag About Their Dogs and Purr! Children’s Illustrators Brag About Their Cats. He has written and illustrated newspaper and magazine pieces with titles like “The Incredible Shrinking Christmas;” “The Good, the Bad, and the Irish;” and “Mike Royko Moves to the Suburbs.” He has done lots of illustrations for newspapers, magazines, books, and advertising. His single-panel cartoons (The Adventures of a Huge Mouth) have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, the Chicago Reader, many other periodicals, and in a book from Chicago Review Press. He has exhibited his paintings, illustrations, and cartoons. His work has been transformed into everything from toys to T-shirts to cheese crackers.

He grew up on the Erie Canal in upstate New York, where he had a three-legged dog, named Tipper, who once got his front paw caught in his collar and ran home using two legs on the same side of his body. Hannan lives in sunny California with his perfect wife and kids, except when it’s rainy California and then they get kinda pruney.

How did you come to this point in your career?

When I came out of college I had a vague romantic notion of being a painter, but I really had no plan. Actually, that’s not true…my plan was to be a starving artist. And for a while I had great success at that.

On the side I did everything from manage a revival movie theater to produce TV shows with Chicago blues musicians. I had a partner and we shot concerts with Muddy Waters, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and many others, and tried to produce other TV stuff, but none of it led to what you’d call financial gain.

Then I got married and we were expecting our first child and it occurred to me that there might be certain advantages to actually making money. I got together a portfolio of illustration and started doing lots of editorial work for magazines and newspapers, some advertising work, and then a single-panel cartoon called the Adventures of a Huge Mouth for the Chicago Reader and subsequently lots of other periodicals around the country.

Then I did some kids’ books, one of which—Escape From Camp Wannabarf–got optioned as a feature film and was in development for several years. It never got made, but since I’d gotten a Hollywood agent, I started pitching movies and TV shows.

This eventually led to CatDog and moving to Los Angeles. It was a wild, fantastic experience because I went from working alone in a dungeon-like studio in the basement of my Chicago house, to having a huge crew in Burbank–and another in Seoul–all working to realize my vision. TV is a hugely collaborative process, but similar to the newspaper business with its crazy deadlines and frenetic energy.

Anyway, since then I’ve developed lots of shows, and I’m working on some new TV things now, but writing and illustrating these chapter books (Super Goofballs and Wally, King of Flurb) has been sort of a welcome homecoming to the more sane and solitary world of a writer-illustrator. No crazed crewmembers or hysterical network execs (don’t get me wrong, I love them all)…just me in a room with a computer, a big jar of pencils, and a great editor three thousand miles away.

Congratulations on your new Joe Hemingmouse cartoon at JacketFlap! Could you tell us a little about it?

Joe Hemingmouse is a weekly single-panel cartoon about a hardworking, hard-struggling writer-illustrator mouse, who wants desperately to break into the children’s book world. He is talented, but he really doesn’t know what he doing. His confidence level can go from supreme to zero in two seconds.

How did you come to be doing this?

I stumbled upon JacketFlap and really liked it. Tracy [Grand, CEO of JacketFlap (interview)] and I exchanged a few emails, and she asked if I’d be interested in creating some content for the site. I immediately thought of doing a single-panel because, since the site is all about writers and illustrators, I thought it would be perfect to combine words and pictures in a bite-sized package. Plus, I missed doing this kind of thing.

What can readers expect?

I’m not completely sure where Joe Hemingmouse’s journey will lead. I know the road will get a little rocky along the way, because it does for almost everyone.

What do you love about this kind of project?

I love that Joe really wants something. He is absolutely driven. He is naïve and will make lots of mistakes, but he will never, ever, ever give up. He may be an undiscovered genius or just a dreamer or both. I love being able to develop a character like this…revealing him little by little, not just to readers, but to me and even to Joe himself.

What are its challenges?

Time is always a challenge. That’s one of the hardest things about all this stuff—figuring out when to work on what. I’ve got a lot on my plate now, but I really love doing this cartoon and there’s tons of material—from real life and almost-real life—to go on indefinitely.

Congratulations on the Super Goofballs series (HarperCollins, 2007-)! What was your initial inspiration for creating these books? What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Back in the early nineties, I did a book proposal called “A Few Superheroes You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” It didn’t get published—I only really showed it to one editor—but all these years later I came back to it and changed the name to Super Goofballs.

It’s about a superhero kid (Amazing Techno Dude) and his crazy-but-loving superhero grandma (the Bodacious Backwards Woman), who are flat broke and need to take in roommates. They end up taking in lots of borders—all ridiculous superheroes.

Originally, one of the characters was a two-headed guy called Amazing Catdog Man. He had a man’s body with a cat and dog head on its shoulders. He/they would try to save the day, but never succeeded because they couldn’t stop fighting with each other.

I fell in love with the idea of opposite personalities stuck together in one character and that eventually led to a little detour called CatDog.

Years later, when I came back to Super Goofballs, I replaced Amazing CatDog Man with the Impossibly Tough Two-Headed Infant. The others are Super Vacation Man (vacation-oriented powers: super-surfing, super-jetskiing, super-lounging-by-the-pool), Mighty Tighty Whitey (the super-est underwear ever: “Fantastic! Elastic! Sarcastic!”), Wonder Boulder (pretty much just a rock with a cape), Pooky the Paranormal Parakeet (tiny turban-wearing, mind-reading bird), SuperSass CuteGirl (super sassy, super cute, super girlish), the Frankenstein Punster (monstrous master of super-bad jokes and riddles), and last but not least, the spectacularly incompetent Blunder Mutt (super-brave, super-enthusiastic, super-super-super dumb: “Whole wide worldy, hear me call…Blunder Mutt be save you all!”)

Together, the Super Goofballs must save Gritty City from a motley crew of deliriously evil super villains: Queen Smellina—The Shrieking Stinkbug of Stench, Fabian the Flatulent Fiend, Mondo Grumpo, LaundroManiac, Supreme Commander Cockroachia, Antglop the Awful, Ratzorg, Dr. Killdream, the Big Bad Blob of Blah, and others too numerous and disgusting to mention.

What advice do you have for beginning writers? For beginning artists? For beginning goofballs?

A lot of my advice tends to be a bit clichéd, but sometimes clichés exist for a reason. Working for yourself in these kinds of creative fields is really like perpetually looking for a job. It can be nerve-racking, and it’s not for everyone. But it can be very rewarding.

The main thing is to know that rejection is part of the package. You need to look at rejection as your friend and use it as fuel to fight back and fight on. Because no matter who you are, most of what you think up will never see the light of day, at least not immediately. You need to keep drawing, writing, acting, singing, whatever.

Don’t get hung up on one dream project and then ram your head against the wall forever. That’ll just give you a bad headache. Keep the ideas flowing—why have one dream project when you have multiple dreams?

I have always been a compulsive scribbler, and I have sketchbooks full of ideas for stories and characters and projects. Never throw anything away. Things have a curious way of resurfacing.

Plus, I think you need an agent who loves your work and is comfortable—more comfortable than you—in singing your praises. Self-promotion is more unseemly and time-consuming than having someone else do it for you. And the agent needs to be well connected and have real relationships with real editors and publishers.

Part of it is also figuring out what you can do that others can’t…how you are uniquely suited to tell particular stories and/or make particular art. When I first started doing illustration, I tried to figure out what people wanted and then put that into my portfolio.

One day I realized that if I succeeded, the dream would have turned into a nightmare: I’d have plenty of work doing something that I didn’t care about or even really want to do. From that day forward I have tried to do it my way…in art, writing, books, TV, etc. It hasn’t always worked…but, luckily, sometimes it has.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Super Goofballs #5: Doomed in Dreamland is next. In this one, Dr. Killdream is out to single handedly destroy the dreams, daydreams, and hopes and dreams of all the Goofballs and—oh right—all of mankind. Then there’s Super Goofballs #6: Battle of the Brain-sucking Robots in which The Big Bad Blob of Blah, a vile villain of vast proportions, is hell-bent on enforcing worldwide conformity and despises anyone who dares to be different. Clearly the Super Goofballs are a threat to his worldview.

Right now I’m working on the first book in my new series Wally, King of Flurb and a picture book and a few TV and other projects I can’t talk about yet.

One of my dreams is to become a rock star when I’m eighty.

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaway

Congratulations to Tiffany Trent on the release of her latest Hallowmere novel, Between Golden Jaws (Mirrorstone, 2008)(sample chapter)!

From the promotional copy: “Will Corrine make a deal with the dark Fey Prince? Corrine and her friends race to London, in the hopes of finding a rathstone that will help them end this terrible war with the Fey. The girls search the Victorian city only to find that their plan has led to more danger than ever before. With the girls’ lives on the line, the Fey Prince offers Corrine a deal: become his consort and her friends can go in peace. Will Corrine fall into the Fey Prince’s arms to save her friends? Or can she find another way?”

Need to catch up first? Enter to win a copy of By Venom’s Sweet Sting (Mirrorstone, 2007). To enter, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST April 30! Please also type “By Venom’s Sweet Sting” in the subject line. Note: one copy will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader, and one copy will be awarded to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please identify yourself accordingly as part of your entry!

Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany. More recently, Tiffany writes about “My Other Life” at AlmaNews. Here’s a sneak peek: “Our boys had claws like banshees and voices to match.” Find out what she’s talking about.

More News & Links

2008-2009 selections for the Children’s Crown Book Award Reading Program have been announced. These include: for the Children’s Gallery Award, An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle)(author and illustrator interview); for the Children’s Crown Award, The Cat with the Yellow Star by Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger (Holiday House)(author interview), Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos)(recommendation), and Julia’s Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber (FSG)(author interview); and for the Lamplighter Award, Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic)(author interview) and Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis (Groundwood). Note: “The mission of the Children’s Gallery, the Children’s Crown, and the Lamplighter Awards is to encourage elementary and junior high students to read wholesome and uplifting books by providing lists each year of the best literature.”

Blog Central: Children’s & YA Lit Blog Reviewer’s List from Anastasia Suen. See also Blog Central: Children’s & YA Book Blog Tour Hosts, also from Anastasia. Read a Cynsations interview with Anastasia. Note: Anastasia’s books include Subway, illustrated by Karen Katz, which is coming soon as a board book.

Blog Book Tours by Elizabeth O. Dulemba Note: previously published in the September-October 2007 SCBWI Bulletin. Here’s a sneak peek: “Blog book tours are suddenly quite popular as a quick, inexpensive way for famous (or not so famous) authors to get the word out about their new releases to an exponentially growing audience.” Note: Elizabeth also has launched Coloring Page Tuesdays for those of you looking for fun!

Presenting Carrie Jones, from Tori at Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Here’s a sneak peek: “The first non-poetry writing I remember was a MASSIVE Star Trek story of 200-plus pages that I wrote the summer before fifth grade. I wrote it for my brother, because I didn’t have enough money to buy him something cool like golf balls for his birthday.” Learn more about Carrie’s latest release, Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape (Flux, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Blog Book Tour with illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulemba on Paco and the Giant Chili Plant, written by Keith Polette (Raven Tree, 2008). From the promotional copy: Paco and the Giant Chil Plant / Paco y la planta de chile gigante is a bilingual (English/Spanish) embedded text picture book with all the fun of a fairy tale twisted into a humorous variation. Based on the classic ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’ fairy tale, Polette uses the desert Southwest as an unexpected setting. Filled with prickly pears and such, our story moves from the sandy earth into a cloudy domain where anything is possible.” Check out tie-in activities! See also Elizabeth’s blog for her recent interviews with Kerry Madden, Karen Lee, Alan Gratz, Kim Norman, and more!

Brain Burps: a new blog from author-illustrator Katie Davis. Katie’s blog also is syndicated at LJ. Read a Cynsations interview with Katie.

Pulse Blogfest: from March 14 to March 27, Simon & Schuster hosted its first annual Pulse Blogfest–featuring 120 of the house’s top teen authors.

AuthorsNow! is Coming to a Website Near You from Cynthea Liu at Writing for Children and Teens. A website for traditionally published debut books by children’s book authors and illustrators! 2009 authors and illustrators, take a look!

Presenting Melissa Marr, also from Tori at Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Here’s a sneak peek: “The type of faeries I’m interested in are the ones from old lore: complex characters with sometimes impenetrable motivations, moody faeries with volatile tempers, faeries who play with semantics when they speak.” Learn more about Melissa’s latest release, Ink Exchange (HarperCollins, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Tips on Writing: Making the Most of Your Writing Group by Jo Knowles. Here’s a sneak peek: “I say responding because I think this is much more helpful to the writer than ‘critiquing.’ After a person reads, let the responders take a minute or two of quiet time to gather thoughts and take notes. This can be torture for the writer waiting to hear what people thought, but I think it’s worth it to let people take a minute to, well, think.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jo. Source: Devas T Rants and Raves.

