I’m pleased to announce that I am now also an editor with Running Wild Press.
I had a great time at the Orange County SCBWI Editor’s Day. Got feedback on a picture book manuscript, networked, and got to listen to some KidLit luminaries, including illustrators Jennifer Gray Olson and Rodolfo Montalvo, and several editors. One of my fellow San Diego SCBWI members won Best Picture Book. Here are some photos:
Abrams editor, Erica Finkel, conversing about character arc
Chronicle editor, Taylor Norman, discusses delicious dialog.
Me, picture book author, speaking about the do’s and don’ts of picture book writing.
The audience was diverse…
Jeffrey Salane, editorial director at Little Simon Books, spoke about the picture book acquisition process.
Kristine Brogno, Chronicle Books design director, spoke about the interplay of words and images in picture books.
Kira Lynn is editor and publisher of Kane Miller Books, A Division of EDC Publishing. Kane Miller is based in San Diego, and is best known in my household for their unforgettably titled picture book, “Everyone Poops”. Kira has graciously agreed to answer some questions about children’s book publishing.
Publishing picture books and fiction, Kane Miller’s aim is to bring the children of the world closer to each other through sharing stories and ideas, while exploring cultural differences and similarities. There is that moment when you’re watching a foreign film, when you forget the subtitles and the strange city and you become entrenched in, and captured by, the story, the people, the happenings. They cease to become foreign, they just are. But, when the film is over, you feel that you’ve been somewhere else. You have a sense of a different place and a different culture – you have a sense of your differences, but because you were caught up in the story, the people of the story, you also have a sense of the familiar.
And so it is with foreign children’s books. A level of understanding that comes from seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
The books we publish are first and foremost good stories. (If the plot of the foreign film doesn’t hold your attention you’re really not going to care what they’re having for dinner.) They are meaningful, laugh-out-loud funny, touching, scary. They are books with some tension, some true resolution, a nice story arc, and a voice that rings true (whether that voice belongs to a person, a crocodile, a pig or a stone gargoyle). The illustrations are multi-dimensional, they move the story, they are conscious of the child as audience (but not self-conscious).
They are books, we say, that enrich the lives and the imaginations of the children who read them. Look, sometimes a book is just a book. It’s something to page through at the beach, or in the waiting room. It’s not life-changing or awe-inspiring. But, sometimes, sometimes, it is.
And books from other countries have the potential – the serious potential – to be that life-changing, awe-inspiring book. They do more. Not hit-you-over-the-head more perhaps, but there may be something in the art, in the setting, in the characters’ names or in the layout that makes it look just a tiny bit different. That makes a parent or a teacher or a child flip the book over and look at the logo and say, “Oh, this book is from China.” It’s finding a commonality that is tremendously important.
“The Phoenix Files”! It’s an extremely well-written, high energy, fast-paced, suspense-filled serial for readers ages 12 and up. There’s an overall of feeling of menace (which makes sense, as there is a plot to wipe out the human race and take over the world). There’s a little romance, and a touch of the paranormal. It’s sort of dystopian. There’s time travel. There’s a smidge of violence. Not surprisingly, it is scary. But for us, everything in this book is appropriate, because it’s also thrilling and suspenseful and thought-provoking while it’s being terrifying.
Each book in “The Phoenix Files” (there are six altogether) launches straight into the action with a different narrator. This allows the reader a certain level of intimacy with all the characters. And it adds another layer of complexity and realism to the story.
In book 1, “Arrival”, Luke is having a rough year. When his parents split up, his mum drags him to Phoenix, a brand-new town in the middle of nowhere. His new friends, Jordan and Peter, seem OK, but Phoenix, maybe not so much. It’s no ordinary town. There are no cars, no phones, no internet. No police either. They don’t need them. Luke thinks this is pretty weird, but then he discovers that someone there is plotting to wipe out everyone outside of Phoenix. The entire human race. Phoenix is suddenly the safest and most dangerous place on earth. And the clock is already ticking. There are 100 days until the end of the world …
I love it, kids in Australia love it, and I think American kids will too.
Henry: I wonder how the Phoenix, AZ tourism board views this book…
I truly believe that books change lives. And not last year’s bestseller, or this year’s hot 600-page novel, not some long-winded exposition of class or social mores, not all seven volumes of “Remembrance of Things Past” … children’s books change lives.
So even when I’m sitting in my office at 5:30 in the morning, in between the Pilates studio and the All-You-Can-Eat-Pizza Driving School, it’s OK. Because to some child, somewhere, it matters – this sentence, this title, this book. It could be the book. The book that changes someone’s life.
Apart from that, I’m a book person. And I get to spend my days with other book people. Reading books. Working on books. Talking about books. It’s the best job in the world.
Henry: Indeed, it is wonderful to do every day what you love. And the passion shows in the work. I also have passion for All-You-Can-Eat-Pizza.
There was a particularly depressing picture book – told in verse – about the mortgage crisis, which included a good fifteen stanzas on the meaning of “underwater.”
And then there was the cover letter that started with “Dear Mr. Kane Miller, I am a certified nail technician…”
Henry: I love the “Dear Mr. Kane Miller”! And, I guess I should scrap my planned submission to Kane Miller for a dystopian board book, “The Very Underwater Caterpillar”…
Read. That’s it. Read. OK, and also: hone your craft. In any way, in any manner that you’re able. Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), workshops, seminars, writing and critique groups. And have respect for your audience. Know your audience.
Henry: That reminds me of a great comment I heard at a SCBWI conference. “Just as the lion is a product of all the zebras she’s consumed, a writer is the product of all the books that she’s read.”
Anything Walter Dean Myers says, including this about the importance of reading: “We’re suggesting that they’re missing something if they don’t read but, actually, we’re condemning kids to a lesser life. If you had a sick patient, you would not try to entice them to take their medicine. You would tell them, ‘Take this or you’re going to die.’ We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”
And then “Bird by Bird” from Anne Lamott – the entire book, and also just the title – the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard.
Henry. Nice. I also like “Reading. It’s like TV in your head.” 🙂
I’ve just read a manuscript in which one of the characters had control over all mechanical things through mind power. She could control computers and everything else. Having just lost about six years’ worth of email (I know, I know, delete and archive), that seems pretty appealing.
Henry: I would have bet money your choice of superpower would have been speed reading.
I love to read – all kinds of fiction and non-fiction and essays and mysteries and … yep, reading. I also jog, and I’m a Pilates convert. Mostly though, I like to hang out with my family. They’re still the best and funniest people I know. Plus, they’re book people too. (Though now that my daughter is reading YA, she doesn’t like me honing in on her turf, so even if I’ve read the latest John Green, I can’t say that I have until she’s done so.)
Henry: If only there was a way to combine reading with Pilates…
She lived. She loved. She read.
Henry: And she encouraged others to read.
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This article is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner