Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Found my sister's just-released picture book FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada) in Type Books on Queen Street

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Jeff and I wandered about Toronto yesterday, visiting bookstores and coffee shops and having picnics in the park. And guess what I found in TYPE Books on Queen Street? My sister's just-released picture book, FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada)!

I bought a copy, of course. :-)

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Spread from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada). Click image above to see a larger version.


When Fox and Squirrel get together, Squirrel can only see their differences. Squirrel is small and Fox is big; Squirrel lives in a nest and Fox in a burrow; Squirrel likes the day and Fox, the night. But as they carry on, Fox gently points out that their differences are a good thing, and more than that, they have many things in common too. Even Squirrel begins to see that maybe they are not so different after all. This irresistible story about the adventures of two lovable friends is told through spare text and expressive watercolour illustrations full of energy, humour and warmth.

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Spread from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada). Click image above to see a larger version.

More info about Ruth Ohi's books: http://RuthOhi.com More info about FOX AND SQUIRREL as well as samples: http://www.ruthohi.com/fox-squirrel/

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Illustration from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada).

TYPE BOOKS: 883 Queen St W Toronto, ON M6J 1G3, Canada, Phone +1 416-366-8973

If you haven't yet seen TYPE's übercool video:


New Will Write For Chocolate comic: Mimi's Book Purge

For more strips, see WillWriteForChocolate.com.


The Oatmeal: Matthew Inman makes grammar FUN


Click the above image to see an excellent visual explanation of how and why to use "whom" in a sentence. I love The Oatmeal's entertaining and quirky take on subjects as traditionally dry as grammar. Example:

Grammar Potato

Woohoo, potatoes!

The mastermind behind The Oatmeal is Matthew Inman. His self-written bio says it all:

"The Oatmeal's real name is Matthew and he lives in Seattle, Washington. He subsists on a steady diet of crickets and whiskey. He enjoys long walks on the beach, gravity, and breathing heavily through his mouth. His dislikes include scurvy, typhoons, and tapeworm medication."

Matthew acknowledges the help of a librarian for his "whom" comic:


If you like Matthew's grammar posters, you can buy The Oatmeal Grammar Pack.


Hazel Mitchell and ONE WORD PEARL: Words and Art, Plus Advice For Aspiring Children's Book Illustrators

I met the bubbly and enthusiastic Hazel Mitchell through the children's book illustrator/author group, Pixel Shavings. Hazel is not only a talented illustrator but she is super-supportive of other children's book writers and illustrators.

I am SO looking forward to seeing ONE WORD PEARL, a new picture book written by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel, published by Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press. The book launched earlier this month in the U.S., but isn't available in Canada until late September. Art director: Anne Margaret Lewis, Developer.


Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course! But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest.

After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

Artist as a teenager.One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination.

About Hazel:

After attending art college in the UK, Hazel ran away to sea and joined the Royal Navy, where she was taught to be a graphic designer.

She now lives and works in Maine, and says she still misses fish & chips and mushy peas ("but I'm learning to love lobster"). Several of her books have won awards, and publishers she's worked with include Charlesbridge/Makinac Island Press, Highlights, ABDO/Magic Wagon, Kane and Miller, Freespirit, Beacon Publishing, Reading A-Z and SCBWI.

Where to find out more info about Hazel and her work:

Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog - Sketch blog - Tumblr - Flickr - Pinterest - Pixel Shavings - Turbo Monkey Tales

Q. What was your illustration process for ONE WORD PEARL?

Working on Pearl gave me the freedom to do something different with my illustrations. Because Pearl is all about words ... and writing ... I immediately got very excited about using more abstract layouts within the book. Before I even started thinking about character I was thinking about textures and colours and paper and how to incorporate the words Pearl 'collects' in a fun way.

So I started collecting textures of paper ... rice paper, handmade paper, paper with textures and flecks and I crumpled up paper. I tore pages out of notepads. And then I scanned them in and layered them and changed the colours and just played around. One heavily ribbed translucent rice paper scanned beautiful and I used it as the base for many of the pages, along with a layer of flecked paper and brown crumpled-up paper.

I adjusted the hues in photoshop and the opacity and I got a background that I used through out the book on nearly every page. I think it brings a coherence to the images and the flow, because some of the pages are pretty wild! I also used a lot of collage throughout .. because Pearl cuts out words and keeps them in her 'word chest'. So it made sense for me to do the same!

I spent a whole week in the evenings cutting out words from magazines and anything else printed. I spent a long time scanning the words and using them in the book. I also used a collage of cut out words flowing over the end pages. I think that's the favorite part of the book for me! In parts of the book I have used my own handwritten words that flow and swirl. It was fun thinking of the words!

Along side the complete chaos I caused with paper, magazines and glue in my studio, I started to work on Pearl's character. Her name immediately suggested a kind of Asian ethnicity, so my first step was to google lots of Asian children. I wanted her to have a bush of black hair and she is kind of geeky and sassy and a bit stroppy. (At this point I think I should tell you several people asked me if I modeled her on Debbie Ohi!) [Note from Debbie: HA!]

Character sketches. Copyright ©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

I had a lot of fun deciding what she would wear. I gave her some funky clothes and big 'ol monster shoes. I also wanted to give her a 'friend' who isn't mentioned in the text, and because of the Asian connection I felt she would have a little cockatiel type of bird. Pearl is solitary in many of the illustrations and I wanted her to have something to interact with, and to help emphasize her emotions. So the bird was born.

I am very fond of that bird! All the line work in Pearl is done in pencil, which is then scanned into photoshop. The colour is digital, but I also created watercolour washes on YUPO paper and scanned, coloured and manipulated them for textures in Pearl's clothing and in the settings.

Another feature of the book are the 'floating letters'. The letters are, I think, Pearl's subconscious (this is where it gets a bit deep!). Pearl, you see, is a frustrated writer ... like many of us! She adores words, but right now she is using other people's words .. learning what they mean, using them everyday. But, really, she has all these words inside herself longing to get out. And the letters some how appeared in one of the images I was working on and just stayed for the rest of the book.

They are like a cloud around her, sometimes chasing her, or running away, or just hanging out. I'd tell you what happens in the end, but it would spoil the story! Some of the images in photoshop have over 150 layers and I was going a little crazy with them!

Initially I work in very rough draft, just outlines. Then that gets refined and refined, probably 3 -4 times, before I get to the final drawings. I worked with the developer for Mackinac Island Press, Anne Margaret Lewis, and she made some changes at the sketch and final stages. I had no contact with Nicole, the author, during the illustration process.

I am always a little freaked out wondering if the author will like the illustrations. Luckily Nicole tells me she does! The book had a short deadline, 3 months from the time I got the m/s. I burned some candles towards the end, which makes me wonder why I put so much detail in the illustrations ... but they had to be how they wanted to be! And I am glad I did.

©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

My typical day when working on a book can be very long. I wake up early thinking about it and some days I am still there late at night. I'd like to say I could just work for 8 hours and have an hour for lunch, 5 days a week. But that's not how the creative life is. And in between crazy work schedules you get to go and do fun things, so it all works out!

Part of Hazel's studio.

Rituals - hmm .. I have a playlist that I turn on in the morning and it makes my brain settle into work. For most of the day I listen to audio books or BBC Radio 4 on the internet (visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio for great things to listen to!) I also become dependent on sugar by the final weeks. That's not good!

Q. What was your publication process?

This is my second book with Charlesbridge/Mackinac. The developer I worked with discovered me on Facebook from seeing my artwork posted. I am just about to start on my 3rd book with them. I work direct with my publishers as I am not agented right now. Most of my work comes from mail outs, contacts at conferences/workshops/word of mouth and social networks. I would love to work with an agent - but I guess I haven't found the right one yet.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book illustrators?

At Cape May Author festival.When I started this journey, (really in January 2010 at my first NYSCBWI conference), I was clueless how the industry worked. I had worked in commercial design all my life and I found out that publishing was a whole other kettle of fish. Here's what I did .. maybe it will resonate with other's following the same path (although all our paths are so different!)

Attend all the conferences/workshops you can afford (and some you can't) and absorb information.

Learn the craft. Children's book illustration is an art-unto-itself. Study the masters, attend workshops where great illustrators are teaching. Go back to college if you need to.

Draw. Draw. Draw. There is no substitute for drawing.

Read. Read. Read. Immerse yourself in discovering new and old picture books, illustrated middle grade, cover work, graphic novels.

Find your voice ... how do you do that? By drawing and learning and imitating and seeking critique and then finally becoming unconscious of your style. Then you have found your illustration voice.

Work on your portfolio. A portfolio for children's illustration! Creating a website portfolio is very important! Tell people you exist!

Mail out, submit, direct people to look at your work.

Be open. become proficient in social networking. It's free and it can benefit you in unbelievable ways. But always give back.

Seek out other illustrators and create a band of brothers.

Did I say - draw?

"Steve Ashley, Jeannie and me."

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

Right now I am starting a new book for Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press for Fall 2014 that I am excited about and I can't tell you anything! I also have several ongoing WIP's that are not under contract including a graphic novel and a middle grade mystery.

As well as local events in my home state of Maine I will be speaking at the NESCBWI Illustrator's Symposium in Manchester, NH Nov 2nd 2014.

Where to find more info about Hazel Mitchell and her work:

Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog - Sketch blog - Tumblr - Flickr - Pinterest - Pixel Shavings - Turbo Monkey Tales

Also see Marcie Colleen's interview with Hazel Mitchell on Marcie's blog today!


Writers/illus: social media can bring huge benefits, but remember to give back. - @TheWackyBrit http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)

See how @TheWackyBrit used collage, paper textures, other techniques for ONE WORD PEARL illus: http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)

Advice for aspiring children's book illustrators from ONE WORD PEARL's @TheWackyBrit: http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Man proposes to girlfriend in library with self-published children's book


Awwww. To propose to his girlfriend, Paul Phillips wrote a book about their relationship, had it illustrated by Nashville artist Yoni Limor,  printed it. Then he planted the book in the library and arranged to have her stumble across the book and read it to him. Then he proposed. :-) More info on Reddit, where Paul originally posted the news. Also worth reading: the illustrator's blog post about the event as well as the story on Buzzfeed (latter has more pics as well as the whole picture book text & art).

You can read the whole picture book on Imgur.com, where PPaul9 has posted his book. Both Paul and his girlfriend like going to the zoo, so Paul wrote himself as a gorilla and his girlfriend Erika as a giraffe.



Images via Reddit and Buzzfeed.


Photo of Filipino boy reading book goes viral, prompts donations to help with his education


I love stories like this. After GMA News Online ran the above photo and story, the photo went viral on Facebook and prompted readers to send donations to help him with his education. More info on Book Patrol.

Related info:

News story on GMANetwork.com

Photo of street kid stirs action in Manila (Book Patrol)


Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster resolve dispute

Yay, so relieved to hear that the B&N and S&S dispute has been resolved. Just received the following email from Carolyn K. Reidy, President & CEO of Simon & Schuster, sent to S&S authors and their agents:


Screen Shot 2013 08 19 at 4 59 03 PM


I am very glad to announce that Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster have resolved their outstanding business issues, and look forward to working together on promoting your great books.

We thank you for your support during this most difficult period. I and my colleagues have felt keenly the effect this trade dispute has had on books published during this time and have tried nevertheless to achieve the best possible distribution and marketing for your books, which we know are the product of many years of effort. If you have any questions about a specific title of yours, please speak with your publisher.

While my greatest preference would be that the events of recent months had not happened, we are all pleased that once again we can focus entirely on the most important and enjoyable part of our business: bringing your books to readers everywhere and helping you find the audience your books deserve.


Publishers Weekly posted a brief update today.

Even though the dispute is resolved, it's still worth giving some blog/social media love to the following Simon & Schuster Children's books that were affected:



New Will Write For Chocolate comic: Grammar Is Important

2013 08 WWFC Intransitive600

For more, see Will Write For Chocolate.


Self-promo tips for children's book illustrators, by Jen Betton

My SCBWI Illustration Mentee friend Jen Betton has an excellent 2-part post about how children's book illustrators can promote themselves:

Friday postcard sampling via Penguin art director Giuseppe Castellano @(pinocastellano), posted on Twitter

Self-Promotion (Part 1): What To Include

Self-Promotion (Part 2): Postcards and Emailers


Cartwheel/Scholastic submissions update

Since some of you have been asking...

To Inkygirl readers who submitted their manuscripts to Cartwheel/Scholastic during the special window in July, please note that the estimated response time (for those who included SASEs, that is) is expected to be around 6 months, according to Celia Lee.

Fingers crossed for those who submitted!


I'M BORED enhanced ebook, book narration and another reason I love Twitter

One of the many reasons I love Twitter is because of the conversations and connections that can happen because of casual mention.

For example, I discovered that the narrator of the enhanced ebook version of I'M BORED was Cassandra Lee Morris while listening to an updated version of the ebook:

I decided to tweet about my Instagram video above. I always try to @mention people when possible, so did a quickie search for Cassandra. Lo and behold, I found her!

Here's an excerpt from the ensuing conversation:


If you'd like to buy a copy of the enhanced version of I'M BORED with Cassandra's hilarious reading, you can find it on iTunes.


CRANKENSTEIN trailer and Twitter crankylaunchfun with Dan Santat

I've gotten hooked on Dan Santat posts on Instagram lately, started following links, and have discovered some of the entertaining book trailers he's created. I've posted some of these below. Dan's also way entertaining on Twitter. Today, he's being cranky in honor of CRANKENSTEIN's launch:



For CRANKENSTEIN, written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat, just launched from Little, Brown:

For CARNIVORES, written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat, published by Chronicle Books:

For SIDEKICKS, a great graphic novel written and illustrated by Dan, published by Arthur Levine Books:


Registration now open for SCBWI-Montreal conference (Oct. 4-6, 2013). I'm giving the opening keynote!

I had a fantastic time at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA earlier this month and will be posting a bit about that soon, but I wanted to also announce that registration for the SCBWI Canada East Fall Conference in Montreal is now open. It's my first SCBWI faculty position, and I'm thrilled to be part of the event this year. I'll be giving the opening keynote! Nervous but also waaaay excited.

Conference promo above & conference info PDF put together by SCBWI Canada East Illustrator Coordinator Peggy Collins.

More info: SCBWI-Montreal conference brochure PDF - Registration

Here's more info some of the other faculty members and attendees:

I met David Diaz when I was chosen for the 2010 SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program; he was one of my Mentors. In addition to being on the SCBWI Illustration Board, David's been hugely supportive of the Mentorship program, generous with his time and knowledge (including opening up his home to some of the Mentees once a year for a creative retreat). David won the Caldecott Medal in 1995 for U.S. picture book illustration in Smoky Night (HMH Books For Young Readers) written by Eve Bunting. He's illustrated many other books and won other awards since. You can find more info about David and his work:

NCCIL profile for David Diaz - Wikipedia entry for David Diaz - David Diaz on Facebook

Laurent Linn is my fantabulous Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Laurent was so patient with me as I navigated my very first book illustration project (I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black) and I had so much fun working with him on Naked! Just about to start work with Laurent on the very first picture book that I'm writing AND illustrating, Where Are My Books?

Laurent began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop (how cool is that?!?), creating characters for various productions, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films. With Henson over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, including I, Too, Am America, by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier; Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo by John Lithgow, illus. by Leeza Hernandez; The Scarecrow’s Dance, by Jane Yolen, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline; Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle; and the Rot & Ruin YA series by Jonathan Maberry. Laurent is Artistic Advisor for the annual Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

More info: www.LaurentLinn.com. On Twitter: @LaurentLinn.


Bonnie Bader is the Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne and the Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, imprints of Penguin Young Readers Group. At Warne, Bonnie overseas the Peter Rabbit, Spot, and Flower Fairies publishing programs. She also oversees all of Penguin’s leveled readers, which fall under the imprint, Penguin Young Readers. In addition, she will be starting up an 8x8 picture book program, Penguin Core Concepts, which will launch in Spring 2014.

She continues to edit several bestselling series including George Brown, Class Clown and Magic Bone by Nancy Krulik, Almost Identical by Lin Oliver, and Here’s Hank by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, coming out in 2014. Bonnie is also a member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors.

Here's a great pre-SCBWI-LA interview that Jolie Stekly recently did with Bonnie.

On Twitter: @BonnieBader.

Linda Pratt, Agent, Werner and Pratt. After 20 years at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency, Linda Pratt and long-time colleague, Marcia Wernick, established the Wernick and Pratt Agency in January, 2011. The agency specializes in representing creators of children’s books. “Our philosophy is client care that focuses not just on individual books, but the long-term careers of our authors and illustrators in the ever-changing world of publishing.” Linda’s clients include LeUyen Pham, Richard Peck, Denise Brunkus, Sharon G. Flake, and Kathryn Erskine among others. She also enjoys introducing new talent. Two 2013 debuts are author/illustrator Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY (Candlewick) and middle-grade novelist Judy Hoffman’s THE ART OF FLYING (Disney-Hyperion). Linda is a member of AAR, SCBWI, and served on the planning board for the Rutgers Oneon-One Mentoring Conference for five years.

More about Linda:

On the Wernick & Pratt agency site - Agent Spotlight on Literary Rambles

Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group, where she edits everything from board books for the youngest of readers to edgy novels for teens. Her list of authors includes many award-winners and New York Times bestsellers, most notably Andrea Cremer, David Levithan, Jane Yolen, T.A. Barron, Felicia Bond, Olivier Dunrea, Lisa Graff, Alex London, Peter Abrahams, and Erin Moulton. Prior to coming to Penguin in August of 2009, Jill worked for seven years at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she once had to dress in a pig suit and hand out cupcakes to booksellers (she edited a lot of books there, too). Jill holds a B.A. in English Literature, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children, and a Certificate in Intellectual Property Law. In addition to working as an editor, Jill is also the author of the Alec Flint series (Scholastic 2008, 2009), the Sparkle Spa series (Simon & Schuster, 2014), and the Follow Your Heart series (Puffin, 2014). In her spare moments, Jill teaches fiction writing online for McDaniel College and is an M.F.A. thesis advisor at The New School. Once in a while, she sleeps.

Website: Jillsantopolo.com - Twitter: @JillSantopolo


And ME!

Photo: Beckett Gladney is a writer and illustrator based in Toronto, Canada. Her debut picture book, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Spring 2015. Her illustrations appear in I’M BORED (NYTimes Notable Book) and NAKED! (comes out Summer 2014), both written by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster BFYR. She also has upcoming book illustration projects with HarperCollins Children’s (RUBY ROSE books by Rob Sanders) and Random House Children’s (MITZI TULANE books by Lauren McLaughlin).

Plus a few other upcoming projects with Simon & Schuster BFYR she can't talk about yet. ;-)

Debbie is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd.

For more info, visit DebbieOhi.com or @inkyelbows on Twitter.


In addition, there will also be a special presentation during the conference for: Jennifer Lanthier, a Canadian children’s author who recently won a Crystal Kite award for her wonderful book, The Stamp Collector (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012).

Jennifer's one of my Torkidlit friends, and I was thrilled to hear that she had won the Crystal Kite for our region. You can see the other Crystal Kite winners on the SCBWI site. Looking forward to seeing Jennifer at the event!


Interview: William Alexander on writing middle grade novel GHOULISH SONG, sequel to National Book Award winner GOBLIN SECRETS (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Photo: Teri Fullerton

William Alexander won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his first novel, GOBLIN SECRETS, a fantasy tale about a boy who joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother. A companion novel, GHOULISH SONG, came out this year. William studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at Clarion. He currently teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For more info visit willalex.net and goblinsecrets.com.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12


Q. What was your writing process for GHOULISH SONG?

I wrote my first novel, GOBLIN SECRETS, in a meandering, gradual, and entirely unplanned sort of way. It took several years and several rewrites before I realized that I should finish the story I started rather than any of the various other narrative digressions I stumbled into along the way. But I loved the whole idea of making it up as I went along, striking off into the darkness without having the slightest idea what I might find when I get there. I still do. But GHOULISH SONG had an actual deadline, so this time I needed a plan. I tried to teach myself how to use an outline, how to travel with an actual destination in mind. I ended up somewhere in between. I had the outline / travel itinerary all planned out, but I also gave myself permission to strike out sideways whenever roadside attractions caught my eye.

Am I trying to squeeze too much out of the travel metaphor? Probably. I did make my deadline, at least.

Other than my struggle to learn how to use outlines, the most important thing about my initial process was finding the right soundtrack. Zoe Keating set my mood perfectly for writing dark fairy tales.

Q. How did GHOULISH SONG get published?

My first book contract miraculously called for two books, and this was the second one. Publishing the first one took very much longer. I spent years finding an agent. 

William in his office. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)(Credit: AP)

I was absurdly lucky to end up at Barry Goldblatt Literary, mostly because Holly Black is a friend and former teacher of mine and she told me that they were looking for new authors. This is not to say that it's all about who you know! Really. Please don't go about networking with that in mind. Don't try to meet people just because they might be useful to you. This is a community, not just a series of business contacts, and networking only actually works when you are not doing it for selfish, businessy reasons. Be a part of the community.

William Alexander and editor Karen Wojtyla at the National Book Awards. Photo from SLJ.

Anyway, my agent spent another year finding a publisher, and my publisher spent many months revising their entire contract process, and after that my editor--Karen Wojtyla of Margaret K. McElderry Books--and I spent a long while completely revising the manuscript (see above re: actually finishing the story I had started). She read a far better book than the one I had written, and made me want to write that book instead. After all of that I switched agents when the agency reshuffled.

As I understand it, this process is always very, very slow. The only way to get through it without going mad is to ignore the stuff that's out of your hands and work on the next book in the meantime.

Above: William's acceptance speech for the National Book Award.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?

Read widely and wildly. Never condescend. Kids are accustomed to moving through a world that they do not understand, encountering unfamiliar ideas and vocabulary along the way. This is already a daily experience for them. Only as adults do we fool ourselves into thinking that we already understand the world. Only as adults do we get grumpy about stumbling over words and ideas that we don't already know. Kids are more flexible. They have to be. Trust them to be.

I write for kids because I've never needed books more than I did at eleven. Eleven is a strange, vulnerable, precarious time. You're not yet an adolescent, but you can see it coming, and you're scared, and you should be. Middle Grade readers need to gather resources, examples, possibilities, stories, new masks to try on, new colors to dye their hair, anything and everything that will help them through the transformations of adolescence. The books we read at eleven help us decide who we want to become.

We should take that seriously--but not too seriously. This still needs to be fun. Don't forget to have fun. Middle Grade readers also need pressure valves, escapism, escape.

Above: "A very brief reading in my living room, recorded on my phone."

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

I'm currently finishing up AMBASSADOR, my first science fiction novel. A boy named Gabriel Sandro Fuentes becomes the ambassador of our planet. Meanwhile his parents are getting deported from the country.

I say "finishing" with great optimisim. Hopefully the book will be done soon...

Where to find out more info about William Alexander and his books:

Goblin Secrets website - Twitter: @williealex - WillAlex.net

Related articles:

School Library Journal article about debut author William Alexander winning the National Book Award

Salon article about William Alexander

National Book Foundation page about William Alexander winning the NBA


Advice for children's book writers: Read widely and wildly. Never condescend. - @williealex http://bit.ly/17ybf5n (Tweet this)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


My interview on Simply Messing About: How Inkygirl.com was born, my writing/illustration career, time management and more

SimplyMessingAbout header5

Thanks to Renee Kurilla for interviewing me on Simply Messing About, a wonderful blog about creating children's books.

Topics covered include:

- How I ended up selling my website for writers and moving to Philadelphia for six months (away from my husband!)

- How Inkygirl.com got started

- Time management

- Why I encourage aspiring children's book writers and illustrators to attend SCBWI conventions

- Introverts and networking

- How to get out of a creative rut

- How to maintain a positive attitude

Read the full interview on Simply Messing About.


Interview: Claire M. Caterer on writing middle grade, getting published and THE KEY AND THE FLAME (Margaret K. McElderry / Simon & Schuster)

Claire M. Caterer was born in the Motor City and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City with a large assortment of cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, mice, and other creatures. Her childhood was spent reading about and inventing fantastical worlds. Today she is a full-time writer of books for all ages. She lives and writes in the Kansas City area, where she shares her home with one husband, one daughter, two dogs, and a host of imaginary friends. The Key & the Flame is her first novel.

Claire's editor at Margaret K. McElderry is Ruta Rimas, and her agent is Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

You can find more about Claire at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.


Written by: Claire M. Caterer

Age range: 8 and up

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)


Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding—and using—the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust. The Key & the Flame is the first in a brand-new fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

Some notes from Claire's pre-writing notebook.

Q. What was your writing process for THE KEY & THE FLAME?

I used to start with an idea and just see where it took me, but I've discovered that doesn't work very well with an intricate plot. I'd spend too much time rambling and not getting to the story. Also, if I want to weave in subplots, play with time, etc., I have to plan some things out in advance unless I want to have a big spaghetti-like mess on my plate that takes ages to fix.

These days, I usually start with a core idea. But before I start writing any actual words, I doodle. No, not cool cartoony pictures--I don't have that kind of talent--but lots of lists, big capital letters, stars, question marks. For THE KEY & THE FLAME, I had the image of a girl using a tree either to enter a parallel world or to slip into the past. Because trees can be so old--a tree might stand in one place for 200 years—they make the perfect time portal.

Some of Ruta's edits.

Longhand scribbling is very freeing for me. I fill pages and pages of a notebook with different ideas. Then, as the story starts to crystallize, I go back and highlight those items that resonate most. I might jot down a few broad plot points, like, "Tornado sweeps girl to magical land, girl incurs witch’s wrath, needs to find a way home." (That's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, by the way, not my book.)

Once I know where the story is going and how it will end, I start writing. I usually don’t have all the twists and turns of the plot worked out, but I have the big points in mind. Every few chapters, I’ll chart out how the next few will go. That way I’m never stuck staring at that blank screen.

Q. How did THE KEY & THE FLAME get published?

I took a traditional--which is to say, long--route to publication. I had started writing a novel for adults—my seventh such attempt—and just couldn't get my heart into it. I knew it would be a pretty depressing book, and I was depressed writing it! I put it away and decided to write something for fun--something I'd really love to read and would've loved to read as a kid. The result was THE KEY & THE FLAME. And I knew it was clicking as I was writing it. I couldn't believe I hadn't been writing this kind of stuff all along.

"My messy office, where Sawyer the dog always snoozes behind my desk chair. In this pic, he's snuggling a friend."

Once I’d written and revised the manuscript (many times!), I took a systematic approach to contacting agents. I started by going to AgentQuery.net and narrowing my search by genre (fantasy) and age group (middle grade). Then I went through every name and researched each agent separately.

When I queried a particular agent, I noted exactly why I was considering her--she'd mentioned at a conference that she loved classic fantasy; she’d told a blogger that C.S. Lewis was her favorite writer. Putting that much detail into a query takes time. Each one took about an hour to research and write.

Books and files in Claire's office.

Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary was my top agent pick, but he was inundated with queries and was closed to submissions. So I moved down my list, gathering a big stack of rejections. Some were very nice, as in, "Not this one, but I like your writing, try me again." Some didn't respond at all, which is just what happens. I tried not to take it personally.

After I did another major revision and received about 20 rejections, Chris Richman was finally open to queries again. When I contacted him, he responded the same day with enthusiasm, and we became a team. He was a great agent for THE KEY & THE FLAME. He had me do still more revisions, which took several months, and finally he started subbing out the book in August 2011. By October, we had an offer from Margaret K. McElderry Books, a legendary imprint at Simon & Schuster. After dreaming of publication since childhood, and seriously writing and submitting for about 25 years, I honestly could not believe it was really happening. When Chris called to tell me, I kept saying, “No way—no way!” until he got a little annoyed with me.

Sadly, Chris decided to leave the agenting business this year, and I started my agent search over again. But I’m thrilled to have found Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. She’s marvelous!

More of Ruta's edits. "See the cute little dinosaur head she drew above? Aww..."

I’ve really enjoyed the editorial process. It’s so exciting to talk about my book with someone else who seems to think the characters are real people. My editor at McElderry is Ruta Rimas, and she’s marvelous. I look forward to getting her questions and seeing her scribbles on the pages. Sometimes she even makes little doodles.

Inspiration quotes on Claire's bulletin board.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers? 

I always say I have six pieces of advice: Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

You positively, absolutely have to be a reader to be a writer. If you want to write for middle grade, read as much of it as you can, both the classics and the current stuff. Analyze it: Why do the old standbys have such staying power? Kids still read LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Why? And what’s new and exciting for this age group right now?

That said, don't ever read with the idea that you’ll hop on the next hot trend. By the time you have your zombies-in-middle-school novel written, submitted, accepted, edited, and printed, zombies will be long gone and no one will care. Tell the story you want to tell, that you burn to tell.

Which brings me to the writing: You need to do it. A lot. And just as is true of reading, it pays to write lots of different kinds of things. Your muscles stay supple, and the writing doesn't get stale. Sometimes, write for fun, just as an artist doodles for fun. Try your hand at short-short stories and post them on your blog. There's a really fun site that started up early this year, Cabinet of Curiosities, wherein each of the writers submits a creepy story each week. It's fantastic!

The famous science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury recommended writing a story a week for a year. Not everyone has to practice that rigorously, but think about it: If you tried that, how could you NOT improve?

Claire's research bookshelf.

For writing middle grade, it also helps to be around kids. For years, I volunteered at my daughter's school library once a week. I overheard conversations, watched the kids interact, and as a bonus, got to see what they were interested in reading. If you haven't any kids of your own, see if you can get involved with your local school, church, or library. Go to other authors' events or children's book fairs.

Finally, you have to be able to think and feel like a kid—not how you think kids SHOULD feel, but how they DO feel. What's important to them? What do they dream about? If you have any old school papers or journals of your own, pull them out. Look at old photo albums and try to reach back to your 11-year-old self. Try writing about a day in your kid life as if it's the present. (Warning: This can be an emotional experience.) If you can't access your own kid feelings, you probably should write for adults.

Some notes from Claire's pre-writing notebook.

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

Right now my editor and I are working on polishing up the manuscript for the second book in The Key & the Flame series, which is slated to come out in summer 2014. I'm also starting work on the third book as well as kicking around some ideas for standalone novels. I don’t have firm dates yet, but I hope to visit many schools and book festivals this fall. I love finding and connecting with readers!

You can find more about Claire at her website, on Facebook and onTwitter.


THE KEY AND THE FLAME's @ClaireCaterer shares edit notes, how she got her agent, more: http://bit.ly/1aQ8PV5 (Tweet this)

You positively, absolutely have to be a reader to be a writer. - @ClaireCaterer on writing MG: http://bit.ly/1aQ8PV5 (Tweet this)

THE KEY AND THE FLAME's @ClaireCaterer on how she got published, advice for MG writers, more: http://bit.ly/1aQ8PV5 (Tweet this)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


New Canadian stamps feature picture book character created by children's book author/illustrator, Marie-Louise Gay


Thanks to my sister Ruth for the heads-up: 

Stella, the star of Marie-Louise Gay's picture books and a television series based on her stories, is being featured in a series of stamps issued by Canada Post.

I must get some!


Simon & Schuster Children's books affected by the B&N/S&S dispute


I've been gradually updating a list of children's and YA books being affected by the dispute between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. For more info and to find out how you can help, please see http://inkygirl.com/bn-dispute. If you're a Simon & Schuster Children's author or illustrator affected by the dispute, feel free to fill out my survey.


My sister's book: KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE (Annick Press) available on Netgalley for review

Can you see that tiny soccer ball in the middle of the wave?

RuthOhiHeadshotAs some of you already know, my sister Ruth Ohi (photo to the left) is an experienced children's book writer and illustrator who has been encouraging and supporting me over the years.

She has TWO new picture books coming out this year:

KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE, which comes out from Annick Press in a couple of weeks, and FOX AND SQUIRREL, which launches from Scholastic Canada this September. Kenta is now available on NetGalley for reviewers.

I'll be interviewing Ruth later this year but right now I'd like to rave about KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE:


I was fascinated when Ruth told me about a real-life event that (along with other similar reports) helped to inspire the story: Apparently after a soccer ball washed shore in Alaska after the Japan tsunami in 2011, Japanese teen Misaki Murakami came forward as the owner of the ball. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed in Misaki's home city of Rikuzentakata. You can see blog updates by the NOAA technician who found the soccer ball, including info from the teen once they got in touch. 

Click for bigger image

I had the chance to see one of the advance copies of KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE and loved it. Such an uplifting, inspiring story! And the gentle illustration style that Ruth used for this book is perfectly suited to the content.

A quote from a review on Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:

"I would fully recommend this book for any child (or adult!). It tells the story of the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, and how a boy lost his ball in it and how a boy in America found it and mailed it back to him. There's very little text, but more isn't needed. Kenta and The Big Wave successfully conveyed that bad things do happen in life, but that people can get over them. The bad things could be small, like losing your ball, or big, like losing your home in a disaster (Kenta lost both), but in the end everything turned out okay. An important message for kids to see."


Here's a brief synopsis, from the Annick Press website:


The tsunami has swept everything away--including Kenta's most prized possession.

When tragedy strikes Kenta's small village in Japan, he does all he can to hang on to the things that matter to him most. But amidst the chaos of an emergency evacuation brought on by the tsunami, Kenta and his family must quickly leave their home.

Climbing to safer ground, Kenta watches as his prized soccer ball gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again... that is, until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, into the hands of a child who takes it upon himself to return the ball to its rightful owner.

Ruth Ohi's art transports the reader to Japan, capturing the tragic aftermath of environmental catastrophe, while offering a reassuring message of hope. With an afterword that defines tsunamis for young readers.


You can find out more info here:

My sister's website: RuthOhi.com



MicroBookTweet: KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis



Written by Stephanie Burgis

Published by Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2012

Grades 5-9

ISBN 9781416994480

See my interview with Stephanie Burgis about her creative process, childhood wonder and her KAT trilogy.