Friday, April 27, 2012

Conference #2: A Success Story, Post Confrence Mojo Post

Howdy strangers. It has nearly been one week since my SCBWI region's Spring Spirit extravaganza. I still cannot manage to put all I learned into cohesive thoughts. When I attempt to explain all I absorbed, it comes out all jumbled and sounds something like this:


And looks something like this:

 I'm scatterbrained as you can plainly see, a tad bit overwhelmed and giddy and definitely not in the right place to blog about all the juicy details. Instead, what I have decided to do is to write about what I did RIGHT this time around, at my second writer's conference, as opposed to how I was as a first time conference goer. (Please see Lessons for Next Time post, aka Conference #1: A Disaster Story) Of course this does not mean I did not have a few banana peel slips throughout the day, I mean, I just wouldn't be me without a few of those, but let us focus on the non-humiliating aspects of the experience.

The bestest thing I did was read Meredith Barnes's article, Conference 101: Know Before You Go, just before embarking on my conference journey. Did I wince a few times while experiencing some horrific flashbacks from my first conference? Sure! But it changed my perspective completely on conference-going.

The days leading up to the conference, I began chanting to myself and my husband what I hoped to get from this conference...

"I'm really going to go in and learn all I can from these workshops."
"I am really excited to meet other writers."
"I wonder what kinds of yummy pastries they'll have this time."

Just imagine me repeating these thoughts over and over again aloud about fifty times and you get the gist of the main topic of  conversation in the days prior to me leaving for what here-on-out will be referred to Conference #2: A Success Story.

With the sun shining,  green pastures both to my right and left, some giant big rigs spewing pebbles at my windshield, and The Boss blasting from my speakers (love you Bruce!), I was off at 6:00 in the morning, repeating the my mantra as I drove.

 Learn, meet, pastries. Learn, meet, pastries.

After getting lost while translating my map and ignoring my best judgment, I finally arrived,  ready to learn, meet, and pastry. (Please note that I have created a new verb, pastry (v): to consume large amounts of delicious, doughy pastries by loitering awkwardly around the pastry table for way too long.)

Rather than boring you with a play-by-play here is a list of what I did RIGHT at Conference #2: A Success Story (I owe it all to you Meredith Barnes!):

  • I introduced myself to other writers I had seen online and met new unsuspecting writers on the seats next to me.
  • Made jokes about how much coffee I had already had.
  • Chatted while waiting in line for the restroom.
  •  Touched Bitsy Kemper's pink, spunky hair like I had known her for a lifetime.
  •  I approached editors and agents about what impressed me about THEIR work, because wowza, were they impressive. Please note: This was truly authentic...It wasn't coming from my own ambitions or hopes to promote my own work, just from an enthusiasm for all things children's literature. Highly recommend it! (Side note: This was NOT how I approached Conference #1: A Disaster Story)=)
EXAMPLE: I listened to an amazing talk on voice, where Sterling editor Brett Duquette, defined voice to be "writing that is smooth and honest." I had NEVER heard it described as this before! It was always more like, "Voice is so abstract, and hard to understand." With excellent and hilarious examples and exercises, I had to tell him how unique, clear, and helpful his presentation was. Did I mention my own work and how I would love to work with him? Nope! Was I thinking it? NOPE! My mantra was ingrained in my mind....Learn, meet, pastry.
  • I don't think I mentioned my blog one time in attempts to recruit readers or contributors 
  • Nor did I whip out my business cards (which I am thinking of using to kindle summer campfires) 
  • I only really discussed my WIP in depth once, at a first pages critique session, where looking at writers' work was the goal.

I just enjoyed myself and the amazingly supportive community of children's authors and illustrators.

Although I am new at all of this, I know that this is the best piece of advice I can offer anyone who is going to their first conference. Enjoy yourself...learn, meet, pastry.

(P.S. Now that the conference is over, please note that I have added some pretty social media buttons, with the help of the amazing Sylvia Liu.  Come slip with me! )

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Jill Esbaum perfect this post is for today, this beautiful Thursday that follows so many SCBWI conferences.

 I have still not completely recovered from my amazing Spring Spirit Conference. My head is spinning with all of the the golden nuggets of information I ingested while sitting in workshops on voice, synopses, first pages critiques (eeek!), not to mention some incredibly humorous tips on writing from the SCBWI goddess herself, Lin Oliver

My people, all I know is I love this journey. This is where I want to be.  Even if it means publicly slipping on millions of banana peels along the way. 

One indisputable fact is that if you have to slip up every once in a while, you want to be surrounded by children's authors. It's true! They are such a wonderfully supportive community. So humble. So generous. So patient! Eh hem. With that said, thanks for waiting.

 Jill Esbaum, this week's banana peel author generously shares not only a couple of her banana peel moments, but a hilarious (and eerily familiar) poem she wrote about how to impress an editor, entitled... "How to Impress an Editor".  =)

Please welcome, Jill Esbaum!


Unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of banana peel moments in my writing journey. The most embarrassing was before I’d sold any books.

In 2000, I was beyond excited about attending my first SCBWI retreat – SO excited that I didn’t sleep at all the night before the trip. The 3-hour drive to the retreat was a 4-hour, white-knuckled nightmare, thanks to a late-spring snowstorm. I soaked up the Friday afternoon talks and enjoyed schmoozing at the evening festivities, but ... no sleep that night either. Saturday morning, I listened to the speakers in a fog, wishing I were a coffee drinker. I would’ve traded a toe for a Pepsi, but I hadn't been able to find one anywhere in the facility.

I'd been lucky enough to score a one-on-one critique with a dream editor (a guy), which was scheduled at 4:15 on Saturday afternoon. By then, I was barely functional. Fifteen minutes before my crit time, I went to wait in the hall and discovered a Coke machine in a niche I hadn't seen before. Yay! I chugged a can of Coke in an effort to wake up. Boy, did I. By the time I walked into the cozy little crit room, I was as wired as Woody Woodpecker. First I fell sideways into an overstuffed chair and chirped, "Let's take a nap and just PRETEND we had a critique, heh-heh." Dream editor, bless his heart, valiantly tried to cover his initial reaction (fear!). He chuckled softly (while easing away), then attempted to tell me what he liked about my submission. I knew I should listen respectfully. Instead, I interrupted him constantly – yap, yap, yap – through the entire crit. I was horrified, yet unable to shut it off. At one point, I slapped a hand over my own mouth. Somebody had to. 

Miraculously, he ended up buying my first picture book – Stink Soup – eight months later. Guess he thought it was safe to work with me, as I lived 1,054 miles from New York City.

Years later, my SCBWI Regional Adviser asked me to write a poem to open one of our conferences – a tongue-in-cheek list of blunders attendees should avoid. By that time I’d been to enough conferences to have seen plenty of other people spook editors, too. And live to tell about it.

How to Impress an Editor by Jill Esbaum

It’s my first time at a conference.
This? My brand new picture book.
Let me hold your glass of wine so you can
take a better look.
See? It’s bound and fully laminated. Here’s the copyright.
Just look at how the silver glitter
sparkles in the light!
My nephew did the illustrations for me.
Aren’t they great?
I’m developing a series. This is number one.
Of eight.
Yes, you are a little peaked.
Let’s go over there and sit.
What? You have to do the schmoozy thing
and “work the room” a bit?
I’ll come with – and show you photos
of Chief Kitchy-coo, my dog. He’s the hero of my story
(written all in dialogue). See, he flies around Chicago
with his mother, solving crimes. It’s a shoe-in for that Printz Award. And check this out ... it rhymes. There’s a song at the beginning. There’s a moral at the end,
and a note reminding children that
the story’s just pretend.
I’ve already got endorsements from the
and I’ve sent one to the Oprah Show.
I wonder ... do they pay?
Oh, you have to hit the ladies’ room? No problem. I’ll come, too.
While you’re taking care of business,
I can read aloud to you.
...Hon, is everything okay in there?
You need a helping hand?
What? You have a splitting headache? Sure, of course I understand.
You can take my little story to your room
and read it there.
No, it’s quite all right. Yes, I insist.
I want you to, I swear.
Let me walk you to your suite.
Oh, it’s no trouble, none at all.
Well, for goodness sake, we lucked out.
My room’s just down the hall!
Here’s an Advil for that headache. Here’s my card. Know what? Take two. Now, remind me of your name, hon,
and ... you edit books for who? Take a hot bath.
Take it easy.
Don’t you let the bedbugs bite. Ow, ow, ow! My foot was in there. We’ll talk soon, then. Nighty-night!

*First published in The Writer, April 2008

Jill Esbaum is the author of eleven picture books with major publishers, including the award-winning Ste-e-e-e-amboat A-Comin'!, Estelle Takes a Bath, Stanza, and her latest, Tom's Tweet (illus. by Dan Santat). She is a former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, and, in addition to critiquing picture book manuscripts privately, she is a longtime workshop facilitator at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival and co-hosts the annual Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop. Jill and her husband live on a family farm in eastern Iowa.*

*(Disclaimer: Jill's biography is borrowed from Rate Your Story, where Jill volunteers her skills as a published author to rate manuscripts FOR FREE!


Now if you are like me, after you contain yourself, you will print this out and let this serve as a reminder to control your crazies at the next conference. It worked for me this last time, well, except when I touched Bitsy Kemper's hair (it was pink and spunky!) or when I screamed at some unsuspecting authors deep in quiet conversation, asking if they were looking  to be in a critique group (for scavenger hunt purposes, hence the screaming...).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Amy Novesky

I am a huge picture book biography fan.  Mix this with my love for Frida Kahlo and you pretty much have me floating on cloud nine today. Today's featured author Amy Novesky, whose biographical picture books include Me, Frida and Georgia Goes to Hawaii,  has a real talent for capturing the beauty in the lesser known parts of her subject's lives. 

She has me thinking about everyone I know and how I could possibly turn different facets of their lives into children's books. If I know you, chances are I have already thought about what piece of your life would be inspirational and marketable to children. =) Guy that registers college kids to vote in his bike helmet, what's your story?

I am so honored today to host Amy Novesky's banana peel moments.


Slip. Slip. Shine.

By Amy Novesky

Writing and publishing picture books—and especially books about real people—is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been at it now for 12 years, actively writing and submitting my work, and while I have three beautiful books—Elephant Prince (2004); Me, Frida (2010); Georgia In Hawaii (2012)—it took a long while before I had something to show for all of my hard work. Along the way, I’ve had many banana peel moments. But if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am, and that feels good. Humility is an under-rated quality. You have to slip before you can shine.

 I started writing my Georgia book back in 2002. It started out as a very different book: a simple counting book, using Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings as art. It took months of research to refine the concept, to find paintings to fit the one to ten text. When I was finished, I sent the book to a publisher who made me my very first offer. The day after I received the offer, I received a letter from the artist’s estate rejecting my request for permission to reprint artwork for my book, which they called gimmicky. I had to go back to the publisher and tell them that we couldn’t do the book. Slip.

But then I took a trip to Hawaii, and at the Honolulu Arts Academy I discovered Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings, and I was inspired again. I decided to give it another try. No paintings, just illustrations this time. By 2004, I had a contract from another publisher (the first turned it down), but the book wasn’t scheduled to be published until 2009, due to the illustrator’s busy schedule, and was pushed back a few times to boot. The book finally arrived earlier this year, ten years after I started it. I have been talking about this book for so long, people probably thought I was delusional. But it was worth the wait. It’s a gorgeous book. A true collaboration between author, editor, and illustrator—we all worked really hard. Had the first book been published, I might not have written this one; this was the book I was meant to write all along.

 Believe it or not, it’s not the only time an offer has fallen through. The same publisher made an offer on another story only to rescind it the very next day. They had changed their mind. Slip. But, in the end, I’m glad they did. The story had a very delicate subject, and I think I might have regretted it.

 What these slips have taught me is that it’s really important to believe whole-heartedly in your work. You must love your story, because you will work on it for a long time. You will get tired of it. You will have to fight for it and even defend it. You might not want to ever read it again.

 I think we tend to focus on the prize of publishing; who doesn’t want to publish a book? But publishing a book is a huge responsibility. To make public, to put into print something with your name on it, something that kids will read and take seriously, it’s so important that you believe in it, love it, and that it is authentic and as good as can be.

 The hard work doesn’t end when the book is printed. You have to promote it, and that takes time and energy—time and energy away from writing. And if you are shy like me, performing (and it is) in front of a room full of people can be overwhelming and downright terrifying. Public speaking is about as opposite the act of solitary writing as you can get. But once you get the hang of it, once you can relax a bit and enjoy it, once you come to expect and not be flustered by the inevitable glitches—and there will be!—it’s incredibly rewarding to share your book. Shine.

Amy Novesky is the award-winning author of ELEPHANT PRINCE; ME, FRIDA; and GEORGIA IN HAWAII. IMOGEN, a picture book about photographer Imogen Cunningham, will be published this fall, and MISTER & LADY DAY, about Billie Holiday and her beloved dogs, will be published next year.

I don't know about you, but I am so incredibly excited for the release of Amy's next two books! 

 Thank you so much for your contribution to the series Amy and best of luck to you in the release of  your upcoming books.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Liz Garton Scanlon

I cannot begin this post without mentioning how big of  fans my family and I are of this week's featured author's book, All the World. It is one of my favorite bedtime reads. Sometimes, I will even read it to my children....

With both words and illustrations so peaceful and warm, we point to the lone surfer at the edge of the pier and say how that's daddy, despite the fact he doesn't really surf. It never fails that during each read, my daughter notices that someone forgot their beach ball and my son shouts with excitement, "Tuh! Tuh!" when he spots the old truck, which in two year old means, Tuh-Mater. We are a Cars family. =)

I won't even give you the cheesy rhyming lines I used to try and entice the author to write this post for the series, but just know, they were intended to have the same rhythm of All of the World. (Did I mention I am a delusional rhymer...someone who thinks they rhyme but they really don't?)  Banana peel slip? Yup. More than slightly embarrassing in retrospect? Definitely. 

Lucky for us she was forgiving and kind. =)

Please welcome, the very talented, Liz Garton Scanlon.


As I got started in this field, I took one banana peel slide after another, in part because I knew nothing about picture books – except that I loved them.

So. I wrote long, rambly texts with irregular rhyme.
I simultaneously submitted to editors who’d asked for exclusives.
I whined impatiently about how long everything took.

(Everything DOES take a long time, and I still whine some, but now I know it as part of the package rather than taking it as a personal affront.)

I revised endlessly – without contracts.
I signed contracts without understanding them.
I did a lot of things for free.

(Until my husband reminded me about the mortgage and all.)

I shared cover images before I was supposed to, got in touch with illustrators before I was supposed to, and lord knows I pressed send before I was supposed to. Many, many times.

And then there was the infamous school visit.

I forgot to get specific directions so I got lost on the way there.
Pre-smart phone.

I forgot to say I could do 3 or 4 presentations in the course of a day.
So I did six.

I forgot to confirm that there would be a projector waiting for me.
So there wasn’t.

I forgot to ensure that there’d be at least 10 minutes to breathe and swallow in between presentations.
I was positively Victorian in my swooning by the final bell.

I forgot to say that I speak very, very, very little Spanish.
Unlike everyone else at the school.

I ended up singing the Spanish songs I learned in elementary school, and excitedly calling out things like “palabras” or “escritas” whenever an old scrap of knowledge popped into my desperate brain. But mostly? I smiled. And I said, “Thank you, thank you. Gracias, gracias.”

And at the end of the day, as I stood there with raw tonsils and bleeding eyeballs, that’s what the students and librarian said, too. “Thank you, thank you. Gracias, gracias.”

We’d survived.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, as well as Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Her next book will be out later this spring: Think Big is illustrated by Vanessa Newton and it celebrates the many varied forms of art. Future books include Happy Birthday, Bunny, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, due next year, and The Good-Pie Party and Thank You, Garden, both due in 2014. Ms. Scanlon is assistant professor of creative writing at Austin Community College and is a frequent & popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. To learn more, visit her web  site at


After reading this, my former teacher self began to sweat. I think most teachers would agree that the only thing that is guaranteed as soon as you step onto a school's campus is Murphy's Law!

Thank you so much Liz for your contribution to the series! Gracias. Gracias. =)

Also, thank you readers for stopping by. Make sure to check out Liz's blog this month where she is writing a haiku-a-day all April in honor of National Poetry Month!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Deflated Balloon Effect and Aurdrey Vernick Giveaway Results

The wineth from my cupeth...  IS JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED!

My husband has been gone  performing work and brotherly related duties for the last five days. It was an extremely special time to be with my children and to be able to visit with family and friends while he was gone. But it was Busy, with a capital B.

As soon as my husband pulled into the driveway, I was like one of those cars quickly transforming into into a robot, except I became a deflated balloon. Here I am, the deflated balloon, being carried away by some Russian soldiers, who are probably the same Russian spammers that are responsible for most of my blog traffic here on Banana Peelin'.

I am finally drinking a long awaited glass of sweet fermented grapey goodness and with any luck, will be making that glass plural within the hour.

But enough about old grapes. Let us get to the meat of this post. According to, the winners of the Audrey Vernick giveaways are:

1. Copy of book,  Brothers at Bat: BETHANY TELLES!
2. Signed Baseball: NATASHA YIM!

Is it possible to be both completely happy for you but envious at the same time? Congratulations! =) Thank you both for your amazing support through this whole bloggin' journey. Enjoy your new goodies.

This week on Banana Peel Thursday...All of World author, Liz Garton Scanlon!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Audrey Vernick

I am just plain giddy here in Bananaland this month. Not only are my local Target and public library getting face lifts (my homes away from home), but I have won a critique with the Picture Book Whisperer, Mira Reisberg! I don't think I have won anything in my entire life, except when I play my kids in a mean game of Hungry Hippos. (No. I don't feel very good about myself. But it's just too easy!)

Oh and here, at this very site, this very month, we have Liz Garton Scanlon, Amy Novesky, and Jill Esbaum, not to mention today's guest, the wonderful Audrey Vernick. There is some award winning talent here folks and I can hardily contain myself. Actually, I haven't contained myself at all. Oh, how my family suffers, as well as the children's librarians, oh and the baristas down the way and that one lady at the gas station.

In all seriousness, what has truly left the largest impression on me that I just have to share has been the generosity and humility of each author listed above. They set the bar high folks in talent and Coolness. (Please note it's Coolness, with a capital c).

In fact, Audrey Vernick, today's Banana Peelin' author has offered to giveaway:

1) Her latest book, Brothers at Bat (Eeek! Lucky ducks!)

2) A ball signed by three of the Acerra brothers (This offer made my heart drop. Literally, it was on the floor. Splat.)

How might one win one of these items?
To enter to win the book, leave a comment below. If you wish to win the ball, please indicate so in your comment and explain what baseball has meant to you and your family. Two winners will be drawn using

Ladies and gentleman (Hi Eric!), let us welcome Audrey Vernick.

I enjoy creating and participating in events that tie in with the themes of my books. I’ve spoken at the Baseball Hall of Fame, celebrated my middle-grade novel, WATER BALLOON, with my kids and their friends in a faux water balloon fight right before its launch party, read IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? to students in the very classroom in which I was a kindergartner.

So I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to celebrate Effa Manley Day with the Newark Bears. Effa Manley was the subject of my nonfiction picture book, SHE LOVED BASEBALL, the co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles, a Negro League team.

I met with the Bears’ new management. We agreed on a date. My publisher graciously donated books to be given to the first 50 kids through the gate. The book trailer for SHE LOVED BASEBALL would be shown on the big jumbo-tron . The team’s manager, former Yankee Tim Raines, would read my book to kids before the game. We even arranged for Effa Manley’s niece to throw out the first pitch.

Now, you sort of have the punchline already in your brain, since you know that banana peel moments aren’t shining examples of everything going according to plan.

It began early in the week when we learned that Effa’s niece couldn’t get to the stadium. I decided my daughter would throw out the first pitch instead.

I invited family and friends, far and wide, and was touched by how many made the trip. But I had a sense, as the gates opened, that things weren’t going to be running smoothly.

There wasn’t a copy of SHE LOVED BASEBALL anywhere in sight. The ticket-takers knew nothing about it. It took a long time to track down my (busy, overworked, stressed) contact at the Bears and have her arrange for the books to be at the two gates.

Tim Raines, it turned out, was letting a player go (aka firing him) at the time he was supposed to read my book. So they sent down a utility infielder of questionable literacy. He was game and an awesome sport, but it was uncomfortable. SHE LOVED BASEBALL had never before seemed like SUCH a long book. But we all looked forward to seeing the trailer on the jumbo-tron once the reading finished. At least there’d be that.

Except he took so long to read that they showed the trailer while we were still in the green room, listening to the longest-ever reading of a picture book. We were told they’d play it again at the end of the game. After the fireworks.

Then it was time for my daughter and me to go on the field. The scoreboard welcomed us with a big misspelling of our names—Anna and Audrey Bernick.

Anna threw a crazy arching shot that miraculously landed right in the strike zone. My sisters were still laughing about Bernick, but everyone else was cheering.

A lot went wrong, but I spent the night in the company of wonderful relatives and friends, doing a better job of not stressing out than I’d have been able to do a few years earlier.

At the end of the night, many had left, but we stayed to watch the fireworks. And to watch the trailer on the jumbo-tron. It was awesome against the black sky backdrop.. It really was.

When I talk about Effa Manley Day, I usually leave out the way her niece dropped out, the books nowhere in sight when we arrived, the sweet infielder who most decidedly was NOT Tim Raines who gamely made his way through my book in about 27 minutes, the way we missed the initial viewing of the trailer on the jumbo-tron. Oh, and in a classic example of how maybe they really didn’t get it over there at the Newark Bears’ ballpark on this particular night, they chose to have the mascot named Effa sit out that night, while her counterpart, Rupert, carried on with mascot antics.

It was a mess. A mess I invited loved ones to witness. But we still had fun.
Audrey Bernick Vernick, thank you SO very much for being so incredibly kind and participating in this series.  I wish you nothing but the best. =)  

Ms.Vernick has just a few books under her belt.

Recent books:
My next book out is Brothers at Bat, illustrated by Steven Salerno, published by Clarion 2012
So You Want To Be A Rock Star, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds, published by Walker 2012

Other books:
Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship, co-written with Ellen Glassman Gidaro (my sister), illustrated by Tim Brown, published by Overmountain Press 2003
Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, published by Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2010
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, illustrated by Don Tate, published by Collins (HarperCollins), 2010
Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, published by Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2011
Water Balloon, published by Clarion, 2011

Bogart & Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, illustrated by Henry Cole, published by Walker, 2013
Edgar's Second Word, illustrated by Priscilla Burris, published by Clarion 2014