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Editor Spotlight: Alison S. Weiss of Pixel+Ink

Today at The Mixed-Up Files I’m very happy to introduce our readers to Alison S. Weiss, who graciously agreed to answer some questions about herself, her work, and Pixel+Ink.

Alison has been in publishing for more than ten years. She’s currently acquisitions editor at Pixel+Ink (part of Trustbridge Global Media), a publisher focused exclusively on series publishing with transmedia potential. There, she’s worked on many series, including Twig and Turtle by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, The Great Peach Experiment by Erin Soderberg Downing, and the forthcoming The Curious League of Detective and Thieves by Tom Phillips. She’s run her own editorial consultancy, working with publishers including Simon & Schuster, Audible, and Arctis, as well as private clients, and was Editorial Director at Sky Pony Press, where her list included William C. Morris Finalist Devils Within by S.F. Henson, the Project Droid series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran, the Timekeeper trilogy by Tara Sim, and the Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy by Sangu Mandanna. In 2016 she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She’s been trying to live up to the title ever since.

You can follow her on Twitter @alioop7 and learn more about Pixel+Ink at www.pixelandinkbooks.com.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Welcome Alison! Please tell us a bit about your path to becoming a children’s book editor.

Alison: I started out interning for Delacorte Books for Young Readers as part of Random House’s summer internship program when I was still in college. I knew on my third day that being a children’s book editor was what I wanted to do when I graduated. It didn’t turn out to be quite so easy, though.

After a year of job hunting, I joined Egmont USA as a Sales and Marketing Assistant. Egmont’s a big international media company, but they were just starting their U.S. division. They hadn’t even launched their first list when I started! What that meant for me was that I got to learn a little bit of everything that goes into making a book. About six months into my time with Egmont, I moved over to Editorial, and was there for another six years.

After Egmont closed, I moved to Sky Pony Press to help grow their fiction list, and ultimately became Editorial Director. Then I ran my own editorial consultancy for a couple of years, including doing work for Pixel+Ink, and that turned into me joining the company full-time in August 2020.

 

Dorian: What middle-grade books inspired you as a child?

Alison: Oh, this is so hard, because I feel like I was always hopping around, going from a Betsy-Tacy kick to only reading Goosebumps and Bonechillers. I remember having a deep love of The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop. I can still remember pulling them from the bookstore shelf. I loved E.B. White, especially The Trumpet of the Swan. Anne of Green Gables and the other Anne books—I dragged my parents all over Charlottetown to find the perfect Anne doll. I still vividly remember reading The Westing Game, and I think that, along with a lot more mysteries (I had a whole shelf dedicated to The Boxcar Children), heavily influenced the kinds of books I’m drawn to now.

  

 

 

 

 

All About Pixel+Ink

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about Pixel+Ink and what type of books you’re looking for there?

Alison: Pixel+Ink is a pretty new publisher. We’re part of Trustbridge Global Media, along with our sister companies Holiday House, Peachtree, and Candlewick. What makes us different from those other companies and a lot of other publishers is that our focus is on series publishing with transmedia potential. We’re looking for properties with a lot of story to tell that we can develop across platforms, especially TV and film. Our list is pretty commercial, and we focus on projects that kids will love getting lost in.

We publish fiction for ages 3-13 (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and graphic novels across those age levels). Our definition of series is pretty broad. It can be a series with lots of books, but they don’t necessarily need to be read in any particular order, like Magic Treehouse. It can be a defined arc, like Percy Jackson. Or it can start as something that might be a really great stand-alone, and we’re just lucky to get to go on more adventures with the characters.

 

Dorian: What middle-grade books are out or are coming out from Pixel+Ink that our readers should be on the lookout for?

Alison: I’m very excited for my first Pixel+Ink book to hit shelves at the beginning of June. The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt’s Fire by Tom Phillips is, in the words of Kirkus, “a tale for which the word madcap might have been invented.” It’s about an orphan who makes his home in the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History (Mixed-Up Files vibes, anyone?), who finds himself accused of stealing a rare ruby and teams up with the greatest detective you’ve never heard of to clear his name. If you’re a fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events or Enola Holmes, this one’s for you.

I’m also thrilled about launching middle grade series Plotting the Stars by Michelle A. Barry this fall. The first book, Moongarden, is a Secret Garden retelling set in space with definite Divergent/City of Ember vibes. It’s gorgeous and exciting, but also very of the moment with themes of climate change, social pressure, and exploring feeling like you don’t fit in. It’s going to be stunning.

 

All About Series Books

Dorian: What tips do you have for series writers as far as writing them and/or querying them?

Alison: When you’re planning a series, I think it’s important to have a sense of the kind of series you’re aiming to write so you can ensure you have enough story to sustain it. If you’re tackling something like our Twig and Turtle, will you have lots of different stories you can tell with these characters that make sense within their world? If you’re planning something with a defined ARC, is there enough at stake to get you through two or three or four books, where each one still feels satisfying on its own? Also, consider how you might grow your characters and evolve them over time. As you spend more time with them, they will inevitably show you surprising new things? Be open to that.

When it comes to querying, I’m often asked if you have to have all of the books written. My answer is no. But you do need to have ideas and enough of a sense of where you want to go that you can clearly communicate your vision. I think it’s also important to have flexibility. Plot elements will likely need to change over time as you come up with some new twist that makes something else you’d planned no longer a good fit. You might have envisioned five books, but it becomes apparent you’re going to need to wrap it up in three. Can you shift gears to make that fulfilling for your reader? Or you might need to suddenly come up with brand new plot ideas because there’s more demand than expected! Are you going to want to stick with the characters beyond what you’d originally planned for them, and can you expand their story in a way that does justice to what you’ve already created?

Be open. Be curious about the possibilities. And, most of all, have fun! At the end of the day, we’re working on projects that we hope will encourage kids to fall in love with reading. We want them to escape into our books’ pages. To feel seen. To explore new worlds and experiences. Your stories could be their tickets to becoming lifelong readers, open to immense possibilities. That’s a huge responsibility, but also an incredibly special one.

 

 

Twenty years of celebrating young readers!

May be an image of person and child

On July 5, 2000, I gave my 10 year-0ld daughter, Claire, “just one last hug,” before she skipped off with newfound friends at camp.

Little did I realize it would be my last hug from Claire, ever.

Claire died of a combination of a misdiagnosed heart condition and lack of care at the camp.

Our little reader was gone.

My husband, Brad, and I felt compelled to not only honor Claire in a way that was true to her, but to honor our relationships with each other and our daughter, Kyle, and son Ian.

I’m happy to share that we’ve accomplished both goals, and then some.

We established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival, in Claire’s honor.

At the 2nd annual Claire’s Day, May 2003.

On Saturday, May 7, and Saturday, May 21, the 2oth annual Claire’s Day festivities will take place at the Main Library, Toledo, and the Maumee Branch, Maumee, respectively.

Yes, you read that right. Claire’s Day isn’t just a day anymore. We impact over 25,000 children and their families through our programs, including our school visit outreach program. In the past, over 40 schools have partnered with us, hosting our guest authors and illustrators as they share their magic with their students.

One of the highlights of the festivities is our C.A.R.E. Awards program. Teachers from throughout the greater Toledo area nominate children from their classes who are the most improved readers. Each child selected receives a personalized certificate and a coupon to choose their very own book at the festival, and then have it personally signed by our guest writers and artists.

We have recognized over 10,000 children over the years. 10,000 children who typically do not receive academic accolades have been lifted through the experience.

A proud family of one of our C.A.R.E. Award recipients!

Claire’s Day features prolific, traditionally published children’s book authors and illustrators from throughout the Midwest.

Our 20th year features some fantastic authors and illustrators in our lineup. For the full listing for each festival, click here.

Several of our contributors to the blog will be with us, including Michelle Houts and Tricia Springstubb!

Other middle-grade authors and illustrators joining us include Beth Kephart, Mary Winn Heider, Mary Kay Carson,

and Louise Borden.

When I gave that last hug to Claire, I could not have even imagined what my life looked like moving forward. We have been incredibly blessed to have our family, friends, an entire community lift us up through our grief journey. We are blessed by amazing relationships as a family, a tribute to Claire as well.

At the Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C., being honored for our work through Claire’s Day.

We hope that you can join us for this significant celebration of our little reader gone too soon. We hope you can join us as we celebrate young readers. We hope you can join us as we Celebrate Life, Authors, Illustrators, and Reading Excellence.

We hope you can join us for Claire’s Day.

 

 

 

Real Stories of Hawai‘i for Middle-Graders

So many children’s books about Hawai‘i simply tell readers what they expect to hear, confirming general impressions they already have. But Hawai‘i is a unique and diverse place, and it’s rich in stories and storytellers. In these islands, people from many traditions grow up hearing and sharing each others’ experiences and stories. Here are some of those real stories of Hawai’i for middle-grade readers to enjoy.

Hero Stories

I’ll begin with a book about Hawaii’s all-time superhero, Duke Kahanamoku. SURFER OF THE CENTURY by Ellie Crowe tells the story of this legendary three-time winner of Olympic Gold. Although he was considered the fastest swimmer in the world, he also became known as the father of modern surfing, his true passion. It was “The Duke” who introduced the ancient Hawaiian sport to Australia and to the west and east coasts of the U.S. Despite his outstanding skills and accomplishments, Duke Kahanamoku had to deal with serious racial discrimination wherever he went. He responded to these challenges, too, with heroic humor, grace, and patience. Thus he became an example of character and aloha in Hawai‘i and the world. 

SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB: How a Teacher Led and Unlikely Team to Victory by Julie Abery and Chris Sasaki.
THE THREE YEAR SWIM CLUB: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest by Julie Checkoway.
These two books  tell a much less well known but equally inspiring story of Olympic swimming heroes from Hawai‘i. An elementary science teacher in rural Maui in the 1930s saw his students playing in the sugar plantation‘s irrigation ditch one day and decided to organize them into a swim team. Soichi Sakamoto was not a coach or even swimmer himself. But he made a scientific study of the techniques and training methods of the world’s best swimmers The club’s dream was to participate in the 1940 Olympics.

