2017 Europolitan Con Portfolio Winner Interview: Ana Larrañaga

By Sanne Dufft

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

Can you share some of your experiences?

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

Feeling comfortable in the language you are working is crucial.


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

What was your prize?

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

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

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

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


Cynsational Notes




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

She has illustrated several picture books, and written one. 

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

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

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

By Catherine Coe

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

And, Chris, what drew you to Penny?


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Chris’ work space in his Dean Clough Mills studio 

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes


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

Elisabeth Norton

2017 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Authors Angela Cerrito & Susanne Gervay

By Tioka Tokedira

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Note: Angela and Susanne were interviewed by SCBWI France Regional Advisor Tioka Tokedira about the upcoming Europolitan Conference. This is the fourth in a series of six articles.


Angela Cerrito

Angela Cerrito is an author and a playwright whose work explores issues of identity and cultural perceptions. Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House, 2015), was named a Best Children’s Book of the Year by The Guardian, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Prior to publication, The Safest Lie was awarded the Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant from SCBWI which supported interviews and historical research in Warsaw Poland. She volunteers as the Assistant International Advisor for SCBWI.

In addition to writing, Angela is always eager to speak to students about writing, research and the child rescues from the Warsaw ghetto.

Awarded an Order of Australia, Susanne Gervay is recognized for her writing on social justice. An award winning short story writer, she is widely published in literary journals and anthologies including the Indian-Australian, Fear Factor, Terror Incognito (PanMacmillan, 2009) alongside Sir Salman Rushdie and Thomas Keneally.

Susanne Gervay

Her books are translated into many languages and include her young adult Butterflies (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2011) recognized as Outstanding Youth Literature on Disability and rite-of-passage anti-bullying I Am Jack books (Kane/Miller Book Publishers) which have been adapted into a play touring Australia and the United States.

Susanne’s picture books address disability, inclusion, multiculturalism, while Elephants Have Wings (illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Ford Street Publishing, 2014) engages with peace, in development as an animation.

Susanne’s books are endorsed by Room to Read, Cancer Council, Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Variety, Children’s Hospital Westmead, Life Education and many organizations.

An acclaimed international speaker, Susanne is Regional Advisor SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand, Writer Ambassador for Room to Read and Books in Home, patron Monkey Baa Theatre, former Chair of NSW Writers Centre, Australia Day Ambassador.



Susanne, can you describe your dream partnership?

Susanne: My dream partnership is a mature, professional relationship with my publisher. Ideally it is a relationship where we work together not only on the crafting of the novel, but the promotions and marketing.

Barriers to that relationship at the beginning of your career, are the imbalance. The publisher holds the power over your manuscript, from acceptance of the work, editorial direction, delivery, marketing and sales. As a consequence, it made me voiceless and the relationship was one sided.

There was also a disconnection in the process of what you can do. Will the publisher approve? Will they work with you? You also do not understand the drivers in the publishing house. The Publishing house may decide to cut their list, or increase their list. They may decide to submit you to festivals to speak or not. They may decide to promote your book or not. It is like working in the dark and falling into holes that are a mighty struggle to climb out of.

So why do you value this relationship?

When I began working with my publisher, I knew nothing. With my first book, I was unimportant in the scale of author status. I did not realise that authors were allocated positions of priority depending on brand, potential sales and awards.

My relationship changed over the years, with new books being accepted, higher profile and putting in a great deal of work in supporting my books. My publisher became my voice in the publishing house, participating in the development of story ideas, and the direction of my career.

Angela: A dream partnership for me is finding someone who will push me to make my writing better. It has changed, if I’m honest (and what’s the point if we’re not honest, right?)

Early on I was seeking praise. I joined critique groups and sent my work off to critique partners over the internet simply seeking positive feedback. I wanted someone –anyone- to say, “You can write!” or “This is great!” or “I want to read more of your work.”

The way this has changed for me is when I received a professional critique at an SCBWI conference and I realized that the editor didn’t understand my story. At a very basic level she didn’t get it. And it was my fault. My POV was weak and the writing was really weak.

Responsibility hit me like a ton of bricks. Because, if a reader can’t understand my story, there is only one person responsible in that equation. It was a powerful lesson for me. It is my responsibility to write in such a way that the reader, any reader, will understand.

What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned from one of your partners?

Angela: This was really interesting for me. I remember hearing Susan Jeffers talk at an SCBWI conference. She said that one of her best mentors actually got into her art.

Got into it as in he said, “Not that way. Do it like this…” Then he dipped a brush in paint and swished it around her canvas, changing it. This surprised me to no end –that a mentor would do such a thing and that she said it was what she needed and it made all the difference. (Aside: I’m not an artist, but I can only imagine.)

Well, I had a similar and very valuable surprise at yet another SCBWI critique session. This time it was with Stephen Roxborough. He showed me the pages and said simply. “Don’t do this. Don’t write like this.” And struck a line through many, many, many, many of my words in that sample.

I know myself and I tend to overwrite. So the strikethrough wasn’t such a surprise, but his word choices were. This was an individualized lesson in tightening prose. Reading it again –anew—without the extra words was very powerful for me. It’s a lesson I try to re-live every time I revise.

Susanne: The most surprising thing I have learnt is that even the most successful creator, is torn by doubts. The support of partners and community becomes more important than publication at times.