2008 Amelia Bloomer List “includes books challenging the young women of today to take a new look at what it means to be feminist, showcasing who fought for our rights.” Highlights include: Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low)(author-illustrator interview); Rough, Tough Charlie by Verla Kay, illustrated Adam Gustavson (Tricycle)(author interview); Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge); The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jim Rugg (Minx)(author interview). Source: Original Content.

Johnston to Start New Imprint at S&S: “Allyn Johnston is joining Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing as v-p and publisher of a yet-to-be named imprint, effective immediately. Her imprint, which will concentrate on picture books and middle-grade fiction, will be located in San Diego.” Congratulations, Allyn! Source: Publishers Weekly.

2008 Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference has announced its roster of agent/editor speakers. Youth literature professionals include: Kathleen Anderson (YA) of Anderson Literary Management; Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary (YA); Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger (YA); Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary (multicultural children’s and YA); Natanya Wheeler of Lowenstein-Yost Associates (YA); Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. (children’s and YA; scroll for description). “a podcast and children’s book directory dedicated to sharing children’s books.” The latest podcast features Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) and Cut Down Shin Creek: Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (HarperCollins, 2001).

Author Lisa Yee offers the inside scoop on how she found her titles and asks for help with the next one! Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Thank You, Bear by Greg Foley (Viking, 2007) is the winner of CCBC’s 2008 Charlotte Zolotow Award. See the list of honor and recommended books. Note: the award is given annually for outstanding writing in a picture book published in the United States in the preceding year. Up to five honor books and up to ten highly commended titles may also be named each year. Source: Children’s Book Biz News. Read an interview with Ginny Moore Kruse about the award from my site.

Celebrating Literary Canada in general and Pierre Berton in particular from Chasing Ray. Note: Because I needed to finish out the SCBWI Bologna 2008 series before the conference, I didn’t get to participate in the Canada lit love fest. However, I do feel the love! And I will be chiming in late (April 4) with an interview with Shelia Barry from Kids Can Press of Toronto. Yay!

How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator: Art School in a Blog from author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell. Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

Take a sneak peek at design elements of The Adoration of Jenna Fox from Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2008), which is one of my fave YAs of all time. More on that later! Read a Cynsations interview with Mary, and learn more about her forthcoming release.

The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers: “focused on using story as a means of conveying traditional and contemporary values and ideals, as well as articulating the need and desire for Native people to create their own paths and visions. We look to help increase leadership capacity in Native youth and Native communities. Ideally, we, as Native People, need to find our own way, develop our own leaders, ensure that our stories are told–past, present, and future–for all time.” Note: it was an honor to be named, along with Joy Harjo, a 2001 Wordcraft Writer of the Year–Children’s Literature for Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). Note: scroll for list of more honorees. Source: Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature, who has been named a Writer of the Year for her work on that blog.

Make May Vampire Month from First Second. Note: Download-able vampires and vampire activities.
Will you be anywhere near Shelburne, Vermont this weekend? If so, swing by this weekend’s sale at The Flying Pig Bookstore! The Pig says: “We’re getting ready for inventory on April 6, and have a ruthless, take-no-prisoners approach to overstock. The sale runs through Sunday, with all store items on sale, with special bargains upstairs. Tell teachers and librarians!” Note: And so I am! Go shop! See also Bookseller Insights: Elizabeth Bluemle on Promotional Bookmarks and Postcards from Cynsations.

More Personally

Thanks to Zoe at BookPeople in Austin for highlighting Tantalize as a staff selection! Zoe says: “Pick up this book and go behind the scenes at Sanguini’s restaurant–it’s quite a treat!”

Thank you, SCBWI Bologna 2008

Thank you, SCBWI Bologna 2008–especially Anita Loughrey–for offering Cynsations feature interviews with your wonderful speakers! Have a great conference!

Read the entire SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series!

And don’t miss today’s interview with author/SCBWI Bologna planner Erzsi Deak, who says, “Putting on a conference is great fun, in that you get immediate gratification. If you are an organization freak like I am, one who finds pleasure in checking things of to-do lists, then by all means, organize a conference. In fact, send me your resume!”

Cynsational Links

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY): “a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together.”

Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, a refereed journal published quarterly by IBBY.

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award: “a citation awarded to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.”

Where “Every Book Counts:” U.K. independent publishers come in many shapes and colors, with one thing in common by Edward Russell-Walling from Publishers Weekly (March 17, 2008). Here’s a sneak peek: “The U.K.’s Independent Publishers Guild has around 460 publishing members with a combined turnover of £500 million, and they are gradually increasing, not shrinking, in number as technology lowers the cost of entry. But the premium layer is visible and influential in a way that most U.S. independents are not.” Source: Bookninja.

Cynsational Notes

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is so far the most extensive topic series to be hosted at Cynsations. I’m curious as to my readers’ thoughts on it. Please feel free to write me or leave a comment at LJ or MySpace! Thanks!

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author Interview: Erzsi Deak

Erzsi Deak (pronounced “aire-zshee”); “Erzsi” is a Hungarian diminutive for “Elizabeth” (like “Beth” or “Betty”). She grew up believing that “Deak” meant “royal scribe,” but learned a few years ago that it’s closer to “Clark” or “Clerk.” The royal blood was good while it lasted. A journalist for more than twenty years, Erzsi has covered fashion and children’s features from Alaska to San Francisco to Paris. She has tramped the Alaska Pipeline looking for environmental problems, worked as a camp counselor managing the craft hut, and has always worked as a writer. Words, her children, husband, and puppy Bingley, are her life.

In addition to working on graphic novels, picture books, novels, short stories and some feature articles, she is the International Advisor Chairperson for and sits on the Board of Advisors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as well to organizing with Bridget Strevens-Marzo the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference. Erzsi was born in California before the time of things starting with I (the Internet, iPod, iPhone), or even the fax, and lives in Paris, France.

What led to your passion for youth literature?

My impatience with adult literature. Somehow, the majority of the time I’m reading a book destined for “big people,” I find myself groaning and reaching for the Xacto knife: Cut! Cut! Cut! Youth literature doesn’t have the luxury of being flabby or poorly written–I’m definitely a reader that won’t wander through the mire, waiting around for the story to grab me.

I find with the books I actually finish are generally for the under-18s, tightly written and exquisitely edited to bring the story, the characters, the voice right up front and keep me reading straight through to the end.

That said, even in my teens, when I worked at what I recall was called the Northern Lights Bookstore in Fairbanks, I was buying and collecting children’s picture books, so my passion has been around for a long time.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

Bruises, maybe? Seriously, I had worked as a published journalist doing feature articles–travel, fashion, food, children’s topics–and editor for years and knew that I had no choice but to work with words and that it wasn’t the simplest of career choices.

I started writing fiction in my twenties for adults. I didn’t submit anything at that time; I was writing ad copy for Macy’s California and freelancing for small Northern California newspapers then, but I kept working on the fiction.

After I had children, often a genre turning point, I was working part-time as a Chemical Price Reporter and writing stories any other minute free that I had–having zero time is a great way to stay focused! Those stories are still in the proverbial desk drawer, though I have reworked one and I hope to see it come out as a successful quiet picture book in the not-too-distant future.

But the bumps and the stumbles… Coming also from advertising, I employed gimmicks that were not appreciated and quoted my children’s love of my work (don’t groan!).

And then I joined SCBWI. Joining was a big deal. I may be a doer, but I’m not a joiner, so this was major. But by doing so and launching the SCBWI France chapter, I managed to put myself through my own version of graduate school and came out knowing so much more about the business of children’s publishing.

Getting to actual publication with Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins)(anthologists interview) took two years from the inception of the book and five years from my getting involved with the SCBWI and children’s books in a real way. The journey was worth it, and I’m happy to see it continuing.

What are you working on now? Any goals for the coming year?

Besides the material that I have out with editors, I’m working on the sequel to a graphic novel, the prequel to a middle-grade novel, a number of picture books that are almost ready to go, a couple of easy-reader collections, an easy-reader series… I’m working out the details on a YA novel that started as a short story and also what it is I’m trying to do with my Alaskan adventure story and another mystery.

I’d like to do a follow-up to Period Pieces and see it go to paper. This is a book that’s usually checked-out of the library when I do random searches, so I’d like to make sure kids can also find it in a bookstore. Editing Period Pieces with Kristin Litchman was high point for me — it was great working with all those terrifically talented authors and the wonderful editor Rosemary Brosnan.

Writing short stories and working on anthologies is good fun, and I was happy to have my story, “Wild Strawberries” accepted into the anthology, Lines in the Sand: New Writings on War & Peace (Frances Lincoln, UK, & The Disinformation Company, US). “Wild Strawberries” was such a pleasure to write, I might do more with that story–especially considering the state of the world today.

Goals for the coming year? To tie up all wandering plot lines and buckle down with the historical YA for the summer.

You’re based in Paris. Do you have any particular insights to share about the European children’s book community?

The main thing to note is that there are some absolutely gorgeous books being made here. Stunning, really. We hope to share some of these with the attendees at the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in March 2008. It’s good to remember that the center of the universe is a moving target, if not merely subjective!

You’re the International Chairperson for SCBWI and an organizing force behind SCBWI Bologna! What does all this involve?

Insanity would be the first thought that comes to mind. But if you are really on top of it, a fabulous Worker Bee Bonnet, because that’s what it takes: work.

The benefits are terrific, and I love the people I’ve met in the course of the last five years working on the Bologna conference, but my own writing has suffered from lack of attention.

Putting on a conference is great fun, in that you get immediate gratification. If you are an organization freak like I am, one who finds pleasure in checking things of to-do lists, then by all means, organize a conference. In fact, send me your resume!

It involves a certain vision, I suppose. And I can thank Bridget Strevens-Marzo, my longtime conference-organizing partner for sharing the same vision and working with me over the years to bring it to life: Bringing Quality Children’s Book Creators and Publishers together to talk shop, share, expand their horizons, cross borders, challenge the norm, and work together. The idea is to keep us all on our toes and thinking–creatively and broadly.

What inspired you to take on these jobs?

I took on the Advisor position for France when I launched the region because I was looking for a community of like-minded people. It’s lonely being a writer or an illustrator and being a mom in a foreign country can be pretty lonely, too.

I have to say that my best friends here are those I’ve met following this path. It’s true, I couldn’t live without them–they make me feel part of something, read my silly fifth drafts, send me Facebook drinks or sheep when I get a rejection or some form of mediocre news, and they jump for joy when the good news comes in. So the idea of community would be the first reason.

I took on the International Advisor Chair role for the SCBWI to keep the global vision alive. Living outside the U.S., one realizes there’s more than just the U.S. in the world though you can’t debate that it’s the biggest children’s book publishing market, even considering China’s population.

I wanted to bring these other countries and their literary voices out into the limelight. We’ve been lucky because Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver (president and executive director of the SCBWI) and the Board of Advisors have been very supportive of this growth of the SCBWI outside the U.S.

We are interested in helping writers, illustrators, and publishers in countries like Mongolia and Albania (just two examples) grow their writers, illustrators, and publishing houses.

There was a period when I was fed up with sharing information with people who “only” wanted to “get published”–these were people who just weren’t listening, not putting in the time to learn the trade, work their craft. That was the point when I was happy to help local regions with less established children’s publishing histories improve their lot, as-it-were. A noble moment!

What are their challenges?

Currently, I’m the International Advisor Chair, which is like being the director for non-U.S. chapters, or a godmother, and still on the Board of Advisors, and the Bologna Conference Organizer. They overlap a little in that we’re talking the international world of children’s books, but other than that, they are separate.

The challenges are: It’s mostly about not doing too much. These are both volunteer positions, and as I said above, with immediate gratification, it’s easy to get swept up in the doing and not in my own writing. As my mother, the psycho-therapist, would say, maintaining boundaries is an important challenge.

A concrete challenge is working with the regional advisors to surmount problems with local establishments that feel threatened by the development of the SCBWI in their country. I encourage the local advisors to view their mission to meet the needs of the local membership, working with the existing children’s book groups or organizations. Convincing certain groups or individuals that we aren’t out to steal their jobs or glory is a big challenge, as is convincing them that our goals are the same: producing great children’s literature.

But little things like sharing information or the concept of networking aren’t natural to all societies, so it’s a huge challenge to work within and adapt to the different cultures without stepping on too many toes.

Generally speaking, the SCBWI’s activities in local chapters provide continuing education in the form of talks, workshops, and critique groups. This usually differs with organizations like IBBY or other writers’/illustrators’ groups that act more as unions for their members.

And one of the greatest challenges is doing it all on a shoestring budget and keeping the price tag way down. Especially in countries where [average] annual salaries make children’s books or belonging to a professional organization like the SCBWI a luxury.

