Guest Interview: Dana Carey & SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery Judges

By Dana Carey
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

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


SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator Dana Carey talks with those who judged the Bologna Illustration Gallery

What was the first thing you looked for while judging the illustrations for the shortlist? 

Cecilia Yung: For the earlier editing process, it is a more left-brain objective analytical process. For me, before it is anything else, an illustration must be good art. It should be a compelling image with dynamic composition and a striking palette that shows a command of the technique and the medium. 

Susan Eaddy: The first thing I looked for was narrative. Even if the illustration style was not one that appealed innately to me, I narrowed the images down to telling a story first.

David Liew: I’m somewhat between Cecilia and Susan. I was looking for artwork that engaged me both aesthetically and drew me into the narrative. But it was not a zero-sum game as there were entries which had a very strong narrative element despite the style not being the first criteria for my selection.

How did you go about narrowing down the shortlist of twenty-five illustrations to ten finalists then to two honor prizes, and finally one winner? How daunting of a task is this? 

Cecilia: Once I get past the basic skills, I look for narrative art: “who, when, how, what, why.”
Distinct characters, specific settings, clear but nuanced expressions and body language transform good art into good storytelling.

Since we are dealing with children’s picture books, I also look for an image that reflects the illustrator’s understanding of children, our target audience.

For the top score, it is a more right-brain intuitive process.

I look for masterful storytelling: an illustration that comes to life and effectively conveys the mood and emotion of the scene.

I look for the “secret ingredient”—the voice, the special sensibility that is easy to spot but hard to define—magic, humor, drama, excitement or whatever it is that elicit a powerful response in the reader.

I scored based on my own objective/subjective response to the artwork. (I gave top scores to three illustrations!)

I did not select illustrations based on the categories of shortlist, honors or winners. The entries were labelled by number, so I did not vote by gender, nationality or ethnicity. My votes were then tallied with those of the other judges, so the final result was more mathematical than philosophical.

Poirot and the Kimono by Alexander Rowe, overall winner, used with permission

Susan: After I had honed the list down by narrative, I moved on to character and setting.

After that I could enjoy the craft; marvel at the medium, the lighting, composition, perspective & palette.

The final key ingredient was the emotion evoked. Whether the illustrator chose to concentrate on humor, tenderness, confusion, fear… whatever emotion it was… If the illustrator got the point across and made me feel what the character was feeling, that brought it all the way up to the top score if all of the other things were in place.

David: I took a slightly different path from my fellow judges here.

In effect, I applied somewhat the same approach I did for the shortlisting. The work had to be a good balance of the various elements that come together to make an effective book illustration.

Each entry was assessed independent of the others for their own merits. What was different from the first round was that more than two passes were made of all the entries in order to ensure internal consistency before I turned to the final pass – the somewhat abstract “X” factor that distinguishes the great from the good, and the excellent from the great.

As an art director, asking for revisions is an important part of your job. Did you imagine a tweak or two that might have made an illustration prize-worthy but without, didn’t land on your list? 

Cecilia: Illustration is communication. Even with the most beautiful artwork, clarity is often the issue.

I sometimes have trouble with the legibility of an image, and understanding the focus, the intent or the mood of a scene.

To identify this problem, an illustrator needs a degree of objectivity. To solve this problem, an illustrator needs dexterity with an illustrator’s craft.

Monster in the Dark by Toshiki Nakamura, honourable mention, used with permission.

What are some common errors illustrators make that diminish their chances in a contest like this?


Susan: I saw many pieces that were beautifully executed, had dramatic lighting and/or dramatic composition.

However, I was sorry to see that these were often only a single image, maybe even cropped from a larger illustration for dramatic effect. And without the rest of the story, they fell into the middle of the road group, because there was no clear narrative.

They would make beautiful portfolio pieces,because of the larger context. But with only one piece to judge, it had to have it all; clear narrative, characters, setting and beautiful execution.

Cecilia: It is important to take into consideration that you are represented by only one image, and that this contest is specifically for children’s picture book illustration.

That means the one piece you choose must be extremely strong, but it also needs to be much more than a pretty picture.

An image would have a better chance if it is more active and narrative (not abstract or contemplative), and reflects a child’s world and their perspective.

And to stand out, the image should showcase the specific skills and strengths for visual storytelling. For me, any weak link in the “who, when, how, what, why” spectrum would diminish the chances.

First Day by Felia Hanakata, honourable mention, used with permission.

Did you consult with the other judges while making your decisions? How did the three of you arrive at a consensus?

Cecilia: No, we are a geographically diverse group. The “consensus” was not a result of meetings or discussions but a purely democratic vote.

Susan: No, we were each on our own. That worked well, I think. We were able to take our time to really scrutinize on our own schedule and go back again and again to rethink our decisions. After that it became a purely mathematical equation in the tally.

David: Not at all. Other than saying hi to each other online and the occasional technical question, we worked independently.

One of Susan’s illustrations in progress.

As an illustrator, how did you feel in the role of a judge? Did you learn anything that you’ll apply in your own work in the future?

Susan: I found the process to be fascinating.

I was thrilled to see the quality of work from illustrators all over the world. Even when the subject matter was the same, (as in an obvious prompt) the solutions and approaches were unique.

I was inspired, and it really drove home those basic principles to me.

Story Telling, character, setting, composition, lighting, palette, execution, emotion… In order to be competitive in this world-wide arena all of those things need to be in place.

David: It was both exhilarating and challenging for me.

It was almost overwhelming to see this constellation of talent, and the corresponding galaxy of styles and treatments.

David’s Panda Steampunk, used with permission.

It was challenging in that in many ways, I was also the peer of the participants.

As an illustrator who’s a firm believer in life-long learning, this role gave me an opportunity to reaffirm aspects of my own professional practice, as well as to see new, fresh ways to approach things that I can adopt to build on my craft.

How does entering this contest benefit an illustrator?

Susan: I think this competition is especially valuable.

The fact that it is put on by the SCBWI lets you know that it is fairly judged and that you have the opportunity to challenge yourself in a world-wide arena!

I think you have to challenge yourself constantly and do things that scare you, like entering this competition. Just the act of trying forces you to “up your game.” And if you don’t win… fine… see who did… learn what they did right and apply it to yourself next time.

David: Besides the chance to have your work seen on the international stage, it’s a good reminder to us to review and reflect upon our practice.

You look at your body of work and have to ask yourself – which should I submit and why? I’m happy with all my work but I can only send one – what do I want the world to see as the showcase of who I am as an artist?

Cynsational Notes

A total of 391 entries were received for the Bologna Illustrators Gallery from 17 countries. See the 25 illustrations picked for the shortlist and read a Cynsations interview with the winners.

Cecilia Yung is art director and vice president at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she oversees illustration and design for two imprints, G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Nancy Paulsen Books.

She is fortunate to have worked with some of the major illustrators of children’s books, but the highlight of her work is to discover and develop new talent.

She is on the Board of Advisors of SCBWI, as well as a member of its Illustrators’ Committee.

Susan Eaddy works in her attic studio writing picture books and playing with clay.

She was an Art Director for 15 years, and has won international 3D illustration awards and a Grammy nomination. Her clay-illustrated books include Papa Fish’s Lullaby by Patricia Hubbell (Northword Press, 2007), My Love for You is the Sun, by Julie Hedlund (Little Bahalia Publishing, 2014) and three First Looks at Vehicles published with the Smithsonian Institution.

Her clay artwork appears regularly in Babybug, Ladybug, Click and Spider Magazines.

She is the author of Poppy’s Best Paper and Poppy’s Best Babies, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet, (Charlesbridge, 2018) and Eenie Meenie Halloweenie –illustrated by Lucy Fleming (Harper Collins-2020) She loves to travel and has used the opportunity to do school visits all over, including Taiwan, Brazil, Hong Kong and the US.

She lives in Nashville, Tennessee and is the Regional Advisor for the Midsouth SCBWI.

David Liew is a Singapore-based illustrator. A former junior college tutor and polytechnic lecturer, he has been described by founding members of the local Maker movement as being a bit of a polyglot.

Besides illustrating for both middle grade readers and picture books, he’s also a model-maker, occasional animator and a sculptor focusing on upcycled art from found objects.

He’s also written a middle-grade hybrid book and recently started to write picture book manuscripts. He’s the artist behind the Ellie Belly series by Eliza Teoh (Bubbly Books), and the Crystal Kite-awarded The Adventures of Squirky the Alien by Melanie Lee (MPH Group Publishing)

In 2016, he illustrated his first bilingual (Japanese-English) picture book, Monster Day on Tabletop Hill, written by Akiko Sueyoshi (National Book Development Council).

