Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Summer Vacation!

It's summer vacation for the SCBWI-MI blog team! We're taking time off to be with our families and work on other projects, but we'll be back and re-energized in a few weeks. We already have posts planned for the fall, and we'll be checking email for any Book Birthdays or queries in the meantime. Find our submission guidelines here: 
We look forward to hearing from you!

Happy reading and writing, and see you soon!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Equity & Inclusion Corner: What is Casual Diversity?

As E & I Corner blog Co-Hosts these last two years, Angie and I want to thank you for all of your support and interest. My term as E & I Team Leader ends July 30th, and that date will also mark the end of Angie’s term on the E & I Team. Building the E & I Corner blog from the ground up has been a great experience, but it is time for new leadership to step in. The next round of E & I Team members will be announced later this summer.
We appreciate all of our blog contributors and those who joined the dialogue in our comments section. We also want to thank Kristin for her commitment to her leadership as Editor of The Mitten. It's been a rewarding experience to work with her and our RAs, Carrie Pearson and Jodi McKay.
Today's post is from former E&I Team volunteer Lisa Rose who served for two years during the launch of this committee and numerous initiatives. Thank you for sharing your time and experience, Lisa! Stay tuned for our next blog post in October with the author, Shanna Heath.
Isabel Estrada O’Hagin and Angie Verges

What is Casual Diversity? 

By Lisa Rose

Betsy Bird, in a 2014 blog post, defined casual diversity as “diversity that is just a part of everyday life.” 

I go a step further. To me, casual diversity happens when diversity is depicted in the story, but the focus of the story is not about the diversity. In my view, the first casual diverse book is also one of the most famous diverse books.  

One morning many years ago, a little boy in Brooklyn named Peter woke up to an amazing sight: fresh snow. Peter was among the first non-caricatured black boys to be featured in a major children's book. But Keats, who wasn’t black (He was Jewish), wasn’t trying to make a statement about race.

"He said, well, all the books he had ever illustrated, there had never been a child of color, and they're out there — they should be in the books, too.”

The book didn’t say 'I am a black child going out into the snow today.' It was just a child's experience of the snow. However, the impact was monumental. Black children could begin to see themselves in stories. This story gave them a “mirror” in which to see themselves. For non-black children, these “mirrors” were “windows” through which they could see black children as also having similar interests and experiences not unlike their own. These children can connect that this seemingly different child is not that different from me. Peter likes snow, just like me.

Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall, works in a similar way:

If you just look at the text of the book, there is nothing that indicates that the book has anything to do with diversity. However, diversity is presented in the illustrations. 

Picture book creators can have the visual show diversity.  

One of my favorite books is Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrai.  Not one word in this book describes the child is in a wheelchair—it is just who she is—just like she happens to be someone brown hair.  The wheelchair is only shown in the pictures.  This is story about a dog.  This is not a story about a wheelchair.

Similarly, when I created the Star Powers chapter book series, it was important to me to make it a story about a second-grade girl who loved science and not about a girl in a wheelchair. Her wheelchair was discussed when it was central to the plot—like when she was figuring out how was she going to get to the top of the observatory. However, overall, it is essentially a story about a girl and not a story about a wheelchair.

In fact, all of my picture books demonstrate casual diversity.  Shmulik Paints the Town is a story about a painting dog.  However, readers are also learning about Israeli Independence Day.  The greatest compliment I received about the book was from our own Jodi McKay. She was concerned she wasn’t understanding something and asked why Shmulik was considered a Jewish book. Exactly! I didn’t write Shumlik the Paints the town only for Jews. I wanted everyone to read it and enjoy it.  A Zombie Vacation which is also set in Israel and is also published by a Jewish press is also an example of casual diversity.  This book is about a Zombie who lost his zombie groove and decides to go on vacation to come back to dead.  What is the perfect place for a Zombie vacation? The Dead Sea—LOL! Readers learn about the special properties of The Dead Sea water and the area surrounding it.

You could say that casual diversity is subtle. As a Jewish girl, I always wondered why every story had a Christmas tree. Why did every family on TV celebrate Christmas? Why can’t the book have a menorah on the table? Why can the argument be on the way to Temple or Mosque instead of church? We don’t have shout: THIS FAMILY IS JEWISH, MUSLIM, AFRICAN-AMERICAN, INDIAN, CHINESE, LATINO…etc.  It can be depicted in an illustration in a picture book or a sentence in a novel.

To illustrate my way of looking at casual diversity, I’ve coined the phrase, “Beyond Rudolph.”  Everybody knows the story Rudolph and the Red Nosed Reindeer—poor Rudolph is bullied because he is different—UNTIL—what is different is exactly what saves the day. This savior act allows everyone to finally appreciate the fact that the thing that makes Rudolph different—is also what makes him valuable. Often, perhaps too often, diverse stories are only about what makes the main character a “Rudolph.” However, casual diversity helps creators get “Beyond Rudolph” and tell a story where diversity is depicted without being the subject of the story. 

Instead, stories that employ casual diversity include readers simply as they are: an essential part of our diverse world.

Lisa Rose’s latest picture book The Singer and The Scientist is about the friendship between Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein was released on April 1, by Kar-Ben Publishing. She is also the author of A Zombie Vacation (Apples & Honey Press, 2020) and The Star Powers chapter book series (Rourke Educational Media). Her first picture book Shmulik Paints the Town (Kar-Ben Publishing 2016) was a PJ Library Selection in May 2016 and 2020. It was sent to over 50,000 homes in North America. Lisa founded the Missing Voice Picture Book Discussion Group, whose mission is to highlight new picture books and their creators featuring diversity and little-known subjects on a monthly basis. Learn more at https://lisarosewrites.com/.

The SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team is energized to create a stronger SCBWI-MI community that includes, engages, and embraces disparate voices. Learn more about the E&I Team on the SCBWI-MI website, and read our previous blog posts at the Equity & Inclusion Corner.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Ask the Editor by Katherine Gibson Easter

Welcome to our quarterly Ask the Editor feature! Katherine Gibson Easter is an editor at Zonderkidz and was previously at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She's collecting questions from SCBWI-MI members and sharing her answers with our community. Did you miss her previous Q&As? See the link at the end of this post.

Here's Katherine:

Hi there! Thanks so much to everyone who sent me their questions! I’ve answered them to the best of my abilities, and I hope you find this post helpful and informative.

As with my previous Ask the Editor posts, I humbly ask that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful; I sincerely hope that no one finishes reading this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.

Also, a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of my publisher or the publishing industry in general. I would not be at all surprised to learn that you’ve heard an editor or agent say something that directly conflicts with my perspective. Everyone in publishing has their own views and preferences, and I can only be honest about my own.

If you have any questions about writing, editing, or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please reach out to me. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thank you, and happy reading!

I recently paid for a critique, which was very helpful in revising the manuscript. However, in the comments, the author expressed the opinion that fiction is very hard to sell right now. She implied that agents/editors are not seeking fiction stories like they did in the past. Do you think that’s true?
Interesting! The author may have been referring to the fact that there’s been increased market demand for juvenile and YA nonfiction since the start of the pandemic, so many agents and publishers have been paying special attention to acquiring new nonfiction content. But of course, children’s fiction still outsells nonfiction, and in fact it’s growing now that the nonfiction market is starting to cool off a bit. So I wouldn’t worry about children’s fiction going away anytime soon.
Or maybe the author meant that there’s a glut of fiction manuscripts circling around right now. Agents would feel this more than editors, so I’m making a bit of an educated guess here, but with so many people staying indoors last year with newfound time on their hands, many of them probably spent their time writing manuscripts and are now trying to sell them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if agents were being inundated with queries right now.
All that being said, I think the writing world is always going to be competitive. You can try to time your submissions based on trends or circumstances, but I personally feel that what matters most is simply having a good manuscript that hits a felt need. If you have a polished manuscript that you really believe in, I’d say send it out. Life is short, and even if this author is correct and everyone you query tells you no, you’re no worse off trying than you’d be if you’d left the manuscript in a drawer. 

I'm having a hard time finding agents to query who are Christians. Do you have any suggestions or website resources?
I’d definitely recommend checking out The Christian Writers Market Guide. They come out with a new edition every year, and it’s a great list of agents, publishers, periodicals, etc. that specialize in the Christian market. 
Another good thing to do is to look at the Christian books you’ve read and loved and find out who the publisher and agent were. (You can usually find the agency listed in either the copyright page or the acknowledgments page.) Then look into that agency and publisher and see what else they acquire to see if you’re a good match.
Really though, I think there are lots of agents out there who don’t specialize in the Christian space who would still be willing to take on a religious manuscript if they felt that it was the right project. Try looking for books that address the same themes as your manuscript, then see if the agents who represented them would be willing to consider your project as well.

How do American publishers decide which foreign titles are worth translating into English?

Often if it’s a bigger publishing company that has imprints in multiple countries, the American publisher will simply look at their foreign imprints’ best performing titles and translate those books into English for the American market. For smaller publishers (ones that don’t have affiliated foreign imprints) looking to license the English rights to a book, subject matter is key. Since the original author and/or illustrator probably won’t be available for many marketing and publicity efforts (since they likely don’t speak English/won’t be in-country), publishers have to make sure that the book gets attention another way, usually by tapping into a strong felt need in the market. 

For picture books, the illustration style matters a lot too. Foreign picture books tend to be more avant-garde with their artwork than American picture books, which could be off-putting to readers who are used to seeing books crafted especially for the American market. Sometimes unusual or striking illustrations help the book to pop on the shelf, but generally, the more the artwork falls in line with what readers expect to see, the more likely it is that people will pick up the book.

I just finished writing my first picture book and I want to secure an agent. Do you have a list of reputable agents who specialize in children’s books?
Great question! There are lots of great resources out there for finding agents, but I’ll list some of my favorites here. First up is (of course) SCBWI’s The Book. Not only do they have a great directory for publishers and agents, but they also include tips on how to put together a query, how to publicize your book, and so much more. 
I also love the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. It’s got lists for agents, publishers, magazines, fellowships, etc., and there are multiple indices in the back to help you find what you’re looking for. 
And since you’re specifically looking for an agent, I’d recommend spending some time looking through Manuscript Wish List and QueryTracker. Those are great tools to help you find out what specific genres/subjects agents are looking for, whether or not they’re currently accepting queries, and how to pitch them. Lots of luck to you!

Katherine Gibson Easter is an editor for Zonderkidz, having previously worked for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 2013 and has spent the last eight years editing and publishing award-winning children’s books, including Sibert Medal and Caldecott Honor book The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Plume, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

Thank you, Katherine!

To submit a publishing question, email Mitten blog editor Kristin Lenz with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.

If you missed any of Katherine's previous Ask the Editor posts, go HERE to browse through all the questions and answers.

Coming up on The Mitten Blog:

Another thoughtful post from our Equity and Inclusion Team, and then VACATION! We're entering our summer slowdown season when the SCBWI-MI Blog Team will be enjoying time off with our families and friends. Keep sending us your queries and Book Birthday requests—we'll still have occasional posts throughout the summer, but not every week. We'll continue to alert you to new posts via the listserv and social media.