Can you tell us about one of those moments of doubt?

Susanne: I always thought writing would become easier, but it doesn’t. I finish a chapter and think that I can’t write another one. But in the end, I do.

I am writing a new children’s novel called ‘Louie at the Hughie’ at this moment. I have written 20,000 words and have stopped. There is another 10,000 words that I must write to complete the journey, but I am torn by doubt. The novel is so important to me, as it is set in The Hughenden Hotel, my Sydney family hotel and Centennial Parklands across the road. My children grew up in the hotel and for 25 years it has been integral to my life.

The hotel has just been sold and as I go through the seven stages of grief, I have been unable to write. I am now reaching acceptance and I will write again. Regain my belief in my work. Life always melds with writing. At times, it inspires me to race ahead. At other times, it makes me reflect. At other times, it makes me doubt that I can write.

What kind of partner are you to other writers, and why?

Angela: This question has really brought to light how many people I am a partner to with my writing. For books this includes my agent, my editor and publisher as well as readers.

For plays this extends to the directors, actors and production crew who dedicate so much time and talent to bring a play to the stage, as well as the audience. I feel the best partner I can be as a writer is honest and responsive. I’m always learning.

I’m also a partner in SCBWI, of course. As the Assistant International Advisor, I hope to be a valuable resource to SCBWI members worldwide. For years the focus was bringing awareness about international chapters, publishers, awards and opportunities to members of the U.S. and answering questions from members outside the U.S. about the US market.

Now this is more of a two-way conversation thanks SCBWI’s new initiatives such as translators (Avery Udagawa SCBWI’s Translator Coordinator), Spanish Language efforts expanding from the Spain and Mexico chapters to the U.S. (LaCometa SCBWI’s Spanish Language Bulletin put out by Judy Goldman, RA Mexico and Melana Alzu, SCBWI’s Spanish Language Coordinator) and members all over the world eager to participate in the Bologna Illustrator’s Gallery and SCBWI Bologna’s Digital Catalogue.

Susanne: As a partner in SCBWI, I am committed to the children’s book community. It is integral to my creative life and is one of the important strands in my days. I support many authors and illustrators and help them in their careers. It has brought me great pleasure to see new writers and illustrators reach publication and more.

Susanne with editor
of student paper in Istanbul

As a partner with the publishing industry in Australia, I support initiatives such as Public and Educational Lending Rights where authors are paid each year by the government for books in libraries. I meet industry bodies such as the Australian Society of Authors to gain benefits for SCBWI members. I work with publishers to shares their knowledge with the SCBWI community here.

It has connected me with extraordinary creators and the publishing industry and I love it.

As a partner with my publisher(s), it is about friendship, sharing of knowledge, development of my own creative work. I meet for dinner, coffee, socially and professionally.


How has SCBWI been a valued partner to you?

Angela: How much time do you have?

SCBWI has been my education in writing for children, in writing really. I’m very fortunate to have found SCBWI early on when I was searching for writing opportunities and learning the market.

Susanne: SCBWI is extraordinary. As a novice writer, I was three years in the wilderness. I had no idea about how to enter this career. It was painful and filled with rejection and dead ends.

Angela: It’s pretty amazing how much you learn from SCBWI. When you start reading the Bulletin, going to conferences and meeting mentors. They key is that they combine craft based education with professional information and submission opportunities. There’s so much to learn!

Susanne: SCBWI is truly the light. It gives information, friendship, support, guidance and more. It is like a safe place to enter the changeable world of publication. I love my SCBWI community and the talented, funny, amazing authors and illustrators who partner me in my creative life.



Susanne and Angela, thank you for sharing your thoughts on partnerships with us today.

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.

She currently reviews books for Hachette Livre.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Translator Laura Watkinson

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Translator Laura Watkinson founded the Dutch chapter of the SCBWI. She also translates books into English, from Dutch, Italian and German. Her literary interests vary and her projects range from children’s picture books to adult novels and comics.

Her translation of Bibi Dumon Tak’s Mikis and the Donkey, illustrated by Philip Hopman (Eerdman’s), won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award 2015 for a translated children’s book.

In 2012, her translation of another one of Bibi Dumon Tak’s books, Soldier Bear for Eerdmans, also illustrated by Philip Hopman, also won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award, and in 2014 she won the ALA’s Batchelder Award with her translation of Mister Orange by Truus Matti (Enchanted Lion Books).

On top of that, her translation of The War within These Walls by Aline Sax, with illustrations by Caryl Strzelecki (Eerdmans), was named one of the three Batchelder Honor Books 2014. The latter book had already won the National Jewish Book Award and the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Laura’s translation of the Dutch children’s classic The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt for Pushkin Children’s Books has been well reviewed in the U.K.

Laura’s part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Welcome, Laura! I am so happy that you could join us for this interview. Let me start with a big hoorah! You must be thrilled to bits that another one of your translations won the ALA’s Mildred Batchelder Award. This time Bibi Dumon Tak’s Mikis and the Donkey. Your translations seem to strike a chord in the U.S. What is the significance of this award for you, for your translations and for Dutch children’s books?

Thanks, Mina! Yes, I couldn’t be more delighted that Bibi’s book won the Batchelder Award this year. So much of it is down to great little publishers with big ambitions and dedication to children’s literature from all over the world. The people at both Enchanted Lion and Eerdmans Books for Young Readers have fantastic taste and select great books for translation.

It’s wonderful that the ALA encourages books in translation with this award, as it means young readers have an opportunity to find out what children in other countries are reading. It’s all about bringing new and interesting voices to a different readership.

It’s not so much a question of exporting Dutch and Flemish culture, but more about the skill of these writers and illustrators. After all, Mikis and the Donkey was set in Greece, Soldier Bear was about a group of Polish soldiers and their mascot, and, while Mister Orange was about Dutch artist Mondrian, it was actually set in New York.

Great stories are universal. It’s wonderful to have that recognized by publishers and readers who are interested in books from other countries.

You translate not only from Dutch but also from German and Italian. You must have a love for languages. Could you tell us a little about that love?

I gravitated towards languages at school, partly because I had such enthusiastic language teachers, but also because I feel that there’s a certain magic in learning a new code and suddenly being able to communicate with other people by using different words and sounds. I went on to study languages at university.

As a translator, it’s great to be able to convey something of a country’s culture by transporting its literature into a new language and a new environment.

How did you decide on a career in translation?

I never really thought too hard about what sort of job I might have after university.

I was fascinated by the subject I was studying, so I enjoyed the experience of being a student and traveling to study abroad, and didn’t really focus too much on what might come next.

I later spent a few years as a language teacher and also did occasional translation jobs, but it took me a while before I moved into full-time translation.

As a student and a teacher, I lived in a variety of places in Europe: Aberdeen, London, Milan, and a number of different cities in Germany, before moving to The Hague and now Amsterdam.

As I moved around, I came to realize just how flexible translation and writing is as a career. If you have a laptop, you can take your job wherever you want. Translation’s really the ultimate in portable careers.

Most importantly, translation is a constant challenge and a puzzle, so there’s always something interesting going on. Every book and every text has its own quirks, and I enjoy the process of getting to know them and working out how to handle their intricacies.

You translate a wide range of books, from picture books to graphic novels and more literary texts. What type of books do you most enjoy translating? Are there particular challenges associated with different texts?

I particularly enjoy working on picture books, as they’re so much fun. I translated a couple of very nice titles for Book Island in New Zealand: Annemie Berebrouckx’s Bernie and Flora and Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie. Those two books are both bubbly and full of life, and they’re great tales for little ones who are new to stories. It’s important to keep the tone light and to make the story easy for parents to read aloud. So, with those translations, I’ll read them out loud to myself (and anyone else who will listen) over and over again.

It can be tricky when the words relate to some visual gag that’s elaborated in the illustrations. If it’s a joke that doesn’t work in English, you have to go back to the drawing board and create a new English version that matches what’s going on in the pictures. The illustrations are there to stay, so you have to craft the words accordingly, while respecting the spirit of the original text.

You translated a Dutch classic, Tonke Dragt’s De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King), which first came out in 1962 and is a book that generations of young Dutch readers grew up with. It took over 50 years for this book to be translated into English. Can you tell us a little about how Pushkin Press made the decision to publish the book, and how you came to translate it?

The Letter for the King really is a book that should have been translated into English a long time ago. As you say, it’s a classic in the Netherlands and, in 2004, it was even voted the best Dutch children’s book of the previous fifty years.

It had been translated into many other languages, but the English breakthrough somehow never came. Who knows why? It’s a classic for very good reasons.

The project finally took off when Pushkin Press’s new children’s imprint arrived on the scene. I gave Pushkin publisher Adam Freudenheim a sample and he was really enthusiastic, as were his children. So, finally, the book has made it to the U.K. It’s doing well there, and I’m hopeful that this will help lead to more children’s classics finally appearing in English translation.

In other news, I’m just working on the edits to the sequel of The Letter for the King. Expect to see The Secrets of the Wild Wood in bookshops this autumn…

You founded the Dutch chapter of the SCBWI in 2008. Why? And what do you think are the most important reasons to become a member? 

I had some friends who had joined the SCBWI in the U.K. and they were all so enthusiastic about the society that I really wanted to become a member too. For me, it was mainly about meeting other people who were interested in writing, illustrating and, of course, translating children’s books, so that we could encourage one another and pass on tips.

So that was my motivation for setting up the chapter in the Netherlands, and I still feel that those connections and that support and friendship are the most important reasons for joining.

We’ve had so much fun since then – and a lot of success stories within the group. It’s great to know that we’re connected to other children’s book lovers and publishing professionals all over the world, and that’s something I believe only the SCBWI can offer on such a scale.

The SCBWI has recently set up a new initiative for translators, led by Avery Udagawa. There’s a lively forum and plenty of enthusiasm for children’s books in translation. Let’s hope it leads to even more great books in translation!

Thanks so much to you, Mina, for taking over the group and providing so much energy and enthusiasm. Here’s to the next few years!

You can find out more about Laura Watkinson on her website, or follow her on Twitter.

Cynsational Notes

Mina Witteman
is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three
adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little
Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of
a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is
scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The
Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the
Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a
freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author & Diversity Advocate Marieke Nijkamp

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate.

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a queer time traveler.

In the midnight hours of the day, Marieke writes stories full of hope and heartbreak.

She is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™. (But all views are her own.)

Find her on Twitter @mariekeyn.