Dana Carey is an author/illustrator. She is the International Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI and the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI France.

She organizes writer/illustrator retreats, regional conferences, workshops and webinars.

She earned a degree in Fine Arts and Graphic Design and later, a teaching certificate. Now she teaches English to adults and university students.

Between classes, Dana dedicates as much time as possible to writing and illustrating. She also writes reader reports for international acquisitions for French publishers.

Dana interviews illustrators for a monthly blogpost called The Postcard Post for the Sub It Club, a support group for authors and illustrators. See her illustration portfolio.

The Bologna Book Fair interview series is coordinated by Elisabeth Norton, SCBWI Regional Advisor for Switzerland.

Guest Interview: Dina von Lowenkraft & SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery Winners 2018

By Dina von Lowenkraft
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: This is the first in a series of interviews focusing on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair


SCBWI Belgium + Luxembourg Regional Advisor Dina von Lowenkraft talks with the winners of the Bologna Showcase: Alexander RoweFelia Hanakata and Toshiki Nakamura 

Welcome, Alex, Felia and Toshi! Thank you for joining me for this discussion about your award-winning work in SCBWI’s 2018 Illustrators’ Gallery.


Alex Rowe’s piece, ‘Poirot and the Kimono’ won top honors with Felia Hanakata and Toshi Nakamura both getting honorable mentions for their works, respectively, ‘First Day’ and ‘Monsters in the Dark.’


Alex is originally from Tuscon, Arizon and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Felia is from Indonesia and graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Toshi is from Japan and also graduated from the Academy of Art University.

Felia to Toshi: I can’t believe we went to the same school! Your work is great!

Toshi: I know! Such a coincidence! We probably overlapped a year or two, I guess. Thank you for the kind word, by the way. I love your piece. Great storytelling!

What struck me looking at your winning pieces is how different they all are.

Alex, can you share a bit about your creative process and what techniques you used to make ‘Poirot and the Kimono’?


Alex: Totally, and that’s the thing I love the most about the illustration world! We all have a voice, and a vision to match with that.

It stressed me out when I first graduated, just how many talented illustrators there are out there, but each one of us out there has a story only we can tell. It’s exciting to see!

Poirot and the Kimono by Alex Rowe, used with permission.

My works are also each different because I want to work to illustrate for all ages and genres. My process is always the same: start with the thumbnail, and the first things I think of are light and color, then the character studies I’ve done prior to the piece.

My underpainting is done with the complementary colors to get me to think more about their relationship – for example, the first layer of the red kimono was lime green!

I use gouache most often, it’s by far my favorite medium!

Felia to Alex: Your winning piece is stunning! I love the mysterious atmosphere.
You mentioned that you used lime green as the underpainting. I worked and used gouache a lot in the past, but never used underpainting for it.

Did you mix both watercolors and gouache? (I love acryla gouache, I think it strikes the perfect balance between transparent and opaque.) And since you work traditionally, how troublesome is the scanning and editing process?

Alex: It was really tricky making sure that the digital file matched the traditional, but the best way to go was finding a good friend in photography who helped show me the ropes in catching a good quality image of the work. At first, the biggest challenge I had was making the images too over saturated when I first started editing, it all looked awful! Now I’m excited to mix more digital media into the creation, not just the editing.

Toshi to Alex: Your piece is gorgeous! I have some experiences using gouache, but I’ve never done underpainting. I am just wondering if you paint complementary colors underneath, would it get a bit muddy or something since gouache is water-based medium? I’d love to know your method of working.

Alex: The paint doesn’t get as muddy as you would think! The first layer of color is very thin, almost a wash, and I start getting thicker in application from there.

In some other pieces, I’ve been playing around at acrylic on top, but there are places in almost every painting where I like letting the original underpainting show through.

Felia, you mentioned that you worked with gouache in the past, what do you work with now? And can you tell us a little about your creative process for your piece ‘First Day’?

First Day by Felia Hanakata, used with permission.

Felia: I’m 100 percent digital nowadays! Except my sketchbook, which is all done in graphite.

I used to work with gouache a lot in the past and I love its opaque look, so even when I paint digitally, I try to achieve that “dry brush, texture-y” feeling.

As for the artwork itself. Whenever I feel frustrated with work I will move away and browse my sketchbook.

It was during this downtime that I found this old sketch I hadn’t got to draw yet. So I decided to work on it on weekends. I thought it’d be nice to draw something school-related and I wanted to convey that “lonely, nervous feeling” on your first day of school.

From a very small thumbnail, I moved to the actual size, creating a cleaner sketch on Photoshop. And then I would make color roughs and decide on one. From there I made the clean line art, filled in base color, and organized my layers. After that, I painted to finish. This is how I work all the time–very streamlined.

Usually the hardest part is the sketch/thumbnail part because I have to brainstorm a lot!

Toshi, what was the inspiration for your piece ‘Monsters in the Dark’?

Monsters in the Dark by Toshi Nakamura, used with permission.

Toshi: ‘Monsters in the Dark’ is actually something I made as a concept piece for an animated short film that I’ve been working on with my friends for a while. This is an early concept that I made for a director of the film as an inspirational piece, so the film is going to be a quite different look from this. As for process, the concept of this piece came up in my mind pretty quickly. I believe this was just done in a day or so.

The director of the film had a vision vaguely, so I took the idea and translated in a visual image.

Synopsis of the film is this: ‘A boy, haunted by his abused past, fears the love of his new family and runs away into a dark forest where he meets a monster that will transform his life forever.’

Making an animated film takes a huge amount of time and I wanted to produce something promptly that would inspire us to move forward and would visually explore and say ‘this could be it.’ At that time, we didn’t have any monster design established yet, so it was quite challenging for me since I’d rarely designed creatures or anything like that.

The piece was done in Adobe Photoshop. I used to do this kind of concept piece with painterly techniques and more dimensionality, but for this piece I needed to create something flat and 2D feel because background in the forest scenes was going to be in 2D although the film itself would be consisted of hybrid technique combining 2D and 3D.

For the color, I was trying to make it as visually striking as possible. It is character-driven, so making contrast between character and environment could achieve to draw attentions from viewers.

Felia to Toshi: Since you’re working for animation, how transferable are animation skills into children-book making/drawing? Molly Idle and Claire Keane were working in animation studios before, and now they have released stunning picture books! It’s always fun to see other illustrators’ backgrounds and inspirations and/or influences, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Toshi: I’m working in animation industry and I do design characters, environments and props… this is what we call “Visual Development.” Basically, what I do is to design and develop visual assets that you see in animated films or animated TV shows. These design skills might not really be necessary in children’s book making. However, early on the production, we’d create some concept art, which is an illustration/painting based on scripts/story to show what the scene or the visual style would look like. This exact skill can apply to children’s book making: to infuse story into pictures.

One of Toshi’s other illustrations, used with permission.

As far as I know, many artists working in animation studios are actually making children’s books on the side. As a matter of fact, my agency, Shannon Associates, has several artists from major studios such as Blue Sky Studios and Dreamworks Animation. I hope I can do the same in near future!

As for the work style, I can totally understand your way. I’m like you, I do work almost completely 100 percent digitally with Photoshop. So many revisions come in the way, especially working in animation, so there’s no way for me to be more efficient than working digitally. I actually love using gouache and a few of my favorite illustrations I did were done in gouache. Hopefully, I can work on some gouache illustration sometime soon!

I’m really intrigued that this comes from a short film idea, Toshi! Can you tell us a little more about how the look and feel of the film has evolved from the concept piece? The colors are very striking, especially the play of light that you have, is this something that has been kept in the animation?

Toshi: So, the story has changed quite a bit since I made this concept piece, and the monster design is also quite different now. Unfortunately we decided to go with different color instead of the bright yellow glow… but this happens in the animated production all the time, so I’m just glad that the director’s got the vision to move along with. As we’re close to finishing up pre-production and just about to start the production, we still need to figure things out when it comes to actual lighting and stuff. I wish I could tell more at this point.

Alex, I agree with Felia and Toshi – your piece, ‘Poirot and the Kimono’ is gorgeous! I wish I could see it in real life.

Alex: The piece is actually hanging at steam espresso bar in Denver, come on by for coffee if you’d like to see it in person!

Oh, I’m so jealous of everyone who is in Denver right now! What was the most challenging aspect of making this piece for you?

Alex: For this piece, the most challenging part for me was balancing the focal point for the viewer: I knew I wanted to make the scarlet kimono a big eye catcher, but also Poirot’s face of being toyed with by the murderer in the story was second to me!