What do you love about them?

For both positions, it returns to the community for me. The community is my major love. I love that I’ve connected with people around the world who share my passion for youth literature. I love when I see their work published at home and abroad. I love shouting about the great things the advisors are doing and the growth of the global community of children’s writers and illustrators.

In the early days, I started SCBWI Expression OnLine, an online newsletter geared to the non-U.S. members around the world. Beaulah Taguiwalo took it over a few years ago and has turned it into a major resource for people on the tops of lonely peaks and others living in huge metropolises. How great is that to connect these people so that they don’t feel alone? To know that somewhere in the world, whether five minutes away or 10,000 miles away, someone else is reading their words, sharing in their experience?

For the Conference Organizer job, it’s about bringing together different people who might never have met and making a little magic happen. The Bologna Conference focuses on craft and passion for youth literature. That said, we’re always happy to hear about a book sold or a contract made, of course, and we hope our efforts facilitate in creating long-lasting professional relationships and the best books possible.

Who are the other major contributors to the conference planning and organization? What are their roles?

Bridget Strevens-Marzo, as I’ve mentioned, is my primary partner in crime when it comes to both posts. Happily for me and the SCBWI membership (heck, the whole publishing world), she graciously agreed to take on the role of SCBWI International Illustrator Liaison and to co-organize the Bologna conference.

She is also on the SCBWI Board of Advisors and continues to create winning illustrations from perennials like Margaret Wild‘s Kiss, Kiss! (Little Hare, Aust. S&S US) to Philemon Sturges‘s How Do You Make A Baby Smile? (Harper, PW starred review) to the graphic The Big Book for Little Hands (Bayard, France/ Tate UK, British Book Design Award shortlist). Bridget writes and illustrates from France with publishers across the world, and her books come in many international co-editions. She could be the SCBWI’s International Publishing Poster Child!

Kathleen Ahrens is the Advisor to Taiwan as well as my amazing assistant and conference coordinator. She has made my job a hundred million (no exaggeration) times easier and more fun, due to her organizational wunder-skills and her fabulous sense-of-humor. A linguist and a writer, in addition to coordinating the volunteer staff for the Conference, she is in charge of the schedule for the SCBWI Showcase, the program of events for the first-ever stand at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (Hall 26, stand 66).

Angela Cerrito won the Kimberly Colen Grant at the SCBWI NY conference in 2005 for her project in Poland and was suddenly on my radar. Since that time, she’s moved from Italy to Germany, and we’ve stayed in contact. She continues to amaze me with her boundless energy, critique-group-building abilities and her can-do attitude. She’s the major force behind the reserved individual critiques and informal critique groups as well as uniting the Bologna conference community in a Yahoo! group.

Anita Loughrey is a writer and blogger from the U.K. who has interviewed all the speakers for the conference. What with the number of speakers we have, it’s no simple task interviewing busy people in a short amount of time! Proofreader and writer Claudia Classon helped make sense of a few conundrums in the interviews that will prevent much embarrassment for all of us!

In addition to these individuals, Doug Cushman created the gorgeous 2008 conference logo, really getting the feeling of Bologna–from the well-known Neptune Fountain in the Piazza Maggiore to the Bologna red-brown of the city’s meandering covered archways.

His logo combined with the fabulous illustration by Marc Boutavant for the closing party invitation, make for a sophisticated yet playful look for the conference and the SCBWI in Bologna. We can’t thank them both enough. We also appreciate Bayard coordinating with Marc to make the illustration possible. Marc Boutavant is co-creator with Emmanuel Guibert of the ARIOL comic book series published by Bayard Editions, France. I’m a major ARIOL groupie, so am also thrilled to have Ariol and his best friend Ramono with us in Bologna.

Happily, the Executive Office (in L.A.) has provided Web and registration support. In addition, we have Natalie Lorenzi coordinating the catering in Italian (so we eat what we think we’re eating) and Jeanne de Sainte Marie serving as “bookstore manager.” Jeanne was the only SCBWI member in France when I called to suggest we start a chapter and throw a “Literary Soirée” in Paris on a strike day. Bringing books from outside the country is always expensive and somewhat traumatic–we want to make the books available to the attendees and sell them for the speakers, but do not want everyone’s suitcases to break the airport scales.

The main thing to know and remember about this, and all local SCBWI, events is that they are run by volunteers on volunteer energy. Nothing would happen without them. That brings us back to my obsession with Community…

How has the conference evolved over the years?

It’s gone from one day to two very full days. The BolognaFiere has been incredibly supportive and generous in making the SCBWI Bologna Conference a reality. We hope by hosting the Conference, attendees will check-out the Fair and illustrators around the world will consider submitting to the esteemed illustration exhibit competition the Fair sponsors. Thank you, BolognaFiere!

Is there any thing you’d like to add?

This has been an incredible ride and I’m looking forward to the 2008 Conference, the Bologna Book Fair and the SCBWI Showcase. After that, I plan to take off that Worker Bee Bonnet, update my website, start a character-driven blog, and give the graphic novel and historical YA as much energy as I’ve given the SCBWI over the last twelve years!

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editorial Director Interview: Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge

Yolanda LeRoy is editorial director at Charlesbridge, an independent Boston-area publisher. She has edited more than 100 books and has worked with Martha Alexander, Eve Bunting, Kathryn Lasky, David McPhail, Linda Sue Park (author interview), and Jane Yolen (author interview), among others. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in March 2008, as she is to participate on a panel at the Bologna conference. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in March 2008, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

Well, the truth of the matter is that I wasn’t planning on this career at all. I was supposed to have an illustrious and exciting career as a Russian affairs analyst at the CIA. When my application was denied after a year of interviews, tests, medical exams, polygraphs, etc., I went for plan B., which was to stay in Boston and find a job in publishing. Adult publishing, because, after all, what did children’s book editors really do anyway? Add a few periods here and there, and call it a day. Hardly challenging.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, of course. And I couldn’t have found a profession more right for me. I interviewed at Charlesbridge for the position of publisher’s assistant, getting the job largely because the boss’s daughter had also gone to my university and majored in Russian studies. The rest is history.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

A good editor possesses an analytical mind, fierce resolve, a creative streak, an intuitive sense of the marketplace, business acumen, and strong communication skills–able to negotiate office politics, manage and develop staff, and inspire and challenge authors and illustrators.