They still had to train in the irrigation ditch. There were many excellent swimming pools and facilities in Hawaii, but in those days, only Caucasians were allowed to use them. Duke Kahanamoku’s example of aloha inspired  the team to overcome the racial barriers and bigotry they encountered at home and across the country.Soon they began winning every meet they entered, and took the national title. They were even set to fill most of the slots on the U.S. Olympic Team in 1940, realizing their dream.

Then the outbreak of World War II cancelled that event. At the 1948 Olympics, the first held in 12 years, the team’s goal finally became a reality. The star of that event was captain of the US swim team, native Hawaiian Bill Smith Jr., who had trained with Mr. Sakamoto. He was first of many boys and girls from the club to distinguish themselves in the sport and in other leadership roles.

The Many Stories of Graham Salisbury

Graham Salisbury has mined his “magical” childhood growing up on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i islands to become one of Hawai‘i’s most engaging storytellers. Readers on the younger side of middle grade will enjoy sharing the adventures and humorous predicaments of delightfully clueless Calvin Coconut. This series is based on Salisbury’s own elementary years on the windward side of O‘ahu. For older readers, there are BLUE SKIN OF THE SEA and ISLAND BOYZ, collections of short  stories about growing up in Hawai‘i and the things that experience teaches you.

But Salisbury is best known for his novels. The most famous, UNDER THE BLOOD-RED SUN, draws on the World War II experiences of his father’s family. The story centers on the challenges faced by two best friends in Kona— Tomi, a Japanese-American boy and Billy, a Caucasian– When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the Japanese are the enemy. This is the first of several award-winning novels in his Prisoners of Empire series, focusing on the World War II experiences of Japanese-Americans from Hawai‘i. The veterans he has interviewed for these stories have thanked him for telling their story by making him an honorary member of the famous 442nd “Go For Broke” regiment.

Salisbury has published 20 books set in Hawai‘i. In any of them , you can count on great writing, compelling characters, suspense, and surprising, humorous turns.

Hawai‘i Fantasy

Real stories can be told not just in nonfiction accounts and in realistic fiction, such as Salisbury’s, but also in fantasy and magical realism. Unless fantasy is  based in a believable, knowable world, it won’t engage readers. Hawai‘i, with all its myths and legends, was long overdue for some good middle grade fantasy that rings true. Then Lehua Parker delivered with her page-turning ONE BOY, NO WATER. In this first book of the Niuhi Shark Saga, Zadar is found on the reef as a baby.  A family of surfers and fishermen adopts him. Yet the boy is mysteriously allergic to water. Who is he really, and where did he come from? Someone must know, but they’re certainly not telling Zader. And he keeps having such frightening dreams.

“Auntie” Lehua Parker is thoroughly familiar both with Hawaiian myths and legends and with daily life and relationships in the islands. So she is able to weave the extraordinary and supernatural into an ordinary contemporary scene in ways that are sometimes startling and often humorous. Her characters are flawed, amusing, down-home, and unforgettable. As is her storytelling. Who is Zadar?   You may have to read the whole trilogy to find out.

 Some Illustrated Stories

The last three stories I recommend are told in picture books. The language and information level of these books, and particularly their themes, make them age-suitable for middle grade readers.

SNOW ANGEL, SAND ANGEL,
By Lois Ann Yamanaka and Ashley Lukashevsky

What does it mean to say that Hawaii is a special place? Like many children growing up in the islands, Claire wishes she could see a winter wonderland of snow. Her dad takes her to the top of Mauna Kea where there is plenty of the stuff. But it is not like she imagined. This is crusty old snow she can’t make anything out of. Later they go to the beach where they build a “snowman” out of sand and make sand angels. Claire begins to see that she can enjoy her own kind of winter surrounded by the sand, ocean and the beautiful mountains of her island. Back matter features the flora and fauna of the islands and shows the importance of the environment in Hawaiian culture.

HO‘ONANI: HULA WARRIOR
by Heather Gale and Mika Song

Ancient Hawaiians recognized and respected a third gender.  They called it mahu (“in the middle”). Hawaiians believed that the mahu had spritual powers and a special role to play in the culture, But in modern times mahu has become a term of ridicule for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, HO‘ONANI, HULA WARRIOR, is based on the true story of a girl in a Hawaiian immersion school who saw herself as both boy and girl.  Ho‘onani wants to perform a male-style hula chant at a school event.  This meets with disapproval and resistance. Drawing strngth from the old ways, she persists. Ho‘onani becomes a strong leader who learns to accept herself and inspires others to be inclusive.

ORDINARY OHANA
by Lee Cataluna and Cheyne Gallarde

The Hawaiian word Ohana means family, but family in a much broader sense than the usual use of that world. Your ohana can include your extended family and also people not related to you. Neighbors, friends, people of all backgrounds, anyone you welcome with mutual love and support can be your ohana. Playwright Lee Cataluna’s warm and humorous all-ages book celebrates this ohana and its underlying spirit of aloha in down-to earth detail.

 

Aloha, Everyone.  I hope readers of these books will enjoy getting to know Hawai‘i where people of many different backgrounds have learned over time to live together with respect and acceptance.