I wanted to make the scene conveyed with as few elements as I could.

I’ve always loved mysteries, and so I’ve always loved illustrating them. So leaving clues and hints in each painting, just like the writers do with their stories, is a big part of work like this for Agatha Christie’s classic story.

Felia, you said you work 100 percent digital, what it is that you like about working in that medium?

Felia’s studio

Felia: I like to be efficient, and digital makes that possible. I was surprised at how much faster I’d gotten in the past year actually! Streamlining my workflow is one of the keys to that.

As I mentioned, I love the opaque and textured look of gouache so I try to achieve the same kind of feeling on my art. I absolutely love Kyle’s brushes!

Many illustrators, when thinking about a career in children’s publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books even though there are more and more graphic novels and illustrated books for older readers. Is this something any of you are interested in pursuing?

Alex: It’s so funny you should ask, my goal growing up was to illustrate nothing but adult stories! As a kid, I loved reading Sherlock Holmes, and those illustrations were another inspiration for me, so that was my big drive.

It’s only after college that I started working towards children’s books, but I’m exited for the growth in illustrations for young adult and older audiences.

I’ve been working on a pipe dream project for years, either book or graphic novel on the Black Plague of the 1300s, so here’s hoping!

Felia: I can relate with you, Alex.

I didn’t even know the children’s book industry existed and was this big until six months before graduation. (Reading children’s books is not a
tradition in Indonesia.)

I absolutely fell in love with it.

Illustrating picture books is of course my main focus, but lately I’ve been wanting to illustrate covers and for older readers as well. In fact I’ve written some rough drafts for a young adult graphic novel, although I’m stuck with the plot at the moment.

I also got some ideas for rewriting a fairy tale, and I look forward to working on it more. I really would like to write and illustrate my own picture book/graphic novel one day!

Toshi: I think I’m one of the many illustrators you mention. As I grew up with many animated TV cartoons and films and studied animation design in school, it naturally became my passion to illustrate picture books. Though it has been my primary focus and interest in the publishing, I’m getting more interested in adult stories lately.

To be honest, I’d just be delighted to illustrate any stories that may interest kids and/or adults! I look forward to opportunities to work on both genres for sure.

 #ownvoices and diversity have been very big topics for kidlit recently. What are your thoughts on the subject and has this changed the way you work? or the way you present yourself?

Felia: I think I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see more diversity in children’s books until I read Same, Same But Different (Henry Holt, 2011) by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw a long time ago.

As an Asian, I was always enamored by the grand European castles and architecture, but I never thought I would feel glad to see other parts of the world being represented.

I think it’s especially nice for children to find something they can relate to–a part of themselves–in the book they’re reading.

I wouldn’t say it has changed the way I work because personally I draw a lot of Asians, but whenever possible, I love to draw people from different parts of the world. It’s fun to construct characters with different cultural backgrounds.

I was born and raised in Bali where tourists of many countries gather. I lived in San Francisco for nearly five years and got to see a lot of different people and their stories. This seeps into how I perceive and see things. So when I tell a story… I want it to be inclusive.

Felia

For my “First Day” as an example, I guess I want viewers to acknowledge the fact that it is okay to feel nervous about your first day of school, wherever you are, whoever you are.

Toshi: Even though I grew up in Tokyo where is globalized and many from different cultures live, living there still feels somehow closeted.

The idea of diversity really kicked in my mind when I moved to San Francisco to attend the school. As big as the issue of diversity in kidlit currently is, it is very big topic in animation industry, too.

I believe that the content of animated TV shows and feature films has been getting more diverse the past years, but I’d love to see more cultures and ethnicities involved in the animation and kidlit industry.

I agree with you, Felia. It’s fun to draw from different cultural backgrounds, and it hugely inspires me and teaches me a lot of things.

It’s great when a client chooses you for a book because you may be familiar with the content of the book because of your cultural background. It’s certainly an advantage in a way, but I also would love to work on children’s books that include any subjects and/or cultural contents because as an illustrator I think it is such an amazing thing that I can be a part of stories that may inspire and encourage kids and maybe even adults from all over the world.

Alex: What you’ve both said about how fun it is to research and show other cultures and world views really speaks true!

For all my works, the research aspect is always the most fun – in a weird way, the simple things fascinate me the most! Textiles and crafts from around the world and through time, those little details I think can make a piece, and make it feel more real in a way.

For diversity in my paintings, I think our first instinct is to draw our own experience – so for a long time, and even still – I fell into the bad habit where my portfolio is full of white men.

Alex at work in his studio

Listening to other illustrators and writers has been hugely helpful with how I want to display diversity in my work, listening to how I can still help while seeing that the best way at times is to step back and listen.

I think I’ve first had to notice my own huge bias, and then realize that the most beautiful part of this movement is that it calls for all voices to be heard – like what we said earlier, we all have a voice and have to be able to share it.

For diversity in art, Geena Davis’ work on representation of women in film comes to mind first: “if you can see it, you can be it.”

I think we don’t just need diversity in the illustrations and the stories, but in the authors and illustrators themselves. We have so many rockstar and diverse authors and illustrators in the world, it’s important for kids to see that and be able to say, “it’s not impossible! I can do it, too!”

We have to listen to each other, see stories that are different from our own, to see how connected we really are.

Moving forward in my work I see this as a challenge to live up to: to represent diversity and to check and push back my bias.

I think that illustrators especially have to include diversity, because children need examples (in fiction as well as reality) to inspire them.

The key is you have to really connect to and understand the diversity you’re trying to depict, and find common ground with your own experience: because kids especially can see if work is genuine or not!

Learn more about Laurent Linn

I’ve heard Laurent Linn, art director/designer for Simon & Schuster, say that he looks for illustrations that have an emotional connection because readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters… is this something you think about when you work on an illustration?

Toshi: Absolutely. It would be much more interesting especially if you had personal history behind an image that you’d create.

As someone who has some animation background, I’ve been told the importance of ‘emotional connection’ a lot of times.

For example, I have been going to portfolio reviews by pros from major animation studios so many times the past few years since I was a student. They could tell at a glance, what draws their attentions the most, emotionally. Usually it’d turn out to be something I’d spent very much and often based off my personal story.

The term I’ve heard when animation peeps talk is ‘Believability,’ which is very essential when I work on an illustration or concept.

Realism is not something I pursue when I create an image, but realism can be replaced with believability. As a newbie in the publishing industry, I can’t say this applies always, but if I were a reader, I would definitely feel more emotionally connected to a picture that has something believable or speaks something relatable to me.

Alex: I love that phrase “believability” for work, Toshi!

I think that’s been a big struggle for me to overcome as an illustrator, when I look back on work I made in the past and even some work now if I don’t focus on this. It’s about translating that story you need to tell as an illustrator, and making that visible to the reader.

For Poirot, I let my own fears and anxiety about the “mystery” of what to do with the future try to fuel the piece. I made this piece as I was struggling to discover whether I should keep pursuing illustration as a career, and Poirot’s frustration in the Murderer leaving the scarlet kimono in his luggage to taunt him felt like the kind of teasing life sometimes throws at you. I needed his little grey cells to help me figure out my own mystery as well.

One of Alex’s pieces in progress

And just like Toshi was saying, the pieces I’ve done that I’ve loved the most have been connected to the personal, not just the surface.

I wish I learned that lesson earlier, to always let my own vision show through – for the longest time I had this rigid idea of what “art” was, and it was full of works decades or centuries old.

I think those heroes of mine kept me from being loose and free and honest about my emotions in my work. That kind of raw feeling is what I think is so stellar about illustrations today!

Felia: Great topic, I love it! I agree with both of you. Believability is very important in storytelling.

Personally I love anything fantasy or magical. I watch a ton of magical girls and superheroes shows. For the longest time, I wondered what made me drawn to them so much – and then I realized, aside from the fantastical elements, it’s the “realistic, relatable” characters that connected to me on a personal level. They had their own flaws and struggles, and they experienced the same things I did. I think strong story-telling has that.

Nowadays readers always want to find something fun, something they can easily engage with – and the fastest way to establish reader-viewer relationship is by creating something that is emotionally strong and relatable.

It’s the same with my “First Day” piece. I wanted to show anxiety and fear and loneliness. I’ve felt how it’s like to be very far from home, alone, on your first day of school, and you know no one. It can get scary. (But you’ll be fine!)

Some friends actually came to me after I showed “First Day” to them, and they said, “that feel though, I can relate. I was clinging to my mom on my first day of school when I was a kid.”

I’m always amazed at how story-telling can do so much in sequential art, and I will do my best to improve my skills as well!

