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While Writers & Illustrators Day on Feb. 25 gave attendees a roadmap for projects upcoming and in progress, it also was a day to honor the creative and volunteer success of SCBWI members. Read on to find out the winners of the Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement Award, Crystal Kite Awards and Writers & Illustrators Day writing and illustration contests.

The 2016 Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement Award, selected from member nominations and presented to an SCBWI member for outstanding volunteer service, went to Jill Tuckman, SCBWI-LA webmaster.

Jill-Tuckman-SASE2Here’s what Sally Jones Rogan, SCBWI-LA co-regional advisor, said when presenting the award:

“This year’s winner has earned a reputation for reliability, ingenuity, common sense and dedication to our SCBWI-LA region, even during times of rough personal sailing. Her quiet expertise regularly helps service the needs of over 1,400 members and most don’t even know it. Her contribution to children’s literature takes the form of maintaining the vehicle for our many talented members to help reach their personal goals through a myriad of media informational avenues and a new and improved online critique exchange.

“Personally, I am constantly surprised when sending frantic night-owl emails for last-minute updates (that needed to be done, ‘like, yesterday’), are calmly answered (she’s still up too), with reassurance that it’ll be done. Quite frankly, we couldn’t do without her and I know Nutschell and Kim, all the Advisory Board members, LitMingle coordinators, and anyone who’s ever signed up with ease for an LA event or utilized our LA web pages, are in agreement.”

Tuckman, a digital artist, has been the LA region’s webmaster since 2014.

“I was 100% surprised to receive the SASE for 2016,” Tuckman said.  “We have a lot of dedicated volunteers in the region who are equally deserving. Nevertheless, in this adventure in writing and illustrating, where everything is so subjective that it’s hard to know if we’re doing anything “right,” it was nice to feel like I’m doing something at least somewhat “right.” I am happy to continue working on the website–we’re already setting up pages for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books–with the hope that the site is a positive resource for our members.”

CrystalKite-WheelerWonCrystal Kite Award

The Crystal Kite Award is a member-choice award from SCBWI’s 15 regional divisions. Winners for 2016 are illustrators Brian Won for Outer Space Bedtime Race (written by Rob Sanders)  and Eliza Wheeler for Wherever You Go (written by Pat Zietlow Miller). Both Won and Wheeler served as Writers & Illustrators Day faculty.

Writers & Illustrators Day Writing Contest Winners

Four grand-prize winners in the writing contest won a written critique from a faculty member and free tuition to next year’s event. Included below are comments from the judges on each first-place winner.


Picture Book category:

Winner: The Elephant Road by Cheryl Bommarito Klein
Lyrical writing and an intriguing backdrop set the stage for an endearing story of friendship between two elephants. “The road is long. Sanaa arrives at the hot and dusty tree with a hot and dusty thirst. She stretches her trunk as high as she can and grasps the bark of the tree, just as her mother had taught her.” Sprinkled with non-fiction elements, readers will delight in this tale, without noticing they’ve learned things along the way.

Runners-up: Harry Sleeps by Kay Slowey-Sly and Moving Again by Kara B. Wilson

Other category:

Winner: Trails of Light in the Darkness: One Boy’s Story of the Iranian Revolution by Sara Bayles

Filled with sensory details, this non-fiction picture book takes the reader into the heart of Iranian culture. We taste the eggplants, tomatoes, and pistachios. We hear the laughter, the clinking of dice, the street music. These rich descriptions of pre-revolutionary Iran make the disruption of young Oshin’s life even more heartbreaking when war begins. Though the story takes place decades ago, the themes resonate today: A child’s life disrupted by war. A family separated. The adjustment to life in a new land. Author Sara Bayles’ story of her husband’s boyhood is nonfiction picture-book writing at its best.

Middle Grade category:

Winner: Red Pioneers by Cindy Marcus

A science fiction novel with wonderful world-building featuring a feisty 13-year-old called Abra Dalton who lives in Hubble City on Mars. From the Scribey smart watch Abra wears to the POD system that automates everything in her home, the technological details are fascinating. But Abra also has an intriguing personal story – her mom abandoned the family and her all-important dad has saddled her with looking after her younger brother. Keeps the reader eager for what happens next.

Runners-up: Soni & Professor P by Kristen Baum and The Great Rainy Schmidt by Kate O’Shaughnessy

Young Adult category:

Winner: Eye of the Gods by Christina Wise

Features a history-loving teen named Andrea whom we meet as she visits her grandmother in Greece. Rich details of setting and character frame a growing sense of mystery as Andrea puzzles over Grandma’s odd knickknacks and superstitions. What is the secret of Gram’s past? Did that statue of Aphrodite just smile at her, or are both she and Gram completely cracked?

Runners-up: Animacy by Jeannette Manning and The Nine by Kes Trester

Writers & Illustrators Day Illustration Contest Winners

The first place winner in each category received free tuition to next year’s Writers & Illustrators Day (or equivalent event). All winners received gift certificates to the event bookstore.

 Winners: Black & White Illustration

Prompt: “This was the last chance and Pat was going to take it.”


First place by J.R. Krause

J.R. Krause has worked on many popular animated television shows, and partners with his wife Maria Chua to write and illustrate their bilingual children’s picture books featuring Poco Loco. Find him at www.jrkrause.com


Second Place by Laura Belevica

Latvian artist, architect, illustrator and storyteller, Laura Belevica, is now based in Los Angeles after a decade living and working in Shenzhen, China.


People’s Choice by Molly Ruttan

Molly Ruttan, a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, as well as mother and musician, won SCBWI’s illustration mentorship in 2015. Find her at  www.mollyruttan.com.

Winners: Color Illustration

Prompt: “Don’t bring Lulu.”


First place by J.R. Krause

In case you missed it, Krause also won first place in the black and white category.


Second Place and People’s Choice by Tony Piedra

With nine years of experience animating films at Pixar, Tony Piedra turns his talent toward children’s literature with the release of his debut picture book, The Greatest Adventure (Fall 2018). www.tonypiedrastudio.com

Marcelle Greene, SCBWI-LA contest coordinator, contributed to this story.

Images by Christine Van Zandt and individual illustrators.

Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she is writing — and rewriting — a picture book and a middle grade novel. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda