CMA Event: Dice, Digits, and Dreams

Games are old hat to me. I bust out this card game at Starbucks, I used to be a gaming blogger, and I helped promote this. While the trend of gamification in all aspects of children’s media may be new, the principles and rules of gaming are in my blood.

But that’s not true of everyone. And that’s why Russell Ginns spoke to CMA members on Monday, August 11.

Russell Ginns

Hi, Russell!

As Executive Producer of Big Yellow Taxi, Russell’s job is to help people make great games. In order to do that, Russell spends an awful lot of time clarifying what does and does not make a good game. There was a lot to cover, and Russell encouraged us to follow his presentation for offering prizes to anyone who spotted errors.

Russell Giving me a Book

I found one!

The first thing he discussed was the ubiquity of games in today’s world, both in kind and quantity. “We are living in a game world,” Russell said, where everything is turning into a game. Pretty much every consumer product, from toothpaste and television shows to language learning software, feels the need to make a game in order to engage its audience… and that means breaking down all sorts of non-gaming activities into levels and turn-based play and reward systems.

And it all started with board games.

10 Points

In Russell’s experience, there are 10 key rules to remember when trying to make a good game:

  1. Games need to end

If not, people — especially kids — get bored and angry, and the adults “pray for death,” as Russell put it.


Especially you, Candy Land
  1. No one reads the rules

Don’t expect your players to be different.

  1. A quiz with a track is not a game

Trivial Pursuit and The Game of Life were products of their time. Today’s consumer demands something different.

Trivial Pursuit

 This is not a game. No matter how much of a genius it is.
  1. Flipping it around can make it fun
  2. Kids can be the anti-player

Adding the element of surprise to a group of seasoned players, and creating fun all around

  1. The best games put YOU to work

You’re not just doing an activity; you’re engaged in an interactive experience

  1. There is room on the store shelf for 10 games

Target, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, & Toys ‘R Us are the largest toy outlets in this country. After they stock their shelves with the big brands, there’s only room for a handful of games.

  1. Brands rule… but there are exceptions

See above. Also, Monopoly tends to thrive on cross-brand promotion with all kinds of limited edition sets — my favorite is the Klingon one.

Klingon Monopoly

This exists! And made my mother SO happy!
  1. Hobby games are a hobby

“Settlers of Catan” is A HOBBY. It’s the best-selling hobby game of all time, and they only sell 15,000 per year. It’s numbers are low… but it’s fans are devoted. “It’s like a different industry,” Russell explained.

10. Nobody wants your word game

EVERY game company has a word game – and they have to work ALL THE TIME to sell it. Because EVERY company has one.

11. is the ultimate resource

It existed before the internet.

Did you count 11 things in that top 10 list? So did I!

Me and my Book That’s why I won a prize!

There are lots of games that use these rules well:

Blokus allows for kids as young as 1 to play alongside adults and act as an anti-player.


Pretty Pretty Princess is a perfect daddy-daughter game that dads really seem to enjoy playing (“It’s okay,” Russell explained. “For a Princess accessorizing game, it’s weirdly gender-neutral”).

sleeping beauty

Tumblin Dice is a game that nobody’s heard of but works wonders in a crowd, drawing people who don’t play games (and is “incredibly mean-spirited,” which Russell found fun).

tumblin dice

Taboo, like many great party games (Apples to Apples, Pictionary), is a tool to make people feel smart and learn about each other in a group setting (“Someone put a LOT of work into making that game,” Russell praised).


It’s a bit trickier to translate those experiences to digital.

150,000 Apps in the App Store

Back when there were only 150,000 games in the app store, iTunes built a business model on getting people to pay for apps. Consumers were trained to go to the app store and pay for games. Anything that was on the web, mobile or otherwise, was free. That same model “will likely be taken back to the web,” Russell explained. Even though the user base for Android users is growing faster: Android users rarely pay for apps.

A little while ago, when there were 750,000 games in the app store, exposure and novelty were a lot harder to come by. Now there are over 900,000 games in the app store, and the rules have changed:

  1. Everything old is new again

Ideas that first came to life on CD-ROM re-surfaced a bit in the app world.

  1. You won’t get on Oprah. Or go viral

Those strategies may have worked as a novelty back then, but now they are absolutely no substitute for figuring out how to reach your audience

  1. Your version of “Angry Birds” probably won’t do as well

The company that made that game made 50 other games. They are not flashes in the pan. And remember: whatever gets featured on 60 Minutes or in The Wall Street Journal tends to be what the vast majority of consumers buy. Can you get that exposure?

Russell Ginns2

Russell’s keeping it real
  1. The top of the funnel can kill you

Don’t make your consumers register before playing the game. Most won’t. Would you?

  1. IAPs might be a successful path. Or they might wreck you.

In-app purchases can ruin the experience of smooth gameplay. Test your app first, and think about how players are making purchases in it. And if you make it so that players are forced to buy products in order to play properly, your game is broken.

InAppPurchasesDON’T DO THIS.

6.  You are not smarter than Steve Jobs

You can’t bypass the app store’s fees. Accept that. In fact, learning to promote your app in the store will allow you to make more money than the 15% you think you’d save by bypassing the store.

  1. It’s probably not the best way to get your feature film out there

Meaning, don’t try to translate some other project of yours into a game. ESPECIALLY if you don’t like games. “There’s nothing worse than science fiction written by people who don’t like science fiction,” Russell confirmed.

So how does all of that apply to educational games, the bread and butter of the CMA crowd?

CMA Audience

This crowd

“The customer is NOT the consumer,” Russell summarized. Educational games are made for children and sold to adults – and no kid in the history of EVER has asked for “Hooked on Phonics.” As much as educational game makers might want to change the world, at the end of the day they still have to make a game that’s fun and engaging. As Jim Henson famously said of Sesame Street, “If you’re going to watch TV, this is less bad for you.”


No argument there, Jim.

And if you’re going to make an educational game? It better be pitched at kids ages 3-5. And about reading.

Fun fact: 80% of all educational games are for Kindergarten and Preschool age kids, 15% are for 1st and 2nd graders, and 5% for everyone else. That’s the buying pattern for parents – buy educational things before they get into school to help them get a jumpstart, but once they’re in school the buying pattern switches to supplies.

Also, 80% of those games above? Reading games.

“Parents are always teaching words and meanings,” Russell explained. Math might be about 10% of games. Maybe.

arthur reading games


Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  1. “Angry Birds” does not teach you physics

“Angry Birds” work because it’s well-executed. If you’re trying to teach something in a game, the player has to learn something they didn’t know before playing it. “How much less fun are you going to make that game to teach something?” as Russell put it.

  1. If the kids have to read your directions, then they don’t need you to teach them to read

This sounds obvious, but a lot of games do this. A LOT.

  1. The game should NOT be a reward for enduring the punishment

Meaning, the educational parts interrupt the fun parts, making the game not fun to play and not a good teaching tool. This is “education as the punishment of getting to play a game,” according to Russell. And it is far too common.

Homestar102 2013-04-02 17-33-43-54

Even the internet knows this
  1. Parents will not use that dashboard

No matter how expensive it was to create. Dashboards for parents to review and track their child’s progress on a particular game are not integral to the game – or, the player’s use of the game. “It’s putting all your effort and expense into something 4 people are going to use. And 2 people are never going to be happy with it.”

  1. “Do as I say, not as a I do” = The NPR Effect

Or, just because you read the rules, use the dashboard, and watch PBS, don’t expect that half of the country does, too.

  1. Grandma is 48

Designers keep wanting to create games “for granny to pass down for her grandkids” and they don’t realize that granny isn’t the sweet, old, cookie-baking granny that they have.


Like this!

While those points could have gone on all day, Russell closed his chat by listing discussions that will never die. They are:

  • Your violent games are responsible for war and violence

“Usually, the answer is ‘You’re a horrible parent, because how did the kid get the $59 game??’”

  • We need games for girls
  • We need to protect the children with a magic chip and/or more laws
  • Your game helps predators reach more kids
  • If only Pokemon could be used to teach

“If Pokemon taught anything, kids wouldn’t play it”

9 More Things to Know About

And then he gave us 9 More Things to Know About

Russell wrapped up his talk and we launched into a spirited Q& A. Here are the highlights:

  • While he’s not sure of stats on girls who game, Russell was quick to point out that the rise of casual and mobile gaming, specifically the Wii, attracted more girls to gaming – not because those platforms were “girl friendly,” but because they offered better content. “I think the answer was not change the world, but keep making great games,” he said. “We’re on our way to parity, because everyone’s playing great games.”
  • Kickstarter is a great place for hobbyists, or anyone who has a specific niche of the gaming audience they’re trying to reach – and especially helpful if you can get a celebrity attached (like with the Reading Rainbow campaign)
  • The Sesame Street Encyclopedia is “an infinite crazy illustrated warehouse of ideas” for creative types. Just flip to a random page and be inspired by Oscar on roller skates.
  • Playing Angry Birds for several hundred hours may or may not make your child’s physics textbook easier to understand.

Russell is a fount of gaming info and is open and eager to chat. Check him out at Big Yellow Taxi and hit him up to chat games. He’ll happily tell you.

Russell's Latest Project

And show you his new series!

Lastly, remember that a game is broken if a player can’t figure out what to do and it stops being fun – and that isn’t obvious to every player. As someone who keeps turning to her DS when she gets stuck writing this post, I would have never asked that question. I would have never thought to ask that question. But what I appreciate about CMA is its diversity, and someone did ask that question. And we all learned something because of it.

The_Legend_of_Zelda_-_Spirit_Tracks_(Europe) This is NOT a broken game. And super fun.

That’s my favorite part of CMA. And Russell was able to facilitate that for us.

Even if he didn’t actually hand out anymore prizes. Oh well. Don’t worry, Russell. We’ll crack your rules.

CMA Event: Problem Solving with “Peg + Cat”

Question: How long does it take an animated show to go from script to screen?

Answer: 1 episode delivered every 2 weeks + a 33 week production cycle = Peg + Cat.

Creators Billy Aronson and Jennifer Oxley spoke to CMA members in New York and Boston (thanks to our first ever live stream!) on Monday, August 4th. They were both giving, generous people, and walked us through every bit of the show’s development from pitch to becoming a PBS hit.

But first, they told a bit about themselves.

IMG_6349HINT: they’re wacky

Billy was a playwright with a quirky sense of humor and a knack for writing musical lyrics, so naturally kids TV was a perfect fit. Apparently, Beavis and Butthead was, too. He ended up on The Wonder Pets! and ultimately met Jennifer. Jennifer was born in Hollywood and made her way to NYU. She found herself drawing and directing all sorts of lovely things like Little Bill and The Wonder Pets! where she met Billy. Linda Simensky approached her for a math show and she thought of Billy immediately. They came up with the idea for Peg + Cat and pitched it – alongside 34 other companies responding to the PBS RFP for a math show .

Peg + Cat was chosen, and the rest is history.

Before they walked us through everything that makes Peg + Cat special, they showed us an un-aired episode (yet another reason why you need to come to these events!). Then they walked us through all of the steps they go through to make one.

There are 11:

  1. Treatment
  2. Script
  3. Testing
  4. Production Design
  5. Composer
  6. Beat Board
  7. Storyboard/Animatic
  8. Voice Record
  9. Rigging & Animation
  10. SFX Final Mix
  11. Music

The hardest step? Step 1—The Treatment. All the major plot points for the episode are outlined in 2-4 pages. And the math. “The drama has to teach the math,” Billy explained, and since math is fundamental to the plot of every single episode of Peg + Cat, the math needs to be integral to the story – as in, the story needs to be one that teaches a math concept and uses it successfully to accomplish the plot. Which isn’t easy for one episode of a series, let alone the entire thing. Yet, if they can’t find a story to demonstrate a math concept they’ll shelve it until they can. That is how seriously they take the math component of this show.

Which is really handy given that the next step is sending the treatment to math experts to make sure it meets PBS’ curriculum standards.


They brought a whole slide to prove it

Once that’s all approved, they’re on to Step 2 – The Script. Each is 25 pages long, and while that sounds like a lot for an 11-minute episode those 25 pages need to fit a whole plot. And 3-act structure to support said plot. And lots of song lyrics. Phew! They streamline everything they can, then send it off to PBS for notes.  After they get it back, they move to Step 3 – Testing. A tester tests the script by screening a rough animatic of it to school kids, annotating how the kids react to the concepts taught in the show. If something’s unclear, or the kids are confused, the tester reports that back to Billy and Jennifer and they rework it in the script.

After the script is solid, they go into Step 4 – Production Design, which is Jennifer’s favorite part.  While the characters were designed to be as simple as possible in order to allow kids to draw them, the world of Peg + Cat was designed to look like math: the graph paper background pattern, infinity sign clouds, advanced equations hiding in the backgrounds. And since Peg and Cat can go anywhere, every single location has its own distinct look.


Even 18th Century Vienna — and yes, that’s the actual score to Beethoven’s 5th as the background

Next is Step 5 – The Composer. This is WAY earlier than most shows, but that’s because Peg + Cat has a ton of songs. About math.  And are trying to make learning math cool. They need the extra time. The process starts when the writer supplies lyrics, the lyrics go to the composer, and there’s a lot of back and forth between the composer and both Billy and Jennifer until they’re all happy with the song’s sound and purpose. Jennifer checks to make sure the song helps the plot flow and is long enough to properly fill its chunk of the story. And the composer even sings all of the parts himself for the demo.

The script is timed out with all of these songs to give Billy and Jennifer an accurate approximation of the episode’s runtime, and then they move on to Step 6 – The Beat Board. A Beat Board is a series of rough storyboards timed out to the music.  This is another unusual step since most shows don’t get a locked board before the storyboard/animatic stage, but Jennifer pointed out that using these boards helps the animators visualize the show before storyboarding, saving time, money, and their sanity.  Then they move into Step 7 – The Storyboard. The Beat Board is fleshed out into a full storyboard, with about 135 scenes boarded to music and presented in Quicktime.


We’re furiously taking notes

Step 8 – Voice Record is next, and that honor belongs to Hayley Negrin and Dwayne Hill.  They’re Peg and Cat, respectively, and recorded at the 9ate7 Brooklyn soundstage. It was really important to Jennifer and Billy that they find a girl who could carry the show and still sound authentic rather than too polished. They found that in spades with Hayley, whose audition video 4 years ago was both authentic and adorable.  In order to get that authentic performance out of Hayley, Jennifer gets in the booth with her and does equal parts inspire, cheerlead, and direct. Recording for swing voices and other incidentals are done in Toronto.

After the voices are recorded, it’s on to Step 9 – Rigging and Animation. Jennifer was very clear about the character design looking like traditional animation. She also wanted to make sure the characters moved in a way that had a “squishy blob feel” rather than the super clean look of CGI. She spoke to rigging artists and they mocked up a rig in After Effects that was better than she hoped.  She showed us a demo of it, and it made the characters as easy to move as paper dolls – and saves money in getting movements right the first time.


Jennifer is SUPER happy with this rig

Step 10 – SFX & Final Mix is next, and involves lots of back and forth. They work with the good folks at 9Story Entertainment in Toronto on this, making sure the mix helps to tell the story without leaving characters just standing around talking. They showed us a clip of an episode with just the sound effects to prove it. They do this all the time during this stage, to make sure that the animation is working. 9Story also heads up the community outreach content for the show, as well as providing them partial funding, which Jennifer admitted was both a huge blessing and a dream come true.

The very last step is Step 11 – Music. It’s all recorded live at the Brooklyn soundstage, on live instruments. And after this stage is finished, THE EPISODE IS DONE!

But now what?


Billy jumped right in to answer

“Nowadays, it’s not just the show. It’s what you do with it,” Billy and Jennifer shared. Transmedia is a big deal now, and because the show lives on lots of different platforms, new Peg + Cat content needs to be put on all of them. Website games, music app, DIY projects, ALL of them. All with math concepts.

It’s a lot of work, and both Billy and Jennifer admitted they were initially taken aback by It, but they think it’s great the characters live in so many different places. They were just cautious about finding a company that could build a web presence without aping or ruining the style.

They found it in CloudKid – and THIS is where the Boston folks came in.



Dave Schlafman, Creative Director of CloudKid, sat front and center on the live feed to tell us about the process of creating a web world fitting Peg + Cat. They started working with show when Billy and Jennifer were creating the pilot. They too found that making math fun as an interactive experience was a big challenge, but they did their best to do it – and the web gave them direct access to their audience in a way television did not. They created the very first web games for Peg + Cat and they’re amazed by how the technology has changed since then. And what it’s allowed them to do. “It’s been really rewarding,” he said, “and awesome to see [the show] come to life” online.


Hi Dave!

Audience Q & A was next. It was lively and generous. Here are some of the things we learned:

  • Rewrites happen at every stage of the process, and they try not to have pickups since their production schedule is incredibly tight. They do their best to get what they need out of each voice session so they don’t need pickups, and since Billy and Jennifer are present at each step of the process, it’s easier for them to get things right the first time.
  • The differences between working on The Wonder Pets! and Peg + Cat are profound. There’s more overlap between departments, for one thing. They have to raise money themselves, for another. And, the biggest change of all, they’re responsible for their own transmedia outreach.  Also they have to write to curriculum, which is EXTREMELY different.
  • Integrating additional STEM elements into each episode gets tricky. Billy clarified that the show focuses on teaching math more than the other sciences, but they will use common sense and good judgment to do their best to incorporate others. It’s all about setting and clarifying the rules of the each place Peg and Cat visit.
  • Teenagers write in to tell Billy and Jennifer how much they love the show. And they’re finding all those hidden higher-level equations. Yes, really.


AMNH’s Carl Wynter, asking the STEM question

Lastly, Billy and Jennifer generously offered a tour of their 9ate7 studio as a raffle prize – and the bidding was fierce! Folks were chiming in fast and furious in both Boston and New York. A New Yorker ultimately won, netting a nice chunk of change for a future CMA event, and showing us that we TOTALLY need to do more raffles.

And get more showrunners in to chat. Billy and Jennifer were incredibly gracious, encouraging people, and they made us all feel like we could make our own Peg + Cat. Billy even encouraged me when I chatted with him about being a frustrated playwright. That spirit of genuine helpfulness is what I love best about children’s media – and Billy and Jennifer have it in spades.

Thanks, guys. And keep up the great work.


And the albums!

CMA Blog Post: Networking Topics for the CMA Mixer

Hi, everybody!

Eager to catch up with all your CMA buddies at the mixer, but have been too busy this summer to know what to talk about?

Don’t worry! I got you covered.

Here are some ideas for networking topics:

  • The immensely successful “Reading Rainbow” Kickstarter Almost $6.5 million dollars were raised by almost 106,000 people, making it the 5th Most Funded Kickstarter Ever… and allowing 13,000 underfunded classrooms to have full access to its awesome app. FOR FREE. What does this mean for other fundraisers? What other properties can apply the lessons of this Kickstarter? Is Levar Burton a Time Lord? Discuss!


Seriously: the man hasn’t aged a day.
  • Mercury Active’s Incredebooks utilize apps, 3D technology, and customized music and sound effects inside a hardcover book to bring us the next wave of augmented e-books. Are they the next big thing? What kind of books does that format work best for? Is this a precursor to the “Star Trek” Holodeck? Discuss!

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 12.07.19 PM

Look at it! That’s TOTALLY the Holodeck.
  • Hasbro teamed up with Shapeways to let its fans 3D print (and sell!) their own My Little Pony designs, continuing their support of the Maker movement and allowing their fans to continue interacting with the brand. What other companies should employ this model? What does this mean for Hasbro? Stroke of genius, or step 1 in world domination? Discuss!

Shapeways MLP

Own your own custom Rainbow Dash! For $65!
  • Canada’s ToonBox studios opened a studio in L.A. due to the success of its debut film The Nut Job. What does this mean for Dreamworks? Will they become the West Coast Blue Sky? The Nut Job made money?? Discuss!


Fact: I don’t know anyone who saw this.
  • Hulu and NCircle inked an exclusive deal allowing US Hulu subscribers be able to watch NCircle content (Word World, anyone?). NCircle will also be releasing new content exclusively to the Hulu platform. Will this become the next Netflix for children’s media? Will this deal begin the downfall of the Amazon Studios project? Discuss!


More Word World = yes, please!
  • DHX Media made its first major step in taking over Family Channel, paving the way for further Canadian takeover of Disney X D and Disney Jr English and French channels. What does that mean for the properties involved? Is this a new trend towards potential monopolies in children’s media? Will Canada finally see new episodes of Teletubbies? Discuss!


Answer: YES. Yes there will be new Teletubbies.

Other Topics:

  • Here’s a tidbit you may have busted out at the last networking event: Grant McCracken’s keynote speech from Kidscreen back in March about how the marathoning trend prompts content makers to create shows that work in that binge format. And buyers are looking to buy it. Will this mean the return of the 5-episode plot arc (ala “Duck Tales”) to kids programming? How can content makers craft a show to have marathoning appeal? Is this whole trend argle bargle or fooferaw? Discuss!
DuckTales_Title_CardAdmit it: you remember their 5-parters WAY better than the bottle episodes.
  • The smiley face logo has his own network A development deal, too, with one animated series already on the way. What logo will be next? Will it play “Happy” 24/7? Does that face have a name? (yes: my friends and I named him Fred back in 7th grade.)


Seriously: this is happening
  • Asylum Studios, makers of the best guilty pleasure junk on the planet, inked a development deal with Ashley Tisdale’s production company, Blondie Girl. Commence the undead “High School Musical” jokes!

blondie girl

I can hear your jokes already
  • What is Nickelodeon doing with “The Legend of Korra”? They’re showing 5 episodes at a time online, exclusively, rather than marathoning them on the network like they did for the Season 3 open. It’s an odd tactic for a show they’re struggling to build a fanbase for. Especially since they’re featuring “Avatar: the Last Airbender” content on the web portal instead of the Korra stuff. What do you think they’re up to?


Come on,  Nick. This show is awesome. Figure it out. Please?

Inside the Trenches: Editing the CMA Writers Group Book

Whether your idea of a perfect summer activity involves chilling at the beach, riding every roller coaster in the tristate area, or just curling up with a good book, I bet there’s one thing you’d never consider doing.

Writing a book with 20 other people.

And I double bet you’d run screaming from editing it.

Yet 4 of us CMA-ers chose to spend our summer this way. I’m one of those 4. Here’s some insight to what it’s like spending your summer hunched over a fat stack of paper while inhaling highlighter fumes.Books

We volunteered! For fun!

As you know, the CMA Writers Group has been working on a book this year. I can’t tell you what it’s about (under penalty of catapult!), but I can tell you that we’ve been meeting every month and handing in pages. Giving insightful feedback on each other’s work. Sharing ideas. Asking tough questions and brainstorming answers. It’s a 20-person mix of talents and perspectives, and while 3-hour plus meetings with 19 other people exhausts my inner introvert I am immensely grateful to have my first taste of Writers Room experience. I just hope my future experiences are a wee bit smaller. (Seriously: 20 people in one room is A LOT to handle).

But after all of those discussions, and just before CMA took a summer break, the editing team walked away with a prize: a first draft of a manuscript.

Speaking as a writer, first drafts are what you write to discover your story. You barf out any and all ideas that interest you about your topic, look for the best bits, and remove anything that distracts from them. Then rewrite to make them shine. As many times as necessary. Until all you have left is a gem of a story.


It feels like this.

Editors are the people who help polish those gems.

Thankfully, everyone on this editing team has experience doing this sort of thing, whether it’s through publishing, digital, television, or other some other avenue of story development. All of us are objective. All of us are focused on story. All of us are willing to change what we need to to make the project great.

Which is great. ‘cause we’re dealing with 20 completely unrelated chapters.

No, that’s not right: we’re dealing with 20 different chapters with completely different characters, voices, devices, and plot structures. There’s no overarching story. No clear protagonist or stakes. Nothing that our target 10-year-old reader would be able to recognize as a story. An anthology, sure – but we voted against writing an anthology in favor of writing a story.

Three Act Structure DiagramLike this!

Since we’re looking at a first draft, we don’t have that yet. So how do we find it?

With different colored Post-It flags.

And tabs.

And pens.

And highlighters.

And a pencil (I ran out of pen colors).


I’m not kidding. Even though my highlighters have dogs on them.

In short, we read the thing. All the way through. Multiple times. And make notes. We’re reading for story structure, plot cohesiveness, grammar, tone, anachronisms, reading comprehension, and all that stuff that makes for a good story. Thankfully, we’ve got a surplus of story ideas to work with in this draft. We just have to figure out which ones we can use to tell a story that fits all of them.


Different colors = different threads. Captain Mickey Sparrow approves.

We took all of those ideas, charted the ones that were used most frequently, and brainstormed different story ideas that would work all of them together. We kept the ones that made the most sense, tossed the ones that didn’t, and eventually narrowed ourselves down to an idea that not only fits what we’ve got; it makes sense in its own right, is the most realistic story to tell based on the source material, and sounds really really fun.



Phew! Our next step is to take that big story, break its components into 20 sections, and figure out which chapters they go in. We’re wrapping that up now, and will be reporting back to the group with editing notes on how to write this thing soon. Along with notes on structure, plot, grammar, tone, reading comprehension, and all that other good stuff I said up above.

And that’s just Round 1.


Then we’re back here.

Both the Writing Group and the Editing Team have a LOT more work ahead of us before this manuscript becomes a book. But I don’t mind. I relish it. I chose to be on the editing team, after all, and I did it not just to bust out my television development skills; I did it to get the most out of this project. Editing this raw piece of work not only forced me to write my own chapter mindfully (so I could add to some of the great ideas ahead of me); it gave me a reason to read the whole work closely and absorb all the interesting, inventive tidbits people were adding. It’s rare to see that much creativity in one place and it’s a real privilege to help shape it.

But the best part? The solidarity. For all of the different perspectives in the CMA Writing Group, we’re all trying to make the best product possible. We’ve got the same goal in mind, and are intentionally and happily reaching out to help each other get there. As lonely and isolating as writing can be, this kind of group support is a real boon.

And it’s because of that support that I’m determined to make this the best book CMA will ever publish.

Fingers crossed!

(Shout out to Kristen McGregor for running this thing. It’s a HARD job. And she handles it with grace and perkiness. I admire that. And have no idea how she does it. Go, Kristen!)


Member Spotlight: Lisa Hollander-Parente

I would like to warmly welcome Lisa Hollander-Parente to the member spotlight chair.   Lisa has extensive experience in the children’s media industry, having been a writer, editor, and producer at various times throughout her career.  She shares how she got her start in the industry and offers some tips for those thinking about freelancing.  




Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

I just fell into it. I set out wanting to work in soap operas! I was taking a winter break seminar called the Director’s series in my junior year at LIU. Since we were so close to New York my professor was able to get several different directors to come talk to us each week. At the end of each class, I would speak to each guest thank them for coming to talk to us and hand them a resume saying that I was looking for an internship. A writer/director named Ronnie Krauss was the head writer for a show that was just beginning its 2nd season called Out of the Box. She passed my resume along and I got an internship. It wasn’t long into that internship that I realized that I loved everything about working there and this was the kind of television I wanted to create. I wanted to help entertain and educate kids. Occasionally I wander away from it but I always come back. It truly is my passion.

You have worn a few different hats throughout your career, including writer, editor, and producer. Ideally, what do you see as the next step on your professional journey?

I would like to actually take the time to gather my writing samples and take a shot at being a writer full time.

Do you have any tips or advice for people looking to transition into the freelance market? 

Know what your limitations are because as rewarding as freelancing can be, it can, and will, take over your life. Figure out what your boundaries are and move forward from there. I have worked with so many amazing people who at one point just left the industry because they couldn’t deal with the hours or constantly looking for a job. You need to love this and your family needs to understand it.

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now? 

I absolutely love the way that content is being used in a plethora of ways. One episode of a show can generate not only a TV show but a game, a book, and an app that will help kids really learn a specific lesson. It really is an amazing time to be in the children’s media game.

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

That’s easy. Oz. Although I wouldn’t mind visiting Hogwarts…

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

Currently I’m obsessed with Orphan Black. It is a tightly written story and brilliantly executed on every level. However I will pretty much watch anything written, produced or directed by Joss Whedon.

CMA Event: Through an Editor’s Eyes – The Joys of Keeping Classic Brands Fresh

Classic brands are classic for a reason: they’re fresh for generation after generation of readers. But how do they get that way?

CMA put together a panel to find out!

On Thursday June 12, CMA brought Diane Muldrow (Random House, Little Golden Books), Alice Jonaitis (Random House, Seuss), and Karen Halpenny (Sesame Digital) together to talk about just that. Lynn Kestin Sessler (Random House, Digital) moderated the panel – and jumped in on occasion.

Diane walked us through the world of Little Golden Books, exposing us to classics both old (Poky the Puppy) and new (How to Be a Superhero). That’s right: there are new Little Golden Books.  There are different kinds of new ones, too – “How To,” “How Do,” (like How Do Lions Say I Love You) and “I’m A,” all of which teach different things.  There’s even a new Richard Scarry book!

Classic Brands--LGB--Pirate Remember: pirates = awesome

Surprisingly, Little Golden Books are a great place for rookie writers – provided they can nail the style. There’s a feel and flavor to them that’s classic, but Diane stresses that they’re unapologetically “books of today.” In order to achieve that quality Diane and the team choose the subject matter carefully, asking if it’ll stay fresh for a long time and not become easily dated (like so many unfortunate titles from the 70s). As a friend put it, “You do trade books. They’re just Little Golden Books.”

Diane even wrote a Little Golden Book, she’s such a fan. No, really: she’d collected piles and piles of captions under her desk for years until she was forced to do something about them. The best thing about writing Everything I Learned I Learned from Little Golden Books was that it put attention back on Little Golden Books.

Classic Brands--Event Pic1

 She’s a bit of a Brand Ambassador, as you can see.

BIG TAKEAWAY – “Little Golden Books are an adult property. Everyone grew up with them. Stop thinking of them as a kids’ property!” Diane asserts.  And she’s right.

Alice has worked with Random House for her entire career and considers it an immense privilege to work on the Seuss franchise: “[It’s] unbelievable. It really is a dream come true… most of the time,” Alice says. It’s really a challenge to make work that Ted Geisel himself would be proud of, and the Seuss estate has really high standards… and so does her team. They’re very careful with the characters and the brand, and try a few different tactics to keep the brands fresh.

One method they use is perusing eBay for old magazine stories published by Ted. Yes, really: they’ve found 4 unpublished books that way, compiled them, re-colored them, got a Seuss scholar to do an introduction, and put out their first collection. The second one is coming out in Fall 2015!

Classic Brands--Event Pic2

And OF COURSE there’s more The Cat in the Hat

Another is looking at existing books and finding new ways to format them – like flapped board book adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, drawn by an artist who can mimic Ted’s style really well. Alice’s team doesn’t add anything new to the material; they simply make it available to younger readers.

The Cat in the Hat is the most iconic character Alice’s team is trying to keep alive.  He’s been around since 1957, in everything from dictionaries to Spanish and French language books to songbooks and drawing books. The latest format for The Cat is “The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library,” a series of nonfiction books born from Ted’s love of astronomy and natural history. Those books even led to a television series: “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That.”

Best of all, there’s a rhymed Spanish language edition of The Cat in the Hat coming out in Fall 2014 to address the needs of a growing Latino population. Because bilingual speakers want rhyming books, too.

CitH en Espanol

Mirarlo! Muy bueno!

Karen pointed out that rather than working for a publisher, she worked for a brand – meaning ALL of her work was Sesame Street. She shared all of the fun stuff Sesame was doing that she didn’t have a hand in: Research, where curriculum, show segments, and all digital properties are tested with kids; Relevance, where production, publishing, marketing, PR, and social media teams keep the brand fresh (including an HILARIOUS Twitter exchange between Grover and Will Wheaton) – and draw an audience that might otherwise miss them.

Grover at End of Tweet


Lastly, there’s Reinventing Stuff, where the YouTube channel (almost 1 million subscribers!), website, comics, and mission-driven apps (topical ones like incarceration and military deployment to one helping a 2-year-old during a tantrum) live.  They’ve got 60+ e-book titles on every platform, too, and 15 book-based apps. In short, Sesame harnesses the curriculum research to come up with new content for every platform they can create for. So they can reach different audience segments.

After all that, the panelists discussed how television has affected their properties. Alice responded that it’s done really well by Seuss, since the Chuck Jones How the Grinch Stole Christmas special is part of our collective Christmas experience, and “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” has generated new books.  Lynn added that books have inspired television episodes that inspired apps, so it’s all one big circle of content creation.

Classic Brands--Event Pic4

 Here they are, chatting about it for Sesame!

That question led to a larger discussion of how brands utilize technology and the different formats therein. While Little Golden Books has apps, Diane shared that they’re not huge yet because people are still so attached to the print format – even though they look great as e-books, too.  Alice chimed in on that, sharing that the Seuss backlist came out as e-books less than a year ago and it was a very big deal. They read each of the 66 books 6 times each, in order to make sure they were accurate. They even fixed the pages so the text never moved away from the art, in order to keep them the way Ted drew them.  It would never be a substitution for the original book, Alice stated, but it was a nice supplement.

Karen shared that print sales of The Monster at the End of This Book went UP after the app came out, and made a fantastic point: digital formats are great reminders. Digital is “in addition to, as opposed to ‘in place of,’” she said.  Children’s books took a while to come to digital because the pictures were so difficult to incorporate, and even now they’re still completely different reading experiences. That’s why print books are still the preferred medium for children’s books.

Classic Brands--LGB--Superhero

And who doesn’t want to open this right now and read it?

Lynn ran with this discussion, asking the panel about the future of kids reading. Karen shed some light on the differences in demographics, saying that tweens and teens have much higher conversions to digital. To them, digital’s easy, cool, accessible, and has instant gratification. Lynn agreed, adding that teenagers will buy the digital book then the print one as a trophy. Everyone found that encouraging.

And “rhyming rocks,” as Alice put it. Diane jumped all over this, saying that she gets lots of questions at SCBWI conferences about it. She suspects that one editor said, “We don’t publish rhyming books,” and has been refuting it ever since because Little Golden Books does! “Rhyming is good for the brain!” she adds.  It’ll always be a teaching tool – and Alice added that most beginner books rhyme because it helps early readers learn. Karen chimed in that rhyming is really hard to both make flow AND tell the story.


That’s why those books are particularly well-regarded.

The panel talked about lots of other fun stuff, too (what beloved brands of today will become classics of tomorrow?  How do you keep Seuss current and classic? What’s the story behind the gold binding on Little Golden Books?), so check out the CMA YouTube Page for all of that goodness.

In the end, the panel agreed that print books will never go away, and will be most important for the youngest readers. It’s up to the media makers to keep them interesting. And they’re doing just that.

So keep reading!

CMA Event: From Austria to Amazon – A Path to Publication

Everyone needs encouragement from time to time. Especially writers. Especially especially writers feeling stymied by the 18-month wait to get a 32-page picture book published. Those poor souls need hugs…

And Linda Ravin Lodding gave them.

Linda Lodding Bio Pic

Well, not hugs,per se (but I got one!). Encouragement. Linda Ravin Lodding (A Gift for MamaThe Busy Life of Ernestine BuckmeisterHold that Thought Milton!) spoke in front of her first adult audience on Tuesday, June 4, and gave us as much encouragement as she could muster.

Which, it turns out, was quite a lot.

After being introduced by dear friend and CMA Events Chair Lynn Kestin Sessler (Random House), Linda confessed that she was used to speaking to 8-year-olds and wasn’t quite sure what to say to us. So she did what all writers do: asked us what our favorite children’s stories were. After much hemming and hawing (it’s hard to pick one), we rattled off beloved favorites and rare gems, and felt like we’d gotten to know each other a little better… except I was, yet again, the only person who’d heard of (much less read) Dianna Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle.

HowlsMovingCastle Cover

I will stop pimping this book when you all read it. It’s THAT good. And under $5.

FUN FACT: Linda’s mom was in the audience – and her favorite book was Linda’s latest. Because she is a lovely woman. More on her later!

Linda then pulled out another good writer tactic: telling us a story. She framed her entire journey as a writer from NJ to Sweden and back as a way of encouraging us that writing can happen anywhere, at any time.

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: “There is no timeline on being a writer,” she told me later. “You can do it whenever you want.”

And she’s right!

The first book she fell in love with during her middle grade years was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She identified strongly with the protagonist, and that made her want to write her own stories. So she did. Poetry, too. She submitted both to major outlets and relished the rejection letters because they called her an author, making her feel like she was being taken seriously… and pushed her to keep trying.

By the time she got to college she was studying business, and even studied abroad in Stockholm where she met a cute boy. She followed him to Vienna when he got a job at the U.N., deciding to be brave and try something new. She gave herself an out (subleased her apartment – for 2 years, her mom added), but found herself in a new country, enrolled in a German class she was struggling in, and her senses were overloaded. And she was inspired to write.

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Get out of your comfort zone and have new experiences – not by moving across the ocean, mind you, but by learning something or doing something new.


You might just move down the street from the Austrian Shakespeare!

She experienced that same sense of newness again when she gave birth to her daughter. She was so excited to start reading to her and acquainting her with all of the books she loved, but getting English-language books was difficult so she started to think about writing her own stories. It was rough (her first attempts were admittedly “long on words, short on stories”), so she looked for a support system – she read books about writing, and even joined a writers’ group meeting in a café frequented by Freud. Ultimately she moved back to Stockholm and discovered a rich tradition of children’s literature (Pippi Longstocking, Elsa Beskow – the Beatrix Potter of Scandanavia – and the like are constantly re-printed so kids today can grow up with the same characters their parents did) that encouraged her to keep going.

