A KidLit Superstar: JANE YOLEN

KidLit Rock Star

I had the wonderful opportunity last week to join the other children’s authors in Florida for their annual gathering in Miami celebrating KIDLIT. It was truly awesome! Thanks to all the hard working SCBWI volunteers there who made it happen, especially Linda Rodriguez Bernfield & Dorian Cirrone–the Co-Regional Advisors.



One of my all-time favorite authors was there, Jane Yolen. Not only has Ms. Yolen written over 300 children’s books, but she remains exceptionally modest and extremely motivating for other authors. She shared some pointers with us. I’ll pass along a few of them.


  • Be ready to share your knowledge and to support fellow authors—as Jane does so well.


  • Inspiration and perspiration are musts. Always have numerous projects in the works. “Rest is not for the tired but the dead.”


  • Editing is the key to writing successfully—be ready to revise. But also be ready to give yourself “a pat on the back” for a job well done.


  • Listen to your heart!

Passion, Perseverance, and Patience will lead to Publishing Success!

Reflections From The SCBWI Conference



I’ve just returned from the annual Society of Children’s Book & Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles. Here are four quick reflections on what I carried away from the meetings and encounters there.




What an amazing opportunity to hear and see how creative minds like Don Tate and Drew Daywalt and Jon Klassen work. I thank them for sharing their journeys, their insights, and their struggles through the completion of a project. Thanks too for reminding me to follow my heart—to listen to that inner voice that makes my story, my creation unique and relevant in this ever-changing world. They helped reaffirm that we SCBWI members–our words, pictures, story may be just the one needed by a young struggling mind, searching for answers, for hope, for laughter, for light. They reminded me to believe that I [we] can make a difference in one child’s life.




The conference was overflowing with storytime celebrities around every corner. When I spied Richard Peck at lunch and met Bruce Coville and Arthur Levine at a small group gathering, I was awed. To hear my heroes Pam Munoz Ryan or Linda Sue Park speak is humbling and amazing. I heard agents and editors, writers and illustrators—each helpful and inspiring, all come to life! I felt sometimes as if I’d gone down the Rabbit Hole and might meet Alice on my next elevator ride.




I was reminded by these celebrity book gurus that being creative is scary—over and over again with each new attempt. It would be so much easier to hide away in a safe place rather than expose myself to rejection time after time. That staying strong requires the hide of an elephant—and by the way, I felt an elephant’s hide once with hairs like a bristle brush. And even though every breath an author or artist breathes says “Like me—like my creations, please!” that we must be prepared to hear “No! No! No!” over and over again. The super important point to remember is that the refusals do NOT mean the end—unless we let them. We MUST NOT let them!!!




What an amazing place the SCBWI Conference is! And I’m not just talking about the over-the-top Hollywood art deco glam of the Biltmore where this year’s conference was held. I was able to hang out with pals old and new. To forge friendships while discussing plot and characterization and the word puzzle challenge of picture books. To share critique horror stories over a glass wine and jubilation at lunch for a friend’s starred Kirkus review news. To hug and to laugh and to sigh. To relish shared passions and dreams and struggles. To know that we all are part of a special tribe who place the importance of children’s literacy paramount in our lives. We are SCBWI!

Summer Scenes

Although sometimes SUMMER is a time to slow down and take a look at the wonders close by

it can also be a time for new adventures

like listening to animated author BRUCE COVILLE discuss plot at the SCBWI CONFERENCE in LA,

or building the TALLEST tower in the world
or experiencing a brand new TASTE.

Ever since I can remember, SUMMER has been a special time for me–colorful BEGINNINGS…
new PATHS explored… 

new BOOKS read…

and fond FAREWELLS.

I hope YOU have found WONDER and EXCITEMENT this summer, especially in the pages of a SPECIAL BOOK — or two or ten. 
Here’s to more SUNNY DAYS and lots more GREAT SUMMER READS!

Illustrator Floyd Cooper in St. Charles

I had the great opportunity yesterday to see illustrator, Floyd Cooper, in action at the Missouri SCBWI conference in St. Charles. The award winning illustrator demonstrated his unique style of erasing–using a kneaded eraser to create the underpainting for his works of art. Somehow Mr. Cooper was able to create a quick portrait for us as he talked, the microphone in one hand and the eraser in the other, as he worked with the paper virtually upside down to his perspective. It was amazing, but then he is a Coretta Scott King Award winning illustrator.

He is the illustrator for MEET DANITRA BROWN by Nikki Grimes, whom I met a couple years ago at a writers’ workshop. What an incredible combination of words and art!

Writing Southern Style

Last weekend in Birmingham, Alabama at the SCBWI’s Southern Breeze Conference, Molli Nickell–a publishing coach and former Time-Life editor (www.getpublishednow.com), presented a Marketing Intensive Workshop which I attended. And it was indeed a WORKshop. With her spirited and fun style, she guided us through a whole day. She helped us take apart our stories. We pared them down to the bones, looking for the GOAL, the OBSTACLE, and the RESOLUTION. Then we wrote a sentence for each–this, Molli told us, should be the opening paragraph of our query letter for an agent or editor.

