Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Guest Post by Beth Anderson: Being There: In Search of Setting + a Give-away!

Beth Anderson is no stranger to the Grog Blog. She offers wonderful picture book biography wisdom. Her new book, "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway debuts October 13th from Calkins Creek, & it is fabulous! Today Beth shares about setting in picture book biographies. 

Setting is one of the basic elements of story, and when a story is set in a different time or place than our own, it calls for research. Searching out clothing, technology, buildings, transportation, and more, we aim to avoid anachronisms and make our characters’ world come to life. But setting is more than a “costume” or façade to make a story look right. Setting creates conflict, brings meaning, and is a vital part of point of view. So how can you “be there” as a character when you can’t travel to a place or time?

When I researched Elizabeth Jennings for Lizzie Demands a Seat, I pored over maps to get the lay of the land and locate her home, streetcar route, church, and courthouse. Putting myself in 1854 New York City, I imagined her footsteps clicking…wait…was there pavement? Basic questions like this lead us to seek out and examine images. Details on daily life, clothing, and weather help enhance scenes. 

But as I got to the heart of Lizzie’s story, I needed information on social aspects of life like class, gender, race, traditions, “unspoken rules,” and attitudes. How did she fit in her time and place? How did setting clash with her character? We can understand segregation on transportation being unjust, but how did it impact black lives? And Lizzie as a teacher—an educated, African American female who likely loved children—isn’t unusual today. But when we embed that fact in setting, we see her as exceptional. And when we look deeper, Lizzie as educator indicates she’s part of the abolitionist movement to secure equal rights and end slavery. Looking at her world through her eyes intensifies the emotions and adds meaning. Learning about the social fabric came from reading widely beyond her immediate surroundings, and about what happened before and after her actions. 


“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses called for setting research with a different focus. James Kelly’s story was more dependent on understanding the physical setting. I studied photographs of New York City from the 1930s to 1950s. I pored over subway maps to find locations of various incidents. And to “be there” as a character with super senses, I had to perceive his world as he did—through his senses. What would he have smelled with his super sniffer? What sounds would’ve bombarded his ears? I found some amazing historical maps— stench, sound, and industry maps! The sound map linked to newsreel clips! Though I didn’t use much of what I discovered, I could immerse myself in his sensory world. 

I’ve always wondered what was beneath those sidewalk grates and manhole covers. I needed to know about subway tunnels and access to infrastructure beneath the street. You Tube is a treasure trove! From teens exploring abandoned tunnels to workers building the subway, I learned about the underground world. [And let me add a special shout out to You Tube. I’ve used how-to videos, re-enactments (musket shots!), tours, historical footage, videos of animals, street sounds, drives through the countryside, and so much more.]

 Kelly’s radio crackled…” Wait a minute—would he have had a radio? How did he get messages to go check out clogs or leaks? An expert answered my question. No radios. He would have used phones marked by blue lights in the tunnels. Note for illustrator. 

Skyscrapers went up…their foundations went down. The city grew. How did that impact Kelly? Broken lines and mains, more miles of track to inspect [museum records]. Drips and leaks threatened cave-ins and explosions. Kelly could be electrocuted by the third rail. Inherent dangers inspire fear, tension, action.

 Why did he investigate a leak in a hotel and a stink in a tavern? Ahhh, everyone blamed that new-fangled, mysterious underground subway. Articles revealed attitudes.

 Media and trends influence how people see their world and sometimes offer interesting possibilities for imagery and writing. Smelly Kelly’s time, the heyday of detective stories and the emergence of superheroes, inspired me to play with both, and I ended up with a superhero thread that tied into the special heart that framed my telling. 

Different stories and characters require you to dig into different aspects of setting. In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I needed to delve into education, reading, writing, and language of the Revolutionary War period. Primary sources revealed traditions, attitudes, implications, and plenty of odd spellings which provided conflict and helped me take readers into the mix.  

It’s important to get the details of setting right and present your character’s world accurately. Even if you’re writing fiction, setting details make your world real and enhance the telling. There are plenty of online tools to gain access to a character’s world: maps of all kinds, Google Earth, You Tube, photographs, images, personal narratives, first-hand accounts, town records, digitized archive materials, varied media of the time, and EXPERTS! But to get past merely “dressing” your story in setting, consider the impact of all you’ve learned about the time and place on your character and the deeper meanings that emerge. Setting isn’t a backdrop and props, it’s sort of a living entity that affects character decisions, actions, and emotions. Some of the most important parts of setting involve aspects you can’t see.

 Dig deep and wide. Wrap yourself in the social fabric. Visualize physical details. Take in the sensory world like Smelly Kelly. But don’t just “stand” in that time and place. Immerse your heart in it. Be there. So your reader can be there, too. 

Thank you, Beth! To win a copy of "Smelly" Kelly & His Super Senses, please leave a comment for Beth by October 31. (U.S. addresses only)

Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. Author of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET (S&S 2018), LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT! (Calkins Creek, 2020), and “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES (Calkins Creek, Oct. 2020), Beth has more historical gems on the way.

Book Trailer for Smelly Kelly:

Signed copies of my books available at Old Firehouse Books  
and Boulder Book Store



Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What Past Pandemics can Teach Us ~ a conversation with Gail Jarrow

by Sue Heavenrich

In March, the schools and businesses in my county closed down for, what we thought at the time would be, a short period of time. But seven months later here we are, still in the midst of a pandemic. Humans have faced plagues and pandemics for at least as long as recorded history. Surely, in the last thousand years, we must have learned something? 

To find out, I called Gail Jarrow. She’s written about bubonic plague and typhoid fever, examining the science as well as the social and cultural events surrounding outbreaks of those diseases.

“With any new disease there are so many unknowns,” says Gail. When bubonic plague came to the US in the late 1890s-1900, scientists and doctors had some knowledge of bacteria. But they still had no understanding about how the plague was spread. The disease showed up in San Francisco, brought by ship from China, and scientists scrambled to find the cause and a cure. While public health officials fought the disease, politicians tried to hide it. They didn’t want people to know that it was in their community. Meanwhile, a French scientist working in India had written up a report on fleas as the agent of transmission – but it took 10 years for the scientific community to accept his findings. 

“In the heat of the moment, people, even scientists, can decide to accept one thing about a disease only years later to discover it was something else,” Gail says. In the case of bubonic plague, scientists were rushing to find a bacteria so they could develop a vaccine. “And mistakes were made,” Gail says. While scientists raced to find a cure, health officials leaned towards quarantines, an unpopular solution that conflicted with individual civil rights.

“We see many of these same tensions being played out with Covid,” says Gail. Pharmaceutical companies, local businesses, politicians, public health officials, and community residents each bring their own concerns and interests to a pandemic. 

“Just as with bubonic plague, we are learning things every day [about Covid-19],” says Gail. “We are going to make mistakes. In 1900 they made the best decisions they could with the information they had.” This is where we are at this point with the Covid pandemic: scientists continue to learn about the disease and public health officials are trying to make the best decisions they can. 

There are a lot of similarities between our current pandemic and the 1900 bubonic plague.
  • Both originated in China, spread from animals to humans and carried around the world. In 1900 is was ships, in 2020 it’s planes.
  • In 1900 San Francisco initiated a travel ban, and California monitored train stations and ports to make sure people wouldn’t carry the disease in or out of the communities. 
  • Public health officials tested people for the disease at the ports. In 2020 there were some travel bans and airports instituted temperature checks. But the US didn’t have the capacity to test vast populations and, at least in February and early March our airports were still open.
Covid testing is an issue, Gail notes. Not only are there limitations with using temperature as an indication, but we have yet to find a sure way to identify asymptomatic people carrying the virus.