She was interviewed by Mina Witteman for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Could you tell us a little more about We Need Diverse Books?

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students.”

That is straight from our mission statement, but I feel it sums up who we are and what we do.

WNDB is an organization that works toward making children’s literature and children’s publishing more inclusive, through several programs.

We have our Walter Award, which recognizes the best diverse YA.

We have Walter Grants, to aid up-and-coming diverse writers.

We are creating a program to support publishing interns from marginalized backgrounds.

We also have our WNDB in the Classroom project, which brings diverse books and diverse authors to disadvantaged schools.

And honestly, I could go on.

We have many projects in the works and we are continuously looking for ways to promote and amplify diversity. And that’s what WNDB is too: a team of very, very passionate people, working hard to make change happen.

How has your experience and background prepared you to be effective with this diversity initiative?

As a queer, disabled person, diversity has always been foremost on my mind.

I have used a wheelchair and have been completely ignored. I have used a cane and have been stared at, laughed at, shouted at. I have been told that my love is a sin. I have been excluded. I have felt invisible. I have worked with LGBTQ teens who felt alone and scared and as if the world wasn’t for them. And far, far too often the rest of the world only reinforced that image.

So I know firsthand what discrimination and marginalization feels like. I know all about that anger and frustration and heartbreak and fear. And it’s those experiences that fuel me when working toward better representation, because I know we can do better and should do better. We owe it to ourselves and to each other, because when we work with each other instead of against each other, we can move mountains.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of bringing diversity into children’s literature?

Aside from institutionalized (and often internalized!) -isms, one of the most challenging aspects is the other side of that feeling that the world isn’t for us: the mindset that books (or any form of stories or art) about marginalized people are only for marginalized people.

Not just for wizards!
Not just for Hobbits!

It stems from the believe that white, straight, non-disabled, middle class is somehow the neutral and relatable to all, whereas “other” characters are only relatable to those readers who share their experiences.

This, of course, means Harry Potter is only of interest to wizards and witches, and The Lord of the Rings finds its audience among the vast populations of Hobbits.

I guess you can see how blatantly absurd it is.

The white, straight, non-disabled, middle class character is no more a neutral character than any. But unlike other characters, the difference is that this particular character has been normalized to the point of becoming the standard. And all of us who do not fit that standard do feel excluded, but are told that feeling is invalid. After all, it’s a neutral.

Or, we are taught that this neutral is somehow the character we ought to aspire to (relate to), which often includes the implicit or explicit belief that being other than is somehow lesser than.

It’s a highly problematic narrative. It’s why for so many disabled characters, the happily ever after involves being healed and becoming “normal” (or why their stories are being told through the point of view of non-disabled characters altogether). It’s why so many queer romances end in tragedy, while the straight romances don’t. It’s why too often, non-white characters are sidekicks (or villains!) not heroes.

Before becoming involved in We Need Diverse Books, you created the website DiversifYA. What prompted you and how can writers and illustrators use DiversifYA?

I created DiversifYA as a way to showcase the many different experiences around us, inside and outside our own communities. I wanted the interviews to show just how rich and varied our experiences are, but also how many of the struggles we face are inherently the same. I wanted to focus on those countless combinations of sameness and difference.

As a result, I think DiversifYA has turned into a great database of experiences. It is by no means a substitute for good research, but it is a starting point for anyone who would like to know more about the world around them.

You write for young adults and middle grade readers, both dark contemporary and epic fantasy. In what specific way has diversity shaped your writing?

In every way, and then some. Growing up, I read many hundreds of books per year, but I rarely saw myself represented in the stories I read. And in those few instances when I did, those reflections were anything but good. The “me”s I read about were only ever lessons for the main characters.

Marginalized characters were stereotypes, caricatures, or comic relief.

It left me a very lonely reader and a very determined writer.

From the very first story I wrote, writing has always been a way for me to explore the world and to create all those stories I couldn’t find. So my stories are populated with characters who were other than the neutral norm but still very much my normal.

Among the four point-of-view characters of my upcoming debut This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016), there are two queer girls, one of them Latina (and her brother is one of the other main characters).

The story I am working on next has genderqueer characters, disabled characters, all as a matter of course–because they reflect the world I live in.

What can we, writers and illustrators of children’s books, do to foster diversity in our work?

  • Think about the world you want in your stories. Who do you want to reflect? How inclusive do you want to be? What assumptions lie at the basis of your story, your world, your characters? What do the choices you make tell your intended audience?
  • Research, research, research. Whether you are part of the marginalized group you write about, but especially when you’re not, research, research, research. Be aware of the tropes. Be aware of the triggers. Talk to people with the same experience, don’t just talk about the experiences.
  • Listen and learn. I don’t believe the books we write exist in a vacuum. We can’t represent marginalized experiences without being aware of a long history of privilege and oppression, and we all have our internalized prejudices. 
  • We are probably going to screw up. I know I have in the past. I know I will in the future. If you end up making mistakes, make them gracefully. Listen to the people who point out what you did wrong and learn from that. It’s the only way we can improve, after all.

Cynsational Notes

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told from the perspective of four teens in a
high school held hostage who all have their own reasons to fear the boy
with the gun. It’s forthcoming from Sourcebooks.

Mina Witteman
is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three
adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little
Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of
a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is
scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The
Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the
Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Brooks Sherman


By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.