Molli says a writer has only 20 seconds to catch an editor or agent’s eye in a query letter. Short and to the point–but highlighting the author’s unique voice.
Here’s an example of the technique using the fairy tale CINDERELLA as an example:
An overworked, beguiling young lady wants to attend an elaborate party to be hosted by the local prince, who is on the lookout for a princess-to-be. Her three evil and ugly step-sisters team up with their manipulating mom to keep her stranded by the chimney side on the night of the gala. The petite-footed young lady wastes no time joining forces with her enchanting fairy godmother and makes it to the ball in style, sporting the shiniest slippers in the kingdom. 
Stripping a story down to its skeleton isn’t always easy. You may think you need a fairy godmother to perform magic like that, but you don’t. You just need some practice…and maybe a pair of super shiny shoes.
Check back in the next few days for more Birmingham highlights.

Peachy Weekend

I (and a group of local children’s authors) spent a great time last weekend in historic Hermann, Missouri–a scenic wine town along the Missouri River. http://www.hermannmissouri.com/ We stayed at Captain Wohlt’s Inn where innkeeper, Mat Wilkins took special care of all us. http://www.captainwohltinn.com/
Senior Editor, Lisa Mathews, joined our company and provided us with many interesting insights into children’s literature. http://www.peachtree-online.com/info.aspx

Here’s her explanation of STORY STRUCTURE:

1. Act I: Setup—here is the mood/tone, hook, catalyst, antagonist (which can be a situation as well as a person), the intro to the MC/personality, the issue which will lead to the turning point—conflict must come right away. There does not have to be a great deal of setting and character analysis right at first. It’s more important to have action with a purpose which propels the story
2. By the end of Act I, there should be a problem/turning point (a challenge revealed)
3. Act II—problem intensifies/ a barrier/ complication
4. Character has a temporary triumph
5. New info (a reversal) leads to more problems/ and perhaps a deadline looms
6. Dark Moment—the MC fails (or seems to) and the goal seems even farther away
7. Another turning point—the MC has to make a decision
8. Act III—the final obstacle (MC is pushed to her limit)
9. Climax—she faces the obstacle
10. Resolution

Lisa also spoke of a STEP OUTLINE for help in writing a story.
In this type of outline, a phrase/sentence for each chapter provides a very brief outline of the story and shows the story arc. I was encouraged to hear her explain this concept because it is basically what I do when developing a story. It provides a very loose framework that allows me to know where I’m going—which helps eliminates writer’s block—but it is so basic that it also encourages me to be creative with each new scene. I usually don’t know exactly how the scene will play out or what the characters will say or do. I think it helps keep the story fresh.

The two Peachtree books at the top are by my writer friends, Kristen Nitz and Jeanie Ransom, who also attended the weekend retreat. Here are their websites where you can find out more about them: http://www.kwnitz.com/ http://www.jeanieransom.com/

Super Saturday

On Saturday, I had the privilege to hear Allyn Johnston, Editor-in-Chief at Harcourt, and Marla Frazee, children’s author and illustrator, give a presentation on picture books in Washington, Missouri.

Ms. Johnston spoke of “the power of picture books.” She said she believes good ones have “the ability to affect lives.” She also referred to a picture book as “a piece of theater on a 32-page stage.” She looks for the rhythm and repetition in a well-written picture book. “Perfect words in perfect places.” She said the last line of the story should resonate and the story should come full circle. To find out more about Allyn Johnston, here’s a link to an interview with her:http://www.scbwi.org/faces/getting_to_know/previous/johnston.htm

Ms. Frazee spoke of the physical structure of a picture book–the 32-page format. She said it is the combination of words and pictures that tell the complete story in a picture book. She emphasized her respect for children as her audience–how well they “read” her pictures. She stressed that picture books need to have an emotional component–even humorous ones. For more information on Marla Frazee, you may visit her website at http://www.marlafrazee.com/

What a great opportunity this was to hear these special insights from two such knowledgeable women in children’s literature.

The other excitement I was a part of on Saturday was Jody Feldman‘s premeir of her first children’s book, THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Jody’s idea for THE GOLLYWHOOPER GAMES began many years ago when she was volunteering in a school library and witnessed a boy unable to satisfy his book thirst after finishing CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Jody wanted to write a book that would be similiar to Roald Dahl’s masterpiece. Her love for word games and puzzles led her to create this story featuring the Golly Toy & Game Company. For a read filled with interactive adventures, be sure to find a copy of Jody’s new middle grade novel. The official release of THE GOOLYWHOPPER GAMES is tomorrow, March 3. And to read more about Jody, you may visit her website at http://jodyfeldman.typepad.com/writing/