Quarantine is an age-old approach to isolating disease. In Gail’s book about Typhoid Mary, medical detective George Soper eventually traced the outbreak of typhoid to Mary Mallon. But Mary refused to comply with quarantine and other medical directives because she never had any symptoms. With Mary, it became a battle of personal freedom versus public health – and here we are, once again deliberating quarantines, lockdowns, and contact tracing.

Check out Gail’s video on Covid-19, Pandemics & Disease

Most Notorious! A True Crime History Podcast features Gail in a podcast about deadly diseases in early 20th century America.

Gail’s newest book, Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease, is out this month and kicks off her new trilogy on Medical Fiascoes. She explores the science and history of Civil War medicine through actual medical cases and first-person accounts by soldiers, doctors, and nurses. You can find out more about Gail and her books at her website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Picture Books for Civic Engagement and Social Activism ~Christy Mihaly

A quick announcement up front: I'm excited to be serving as a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils book awards this season, in the Nonfiction category. I'll be very busy reading many fabulous books over the next couple of months! Nominations are open through October 15, and anyone can nominate a worthy book--more info here.

Today's Topic: Picture Books and Civic Engagement 
In 2020 we face an election year like no other. Amidst the disruptions to schools, schedules, and psyches, many adults are wondering how they can engage young people in meaningful conversations about our nation's challenges. 
Picture books can help. There's a cornucopia of recent releases to choose from. I asked a passel of creators of recently published picture books to share their inspirations, insights, and pointers for using these books in engaging with kids. 
Don't miss the additional titles they recommend, at the end of the post. And finally, I've included links to book-related additional resources.

Books about Civics
Sometimes we want a book that introduces the conceptual framework of democracy: elections, rights, and the roles of government officials. 

When Catherine Stier couldn't find a book to help her explain to her preschoolers what the President is supposed to do, she wrote it herself.  If I Were President (Albert Whitman, 1999, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan) offers a kids'-eye view of the presidency. 

Stier's recently released A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman, Sept. 2020, illustrated by Courtney Dawson), provides a kid-friendly take on elections. Stier says she encourages adults sharing this book to talk with kids about issues that are important to them, and encourage them to design campaign posters for causes they care about.

Ruth Spiro's "Baby Loves Political Science" board books explain democracy's basics to even younger kids. (Charlesbridge, 2020-2021, illustrated by Greg Paprocki.) It's never too early to start!
Ruth explains that these new additions to her popular "Baby Loves Science" series use everyday events and observations to teach the fundamentals of government. Democracy introduces elections, while Justice, along with the forthcoming Congress and The Presidency, cover the three branches of government.

In a similar vein, in Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means (Albert Whitman, 2020, illustrated by Manu Montoya) my intention was help kids appreciate the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, and to understand how these freedoms shape our lives. I incorporated poems, historical vignettes, and a contemporary story in which kids exercise their rights to make the world a better place. While some high-profile adults don't always seem to understand the Constitution, I hope this book gives young readers a good start on the road to civic engagement. 

Books to Foster Social Engagement

What better way to capture a young reader's imagination than with a well-told story? That's what these picture books do. Here's a selection of excellent recent and forthcoming PBs that use true stories to bring history to life, promote empathy, and encourage young people to get involved in their communities.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (Charlesbridge, 2020) profiles 14 contemporary young activists with brief bios and poems by diverse poets. Edited by Lindsay Metcalf, Keila Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, with art by Jeanette Bradley, this book invites kids to read it again and again. It includes back matter explaining the poetic forms, profiles of the poets, and suggestions for activism.

Jeanette Bradley says her daughter inspired her to create this book. After reading other picture book biographies, she told Jeanette, "I wish I lived in the past, so I could change things." This child had concluded, from her reading, that only famous dead people could make a difference in the world! Jeanette hopes that by collecting the stories of modern activist kids, she can correct this misconception and "empower kids to speak out and act when they see a wrong." 

