Saturday, November 7, 2020

Thank yous and conference wrap up!

Clockwise from top right: Lin Oliver, Laurie Miller, Julian Petri, Jill Corcoran, and sign language interpreter Brian Truitt.

Lin wraps things up, agreeing with Elizabeth Partridge, 

"We hold the future in our hands, because we hold the children in our hands." 

Jill Corcoran from the Smithsonian zooms back in for the finale, saying of Elizabeth's keynote, "I have chills..." And she invites all of us to come to as we research our future books. 

Lin shouts out to conference organizer Laurie Miller, conference zoom producer Julian Petri, and the entire SCBWI staff, the event's sign language interpreters, and all of us attendees for taking two days for this experience, telling us:

"We believe every single one of us has the capability to great work, we're a community, and we support each other."

Closing Keynote: Elizabeth Partridge "Shout and Sing, Jump and Howl: How to Light Your Nonfiction on Fire"

Elizabeth Partridge grew up in a bohemian family of photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area. From a very early age she learned the power of images, and often combines words and photographs in her nonfiction books for young adults. Her book, Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam, was longlisted for the National Book Award and awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite. Partridge is the author of six picture books, with three more coming out in 2021. She loves to have an illustrator take her words and bring them to life.

Lin Oliver introduces Elizabeth, saying SCBWI and Smithsonian wanted to leave us all with a "note of inspiration, willing and able to do your very best work."

Elizabeth Partridge (lower right), interpreter Brian Truitt (upper right.)

Elizabeth advises us to:

Choose a subject you feel passionate about

Then research "until your eyeballs just can't stand it anymore." Go beyond secondary sources to primary sources, newspapers, photographs, and interviews with people.

Now, "you've got to get yourself organized." Elizabeth has an entire wall that's a bulletin board where she organizes her manuscripts! She also recommends – "absolutely a spectacular program" for organizing sources and citations and backmatter. 

Advice: Add some humor if it's a dark subject matter. If you're writing something light, get some deeper threads in there.

More Advice: Check all your verbs. 

"Verbs are combustible."
–Elizabeth Partridge

Yet more advice: "TikTok your manuscript... Tighten it up." Can you take out ten words on each page, as Richard Peck advised?

There's so much more, including a sneak peek of her upcoming book on the Japanese imprisonment during World War II in the U.S., and her evolution on using the word "prisoner" to describe the people rounded up and incarcerated in those camps.

Elizabeth concludes with thoughts about our readers, saying

"We have the unbelievable honor" to write books that light a spark in them that later they'll ignite.

Let them know there are people making life better and more fair. "We will keep fighting to make a better world with every word!"

Cue the applause!

Authors Panel: Creative Approaches to Writing Nonfiction

Moderated by Lin Oliver, the panelists are Nathan Hale, Kevin Noble Maillard, Elizabeth Rusch, Steve Sheinkin, Melissa Stewart, and Carole Boston Weatherford.

top row, left to right: Lin Oliver and sign language interpreter Brian Truitt
2nd row, left to right: Elisabeth Rusch and Nathan Hale
3rd row, left to right: Kevin Noble Maillard and Carole Boston Weatherford
4th row, left to right: Steve Sheinkin and Melissa Stewart

Observing that as writers of nonfiction we're "Not just conveyers of information, we’re interpreters of information," Lin introduces the panel. Highlights from the panelists include:

Nathan Hale

Nathan tells us about his Hazardous Tales series, graphic nonfiction. And even his nonfiction cartoon in last Sunday's New York Times Book section. 

Using a live sketchbook on screen, Nathan tells us about his process, research to manuscript to images to include in the story.

"I'm constantly looking at pictures so I can have my drawings do the explaining for the readers."

With examples, Nathan tell us that "Cartoons and visuals pack an amazing punch when it comes to nonfiction."

For Hazardous Tales series, Nathan explains how he created narrators, four fictional characters, including one that asks simple questions to help him tell his stories.

"When you pack action and excitement into all this information that's being presented, it removes the barriers to entry" and young readers "jump right in."


Kevin Noble Maillard

Kevin recounts the call telling him his debut Fry Bread had won the ALA's Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and how he learned that it was an informational award - not a nonfiction award. That we can have "books that are nonfiction that are informational, but we can have informational books that might not be nonfictional."

He speaks about layering in art, and in writing. Creating new levels of meaning.

And how he and Fry Bread's illustrator, Juana Martinez-Neal, collaborated to imbue every part of the illustrations with meaning. 

Elizabeth Rusch

Elizabeth opens by saying, "One of the reasons I love nonfiction is it is limitless."

She tells us about the Google test - can kids easily type into Google and get the same information you're wanting to portray? If so, you need to dig deeper. "Think about how to offer more."

Elizabeth walks us through, as an exercise, a number of the questions she thinks about when she's interested in writing about a topic.

Can you somehow tell a story with a character, with a narrative arc, what do they want, what obstacles do they face, what's the climax? She tells us about her informative fiction Glacier on the Move book, the story of a Glacier named Flo who wants to visit the sea. Which is what glaciers do! "Think about the narrative arc."

Another question Elizabeth suggests we ask ourselves: "Is there anything new in this area you want to write about?" And then ask yourself, "would kids find this interesting? Do kids need to learn this?"

Steve Sheinkin

Steve talks about writing narrative nonfiction. He recalls another Benedict Arnold book coming out while he was writing The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery and how his editor assured him "You do your book" -- and how that saved him. He wanted to write a page-turning action adventure. A 300 page middle grade nonfiction with no pictures.

"The beautiful thing about nonfiction, the kids that like reading Nathan Hale's books totally like this, too." 

On openings, Steve speaks about immediately jumping into the action. "You're going to go through four or five different ones..." Saying eventually, with enough research, maybe towards the end of the writing, "you'll hit on that scene that tells readers what the book is about" and is dynamic.

He starts with writing the exciting things first, and then sprinkles the information (like salt into soup) readers need to know.

If you're not sure if idea is good enough, ask yourself "what's the ending? What's the climax?... If I don't know the ending before I start, I would never start."

Melissa Stewart

Melissa speaks of her expository nonfiction picture books, including her upcoming picture book Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate 

Unlike narrative nonfiction which tells a story or experience, expository nonfiction explains something - either a broad overview of a topic, or for narrowly focused books on STEM concepts, like animal adaptations. "It can have pretty much any structure you can think of."

"Instead of reading it from page to page, cover to cover, beginning to end, expository nonfiction can be approached in many ways." 

Melissa shares examples from a number of her own works, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs.

She points out uses of secondary texts, and text structures like lists, opposites, and the use of onomatopoeia, strong verbs, synonyms, repetition and alliteration, and voice.

Melissa also tells us about big picture revision - "trying to figure out the structure of the book" and then, the word choice, "smaller revisions."

Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole speaks of her book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, sharing that "I borrowed from fairy tales" to give kids something familiar to hang onto, like a security blanket, but also to show that Tulsa, before the massacre, is now vanished history. That was erased by the violence.

She considers how including song titles "creates a built in soundtrack" and that "I fall back on oral traditions quite a bit." 

"Sometimes I challenge myself to create in a particular form."

Carole talks about working on multiple books at a time, making lists, and that she now footnotes her sources as she goes. "It's better for me to have the references in the manuscript," as fact-checking sometimes happens a year and a half after writing.

She tries to keep her writing "top of mind," balancing it with her day job. 


The discussion has the panelists address questions on revision, handling violence in books for young readers, their process, and much more!


Authors Panel: Nonfiction Writing as a Personal "Journey"

Moderated by Melissa Stewart, the panelists for this session are Sarah Albee, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Laura Purdie Salas, and Paula Yoo.

top row, left to right: SCBWI's Lin Oliver who introduces the panel, interpreter LynneKelly, Laura Purdie Salas
middle row, left to right: Lesa Cline-Ransome, panel moderator Melissa Stewart, and Sarah Albee
lower row: Paula Yoo

Lin explains that the panelists were pulled from the soon-to-be-published anthology of 50 nonfiction authors* that was edited by Melissa Stewart, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing

Melissa starts out by saying that the panel is really "about the heart and soul of nonfiction writing."

Explaining the inspiration behind the book (and the panel), Melissa speaks of the moment she, Candace Fleming, and Deborah Heiligman were on a panel discussing what makes nonfiction engaging, and the insight that "Each of our books has a piece of our heart at its core."

Some highlights from the panelists:

Sarah Albee

Sarah talks about how her book topics are all over the map, and looking for the thread through her books like "Poison" and "Why'd They Wear That?" She tells us that social history is what fascinates her. "The history of ordinary people."

"I like to write about how stuff works."

Sarah says, "My brain goes straight from the plot line, like Juliet drinking the poison, to knowing how poison works on a molecular level."

Lesa Cline-Ransome

Lesa speaks of writing the missing pieces of history, growing up as one of the only African American families in her town and not getting the history. She considers the disservice this does, not just for the young woman she was, but for the white students who also missed that history. 

"I'm looking for ways to uncover parts of my subjects lives that reveal not just what they are, their accomplishments... but who they are."
She tells us about her "outside-in" research method, trying to gain an understanding of what happened outside of her subject's early years that played a role and would have affected their life choices. One example is that Lesa reads newspaper headlines from the time and place of her subjects' young lives.