When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages, chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

Ah, writers aren’t going to like this answer. For picture books, I can tell by the end of the first manuscript page. For novels, I’d say by five.

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

Obviously typos and grammatical/mechanical errors. Too much exposition. A bland premise. Lack of tension. Stiff dialogue.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

Here’s my dirty editorial secret: I don’t read the cover letter until after I read the manuscript, and then only if I like the story. But when I do read a cover letter, I like to know any relevant publishing experience and perhaps a bit about how or why the manuscript was written. It’s also fine, and probably advisable, to keep cover letters brief.

What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?

For me, the biggest reality is that publishing is a very inexact science. You can think you know what will sell, but ultimately you have to throw the books against the proverbial wall and hope something sticks.

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book publisher?

I love so much about it: the blend of the creative and the analytical, the opportunity to work with such amazingly gifted individuals, the fact that I can feel good about what I do. Publishing matters. Books matter.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

I don’t know if it’s so much the characters who changed my life as the overall stories. There were a few books that hit me on such a visceral level that I felt as if something inside me had cracked wide open: Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time, Katherine Paterson‘s Bridge to Terabithia, and William H. Armstrong‘s Sounder all had that effect.

More recently, Phillip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy did the same thing.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

As any mother would say, I love all my children equally!

But of course it’s true that some projects tend to pull on my attention more than others. Currently I’m quite enamored with one of our spring 2008 books: The Searcher and Old Tree by David McPhail. It’s an allegorical tale about parental love and the safety of home, as seen in the relationship between a raccoon and a tree during a storm.

I think I love it so much for two main reasons. One, it was a dream come true to work with David, whose books I have admired for many years. Two, the book is deceptively simple and therefore exemplifies what I love so much about the process of making picture books, i.e. an incredible amount of planning, structure, intellectual energy, and symbolism goes into every decision along the way; yet in the final product, all that work is invisible and subliminal.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 32 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

SCBWI Bologna 2008: Art Director-Vice President Interview: Cecilia Yung of Penguin Books for Young Readers US

Cecilia Yung has worked in children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. She is the Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Books for Young Readers in the U.S. Cecilia has worked with many major artists and award winners, such as David Small, Peggy Rathmann, Emily McCully and Ed Young. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in December 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

CY: A photography teacher in college suggested that I check out children’s publishing. From day one, I recognized that this is a job that stimulates and satisfies every aspect of my brain.

In your opinion, what makes a good art director?

CY: A good art director understands both the material and the artist and finds a way to get the very best out of them. A good art director knows when and how far to push. A good art director articulates the issues at hand, knows the difference between subjective and objective comments, listens carefully and is open to (good) surprises.

What makes an artist’s illustrations stand out for you?

CY: Something that makes me gasp or laugh or fight my way across a crowded room, and then rewards me when I linger to look at the details.

Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?

CY: I look at websites regularly (at least a few times a week) to find artists, to keep tabs on the competition, and even to look at other work by artists I am currently working with to find solutions to problems.

What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?

CY: Bad technique, awkward anatomy, unappealing faces, trendy images, and clichéd solutions.

What do you believe is the most important part of your job?

CY: To balance the needs of the publisher (to publish books that are relevant and profitable) with the needs of the artist (to create something unique) and the needs of a child (to read a story that touches and transforms them).

What is your favorite thing about being an art director?

CY: The most exciting thing is to see an idea grow and develop and end up in a place no one could imagine.

Do you make suggestions for revisions to art work? What sort of suggestions have you made, and how in your opinion have they improved the final product?

CY: Yes, that is one of the most important parts of the job. I look at technical issues like anatomy and perspective. I look at legibility of an image to make sure that it is understandable and conveys the content and intent of the story. I look at expressions, body language, and the palette to make sure they express the emotion of the story. I look at how one scene relates to another to create a narrative.

How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?

CY: I read the story again and again with the illustrator’s work in front of me to match their “voice.” Then I see if the strength and weakness of an artist’s work will complement the strength and weakness of the story.

What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?

CY: My favorite books make me laugh out loud or see something in a new light or nod vigorously in recognition. Spinky Sulks (William Steig), Knufflebunny Too (Mo Willems), Arnie The Doughnut (Laurie Keller), The Art Lesson (Tomie dePaola), Goodnight Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann), to name just a few.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?

CY: So You Want To Be President (Judith St. George and David Small) and The Cod’s Tale (Mark Kurlansky and Steve Schindler) because of the overwhelming role of the illustration in making the books a success and the way they present “dry” information with humor and freshness.

Show Way (Jackie Woodson and Hudson Talbott) and Leonardo’s Horse (Jean Fritz and Hudson Talbott) because of the complex visual strands and the inventive solutions. They have both beauty and brains.

Leaves (David Ezra Stein) because of the warmth, innocence, and effortlessness.

How involved in the marketing of the book(s) are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house?

CY: Not at all. As an art director, I represent the creative possibilities and would like to be as removed as possible from the merchandising of a book.

Is there an area on your list that you would like to “grow” at this time?

CY: There is a lot of sameness out there. What I crave is an original voice.

What is the ideal art sample submission?

CY: Strong work with no weak links: a distinct style that makes my head swivel, fresh solutions that suggest a lively brain, and enough samples to convince me that the artist can deliver that every time.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Cynsational News & Links

Marc Aronson will appear on Book TV at 9 p.m. EST March 25, offer a talk on his latest book, Race: A History Beyond Black and White (Ginee Seo, 2008)(more on this title), to young readers at the Brooklyn Library. Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson is giving away ARCs of her upcoming book, Chains (Simon & Schuster, 2008) to the next ten people who donate at least $20 to her husband Scot’s run in Lake Placid Half Marathon on June 15–honoring Laurie’s cousin, Darcy Skinner, who is fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Learn more!

Rules for Not Making Editors Hate You from Editorial Ass. Here’s a sneak peek: “Don’t call on the phone. Ever.”

Children’s Choice Book Awards: “the five favorite books published in 2007 were announced in five categories–three grade categories: K-2, 3-4, 5-6 as well as Favorite Author, and Favorite Illustrator. A nation-wide vote begins today.” Source JacketFlap. See also CBC Announces Finalists for the First Annual Children’s Book Choice Awards.

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend by Yinka Adegoke and Karen Jacobs from Yahoonews. Here’s a sneak peek: “While some analysts raised the possibility of a deal with Barnes & Noble, the company said on Thursday it had not been approached by Borders’ investment bankers, but would review a possible acquisition if it were contacted.” Source: Pub Rants. Note: yikes.

“The Writing Life: Lois Lowry: In which a chronic liar grows up to be a celebrated children’s author” by Lois Lowry from The Washington Post.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma School of Choctaw Language publishes children’s books and also sells children’s books by tribal members from other publishers. Source: American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Author Jo Knowles posts about the celebration in honor of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age 2008. Read a Cynsations interview with Jo. Note: Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) was one of the honored titles; I wish I could’ve made the event! It looks amazing!

Beyond The Big Idea by Chris Barton from Bartography. Here’s a sneak peek: “In a series of posts, I’m going to use examples of this book’s content in a tutorial geared toward my own children–and maybe just right for some that you know–about how to track down more information on a subject covered in a nonfiction book.” Don’t miss part two, part three, part four, and part five. Note: Chris is the author of several forthcoming picture books, including The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge), which is “the true story of how young Bob and Joe Switzer invented those eye-popping oranges, yellows, pinks, and greens.”

Attention authors, illustrators, and fans of picture book biographies! Author Anne Bustard‘s blog, Anneographies, highlights picture book biographies by the subject’s birthdays. Contact Anne for submissions queries. Read a Cynsations interview with Anne about Anneographies. Here’s a sneak peek: “Biographies and I have a special relationship. I chose my college major and, therefore, university based on my favorite biography from elementary school. I wanted to be like Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher. I ended up switching my major to another field in education, but it was a biography that led my way.”


The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Check back tomorrow for more interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents, and more from the U.S. and around the world.

The series will conclude this week with interviews with Cecilia Young, art director-vice president of Penguin Books U.S., editor Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge, and author Erzsi Deak!

Don’t miss today’s interview with publishing director Laura Harris of Penguin Australia. Here’s a sneak peek: “It is a business, but I think everyone in it is striving for excellence and wants the best for their books and authors. It takes the same effort to make an average book as it does to make a great book, but no one sets out to be average.”

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26 conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist’s agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. See details at Austin SCBWI. Note: I hope to see you there!

CBC Announces Finalists for the First Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards

NEW YORK, NY–The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with the CBC Foundation, launches the Children’s Choice Book Awards program with the announcement of 25 finalists in five categories. The Children’s Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read. Children will be able to cast their vote for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at until May 4.

The Children’s Choice Book Award winners will be announced live at the Children’s Choice Book Award gala on May 13 in New York City as part of Children’s Book Week (May 12-18, 2008), the oldest national literacy event in the United States. This initiative is a new component of Children’s Book Week and follows on the heels of the appointment of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a national program initiated by the Library of Congress and Children’s Book Council.

“The program will allow children from across the country to discover what other children like to read,” said Robin Adelson, Executive Director at Children’s Book Council. “We believe that by empowering children to express their opinions, it will positively impact their perspective and interest in books and bring a renewed excitement to reading.”

The Children’s Choice Book Award finalists are as follows:

Favorite Book for Grades K-2

Dino Dinners, by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Holiday House)

Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping by Eileen Christelow (Clarion)

Frankie Stein written by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (Marshall Cavendish)

Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark written by Ken Geist, illustrated by Julia Gorton (Cartwheel Books/Scholastic)

Tucker’s Spooky Halloween by Leslie McGuirk (Candlewick Press)

Favorite Book for Grades 3-4

Babymouse: Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)(illustrator interview)

Big Cats by Elaine Landau (Enslow Publishers)

Monday With a Mad Genius written by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca (Random House)

The Richest Poor Kid written by Carl Sommer, illustrated by Jorge Martinez (Advance Publishing)

Wolves by Duncan Searl (Bearport)

Favorite Book for Grades 5-6

Beowulf: Monster Slayer written by Paul D. Storrie, illustrated by Ron Randall (Lerner)

Encyclopedia Horrifica: The Terrifying Truth about Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, and More by Joshua Gee (Scholastic Paperbacks)

Ghosts by Stephen Krensky (Lerner)

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Amy Lissiat and Colin Thompson (Kane/Miller)

When the Shadbush Blooms written by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden (Tricycle Press)

2007 Author of the Year

Anthony Horowitz, Snakehead (Alex Rider Adventure) (Philomel/Penguin)

Erin Hunter, Warriors, Powers of Three: The Sight (HarperCollins)

Jeff Kinney, Diary of Wimpy Kid (Abrams)

Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Titan’s Curse (Disney Book Group)(author interview)

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic)

2007 Illustrator of the Year

Jan Brett, Three Snow Bears (Putnam/Penguin)

Ian Falconer, Olivia Helps with Christmas (Simon & Schuster)

Robin Preiss Glasser, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy (HarperCollins)

Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic)

Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (Disney Book Group)

The finalists were determined from the IRA-CBC Children’s Choices program, a joint project of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the CBC since 1975. Publishers submit hundreds of titles to be evaluated and voted on by 10,000 children. The Author and Illustrator of the Year finalists were selected from a review of bestseller lists by the CBC and CBC Foundation.

About the Children’s Book Council

The Children’s Book Council, established in 1945, is the nonprofit trade association of publishers of trade books for children and young adults in the United States. The CBC promotes the use and enjoyment of trade books for young people, most prominently as the official sponsor of Children’s Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country. The goal of the Children’s Book Council is to make the reading and enjoyment of books for young people an essential part of America’s educational and social goals, as well as to enhance the public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books for young people and about children’s book publishing. The CBC Foundation’s “Every Child a Reader” program seeks to harness the collective power of the children’s book publishing industry to create a positive social impact in the nation’s communities.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Publishing Director Interview: Laura Harris of Penguin Australia

Laura Harris is the Publishing Director of children’s books for Penguin Australia. She has worked with such highly acclaimed authors as Morris Gleitzman, Melina Marchetta and Mem Fox. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?

I was one of those very fortunate people–it chose me. I had completed my degree in education. My lecturer was a wonderful woman, Dr Susan Moore, who kindly recommended me as one of her ex-students to the prestigious School Magazine, the oldest literary magazine for children in Australia. They were looking for someone to cull books and sort manuscripts for a three-month stint. It was my first year out of university, I loved children’s books, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, and it was a short gig.

There were three editors working on the magazine, and at the end of my three months, I was asked to stay on as a Trainee Editor…so I did. It was like a family working with the editors, authors and illustrators. I loved all five years that I spent there, and I learned so much.

My boss pushed me to leave when I was approached by HarperCollins. I don’t think he was glad to get rid of me, but he believed I might suit the wider world of trade publishing. Since I was quite young, I believe he thought it was time I left home…and it felt like that.

Some of my most enduring friendships were made during my time there, and I now publish at Penguin a number of people who wrote, illustrated, or worked at the magazine.

In your opinion, what makes a good publisher?

A respect for readers, truly liking authors and illustrators, editorial skill, empathy and a big-picture outlook (every writer wants to be read, so just making the book is not enough–we need to get it into the right hands!). Caring about the whole process is key for a good publisher, and a genuine love of storytelling. It helps if you read a lot too, have a visual flair, and don’t mind being a therapist and a firm task master some of the time.

When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

It varies so much. Sometimes you just fall in love with the style of writing in the first few pages, and other times a character intrigues you, although the writing might be very straightforward…

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

Covering letters telling me what is missing in children’s books, or that this work is the next Harry Potter, or that the writer’s children loved the work…

Children love spending time sharing stories with their parents. You could read them the phone book, and they would think you were marvelous and talented!

And I think those kinds of remarks in covering letters show a lack of respect for the people already publishing wonderful books. For would-be writers, remember that the person you are addressing has probably read many more children’s books than you.

I also think work should be presented well, easy to read, and without errors. It is not about everything being correct, it is about care. Send your very best work to a publisher, not everything you have ever written.

What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?

It is a business, but I think everyone in it is striving for excellence and wants the best for their books and authors. It takes the same effort to make an average book as it does to make a great book, but no one sets out to be average.

I also think that good work does get published. Perhaps not with the first publisher, or the first manuscript, but good writing is discovered and looked after.

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book publisher?

The people I have met, the stories I have been involved with that have become beloved books, and knowing that what I do has some worth.

I am of the school that agrees with C.S Lewis when he said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I think books are that for so many children, and I like being part of that.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

Some of my favorite books are really about favorite writers. Even from a young age I wanted to read everything a beloved writer wrote, even if it wasn’t a series or I was critical of one title. Once an author gets to me, I am a loyal reader.

The first writer that did that to me was John Steinbeck. I read Cannery Row and wanted to be a marine biologist–I was 12. I read everything of his after that, short stories and all. I went on to John Irving, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, Anne Tyler and Michael Chabon, to name a few. And like many 12 year olds, I fell in love with Atticus Finch.

I loved the picture books of John Burningham as a child–I still have some of them today and continue to look out for his new books. I love the picture books of Chris Van Allsburg, who I discovered as an adult.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

The Cat in the Hat–for irreverence and sassiness and a lust for life. Every grown up should own Oh! The Places You will Go.

Actually, Theodore Seuss Geisel changed my life–as a reader and as a publisher–and his birthday is the day before mine.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Cynsational News & Links

A Revision Story by David Macinnis Gill at I am Chikin, Hear Me Roar. Here’s a sneak peek: “Writing a first draft creates a sense of euphoria for me. I get a sustained rush learning about new characters, exploring new settings, and thinking of really bad puns that never get past the third edits. Well, some do. But the creation of a first draft has a dark side.”

“Let’s Talk about Sex” by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth kicks off a multi-post conversation. Here’s a sneak peek: “Sex in YA lit is not exactly a new topic. Whether we are ‘pro sex’ or ‘against sex,’ I think it’s pretty hard to write a YA novel and not have to deal with it, in one way or another. Whether a character wants to have sex, wants to abstain, or is falling in love, sex is omnipresent in the teen protagonist! Our young characters, like the young people we were, like young people today, are bombarded with images of sex. It is difficult to come of age without considering what sex means.” Series includes an interview with author Tanya Lee Stone, “Nuts and Bolts,” and “Reaching the Climax” (yes, that’s what she titled it). Read Cynsations interviews with Sarah and Tanya.

“How Far is Too Far” by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth kicks off another important topic–violence in youth literature. Here’s a sneak peek: “I’m not really opposed to violence in young adult fiction. My mantra is if it serves the story, use it…But just how far am I willing to go with it? How much raw detail am I willing to express on the page? How much psychic distance am I willing to give the reader?”Series includes Questions of Violence and more. Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Interview: Mary E. Pearson from Teen Book Review. Here’s a sneak peek: “I really don’t think of the teen years as a stage, as many people do, but the beginning of this long stage we call adulthood that is always in a state of change. You don’t finish the teen years and suddenly become this static adult. You continue to evolve.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

River Friendly River Wild by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Neil Brennan (Simon & Schuster, 2000). An exquisitely written and illustrated picture book of poems inspired by Kurtz’s own family’s experience during the flood in Grand Forks. Winner of the 2000 Golden Kite Award. Ages 6-up. Read a related Cynsations interview with Jane. Here’s a sneak peek: “When I got back to Grand Forks and dug into the mess, I found that it felt just right to peel off my yellow gloves from time to time and jot down phrases that captured a little of what I was going through.” See also classroom connections for this book.

Author School Visits by State: a state-by-state listing, not a booking service, from Kim Norman, author of Jack of all Tails, illustrated by David Clark (Dutton, 2007). Note: traditionally published authors may write Kim for a free listing; see details at blog. Source: Children’s Book Biz News @ Yahoogroups. Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.

Congratulations to Julie Larios on the publication of Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Harcourt, 2008). From the promotional copy: “Who is half gallop, half walk? Who can turn you to stone with one look? Whose voice do you hear in the splash on the shore? Centaurs, mermaids, and other curious creatures populate these wondrous poems and paintings, inspired by a mythological world full of imagination and mystery. Includes end notes about cultures and legends.” Ages 4-up. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie Larios.

Industry News & Thoughts

Michael Stearns Leaving Harper to Be an Agent from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Note: Michael is joining Nadia Cornier at Firebrand Literary. Best wishes to Michael in his new career!

[Editor] Allyn Johnston Leaving Harcourt from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Alice says: “Reading her piece, feeling her love of picture books, getting a glimpse of what an insightful editor she is, made me sad to think that someone who it seems was put on this earth to edit books for young readers could be let go as a result of a corporate merger (Houghton with Harcourt).” Read the whole post. Best wishes to Allyn in her next career move!

To those Harcourt authors/illustrators–especially new voices–who are going through this corporate merger with its resulting uncertainty and fallout: Please rest assured that others before you have survived similar circumstances, we’re all behind you, and if you’re feeling really stressed, you’re welcome to write me. Hang in there!


The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Check back Monday for more interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents, and more from the U.S. and around the world.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?