SCBWI+ The Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award

This time on the SCBWI+ series, Elizabeth Frattaroli talks to Kim Larsonwho won last year’s Ann Whitford Paul Award with her rhyming picture book text Button's Adventure, and Jessica Stremerwho was one of three runners-up to receive an honourable mention with her nonfiction manuscript Great Carrier Reef.

The Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Grant is an annual award open to SCBWI members with picture books who are not under contract and/or have not sold a picture book in the last five years. Winners receive a $1,000 grant to encourage the development of a picture book manuscript.

Ann Whitford Paul

Welcome to you both. How easy was it to submit to the award and what made you decide to go for it?

KimIt was super easy. As with most submissions, it can take longer to read and follow the directions perfectly than to apply. Agents, publishers, and contests all specify how they want to receive their submissions, so this is good practice. When I first learned that SCBWI gave awards and grants, I thought, why not apply? I had nothing to lose except a few minutes of my time. 

Jessica – I remember browsing the ‘Awards & Grants’ section of the SCBWI website and found the Ann Whitford Paul Award was open for submissions. My nonfiction picture book manuscript, Great Carrier Reef, had received positive feedback from an editor during a recent SCBWI event, so I took a chance and submitted it. The submission process was fairly straightforward. After hitting send, I focused on other projects, not thinking my manuscript stood a chance at being selected.

Kim, how did you feel when you found out you had won?

Kim Larson, winner of the Ann Whitford Paul Award in 2021

Kim – I had missed Ann’s initial phone call, but she’d left a message stating she had good news. My returned call went to her voicemail. Because it was evening, I imagined a restless night ahead of me waiting to hear. She had said her name without using ‘Whitford’, so I wondered if she was a daughter or daughter-in-law of the famous author. I couldn’t believe it was truly her. I had twice read Ann’s book Writing Picture Books, but I knew little else about her. So, I spent the next half hour searching online for answers. I learned she was 80 years old, which didn’t answer my question because her voice sounded so young.  

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul, Writer's Digest Books; Second Edition, Revised (30 Nov. 2018)

Ann returned my call an hour later, and the only lost sleep that night was from the exciting news. I was shaking inside and out when I answered the phone. Of course, I had hoped to win, but I was still shocked — and elated! Then I had to ask, “Are you the Ann Whitford Paul?” 

Ann laughed and confirmed it was her. She told me how much she and the committee loved my story. Ann was so gracious and complimentary, saying they had picked my story out of 1,200 submissions. She asked if I had an agent, which I still do not, and said someone from SCBWI would call me with names of agents and publishers to help get this story published. She also mentioned I’d receive a $1,000 cheque in the next few weeks. 

They had picked my story out of 1,200 submissions. She asked if I had an agent, which I still do not...the winning story is still unpublished. [Editors: ATTENTION AGENTS!]

As for the winning story, Button’s Adventure, it is still unpublished. 

I wrote this story while learning to use mentor texts. Inspired by Miranda Paul's Water Is Water picture book, I used a similar rhyme-pattern to write about a button that goes on an adventure. 

And Jessica, what was it like hearing you’d received an Honourable Mention out of so many entries?

Jessica Stremer, honour recipient of the Ann Whitford Paul Award in 2021

Jessica – When my phone rang it took my brain a few seconds to register what I was hearing. That out of more than a thousand entries, my manuscript was in the top four! At this point Great Carrier Reef was on submission with a handful of editors. This accomplishment boosted my confidence that it would sell, and in fact, I received an offer from my amazing editor at Holiday House Publishing not too long after. 

Do you feel winning the award has had an impact on your writing career and, if so, in what way?

Kim –The award encouraged me greatly when I needed it. Writing had been my dream for years, so when my employer laid me off in 2010, I began writing full-time. But I didn’t focus on picture books until 2018. First, I wrote short stories, poetry, two novels, and a Bible study. In January 2020, I decided to self-publish my Bible study, knowing a traditional publisher would not take a chance on me without my having a huge platform. But the book sold well, despite COVID, and I received so much positive feedback that in January 2021, I started writing a devotional. I had not given up on picture books, but I felt discouraged. Winning the award gave me the boost I needed. The next month, I received a state grant to continue writing picture books. I took both wins as signs that I was supposed to write in this genre.  

JessicaNatascha Morris of the Tobias Literary Agency was already my agent when I wrote Great Carrier Reef. I believe it was on submission when I applied for the award, but I had not yet received an offer. While the award didn't directly affect the sale of that manuscript, I'm honoured to be able to include it in my bio section for future submissions.

Would you have any advice for those thinking of entering?

Kim APPLY! You have nothing to lose by entering any of SCBWI’s award contests. I often remind myself that writing is subjective. Not everyone will love your story, but it only takes one person (or a committee) who does, to open doors for you. I would also suggest sending the story that has received the most positive feedback — and feels ready for publication. Also, I noticed Ann describes the previous winner’s stories as lyrical or rhyming, so that might be her taste.  

Jessica – For anyone thinking of applying, go for it! You have nothing to lose. Choose whichever piece you feel is strongest and has the best potential at standing out in a crowd.

Finally, would you like to tell us a little about what you’re working on now?

Kim – Lots of picture books! I have a goal to write a new story each month. Every January, I participate in Tara Lazar's Storystorm, which provides daily blog posts to generate story ideas. The KidLit community is beyond helpful and encouraging. I subscribe to several author websites to learn as much as possible from them. My most recent story is epistolary, about a little girl who writes letters to her mail carrier. It’s fun to try new structures — like the first time I wrote in rhyme. You never know, you might win the Ann Whitford Paul award!  

Jessica – Great Carrier Reef will debut summer of 2023. In the meantime, I'm revising a few nonfiction picture book manuscripts, researching new topics, and putting the final touches on a middle-grade nonfiction proposal. I love writing about facts or events in a way that makes the reader feel like they are part of the story. Nonfiction doesn't have to be boring. I enjoy writing books for children that instill curiosity, wonder and respect for our natural world. There are so many interesting nonfiction topics that have yet to be explored, and I aim to write about as many of them as possible.

With thanks to Kim and Jessica, and congratulations to you both again.

The submissions deadline for the award is the 10th of April 2022, so there’s still plenty of time to apply. Further details on how to apply can be found here.

Authors' photos supplied by the authors. 

Elizabeth Frattaroli is a YA and MG writer who lives by the sea near Dundee. She has been longlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award, the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award, and is on Twitter as @ELIZFRAT.


  1. Thanks for doing such a great job on this article and for including me!


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