By Jen Seggio

“Critiques are an excellent opportunity to form and deepen relationships with fellow writers. It’s a chance to meet people who share the same goals and passion for kidlit while experiencing different voices and approaches to storytelling,” said McIntyre.

Brooke McIntyre, the founder of Inked Voices, gave an insightful talk about giving and receiving good feedback. Inked Voices is a platform for writers seeking online critique groups. The site also offers craft talks and workshops; McIntyre has facilitated more than 75 editor/agent workshops in the eight years since she created Inked Voices.

“Both sides of the feedback process are valuable,” said McIntyre.“Any writer who shares their work creates a relationship with a reader. Critique partners will be your first readers. Sharing your story sparks that connection.”

A successful critique respects the author, is actionable, and leaves the writer excited to revise.

McIntyre listed some advisable steps to take when writing a critique: • Go through the story several times beforehand.
• Jot down your initial reactions for yourself

• List what works for you:
How the context (the pitch or background information you’re given beforehand) compares to the story you’ve read, and what could use some improvement.

  • Analyze your reactions
  • Prioritize your observations
  • Have questions for the authorCritiques don’t have to tackle every detail of the book. However, for the feedback you give, make sure to give the writer enough to latch on to. Be specific, using examples from the story, even for feedback that is positive. Avoid making assumptions about what stage the book is in as well. Stock lines such as “I recommend you study your craft and keep writing” are vague, generic, and unhelpful.

For writers submitting your work for feedback, be sure you know exactly what you want out of it first. Draft a simple pitch for your story and why you were inspired to write it. Be sure to share what you want your readers to take away from their reading experience.

If you receive feedback that makes you feel uncomfortable, put it away for a while and return to it later. Consider listening when multiple people raise an issue as well as when someone understands your vision. Trying a suggestion you disagree with can be a rewarding exercise.

Writers and readers are both just people who want to help each other out. Readers aid writers in translating the ideas in their head to the page. Cultivate your relationship-based critiques by fostering your relationships. Start discussions and make phone or Zoom calls.

McIntyre’s parting words, “Be friendly, forgiving, and give and receive feedback with an open heart.”

Jen Seggio is a pre-published author and illustrator from Staten Island, New York. You can visit her at

Professional Series: Writing and Illustrating A Graphic Novel–How to Draw from Your Experience with Author/Illustrator Mike Curato

By Paulette Bogan

“Comics saved me as a reader. In middle school, I definitely fell off the reading wagon. When we started transitioning from Picture books and illustrated chapter books to full prose novels with no illustration, I thought, why did you get rid of the pictures. That’s why I like to open the book,” said Mike Curato, the author and illustrator of Flamer, his first graphic novel, and many wonderful picture books, including the Little Elliot series.

As a kid, he loved comics and was obsessed with the X-Men. He spent all his free time drawing the characters, reading comics, and collecting them.

Curato was a boy scout throughout his youth, and some of his best memories are from summer camp. This love of comics and his experiences in summer camp were part of what led to the eventual writing and illustrating of Flamer.

Some of Curato’s favorite comics and graphic novels:         

One GF in particular, American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, struck a chord with Curato.

“This book had people that I could actually relate to. When I was growing up, I didn’t see myself in books or on screen. I was a chubby half Asian half white kid who was effeminate and didn’t like to play sports, and I’m reading American Born Chinese for the first time. It was so powerful to see a book that was about an Asian character. This is someone that I knew would get me. And that was incredibly powerful to feel seen in that way. And I just remember closing that book and being like, Oh my God. Where’s this been my whole life,” said Curato.

Another book Curato discussed was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Fun Home is an autobiography about Alison’s life growing up as a closeted gay person and living with her father, who was also closeted.

“That’s a very powerful story,” said Curato. “There is some queer gay representation in literature. There’s a lot more now than there used to be. But I think as far as literature for youth; queer youth are really underserved, as well as youth of color.”

Curato says write the books that you wish you had as a kid. That is what he was hoping to do with Flamer. Flamer is the story of Aiden Navarro, a 14-year-old Filipino white kid who’s away at a Scout camp. It’s set in 1995, the summer before high school, and Aiden is navigating friendships and bullying and how those things can sometimes overlap. Aiden deals with racism, his body image, his religion, and his sexual identity.

“But there are also fart jokes. It’s not all doom and gloom,” said Curato.

