Sunday, June 4, 2017

Europolitan Mentor Interviews Part 4: Jill Esbaum


by Patti Buff


Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2017 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website.


Our next interview is with Jill Esbaum. Jill is mentoring picture books, both fiction and nonfiction.

Jill Esbaum writes picture books filled with humor and heart on her family farm in eastern Iowa, USA. Recent titles include IF A T. REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY, TEENY TINY TOAD (starred review, Kirkus; also on their Best Books of 2016 list), and ELWOOD BIGFOOT – WANTED: BIRDIE FRIENDS (NAIBA 2015 Pick of the Lists). Her books have been nominated for state awards (TOM'S TWEET in Iowa and South Dakota; STANZA in Indiana; I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO!, in Nebraska), named to the International Reading Association’s Notable Children’s Book list (STE-E-E-E-EAMBOAT A-COMIN'!) and the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List (I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO!); and featured as a New York Times Editor’s Choice (I HATCHED!). Scholastic Book Fairs have offered both I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! and ELWOOD BIGFOOT, as well as many of her nonfiction titles. Coming soon are FRANKENBUNNY (Sterling, Nov 2017) and HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR (Dial, Feb 2018).

Her nonfiction books, all published by National Geographic Kids, include five titles in the PICTURE THE SEASONS series, four ANGRY BIRDS PLAYGROUND books, three titles in the BIG BOOK OF – series, many books in the EXPLORE MY WORLD series, and a picture book with renowned photographer Frans Lanting, ANIMAL GROUPS.

Jill created a group blog of fellow picture book writers and illustrators called Picture Book Builders(www.picturebookbuilders.com). She visits schools, teaches at conferences around the U.S., and co-hosts the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop in eastern Iowa each summer. She has twice served as a mentor for SCBWI-Iowa. Find more information at her website, www.jillesbaum.com


Welcome Jill! And thank you so much for being a Europolitan mentor! I always like to know about how people became writers so could you share with us your path to writing. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?

I didn’t begin writing until the youngest of my three kids was in kindergarten. We’d always read lots of picture books and had moved into chapter books. The more kid lit I read, the more I itched to try it myself. Once I began, I was hooked! About that time, my mom found a story I’d written at age 7. Talk about serendipity. That story brought back a rush of memories. As a child, I’d loved storytelling. I felt like I was coming back to my real self somehow––after a 30-year absence. Oh, wait. This is what I was supposed to do with my life? How had I let myself get so sidetracked?!


Another late-bloomer! I love it! Since writing and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

I took a basic how-to-write-for-children night class (one evening/week for 6 weeks) at a local community college, and when that was finished, a handful of us continued meeting monthly to critique one another’s work. The class instructor, author David Collins, was part of the group, too. When he saw me subbing picture book manuscript after picture book manuscript and getting nowhere, he gently suggested I back up the truck and try to crack the magazine market. That worked out beautifully for me. Those acceptances of my poems, stories, and nonfiction convinced me that I was on the right track––or nearing it, anyway.

I kept submitting picture book stories, of course, making every mistake possible.

  • I sent out stories too soon. Habitually. 
  • I once sent out an unfinished story, because it was so clever and funny an editor would surely help me come up with an ending, right? 
  • I carefully submitted to two editors who had asked for more of my work…and learned two weeks later that I’d mixed up the cover letters in which I’d detailed why I thought each of those particular editors was the perfect match for my story. (One returned the mismatched package to me. The other did not.) 
  • I made a fool of myself at my first in-person editorial critique. (Exhausted from two sleepless nights, I slammed a Coke right before my time slot, then couldn’t shut up.) 

But every mistake brought me closer to an acceptance. Four and a half years after I started submitting, I got the phone call that FSG wanted to buy my Stink Soup.

I hyperventilated. The editor laughed and told me he’d wait while I found a paper bag. Unbelievably, this was the patient editor with whom I’d botched my first one-on-one the year before.

Twenty years of writing and submitting to a bazillion markets has taught me too many things to list, but the most important would likely be this: We MUST develop the ability to see our own work with objective eyes. It’s tough, tough, tough. What helped me the most in that area was five years of teaching for the Institute of Children’s Literature. Every week brought 15-18 student submissions that I always critiqued before working on my own writing. By the time I finished those, I was tired and crabby, and if anything in my own work wasn’t “perfect,” I had no trouble trashing it.

The most important thing I’ve learned about publishing itself is that it’s impossible to guess what editors/publishers want to see. We simply have to put our best work out there and hope good things follow.


Those are horror stories, but with a twist happy ending! What role did mentors, critique groups or an MFA program play in your creative career?

