Many thanks to my friend, Nancy Castaldo, for hosting the cover reveal of STRETCH TO THE SUN on her blog, Naturally Speaking. Nancy is a multi-award winning author of middle grade and early reader nonfiction and activity books. She’s also an environmental educator, naturalist, and photographer. In fact, many of her photographs are used in her books. Here are some of her most recent titles:

Let’s Go to the Fair! And by that I mean the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Part Duo.


Part one of this two-parter offered a small window into the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018. Now I want to focus on what it means for an individual creator to attend an event like this.

I guess I can only say what it meant to me as a first-timer. Hopefully something will resonate with you!
Herewith are my takeaways:

  1. POV: our world is only as big as our experience. After eleven focused years in the children’s book industry, I have a fairly decent feel for the US market. However, I learned at the Fair that many publishers outside of the US use very different illustration styles, make very unique books, and take what appear to be risks in illustration and content I never would have considered possible. Question: how can I/we push my work into fresh territories that I now see are possible? How can my work land on the front end of the curve?
  2. there are a. lot. of. books. being. published. I still can’t fully assimilate the vast worldwide industry of children’s book making and selling. This is exciting because it is a clear indication the market is robust. But it can also be paralyzing in that could there possibly be a story left untold? kind of way. Question: how can I/we create a story that is uniquely mine to tell? 
  3. foreign rights are important to the longevity of a book. They aren’t something to glaze over in your contract. (oops) I learned at the Fair that if the rights for your books aren’t sold soon after it launches, there may be a market for them later. For example, multi-published author Miranda Paul shared that her book about siblings, Mia Moves Out, was of interest to a Chinese publisher because China is now experiencing more families with siblings. Interesting, right?

    The pub house may have new buyers or may have changed their interests in general. Question: how can you be your own foreign rights advocate? Miranda held a showcase for her books and had reached out to possible foreign rights people in advance of the Fair. She had discussions with them at the Fair and if they expressed interest in a title, she passed their contact information on to her agent and/or publishing team.  Other SCBWI people made these kind of connections at the Fair and goodness, it was exciting! 

  4. engaging with people at the Fair is important. We never know where our engagement might lead. One friend was invited to speak at an event because she met the organizer at the Fair. Another had “interesting discussions” with an agent. Question: in what ways can I reach out and offer something memorable for new contacts to take with them? Bring your engaging bookmarks, business cards, and/or other small and easy to pack trinkets displaying your contact information to share. 
  5. once again, SCBWI offers safe harbor in a windy sea.  The stand is ready for action the moment the Fair opens and is available until it closes.  It’s a place to reconnect to old friends, make new ones, and at the end of the day, know that you are with your special people.  Question: how can I grow my circle of SCBWI friends and include these new people in my writing framework? SCBWI always makes a big world smaller and this is very apparent at the Fair. If you are putting off going because you won’t know anyone there, start your day at Stand 26 B 76.
  6. diverse perspectives make things much more interesting! I spent time with people from Australia, France, Spain, Switzerland, Singapore, and Poland. We chatted about our unique challenges and opportunities. Each conversation opened my eyes just a bit wider to the world outside my own. Question: what can I learn from other perspectives that might inform my own work? 

​There are so many ways in which this experience broadened my horizons. I hope you’ll put the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on your bucket list.

Ciao for now! 

Let’s Go to the Fair! And by that I mean the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Part Uno.


I’d seen pictures of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I expected it to be big. I expected a lot of people making foreign rights deals and of course, a lot of children’s books. But I never expected so much intensity around and respect for the art of creating books for children.

Every time I pushed the turnstile into the venue — called BolognaFiere — it was as if I’d left a typical world full of typical happenings and landed in a special place that was created only for and about children’s books. Every person there (approx 27,000+ of us) came because they wanted to know more, do bookmaking better, and/or explore what was possible. 


So what does it look like inside the Fair? Several very long and light filled-halls are chock-full of booths — or “stands” as they are called there — showcasing books and child-related products from all around the world. Ever wonder what the country Slovakia is publishing? Head to stand 22 C 4. Or want to see what the Scandinavian Publishing House views as its best new titles? That’s stand 26 A 68. Or maybe compare the illustration styles of the Cambridge School of Art (stand 25 B 110) with Changjiang Children’s Press (26 B 127)?


Here is a list of all the exhibitors and a map of the venue. Wow, right? 


Then there are “conferences” – short presentations/workshops/masterclasses on many, many topics such as illustration, packaging, apps, translation, toy design, etc. etc. This year, there were 250 different conferences, many presented in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and English. At one conference, I heard a translator who looked as Midwestern USA as person could but spoke with a beautiful command of Japanese. Really, one could keep busy just attending conferences. Here is a view from my… um…refueling station.  ​​

​The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s booth (stand 26 B 76) was a happening place and home base for book creators from around the world. Highlights were the Dueling Illustrator’s competition (in which two illustrators are read part of an unpublished manuscript and asked to draw an image for it on the spot, in front of an audience, in a short amount of time!) and showcases where SCBWI members shared their books and often, their art-making for visitors.

