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Program Summaries
2023-2024

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The Ins and Outs of Literary Agents

February 2024 Guild program

Summary by Desaray Mnyandu

 

A panel of CBG members and their diverse relationships with their respective agents were the subjects of this virtual forum style program. Terry Jennings served as the moderator and a panelist.  The other panelists were Sue Fliess, Debbie Levy, Debra Kempf Shumaker, Rashin Kheiriyeh, and Madelyn Rosenberg.

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Terry Jennings kicked off the program with introductions and an invitation to the panelists to share about their relationships with their agents. Most agreed that their agents, while friendly and open to communication, maintained a professional distance from their personal lives - except for author/illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh, who has, what she considers, a father-daughter relationship with her agent, and Madelyn Rosenburg who is acting as her own agent after she split with her agent of ten years during the height of the pandemic.

Panelists were candid when discussing the advantages of having an agent. “My agent has the balls to ask for stuff that I could never ask for!” explained Debra Shumaker. Similarly, author Sue Fliess praised her agent for being “persistent” and “a little bit of a bulldog” in the way she advocates for her clients. It was generally agreed that agents are particularly useful for feedback on manuscripts, understanding and translating editorial feedback, negotiating contracts to better benefit their clients, and being proactive with editors. A surprising benefit added by Terry Jennings and echoed by several other panelists, was that agents “…hold on to the bad news and wait to pair it with good news so it’s not as difficult to hear.”

The panelists then discussed the negative aspects of their current and past agent relationships. These included agent fees, gate keeping, and incompatible work styles. After hearing a few bad agent experiences, panelist Debra Shumaker cautioned, “There are definitely red flags you should look for when searching for an agent. Having a bad agent is worse than no agent at all!” Roz Schanzer mentioned problems getting paid all she was due by agents (and publishers).

Finally, Terry turned the discussion to how to find an agent. Within the more conventional methods, panelists suggested searching literary agency websites, publishers weekly, QueryTracker.net and literary conferences. From their personal experiences panelists also suggested some slightly non-conventional approaches like contacting recently laid off agents and following agents on social media.

Overall, the engagement and enthusiasm for this program was high. It was obvious that agents and the topics surrounding them were quite important to both the panelists and the participants. There is clearly much to be learned from the diverse experiences of the CBG members and we look forward to similarly engaging programs! Thank you to everyone who participated.

“There’s always something of me in all my books.”

January 2024 program featuring

Andrea Beatriz Arango

Summary by Desaray Mnyandu

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Andrea Beatrez Arango is a self-proclaimed “baby author” but she’s already ahead of some of her more seasoned peers. Her very first book Iveliz Explains It All was a 2023 Newbery Honor Book!  Her second book, Something Like Home quickly followed and readers found it difficult to decide which book they liked best.

Both of Andrea’s middle grade books are told in verse from the perspective of a main character dealing with big life issues and the big feelings that come with them. Readers have an intimate perspective as the characters work through their conflicts with not-so-much grace.

 

After Andrea read a few pages of Iveliz Explains It All, the conversation of the Guild hovered over her masterful weaving of languages through the main character’s code switching between Spanish and English. This, along with the diary-like design of the book, added to the closeness readers were invited to feel towards the character Iveliz.

 

While Andrea doesn’t have a set writing strategy, what is consistent is inspiration from her personal experiences as a native Puerto Rican, a middle school teacher, a care giver, and a foster parent as well as her own eclectic reading tastes. “There’s always something of me in all my books.”

 

Interviewer Terry Jennings asked the question we’d all like to know. “What was it like to get the call?”, referring to the call from the Newbery Award committee. True to her humble nature, Andrea who initially missed the call because her phone was turned off, said, “Finding out it was the Newbery Honor was shocking and exciting! I was not prepared!”

 

Arango plans to return to full-time work again after a year-long break, but that will not be slowing her momentum as an author. A third book It’s All or Nothing, Vale is scheduled to be released in February 2025. Like her other books, it still includes fan favorite topics of friendship, self-discovery, mental health and more. We look forward to all that is to come from Andrea Arango.

November 2023 Program

Pat Scales

Summary by Betsy Kraft

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Guild members got an inside look at book banning at the November Guild meeting when Pat Scales shared stories and data of the recent rise of challenges of books for young people. Scales, a First Amendment advocate, is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, and has appeared nationally as a spokeswoman for freedom from censorship. She has also authored two books on the subject: Books under Fire and Teaching Banned Books.

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Books featuring LBGTQ characters were top of the 2022 challenged list with those about people of color coming in second. Other topics on the rise were those portraying kids engaged in rights and activism. Scales said the banning of books began in the eighties, mostly directed at Judy Bloom’s body of work. But the rise of social media has rapidly accelerated the trend and grown with parent groups like Moms for Liberty and other like-minded groups and laws like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay.

Scales pointed with hope to teens themselves who have created teen banned book clubs and even brought legal cases saying the banning of books violates their civil rights. She pointed to the ridiculous extremes of the movement with the challenging of Mark Brown’s picture book, Arthur's Birthday, in which a girl brings a gift suggesting they play Spin the Bottle.

In advice to writers, she said just keep writing good books. And to those who wish to become engaged in the fight against banned or challenged books she says stay aware of what’s happening and help spread the word.

School Library Journal columns by Pat Scales

2023 Banned Book List from PEN America

October 2023 Program

Amina Luqman-Dawson

Summary by Fred Bowen

I write sports books so I hope everyone will forgive me if I use a baseball phrase.

 

 With her first book, Freewater, author Amina Luqman-Dawson “knocks it out of the park.” The book follows the adventures of Homer, an enslaved boy who escapes to the wilderness – The Great Dismal Swamp – to live among escaped Blacks and some who have never known slavery. Freewater won the 2023 Newbery medal as well as the Coretta Scott King award.

 

Not bad for what Luqman-Dawson calls her “baby book” meaning her first real book.

Long-time librarian and Guild member, Edie Ching, interviewed Luqman-Dawson at the October in-person (!) meeting of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C.

Luqman-Dawson was a policy professional who worked for several non-profits and moonlighted by writing op-ed columns as well magazine articles and travel pieces. All along, Luqman-Dawson nurtured the dream of writing a book. She only shared that dream with her husband.

 

Some parts of Freewater were easy. Luqman-Dawson said the story “exploded in my mind” and she saw [the character of Homer] “clearly in my mind.”

 

Other parts were not so easy. Luqman-Dawson told the Guild she went through ten to fifteen drafts and at one crucial juncture when she felt stuck, benefitted from a mentorship with We Need Diverse Books.

 

Luqman-Dawson also benefitted from a sensitive editor – Alexandra Hightower - who helped her pull out more from certain characters but who knew when to leave certain parts of the book alone. Hightower was the first African-American to edit a Newbery winner.

 

In the end, Luqman-Dawson produced a page turner and a rollicking adventure that has impressed readers and critics alike. Edie Ching said that she has read the book four or five times and still sees themes and details she had not seen before.

 

Luqman-Dawson is working on a second book based on one of the many characters in Freewater. Expect another home run.

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