Guest Interview: Editor Emma Ledbetter & Writer Zoë Armstrong on Picture Books & SCBWI’s Bologna Manuscript Contest

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. 

SCBWI Switzerland Regional Adviser Elisabeth Norton talks with the judge and winner of SCBWI‘s new Dueling Illustrators Manuscript Contest.

One event that always draws a crowd to the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the Dueling Illustrators.

In the duel, two illustrators each stand before a blank flip-chart, marker, charcoal or other drawing medium at the ready. A story is read aloud in ten segments, and after each one, the illustrators have just a couple of minutes to illustrate that portion of the story.

The tricky part?

They have never heard the story before so they have no idea what is going to happen next!

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, dueling illustrators

This year, SCBWI launched a new picture book manuscript contest in conjunction with this event, which is held daily at the SCBWI booth during the fair.

The 100 entry slots for the contest filled quickly, and then it was the job of Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, to winnow those entries down to the six finalists and to select the winner.

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, photo by Christopher Cheng

Today I’m talking with Emma and with Zoë Armstrong, author of the winning manuscript.

Welcome, Emma and Zoë!

Zoë, how long have you been writing for children?

I’ve been playing with verse since my seven-year-old daughter, Elodie, was very young. But a year ago, I enrolled on to the Picture Book Programme of the Golden Egg Academy here in the United Kingdom, and it has given me tremendous focus and a determination to make space for my writing.

I trained as a journalist so I’ve always written, but creative writing is something I was doing privately at home. I think it can take a while to find the confidence as a writer to actively pursue your creative ambitions. But if you hold your nerve, anything is possible!

Zoë with her daughter.

Can you tell us more about the writing that you do? Do you write exclusively picture books? 

I am a freelance copywriter, but my real love is children’s literature.
I love that picture books are so rich in possibility, and how playful you can be with language and rhythm and ideas.

So, yes, picture books are very much where my heart is.

I tend to write quirky, lyrical stories, and I’d like to work with incredible illustrators and editors who have similar leanings. I try to write every day –– there is still so much to learn! –– and this practice has really elevated my writing.

What prompted you to enter the Dueling Illustrator’s Manuscript Contest?

I’m at that stage in my picture book writing journey where I’m determined to create opportunities, and jump in whenever they show up.

One of the things I love about picture books is the interplay between text and illustrations, so the SCBWI Dueling Illustrator’s Manuscript Contest was a dream contest to enter!

Emma’s office

Emma, there were 100 entries to this inaugural Dueling Illustrators Manuscript contest. Can you tell us about your process for narrowing 100 entries down to the top six? 

For me, this process—just like my job as an editor—had a lot to do with the gut feeling I had as a reader in response to each manuscript.

As I read the 100 entries, I sifted and organized them; those that stood out to me for any reason I put into a special pile, which started at around 20-30 manuscripts. Then I reread that pile, and continued winnowing them down from there until I landed on my six favorites!

What stood out to you about the six finalists and the winning entry, “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

As a judge and as a picture book editor, one of the most important things to me is the vision I have, when I first read a story, of what a finished book might look like: for example, what art style might work; what interesting or surprising visual possibilities are available; what freedom an artist might have to bring their own touch and perspective to the story.

Though the manuscripts I selected through this contest are quite different from each other, what they all had in common is that they were stories I’d be interested in seeing come to life on the page—and which I thought could come to life successfully.

Other important factors for a strong picture book manuscript include a premise that feels unique and distinct, and thoughtful writing that draws me in—for its humor, its lyricism, or its cleverness, for example. For me, the winners I chose had these elements, too.

Zoë’s office

Zoë, what was the inspiration for your winning story “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed”? 

I often start by free writing before I begin to plot, and it was the rhythm and the mouth feel of the words that provided the initial inspiration.

I’m fascinated by the way that the musicality of a text can engage a young child, even if they don’t fully understand the precise meaning of each word. It doesn’t matter!

I read a lot with my daughter and I’m sure that must feed into what I write. But I also think that the poetry of our first picture books stays with us forever.

My own childhood was filled with Maurice Sendak, Edward Lear, Judith Kerr, Roald Dahl and so on… so it’s all in there, I think.

Also my daughter, Elodie, has one or two Huggalumph characteristics herself!

View from Zoë’s office

Can you tell us about finding out that your manuscript was the winning entry? 

It was incredible to discover that “When the Huggalumph Hullabalooed” had won.

I’d been following the SCBWI Bologna updates on Facebook, and I saw that my text was being illustrated by two superstar illustrators –– Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, who was shortlisted for this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

That in itself was really exciting, and then to actually win!

It’s been an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback from an editor of the caliber of Emma. The report she has written is thoughtful and encouraging, and I can’t thank her and the SCBWI enough.

I’ve already reworked “The Huggalumph” with Emma’s comments in mind. I guess it’s time to look for a great literary agent!

Emma, the guidelines for the contest specified that manuscripts not be longer than 350 words. For several years now authors have been advised to keep their picture book manuscripts short – 500 words or less. Do you see this trend continuing? 

Three hundred and fifty words is definitely on the short end of the picture books we publish! Word counts can vary greatly depending on things like the age group they’re targeting, and whether they’re fiction or nonfiction.

But yes, in general, there has been a trend towards brevity in recent years. I see this not as brevity for brevity’s sake, but because often, a manuscript reads as “too long” because it would simply be a stronger story if it were shorter.

When I edit a picture book text, sometimes I’ll encourage an author to condense when I find that there’s excessive description; too many different plotlines going on at once; or too much information incorporated (this can be a particular issue with nonfiction).

Every word is important in a picture book, where space is precious and limited—so every story needs focus and intent.

Based on your experience as an editor, what is the one thing that you think picture book authors should keep in mind when crafting their stories? 

Especially for authors who are just beginning or are early in their careers, it’s important to remember that once your text leaves your hands and is paired with an illustrator, it’s just as much their book as it is yours.

This idea understandably can be difficult to come to terms with, but it’s a crucial mindset for producing the best book possible.

Though the author’s input is important to me (of course!), I want the artists I work with to have the freedom to bring their own vision to the story, too.

In those early stages, when an author is first crafting their story, they can keep this in mind by asking themselves questions about how certain text might come alive visually.

For example, “is it important to the story that I write that my character is wearing a green shirt; or can I let the artist make that choice?”

Not only will this make your manuscript more appealing for an illustrator, but it will help you improve your story, too, by bringing in the focus and intent that I mention above.

Thanks so much for talking with me today! Zoë, we wish you and the Huggalumph great success!

Emma, any last thoughts for our readers? 

Thanks for having me, Elisabeth! And thanks to all of you authors who submitted your work to this contest. Keep writing (and reading)!

Cynsational Notes

Emma Ledbetter, senior editor at Atheneum, joined Simon & Schuster in 2011 following internships with Little, Brown; Nickelodeon; and Nick Jr.

A graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in Art History, Emma has edited all kinds of books for kids. These include the picture book Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Atheneum, 2016), which The New York Times called “an example of children’s books at their best” as well as the ALA Notable middle grade novel Quicksand Pond by Newbery Honoree Janet Taylor Lisle (Atheneum, 2017).

She is especially fond of Edward Gorey, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, and the Frances the Badger series by Russell Hoban.

Check out the books she’s edited, as well as some of her favorite children’s literature, on Pintrest; bonus points if you can decipher her Frances-related Twitter handle, @brdnjamforemma.



Zoë Armstrong is a British writer. After graduating from City, University of London, she trained as a journalist, and has worked in public relations within the charitable sector and in education.

She spent her childhood reading Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume in Oxford and Paris.

Her love of children’s literature persisted, and Zoë is now a member of the respected Golden Egg Academy for children’s writers.

Zoë lives with her young daughter in Brighton, on the South Coast of England, and works as a freelance writer.
You can find Zoë on Twitter.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, went to University in Tennessee, and lived for many years in Texas.

After a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books and middle grade books.

She serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

Guest Interview: SCBWI Volunteers at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018

By A. Colleen Jones
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This interview is part of a series focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair


SCBWI Ireland Regional Advisor A. Colleen Jones talks with the volunteer team behind the SCBWI Booth at the Book Fair.

The SCBWI Bologna team that plans, organizes, and executes everything necessary to have a booth at Bologna is comprised of many people, including Christopher Cheng (a Cynsations reporter), Kathleen Ahrens, Angela Cerrito (a Cynsations reporter), Dana Carey, Susan Eaddy, Sarah Baker, and Chelsea Confalone.

Chris, Susan, Sarah, and Dana were at the fair along with a handful of volunteers including Teacher/Librarian Bini Szacsvay, me, Elisabeth Norton (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Switzerland), Olga Reiff (Illustrator Coordinator, SCBWI Belgium & Luxembourg), and Ale Diaz Bouza (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Spain).

Special thanks also to illustrator David Liew (Regional Advisor, SCBWI Singapore) for being a funny, cheerful, and thoughtful presence at the booth.

To see our posts on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, our handle is: @SCBWIBologna. You can search for the following hashtags: #scbwibologna #BBF18SCBWI. 

While many of our volunteers were book-fair veterans, Olga, Ale, and I were first-timers.

I was curious to compare experience with them and with Elisabeth on attending the book fair and volunteering in the booth. I asked some questions of all three volunteers. Where I asked a question of just one or two of them, I have included their name in the question.

How much preparation did you do for the fair? Did you bring your portfolio? Business cards? 


I know Elisabeth lugged a lot of gear for the booth all the way from Switzerland on (was it) five trains! 

Ale: Every year I try to begin with the preparations earlier than the last one. Most of the time, this means I begin with two or three months minimum, and every year when I come back home I think about preparing next year as soon as possible.

I think about improving my portfolio, new projects I would like to show to editors, about people I should like to meet, and promotional material I need to bring with me like postcards, business cards, badges, etc.

Olga: I had business cards and postcards, which I also used as a giveaway. But I would recommend bringing a small poster too, to hang on the illustrator’s wall. I had a portfolio, which turned out to be too big. Next time, I will do a smaller and handier one.

Elisabeth in Switzerland

Elisabeth: You’re right! It was five trains on the way there, but only three on the way home. My preparation for the fair took place in phases.

The first phase (November) was to find a place to stay and a roommate. The next phase started in February. I inventoried and restocked our booth supplies—everything from markers for the Duelling Illustrators contests to batteries for strings of lights that hung in the booth.

I had a “Bologna Pile” in a corner of the study for more than a month. I did bring my business cards, but not enough of them! My advice is to bring more cards than you think you will need, because you can always bring the extras back home.

Have you volunteered for the SCBWI booth before? What did you do as a volunteer?

Ale: This was my first year at the booth and it was a wonderful experience, very different with regard to other times that I attended the fair.

I helped with little things about promoting our organization, spoke to visitors in Spanish (that brings SCBWI a more international direction), helped members after their portfolio reviews, welcomed members to the booth, and so on.

Olga: It was my first time. During my service hours, I had the chance to explain the SCBWI’s activities to young Russian illustrators and an editor from Slovakia. I did a short portfolio review for a young Italian illustrator who visited the booth. That was fun.

A member of my Belgium chapter came along, and we talked about our future activities in the region. I also helped set up an Indonesian colleague’s showcase and took photos for her, and followed with some social media activity on Instagram.

Elisabeth, You have volunteered for the SCBWI booth before. How does this time compare to your previous experience of the fair? What did you do differently? What were your primary duties this time? 

My primary responsibility this time, as before, was to greet the visitors to the booth. Some publishers or art directors who visit the booth are interested in one of the books that is on display. We talk to them and direct them to the contact and rights information for that title.

Elisabeth in the SCBWI booth

Many visitors to the booth are creators themselves, mostly illustrators, but a fair number of writers too. Some are members of the SCBWI and have stopped by to see the booth and chat about their experiences at the fair.

Others don’t know about our organization, and this gives us the opportunity to explain how the SCBWI supports writers and illustrators at every stage of their career.

I always ask where the person is living. Often, they are in a region where I know their regional team. This means I can tell them a bit about the activities and meetups going on in their area.

I would say the difference between my experience at the fair this time versus the last time had less to do with what my responsibilities were (since they were essentially the same) and more to do with me feeling more comfortable.

The fair can be an overwhelming experience the first time you go! This time the logistics (where the booth is, where the bus stop is, how to get to/from the fair) were familiar, so I was able to focus more on other aspects of the fair.

What was your first impression when you arrived in Bologna? When you first arrived at the fair?

Ale: I feel the fair is more open to artists. I think the fair is expanding their programs for writers and translators, which is a very good thing.

Olga: I was surprised by the dimensions of the fair buildings.

Elisabeth: My first impression of Bologna was the oranges and reds and terracottas of the buildings, because this palette is so different from where I live. Then I was struck by how big the sculpture of Neptune in the famous fountain is. You don’t get the sense of the scale in most of the photos.

Neptune’s Fountain in Bologna

My first impression of the fair was, like Neptune’s statue, “This is bigger than I expected!” Each of the halls is huge, and there are four of them.

My next impression was People! There are so many people involved in this fair— both exhibitors and attendees. It is awe-inspiring to realize how many people around the world are focused on making quality books for young readers.

What were the top three things you liked best about the fair? 

Ale: The fair is full of opportunities at different levels. You can have professional meetings, learn from trends you can see at different booths that in some way could inspire your work, and also meet and learn from wonderful creators at talks and master classes.

Olga: The fact of being part of the SCBWI and volunteering at the booth was the best part. The variety of exhibitions and conferences, the illustrations, the books. The beauty of Bologna downtown.

Elisabeth: In reverse order—

3. How organized it is. (What can I say, I live in Switzerland. I have a highly developed appreciation for a well-organized public event.) 

2. The chance to browse publications on display at the exhibitor booths. It’s like the children’s section of the world’s largest library! 

1. The people. The ones you meet who come by the booth, and the ones you work with. I’ve met so many amazing people through the SCBWI, and working at the booth over a period of several days really gives you the chance to get to know them.

What was one thing you would like to see changed or improved about the fair?

Ale: The corners for writers and illustrators are now great, full of activities and talks. But I think they could grow to become very strong meeting points and a community for sharing much more about the industry.

Olga: It is a huge fair and some things were a bit difficult for me as for many others (food, toilets, crowded halls). I didn’t know that the entry is only for professionals. My parents wanted to meet me at my showcase, and they couldn’t enter the fair. Perhaps the organizers could put a warning about that on their Internet site? Or is this clear to anybody except me?

Elisabeth: I’m not sure I can think of anything! They do a pretty amazing job of organizing that many exhibitors and visitors.

Colleen and Olga at the SCBWI booth

What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as an illustrator?

Ale: In some ways, the fair is like a massive bookstore, full of books from all around the world, where you can see trends all together. This could be a great way to know where your path is, taking inspiration from other artists’ works, and give you clues about knocking at the right publishing house’s door.

Olga: I had some difficulties to get back on my feet and continue my work after seeing the impressive quality and quantity of illustrations at the fair. On the other hand, I understood that there is a market for nearly every style, and that I just have to know what I want and be more consistent with what I do, and to improve the way I do it.

Some editors I spoke to said that my style is too soft, and I took this as very helpful feedback to improve the contrast and variety of value in my illustrations. Perhaps the German market is not the right one for my style.

Elisabeth, What are your thoughts on the value of attending the fair as a writer?

Some writers who attend the fair have appointments or engagements that have been arranged by their editors or agents.

For other writers, I would say it depends on the programs on offer (this can be viewed online). An illustrator might attend the fair on multiple days in order to take advantage of portfolio review opportunities with publishers, whereas a writer might find that a one- or two-day visit is enough to get a sense of what the fair is about and attend any programs of interest.

Ale and Olga, how easy or difficult was it to show your portfolio to prospective clients at the fair?

Ale: As an illustrator, it is not so difficult, because publishing houses are giving more portfolio reviews every year. The difficult thing is to know how spend your time wisely, because you can lose very valuable time in a queue where your work doesn’t fit. But on the other hand, very good feedback about your work is always valuable.

Ale shows her portfolio.

Olga: It was easy to find out when the German editors had their open portfolio hours just by checking every day and writing it down in my notebook. It was more difficult to decide which of them I should choose, depending on their books. I didn’t manage to do more than five in two days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to speak to any U.K. editors. My schedule was too full.

Ale, you designed and printed up notebooks with samples of your Spanish members’ work. What was it like for you to go around giving those notebooks as gifts to publishers and agents? 

Since the first time I went to Bologna, I thought about doing a specific collective promotion for the fair. A couple of years ago, we decided to commission a handmade book by a local artisan to give as a SCBWI Spain gift to editors and agents. It was a successful effort, so we keep doing it.

We have a very good team that helps to deliver the notebooks at the fair, and we always receive a very good response.

Axier Uzkudun, César López, Ale Diaz Bouza and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, the SCBWI team from Spain.

Elisabeth, did you make any professional contacts at the fair?

I always try to at least say hello to some of the Swiss publishers and illustration agencies that are at the fair. That said, I find that it’s easier to network with them in a more meaningful way when we’re not at the fair. I’m mindful of the fact that they have a different focus during that week—the marketing and acquisition of book rights and seeking fresh illustration talent.

Ale and Olga, what did you think about your illustrator showcase? What did you get from that experience? 

Ale: I must confess, I wasn’t sure about my showcase at home, when I was planning it. But now I think it was a wonderful opportunity to show my work.

Doing live painting and drawing was fantastic. I had the chance to share ideas with people that came to the booth. I could also promote my illustrated products and portfolio works.

Olga doing live painting during her showcase.

Olga: I was happy to talk to people who walked by, and I was glad they liked my postcards. I did a live watercolour painting session, too. I think the experience of seeing other people’s showcases was very valuable. I was very inspired by their work and presentations.

Elisabeth, what was your favourite SCBWI booth event? Why? 

I love the illustrator showcases! Many of them were painting or drawing while they attended their display, others had portfolio slideshows on tablets. I love watching artists work. Then when I see an illustration that they’ve done for a book, I have more insight into how that illustration was created.

Olga during the Duelling Illustrators event.

Olga, what did you think about participating in the Duelling Illustrators event? What did you like best and least about it? 

I was glad I could do it, and it was really fun to duel with David Liew, who is a lovely person! I will bring more charcoal next time!

I also loved watching Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley’s duel.
I guess it would be very difficult to organize, but it would be nice to have feedback about the duel—like the pros in football do after the play, to see what has been done and what could be improved.

Duelling illustrators Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley

Can you sum up in a few sentences your overall impressions and experiences of volunteering at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair? 

Ale: Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a must for the book industry professionals. Every year is full of new opportunities, and you can plan your trip based on your professional goals for your career.

If you don´t want to miss anything, have a good plan for each day before you arrive at the fair, so you can be at the right place at the right time. Planning and saving time for yourself is necessary.

Being part of the SCBWI team at the booth gave me a different and interesting perspective of the fair. The most important thing for me was sharing time and valuable experiences with the other members.

Finally, Bologna is a lovely and very comfortable city. There are lots of activities outside of the fair that you don´t want to miss: sightseeing, dinners out, and our funny SCBWI party at a lovely book shop.

Olga’s first picture book in Luxembourgish, De Poli geet an de Bësch,
will be published by Editions Guy Binsfeld in fall 2018.

Olga: It was the best part of being at the fair. Belonging to this community made me very happy, and I was glad I could help. I was impressed by the work of the Bologna team who prepared all this! I was glad to be able to talk to people I knew and feel at home.

Elisabeth: I love volunteering at the SCBWI Booth at Bologna. I love the contact with the people, both the booth visitors and the people I work with at the booth.

It’s also exciting to be able to promote the work of our illustrators and writers through the books on display, the Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG) that hangs in the booth, and the Duelling Illustrators drawing based on the manuscript contest winners.

One of my favourite things about being at the fair doesn’t actually happen at the fair—going out to dinner! While in Bologna, I had the chance to have dinner with the SCBWI members from France, Ireland, Spain, Michigan, Australia, and Singapore.

I love talking with people from around the world about their activities in their region, the projects that they’re working on, and their experiences at the fair. That’s why in my list of “Top 3 Things,” “people” was number one.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences of Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018! 

Cynsational Notes

Ale Diaz Bouza spent most of her childhood in Galicia, Spain inside books and secret worlds.

She draws and writes about them all the time. Music, astronomy and cinema (animation) also become her passion. Out of her desire to learn, and to find stories hidden in the stars, Ale studied Physics at the University Santiago de Compostela, at Galicia, Spain.

Later, she embarked on a course in children’s illustration and changed her vocation, so she settled in Madrid to study Illustration, Creative Writing, and Graphic Design.

Currently she’s immersed in personal projects, like her own line of illustrated products, and is the volunteer Regional Advisor for the Spanish chapter of the SCBWI. Find her on social media: @alediazbouza (Facebook, Behance, Instagram, Pintrest and Twitter.)

Currently based in Luxembourg, Olga Reiff was born in Austria, and has a master’s degree in translation, French, and Russian from Innsbruck University.

After she got married, Olga mainly worked as a freelance translator, loving books passionately, keeping in touch with kidlit through her four children. But then Olga felt that she needed more creativity in her life, so she quit her job and started taking art and illustration classes, read nearly everything about picture-book making, and began to write stories for children—both in German and Luxembourgish.

Finally, Olga started to write and illustrate her first picture book—a story about a kindergarten boy who tries to get along with his best friend, a little girl. For her illustrations, which she does at her workspace at home, Olga uses ink and nib pen and colours her work with light layers of watercolour. Olga found an editor in Luxembourg, and publication of her book is scheduled for fall 2018.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years in Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, she now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

Elisabeth writes for a variety of ages and reading levels, including picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books. She serves as the Regional Advisor for the Swiss chapter of the SCBWI.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends.

A. Colleen Jones is Canadian, but has lived in Ireland since 2005. She is involved in the children’s literature community in both Canada and Ireland.

Colleen is the current SCBWI Regional Advisor for Ireland and Northern Ireland, a member of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Children’s Books Ireland and Ibby Ireland, and was the “Social Media Beast” for the SCBWI Bologna team for 2018.

She also volunteers for Fighting Words Cork, which provides creative writing tutoring to groups of both younger children and teens. She is focusing on a younger middle grade novel at the moment while honing her writing skills.

Colleen is not averse to offers of dark chocolate and Sicilian pistachio gelato. Find her on Twitter @acolleenjones

2017 Europolitan Con: Agent Penny Holroyde & Author-Illustrator Chris Mould

By Catherine Coe

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This is the final installment of our series focusing on the SCBWI Europolitan Conference. Author Catherine Coe interviewed agent Penny Holroyde and her client author-illustrator Chris Mould.

Agent Penny Holroyde started her career in publishing over twenty years ago working in the rights department at Walker Books and selling picture book co-editions across the world.

She then relocated to Massachusetts and worked as Director of Rights and Licensing for Candlewick Press before relocating to the United Kingdom and starting life as an agent.

After 10 years with the Caroline Sheldon Agency she founded Holroyde Cartey in 2015 with Claire Cartey, former art director at Hodder Children’s Books.

Chris Mould was born and raised in West Yorkshire where he still lives with his family.

He is one of twenty studio artists at the prestigious Dean Clough Mills arts and business complex. His published work ranges from picture books to young fiction, and throughout a long career he has also produced theater posters, editorial cartoons for major newspapers and character development work for animated features.

Chris has won the Nottingham Children’s Book Award and the Swiss Prix Enfantaisie Best Children’s Novel Award, and has been short-listed for numerous others including the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Sheffield Children’s Book Award.

Chris is the author/illustrator of many picture books and young fiction, including the hugely successful Something Wickedly Weird series, and he also illustrates for others, such as Matt Haig‘s A Boy Called Christmas (Canongate, 2015) and The Girl Who Saved Christmas (Canongate, 2016). He occasionally shares illustrations and publishing news on blog.

Penny, can you tell us about how you and Chris first met, and what attracted you to his work?


As soon as I saw the words ‘My name is Chris Mould’ in my inbox I was looking up train times to Halifax. I would need to bring my A-game because, as a talent seeking new representation, he would not be short of suitors. I already knew I loved his work and when we met, we got along really well plus we shared the same strategy for how his career should progress.

And, Chris, what drew you to Penny?


Although Penny was an ‘ideal world’ choice for me I’d never be so presumptuous as to say I chose her because it has to be a mutual agreement of two people deciding to work together and matching up their skills. But her reputation goes before her.

She has a publishing background that means she completely understands the foundations of children’s publishing and why, when and how it works, both at home and abroad. She can wrestle a contract into the ground and she will do it in a way that shows that she’s human and enjoys working with the people that she negotiates with. She’s always 100-percent respectful of publishers and their respective teams when she talks to me privately and I like that.

But what’s hugely and equally important to me is that we get on tremendously and we’re like-minded on the creative front. You should hear us nattering in the pub. We’re like two old men.

Penny, many of your clients are illustrators and/or authors of younger fiction, such as Chris. Is this an intentional direction for you, or has it just happened that way? When considering illustrators, do you look for those who can write too, or do you find that comes later?


This does appear to have become Holroyde Cartey’s brand and although this has not been a conscious thing, it reflects my and Claire’s respective fields of interest and has actually become a kind of USP for the agency. We don’t insist that illustrators can also write though.

Chris, how did you get into children’s books? Were you an illustrator or a writer first?

Illustration was my first port of call. I was in art schools for six years after struggling through school, directionless.

When I found what I loved they couldn’t get rid of me. From then on I dived head first into publishing. But the sketchbook process is a big part of what I do and it lead to me creating written content.

I’d draw characters and give them names or just write odd sentences that floated around mid-air but that definitely had the opportunity to develop into something. It grew from there.

I always say I don’t really separate words and pictures. Integrated text and image makes for more coherent storytelling and I love the idea that the two can seamlessly merge.


Penny, in your day-to-day working life, how does teamwork play a part? 


It would be weird if 10 days went by when Chris and I didn’t talk on the phone. He is always busy so there is always stuff to discuss. Part of what I really respect about our working partnership is the trust. I might explain where I’m at with a contractual technicality and he will diligently listen and say that he trusts me to do the right thing.

We had a situation recently where he was approached for a high profile (read, celebrity) fiction series and we worked out our position, together, and stuck to it.

Chris’ work space in his Dean Clough Mills studio 

Chris, are there other partnerships – aside from illustrators, your agent and your publisher – that are important to you in your creative work?


My studio sits in a large complex which is a mixture of art and business. We have art space, galleries,
restaurants and cafes mingled with office space that is home to over 150 companies.

It’s huge and it has a great vibe and the whole idea of it initially was that it would encourage business and art to mingle and mix and enthuse one another. It works well for me and it means that there’s a certain dynamic that allows and assists inspiration, creative thinking and interesting input from people connected, and not connected, to the arts.

Sometimes inspiration comes in the form of a sandwich and a coffee in the cafe. I’m a big believer in that.

Penny, before becoming an agent, you worked in international rights (for Candlewick in the US). How has that affected what you do and how you approach agenting? Do you always think internationally?


Yes, I do, particularly when it comes to picture books. My background in rights gave me a lot of field knowledge but I learned the most about contracts, rights, and technicalities (which I think are essential skills for an agent) whilst working with Caroline Sheldon for 10 years.

Chris, your books have been translated into over 20 different languages. Do you take into account the potential for international book deals when developing ideas? 


Outside of publishing, people don’t realise how reliant we are on selling foreign rights and how small the U.K. market is. It’s not something you’d need to consider. And there are many things you’d like to ignore when you’re creating content because the whole idea of doing just that is that you can go anywhere you want to within your imagination.

But you do become conscious of what will travel and what won’t.

Pirates are a good example. Always a sure seller in the children’s market. Everlasting appeal guaranteed. And then consider the countries that have problems with modern day piracy and you can strike them off of your list of foreign rights options.

Penny, can you give us an insight into your professional mindset and what drives you as an agent?


I’m so happy to be running a business with Claire Cartey and, nearly two years in, we have some good successes and our client list is building very nicely. In terms of what drives me, I think it’s that thing of seeing a book go from a germ of an idea during a phone conversation with a client, right through to holding the finished book in my hand.

Chris, what drives you as an author/illustrator? Do you have any ambitions as yet unrealized? Is there anything you’d really love to work on/anyone you’d love to work with?


What drives me is the need (not the desire or the love of) but the need to draw and paint and tell stories.

It’s something we’ve always done. It’s as old as time and I’m endlessly fascinated by it. I always say I’d love to see something go to screen but being in this industry I am realistic. It’s about handing your work to someone else and very possibly feeling lukewarm about what comes back. So although that interests me and I’ve already got a waste bin full of popcorn on reserve, I’m acutely aware of the reality.

Also there are plenty authors I’d love to work with. I guess that’s fairly normal for most people like me. And I need to do a graphic novel.

Chris, you’re both an author and an illustrator, so in a way you’re your own partnership! Does that mean that when you’re working on a book you’re both writing and illustrating that your creative process is fairly solitary? Or do you still involve others – your agent/publisher? – and in what way? 

I’d say I’m very solitary in the early stages until I roll something out there. I’ll harbour my thoughts in my sketchbook and then it would probably extend into excited conversations over the phone with Penny.

Usually I’d send her drawings and ask her what she thinks and we will talk about why something may or may not work before she takes it anywhere. Maybe with some adjustment aforehand. Sometimes we talk about ideas before there’s any content if it happens that way. Usually this needs wine or beer.

Penny, how involved do you get with Chris’s early ideas and the development of his projects? 


When Chris and I started working together, Pocket Pirates was pretty much fully-formed and since then, he hasn’t had much time to work on his own ideas as he’s always being approached!

His sketch book is a cornucopia of delights and we keep promising each other that one of these days we’ll find a quiet corner of a pub and dig through for new ideas.

Chris, how do you find that writing informs the illustrating side of your work and vice versa? Where do you usually start when developing a new project? Do you experiment with different illustration styles depending on the concept? 

It’s back to that idea of trying not to separate words and pictures. And just letting thoughts out and not being self-conscious of what something is before it’s formed into something concrete.

I always try and start with something that just interests me. But it can be something very simple. A written line, a character, even just words that I like the sound of and start playing around with. It’s a very back to front and inside out process. So yes, in answer to your question they do inform each other and I think, subconsciously, that’s why I work in the way I work.

Penny, do you think it’s the words or the illustrations that are more important to a publisher when considering a submission from someone who does both, such as Chris?

Chris reads a lot in his free time and so he has a good gut instinct about whether a text (someone else’s) is for him when he’s offered it.

He’s currently working on a very exciting new non-fiction book that was born when a publisher saw something in his sketch book. The publisher then worked up the idea and attached a non-fiction author to it so that was a very collaboratively process.

Chris, you’re best known for your Something Wickedly Weird series. Can you tell us where the idea for that came from and how you developed the concept? 

Something Wickedly Weird was the beginning of me putting artwork and narrative together and at the time it was really just a vehicle for me to add all the elements to a story that I wanted to draw.

So, for example, I was always fascinated by all those animated sequences of people turning into werewolves in horror movies. I loved the idea of a character becoming another character within a plot.

I also loved the idea of a completely invented place away from anywhere else where anything could happen without cause for explanation. And I had to weave pirates in there just because they make for great characters and children love the sinister ones.

So it was a jumble of all the things knocking around in my sketchbook and all the nonsense in my head that I wanted to include and it became a process of weaving them into a coherent storyline.

Penny, why do you think Something Wickedly Weird has been so successful? 

A hugely likeable hero in Stanley Buggles, recognizable fantasy worlds featuring pirates and three-legged dogs, etc., the writing is strong and perfectly pitched for the age group, plus, of course, Chris’s amazing pictures.

Chris, some of your most recent work has been illustrating Matt Haig’s Christmas novels – A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas. Can you tell us about how that came about and how the partnership works? Are there difficult things about illustrating someone else’s work? Is it easier or harder to illustrate someone else’s work because you are also a writer?


Canongate had looked around for an illustrator who would make visual sense of the Christmas books and needless to say we were very excited by the prospect when we were approached. I’d always wanted to do a book about Father Christmas and here on a plate was a ready-made tale by a significant author. And a strong one at that. A Christmas gift, in the middle of May!

Matt and Canongate are both great to work with because they weren’t prescriptive about how things should appear visually.

Sometimes authors can be very specific in this sense. That’s fine. It just means they have a clear view of the whole look of that world in their head when they’re writing. But obviously that makes the process a bit more backwards and forwards and less free for the visually creative side.

But the team embraced the visual interpretation with open arms and allowed me to develop it in the way I saw it, which was great for me and made the process all the more enjoyable.

I really believe that to get the best out of illustrators you have to let them do what they do. Myself and Matt also seem quite well matched in that we aren’t overly sentimental and we are both happy to deal with the darker side of things.

I love that his Father Christmas origin story has trolls in it. And that someone’s head explodes. Who’d have thunk it??

Someone said to me that they could tell that when my reindeers aren’t ‘in shot’, they’re round the back of the sleigh shed, having a cigarette.


Penny, can you give us your thoughts on why Chris and Matt make such a great combination?


Chris is a perfect choice for Matt’s Christmas novels and Canongate’s publishing of this franchise has been very talented. Chris is very good at portraying poignancy in dark situations, and Victoriana and the Gothic are very much his metier.


Thanks, Penny and Chris, for talking to me today and giving such interesting insights into your work. I’m very much looking forward to seeing you both at the Europolitan conference.


Catherine Coe is a children’s book editor and author with over 15 years’ experience. Having worked in-house for many years, most recently as senior commissioning editor at Orchard Books, Catherine went freelance in 2011.

Since then she has authored over 30 books, including The Owls of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2015), The Unicorns of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2016), and the Kid Cowboy (Orchard Books, 2012) series.

Editorially, Catherine’s clients include many major and independent publishers and agents, and she also works directly with writers, offering consultancy, mentoring and editing services.

When Catherine’s not reading or writing with a cup of Earl Grey in hand, you’ll most likely find her out running the waterside paths of Stockholm, the city she now calls home. On Twitter she’s @catherinecoe.

Cynsational Notes


Huge thanks and appreciation to the amazing Elisabeth Norton, for organizing, coordinating and making the SCBWI Europolitan Con series of articles possible! Without her generous assistance, we would not have been able to share these in-depth interviews with you.

Elisabeth Norton

2017 SCBWI Europolitan Con Interview: Dina von Lowenkraft & Elisabeth Norton of Team Europolitan

By Angela Cerrito

Note: SCBWI Regional Advisors Dina von Lowenkraft and Elisabeth Norton were interviewed by Angela Cerrito about the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan Conference. This is the first in a series of six articles.

Angela: May 2017 will be the third time the Europolitan is being held, what do you think makes it unique?


Elisabeth: There are several ways in which I think the Europolitan is unique.

First, there’s its size. With approximately 65 attendees (including the volunteers working behind the scenes to make the conference happen), the faculty: attendee ratio is the smallest of any conference I’ve attended. This results in smaller groups in the breakout sessions, more chances to get to know other attendees and even chat with faculty members on breaks or at socials.

Secondly, we realize that we have a diverse membership whose publication goals may vary, so we have faculty from more than one publication market. This year we have publishing industry professionals from both the U.S. and U.K. markets. And one of our PAL faculty members is coming all the way from Australia!

Another thing I love about the Europolitan and that I think is unique to this conference is the number
of opportunities for attendees to get to know each other, not just at the conference, but through optional pre- and post-conference activities like the Scrawl Crawl, pre-conference dinner, and post-conference critique meeting. Many friendships and critique partnerships have been formed as a result of past Europolitan conferences!

Paris Scrawl Crawl, photo by Kirsten Carlson

Dina: There are so many ways in which the Europolitan is unique! 

As Elisabeth pointed out, we have a diverse membership with unique needs. Many of our members are ex-pats, living in countries where the language they write in (English) isn’t the language of the country they live in. 
Other members are writing in English as a second (or third) language. And for our illustrators and author/illustrators the type of illustrations that are being published in the country they live in may or may not correspond to the market they are/would like to publish in. Because of this, we feel it is essential to offer our members insight into both the U.K. and the U.S. markets – markets that are different from the ones where our members live.

Given the diverse nature of our regions, where many of our members can’t easily come together for a critique group or social event, the Europolitan offers a unique opportunity to network and create friendships with fellow creatives. 

In order to encourage this, we have from the very first Europolitan in Paris in 2013, held pre- and post- conference events that are free and open to all attendees who can come. The resulting camaraderie amongst attendees who participated in the pre-conference Scrawl Crawl and group dinner, right from the start of the conference on Saturday, was amazing – and exhilarating. Walking through the halls of the art school where the event was held, you saw familiar faces.

That random person sitting next to you at a breakout session wasn’t a stranger. And because of the many joyful greetings and relaxed atmosphere, even those who couldn’t attend the pre-conference events were quickly brought into the group. The energy was explosive!


And, as Elisabeth pointed out, the fact that our conference has such a high ratio of faculty to attendees (this year we expect approximately a 1:5 ratio, excluding volunteers), means everyone gets a chance to know our faculty on a human level.

Europolitan Conference in Paris, photo by Tess Krűss

For me, this is one of the most important things people get from our Europolitan conference – an understanding of the people behind the often romanticized idea of ‘agent’ or ‘editor’ or ‘art director.’ As with any industry, each professional is unique – making their list, their way of interacting with clients, their view of what works or isn’t working their own. 

Understanding that, chatting with professionals about other topics than what they are working on, helps members to understand that working with a professional isn’t just a contract for a book, it’s a relationship. And a relationship around a creative piece is a long term investment.

The other thing that makes the Europolitan unique is its moving venue. 

Since there are 5 participating countries hosting it, we rotate through France, the Netherlands, Belgium+Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany+Austria. We hope this means attending will be easy for all members at some point! Besides – it’s great fun to get to discover a new city or get to know another country better each time.

Angela: I agree with you 100 percent about the energy and sense of community. Tell us about the origins of the Europolitan Conference.

Dina: When I became Regional Advisor in 2012, three fellow Regional Advisors aka ‘RAs’ (Tioka Tokedira in France, Kirsten Carlson in Germany-Austria and Mina Witteman in the Netherlands) had just begun discussing ways of creating a larger event than any one of us could host on our own with the idea that such an event would be beneficial to all of our members. 

I remember the excitement of my first discussions with them at the Bologna Book Fair. Not long after this, Jay Whistler became RA for Switzerland and joined in the discussion. From Tioka, Kirsten and Mina’s original idea, the Europolitan with our 5 participating regions was born.

Just about a year later, the first Europolitan was held in France in April 2013 right after the Bologna Book Fair. The idea was to capitalize on potential U.S. faculty who would already be in Europe as well as to invite U.K. faculty. The first Europolitan was a resounding success.

Amsterdam Scrawl Crawl, photo by Monika Baum

Mina took up the challenge of creating the second Europolitan in the Netherlands two years later. As I mentioned previously, some of what I feel are the key elements of the Europolitan have been in place since the beginning: the desire to create a community across Europe and to give our small regions a special conference that will help members not only learn more about craft and the marketplace but will also promote long-term friendships and provide the opportunity to interact with industry professionals.

Our current team, with myself in Belgium+Luxembourg, Tioka Tokedira in France, Patti Buff in Germany+Austria, Melanie Rook Welfing in the Netherlands and Elisabeth Norton in Switzerland, continue to believe in these ideas and have worked hard to create the third edition of the Europolitan in Belgium. In fact, we’ve even taken the idea of collaboration one step further and now work together in-between conferences as well.


Angela: How do you collaborate across borders?

Elisabeth’s desk

Elisabeth: The host region has a lot to do related to the local aspects of hosting the conference – finding a suitable venue, figuring out meals, hotels, etc. 

The official planning committee consists of the Regional Advisors from the country that hosted the previous conference (in this case, The Netherlands), the host of the current conference (Belgium-Luxembourg), and the host of the next conference (Switzerland). That said, the reality is that the Regional Advisors from all five regions spend many hours working together via video conference and email to collaborate on every detail of the conference – from the website to the program schedule.

Dina: The original idea was to make the planning committee the trio Elisabeth mentioned. But I think each Europolitan reflects the host country and I prefer a broader, more inclusive approach. 

I’ve always included the other four RAs in all my discussions and they have each participated and helped in different ways. The conference is a team effort – or rather it is the result of the efforts of multiple teams. 
In addition to the planning team of RAs, there is the Local Team consisting of myself, the Belgian Illustrator Coordinator (I.C.), Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez and our U.K. coordinator, Catherine Coe. During the conference, there will also be the Volunteer Team consisting of the ICs and ARAs of our 5 regions. 
Chateau-du-Cheneau in Braine l’Alleud

Because of the nature of the venue (a manor house in Braine l’Alleud) I also have a duo of volunteers, SCBWI members Rose Deniz and Jeannine Johnson-Maia, to help me on site. In total, there are 14 people who have volunteered their time and collaborated to make this event happen. 

So even if the host country is the one to orchestrate the event, no Europolitan can come into existence without the help and support of all of the member regions.

One thing that has come out of our five-region collaboration is, not surprisingly, a desire to find other ways to offer our members even more. As I mentioned earlier, in between the conferences we continue to build on our team efforts. 

For example, we’ve requested and been granted an official page on the scbwi.org website. We’ve brainstormed about the needs of our members and the kinds of offerings we can give. 
We’ve maintained a WebEx platform to facilitate crit groups and to be able to offer webinars. And we even have a few exciting things in the works for our ‘off’ years in between conferences. But shhh… more about that to be announced at the Europolitan in May in Belgium!

Angela: How did your team arrive at this year’s theme: Pens, Pencils & Partnerships?


Dina: One of the things that has struck me from the beginning with SCBWI is the way people come together and share – be it on craft, on industry insights or on creating events to help others. 

Writing and/or illustrating are often solitary activities – but being part of SCBWI has shown me just how much more fulfilling it is when you can share that path with fellow creatives. I have also learned over the years that even if you do write your manuscript on your own, you don’t get it out to market on your own. 
Every step along the way includes various forms of partnerships, be it crit partners, an agent, an editor, a cover artist or a publicist… and the many ways you interact with others is part of what makes this industry so special. Because of that, and because of the collaborative nature of how the Europolitan is run, I felt that paying homage to this theme was a nice way of sharing with everyone one of the values I personally believe in: respect – because you can’t have a partnership without it. 
And although I didn’t plan it (the idea first came up in early 2016), I feel that the idea of working together, of respect and giving everyone the freedom to create according to their own vision, is timely.

Gemma and Natalie

One of the things we tried to do when looking for faculty was to find industry professionals and creatives who are currently working together. Some of our first faculty members were agent Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency, and her client, author Robin Stevens. We were then lucky enough to be able to invite Natalie Doherty, commissioning editor at Penguin Random House Children’s, who published Robin’s books.

One funny, and very Europolitan anecdote, is that when I reached out to our previous faculty member Jill Santopolo, editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, she suggested I contact Kendra Levin, executive editor at Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House – who it turns out has collaborated with Natalie Doherty on various projects between the U.K. and the U.S.

Jill Santopolo, photo by Alison May

And since the agent-client relationship is so important, we also decided to bring in an agent-illustrator
duo with Penny Holroyde, co-founder of Holroyde-Cartey, and author/illustrator Chris Mould.

These are just some of the many relationships we have threading through this year’s Europolitan and some of the facets we will explore in our panels on Working Together, whether it be in terms of relationships within the industry or in the terms of the actual process of how a book gets from idea to reader.

I’d also like to point out that even this interview is a fun expression of the many roles and relationships we all have because you, Angela, are also one of our faculty members and a fellow SCBWI volunteer.

Angela: Thank you, Dina, another obvious partnership is Cynsations. After attending and volunteering at many SCBWI international conferences, I’m honored to be part of the Europolitan faculty this year. The Europolitan certainly creates a community. It strikes me that the community begins to form even before the event and lasts long after. Can you speak to the webinars that are offered before the conference as well as the lasting connections from attending Europolitan?


Dina: Yes, it’s true – the community starts to come together well before the conference, even before the Scrawl Crawl!

Amsterdam Europolitan Conference, photo by Mina Witteman

The webinars are something we started for the second Europolitan in Amsterdam in 2015. It’s a nice way of kick-starting the conference, bringing the community together and getting to know the faculty. Our webinars are always small and they feel more like a workshop than an impersonal web lecture. Everyone has video – from faculty to the SCBWI host to the attending members – which means we can all see each other, making it feel more like being together. 

We always start the session half an hour early and encourage members to log on then so that we can check for any technical issues. We then chat and catch up before the faculty member joins us. I really appreciate having that extra time and chance to hear what everyone is working on, what good news they have to share or what craft issue they have been working through.

Faculty members have really enjoyed our smaller, more intimate format – and even if we are each on our own computer in a number of different countries, it always feels like we have shared a moment together. 

Members can ask questions themselves instead of typing in their question as one has to do with the larger webinars and we’ve often had some really interesting discussions. Running these webinars is something I really enjoy doing – not only does it allow us to get into the Europolitan feeling early, it also allows those who can’t attend the conference to still benefit from the fabulous line-up we have. 
We’ve also scheduled two webinars for after the conference, which we hope will help people keep up their motivation and the connections they made at the conference.

I love how we are able to create a community feeling across borders – and know it is so much nicer to show up at an event already knowing other people and having exchanged with them. It’s also why we are so happy to have the opportunity to do these interviews – it helps members get to know our faculty members and the people behind the making of the Europolitan.

Elisabeth hiking at Zermatt

Elisabeth: I think the sense of community starts to form as soon as people announce on social media that they have registered, and talk about how excited they are to be attending. This continues as people start talking about accommodations, looking for roommates and/or travel buddies. 

For example, through social media we’ve learned that (so far) there are five Swiss SCBWI members flying to Brussels on the same flight! Just knowing that we’ll be traveling together heightens our anticipation, and of course the conference, writing and illustrating will be our primary topics of conversation as we travel.

There are some people that only see each other in person at the Europolitan conferences, but between conferences, they keep in touch via email and social media. Personally I have critiqued for people that I’ve met at Europolitan, and it’s great to know that when I’m ready, they will critique my manuscript.

I love initiatives like the webinars. As Dina said, they enable people who are unable to attend the conference to participate in one aspect of the conference initiatives. And I’m excited about some of the other initiatives that we have up our sleeves! 

By combining the efforts of five smaller regions, we’ve managed to put some amazing opportunities out there that not only members of our own regions, but from the entire SCBWI and greater Kidlit community can benefit from.

Angela : SCBWI members come to Europolitan with various levels of experience (from newly starting out to multi-published), creating a wide variety of content (writers, illustrators, picture books, non-fiction, graphic novels, middle grade, young adult, interactive media and more) as well as being diverse in many other ways including language and culture. How do you manage create an event that offers something for everyone?

Dina: That’s a great question, Angela! And an issue that isn’t easy to juggle, as you can imagine. 

Dina and daughter with pony

One of the things we look for when we start looking for faculty are professionals who themselves cover a wide spectrum of the industry – that and being fun people who are passionate about what they do! By finding faculty who themselves juggle many types of children’s content, we are able to ask them to offer several different topics for their presentations, workshops and/or webinars. 

We also set up the Europolitan to have several presentations and workshops at any given moment so people can choose which one suits them best – which unfortunately often means people want to be in several places at once. I know I do… there are so many wonderful topics being covered that I myself don’t know which session to attend!

One of the tremendous opportunities we have at the Europolitan – and perhaps that which makes it the most unique – is the opportunity to discover both the U.K. and the U.S. markets all in one place. Even if both markets are in English, the culture difference is certainly there for both illustrations and manuscripts. The Europolitan is a wonderful opportunity for our members to learn about both markets and to see where their work might fit. 

I also think it’s fun for our faculty to share their experiences with their homologues (and sometimes work partners!) from across the pond. The Europolitan is small enough we can really share. It’s a unique opportunity for all of us to get together and discuss that which we all love – children’s books.

Elisabeth: You’ve hit on one of the biggest challenges we face! As we evaluate program content and presenters, we are always aware of the diversity of creators who will be attending the conference. 

Angela Cerrito

As Dina said, the key is finding presenters with a broad range of industry experience, and finding
topics that can apply to more than one demographic. I think the great thing about taking these things into consideration is that it pushes us to think creatively about our programming. 

A larger conference can have more presenters and program opportunities, enabling them to offer a more specialized approach to discussions of craft and the industry, whereas we need to take a broader approach.

I think this year’s theme is a perfect example: by talking about the partnerships within the industry, there will be content meaningful to members no matter where they are in their publishing journey: for someone not-yet agented, they may key in on the agent-creator relationship. 

For authors or illustrators who are agented, but not-yet published, the discussions about the editorial process might resonate with them. Those already published might gravitate towards discussions about marketing or discussions about craft. 
I think that regardless of what stage of their career attendees are at, they will come away with insights that will help them as they work toward the next stage.

Angela: SCBWI Europolitan is certainly all about relationships and offering support for creating content for children and teens. Thank you both for this insightful interview!

A few impressions from prior faculty:

Heather Alexander,
photo by Marcy Pusey

“The SCBWI Europolitan conference was a very special and totally unique experience. It was held in an art school in Paris, which was pretty marvelous, and the talent from around the world became people I’d never forget. It was fascinating to see how the different children’s book markets from around Europe influenced each writers’ style, and the mix of faculty from Europe and the U.S. helped bring those differences into focus. Not to mention chic Parisian dinners before and after–perfect for getting to know each other and the city.”


Heather Alexander
Editor and founder of Heather Alexander Editorial
faculty at Europolitan 2013 in Paris

I had such a remarkable time getting to know the writers who attended the Europolitan conference in 2015. Their experiences living outside of the United States lent themselves to fascinating stories that offered different points of view and a variety of traditions and customs. And getting to eat Stroopwaffels and visit the Van Gogh Museum was an added bonus…”


Jill Santopolo
Editorial Director of Philomel Books
faculty at Europolitan 2015 in Amsterdam

Marrietta Zacker,
photo by Doug Zacker

“Hearing the perspectives of writers and illustrators from other countries and those living abroad was so valuable. I would recommend the conference to anyone, regardless of where they are in their career. The conference was well-planned and well-run and the sessions were fun and informative for both the faculty and the attendees. We had the time and the space to learn about one another, and because we were looking at the industry with different lenses, our discussions were vibrant and enlightening.”

Marietta Zacker
Partner at Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency
faculty at Europolitan 2015 in Amsterdam

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium & Luxembourg, where she lives with her husband. She has two college-going daughters, two horses, a cat and multiple stacks of books to be read. Dina’s happy spot is a thousand kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.  Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and has served as Regional Advisor for Switzerland since early 2014. Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura with her family and two dogs, a 16-year-old Poodle and a 13-year-old Westie. When she’s writing, she can be found at her desk with a poodle lying on a pillow underneath it. When she’s not writing, you can find her spending time with her family hiking, biking, playing board games, and watching Star Trek.

Angela Cerrito is an author and a playwright. Her recent novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House, 2015), was named a Best Children’s Book of the Year by The Guardian, a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award. She speaks about history, research, writing and early literacy to students, teachers and parents.

Cynsational Note:

Huge thanks to Elisabeth Norton for organizing and coordinating the Europolitian Conference Interview series for Cynsations! All week we have in-depth interviews with agents, editors and art directors sharing industry insights (even if you can’t make it to Belgium in May.)

Elisabeth Norton

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Paul O. Zelinsky

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois; the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. 

As a sophomore at Yale College, he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children’s books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field. 

He now lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.

Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995).

Spring is the season of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, so I thought I would focus on the business side of illustration today. Can you tell us about how you as an illustrator are selected to work on a picture book project?

Other than through the occasional subliminal suggestion I plant in the illustrations of my published books (painting “HIRE ME!” upside down in the trees outside of Rapunzel’s tower and so on), I don’t know how I get chosen.

My work looks awfully different from book to book, but I imagine that an editor or art director who ends up contacting me is thinking of one look in particular, and they might mention that to me, though they may not end up getting it. Also, from my third book on, I have tended to keep working with people I’ve worked with before, so those publishers know more what they’re getting into. On my end, what happens is that I get a call or an email. 

Could you describe your involvement in the process, from the time you are contacted about a new project, through the creation of the illustrations, to the finished book?

I usually want to stick my nose into all stages of the creation and production processes, but as I try to do it in a nice way and, I hope, not out of a personal need for control but in the spirit of collaboration, I’ve rarely had trouble.

So it usually begins for me when I get a phone call or email from a publisher, either asking if I’m available or just sending a manuscript, and I can sometimes tell pretty quickly if I think it’s a good idea for me on or not. Sometimes I don’t know and I mull.

My first criterion (and I’m sorry if this seems pompous) is whether the story makes me think that our overcrowded world, with no shortage of books in it already, would be notably worse off without this new addition. (Which is sort of like saying how much do I like it, but not quite). Then I imagine what kind of art I’d like to see illustrating the manuscript and at that point I can usually tell whether I’d get excited by the prospect of trying to make that kind of art.

Then, if it’s a go, come all the stages you probably know about in the making of an illustrated book. If it’s a picture book, that means breaking the manuscript up into pieces that fit in a 32- or 40-page book (publisher tells me what’s possible)—not a simple job if you want to do it right.

At the same time, I try to imagine the best size and proportion for this book, long before having any idea of the content of its pictures. Then with text decided for each spread I’ll very, very crudely rough out an array of thumbnail sketches, trying to establish the dynamic of the storytelling through the pictures, the content and composition of each illustration.

After or during that time, I’ll be casting around for what the characters should look like, and I’ll be thinking about the style I want the drawings to display. This is intimately connected to the choice of medium, so I’m thinking about that, too, and probably doing a lot of testing on scratch paper.

If I get the thumbnail sketches working, I’ll go to a full-sized, or at least not-so-little dummy, in black pencil, with text placed on the pages.

The dummy can be very rough, too, and I am generally willing to risk showing it to the publisher even before, say, I have any idea of what the characters will look like.

I like feedback, and things like pacing can be judged without other important features yet in place. I might also put the pictures together with text in InDesign, at least as a preliminary version before the art director gets to work on it.

When the designer does join in, I’ll want to be part of her or his process, too. Then there is research, refining sketches, working out color, checking with editor and art director all along, and working and working and working on finished art.

How involved is the art director or author in determining the style of the artwork for a particular project?

The style of my artwork has to be determined by me, to the extent that I can control it. I think the author should have a role in choosing an illustrator, and if there’s a wish to have the book look a certain way, that could be part of the manuscript’s presentation to me at the outset. But in fact this rarely happens. I think publishers are interested in seeing what I come up with.

It has happened that after seeing what I come up with, they aren’t convinced. Then it becomes a conversation, or a discussion, or a debate, in which at the end everybody needs to be on the same side. And I can be convinced that I was wrong, at least if I was wrong.



Do you ever revise your illustrations based on feedback from the art director or for other reasons?

I make lots of changes based on suggestions. Art directors and editors I work with often have great ideas that I didn’t think of, or can point out features in my drawings that I then realize were not so great. I believe we are all devoted, at base, to creating the best possible book. So if I’m given a suggestion that I don’t feel good about, I will say why, and another conversation can begin.

I will try to convince the other parties that I have important and valid reasons for seeing things my way, or point out (if it’s the case) that their suggestions might have problems they may not be considering, and at the same time they’ll do the same to me.

In the end, with very few, minor exceptions, I don’t think any book I’ve worked on has left anybody feeling that the wrong path was taken.



What is the typical timeline, from receiving a commission, to submitting the completed artwork to the publisher?

I’ve rarely managed to finish illustrating a book in less than a year. That has been about the average, I think, but I’m usually not able to start work on a manuscript right when I receive it, so it’s hard to pin down the time it takes when I’ve got a couple of projects waiting to be begun for a couple of years, and I’m already thinking about all of them a little.

You have said in the past that you have created many of your picture book illustrations using oil paints. When that is the case, how is the final artwork submitted to the publisher?

Art that isn’t digital to begin with needs to be scanned, and it is still the case that publishers use scanners or cameras of a higher quality than almost any individual illustrator would have access to.

I’ve talked to some younger illustrators who scan their reflective art and deliver electronically, without even considering that they could or should deliver the actual art on paper. That is really the preferable way to go.
Oil paints have the reputation of not drying, but my oils are usually dry within a day, or at least dry to the touch. There is an additive you can put in your painting medium to speed the drying, and if I’m running very late I will sometimes mix in a little more of this desiccant, or I will avoid painting with pigments I know are slow-drying and favor the faster ones, if possible.

Although I won’t scan my own oil paintings (my scanner picks up reflections on oil paint’s shiny surface for every little textury bump in the paper), I’m not above asking for the high resolution files that the publisher gets from their scanner, and sometimes even before first proofs, going in digitally to fix things I didn’t manage to do correctly in the art.

After a book is released, what kinds of promotional activities do you as the illustrator engage in to support its release?

The more the merrier, I say. I’m on Twitter (@paulozelinsky) and Instagram (paulozelinsky) anyway, and while I don’t like self-promotional posts, when a new book is coming out, there is plenty of interesting information to share. I go on Facebook, too, but only privately for my personal account. I would prefer that people I don’t know personally “Like” my Facebook author page.

Z Is For Moose fabric, suitable size for quilt

I’ve had some ideas for contests and a raffle for prints of the cover art of a book. Sometimes the publisher has given me great support and help. But I’ve also done a raffle or two on my own.

In general I do these things because they seem like cool things to do; I don’t know if they have in any way helped sales—in fact I doubt it. Also, I like to create a repeating design based on almost every new book, and have it printed on fabric (at spoonflower.com). People can purchase it on their own, by the yard (though they don’t), and I can have some of made into a shirt or a vest (which I do). Not so long ago I couldn’t decide on color choices in one of these patterns, so I conducted an online vote; that was fun.

An additional layer of attention has sometimes become available to me that would be harder for most illustrators to garner, in that a few of these larks I’ve gone on were interesting enough that Publishers Weekly has written about them, or the Horn Book. But only after a friend pushed me into asking these journals if they’d like to write about it.

I’ve made ties that go with my books, as well as shirts and a couple of vests, and I wear this special apparel (in moderation!) whenever there’s an appropriate event.

And yes, school visits are great. I love to do them with or without a new book. There is nothing better than to see groups of children appreciating the very things you spent so much time and effort on in the solitude of your studio, a year or more earlier.

When it comes to visiting schools I tend to be passive, waiting to be asked, but it’s not out of line to approach and let schools know you’re available if they’re interested. School visits not related to a book tour are a source of income; as part of a book tour, arranged by an independent bookseller, I’m happy to give one presentation to a school, but not the three or four I’d give if it were a paid arrangement.

Are there some new releases we should look out for?

Actually, no. It will be a long time before anything new comes out. After the recent Toys Meet Snow, it’s going to be quite a while until the next thing.

But one brand-new release that is partly mine is the 75th anniversary edition of Make Way for Ducklings. I was very honored and excited (you can imagine) to be asked to draw a pictorial map of Boston that would be included with the book and a CD recording in a boxed set. That edition is just out now, I think.

I had a wonderful time researching what Boston looked like in 1941 (if felt like detective work), and illustrating parts of the story in the appropriate parts of my map, which is really an aerial view as much as it is a map. My drawing didn’t reproduce every single building in and around Beacon Hill, and I had to squash some blocks down in size for the picture to fit the proportions of the paper, but it’s pretty faithful to reality, I’d say.

You’re going to be one of our dueling illustrators at the SCBWI booth at the 2016 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. How often have you visited BCBF?

Publishers always told me, when I asked about Bologna, that going there was not something I would want to do, or should. It was only for brusque, publisher-to-publisher deal-making and if I went I would be in the way.

I first came to Bologna anyway in 2006, because after planning a family trip to Venice, I decided to look up the Bologna fair and discovered that it started immediately after we were going to leave Venice, and Bologna was an easy train trip away. And then a friend told me that SCBWI was holding a full-scale pre-conference in Bologna on the weekend leading up to the fair. I was able to get a spot on a panel, and then when I asked publishers again, they told me I should go after all, and helped me find a hotel room (almost impossible just a month before the fair). And I enjoyed it tremendously!

So after that first wonderful time there, I’ve been going back almost every other year, and continuing to enjoy it tremendously. Where else can you see virtually every children’s book published in the world in the previous year? I see a lot of editors that I know, as well as the great SCBWI community, so it’s an occasion to hang out with friends, and I must say that eating is a large part of the pleasure.

I think the Bologna fair has been changing, and now you see a greater presence of book creators among the sub-rights sales force and the editors. Mostly these are just people coming on their own, but now very occasionally they are even being sent by their publishers.

SCBWI isn’t putting on Bologna pre-conferences any longer, but they have an active booth at Bolognafiere every other year. Of course my favorite activity is the dueling illustrators tradition, which is huge fun. And this year the booth is bigger than ever before.

How can visits to fairs such as BCBF benefit an illustrator’s career?

I haven’t used my trips to the fair in a practical or useful way from the point of view of career-helping. But I’ve seen illustrators come away with publishing deals: it can happen though I’m not positive how it’s done.

SCBWI itself can facilitate this, because you can arrange for a period of time when you sit in the booth and basically represent your books to passersby like all of the other publishers with booths there.

There’s also a wall at the fair for illustrators to put up their promotional cards, and publishers look through them (although there are so many cards by the end of the fair that it seems like an awfully long shot).

European publishers set up periods for open portfolio-viewing, and illustrators line up with their work in hand, to be seen by an art director in the flesh.

Do you have any advice for a first-time visitor to BCBF?

If you have published already, and are thinking of visiting Bologna, definitely ask for advice from your U,S, publisher. If you have ever had a book picked up by a foreign publisher, it would be a great thing to arrange to meet that publisher’s representatives in Bologna. This will make you more of a real person to that publisher rather than just a subsidiary right they purchased.

SCBWI offers various good opportunities to get your work seen, so definitely arrange your visit with SCBWI in mind. Even if you’re not trying to network or push your career forward, hanging out (and eating out!) with SCBWI folk is reason enough to make the visit a fun time. Many but by no means all of them are of US origin, but they live all around the world.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Bologna, apart from visiting the BCBF?

Did I mention eating? Well, other than that, Bologna has some fantastic museums. Besides the main art museum (the Pinatoteca) there is a fabulous Medieval museum.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a museum devoted entirely to the generally under-appreciated painter Morandi, although I think it may be closed temporarily and its collection shifted to the Modern Art Museum. There is plenty more to do in Bologna, and don’t forget about the eating.

People say that Bolognese food is the best in Italy, and although that kind of claim is sort of meaningless, it is probably also true.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It was great to see you at the Book Fair. I really enjoyed watching your duel with Doug Cushman at the SCBWI booth during the fair!

Thank you! The pleasure is mine.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Laura Stitzel

Laura with her cat, Milk

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laura Stitzel is an independent artist in Melbourne, Australia. She has been working as an illustrator, designer and animator in Australia and Canada since 2007.

Working mainly for children’s television, Laura was recently part of the creative team at one of North America’s largest animation studios in Toronto, Canada.

 There she worked on the Emmy Award™ winning “Peg + Cat,” and led the painting department on “Arthur,'” the world’s longest running children’s television series.

In her home of Melbourne, Australia, Laura has also illustrated and animated on a wide range of media including educational interactive projects, video games, advertisements, and television.

In her own illustrations, Laura’s work shines a light on animals and their place in our world. Creating artworks with a uniquely vintage style, Laura’s illustrations feature detailed pen and ink ornamentation and hand-lettering, paired with cheeky characters and cute creatures.

Congratulations on being awarded a SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery Honorable Mention for your illustration “A Little Nonsense”!

Thank you, I’m just delighted!

You have a varied background as an illustrator – can you tell us about the different types of projects you’ve worked on?

My training is in animation. I’ve been working in the animation industry in both Melbourne and Toronto since 2007. I’m primarily a background artist, and I also animate and design characters and props. I’ve worked on children’s television programs as well as interactive projects and print media.

When I’m not working on these big projects I like to keep creating my own illustrations that have my own style.

What mediums do you work in? Does this vary depending on the type of project (print vs. website vs. television/animation)?

It does vary project to project. For my own illustrations, I always use pen and ink along with watercolour or digital painting. Sometimes there is no digital input at all, sometimes just for touch-ups.

When I’m working for an animation studio, the process is almost entirely digital. I’m an avid Photoshop enthusiast. I love figuring out ways to imitate real painting and drawing techniques in Photoshop. This was a big part of my role on the children’s show Arthur, during its transition from cell animation to digital. I developed a new process for the painting team and created digital brushes to best recreate the original look of the beloved show. It was a great experience.

Of course there are exceptions, I was lucky enough to create some artwork for “Peg + Cat,” which is made using gouache and pencil and then scanned in for animation. Sitting in a modern animation studio and painting was quite surreal – and a real delight.

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Absolutely – fine liners. I love using ink and I get the best results using a handful of fine liners with variations in thickness. I use black, brown and sepia. I just love that I can do both fine details and bold outlines.

I’m a big fan of old fashioned rendering techniques like stippling and cross hatching. I also use a nib pen sometimes, but it’s a lot less predictable – which is sometimes a good thing.

When I’m doing my roughs in pencil, my other cant-live-without tool is an eraser stick. With a ‘sharpened’ eraser, I can erase in a very fine line, which I use to carve gaps in or clean up my messy pencil line work. So it’s like I have two drawing tools – a pencil for grey and an eraser for white – genius!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

Sure. Once I have an idea for an illustration that I’m happy with, I draw a quick rough sketch to work out the story, the poses and the composition. Then I dive into references. I have loads of books of vintage advertisements and posters from the early 1900s, and I can’t do without them. I’ll use them to get ideas for a border, or a rendering technique, a font, a little ornamental decoration or even a character’s clothing.

If I’m doing hand lettering I’ll often go online to find the perfect font, and I also use Google Images for references for animals. How anybody ever drew without Google Images, I’ll never know. Then I rough out my line work in pencil. I use tracing paper a lot to mirror decorative elements or shift parts around. Then, when I’m ready – I go over all my line work in pen, and do some passes of watercolour. I often draw in layers, then scan them in and assemble them in Photoshop.

Lastly, I digitally apply any finishing touches. I’ll usually leave it and come back to it the next day with fresh eyes and find a few little things I want to change.

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Of course when I’m working for an animation studio, the creative process is dictated by the established style of the show, and by tight deadlines! That means there is less individual freedom, but I’m creating part of a larger vision which is immensely satisfying.

However, there are parts of my own creative process that I bring to a studio environment. I’m always a believer in taking time to rough out a plan and to look at references before diving in.

Taking a step back and reassessing an image’s readability is also very important.

Of course with studio work I can’t always leave something overnight, but I have little tricks – such as always having the Navigator in Photoshop visible, so I can keep seeing my image at a glance and making sure it works.

We’d love to hear more about your winning illustration “A Little Nonsense.” Was it part of a larger project, or is it a stand-alone piece?

This piece is a stand-alone work – but it is one of a few illustrations I’ve created using quotes from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Mr. Wonka’s dialogue is smattered with literary references, and I’ve used a handful of them over the years. So I guess I have borrowed quotes from a character who borrows quotes from everyone else!

I intended for the characters in the illustration to be familiar from old stories and nursery rhymes, but not specific to one film or book. For example there is a little piggie eating roast beef, there’s an owl and a pussycat, and there’s a fox in a bandit mask. They’re all on some kind of adventure together that we don’t really know about, but we might imagine it.

By pairing these characters with the quote – ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men’ – I’m saying that imagined characters and stories mean something to all of us, they have a place in our world and they’re important.

What was the medium and the creative process for this illustration?

I illustrated the characters, the border and the lettering using my beloved fine liners, and painted the colour in Photoshop. The colour palette I borrowed from a 1917 advertisement for McCallum Silk Hosiery.

I love colour theory and finding out why some colours work together and others don’t, and I wanted to see if I could appropriate an established colour palette. I don’t usually reference something quite so directly – I also borrowed the sun and fish! – but it was an experiment and I’m happy with how it turned out.

What is a typical creative session like for you?

Just so much fun. I give myself a few dedicated hours to cut off from the world. I always put on loud music and sing terribly.

I find the pencil stage makes me a bit anxious – what if I can’t get on the page what I can see in my head? But the inking stage is pure bliss – I’m in my own world, what they call ‘flow’. I usually draw way longer into the night than I ever intended and regret it the next day.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create?

No, actually I don’t! I like to move around a lot, and it’s very important to me that I can create no matter where I am and no matter my surroundings. I have a fairly portable drawing board and a laptop.

In the past few years, I have traveled a lot and get my best ideas when I’m out discovering the world, so it’s important to me that I can draw and create in a variety of spaces.

Some of my favourite illustrations I’ve done in a sketchbook propped on my lap on a bumpy train ride, waiting in an airport, lying in a park, or wearing earbuds in one of the world’s many coffee shops.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.

Thanks for having me!

Cynsational Notes

Find Laura on Facebook at facebook.com/lauradrawsart.

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery Winner Interview: Rongyuan (Roya) Ma

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


Providence-based illustrator Rongyuan Ma is originally from China. She is a graduate of the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at Rhode Island School of Design, an elected member of Art League of Rhode Island, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

She has won a series of awards that include 3×3 Contemporary Magazine (Bronze Medal), Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (Gold Award), China Animation & Comic Competition Golden Dragon Award (Gold Medal), winner of Ann Barrow Scholarship, and finalist of Art Idol Figure Design Competition. 

Her works also have received accolades from institutions/organizations such as the “The Artist’s Magazine,” Danforth Museum of Art, and SCBWI.

Congratulations on your illustration “Daughter of the Dragon” being selected as the winner of SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery! How long have you been illustrating?

Honestly I cannot remember exactly how long. I grew up in China when most parents felt slightly ashamed and deeply concerned to have an emerging artist in the family.

My mother used to take drastic measures to stop me from becoming one. Of course that did not work. In fact, it made me more determined to pursue my dream of art. Looking back, I am quite content with what I have become through these years.

Do you have a favorite illustration medium and/or tools?

Recently I have a newfound interest in watercolor, besides my long-time favorite of brush and ink. I am planning on using only charcoal pencil for my next project. Not to mention that I like computer graphics, too, and am pretty familiar with it.

In fact, I am really fascinated by all media, tools, and techniques. I don’t want to limit myself by drawing a line between what I can and cannot use. If possible, I would like to have opportunities to try all sorts of new medium, as I love the feeling realizing “Oh that’s how it works.” It’s just like gaining a new friendship.

What is your typical process for creating an illustration?

Brainstorming the overall composition, posture of the characters, sources of lighting and the vision angles. This is my “Step One”, and then there it is, the long creation process. To me, this initial part is the most challenging.

As an illustrator, I am creating something out of thin air: from an abstract concept to a depicted visual image. I really value the instantaneous inspiration that strikes me, showing me the composition and the perspective of the picture, what visual angle applies, where the light comes from, and so forth. That instant blueprint flashes in my head usually determines what my final work looks like. And, with such a scheme, the following part of the process, such as outlining and coloring, will flow naturally, which makes the whole creative process quite enjoyable.

However, as much as I try, that transient Eureka! moment does not guarantee to honor me every time I brainstorm.

Does this process or the tools you use vary between projects?

Yes, and no to this question. “Yes”, with my great curiosity in diverse methods and approaches, the creative process itself or the media/tools involved in it may vary significantly. Every artwork has its “voice” to be heard, and it demands distinctive interpretation.

I personally don’t think there is a panacea for all tasks: solution α might be the least effective for problem β. As I said, I am keen on finding the particular expression that makes the voice stronger.

Yet, “No” is that no matter how different the projects are, there is something unchanged in all processes: the brainstorm at the very beginning, which I called “the enlightening phase”.

Is this how you created your winning illustration, “Daughter of the Dragon”?

Yes, “Daughter of the Dragon” went through such a process. It is the first spread of the whole storyboard, so I figure it has more responsibility than other pages in terms of fulfilling purposes such as introducing the character, setting the background and atmosphere of the story, and appealing to the reader in a visual way.

Technically, the illustration was done mainly with traditional media of brush, ink and gouache on 22″ x 11″ board paper for the drawing part.

I even used a tooth brush to create a certain richness of texture before scanning into my computer for finishing up.

“Daughter of the Dragon” is beautiful! Can you tell us about your inspiration for this particular illustration?

“Daughter of the Dragon” is a retelling of a Chinese folktale about a
young dragon girl leaving the sea to join the much loved Lantern
Festival but having underestimated how different and complicated the
human world could be.

To be more believable, the main character was modeled after my daughter, who was born not too long before the making of this illustration.

I was trying to blend in metaphors and symbolism to this piece in order to best interpret the manuscript: I use lotus, a Buddhist symbol which grows up from mud, through water, into air, still remaining stunningly beautiful with faith, to signify the characteristic of transcendence of our protagonist.

So daughter of the dragon must triumph over all challenges and follow her heart to go somewhere she had yearned for. In particular, the red scarf hints at her passion and determination.

Is it part of a larger work such as a picture book or was it created as a stand-alone piece?

The illustration is from the same titled children’s picture book that I
cooperated with my husband. He writes and I illustrate. “Daughter of the
Dragon” is the first full spread among other illustrations in the
picture book. 

Where do you like to create?

It depends on what phase I am in during the process. Though the “enlightening phase” requires full alert and deep contemplation, I strangely prefer to do it somewhere outside home, likely with crowd and noise, for instance, a small cafe or even a busy restaurant. I feel more engaged and motivated with such populous effects, thus I am more efficient in finding the idea that sparkles.

After succeeding in getting the satisfactory design of the project, my choice for creative space is the least flexible: home and home only. I think many may agree with me that the creating process itself can get very lonely and stressful. So an environment that is familiar and also comforting and supportive will help tremendously.

I do have my work space at home, with all my equipment, tools, supplies, and references handy. Every so often more stuff crams in and I constantly feel that I am running out of space. Lighting is super important to me when comes to work, as I need to have sufficient yet comfortable lighting to do my job well. Maybe because my space is pretty cozy, it becomes a hub where everyone in the family, my husband, my daughter, and our cat, like to hang out.

What is the typical illustration process like for you?

My work habit is to make plans and to stick with them. I believe
participation is quintessential for an artist, for it broadens one’s
horizon by practices such as professional critiquing and/or peer
networking. Therefore, I try to be active in my field signing up many
art activities during each year.

I make both general plans and detailed schedules, usually prior the year to come. According to the different artistic missions I sign up, my illustration session can stretch to a full-year-long, with multiple sub-sessions, each with a precisely timed beginning and due-date.

In order to prevent procrastination, I make day-to-day schedule for the sub-session to proportion my project and to specify my daily task. Whether ahead or behind, it shows clearly where I am in the process. Also, it feels great to check off things from my to-do list every day.

Even during each illustration session, I am not always switched on to the “work mode”. Instead, I try to allow life intervene occasionally: running errands with my husband, playing with my daughter, feeding my cat or the squirrels and birds in the backyard, making dinner plans or simply mopping the floor…these small but peaceful moments help refresh my mind so that I can stay sharp and sensitive in art.

Thank you, Roya.

Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity of being interviewed! I am truly happy and flattered that my artwork is appreciated by many.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Nicola L. Robinson

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Nicola L Robinson is an illustrator based in Nottingham U.K. Her children’s illustration work includes cover art, pop-up books, pen and ink illustrations, hand lettering, illustrations for children’s poetry and illustrations for prints and greeting cards. She particularly loves drawing monsters, dragons, animals and architecture, often with a slightly creepy edge.


She is the author and illustrator of The Monster Machine, a monster picture book published by Pavilion Children’s books. The Monster Machine was shortlisted for the Cambridge Children’s book awards 2013 and selected as part of the Summer Reading Challenge by The Reading Agency.


Nicola won the Silver award in the self-promotional category at Images 36. Last year, she exhibited in London in the HAI Illustration 100 exhibition and also in multiple locations as part of the SCBWI BI showcase exhibitions. Nicola also owns and runs Teeth and Claws, her personal brand of prints and cards featuring her illustrations, predominantly dragons, dinosaurs and cats as well as other beasts too. Follow her blog and via Twitter @NLRobinsonart.

Congratulations on being awarded Honorable Mention in SCBWI’s Bologna Illustration Gallery for your illustration of The Billy Goats Gruff. I still have my copy of the Three Billy Goats Gruff book from my childhood, and I love your take on this classic tale! Was this piece part of a larger project such as a picture book, or was it a stand-alone piece?

Thank you very much! I’m pleased you like my version. The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff has always been a favourite story of mine since being a small child.

I’m particularly drawn to fairy tales featuring animals and monsters so had been meaning to illustrate this for a while. It is a standalone illustration, done purely for myself- I wanted to capture an overview of the whole story with it, with a focus on the troll.

How long have you been an illustrator? What path led you to pursuing a career in illustration?

I’ve been drawing and creating all my life, so a career in art was a natural progression for me. I have always loved drawing particularly from my imagination.

I did art at school and went on to University where I did my degree in Fine Art, specialising in Painting. It was during my Fine Art studies that I found I really love making art with a narrative, something which tells a story be it from text or on its own and I realised Illustration was where my passion lay. I started freelancing and taking commissions when I was still a student.

I graduated in 2005 from Cardiff School of Art and Design and have been illustrating ever since. Although it is only in more recent years that I have been illustrating for children’s publishing.

You are also an author. Is there a creative difference for you as an illustrator, when you are illustrating your own work, versus illustrating someone else’s work?

I had a lot of fun writing and illustrating my picture book. I found being both author and illustrator and so able to work on both text and image simultaneously was really useful- particularly when designing the layout of image and fitting the text on the spread. Being both author and illustrator gave me a lot of control over the finished look. Although as ever deciding which story elements to be shown in the artwork and what to tell in the text was a bit of a balancing act.

When illustrating other people’s work I’ve usually have less control as there are more people’s inputs to be considered. Most of my other commissioned children’s book work has been for cover art and classic books which have a different set of requirements to work within than the larger canvas of a picture book. I usually work with art directors who are commissioning something very specific. I do enjoy illustrating other people’s work though, and I try to bring something new to any text or cover I work on.



Do you have a favorite medium for your illustrations?

I love working in pen and ink, particularly old dip pens and nibs as well as finicky technical pens too. I love the lines which come out of them. I also love watercolours, coloured inks acrylic paint and digital techniques too. I have used a lot of different materials over the years depending on the project and subject to depict.

Is this the medium you used when creating your piece that was selected for the Bologna Illustration Gallery?

Yes. It is a combination of pen and ink drawing, watercolour, coloured ink, acrylic paint and a touch of digital fine tuning too.

Could you describe your creative process?

This varies depending on the particular demands of each project and how the end product is going to be printed, or presented. Although I always start every project with some kind of thumbnail scribbles to get a feel for the overall composition. I do a lot of research if the subject is not familiar, and often visit the library in order to read up on the topic and get a strong mental image of the subjects to be illustrated.

I then do lots of drawings, and rough sketches often going over the same ones tweaking the composition and making edits as necessary. When I’m happy with the rough sketch (or if I’m working with a client once they are happy) I’ll transfer my sketch to paper to start inking and if I’m going to be working in colour I’ll stretch the paper beforehand too so it dries nice and flat.

Once painted in a combination of watercolour and coloured inks I scan the artwork before moving to Photoshop for any final editing and to prepare the artwork for delivery. I often work in layers to allow for maximum flexibility, so elements can be repositioned or used elsewhere in a project. This is particularly useful for popup books and covers requiring movable elements of text or other details or vignette illustrations requiring totally clean transparent backgrounds for clean printing.

Not everything goes through this process, sometimes it is nice to just work in a sketchbook and let the ideas simmer in there for a while until they are ready to be developed. Sometimes that is where they stay.

Can you tell us about your work space?

My work space is a bedroom at the front of my house, I’ve only recently moved in so it is still a work in progress! It is the place that I work, and drink copious amounts of tea, and also the place where I think and read too. I also use the room for sewing and other crafty things as well as packing orders for my Teeth and Claws shop.

Moving house took ages and as a result I did not having a fully functioning work space for some time last year, working out of boxes and not knowing quite when moving was going to happen was disruptive to my work, so I am very appreciative of my new workspace now I’m here. I love it, but I will be stripping that wallpaper…

Sometimes it is nice to have a change of scenery, so I do work outside weather permitting, and I’ve always enjoyed working on the floor (less prone to tea/coffee spillages here too) sitting cross legged with my wooden drawing board on my lap.

What is a typical creative session like for you?

If it isn’t part of a project for a client which obviously requires a solid block of work I tend to create when inspiration strikes. So my creative sessions can vary from waking up in the middle of the night with an idea from something I’ve been dreaming and trying to scrawl it down on paper, to whole evenings and weekends in my studio just content in my own universe.

I do stop for regular tea breaks though although I have been known to forget to make lunch if I’m particularly absorbed in my work. I hate distractions so I work best alone with no phone calls or emails to interrupt!

I like to listen to music while I work, it often helps get a rhythm going particularly when inking something with a lot of texture or detail like a city with lots of roof tiles and tiny windows or a big scaly dragon.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Naomi Kojima

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


Naomi Kojima is an author and illustrator of children’s books. Born in Japan, Naomi has divided her life between Japan and the United States. Her first two picture books, Mr. and Mrs. Thief and The Flying Grandmother were published in New York. 

Since then, her books have been published in Japan, France, Sweden and Indonesia. 

Living and working in Tokyo, she is that author and illustrator of picture books The Alphabet Picture Book and The Singing Clams. She has been a keynote and presenter at major Asian conferences including the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore and has given illustration and picture book workshops in India and Indonesia.


Naomi serves as the illustrator coordinator of SCBWI Japan.


Welcome Naomi! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your career as an illustrator, and about serving as a judge for the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG).

Can you tell us about how you entered the field of illustrating children’s books?

illustration from The Alphabet Picture Book

When I was a child, I wanted to become a writer of children’s books and illustrate my stories. I went to the school library almost every day, and read and talked to the kind librarian until it was time to go home. I would look at the bookshelves and dream that someday, my books would be on these shelves, and a child like me would take them off the shelf, read it and enjoy it.

I made my first picture book for a class assignment during my senior year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. The story was based on my friend’s next door neighbor. We were sure they were thieves!

I wrote the story, drew illustrations, stapled the pages, and called the picture book Mr. and Mrs. Thief. Making the picture book brought back my childhood dream.

I knew in my heart that I wanted to keep on writing and illustrating picture books. But I had no idea how to start on the path as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. I went back to Japan after graduation, and worked as an art teacher.

Some years later, my husband and I moved to the U.S., to a college town in Massachusetts, and I met Jane Yolen. It was Jane who helped me start my career in children’s books. I went to the monthly meetings Jane organized in a small library in Hatfield. The group was called the Society of Children’s Book Writers, now the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

By attending the meetings, I learned how to make picture books. I worked on Mr. and Mrs. Thief, and received critique at the monthly meetings. After several revisions, Jane told me that Mr. and Mrs. Thief was ready. I made five appointments with publishers in New York City, and the editor at the second publisher showed strong interest in Mr. and Mrs. Thief and another picture book dummy The Flying Grandmother. Three weeks later, she called and gave me a contract for both books.

It was Jane and SCBWI that helped me make my childhood dream come true. And do you know what? The library at my elementary school in Tokyo has a special shelf for my books!

How did you discover your illustration style?

My illustration style is influenced by the illustrations from the books I used to enjoy as a child. One book I liked was a collection of New Yorker cartoons. It was my parent’s book, and I couldn’t understand the captions and I didn’t get the jokes, but I thought the black and white illustrations were so clever. I was amazed how much could be expressed in just black and white.

illustration from The Sparrow’s Gift

Another book I loved to look through, turning from page to page, was the Fireside Book of Folk Songs, which is a 300-page songbook. I didn’t know the songs, but I would look at the illustrations and try to imagine what the ballads were about.

Many years later, I realized the illustrations were by Alice and Martin Provensen. That was a wonderful surprise!

During my school years in Japan, I was fascinated with the illustrations by E. H. Shepard in Winnie-the-Pooh; with Walter Trier, who illustrated many of Erich Kaster’s books; with Edward Ardizzone in The Little Bookroom; and Pauline Baynes, who illustrated the Narnia books.

Naturally, I chose pen and ink and water colors for my illustrations.

Do you have a favorite artistic medium for your illustrations?

I like to work in pen and ink and water colors. I like the clear and black lines of pen and ink, and a light layer of water colors over the lines. I also use colored pencils. I like to combine soft and hard colored pencils.

I like to work in pencil too. The illustrations for Singing Shijimi Clams are done in pencil. I used a mechanical pencil to get a very fine and sharp line.

Has that changed over the course of your career?

No, it hasn’t changed much. I experiment with markers and crayon, but I go back to pen and ink, pencil, water colors and colored pencils.

Do you illustrate your own stories, the stories of other writers, or both?

I illustrate my own picture book stories. I don’t think I would illustrate someone else’s picture book, but from time to time, I like illustrating long stories by other writers. As a child, I always looked forward to finding the illustrations in long stories. I think the combination of illustrations and words are beautiful, in picture books and in longer stories.

I have illustrated four stories by Japanese fantasy writer Sachiko Kashiwaba. The most recent book we worked on together is Princess Tapir’s Classmate. Her stories usually have mythical beasts and animals, which is a challenge, but also fun to illustrate.

What are the differences and/or similarities in the creative process when illustrating your own or other people’s stories?

The biggest difference is, if you are writing and illustrating your own story, you are responsible for everything: the content, the plot, the structure, the quality of writing and art.

When you illustrate other people’s stories, your mission is to interpret the story, and make illustrations that represent and enhance the story.

The similarity is that you give your best to make a beautiful book.

As a judge for the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery, what makes an illustration stand out to you?

Good illustrations have the power to draw you in instantly, and make you want to keep looking. The more you look, the more you see. It seems there are layers of things to look at.

It could be the movement of fine lines, the confident brush strokes, the subtle and rich colors, the careful details, the striking composition, the humor, the playfulness, the expression of the face or body that evokes a feeling, and reminds you of a place or time.

There are illustrations that are successful in catching your eye by using strong colors and composition, but when you look closely, you notice it is a dead end, that you cannot see or feel the artist, and you cannot go any deeper than the surface. Depth is an important quality in good illustrations.

The successful illustrator seems to know when to stop and when to add. This sense of balance, I believe, comes from training and experience, from many hours of drawing.

What are the benefits for illustrators from submitting their work to showcases such as BIG?

The biggest benefit for submitting to BIG is the opportunity of having your work displayed at the SCBWI Showcase at the 2016 Bologna Book Fair, where people in the children’s book business from around the world will come to browse.

Another benefit is the digital version of the shortlist portfolio, where thumbnails of artwork and contact information will be on display on the SCBWI website. SCBWI continues to display portfolios from 2010. This is wonderful, as it gives illustrators from around the world an opportunity to show their work on a long-term basis. Many editors come to the SCBWI website to find illustrators.

As you can see from this shortlist, the quality of the illustrations were very high. The judging process required a lot of concentration and energy, but I enjoyed every moment of looking at the submissions.

I know it takes a bit of courage to submit work to illustration contests, but when you submit, you are taking a step forward and making a commitment to your career as an illustrator.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful in the field of illustration for children’s books?

Good drawing skills, a love for children’s books, determination, perseverance, patience, objectivity and believing in yourself. And if you want to be a picture book illustrator, read many, many picture books.

What is the one thing you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career as an illustrator?

That life is much too short to make all the story ideas I have into picture books!

illustration from Singing Shijimi Clams

Thank you Naomi for your time! It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Art Director-Author Interview: Laurent Linn

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laurent Linn, art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island” films. 

With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the creative director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. 

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, working with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo

Laurent is on the board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is the artistic advisor for the annual original art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. 
 
He is also an author: His debut illustrated teen novel, Draw the Line (Simon & Schuster), comes out in May. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Laurent, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about the world of illustration in children’s publishing, and about the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG). 

As art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, what is the importance of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to you and other publishing professionals?

The Bologna Fair has so much to offer everyone, and for a publisher like us, it serves more than one role. It’s a fantastic event to see what books are being published in other countries that we may want to acquire rights for to publish here in the U.S.

Also, we share certain books that we are publishing in the hopes international publishers will want to acquire, too.

In addition, we’re always on the look-out to discover illustrators from other countries that we’re not yet aware of — there is so much talent on display there!

What makes an Illustration Gallery such as the BIG at the SCBWI booth in Bologna interesting to publishing professionals?

In the U.S. and around the world, children’s book publishers know that SCBWI members are serious about their careers. So it’s understood that the illustrators on display at the SCBWI booth are both knowledgeable and professional — something very important to us when we consider hiring an illustrator who is new to us.

When an art director or publisher views an illustration showcase such SCBWI’s BIG, is s/he looking primarily for illustrators for picture books, or are they also scouting talent for other illustration opportunities within the industry?

Speaking for myself, I always consider the strengths of each illustrator individually based on their work. For example, when I see someone whose strength is art that would be best suited for picture books, I may potentially keep them in mind for a future picture book. The same would be true of someone whose style is best for middle grade, etc.

Of course, many illustrators have different styles, which may be right for all types and genres of books, and I’d think about that as well.

Overall, I imagine that each art director and editor look for what he or she is publishing. Having said this, I do think the majority of art directors and editors at Bologna are looking at picture book illustration.

What makes an illustration stand out to you when you are serving as a judge for a showcase like BIG?

A few factors. Talent and skill as an artist is extremely important, of course. But I’m also looking for strong visual storytelling — children’s book illustration is all about a narrative. If a piece is more of a portrait or composed scene lacking story, that doesn’t show how an illustrator could visualize a key moment of a narrative.

Also, I’m always looking to see if an illustration has an emotional connection — readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters.



I think many illustrators, when thinking of a career in children’s publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books. Yet there seem to be more and more illustrated middle grade series, graphic novels are very popular, and your own illustrated young adult novel, Draw the Line, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016. Do you see a trend in the industry towards more illustration in books for older readers?

It’s such an exciting time for illustration in children’s literature! Picture books are being published with art using all kinds of media and in varied styles. More and more middle grade uses interior black-and-white illustrations within the pages, for all ages from young to pre-teen. And more and more art is even being used YA (young adult) fiction.

As you mention, my own debut YA novel, Draw the Line, has illustrations — 90 pages of art, in fact! It’s not a graphic novel at all, but is a traditional text novel that also has illustrations in it.

In my book’s case, the art is “drawn by” the main character, Adrian, but is of course really drawn by me. It’s a way to tell the story on a visual level to enhance the storytelling in the text. My YA is unusual in the amount of art in it, but we’re seeing more boundaries being broken down.

We have talented authorillustrators like Brian Selznick to thank in many ways. His illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) really broke ground.

And then, of course, there are true graphic novels for all ages. A graphic novel differs from an illustrated YA or middle grade in that the format is like a comic book: The entire story is told through art panels with speech balloons and narrative text boxes.

However, now we’re seeing hybrid books that are mixing up all preconceptions, so who knows what comes next?

I love the idea of the illustrations in Draw the Line being “drawn by” the character! I look forward to seeing it when it releases. How important do you think it is for an illustrator to be an author as well? 

Every creative person is unique — many illustrators have no interest in writing or are not good writers, and many are extremely talented writers with a passion for it.

If you look at the most successful top illustrators in children’s literature, you’ll find those that also write their books as well as those who only illustrate books written by others.

For me and my colleagues, whether an artist is also a writer or not has no bearing on if we will work with them or not.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as an illustrator in the children’s publishing industry?

Certainly those creative elements I mention above: alent, a unique style and vision, good visual storytelling skills, and ability to bring an emotional connection to the art. But you must also be professional — children’s literature is a collaborative process.

In addition to being realistic and professional about deadlines, you have to keep in mind that art direction and editing are not personal judgments, but useful and necessary ways of communication.

Everyone in the process has her or his expertise, and we all want your book to be the best book possible. It’s a balance of creating a work of art yet being sure it sells and gets into the hands of readers who want and need it.

Another part of being a professional is making connections, getting your work out into the world to be seen, and being engaged in the children’s book world. For example, showing your art in the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery!

Is there something that you think every illustrator should know, that I haven’t asked?

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of: always be yourself! Don’t imitate others or create art that you may think art directors “want to see.” There certainly are artistic rules to follow, but within those parameters, find your own vision and dazzle us with it. Yes, use influences and inspirations in your work, but only as tools to enhance your singular style and vision.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.