​Here is a Dueling Illustrator’s competition with intrepid SCBWI Advisory Board Member, Bologna Book Fair coordinator for SCBWI and author, Chris Cheng, reading the manuscript selection to two illustrators: 


Here is SCBWI Michigan co-Regional Advisor and author/illustrator, Leslie Helakoski, during her busy showcase.


​Also, the Fair celebrates the “best of” -– such as the best illustrations submitted for selection (displayed in the photo to the left) and gives out prestigious awards (Bolognarazgazzi Digital Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award, Silent Books Award, BOP – Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year, etc.). 

And just to keep things interesting, the Licensing Trade Fair happened simultaneously so we were treated to various life-sized licensed toys in our midst. 
Fascinating books are being made and sold in almost every corner of the Earth. If we believe, and I do, that children’s books often represent our current culture and our hopes for tomorrow, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is an opportunity to see our whole wide world under one roof. 

What does all this mean for a creator? For your own work? Scroll down for Part Duo. 

Are You on a Mission?

Janie Reinart over at GROG posted about creating our personal mission statement. This exercise seems like it could be a bit “woo-woo” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Following our path starts from knowing where we want to go. 

Here is my mission statement: to write stories that help children understand the world and their place in it, to exemplify a supportive, professional perspective, and to provide leadership and connection within the children’s literature community.

It’s a little wordy but it works for me.

If you don’t have a personal mission statement YET, take a couple of minutes to read Janine’s post. Create your statement. Then post it on GROG and here, too. Okay? That makes it real.

Remember, we can change our mission statements as our perspective changes. And it’s not graded or judged. This work is all for you.

Go on a mission. Yours.

How to Tackle Big Topics for Growing Thinkers: Nonfiction


Okay. I might be biased because Charlesbridge is publishing my forthcoming book STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH and I know firsthand they are an amazing team, but this post by Charlesbridge nonfiction senior editor Alyssa Mito Pusey is all-by-itself excellent. Getting to “I GET IT!”: Scaffolding in Nonfiction is shared on Charlesbridge’s Unabridged blog (a great place to visit, BTW). In this post, we learn four techniques for tackling big topics in children’s nonfiction. Many thanks, Alyssa and Charlesbridge.

“Why Don’t Agents Give Feedback?”


I follow agent Jessica Sinsheimer on Twitter and she offered this great behind-the-agent- curtain look at why (most) agents don’t give feedback (very often). (Parentheses are my own. Some agents do give feedback and some give it occasionally, but I certainly understand the spirit of Jessica’s thread.) 

Disclaimers: Settle in. This will take a bit to read but it’s important to understanding the industry so it’s worth it. And, forgive the wonky formatting. 
Jessica Sinsheimer @jsinsheim Ravenous reader, lazy gourmet, literary agent + cheese-obsessed human. Co-creator of #PubTalkTV#MSWL, Manuscript Wish List® + 
New York, NY
Joined April 2011
 Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim

So it’s very common for writers to ask why agents don’t give feedback. The answer, usually, is that we’re busy–but that’s hard to grasp on a concrete level. Today, the lovely and talented @BenFaulknerEd mentioned reading tons, and out of curiosity, I did the math to compare.

    • Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6
      So we get (I did the math awhile ago) an average of 39.98 queries a workday times 5 days = 2,158 pages/month from queries. I probably read an average of 2/10 of the included pages, so that’s 1 query + 2 pages times 2,158 = 6,474 pages/month.
    • With a 7.5% request rate (2.99/day times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks in month) = 59.97 manuscripts. If I read 20 pages each on average (keep in mind many are picture books), that’s 1,199.4 pages of requested material/month + 6,474 unrequested = 7,673.4 pages a month of submissions.
    • Now, I strongly suspect the 7.5 percent is high (this was calculated maybe two years ago?). But even say it’s 3 percent now, that’s 1.1994 requests a day, times 5 (M-F), times 4 (weeks) times 20 (average pages read) = 479.76 requested pages read/month.
    • So, yes, we are busy. No, we are not sitting here cackling like “Haha, I know exactly how to fix her manuscript, and I’m not telling her! Why? Because! Bwahahahaa!” Much as I receive a lot of correspondence to this effect.
    • I suspect a lot of agents have similar inboxes (I’ve heard everywhere from 10-50 average queries a day). Many probably have lower request rates (perhaps closer to 1-2%). Many have assistants, interns, teams. However, I suspect that 0% of agents enjoy making writers wait.

