I actually started in publishing in high school. Back then, there was a press called Landmark Editions that used to run a contest for kids. To enter, you wrote and illustrated your own book, and if you won in your age group, you got a publishing contract. I don't think there were very many entries the year I entered, but I was thrilled all the same when I got the chance to publish my book. I fell in love with every part of the process—flying to their offices, drawing sketch after sketch, studying great picture books, tapping out meter and rhyme over the phone with my editor (those calls could get tense! but she was the matriarch of Landmark and I adored her). Most nights I stayed up into the early morning working on that book, just for the love of it. (Interesting side note: Landmark was the same company that gave Dav Piley his start with World War Won). I studied business in college, but when an internship opened up at a local publishing startup, I applied immediately. I started as a graphic designer and creative director there, then became the publishing director. We grew the company into one of the fastest-growing publishers in the US, and then I finally left to start Bushel & Peck with my wife, Stephanie.
I've never not loved working in book publishing, but it's a different level of passion when you run your own press. While you always have to keep your eyes on the numbers, your press eventually becomes an extension of you—what you're excited about, what you're curious about, what you want to share with the world. I remember staring at the ceiling once shortly after leaving my previous job, just thinking for a bit. We were in the middle of starting Bushel & Peck, and it occurred to me that I didn't have to start a publishing company. I could have started a new career, gone back to school, anything! But what pulled me to publishing like nothing else was knowing that making books gave me a voice. There are plenty of careers that are fun, creative, and everything else I love about publishing, but it's that voice that's so different from anything else.
There are so many! I love The Interactive Constitution, because it takes something so dry to kids and makes it compelling and engaging with such a novel format, like its color-changing words to help teach vocabulary in the Preamble. (Plus, I'm passionate about American history and civics education, so it's a book we were thrilled to see do well.) But that's a hallmark of many of our books. Any good publisher looks for the perfect marriage of text and art. You might think of those as X and Y axes. But to me, a great publisher will add a third Z axis: format. Can the physical book itself be part of the experience? If it's a book on music, do you add sound? A book on something physical like anatomy, do you add flaps to enhance the physicality of what the kid is learning? If it's historical, do you choose rough woodfree paper to add a tactile sense of time and place? These are the details that make publishing exciting for me.
Any time we nail the intersection of art, text, and physicality and align the result with the right market, the book tends to do well. Our illustrated poets series is a great example. In that case, we paired beloved poems with vintage collage art that is just so beautiful and really adds to the experience. You can almost feel Poe or Dickinson in the art itself, because so much of it is from the same era. It also created a series of crossover books that sell just as well for adults as they do for children, plus it differentiated our series from those that tend to have more kidlike art, which we felt wasn't the right choice for such celebrated literature.
Both! More than anything, what we look for is an illustrator who can add an extra dimension to a book. Good illustrators draw what they're told and make a beautiful book. Great illustrators enhance the story and add an extra layer of richness, detail, and emotion beyond what the text can convey. Whether young or established, these are the types of artists we like to work with.
I don't know about other publishers, but one of the biggest hesitations we have when hiring an artist is wondering what their work for us will actually end up looking like. Portfolios or past publications help greatly with this, but there's always a bit of a risk in hiring an illustrator you haven't worked with before. For this reason, a couple of pieces of advice come to mind. First, always put your best foot forward. Portfolios tend to be judged on the best and worst pieces, and sometimes the worst pieces tend to get the heavier weight because publishers are afraid that's what they'll get if they hire you. Trim them down to your best, most sensational pieces, and that will get publishers excited. Second, try to be clear about your style. You don't have to limit yourself to one illustration style, but be clear about the different ways you like to create and what a publisher might expect if they hire you. When portfolios are a bit all over the map with medium and style, it brings back that uncertainty for the publisher: what am I really going to get if I hire this person?
Having the freedom to create what you're passionate about is always one of the top perks of running your own press. That brings a slew of its own headaches and challenges, but if you love what you do, all the stress takes a distant second place. That's not to say there aren't lows and sleepless nights, but they're nothing compared with the thrill of seeing a book succeed or holding something in your hands you carefully crafted from its inception.
All the greats: Harry Potter, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Little Britches, Winnie the Pooh, Henry Reed, and on and on.
I learned so, so much from Christopher Robbins, the current CEO of Familius. And along the way, there have been countless people who have shaped my publishing worldview. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn!
Anything that lived years at the top of the New York Times, of course! But really, if a book somehow touches a life, then that's pay dirt for us.
I started making and studying art in elementary school and was part of specialized art programs in junior high and high school. In fact, I went to the “FAME” school (LaGuardia H.S.), which is behind Lincoln Center. Then I attended the historic museum school, The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, for my BFA. It feels like I’ve always been surrounded by creative people.
My career began in newspaper and magazine design in Chicago and Silicon Valley. Then I moved back to NYC and began to pursue my dream of being a Book Designer. I spent the first half of my book career in adult books, first at Avalon, an Indie, and then at Random House Adult. I made the move to children’s books by joining the amazing team at Disney Hyperion. While there, I was best known for my YA and MG cover design, though I did some picture books too. And I found picture book editors and artists were some of the best people to know and befriend. I then became the Associate Art Director at Workman Kids, before co-founding RISE with Cecily Kaiser in 2019.
That’s tough…I wouldn’t say favorites, but the RISE titles I identify the most with are:
Who Was Celia Cruz? Board Book
I AM!: Affirmations for Resilience
Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race
I would say we are looking for thoughtful illustrators who want to work on books that are authentic to them. Books whose subject matter has some connection to their lived or learned experience. Our books help kids (0-5) understand and feel empowered in the world around them. So we don’t have a lot of “fantastical” books. And we tend to hire artists who have more realistic proportions, and who make art about our everyday world. We also like art that can be appreciated by everyone, including the many adults who select, purchase, and read these books to our young audience. We often hire fine artists, editorial illustrators, or artists who have never even thought of illustrating for children.
Make work on the subject you are passionate about.
Hashtag your work’s subject matter.
Write super long bios that tell me a lot about you and the things you are passionate about. I want to know what experience shaped you and your work. Where did you grow up? Are you a child of immigrants? Do you love math, science, food, typography, music? All of that should be in your bio.
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, art by Chris Silas Neal
Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, art by Adams Carvalho
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, art by Alexander Jansson
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds, with art by the incomparable Kadir Nelson
EVERY SINGLE BOOK on the RISE list, which I am SO proud to have co-founded.
Pretty much anything I get from Edel Rodriguez blows my mind. I literally can’t picture anything he is going to turn in. That really impresses me. When people are unpredictable BUT BRILLIANT. He’s a pro and one of my heroes. I feel so lucky that he was on our inaugural RISE list.
If you look at any page of I AM!: Affirmations for Resilience, you are looking at Edel’s first hunch on each page, with minor tweaks. That spread that reads, My Friends And Family Love Me! That shouldn’t work, but it does. The crazy bend of the kid’s body. It’s brilliant in that it captures the extreme joy of kid gestures. So smart!
I love nurturing and challenging talent. It’s the best part of the job.
My whole career, I have pulled artists I like into whatever age group I’m designing for. Rise is no different. If you are outstanding, I’ll want to hire you. There are many ways to be great. You can be starting out, but already be a stand-out. My job is to see which projects are a match for an artist.
Sometimes I hold on to someone for YEARS, before the right project comes along. That’s what happened with Being You artist Andy Passchier. Andy sent an adult graphic novel proposal to my last job. And I KNEW, Andy was IT. THE REAL DEAL. A smart, insightful, funny, visually powerful artist. That publisher passed on Andy’s project, but I KNEW that eventually I would find a way to work with Andy. When I read Being You: A First Conversation about Gender, I was jumping up and down, because I knew Andy was THE ARTIST, and their project had finally arrived.
Short answer, a style that feels universal. That can be many different things. I would say for me, they need to make fearless color choices. Pop colors translate very well.
Career Mentors—David Tran, Elizabeth Rendfleisch, Joann Hill, Rotem Moscovich, Lily Malcom
Design Influences—Elizabeth H. Clark, Nicole Caputo, Charlotte Strick, Jon Gray (Gray 318)
Picture Book Heroes—Minh Le, Isabel Roxas, Raúl the Third, Kadir Nelson, Yuyi Morales
This is my second year as an Art Director at Macmillan Children’s. My very first job in publishing was as a design intern at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I started working there after I graduated from the Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program in the School of Visual Arts. I was trying to publish my picture books then and didn’t imagine having a career on “the other side of the table” of the book industry. I was reaching out to editors and art directors with my portfolio and dummy books. I also invited them to my graduation show where my thesis was children’s books. One of the art directors I reached out to, Saho Fujii from LBYR, came to the show and gave me great feedback. I was blown away that a real art director responded to my invitation, came to the show, and gave me feedback in person! A couple of months later, she emailed me about an open internship position at LBYR. I thought it would be wonderful to work and learn inside of the industry where I was trying so hard to break in. I went in for an interview and got the job, which became my first job in publishing. I thought I would learn all the practical tips from “behind the curtains,” and help myself publish my books! Not surprisingly, however, I fell in love with people and work in the publishing house. It is such a collaborative environment and everyone is so passionate about children’s books. I was surrounded by amazing creators and storytellers! I got to work with illustrators I admired! I felt as if I found my perfect home. I never left the industry since.
Macmillan has three pub seasons (winter, spring/summer, and fall) and each designer generally works on 3-8 titles per season. Because picture bookmaking is such a long process, we are working on anywhere between 8-15 titles at a time all in drastically varying stages.
At the moment, I’m reviewing, color correcting, and making the final adjustments for the books that will publish later this year (2022), hands-on designing and receiving final arts for books that will publish early 2023, reviewing the second or third round of sketches for the books that will come out mid to late 2023, and also setting up a kick-off call with artists who are working on a book for 2024.
A big chunk of my daily calendar is filled with multiple meetings where I review sketches or final arts with editors or other designers on various books that we work together. Communicating with artists is also the biggest part of our daily responsibility. We try our best to communicate our thoughts and feedback clearly and openly with illustrators and make sure that illustrators are fully included in the discussion. We need to learn how each illustrator communicates differently and what they feel comfortable with. Some prefer email communications while some prefer talking on the phone. We do a lot of video calls as well. Working with various amazing artists is my favorite part of the job.
And of course, we need to design the books. Designing a book also takes place over a period of time. We usually create preliminary ones to share with the team at various stages, but once we have the final art in, we pay full attention to the detailed design. We make sure that the design meets the sentiment of the book, enhances the story and the art, and brings everything together. Since the cover is often the face of the book, everyone in the team from other departments gets to see the final design of the cover and give feedback.
As a kid, I always gravitated to an exciting story with a strong story arc. I still think that is very important, and that’s how I try to write and illustrate, too. However, when it comes to the books that I enjoy most working on, I am strongly drawn to the books telling stories with specific cultural backgrounds and elements. They often tell universal stories through a specific cultural lens, with which all the readers can resonate. On top of that, I get to take a glimpse of the culture that I wasn’t familiar with. It is enticing and enlightening. I feel my world gets a bit wider each time I work on those books and spend lots of time with them.
A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart has a special place in my heart. An emotional journey of a young Black boy after the police shooting in the neighborhood is an incredibly difficult subject matter, to say the least, especially for a picture book for very young readers. It was incredible to witness the whole process of how this beautifully and powerfully written text by Elliott Zetta was brought to full life by debut artist Noa Denmon’s masterful and heartfelt illustrations. Noa was new to the children’s book field, but we loved Noa’s art style that was sophisticated and rich. As for anyone new to the field, the process must have been long and draining for Noa at times especially with a heavy and important subject. Nonetheless, Noa persevered, did multiple rounds of revisions over and over again for various scenes, successfully bringing out the full range of emotions from characters and readers alike. Noa won a Caldecott Honor with A Place Inside of Me that year and I am incredibly happy that Noa’s beautiful art that is full of heart got much-deserved recognition.
Without any exaggeration, I am constantly amazed by the sketches shared by the artists every day, so it is really hard to pick an example. Even though I love discovering new artists and finding talents, working with debut illustrators always has a bit of risk and I often mentally prepare myself for unexpected turmoil that could come on the way. Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites was certainly not an easy book to illustrate, covering the life of a renowned chef. Because of the nature of cooking Niki was known to do, fantastical elements had to be very naturally blended in with the factual illustrations. There was a ton of research for the illustrator to do and vigorous fact-checking was to follow.
I appreciate seeing the varying range of environments and settings along with the characters. Very often, I receive art samples or a portfolio mainly consisting of spot arts of characters. Character building is very important, but it is often not just about how the character looks, but also about what kind of setting the character is in, and how that environment plays the role to tell the story. If you pick up any children’s book (or the one you love!), you will see that the book consists of double-page spread art, single-page art, and spot arts with varying degrees of settings. Try to do that in your portfolio.
I often recommend including the urban setting, natural setting, home setting, and everyday setting like school, park, or playground. Including a few pieces where multiple characters interact with one another is vital, too, since it’s rare that we only have one character per page in a book, and children’s book is often all about emotions coming from relationships.
I recommend not including anything that you don’t enjoy doing anymore even if it seems like a wonderful portfolio piece. For example, if you have a beautiful woodcut piece that everyone loves, but if you don’t want to make woodcut anymore, don’t include it. It can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication if the publisher likes that very piece, hires you for that style, but you turn in something completely different.
Open-mindedness to collaborate is very important because picture book making is such a collaborative process, and also a very long one. The reason why I love picture book making so much is that you get to work as a team and bring out the best of each other by constant discussion and brainstorming to make the book better and better. To be a part of that process is very rewarding. Also being an open mind leads the illustrators to experiment more and push their limits. That is extremely rewarding as well. But when an illustrator is closed for suggestions and feedback, the whole process becomes rigid and not enjoyable. And again, it is a long process. When no one enjoys that long process because the communication is closed, the book that comes out of it loses a bit of light.
I often tell illustrators that there is a whole team of people who are rooting for their art and the books they create. Even though they mostly communicate with designers/art directors, and sometimes with editors, there are a lot more people behind the scene who are helping to make the book more beautiful and helping to bring the book to more readers. An entire team is there. I want the illustrators to trust the team, open up their ears/minds, and communicate with us. That will help make the best book.
Author and illustrator Benson Shum created this absolutely lovable character Anzu, in his book Anzu the Great Kaiju. Anzu has such a warm personality and has a big heart. If I could, I will be friends with Anzu. Anzu’s personality is shown through his sunny color, kind eyes, in his bright facial expressions, and open body gestures. Everything builds up to make Anzu very believable and he feels very real. Benson masterfully crafted the whole world where readers can instantly understand this sweet, warm-hearted, sun-colored Kaiju who has a long lineage, a loving family of strong personalities, and a passion to grow up to find his own path. Anzu the Great Listener is the sequel to be published next year, and I am very excited for readers to continue the journey with this lovable and thoughtful Kaiju.
There are many and I am incredibly lucky to have met them. Pat Cummings was my thesis adviser in grad school. I learned everything about making children’s books and a lot more from Pat. Without Saho Fujii, I wouldn’t have started working in the industry at all. I am very lucky I trained under her, learning all the basics and best practices of designing picture books. I only worked with Patti Ann Harris for a couple of months before she moved from LBYR to Scholastic, but the way she grew and empowered her team members left a big impact on me and I still frantically reach out to her for questions in my career. Laura Pennock, an adult book division sales executive, might sound like an unusual mentor for a designer, but she has been my go-to person for any questions I have to navigate in the corporate world and has been the biggest support. I was paired with Laura in the mentorship program from Macmillan when I requested that I wanted to learn more about sales, which always felt like a strange, unknown world to me.
All my mentors have been so giving and supportive, they taught me to be that way to others, without even telling me.