The book's editors also created additional materials to inspire engagement. Keila wrote an activity guide, and Lindsay and Jeanette collected book club materials for teachers on Flip Grid. As Keila says, not only should kids learn about leaders from the past, but they also "can be a part of making history too."
Author Elisa Boxer is drawn to unsung heroes. In The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman's Words Made History (ill. Vivien Mildenberger, Sleeping Bear Press, 2020), she celebrates a lesser-known figure in the women's suffrage movement. Febb Burn was a mother who helped push through the ratification of the 19th Amendment by writing a letter to her lawmaker son. This story resonated for Elisa, who knew it could "help children realize the power of one voice, and one vote." She hopes her book will "inspire children to give voice to what matters to them." 
Beth Anderson was also moved to tell the story of a lesser-known woman. Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights (ill. E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek, 2020) introduces readers to a young African American schoolteacher in New York City who fought against segregated streetcars in 1854, a century before Rosa Parks took her stand.

In presenting this book to young people, Beth highlights how the "heroic people that come before us inspire us and how we, too, have a responsibility to leave 'footsteps' to inspire others that follow us." Beth leads the kids in an activity in which they trace their feet on colored paper and cut out "footprints." On one footprint, she asks them to write the names of those who have inspired them, and on the other, how they'd like to inspire others.

Author Traci Sorell works to bring greater visibility to members of the Native Nations in literature for young people, and to empower kids to use their voices. Her first Picture Book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (ill. Frane Lessac, Charlesbridge, 2018), offers readers a look at contemporary Cherokee life. Traci continues to bring Native stories to light in many formats. Look for her forthcoming nonfiction picture books, Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (Millbrook 2021), and We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know (Charlesbridge 2021).

Do you have other favorite books to share on these topics? Please leave them in the comments! 

More Recommended Recent Picture Books for Young Activists
☑ Sometimes People March, by Tessa Allen (Balzer + Bray, 2020)
☑ Shirley Chisolm is a Verb, by Veronica Chambers, ill. Rachelle Baker (Dial Books, 2020)
☑ Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, by Alice Faye Duncan, ill. R. Gregory Christie (Calkins Creek, 2018)
☑ Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World, by Susan Hood, ill. Sophie Blackall and 12 more (Harper Collins, 2018) 
☑ We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, ill. Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook, 2020)
☑ Vote for Our Future! by Margaret McNamara, ill. Micah Player (Schwartz & Wade, 2020)
☑ Peaceful Fights for Equal Rightsby Rob Sanders, ill. Jared Andrew Schorr (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
☑ The Teachers March: How Selma's Teachers Changed History, by Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace, ill. Charly Palmer (Calkins Creek, 2020)

Additional Resources

Thursday, October 1, 2020


From the desk of Suzy Leopold

Do you know some names of owls indigenous to your state? My state of Illinois is home to eight owls.

  • Barn Owl
  • Bared Eagle Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Great-Horned Owl
  • Long-eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Northern Owl
  • Snow Owl
Most of the species that live in my state are mentioned in today’s featured picture book on the GROG Blog.


written by Annette Whipple made its debut yesterday!

This informational picture book is published by Reycraft Books, 2020. The thirty-two page book is written for ages 6-10.

Now for another question . . . Do you know how many owl species there are in the world? There are 250 Strigiformes that belong to this order of birds.

The information presented in this book uses the Q & A format.

Check out this amazing two page spread:

Note the question, What’s For Dinner? 

The answer follows to tell the reader what this predator hunts for. A photograph is included to show small mammals on a dinner plate! The outstanding photography is sure to amaze the reader and encourage more curiosity about these majestic birds of prey.

Here is another spread:
Once again an answer follows the question, Whooo’s There?

This time focus on the sparky, open-eyed owl. Several animated owls are included throughout the book. These illustrated owls share answers to questions, too. This feature is included on each spread along with the superb photography.

If you're not familiar with the anatomy of an owl, page 29 includes information about eyes, ears, ear tufts, feathers, talons, and facial disks. 

One section explains how the reader can help owls and states:

"You can help owls and other wildlife by letting nature be wild."

The back matter includes a list of seven words in a glossary and several links to helpful websites.

Thank you, Annette, for sharing your love of owls and for encouraging readers to explore the world around them through your many nonfiction picture books.

This book is not only a hoot to read, the reader will acquire new facts about this interesting bird. 

Now I know! Next time I hear a screech, a whistle, a trill or a bark, I will see if I can identify the owl.

I give this book a total of five stars out of five.
And now Annette shares a craft of writing tip about first lines and how they matter.

From the desk of Annette Whipple

When I was revising Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, I knew I loved most of the text. It’s a picture book in question-and-answer format. Every page spread in the informational book has one Q & A as well as a related sidebar. The sidebars bring humor to the text. 

As I revised, I suspected my original first lines just wouldn’t hook a reader. But I felt a bit stuck.

“Owls are easy to recognize. They have big heads, flat faces, and hooked beaks. They’re known for their hunting skills. But do you really know these birds?” 

While at a Highlights conference, the instructor wanted us to focus on first lines. I knew it was an issue with my manuscript, so I was thrilled to do so.


I scribbled and scratched until our instructor asked us to stop. Then, like in many workshops, he asked if anyone wanted to share what they wrote. Without missing a beat, I raised my hand with a grin.


First, I read aloud the original introduction/nonhook.

Then, I shared my new introduction which became…

“The unforgettable call. The glowing eyes. The fierce beak. You recognize an owl when you hear or see one, but do really know these birds?”

See the spread above Whooo’s There? in the ARC [Advanced Reading Copy].

(They actually cheered! I was shocked at that. Writing friends matter.


Oh, the Highlights faculty member who led that session? He works with Reycraft Books, the publisher of Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. And next year Reycraft will continue The Truth About series. The next two books are about dogs and spiders! They are all in Q&A format and highly visual with tons of photographs. Each page spread includes an illustrated sidebar.

Now, anytime I know something isn’t working, I sit down with focus. I set the timer and don’t change tasks (or tabs) until the timer goes off. 


First lines matter. Make your manuscript more enticing—and more sellable—by dedicating time to them. That’s the first lesson of this blog post. The second? Attend conferences and workshops like SCBWI and Highlights—even online. You’ll be challenged to try new techniques.

Thanks so much for having me here today. We know first lines are important, but sometimes it takes some extra effort and time to really hook the reader.

For more information about Annette click on these links:

Check out this previous GROG Blog post from August 2020.

Annette Whipple, Children’s Author, Inspiring Curiosity and Wonder

Sign up for Annette’s Monthly Newsletter

A Writing course: Kid Lit Creatives 

Use this code AWBLOG2020 for a 10% discount.





Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder in young readers while exciting them about science and history. She’s the author of eight fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls (Reycraft Books), and The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press). Annette is a fact-loving, chocolate chip cookie-baking children’s nonfiction author from Pennsylvania. Get to know her and learn about her presentations at

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Celebrating the Successful Critique Group: I Couldn’t Have Done it Without You! by Julie Phend


No matter where you are in your writing journey, the COVID-19 pandemic has put roadblocks in your path. Maybe it’s hard to find time to write with kids at home or you’re distracted by concern for loved ones. Perhaps you have a new book that has to be promoted entirely online. These are added challenges to an already difficult job. But writers are a resilient group. We may stumble on the stones thrown in our path, but we pick ourselves up and keep on traveling.

We need not travel alone. The support of others is crucial to our journey. And one of the best ways to find support is through a good critique group. I belong to two groups, one that used to meet in person and another that has always critiqued online. Now, due to the pandemic, both groups meet on Zoom. Through these tough months, we have encouraged and pushed each other. We’ve continued to be productive because we know others are counting on us. The pandemic has actually brought us closer, and I believe both groups are stronger than ever. 

So I want to give a shout-out to critique groups everywhere and explore what makes them work.

What is a Critique Group?

