Conference debrief

More than 200 children’s book writers and illustrators (aspiring and professional) converged on a little Unitarian church just north of Austin for the 2010 Destination Publication SCBWI conference January 30.

Poet Liz Garton Scanlon and Illustrator Marla Frazee

Poet Liz Garton Scanlon and Illustrator Marla Frazee talk about their many months of collaboration with each other and Beach Lane Books V.P. and publisher Allyn Johnston who was their editor.

Guests and speakers arrived from Texas and everywhere for a day of inspiring presentations and professional critiques of manuscripts and portfolios.

“The most expensive people — all  those who were trained by the great editors Ursula Nordstrom and Margaret McElderry are gone,” agent and former editor Mark McVeigh said in his rivetting keynote,  “Defending Your Muse.”

Still children’s publishing is  “not an industry in ruins, but in transition,” he continued.  He spoke about the emerging digital media and mobile media (Kindle, iPhone, etc.) marketplace.  But he kept returning to the sovereignty of language, individual creativity — and the Emily Dickinson poem he keeps in his wallet.  You can read  Mark’s recapping of his time with us in Austin and see the full text of the Dickinson poem  on his agency blog .

Later in the day  Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford elicited a gasp or two with his comment that he sees 15,000 to 20,000 submissions a year and might take  four to five clients per year from that pile. Yet his presentation hit inspiring notes.  He refers to the Austin conference in his publishing news packed- blog.

Liz reads one of Marla's e-mails

Liz reads one of Marla's e-mails

“Designing the ‘page-turns‘ is the most important thing,” asserted two-time Caldecott Honor illustrator Marla Frazee in an extraordinary presentation on the the picture book creation process.

“Use the page turn in the narrative when you want the mood to shift and your images to really stand out,”  she continued.

“Save diagonals for the most dramatic parts of your story. They’re like exclamation marks!”

Marla demonstrated how she filled the imagery for  All the World (2010 Caldecott Honor book penned by Austin poet Liz Garton Scanlon) with imagery from her own life  — landscapes of the central California coast,  her grandfather,  a favorite cafe — even the outdoor chairs and tables from the student union of her alma mater — props, settings and people that mattered a great deal for her.

A wonderful interview by Julie Danielson in her blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast will give you a sense of the presentation by Marla and Liz and contains much of the same imagery.

In a special breakout session with the illustrators Marla discussed the artist’s voice, characterization and setting as the  foundation for illustrating books for children.

“I’ll start with a sketch trying to get to know the character. It’s about digging into the character.”It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can get the reader to feel the emotion your character is feeling,  you’ve won most of the battle.”

As for setting,  details are important. “It should feel like you’re opening up a world.

“It’s really a matter of putting the time in.”


Poet Liz Garton Scanlon watches illustrator Marla Frazee discuss the cafe scene in the 2010 Caldecott Honor Book "All the World"

spread from "All the World"

spread from "All the World"

Frances Yansky's portfolio in the illustrators' portfolio display room.


Marla Frazee (bottom left) visits with attendees at the conference breakfast

While the illustrators soaked up Marla’s words and instructive  slides,  writers were treated to presentations by Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, agent Andrea Cascardi (Transatlantic Literary Agency) ,  Editors  Cheryl  Klein (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) and  Stacy Cantor (Bloomsbury, USA), writer and former Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor Lisa Graf, and author Sara Lewis Holmes.

Attendees also heard from our own power gang of authors Liz Garton Scanlon, Sibert Honor author Chris BartonNewbery Honor author Jacqueline Kelly and Shana BurgPhilip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler, Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover and power illustrator Patrice Barton in a fun panel discussion moderated by author Julie Lake (a former regional advisor of Austin SCBWI)


Long time Austin SCBWI illustration chair Christy Stallop

Longtime Austin SCBWI illustration chair Christy Stallop.

Illustrator and writer Erik Kuntz

Illustrator and writer Erik Kuntz shows illustrator pals a picture from his book " A Dog a Day"

Conference illustrators' hangout

Illustrators had their own portable building to hang out in. Left to right around the circle starting with Christy Stallop are Amy Farrier, Clint Young, Mike Benny, Don Tate, Kim Edge, Jamie Adams, Erik Kuntz and Diandra Mae

Here’s an Austin SCBWI round-up (so far) of blogposts on the conference:

Marla Frazee shows an early storyboard for "All the World"

Marla Frazee shows an early storyboard for "All the World"

Audrey and Amy Farrier

Audrey and Amy Farrier

Rumor has it there was a national SCBWI conference in New York City that same weekend.