Thank you all for your enthusiasm and taking the time to chat! I’ve really enjoyed our discussion and learning more about each of you and the way you see illustration. Congratulations once again – your pieces are truly beautiful!

Cynsational Notes

Alexander Rowe was born in Tucson, Arizona and has always wanted to illustrate books for young adults and middle grade kids.

As a kid, the works of Harry Clark illustrating the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, first drew him to the craft, and illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker and Brett Helnquist confirmed his love of book illustrations. 

Alex graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013 and lived with his brother, a writer in Boston, before moving to Denver.

He is now working to build up his portfolio for children’s and middle grade books, as well as writing and preparing dummies of a few book projects and one graphic novel.

When not painting, Alex is a TA and contributor for artprof.org, a barista at Steam Espresso Bar, a dog owner to the talented Amelia, and a jogger of the greater Denver area.

Felia Hanakata is an Indonesia-based illustrator represented by Lemonade Illustration Agency.

She grew up believing in magic, dragons, and all things fantastical. She was a Visual Communication Design student for two years before she decided to focus on drawing, illustrating, and story-telling more.

She went to Academy of Art University and completed her BFA in Illustration in Spring 2017. To her, storytelling breathes life and colors into the world.

Her work is inspired by anime/manga, Alphonse Mucha, Henri Matisse, and Bernie Fuchs.

When she is not drawing, she usually reads, drinks lots of coffee, plays video games, or looks for inspiration in nature and her surroundings.

Right now she lives in the sunny island of Bali, Indonesia, where she works from home as a freelance illustrator. Aside from working with clients on different projects, she also dreams of one day writing and illustrating her own picture book and graphic novel.

Toshiki Nakamura is a born and raised Japanese illustrator/designer.

He graduated from MFA in visual development at Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2016. He was a politics major in his undergrad at university in Japan before he pursued art .

Toshiki is currently working as a freelance character designer/visual development artist in animation industry.

As much as he likes working independently, he loves to work in a team and has been working on a few collaborative animation projects as a visual development artist and character designer as well.

He’s currently represented by Shannon Associates for illustration work. Toshiki is a newbie in kidlit and very excited to work on picture books hopefully near future. When he’s not drawing, he enjoys running, cooking and playing the piano. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Dina von Lowenkraft is regional advisor for SCBWI Belgium + Luxembourg and a writer of YA currently working on a PhD in Cultural Studies at KU Leuven in Belgium.

Dina worked as a graphic artist for TV for seven years and as a business consultant in the fashion industry for five years.

Her doctoral research project is based in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard (1,200 km north of the Arctic Circle), where she is studying the impacts of climate change on the community of Longyearbyen that has about 2,200 residents.

Dina spends her time between Longyearbyen, Luxembourg and Leuven.

The Bologna Interview series is coordinated by Elisabeth Norton, SCBWI regional advisor for Switzerland.

Author & Editor Interview: Jessica Lee Anderson, Madeline Smoot on Uncertain Summer

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve always had a fascination with Bigfoot; the idea that an ape/human creature could be secretly living in the woods both intrigued and terrified me as a child.

So when I got the opportunity to chat with the author and editor of Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson (CBAY, 2017), I couldn’t pass it up. First, the promotional copy:

For decades something has lurked in the swampy lakes of East Texas. Could it be the elusive Bigfoot?

Everdil Jackson thinks so. Her whole life she’s grown up listening to the stories of the Bigfoot sightings around Uncertain, Texas. 


When a TV show offers a million dollars to the person that can provide conclusive proof of Bigfoot, Everdil, her brother, and two friends form a team to snap a picture of the beast. 


With any luck, they’ll prove the impossible and win the money Everdil’s family badly needs. But tracking a monster, especially one nobody’s been able to catch, proves trickier than Everdil expected. 

With each new adventure, Everdil seems to create more problems with her friends and family than she solves. In the end, she has to hope that her brave, foolish actions will ultimately make things right with everyone, including Bigfoot.


Jessica – author

Patterson-Gimlin Sasquatch image and Jessica’s dog, JoJo 

Jessica, what first sparked the idea for this book?


I’ve always been intrigued by cryptid tales, and it was after watching the Patterson-Gimlin film that I looked over and felt like Bigfoot was lurking in my living room.

It was just my old terrier, JoJo, staring at me—she resembles a mini-Sasquatch.

The experience fired up my imagination and I knew I wanted to write story featuring Bigfoot with a twist of course.

(As an aside, the Patterson-Gimlin film is now over 50 years old, and folks are still debating if it is real Bigfoot footage or not!)

Have you had a Bigfoot encounter?


I can now say that I’ve eaten Bigfoot!

The amazingly-talented Akiko White created a Bigfoot cake for the book release party.

Baby Bigfoot created by Akiko White
(see creation video at the bottom of this post)

I did spend some time out in Uncertain, Texas and searched for Bigfoot while hiking and exploring the area. I smelled some skunk-like odors in the air that made me think that there was certainly the possibility that Bigfoot was lurking around a woodsy corner.

Scenes from Uncertain, Texas

How do you navigate that fine line between spooky fun and too scary?

This seemed to come naturally for me because I tend to get spooked easily when it comes to scary books and movies. My imagination seems to run overtime (even while I’m sleeping)!

After writing the first draft, I layered in extra adventure and upped the stakes as well as the spooky fun aspects of the story. I enjoy writing, and I love the revision process…most of the time.


Do you have any writing tips to offer?


Gayleen & Jessica at Texas Library Association conference

My path from idea to publication took about seven years.

If I were to go through the whole process again, I would sit down and create a detailed outline that would offer direction yet still leave much room for creativity during the actual writing process. The story lacked much shape in the earlier drafts.

So, advice? I would say find a process that helps you as a writer to be the most efficient, and spend the time getting your manuscript in the best shape possible.

Keep fighting for your story even if there are some bumps along the path! I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book.

I noticed you’ve done a lot of travel and school visits to promote this book. How do you balance promotion/writing/being a mom?

My background is in education, and before my full-time writing days and being a stay-at-home mom, I was a teacher. I love spending time in the classroom and in various libraries to get kids fired up about reading and writing!

It feels like such a gift to be able to travel around Texas as well as out of state to inspire and be inspired! When booking various events, I try to be as mindful of writing deadlines as possible as well as various happenings with my daughter, though life certainly happens.

I’ve learned to write on the go as much as possible, and I’ve gotten much better about asking for help when needed. I’m grateful for such caring family and friends as well as my understanding daughter!
 
Madeline Smoot – editor/publisher

Jessica (left) and Madeline at  BookPeople
for the launch of Uncertain Summer.

What appealed to you about this story?

There are so many wonderful aspects to Uncertain Summer.

I loved the adventure and mystery surrounding the cryptid. I liked how the characters were relatable.

I thought Jessica had crafted a dynamic book that would appeal to a large number of kids for various reasons.

Could you tell us a little about CBAY and how your acquisition process works?

Like most publishers, we are initially approached by authors or agents with a query.

In an effort to avoid becoming overwhelmed, CBAY is rarely open to unsolicited submissions. However, if authors have met me at a workshop, conference, SCBWI meeting, etc or if they are referred to me by a CBAY author or some other professional acquaintance, I am willing to consider their query.

If the query looks promising, I’ll request the full manuscript. From there I consider each season’s list and any holes I may have, and I will also look at the financial side for each potential title. 
If it is a book I wouldn’t mind reading at least eight times, and if the numbers work out, I’ll then make an offer and hopefully acquire it.

This is exactly how it worked for Uncertain Summer. Jessica is a veteran author, and her book was in excellent shape.

However, I primarily work with debut authors, and often their books needs some revising before I’ll make an offer. I generally only make an offer on books that are ready (or very close to ready) for the market.

Uncertain Summer interior illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

Uncertain Summer has lovely interior illustrations that enhance the story, something we don’t always see in MG books. How do you decide if you’re going to include additional illustrations? Is this something you see as a developing trend in MG?

Younger middle grade often has some illustrations, and I personally have always been a fan of illustrations used in the chapter headers. A famous example of this would be all of the small spot illustrations at the beginning of each Harry Potter chapter.

I am more likely to have interior illustrations if I have hired an illustrator to produce the cover artwork than if I used stock illustrations for the cover.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

How do you select an illustrator?


I rely more on stock images rather than illustrators for many of our projects, but I do enjoy getting to work with an illustrator when the project calls for it.

Every illustrator I have ever worked with is one that was referred to me by a trusted source. In each case I had a vague stylistic idea of what I wanted the book to convey, and then I hired the illustrator with a similar aesthetic.