When I do school visits or book events with children as an author/illustrator, I am often asked what my favorite book is among the ones I wrote and illustrated. Even after years, I can never answer that question without agonizing over it. And my answer changes every time. For Childrensillustrators.com members, I would like to share my second picture book No Kimchi for Me! because it is the book that taught me the joy of connecting with readers. The book started with my simple desire to illustrate a Korean custom of eating savory pancakes (kimchi pancakes, seafood pancakes, spring onion pancakes, etc) on a rainy day. I grew up with that custom and I always loved it. When it rains, it is common for people to start thinking of eating savory pancakes. It’s fascinating! I went through countless revisions to get the story where it is, with a lot of people’s help (many workshops, critique groups, and first and foremost my editor Grace Maccarone’s invaluable feedback at Holiday House). When the book was finally out in the world, it got more love than I ever expected, and I started getting photos and messages from readers from all over. It was simply incredible to me to witness how a very personal story reached so many people, and how they connected with the story and characters I created. It also opened the door for me to keep working on stories with the same character Yoomi, expanding her world wider and wider, making them into a Yoomi, Friends and Family series including Let’s Go to Taekwondo! and Sunday Funday in Koreatown to this date. I learned so much through No Kimchi for Me! - while I was making it and after I made it. The story itself is not quite about that Korean custom I was inspired by, but for any members of Childrensillustrators.com, if you ever get a chance to see the book, you will recognize that the story does take place on a rainy day, and it will eventually show savory Korean pancakes. Then you will know how it all started. It is a little secret I would like to share here.
I was concerned that this book might be too stressful for Yuko Jones, a debut illustrator we signed on for her beautiful, warm-hearted watercolor illustrations, to work on. It turned out to be a completely unnecessary concern. Yuko was amazing to work with. She communicated very clearly from the beginning regarding her process, the time she needed, and the resource she could use. That assured me that we could work through any difficult parts of the project together. When we received sketches from Yuko, it was simply mind-blowing. I remember reviewing the sketches with the editor, Grace Kendall, and we kept saying “this can’t be more perfect.” Yuko created the beautiful world with her fluid and warm illustrations telling the story of this ambitious and creative chef and her vision of food and art. There were so many details even in the sketches, we could be simply lost in illustrations for a long time.
Although being a psychologist was the biggest dream of my youth, in my first year at university, I realized that while I wanted to learn psychology and loved the subject, I didn't necessarily want to be a psychologist. While contemplating how to build my career after graduating, I channeled my love of writing and submitted an essay and resume to a very well-known literary magazine in Turkey. The editor-in-chief of the magazine said that he was impressed with my writing skills and wanted to meet with me. This meeting was a turning point in my life. The editor became a mentor to me and helped me think about how I could turn my knowledge, interest, and love into a career: children's literature! It was the perfect field where I could combine my psychology background and passion for books and literature.
After this meeting, I began an internship in a children's magazine affiliated with the same publishing house. The experienced and professional team helped me learn things quickly and enabled me to grow. Now that I had made my final decision, I had already immersed myself in the magical world of children's literature. After graduating, I was hired at the same place and started working as an editor for Gonca Children's Magazine. Gonca was not only a magazine but also a media organization that made a name for itself in Europe with its many social responsibility projects. For example, we gifted saplings along with the magazine and planted more than 1,500,000 saplings with our readers in different countries. It was a huge opportunity to be a part of this visionary team.
In the first years of my career as an editor, I started my master's degree in publishing. It was one of the first publishing master's programs in Europe and enhanced my knowledge in the field to a great extent. I continued my publishing studies at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.
Later, while continuing my freelance work as an editor in Canada, we met with a group of children's publishers with the dream of making a new children's magazine and studied the market for months. Our biggest goal was to create the best magazine on the market, especially visually. Thus, Atlasia was born. We attended to every detail, from creating the name to the most minor page details. And now, in our second year, we proudly and happily reach thousands of readers from all over the world.
Atlasia is the fruit of a Ph.D. project. Our editor-in-chief, Hasan Ahmet Gokce, during his doctoral studies at the University of Waterloo, designed a children's magazine as a project to facilitate the integration and integration processes of Muslim immigrant children into Canada. With the help of such a magazine, children would be able to improve their English and at the same time develop their religious knowledge. The magazine would also reinforce the sense of being a part of a society in children and increase their self-confidence. Therefore, we built Atlasia's main goals around these missions.
We designed Atlasia as a new world for children. When we researched available options for Muslim kids, we found that we could create more fun and inspiring magazine than those on the market. Our goal is to meet the needs and expectations of today's children, both in terms of content and visuals. Atlasia presents children with a fun and exciting world to engage with while also validating and strengthening what is often a marginalized identity.
At Atlasia, our main goals are to provide quality content to English-speaking children worldwide and introduce them to universal moral values. In addition to these, the magazine is not only used as a reading material; we position it as a playmate and as an opportunity to enable family communication. We recommend most activities presented in the magazine be conducted with family or friends. Thus, we aim to respond to our target audience's psychological and social needs.
Atlasia is the very meaning of a dream coming true. We've always dreamed of an inclusive magazine that embraces all kids, including Muslim kids worldwide, and offers them the best quality content. Atlasia is the fruit of this dream and years of hard work with a dedicated team.
At the heart of Atlasia, there is our editorial team of 6 people. The entire curriculum, content, and visuals of the magazine are imagined and designed by this team. Our editor-in-chief, Dr. Hasan Ahmet Gokce, is an academic who has devoted 20 years of his life to children's publishing. He is a publisher specializing in literature, theology, and Islamic arts. Sarah Bayza, the most creative editor of all time, studied sociology and has a natural talent for writing for children. She observes the market very closely, which keeps us up to date on the latest trends and ideas. Betty Oz, the funniest member of the team, studied graphic design, and she adds that humorous touch which is the essential part of children's publishing. Ishmael Bay is an award-winning children's illustrator and graphic designer at the heart of our magazine's visual quality. And Maya Salem is a curriculum expert actively working with children in the field. Each team member is committed to integrating their knowledge into children's publishing. I am in love with this team's energy that works wonders together!
Of course, besides this core team, we have a great marketing team that aims to bring Atlasia to the best place. They are literally the best at giving us feedback by attending to the reader participation and activity feedback and marketing to our young readers in the best possible way.
In addition to these two teams, we have writers and illustrators from all over the world. They reveal what we dream of in the best possible way. I would say I cannot imagine the absence of even one of them.
After returning to our home offices due to the pandemic, I can say that I am currently doing my dream job as someone who likes to be at home, be on my own, and deal with books. The first thing in the morning is to check my mailbox and respond to urgent emails. I prefer not to leave any unanswered or delay my response to them. Then we hold our daily editorial meeting with the team and plan a division of labor on what we need to get done during the day. The rest of my day is spent meeting with the writers and illustrators, making plans for new content, and smiling at our readers’ emails. My dearest fluffy cotton candy cat is with me the whole day; my best luck. Really, who wouldn’t want to spend their workday with their best furry friend!
Oh, thank you so much! Atlasia’s most outstanding achievement is undoubtedly its visual quality. All the illustrators we collaborate with are so good that I don’t know which one to talk about. I can mention the first one that comes to my mind. One of our monthly sections is a puzzle page that we created by illustrating over 50 characters. Our editor, Sarah, builds all the characters one by one and fits her dream scene into a Word document. A short document of 20-30 pages :) We prefer to free our artists by saying certain things on most of our pages, but since this is a puzzle section and there are many scenes we want to have, Sarah describes every detail. Our talented illustrator, Vikke Samson, brings all of Sarah's characters to life so beautifully that we are amazed every time. There’s such a bond between them now that Vikke wonderfully adds new characters to the composition that Sarah didn’t write, and “I thought you might want something like that,” she says. That demonstrates this closeness that we have with our illustrators and that understanding each other is the most important thing to us.
Here are my favorites from this section:
Although we have just completed our first year, we have such beautiful covers that I don’t know which one to choose. Let me start with the most recent. This is our March 2022 issue’s cover drawn by Sara Nikforouz. Sara’s colors and unique style fascinate me. All she needs is the theme, and the rest is up to her incredible imagination.
Another is the cover drawn by Sepideh Baratian for our September 2021 issue. Sepideh’s style is entirely different; she is a cut-paste master! She first visualizes it in her imagination; then, she creates her illustration by cutting and pasting her papers.
And third, the first cover of Atlasia, a drawing by our beloved artist Olga Surina. Olga’s vibrant colors and cute characters exemplify the bar we want to set in our magazine. As you can see, even on our covers, we aim to include children from different backgrounds so that all children find something of themselves. While we created our magazine as a product for Muslim children, it is inclusive, and we hope that all children will find something for them in it.
Rather than styles or subject matters, the first thing I personally look for is the artist’s love for children. Don’t be surprised if I say this; it’s usually clear from a portfolio whether the artist does their work with such passion or if they are simply using a skill. Regardless of skill and training, an artist who loves children can enter that world more easily and effortlessly bring us into the world they have created. Before technical details, I look for this magical atmosphere in portfolios. Other than that, the works that draw our attention in terms of style are those of artists who use colors very well. As for character designs, we care about facial expressions, body movements, and anatomy. For us, it’s great to see both editorial drawings and different character designs in portfolios.
Most of the feedback we receive from our readers is about our modern and high-quality visual identity. I want to quote one of them directly because it is a summary of what Atlasia intends to do:
Dear editorial team of Atlasia Kids,
I wanted to commend you on the brilliant graphics, illustrations, and marketing you have done for this magazine. I will be subscribing for my girls - as a huge fan of Highlights Magazine yet never seeing the representation, and it is lovely to see what you have created here in such a modern yet Islamic way!
We see the magazine not as ordinary reading material but as a new world that offers different reading experiences. At this point, we use the power of graphics. We have an icon set we call Atlasia Toolbox. These icons are designed because our readers have different intelligence types, enabling them to have different experiences on our pages. For example, we present some folk tales and stories as audio stories for our auditory-intelligent readers and show them on our page with the “listen” icon. For our readers who like to do hands-on activities, we have a “do it” icon.
In addition, we include special instructions on some of our pages for different reading experiences that will improve the reading culture and, at the same time, entertain our readers. We write down notes such as “Read this page in the kitchen,” “Read this page under the table,” and “Read this page on the bus.” Thus, the reading experience becomes different for each child.
As I mentioned above, we include guidelines to enable social communication in the magazine. For example, we encourage them to share the personality quiz with their friends or recommend that they do the activities on some pages with their parents. In short, we aim to include fun and interactive activities on as many of our pages as possible.
Atlasia, for me, is like a message in a bottle. Every month we write a message on a piece of paper, roll it up, and put it in a nice bottle. Then we leave it adrift in the ocean. We do not know which shore it reaches or which child receives that message. All we want is to put a smile on the face of every single child who receives our message. Yes, this is our biggest dream!
Growing up, my parents always encouraged my creative side by appreciating my many (way too many) drawings. My Dad is also an artist, a woodcarver, so I spent a lot of time as a child just watching him work. And as I grew older, I always gravitated towards art classes and art related events, from elementary school all the way to college. I majored in Graphic Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, then started my career as a general designer in several industries for a few years until I grew interested in creating books for children. So, I sent out application after application until I eventually landed an interview and was offered a Designer role at Macmillan.
My core responsibility as a designer is to take a manuscript and create an appealing package that fits the tone of the story. That includes choosing and working closely with illustrators for picture books and guiding them as they develop their beautiful artwork. And for YA novels, middle grade, and nonfiction titles, I focus on the interior design—creating engaging layouts using text, photos, doodles and/or spot art. On a typical day, I’m usually reviewing artist sketches with editors and writing up notes for revisions, designing and laying out picture book mechanicals and novel interiors, reviewing proofs for final printing and making text corrections for book passes.
Absolutely! Every day, I have the opportunity to work on books by incredible creatives. And the most recent titles that were a real delight to work on are Show the World by Angela Dalton and illustrated by Daria Peoples, My Love for You Is Always by Gillian Sze and illustrated by Michelle Lee and You Can Be ABCs by Robert Samuel White II, Robert Samuel White III and illustrated by Robert Paul Jr.
I tend to collaborate based on an individual’s learning style. We all absorb information differently, whether it’s through visuals, written text, audio, or a do-it-yourself approach. This means, if I’m attempting to explain an idea to an artist or teammate and they can’t quite understand what I’m trying to convey, I’ll then try to communicate the concept in a different way. Either by creating a quick visual mockup or providing a photo reference. Or perhaps explain it verbally in a meeting, as opposed to through email. And the same applies vice versa. If I’m having a hard time grasping an idea that’s being explained to me, I might ask the person to either reiterate it differently or provide a simple drawing or chart, which helps me the most as a visual learner.
When we think of highlighting a particular point in any story, we tend to think BIG. And changing the scale of an object or text is usually the easiest way of achieving this. But sometimes, just seeing something unexpected is enough to draw the readers eye to a different spot on the page, like a bold color or the lack of content. For example, when trying to pull attention to central points on a spread, taking away the excess can be the easiest way to do this. Meaning, removing any extra background elements that aren’t necessary in conveying the message on that page and embracing the negative space that remains.
I really enjoy the jacket and cover design stage of a book project. I tend to get a bit carried away with color options and comps, but I like the collaborative aspects of sharing options with the team and pulling different elements from each comp to create the final look. The lettering created for My Love for You Is Always is one of my favorite type treatments, particularly because I got a chance to work with my hands and start with basic sketches before moving onto the final rendering.
Here is the final result:
Speaking specifically for picture books, we always look for variety in an artist’s portfolio. So, we look out for drawings of children and people with movement, different perspectives, and variation in expression. Other elements that are important—depending on the style—are lighting, variety in color, and consistency in scale and proportions.
Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter was unlike any book interior design I’ve done before. It was both uplifting and heartbreaking as it tells the story of what sparked the movement, key historical events and figures, and how it’s shaped our country and its people. The photos by New York Times photographers are so powerful and show the resilience of Black Americans despite adversity, systemic racism, murder, and discrimination. Laying out the text and photos was an emotional, yet inspiring process and I’m so happy with how it all came together.
Being outside inspires me a great deal. I try to take daily walks around my neighborhood, and I always find something new and beautiful that I didn’t notice before. Taking the time to slow down and clear my mind helps me to pay attention to the small details. And in doing so, I can take my time to reflect on things that bring me joy and oftentimes stumble upon an unexpected and new idea.
“Ask questions!” I struggled with this early on as I felt like I always needed to prove myself and figure things out on my own. But a former coworker, who’s now a very dear friend of mine, once told me it’s okay to just ask. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to get a full understanding of what’s being asked of you. As the saying goes, "You don’t know what you don’t know". So, it’s better to ask (potentially nag) and do a great job the first time around than to sit in confusion, waste time and probably start from the beginning.
Show the World and You Can Be ABCs inspires readers to break from the norm to be bold, creative and explore the endless possibilities of all they can be. Both titles showcase young Black narrators and kids from different backgrounds that BIPOC children can relate to.
While My Love for You Is Always is a sweet and tender love letter from a mother to her child describing all the different ways love can be expressed through our senses.
And this conversation happens as they prepare a traditional Chinese dinner together.
Most recently, I’ve been especially proud of Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich, which won the Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima Award in 2021. It was an honor to know that the Bologna Book Fair judges recognized how special it is.
I love the book’s themes, which are more crucial than ever: How important it is to connect with others, and how that connection and sense of empathy add vibrance and meaning to our lives. Kasya’s use of color brings the reader straight into that experience. The book starts out with a limited palette—black and white with a pop of red—and gradually gives way to full color by the book’s end. The takeaway is that our lives become more colorful when we are guided by curiosity and the quest for connection.
Two recent books by Shinsuke Yoshitake that I acquired from Japan are favorites as well: The Boring Book, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 2020 and There Must Be More Than That!, which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2021.
In The Boring Book, being bored is presented as a gateway to creativity and an opportunity to gain an expanded sense of the world. In There Must Be More Than That!, a child’s fears of the unknown are assuaged, not with a flip “Everything will be OK!” but with compelling examples of how perspective and an acceptance of uncertainty can actually be sources of strength during difficult times. I’m incredibly proud of bringing these books to Chronicle—they are both playful and thought-provoking with a striking graphic style, qualities that I’m always striving for in my acquisitions.
Novelty projects are an exciting part of my list because they allow me to partner with illustrators that I admire in different ways using a variety of materials.
After I acquired a reissue of Richard McGuire’s Go Fish Card Game a few years ago, Richard and I collaborated on two more card games, one focused on conservation and ecosystems, Richard McGuire’s Wild Cards, and one inspired by his 2001 New Yorker Valentine’s Day cover, Richard McGuire’s Playing Cards. The art in Richard McGuire’s Playing Cards is incredibly expressive despite the use of a limited palette. There is a narrative relayed in each suit: the “hearts” are about love, the “spades” about work, the “diamonds” about money, and the “clubs” about war. Richard has such a dynamic sense of storytelling, not to mention an impressive illustrative range. His art has a timeless quality, too.
I’ve also recently been working with Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi on original novelty projects. I’ve been Taro’s editor at Chronicle for a number of years, most recently re-issuing his picture book classic, Everyone Poops, so it was a goal of mine to develop original non-book projects with him as well. To make that happen, I pitched some ideas to Taro—a Funny Fish Go Fish card game and a set of playing cards. To my delight, he was up for them! Reviewing the original art for his card games has been such a thrill—there is so much nuance and energy in his work, and his sense of humor comes through in every illustration.
Finally, acquiring and developing ancillary products for the Moomin license has been a career highlight. Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are works of art, not to mention literature that I’ve enjoyed as an adult. Bringing that beauty to novelty formats like journals, notebook collections, and notecards was an incredible honor, and gave me an excuse to revisit Jansson’s original works.
At Chronicle, we are committed to creating distinctive, art-driven publishing.
I was presenting at a conference a few years ago, sharing some of my recently-published books and highlighting their production effects, like die-cuts on an unjacketed case and a cloth spine with a foil-stamping. Afterwards, an editor at another publishing house came up to me and said, “We always look to Chronicle Books as inspiration—I wish we could do that!” I hadn’t realized until then how unique it is that we focus on the look and feel of a book as part of the development process. In fact, we often talk about the production components in acquisition meetings—that sensibility is in our company’s DNA. At Chronicle, we want our books to have a tactile quality, which means we pay extra attention to cover effects, like spot UV or gloss, deboss and emboss, or paper graining on a picture book jacket. Those special elements make our books all the more giftable and treasured.
It depends on the project since I work on a variety of formats, from original picture books to novelty books, board books, puzzles, and games. Regardless of the project, though, I typically seek out a style that can be best described as eye-catching, soulful, and enduring. I also gravitate toward illustration styles that resonate with readers all over the world. I’m committed to reaching all readers, regardless of geography, so an illustration style often needs to have universal appeal.
Another quality that I look for is flexibility. It’s great to see a signature approach or aesthetic in a portfolio, but knowing that an illustrator is willing to step outside of their comfort zone to meet the needs of a potential project is ideal.
Finally, what typically sets an illustrator apart for me is their visual voice: That often comes through in a strong sense of color and line. If an illustrator is comfortable working in a limited palette, I like to see variations on that sensibility. I tend to gravitate toward illustrators who have a style that appeals to children all while speaking to an adult’s sense of artfulness. Since adults are the ones buying books for kids, they are always part of the equation for me—adults are also the ones who will likely be reading the picture book again (and again) to the youngest of readers, so it’s important to have a kid-friendly style that adults can appreciate, too.
One of the first projects that I remember being especially excited to pitch to my team was I Didn’t Do My Homework Because… by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud. A year earlier, I had acquired Benjamin’s The Bear’s Song, a buy-in from French publisher Helium that went on to win the Society of Illustrators Gold medal and was a New York Times Notable Book, so Benjamin was very much on my radar. The agent, Debbie Bibo, brought Davide and Benjamin together for this project, so I was able to present a solid, original concept to my publishing group for acquisition, with the author and illustrator already paired up. The art was still in early sketches, but the project was brimming with potential—it was just so funny and smart.
I also appreciated the fact that the project didn’t talk down to readers. Both the text and the art featured a wry yet accessible tone, and one of the most amusing “meta” moments I’d seen in children’s literature. It was edgy and unpredictable, pushing the bounds of what an illustrated book for children could be.
I was encouraged when my publishing group saw the potential that I did. And, even better, I was given the green light to acquire sequels, which I originated and pitched to both Benjamin and Davide before we even had a full year’s sales of the first book. That hardly ever happens! And it was validating when our international subrights team brought the book to the Bologna Book Fair and it quickly became an international bestseller. We now have more than 20 international editions of I Didn’t Do My Homework… and strong support from publishers all over the world for the additional books in the series. And we’re about to publish the sixth book in the series in Spring 2023, A Funny Thing Happened After School….
My takeaway from this experience was that it’s possible to reach readers all over the world with our publishing. And that young readers can process and appreciate irony. Children want their sense of the world to be pushed and expanded—that’s how they grow. One of the ways to achieve that as picture book creators is to experiment with tone—in the narrative and the illustrations—and to present a broad range of emotions and sensibilities. That depth sets a project apart and helps it to last.
I’ve been blown away so many times recently, but a project that comes to mind is Where the Wee Ones Go by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Zosienka. Karen’s prose is lush, lyrical, and dreamy, and Zosienka brings that same sensibility to the art in the book. Spending time with Zosienka’s work in Wee Ones is like traveling all over the world and connecting with endangered animals, all while keeping a safe and awe-inspired distance. If art can be a lullaby and a transporting force, Zosienka’s illustrations achieve that beautifully.
A picture book begins with the editor’s acquisition. If it’s a project submitted by an author-illustrator, I’ll share both the text and the illustrations—a mix of sketches and full-color pieces and possibly a portfolio link—with my editorial colleagues. If it’s a manuscript from an author, I’ll do the same, but without art since an illustrator is commissioned later.
The editors in our group discuss the project. If there is consensus, I’ll bring the project to the final acquisition stage, which is a meeting comprised of the editors, our marketing and publicity team, production managers, art directors, and managing editorial colleagues. I’ll write a proposal highlighting the project’s selling points and include competitive titles from Chronicle and other publishers. I also consider how Chronicle might best position the project in the market. This presentation is circulated in advance, and then I present these points and more in the meeting itself.
If the project gets the green light, an art director is assigned, and we begin the work of developing the project together. Using the example of Woodland Dreams: I first saw Karen Jameson’s manuscript at an SCBWI conference, and I brought it for acquisition at Chronicle a week or so later. Even at the acquisition stage, I thought that Marc Boutavant would be the perfect illustrator to accompany Karen’s text. Marc and I had previously worked together on novelty projects, and we’d met a few times in Paris.
I made an offer to Marc’s agent—he accepted—and the next step, after we had a final and signed contract, was sharing a sketch dummy of the book that the art director had prepared. That way, Marc could get a sense of where the text might be placed as he worked on the illustrations.
When the sketches come in, the art director and I will meet to review them and then share our notes with the illustrator—in this case, with Marc. Revised sketches are typically submitted a few months later, the art director and I meet again, relay any additional feedback, and then it’s time for the illustrator to go to final art. At that stage, the art director will place the illustrations in galleys, where the art and text coexist for the first time. Then, galleys are routed to the full in-house team for a production review and copyedit. There might be two or three more galley rounds, but the goal is to minimize changes with each round as we approach the end of the production schedule. During the galley stage, we’ll work with the illustrator on cover concepts, with the art director often mocking up a general direction, and the illustrator taking it from there, submitting three to four examples that we then share with our group and others in the company. And it’s always exciting to share galleys featuring the final art with the author—Karen was delighted by what Marc created and we were, too.
It's also worth noting that at the first galley stage, we’ll generate proofs for the illustrator to review so that we can assess how color is printing. That way, any color adjustments are made before we get too far in the production schedule. There a few galley rounds, ideally with fewer or minimal changes with each one until we finally send the design files to the printer.
It would be tough to pick just one, but a particularly thrilling experience was when I was invited to teach a week-long publishing course at Mimaster Illustrazione in Milan, Italy, in the winter of 2018. It was an honor to represent Chronicle and to share my list of picture books and novelty formats with a new generation of illustrators. It was also an opportunity for me to really take stock of how my list has evolved over the years—what I gravitate toward thematically and artistically, and to share that vision. Of course, the hope was to discover new talent while teaching, too.
That teaching experience was also meaningful because it was when I met Kasya Denisevich, who was one of my Mimaster students. She shared her picture book project, Neighbors, with me during the course’s portfolio review, and I immediately knew that I wanted to acquire it. Her illustrations were deeply moving, and she had crafted a text that worked so seamlessly with her visual style. The book was a journey of the self, guiding the reader through a relatable series of questions that grow increasingly meaningful as the book goes on.
I also met the Rome-based author-illustrator Marianna Coppo for the first time during that trip. Marianna shared a full sketch dummy of a new project with me, the entire book illustrated on index card-size paper. The project was about a misunderstood dog living a seemingly perfect life. I loved the questions that her project sparked: How do we know who we really are outside the constructs of societal or familial expectations? And how do we break free of those constraints and individuate? Those themes are important to everyone, so it was exhilarating to see them presented so dynamically in a picture book proposal. I acquired the project within weeks of returning to the Bay Area, and the picture book, Such a Good Boy, was published in 2020. That was actually the beginning of a trilogy. A Brave Cat, the second book, is now out, and we are publishing the third book, Fish and Crab, in Spring 2023. Each book focuses on the journey of self-discovery, all explored through the lens of pets. So, that meeting in Milan initiated an entire trilogy—something neither of us could have predicted at the time!
I love this question! I’m passionate about developing picture books that resonate widely, that transcend borders, and that are embraced by a global readership. I’ve discovered that the best way to do that is to focus on big themes that speak to enduring questions. This means that a picture book should acknowledge what it means to be human. Children, from a very young age, are craving engagement and content on that level: They live in an adult’s world, after all, so they are already getting daily glimpses into that existence. And they are developing their emotional patina, too—figuring out who they are and how they will navigate life.
A great example of a book that captures these “secret ingredients” is Marianna Coppo’s Such a Good Boy. Young readers are introduced to Buzz, a fluffy toy poodle. On the surface, his life couldn’t be more ideal: He lives in a luxurious house, has the best toys and expensive dog food, and even attends a regular appointment to ensure that he looks “perfect.” But Buzz’s life isn’t perfect at all, and it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that Buzz is actually resisting this focus on perfection. It’s limiting rather than enriching when it comes to his personality and how he engages the world. Society tells Buzz that he should be happy based on external considerations (the house, his possessions), but Buzz is developing a keen sense of who he is beyond all of that. Fully self-actualizing means getting in touch with his more wild, less pampered side. To fully be himself, Buzz must go on a journey, and the reader is along for the ride. With every page turn, the reader has the chance to engage in self-reflection, too.
Perhaps most importantly, Marianna treats readers with respect—not talking down to them, not assuming that these bigger themes are too “high concept.” Rather, there is such respect and wisdom relayed through the text and illustrations, which means there is a meaningful takeaway for all ages.
I would say that a picture book should embrace themes that often follow us into adulthood, finding a way to work them into a narrative that resonates with young readers. That way, the book becomes the springboard for re-reads, discussion, and even change.
I’ve never been especially focused on trends, mostly because I’ve built a list informed by ever-present themes related to self-exploration, emotions, individuation, and how that growth serves the greater community and our experience of the world. Courting these themes helps a picture book to find an engaged audience without chasing what’s “in” at the moment. Trends are always changing, after all. And young readers aren’t trend-focused—rather, they are hungry for powerful stories and characters that mirror their experience on an immediate, heart-felt level. I suppose “heart” is the ultimate driver of my list. As long as there is heart in a pitch, picture book proposal, or illustrator’s portfolio, my interest is piqued. That’s the key to so much, really—in art and in life—and, ultimately, why picture books have the power to be transformative.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, as soon as I learnt to write, I was making my own little books inventing stories and illustrating them. In my youth, my dream was to become an illustrator, but then I discovered graphic design, and I happily switched path. When I moved from Paris, France, to New York City in 2003, I had a chance to reevaluate my career choices, and it became clear that children’s publishing was the perfect place for me, as it would give me an opportunity to combine my love for graphic design and typography with my love for books and art. I started as an unpaid intern at FSG, and got my first job as the assistant to the creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I spent about nine years at Henry Holt/Macmillan, and then I became a senior designer in the licensing team at LBYR, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers where I moved to the picture book team three years ago.
I work on about 15 to 20 books per year. Our work is seasonal, so while we’re wrapping up the proofing process of the previous season, we are jumping in on the new one, and laying the ground for the following.
At the moment, I am working on the second title by author/illustrator Wallace West, a wonderful new talent I was lucky to discover at a portfolio review. I designed and art directed his first book, Mighty Red Riding Hood, that will be published in the fall of 2022.
I worked with Bryan Collier on his gorgeous Music Is a Rainbow, which will be published in the Fall of 2022. Bryan created his art at a large scale and some pieces were even created on canvas. Reviewing the proofs against the actual art was an amazing experience: one time, I was so overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the art, I was moved to the point of tears.
I would say a simple yet compelling concept that is beautifully told.
One thing really important to include in a portfolio is art that shows storytelling: we want to see something happening, whether it is a tension between two characters, a funny disaster about to happen, an emotion, or a playful moment.
It is also important to show consistency in style: it is perfectly fine to explore various styles, but if you do so, you might want to have a least a handful of pieces created in each style, to show that you can work in a consistent manner.
As to what to avoid, my advice is to try to edit your portfolio as much as you can. You might be attached to that piece of art you created three years ago, but if you’ve made a lot of progress since then, it might not be at the same level of quality as the rest of your art. It is important to be selective because when we browse a portfolio, we want to see art that is at a professional level; if there is suddenly a piece that is questionable quality-wise, it can make us doubt about the artist’s actual level.
Creating a picture is a very collaborative process, even more so with an artist new to the craft. Before sending them off to create sketches, we’ll give some general advice (for example, it is better to avoid 2 full bleed images facing one another because this kind of layout could be confusing for the reader, so ideally, we prefer to have one page with a vignette facing a full bleed page).
When we get the sketches and we place them in the layout with copy, we review them and we then share directions and suggestions that go from the characters appearance, to the compositions, to the pace/rhythm of the storytelling.
Once the sketches are approved, the artist can work on the final art. We might ask for a handful of sample spreads first, to make sure we are on board with the overall color palette and rendering of the final art.
When the final art is in, it will get reviewed and we will most likely ask for some changes and adjustments. This long process might be difficult for some artists, but it can also be rewarding: we sometimes hear artists thanking us for helping them push themselves, and helping them take their art to the next level.
I have never worked in publishing in France, but every time I go back there, I make sure to spend time in bookstores to see if there are any exciting titles I could share with my coworkers when I’m back home. There are definitely some styles of art that are published in France that would be too edgy and would not find a market in the US.
This is such a hard question! Here’s a selection from my work at LBYR:
Music Is a Rainbow by Bryan Collier, that I mentioned earlier.
Sail by Dorien Brouwers. It is such a gorgeous book!
That’s Life by Ame Dickman, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. This is one of my all times favorite, so cute, funny and touching. Cori did an amazing job creating a whimsical, endearing character personifying Life.
Legendary Creatures by Adam Auerbach: The art is stunning and it was a wonderful title to design.
If You Laugh, I’ll Start This Book Over! By Chris Harris, illustrated by Serge Bloch. A hilarious picture book that relies heavily on design, it was a fun project to work on. I was so happy when Serge Bloch, a French illustrator I have loved and admired for a very long time, said how pleased he was with the design of the book.
I can’t think of an example that would answer this exact question, but I can share one time when I was blown away by the final art: When I worked on Wombat Underground, by Sarah L. Thomson and illustrated by Charles Santoso, I was a little worried at sketch stage because we had to have so many spreads with more than half the page showing underground soil, and I was concerned this was going to look dark and dull. When the final art came in and I opened the files, I was in awe of how Charles rendered the soil: the texture was lovely and he had added small specs of color—including blue!—here and there that make the soil look interesting and rich. Just gorgeous!
I can’t think of a dream project per se. One of the things I love in my job is the variety of projects: from hilarious, to poignant, to poetic or historical… Every book is its own world and it is such a pleasure to dive into every single one of them.
Here is a close up showing Charles Santoso's wonderful soil texture:
During my senior year of college, I stumbled across a poster in a (to me) little-frequented hallway that simply asked, “DO YOU WANT A CAREER IN PUBLISHING?” and something simply clicked inside me. Yes! I was studying art history and English literature and hadn’t a clue what to do next. I applied for the NYU Masters in Publishing in program, got in, and never looked back.
My first big job once I got to New York was as an editorial assistant in Scholastic’s Book Clubs division. If you’re not familiar, Book Clubs are those flyers that you would get in school that featured all the books you could ever want to read. It’s all about empowering children to choose. I worked on the youngest flyers, then called Honeybee (for kids in daycare) and Firefly (for preschoolers). It was an incredible crash course on the current children’s book landscape—all the publishers presented their books to the Clubs, and then you immediately got feedback on which of these books resonated with children from their purchases in the flyers. I was always drawn toward illustrated books in general and this experience solidified my love of the genre.
A couple years later I realized that I really wanted to be a part of the creative book-making process, so I managed to get an assistant editor role in Scholastic’s Trade division, developing and acquiring illustrated books for their Cartwheel, Orchard, Scholastic Press, and Acorn/Branches imprints. No two days were ever the same – sometimes I’d be working on the mechanics of a novelty book, while in others I’d be coming up with new book ideas to pitch to artists, and in my down time I’d be looking up trends on Pinterest and Instagram and other social media sites. It really stretched my creative muscles, and it gave me a deeper understanding of how to work collaboratively with a team. It truly takes a village to make an idea into a book!
I took a brief hiatus from editing for a year to go back to Clubs to work on their We Need Diverse Books™ partnership, which was truly a career highlight. I owe so much to everyone who has ever been a part of WNDB for pushing the conversation about representation and authenticity forward. It was wonderful to be able to work with them to identify and elevate voices from historically marginalized backgrounds and to get their books in the hands of readers everywhere. And it fueled my desire to go back to editing and working on new and exciting stories!
I moved over to Simon and Schuster’s Books for Young Readers imprint last summer when they were looking for an executive editor who could bring their picture book experience to their incredible team (seriously, I am so lucky to be with this fantastic group of editors and art directors). I’m excited to bring new and established voices to the illustrated part of our list, making sure our titles provide, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop coined, windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors to all kinds of young readers.
I’m so glad you asked this, because I find that’s often what I see missing from an illustrator’s work, and it really is so essential to see that an artist can convey emotion directly and clearly for me to feel confident in partnering together. Because most picture book readers aren’t able to read yet, the only way they are taking in the story is through the illustrations – that is the only narrative they know. So it’s especially important that the art makes that extra effort to go big on feelings.
I once spoke to an author who was a former early childhood education specialist about his thoughts on illustrations, and he told me his theory: the key to bringing out emotion (and subsequently the key to engaging with a child reader) is through the eyes of a character. He very much believed that characters’ eyes should be big and look like real eyes versus cartoony “dot” eyes, because that’s what children gravitate toward. Now I’m not so sure about the realistic vs. dot eye theory, but I must say that he’s right about the eyes of the character being key to expressing emotions. No matter what the style of the art, be it more minimal or hyper-realistic, the eyes will be the first clue as to the feeling of the page.
I’m going to share two examples from two very different books to show you what I mean. The first is from the very funny Will Bear Share? from author-illustrator Hilary Leung. In the first scene here, you see Bear and Crocodile witness a TRAGEDY – the ice cream has fallen out of the cone! Their eyes are HUGE and it’s very clear that they are horrified – their bodies are frozen in mid-stance. Then on the very next page, their bodies have move toward the fallen ice cream and their eyes are closed – represented in big u’s—making it very clear that they are sad.
In Wishes, which is a very serious picture book tonally, illustrator Victo Ngai also uses eyes to showcase the feeling of a page. In the spread I’m sharing, you immediately look to the characters in the foreground – the little girl and her dog – their eyes round and very shiny as if they are going to well up in tears at any moment. Even though the characters in the back are doing what seems to be a normal activity – packing up food in a backpack – it’s clear that that something is not okay here. There’s a feeling of fear and loss from how the dog is looking up at the girl, and how the girl is viewing the activity.
Of course, there are other little details/clues in both of these that accentuate the emotions – the position of the bodies, the text that gets read aloud by the adult, the power of the page-turn – but I’m more convinced than ever that the eyes do a lot of the heavy lifting. And if you can get the eyes right, then a lot of your work is done!
Seeing characters interacting with their setting is SO important when it comes to illustrated books – but I’m seeing less of that in the portfolios I review. So on top of all the character studies and different styles that you’ve taken care to feature, please make sure you show that character in an environment of some sort. I want to be sure to get a sense of movement and place with your figures. And I want to know that you can illustrate a whole scene. If it helps, take a piece of text from a fairytale or a favorite story and illustrate the scene with that bit of text in place.
Related to the previous question, make sure to show characters expressing a range of emotions – sadness, playfulness, joy, anger – you get the picture.
There are so many! With picture books, we are so desperate for more humorous illustrated stories, be it fiction or nonfiction. Slapstick, witty, dry, silly – there is so much room to explore in that category. I’d also love to see stories about every day experiences – a walk in the rain, trying something new, being too cold or too hot or too scared – how can you add your own spin or twist to these everyday moments to make them a wholly engaging reading experience? I’d also love a book about love. I think the world could always use more stories about love, especially in a beautiful picture book format.
This is just a smattering of our bestsellers, but on the picture book side books like the Fan Brothers’ The Night Gardener, Jessie Sima’s Not-Quite Narwhal, and Aaron Reynold’s and Peter Brown’s Creepy Carrots are some titles that immediately come to mind. Also the wonderful Sulwe by Lupita N’yongo and Vashti Harrison has become a recent classic. In middle grade, our Spy School series by Stewart Gibbs never disappoints, and Whitney Gardner’s Fake Blood and Hena Khan’s Amina books are beloved. In terms of YA, we have Jenny Han’s To All the Boys series, Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristole and Dante books, and most recently The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith, all of which have had incredible fanbases. But I truly am scratching at the surface here.
I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for this, because it depends on the reader. But that’s probably a good thing because that means there’s always room in this world for more books and more kinds of characters.
I have to say that I’m forever haunted by Charlotte’s Web in all the best ways. It’s a book about death that doesn’t speak down to the child reader – death is just a part of life. I remember feeling so important and sophisticated after reading that last line. Shoutout to Garth William’s incredible illustrations as well – the image of Wilbur looking up at Charlotte’s children gets me every time.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had some amazing bosses and mentors in my life who have helped me personally and professionally. Liza Baker and Ann Marie Wong are two such people. I’m more of a timid, “wait and see” person by nature but both women have shown me the value of being bold and most important, being kind.
I’d also love to give a special shoutout to the incredible people at We Need Diverse Books™, both past and present, who have been so supportive not only of creators and kids, but also professionals in the industry, too. Without their tireless work and advocacy, I don’t think I would be the editor I am today.