He represents picture books, fiction for young adult and middle-grade-readers, select literary and commercial adult fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of humor, pop culture, and narrative nonfiction.

He was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

You’ll be presenting in Amsterdam about using social media effectively. This is a topic most creators wrestle with at some point in their career.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA…

Does a writer have to be on social media these days?

No. It could be argued that it is more essential for nonfiction writers than for those who write fiction, as nonfiction usually requires author platform.

Here’s the thing: Social media can be useful to a writer, if they are good at it. If you are uncomfortable communicating via social media, it will show, and it will actually have a negative effect. So, if you absolutely loathe using Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, don’t do it!

That said, if you do want to learn how to use it, it can be an invaluable tool for following industry news and trends, as well as networking with other writers and industry professionals.

Do you think the target reader age influences whether a writer needs to be on social media? Is it more important for a writer of young adult fiction to be on social media than say, someone who illustrates picture books?

Again, I don’t think anyone needs to be on social media. I will say that the young adult reading and publishing communities are quite active on social media, so it’s certainly worth considering if you write in that area.

Also, I found my first picture book client, Sam Garton, on Twitter; he had created a Twitter profile for his character Otter that included a link to his website.

Once I clicked onto his site and saw his wonderful humor and amazing artwork, I decided to reach out to him to see if he was working on any picture books.

So if you are an illustrator, keep in mind that social media can be a great way to advertise your artwork and online portfolio.

What’s your advice to the writer who has no social media presence at the moment?

I would encourage every writer to at least explore a few social media platforms, to see if any of them hold appeal. Twitter is a different experience from Facebook, as are Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Try them out before you decide you don’t want to use them.

Before I got into publishing, I thought Twitter was a useless, narcissistic tool. Since I’ve become an agent, I’ve found it incredibly useful for keeping up with world news, publishing news, promoting my clients’ work, and building my own professional reputation.

Is there such a thing as too much social media presence?

I think so. While I think it’s great if writers and publishing professionals are active on social media, if you are too active, it can become exhausting for those who are following you, and you might turn people off.

Also, keep in mind that social media should be a tool, not a goal; if you are using it nonstop every day, when are you going to find the time for your real work? (Or your family, friends, and health?)

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see by writers/illustrators using social media?

The biggest mistake I see people make on social media is forgetting that everything they do is public.

Again, social media is a tool; don’t use it when your emotions are running high, or say, after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. Social media is an excellent way to build a public persona, but it is not you — it is the you that you want to share publicly.

Also, no need to overshare: you don’t need to share every single thought that pops into your head!

ON GRIPPING OPENINGS…


Can you give a couple of examples of what you think are gripping openings, and tell us why they work?

Certainly. Here is the opening line from my client Emma Trevayne’s middle-grade fantasy Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times:

“There are doorways, and there are doorways.” 

Right away, this sentence establishes atmosphere and style. There is a classic feel to this narration, and it compels you to keep reading.

There is also the opening line from my client Heidi Schulz’s middle-grade adventure Hook’s Revenge:

“There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.” 

Again, atmosphere and style are immediately apparent. There is some wonderfully wry humor here, and really, who doesn’t love reading about pirates?

The opening lines from my client Becky Albertalli’s young adult contemporary novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

“It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.” 

Here is an example of the story starting right away — as a reader, I definitely want to know what’s happening, because my interest has been piqued with the word “blackmailed.”

Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?


In the submissions you see, what percentage would you say grab you with their openings?

I receive somewhere between 50 to 100 queries (with opening pages) during an average week. Of these, I would say perhaps 10 percent of these intrigue me enough to request the full manuscript.

Do any of those stories with gripping openings lose you later?

Learn more!

Unfortunately, this does happen.

Sometimes it is simply a case of my loving the story’s premise but not connecting with the way the story is told.

Other times, it feels like the writer has worked very hard on the opening pages, but not as much on the rest of the manuscript.

While it is important for you to have a gripping opening, don’t forget to give the same attention to the rest of your story! Make sure your story is as tight and strong as possible before you query agents and editors; you want to put your best foot forward.

Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!

Elisabeth Norton was first
published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited
submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published
magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Marietta Zacker

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Marietta Zacker is an agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling.

She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.

Some of the books she is championing in 2015 include The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt (Scholastic), Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (Simon & Schuster), Just a Duck? by Carin Bramsen (Random House), The Struggles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell (Simon & Schuster), Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster), Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan (Hyperion).

Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Marietta is active on Twitter under the name @AgentZacker

She is interviewed on Cynsations today by Elisabeth Norton for SCBWI Europolitan conference

At Europolitan, you’ll be presenting “Finding Seeds of Gold” and you will present about how to determine if your work is ready to submit. From your point of view as an agent, are most of the submissions you receive “ready?” What would you say is the biggest difference between the submissions you see that are “ready” vs. those that are not?

I believe that most people truly believe that they are ready to submit when they do, but one of the questions I typically suggest writers and artists ask themselves is: “If someone were to offer to publish this text or illustration tomorrow, would I be proud of seeing it ‘as is’ on the pages of a book?”

Since essentially eradicating the need to print submissions in order to take to the post office, many send queries via e-mail to ‘test’ whether or not their work is good enough.

It’s true, the business is subjective and we have all passed on projects that went on to get published, but we read too many queries and can usually see, feel and read right through queries that, even if technically masterful, are missing the heart and the essence of the storytelling. And so we pass.