A critique group is a group of writers who share their work on a regular basis for the purpose of exchanging feedback and improving craft.


Why are critique groups important for a writer?

I posed this question to Terry Jennings, who facilitates critique groups for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) MidAtlantic chapter. 

She said, “A critique group serves as a sounding board for your writing. Critique groups can tell you what you’re doing well, as well as what is confusing about your piece. You can use the group to talk through a problem and get ideas about how to solve it. A critique group also provides validation of your work. It pushes you to write and teaches you to meet deadlines. And by critiquing others, you learn what works. You grow as a writer.”

What are the important elements of a successful critique group?

I asked this question of number of writers involved in critique groups. The answers were surprisingly consistent.
  • Respect: It is crucial to respect each member’s work, their personality, and their process. Remember, they are entrusting you with their creative baby—treat that gift with care.
  • Generosity: Members genuinely want to help each other find the best path for telling their stories. They applaud what works and make suggestions for improvement.
  • Honesty: Critique partners must be honest about what is confusing or doesn’t work. Oftentimes, discussion leads to insight, and insight leads to the best fix.
  • Commitment: When you join a critique group, you are making a commitment to yourself as well as fellow members. Giving thoughtful feedback takes time. Meet deadlines. Carve out the time needed.

How Do Critique Groups Work?

This varies from one group to another. Both of my groups exchange manuscripts for written feedback prior to meeting. However, one group sends comments before the meeting while the other sends them afterward. Some groups read a submission aloud during the meeting, organize their responses, and then discuss. Still other groups exchange feedback entirely through written comments without ever actually meeting.  

Groups vary in size, the most workable being 4-6 members. Meetings vary from weekly to monthly and last about two hours. What’s important is to meet regularly, set guidelines for number of pages and rules for discussion, and follow them. Every writer should get equal time. A timer is crucial for this purpose.

What are my responsibilities in critiquing others?

Meet deadlines. Take time to read your partners’ work carefully and give thoughtful comments both on what works and what doesn’t. When possible, suggest a fix. Be specific, but don’t rewrite it yourself. Always remember, it’s the author’s story. Confidentiality is important, too. Don’t talk about your critique partners’ work to others. It’s their decision when and how much they want to share about their projects.

What are my responsibilities when my work is critiqued?

Listen openly and attentively. Take notes and ask questions if you don’t understand something, without interrupting or becoming defensive. Don’t dismiss what others are saying—upon reflection, you will often see the wisdom of their comments. At the same time, remember it’s your story. Know your story so you aren’t unduly influenced.


Other Insights from the Writers I Interviewed:

  • Go into it with a spirit of collaboration, not competition. Celebrate each other’s successes, large and small. Be cheerleaders for each other! Since writing is such a solitary endeavor, camaraderie and support can be as important as the actual critique.
  • A good group needs to concentrate on both the big picture and the nitty-gritty. It’s more than proofreading.
  • A good fit is crucial. Look for a group that writes for the same audience or genre as you. Join on a trial basis and see if you feel comfortable. Do you like the members’ work? Does their feedback meet your needs? “It’s like a relationship,” says critique member Joyana McMahon. “You’re not only choosing each other; you’re choosing to commit and foster each other’s growth over time.”

Joyana McMahon, Julie Phend, JoAnn Sanchez Kenyon, Amy Thernstrom on Zoom


Like any good relationship, your group will have its ups and downs. The make-up of your group may change over time, but your commitment will stand. There is no better feeling than having one of your group members publish a new book and knowing you helped it on its journey.

This sounds wonderful! How can I find a group?

There are many resources online. SCBWI offers resources. A local chapter can put you in touch with people who live near you. (SCBWI MidAtlantic maintains a list of writers looking for critique groups in its member pages.) Other writers’ organizations offer similar services. Put out a request on their Facebook pages and on your own. Check out the writing community on Twitter. Talk to other writers at conferences. 

Let people know you’re looking for a group, and you will find one. Then give it your best, and you will reap the rewards!