CMA LL Event1

Even though she accidentally named her daughter after a super famous children’s character. Oops!

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Go to a Writers’ Conference and do a one-on-one critique with an editor. That kind of feedback is invaluable for your craft. Even if your book ultimately gets nixed (which happened to Linda) it’s still a valuable experience because it teaches you about the publishing process.

LINDA’S EXTRA ENCOURAGING TIP: When rejection happens, grieve, eat all the chocolate in the house, and learn from it so you can move forward in your career.


The official coping mechanism of picture book writers

Linda enrolled her daughter in an English-speaking school when she moved back to Vienna and joined her first online class. She had to read 5 books every day for a month and analyze them from multiple perspectives. It was tough, but the community and discipline really helped her hone her voice and storytelling abilities – such that reading children’s books today feels like a warm-up for her.

And that’s when she got her first big idea.

Her daughter was falling asleep in ballet class because she was overscheduled – as many children are. All over the world. Linda thought that idea would make an interesting picture book, so she wrote The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister. She submitted it to editors and got even better rejection letters than she got with her poetry. These were personalized… and that told her she was on her way to becoming a real author. She sent it to a boutique publication house which turned out to be great because they worked closely with her to develop a marketing plan (she finally got to use that business degree!) and even got involved in working with an illustrator–a rarity in the picture book world.

Linda was living in the Netherlands when Ernestine was published, and was enjoying the English books her daughter’s new school had access to. The Dutch ones, too (even though she didn’t read the language). Immersing herself in the local children’s literature inspired her to co-found the Holland chapter of the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: If you’re traveling in Europe, try to drop in on local SCBWI meetings. They’re in English, and very open to all writers.

Wassennar Netherlands

And Wassennar is so pretty!

Linda’s next idea came at the dinner table when her daughter kept trying to butt into the conversation and promptly typed out Hold That Thought Milton!. In pitching this book, she drew on her previous experiences and realized she had two markets to tap: English language in the US and abroad.

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Don’t just focus on English-speaking US markets. Check UK ones, too!

Linda made her way to the Bologna book fair where she showed her work to the editor who’d worked with her on Milton. She thought nothing came of it until 3 months later when the editor called and told her she’d found an illustrator.

LINDA’S ENCOURAGING TIP: Never give up! Just because you don’t hear anything for a while doesn’t mean you’re automatically rejected!

Sigtuna Sweden

Linda lived here in Sigtuna until last year. And was inspired by the Elsa Beskow/storybook quality of the place.

Linda used the last part of her story to frame her desire to write, expressing that her desire to write was born from longing to be understood. She found herself in places where she felt like a visitor, and learned that home is wherever you feel best understood. Home can be physical, figurative – or even a book. Her dream is to provide the adventure of finding that home to children for a long time to come.

The audience welcomed Linda’s story and peppered her with questions. Are there more differences between the European and US markets? Yes!, Linda answered. In general, the UK market takes more risks; the US YA market is more trend-based fiction (post-apocalyptic, vampires) whereas the UK YA market is issue-oriented fiction (environmental). They’ll even repackage the same book with different covers to market to both children and adults.

CMA LL Event2

Look at her, answering our questions!

How weird is it to not collaborate with your illustrator? Very! Linda admitted that her experience was different in that her editor kept her in the loop, but if the disconnect bothers you go the self-publishing route (which she doesn’t really know about but encourages you to look into).

Is it harder to sell yourself to an agent than a publisher, or should you let them bridge that gap for you in the US market? Almost, Linda said! She got an agent last year, and that was almost as hard as finding a publisher. She decided to do that herself because she wanted to learn the markets and keep on top where editors were going in order to better understand the business (and use her degree again!). It’s a full-time job to keep up with that.

Lastly, Linda stuck around, signing books and chatting with as many people as she could. She did her best to make everyone feel encouraged and welcome. Even her mom — who shared that she learned a whole lot that evening (her mom wished Linda would have pointed out how hard she works to put events together, or market herself because it’s very hard. They’re both full-time jobs, too!).

I talked with both of them.  I got hugs from both. And her mother gave me a double thumbs-up.

It was such a sweet surprise to meet someone who didn’t know me but was genuinely pulling for me. I didn’t expect that…

LL signed my book!

And it’s that reason – as well as all the encouragement Linda shared – that makes us think she’ll make her dream come true.

CMA Event: Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Makers – Oh My!

Gamified learning – or, the idea of using play to help reinforce learning – is a topic near and dear to my heart. It’s something I strive to do every day at na2ure, where I manage the creation of toys that aspire to teach biology. To kids as young as 5. By having them “build” animals from body parts the way they’d “build” a word from letters in Scrabble™.

It’s more “Rush Hour” than Re-Animator, I promise you. The best part? Seeing kids’ eyes light up when they realize they’ve learned something while playing a game.


THIS game. Which just won a New York Design Award. Check it out! End of plug :)

There’s been a big push to put play back into learning lately, particularly in STEM (science, technology, education and math) fields. It’s a bona fide movement, and like any movement it’s got its movers and shakers.

CMA brought 5 of the best in for a chat on Tuesday, May 20th.

PlayCollective’s David Kleeman moderated a panel of “Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Makers – Oh My!” featuring Brian Yanish (ScrapKins), Laura Rodriguez-Costacamps (NYSCI, SciPlay), Scott Wayne Indiana (NYSCI, DesignLab), Reuben Steiger (8 & Up), and Krista Kokjohn-Poehler (Girl Scouts of America). They not only introduced themselves; they gave us mini-presentations on their work, explaining how they thought outside the box to create games that inspire and encourage an entrepreneurial, problem-solving mindset in kids. We saw lots of cute kids learning great stuff – and you can, too, if you check out our YouTube page.

Brian created ScrapKins to inspire creativity in younger children, via the always popular medium of cartoon monsters building stuff in a scrap yard. ScrapKins launched its first app on Speakaboos and has since expanded into a 10-week learning activity he takes to schools all over the country. “It’s about instilling a sense of wonder in the creation process for the kids,” he says, and he’s seen them make boats that float and parachutes that work from common household materials.

ScrapKins--Speakaboos logo for Pirate Ship app

The app is called “The Pirates of Smelly Cove,” because adding pirates to anything makes It more awesome.

The DesignLab at the New York Hall of Science won’t be open until Saturday June 7, and while that’s a bit of a bummer (because the pictures made it look like the funnest place EVER) Scott made up for it by explaining that its 4 spaces have 45-minute design activities geared toward “learning by doing.” They also produce apps, like SizeWise, geared toward helping kids notice STEM aspects of reality. Tours are available! After June 7 (please? They’re kinda swamped with the opening)!


See? Pirate ship = AWESOME

SciPlay’s goal is to leverage children’s play for science learning, and Laura walked us through their first app. Its goal is to teach middle school physics by using visuals and interactivity – a similar approach to SizeWise – and will be ready in August. All of their work is steeped in curriculum and the result of an engaging partnership with lots of education experts… and they’re developing LOTS of resources.

SciPlay Physics App Screenshot

Doesn’t THIS look more fun than slide rulers and conversion charts?

Reuben took the exact opposite tack in the creating “8 and Up.” A 6-week mini-incubator for kids, the program’s goal is to expose kids to the entrepreneurial method of problem solving. The exposure to failure instills grit, and teaches kids to “never, ever give up” – and it’s becoming a movement.

8 and Up

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t just hand out features, for Pete’s sakes.

Krista was excited to be at the Girl Scouts, and happily filled us in on their Take Action program which gives girls exposure to entrepreneurial business projects on a yearly basis. Basically, the Scouts identify a community need, come up with a solution for it, and take that solution through the entrepreneurial process to implement it – tinkering and adapting it, reflecting on what worked and what they could do better. And that’s in addition to building their entrepreneurial chops with the Cookie Program.


Because learning entrepreneurial skills should ALWAYS involve Thin Mints.

After tackling all of those different ways to use games to engender entrepreneurial problem solving and a maker mindset, David asked the panel if they thought kids today weren’t as creative “as they used to be,” citing a rather common bias that comes up in PlayCollective’s research. Brian responded that because lots of today’s toys come with steps and instructions, kids don’t have as much confidence or know-how to move forward in free play. Reuben pointed out that his intent was to create just enough structure for kids to work with, while Laura reminded us to keep gamified learning activities “open enough for the kids to do what they want and what they’ll be good at.” Krista agreed, and pointed out that “kids are creative when they have space and tools to be so” and “when you try to facilitate rather than lead kids to an answer” you really see their creativity come through.

David agreed that there’s a balance between not giving answers and giving enough structure to find the answers, then asked an even harder question: if failure is such an important part of the creative process, how do you help kids learn it? Reuben launched into explaining the 6-week structure of 8 and Up: a problem is introduced, everyone tackles it, it’s hard for everyone, and the rules are suspended so kids can come up with better and better solutions as they see their initial ones fail. Brian tapped into that, saying that kids need time to adjust to the idea of free play and giving them a template to work from; it took 10 weeks of the ScrapKins program for kids to feel comfortable enough to build from scratch, and that’s the best way he’s found to help them create rather than be stymied by the fear of failure. Krista added to that mindset by sharing about how she’s eager to help girl scouts embrace an entrepreneurial mindset in realizing that learning things is a marathon. “Don’t be afraid of the diagonal path,” she encouraged, and shared about how she’s trying to scale that growth mindset through Girl Scouts of America.

GSA--What can a cookie do?

Largely by thinking outside the… cookie box (Oh, stop booing!).

Scott offered context – and one of the most profound observations I’ve ever heard – by stating this: “A large percentage of teachers enjoyed going through school because they saw their education as play.” Every single teacher I liked had this mindset – and so did I. But most kids, especially those who are really struggling in STEM areas, see school as a chore completely separate from play. They’re not stupid, by any means: they just don’t see learning as fun. “A lot of what we do [at the DesignLab] speaks to kids who don’t really like school,” he explained. While DesignLab is designed to meet educators in that tension by utilizing COMMON CORE standards and working with teachers to generate play-based resources, the real revolution of the space is its focus on the whole design process. It creates structures that not only allow kids to reflect on how they learned something, but observe and recognize the behavior that got them there at every step of the way – which is the perfect antidote to fear of failure.

Scott Wayne Indiana Headshot

That’s why Scott built a pirate ship smack dab in the center of the DesignLab.

David stopped asking hard questions and opened the floor to the audience, who asked slightly less hard questions – namely, what can media creators do to help build kids’ inner entrepreneurs? The answers were immediate, concrete, and surprising: focus on the process of creating something and offer as many opportunities for reflection as possible (from Laura); inspire a sense of possibility in what could be created by asking “What if?” at every stage of the process (Brian); set clear expectations of what kids can expect to do by sharing stories of what you yourself have done (Krista).

The panelists also discussed the rise of “Expert Kids” (YouTube Photoshop tutorials led by a 12-year-olds are far more encouraging than ones led by ANY adult because kids naturally want to help other kids), the reality of working within the education system (“It moves SLOW,” Reuben summarized), the demand for these materials with older kids, and the importance of great storytelling in helping get programs like these off the ground.

Because great stories illustrate the value to the folks who will back them.

And the CMA community knows how to tell great stories.

So let’s get in there and create!

CMA Event – They Loved Your Pitch! Now What??

Lots of folks dream of having their own show – creating their own property from scratch, selling it to a network or production company, rolling around in piles of money  like Scrooge McDuck. While there are more ways than ever to get original IP  in front of an audience, there are still plenty of hurdles to… hurdle before you attain Scrooge-level wealth.


Hint: don’t do this

None the least of which is figuring out what to do after your pitch is a hit.

CMA held an event Thursday, April 24 to clear up the mystery.  “They Loved Your Pitch: Now What?!,” brought together the prodigious talents of Richard Siegmeister (Nickelodeon) and Daniel Victor (Sesame Workshop) to walk the crowd through the do’s — and do NOT do’s — of all things legal.


Look at how friendly and knowledgeable they are!

I wasn’t there (I was hard at work in the CMA Writers Group and my astral projection abilities were hampered by all the pollen) but I was able to wrangle some notes in order to recap it for you. Because I’m good like that… and Nancy Kaplan is awesome.


Thanks, Nancy!

Without further ado, here are all the juicy pointers we both missed:

• Producers are a unique part of the pitching process: they can produce content and react quickly to industry trends to create content.
• The most important thing you can do is protect your intellectual property
• If you want to trademark, trademark series names, titles, and other assets. And you don’t have to trademark at the beginning of the process; your time (and money) is better spent developing the property.
• You can’t copyright ideas.
• Keep records of all your ideas, including all drafts
• Always put copyright notice on the bottom
• Big companies don’t steal ideas (it’s cheaper, legally speaking, to buy them outright than be tied up in a lawsuit).


Hanging on every word

Depending on who you pitch to, and whether it’s animation or live action, they’ll ask for different documents – anything they think is possible for a pilot (scripts, drawings, storyboards, etc). Make sure you negotiate time to consider the property, pay your money and pay production (usually 6-12 months, and you want the shortest period possible). Remember: your main goal in these negotiations is to build a strong relationship with the company/network you’re pitching to. This process is a marathon, and building trust is key to becoming part of the creative process for your work.


Look how carefully Daniel explained that!

International markets have deals put together by pre-selling properties. It’s easier to partner with someone to put those deals together – particularly if you can get Canada involved. They’re heavily subsidized, producing more content than anyone.

You’re not going to get rich on your first show, but it’s the first step in building your career.

And, for the love of Heaven, do your research! You want some sense of what the company’s track record is for the kinds of deals you want to make.


Richard with our very own Livia Beasley

Check out the full event video on CMA’s YouTube page for even more insider know-how.

CMA Legal Panel: Full Video

And stay tuned for an insider’s look at our Writers Group!

Spotlight Interview: Livia Beasley

We are honored to have the founder and past president of CMA, Livia Beasley , join us in the spotlight chair this month.  After working for a number of television programs and networks, Livia is hanging out her own shingle with the recent launch of Mud Puddle Productions.   Learn more about Mud Puddle below, plus the influence CMA had on the formation of her new company and tips for those looking to strike out on their own.


You have worked as a writer or producer for a number of children’s television programs and networks, including Sesame Street, Nick Jr., and PBS Kids Sprout.  More recently, you started your own development boutique, Mud Puddle Productions.  Please share a little bit about your new company and what kinds of projects you’re pursuing.  

I would love to! Mud Puddle Productions has just launched this January with the mission to develop and oversee a wide array of children’s media, but with a particular passion for inspiring children to build barefoot intelligence. In a time when children’s lives tend to be overscheduled and over-stimulated, Mud Puddle Productions encourages children to write stories and songs, explore the outdoors, and experience the world firsthand. Mud Puddle is all about jumping in and getting your feet wet!

In the past few months, I’ve partnered with a variety of puppet companies, animation studios, digital media companies, and children’s bands to create and develop an array of short and full-length series proposals. I’m so excited about the properties we’re creating. We’re just beginning to pitch them to the major networks and all of the exciting new media avenues and we are really beginning to generate interest.

Could you tell us about what prompted you to start this venture?  

This past summer, I took a month off of a busy freelance schedule to volunteer in East Africa. I had been feeling like a bit of a robot and it was such a joy to feel the dirt beneath my feet. It was an opportunity to shut off communications, still myself, and sort of listen. When I came back, I just knew. I have been dreaming of developing my own children’s shows since I was a teenager…and in my heart I knew it was time to take the leap…into the “Mud Puddle!”

Late this past summer, I started putting the word out that I was interested in working in development, but I wasn’t sure which side of the table I’d like to be on. After some soul searching and many conversations with mentors and friends, I came to the realization that I thrive most in a creative setting. I’m a collaborator at heart. And I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I also felt that starting a company sounded amazing but leading a large company felt daunting. The natural business model for me is a creative boutique built on partnerships. My future small creative team and I can nurture each and every project and partner with unique production companies on each project. In that way, we can be nimble to create productions that are truly steered by the creative and specifically tailored to meet the needs of the media outlet.

In what ways has your experience as the founder of CMA influenced the development of Mud Puddle Productions?  

Launching Mud Puddle Productions nearly 10 years after the inception of Children’s Media Association is both humbling and confidence building. Having founded a thriving industry organization gives me a high level of confidence that I can launch a company and build creative teams that will also thrive. Yet, while I may have planted the seed of CMA, it was truly sewn together, alongside an inspiring group of talented and driven professionals. And I think that’s a healthy place to start a company. My inner 12-year-old-girl is cheering, “The world is my oyster…I can do anything I put my mind to.” Meanwhile, my inner granny is whispering, “But this I surely cannot do alone!”

CMA has woven a tight network of people together. We learn from one another, promote each other, challenge and elevate each other. I am blessed to have a wonderful group of colleagues, friends, and mentors that I consult, collaborate with, and connect with whenever I need to knock on new doors. My hope for CMA is that we continue to weave this network far and wide, opening up relationships and opportunities for children’s media professionals across the country and around the world.

Do you have any advice for those looking to start their own companies?

In my experience, it’s been valuable to strike a balance between the bird’s eye view…and, well, the worm’s eye view. On the one hand, it’s so important to keep your head up in the clouds and ask yourself the big questions. — In what kind of working scenario do I thrive? What kind of lifestyle do I want for my future? What have I been especially handcrafted to do with my life? What kinds of shows do I love watching? What is missing in the world of children’s media? What kind of content can I make that will have a positive impact on the world? — I believe that the overall shape and direction of your company comes out of that kind of thinking and dreaming.

At the same time, it’s important to get on the ground and figure out all the steps you need to take to get there. You need to do your homework both on how to start a business and on the content of the business itself. On the business side of things, I’ve met with lawyers and business execs and dove into internet investigations for how to write a business plan and how to make a business proposal. I am also currently competing in the Business Plan Competition through the Center for Faith and Work, which has been highly inspirational and informative. As a collaborative learner, launching my business alongside other startups has been really wonderful.

On the industry side, I keep up on news and trends by reviewing KidScreen and Cynopsis. Of course, I attend many of the amazing Children’s Media Association events. I also attend events produced by Women in Animation, Women in Toys, NYWIFT, ASIFA East, Writer’s Guild, and the Producer’s Guild; as well as KidScreen Summit, Toy Fair, Sandbox Summit, Prix Jeunesse; and many children’s film series. And I love to grab a “cup of coffee” with colleagues who are living my dream life and ask for a sprinkling of the genius that has gotten them where they are. My secret is that I’m more of a tea or hot chocolate kind of gal. But asking someone to tea sounds a little bit fancy for the Mud Puddle. Shh!!

CMA Event: Sneak Inside a Casting Call with Jen Rudin

“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” goes the mantra. And scores of actors flock to NYC to try, full of hopes and dreams. And headshots. And strategies for coping with rejection. It is relentlessly hard.

Jen Rudin goes out of her way to make it a lot easier.


And yes – she IS friendly as she looks

On Tuesday March 25, CMA hosted Jen Rudin at Pearl Studios. An NYC native and former child actor, Jen moved into casting because she thought it would be fun – and it is! She worked her way up through Disney and spent 7 years at Walt Disney Animation Studios, casting animated features from Meet the Robinsons to Princess and the Frog.  She also writes a monthly column in Backstage called “Speak Easy” that offers lots of tips for aspiring actors.

She was all helpful stories and high energy, and as moderator Michele Steckler (Disney Theatrical, Fly Loft Group) peppered her with questions, we learned all about what casting directors do – and what Jen does differently that makes her so special.

After reminiscing about Jen’s interview during a tech rehearsal for Mary Poppins (Michele was trying to figure out how to get Burt to tap dance on the ceiling for “Step in Time” while Jen tried to impress her – and totally did), Michele asked Jen to clarify what a casting director does – and does not – do.

“We’re often called agents. That’s not correct,” Jen jumped in. Casting directors are consultants, she clarified. Hired by the director, producer, studio, or network to populate creative content with actors. “I’m very involved early on, then once the actors are on set and contracts are signed, I’m done.” She’s always meeting new actors, and has a rolodex in her photographic memory (yes, photographic – she remembers actor quirks and traits better than they sometimes do).

She’s also incredibly collaborative – not just because she’s been on the other side of the table, but also because some days she’s a therapist, mediator, or nursery school teacher.

“The job is tedious and thankless, most days,” she laughed. But, she stresses, the days when it isn’t are the best. And, again, she’s in this to help actors succeed.

Michele insisted she was more important to the creative process than she’d given herself credit for (as a producer, Michele considered the memory, intuition, taste and sense of talent that a casting director brings to a project key to her own success), and asked her to talk about her book.

JR--Book Cover

This book. Available here.

Jen shared that she’s always been a writer (notebooks full of plays as a kid, theater reviews in college), but the idea for this particular book came on a 10-day 10-city open casting tour for The Little Mermaid. 600 girls auditioned for Ariel. 1 got the part… but Jen wanted to help them ALL (and give them tips like, “Stop doing your own blocking!” and “Go back to your vocal teacher and work on your range, so you can hit the high “E” we need you to hit 8 times a week”).  She locked herself in the library, got sidetracked by founding her own company, found a second publisher after the first went nowhere, and made her dream come true. With hard work. And persistence.

She shared about her time as an actor, too (she auditioned professionally from 8-17 but quit in her 20s because she was always broke, temping, and took competition and rejection very hard), and encouraged all creative folks—especially actors—to thank their parents for helping them live their dreams (lots of sacrifice, sibling rivalries, and money involved in pursuing acting as a career—with NO guarantee of success. “Nobody pays you to go to an audition,” she said.)

She also shared briefly about diversity casting (more flexible in animation than theater), and how she takes risks to get producers to consider “out of the box” talent (“You don’t want to be a nooge or a pain,” she explained. “But please! Not everybody is Caucasian!”).

Then, we got a real treat – a mock casting session, run by Jen. See?

Event Photo2

Kim was such a great sport!

Here are the highlights:

  • Jen likes to use other actors as readers, but they need to be chill (“namaste,” as she puts it). They’re there to experience a casting session and help Jen, NOT audition.
  • She prefers casting real boys to play boys, instead of grown-up women.


Sorry, Naruto. Jen is not a fan.
  • She gives great notes after every read, cautioning actors to think about their physicality as well as their vocal highs and lows.
  • She loves grammar and punctuation in scripts, and expects actors to honor it (“It’s there for a reason,” she says. “Even if the script is stupid.”).
  • Actors coming in to read for one part will often be asked to read another one. ALWAYS agree to that.
  • Actors read their names at the beginning of each recorded take (“slate”) to introduce themselves. Sometimes, all casting directors will listen to is that name when making a decision.  (But not Jen!)
  • Jen auditions up to 60 people a day.

The best tip she gave, by far, was one that Michele backed up: “We want you to be fantastic!” (“We want to move on with our job!” was Jen’s explanation) As an actor in an audition, your job is to show that you can play the part. Do that!

That idea led to a spirited Q&A where Jen gave us all sorts of insider information and fun stories. She encouraged people to get out there and meet casting directors if they wanted to try voiceover work. She suggested as a resource (make sure your demo is high-quality!) – but she also cautioned that everyone thinks they can do voiceover work, while very few people enjoy the schedule and routine (4 hours a pop, working alone in a booth with a microphone, at least 3 different reads of each line). She also confirmed that casting directors make up their minds very quickly, and you’ve got ONE chance to make a good impression – so be nice, know when to leave, and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS (if she can’t trust you in the room, she won’t trust you on set with the director)!

I asked a question about casting celebrities and that prompted Jen to tell us all about casting Anika Noni Rose for The Princess and the Frog. Anika was Jen’s first choice, and even though bigger celebrities were in the running (Tyra Banks, Beyoncé –Alicia Keys, who made it to the final 3), Jen kept dropping hints about Anika. Then Dreamgirls got lots of press and Anika’s visibility helped convince Disney to cast her – like Jen wanted.

Event Photo1

Not all casting tours work out that way, so was happy to tell us that story.

There’s a whole chapter of the book devoted to celebrity casting, but Jen’s experience with it all boils down to this: you never know what you’re going to get. Some celebrities love it (Whoopi Goldberg, Kiefer Sutherland), and some don’t because it just isn’t their thing (read the book for that one!).

Michele jumped on the storytelling bandwagon, too, sharing about an experience casting Nala in South Africa. The type the producer wanted was tall, regal, and elegant, but when a short, regal, and elegant woman came in and sang the heck out of “Shadowland” he didn’t want to cast her – until Julie Taymor fought for her.

Jen and Michele also shared stories about casting singers who act versus actors who sing (at the end of the day, it’s easier to have the singer who can sing the songs the way the audience expects after spending $120 per person to see the show) seeing producers change their minds (the Nala story), and troubleshooting casting difficulties (Jen found the 5-year-old version of the 9-year-old lead in Mama COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT as she sat in the waiting room for her sister’s audition).

Lastly, Jen reminded all aspiring actors that the casting director is often your first advocate… and they never, ever get thanked. It makes her sad.

She works too hard for that, guys. Nobody should make her sad.

Let’s change that.

Go thank your casting directors, actors. They want you to succeed.

Especially Jen Rudin.

CMA Event: A Delicious Evening with Yummico

Great things really do come in small packages – teensy, adorable, delicious packages. At least, at startup media company yummico they do.

And what a wonderful selection of small packages they have.

CMA sat down with co-founders Traci Paige Johnson (Blue’s Clues), Caroline Baron (FilmAid), and Head of Strategy Susanna Pollack (CBeebies) to chat about delicious kids’ content, the risks and benefits of being a startup in the digital space, and menurkeys.

Yummico--MenurkeyTHIS. We talked about THIS. (Because Caroline’s son invented it!)

(NOTE: The key takeaways are covered here, but if you want ALL of the goodies check our YouTube page).

Moderator Amy Kraft (Monkey Bar Collective) plied our panel with a nutritionally dense series of questions – namely, what is “delicious” media? Traci jumped all over that, sharing that “delicious” isn’t just about good story and characters. It’s about creating a tangible world that little kids can’t wait to jump in and explore. That philosophy is at the core of everything yummico does… and it’s good for parents, too, since that kind of content helps nurture wholesome, happy, healthy kids. Everybody wins!

(FUN FACT: Traci has really clear memories of what she liked as a little kid. That’s why she makes content like this.)

Amy used that point to introduce yummico’s first property, Yummiloo, It is, objectively speaking, the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen:

Yummico--Yummiloo CharactersSeriously—LOOK at all that adorable!

Susanna explained that the reason Yummiloo was chosen to be the company’s first property was because health and nutrition were starting to become big topics for preschoolers. Yummico saw an opportunity to jump into that market and add value to that audience, creating the helpful, encouraging, educational (and ADORABLE) solution that is Yummiloo Rainbow Power.

Yummico--Yummiloo Title ScreenThe adorably yummy world of Yummiloo

The Willy Wonka-inspired world of Yummiloo teaches preschoolers healthy eating habits in different ways. In Rainbow Power, the Yum Yums (the ADORABLE guys in the pic above) have to collect foods all the colors of the rainbow to restart the Rainbow Machine and power the carnival. Players not only get involved in a story and help characters solve a problem, they’re also learning about health and nutrition and having social-emotional concepts like sharing and building community modeled for them.

That’s no small feat for an app.

Amy asked about the app’s development and Traci revealed they did all the creative in-house. It was an enormous learning curve for them because the technology couldn’t do everything they wanted it to. Caroline added that they went with a publisher who had a relationship with Apple and would be able to get them some publicity. Susanna shared about their social media strategy, and how it was lots of effort to get the word out even though they were featured in the App Store. In the end, though, it was rewarding to see all that hard work pay off with the audience… and the attention brought partnerships with WNET and other high-profile distributors.

(HINT: They focused on Facebook, because it was the easiest to maintain with the resources they had)

Amy broached the idea of free versus paid and Caroline responded that every time they launched the app for free they got an uptick in downloads. But, she stressed, the market is so fluid. They chose to launch an app because in the current climate it’s a great way to be seen and there’s still money in it. She reminded the room that the market could change in the blink of an eye, and the best thing a company can do – particularly a small, nimble startup – is to create LOTS of stuff to get the largest audience possible.

Yummico--Public Media Properties SlateSusanna, Traci and Caroline, explaining the Yummiloo / WNET partnership

Yummiloo is successful enough that they’re looking for a TV distributor to build properties for it, and Susanna admitted that using an app as a pilot for a TV series was a non-traditional approach. But, she pointed out that yummico retained all of the rights to its properties – making it easier for them to do things like create television properties from apps. “You can go farther on your own without having to partner with a bigger company,” Caroline encouraged.

Their next properties look equally non-traditional (and ALMOST as adorable).

Yummico--EdisonInventionDetectiveEdison Invention Detective

Edison the Invention Detective is an “appisode” – 7-8 minutes about a little maker girl and her problem-solving inventions that’s both linear and fully interactive (“It’s Scooby Doo for preschoolers,” summarizes Traci). They’re building an advisory board and partnerships to expand learning opportunities provided through Edison’s content, and according to Susanna they’ve already got Sprout on board.

Ash & Ollie is an app featuring two young brothers whose stories are all about current issues kids and parents face today. Like how much “Screen Time” is too much. It’s a complex issue, and the app (named “Screen Time,” because it’s THAT complex) is a great kickstarter for that discussion. Even if it’s using technology to talk about when not to use technology (“Tech is here to stay. It’s important for kids to understand it,” summarizes Caroline).

Yummico--AshOllieAsh and Ollie

Lastly they introduced App Police, another app featuring a pair of goofy cops policing all of the apps in a child’s tablet. It’s like a little city, and each app the cops interact with is an opportunity for a different content module – and lesson (a budget app teaches math, an “Angry Birds”-esque app teaches physics, etc). There’s even a gold coins reward system in stopping the bad guys… but the best part is how the cops spend it: going into the real world and doing a fun activity together.

Yummico--AppPolic App Police

Traci, Susanna and Caroline shared their favorite producers in the digital space (Toca Boca and Sesame were favorites, as was Fred Rogers Center’s Alien Assignment), fundraising in the digital space (go with friends and family; VCs won’t invest in content and “the more money you raise, the less control you have,” warned Caroline), and building a startup (“Build as you grow,” Susanna advises), but the point they kept coming back to was this: you have to be your own producer.

“You can’t wait for the [big] studios to tell you what to do,” says Caroline. All media companies are trying to figure out the digital space. It’s an enormous opportunity for ALL content creators to put work out there. Especially the little guys. “Ride the wave of new things. Try to be first,” urges Susanna.

“It’s all about tapping into the zeitgeist,” Caroline clarifies. “Meeting the audience where they are.”

That sense of exploration, combined with Caroline and Susanna’s formidable know-how, and Traci’s enthusiasm for integrating narrative with interactive gameplay (“Imagine what Blue’s Clues would have been like!” she exclaimed), puts yummico in the perfect position to keep making great content.

We can’t wait for our next bite.

Yummico--AppPolice2See? We’re engrossed.

Member Spotlight: Laurie-Anne Vazquez

It’s my pleasure to welcome CMA’s public relations point woman and newest blogger to the Member Spotlight chair.  Laurie-Anne has quite the diversified media background–she’s done everything from television development to covering ComicCon for a gaming blog.  Thinking about freelancing?  Laurie-Anne offers a nugget of wisdom below.



Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

I’ve worked in LOTS of other media – television development, gaming, PopSci, Disney (3 times!). I’m currently the project manager for a startup science toy company AND a freelance writer, in addition to writing blog posts and press copy for CMA.

Batman: the Animated Series is what drew me to children’s media. It was the first show I remember watching that not only didn’t speak down to me, but trusted and engaged me with difficult material at an age where I thrived on it. It opened my eyes to a whole other world of stories and storytelling.

All I’ve wanted to do since is write a show that does the same for another kid.

I got to write a sample episode of Yu-Gi-Oh!GX while I was at NYU, but it didn’t turn into a job and I was crushed. I spent 8 years feeling like a failure, working jobs outside of children’s media because I was too scared to fail again, until a bout of unemployment made me see how sick I was of carrying that fear. Here I am, ready and eager to make up for lost time!

You are a freelance writer. What kind of projects have you worked on in the past and please tell us about any future ventures you’re excited about.  Also, do you have any tips for those looking to transition into the freelance market? 

I’ve worked on LOTS of projects – email marketing articles for Microsoft-funded startups, ComicCon coverage for a gaming blog (mom was so proud!), grants and sponsorship letters for non-profits in East New York. As long as I get to learn cool things, tell a story, and engage an audience, I’m in.

I might be writing a pitch bible for an animated series. It’s treading new ground in the space, and since I’ll have a hand in crafting that story for a new audience, I’m psyched. That project’s still in the early stages, though so fingers crossed!

I’m happy to chat in more detail with anyone looking to jump into freelancing, but the most helpful tip I can share here is that there are people who will help you. You might feel alone in trying to figure everything out, but there’s no shame in asking for help. Lots of people have done this before. And they want to help!

What would you say are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?

Working SOLELY on projects I love is easily the most rewarding part. It is such a blessing to not have to slog through something boring to get to something fun, and even when I get to something boring it’s easier to bear because of the fun stuff.

That said, managing the constant workflow of projects/potential projects/ searching for projects/networking/LIFE is the biggest challenge. Just when I’m sure I’ve got the pace down it all changes. Aargh! I need to get back into boxing and take out some of that frustration on the bag.

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now? 

I am hugely biased in saying this, but I’m excited to see sophisticated, well-designed toys that utilize play to learn STEM curriculum. LittleBits and GoldieBlox are long overdue and desperately needed… and there’s more groundbreaking stuff on the way! (hint hint!)

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It’s the happiest, sweetest, most profoundly encouraging world I’ve ever seen (and Sterling Holloway’s Pooh is supremely huggable). Plus, when I was last at Disney, I was voted the company-wide embodiment of Piglet. Clearly, I belong in The Hundred Acre Wood!

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is

Cake Mania. I’m a sucker for time management games. Even though (speaking as a former gaming blogger) they’re lame.

Press Release: 2014 Officers Lead CMA in Bold New Directions!

Hi, everyone!

Check out our very first press release for 2014! It went out this morning, and we can’t wait to hear what people think.

Let us know what YOU think in the comments below.



Childrens Media Association Logo.jpg
New York NY – (February 26, 2014) – A new year equals new leadership at the Children’s Media Association!

As the leading nonprofit for children’s media professionals, CMA is committed to representing the voices and talents of all its members. To that end, the 2014 officers gracing CMA’s officer page represent the diverse range of professions and industries CMA encompasses.

Those officers are:

President – Jordan Geary

VP – Benjamin Lehmann

Secretary – Ashley Brennan

Treasurer – Aimee Blackton

Chief Strategy Officer – Laura Kaufmann

Director of Development – Victoria Ramirez

Director of Membership – Victoria Fox

Director of Communications – Gabriela Maestre

Director of Events – Corey Nascenzi

Jordan Geary is Head of Production and Development for FlickerLab and has devoted his entire career to children’s media, producing and directing on popular children’s series like Nickelodeon’s The Wonderpets, Playhouse Disney’s 3rd & Bird, and MTV’s Made.

Benjamin Lehmann is a 4-time Emmy Award winning Producer for Sesame Street, and is also a Member at Large of the Executive Committee for PGA East.

Ashley Brennan is a Research Coordinator at Out of the Blue Enterprises and has worked at other children’s media companies including Speakaboos and Scholastic.

Aimee Blackton is a Production Manager and one of those rare souls who not only works for Sesame Workshop, but has built her career there.

Victoria Ramirez is a global licensing and business development specialist at American Greetings with over 7 years’ experience in the US and the UK, working with brands from Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Yu-Gi-Oh!

These newly elected officers join returning officers Victoria Fox, Laura Kaufmann, Gabriela Maestre and Corey Nascenzi – and are eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“The Children’s Media Association is such a special group,” said new president Jordan Geary. “It’s a great cross-section of talent from every major facet of children’s media, and this new crop of officers really reflects that. It’s an honor to continue this organization’s great work.”

And with that diversity (and enthusiasm!), it looks like CMA is off to a great start. Here’s to another year of educating, innovating and connecting!

A Different Route – Self-Publishing and the CMA Writers Group “Publish YoSelf” Project

By Kristen McGregor
CMA Writers Group Coordinator

Tonight was my first night as the new Writers Group Coordinator for the CMA, and it was so lovely to see so many enthusiastic writers at the table ready to collaborate on ideas. We met the amazing and talented author Elisa Ludwig who shared with the group all about self-publishing, and how it helped form her career as an author. Talking with Elisa was great for our group because this year we’re going to be publishing a book on Amazon. That’s right; after hearing that members wanted to learn more about self-publishing, I suggested that we might as well just publish a book together and see what the process is like. The idea was approved and the #CMAPublishYoSelf group was born! After all, it can’t be that hard to self-publish a book, can it?

In my initial interview with Elisa, she stressed many things that she wished she would have known in 2010 when she was publishing her first e-book, June of Rock that she knows now. Summed up, they are:

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

  2. Cover art matters

  3. Go big or go home

Use the Internet to Your Advantage:

Elisa talked about the use of social media, as well as the importance of gaining book reviews for your work on sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Getting involved with bloggers is important at the early stage as many bloggers will read your manuscript and review it on their site (asking them to also comment on Amazon is a great idea as well). Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, and Tumblr are all key platforms to be on to promote your work from early stages to publishing and onwards. There are many writers groups online, and Elisa encouraged us to check them out on our journey to publication.

Cover Art Matters:

While you should never judge a book by its cover, Elisa revealed that in the world of online publishing, we unfortunately do. Covers in the Kindle store are key to attracting attention, even though they’re so tiny. A mistake is to spell out the whole story in the cover, and Elisa also encouraged us to work with a designer to create the cover art.  Like great cover art, supporting blurbs from like-minded authors are key, as is a concise bio. Having a strong synopsis and a tagline for the book helps to quickly explain your concept to Kindle store browsers.

Go Big or Go Home:

Lastly, Elisa stressed the importance of “going big or going home” – that is, not being shy. In the world of the Kindle store, there are so many other competing books, so it’s very rare for your work to rise to the top unless you’re out there tooting your own horn. It’s an e-book author’s job to get noticed in the sea of competition.

Elisa Ludwig sharing her wisdom via Skype

Elisa Ludwig sharing her wisdom via Skype

It was great getting to know Elisa and her journey to digital publication, but now it’s time to start our own here with the CMA Writers Group. Our 6 events this year will consist of a 60-minute session where an industry vet talks about their craft (our goal is to live stream this session to all members via our brand new YouTube channel, subscribe today!), with the following 120 minutes acting as a chance for the publishing group to collaborate on the e-book.

This sounds amazing! How do I sign up?

All CMA members are invited to apply to join the publishing group (experience not needed), with 20 members randomly selected, all making a commitment to attend the February, March, and April groups, as well as copy edit each others work through the summer. All members that are selected for the group will have to sign a contract to take part. Please note that you did not have to attend the Feb 6th session in order to apply.

The sessions that are a mandatory for attendance are:

  • February 27th 6-9pm

  • March 27th 6-9pm

  • April 24th 6-9pm

  • Additional sessions to be scheduled in the Fall.

If you’d like to apply to the group, here’s the link to take part:

ALL applications are due by noon on February 20, 2014.

I’m looking forward to experiencing the fun of writing and publishing a book this year, with the terrific CMA Writers Group!

Member Spotlight: Melissa Major

Melissa Major, digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books, swung by the ol’ blog to chat about working in both publishing and television industries and why Cookie Monster would make a great roommate in theory only.


Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

Since I graduated from the University of Maryland, my jobs have been in digital media and education. These included working as a media coordinator for PBS, a production assistant for WNET (the umbrella company of the PBS channels in the NYC area), a substitute teacher, and an independent tutor. Currently I am a digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books.

I think children’s media is the natural culmination of my main interests: media (digital and print), the fine arts, education, and psychology. Children’s media is an especially exciting industry to be in now, since there’s such a focus on transmedia storytelling. Kids can watch their favorite characters on TV, read about them in books, and play games with them on an iPad.

My favorite kind of children’s media is both relatable to kids and funny or meaningful to adults (Sesame Street parodies, I’m looking at you). Children’s media is just plain adorable and unbelievably creative. There’s also a certain level of nostalgia in it. I remember when I was a little girl–I’d stay up late reading with a flashlight until I was so tired that I’d fall asleep with the book on top of my face. Now I’m thrilled to work for a company that produces such a wonderful array of stories for children. It’s great to be a part of that mission, even though my role is very humble.

As someone relatively new to the industry, please share any tips on how to get that first job in children’s media. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of internships, temporary jobs, and freelance gigs. Sometimes, a company may not be hiring staff, but will have short-term jobs open. Take advantage of these opportunities. Companies often  turn to those who’ve made a good impression interning or freelancing when a permanent role does open up.

It’s also important to take your work seriously regardless of your title and to get to know people on your team. Volunteer to help coworkers on a project when they need it. People don’t forget others who lend a hand when they’re in a tight spot. I’m not implying that helping others should only be for selfish gain, but I believe in karma to an extent.

I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’d also highly recommend joining a professional organization such as the Children’s Media Association.  I joined CMA on the recommendation of Corey Nascenzi, our Director of Events.  Corey was kind enough to introduce me to her connection at Random House Children’s Books, which directly led to attaining my current position there.

In summary, actively create opportunities for yourself and capitalize on your network and resources.

You are currently a digital marketing coordinator at Random House Children’s Books.  Can you tell us about your role there?

As the digital coordinator on the content development team, I assist producers with various projects. One of my main roles is to coordinate with the graphic design team to update with fresh content each month. I also help create graphics for e-newsletters and build landing pages for giveaways and popular books/series.

Prior to joining Random House, you worked in public television.  What are some similarities and/or differences between these two industries?  

The major difference between the two is that Random House is a corporation, while public television is in the non-profit sector. When I worked in public television, many of the projects were based on grants the organization was awarded to create very specific products. We typically aren’t working under grant money in publishing and are more driven by sales. I really love that there is an overlap between the two organizations. For example, Random House Children’s Books publishes The Cat in the Hat books, and PBS Kids airs the The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That–so we work closely on that property. Public television and Random House are similar in that they both strive to produce quality, engaging content for children across media platforms.

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

I’d like to live on Sesame Street, but ideally all the Muppets would live there (not just the Sesame Street crew). I’d be roommates with Cookie Monster. Although come to think of it, he probably wouldn’t be the tidiest of roommates. And I’d always have to hide my cookies.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

MTV’s Catfish. It’s so predictable, yet so addicting.

Remember friends, “If he doesn’t Skype, he’s not your type!”

CMA Event — 3-2-1 Contact to Minecraft: The Evolution of STEM Programming

Happy 2014 CMA-ers! Laurie here, your intrepid guest blogger. I’m kicking off the New Year as your OFFICIAL blogger! Firstly, I hope you had a great holiday season.

Secondly, CMA had an event this past week! (I was too sick to post it then, so I’m putting it up now. Ta-da!)

CMA 321 Panel--Pic2


To kickoff our year, CMA decided to take a look back at all of the awesome educational programming that taught STEM before STEM was even a thing.

Like 3-2-1 Contact.

And Voyage of the Mimi.

And lots of other awesome shows, courtesy of funding from the National Science Foundation. The NSF cut its funding this year, prompting worried chatter from some children’s content creators — but the folks on CMA’s “3-2-1 Contact to Minecraft: The Evolution of STEM Programming” panel on Monday, January 27 weren’t worried.

They were excited to turn kids into scientists.

Our lovely panel of experts – Carl Wynter (American Museum of Natural History), Sandra Shepherd (WNET), Carla Seal Wanner (Climate Cartoons), and Harold Moss (FlickerLab) – shared about their experiences creating educational programming that was both entertaining and accurate. After they all shared about some of their greatest successes, Moderator Dr. Margaret Honey (New York Hall of Science) kicked things off by asking about core principles that each kept in mind for audience engagement.

CMA 321 Panel--Pic1

There they are!

Sandra shared about how Cyberchase was just as committed to character and narrative as much as it was to teach math skills. Math is always essential to saving the day in world of Cyberchase (and she showed us a clip to prove it), but she stressed the importance of keeping your content and your narrative in sync. If you’ve got characters that aren’t mirroring the way kids actually learn, or you’re missing a character with a point of view that the audience can relate to (which they initially were), then you need to build that in.

Carla jumped off that point to discuss her experiences with Voyage of the Mimi, encouraging media makers to show characters with different learning styles. Model different ones and show different perspectives. Kids don’t all learn the same; neither should the characters they learn from.  She also shared some great tidbits about how external forces shaped Mimi’s content – like how it was half episodic drama and half documentary because it was cheaper than doing either full-length format, and how they created 11-minute episodes to meet teachers’ need for classroom-appropriate length material.

Dr. Honey threw Sam Gibbons’ infamous “If it smells like PBS, they’ll flee,” maxim to the panel and asked how they managed it in informal learning settings (i.e. – not being in school). Sandra opened up on behalf of PBS, stating that kids ALWAYS like learning. Always. And it’ll be fun if the content they’re learning from is both engaging and relevant to the kids themselves.

Carl tackled the generalization that media people were fearful of science as a way of thinking in his answer.  He knew it was a generalization, and clarified it as such, but also cited it as a very real drawback in his experience. Most content creators treat science “as a bauble,” he said, a shiny gimmick to add to their show. Children are sensitive to that stuff – and they know when it’s being sugarcoated. More than anything, he wants writers and producers to think that science “doesn’t taste icky” and is worthy of being content in its own right.

The audience ate that up.

CMA 321 Panel--Pic4

See? Hanging on every word!

That answer broached a question about using transmedia to create scientists and Harold jumped all over it. He agreed with Sandra’s earlier point about writing the story around the topic (and making characters work in multiple mediums to maximize learning), and elaborated that getting kids to understand content is more than transmitting facts to them: it’s about making the information immediately available in a hands-on way that gets them excited to use it. That kind of engagement teaches kids to experiment, fail and defend their thoughts – aka, SCIENTIST STUFF.

Carla encouraged the room to think about what hooks they had in the material – and, most encouragingly, do things with the camera that the human eye can’t. The room agreed with that one – and Sandra chimed in with testing your content early and often. Even the pilot. Building your audience’s feedback into your process from the beginning ensures a better product in the end.

Dr. Honey wrapped up her questions by asking about funding. “We’ve stayed alive and that’s saying a lot. And we’ve done lots of stuff we love.” That’s how Carla summarized it, and it rang true of the entire panel. She encouraged everyone to not always go for the big funding opportunities – and Harold added to that by explaining that more companies are going after the same small pool of funding. There’s less to go around – but be creative. Education is privatized now. Companies are interested in educational content, and there’s a political angle to be exploited there in terms of funding content… but with greater funding opportunities come greater responsibilities to make a good product. “It requires us to be advocates of what’s actually good for kids,” Harold concluded. “And we should be.”


Yet another instance of Spiderman logic applying to real life

Sometimes you can’t do that (Carla admitted she and Harold had both walked away from work), but you can still create content that will allow kids to build, share and defend fact-based opinions with their peers. Those critical thinking skills may not make them scientists – but it will absolutely make them better people.

CMA 321 Panel--Pic3

And sometimes they’ll learn statistics to interpret their results – as Carl shared about a SimAnt experiment

The conversation than switched to audience questions, which got dominated by hatred of Minecraft as an educational tool (it isn’t), CTW, and the results of the recent CUNY study. However, someone asked why this content was not available for older kids and the entire room was flummoxed. Carl offered, “I think science is not cool anymore,” while Carla pointed out that preschoolers are a more captive audience and the inroad for older kids is mobile, Sandra reminded us that other countries actually DO have that content. She wrapped the evening up by giving us the biggest encouragement of all: “If you build it, and it’s great, then the audience is already there.”

In short, “As media makers, we have the ability to make this stuff engaging and exciting,” as Carla put it. And we can.

So get to it!

Lend Us Your Skills!

Volunteers are an integral part of CMA’s success and volunteering provides a great opportunity to connect with new people and build your networkIf you are interested in lending us your talents, please email for more information.

Calling all photographers…

Utilize your professional skills and/or hobby interests to help strengthen CMA and capture stellar photographs for use on our website and in other marketing materials.


-         Take photographs at CMA events (free guaranteed registration for all events);

-         Maintain a file folder of all signed photo release forms;

-         Edit photographs as needed and share with the Directors of Events and Communications.


-         You must own your own camera that has the ability to download the pictures online.

-         You must possess the ability to edit photographs

Length of Commitment: CMA does not require a specific length of commitment for this position, but prefers a 1 year commitment. The amount of hours depends on your schedule and what events you are available to photograph.

Join our special event planning boards

In 2014 we will launch two new event/programs and could use your help in planning and executing these events.

  • CMA Mentoring Program-We are dedicated to helping our members advance in their careers and achieve success! Assist us in developing the structure of this program and launch our first mentorships.

  • CMA Fundraising Event-We are developing a fundraising event to assist our organization in delivering the quality events and workshops we have become known for.  Join us in brainstorming and executing what promises to be one of the most fun events of the year.


-       Attend monthly planning meetings.

-       Maintain regular communication via email with committee members

-       Complete all tasks as assigned


-        All committee members must be CMA members in good standing

Length of Commitment: Committees will meet monthly between January and April. Please plan to be in communication with committee members via email otherwise.

Member Spotlight: Kendall Haney

Our guest today, Kendall Haney, just wrapped up her internship with CMA.  Before she flies the coop to spread her wings, she was kind enough to share her thoughts on the experience and what’s coming down the pike.


You recently graduated from NYU earning a B.F.A. in Film and Television Production. Can you tell us a little about why you chose to specialize in children’s media?

At NYU I focused on producing for animation and absolutely love it. My interest in children’s media really began with my passion for animation. The more I looked into children’s media I realized those are the stories I enjoy the most as well. Now it just makes sense! Plus, there were so many hip film students doing the hardcore films– I had a lot more fun making films kiddos could enjoy.

You are also an intern at CMA.  What do you feel you’ve gained from the experience?

CMA has been AMAZING. I’ve loved getting to know members at events and expanding my interests beyond Film and TV. After being a part of CMA for only four months, I feel way more prepared to enter children’s media in two big ways– a foundation in how children’s media works and a network of wonderful people. Thanks to all!

After completing the CMA internship, you will be joining the staff of DreamWorks as an employee.  Congratulations!  For those seeking their first position in the industry, can you share some tips on how to job search, interview, network, etc.?

Thanks! I couldn’t be more excited. I interned at DWA two summers ago and I think internships are very key. I worked extremely hard during that internship, stayed in contact with my supervisors after I left, then when the time came to start the job search I went to them first. It became very apparent early on how important it is to know someone at the company you want to work for– get to know as many people as you can!

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

So hard! I’m going to have to go with Harry Potter… Little cliche, but who wouldn’t want to be magical?

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

Currently, Scandal. I mean…  What will Olivia do next?! #teamfitz

Red Chair Event (Much Better Than a Redrum Event)

This is it, gentle reader.  The last blog of 2013 and well…the last blog for me.  I hope you readers have found it to be a lot of fun, very educational and more than a little bit wacky!  I know that’s how I feel about the last two years.  I’ll see you all at a CMA event on the other side of 2013!  Happy holidays and may the new year be prosperous for everyone!  So say we all!

At last month’s Red Chair, Amy Friedman sat down with President of Nickelodeon Cyma Zarghami for an informal chat about life at the slime time network.


Cyma got her start at Nickelodeon as a scheduling clerk and became General Manager after 10 years, 10 years after that she became president.  Cyma’s job as president is to coordinate all the different departments.  She bridges digital and TV and every other department you can think of.  Cyma said when looking for a job it should be at a company you like and respect, that makes a product you like and/or a company with people that you love and respect.  She was fortunate enough to find all three at Nick.

So what was it like in the early days of the network?  Well, for one thing there was only a small conference room, it was a scrappy place where they made up rules as they went.  And they’re pretty much still doing that today.  Nick has to change when kids change and with the right amount of data and observation you can convince people that change is a good thing.  The role of Nickelodeon is to make kids laugh and the millennials sense of humor is different than the generation before.  They adore their parents, are more protected and so they like safe, good, random fun…and cats.  But really, don’t we all like cats?


Cyma was even kind enough to delve into the dreaded ratings crash of a few years ago.  It came suddenly and was also the year the iPad came out.  (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.)

Just look how sinister.  Is that Camp Crystal Lake?

Just look how sinister. Is that Camp Crystal Lake?

They found that heavy viewers were tired of the old content and not crazy about the new content.  The audience was turning over and competitors were hitting it hard at the same time.  Talk about a perfect storm.  Internally, Cyma had gotten a new boss who had a very calm approach that she adopted.  “Own it and make a plan.”  About a year after the crash they saw improvement and now it’s been about 3 years since the whole hoopla happened.  So how do you inspire employees when things may be looking bleak?  Cyma says to always celebrate great work.  They have a Friday morning show and tell meeting to show off new work.

And they’re always looking for new ideas.  Now they’re bringing back some original show creators to work with up and coming creators and when the interns did a presentation on the Nick shows of the ‘90s that inspired “The ‘90s are all that” which you may have seen on-air.

The_'90s_Are_All_That_logoWe then got secret sneak peeks at new shows.  I’d tell you but then my top secret security clearance would be compromised.  Geez people, stop trying to make me look bad.

Main Takeaway:  So how to succeed in business without really trying?  Nope, you gotta try.  Cyma credits her success to adopting great parts of people she admired into her work style.  She took her time and moved up.  A strong work ethic and experience can never be underestimated.  I like that.


Personal Takeaway:  As a pending mom, I was interested to hear that on her first day as president Cyma threw up.  But it wasn’t the pressure of the job, she was pregnant.  She said motherhood was good practice for execs as a sense of humor for both roles is key.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  I am totally having a kid just so that when Family Double Dare comes back, the LaRoses can compete.  Watch out world!

Everything about that looks awesome.

Everything about that looks awesome.

Bridge Under Construction: Connecting Academia and Industry – A PlayCollective and CMA Collaboration

Hey there, it’s Melinda.  I can’t believe this is the penultimate blog for my tenure as the CMA blogger.  But don’t weep yet gentle reader there’s still one more from me to come.  This one is not from me as I’ve invited our guest blogger extraordinaire Laurie-Anne Vazquez to once again share her insights on our last even of the season.  Well last event with the exception of the holiday party because what happens at the holiday party stays at the holiday party.  As you may recall, Laurie is a graduate of NYU’s Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing and an aspiring kids’ TV writer for ages 6-11.  She was submitted for a Humanitas Award for her spec for The Jackie Chan Adventures and she currently bides her time at Popular Science magazine, pitching geeky science articles while she figures out how to write smart kids and fun fight scenes for a living — or The Legend of Korra.  Take it away, Laurie!

I learned a whole lot at CMA’s “Bridge Under Construction: Connecting Academia and Industry” event on Wednesday, November 20. I forgot to put my academic cap on, for one (scaffolding? Is that like the moveable skeleton of a computer-designed character??). Someone invented an iPad potty to use in toilet training, for another.

Oh yes, this exists.

Oh yes, this exists.

Mostly, I learned that academics and industry folks have deep respect for each other’s work. They’re just not speaking the same language.

Alison Bryant, CEO and Chief Play Officer of PlayCollective was our enthusiastic moderator. The panel featured Fran Blumberg (Fordham), Renee Cherow-O’Leary (Teacher’s College, Columbia) and Vikki Katz (Rutgers) speaking on behalf of the academic community, and Sean McEvoy (VP Game Production for Nick Digital), Bob Higgins (EVP, Fremantle Kids and Family Entertainment), and Alice Cahn (VP, Social Responsibility for Sesame) speaking on behalf of the industry. All of them smart and devoted to enriching children’s lives.  All of them trying to make the best stuff possible.

Our panel!

Our panel!

None of them were quite sure about this bridge.

The academics kicked us off by sharing what they wanted the industry to know. Developmental appropriateness for each product’s intended audience was a large concern for Fran, as was scaffolding – or, building in educational touchpoints from the conception of the product or Show Bible instead of shoehorning them in later. Renee (whose career spans both academia and industry) emphasized that content creators need to be more unified across transmedia brand experiences – and Vikki summarized the problem by saying that academics focus on process while industry folks focus on best practices… or, the same goals but different foci without a framework for thinking across industries.

She spoke in words I understood, God Bless her.

See?  It was a real question.

See? It was a real question.

The industry folks took copious notes and addressed all of those concerns. Sean was extremely concerned about scaffolding and developmental appropriateness being part of every game Nickelodeon makes.  Bob clarified that industry folks read and anticipate academic research; they just want to know, with exact certainty, what is going to work for their demographic in a way that doesn’t come across as boring. Alice pointed out that this issue has been discussed FOREVER and there is a bridge… the difficulty is that the industry is in the business of entertaining, not educating. “We’re not PBS,” she explained. “It’s a different industry. We take what you give us, but we don’t use it the way you want us to.”

She also spoke in words I understood.

The industry folks then asked industry folks what they wanted to know about academics. Sean wanted to know what the academics considered an ideal example of collaboration with the industry, while Bob wanted to know how quickly research could keep up with the pace of technological development. All practicality from these folks.

In terms of a successful collaboration, the academics all cited Sesame Street. No one disputed that – but when Alice pressed for an interactive, non-preschool example, the discussion evolved into adapting the academic process for media with faster deadlines (and cited “Ben 10: Game Creator” as a successful, interactive, non-preschool collaboration). Renee pointed out that it’s hard to do fast well because ALL of the academics and content creators need to be at the table from the start. Vikki pointed out that it’s impossible to chase the latest shiny gadget, but they can offer context for in-house media usage; she had kids draw up a map of all the devices in their house and describe how and how frequently each got used. It wasn’t about quantity for her kids, but quality – and that reminder that “people don’t use technology in a vacuum” was a fantastic boon to the industry folks.

A ton of CMA folks, hanging on every word.

A ton of CMA folks, hanging on every word.

Lastly, Fran wanted to know how industry folks were consistently able to create such engaging products. Alice shared a great story about giving kids content they actually want rather than content we want them to absorb. Bob pointed out that finding the right talent to make those products is key – and when Vikki asked how they handled diversity he shared that his company tries to showcase as many different kinds of people as possible in every show. Alice chimed in to point out that she thought children’s television was leagues ahead of primetime television in terms of showcasing diversity – or, as she so eloquently put it, “letting kids see themselves.” Sean, to his immense credit, admitted that the gaming industry has a lot of work to do in terms of diversity.

Speaking of games – we got to play one!  Quizmaster Stephen Gass (President, every baby company & Principal at The Gass Company) threw out 4 interesting research-based questions with multiple choice answers for everyone to guess at. The first one that threw us for a loop was about Christake’s infamous 2004 study linking early TV viewing with ADHD. We learned that the study was totally bogus: researchers essentially called parents and asked if their kid was more jumpy after watching TV, and these parental observations of their children at ages 1, 3 and 7 were manufactured into clinical results. It was refuted a year later – but never reported in the media! That’s why people still think that showing wee ones TV will give them ADHD. But it won’t. At least, not according to that study.

Hard, right? Here was the next question:


We were all over the place on this one, though correct in understanding that each of those statements is completely contextual.

There was a fantastically interesting question about when interactive hotspots in e-books helped improve a child’s ability to retell stories after that. The answer, which everyone guessed, was sometimes: when the hotspot was on track with narrative, rather than distracting the kid from the story, kids were better at retelling the story. Which sounds obvious. Because it is.

This was our last question:

UntitledDid you guess B & D? We didn’t. We learned that lots of parents don’t know how to read to a kid, and would rather force them through the pages instead of adapting the story to fit their child’s mood and comprehension.

In short, we learned that all of this stuff is correlational. Stephen urged us to always look at what variables are being balanced… and to never believe anything you read at face value. All in all, it was a great way to explore the role of data and research in children’s media – and a great way to remember that we really are all in this together. Kudos, everyone!

CMA Membership Challenge – No Pushups Involved

CMA Membership Challenge
December 2, 2013 – January 15, 2014

Spread the word! Receive rewards for referring friends and co-workers to CMA. The more new members you refer, the more rewards you earn!

How it works: To be recognized for bringing in new CMA members, new members just need to enter your name in the “How did you hear about CMA?” field of their membership application. New members must join during the dates of the Membership Challenge (12/2/13-1/15/14).

·      Refer 2 New Members – Guaranteed admission to two CMA Events for the 2014 calendar year*
·      Refer 3 New Members – Total of $25 of CMA Credits** + guaranteed admission to two 2014 events
·      Refer 4 New Members  – Total of $75 of CMA Credits + guaranteed admission to two 2014 events
·      Refer 5 New Members – Total of $150 of CMA Credits (equivalent to 1 year of free membership) + guaranteed admission to two 2014 events

*Qualifying members must email a minimum of 4 business days prior to the event to register. Event admission fees, if any, still apply. This offer does not apply to preticketed events (such as Broadway shows).

**Credits are assigned to your personal CMA account. Credits will automatically apply to your next purchase via the CMA website.

CMA Membership Challenge rewards are non-transferable. CMA Credits are solely redeemable for future event-related and membership fees (CMA Credits cannot apply to past membership or events fees), and CMA Credits will not be transferred into cash equivalent. To be recognized for a referral, the referred member must have their application approved during the dates listed for the Membership Challenge. New members may only credit one CMA member with their referral.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey(s) To Publication

Back in good ol’ October we were fortunate enough to get a bevy (I’ve always wanted to write a sentence with that word) of young adult and middle grade authors in for a panel discussion hosted by the amazing Betsy Bird, legend of the New York book scene and recently published author  Officially, Betsy’s title is Youth Materials Specialist for the New York Public Library and she was joined by 6 distinguished guests:  Ame Dyckman (Boy and Bot), Lynda Mullaly Hunt (One for the Murphys), Joanne Levy (Small Medium at Large), Katherine Longshore (Gilt), Elisa Ludwig (Pretty Crooked) and Sarvenaz Tash (The Mapmaker and the Ghost)These talented women shared their personal stories and insights into getting into the young adult and middle grade book scene.

677597_dfdcad211b5e1347455f042d7f5f752a.jpg_srz_p_296_365_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzSo how did these ladies get into writing kids’ books?  Lots of different ways.  One author credited everything she knows to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  She said she learned everything she needed to know from the organization and she got a pitch with an agent through a SCBWI event and alakazam that’s how she found her agent. A few of our authors had agents, weren’t able to sell their books but were steered in new directions by publishing companies who eventually went on to publish their new work.  Another author researched agents extensively and made sure she met the agent she wanted in person so she could have a connection to send a query letter.


Some of you are thinking query letter?  What you talking ‘bout Melinda?

4148830036_tumblr_lmlwttWudc1qzwnso_answer_3_xlargeIn order to find a literary agent, almost everyone will have to write a query letter at some point.  So, you finish your book, it’s awesome, then you write a letter and send samples from your book to agents who help you find publishers.  It’s almost impossible to get a book published without an agent.  The authors on the panel recommended as a useful resource as it’s important to research agents and find out what they want.  You don’t want to send a middle grade manuscript to an agent that’s only seeking picture books or one that’s looking for erotic literature, you know what I mean.  Other useful resources mentioned were and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market.

2012_Childrens_Writers_and_Illustrators_MarketWhat was some advice our panelists had on pursuing life as a writer?  A few people gave advice on dealing with rejection – it’s important to know that rejection of your work is not a rejection of you.  Don’t get caught up with negative reviews, keep working on new work and eventually you won’t stalk the internet for news about your book.  And whatever you do, don’t try to cater your work to an agent.  Your writing won’t come across as being authentic, better to find an agent that matches your sensibilities than to try to match your sensibilities to those of an agent.  And with those wise words, I’ll let you go about your day, dear reader.  Now go write!

Main Takeaway:  It all comes down to being yourself and being true to your vision.  If this great idea is in you and you want to write about it, write!  Sometimes you’ll have success, sometimes you won’t but it’s important to get that little bit of you out into the world.

Be-Yourself-Oscar-WildePersonal Takeaway:  One writer said the most ingenious, insightful words I’ve ever heard (seriously):  “Put your butt in the chair.”  She would set a timer and make herself write for 30 minutes before she could do anything else.  When I write, I find that starting is the hardest part.  Take this advice.

workInappropriate Takeaway:  Perhaps this is inappropriate because I am a 30-something year old woman but this event had stickers.  Is there anything more awesome than getting stickers?  The answer is none.  None more awesome.  (That’s right, I’ll use this joke until somebody laughs.)

Tiny Stickers on my notebook make me feel happy, make me feel fine

Tiny Stickers on my notebook make me feel happy, make me feel fine

Behind the Scenes at Amazon Studios

     It only took me 2 years as the resident CMA blogger to finally get the crown jewel of all guest bloggers:  Madame Presidente herself Sarah Wallendjack.  In addition to being the pres of CMA, Sarah is a Supervising Producer at Out of the Blue Productions – makers of such hit shows as “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Super Why” and the upcoming Amazon venture “Creative Galaxy.”  Sarah is also one of the most fun people I know.  And I am very serious about my fun.  I want to thank Sarah for taking time out from the issues with her healthcare website and the recent government shutdown to share her…oh wait, I guess she’s not that kind of president.  At any rate, we’re happy to have her.  Take it away, Madam President!
     I had been looking forward to the behind the scenes look at Amazon Studios from the moment the event was suggested.  We were lucky to pin down Tara Sorensen, Head of Kids Development for Amazon Studios, Angela Santomero, creator of Blues Clues, Super Why!, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Creative Galaxy (a new Amazon Original Series for kids), and Dr. Alice Wilder, Amazon Studios Educational Advisor, to discuss the upcoming development slate and philosophy behind Amazon’s content for kids.
     Amazon Studios is both a production company and a network with Amazon Prime members benefiting from their exclusive video content.  Tara made it clear throughout the evening that Amazon is looking at talent in a different way, striving to constantly innovate and building content based on what moms and kids want.
     They are taking risks.  With a deep understanding of their consumers’ needs, Amazon is a new network brand and they are taking chances.  This has exciting implications for today’s children’s content creators.
     Children are no longer watching scheduled programming on their living room TVs.  Kids don’t have an allegiance to a network and are watching content on tablets, phones and screens in the car.  Amazon sees an opportunity there.
     Amazon is customer obsessed and they can watch how people are watching their content.  They created one of the largest online focus groups to get feedback on their initial round of development and are always evolving their shows based on consumer feedback.  We got a sneak peak of some of the current development projects, Gortimer Gibbons, Hardboiled Eggheads, Tumbleleaf and Creative Galaxy to name a few.  A common thread between these projects are strong characters, kid relevance, and creativity.
     We started talking about Amazon’s educational philosophy with a clip of Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk [] – a must see for anyone working with children.  65% of kids will grow up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet and she believes creativity and empathy is essential to teach.  Kids are fearless learners with an insatiable appetite for learning.  Amazon’s content reflects this idea as it acknowledges who kids are as thinkers and learners.
     Dr. Alice Wilder said she had waited her whole life for an opportunity like this and walked us through the curriculum she developed to ground this new network.  She emphasized that creativity is as important in education as the content itself.  She said this was the dawn of the conceptual age.  In addition to advising on the curriculum for the whole network, Dr. Alice is working on several of the new series in production to ensure the philosophy is put into practice.
     One of those series, Creative Galaxy, has been created by Angela Santomero.  She is one of the most intelligent, creative, radiant, thoughtful and inspiring children’s content creators… and I’m not just saying that because she is my boss.  Angela’s content philosophy has always started from the curriculum and ensured that the lessons she wants to teach are imbedded in the very core of the characters and stories she tells.  She has a proven track record and has involved her audience – via research – in the early stages of production.  She was a clear candidate to pitch content in Amazon’s inaugural development round.  In addition to a series in production, Angela is also working with Amazon Studios on another pilot, Wishenpoof.
     In addition to reaching out to experienced producers, Amazon has opened the doors to submissions and take pitches via their online submission program as well as in-person pitches.  We were assured that all pitches are reviewed and they are constantly optioning content.  Tara confirmed that a project was just piloted based on an online submission.  15-20 projects are considered during each wave of development and there is one person from the Amazon development team that sees the project through from beginning to end.
     Pilots are not developed against each other.  Amazon is taking risks and have set up a system where they believe they can get the best out of creators.  They are open to ideas in any genre, for any audience and are looking to do things differently. Amazon is fully financing projects and are open to first time writers.
     I sat through the whole event wide-eyed and excited about what this means for today’s creators.  I hope this left the rest of the folks in the room as inspired and ready to take action.  If you have an idea – PITCH IT.  Tara and her team want to hear from you.
     Melinda again.  Not only was this an incredible event but there was cash and prizes, too!  Well, just prizes really.  Congrats to Katie O’Sullivan, proud winner of a handy dandy Amazon Paperwhite.
People really win at CMA

People really win at CMA

We’re all In This Together…Media

What better way to kick off the back to school season than with an event about children’s publishing?  The answer is none.  None better way.  CMA got to sit down with Andrea Montalbano, Jason Odell Williams and Carey Albertine – the innovators at In This Together Media, a new company that’s breaking the mold in writing books for girls.

inthistogetherIn This Together’s mission statement is simple:  They publish great books about real girls.  In the publishing business, publishers were starting to fear broader perspectives and new visions while at the same time the costs of self-producing and distributing books were coming down to zero with digital and self-publishing readily available.  What a perfect time to start a company dedicated to challenging the age old notion that girl protagonists can’t carry a story, boys won’t read it, girls are nasty to each other, etc.  The girls featured in the stories published by In This Together are complex, nuanced characters just like girls in real life.  Awesome.  The company challenges itself to showcase girls doing things we don’t often see in the media like coding computers.


So how do they pull this off?  Sometimes concept and creative developer Carey Albertine and her team come up with ideas for books and look for a writer that would be a good fit for the story and characters.  Other times, the writer figures out the stories and pitches them to the group.  The writing process is very fast and extremely collaborative.  They also read submitted manuscripts.  Basically, they are looking for collaborative writers who like to say yes.  They also have a teen review board that reads the stories and offers feedback.  Once the books are finished, they’re available both digitally and through Amazon’s print on demand.

So what are the advantages and disadvantage of traditional publishing vs. digital media?  For one, In This Together firmly believes that the quality is better due to their collaborative nature and the immediacy of feedback the writers receive.  As author Andy Montalbano said, when you’re driving a car you want to keep driving and not have to stop and change the battery.  The timing is also better at an indie, there’s not a giant lag time between when the book is written and when the book can be published.  The real nut to crack in digital media is distribution.  People aren’t really gifting other people digital books so each book has to have its own unique marketing strategy.  With one of Jason’s books the company is considering hiring an actress to go online and be the character from the book in an effort to drum up publicity.  For Andy’s Soccer Sisters series (say that 3 times fast) she has a spokeswoman, World Cup winner Brandi Chastain.

index         PScover_singledigital01

And so, what are some of the things that resonate with girls that In This Together wants to tap into?

-       Middle schoolers tend to like stories about being in a group or club (as a longtime lover of The Babysitters Club I can attest to that)

-       Teenagers like authentic characters complete with nuances and flaws

-       Girls want to read about the trouble other girls get into

-       They want stories where the girls solve their own problems and come to their own realizations

-       They like bad guys or rather they love to hate them (Who doesn’t?)

 Main Takeaway: Once again, story is king or queen in this case.  Characters can be bold, funny or fearless, the only sacred thing is the story itself.

As opposed to the story of Queen.

As opposed to the story of Queen.

Personal Takeaway:  There’s no wrong way to eat a Reeses.  What I mean by that is, if you want to tell your story find a way to do it.  Whether it’s traditional publishing or self-publishing or something in between – go out and make your voice heard.

What?  Halloween is coming and I like Reeses, okay?

What? Halloween is coming and I like Reeses, okay?

Inappropriate Takeaway:   I really need to reconsider our household book policy of if a book goes in, another book has to go out.  There’s just too much great stuff out there to read.  I don’t need clothes, right?  I can convert all my closets to bookshelves.  Sounds like a plan!

Crowdfunding 2.0 Indiegogo Event

As you all know I am a Chuck Barris-style spy (I mean with a name like Melinda LaRose, how could I not be) so I am occasionally unable to attend all the wonderful CMA events which is why I rely on the talents of Laurie-Anne Vazquez, guest blogger extraordinaire and talented aspiring kids’ writer.  Uh oh my handlers just informed me that no one is supposed to know about my spy status.  Enjoy the blog while I go straighten this out, I mean, while I bake cookies.  Yeah.   Heh heh.  Over to you, Laurie!

Crowdfunding seems like the quickest, easiest way to get cash for projects these days. While it helps content creators maintain control over their work, and is a much more direct route to an audience than traditional production cycles, there’s an art to getting strangers to give you money – and it’s not nearly as easy as Amanda Palmer makes it seem. You can’t just throw a video up on Indiegogo and wait for the dough to roll in: you’ve got to strategize. Mobilize. Research… ize.

As usual, Children’s Media Association gave its members the inside scoop on just how to do that.

Meeting in the super impressive WNET offices on Monday, September 23, an enormous conference table full of CMA folks gathered to listen to two amazing ladies who’d had great success with their Indiegogo campaigns.

See?  Look at how many of us there are!

See? Look at how many of us there are!

Amelia Robinson is an artist – a singer, songwriter and performer who’s done everything from play Carnegie Hall and compose pieces with Michael Nyman, to playing ukulele around the world and singing track 16 of Michelle Obama’s Songs for a Healthier America album. When neighborhood gigs in her native Park Slope started building traction, she decided to put out an album so her fans could keep her music – and she turned to Indiegogo to do it.

Indiegogo 2She decided to use Indiegogo for three reasons: it offered more flexible financing options than Kickstarter, the donations were tax deductible due to a partnership with Fractured Atlas, and she could use the money right away — and update all of her social media followers immediately as to how she was using it (i.e., “I just finished two tracks in the studio!”).  It took her 6 months from planning to launch, and here are her biggest takeaways:

-        Make your video and copy as clear as possible

-        Learn how your audience reads online. Make paragraphs no bigger than 3 sentences – anything longer and people stop reading

-        Talk to LOTS of people as research

Look at her on the right, explaining how she did that!

Look at her on the right, explaining how she did that!

She also managed to get coverage on quilt blogs because of a quilting tie-in she was offering as a donor reward, which was a great reminder for all of us to find a unique angle to our project (and promote the heck out of it).

Lissa Moses Johnson took a slightly different tack. As a Harlem science teacher and Discovery Channel/Siemen’s STEM Institute Fellow, Lissa realized that there were very few resources that spoke directly to her students – and that made her mad enough to make some. The result is Mosa Mack: Science Detective, and here’s why she turned to Indiegogo to get it done.