I highly recommend printing your work and holding it in your hands (whether it’s text or an illustration). It makes it more official, it’s tougher to convince yourself that it’s ready to go when it’s not, it also allows you to see the work in ways you never have before.

Hit PRINT first, review it, let it sit, review it again.

If you would be proud to see it published ‘as is’ the very next day, then go ahead and click SEND.

You’ll also be leading a session about “How and Why Characters Bloom” with a discussion of “character-driven” projects. Does “character-driven” mean “not action packed?” Would you say that “character-driven” projects are “quiet” projects? Where do “character-driven” projects fit in to today’s market landscape?

You’ll have to come to Amsterdam to get most of these answers.

In all seriousness, though, the key to remember is that there is no magic bullet. One description does not negate the other, nor should anyone feel that their work must be described in one singular way.

Ideally, there are multiple layers within each project and a variety of ways to describe any story. I firmly believe that the stories that resonate most with readers are ones that are as complex, as diverse and as multi-layered as the children and young adults who made the choice to keep the book open and continue to read and explore.

The theme of Europolitan 2015 is “Creativity in Bloom: Growing Beyond Boundaries,” and we will be exploring the topic of diversity in children’s literature. Some authors express reservations about writing diverse characters because they themselves are not a member of the same community or group that their character is. They fear backlash if, despite their best attempts at research and having proof-readers from the represented community, they get something “wrong.”


Do you have any thoughts as an agent for writers who may be anxious about getting diversity “wrong” in their project? 

You have to be humble, you have to be willing to learn, you have to be empathetic. You wouldn’t want someone writing an account of your life without getting to know you very well first, understanding the depth of the life you’ve lived, attempting to walk in your shoes and comprehending how you felt during key moments.

The same applies when writing about someone or a group of people whose life or lives you have not lived.

It’s not about getting the facts right (or certainly, what you believe to be the facts). It’s about scratching deep beneath the surface and understanding the things that links us as beings on this planet – the feelings and emotions that make us each individuals, the way we are affected by being de facto members of any one group.

Understanding that this world is diverse and believing that this makes the world a better place is simply not enough to include characters whose experiences are different from yours.

Being willing to empathize with others is the first step.

 Again, we’ll talk more in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!

Elisabeth Norton
was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited
submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published
magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Publisher Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island

Greet Pauwelijn

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Greet Pauwelijn is publisher with Book Island, as well as a translator.

True to Book Island’s bold dream of enriching children’s and adults’ lives in the English- and Dutch-language market, she publishes children’s books in English and Dutch.

She does this by bringing unique stories from Europe to the shores of New Zealand, then using only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books.

Book Island books are available in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands. Follow @bookislandbooks on Twitter.

Greet is part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Was there one book that started it all for you?

For me, it was really the ability to read my first words and sentences that started it all, not just one particular book. As soon as I had discovered the magic of reading, I immersed myself in books, devouring them voraciously. I must have been one of the very few children in the world who often got punished for reading too much.

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are too many titles that have influenced me to name them all. Having grown up in a country where literature in translation plays an important role, I was exposed to stories from all over the world, which instilled a desire to travel and explore in me.

However, as a child I particularly looked out for titles from Dutch publishing house Lemniscaat, who after all these decades, still publish the most amazing books.

We are very proud to have one of their recent titles on our list: The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.

You started your career as a translator of Polish, but after your move from Belgium to New Zealand you founded a children’s book publishing house. What inspired this change?

After relocating to New Zealand at the end of 2009, one of the first places I visited was the children’s section at the local library. It was quite a culture shock.

Back in Belgium we had been spoilt for choice when selecting books for our sons, then aged three and one. I immediately noticed that most of the beautiful picture books that European readers have access to were unavailable in the English-language market.

Most stories at the library were rhyming, poorly illustrated, with very predictable endings. I was desperate to find more challenging books for my kids and myself.

At that stage, I was still translating Polish literature for Belgian and Dutch publishers. I rapidly realised that due to the ongoing crisis in the book industry, this source of income was about to dry up.

Polish literature in translation had never been a gold mine for foreign publishers and they were becoming increasingly reluctant to publish more titles from Poland. I decided to look into adding English to my portfolio and soon after that I came across a children’s adventure novel by a well-known New Zealand author, Barbara Else.

Thanks to its universal story, it seemed just perfect for the Dutch-language market. I convinced a Belgian publisher to buy the rights to The Travelling Restaurant and this way I landed my first translation job from English.

While working on this title, I suddenly wished I hadn’t told the publisher in Flanders about this possible bestseller and had acquired the rights myself. Also, there were so many more foreign books out there that had been overlooked, so here was my chance.

That day I decided to become a children’s publisher and fill the gap that I had identified earlier.

To make it slightly more challenging I thought: why not publish in two languages, English and Dutch, at the same time?

Obviously, I knew very little about publishing and its challenges!


Book Island is based in New Zealand, but also active in the Dutch-language area – Belgium and The Netherlands. You publish both Dutch-language and English-language picture books. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the two?

The differences between the Dutch- and English-language market are significant, which makes our selection process quite challenging. Very few titles work well in both markets.

Quite often the content of European picture books (i.e. from the European continent) is not entirely acceptable or suitable for the English-language market, where there tend to be a lot more taboo topics.

The Dutch market is a lot more open-minded. The illustrations are generally also more sophisticated. More care has been attended to the design and production of the books.

Bookstores in the English-language market sell predominantly paperbacks, while our customers in Belgium and the Netherlands only want hardbacks.

For one of our latest titles, the two-way books Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! – Excuseer, heeft u soms een knipperlichtje gezien?/ Hup, konijntje! by Bernardo Carvalho, we had to design a new paperback edition for the English-language market, while the Dutch title was released as a hardback, like the original Portuguese edition. I will talk about these differences in more depth at the conference in Amsterdam.


How would you describe your house’s publishing focus? What kind of books do you love working on?

With Book Island, we want to share the treasures of children’s books in foreign languages with Dutch- and English-speaking readers.

When selecting new titles we particularly look for layered picture books. Each time you return to the book it will reveal a new layer, in the illustrations or the story. These layers make our books suitable for young and older readers alike, which is an important Book Island selection criterion. I like how Belgian ALMA winner Kitty Crowther compares such picture books with Russian nesting dolls.

We’re drawn to books that tackle quite difficult but very important topics. A perfect illustration is Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire (translated by David Colmer), a story about the enduring relationship between a little girl and her grandmother in the face of illness and aging.

We believe that the children of the 21st century are a lot brighter and more mature than we were at their age, hence we feel we need to publish titles that don’t dumb down their ability to understand and learn.

Our world has also become increasingly diverse, which should be reflected in books of all kinds.

We love stories with strong characters and a little twist. Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie (translated by Laura Watkinson), which is a gorgeously illustrated chapter book about reversed role models, is still one of our favourites. There’s also Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis and Pieter Gaudesaboos, a wonderfully absurd story about a little boy who thinks he’s very hungry and wants to eat a giant sandwich.

The illustrations in our titles are as important as the story, and if they don’t match 100 percent, we sadly have to reject the book. Sometimes we also have to turn down stunning books because they’re just not translatable.

You publish books in translation. Could you tell us how the acquisition and translation process works?

Once we’ve preselected new titles, we check with the original publishers whether the rights are still available for English and/or Dutch. Subsequently, we negotiate the royalty payments etc with them.

Once we’ve acquired the rights we immediately start the translation process.

Since the pages in a picture book hold very few sentences, which are supported by equally important illustrations, we need to pay attention to each single word. I love having long discussions with the translator about the meaning of one particular word. Every word has to be right.

Fortunately, we’re not translating novels, because we’d probably never publish them, still trying to change words here and there.

Editing is the next step. Editors are as important to us as translators and too often they don’t get mentioned. We’ve been working with Frith Williams who has an incredible eye for detail and a great feeling for rhythm.

Once we feel like the translation is about right we pour the text into the original files. Then we reassess the result in relation to the illustrations.

Often, we have to edit the text a couple more times before we’re entirely satisfied.

Finally, we send the finished PDF to the original publisher for approval.

Cynsational Notes

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

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2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Writing Coach Esther Hershenhorn

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Esther Hershenhorn is an award-winning Chicago children’s book author.

She coaches children’s book writers and teaches Children’s Book Writing at the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies and the Newberry Library.

Her recent titles include Txting Mama, Txting Baby (2013) and S Is For Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (2009)(both Sleeping Bear Press).

Regional Advisor Emeritus of SCBWI’s Illinois chapter, Esther also served two terms on SCBWI’s Board of Advisors. Esther blogs at Teaching Authors. She was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Your intensive at SCBWI Europolitan is titled Rx for Children’s Books Creators: Getting Your Stories Right. Can you tell us more about the idea of the Creator’s Story?

I’d been out and about for quite some time, learning and honing my craft, receiving more than my fair share of “admirable declines,” when I was fortunate to attend – three years in a row – the sadly-no-longer-available Vassar Children’s Book Publishing Program.

Each day, each session, each year, I chose the same seat: last row, right corner, next to the glass case that held a first edition of William Steig’s Brave Irene.

That last year, still unpublished, I was thinking about how much Irene and I had in common when the venerable instructor, publisher Barbara Lucas, spoke of The Universal Plotline – the Hero-dash-Heroine, moving forward in scenes of escalating disaster to fulfill a wish/realize a dream/solve a problem until, grown and changed, he or she returns home with something even better than what he or she first sought.

I literally smacked my forehead.

I was traveling the Universal Plotline! That was it!

The inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution would someday be mine.

There’s a good reason Christopher Vogler titled his book on mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters The Writer’s Journey.

As creatives we are often focused on honing our writing or illustration skills. It sounds like your workshop at Europolitan is going to take that to the next level. How do you think a Creator’s Story intersects with the stories they are creating?

As we creators toil to tell our good stories well, it’s good to remember just how in synch we are with our questing characters.

All of us are moving forward on plotlines both physical and emotional, driven by wants/needs/wishes; each of us is acting and re-acting, with accompanying emotions, to overcome the obstacles placed before us.

Award-winning author and superb teacher Marian Dane Bauer believes a writer needs to put his story into the story he’s telling if it’s ever to resound in his reader’s heart – and I agree, wholeheartedly.

Not the actual story, but the emotional import of the story. We strengthen our story’s underpinnings – and heart – when we’re in synch with our characters emotionally.