Fab Five Critique Group: Eileen Meyer, Carmela Martino, Dana Easley, Natalie Rompella, Julie Phend


For more insight on critique groups, check out the following related Grog blog posts:




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

My Top 10 Ways to Research Kidlit Editors and Agents ~ by Patricia Toht

Come, gather at my knee, youngster...

I started writing for children way back in the 20th century. (GASP!) While many aspects of writing children have changed over the years, one goal that has remained constant is to find the editor (or agent) who will love my manuscript. 

Here are the Top 10 ways that I've used to research editors and agents:

In 1995, the year I committed to writing for children, my "bible" for researching editors and agents was the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. This book contains listings that are updated annually - names, addresses, and pertinent information about each entity - as well as helpful articles. It is currently in its 32nd printing, so it must be doing something right!

2. Agency Websites
Agency websites are a great way to find a list of their agents and a description of what types of books they represent. You may find a list of clients, too, where you might spot artists that you feel an affinity to. Sometimes individual agents post their wish lists. Above all, this is a definitive place to find specific submissions information for the agency.

You can get a feel for publishing houses and imprints by looking over their current and upcoming titles, but long gone are the days of requesting printed catalogs. These days, with publishing houses merging and morphing, I find the easiest way to peek at a catalog is through Edelweiss+. I search for an imprint and find their latest list.

4. Other websites/blogs
There are so many great kidlit websites! My top picks for submissions information are:

The Purple Crayon. Harold Underdown's website has so much to offer! In particular, the "Who's Moving Where?" section provides me with the latest information on editor changes at publishing houses.

Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating blog has terrific, in-depth interviews with agents each month, as well as editor and art director interviews. 

KidLit411, by Sylvia Liu and Elaine Kiely Kearns, describes itself as "a one stop info shop for children's writers and illustrators," and that's the truth. Scroll down their Topics list to check out Agent Spotlight, Editor Spotlight, and Submissions.

5. Social Media
On Twitter, I find handy hashtags to harvest information on editors and agents. Do a search for these hashtags: #askanagent, #askaneditor, and #MSWL (manuscript wish list), to name a few. Follow your favorite publishers and professionals to keep up-to-date with them. 

6. Conferences and workshops
Attending conferences and workshops may involve a cost, but they come with the possibility of great rewards. Often you can get an editorial critique of your work, which lets you to get tips from the top. And faculty members usually open their submissions window for a few months for attendees - so important for unagented manuscripts!

SCBWI is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. If you are serious about writing for kids, membership in this organization is one of the most important steps you can take.
Among its resources, SCBWI has compiled The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children. It details how to prepare and submit your work. The Market Survey section gives a current snapshot of the market (although change is continual). I like the section "Edited by..." with information that can help pair your book with a receptive editor. 

Querytracker is a database of agents and editors, and a channel used by many of them to recieve submissions. The standard membership is free; a premium membership has more to offer, but comes with a cost. (I've browsed the database for information, but I haven't used it for submissions.)

9. Author Acknowledgments
For novelists, you may discover agent and editor names for your favorite authors by checking out the acknowledgments in the back of their books. 

10. The PW Children's Bookshelf newsletter
This is my favorite way of tracking agent and editor preferences! Near the bottom of this twice-weekly newsletter is a list of current book deals. Each announcement includes the name of the author (and illustrator, if it's a picture book deal), the editor who bought the book, the book title, a brief description of the book, and the name of the agent(s) securing the deal. It takes some work, but I maintain a spreadsheet of this information that I can search when I have a new manuscript ready. Using Control + F brings up a search box where I can enter key words to find deals that have similarities to my work. (E.g. I search "rhyme" to discover editors that may be open to rhyming picture books.) Sign up for the Children's Bookshelf newsletter here.

These sources are my Top 10, but you'll undoubtedly find many more. If you have a favorite, please share it in the Comments below.

Happy writing, everyone! Good luck with those submissions!