      Keep in mind that I don’t get all day to read submissions. I actually spend more time on clients, meetings, my own submissions, contracts, and the like. I’m pretty much reading during downtime–evenings, weekends, subway, train trips, plane trips, waiting in line.

      Things I could do to be faster (of course I’ve considered them!): 1) Not respond to queries. This would save about 30 seconds from each, times 39.98 times 5 (M-F) times 4 (weeks) divided by 60 (convert to minutes) = 399.8 minutes a month, or 6.6633 hours.

      2) Let readers make all of the query requesting decisions for me. Now, if you know me at all, you know I am waaaaayyyyyy too much of a control freak to let that happen. I read all queries myself.

      3) Manuscripts–same. 

      4) Drink more coffee, sleep less. I’m up to two coffees a day, one tea. Just tried the Starbucks app for the first time today (it was weird–too easy). I think that’s enough. Otherwise I’ll just run around all day. And bad things happen fast if I don’t sleep.

      5) Give Up Everything Fun And Just Be An Efficient Human, Dammit: Believe me, I’ve tried. Strangely, this makes me miserable and worse at my job. I do need some degree of happiness in my life to be able to function as a creative person–which an agent is. Always. So. That’s out. 

      So, that’s where I’m at. Do I still expect lots of “Agents are so mean because they don’t give feedback” emails? Yes. And the check-ins at three weeks? And the “I am so tired of agents being SO UNPROFESSIONAL and NOT GIVING ANY FEEDBACK” tweets? Yes. 

      And there’s one now. Cool.

      You may be asking, “Jessica! Why in the world are you doing side projects when you have all of this happening?” The answer is that, for me, it’s easier to keep moving. A change, for me, even if just a setting (office vs coworking space vs home) is more restorative than a rest.

      And I get genuine energy and pleasure out of connecting people. I think all agents do. Makes me feel like what I do is meaningful. And that means so much more than numbers could. 

      Keep in mind that there are a LOT of “Dear Sirs” and “I have published the next bestseller please take it on or else here’s my number” queries. At time of tweeting, I have 6 “Dear Sir/Madam,” 2 “Next bestseller,” and 1 “Next JK Rowling” queries waiting. Do I try to keep up? Yes! Do I achieve inbox zero? No! Inbox 100? No. Do I try to keep in touch about delays? Yes! Do I always manage to check in with everyone when things take a long time? Sadly, no. Am I constantly feeling guilt about making so many people wait? Yes. Yes, I am. 

    • Do I suspect some agents just manage to be faster through…magic? Better systems? Better coffee? Not sleeping? Working harder? Being better at life? Yes. Definitely. This is just where I’m at, now. Catch me in a few years, and things may be very different.
  1. New conversation
    • Replying to @jsinsheim @BenFaulknerEd Wonderful thread. I’ve however had only 1 unanswered question about all this. Perhaps cause I’ve hardly ever asked! And it’s this: with soooo much reading, doesn’t reading fatigue set in badly enough to color your judgement? Do you then respond well mostly to formulaic writing

      Jessica Sinsheimer‏ @jsinsheim Feb 6 The opposite, actually. I feel like I’m reading for voice, energy. A lot of things–unusual things, specific things too–make me go “Oh, I’ve seen five of those this month already.” But a query that feels like it’s alive on the page? Shockingly rare, and I love it.

What’s Your Path to Promotion?


You may know that my next book releases in October, 2018. I’ve been working on a publicity platform, discovering lots of neat ways to let folks know about the book and myself. However, I discovered that, though I’ve been very active in the children’s book industry for a decade (yikes)  and have promoted two other books, I know my newest book could use a fresh perspective.

​I was thrilled when my friend, colleague, and general smartypants gal Deb Gonzalez contacted me to be part of her new on-line publicity course suitable for published and prepublished authors and illustrators. Preparing for presenting my part of this course has helped me prepare my own publicity. That’s a lot of ‘p’ sounds but still, win, win!

Here are the pieces I know my publicity campaign needs. I need to:

  • utilize social media and digital resources in creative and authentic ways
  • develop and/or expand my reader community 
  • develop and/or expand my SCBWI and creator community and influencers I’ve come in contact with over the years
  • increase my connection with the school/library market

While I’m blessed to have tremendous support from my publisher, I’m fully aware that they have other authors that deserve their attention, too.

I desire all these things, and yet I have limited funds and time to devote to developing this campaign.

Where should I start? Where should anyone start? We need a plan, Stan! Let’s set some practical, affordable, and achievable goals. Let’s devise a strategy by asking guidance from professionals who know what to do. Let’s take some action! That’s what Path to Promotion: A Six-Week Online Book Publicity Course is all about.

Together, we will navigate our way down the Path to Promotion.

Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity preparation process, and to clarify steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. In this session, we’ll explore topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others.  At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the quest to make a splash in the world.