In Flamer, Curato wanted to show an honest portrait of what it’s like for a queer youth of color. He didn’t write it just for himself, but also to support queer youth. Statistically, queer youth are at a much higher risk of homelessness, self-harm, and suicide than their straight peers. If that queer youth is trans or a person of color, the risks increase yet again.

He hopes that this book might provide a lifeline to young people who are too scared to come out or haven’t found their community yet.

Curato said, “I don’t think some people understand that when you are queer and closeted and young, and you haven’t seen the world, and you don’t know if there is a place, a safe place for you, there is a fear that if you don’t kill yourself maybe someone else will do it for you.”

He shared a tweet he received after Flamer was released.

“Even though the book is set in 1995,” said Curato, “these are things that are still happening today. And there are plenty of places in this world where it’s still 1995 in a lot of ways.”

                                                                       Art by Paulette Bogan

When asked if he had any parting thoughts, Curato said, “Wherever you are in your publishing journey, give yourself whatever compassion you need right now. Being mad at yourself before the pandemic didn’t serve you, and it certainly won’t serve you now, so maybe reserve any judgment that you may have on where you’re at. And that goes for people who haven’t gotten published yet. That goes for people who have been published and are feeling stuck. That goes for people who are published and have a lot of work to do and don’t know how to do it right now. I mean, we’re all trying to find our way. So just remember why you’re doing this and focus on the joy of creating what you love.”

The Trevor Project

The leading national organization providing intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning youth.

Paulette Bogan is the author and or illustrator of over a dozen books for young readers, including Bossy Flossy, Virgil & Owen, and Virgil & Owen Stick Together. Her book, Lulu the Big Little Chick, was awarded the CBC Children’s Choice Book Award 2010. See her work at and Instagram: paulettebogan123


By Paulette Bogan

“Narrative nonfiction is nonfiction that tells a story and usually has characters, setting and a plot, or at least a problem, or conflict, or an obstacle,” said children’s book author Susanna Reich. “It has a beginning, middle, and end the way a fictional story might. It has turning points, builds to a climax, and has a resolution at the end.”

According to Reich, nonfiction is generally divided into two categories: Expository Nonfiction and Narrative Nonfiction. Expository nonfiction focuses on facts and a straightforward presentation. Some examples: newspapers, cookbooks, textbooks, or an illustrated book such as Super Dinosaur Encyclopedia.

Reich writes narrative nonfiction and acknowledged that there is often confusion about exactly what that is. “Some people mistakenly think that narrative nonfiction means that you have the leeway to invent fictional elements. But in my opinion, and most nonfiction writers’ opinion, in true nonfiction, you don’t make stuff up. You don’t make up dialogue or invent characters. As soon as you do, you’re actually writing informational fiction or even historical fiction.”

Susanna Reich was born in New York City and moved to Hastings-on-Hudson in the fourth grade, where she spent the rest of her childhood. Reich considers herself one of the river people, a lover of the Hudson River and the environment. “The Hudson Valley is very dear to my heart,” said Reich.

Reich’s mother was a musicologist who specialized in 19th-century women in music and, particularly, Clara Schumann, one of the most significant pianists of the 19th century and a composer. Reich’s first book is about Clara Schumann!              

Reich has led an exciting and varied life in New York. She was a professional dancer until she was thirty, a floral designer for ten years, designed the floral arrangements for Julia Child’s 80th birthday celebration in New York and then became a children’s book author. So how did she become a children’s book author? By taking a T’ai Chi class with Ed Young, a Caldecott winning children’s book illustrator, of course!

“And so I was introduced to the world of children’s books by getting to know Ed, and he was always talking about his artistic process and how he put books together, and I just kind of got drawn into the whole world of children’s books through my friendship with Ed,” says Reich.

Reich talked extensively about choosing a subject for a narrative nonfiction book. Her approach is to find a balance between what you’re interested in and what editors are interested in, and consequently, what the market will buy. “You don’t want to spend a couple of years researching and writing a book that nobody wants to buy, and at the same time, you don’t just want to write to the market. You want to be interested in your topic. So, I kind of begin with what sparks my curiosity and my passion.” she said.

A few of Reich’s favorite nonfiction books:

Research, research, research! Reich says, don’t be afraid of research. It’s like solving a puzzle.

After Reich chooses her subject, she thinks about primary and secondary sources. Some primary sources are speeches, memoirs, letters, diaries, government records, newspaper articles, and interviews. Reich uses secondary sources too. “If I’m writing a biography, I will find the most well respected, authoritative, scholarly book on that person. I will then use the bibliography in that first book to find other books, and I’ll read at least three or four books on my subject.”

Reich takes meticulous notes when doing research and writing. She advises you to keep track of all your quotes and keep track of your bibliography. Your editor is going to want a bibliography!

She discussed some of the nitty-gritty details of writing narrative nonfiction. For example, a picture book for ages 3-8 is typically 32-40 pages long, and the word count is 50-500. A nonfiction picture book generally is 32-48 pages long and can be 500-1500+ words. The point of view for a nonfiction book is usually 3rd person. However, there are always exceptions. Her husband, Gary Golio, a children’s book author, wrote Dark Was the Night: Blind Willy Johnson’s Journey to the Stars, in 2nd person. And memoirs are written in 1st person. “Play with voice and point of view to find what makes sense in your story,” said Reich.

Art by Paulette Bogan

In closing, Reich said, “Follow your fascination, follow your passion, whatever you’re interested in. If you can find a way to get that research done and then craft a narrative that’s enticing and interesting and suspenseful and has all those things you look for in a good novel, if you can put that into a picture book or a book for older readers, you’re going to have success.

Paulette Bogan is the author and or illustrator of over a dozen books for young readers, including Bossy Flossy, Virgil & Owen, and Virgil & Owen Stick Together. Her book, Lulu the Big Little Chick, was awarded the CBC Children’s Choice Book Award 2010. See her work at and Instagram: paulettebogan123

SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series: Your Children’s Book from Start to Finish with Editor Phoebe Yeh

By Paulette Bogan

“I really feel that everything I do today at Crown is informed by my first ten years at Scholastic Book Clubs,” said Phoebe Yeh. From there, she went to Harper Collins, mainly concentrating on non-fiction PB’s, and then she landed at Crown.

“One of the reasons I went to Crown and Random House was because I was looking for a little bit more autonomy with regard to how I acquire children’s books,” said Yeh. According to Yeh, Random House is very child and reader-focused. Both she and her co-publisher, Emily Easton, feel that their focus when acquiring is “do we think this is a book a kid will pick up.”

Yeh gave us some examples of the books they publish and talked about the acquiring process. Out of the six books she shared, four were acquired through agents. She relies heavily on agent’s submissions and states that if she were to read unsolicited manuscripts, that’s all she would have time to do!

Yeh described her typical acquisition process:

• Agent sends a manuscript

• Read (picture books are quick)

• Get excited and share with co-publisher Easton

• P & L (Profit and Loss statement)


How many copies

Price point

Trim size

• Offer!

Once the manuscript is acquired, there is back and forth between Yeh and the author on the text, and then an illustrator is chosen. When the book is non-fiction, Yeh works very closely with the illustrator and author to keep the book accurate.

“It’s really a very collaborative kind of bookmaking,” says Yeh. “Whether you’re working on a picture book, a middle-grade novel, a YA novel, or a non-fiction book, the process is really the same.”

Yeh is very committed to doing stories about diverse people that children might never have heard about, and women who have not been recognized until now. She shared how We Rise We Resist We Raise Our Voices, came into being. It started by Wade and Cheryl Hudson, who founded Justice Books, the oldest black-owned children’s publisher, describing a project they were working on to Yeh.

“Wade was very disturbed by the first Trump election, especially when his grandniece wrote to him afterward and said that now with President Trump in the White House, was it going to be dangerous for her, a young black girl, to walk on the street. Wade was so horrified that a six-year-old would worry about something like this that he thought there should be a book to help children feel supported, and he and Cheryl approached It. There are about 50 people who contributed to this book. It’s a little bit of history: What the struggle was like for those who were part of the civil rights movement and what it was like to be a child growing up during the civil rights movement. There are also pieces about immigration and poetry celebrating children of color. So this is why I needed this book,” said Yeh.

Yeh feels she is most comfortable with middle-grade non-fiction and loves to work on heavily illustrated novels. “I really love the middle-grade space,” says Yeh. “Over time, you sort of know what you are most comfortable with. I think I was comfortable with non-fiction because a bazillion years ago, I worked on the Magic School Bus picture books, which were very, very heavily non-fiction.

Some MG Yeh shared with us:

Max and the Midnights, an illustrated novel by Lincoln Peirce, has over 500 pieces of art. There are speech bubbles as well as type.

She discussed the growing trend of Graphic novels and shared Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, by Jeffrey Brown.

Brave Black First, by Cheryl Hudson and illustrated by Erin K. Robinson, a book about fifty women all children should know, was a collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey, is written in first-person narration. Rodkey tried to write it so you would have no idea of the gender of the narrator. He received many letters from transgender readers who said thank you for putting me in a book this way.

Yeh shared some YA that she and Easton worked on and what goes into putting together a YA.

• Editor and author back and forth about text revision

• Copy editing

• Collaboration with the art director and design team

• Cover design

• Typeface

• Endpapers

• ARCs (advance reader copies)

• Finished Book!

(Not to mention Marketing, publicity, sales, sub-rights, legal, and finance.)

Yeh talked about lists. (at Random House, there are three lists: Fall, Spring, Summer), marketing in this pandemic, and working from home. She answered questions about agents, copywriting, finding an illustrator, trim size, and why it takes so long to publish a book!

Art by Paulette Bogan

Yeh’s final parting words, “I know you probably are doing this already, but whatever genre you’re writing for, I hope you are reading widely. So, if you want to write and or illustrate picture books, you should know that picture book market, especially the genre you write for. Same for middle-grade. Same for non-fiction. Same for YA.”

Paulette Bogan is the author and or illustrator of over a dozen books for young readers, including Bossy Flossy, Virgil & Owen, and Virgil & Owen Stick Together. Her book, Lulu the Big Little Chick was awarded the CBC Children’s Choice Book Award 2010. See her work at and Instagram: paulettebogan123

Virtual NYC Metro Series Professional Talk with Janae Marks: Mature Themes in Children’s Literature!

By Paulette Bogan

From the Desk of Zoe Washington is Marks’s debut middle grade novel about a 12-year-old girl who searches for the truth about her father’s incarceration. Zoe is a young aspiring baker who discovers that her father, whom she never met, is innocent and sets out to find the truth.

Janae Marks (c) Jerri Graham Photography

From the Desk of Zoe Washington started out as a YA, and Marks led us through her process of discovering her voice as a MG novelist. “Middle grade chose me!” she said. Marks led us through the ins and outs of mature themes in middle grade vs. young adult novels.

“In middle grade, characters don’t typically over-analyze their feelings. In YA, characters spend more time reflecting on what happens to them and thinking about the meaning of things.”

Some examples of mature themes include:

• Abuse/assault

• Addiction

• Incarceration

• Racism

• Suicide

“Kids are having these experiences or are exposed to them, and books are a great way for them to process their feelings and feel less alone,” said Marks. That’s why these issues are important in Children’s Literature. How one tackles these themes in MG can be very different from YA.

What’s taboo in MG can be just fine in YA. MG protagonists can experience the same issues but usually second hand.”  She talked about how to handle these difficult themes respectfully. Marks says, “If a topic you want to explore is typically experienced by a marginalized community (e.g., racism, discrimination), consider whether you are the right person to tell this story.”

Marks read from two novels tackling mental illness, a MG novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin, and a YA, When We Collided, by Emery Lord. She discussed the difference in how the theme was handled. The group then did a writing exercise exploring a mature topic, first featuring a 10-12- year-old protagonist and then featuring a 15-18-year-old protagonist.

Some Reflections on the exercise:

• What did you notice about changing the age of the protagonist?

• How did it change your story?

• Did one of your scenes feel more “right” to you?

• How was your pacing?

Just a few titles from her Reading List:

· Just South of Home by Karen Strong

· Blended by Sharon Draper – can be read alongside 

  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (both cover racism/police brutality)

· Chirp by Kate Messner – can be read alongside 

  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (both cover sexual assault)

· The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence

 Some thoughts from Janae Marks:

About the future of children’s publishing, Marks said, “I hope it gets more diverse on all sides. I want more authors and illustrators of color to be published, but I’d also love to see more people of color become agents, editors, marketers, publicists, publishers, etc.”

About working in these difficult times, she said, “If you’re happy writing, great. If you’re having trouble writing, just read!”

You can find out more about Janae Marks and find out Zoe’s recipe for Froot Loop Cupcakes at  and on Instagram and Twitter @JANAEMARKSBOOKS

Paulette Bogan is the author and or illustrator of over a dozen books for young readers, including Bossy Flossy, Virgil & Owen, and Virgil & Owen Stick Together. Her book, Lulu the Big Little Chick, was awarded the CBC Children’s Choice Book Award 2010. See her work at and Instagram: paulettebogan123

“LAUGH IT UP! Why Humor in Children’s Books is Essential, and How to Make Your Books Funnier” with Marvin Terban


By Jen Seggio

“My newest book from Scholastic Book Clubs has four of my favorite words in the title: laugh, funny, kids, and jokes!” says Marvin Terban.          


Dubbed Scholastic’s “Professor Grammar” and the ALA Booklist’s “Master of Wordplay,” Terban says humor is prevalent in five major aspects in our lives – education, advertising, the workplace, medicine, and entertainment and most importantly, it improves them all.

A long-time teacher, Terban incorporates humor into his classes to provide memorable lessons. Student polls reveal that the most preferred quality in a teacher is humor because it can offset boredom.


Terban cited how the most popular Super Bowl ads are always the funniest ones. Studies and surveys show that humor in the workplace is a great stimulus and has long-term health benefits. In entertainment, comedy shows have been consistently among the highest-rated television programs for the past seventy years. For an author, a great sense of humor can give a manuscript a better chance of being noticed by an agent or an editor.

Why is humor so important to a story? Terban referenced writers William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens to answer that question. He highlighted the drunken porter monologue in Macbeth, set between the offstage murder of King Duncan and the discovery of that murder. The porter scene draws out the tension while also injecting some much-needed levity. 

Comedy and tragedy have always coexisted. Mature themes about life and death make for phenomenal stories both for children and adults when handled with a light touch. Humor can be used to teach children how to cope with fear and sadness. Terban also talked about adding humorous characters with funny names to provide comical antics and light dialogue to an otherwise serious plot. 


Terban spoke from experience when he said you don’t have to be a naturally funny person to write comedy. His uncle-in-law, Henny Youngman, coined the famous one-liner “Take my wife, please!” Youngman did standup comedy into his nineties. His onstage persona was that of an affable jokester, but offstage he was quite the opposite. 

Terban went into great detail about what kids from each age group find humorous. 

  • Preschoolers crack up at funny-sounding words. 
  • Slightly older children can find the humorous side in an exaggerated catastrophe. 
  • Six and seven-year-olds discover that words with the same sound but different meanings can be used to trick people, and that’s funny! 
  • Mean-spirited humor, however, does not have a place in children’s literature. If a character is a bully, make sure there’s a lesson to be taught or have a good comeuppance planned! 

         Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 12.05.50 AM

Most importantly, kids want books that make them laugh and books they can pick out for themselves. If it has a funny word in the title, younger readers are more likely to give it a look. Based on his own unscientific observations, Terban revealed the three words that kids find the funniest and gave some examples. 

  • Fart (Do Fish Fart? by Keltie Thomas)
  • Poop (Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi)
  • Underpants (Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey)

Terban closed out the night with the perfect observation from Dr. Seuss, “From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere!”

Check out his website:

You can see ten of Marvin’s videos on Kidlit.TV

Jen Seggio is a pre-published author and illustrator from Staten Island, New York.

You can visit her at

Writing Original Middle Grade for Audio Exclusives with Heather Alexander


by Jen Seggio

The audiobook business is booming worldwide thanks to numerous emerging platforms such as Audible, the first audio-exclusive, digital-only publisher, and the Pinna app. Audibles subscription-based policy and ever-expanding library ensure that there will always be a listening audience.

Heather Alexander, Executive Editor of Audible Originals, has been in the children’s book business for over a decade. She currently puts out at least one Audible Original every month. Alexander explained the process of assembling an audiobook for publication and played samples of Originals she’d helped create, along with their corresponding scripts on display. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 11.33.17 PM


She explained the requirements for a story to become an Audible Original:

  • It cannot be a pre-existing audiobook, or simply music (although a musical element is excellent.).
  • It must never have been published before.
  • It must be at least two hours long (it can be longer), although Audible is open to shorter content on a case-by-case basis
  • That translates to 9300 words per hour or 60 script pages per hour.
  • It may be shorter episodes that add up to 2 or more hours
  • It may be an ongoing series, like a podcast
  • Audible is open to both fiction and non-fiction
  • It may be scripted, or straight narration, or a combination of both

Alexander explained that if you sell your manuscript to Audible, you usually hold on to the print rights, so it could still become a printed book. But in order to be an Audible Original, the story must first be featured on Audible. Writers usually don’t have a say in casting but can offer suggestions.

Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 11.32.13 PM           

There are great benefits to audiobooks. They can be educational as well as entertaining. Alexander stated, “Ten 12-minute stories or twelve 10-minute stories are perfect car-trip-length entertainment for young readers and create a shared experience with the whole family.” Alexander described in detail the different types of audiobooks noting which writing style best corresponds to each one.

Most Audible listeners are ages 8 through 12, though Alexander is currently looking for stories for younger readers. 

Some of the story qualities that stand out to Alexander:

  • A strong voice 
  • A fast-paced plot 
  • Horses or sports
  • Biographies with a factual but fun voice 
  • Diverting narration styles 
  • Unique-to-audio elements, for example, sound effects or music or spoken word

(such as the same story told from different points of view or through diary entries or social media posts).

Jen Seggio is a pre-published author and illustrator from Staten Island, New York. You can visit her at

So, You’re Stuck. Now What? The Highs and Lows of Making a Book with Illustrator Ruth Chan

Ruth Chan author photo

Review by Sabina Hahn

Ruth Chan’s publishing debut came in 2016 with her book Where’s the Party, but she wrote her first full-length picture book at the age of 10. It was titled On Your Marks, Get Set, Bo Bo Bogo! 

Chan spent her childhood tobogganing in Canada, her teenage years in China, a number of years studying art and education, and a decade working with families in underserved communities. From all of these experiences came to her illustration collection called Portraits of the Unsure.

Ruth Chan hedgehog

The Process (when it works)

Chan makes all her art by hand. First, she sketches with a pencil. Then, using a lightbox, she inks her drawing (her favorite ink to use is Higgins Black Magic Ink). Then Chan uses watercolor to finish her piece.

But what happens when she is stuck? Here are some of the tools that Chan uses:

  • Keep your eyes peeled for something wonderful, or interesting, or beautiful. Observe both visually AND emotionally.
  • Go to bookstores and check out books. (Some of Chan’s favorites: Stop Snoring, Bernard by Zachariah Ohora and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers)
  • Make it personal. Open up to others and to yourself.
  • Doodle daily: write for 15 minutes or make a drawing every day. Explore your creativity without pressure.

Ruth Chan Pet Beds for Cricket magazine

The (dreaded) Revision Process

  • Find collaborators and critics. Making books can be a lonely activity and it is extremely helpful to have people who can critique your ideas and collaborate with you. 
  • Sometimes you have to put it away and be patient. Some ideas need space and time to percolate and grow.
  • Be willing to throw things away (even after twenty revisions!).
  • But remember, if it doesn’t work–it may not be forever, but only for now.
  • Put it on the wall! Hang up your sketches and page sequences. This creates distance so you can look at your work objectively.
  • Create a book dummy. 
  • Read other books. Find and cherish good books that speak to you. To get out of your own head, it is helpful to see how other artists grew and changed. Or didn’t change. 


Put Yourself Out There

  • Go to book launches.
  • Go to SCBWI events.
  • Go to museums, libraries, parks.
  • Put your work on social media.

Be emotionally true and honest!                     

Visit to learn more about Ruth Chan.


-Sabina Hahn is a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator, and sculptor who loves stories and tall tales. You can see more of her work at and

Using Fictional Techniques to Tell Facts with Author Deborah Heiligman

_SCBWI Deborah Heiligman Fooner

Review by Andrea Fooner

Deborah Heiligman, award-winning author of Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, explained to us how to use the craft and elements of fiction to create engaging nonfiction.  


Heiligman and her first dog, Missy

Heiligman contrasted two categories of nonfiction, summary narrative, and dramatic narrative.  Summary narrative is explanation from an omniscient author-expert, organized by topics. Dramatic narrative, the kind Heiligman writes, has a story arc and presents information through scenes, using concrete details, dialogue, and characters that are real, but presented as if in a novel. The author writes from inside the scene, making the reader feel present as the action is happening.

Heiligman stressed that, even when techniques from fiction are used, everything in a nonfiction book must be true. Writers can’t invent dialogue, change the order of events, or make up a back story to cover gaps in knowledge. Nonfiction demands that writers immerse themselves in research, preferably from primary sources, and then write until they can identify the big moments (scenes) and themes that anchor the story.

For her YA book Charles and Emma, a National Book Award finalist, Heiligman combed the Darwins’ letters to each other and their private journals. By immersing herself in their words, she discovered her book’s theme: the love story of a man of reason, actively developing groundbreaking scientific theories, who at the same time cherished a wife who held strong religious beliefs. 


Before committing to a topic, Heiligman advised, writers must do research. Research possibly over several years, to be sure there’s enough good, personal material to support a dramatic nonfiction narrative. If there’s not enough, Heiligman suggests perhaps recasting the project as historical fiction.


Heiligman cautioned, you shouldn’t show off your research, or go along chronologically from date to date. Your job is to tell a story. For her YA Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh Brothers, Heiligman had plenty of personal information from the letters between the two brothers but was blocked on how to tell the story. Her writer husband’s advice to “write the arias” (the high points of the story) got her started. Heiligman then discovered she wanted to begin with the scene where Theo gets news from Arles that Vincent has hurt himself. Her theme became the love between two often conflicted brothers and the scenes describing their relationship were set in the story arc of Vincent’s career.   


Deborah Heiligman is the author of 32 books, most of them nonfiction. Her latest, Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship” (October 2019), garnered four starred reviews and won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award and was a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist.

Andrea Fooner was an Editor at Redbook Magazine and Scholastic, where she wrote monthly articles for young teens reading CO-ED Magazine. She’s free-lanced for Self, Inc. and Travel & Leisure, and now writes picture books and middle grade. Her novel Amy’s Grandma Problem was named a Manuscript of Merit in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition.  

Professional Series: Writing the Complex and Shifting Emotions of Characters in YA and Middle-Grade Fiction with Jessica Dandino Garrison

Jessica Garrison cropped

By Paulette Bogan

Jessica Dandino Garrison had a sold-out crowd for her talk about Writing the Complex and Shifting Emotions of Characters in YA and Middle-Grade Fiction. But we were just hearing about Coronavirus and not sure what we were supposed to do or who would show up! At dinner, we discussed the virus, the publishing industry, whether any of us will ever go on a cruise again and saluting and booty bumping instead of shaking hands. Garrison’s advice: “Don’t buy the small rolls of toilet paper.”

Well, it turns out we had a very good crowd.

Jessica Dandino Garrison, Executive Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers started us off with a quote by Stuart Dybek, “The thing about writing is that instead of going to a scrapyard like a sculptor might for raw material, or digging clay like a potter, a writer has to make the junk, make the clay, before any shaping, any imagining of form, can begin.”

Garrison added, “Shall we make some clay?”

                                                                                        Sketches of Garrison by Paulette Bogan

After reading aloud from authors, Sandra Cisneros, Helena Fox, and Zan Romanoff to name a few, and a short writing exercise we discussed how emotions are best displayed in writing. 

Helena Fox once said, “Emotion is best conveyed through behavior, dialogue, and description. Better to provide clues about a character’s emotions than to tell them to the reader.” Garrison couldn’t agree more, show don’t tell. She talked about the importance of verbs and how a little description can go a long way. We discussed how emotions can be conveyed through dialogue.

When trying to show a character feeling embarrassed, one of her writers used the word flushed. 

 Garrison said, “That’s what a toilet does!” She refers to herself as “charmingly, relentlessly meticulous” when working with her authors, both challenging them and coaxing them into their best writing. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You can’t write in a vacuum.” she says.

After reading a first and last draft by Shana Youngdahl, and analyzing the difference, Garrison said, “Don’t listen to anyone who says YA can’t be literary,” and, “If you want a reader to feel something, give them something to feel about!”

Throughout the night Garrison was informative, encouraging, and charmingly, relentlessly meticulous! We as writers felt inspired.

In the end, Garrison said, “Now you have made some clay.”

Paulette Bogan is the author and or illustrator of over a dozen books for young readers, including Bossy Flossy, Virgil & Owen, and Virgil & Owen Stick Together. Her book, Lulu the Big Little Chick was awarded the CBC Children’s Choice Book Award 2010. See her work at and Instagram: paulettebogan123