What else do you have out/coming up?

In the spring we have our “Princess” season with two middle grade novels and one YA anthology where all the books feature a princess.

Once Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak debuts in April and revolves around a princess forced into hiding with her family when their country experiences a revolution. 

The second book, Royal Trouble: The Sinister Regent by Hope Erica Schultz follows a princess and her royal cousins and friends as they try to thwart a plot against their respective crowns. 
Finally, Perilous Princesses is a 10-story anthology with contributions by various authors where the princesses aren’t in danger—they are the danger. Includes stories by Susan Bianculli, Lori Bond, Alison Ching, Steve DuBois, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Ameria Lewis, Christine Marciniak, Kath Boyd Marsh, Hope Erica Schultz, and Madeline Smoot.



Cynsational Notes

Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (Milkweed, 2005), winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009), a Quick Picks Nomination and Cynsational Book of 2009, as well as Calli (Milkweed Editions 2011),  a 2013 Rainbow List Final Nomination and 2011 YALSA’s Readers’ Choice Booklist Nomination.

She’s published multiple chapter books for Rourke Educational Media including Brownies with Benjamin Franklin, Case of Foul Play on a School Day, and Runaway Robot.

She’s published also fiction and nonfiction with Heinemann, Pearson, Seedling Publications, Six Red Marbles, and a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children.

Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and previously instructed at the Institute of Children’s Literature and St. Edward’s University.

She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel.

She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two crazy dogs.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director for Children’s Books of Blooming Tree Press. She blogs about writing at Buried in the Slush Pile and is the author of several writing guides, including Story Slices: How to Make Story Plotting a Piece of Cake. 

Madeline lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, son, a cat, a dog, and more books than should fit in any normal person’s house.

See the Baby Bigfoot Cake by Akiko White

Cover Reveal: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime


By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Debut author Cate Berry interviews illustrator Charles Santoso about Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins, May 2018)

Cate: Hi, Charles! I’m here with Penguin and Tiny Shrimp to talk about—

Penguin: Hey, Charles! Love the cover, but what’s with the pajamas?

Tiny Shrimp: We don’t do bedtime, Charles. (Although I love my nightcap and I’m keeping it.)

Cate: Guys! Let’s slow down here! I want to talk about the cover for our new book Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (J’dore, Swoon, Applause!).

Charles: Hi, Cate! Hello, Penguin! Hello, Tiny Shrimp! Thank you for the kind words about my work.

Cate: You’re such a versatile illustrator. I’ve fan-girled over your books I Don’t Like Koala (by Sean Ferrell, Atheneum, 2015), Ida Always (by Caron Levis, Atheneum, 2016) and Peanut Butter and Brains (by Joe McGee, Abrams, 2015) just to name a few.

You don’t seem afraid to try new styles.

Can you talk about this as it relates to our book and the cover?

Charles: Yes, I’m weird like that. I always try different styles for different books I’m illustrating.

I try to “listen” to the story carefully and let my gut feelings guide me towards finding the right style for the book. I want to make sure the words and illustrations blend in and compliment each other as much as possible. It’s all about the story!

Cate: Yes! It’s always about the story! Hey, speaking of story, can we get a glimpse into the illustrator’s life and peek at your studio?

Penguin: Yes!

Tiny Shrimp: Ooooo, where the magic happens.

Charles: Here you go. My other pictures are unfortunately super messy.

Charles’s studio

Cate: Hey, don’t knock messy. I love how sly Penguin and Tiny Shrimp’s expressions are on the cover. There is so much there. They seem indignant—

Penguin: We are indignant. We’re not sleeping.

Tiny Shrimp: Dial back the big words, lady.

Charles: There you go, Cate! I told you they would evolve on their own!.

Cate: It sure seems so! The cover makes me laugh. When I teach, I like showing how humor is a mix of something serious with something silly. You have to find the balance. Does this come into play with illustrating for you?

Charles: I have to care about the characters. When I said that I “listened” to the story, I really meant knowing how both characters sound for me personally.

Both Penguin and Tiny Shrimp say things that might be funny to us but they are 100 percent sincere! So I have to make sure I’m portraying them genuinely— as close to their unique characters and personalities as I hear and see them in my mind.

Cate: That’s so neat. I love what you say about listening. I feel that’s true with the whole picture book making process. It’s like a duet at first, writer and illustrator. I’m writing and discovering these characters. And then you listen and have them come to life through your art. Then it’s a quartet when the editor and art director collaborate with us. Making picture books is so amazing.

Penguin: Hey, let’s get back to basics!

Tiny Shrimp: Did he ever answer about the pajamas?

Cate: Oh! You’re right, Tiny Shrimp! Let’s talk about those adorable red striped pajamas.

I love the entire color palette throughout the book. Can you talk a little about the choices you made?

Charles: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp love things that are fun! Full of energy! But, I did want them to go to sleep too, so I added more night colours to balance things out.

Cate: What else should we know about the cover?

Charles: The illustrations are done digitally but with the same attention to detail as I normally do with traditional media. It was time consuming, but I’m happy with the result.

Cate: I’d love to hear about something that’s unique to our book. Something you discovered along the way that shows up on the cover?

Charles: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp weren’t looking like they do now. I went and did lots and lots of explorations before finding the final look.

Cate: Did I miss anything else other than…

Penguin: Shhh! Don’t spill!

Tiny Shrimp: They have to read the book!

Charles: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cate… Ha!

But, yes! Go read the book when it’s out!

Cynsations Notes


Charles Santoso (Chao) loves drawing little things in his little journal and dreaming about funny, wondrous stories. He gathers inspiration from his childhood memories and curiosities he discovers in his everyday travels.

He has illustrated several picture books, including The Snurtch (Atheneum, 2016) and I Don’t Like Koala (Atheneum, 2015) – both written by Sean Ferrell, Ida, Always by Caron Levis  (Atheneum, 2016), Peanut Butter & Brains by Joe McGee (Abrams, 2015) and Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent by Jessica Young (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

He worked at Animal Logic as a concept artist/art director and was involved in various animated feature film and tv commercial projects.

His work has been exhibited in Sydney and also internationally in North America and France. He currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

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

Cate is an active member of SCBWI and the Austin children’s literature community.

She teaches numerous picture book classes at the Writing Barn, including the upcoming Perfecting the Picture Book II, starting January 8, 2018.

She lives in Austin with her husband and two children.

2017 Europolitan Con Portfolio Winner Interview: Ana Larrañaga

By Sanne Dufft

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: SCBWI Germany/Austria‘s Illustrator Coordinator Sanne Dufft interviewed Ana Larrañaga, a winner of the portfolio contest that took place at the SCBWI Europolitan Con in Belgium earlier this year. This is the second of two articles.

Ana Larrañaga was born in San Sebastian, Spain. She grew up in the country surrounded by a huge family and a lot of animals. After studying art, she went to Scotland with the intention of staying for only one summer to improve her English; she ended up staying in the U.K. for seven years and became a writer and illustrator for children’s books. 
She moved to New York and then to Germany, were she now lives with her family. Ana has written some books and illustrated a lot of them. She likes drawing, walking and singing.

It is my pleasure to interview Ana Larrañaga, second place winner of the Europolitan Portfolio Contest. I am lucky enough to live so close to her that we were able to do this interview in person at Ana’s work space and, as it was a beautiful Summer’s day, in her garden.


Once more, I’d like to give you my warmest congratulations on your win. Stephanie Amster, Editor and Art Director at Bloomsbury (U.K.) and Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers (U.S.) were the jury. 



In their address, they emphasized they had especially been looking for portfolios featuring work which would be ready to be published in both the U.K. and U.S. markets.

As a Spanish illustrator who has lived both in England and in New York and currently lives in Germany, have you been published yet on any of these markets?

Yes, I have been published in all these countries, although never directly in Germany. But my work has been translated for the German market several times.

Can you share some of your experiences?

My first work was published in Spain but the country where I really took off as an illustrator was the U.K. The United States was much later. It is great to work with all of them.

Feeling comfortable in the language you are working is crucial.


Would you say there’s a market you personally feel most comfortable with?

I couldn’t say. In the end, you deal with individuals. But in general, people in this business are very nice people. We do it because we all love children books and that makes it a very friendly environment.

Can you tell us a bit about the creation of your portfolio? How did you pick the artwork?

That was very difficult! We were supposed to choose no more than 12 pieces, selecting the right ones was very hard. In the end, you go with your gut feeling. I tried to choose pieces that I enjoyed creating.

Do you have a favourite piece? Can you tell us a little about this?

My favourite one is The Polar Bear because the boy riding it is my youngest son and he is wearing a sweater vest that I knitted for him. He wears it all the time. 



As I understand, you work mainly digitally, but start with hand-drawn pencil sketches. Would you tell us a bit about your creative process?

I do a lot of tiny sketches in scraps of paper. Some people have beautiful sketch books.

In my case, it can be a napkin or a shopping bill. Most of it is just doodles; but when I like a character, I scan it and blow it up. 

This way I discover new details and directions to follow. I also have a lot of self-made textures and patterns in a digital folder. I use them for collage too. When I am drawing time flies, is a bit like being in a trance. And then, in the end, I have something surprising even to myself.

What was your prize?

My prize is an online meeting with Laurent Linn, art director and designer of literature for children and young adults. 

Would you tell us a little bit about how that went? 
The interview with Laurent was great. I was very nervous about it but as soon as we started talking all my shyness evaporated, because he is so friendly. Laurent showed a real interest in helping me. Was extremely kind and helpful.

We went through my web page and he gave me very clear and professional advice on what changes would improve it (now I have to do those changes!) It was quite wonderful.

Thank you so much for this interview. It’s been wonderful talking to you! I look forward to seeing your joyful illustrations in lots of kids’ books in the future.


Cynsational Notes




Sanne Dufft was born in Darmstadt, Germany. 
She studied Art Therapy in Nürtingen, Germany, and worked with children with a variety of special needs (and special gifts) in Northern Ireland.

She has illustrated several picture books, and written one. 

Sanne lives with her husband and three children in beautiful Tübingen, in the South of Germany.

Special thanks to Cynsations reporter Angela Cerrito for coordinating the Europolitan Con Portfolio Winners interview series!

2017 Europolitan Con: Art Director Laurent Linn of Simon & Schuster

By Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez


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, collaborating 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 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 is Draw the Line (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016). 



Note: SCBWI Belgium Illustrator Coordinator Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez interviewed Laurent Linn. This is the fifth in a series of six articles about the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan Conference.


Laurent, can you share some of the many types of partnerships you’ve developed throughout your career?

Every aspect of what I’ve been involved in throughout my career has required partnering with others. I love creating characters and worlds, and in the ways I’ve done that (theater, TV, films, books, conferences) it’s always a collaboration, which makes it a richer experience.

With books, of course, the partnership I have with illustrators is essential and we’re able to bring our
individual expertise together for the best art for each particular book. I also work closely with editors, copyeditors, production people, and others at my publishing house to bring our books to life.

Laurent with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

And within the design group I work with, by sharing the projects we each design, we learn from each other and bounce off ideas – it’s essential to have a peer group to learn with (and have fun with!)

What is the importance of working together in the publishing journey for you?

We are creating stories and illustrated worlds that are bound in books and need to get out in the world and into readers’ hands. If we didn’t all work together, and respect the expertise and experience we each bring to the process, then we wouldn’t have any books at all. The very nature of making literature is a collaborative process, and it’s essential for us all to grow creatively and to make the best books possible.

I’m an author and illustrator myself, and without my writing group, agent, editor, designer, etc., my novel Draw The Line would never have seen the light of day (and wouldn’t be nearly as good.)

And, as an art director, working with illustrators is my joy, and helping solve artistic problems, encourage artists to grow, and directing the art to be the best it can be are the greatest things about collaboration.

I think many are curious to know how authors and illustrators work together and if there are any common challenges. Could you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes?

Actually, authors and illustrators don’t work together.

There are a few rare instances where they do, of course, but the vast majority of picture books are created without the author and illustrator ever meeting, which is a good thing. Here’s why: a picture book is a shared vision, and we want to be sure that both the writer and illustrator each have the freedom to bring their own vision to the book.

After we acquire a manuscript, I usually give it to the illustrator hired for that book without any art notes at all (unless the book is nonfiction, in which case art notes can be very important.) We hire an illustrator for their unique talents and the way they would interpret the story on their own.

Understandably, an author feels ownership of the story, but an illustrator must also feel ownership and not be hindered in any way from bringing their magic to the book. I have heard countless authors’ reactions after seeing the illustrations for their books, and they are always amazed at how the illustrator brought a vision and ideas to the book that the author could never have dreamed.

What comes first, the words or pictures?

If the writer is one person in the illustrator another person, then the words come first. The manuscript of a picture book comes to our publishing house first either from the writer or their agent.

After an editor acquires a manuscript, it is brought to the art department where I will look for an illustrator for that particular book. However, if the author and illustrator are the same person, there is no rule. Some creators sketch the concepts first and others write them first. Everyone is unique!

Laurent with Tomie dePaola

What advice can you give to authors and illustrators trying to make it into the market? Are there any common mistakes people make?

Certainly, there is no resource better then SCBWI! The organization is not only fantastic for the connections and vast information, but also for being a part of our community and allowing us to learn from each other. Everyone is at a different point in their careers and there is much to learn from what others have experienced.

Along those lines, peer groups can be fantastic. Whether a writing group or an illustration group, working out your craft with others who are doing the same thing can really help us grow.

As for common mistakes, I would say that educating yourself about how both the business and creative sides work before submitting art samples or manuscripts can make all the difference. Not only will you be submitting your art or stories in the correct ways, but it will save you much time and energy as well.


How can authors and illustrators learn from one another?

This may seem obvious, but the absolute best way without a doubt is to read and look at books! 


I’ve learned more from other authors and illustrators myself by reading their books and pouring over their illustrations than any other way. Of course, conferences are also fantastic because you get to hear about different experiences and personal journeys.

Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Brussels, Belgium. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the the Maryland Institute College of Art in Illustration and is currently pursuing a second degree in Advertising and Digital Design.

She writes and illustrates for children and serves as the illustrator coordinator for SCBWI Belgium.

When she’s not working her interests include traveling, learning languages and collecting illustrated chickens. Inspired by new faces and new places, she loves creating and ultimately living a life full of curiosity.

Authors, Editor & Illustrator Interview: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice)

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi are the co-authors of Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, illustrated by Yukata Houlette (Heyday, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Fred Korematsu liked listening to music on the radio, playing tennis, and hanging around with his friends—just like lots of other Americans. 


But everything changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941 and the government forced all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to distant prison camps. 


This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up.

Inspired by the award-winning book for adults Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi (Heyday, 2009), the Fighting for Justice series introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. 


The story of Fred Korematsu’s fight against discrimination explores the life of one courageous person who made the United States a fairer place for all Americans, and it encourages all of us to speak up for justice.


Today we welcome the co-authors, editor and illustrator to share with Cynsations readers a glimpse into the creative process behind the book.

Stan, can you talk about the inspiration behind the book and series?

Fred Korematsu

I wish I could claim credit for initiating the book and series, but they are the brainchildren of Heyday’s founder and retired publisher, Malcolm Margolin.

He thought a children’s version of Wherever There’s a Fight, the book I co-wrote with Elaine Elinson about the history of civil rights in California, would inspire kids.

That initial idea morphed into a plan for a series of books about civil liberties heroes and heroines.

Fred Korematsu is one of my heroes. So I’m delighted that the series is launching with his story.

He stood virtually alone against a powerful government he knew was violating the rights of Japanese Americans. His fight for justice was difficult. But he ultimately prevailed.

He dedicated the final decades of his life to ensuring that others would not suffer the same unfair discrimination Japanese Americans endured during World War II.

His story is all the more important now with threats to Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and LGBT people. Kids need to know that we can organize and fight against injustice.

Laura, white headband, seated far end of line, blockading
Lawrence Livermore Lab. She was arrested soon after. 

Laura, what inspired you to work on this project?

I was delighted to be asked to come on board!

Molly, our editor at Heyday, approached me and asked if I could get involved as a person with children’s book experience, to help Stan create a story pitched at our middle grade readership. It was a dream project for me.

I love that the book, and the series, focus on people who have fought for social justice and civil liberties in California history.

I grew up as the child of activist parents, and got involved in activism myself in middle school and high school, including getting arrested as part of anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid protests.

I learned from my family and from my peers, that my own happiness and well-being is connected to other people’s, and that when we fight for everyone’s rights, we make the whole world better.

I am so excited that we were able to create a book that will hopefully inspire young people today to feel like they can have a voice, and the power to speak up when they see something unfair.

We are in a time when basic civil liberties are being threatened and undermined.

I hope that our story will help kids to understand more about what happened to Fred Korematsu, and how 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were put in jail during WWII just for looking like the enemy.

This can help them to reflect on issues today — a potential registry of Muslim Americans along with the travel ban for people from predominently Muslim countries, anti-immigrant attitudes, and other forms of discrimination — and consider how they can have the power, and the ability, to speak up themselves.