OKAY,  it wasn’t a rumor.  It was the giant Winter Conference. Here’s the SCBWI team blog coverage of that major annual event that somehow messed up and booked the same date as ours.

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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and teaches the  self paced course  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! Drawing and Painting for Children’s Book Illustration.

Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Mark Mitchell

Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and author-illustrator Mark Mitchell

Success panel

In the line up photo of the panel, Regional adviser Tim Crow is introducing the panel and left to right are Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Patrice Barton, Shana Burg, Julie Lake, Jacqueline Kelly, P.J. Hoover, Liz Garton Scanlon, Philip Yates and Jennifer Ziegler.

In the line up photo of the panel, Regional advisor Tim Crow is introducing the panel and left to right are Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Patrice Barton, Shana Burg, Julie Lake, Jacqueline Kelly, P.J. Hoover, Liz Garton Scanlon, Philip Yates and Jennifer Ziegler.

Scene by Marla Frazee from "All the World"

Scene by Marla Frazee from "All the World"

Illustrators decorated mirror frames for the silent auction.

Illustrators decorated mirror frames for the silent auction. Assemblage photo by Christy Stallop


ALA honors for Austin authors; SCBWI conferences and illustration classes for you

It’s been a landmark week for Austin children’s writers.  Three of our gang scored top honors– a Caldecott Honor, a Sibert Honor and a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Our Austin, Texas  chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) is a little dazed after last weekend’s 2010 award announcements.  Austin’ s Jacqueline Kelly received a Newbery Honor for her YA novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate about a girl growing up at the turn of the 19th century.  The  picture book poem All the World penned by Liz Garton Scanlon of Austin and illustrated by Marla Frazee was named one of the two Caldecott Honor books. (Frazee’s second Caldecott Honor.)

All the World

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani

And The Day-Glo Brothers written by Chris Barton of Austin and illustrated with retro lines and Day-Glo colors by Tony Persiani won a Sibert Honor for children’s  nonfiction.  (From the ALA – “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year.”)

Our SCBWI chapter claims all three of these writers and we’ll claim Frazee, too.  So that makes four.

All four,  as it just so happens  had been scheduled to present at the Austin SCBWI regional 2010 conference “Destination Publication” next weekend (January 30) with an already honors heavy lineup of authors, editors and agents. Marla  is giving the keynote address along with Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson (Hatti Big Sky)

Another Texan, Libba Bray won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature for her novel Going Bovine. We’ll claim her, too — so that’s five.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - 2010 Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the United States  went to Jerry Pinkney for his wordless telling of the Aesop’s Fable The Lion and the Mouse.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book went to Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!, written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. We discussed Benny and Penny and other Toon Books in previous post.

Cheers and tears

Many of my Facebook buds are SCBWI  illustrators and writers. You should have seen how they were afire this week with exclamations, congratulations and jubilations over Austin’s harvest of trophies.

A number of our tribe were out of town at the Vermont College of Fine Arts for a residency semester for the MFA in writing for children and young adults. Their FB reports segued from fascinated discussions of snow and cold to tearful excitement over the ALA announcements (especially pertaining to Texas) which they followed on a streaming net feed projected on a large screen in the venerable campus lunchroom.

There are stories behind the stories as there usually are.  For example —  the 23 rejections for The Day-Glo Brothers before the manuscript was accepted by Charlesbridge then a five year wait before the  book rolled off the presses. You can read a little about its  nine year journey to publication on Chris’s blog Bartography.

Liz has her own story about coming to an impasse in her writing — until an editor’s chance comment got her riffing  again on a string of rhymes and word images, which turned into All the World.  I hope you get to hear or read her account of her process one day.  Liz and Marla will discuss their collaboration on the book at the Austin conference.

Texas Conferences

I keep hitting them here, but here are the links again.  You can download PDF information, schedules and enrollment forms. Austin SCBWI’s “Destination Publication” (January 30th) was nearly sold out, but here  you go; there might be a spot left. At last report there were still a couple of portfolio critique slots open with the wonderful illustrator, Patrice Barton. She’s the other illustrator in the day’s faculty lineup.

The Houston SCBWI conference is February 20 and will feature author Cynthia Leitich Smith, senior editors from Simon &  Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Inc.  and the art director for Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Patrick Collins, who will review portfolios.  Collins also will teach a special breakout workshop for illustrators on “Making a Picture Book Dummy” during the day.  It’s an opportunity  not to miss.

Let’s take a break…

And see this fun video that’s remarkable for its characterizations and dialogue.  Animator  Caroline Ting overheard the two boys talking in a comic book store and used them as the voice actors for her little film she titled RAM (Random Access Memory) about…well,  an addiction peculiar to the 21st century (and I’m not talking about Farmville. ) I recognized  myself in it and you might, too.

Animals in the classroom?

For anyone living in the heart of Texas I’ll be teaching spring semester classes in children’s book illustration beginning next week at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art .  The  six week  “Level 1” class begins next Wednesday evening 6 to 9 p.m.  January 27 — and runs through March 10 (with no class February 17. )

Level II is set for Tuesday evenings 6 to 9 p.m. March 23 – April 20 (five sessions.)  To register or if you have any questions contact the Art School at (512) 323-6380 or go to the website:

If you want to take a course but live nowhere near Central Texas,  remember you have an online home-study option,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! Drawing and Painting for Children’s Book Illustration

Childrens Book Illustration class at the AMOA Art School at Laguna Gloria

Austin Museum of Art Art School at the Laguna Gloria campus, Children’s Book Illustration fall semester 2009.  Left to righ: Anney Rehm, Paula Engelhardt, Laura Smith, Naomi Smith, Halli Hollister, and April Richardson and some guinea pig friends.

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog.  He teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and through the “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” online course.

Have you drawn an animal today?

Knowing as we do that drawing children, people and  animals is the stock in trade of the children’s book illustrator, let’s draw a difficult animal subject today.

We’ve brought in guest instructor Jon Gnagy to help walk us through it.

Gnagy was the best drawing teacher (maybe the only drawing teacher?)  on television.  He taught Andy Warhol and millions of other American kids to draw during the 1950’s.

I can’t say that he taught me exactly, though maybe he did, but he was a little advanced.  I was all of three years old when my mother (a painter) and I would watch his show together.

But I think he planted lots of seeds and questions in my unconscious. I remember even at that tender age being flabbergasted by his demos. “How does he know  this stuff?” I remember asking myself.  I still wonder about that.

‘Old School’ drawing doesn’t seem to go out of style.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in a courthouse mural by Thomas Hart Benton or a children’s book illustration by Marla Frazee or Tasha Tudor or Robert McCloskey. It just always stays cool. Ask any kid.

The graphic images Marla Frazee renders with such assurance resemble the classic book illustrations of — well, the Jon Gnagy days, the 1950s. They don’t feel  ‘dated’ because they bring us kids, people, animals and landscapes that kids (and the kid in us) can relate to. These subjects when rendered capably seem only to accrue in value.

For a better look at Marla’s work, here’s an animated trailer for All the World,  a picture book illustrated by Frazee and penned by poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon addresses the Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) on a packed second floor of Austin's famous independently owned bookstore, BookPeople.

Yes, I know that both of them and the book and Jon Gnagy, too have been on this blog before. (Good subjects deserve repeated mentions. )

Scanlon and Frazee are scheduled to talk about their work together at the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference Destination Publication on Saturday Saturday, January 30, 2010.  Caldecott Honor artist Frazee will deliver the keynote for illustrators  and also reviewportfolios, as will talented  illustrator Patrice Barton.

Find the full conference  lowdown and registration form here.

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Creative Director Patrick Collins will review portfolios a month later  at the Houston SCBWI  conference.

Mark your calendars for  Saturday, February 20, 2010 and download information and a registration form for the Houston conference  here.

Liz Garton Scanlon
Liz Garton Scanlon speaks on intuition at the November 7 meeting of Austin SCBWI.
Liz Garton Scanlon
An editor told Liz that she had “an eye for observation and an ear for rhyme.”
So she focused on these strengths to produce her picture book poem All the World that is now garnering great reviews and making all the right 2009 book lists, including most recently a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal.
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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog. Mark teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and through the “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” online course.

ck Collins of