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.

Guest Interview: Chris Cheng & Sarah Baker on Publishing Trends & Bologna 2018

By Melanie Rook Welfing
for SCBWI Bologna 2018
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

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




SCBWI Netherlands Regional Adviser Melanie Rook Welfing talks with SCBWI booth organizers Chris Cheng and Sarah Baker.

Chris Cheng…

Sarah Baker is the Director of Illustration and Artist Programs at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where she manages and develops the illustrator grants, awards and scholarships, advises and mentors SCBWI illustrator members, and serves as the designer and art director for the Bulletin and all other SCBWI publications.

Before coming to SCBWI, Sarah designed children’s books at Penguin Young Readers Group

Hi Chris and Sarah! Thank you both for participating in the 2018 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair interview series. 


Before we dive into SCBWI’s role, I’d like to ask about one of the bigger trends in children’s publishing. Chris, can you comment on reports saying the publishing industry in China is putting more emphasis on Chinese writers, instead of just seeking translated work? Is this having an impact on the amount of translated work, or is there room for both? 

Learn more about Chris Cheng.

Chris: China was the country of focus this year at Bologna and that market is booming.

China is definitely promoting Chinese writers and illustrators and their works. Some promote work in more traditional Chinese style (art) while others have entries that are very influenced by published work outside of China.

There are now quite a few new China-based competitions that are focused solely on Chinese-created work. These are being promoted to Chinese creators. Some of these are also open to international creators as well and the SCBWI will be promoting some of these as the time draws near for those initiatives.

At the same time as publishing their own Chinese-created and -themed work, Chinese publishers are seeking titles created in other countries that are suitable for both translation and to be printed in English. I talked to a number of publishers who wanted the original book – not for translation but to publish in English. And they were engaging work that was relevant to Chinese children. But they very much also wanted to have the titles originating in China with Chinese themes and creatives to be published in English-speaking countries.

Since our last attendance at Bologna in 2016 there were quite a few new Chinese publishers of children’s books. Some of these are publishing less traditional Chinese titles while others are publishing very traditional Chinese titles. There were also new publishers who publish solely for the Chinese education market as well.


What is the role of SCBWI at Bologna? Can you share a bit about the history of the SCBWI booth at Bologna, how has it changed, and plans for the future? 

Chris: SCBWI Bologna is all about showcasing the recently created PAL works of our global membership, whether they be authors or illustrators.

The first showcase, under the magical leadership of Erzsi Deàk, was held in 2004 in conjunction with a conference. That conference has now morphed into the Europolitan conference that is held in our non-Bologna years.

Our physical booth doubled in size in 2016. We also created our first digital catalogue that is now distributed to publishers in our global database.

Our showcase has always displayed the art from our illustrator members, but last year this evolved into a digital gallery that was judged by industry experts – the finalists were then on display on large panels having in our booth – providing not only an attractive appearance but also enticing publishers. 

Members were able to showcase their work at the booth, and the illustrators creating art were a huge draw. Some of our members seen creating works at the showcase were then snaffled up for publication.

There were presentations from SCBWI at the author and illustrator cafes at the fair – these are always hugely popular.

But our author members were not left out.

This year we created the Dueling Illustrators Manuscript contest, where members were able to submit an unpublished picture book manuscript.

These were then judged by Emma Ledbetter (senior editor, Atheneum), and the top six manuscripts were read aloud for our extremely popular Dueling Illustrators Competition.

Also new this year was a team creating our Social Media Presence. We had Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – all under the name of SCBWIBologna. Just search for #BBF18SCBWI and see what we were up to.

Our Bologna presence is always evolving, but crucial is the showcasing of our member’s recent PAL creations.

Learn more about Sarah Baker.

Sarah, you’ve participated in the Dueling Illustrators Competition that Chris mentioned. Can you tell us about that? 

Sarah: What I can tell you is it was very nerve-wracking!

Until we actually got started drawing, that is, and then it was so much fun.

I had never drawn in front of people live before, much less while being timed and competing with someone else.

But once we got started, it was an enjoyable challenge to quickly decide how to tackle each scene, and to just go with your gut and follow through with each idea, since there’s no time to change your mind.

It was also really fun to see how I and the other illustrator, Susan Eaddy, came up with different ideas on how to compose the scene and interpret the text.

It was great to watch the Dueling illustrators at the 2018 booth!

What are your roles on the SCBWI Bologna team? How do you work together? 

Chris Cheng’s notebook
(full of Bologna plans)

Chris: My role in our Bologna presence is to work with the team that presents the Bologna showcase. I coordinate many of the activities – I like spreadsheets and task lists – but the team creates Bologna.

We have an enormous number of emails swapping ideas and enhancing activities from previous fairs, and we also discuss the showcase at the New York and Los Angeles conferences. 

Sarah: This year, I got more involved with the logistics of the booth, and bringing along “swag” like totebags, buttons, and postcards.

There is a lot of planning beforehand, meetings at various conferences, and lots and lots of emails! At the fair, it’s so fun to experience how everyone helping out at the booth works so well with each other.

It’s a great opportunity for members of SCBWI from all around the world to meet face to face and get to know one another better. Everyone does a great job of supporting our members participating in the booth with showcases, as well as informing the international publishing world about SCBWI.

Why should a member of SCBWI go to Bologna? What are the benefits? Writers versus Illustrators? 

Sarah: Attending the Bologna Book Fair is an amazing opportunity for children’s book creators.

They can get a sense of the children’s book market worldwide, meet people from the industry, and get a huge dose of inspiration. It’s truly eye-opening to see all the books and publishers from around the world, and see that books and trends are different in various countries.

And for SCBWI members, visiting the fair during a year when the SCBWI booth is on (every other year) gives them a nice homebase. While visiting the fair is beneficial for anyone creating children’s books, there is a distinct focus on illustration.

It’s somewhat easier for illustrators to bring postcards and pass them around to people they meet, which can lead to all sorts of opportunities after the fair. A great benefit for SCBWI members is that they can be represented at the fair even if they aren’t attending, by participating in the SCBWI Bologna Rights Catalogue and Showcase.

What tips can you give to new attendees on navigating the fair?

Sarah: The fair is huge and can be very overwhelming!

Make sure you check out the schedule ahead of time and pick out which events, workshops, and interviews you don’t want to miss. Also, give yourself ample time to roam around freely and take it all in.

Don’t ignore the halls housing booths from countries and continents that are very foreign to you. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Also, check out this wonderful blog post by SCBWI Andy Musser for great tips on visiting the fair.

Thank you, Chris and Sarah, for your time and insight. I’m already looking forward to SCBWI Bologna 2020! 

Cynsational Notes

At the age of 12 Melanie Rook Welfing’s life ambition was to be part-time author, part-time roller skater. The skating dreams died, along with the ’80s hair, but the author dream lives on.

Melanie writes primarily for middle graders and has had stories published in Highlights and other magazines.

Originally from the west coast of Canada, Melanie now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two daughters.

She is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI in the Netherlands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tricky part?

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

Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley, dueling illustrators

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Emma and Zoë!

Zoë, how long have you been writing for children?

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

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

Zoë with her daughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from Zoë’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma, any last thoughts for our readers? 

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Elisabeth in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisabeth in the SCBWI booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neptune’s Fountain in Bologna

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

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

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

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

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

Elisabeth: In reverse order—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleen and Olga at the SCBWI booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ale shows her portfolio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olga doing live painting during her showcase.

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

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

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

Olga during the Duelling Illustrators event.

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

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

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

Duelling illustrators Paul O. Zelinsky and John Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookseller Interview: Nicoletta “Nico” Maldini of Libreria Trame Bookstore in Bologna, Italy.

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2018 and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

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


SCBWI Assistant International Adviser Angela Cerrito talks with Nicoletta “Nico” Maldini, a partner in the Libreria Trame Bookstore in the heart of Bologna, Italy. 

Tell us about Liberia Trame, what inspired you to open the bookstore?

I started working in a bookstore since 1990, after my second degree in liberal arts and many years in my father’s menswear store.

After working at three different companies, I decided to start a new business, together with two friends. I opened Trame in December 2005; it’s an independent bookstore with a selection of books for children and adults, open Mondays to Saturdays, and all December Sundays.



The SCBWI community recognizes Liberia Trame for the SCBWI dance parties during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What other events do you offer at the store?

We love our common SCBWI Biennial Dance party, but you are correct we have much more going on at Trame’s.
In 2017, we had 120 events in the store, mostly book signing with authors, and conferences about new books, novels, poetry or essays, and sometimes classics.

We also hosted seven exhibitions, photographs, or illustrations.
We have a resident reading group and collaborate with three more. Also, we collaborate with cultural associations and Bologna University. Last year, we supported with books or press conferences more than 80 events out of the store.

One of the many successes of Libreria Trame is the sense of community. Your newsletter promotes events bringing together people from literature, drama, all areas of the arts and politics. How have you managed to attract such a diverse group of patrons to the store?

I’ve always liked the opportunity to offer different occasions of encounters. I’ve been working for a public radio for more than 20 years, and I’ve just started, with a bunch of friends, a new web radio called Neu Radio. Books offer so many ideas and people like to join together for a good conversation and a glass of wine.

What advice do you have for anyone considering opening a bookstore in their home town?

Maybe I would suggest first to check if it’s possible to cooperate with an existing one, it being not an easy moment to start a new business. And to study deeply the location and the relation with the scholastic community, starting from children and families as these customers could guarantee a better life for the store.

Nico has always loved books

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I like cinema and music, classical jazz and rock. And, of course, I’m an early reader; I started at three and never stopped.

I’m a good eater, which being Italian is quite common, too.

Cynsational Notes

Nico Maldini is a partner in the Libreria Trame Bookstore, located at Via Goito 3/c, a side street of the Via Indipendenza.

Born in Bologna, she is a traveler and a book lover.

Angela Cerrito is an author and playwright.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House, 2015) was named a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book from the Association of Jewish Libraries, and received SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award.

She serves as the Assistant International Advisor for SCBWI and a co-organizer of SCBWI at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. She also is the Cynsations reporter for Europe.

This interview is part of the SCBWI Bologna Interview series coordinated by Elisabeth Norton, SCBWI Regional Advisor for Switzerland.

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.