Intern Insights: Highlights of SCBWI LA 2018

Lin Oliver interviews Lois Lowry at SCBWI L.A. Conference

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In August, I attended my very first SCBWI international summer conference. It was truly an amazing experience, but also a bit overwhelming with nearly 1,200 people in attendance.

Thankfully, we all share a love of children’s books, making it much easier to talk with people than typical social situations.

I came home with both inspirational and practical advice, and have a few highlights to share.

By far the most magical aspect of the conference was SCBWI Co-founder and Executive Director Lin Oliver’s lunchtime chat with Lois Lowry. She thoughtfully reflected on her 40-year career with humor and humility as she addressed questions many of us who create for children continually ask ourselves.

When The Giver (Houghton Mifflin, 1993) was published, some people thought the subject was too dark for a children’s book. One website even called her “the Antichrist.”

None of it changed Lowry’s philosophy about what topics should be covered in children’s literature: dark subjects exist in life and need to be dealt with and written about with sensitivity.

“I don’t think there’s anything that shouldn’t be written about,” she said. 

Lowry also talked about the book’s genesis. Her father’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease made her think deeply about memories and ask the question, “what if there were a way to manipulate human memory to forget pain?”

Like so many writers, Lowry admitted she wonders if she’ll have another good idea and also mentioned writing “a book that was unpublishable (but we won’t dwell on that.).” Even her casual asides are full of sage wisdom!

Her next book, On the Horizon, is due out in 2020. It addresses the familiar theme of human connections in a global way, exploring our relationships to each other around the world.

She gave an example of global connections, explaining how she discovered at a 1994 awards ceremony that she and author/illustrator Allen Say lived in the same Japanese town following World War II. They had seen one another, but never had a conversation or discovered the connection, until winning the Newbery and Caldecott awards in the same year.

An interesting thread I found in several of keynotes were references to music.

Daniel José Older used The Killers’ 2003 song Mr. Brightside to illustrate a number of writing insights:

  • the importance of a good beginning 
  • “good books are made of bad decisions” 
  • trust the reader 
  • earn your metaphors 
  • end the story when the story is over
  • “words are supposed to sound good when you put them together”
  • He urged everyone to read their work out loud before submitting it.

My volunteer duty at the conference was to assist authors Deborah Heiligman and Deborah Halverson during the autograph party. So much fun chatting with the Deborahs and those getting books signed!

Lynda Mullaly Hunt talked about vulnerability being a double-edged sword and how The Last Song, written by Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John was the catalyst for her to open up to a fellow teacher who ended up becoming a mentor in several aspects of life and writing.

Brian Pinkney played the drums on stage and talked about how drumming and dreaming helped him discover the text for Max Found Two Sticks (Simon & Schuster, 1994). Napping as part of the creative process sounds too good to pass up!

Andrea Davis Pinkney starts each day by walking up and spending 30 minutes with her eyes closed thinking about things that make her happy. Then, because writers write every single day, she writes from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. before exercising and heading off to her other job as editor at Scholastic.

Other creative advice came from Mike Curato: “Make things that make you smile” and eat cake, and ice cream. He went on to say, making a book is about discovering who we are.

During the agent panel, Jenny Bent offered a bit of advice in wake of recent events: request publishing contracts with split payments, so the publisher sends royalties to both creators and agents, rather than all funds going to the literary agency first.

In addition to the keynotes, I also met some fabulous people during the breakouts and social events.

Illustrators Manelle Oliphant and Gladys Jose, both new members of their SCBWI Regional Teams. Manelle is the illustrator coordinator in Utah/Southern Idaho, while Gladys is assistant regional advisor in Florida.

SCBWI co-founder and Executive Director Lin Oliver and SCBWI board member Arthur A. Levine of Scholastic.
I was very excited to meet Cynsations Reporters Angela Cerrito, (Europe) and Christopher Cheng
 (Asia, Australia & New Zeland). 

Guest Interview: Lin Oliver on the Global Future of Children’s Literature

By Tioka Tokedira
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 & Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: To wrap up Cynsations coverage of the 2018 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Tioka Tokedira, Regional Adviser for SCBWI France, talks with SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver about trends in publishing for children and young adults.




In today’s digital world, in what ways do you see the rights of authors and illustrators and readers expanding, becoming more global? Are there any words of caution that you’d offer? And what makes you optimistic? 

Years ago, there was concern that screens would replace books in children’s lives. This has not proved to be true. The book continues to thrive, even in a world when there is so much digital competition for children’s attention. There is no replacing the experience of a parent reading a book to a child, or of a child snuggling in bed with a book.

The digital world does provide us with tremendous opportunities to promote our books and help them be discovered by readers. As digital markets and formats expand, creators must make sure to arm themselves with knowledge of digital rights so that our intellectual property is always within our control.

You’ve met with authors and illustrators and publishing professionals all over the world. What have you come across that seems to be universal? 

Lin signing in the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

I believe that we all love our work. I have literally never met anyone involved in children’s publishing that doesn’t feel lucky to be in this profession.

It is obviously so important in shaping the ideas, values, hearts and minds of the next generation.

We don’t have to search for meaning, it is right there in our daily work.


What vision did you have for SCBWI when you and Steve (Mooser) started the association? What are some of the dreams that you have for its future? 

I don’t think we ever projected that SCBWI would become the world-wide force that it is today. A surprise, and very gratifying outcome, is the sense of community and friendship that exists among our members.

The SCBWI is much more than a professional organization, it is truly a very bonded community of friends, where people support each other personally and professionally. I could never have dreamed that the strength of these friendships would be so powerful.

For the future, I want our members to continue to feel those bonds, to know that they are in the midst of kindred spirits. And my hope, too, is that SCBWI will become a unified voice of children’s book creators, supporting a vision of our society that is peaceful, diverse and representative of all cultures.

There are so many issues that writers and illustrators are facing today. Is there one in particular that you’d like to address?

Lin and Kwame Alexander at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Diversity is on everyone’s mind, and for good reason.

As people, we are trying to build a world culture of acceptance, of appreciation of differences, of freedom of expression.

We want all children to see themselves reflected in literature. This is a big goal, but a crucial one. 

Each of us can contribute in our own way, by authentically expressing our own experiences and by supporting others who are doing the same thing.

A second issue we are all contending with is the effect of digital communication and social media on our ability to get and process information and feelings.

I think we are only now beginning to realize how the digital age is affecting our ability to gather information, to process what is true and what is false, and to interact with people and ideas in a personal and meaningful way.

We want to use technology to improve the human condition, and yet due to the pervasive and intrusive nature of social media, I believe we are now in danger of tampering with what is the essence of our humanity, the person-to-person interaction.

You’ve been immersed in the children’s literature world for a long time. Can you share a piece of wisdom that might help a writer or illustrator through their moments of doubt? 

Henry Winkler and Lin

Make sure your work comes from the heart.

If you try to write to a trend or to the marketplace, you will always be disappointed.

If you are creating something for children that reflects what you truly believe, and values that are central to you, your passion for that process will carry you through moments of doubt and frustration.

It’s inevitable that one generation creates the stories for the next. What do you think the books that we are creating today convey to young people? 

I hope that we are communicating the need to honor individual differences and choices, with an emphasis on celebrating rather than rejecting what is unique about each of us.

I hope our stories today honestly reflect the problems of our society, and explore ways we can be better.

Past eras have often tried to present to children a cleaned-up vision of the world, sweeping the problems and difficulties under the table in an effort to preserve children’s “innocence.”

But I think this generation of children’s book creators is more willing to call out problems where they see them, and provide hope that is tempered by reality.

I believe we are in a golden age right now, and that the books being written for children and young adults are outstanding examples of enduring literature.

Cynsational Notes

Lin Oliver is a prolific children’s book author. With Henry Winkler, she writes The New York Times bestselling book series, Hank Zipzer: World’s Best Underachiever (Grosset & Dunlap) Their chapter book series, Here’s Hank (Penguin Workshop), is also a New York Times bestseller.

Her two collections of poetry, both illustrated by Tomie dePaola, are the highly praised Little Poems for Tiny Ears (Nancy Paulsen), and the newly released Steppin’Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times (Nancy Paulsen).

Her newest work is a chapter book series, The Fantastic Frame (Grosset & Dunlap), five illustrated adventures set in the world’s great paintings.

Lin is the co-founder and Executive Director of SCBWI, a world-wide organization of over 25,000 writers and illustrators of children’s books. She is a recipient of the prestigious Christopher Award and the Eric Carle Mentor Award. Find Lin on Twitter or on Instagram.

Tioka Tokedira has been the SCBWI France Regional Advisor since 2007 and was one of the organizers for the first Europolitan Conference.

Tioka loves helping others tell their stories. She’s worked as a teacher, writing festival coordinator, literacy consultant for international governments, and documentary television producer.

When she’s not emailing the SCBWI France Board in the middle of the night about their next great event, she’s a YA acquisitions reader and trying her hand at writing series fiction for a book packager in London.

SCBWI Books for Readers Increases Book Access

Omar Bah, director of the Refugee Dream Center
with Lin Oliver, SCBWI executive director

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Back in April I interviewed Lin Oliver, executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators about the organization’s new initiative: Books for Readers.

“In the U.S., many low-income communities have as few as 1 book per 300 children. We as an organization would like to help change this,” she said. “With our initiative, we can advance our organization’s mission as children’s book creators and literacy advocates, and help increase access to books for kids in desperate need of them. It’s a natural fit!”

Recently, the two organizations selected by a sub-committee of the SCBWI Board of Advisors received the first donation of new books: the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, Rhode Island and the Kinship House in Portland, Oregon.

At both celebrations, authors and illustrators took part in demonstrations, storytimes, crafts, refreshments and book distribution. Books were donated for each organization’s lending library and one book was given to every child to take home. 
“We hope that by giving books to these children we can help build their dreams,” Lin said. “Every child deserves books and dreams!”

Illustrator Jannie Ho assists at the illustration station.

The Refugee Dream Center is a post-resettlement refugee agency. It offers referrals, social level
assistance, and skills development such as English language education for adults, health promotion and cultural orientation, youth mentoring, and case management.

In addition, the Refugee Dream Center is a strong advocacy agency for the rights of refugees.

Books received by the Refugee Dream Center will outfit a classroom library for its ESL program and promote the center’s goal to help refugees work towards self-sufficiency and integration.

In addition, each child in attendance got their own book to take home.

“Unlike most book-to-reader relationships, these books will be the first books that our children will read in their new language, that will assist them with their English mastery, and that will help them become part of their new culture—and feel part of it, too!” said Kara Skaling, Program Coordinator of the Refugee Dream Center.

The Kinship House provides outpatient mental health services to foster and adopted children and their families. The books gave a boost to Kinship’s lending library and became the first books to keep for many of the children they serve.

“Many of our children have lived lives most of us can’t imagine. These books will bring light, restore a piece of their childhood, and offer them the joy many families take for granted!” said Melissa Smith-Hohnstein, LCSW and Clinical Director of Kinship House.

SCBWI members and staff gathered to celebrate the Books for Readers donation to the Refugee Dream Center.

The Books for Readers celebration also included dinner.

SCBWI Initiative: Lin Oliver on Books For Readers

By Gayleen Rabakukk

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators recently announced a new initiative: Books for Readers. To learn how this program would get books into the hands of more young readers, I interviewed SCBWI’s Executive Director Lin Oliver.

So, each region will be nominating an organization, and then the SCBWI Board of Advisors and staff will pick one or two organizations that will receive the books, right?

Most of our SCBWI regions have been doing book drives for local organizations for a long time. The idea for SCBWI Books for Readers came from our desire to join our regions’ individual efforts to make a greater national and worldwide impact on the lives of readers in need. 

This initiative will advance our mission, as an organization of children’s book creators and literacy advocates, to place good books in the hands of all children.

Our regions will nominate organizations from their local communities. A selection committee made up of members of our Board of Advisors will select two recipients who will receive a library of books from SCBWI authors and illustrators, along with a big celebration party for the kids who are receiving the books.

We always want kids to associate books with a joyful experience. Presently, our members are in the process of nominating their top causes or organizations that are in need of books. The selection committee will begin their deliberations at the end of this month.

Can you tell us some of the factors the selection committee will be considering?


The SCBWI Books For Readers selection committee will choose two organizations or causes, based on their immediate need for books, and their ability to benefit from receiving a large donation of children’s books.

The collected books will be curated prior to the donation based on the type and number of books desired. Surplus books will be donated to other causes and/organizations who were nominated.

Tell us about the logistical aspects of this – members send their books to SCBWI Headquarters in L.A., then what? Have you rented a warehouse to store them? 


We are asking all interested SCBWI members to send no more than three copies of each of their books to our SCBWI HQ in LA. We will be renting a storage unit to house the books until we deliver them to the selected recipients.

The announcement mentioned, “soon to be out-of-print titles that could be donated instead of being pulped or remaindered.” Have any publishers stepped up to contribute their remainders to this effort, or should individual authors initiate this conversation directly with their editors or marketing staff?

We’ve made a change where this point is concerned. In order to make this a finely curated shipment of books to the recipients, we will not be taking large numbers of books either through remainders or those that will be pulped.

The mission of the Books For Readers initiative includes promoting SCBWI authors, illustrators and their books; can you tell me more about that aspect? What sort of promotion do you envision? 

Participating members’ names will be printed in an official SCBWI Books For Readers program, and all members are encouraged to attend the distribution events!

There will also be extensive publicity and promotional efforts surrounding the book drive, the donors and donations, and the distribution and celebration events on a national and regional level.

These efforts will focus on shining a light on the crucial need to increase book access for readers in need worldwide, to spotlight our donor members and their books, and to highlight SCBWI as a professional organization of book authors, illustrators, and literacy advocates.

Supporting literacy efforts seems like a natural fit for the book creators of SCBWI (our Austin region does a much smaller version of this – collecting books at our holiday party and donating them to a local organization) Has the larger organization been involved in an effort like this before? Is it something you hope to make an annual event?

Yes, yes, and yes!


Yes, it is a natural and organic fit. We create books for readers. There are so many kids who are in need of books, and we’d like to help change that. Yes, it is our first literacy initiative, and Yes, we plan to make this an annual event.

For more information, you can visit SCBWI Books For Readers. Thanks for your interest, for your help in spreading the word, and for all you do for children’s literature and our community!

Cynsations Notes


Nominate an organization from your region before the April 30 deadline.

Lin Oliver is the co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For much of her career, she was an executive in the film and television industry, including being the Executive Vice President of MCA Universal Studios for over 12 years. She is the writer and executive producer of over 300 episodes of television and three feature films directed at the family audience.

During her career in film and television, she served as Executive Director of the SCBWI as a volunteer spending nights and weekends and vacations in the service of SCBWI while earning her living in filmed entertainment.

Since 2000, she has not only led the SCBWI as Executive Director but simultaneously has pursued her career as a children’s book author, publishing more than 35 books for children including a best-selling series about a child with learning differences.

She also manages staff and personnel matters, establishes programs with partner organizations (such as First Book or We Need Diverse Books or The American Library Association) and oversees much of the work of the regional advisors.  She has a BA in English from the University of California, Berkley, a Masters in Educational Psychology from UCLA, and has completed course work for an doctorate in Education from UCLA. She is recognized as a leading voice in promoting literacy and children’s literature.