Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story: Making a Science Topic Accessible for Kids By Jody Jensen Shaffer

Today I welcome author Jody Jensen Shaffer to the Grog Blog. We've been online writing friends for a while, and it's been neat to see Jody's body of published books grow!

 




I, Tina Cho, recently read her nonfiction picture book, CREEP, LEAP, CRUNCH! A Food Chain Story to my kindergartners, and they loved guessing the next predator in the food chain, the suspense of the story, and the "scary" snake. 

Today, Jody shares her expertise with us in writing nonfiction. 

Thanks for having me on the Grog Blog, Tina! I’m excited to share my experience making a science topic, like the food chain, accessible (read fun and interesting) for kids.

I’ll give you the short version right up front: I think like a kid, so I write to entertain…myself! If I run across cool facts about how things work in nature, strange creatures with little-known talents, fascinating processes within the human body, or amazing ways of sharing that information, I’m hooked.

My job as a writer then is to share my excitement with (chronological) kids. Here’s how I did that for Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story, gorgeously illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal and published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in December 2023. I hope my process will be helpful for your readers!


Choose a Subject You’re Interested in

If you like what you’re writing about and researching, it’ll show in your manuscript. I knew when my journey began in 2013 with Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story that I wanted to write about the food chain. I researched my state’s science curriculum to see what grades studied food chains, and I read current picture books about the food chain to see what was already out there. Then I began researching kinds of food chains—where they take place, what animals live there, what those animals eat and what eats them.

Structure

I needed my food chain book to be different than what I saw in the market, so I began brainstorming picture book structures—traditional 3-act, cumulative, concept, mirror, parallel, reversal, list, how to, dialogue-driven, lyrical, variety of viewpoints, day in the life, morning to evening, etc. I wanted my structure to be exciting.

Then suddenly—okay, after lots of staring at my computer—“There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” popped into my head. (For those unfamiliar, the old woman swallows a fly, then she swallows a spider to catch the fly, then she swallows a bird to catch the spider. You get the idea.)

Hey, wait! I thought. That’s a food chain! A fictional, rather strange food chain, but a food chain nonetheless! And it was told in a cumulative way—new information was introduced with each page turn, while old information was repeated. I thought using a cumulative structure to discuss the food chain would be really fun! What’s more, I knew kids would be familiar with both the “Old Woman” story and cumulative structure. By building on kids’ past knowledge, I could build interest in my subject.


Voice

So, I had my food chain facts, and I had my story structure. I knew that for kids to recognize my story’s cumulative structure, I would have to be true to the voice of the “Old Woman.” That is, I would have to mimic the rhyme, meter, and cadence of the words of that story. If those lines rhymed, I needed mine to, too, in the exact way and at the exact time. No slant rhymes. No reversed-sentence rhymes. No fudging. This is trickier than one might think! Especially when you’re writing nonfiction, because it all has to be true with actual words! 😊

So I rhymed where I was supposed to, matched my beats to the “Old Woman’s,” followed a cumulative structure, and got all my facts in there. Oh, and I also decided to make it a morning-to-night story (kids are familiar with those) and to write it using lyrical language. Can you tell this project was like putting a puzzle together? I love puzzles, by the way.

Then I went through my text and concentrated on additional literary devices—alliteration, internal rhyme, simile, metaphor, and a fun narrative voice—until it sang.

And guess what? Kids love rhyme that’s well done. They love alliteration. They love repetition. They love a fun narrative voice. All things that make a science topic accessible.


Give it a twist

So, finally, my cumulative, rhyming, nonfiction food chain book began in the morning with the sun and proceeded through a series of ever-larger animals until it ended, rather predictably, at the apex predator, a black bear.

And it felt…incomplete. Even with all the beautiful language and cool structure. Whoop-de-doo, the big guy wins. So what’s new? Yikes for the mouse, I guess.

But I’m an animal-lover and a cheerleader for the underdog (as are kids), so I worried about the cricket and the red-tailed hawk and the fox (even though I’m big enough to know what happens in the real world), and the story sat on my hard drive for three years, unfulfilled and unfulfilling until…

2016!

