|by: Katya Szewczuk|
The publishing world is a scary place for many authors and illustrators, but just like a child grows up with parents, teachers and classmates, you don’t have to go into the world alone. Doubts in your mind can turn into fears, but don’t let those doubts or fears stop you in your tracks. There are many doors of opportunity to help in your journey and The Children’s Book Academy is one door that every author and illustrator should open.
The Children’s Book Academy opened its virtual doors in late 2012 by the founding instructor and director of the academy, Mira Reisberg. The first few courses such as the Hero’s Art Journey, an original art course opened to professional and beginning illustrators and fine artists, and the popular double duo Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Books and Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Picture Books, were such a success that many students received contract offers.
Mira, who has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies concentrating on Children’s Literature, has 27 years of teaching experience. In her teaching, she’s drawn on her years of experience in the publishing industry. Wearing many hats in the industry, she has been an independent editor, art director, book designer, literary agent, children’s literature professor and an award winning illustrator and writer. She might be the head honcho of the academy, but like its entire faculty, her main goal is to see her students succeed and go on to do great things.
Today, the Children’s Book Academy has a wide variety of courses from Writing Character-Driven Stories to intensive workshops and offers its students the equivalence of several conferences or university courses at the fraction of the cost. The academy is sure to make all complex concepts fun, simple and imaginative and is flexible to its students’ schedules. It doesn’t matter when you sign on or off, you can work anytime from anywhere. These courses are interactive, affordable and have a high success rate, showing proof that many of Mira’s students have been published and have even gone on to win awards. The Children’s Book Academy brings together a team of the most knowledgeable professionals – editors, publishers, famous authors and illustrators and so much more.
“The Children’s Book Academy is a golden opportunity for our students,” Mira said, her eyes beaming with joy, “Our success is from the success of our students. We help them however we can to be successful. It’s a real joy and a real pleasure because I love teaching and I love learning. And most of all I love helping people.”
This month, KidLit.TV was lucky enough to interview the wonderful Mira Reisberg. To learn more about Mira and The Children’s Book Academy, be sure to read the interview below.
- How and why did you get into the children’s literacy field?
I fell into it. I’ve been a passionate, life long reader. Libraries were a sanctuary for me as a kid. Books were a wonderful world of escape and knowledge. As a kid I loved writing and I loved doing art. I won a contest when I was pretty young because I started the story out with a question. I fell into the children’s literacy field because of illustration and I fell into illustration by making art as a form of personal transformation. I’ve always had a wicked sense of humor that often came out in my art. I had an exhibition of paintings and the publisher from Children’s Book Press saw the exhibition and asked me if I was interested in illustrating. From there I started writing and also teaching. My first book was published in early 1988.
- What were some of the struggles you faced when you first started writing?
I was always a much better talker than I was a writer. So I had to learn writing forms and writing techniques and grammar and all that good stuff. I learned that there’s a big difference between speaking and writing. Writing was easy when it was personal and imaginative, but my biggest challenge was when I did my PhD and had to write academically. It was like I was learning a whole new language. I published quite a bit in academic journals and wrote a three hundred and seventy page dissertation on kid’s books. It taught me a lot about writing, but it was formal writing, learning and using that ivory tower, intellectual language. So when I left academia, coming back to the much more playful world of children’s book writing was definitely a huge challenge.
- What is some advice you can offer aspiring authors based on your struggles?
Playing with language and ideas from a kid’s point of view is really important. There are techniques and skills that you can learn to help you be really conscious of how other people write in mentor texts and how you write your own work. We provide worksheets and templates that highlight these things like how to write hooks that engage the reader so that they have to read on.
- If you could choose one word to describe the Children’s Book Academy what would it be?
Can I give you two? One would be generous because we give a lot and generosity is important in what we do. And the other would be empowering.
- Who came up with the bear logo for the Children’s Book Academy? Is there a special story behind it?
Absolutely! That was me, and it’s one of my drawings. I loved Winnie the Pooh as a kid. A bear is a symbol of strength and they are also fun and just wonderful creatures. We have a whole bear family that I co-created with Leda Chung. Boris the creative businessman because writing and illustrating is both of these things, Marge, his “can do” wife/partner based on Rosie the Riveter, their kid Baby Buddha Bear who’s pretty zen, and then there’s Syrena their adopted middle grade Russian punk orphan daughter. These were really fun to create.
- As the director of the Children’s Book Academy what are some of your everyday responsibilities?
There’s a lot! I have two assistants who help, but it is still a lot of work. Here’s what goes into making The Children’s Book Academy possible. There’s making the course, making the password protected website, making it beautiful, doing interviews with different people who are editors and agents and published authors or illustrators to really enrich the course and help students learn from multiple perspectives. My PhD is in Education and Cultural Studies focusing on kid’s books, so I know a lot about teaching. Everyone learns differently so we try to make it accessible for all of them. Some people learn best from visuals or interviews, some are auditory learners and others are readers. We create worksheets, handouts and templates to make it as easy as we can for students without being formulaic. There’s also promotion, that I hate the most, and that involves getting the word out to people to take the courses and letting them know why our courses are so exceptional and effective. And then comes working with students directly, doing webinars and weekly critiquing sessions as well as individual critiques, setting up critique groups and helping students stay on track so that they have something substantial at the end.
- There are a number of courses provided by the Children’s Book Academy. What are a few of your favorites?
I would pick our upcoming course starting June 29th because it’s all about the craft and business of writing children’s picture books, which is all about making dreams come true. It’s really magical watching all the light bulbs go on as students skills skyrocket and as many of them get published and/or agented. This new course has updated content, new golden ticket opportunities for students to connect with editors and agents, and I’m getting to co-teach it with a wonderful industry insider, Kelly Delaney an acquiring editor from Random House/Knopf. This has never been done before in a five-week interactive course, so it’s especially exciting. I love all of our courses for different reasons.
- If I asked you for one quote on why it’s important for children to read what would that quote be?
Reading saves lives. The kids who come from challenging backgrounds can read about other worlds and other ways of being. They can escape and be delighted. They can learn life skills. They can also hear about other kids who go through what they are going through and know that they’re not alone. And they can become writers themselves.
- What are some of your favorite children’s books on the market today? What are some from the past?
There are so many great books out there. In terms of nonfiction I love Diana Aston Hutt’s lyrically written metaphor books such as A Seed is Sleepy and a Butterfly is Patient and Roxie Munro’s interactive Maze Books. I adore biographies like Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland and Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag. From my former students I love anything by Kathyrn Otoshi. She’s done a series of concept books: Zero, One and Two. They are brilliant and innovative and tackle challenging subjects in a wonderful way. Another former student, Gayle Pitman, just won the ALA Stonewall award for her book This Day in June, and Yuyi Morales just won another ALA award, a Caldecott honor, for Viva Frida. Another favorite author is the clever Mac Burnett and Bob Staake. When my family and I moved from Illinois to California we had a twenty-five foot truck towing a car and most of it was filled with children’s books!
- What do you think of the KidLit.TV community?
I love it! I absolutely love it. I found out about the Kidlit.TV community through Roxie Munro and Miranda Paul. They both said “You have to get in touch with Julie Gribble, she’s really fabulous and you have to get connected with her”. So I did and the rest is history.
To learn more about Mira Reisberg, The Children’s Book Academy, or the upcoming Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books course please visit the links below:
The Children’s Book Academy is all about community, success and being that one door that will always be open to every author and illustrator. All you have to do is knock and enter the world of imagination.