Lesa uses examples from her own work, including "The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne" and "Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams" 

Lesa's advice: "I don't think anyone wants to read about perfect, flawless human beings."

Laura Purdie Salas

"I had a pretty unhappy childhood...feeling never good enough." It gave her the motivation to appreciate the little things. "I look at a lot of ordinary, every day things in my books, and try to share with my readers the awe and wonder of them." 

Like in her books, "A Leaf Can Be" and "If You Were The Moon."

Laura's advice: "Don't just focus on the facts... get your personal connection to a topic in there from the very start."

Paula Yoo

Paula tells us of starting writing in Kindergarten and getting her first rejection at age 5! With a masters in journalism, she wrote fiction and kept getting rejected until she wrote a YA novel based on her life, "Good Enough." Up until that book, she'd been writing from the POV of a white man or white woman. This was her epiphany, "Wait. My voice does matter."

This lead to her writing "Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story," her first published picture book biography.

Paula tells us her motivation: "My Asian American education has been me on the internet. This is stuff that should have been taught in school."

She shares more about her own work, including her latest, "From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement."


*Full disclosure: I'm one of the fifty authors!

Keynote: Carole Boston Weatherford "FAQ - Is This For Real?"

Carole Boston Weatherford’s books (three dozen and counting) have received many literary honors. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (2006), illustrated by Kadir Nelson, won a Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and an NAACP Image Award. Becoming Billie Holiday and Before John Was a Jazz Giant won Coretta Scott King Honors. Birmingham, 1963 won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor and the Jefferson Cup from Virginia Library Association. The Sound that Jazz Makes won the Carter G. Woodson Award from National Council for the Social Studies and an NAACP Image Award nomination. Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins (2005) and Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People (2002) both won the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Dear Mr. Rosenwald and Before John Was a Jazz Giant received Golden Kite Honors from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And, in 2007, Carole received the Ragan-Rubin Award from the North Carolina English Teachers Association. In 2010, she received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest civilian honor.

Carole Boston Weatherford (lower box), with sign language interpreter Jennye Kamin (upper box)

Carole is introduced by SCBWI's Tammy Brown, Director, Community Marketing and Engagement, and starts off by sharing her teaching (and writing) philosophy, that 

"It's more important to ask the right questions, than to know the right answers."

Explaining her points with vivid examples from her own work, Carole shares the questions she asks herself about projects, that we might ask ourselves, too.

On Premise:

Why do I want to write about a subject? 

How would a subject want to be remembered? 

"I consider myself erecting monuments with words."

What does the premise of the manuscript promise to readers?

We hear the premise behind "Becoming Billie Holiday" - what Billie at 25 would have said to a negative review about her song "Strange Fruit."

A screen shot of a spread from R-E-S-P-E-C-T, with Carole in the lower right of the screen

On Concept:

What concept, form, device, or technique will elevate the manuscript to art? 

One example shared is the soundscape of John Coltraine's childhood Carole fashioned in "Before John Was a Jazz Giant."

Carole covers much more, touching on question poems, solving manuscript challenges, research, and even sharing some sneak peeks of her works in progress.

One final quote from Carole to share:

"Research is neither a race nor a linear process."

It's an inspiring start to the second day of the conference!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Keynote: Kevin Noble Maillard "Creating My Informational Picture Book, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

Kevin Noble Maillard is a professor of law at Syracuse University and writes for the New York Times and The Atlantic. He is originally from Oklahoma and is a member of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band. His debut picture book, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story (illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal) is the winner of the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and a 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor Winner.

April Powers, SCBWI's Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at top, sign language interpreter Brian Truitt (center), and Kevin Noble Maillard (lower.)

April Powers introduces Kevin Noble Maillard, sharing that November is Native American Heritage month, and that “At the SCBWI, we wish to acknowledge that we are gathered/hosting today on the occupied territory of the Ventureño, Gabrieleño, Tongva, and Fernandeño people, who stewarded this land for generations. We now call it Los Angeles.”

Kevin starts by sharing a story from his summer - encountering a 65 year old memorial for a dog at the top of a mountain in New York state. The connection to the dog's owner Kevin felt, and how it was a story. He transmitted his emotions onto this monument... and now when other people see the monument, he relays to them what he felt. That's what we do when we write."

We learn (and see photos) of Kevin's family ancestors, and he considers how he's been a minority within a minority inside other minorities - and the isolation he's felt from that experience.

In his writing for the New York Times and elsewhere, Kevin focuses on "who are we, and what does it mean to be who we are?" He's written articles such as "What's So Hard About Casting Indian Actors in Indian Roles?" and speaks of his interest in authenticity, membership, and qualifications, "and this is what I brought to Fry Bread."

The lack of books he could share with his own children about Native kids "written by one of us," was motivating. "I was so incensed about this, that I decided I would write my own book."

He shares a Toni Morrison quote that inspired him:

"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it." 

He tells how he connected with Connie Hsu at Macmillan, and shared a "bouncy" rhyming manuscript with her. And then, how she helped him find something "more lyrical, something close to you, something that evokes some kind of emotion. And I did that again, and it worked."

Kevin reflects on how "I didn't realize that the process was so, so, so extensive," and how the questions back and forth with Connie led to the extensive backmatter. 

And for the illustrations: "We would have talked about the shape of Grandma's hips for weeks, and weeks, and weeks." The color of Grandma's cheeks, clothes, facial features.

White people's lines of the country versus the lines of nature defining the continent.

Kevin speaks of Native authenticity, and the book's big metaphor: "Fry bread can look like might taste different... but what unifies all Native people together... is that everyone else is wrong" (about how they make fry bread!)

In closing, Kevin asks us to think about our stories, and how we're going to get that information out there. 

Visit the Online Nonfiction Workshop Bookstore

 Because we're virtual, not only can you browse and buy the faculty books:

You can also explore the books of your fellow attendees by category!

Check out the #SCBWINONFICTION Bookstore here.

Keynote: Emily Feinberg "From Proposal to Finished Book"

Emily Feinberg is an editor at Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. After graduating with an M.A. in Children’s Literature from Simmons University, Emily joined the editorial team at Roaring Brook where she’s worked for over eight years. Books she’s edited include Caldecott Honor winner Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper, the If Sharks Disappeared series by Lily WIlliams, Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari (illustrated by Brian Floca), and Jane Against the World: Roe V. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights by Karen Blumenthal.

Emily Feinberg (bottom right), and sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly (top right)

Using three examples of books she has edited, Emily speaks about voice, research and narrative, and how to build a narrative from a broader topic.

As a read aloud, Emily shares "Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars," by Richard Ho, illustrated by Katherine Roy, speaking to the voice and the back matter choices, and to the illustrations, how they're not just accurate, how they capture the tone of the book as well.

She next speaks about "Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet," by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Jessica Lanan, showing us the end papers, and their intent to give "a vaster overview." 

The opening spread grounds us with a silent visual narrative of a young girl looking up at the stars and visiting a science museum exhibit of exoplanets to help the child reader connect with the text. (The young girl isn't mentioned in the text at all - it's all carried by the illustrations.)

The book conveys "wonder and curiosity," key elements of science.

And then Emily discusses Jane Against the World, talking about how the book tackled the scope of the history of women's reproductive rights. 

The author, the late Karen Blumenthal, was able to interview Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. the plaintiff Jane Roe from Roe v. Wade) and the lawyer who represented her. Emily speaks of how they worked to ground the story in people rather than events.

Final thought of the keynote:

The most important thing, according to Emily, is to "tell a good story."

The Editors Panel!

top row: moderator Lin Oliver, sign language interpreter Brian Truitt, and Carol Hinz
middle row: Emily Feinberg, Kandace Coston, and Melissa Manlove
lower row: Sydnee Monday and Farrin Jacobs

Moderated by Lin Oliver, the panelists discuss what they're publishing and why, and then answer some audience questions.

Highlights include:

Kandace Coston, Assistant Editor, Lee & Low Books:

Kandace is looking for "strong female protagonists...unapologetic women who have been overlooked by history" but "whose contributions to society cannot be ignored."

Kandace speaks of POC and native creators and other underrepresented communities, and how Lee & Low's New Voices contest has for the last 20 years worked to create a path to publication for those creators and stories. (One of her responsibilities now is to read the hundreds of submissions that come in for the contest.)

She discusses the demand for greater diversity, and how "writing nonfiction can become a form of activism."

She recalls watching Hidden Figures in the movie theater, and the impact the true story of a brilliant group of Black women mathematicians might have had on her if she'd seen it as a young person.

Nonfiction is "an opportunity to break stereotypes... and the story of how our country is more multifaceted than we know."

Emily Feinberg, Editor, Roaring Brook Press

Emily shares about some of the books she's published, starting with picture books, and considers the through-line of many of the books she's worked on.

If Sharks Disappeared is a series that started as an infographic that Emily saw online, and then contacted the illustrator.

She cautions that she doesn't do a lot of picture book biographies as they can seem "wikipedia-ish," but then speaks of "Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge" as an example of how to do it right.

For older readers, she encourages playing with how a story is told, like the transcripts of sourced quotes in “Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandal.” 

Emily says her goal with nonfiction is 

"To give young readers the tools they need to be part of the conversation... To impart knowledge in way that sticks."

Carol Hinz, Editorial Director, Millbrook Press & CarolRhoda Books at Lerner

Carol is looking for “books that spark my curiosity, and that I think will spark the curiosity of parents, educators, and most of all, young people.” 

Carol shares categories and titles she publishes, including picture books that address science concepts in fresh ways, topics that may be be unexpected or "difficult," and middle grade nonfiction picture books on environmental themes (especially highlighting scientists of color and underrepresented backgrounds.)

She mentions science literacy, saying "the pandemic has made it clear what a poor job we've done with this in the US." She would love to see some novel approaches to help young people become more scientifically literate.

Overall, Carol says that about nonfiction, she loves "just how much is possible, in terms of topics and approaches," with Point of View and voice.

Farrin Jacobs, Editorial Director, Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Farrin discusses how Malala's story lent itself to spinning off to other formats, taking an anecdote from Malala's autobiography and making a picture book, and now even a chapter book. 

She speaks about how if its not a "big person with a big platform" then they're "looking for a story that will be picked up" for things like all-school reads and state lists and "have that long tail."

It's "all about stories and characters," and she talks about big idea books, and telling underserved stories.

Farrin says, "we're reaching readers when they're still developing" so she wants stories that help develop empathy, with "characters who feel and think."

Melissa Manlove, Senior Editor, Chronicle Books

With nonfiction, Melissa tells us that "you can do so many things."

And Melissa challenges us to ask ourselves, "What can I do that is new? What can I do that is surprising, and inspiring to kids?"

Sydnee Monday, Assistant Editor, Kokila/Penguin Random House

Sydnee explains that she's "Focused on publishing subversive, entertaining narratives" and especially the stories of Black, Indigenous and Queer people.

One example Sydnee mentions is the upcoming "Not Everyone Is Going To Like You" by Rinny Perkins

She speaks of self-sufficient marginalized communities, and using her list to celebrate underrepresented subjects and audiences. She's looking, in particular, for YA nonfiction.

Thanks to all the editors!

Opening Keynote: Eduardo Díaz, Director, Smithsonian Latino Center

Eduardo Díaz is the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center and a 30-year veteran of arts administration. He is responsible for the management and delivery of exhibitions, public and educational programs, and the Latino Center’s Latino Virtual Museum. During his tenure, Eduardo has spearheaded several projects, including the exhibitions “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” and “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed.” Current research initiatives include the Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project and the Latino D.C. History Project.

Eduardo introduces the Smithsonian Latino Center, their gallery opening in Spring 2021, and a new series of six books.

He discusses the shifting demographics of the US, where Latinos comprise 18% of the population, but 25% of the K-12 population. And references the ongoing lack of diversity in children's publishing, and the importance of the Latino community having the opportunity to tell their stories. 

"Working with first voice authors and illustrators is critically important."

As an example, Eduardo discusses a fiction picture book featuring a Latina character, and reflects on the missed opportunities to include more stories of Latino history, like Jovita Idar, a publisher who ran a Spanish language newspaper on border of Texas and Mexico and stood up to a hate group. As Eduardo says, 

"She's a hero in our community, but her story is virtually unknown."

The first title from the Smithsonian Latino Center is "Nuestra América," featuring "30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped The United States"

Final quote from Eduardo to share here:

"Latino children's literature is American children's literature."

Lin Oliver's welcome to the Nonfiction Workshop

SCBWI's Lin Oliver (top), and sign language interpreter Jennye Kamin

Lin (top) welcomes the audience of 757 attendees (plus 27 faculty)! 325 of we attendees are published, a total of 1,543 books to our credit - as Lin puts it, "that's a school library!" We come from 49 states in the US (including the District of Columbia) and 21 countries around the world.

Lin shares with us how this conference came about, with the help of nonfiction author Melissa Stewart, editor Melissa Manlove, and Jill Corcoran, Director of Licensed Publishing at the Smithsonian.

Jill (whose background includes being an author and a literary agent) introduces the first keynote speaker, Eduardo Díaz, Director, Smithsonian Latino Center.

The SCBWI & Smithsonian Online Nonfiction Workshop!


Two full days of panels, keynotes, and community! Stay tuned here for some blogged highlights, and how about we go with #SCBWINONFICTION for the hashtag? (Open to community suggestions if you've got something better!)

Looking forward to being there/here with you! All the fun starts in just a few hours...

Illustrate and Write On,