…when my story twist came to me—“But some days—,” wherein all the critters escape their predators, and the black bear munches flowers and seeds and is perfectly satisfied! Because that happens, too, in the real world! I knew kids (and their adults) would love that alternate ending as much as I did.

From there, it only took me another five years of tinkering—and working on other projects—before I sent it into the world, received two offers, and ultimately accepted Knopf’s.

One more tip: choose a fun, active title. My original, There Was a Blue Sky, was a bit too lyrical.

So, how do you make a science topic accessible for kids? You write it to delight the child inside you.


Thanks for sharing your process, Jody! I, especially, loved how you gave this food chain story a twist! 




 Jody Jensen Shaffer is the author of more than 80 books for children, including Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story (2024 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, Oklahoma's 2025 Donna Norvell masterlist, SLJ starred review), Prudence the Part-Time Cow (Missouri Show Me Award finalist), A Chip Off the Old Block (Iowa Goldfinch Award nominee, Amazon Teachers' Pick), It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! (Amazon best seller and Book Box pick), EMERGENCY KITTENS, Sometimes I am Hot Lava, and more! Jody is a frequent school, library, festival, and conference presenter. She lives with her family in Missouri. You can find Jody at jodyjensenshaffer.com and on Twitter at jodywrites4kids.


See all her books at JodyJensenShaffer.com
Twitter @JodyWrites4Kids 








Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A Question of Copyright by Fran Hodgkins

When I teach writing classes, I’m often asked, “Do I need to copyright my work?” The fear of having work stolen afflicts many writers, and so I thought I’d address it this this post.

What is copyright? 

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s a form of intellectual property. It has two main facets: originality and fixed form.

 

What does "originality" mean? 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s put it down in black and white. Originality means that a work is a human creation—you’ve created it yourself. It also means that a “modicum” (the Supreme Court’s word, not mine) has been involved in creating it. Certain things cannot be copyrighted, for example. If you have an idea to write a story about a donkey, you can’t copyright that idea. Nor can you copyright the idea of a heist of the Mona Lisa. This is often the fear that my students have — their idea is precious to them (as all our ideas should be), and so some sneaky publisher is going to read their manuscript and steal their idea. This is highly unlikely and should not stop you from developing your idea into an original story.

 

This concept of not being able to copyright an idea is what throws a lot of people. It’s been called the “idea-expression dichotomy.” You can write a story about a boy wizard and nobody can stop you. However, if your story shares common elements with a famous book series, then you are likely on dangerous ground. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “. . . protection will extend only to the original elements that the author has contributed to a work, not to the work’s underlying ideas, which remain freely available to the public.”

 

Besides ideas, you can’t copyright:

·      Titles

·      Names,

·      Slogans, or

·      Short phrases.

Those expressions are covered by a different kind of intellectual property law: trademark. Copyright also doesn’t cover processes, systems, procedures, or concepts.

 

What is fixed form? 

A fixed form is any form—such as writing or recording—in which the work can be shared with others. When you write down your text, it is now in fixed form, and protected.

 

And that’s all you need to do.

 

Wait, what?




Don’t I have to file forms and pay fees and all that stuff? Actually, no. And this is the part that surprises everybody. By putting your original work in fixed form, you own the copyright. It is not necessary to mail yourself a registered copy and never open the envelope (a traditional way of establishing the date of creation, which folks still do).

 

However, registering your copyright gives you legal protections and you need it to enforce your exclusive rights in case of any legal questions. If you want to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you do have some homework to do. Forms need to be completed, copies submitted, and fees (ranging from $45 to $125 to start) paid. Traditional publishers register the copyrights of the books they publish.

 

In work-for-hire situations, the client registers the copyright under the client’s name. Why? Because although you created the work and put it in fixed form, you also sold it to the client. When a work-for-hire client send you payment, they buy the copyright from you and it becomes theirs. Yes, copyright can be sold. It can also be transferred, such as from a parent to child.

 

What rights does copyright give me? 

In short, it gives you the right to use the work. For example, imagine you publish a picture book about a spaghetti-loving dragon. You hold the copyright (you’ve published with a traditional publisher). That means you can sell your dragon book, write a series about your dragon (these are called derivative works), and transfer rights to make an animated movie based on your book to a movie studio.

 

 

 

Your work, registered or not, is protected for decades under the U.S. copyright law. Currently, works have a copyright term of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. For works made for hire, produced anonymously, or written under a pen name,  the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation (whichever period is shorter).

 

The concept of copyright is so important to the creative vitality of the country that it’s actually in Article 1 of the Constitution. It was also defended in the U.S. Supreme Court case Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken “The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s’ creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good” [422 U.S. 151, 156 (1975)].

 

Knowing that the expression of your ideas is fully protected, go on — create!  ©


 

For more info

To learn more, visit the following websites:

 

United States Copyright Office, https://www.copyright.gov/what-is-copyright/

 

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/copyright-policy/copyright-basics

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Lydia Lukidis Dances Through Space ~Christy Mihaly

I'm very pleased to welcome Lydia Lukidis to GROG. Lydia has written 50+ children's books including her most recent, Dancing through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud. I had a few questions for Lydia:  

Welcome, Lydia! Please tell us about your writing life and why you write for kids. 

LL: I began reading at age 4 and writing at age 6. I loved writing poetry and was self-taught, it was my biggest hobby, though I didn’t consider becoming an author until years later!

I love writing for children because of their innocence, imagination, and wacky sense of humor. I somehow connect to children and I suppose my mind still thinks like a child's. I prefer writing nonfiction but I don’t want to put myself in a box either, and I still like writing fiction. I have a new early reader graphic series coming out next year based on a comic I created when I was 10. I’m lucky that my agent, Miranda Paul, allows me the freedom to write from the heart, wherever that may take me.

CM: I agree, I worry about getting tired of always sticking to the same genre -- it's fun to play around and explore. But I've noticed you love STEAM.

What do you love best about writing nonfiction?

LL: I prefer writing nonfiction because we live in such a wondrous world and I think children are naturally curious, just like I am. Having a degree in Pure and Applied Science, I love finding ways to make information about our world interesting and accessible for children.

CM: So you are a Serious Scientist, and also an Artistic Person.

How are you staying creative? What do you do to fill your creative well?

LL: I was always an artist first. I drew, made crafts, crafted jewelry, and wrote poetry. I studied science in college and I do have an analytical side. But I believe that to truly understand all facets of our world, we need to look at it through the lens of both art and science. Writing is a creative outlet for me, but I also love making graphics. I still craft in my spare time and make art with my daughter. Creativity is what drives me!


CM: Yes, making art with kids can be inspiring!

Okay, some questions about how you wrote this picture book biography of astronaut (and dancer) Mae Jemison.


How long did it take to get from inspiration to finished book?


LL: I began writing DANCING THROUGH SPACE in 2014 and it took TEN years for the book to get published! It went through many incarnations and I also went through several agents, it was part of my journey. I learned a lot about the kidlit industry and about myself as a writer with this book. Everything unfolded the way it was meant to!

A spacey spread from Dancing through Space

CM: Ten years ... but the book is better for it, right? Books often take a long time. I'm looking forward to the 2026 publication of a picture book biography that I started writing in -- wait for it -- 2012. Lots of drafts, many revisions, and a dose of publishing craziness.


In Dancing through Space, you highlight the twin passions of Jemison's life by telling a dual narrative. Tell us more about what sparked your story concept and how you made it work.


LL: I didn’t figure out the hook (the intersection of dance and science) for years. Yes, it took years to figure it out! My early drafts were probably terrible. But every time I read about Mae, I was drawn to the same thing; that she loved to dance and appreciated the arts. I finally realized that’s the hook I was missing! It brought the story to the next level and it felt right to structure this as a dual narrative.

Showing the dual narrative structure of Dancing through Space

CM: Anything you want to share about your illustrator, Sawyer Cloud, or the publisher, Albert Whitman?


