BEST CONFERENCE EVER! New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference 2017


I say this every year, but cross my heart it’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference is the BEST conference ever!

What makes it great? I’m so glad you asked. Here goes my laundry list:

Critiques, first pages, workshops covering every imaginable kidlit topic from picture books to YA, pitches, connecting with editors and agents, and more editors and more agents, getting solid feedback on your stories and illustrations (the good, the bad, and the sad ugly truth), inspiration galore, and lifelong friendships. Shall I go on?

Here are a few photographic highlights:

Behind the scenes the day before the conference.

Opening Keynote with Stephen Savage


Blake Hamilton and Matthew Winner


Sheela Chari and Leslie Zampetti


Me with Detectives Wilcox and Griswold on the job


Anita Arakelian and me (Mawrters in the house – Anassa kata ’89)


Virginia Law Manning, me, Leslie Zampetti


Leslie Santamaria


The Liza Royce Crew!

(Left to right: Me, Laurie Wallmark, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Liza Fleissig, Leslie Santamaria, Yvonne Ventresca)


Me and David Lubar


(Top row, left to right: Kathy Temean, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, me)

(Bottom row, left to right: Katey Howes, Jody Staton, Colleen Rowan Kosinski)


Me and Hallee Adelman


Cathleen Thole Daniels and Rosanne Kurstedt


Anita Arakelian




Heather Montgomery


Stephen Savage, Mike Ciccotello, Annie Silvestro


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen


Cathleen Thole Daniels, Kirstine Erekson Call, me


Closing keynote with David Lubar

I’d like to shout out a HUGE THANK YOU to the amazing, incredible, you-take-my-breath-away NJ SCBWI team, including but certainly not limited to, Cathleen Thole Daniels, Rosanne Kurstedt, Karen Romagna, Annie Silvestro, Kelly Calabrese, Charlotte Bennardo, Guy Olivieri, Mike Ciccotello, Linda Bozzo, Tami Charles, and to all the incredible volunteers.

And do you want to know a little secret? If you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and cross your fingers and toes and hope the publishing gods are on your side, you’ll notice the hint of publishing contracts in the air. How could any conference ever get better than this?


International Literacy Association Conference & Exhibits #ILA16


Gray skies couldn’t dampen the excitement at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, where educators, librarians, writers, illustrators, editors, and publishers came out in droves to support and promote worldwide literacy.

Here are a few photographic highlights:





Creston Book authors and illustrators are in the house! 

Me, JoAnn Adinolfi, and Darlene Beck-Jacobson


JoAnn Adinolfi and Darlene Beck-Jacobson

Darlene Beck-Jacobson


JoAnn Adinolfi, me, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, and John Schumacher, a/k/a the great Mr. Schu, Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic



Josh Funk 


Peter Reynolds 


And a trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Robert McCloskey’s wonderful ducklings at the Boston Public Garden.



IMG_1843 copy

If you’re interested in getting involved with the fight to advance literacy, please visit ILA’s website by clicking here.

“The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world.”

Source: ILA website



The 2016 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference—The Best Conference Ever!


Every year the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference gets better and better. This year did not disappoint.

Here are some photographic highlights: 


Opening Keynote Speaker, David Wiesner


My amazing agent, Liza Fleissig, and my fellow Liza Royce Agency peeps! 

Yvonne Ventresca, Cathy Breisacher, Laurie Wallmark, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Erica George, Leslie Santamaria, me, and Liza Fleissig 


Diana Murray and me


Johanna Bilbo Staton, Yvonne Ventresca, and Cathy Breisacher 


Katey Howes


Lauri Meyers


Darlene Beck-Jacobson and Carole Lindstrom


Annie Silvestro and Kim Pfennigwerth


Me and Cristina Ergunay (Mawrters in the house! Anassa kata!) 


Beth Ferry 


Julie Matysik and Yvonne Ventresca


Jacki Morris

Liza Fleissig, Keisha Senter, Kathy Temean, Carole Lindstrom, Leslie Santamaria, me, Karl Jones, Colleen Rowan Kosinski, Marlaina Cockcroft, and Linda Patterson Kujawski


Laura Sassi and Diana Murray 


Leeza Hernandez

Me and Katya Szewczuk


Tara Lazar 


Lori Degman 


Laurie Wallmark accepting the Crystal Kyte Award.


Julie Gribble 

IMG_1349 2

Tish Rabe


Jonathan Rockefeller 


Guy Olivieri and Charlotte Bennardo 


Closing Keynote Speaker, Suzy Ismail


Me and Suzy Ismail 

A very big THANK YOU to everyone who made this year’s conference so special. I’m already packing my bags for next year’s conference. I can’t wait!



ALA San Francisco Annual Conference & Exhibition #alaac15


What an incredible week to be in San Francisco! ALA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition was a jubilant celebration of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and of course, books! Where else in the world are there this many people excited about books? Nowhere. And in a nutshell, it was AWESOME!  ala4

At this year’s conference, I had the opportunity to do a cooking demo, making Mollie Katzen’s super yummy carrot cake recipe from The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake. I have to say when I first heard of this I wasn’t sure if it was a joke because (just between you and me) I don’t bake. In fact, over the years, I’ve had a very good relationship with my friends Betty Crocker, Nestlé® Toll House®, and the Pillsbury® Doughboy® and I go way back. The thought of baking,[1] even pretend baking, in front of an audience was terrifying. Fortunately for me, Mollie Katzen’s recipe is so easy that even a bumbling baking novice like myself could do it. And I had a blast! With the headpiece microphone, I felt like a cross between Julia Child and Madonna. So Food Network, if you’re looking for an author who writes about food, but who can’t actually make the food, I’m your gal. Call me. We’ll talk! 🙂 (I also happen to know two charismatic Missing Food Investigators who would love to host a kids cooking show.)




ala3Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold enjoying the spotlight on the What’s Cooking @ALA Stage 

Here are more photographic highlights:


Mug Shot: Me, and librarian extraordinaire, Beth Decker



Members of the Creston crew: Muon Van, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Julie Downing, April Chu, me


Darlene Beck-Jacobson and Georgia Lyon


Simon Stahl and me


Dan Santat


me and Lane Smith


Marcia Goldman, Lola, and Marissa Moss 


me and Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Jon Scieszka and me


Muon Van and April Chu


me and Cece Bell 


Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Jacqueline Woodson, and me 

It was a wonderful conference. And to all the superhero librarians who inspire fledgling readers and turn reluctant readers into avid readers from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!!! 

Wilcox, Griswold and I have already packed our bags for the next ALA conference. We can’t wait!

p.s. Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Marcia Goldman, Lola, and I also enjoyed a great visit to a wonderful bookstore, Book Passage.




**Please remember to support your independent bookstores. Thank you!

[1] While practicing the recipe, I learned one thing: grating carrots on a hand grater is a serious workout. You can avoid expensive gym fees by simply buying a bag of carrots and a hand grater.


Every year NJ SCBWI’s annual conference gets better and better, and this year was no exception. Here are some photographic highlights:


Opening Keynote Speaker Denise Fleming


Annie Silvestro, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Kim Pfennigwerth


Lori Degman and Liza Fleissig


Me, Laurie Wallmark, Jody Staton, Darlene Beck-Jacobson


Artwork by Patricia Keeler 


Susanna Leonard Hil and Lori Degman


Ame Dyckman and Adam Lehrhaupt


Me and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen


Meet the Newest Missing Food Investigators on the hunt for Miss Rabbit’s missing carrot cake.


Detective Newman


Detective Allegra


Detective Cockcroft


Detective Zampetti


Detective Degman


Detective Silvestro


Detective Hernandez and Detective Bardhan-Quallen


Mafalda Cardim, me, Ellen Grogan


Closing Keynote Speaker John Cusick

Many thanks to everyone at NJ SCBWI who made this weekend so very special. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson: Bringing Stories to Life

I am thrilled to interview my friend and fellow Creston Books author, Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

blog tour photo

Teacher, speech therapist, and freelance writer, Darlene’s stories have appeared in Cicada, Cricket, and other magazines. Her debut historic middle grade novel, Wheels of Change (Creston Books), hits bookstores on September 22, 2014. She has also been working on another historic middle grade novel, A Sparrow in the Hand, exploring the coming of age of two sisters growing up in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during the 1920’s. A chapter from this novel appeared in the March 2001 issue of Cricket magazine. You can also read this story on her website: 

Here’s what Kirkus has to say about Wheels of Change:

Changes fomenting both locally and nationally during the final year of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency are seen through the eyes of feisty, bighearted Emily Soper, daughter of a carriage maker in Washington, D.C.

Twelve-year-old Emily loves helping her father in his barn; she even dreams, in futility, of becoming a blacksmith like her father’s beloved employee, Henry. She and her best friend, Charlie, ponder such things as gender roles, women’s suffrage and “horseless carriages.” She dutifully tries to become a lady even while working on a secret that uses her “masculine” skills. As the year progresses, Henry falls ill, and Emily and her family are subjected to the uncertainties of changing times as well as some nasty treatment from white supremacists. Resemblances to To Kill a Mockingbird are strong, especially during a tea party hosted by Emily’s mother. A nice touch: Throughout much of the book, Papa teaches Emily—and vicariously, readers—new vocabulary words. The strength of the text lies in Jacobson’s ability to evoke a different era and to endear readers to the protagonist. The prose is straightforward and well-researched, heavily peppered with historical references and containing enough action to keep readers’ attention.

Readers will empathize with Emily as she goes through her own changes, and they will applaud her heroism in more than one chapter. (author’s note, photographs, recipes, bibliography, websites) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Darlene, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.

It’s my pleasure, Robin.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, and more specifically a children’s book author?

I’ve loved writing since I was a girl. I wrote letters to everyone I knew and made up stories in my head. Even as a student, throughout school, I was crazy enough to actually enjoy the writing or essay portions of exams. I began writing short stories in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. Even though the stories were for adult publications at first, there was often a child narrator or main character. I think it may have been my own inner child directing me. There’s something about giving a voice to young people that appeals to me. It was a natural progression to want to write a book for young people.

How did you end up gravitating toward middle grade historic fiction?

It just seemed like a good fit. I love hearing stories of the past from people who lived it. I grew up listening to my dad recount his WWII experiences as a POW in Japan. I listened to my mother tell her childhood stories of life as a coal miner’s daughter during the depression. These are the personal stories you don’t read about in history books. Creating characters in those long ago settings brings the era to life for me.

I think Middle Grade kids like to hear about kids from the pastwhat they ate, wore, the games they played, and what they worried about. While many of the things seem strange to modern children, there is much that remains the same: friendship, family, getting along, fairness, righting wrongs and fighting injustice.

I LOVED Wheels of Change! I could not put it down. It has a timeless feel, akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, and from page 1 found myself rooting for 12-year old Emily Soper, who unlike some of the adults in her life, was unafraid to take a stand for what is right. What makes Wheels of Change even more special is that it was inspired by the real life experiences of your grandmother, Mary Emily Soper. When did you realize that you wanted to tell her story?


There were two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. The story grew from there.

While this was the catalyst for Wheels of Change, I want readers to know the story is NOT a biography of my grandmother’s life. Everything else that occurs in the story is made up. I like to think of it as a re-imagining of grandma’s childhood. The grandmother I knewand the Emily Soper in WOCare two entirely different people.

You also explore the socio-economic, political, and industrial changes facing the United States in the early twentieth century. Was this your intention at the outset?

It was. I wanted to show how change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop changeit still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome.

From start to finish how long did it take you to write and research Wheels of Change?

It took about five years from the “idea” to a picture book that was too long and complex, and then to the final middle grade manuscript.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read your picture book, Together on Our Knees, about a young abolitionist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Can you tell us how you became interested in her story?

I found Matilda’s name on a poster of The Alternative Alphabet For Big and Little People under the letter G. When I researched her online, I discovered she was a prominent abolitionist and suffragist who worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet few people know about her. There are some wonderful books written about her adult life: She Who Holds the Sky by Sally Roesch Wagner, and Sisters in Spirit also by Sally Roesch Wagner. There is nothing featuring her as a child. Together on Our Knees is my attempt to rectify that.

Can you share some insights into your writing process? What’s a typical writing day like for you?

One of the few consistencies in my process is the first draft which I always do with pen and paper. I lose a measure of creativity trying to get the original ideas down on a computer, so I don’t use one until I have a written draft. That frees me up to make mistakes, scribbles and jot down ideas in margins or on sticky notes as I go. I try to write something every daywhether it’s a blog post, letter, a few pages of editingand on days when I can’t or don’t write, I read or review ideas or plot points in my head to keep the story going, and to work through problems I’ve encountered.

How did you meet your agent?

I am especially happy to answer this question for you Robin since you and I share the same agent: Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. I met herand her co-agent Ginger Harrisat our NJSCBWI annual conference in Princeton, NJ in 2010. I pitched the idea for WOC to Ginger who requested 30 pages. Liza then asked for the full manuscript and made an offer of representation not long after that.

Liza selling the book to Marissa Moss of CRESTON BOOKS is another serendipitous thing we share, since your books, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (illustrated by Deborah Zemke), and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep (illustrated by Chris Ewald), will be coming out with CRESTON next year. It’s fun having that connection.

I couldn’t agree with you more! 🙂

Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers?

Two things always come to mind and have become a sort of life philosophy with regards to writing: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, which means you can’t be afraid to dive in and write, edit, pitch, ask for critiques, and do what needs to be done to get your manuscript out into the world. The second is, persistence. How many times did Edison fail before he got a light bulb to work? How many other authors faced multiple rejections before a success? If you learn your craft, do the revisions that are necessary and keep trying to improve your writing, YOU WILL GET PUBLISHED.

Lastly, how can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?




If anyone is interested in pre-ordering Wheels of Change, it is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and at a number of independent bookstores.

Darlene, many thanks for doing this interview. And congratulations and much success with Wheels of Change.

It’s been a pleasure Robin. Thanks for having me.

And to learn more about Darlene, Wheels of Change, and toys and candy from the early 1900’s, please don’t forget to stop by Tara Lazar’s awesome blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them),, on September 19, 2014.

2014 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference—The BEST CONFERENCE EVER!

Every year NJ SCBWI’s annual conference gets better and better, and this year was no exception. And I would like to shout out a very big THANK YOU to everyone who made this year’s conference so very special.

Volunteer Committee

The Incredible and Amazing Volunteer Committee 

Me & Leeza

Me and Leeza Hernandez

Rosanne Kurstedt

Rosanne L. Kurstedt

Lauri Meyers & Tara Lazar

Lauri Meyers & Tara Lazar 


Mike Allegra perfecting his “I won the 2014 Highlights for Children Fiction Contest” look. 


The good old “thumbs up.” 


And of course, the “I can’t believe I won” look! 

Floyd Cooper

Opening Keynote Speaker Floyd Cooper 

Sheri, Annie

Sheri Oshins, Annie Silvestro & Laurie Wallmark


Corey Rosen Schwartz 


Kami Kinard 


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen 

Ame and Adam

Adam Lehrhaupt & Ame Dyckman 

Creston Authors

Laurie Wallmark, me & Darlene Beck-Jacobson 


Rachelle Burk 


Kim Pfennigwerth  

Robin Fox

Comedian Robin Fox 


Closing Keynote Speaker Rachel Vail 

Not to sound preachy, BUT if you are a writer or illustrator considering doing one conference this year, this is THE conference! It is invaluable for making professional connections, getting editorial and agent feedback, and best of all, it’s just a ton of fun!