You are an active teacher, speaker and career coach. What are some of the common issues you find in the manuscripts submitted to you for feedback?

The first time I read a manuscript, I read on behalf of the intended reader – no matter the age. More times than not, the writing in the manuscript sings, and I want to go along, really and truly, but the chinks in the story’s logic push me away, forcing me to exit what John Gardner labeled the requisite continuous dream.

Simply put, the story has holes and I’m not buying it.

The Good News is: returning to a story’s characters to dig even deeper usually solves the problem.

Returning to a story’s characters also solves a second common story problem: the absence of an emotional plotline. There needs to be a reason why we care what happens next, why we want to live inside this story and travel along.

This is true for picture books, early readers, middle grade and YA fiction as well as nonfiction.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would that be?

My advice about craft: read like a writer and write like a reader.

My advice about the journey, because writing is just that: story gifts both the reader and the writer.

Cynsational Notes

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Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Editor Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo

By Dina von Lowenkraft
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Jill Santopolo is the author of the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Sparkle Spa series and the Follow Your Heart books.

She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a certificate in Intellectual Property Law from NYU.

In addition to writing, Jill is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a thesis advisor at The New School, and an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, where she helped develop the curriculum for the certificate program in Writing for Children.

 Jill has traveled all over the U.S.—and to Canada—to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. She was interviewed by Dina von Lowenkraft for the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan conference.

Greetings, Jill! Thank you so much for agreeing to stop by for this interview. I’ve always been intrigued by people, like yourself, who are both authors and industry professionals at the same time. How did you end up doing both?

I probably ended up doing both because I’m a little bit nuts…

Really, though, I wrote short stories my whole life and always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that “writer” was a hard career to pursue right out of college.

So, while I was in school I started interning at publishing companies in New York City. I totally fell in love with the editorial side of things, so decided to put writing aside and concentrate on becoming a children’s book editor.

After I’d been working in publishing for a few years, I started writing a YA novel after work and on the weekends, just to see if I could actually do it. The answer was “sort of”. I did write the novel, but it didn’t sell. It did, however, get me an agent.

And my second novel sold—along with a third I hadn’t written yet.

I was a little uncertain about whether or not I’d be able to write that third novel, and a colleague suggested applying to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults. I did, and I got in, and it cemented the idea that I wanted to keep writing novels for kids. But at the same time I discovered how much I truly loved editing books, too, so I kept doing both. (And kept loving both.)

Do you think that being a writer affects the way you edit (and vice versa)?

I don’t think it’s changed anything on grand scale, but now that I’ve experienced the process from both sides, I definitely do small things differently.

For example, as an editor, I give myself editorial letter deadlines and share them with my authors so they know when to expect my feedback. And as a writer, I stick to all my writing deadlines and jump in to help plan launch events and promotions when that makes sense.

What I do think had a huge affect on how I edit and how I write was getting an M.F.A.. Spending two years analyzing fiction and learning about craft made me, I think, a more thoughtful, confident editor and a more thoughtful, confident writer.

I know that at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam April 4 and April 5, one of your talks is on using theater games to improve your character development. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

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Of course. When I do author visits at schools, I always talk to the students about how pretending and storytelling are very similar—in one situation you’re acting out what it’s like to, say, be a turtle, and in the other you’re telling a story about what it’s like to be a turtle.

I think the same thing applies on a deeper level with acting and writing. I acted quite a bit from middle school through college, and I loved the way getting into character meant finding out more about the character than was written on the page.

I think that the same theater games that help actors discover details about their characters that aren’t in the script, also help writers to discover things about their characters that they haven’t yet written into their manuscripts, but that might deepen a character or speak to their motivation throughout the novel.

I think that sounds like a great tool and I can’t wait to participate in your workshop! I know you’re also going to be talking about how writers can look at their work through a sales or marketing lens. Why do you think that’s important?

I don’t necessarily think that it’s important while someone is first writing a novel, but I do think that it’s helpful to be able to encapsulate your story in one sentence or one paragraph, like you’d have to do if you were submitting to agents and editors and also after a book is published, if you’re going to be doing some marketing yourself.

I also think it’s important as far as expectations are concerned. Looking at similar titles and their sales tracks can give writers an idea of what their sales might look like. And thinking about an audience—along with those comp titles—can help writers figure out how to target their outreach once a book has been published and decide how much marketing and publicity they’d like to take on themselves.

The theme of the SCBWI Europolitan is about growing beyond boundaries, can you talk a little bit about diversity in books?

Like pretty much everyone in publishing now, I think that it’s important to publish novels with diverse themes, diverse characters, and diverse life experiences—and it’s something that I pay attention to when I’m working to balance my own piece of Philomel’s list.

Because I edited Atia Abawi’s novel The Secret Sky, which is set in contemporary Afghanistan, I got to go with Atia recently to a panel at NCTE about books set outside of the U.S., which is a piece of diversity that’s not always talked about quite as much.

It got me thinking more about the kids around the globe and the ways in which experiences and feelings are universal—and the ways in which they’re not. I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation at the SCBWI Europolitan (and to having many other exciting conversations as well!).

We’re so excited that you will be one of our faculty members and are looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam and continuing all these discussions!

I’m excited too!

Cynsational Notes

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on four continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Her debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in August 2013. She is repped by Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary.