Guest Interview: Emma Walton Hamilton on Picture Book Summit

By Cate Berry

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The third annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference will be Oct. 7.

To find out more about this opportunity, which not only allows, but encourages attendance in pajamas, I interviewed one of the founders, Emma Walton Hamilton.

What prompted you to start the Picture Book Summit?


Jon and Laura Backes Bard, Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund and I are longtime friends and colleagues in the children’s lit community. We all regularly contribute to each other’s various programs and endeavors. 

One day we were chatting about the challenges of attending all the conferences we love – the travel, the accommodations, the cost factor, etc. – and it occurred to us that together we could create an online conference specific to picture books that would give people all the value of attending a conference – keynotes, workshops, submission opportunities and so forth – but they could attend from home in their PJs at a fraction of the cost. Thus, Picture Book Summit was born!

The Picture Book Summit seems like such great idea. A whole conference without ever leaving your couch…heaven! Besides the convenience of the online format, what are some specific features that attract a picture book writer?

Tomie dePaola

Picture Book Summit is a world-class conference, jam-packed with value throughout the entire day. There are keynotes from three different Superstar Speakers – this year it’s Tomie dePaola, Carole Boston Weatherford and Adam Rex – who each deliver their own complete session, discussing their craft, giving actionable advice and answering questions.

There are also four separate workshops focusing on a range of craft issues, like nonfiction, writing without preaching, the multiple layers in picture books and pitching and submitting manuscripts to agents.

There are interviews with agents and editors, addressing questions that attendees have asked and submission opportunities to them. 

There are also tons of extra bonuses, like a PJ party the weekend before, handouts and access to recordings after the Summit, networking opportunities via group chats and a Facebook group, free Facebook Live events during the year, and more.

It’s incredible value for the price!

Who is the ideal candidate for your conference?

The Summit is open to anyone who writes, illustrates, or dreams of writing or illustrating picture books. Beginners get a ton of information that helps bring them up to speed quickly, and experienced authors and illustrators get re-energized and inspired.

Is there anyone who is not qualified to attend?


No. There is no question too basic, and no publishing experience or knowledge is required to attend.

If you were attending for the first time, what is a goal you would advise a writer to shoot for during the conference?

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the work of our speakers and presenters beforehand, and to have some questions ready to ask.

Beyond that, just watch, listen and learn! It will be a lot of information, but we provide handouts, slide decks and recordings of all the presentations after the fact… so you can pace yourself and just enjoy the day.

Is there anything I haven’t addressed about the Picture Book Summit that you’d like our readers to be aware of?

Picture Book Summit is an all-day live broadcast in webinar format. You log in, sit back and enjoy each session one after the other. But even if you can’t attend on the day, or have to miss part of a presentation, the entire event is recorded and available for playback within a few days. All registrants have access to the recordings.

Also, every year Picture Book Summit donates a generous portion of our proceeds to a different charity. To date, we have donated over $10,000. Charities we’ve partnered with so far include Reading Partners and We Need Diverse Books.

This year, Picture Book Summit is giving to students “coast to coast.” Proceeds from Picture Book Summit 2017 will be donated to two Title 1 schools – Harrison Elementary in Cottage Grove, OR, and Lincoln Elementary, in New Britain, CT. A portion of each Summiteer’s ticket will go directly to each school’s library.

Cynsations Notes

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and writing coach.

With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over thirty children’s books, eight of which have been on the New York Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Little Brown, 2010).

She is director of the Children’s Lit Fellows program at Stony Brook University.

Cate Berry is a recent graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Writing for Children and Young Adult MFA program (July/2017) receiving her Picture Book Intensive Certificate in the process.

Cate is an active member of SCBWI and the Austin children’s literature community. She teaches numerous picture book classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Her debut picture book, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins) releases in May, 2018. 

Interview: Author Carole Boston Weatherford & Illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford

By Carole Boston Weatherford
& Jeffrey Boston Weatherford

From Carole

Set during World War II, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Atheneum, 2016) follows the training, trials and triumphs of the U.S. military’s first African American pilots.

The book pairs my poems with scratchboard illustrations by my son, Jeffrey Boston Weatherford.

The title is our first collaboration and Jeffery’s publication debut. The book, which includes a detailed timeline and links to primary sources, connects to both the language arts and social studies curricula.

You Can Fly had a long incubation period. The egg may have been laid during a family trip to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. The earliest version of the text was for a picture book written in second person.

After I was unable to sell that manuscript, I sat on the egg for a few more years. Then I began re-envisioning and reshaping the manuscript as a poetry collection for middle grades-up. I switched the point of view to first person under the title “The Last Tuskegee Airmen Tells All.” Still not satisfied, I changed to third person. Finally, I settled on second person.

Around that time, Jeffery came on board. During a summer internship in children’s book illustration, he created digital art to accompany my poems. We sold the package, but just before the book was about to hatch, the flight got cancelled.

Carole & Jeffery in 2000

I began to wonder if the book would ever leave the nest. I continued to
revise the manuscript and to add poems. Jeffery and I decided to scrap
the digital art in favor of scratchboard illustrations.

Armed with a
revised manuscript and sample drawings, we sold the package to Atheneum.

In the subsequent year, Jeffery completed the illustrations and I added
a few new poems.

In mid-April, Jeffery and I received our comp copies.

Our first book together finally has wings.

Fly, little book, fly!

Author & Illustrator Interview

Jeffery and I recently interviewed each other about You Can Fly.

Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book?

Carole: The Tuskegee Airmen’s saga moved me personally. It is powerful—historically, politically and emotionally. I thought the story begged for a poetic treatment.

Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did gaming influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?

Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies. I played everything from Halo to Call of Duty.

Jeffery: When did you first notice my artistic talent?

Carole: Your kindergarten teacher prodded you to finish coloring and work up to potential. By third grade, I was concerned that you were doodling planes, cars, weapons and anime characters in your notebook rather than paying attention.

Around middle school, I realized that your drawings were good. I put you in studio art classes, starting with cartooning. By high school, you were taking private art lessons with the assistant principal who became a mentor.

Carole: What is your favorite illustration from the book?

Jeffery: My favorite is of the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It’s a closeup scene from their historic rematch.

Jeffery: What’s yours?

Carole: The one where two planes on a mission have bombed an enemy aircraft. The explosion is so animated; like a comic book.

Jeffery: What is your favorite poem from the book?

Carole: It’s “Head to the Sky,” the first poem in the book and also the first that I wrote—early on when the project was envisioned as a picture book. “Head to the Sky” reflects the power of a dream fueled by self-determination.

Carole: Tell me about your first flight.

Jeffery: I had a window seat and was looking outside. As the plane sped down the runway, I said, “We’re blasting off!”

Carole: That was hilarious. Well, your career as a children’s book illustrator is off to a flying start. How did it feel when you first saw the printed book?

Jeffery: Like a child at Christmas.

From the promotional copy:



I WANT YOU! says the poster of Uncle Sam. But if you’re a young black man in 1940, he doesn’t want you in the cockpit of a war plane. Yet you are determined not to let that stop your dream of flying.



So when you hear of a civilian pilot training program at Tuskegee Institute, you leap at the chance. Soon you are learning engineering and mechanics, how to communicate in code, how to read a map. At last the day you’ve longed for is here: you are flying!



From training days in Alabama to combat on the front lines in Europe, this is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the groundbreaking African-American pilots of World War II.