• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Uncategorized > From Editor to Agent: a chat with Alyssa Eisner Henkin
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
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    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
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    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
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    November 9, 2013:
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    October 14, 2013:
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    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
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    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
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    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
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    August 6, 2013:
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    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

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    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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From Editor to Agent: a chat with Alyssa Eisner Henkin

Uncategorized

A couple of years ago, after many rejections, I was fortunate enough to land Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media as my agent! Alyssa worked as an editor for over six years at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers where she edited books such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s THANK YOU, SARAH and THE MOTHER DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB by Heather Frederick.

Four years ago, Trident made her an offer she couldn’t refuse when they decided to represent children’s authors. Since she’s been a fan of this blog for a while, she was happy to take time out of her busy agenting/editing/parenting schedule to talk with me about the magic of middle grade books and readers.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin

What’s so special about middle grade books and readers?

AH: I came into my reading own during the middle grade years. Fourth grade was particularly memorable with the discovery of BETSY-TACY THE HIGHT SCHOOL YEARS, ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT”S ME, MARGARET, and the canon of Elaine Konigsburg. I remember these books differently than those books read to me at bedtime when I was in second grade because I felt so grown-up and so lucky to devour them on my own. It’s that private entryway into reading, the kind that literally impels a kid to bring a book to the dinner table (as I did with Margaret!), that really kicks in amidst those middle years.

You’ve been in the publishing industry-first as an editor and now as an agent-for over ten years. How has children’s publishing changed and evolved in that time:

AH: Children’s books contribute to the bottom -line successes of publishing houses much more so than they did in the era before HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT. We live in a time when a new WIMPY KID might well out-sell a former president’s autobiography. As a result, editors frequently seek “big” children’s and YA books, be they epic romance trilogies, dystopian thrillers, graphic novels, or books with online dimensions that ensure readers continued interest, not only in the storyline, but in the world of books, which lends itself to merchandising, film, etc.

How have middle-grade books changed-or have they?

AH: Today, we’re living in a robust climate for illustrated and graphic middle grade. And while there’s definitely a need for very plot-driven and commercial books for middle grade, it is till a genre with many successful titles that are not instant bestsellers upon publication. Books like THE PENDERWICKS, MOCKINGBIRD, or WHEN YOU REACH ME, to name just a few, become

When You Reach Me

popular in large part due to the great buzz and critical acclaim surrounding them, and also perhaps in part because they embody a more timeless feel.

Ah yes, I have a particular fondness for “timeless” books. What makes a middle grade book timeless? Do you think it’s different than what makes an adult novel timeless, like for instance, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?

AH: Sometimes it’s the notable absence of things like texting and cell phone and such. More importantly though, it’s the relatability and sheer appeal of the characters and the drive that fuels their quests. In your forthcoming middle grade novel, A DOG’S WAY HOME, readers are so hungry to know if Tam and Abby will find their way back to each other, the fact that it’s contemporary seems secondary to the riveting quest itself. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD feels timeless in a different way. The story is very much about the South at a certain point in time. That era’s prejudice and disenfranchisement propel the story. However, the masterful voice itself grabs onto new readers discovering it for the first time, and in that way, the appeal is timeless. Also the retrospective quality of Scout’s voice makes it feel much different than many classic children’s books.

Who are some of your favorite middle grade authors?

AH: As a child, I adored Lois Lowry, Sydney Taylor, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson, Elinor Estes, and Noel Streatfeild. I still adore Lois Lowry’s new books! Sadly, the others are dead. Thankfully, I’ve also come to admire and enjoy works by Lauren Tarsish, Jacqueline West, Lauren Myracle, and Michael Buckley, as well as those of my incredible clients: Lisa Greenwald, Jennifer Roy, Julie Berry, Lauren Barnholdt, among many others.

Your son is about nine months old now. Want to take a look in your crystal ball and predict where books/publishing will be when he’s old enough to read middle grade books?

AH: I think he might see a rejuvenation of the “choose your own adventure” style books that were semi-popular when I was a kid. He will be likely, though, to see them in a new media form. I expect there will be many more graphic novels and maybe even mobile device novels that feel quite modern. And yet, while formats might be changing, I think the standards for writing quality and kid-appeal are high. So, while there will still be room for books about a variety of topics that kids hear about via word of mouth. And I have a feeling my son will be reading at the dinner table in about eight years, considering he already tried to eat his board books!

Speaking of dinner, if you could have dinner with any book character, who would it be?

AH: It would have to be Betsy Ray in the Maud Hart Lovelace books. I’d be happy to eat only the infamous onion sandwiches that Betsy’s father would serve at Sunday Night Lunch! I’d ask her what it was like to be in Europe when The Great War broke out and if she ever thought then she’d marry Joe Willard!

A lot of agents and editors say they are looking for “high concept” books. Can you explain to us exactly what “high concept” means?

AH: Good question! High concept books tend to be books that have a unique kind of storytelling device in addition to the straight narrative, like code cracking, and/or are heavily quest or plot-driven. They often involve wish fulfillment or worst-nightmare-come-true scenarios. Whether it’s about the only two kids left searching for water on a seemingly dry planet in the year 2111, or about two kids running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art over forty years ago, readers that age seem to love the “what if” scenarios that they might never attempt in their own lives. Though, for the record, I did have two friends who tried to get locked in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sadly, a security guard found them and kicked them out!

When you’re reading a submission or just for your own pleasure, what grabs you first: voice or plot?

AH: Voice grabs me first and foremost when I read for pleasure. That’s true to some extent when I read for work too. But I know both editors and kid readers are very ken on the plot-driven-pull-you-in-and-don’t-let-go books that are popular these days. So I’d say plot is a huge factor in my decision in whether or not to represent a book. However, a great voice is certainly of paramount importance. The two are by no means mutually exclusive!

And speaking of submissions, are you currently seeking to expand your author list? And if so, what kind of submissions are you eager to find?

AH: I’m always looking for well-written and commercial projects. I enjoy middle grade manuscripts with big swashbuckling plots from mystery to adventure to code cracking to wish fulfillment. I’m a sucker for anything with a classic feel, like THE PENDERWICKS and THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY. On the YA side, I love epic romances of all stripes, be they historical, dystopian, etc. I’m also keen on finding a YA Stieg Larson, and I’d love a snarky contemporary that retails a classic story. I take email queries only. You can email me at ahenkin@tridentmediagroup.com

Bobbie Pyron’s book (agented by the fabulous Alyssa Eisner Henkin) A DOG’S WAY HOME hits bookstores the end of this month!


9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Joanne  •  Feb 16, 2011 @9:58 am

    Great post. It’s so good to hear different perspectives about the industry. Thanks to Bobbie and Alyssa for sharing these insights.

  2. brian_ohio  •  Feb 16, 2011 @1:44 pm

    Great Interview. I’ll have to check out some of her favorite authors.

  3. Karen Schwartz  •  Feb 16, 2011 @3:20 pm

    Great interview! I like a lot of the same authors too. Look forward to reading your book, Bobby!

  4. Bobbie Pyron  •  Feb 16, 2011 @6:49 pm

    Thanks all! She is really a delight. We sort of have our own little book club and love to talk about books we’re reading. She’s the one who turned me on to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Help. We love talking books!

  5. Laurie Schneider  •  Feb 17, 2011 @12:47 am

    Thanks for the wonderful discussion. I especially enjoyed Alyssa’s take on what makes a story timeless.

  6. Brookefav  •  Feb 17, 2011 @2:45 am

    I love hearing from MG agents. Thanks for the great interview. I loved the definition of high concept.

  7. Mike Jung  •  Feb 17, 2011 @2:34 pm

    Thanks for a great interview! Alyssa seems like a high-quality agent AND person.

  8. Jean Reagan  •  Feb 18, 2011 @9:26 am

    Wonderful interview. I could “feel” the collaborative energy between you two!

    Jean Reagan

  9. shelli  •  Mar 3, 2011 @7:24 am

    alyssa is my agent and I love her.

    congards on book Bobbie :)