Molly, how did the editorial process for this book work? Was it similar to other books you’d worked on or different?

I feel very fortunate to have been part of this project, working with a group of such thoughtful and caring creative people to share Fred Korematsu’s story.

As we built the book from the ground up, the editorial process was more collaborative than that of any other project I’ve worked on.

We spent many afternoons together talking about Fred’s experiences and how to best convey them to young readers, and it was nice that we all lived in the Bay Area and could brainstorm in person.

Stan and Laura did amazing work collaborating on the writing front, melding their different strengths, and Yutaka thought about illustrations that would complement the themes of each chapter, then beautifully realized them.

Meanwhile, we gathered photos, art works, news headlines, and other documents to help extend Fred’s story.

On a basic level, the challenge was helping readers understand and relate to Fred’s story, which
involves a complicated legal fight.

There was a constant balancing act of keeping things simple enough for our audience while presenting the complexity of topics accurately. Our conversations ranged from discussing how to talk about racism with this age group to how to present the fact that the U.S. government lied during Fred’s trial.

Through the lens of his story, we talked about many important and difficult subjects that are increasingly relevant today.

From the text to the visuals, our process involved discussing possibilities, trying out ideas and approaches, and gathering input.

We were grateful to have had the help and guidance of Fred’s children Karen and Ken Korematsu, local teachers and librarians, a focus group of fourth-grade students, and staff at several nonprofits and historical societies.

Slowly, the book began to take shape, coalescing more and more until it “came into its own” as the book it is today, a book that feels, to me, like a real community project, and one that will continue to expand beyond its covers as kids start to read and interact with it.

I hope readers are moved to have the same kinds of important conversations that we had while making the book, and that Fred’s example moves all of us to act when we see others treated unfairly.


Yutaka, what was your process for thinking about and creating the artwork?

I had never worked on a narrative project that involved so many drawings before, and honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed at first.

To try to make the project less daunting, I tried to plan as much as I could before diving too deep into any one drawing. Planning involved things like creating a color-palette, gathering reference images and trying to work out the compositions for as many of the rough sketches as I could.

The color-palette was inspired by kamishibai illustrations from the 40s and 50s.

Kamishibai, or ‘paper-theater’ was a popular Japanese form of storytelling for kids that took place outdoors. The illustrations for ‘kamishibai’ were intended to be eye-catching even from afar, so the colors often have a bright, pop-art feel to them. But many of the remaining ‘kamishibai’ from the 40s and 50s are a faded and worn out from heavy use in the outdoors. I was hoping this mix of bright and faded colors would subtly evoke an older time without feeling musty.

Because the story takes place in specific times and places, there were many reference images to find, like Fred’s old high school, barbershops from the 40s, and Tanforan. 

Molly and Diane from Heyday helped out a lot by giving me some reference books about life in the
internment camps. I was also inspired by the artworks of Miné Okubo and Chiura Obata, who were both imprisoned at Topaz.

I think that in any art-form, once you introduce more than one element, the relationship between the elements becomes impossible not to think about.

So it was important for me that the drawings worked well individually but also in relation to each other. When creating rough sketches, I tried to vary the compositions from one drawing to the next to try to make them flow together but also to not be too redundant.

Once most of the planning was done, I started work on the final drawings, which is the most fun. I used a drawing tablet for the line work and a combination of watercolors, color-pencil and Photoshop for coloring.


Cynsational Notes

Yutaka, Laura, Molly and Stan

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up received a starred review from Kirkus. “Written in free verse, Fred’s story engages in powerful bursts and shows how speaking out brings complex consequences. Enhanced with pictures and archival materials, well-researched and approachable historical essays interspersed throughout Fred’s account offer context, while Houlette’s reverent illustrations give humanity to Fred’s plight.”

Laura Atkins is an author, teacher and independent children’s book editor with more than 20 years editorial experience. She recently completed an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and also holds an MA in children’s literature from Roehampton University.

Stan Yogi managed development programs for the ACLU of Northern California for 14 years. In addition to Wherever There’s a Fight, he also coedited two literary anthologies. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, MELUS, Los Angeles Daily Journal and several anthologies.

Yutaka Houlette is a Japanese-American illustrator and front-end engineer based in Oakland, California. He designs and builds user interfaces for CommitChange, a fundraising platform for nonprofits and social good companies. His illustrations have also appeared in Smithsonian Magazine and Orion Magazine.

Molly Woodward is a freelance editor and the former children’s acquisitions editor at Heyday, an independent, nonprofit publisher. Heyday promotes widespread awareness and celebration of California’s many cultures, landscapes, and boundary-breaking ideas.

Insets in the book provide broader historical context, timelines, definitions
and questions for readers to reflect on their own contexts.

Guest Post: Carolyn Dee Flores on Achieving Deeper Color in Illustration Using Oil on Cardboard

By Carolyn Dee Flores
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Illustrators bear witness.

Nothing could be more important.

One hundred years from now, when someone wants to know what it was like to be a seven-year-old girl in New York City on her birthday – or what it was like to be a Mexican-American child growing up in Texas – they won’t go to a reference book and look it up. They will look at a picture.

Illustrators, we must:

See with our fingers.
See with our hands.
See with our pencils.
So much depends upon it.

The world “literally” depends upon it!

The process for the bilingual picture book – A Surprise for Teresita/Una Sorpresa Para Teresita, written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Arte Publico, 2016) – I knew I needed to concentrate on community. I looked at 10, 000 photographs of New York City. I’ve been to New York City before – so I tried to remember it and “breathe” it in.
A Surprise for Teresita is about a little girl in a Nuyorican (Puerto-Rican/New York) neighborhood.

I loved the idea of the tropical Puerto Rican culture splashed against the New York City buildings and brownstones.

I got to work immediately.

I made models from foamboard.

I ordered a snow cone machine.

I studied the difference between “snow cones”, “raspas”, and “piraguas.” Delicious!

It became obvious to me that my color palette was going to be “snow cones.”

But … there was a dilemma.

How to capture the intense color I needed, using only the mediums of pencil and watercolor?

The answer: I couldn’t.

I needed oil paint – the brilliant color of oil paint!

So … encouraged by my mentors – Caldecott winner Denise Fleming and Caldecott winner E.B. Lewis – I set out to create a new illustration process.

And, thankfully, it worked!

Here is what I did:

The Problem:

1. Oil paint takes five months to a year and a half to dry.

2. Oil paint on a “raw” surface, such as untreated cloth or cardboard, tends to bleed and is very difficult to control.

The Solution:

1. Liquin medium. “One stroke” at a time. I squeeze each tube of oil paint separately onto my palette. I dip my brush into each color. Then I dip it into the Liquin. I mix the colors as I paint, directly on the cardboard.

2. After each application, I clean the brush, and start again.

3. Similar to “watercolor technique,” I use the “cardboard” as my “white.” In the close-up of Teresita (below) – the highlights in Teresita’s hair are cardboard showing through.

4. As I paint, the oil seeps deep into the cardboard.

5. The cardboard remains wet for weeks “on the inside” – but the “skin” of the painting dries within four and a half hours! It is ready to scan immediately!

This process enabled me to paint A Surprise for Teresita without bleed, quickly, and using the saturated colors that I desperately wanted! All the difference in the world!

In Memory: Yumi Heo

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Yumi Heo by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Henry] Holt’s Laura Godwin shared this remembrance:

Yumi was extremely gracious, enthusiastic, and inquisitive,’ she said. ‘I loved the way she incorporated ‘mistakes’ into her art rather than erasing or deleting them.

“If she drew a squiggle where she hadn’t intended, it would show up in the final art as a tree or a rabbit or whatever struck her fancy. She was part artist, part magician—and always an inspiration.'”

Yumi Heo Memorial Fund from Go Fund Me. Peek:

“Please show your support in honor of internationally loved children’s book author and Illustrator and creator of Polka Dot Penguin Pottery, Yumi Heo.

“Your support will help continue two of Yumi’s dreams, the steady training of her daughter as a professional figure skater and the founding of a scholarship program to help students in Korea who have big dreams and little resources.”

Author-Illustrator Interview: Ambelin Kwaymullina on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The second of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.  

Our focus is on the creative life and process,
speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Yesterday, Ambelin spoke on ethics, the writing process and own voices.

We have children’s-YA literature and the law in common. That’s actually a pretty common combination here in the states. Why do you think there are so many people involved in both?

Well, I’ve had some of my law students suggest the law is so horribly dry that it drives people to being creative in order to escape its clutches (these are generally the students who are studying law because their parents thought it was a good idea).

But for me at least, I think the reason I studied law and the reason I write are the same. In both realms, I am seeking justice – and justice, in Aboriginal societies, generally equates to balance, not just between human beings but between all forms of life (and everything lives).

I write speculative fiction because I want to write about the possibility of defeating injustice; to write about the terrible things that were (and are) while imagining what could be.

The oppressive law I wrote about in the Tribe series divides people into three categories: those without an ability (Citizens); those with an ability (Illegals); and those whose ability is considered benign (Exempts).

This is not an invented law. It is based on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944, a piece of legislation that purported to offer Aboriginal people ‘citizenship’ by exempting us from racially-based restrictions that only applied to my ancestors in the first place because they were Aboriginal.

In the Tribe series, this law is ultimately defeated by an alliance of the marginalised and the privileged, and by a heroine whose power is to identify and sustain the connections between all life.

And in writing of connections, I am writing of something that is central to the law in Aboriginal legal systems where (at its broadest) law is the processes of living in the world that sustain the world.

You clearly articulate the impact of white privilege on writing and writers, noting the negative impact on the work of Native voices and POC voices. What would you say to those Native and POC writers who may find themselves angry, frustrated, hurt or discouraged by these dynamics?

First: it’s not you. Exclusion is not something you are inventing in your head and you are neither unlucky nor unworthy.

It helps in this context to form connections with other Indigenous writers as well as with writers of colour, LGBTI writers, and writers with a disability.

You are likely to hear stories of authors getting similar comments across different contexts (e.g: you’re not writing to the Indigenous experience … this story is too Asian … gay books don’t sell … we’ve already published a ‘disability book’ this year).

It matters to have a network of people with whom to share both the good and bad experiences; and perhaps most importantly, to understand that you are not alone.

Second, never forget how to laugh. Some of the comments I’ve listed above have been part of the experience of other writers that they’ve laughed about with me – not because these comments are not discriminatory and hurtful, but because laughter has always been one of the ways in which marginalised peoples have dealt with pain.

Third, define success in your own terms. We all know what ‘success’ is supposed to be in literary industry terms: book sales and/or critical acclaim (preferably both). I’m not saying we shouldn’t aspire to that. But I also think that if marginalised writers define our success solely in the terms set by an industry that consistently privileges white, straight, cis-gendered people who don’t have a disability, we are also buying into an underlying lie.

The lie is that if we can just prove we are good enough we will be treated equally. But once equality has to be earned, it is no longer equality.

So I think it’s important that each of us define success according to what matters to us – and for me, it’s being a person that my ancestors would be proud of.

Book sales wouldn’t overly interest them. But honouring who they were, and who I am; treating cultural knowledge with respect; helping other Indigenous writers whenever and wherever I can – these are the kinds of things they’d be concerned about.

Fourth: be hopeful. I am. I locate my hope in people, and there are many, many people working towards a world in which all voices have an equal opportunity to speak and all stories are equally heard.

I think change will come, and in the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a global community of voices, marginalised and privilege alike, that are speaking out for justice.

While you don’t feel it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous writers to reflect your community in first person or deep third, you are open to them writing secondary characters. Why does your opinion differ depending on how centered the character’s perspective is in the story?

Ambelin’s desk

I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous people to speak as if they are Indigenous, especially given the operation of privilege which means that non-Indigenous voices will be heard in a way that Indigenous voices are not.

For me, writing from an ‘outsider’ perspective (so not in first or deep third) is to respect boundaries; to accept there are limits on what we can know of others and how we should represent others in our own work.

When I write of experiences of marginalisation not my own, I do it from an outsider perspective – reflecting that this is much as I can understand and that understanding may of course be wrong; I am not suggesting that I know what it is to see the world from an ‘insider’ view of a group to which I don’t belong. I think the spaces must be created for everyone to speak to their own worlds, and I want to be part of making those spaces a reality.

What advice do you have for non-Indigenous writers in crafting those secondary characters?

I think something you’ve said is the best place to start – you’ve spoken of the need for writers to read 100 books by Indigenous people before writing about us.

I agree. No one should be writing an Indigenous character without being familiar with Indigenous stories (not the ones told about us but the ones told by us).

It’s also important to ensure that any stories people are reading are ethically published because there is a vast body of Indigenous stories that were taken by anthropologists and others and are now in the public domain without the informed consent (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the Indigenous peoples concerned.

The easiest way to check that a story is appropriately published is to see who holds the copyright; where Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their own stories it is at least some indication that they control the text.

In addition to reading stories, I’d say, become familiar with representation issues. Engage with the online dialogue happening around representation and children’s literature as it relates to Indigenous peoples. There are no shortage of voices speaking in this space.

And finally: words spoken about marginalised peoples have a weight and a cost. But if you are not a member of that group, then it’s a weight that you don’t carry and a cost that you don’t pay.

So don’t measure the impact of your words by how they will be read by people like you. Measure them by how they’ll be read by the people you’re writing about.

How did you learn your craft as a writer and illustrator?

By doing! I have no formal training in writing or illustration. But nor do a lot of Australian Indigenous writers and illustrators, and we have been storytellers for thousands of years.

So to learn craft I look to the work of Indigenous writers and artists, both within Australia and elsewhere, as well as to the ancient teachings of my people.

What inspired you to direct your talents toward creating stories for young readers?

In my YA series, I was writing about a superhero, so it had to be about a teenager. I don’t believe grown ups have it in us to save the world, because we are spectacularly failing to do so.

But in the young I see all the hope for the future – they are more interconnected, quick to embrace new ideas, and passionate about fighting anything they perceive as an injustice.

They’re also more honest, especially the children for whom I write picture books. When they like a book, they write me lovely letters telling me how they sleep with the book under their pillow and begging me to write more. When they don’t like it they’re equally forthright.

People ask sometimes whether its difficult as an author to deal with bad reviews, to which I say: try writing for six-year-olds. Every once in a while, children send me letters about one or the other of my picture books that begin something like this: “My teacher made me read your book. I didn’t like it.”

I’ve had a few of these letters that went on for ten pages or more, and since that length is like War and Peace from a six-year-old, it means I’ve had kids hate my work enough to send me the child equivalent of Tolstoy.

Adverse reviews from grown-ups are nothing in comparison.



What was your initial inspiration for The Tribe series?

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press

My brother Blaze. He came up to me one day and said, “I’ve got an awesome title for a book. It’s called The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.”

I said, “That’s a pretty good title – what’s the story?’

To which Blaze replied, “Oh, there’s no story. Just the name, and I can’t be bothered writing it so I’m giving to you.”

Having bestowed the title of the novel upon me, he wandered off, leaving me to start thinking about the story. (And for anyone who’s read any of the Tribe series, the character of Jaz is very like my brother Blaze).

What were the challenges—literary, research, psychological and logistical—of bringing the stories to life?

I think the primary challenge is this: in so many ways, I wasn’t writing fiction. A post-apocalyptic world is not a fantasy for Indigenous peoples; the colonial apocalypse has already happened and much of The Tribe series is drawn from Australian colonial history.

Much of it too is drawn from the experiences of my ancestors and that is why hope runs so strongly through the narrative. They held on to hope through hard, cruel times when all their choices were taken away from them.

Indigenous peoples are so often spoken of as victims and I certainly don’t wish to minimise the suffering and the multi-generational trauma inflicted upon us by the colonial project. But the very fact that the Indigenous peoples of the world survived determined efforts to destroy us demonstrates our great strength.

I think the ability to hold onto hope is part of that strength and its something I try to honour.

You’ve created several picture books with Sally Morgan. Could you tell us about your work together?

Ambelin with her creative family

So, Sally is my mum. I’ve also done books with my two brothers, Blaze and Zeke, and the four of us have written together as a family. We’re all authors and artists, and we always give each other an honest opinion – sometimes this results in one of us storming off (usually me or Zeke, we’re both excellent stormers).

Generally, once we’ve had a chance to think about the criticism we come creeping sheepishly back and agree that yes, actually, that particular portion of the narrative (which we were previously so proud of) does indeed need more work.

I think from the outside our working process probably looks chaotic; we all talk at the same time and over each other; generally, the person with the best story gets to hold the floor until they get boring and someone else interrupts. If you want a place in the conversation in my family, you have to be prepared to earn it.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m working on three YA novels right now, but the one I’ll finish first is a book I’m writing with my brother Zeke.

It’s a mystery with fantasy elements that’s told from the perspective of three Indigenous female protagonists. It’s been a difficult book to write in places because terrible things happen in it, but its ultimately a story about the power of young Indigenous women and how they find their way home.