LL: I’m really lucky because I felt that Josh, my editor at Albert Whitman, really understood what I was trying to do. The editing process was very smooth. I was equally lucky to be paired with Sawyer Cloud, whose mesmerizing illustrations captured both reality and magic.


CM: In reading your book, I noticed Mae’s parents were so supportive. Some of her teachers and peers were not. Can you tell us more? 

LL: Mae’s parents were instrumental in helping her discover her inner scientist. When she had a question, instead of answering that question, they would ask her to look it up. That helped her foster autonomy and confidence. Her parents encouraged her to study whatever she wanted, whether it was science or dance.


Unfortunately, girls were not encouraged to study science at that time, especially Black girls. Her Kindergarten teacher questioned Mae’s desire to be a doctor and asked her if she would like to be a nurse instead, which was offensive. And when Mae attended Stanford University, many of her professors ignored or belittled her, despite her brilliance.


But none of that mattered to Mae. The word “no” did/does not exist in her vocabulary. She doggedly pursued her dreams time and time again. She made history being the first Black woman to fly to space and accomplished whatever else she set out to do.


CM: Mae is amazing and kids are going to love this book.


For our GROG readers, do you have any wise writing advice? Recommended resources? Revision tips?


LL: Revising is not the easiest process for me. Sometimes, I know something is wrong with a manuscript but I have no idea how to fix it. There’s no specific equation that works for me each time, but here’s a breakdown of how I edit:


Once I pound out the first draft, I put it aside.

I revisit it and make any necessary edits, playing around with structure and voice (it’s important to experiment).

When I feel the manuscript is the best it can be, I send it to my critique partners (if you don’t have any CPs, get some!! They are an essential part of the process).

I take what critiques resonate, and then get back to editing.

Again, I put the work aside (for me, this is an essential step).

During this time, I read and write other books, this helps keep the creative juices flowing.

When I return to the manuscript, I may realize it’s still not working, in which case I shelve it indefinitely.

If I feel strongly about trying to make it work, I may pay an editor to take a look at it.

If I feel the manuscript is “amazing,” then I send it to my agent Miranda to get her feedback, and then we usually edit some more until we submit it to editors.


CM: Y'all, this is all great advice! Thank you, Lydia.


What upcoming projects are you excited about?


LL: I’m excited to announce UP, UP HIGH, a companion book to DEEP, DEEP DOWN published by Capstone. It ventures up high into the Earth’s atmosphere to uncover its secrets. Though it may seem like there’s nothing up there, readers will be surprised at what you can actually find. That book spins into our universe in 2025.


I also occasionally write funny fiction! I just landed a contract for a 2 book early graphic novel deal, GROUCHO THE GROUCHY GROUNDHOG, the first book releases in 2025.


Lydia, thank you for sharing about your book and your process today. Congratulations on all your writing -- and good luck with the writing (and revision) ahead.


Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children. Her titles include DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024), DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023) which was shortlisted for a Silver Birch Express (Forest of Reading) award, THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award, and NO BEARS ALLOWED (Clear Fork Media, 2019). A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books.


Lydia's Social Media Links: 

Web: http://www.lydialukidis.com/

Purchase links: https://www.albertwhitman.com/book/dancing-through-space/

Blog: https://lydialukidis.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LydiaLukidis

FB: https://www.facebook.com/LydiaLukidis/


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Your Work Deserves It: Conferences to Consider

 

by Fran Hodgkins

Writing can be a lonely business. Does this story work? Is this idea a picture book or a novel? Am I even any good at this? Questions like these pester us daily, like blackflies in May in my beloved Maine. 

 

You don’t need bug repellent, though; going to a conference can make all the difference. Even for the most introverted among us, conferences can make a huge impacts. Inspiring keynote speeches, targeted workshops, and the chance to meet kindred spirits can change your life.

 

Many conferences and workshops are held virtually, which allows you to attend conferences around the world. Travel and hotel costs are no barrier to attending, and if your health presents a problem or you are still leery of crowds, virtual conferences are an excellent choice. 

 

Not only can you attend sessions that will help you improve your writing, but conference attendees often get the chance to submit their work (for a given period of time, such as three months), to editors whose publishing houses are normally closed to non-agented submissions.

 

Here’s a roundup of some of the conferences GROG Blog members have found especially valuable.

 

 

Big Sur Writers Workshop

California, USA

February, 2025

Founded by Andrea Brown, Executive Director and President of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc., this workshop gives you access to noted writers, editors, and agents. Writers get the chance to work one on one with industry professionals and get personalized feedback.

 

By attending this workshop, you’ll meet some of the leading editors and writers working in children’s books today. You’ll also meet agents from the ABLA and get the chance to share your work with them.

The ABLA team has also hosted “Big Sur on Cape Cod” in the past, but that won’t be offered again until after 2025.

 

To learn more, visit https://www.bigsurchildrenswriters.com/

 

 

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Conferences

New York, NY  – Winter

Los Angeles, CA -- Summer

SCBWI brings together top professionals in the children’s publishing world twice each year at the annual Summer and Winter Conferences. These annual events feature renowned authors and illustrators as well as top editors, art directors, and agents in the field of children’s publishing. The Summer and Winter Conferences are excellent networking opportunities for those already established in and just starting to enter the world of children’s book writing and illustrating. There are several tracks available to choose from; illustrators have their own track, as do PAL (published and listed) members, beginners, and intermediate writers. Writers can choose from workshops in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, picture books, marketing, and more. 

 

As of today, the Summer conference will be held remotely, and there will be a remote option for the in-person New York Winter conference. To find out more, visit SCBWI.org.

 

SCBWI Regional workshops

SCBWI has regions around the country and around the world, and they offer a rainbow of learning opportunities—literally something for everyone! A few upcoming sessions include Strengthening Voice in Narration and Illustration (SCBWI New Mexico); Creative Approaches to Revision (SCBWI Rocky Mountain); and Harnessing the Marketing Power of Pinterest (SCBWI Indiana). Fees apply, and most sessions are remote and open to people around the country. 

Generally, you’ll get limited-time access to recordings of the sessions, and you may also be able to submit to editors and agents who attend for a certain period of time. You can find current listings at https://www.scbwi.org/regional-virtual-events, or visit the individual regions’ sites. 

 For a personal take on attending a conference, visit Tina Cho's GROG Blog entry from April 24!

 

Rutgers One-on-One Conference

 Rutgers University

New Brunswick, NJ

From the website: “The unique one-on-one format gives writers and illustrators a rare opportunity to share their work with an assigned mentor from the children's publishing world, whether it be an editor, agent, art director, or published author or illustrator. These professionals generously volunteer their time to not only critique the work of new and talented writers and illustrators, but also to share constructive information about the overall business of publishing. Every attendee is guaranteed a forty-five minute one-on-one manuscript or portfolio review session, and there are additional opportunities to network with our faculty members.” 

 

Are you convinced yet? If not, let me add that this conference is hosted by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature at the university's Cook Student Center. You won't stay on campus, but there are plenty of hotels nearby.

 

And did I mention the faculty? Past mentors include

 

  •   Linda Pratt, Agent, Wernick & Pratt Agency
  •  Orlando Dos Reis, Editor, Scholastic Press
  •  Maria Russo, Minerva/Astra Books for Young Readers
  • Jamie Ryu, Editor, HarperCollins
  •  Sara Sproull, Assistant Editor, Abrams Books for Young Readers
  •  Gaby Taboas-Zayas, Assistant Editor, Penguin Young Readers
  •  Beth Terrill, Editor, NorthSouth Books
  •  Marietta Zacker, Agent, Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency
  •  Andrea Cascardi, Agent, Transatlantic Media
  •  Rachel Orr, Agent, Prospect Agency  Diana Pho, Editor, Tor Teen/Starscape/Macmillan

This one-day conference includes breakfast, lunch, and guest speakers. In addition to a one-on-one session, attendees will take part in five-on-five sessions with like-minded authors, illustrators, editors, and/or agents. Please note: you must apply and be accepted to this conference. 

 

Visit the website https://www.ruccl.org/conference/about-one-on-one-plus.html for more information.

 

 

Highlights Foundation

Boyds Mills, PA

I admit it: I’m crazy about the Highlights folks. I attended my first conference at Chatauqua and have attended several more both in-person and online. Today, in-person workshops are held at the founders’ home in Boyds Mills, PA. The Foundation offers working retreats across all genres, as well as Summer Camps, one for writers and one for illustrators. If you want to kickstart your work, the summer camp provides one-on-one mentoring (sorry, this year’s camps are already full, but there’s always next year!).

 

The in-person workshops include not only learning programs, but also food and lodging, either in the cabins on the property or in the “Barn” – the conference center. You are free to wander the grounds, a great way to relax and give your subconscious a dose of peace and inspiration.

 

Online workshops are scheduled all year, and range from one- or two-night minis to six-week programs. Upcoming virtual workshops include:

 

  • Shape Your Story: A 6-Week Novel Intensive with Author & Agent Linda Epstein
  •  From Idea & Sketch to Dummy & Submission: An Author/Illustrator Online Course
  • Picture Book Plotting from A-Z: A Five-Week Course for Writers

 

Highlights offers scholarships to support and encourage creators of all kinds and levels of experience, in addition to having a general scholarship fund. 

 

To find out more, visit highlightsfoundation.org; you can also talk to an ambassador who can help you decide what suits your needs.

 

***

This list isn’t exhaustive – if it was, I could probably fill an entire website. I hope I’ve gotten you thinking. If you want to improve your writing, make friends, and have some fun along the way, a conference is a great place to start. Maybe I'll see you there!


 

 

 


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Parking Ticket, New Friends, & a Book Idea: My 1st Ever SCBWI Conference with 10 Tips by Tina Cho

 April 12-14, 2024, I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) Conference, The Marvelous Midwest Conference, sponsored by six states: Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, & Wisconsin. This was not my first writing conference, but it was my first SCBWI conference. You might be thinking why I haven't attended before. Well, I've been out of country for 10 years, and then when I moved back during the pandemic, they didn't meet.


It was held in Davenport, IA, along the Mississippi River at an event center. Below is a list of tips and reminders to myself for next time I attend a writing conference. Maybe something here will be helpful to you, too!


1. Find out which conferences your agent or wish-agent is attending and go! 
When I saw that my agent was a speaker in my state, I submitted for a day off school (I'm a teacher) so I could see her again (Met her at the So. CA Christian Writers Conference in 2017) It's been 7 years since I've seen Adria Goetz. Attending a conference with your agent allows you to get to know them better, support them when they speak, and just have fun. Plus, I met agency sisters, two other clients that she reps.

Me & Adria Goetz of KT Lit

Adria, Caryn, Me, Leah

2. When your SCBWI RA sends out the email about the conference and booking a hotel, do so immediately. 
Delaying and procrastinating means you won't get the better hotel or maybe even the group rate. I delayed, of course, but did get the group rate for a room at the 2nd hotel (Hilton). Also, take your own pillow if you have neck problems. Ask if they offer breakfast. I ended up driving to Panera because I didn't want to pay $15 for breakfast at the hotel. You could interview a fellow creator and see if they want to split the cost of a hotel room and/or carpooling. The lovely author, Becky Janni, was my roomie for the first night.

Me & author Rebecca Janni

3. Study the map for parking places! Know the prices. Study the event center map. Have an idea of the layout of the place.
If you're forgetful like me, you might even take a picture of your car in the ramp, so you know which floor you're on. Pay the parking. I suggest to the manual machine, not the app. More on that later.

4. Set a conference goal. 
What are you trying to get out of this conference? Working on a specific craft in writing? Meeting your agent? editor? Just attending for social reasons? To help you tailor and revise a certain manuscript? Setting a goal will help you make the most of your time for which you paid big bucks for!

5. Study the sessions and like I tell my kindergartners, make good choices!
If you're a teacher, you know how much work it is to take a day off and plan for a sub. So you bet, I took advantage of every minute! I booked a picture book intensive with editor Carter Hasegawa of Candlewick and paid for a critique by him. I wrote down a list of possible sessions I was interested in, then highlighted the ones I really wanted to attend. Study the session description to make sure it's one you can benefit from. I wanted to meet fellow authors that I've known for years online and never met in person. I attended their workshops. 

Jen Swanson: Using Innovation to Grab an Editor's Attention

Me & author friend Jen Swanson

Teresa Robeson & I are on a team of writers at the Kidlit for Growing Minds Blog.

Teresa Robeson: Writing a Graphic Novel for the First Time


6. Make connections.
Take your business card to give to new friends. Ask on social media who else is attending so you can meet up or look for them. It's also nice to be surprised, running into someone you've known since 2012. I met the fabulous Julie Hedlund who runs the 12x12 Challenge. I was an inaugural member the first two years. I also sat in a session with Mark Ceilley, from one of my critique groups, Pens & Brushes since 2008! You & your critique partners could meet up at a conference.

Me & Julie Hedlund

Mark Ceilley & Me

7. Find alternative places to eat.

Conference food was great. But not all meals are provided. Thankfully, there were nice little restaurants along the event center street. The wonderful ladies Kathy Halsey, Caryn Rivadeneira, and another woman, & I ate out during one of these times. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo, but here's Kathy & I, writers of this Grog Blog.

Grog Blog Writers: Kathy Halsey & Tina Cho


8. Carry Sharpies. 
If your books are in the SCBWI bookstore room, you'll want to be able to sign them. Also, buy books of fellow authors, illustrators, and creators! 

Author/Illustrator James Ransome

9. Be brave & introduce yourself to people. Talk to the speakers.
It was awesome to meet illustrator Zeke Peña, a fellow Kokila creator. He illustrated My Papi Has a Motorcycle. He told me he has a personal copy of my book, The Ocean Calls! 

I ran into speaker Ellice Lee, VP, Senior Art Director of Philomel/Viking/Flamingo books of PRH. She gave a keynote & shared current data on diversity in picture books, which I appreciated. But I was flabbergasted when I said my name to her, she responded, "Tina Cho of The Ocean Calls? I gotta tell Nami I met you." (referring to Namrata Tripathi, my Kokila publisher.) She wanted our photo together.

Ellice Lee, VP Art Director & Me

Diversity Data Ellice shared from CCBC
10. Be flexible. Good things happen when you do.
Sessions you wanted might've gotten canceled. Or maybe you notice your very first parking ticket on your car, ahem, & it ruins your morning. I had downloaded the parking app & faithfully paid onto it throughout the weekend. I have no idea why I was ticketed. So because I was dealing with that, I missed a keynote. I prayed, "God, please let something good happen today." I rushed to my next session, on writing HUMOR, which is what I needed, from Little Bee Books editor, Brett Duquette. Great session. Afterwards, I stayed to introduce myself, because, my very first picture book, Rice from Heaven is a Little Bee Book, although with an editor who is no longer there. Brett was happy to meet me, and we chatted 1 on 1 for a long time about Korean stuff. We came up with a possible book idea, and he even took the time to meet my agent. Because of that, I missed the next keynote, but was able to continue chatting with him and another author friend. Being in person with editors allows you to get a sense of their personality and tastes. 

Me & editor Brett Duquette, Little Bee Books

So there you have my weekend. I have a notepad full of notes. New friendships. Something to research. Oh, back to that parking ticket...I reached out to the city, submitted my parking receipts, and they rescinded my ticket. Thank you, city of Davenport! 

Now, I'm off to research & write. 

Tina Cho is the author of Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House 2020), God’s Little Astronomer (Waterbrook 2024), God’s Little Oceanographer 2025, & The Princess & the Grain of Rice (FSG 2025). Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley 11/12/2024. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two kids reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten.