Category Archives: children’s books

Children’s Nonfiction

One of the more interesting and unexpected developments in the children’s book industry over the past year or two has been the rise of nonfiction. Publishers Weekly recently ran an article that surveys the landscape, and how publishers are having success with the kind of MG and YA nonfiction that, until recently, was thought to be going the way of the dodo. Who would have foreseen that in 2015, guidebooks for a video game would be bestsellers?

(Then again, if anyone can explain the appeal of Minecraft in the first place, please do!)

But while video game tie-ins are all well and good, obviously those are licensed products, and for the average children’s book writer, writing for a licensor is a hard gig to land. So how can writers take advantage of this NF “moment” and capitalize on the momentum?

Well, from my seat at the agent’s desk, books like BOMB and RAD AMERICAN WOMEN are the way to go–titles that can fit with Core Curriculum standards while having the kind of adult-market trade appeal that will catch parents’ eyes in the bookstore. Biographies are also attractive, particularly those of living figures (for instance, Hillary Clinton) recently deceased figures (Steve Jobs) or historical figures that are back in the zeitgeist (Alexander Hamilton). And if you’re a published adult writer whose book can be reworked for MG or YA, that’s a great way to further your reach, too.

I’ll also add that on the picture book end, nonfiction is in demand as well. Of course, the topics naturally skew younger than MG or YA–lots of animal stories and bios that can sidestep most controversy. Multicultural topics are also a plus at this level, as they can often be paired with the kind of highly imaginative artwork that editors love.

And here’s another plus on children’s NF–submission guidelines tend to be somewhat squishy. So while picture books submissions do require full text, often you can write longer than the 500-1,000 word limits that frustrate a lot of PB writers. And for MG and YA, my experience is that most editors will review a proposal in lieu of a full manuscript, and a fairly brief proposal at that.

So, for any children’s book writer who’s contemplating NF, this is the time to do it–and when you’ve got your MS or proposal together, send it to me!

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Learning about Middle Grade fiction

I have been agenting for a long time, and I’ve met a lot of interesting and wonderful writers and learned a great deal about different categories of fiction and nonfiction, what sells and what doesn’t.  But, I am always eager to learn new things.

Over the last several years we have all heard a great deal about Young Adult books and what seems to work and what doesn’t.  And we at DGLM represent a bunch of bestsellers in this category.  One of the interesting things in this category is the crossover market that has developed with books like THE HUNGER GAMES series and titles authored by John Green and James Dashner.  And I have been fortunate to represent a number of significant new YA authors.

When we were looking to choose a category for our next book club meeting, Jim McCarthy wisely came up with the concept of all of us reading a recently published Middle Grade book and I loved this idea as this is a category I am just now dipping my toe into.  The potential market is huge since the Harry Potter series put the genre on the map and obviously crossed over into an adult market.

RATSCALIBURTo prepare, I have studied the category a bit.  I know that the age range of readers is between 8 and 12 and the average length of books is 100 pages or less.  Here is a piece I found that clearly describes this category and its traditional market.

Middle Grade classics include the previously mentioned Harry Potter titles, Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and our own Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Island of Dr. Libris.

So I chose as my book club title (with Jim’s help) Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb.  And my thought is that I will read this and then give it to my seven-year-old granddaughter, Elena, who is a terrific reader, to see what she thinks.  Stay tuned for our thoughts.

I’d also love to know what your experiences are with Middle Grade and what you (and your children) have enjoyed reading in the category.

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Transfiguration

The Lambda Literary Awards were held the Monday after BEA, and, although the ceremony stretched over the course of nearly three hours, the feeling was festive. This year there was something new in the air.

For many years, LGBTQ literature has seemed the poor stepchild of the publishing industry. What had once been a boom back in the 80s and 90s had, by the new millennium, been relegated to a “niche” category that wasn’t showing profits.  LGBTQ individuals were, fortunately, becoming less marginalized, and many no longer felt the same drive to seek the solace of literature. Why did you need to pore through the Gay and Lesbian section at Barnes and Noble, or haunt A Different Light, when you could turn on a rerun of Will and Grace any night of the week?  The nation’s LGBTQ book shops shuttered one by one, and the major publishers became reluctant to acquire queer fiction.

But the sector that has always remained open to such books is just the one where it is most needed: YA and Middle Grade. Gay characters have been thriving in the pages of YA and Middle Grade novels—Seth Rudetsky’s upcoming The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek, Stephen Chbosky’s  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever are just a few of the books where sexual orientation is basically taken for granted–it is not even the major issue. Times have changed, very much for the better.

Now, transgender is a hot topic among young readers. Along with the growing acceptance of transgender people in society, we are seeing a rising tide of books about kids who are navigating their own gender issues. Alex Gino’s George, slated to be published in August by  Scholastic, was one of the most touted Middle Grade books at BEA. Memoirs like Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews are making an impact. And my colleague Jim McCarthy just closed a deal with HarperCollins for Rory Harrison’s Looking for Group, in which a transgender teen will figure prominently. These titles are just the tip of the iceberg.

Will transgender novels reach a tipping point, just as vampires did? Perhaps, but for now, they will help a lot of kids who are going to be very grateful. Adolescence is difficult enough to navigate on its own. It must be a lot tougher when you feel you’re stuck in the wrong body.

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Nephews Read Books

This past weekend, I went to visit my nephews (and their parents, of course, but frankly they’re not as cute).  Now as I’ve previously reported, my nephews know me pretty well by now as a person who reads books.  The older of the two, who we’ll call Fidge, has been known to declare to visitors that “Aunts read books.”  And on the whiteboard on which they count down sleeps until major events, they art directed a sketch of me with a soccer ball in one hand and a book in the other.

At LaurnenSo consider me thrilled to report that my younger nephew, who we’ll call Gus, has started reading memorized bits of his books unprompted, and his big brother Fidge can full on read now, sounding out words he doesn’t recognize and automatically trying to read every word he sees, whether on a book or a street sign or a building.  For the first time ever, he read to me a book he hasn’t memorized.  I love picture books, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting this stage, when we can start advancing to more complicated stories.

So now I need to advance my book acquisitions beyond picture books.  I’m going to stock up on some Amelia Bedelias and Pippi Longstockings.  And they need to hear the news that Miss Nelson Is Missing.  I’ve been holding a set of Roald Dahl books for at least 3 years waiting for them to be old enough.  I’m pretty sure Fidge will be all about the Magic School Bus.  Plus it’s probably time to continue the family Laura Ingalls Wilder tradition.

Do you have any favorite post-picture book gems that my nephews and I should dive into?

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Book Shower

I have a long and well-blogged history of buying books for the littles in my life – and that task is about to be even more exciting. I am getting my very own nephew, the first little one to come into our family! I am so excited to shower the little mister with books throughout his life, so when I planned last weekend’s trip to Michigan for his shower, I knew I would be bringing a stack of books as his gift.

Then the stakes got raised: The invitation asked that everyone bring a book to the baby shower instead of a card. Flying in from NYC as a representative of the publishing industry – to say nothing of being a former kids’ bookseller – I felt a lot of pressure. I couldn’t trot in there with the most obvious favorites, the same books everyone else will think to bring – Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and god forbid The Giving Tree! So I carefully chose my books and settled on a good mix of beloved classics and newer favorites.



0002974_ds-go-dog-go_300 GoDogGo2

This was one of my first favorite books, the one I was most eager to learn to read on my own. I remember thinking “This is my favorite book. It’s so funny.”

The Little Enging that Could

 

Everyone knows its famous mantra that sticks with me to this day I think I can I think I can I think I can, but did you realize the real message of this book? Take the time to help others and you’ll accomplish more than you expect!

I am a bunny

Everyone loves Richard Scarry, and this beautiful story doesn’t get as much recognition as the delightful Busy Town gang.

Giraffes

 A discovery from my B&N days – the art is poppin’, the rhymes are rockin’, and – most importantly – it’s never too soon to teach the little guy that he shouldn’t be limited by the expectations of others!!!

On the day of the shower, I was pleasantly surprised to find that no guest brought the same book – impressive considering that there were nearly fifty ladies there eager to set up with enough onesies, binkies, and booties to fill a Babies R Us.

Help me make my next baby book shopping list! What books absolutely MUST go on my nephew’s bookshelf?

 

 

 

Girl power!

Having four daughters and working in book publishing presents both opportunities and challenges as far as finding appropriate books for the girls to read. They are all at different levels, and they all have different interests so it’s not as simple as passing on a sweater or pair of pants from one to the next. What I find happens is that if a kid isn’t interested in the book that’s up for discussion, it sits on a shelf or next to the bed or worse!

I recently came up on this really great website, amightygirl.com, that aims to empower girls by offering a range of resources that relate to books for girls. Its tagline is “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls”. It’s fun to play around and see what they’ve come up with, like a list of best female book characters, which includes the likes of Madeline, Hermione Granger, Nancy Drew and Ladybug Girl (impressive to find a way to fit all of those lovely girls into one sentence). I was also pleased to see a book listed on the same subject as an upcoming book on my own list about the inspiring Irena Sendler who saved 2,500 Jewish children in Poland during WWII, which means they must have great taste!

I wonder if any of you have thoughts on wonderful book ideas for girls? There was this book I read over and over as a kid that so resonated with me called Somebody Else’s Kids by Torey L. Hayden, a psychologist who writes nonfiction accounts of her work with children. It’s about four kids of varying ages with serious and very different issues and how their remarkable teacher goes to great lengths to help them. I suppose my love of narrative nonfiction started when I was young. I just ordered it for my oldest to read and look forward to finding many more books with strong, female protagonists that will empower my girls and help them reach their highest potential.

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From book to stage, and beyond

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned here before that in addition to books, I also love the theater (along with my colleague, Jim McCarthy, with whom I share stories of good and bad plays for sport). I think there’s something so magical about a good theatrical experience. I’m proud to say that I saw the original production of Rent off Broadway at The New York Theater Workshop in 1994. It was a profound experience that the few of us lucky enough to see the show with the original cast in that tiny space will never forget.

Rentpostera.jpg

It got me to thinking about books as plays. We often talk about books as films, but plays are so expensive to produce and so often don’t work that the number of shows from books is a lot more limited. What translates to the page doesn’t always translate to the stage. I’ve always loved Les Mis, although I’ve not yet seen the new production, and I recently saw and really enjoyed Matilda, both based on books.

Matilda

A lot of other Broadway shows I’m thinking of are based on films, like Rocky (couldn’t live up to the source material), Kinky Boots (loved the show, didn’t see the movie), and Billy Elliot (saw at a regional theater in Maine this summer). This is a lot more obvious a transition because it’s already a visual medium.

Image result for kinky boots

What books would you like to see adapted for the big stage? Would you turn your favorites into a musical or a dramatic adaptation? Gone Girl, the Musical! So many fun ideas to consider, I don’t even know where to begin!

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The Best Christmas Propaganda Ever

My book club – you remember them – is meeting for our holiday party tonight, and we always like to cut ourselves a bit of slack by picking a children’s book during this busy busy month. Last year we read each other’s favorite childhood titles, and this year we read a classic that several of us grew up reading year after year: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. If any of you read this one, or maybe saw the TV movie version from the eighties, you’ll remember it’s the story of the chaos that reigns when the worst kids in town decide they want to participate in the church Christmas pageant.

I remember finding this book absolutely enthralling and hilarious as a child, probably in part because of my membership in a family of 6+ children that, like the Herdmans, left a wake of havoc wherever we went. (I’d like to think I was a little better behaved than Imogen Herdman – I know I did a better job keeping my wild brothers in line than she did.)

As an avid re-reader of childhood faves, I’m often surprised to discover deeper meanings in stories that were lost on younger me, who raced through the pages gleefully as the Herdmanns rob the penny bank and say the H-word during rehearsal. Little did I realize that Ms. Robinson was sneaking in a lesson about compassion, about suspending judgment, about being grateful for our blessings and sharing them with those who are less fortunate. An important lesson to learn at the holidays…and to remember all year round!

Do you have any favorite books to read at the holidays? Ever re-read a book from your childhood and were surprised to learn what it’s really about?

 

 

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Notes from the kid lit conference front lines

I was asked this past spring to join the council for the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL.org), a group that has been in existence for forty years. RUCCL is known for putting together each year an annual conference where aspiring authors and illustrators send in samples of their material which are then evaluated by published authors who also sit on the council. Those whose work gets the highest scores are admitted to the conference and paired with industry mentors who volunteer to spend the day meeting with these authors.

I attended the conference for the first time Saturday, October 18th. It was a wonderful day, full of positive energy and hard-working authors, illustrators, agents and editors all coming together with a love of children’s literature. A highlight for me was meeting the author Collen O’Shaughnessy Mckenna, who has been out of the business for many years, but who brought with her and signed for my girls a copy of her book FOURTH GRADE IS A JINX, published by Scholastic in 1990. I happen to have a fourth grader, so all the better!

The two main components of the conference are the Five-on-Five session where five (or so) authors who work in similar categories sit with agents and editors at a round table and talk about anything the attendees are interested in hearing or learning more about.

Then the grand finale is the One-on-One session where the author or illustrator meets for a full hour with the industry professional they’ve been paired with. It was great to walk around and see pairs of people in every corner of the campus. The feedback we got from the attendees was really positive and that hour spent with an industry professional is priceless.

In between the two events is the key note speaker. This year it was the lovely Nancy Werlin, who spoke about the many ways to find joy in the writing life.

As far as takeaway advice for authors, one of the things that struck me was how prepared so many of the authors were for the conference and their meetings. Many had attended the conference before, and even those who did not seemed to have a good working knowledge of the industry and of the editors and agents who were in attendance. No matter what level of the writing game you are at, it’s so important to do your research and know your audience. I can’t tell you enough what a difference it makes to be prepared.

I’m looking forward to planning and attending again on October 17, 2015. For all of you children’s authors out there, please send in an application. I’d love to meet you there!

What I’m looking for now (2014 edition)

The mornings are getting chilly, the leaves are changing, and we just stocked up on pumpkin chai mix at Trader Joe’s—fall must be here! And with the autumn, it’s time for my somwhat annual wish list. If anyone’s writing and/or illustrating in the following categories, I’d love to see your work. And please note a few small but significant changes from the last time I put my wish list out there:

PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATORS: Our list of author/illustrators has continued to grow by leaps and bounds here at DLGM. (please revel in our illustration samples if you haven’t seen them yet!) But I’m still very much on the hunt for artists and illustrators who can write. So if you’ve got a great story, a cool concept, or a fantastic character paired with spectacular, professional-level artwork, I’d LOVE to see it.  And if you’re submitting art, a PDF that’s 5MB or less would be ideal.

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION: Last year, I noted that editors seem hungry for MG in all forms, and a year later that hunger has only grown. I hear more requests now for MG, even from longtime YA editors, than I ever have before. That said, I think editors still aren’t quite sure what they want out of MG, but whether it’s realistic or genre, loud or quiet, funny or serious—whatever it is, I’d love to see what you’ve got.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION: Similar to MG, the call for realistic YA, which started to be heard last year, has only grown louder in 2014. And that’s always been my sweet-spot for YA, too, though I’m always a fan of an original genre piece (“original” being the key word), be it historical, fantasy, or sci-fi. But mostly, I’d love to see realistic stories, and I’d love to see stories with both male and female protagonists. I know I’m the self-declared “boy book” guy here, but in looking at my list, about half my YA authors write female main characters, so please think of me for “girl” books, too!

CHILDREN’S NONFICTION: Here’s a new one for me. About a year ago, I started hearing from children’s editors that they were looking for nonfiction, and not just at the picture book level.  Partly, that’s due to Common Core reading standards, but I also think that ALA has been more interested in nonfiction recently, and as we know, awards stickers sell books. So if you’ve got a good nonfiction idea for any children’s category, please send it my way—and that includes picture book MSS, which I typically don’t take unless they’re from artists.

ADULT NARRATIVE NON-FICTION:   I’ve used this line for a few years now, but it’s a good one, so I’m sticking to it: “If there’s an amazing book-length true story out there, I want to hear it. History, memoir, sports, music, immersion journalism, popular science, health, animals, military history, politics—whatever the subject, if you’ve got the credentials to write about it, send it my way.” In particular, though, I’d love to do some more sports and music—I think there are holes in both marketplaces here.

ADULT FICTION: I’ve been thinking about this one a lot over the past year. As with YA, while I’ve often declared myself the “boy book” guy, I’ve realized that my tastes aren’t really exclusive to boy books. And in fact, some of the books I’ve loved most this year were clearly targeted to a female readership. So I’d like to take a step back from the manly side of things and just say that I’m looking for fiction that tells a good story. More than anything, I’ve realized that regardless of the audience, good plotting and momentum are what really get me going—to take an obvious example, I’ve finally gotten around to GONE GIRL, and I am totally sleep-deprived this week from staying up to see what happens next. So with that, I’ll repeat a little of what I said last year: I’m looking for “high-concept, character-driven narratives, be they literary, commercial, thrillers, suspense, horror, what have you.” And to that I’ll add strong plotting with male or female characters as well.

Thanks so much for taking a look, and I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!