Jill and her dog, Brodie
Two early teachers/mentors of mine (sadly, both gone now) were David Collins, who, in that original
night class, stressed the necessity of developing thick skin, and nonfiction author Mel Boring, who led three or four summer workshops I attended. Both saw promise in my writing, and Mel even went so far as to corner my husband at an end-of-the-week workshop dinner to tell him I had what it took. That was when I’d only sold a few poems, and it did more to boost my confidence (and my husband’s confidence in me) than anything prior.

I have neither a four-year degree nor an MFA. Everything I know about writing was learned through my own reading, through practice and failure, and through SCBWI. There has been nothing––nothing––that has helped me more in my career than attending conferences. I’ve met some of my best friends, met editors I’ve later worked with, and soaked up untold amounts of writing wisdom from agents, editors, and authors/illustrators. I know for a fact I would not be where I am today if not for SCBWI conferences. I even met my first editor at a retreat! Whether you’re published or not, there’s absolutely nothing like walking into a big room filled with people who share your passion of writing for kids. People who get you.

These days, my online critique group, made up of fellow SCBWI members I admire, respect, and trust, includes Andrea Donahue, Pat Zietlow Miller, Lisa Morlock, and Norene Paulson. They. Are. Awesome.


Yay for SCBWI! What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?

Working with and encouraging a promising new talent! I used to do private picture book critiques, and there isn't much that beats the feeling of learning that a story I critiqued has gone on to find a publishing home. Too cool! Always makes me feel like a new auntie or something.


What else should potential mentees know about you?

I hope this interview convinces potential mentees that I was once in their shoes, wanting to be published, searching for that elusive “secret,” and not sure how I was falling short. My critiques are kind, but I will not lie to you and will do the very best I can to get your stories to the point that an editor won’t be able to resist.


Sample of Jill's Books


Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Nadine can talk a blue streak, and one day she tells a real whopper: she isn't afraid of anything--no siree! Then her friends call her bluff, and Nadine must enter. . .The Deep. Dark. Woods. Only the woods aren't so scary after all, until the sun sets, that is, and Nadine can't find her friends. What is this boastful bovine to do? Run around in blind terror? Plummet off a cliff? Crash into a stream? Check, check, and check. But is all lost? Doubtful. After all, she is cow, hear her MOOOOOOOOO!


*2015 Crystal Kite Award winner, Midwest Region, SCBWI

*Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices (Best of the Year List), 2014

*Louisiana Reading Assoc. Children’s Choice nominee, 2014-2015

*Picture Book Oscars - Best Female Character in a 2014 Picture Book: Nadine

http://coreyschwartz.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-2014-picture-book-oscars.html

*2016-2017 Nebraska Golden Sower award nominee

*2015 White Ravens List

*Selected for Scholastic Book Clubs



Sterling Publishing 2016

You never know what will happen when a T. Rex crashes your birthday party. Sure, you'll be super excited when he turns up at your door. But then he’ll stomp. He’ll ROAR. He’ll look at you as if he’s wondering how you taste with a little mustard. In the end, though, you just may find yourself asking him to come back next year! This delightfully whimsical picture book has a fun twist kids will love.














National Geographic Children's Books 2015


Introduce young readers to some of the world's most interesting and important people in this bold and lively first biography book. More than 100 colorful photos are paired with age-appropriate text featuring profiles of each person, along with fascinating facts about about their accomplishments and contributions. This book inspires kids about a world of possibilities and taps into their natural curiosity about fascinating role models from education advocate Malala Yousafzai to astronaut Neil Armstrong.













National Geographic Children's Books July 2017
In this charming picture book, little kids will learn all about sea otters, including their social behavior, communication, diet, and, of course, playtime! These engaging Explore My World picture books on subjects kids care about combine simple stories with compelling photography. They invite little kids to take their first big steps toward understanding the world around them and are just the thing for parents and kids to curl up with and read aloud.

Europolitan Mentor Interviews Part 3: Bridget Marzo

by Patti Buff


Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2017 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website. 

Our next interview is with Bridget Marzo. Bridget is mentoring author/illustrators and illustrators.


Bridget Strevens Marzo is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author of over 20 children’s books published in the UK, US and France and co-edited internationally. She has also had a long experience of inspiring adults in their own creative ventures, as the first ever SCBWI International Illustrator Co-ordinator, mentoring at the SCBWI Summer conference in LA, and running picture book workshops across Europe. For over a decade in addition to illustrating, she taught children’s book illustration and design at Parsons Paris. Since her move back to London from France, she has resumed writing alongside illustrating, under her author name Bridget Marzo.

Bridget began by studying art history then fine art. Copying old master paintings and translating art books helped her develop a range of techniques around her own love of lively character drawing and bold use of colour. Her versatile, child-centred illustrations range from the mark-making of her latest picture book story, TIZ AND OTT'S BIG DRAW (Kirkus starred review) to the graphic BIG BOOK FOR LITTLE HANDS (PW starred review) and character-driven perennials like Kirsty Dempsey’s MINI RACER (SLJ starred review) and Margaret Wild's KISS, KISS!(PW starred review and SNCF book award) She has also exhibited in personal and group exhibitions including at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators, New York.

Bridget sees the content of each book or project as more important than sticking to a single brand or style. She has learnt from her critique group, her work as a features editor for the UK Association of Illustrator’s magazine Varoom!and in mentoring others, that what matters in the children’s book world is finding enough confidence in your own ‘voice’ to outlast stylistic trends – to say what you want you want to say, with what you love doing most.

Publishers include: Tate UK/ Abrams US, Bayard Jeunesse France, Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Little Hare Books, Simon & Schuster.

New events and books: www.bridgetmarzo.com

Illustration and book archive: www.bridgetstrevens.com



Welcome to the blog, Bridget! And thank you so much for being Europolitan mentor! I always like to know about how people became creative so could you share with us your path to illustrating for others and then writing and illustrating your own books. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?


I’ve always drawn and painted – and had ideas for characters which I took into stories. I must have been around 5 when I made my very first ‘book’ with lots of scribble-writing and drawings of a mad professor.

At university I started getting commissions to illustrate posters for plays, the odd poetry magazine and cartoons for student newspapers but after several jobs in Paris, I begun to earn a living as a translator of art history books. Through that connection I heard that a well-known US publisher was about to start a UK imprint with a children’s book section.


Since illustrating and writing for yourself and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

Developing your own stories is the easiest way in to a career in picture books. And that’s how I first got published. If you think in pictures and stories, and create your own visual worlds, that is a great help. And since I didn’t know about SCBWI, but did have a collection of picture books, I studied them. I sketched out every page of my favorite books in storyboard form to learn how and why the story worked across full spread, half page or vignette illustrations.

Then I heard through my translation network about a US publisher that had just started a UK branch. I sent off a very detailed storyboard (almost as developed as a dummy with lots of clear, highly detailed black and white pictures corresponding to each double page spread) for a picture book adventure set in Paris and inspired by my own 5 year old son. They liked the idea I had of including food and local color in the story along with a few foreign words and they asked me to develop the story some more, which I did.


What is your preferred medium to work in?
A glimpse of Bridget's work in progress


Ah ha – that’s a tough question! My story, Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw, is all about how Tiz draws and Ott paint their way through a story - they are both ‘me’. Every time I start a project I want to experiment. I love trying out new techniques. Though I particularly love a 3B Tombow pencils, I find drawing directly in ink with a Pentel brush pen or fine line pen, keeps me focused because any mistake shows. I also love the strong color of gouache and colored inks. Being able to scan work in and correct the odd line or color on screen adds a new level of freedom to experiment.


What role did mentors, critique groups or an MFA program play in your creative career?

Like many illustrators, I like working to a deadline and in a team and feedback is important to me. That’s why my SCBWI critique group is important to me. It keeps me on track each month, even when I don’t present anything to the group myself. It’s good to know I am not the only one obsessing on why a character behaves in a particular way or why a picture should be darker or spread out across several pages. Each of us has strengths – I really appreciate the global view of plot structure that some of the writers have.

And every time I start a new project it feels like I’m starting from scratch.

I hate to say it doesn’t get any easier once you are published.

A critique group is therapy too. We share our successes and more publishing frustrations and disappointments.


What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?

I’m always excited by other people’s work – however different from mine. If my own experience of what works and what doesn’t can help them get to the next level then I’d be more than delighted.


What else should potential mentees know about you? 

I am a ‘details’ person – be warned!



Tate Publishing May 2015
Tiz and Ott are drawing themselves a house. With the scritch scratch of her crayon, Tiz busily plants some seeds for the garden. Meanwhile Ott lies back lazily and makes a huge splodge for the sun. Then Tiz has a big idea. With a zig, a zag and a crash, she jolts Ott awake with a huge bolt of lightning! Together Tiz and Ott whip up a storm but as they soon find out, a storm isn’t just lines on a page.

Get carried away with Tiz and Ott as they use their imaginations to brush and doodle and scribble and scrawl and splatter their way out of trouble and safely back home.


Kirkus starred review.









Bayard Jeunesse, France
Follow a funny furry family going through their ordinary day from breakfast, to school, a birthday party and finally to bed. Discover over 200 nouns English words and lots more surprises under 30 flaps including dad under the shower curtain singing Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. There are plenty of observation games for children to play in the supermarket or on the way to school. They can count pencils, crayons and rulers hidden under the books in the classroom and name all the colours on the bottles of paint hidden in the cupboard… Fun even for English-speaking children who might learn a few words of French from the glossary at the back.













For samples of Bridget's illustrations, visit her website.