Here’s how the Path to Promotion 6-week course works:

  • On Monday of each week participants will access an audio interview featuring one of the Path to Promotion faculty members focusing on their area of expertise. In addition, they’ll access a handout and (look out, now) a homework assignment due on Wednesday of that week.
  • On Wednesday, participants will access a live webinar (affectionally known as The Debinar) during which they can connect with the featured faculty member by asking questions via live chat. The Debinar will be recorded for later viewing. Questions may be submitted in advance.
  • At the end of the course participants receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in the development of a practical, affordable, and effective promotional plan!

Some important registration and fee information:

  • Session run from Monday, May 14 until Wednesday, June 18
  • Early Bird Registration – $175 (opens March 1 – closes April 8)
  • Full Registration Rate – $200 (opens April 9 – closes May 7)
  • Spaces are limited

The Faculty list and their topics include:

  • Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy of Blue Slip Media present EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PUBLICITY, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

I’m so excited about this course. For you and for me. I’m going to learn from each of the faculty members. The topics are timely. I love the fact that the Path to Promotion coursework is interactive, flexible, and versatile – perfect for authors and illustrators, at what ever stage they may be in the quest for publication.
Join us, won’t you?

For more information, contact Deb Gonzales at [email protected].
 Deb’s Bio: Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects. She’s the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming non-fiction picture book Play Like a Girl: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). A transplanted Texan, Debbie now calls beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan home where she lives with her husband John and spunky pup, Missy. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

It’s Your (Book) Birthday! Or… Free Advertising for Your Book!


​Submissions are now open for the March 2018 edition of the Happy Book Birthday program.

This new SCBWI program invites all members to celebrate and promote their newly published work in the same month the book is released.

​From SCBWI: On the first Monday of each month, we will display all of the books together on our beautiful Book Birthday page and advertise them through our social media channels.

Each Book Birthday announcement will remain up on our site for two weeks. We hope that all of our traditionally and independently published members will take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate their achievement and launch their work into the book-buying community.

The first Book Birthday will be for all books published in February 2018, launching February 1.

We are currently accepting submissions for the March 2018 Book Birthday.

Only authors and illustrators with books published in March will be able to participate this month, but we will have Book Birthdays for every following month.

On February 5th, members with March books can start submitting their information. The deadline is February 20th, no exceptions.

Please gather the following information:
1.) Title of book
2.) Name of author and/or illustrator
3.) Image of book cover (.jpg or .png). Name the file the full title of your book, for example “What_Girls_Are_Made_Of.jpg”
4.) Summary or statement about your book, 25 words or less

Send this information to [email protected]


Want to see the January books? Click HERE!
Happy (Book) Birthday! 

You Just Might Get What You Need


Anyone who hangs around me long enough will hear me say, “You have to ask for what you want.”

I don’t mean this in a self-serving way. What I mean is that the universe is busy. There are lots of people and creatures and big things going on all the darn time. (Sort of like parenting, right?) So I think it’s okay to ask the universe to focus on a particular want. I think it’s okay to call some attention to it.

The first part of asking for what we want is putting words around the want because we have to know what we want before we can ask for it. This can take some time to figure out and some practice. I know I have it right when I ask the universe (or the car dealer or husband guy or airline worker) for what I want and the answer is an easy “yes,” or “I can do that,” or “sure, I can make that work.”

Sometimes I’m surprised how easy it is. And if I never ask, I’ll NEVER receive exactly what I want.

Try it. Ask for what you want. It just might be what the universe wants to give you.

Rejection? Don’t Pout; Be a Detective.


​Have you faced rejection on your picture book manuscript/s lately?

Know that subjectivity ALWAYS plays a role in this. What one editor or agent loves another might not (and in this crowded market, ‘loving’ is almost always a prerequisite for acquisition). Also know that there is nothing you can do about subjectivity.

However, there are many other reasons that rejection might be popping up and these reasons might be fixable. Instead of pouting or giving up or trashing a good idea out of frustration or saying “it must be THEM and not my work!” (I’ve NEVER done any of those things, nuh uh), become a detective and piece together some clues as to why this might be happening.

So what about the clues? 
Let’s look at the following submission tips from the Rutgers University Council on Children One-on-One Plus Conference. To be part of this mentoring-based conference, a creator needs to submit work and have it selected. Check out their insights about why certain picture books were not selected last year. For more information on the RUCCs One-on-One Plus Conference, click here.

  • ​Clue One: Not picture book language

Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that are essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.

  • Clue Two: Story arc needed development

Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.

  • Clue Three: Concept needed development

Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?

  • Clue Four: Common concepts need a fresh take

If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.

Apply these clues to currently published mentor texts and you’ll see patterns emerge. Study these patterns and you’ll see where you can improve your picture book manuscript and resubmit.

C’mon Sherlock. You got this.

What are the clues you use, my picture book writer friends?