Laura Atkins Laura Atkins
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Publishing

Academic Experience

Running Conferences

Work and Activities

Features and Interviews

Curriculum Vitae

My Blog

My Old Blog: Tockla's World of Children's Literature

Diversity Matters Conference Notes

ABOUT ME

I have always been an avid reader of children's books. This passion led me to write an undergraduate thesis at Reed College on the Victorian author George MacDonald. From there I moved to working in children's publishing, spending seven years at three publishers in the United States. After that, I went to England to complete an MA in children's literature, and eventually teaching at a university and doing freelance editorial work. I am now based in Berkely, California and am primarily offering manuscript critiquing, mentoring and running writing workshops. I am particularly interested in several areas, including multicultural children's literature, teaching creative writing, and the study of the children's publishing industry. I feel that some of the most innovative literature produced today comes from the books published for young readers, and love being involved in this exciting area.

The following information describes my various experiences in the area of children's literature, which has involved my work in publishing, my academic experience (including teaching, giving presentations, and my publications), work running children's literature conferences, and my other general work and activities. You can also link to internet features and interviews I have written or been involved with. If you are short on time, you can simply look at my full CV - while it's drier than the narrative below, you'll get most of the same information in shorthand form. Finally, for a lighter read, you can visit my blog.

 

 

PUBLISHING

My first four years were with Children's Book Press in San Francisco as an Assistant Production Editor. Children's Book Press is a nonprofit publisher which publishes primarily multicultural and bilingual picture books for children. Some of the books I worked on include i see the rhythm, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, In My Family, winner of the Américas Award, and From the Bellybutton of the Moon, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. I worked with the Publisher on the complete process of acquiring and developing books, including book design and production. It was here that I began to develop a sense of some of the joys and challenges that come with working on multicultural children's books created by authors and artists from diverse backgrounds.

After four years at Children's Book Press, I decided I wanted to go further in children's publishing. New York City beckoned - the heart of children's publishing in the United States. On excellent advice, I started off with informational interviews, talking to around twenty very generous people including Janet Shulman (editor of Dr. Suess), Susan Hirschman, (fabulous editor from Greenwillow), and Simon Boughton, then working at Random House and now at Roaring Brook Press. An interview with Judy Wilson, Publisher of Orchard Books (since sadly passed away), led to my job as Assistant Editor. I spent a year there, supporting Judy on many imports from the UK, including my first editorial acquisition, Sammy and the Dinosaurs, a Children's Book of the Month Club selection.

I then moved to Lee & Low Books as an editor. Lee & Low is a family-run publisher which specialises in multicultural picture books. I was lucky to be able to manage the New Voices Award in its first year, which is an award for a picture book manuscript written by an author of colour (non-white author) who has not previously published for children. I was lucky to work with the first winner, Linda Boyden, to develop her story, The Blue Roses. I also acquired and edited several books of which I am very proud, including DeShawn Days, a Choice from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, Love to Langston, an NCTE Notable book, and The Pot that Juan Built, an ALA Notable book.

 

ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE

After two years at Lee & Low, I found I was ready for change. My overall passion for children's books, which had led me to found a still-strong reading group of children's book editors in NYC, felt stifled by working for one children's publisher, with all the politics that can entail. I was also interested in stepping back from the children's publishing world and looking at it from a broader perspective. Going back for a Masters in Children's Literature seemed like the perfect route, and through internet research I found the children's literature MA offered by Roehampton University in London. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to live abroad and study at a renowned programme, which is home to the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL).

I relocated from New York to London to complete the full-time MA in one year, and had the great fortune to study with NCRCL tutors Gillian Lathey, Kim Reynolds and Lisa Sainsbury, as well as visiting lecturers Michael Newton, Nicholas Tucker, and Irene Wise. After completing the five required modules, I wrote my dissertation on graphic novels based on the memories of the authors and set around WWII. The title was 'Graphic Depictions: The Representation of History and Memory in Three Graphic Novels', and the discussion focused on Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, The Maus books by Art Spiegelman, and Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. I find the comic book format to be especially exciting, offering innovative ways to tell stories which combine text and image. I graduated with distinction in September 2002.

 

I then decided to pursue postgraduate research, this time focusing on the juvenile publishing world, supervised by Professor Kim Reynolds and based at the University of Newcastle. My research focused on how the editorial process has affected books written by non-white authors in the UK since the 1970s. This involved interviewing several authors and editors who worked over this period, including Petronella Breinburg, author of the first picture book featuring a black character to be published in London; Aidan Chambers, creator of the Topliners series; Jamila Gavin, author of the Whitbread Award-winning Coram Boy; Malorie Blackman, the only black author to be in the children's best-sellers list; and Miriam Hodgson, the now sadly-passed away editor and winner of the Eleanor Farjeon Award. You can find a full list of people I interviewed here. The interviews brought out various individuals' experiences with the editorial process, and their thoughts on the publishing world in general, revealing some of the challenges and successes that have been faced by an array of authors and editors from a variety of backgrounds. While my PhD has gone onto semi-permanent hold, I hope to do something with these interviews as they provide an important oral history. Some are mentioned in this paper which I posted on-line on white privilege in children's publishing since published in the Write4Children electronic journal.

 

TEACHING

Until August 2013 I was a part-time lecturer in children's literature at Roehampton University, where I primarily taught the undergraduate Writing for Young Readers module to undergraduate and MA students. I have taught many courses at both undergraduate and MA-level, including the MA Writing for Young People course at Roehampton University, the undergraduate Introduction to Children's Literature course at Queens University, the undergraduate Boundaries of Children's Literature course at the University of Newcastle, and the MA course, British children's Literature from 1900-1960, at Roehampton University. I have also offered visiting lectures, such as the 'Introduction to British Picture Books' session I taught at the University of Antwerp for an undergraduate course run by Vanessa Joosen. I really enjoy teaching, and my approach draws heavily on group participation and discussion. I feel that a class has been successful if I leave feeling challenged by my students to consider a text in new ways. For a full list of courses taught, please see my CV. I also teach creative workshops for children. Please see that section of the website for more information.

 

IRSCL Congress
August 13th to 17th 2005

 

LECTURES AND PRESENTATIONS

I have also given a variety of lectures, presentations and appeared on panels, such as being a presenter on the panel, 'Multicultural Children's Literature and Publishing', held at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education as part of the Multicultural Book Festival in 2004. I presented the paper, 'The Role of the Editor: Selection or Censorship?' at the 2005 International Research Society for Children's Literature 17th Biennial Congress held at Trinity College, Dublin; and gave the paper, 'Editorial Reflections: How the Juvenile Publication Process Affects Books Produced by Non-White Authors' at the 2005 Child and the Book Postgraduate Conference held at the University of Antwerp.

I also gave a presentation entitled ‘Editorial Reflections: Cultural Expression and Children’s Publishing’ at the Oxford Brookes University International Centre for Publishing Studies in October 2006. You can hear a podcast of that lecture here. I presented the paper, '"What Is Life Like in the 'Hood?": Exploring Urban Spaces in American Picture Books' at the Place and Space in Children's Literature conference held in Oxford in March 2009.

I presented 'What's the Story? Reflections on White Privilege in the Publication of Children's Books' at the August 2009 IRSCL conference. This paper has been posted on the web here and I would value any comments. I was invited to give a guest lecturer entitled 'White Privilege and Children's Publishing: A Web 2.0 Case Study' at Oxford University as part of their Children's Literature Group in May 2010. I was the moderator of the'Critiquing and Evaluatings the Books/Content' panel at 'A Is for Anansi: Literature for Children of African Descent Conference,' held by the Institute of African American Affairs, New York University, October 8-9th 2010. For a full list of presentations, please see my CV.

 

PUBLICATIONS

I have published in essay collections and reference, on subjects including examining the children's publication process based on my own experiences as an editor, looking at the role of the children in the films The Sixth Sense and The Others, and providing biographical entries for several authors. Here is a list of current publications:

'White Privilege and Children's Publishing: A Web 2.0 Case Study', Write4Children 1.2 (2010): 20-31 (peer-reviewed electronic journal)

Co-editor and inclusion of paper, 'Graphic Depictions: Depicting the Bombing of Hiroshima in the Graphic Novel Barefoot Gen,' An Invitation to Explore: New International Perspectives on Children's Literature, Pied Piper Publishing, 2008

'Editorial Reflections: Cultural Expression and the Children’s Publication Process in the USA', Expectations and Experiences: Children, Childhood & Children's Literature, edited by Clare Bradford and Valerie Coghlan, Pied Piper Publishing, 2007

'A Publisher's Dilemma: The Place of the Child in the Publication of Children's Books', New Voices in Children's Literature Criticism, edited by Sebastien Chapleu, Pied Piper Publishing, April 2004

'Creepy Kids: The Use of the Child's Perspective in Films of the Uncanny', Children's Literature and Childhood in Performance, edited by Kim Reynolds, Pied Piper Publishing, 2003

'Malorie Blackman', 'Petronella Breinburg', 'Joseph Bruchac', 'Farrukh Dhondy', 'Jamila Gavin', 'Francisco Jimenez', 'Julius Lester', 'An Na', 'Bali Rai', 'Cynthia Leitich Smith', 'Rita Williams-Garcia', 'Jacqueline Woodson', 'Laurence Yep', and 'Benjamin Zephaniah', in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature published by Oxford University Press and edited by Jack Zipes, 2006



 

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE CONFERENCES AND EVENTS

I have extensive experience running children's literature conferences and events.

In a freelance capacity, I was the Festival Director of The Brighton Children's Book Festival, in partnership with THE SOUTH and the University of Brighton. We ran two successful events in April 2007 and 2008.

From 2002 until February 2009, I managed conferences at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Roehampton University. This involved shaping programmes, hiring speakers, processing bookings, and overseeing all aspects necessary for conferences.

One of the main events I managed was the annual British IBBY/NCRCL MA conference, which has run on the themes such as Time Everlasting: Representing Past, Present and Future in Children's Literature; No Child Is an Island: The Case for Children's Literature in Translation; and East Meets West in Children's Literature, where I moderated a panel discussion. These events have included speakers such as authors Farrukh Dhondy, Beverley Naidoo, Linda Newbery, Bali Rai, Celia Rees, and Philip Reeve; and academics such as Peter Hollindale, Uli Knopflemacher, Victor Watson, Jack Zipes, and translator Sarah Adams.

I also oversaw and taught on the Children's Literature International Summer School (CLISS), which I ran in 2003, 2005, and 2007. This involved bringing international tutors to Roehampton University to teach for five days on various strands, giving lectures and seminars to delegates from all over the world. Tutors involved in the past include Clare Bradford, Dan Hade, Peter Hunt, Rod McGillis, Emer O'Sullivan, Lissa Paul, Karen Sands-O'Connor, John Stephens, and Lynne Vallone. I have taught on the Creative Writing strand, led the Multiculturalism in Children's Literature strand, and was strand leader on the Children's Publishing strand in 2007.

In addition to these regular events at the NCRCL, I managed the Children's Literature and War conference, co-sponsored by Action for Children's Arts.


Diversity Matters
growing markets in children's publishing

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster
24-25 June 2006

 

I have also founded and been involved in other conferences. I co-founded and was a member of the Arts Council England steering committee that organised the conference, Diversity Matters: Growing Markets in Children's Publishing, which was held in June 2006 in London. This was an initiative to discuss ways to improve the representation of diversity in books published for children. I have written a report on the first conference, available on the PaperTigers website.

I also founded and have co-run The Child and the Book postgraduate conference for its inaugural event and the 2006 conference. This is an annual event which brings together graduate and postgraduate students from around the world whose research focuses on children's literature. It has been held at Roehampton University in London (2004), the University of Antwerp in Belgium (2005), the University of Newcastle (2006), the Bogaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey (2007); Buffalo State University in upstate New York (2008); and Vancouver Island University in Vancouver, Canada (2009). You can read more about the conference here. It has been a wonderful way to build a growing community of international children's literature scholars.

 

GENERAL WORK AND ACTIVITIES

Otherwise, I have been involved in a variety of other work and activities in the area of children's literature, as well as being a member of several organisations.

I worked from 2003-2005 as a contributing editor to PaperTigers, an international website focusing on children's literature from and about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. This work has included conducting interviews with authors, researching new publications and promoting the site.

I have also volunteered as a contributing editor for the Achuka website, writing features and events reviews for this extensive UK children's literature resource.

In 2002, I acted as a judge for the London Writer's Competition in the short story for children section. The judging panel was chaired by novelist, critic and Booker Prize administrator Martyn Goff OBE.

In 1999 and 2000, I was a mentor editor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, in which aspiring writers submit manuscripts and received individual feedback from experienced editors.

Additionally, I have been a member of the PEN Open Book Committee in New York from 1999-2001, which was acommittee working to increase diversity in publishing in the United States, organising awards and events. I was also a member in 1997 and 1998 of the Children's Committee, helping to organise the children's section of the San Francisco Book Festival.

I am a member of the following organisations:

British Section IBBY (International Board on Books for Young Readers) committee

Child and Book Steering Committee

Children's Literature Research Cluster, Roehampton University

Diversity in Publishing Network

International Research Society for Children's Literature

Nordic Network for Children's Literature Research

 

FEATURES AND INTERVIEWS

Finally, here are links to features and interviews I have published on a variety of children's literature-related websites:

'A Voice from the Other Side…An Editor Speaks,' Interview with me on Zetta Elliott's blog, http://zettaelliott.wordpress.com, November 2009

'Writers Against Racism: Laura Atkins," School Library Journal Blog, www.schoollibraryjournal.com, August 2009

'What’s the Story?: Reflections on White Privilege in the Publication of Children’s Books,' Paper delivered at IRSCL congress which I posted on-line, http://sites.google.com/site/tockla/, August 2009

Interview with Gene Luen Yang,’ www.dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils, April 2007

Carnegie/Greenaway Collection Interpretation Pack.
I've created a collection interpretation pack as part of the 70th anniversary of the Carnegie and 50th anniversary of the Greenaway awards. The theme is Outsiderness/Otherness/Diversity, and I look at a variety of award-winners over the last 70 years. You can download this very nicely-designed pack from the fantastic CILIP awards website. It's called Collection Interpretation Pack 1.

'Report on Diversity Matter Conference', www.papertigers.org, July 2006

'Interview with Mitali Perkins, author', www.papertigers.org, July 2005

'All There in Black and White?' report on launch of Diversity in Publishing Network, www.booktrusted.co.uk, May 2005

'Interview with Madeline Thien, author', www.papertigers.org, April 2005

'Interview with Patricia Billings, Publisher of Millet Press', www.papertigers.org, July 2004

'It's Not an All-White World of Children's Books Any Longer', www.papertigers.org, February 2004

'Author and Editor Feature: Interviews with Malorie Blackman and Annie Eaton on the Development of Noughts and Crosses' www.achuka.co.uk, May 2002 (this is no longer available on the Achuka website, so I've provided a version of it on my website which sadly lacks the nice flash layout created by Michael Thorn of Achuka)

 

Interviews for my PhD

Here is a list of the people I have interviewed so far for my PhD research. The date after each author's name indicates the date of their first book published for children.

Authors:

Berry, James (1987)
Blackman, Malorie (1991)
Breinburg, Petronella (1973)
Chatterjee, Debjani (1989)
Dhami, Narinder (1996)
Dhondy, Farrukh (l976)
Gavin, Jamila (1979)

Editors:

Ahmed, Rehana - Puffin
Bradman, Tony - Macmillan and various
Chambers, Aidan - Topliners
Eaton, Annie - Transworld/Random House
Hodgson, Miriam - Egmont
Nissen, Jane - Penguin
Otter-Barry, Janetta - Frances Lincoln
Royds, Caroline - Walker Books
Wilkins, Verna - Tamarind