I would love to see what a contemporary version of The Berenstain Bears’ The Spooky Old Tree would look like for today’s audiences. There’s something about that book – the repetition, the mystery of that tree, the sense of discovery and adventure—that always thrilled me and the littles in my life that I’ve read it to.
There are so many amazing titles coming out that it was difficult to bring this list down to a manageable size! As the largest children’s imprint at S&S we really aim to have something for every kind of reader on our list from picture books through YA and everything in-between! Our editorial director Kendra Levin calls us eclectic, and that’s really and truly what our list is in the very best possible way.
IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA
YETIS ARE THE WORST
Chapter Books/ Younger Middle Grade
ONCE UPON A TIM
SKANDAR AND THE UNICORN THIEF
BARB AND THE GHOSTBLADE
HOW DO MEERKATS ORDER PIZZA?
BLAINE FOR THE WIN
I studied Child Development in college, and additionally got certified to teach. But I decided to explore summer internships in children’s publishing, as schools are not in session over the summer. I sorted through my family’s beloved collection of picture books and cold-called the handful of houses who published my favorite ones. I ended up at Scholastic, interning in the Book Clubs division. I was initially disappointed not to be in trade publishing, but I continued to intern there any time I was home from college and was offered a position upon graduation. I found myself working on the youngest books / Book Clubs, perhaps by chance (given their staffing needs), but it was no coincidence. My studies and experience were focused on the youngest children; I’d always gravitated there. I spent six years rising through the Book Clubs ranks, learning an incredible amount about the breadth of the children’s book market, which books sell well, and why. This knowledge and experience was foundational for all I did after Clubs. I’m so glad I didn’t give in to my initial [ignorant] distaste for the school market division. It goes to show that you can learn – will learn – no matter where you choose to begin.
After Scholastic Book Clubs, I moved into the Scholastic Trade division to run their 0-6 imprint, Cartwheel Books. Then on to Abrams, where I launched the Abrams Appleseed imprint for 0-5 year olds. After a stint at Phaidon where I oversaw the whole children’s program, Penguin offered me a position to launch their first dedicated 0-5 imprint. I had dreamt of working at Penguin, given its best-in-class culture and best-in-industry colleagues… and the opportunity to create a list, with a focus on my career-long sweet spot, supported by the PYR team, was irresistable.
As Publishing Director, I formed the mission and vision for the imprint, hired an art director and assistant editor, worked together on the name and logo, and began outreach to find and make the books that would fulfill the vision. We work as a highly collaborative team with our creators in order to perfect each and every aspect of our books. We publish approximately 20 books per year, so really only those projects that we absolutely cannot resist. We launched in Fall 2020, so by this Spring, we’ll have published 27 books, most of which have been critically acclaimed, and a couple of which have become indie bestsellers.
BEING YOU: A FIRST CONVERSATION ABOUT GENDER – this is the second book in our First Conversations series, which is written by experts Jessica Ralli and Megan Madison and illustrated by Anne/Andy Passchier, and serves to provide a sort of illustrated script for having essential conversations with the youngest kids about important topics.
WHEN CLOUD BECAME A CLOUD – this is a nonfiction depiction of the water and weather cycle via a friendly Cloud protagonist, complete with humor and text bubbles. Rob Hodgson decodes a child’s world in a way that is digestible and memorable, which is empowering. Knowledge is power!
OLU AND GRETA – this fictional picture book presents the parallel lives of two cousins living in different worlds (Lagos, Nigeria and Milan, Italy), and the similarities across distance and culture. We are all united, childhood is universal, and love transcends geography are the incredibly empowering messages that underlie Diana Ejaita’s stunning work.
I love every title in its own way, but I do have some favorite development stories. One that comes to mind is THREE WAYS TO BE BRAVE: A TRIO OF STORIES by Karla Clark, illustrated by Jeff Östberg. Karla submitted this as a single story about a thunderstorm, and a child who feels “safe at last” once he climbs into his parents’ bed. After our discussions, she revised it to be the story of a child who intends on running to his parents’ bedroom during a thunderstorm, but instead hears the whimper of his younger sister and goes to her instead. By accessing his own inner strength and ability to comfort, he was comforted. We built out this idea of having the power within to conquer one’s own fears into two additional stories, and published the book as three stories in one! Karla embraced the empowerment angle, and was thrilled to research and compose stories in which the child was their own hero.
It was quite an illustration feat for Jeff, who had mostly worked on book covers, but he found the strength to conquer his own fears of a 80-page picture book! It turned out to be gorgeous and evocative – the perfect fit for Karla’s text.
I’m a bit tentative about superlatives thinking back 20+ years, but one challenge that comes to mind is intertwined with a proud moment. Having worked in the 0-5 realm for decades, long-term trends and cycles become undeniably apparent. One of those is the lack of industry recognition for board books. Because there are currently no board book bestseller lists, no board book ALA awards, and very few board book categories in numerous other lists / award / end-of-year roundups, consumer attention is never universally directed to new publishing (as it would be when a picture book or MG or YA title hits a bestseller list or wins a big award). That makes it all the harder to make a splash with new board books, resulting in the same 5-7 classic board books maintaining bestseller status. I am working with folks both inside and outside of Penguin to affect change, but until we do, it is a constant source of frustration for me.
The intertwined proud moment happened just last week, when the ALA announced their Notable Book List for titles published in 2021. Included in the “Younger” category was OUR SKIN: A FIRST CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE -- the only board book on the entire list!
Amazing creators who are mission-driven and expert at their craft; eagerly collaborative colleagues; my own kids (6 years and 3 years); chocolate; strong connection to any art or media; Fridays; enough sleep; sunshine; a good hair day; an unrushed shower.
As I mentioned above, they do “spark” me sometimes, with things they say or ways in which they react to books they read. But the truth is that I’ve always had young kids in my life – as a cousin, a babysitter, a camp counselor, teacher in training, an aunt, an auntie, and then, a mom. Children have always been my focus, both personally and professionally, so I’ve never been without their sparks. I was no less informed as a publisher before I was a mom than I am now. In some ways, I may even be more skewed by the two young people whom I’m with all day every day, of which I remain cognizant.
I’m dedicating this answer to my friend, my supervisor, President and Publisher of Penguin Workshop, Francesco Sedita. Francesco is not only a big-picture thinker, but a forward thinker. He can see the future and navigate towards it so gracefully. His cutting edge sensibility affords his team the benefit of fresh eyes, wise guidance, and a license to try new things! He loves books, but he loves people even more. He treasures his colleagues, his creators, his mentors, and his mentees. He makes you feel like you’re the only one in the room, but he has never once taken advantage of his charm. He uses his powers for good, and the good of our books. He is a quintessential publisher, a classy businessman, and a loyal colleague and friend. We met at Scholastic in 2001, and 18 years later, I joined his team at Penguin. I will work my hardest to never leave his side!
As someone who entered this industry as an intern, without any connections, I am dedicated to the internship program. Even during Covid, we had an intern who joined us 2 days/week from her dorm room!
I also present at forums such as SCBWI and Penguin’s Emerging Voices seminar, in order to invite writers and artists to consider the importance of and opportunity within the 0-5 realm.
And of course, I encourage kids to storytell and write and draw. I tell them how books are made, and invite them to consider that job when they get older. Why not?
Well, I already mentioned OLU AND GRETA, which will be out this month, as will SOLITARY ANIMALS: INTROVERTS OF THE WILD (for a slice of nature that validates introversion and solitude), HOW TO SAY HELLO TO A WORM (a gentle invitation for the youngest children to experience nature with confidence), and HOW YOU CAME TO BE (in which a fetus’s development is lyrically and lovingly explained month by month for young siblings-to-be or any curious kid). We also have our seventh WHO WAS board book, featuring BRUCE LEE – an actor, philosopher, and groundbreaker whose story will most definitely inspire the youngest changemakers.
And then, and then… you know, we work so far ahead. We just launched our Spring 23 list internally, which includes a picture book by an idol of mine. (Cliffhanger!) And so many more beauties. This is truly a job that never gets old because there are always new projects to excite, inspire, and motivate us!