Concept art for Mosa Mack

Concept art for Mosa Mack

The big goal for Mosa Mack was to get it made, so every single decision Lissa made was about getting money to make it. She also chose Indiegogo for its immediate access to cash – and aligned herself with Fractured Atlas because it offered her a combined entry fee. Her presentation was all impressive practicality and charts, and her pointers were really helpful, too:

-        Identify the tasks that take an unreasonable amount of time and hire other people to do them

-        Personalize your campaign emails wherever possible – and number them in the subject line so people know what to expect

-        Know what you’re going to ask for. If you don’t know, ACT like you do

Lissa started out with a 45-day campaign but extended it to 60, accidentally creating two deadlines, with two spikes in submissions. She hasn’t figured out a way to use that intentionally without seeming duplicitous… but she will.

Look at her on the left, figuring it out!

Look at her on the left, figuring it out!

Here are some additional tips Amelia and Lissa gave us:

-        Fundraising is the time to call in all of your favors. Exhaust ALL of your resources!

-        Social media is key to not only getting the word out on your campaign, but casting your net wide enough to meet your goal (also, high-profile retweets make you feel awesome when you get tired of begging people for money)

-        Pre-campaign perks are a great way to supplement a 30-day campaign – rather than drag out the slow middle period of a 45-day campaign

-        Putting some funds toward educator and student research (if you’re doing an educational product like Mosa Mack) is a great way to refine the idea as you go

-        You don’t have to know what kind of corporate structure you’ll have before starting. You can figure it out as you go, and pitch those ideas to investors

And now you know all of the tricks that we know. Go out there and give your dream campaign a shot – and don’t forget to live tweet!

(Event photos courtesy of Corey Nascenzi, CMA Director of Events…because I forgot. D’oh! Thanks, Corey!)

Member Spotlight: Nancy Kaplan

The road to finding that first job in children’s media can be long and winding.  Below, Nancy Kaplan discusses the path she took to land her current role as  Social Media Coordinator for Grand Communications and why organizations like CMA play an important part in the journey.



Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

I’ve always been a huge fan of children’s television shows. I studied communication in college and minored in educational studies. Due to my past work experiences, including countless internships, it led me in the direction of the children’s media industry. I was very fortunate to experience a various range of areas of work including marketing, public relations, television production, and educational outreach. After a summer internship at Sesame Workshop in the television production department of “The Electric Company,” I had the desire to pursue children’s media. I’ve also had the opportunity to intern at public broadcasting stations. At Thirteen/WNET my favorite part was working at the children’s events. I loved seeing the glowing faces of children when they saw a “Dinosaur Train” related game. Currently at my job, I see the positive reactions of parents and children in a different way, through social media.

As someone relatively new to the industry, can you share any tips on how to get that first job in children’s media?

My two most helpful tips are definitely to network and go on informational interviews.  I really can’t stress networking enough. Joining Children’s Media Association was the best career move for me. At an event last fall, I met Corey Nascenzi, the Events Director of CMA. After introductions, I mentioned a recent WNET internship posting online, which I had applied to that day. She was able to help me secure an interview at WNET in the children’s outreach department. It just shows, you never know what happens and who you will meet at a CMA event. I was also fortunate to meet so many great people in the industry who helped me acquire freelance work, in addition to interviews. I am a believer of sticking with something I am very passionate about. No matter how long the wait is, don’t give up.

You are currently the Social Media Coordinator for Grand Communications.  Can you tell us about the company and your role there?  

Grand Communications is a full-service communications firm and we provide public relations to clients in entertainment-related fields and beyond, such as children’s television, licensing, toys and consumer products, consumer electronics, and film.

As my role as the Social Media Coordinator, I help maintain meaningful and engaging fan and follower interaction for popular preschool entertainment properties, including Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! In addition to social media, I also assist my team with outreach, collecting and managing press coverage, and writing pitches and press releases. Though I am fairly new at Grand Communications, it’s a great feeling to be part of the team.

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now?

Definitely apps. Besides watching shows on television, online or on tablets, apps provide children with an additional way of having fun through interactive learning. I am also a fan of timer features on websites for children. With this feature, children will have a certain time limit and help ease transition to the next activity, such as when it’s time for dinner.  For example, the Tickety Toc website allows parents to set the timer for their children. I hope to see this feature on more sites and games for children in the future.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

Watching reruns of Friends. No matter how many times I’ve seen each episode, they never get old.


TwerP (With a P – Not That Miley Cyrus Thing)

I have been reading the most delightful book – Twerp by Mark Goldblatt.  We were fortunate enough to talk to Mark about his anti-bullying middle grade novel, a novel that Mark didn’t even know was middle grade or about bullying.

imagesMark is a political writer by trade ( and Harper Collins approached him about writing an ebook based on his political commentary columns.  They liked his work and ordered a paperback book – 50,000 words please.  And as any writer knows when faced with a deadline you’ll sometimes come up with the most unlikely of distractions.  While working on this juggernaut Mark started drawing sketches about things that happened in his childhood and soon found himself writing a story with a 12-year-old narrator.  That’s how Twerp was born.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, people.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, people.

Twerp is the story of Julian Twersky, a normal kid growing up in New York in 1969.  When Julian’s English teacher assigns him to write a diary it helps Julian develop empathy for others.  I don’t want to give too much away but it’s a really great read.  The book consists of little sketches of incidents in Julian’s life all leading up to the one incident that he wants to talk about the least but that is the entire reason his teacher assigned him the journal in the first place.  Mark never envisioned it as an anti-bullying book, just as a long confession of a kid developing a conscience.

In fact, Mark is hesitant to call it a bullying book.  He’s worried that our society is defining bullying down.  There’s a difference between teasing and bullying and some teasing is bonding.  You tease back and forth with your friends.  The book definitely has this teasing among Julian and his group of friends and it also has the other extreme – some very clear, not okay bullying.

Stop_Bullying1As a writer, I was interested in hearing about Mark’s writing process and I must say it’s really unique.  He tries to write 2 pages a day (not unique yet).  He won’t stop writing until he knows what the last sentence is he’s going to write for the day (a little more unique).  But then – he doesn’t write it.  He memorizes it and writes it down the next day (there it is).  This motivates him to write because he’s afraid of forgetting the sentence and typing something he’s already written helps put him in the right mindset.

Mark treated us to a reading from his next book – a sequel to Twerp.  But what are you doing still reading this blog?  Go check out the book!

Main Takeaway: Mark admitted that when the words middle grade novel were mentioned he got up in his head about what he was writing.  He thought he was writing for adults. In the end, he realized he should just write the novel he wanted.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

Personal Takeaway:  I feel totally vindicated now in reading all the “kids” books that I read.

good story logo

Inappropriate Takeaway:  Mark admitted that nothing in the book is completely invented and now I really really want to know the truth behind the Twerp.  Especially one rather unfortunate tale of our narrator’s first date that nearly broke my heart.  Read the book!

This isn't what happened.  Or is it?

This isn’t what happened. Or is it?

Licensing – Tried and True vs. New Kid on the Block: The Ultimate Smackdown

This summer CMA teamed up with Women in Toys for a panel discussing the ins and outs of licensing.  Particularly, tried and true brands vs. new properties emerging into the market.

WITlogoOur illustrious panelists included:  Liza Abrams:  VP, Global Licensing and Marketing Sakar International.  Her work at Sakar includes brands such as Hello Kitty, Monster High, Spider Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Dara Beckerman:  Senior Director, Toys and Consumer Electronics at Nickelodeon.  On Dara’s watch Dora the Explorer became Fisher-Price’s fastest-growing property ever in the US.  Way to go!  And last but not least we had Lindsay Martinez:  VP of Licensing and Business Development at American Greetings where she works on such tried and true properties as Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears.  The panel was moderated by Martin Brochstein:  SVP Industry Relations and Information for International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA).

Those are some impressive big wigs!

Those are some impressive big wigs!

Whew!  That was a lot of street cred to drop!  So what did they talk about?  Lots of stuff.  That’s it.  End post.  One topic that came up is the challenge of launching a new property.  The landscape for toys and media is constantly changing as new shows are more bountiful and shelf space is more scarce.  Licensors track the appeal of new brands and do lots of consumer studies.  For AGP it was important to keep the emotional aspects of their properties intact when re-launching retro favorites like Holly Hobbie or Care Bears.  A parent nostalgic for these toys isn’t going to shell out hard-earned money if they’re unrecognizable from what they know and loved but a kid isn’t going to react well to totally outdated designs.  Properties, whether new or old, have to translate to the kinds of products each company makes.  For example, the iCarly product lines were very gadget-driven because that fits in with the sensibility of the show.

Though Holly Hobbie didn't really look modern for the '70s either.  1870s, yes.

Though Holly Hobbie didn’t really look modern for the ’70s either. 1870s, yes.

So the big question from our show creators in the audience was will a show be considered without an obvious consumer product angle?  The answer was – it depends.  Preschool properties need consumer products, kids want to play their favorite shows.  Shows for older kids are a wild card.  Dara pointed out that at Nick not every show has a consumer product line.  Tweens are fickle, they may love a show but just not want to advertise that on a t-shirt.

Products are planned 2-5 years ahead of time so it’s difficult to gauge what’s going to be a hit and what’s not.  And depending on the kinds of products certain things are easier to make:  T-shirts are easy, toys are hard.  Disney took a huge chance launching consumer products for Doc McStuffins when the show premiered but that risk has paid off.  Dara admitted Nickelodeon is starting to launch products earlier, too.  They launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys alongside the new series and they’re already creating Peter Rabbit toys for the fall and the show just launched in December.  It’s important to keep track of things like ratings and social media.  If there is a demand for product, folks online will not be shy about it.

When dealing with tried and true favorites, you still have to keep things fresh. Hello Kitty gets revamped a few times a year and even Care Bears has added a new character.  For human properties you have to keep them cute, contemporary and fashion forward.  Even Mickey and Minnie Mouse had to be revamped when Disney got too precious about them and their style fell, well, out of style.

Old Turtles

Old Turtles

New Turtles

New Turtles


All in all, I don’t think we had too much of a debate on our hands.  At least I didn’t see any boxing gloves, which, frankly, is what I expect.  We did have a rather interested talk about all things licensing which was a little over the head of this writer who still believes that a guy from the North Pole just magically brings us the toys we want every year.  Still, I tried my best to takeaway something valuable (in between jotting down my Christmas list of course).

Main Takeaway: I was all set to declare evergreen properties the winner but even these tried and true brands need to be updated constantly so everything is new – so everyone wins!


Personal Takeaway:  I can’t even imagine planning anything 5 years out.  I have trouble planning month to month.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  My brothers once convinced me to let them blow up my Lemon Meringue doll with firecrackers.  I still feel terrible for poor Ms. Meringue even to this day.

Poor kid - Never even saw it coming

Poor kid – Never even saw it coming

Member Spotlight: Jordan Geary

Jordan Geary is CMA’s very own Director of Development.  We’re delighted he’s stopped by the CMA blog to talk about his work at FlickerLab and why he’s “that annoyingly happy guy you meet at a party who loves his job”.
Jordan and Frunky

Jordan and Frunky

Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

I started out thinking I wanted to be in the music business, so I studied music in college.  You’d think that would make the fact that my working career started out at MTV with a job that involved picking music to underscore reality shows something of a match made in heaven.  It TOTALLY wasn’t.  I found myself unhappy at a job many people would kill for.  It stopped being fun right around the 50th time a television producer would say something akin to, “This is a ‘pensive’ moment in the script.  This Radiohead song isn’t ‘pensive’ at all!  I WANT ‘PENSIVE’!”  

Realizing that I wanted something more, I took a cue from Michael Jackson and had one of those conversations with the man in the mirror.  I asked myself what I enjoyed most in life, recognizing that the key to having a happy career was somewhere in that answer.  My overwhelming response was “cartoons”.  I’ve loved animated programming, comic strips, pop art and children’s books since I was born, and knew right then and there that it was time to devote my life to it.  Here I sit, many years later, where I can safely be known as “that annoyingly happy guy you meet at a party who loves his job and loves life.”

You are the Head of Production and Development for FlickerLab. Please tell us about the company and share any past successes and/or future projects you’re excited about.

FlickerLab is a pretty unique company in that we bring together a lot of experience and expertise in production, education and technology, and our projects increasingly move across these lines. In addition to a huge amount of animated projects, we’ve also created over a hundred interactive e-books, live action productions, apps and games for the biggest media and publishing companies.

There are so many exciting projects coming up. But we’re particularly excited about our new series for, a site that gets over 15 million unique visitors a month, that uses a lot of humor and some awesome weirdness to teach kids about how their bodies work. Coincidentally enough, it’s called “How the Body Works with Chloe and the Nurb”. The first 8 episodes are launching in September, and we have lots of plans to expand it into interactive content and a broadcast series.

Beyond that, we’ve been taking all of our digital publishing development and have created our own digital publishing platform. We’re working with a number of folks in media and education, putting together some really groundbreaking digital publishing projects, folding in tools for media creation as well as consumption. The mobile revolution has definitely opened up amazing ways to create content, to share content, and to build up a completely new kind of relationship with audiences planet-wide.  It’s, in a word, “neat-o”.

What would you say are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?

Two hugely rewarding things come to mind:  The first is being able to be creative every single day at work.  FlickerLab leverages the talents of every employee, and that’s afforded me the ability to create shows, write scripts, do character voices, and a million other things that make me act out ridiculous animated scenes in my mind during my morning commute.

The second rewarding thing involves those weird little out-of-body moments where you stop and say, “I can’t believe I have a job where I get to do this.”  I had a call with a company the other day where the entire conversation involved me assuring them that the animated characters that were flying out of a gigantic butt would NOT be covered in poop (which would be tasteless), but that on a metaphoric level, the characters WERE the poop.  They certainly don’t prepare you for a conversation like that in school.

As far as challenging aspects, beyond the daily challenge of learning new things and adapting to new situations, there is always the challenge of managing an entire company of personalities.  As the head of production it’s just as much my job to make sure the work we do is at the very highest level as it is to make sure every worker at FlickerLab is fundamentally enjoying where they are and what they do.  The best work comes out of people who genuinely want to see the projects they are working on succeed.  Too many crummy companies forget that.  They treat their employees poorly, then act shocked when the finished product they get back is subpar.  One day I hope to look back and say I had a good career based on the smiles on the workers around me just as much as the body of work I’ve left behind.

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now? 

Everybody and their mother lately is going the easy route and answering this question with, “It’s amazing how everything is going digital”…but that’s lazy.  Things have been “going digital” for 200 years and counting, and that will still be an acceptable answer in 200 years time.  The thing to me that is REALLY awe-inspiring is how hard people have to work these days to come up with something truly NEW for audiences.  It’s so easy to acquire the rights to do a “revamp”, and it’s even easier to simply mash two proven show concepts together and try to push it off as new.  For those not interested in doing that, however, the ideas they are coming up with are wonderfully “out there”.  Ren and Stimpy, Adventure Time, Flapjack, Spongebob Squarepants…you try to explain to people in one sentence what these shows are about and it makes you sound like a person in the middle of an acid trip.  To think that that aspect of show-pitching is only going to get more and more extreme?  THAT’S exciting!

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?

I would kill to live as a citizen of Springfield from The Simpsons for a day.  Same goes for spending a day in Jurassic Park.  Notice how I say “a day” as longer than a day in either of those places would undoubtedly be the worst thing ever.  I just realized while writing this that I need to go to back to Universal Studios in Florida, which has both a Simpsons and Jurassic Park segment of their park.  Yes, I have the mind of a 5 year old.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…

Anything that makes my inner child smile.  You throw cartoon characters, dinosaurs, transformers, halloween, or sharks into anything and you are guaranteed to get my money.  (Smacks his forehead as he realizes Michael Bay will use that sentence to pitch a dinosaur meets transformer meets halloween meets shark movie to a studio and subject us all to it).

Everything’s Coming Up Rosie

I love a good field trip.  Even at the ripe old age of however-old-I-am, I love to go to a new place and see something I’ve never seen before.  In this case, CMA went to get a first hand look at how things work at Rosie’s Theater Kids!

originalRTKids is a non-profit performing arts organization started by Rosie O’Donnell.  They have a variety of programs but it all starts with PS Broadway.  Educators from RTKids head into inner city public schools and teach free performance arts classes for 5th graders.  The class culminates in a performance at the end of the year and a field trip to a Broadway show.  PS Broadway serves schools with an average 83% poverty rate and, as you can imagine, most of the kids in the program have never seen a Broadway show before.

And maybe no one should see this one?

And maybe no one should see this one?

Listening to the educators at RTKids talk about this experience, you’d think there’s no way this gets any better but that’s not all…

Certain kids are invited to audition for the Acte II program.  This is for 6th to 12th graders and once accepted into the program, they are offered free classes in dance, voice, drama and music.  They’re not necessarily looking for talent in the audition process, they’re looking for enthusiasm, kids who have the potential to become great team members.  In addition to the performing arts classes, kids are offered after school tutoring, high school admission guidance, SAT prep and college application guidance.  A main goal of the program is to place kids into higher education by giving them the resources, guidance and self-confidence they need.  And it’s totally working.  Out of the 1400 students in the program (which started at a humble 40 ten years ago) there is a 100% high school graduation rate and 95% of their students are accepted into specialized and selective public schools.


But that’s not all…

They also offer a Spotlight on Fitness class to provide a physical education and arts curriculum to under-served schools lacking space and resources.  They offer tap classes for students in grades pre-K to 4th grade.

And that’s still not all  (whew, if I were talking I’d be running out of breath)…

They also match students up with mentors.  Mentors are paired with students and they take the kids out to sites in New York.  You do not have to be a performing arts professional to be a mentor.  Currently, they have 15 mentors and are always looking for more.  Check out that website for more info!

We were treated to a performance from some of the kids.  Now I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a Broadway-caliber performance.  I could see any one of those kids singing it up in Annie or Matilda.  The work being done at RTKids is amazing and nowhere near complete!  While Rosie gave the first seed money, the group is trying to become self-sustaining with most funds coming from individual donations and an annual gala.  That’s all folks, those are all the notes I took.  The rest of the time I was busy enjoying the show!

Look out, kid!  You're going to have some stiff competition.

Look out, kid! You’re going to have some stiff competition.

Main Takeaway: I love that RTKids main goal is college and school readiness.  Most kids don’t even go on to the study the arts in college but they get the experience they need to be strong citizens, no matter what they decide to do professionally.

Personal Takeaway:  We asked the kids what they learn from collaborating with adults and one of the kids said they learned that when you collaborate with an adult, you get to be on the same level as them.  That made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

So it's not a kid and an adult but you know...Shark Week.

So it’s not a kid and an adult but you know…Shark Week.

Inappropriate Takeaway:  Perhaps as a result of going to this event, whenever I see the Breaking Bad billboards that say “Remember My Name” it just makes me sing “Fame.”  I do not think that’s what the advertisers were going for.

Good luck with the living forever thing, Walt.

Good luck with the living forever thing, Walt.

Master Your Universe (Not to be Confused With He-Man, Master of the Universe)

This summer the members of CMA and the PGA (Producers, not golfers) got to hear transmedia guru and all around nice guy, Jeff Gomez speak about…transmedia.  Why, what were you expecting?

gI_89403_SLR LOGO

Jeff is the founder, president and CEO of Starlight Runner (  Starlight Runner maximizes the value of clients’ intellectual property by determining their brand essence, expanding their story worlds and getting everyone on board with long term strategies.  Got all that?  The way I see it is that back in the not-so-distant day you used to have a property and there would be comic books, toys, video games, children’s books, a television series and a movie all run by different companies and no one talking to each other or on the same page.  With transmedia, everyone is on board with one vision, one large story world and consistency is maintained.  Please take note of this folks who say, wanted to make the Ninja Turtles from SPACE (I mean, mutant is right in their name) and makers of the Avatar:  The Last Airbender movie (I don’t know anything about that one but my niece, who’s a huge fan of the show was very upset by the treatment of the characters in the movie).


So how did Jeff get into this?  He remembers watching Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling!) when he was a kid.  There was a character that was on the TV wrestling and then appeared in comic books.  Huzzah! Multi-platform!  Later, playing Dungeons and Dragons introduced him to the concept of a non-linear story world and the fact that a story can be communal.  He wrote about Multimedia Gaming and created comic books and video games for various properties.  One of his story worlds, Corindor became part of a little game you might remember called Magic:  The Gathering.  He formed Starlight Runner in 2000, a time where big companies were failing at maintaining good IP in the face of licensees.  There was no continuity of branding.

For those of you who don't know, old school D&D looks like this!

For those of you who don’t know, old school D&D looks like this! And for the record, my charisma is off the charts!

Jeff said the secret to good transmedia is listening.  You have to figure out what connects people to your property and SLR has worked on a lot of properties that really connect with people.  Things like Transformers (though not the movie to which I say good on ya’, SLR), Avatar, Men in Black, Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the trend is catching on.  Sony Pictures just became the first major studio to grant a Transmedia Production and Consultation Annual Renewable Deal.

Transmedia storytelling conveys messages, themes or story lines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multiple-media platforms.  Technology cannot overrule story (take notes George Lucas).  At the end of the day story is still king, audiences (whether they be video gamers or TV watchers or whatever) need to fall in love with the characters and companies need to know their brand essence (what is unique to your property).  Jeff says most successful story worlds have something positive in their essence, an aspirational message that if adhered to, would make the world a better place.  Like my fav:


Five Elements for Good, Solid Transmedia:

  1. Does it have something to say?
  2. Comedy is fine but a joke is not worth chasing
  3. Characters need to be compelling (“Hook me with a good character that I like or identify with and I will follow her anywhere.”)
  4. Story Elements that are self-contained but additive (We know how the story of Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth and Will Turner turned out but how did he hook up with Barbosa as a matey in the first place?  We know what happened to Luke but are there other Jedi out there?  And what are they up to?  So many story possibilities!)
  5. The work leverages the strength of each medium it uses

11Transmedia is now being embraced almost everywhere.  On kindleworlds (  you can write fan fiction and they will publish it and sell it (again, there’s that D&D communal storytelling).

As for Jeff, well it’s all come full circle.  SLR is working on Lucha Libre USA, coming to a TV and an internet and a whatever-else-you-can-think-of near you!  Awesome.

lucha-libre1Want to know more about transmedia?  Visit:;;  twitter: #transmedia

Main Takeaway: Story is still key.  You want to be true to your story.  You could say, write a bunch of (other) True Blood novels about vampires in Bon Temps that we haven’t met yet but you wouldn’t want to write one where the vampires eat hair instead of drink blood or where Merlotte’s is a hardware store because that just doesn’t fit in with that story world.  Can you tell what I’ve been watching all summer?

I'm just saying no one is tuning into this on Sunday night.

I’m just saying no one is tuning into this on Sunday night.

Personal Takeaway:  Whenever Jeff talks about the projects Starlight Runner works on I get star struck.  I am totally pedantic when it comes to my media (Dear Tim Burton:  Catwoman is a cat burglar. She doesn’t have super cat powers!) and I’m so glad someone is watching out for fanboys (and girls) like me.

imagesInappropriate Takeaway:  Jeff mentioned they are working on longer stories with goldfish characters.  Yessum, like the crackers.  I couldn’t help but think, “First you play with them, then you eat them!”  Oh, the humanity!


A Night at the Museum

As some of you may know, I took a little break to run around theme parks in Orlando.  I would say it was to reconnect with the kid in me but I am never out of touch with the kid in me, so that’s just not true.  Sometimes the kid in me needs a vacation, too.  Once again, graciously filling in as guest blogger is the lovely and talented Laurie-Anne Vazquez.

And I also saved the world from aliens, by the way.  You're welcome.

And I also saved the world from aliens, by the way. You’re welcome.

According to our Puritan forefathers, children’s souls were inherently sinful (because the Puritans thought everything was sinful). As soon as they could read they were taught right from wrong, and the earliest children’s books were dreadfully serious diatribes on human morality – until John Locke came along. He thought learning should be made “a Play and Recreation,” and, thankfully, the rest of human history agreed with him.

Locke is the reason children’s books are engaging, encouraging readers young and old to imagine themselves in the stories. Interact with the world around them from the perspectives of their favorite characters. Have fun. That theme – that we all make sense of the world around us by interacting with stories – is the core of the NYPL’s latest exhibit “The ABC of it:  Why Children’s Books Matter.”

And it was gobs of fun.

CMA visited the exhibit on Tuesday, July 16. Here are few pictures and key points because I can’t spoil it for you. Or I don’t want to. Go see it yourself, is what I’m saying.

See?  There we are!

See? There we are!

Here are the highlights:

  • The design of the exhibit was all about play. There were lots of nooks and crannies to wander in and explore – making everyone feel like a kid.
How do you NOT lead a wild rumpus through here?

How do you NOT lead a wild rumpus through here?

Don't you want to crawl through that window into the other room?

Don’t you want to crawl through that window into the other room?

  • That sense of exploration, and the hands-on details for each section of the exhibit, encouraged a sense of wonder. Every twist and turn took people back to their childhood memories.
Beautiful words, Mr. Sagan.  And his weren't the only ones gracing this wall.

Beautiful words, Mr. Sagan. And his weren’t the only ones gracing this wall.

Do you know how many people yelled “Follow the white rabbit!” when they saw this? EVERYONE.

Do you know how many people yelled “Follow the white rabbit!” when they saw this? EVERYONE.

  • You haven’t experienced Charlotte’s Web until you hear E.B. White read it. Fun fact: he sounds like a plummy, placid Michael Caine!
  • Did you know people were writing teen adventure fiction in 19th Century Germany? About American cowboys and Indians? I sure didn’t.

The CMA folks gathered afterwards to chat, and while we realized that lots of our favorite children’s books weren’t represented (No Little Prince! No Little Women! No Howl’s Moving Castle!) we unanimously agreed that we’d learned quite a bit. None the least of which was that children’s media people can’t pick a single favorite book.

My favorite part of the exhibit – and CMA Director of Events Corey Nascenzi’s favorite part – was the Banned Books section.

Little House on the Prairie?!

Little House on the Prairie?!

Little House on the Prairie?!

… but standing in front of those titles, smitten by the sheer volume of stories, was awe-inspiring. It reminded me that stories are powerful – not just because they can teach, but because they can teach things that some people want to restrict. Ideas are powerful…and completely in the eye of the beholder.

There was so much more to see, and we all agreed we needed to come back and spend more time at the exhibit. Wander. Explore.

Thank you, Edward Stratemayer, for legitimizing my dream job. For those of you who saw the exhibit, you know why. For those who didn’t, the exhibit runs until March 23, 2014.

Go! Go now!

Catwoman says so. And she’s part of the exhibit, so she’s waiting...

Catwoman says so. And she’s part of the exhibit, so she’s waiting…

Caption: “Catwoman says so. And she’s part of the exhibit, so she’s waiting...”

Spotlight Interview: Rosie O’Donnell


The following guest post was written by CMA Event Coordinator Timothy Michael Harrington:

So, back when I lived in LA I spent most mornings in my favorite coffee shop writing.  One of the scripts I wrote was a multi-cam tween sitcom about a performing arts education organization devoted to assisting underprivileged youth.  It was called The Hope Academy.  A year or so later I was fortunate enough to meet Alyson Roy who, as luck would have it, is on the Junior Board for Rosie’s Theater Kids – a performing arts education organization devoted to assisting underprivileged youth.  It was a full circle moment to say the least – I now serve on Rosie’s Theater Kids’ Junior Council. 

rosie theater kids

That said, Rosie’s Theater Kids was originally founded by Rosie O’Donnell & Lori Klinger to provide a Broadway experience to children who might otherwise not have the opportunity. The organization positively changes the trajectory of their student’s lives by providing comprehensive classes in music, dance and drama; thoughtful mentoring; and structured academic guidance – provided at no cost to the students or the schools.  The goal is to inspire excellence, motivate learning, uplift the human spirit, build confidence, and spark a lifelong appreciation for the arts.  The innovative musical theater programs that RTKids brings to New York City public school children has grown from 40 students to over 1,700 per year.  Since it’s inception in 2003, RTKids has touched the lives of over 60,000 students.

In a lead up to our event Wednesday July 24th at RTKids (The Maravel Arts Center, 445 W 45th St, New York, NY @ 6:30pm) , Rosie O’Donnell has been kind enough to answer a few questions, and give us some insight into what makes Rosie’s Theater Kids such a success:

 What were your favorite television shows growing up?
A few of my favorite shows growing up were The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, I Dream of Jeannie, Courtship of Eddies Father…

What shows / games / apps do your children watch / play with?  Was there anything they couldn’t get enough of growing up?

The [younger] kids love the Instagram and Sims apps. Right now Vivi loves to play Chess and her favorite show is The Fosters, she can’t get enough of it. Blake loves to watch sports, particularly basketball and football. The show I couldn’t get enough of growing up was Battle of the Network Stars.

Speaking as a mom, humanitarian, and entertainer – What do you think media producers should create to best serve our youth?

Realistic family dramas best serve our youth.

What does the future hold for Rosie’s Theater Kids?

It’s exciting to see where our alumni are headed. We’ve got Daniel – one of the first – at University of Michigan studying Musical Theater. We’ve got Nicole at Duke, Kirra at Northwestern – these first 10 years we were building from scratch – now we see our alumni coming back, giving back – it’s exciting to see a legacy beginning to form. I think Lori and the staff are building an institution, with Maravel Arts Center standing tall, forming roots into 45th Street and reaching out to Broadway and beyond.

Bringing History to Life – Writers Workshop with Bianca Turetsky

This week, I’m happy to introduce a new guest blogger!  I know sometimes you, loyal readers (aka Mom), need a change of pace.  I’m happy to introduce Laurie-Anne Vazquez, a newcomer to CMA!   Laurie is a graduate of NYU’s Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing and an aspiring kids’ TV writer for ages 6-11. If her Jackie Chan Adventures spec could have gotten her on that show she would have died happy; as is, it was submitted for a Humanitas Award and wrangled her a spec-writing gig for Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, so she’s still pretty happy. She bides her time at Popular Science magazine, pitching geeky science articles while she figures out how to write smart kids and fun fight scenes for a living — or The Legend of Korra. Whichever comes first. Laurie’s taking over while I sun and fun in the Sunshine State.  Take it away, Laurie-Anne!

True story.

True story.

I am not, what you would call, a history buff. I am bad with dates, I mix up country borders, and I assume everything ends badly. The only things I can relate to about history are the stories – and the people who lived them.

That’s why I really appreciated Bianca Turetsky’s chat at CMA’s “Bringing History to Life” Writers Workshop on June 11.

Bianca wasn’t a history person, either. She was just a girl obsessed with vintage fashion. One day, she got invited to a traveling vintage fashion show and tried on a dress that previously belonged to a Mrs. Baxter. As she looked at the tag on the sleeve Bianca found herself wondering about Mrs. Baxter.  What was she like? Was she happy? What did she eat that day?


That dress, and those questions, were the genesis of the first Time Traveling Fashionista book. She’s written 2 more since, and found that having a fashion-forward 12-year-old dress shop with Marie Antoinette is a pretty fun way to teach history. She never intended to do that, but she fell into it. Because of the stories.

“Story has to come first,” Bianca told us eager CMA folks. “Always.” Kids want to read fun things on their own time, “they don’t want to feel like they’re having a lesson,” she explained. In order to tell those kinds of stories, it’s important to do the research first. Not too much (she sets a strict deadline for herself or the writing would never get done), but enough to get a base. Read lots of biographies, visit the places you’re writing about if possible (she went to Versailles with her research assistant:  grandma), and – most importantly – ask an expert. “I definitely recommend reaching out to experts,” she advised. “People are really generous with their time… I wish I’d done it for my first 2 books!”

Once that’s done, and you’re sure your readers feel like they’re there (“Authenticity is in the details,” she confirmed), it’s time to check facts. “The burden is on the author to have your facts straight,” she said. We didn’t know that.  Neither did she… at first. “It was a lot of pressure,” she admitted. She felt a real responsibility to honor the memories of real people she worked into her fictional narrative, and encouraged us to do the same.

That said, Bianca admitted she struggles with how much of her stories are fact versus fiction. We discussed different methods of sharing her research with her audience to provide clarity (supplemental materials like “The Magic Tree House” series, posting it on the book’s website, creating a dress-up app), but realized that adults were the only ones asking those kinds of questions. Kids were just enjoying the stories – and researching on their own.

Bianca gave us an overview of what to expect when trying to publish historical fiction (agents are important!), as well as a list of historical fiction agents and a reading list, making us all very happy. While the market is fairly saturated, she told us there’s room as long as the story has a good hook.

Then she warned us that authors need to do their own promotion, making us all slightly less happy. Promotion is the author’s second job.  She does it mostly with school visits, partly to interact directly with her readers (and hear how they really speak so she can write their voices well), and partly because, “librarians and teachers are the best marketers I have.” Educators are desperate for ways to make curriculum fun and accessible, and when Bianca shows up with the dress the kids are hooked. She brings that dress to every visit: “I did it for one and thought—oh! I should always do it like this!”

Bianca compiles her own list of schools, but mentioned that teaching history is another way to get into classrooms in New York State. So are Skype book tours, and reading school curriculum. That’s how she got the idea to write about Cleopatra for the third book, even though she probably would have done it anyway. “The lack of [first-person] historical information makes her interesting to a writer like me,” she shared.

While Bianca still has a day job (“I have 3 books and I’m still trying to figure out how to do it as a full-time thing”), she reminded us that historical fiction is more important than ever now. Citing a New York Times stat so scary I had to triple check it with her, she said that 35% of people don’t know when the American Revolution took place—but over 80% of people can name a Kardashian. Pop culture knowledge is replacing historical knowledge, and it’s up to writers to turn the tide.

Speaking of writing, and since it was a Writers Workshop, Bianca guided us through a writing exercise. “The best practice for writing is writing,” she chimed, and had us close our eyes and imagine being whisked away in our own time machines. We stepped outside the machine for just a minute, long enough to look around and take in the sights and smells and people. We struggled to get it all down fast enough.

Maybe one of those time travel adventures will become the next big work of historical fiction. Only time will tell.

Materials for the Arts and for Melindas, Too!

What better way to kick off summer than by doing arts and crafts? (Hint:  The answer is none.  None better way.)  We visited Materials for the Arts, a wonderful organization serving non-profits all over the 5 boroughs.

mfta_picThe organization has been around for 35 years and it basically works like this:  Folks donate materials (hence the name Materials for the Arts) these can include paper, fabric, jewelry, old office supplies.  You name it, they got it!  They receive a lot of stuff from television and film sets when productions end, Steinway is a donor, etc.  If you are part of a non-profit you can come on down to Queens and shop there for free!  That’s right, take whatever you like.  All they ask is that you write a nice thank you note to the folks who donated the materials you’re taking.  Simple huh?  Lots of theatre groups go to there for props and fabric to make costumes and they donate everything back when their productions end.  Win-win.  Teachers can shop there, too.  They also offer courses for teachers and do professional development classes.  School groups come in for workshops and tours as well.  Neat-o!


So we made like a school group and did a little mosaic arts and crafts project.  As you can see, it rocked.


What I lack in photography skills I make up for in…something.

Main Takeaway: Schools are so underfunded, it’s awesome that there’s a place that teachers can go to, not just for physical materials but for classes and workshops as well.  Those mosaics don’t just make themselves, you know.

Personal Takeaway:  As a non-artsy and craftsy person I could’ve used more things like this when I was a kid.  Take your school group to Materials for the Arts.  You won’t regret it.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  I did have to resist the urge to fake having a non-profit so I could shop there for stuff.  You know, for me. Don’t worry, the angel on my shoulder won this round and I did no such thing.  But I thought about it.  I thought about it a lot.

I'll take a devil on my shoulder over this psychotic parrot any day.

I’ll take a devil on my shoulder over this psychotic parrot any day.

Linda Simensky Gives Good Pitching (and Dating) Advice

I don’t know Linda Simensky very well at all but I really want to be her best friend.  CMA had the privilege of spending an entire morning with Linda to talk about the ins and outs of pitching and before I get bogged down in details and pitching advice, I just want to say how warm and friendly Linda was during her talk.  She was open and honest (I’m paraphrasing:  Everyone is going to say no.  Accept that.  Let your passion get you through it.) while still managing to give everyone in the room hope that their bright spark of an idea could one day really shine (Development is the most optimistic job in the business, “Today might be the day where I find a great show”).  It was a wonderful morning and Linda even stayed late to hear some one on one pitches.  I’ll do my best to sum up what was said but if you ever get a chance to see Linda speak – take it.  It was well worth waking up early on a Saturday morning.  And with DVR, you won’t even miss your favorite cartoons.

And if you're time traveling to watch these cartoons I used to watch, then you really just have no excuse

And if you’re time traveling to watch these cartoons I used to watch, then you really just have no excuse

Linda says the development process begins at age 3 when you start to learn what you like and what you don’t like.  Things to think about when developing your show:  What delights you, who are characters you want to live with and be with.  Write and write and write your idea and then pick out the one line that describes the show.  What would it say in TV guide to make people watch?  That’s the key to your pitch and then you elaborate from there.  Pitches generally include that one great line, then a paragraph to elaborate, character descriptions, quirks of the world, story ideas, curriculum and some info about your creative team.  Some things to keep in mind:  characters should be real.  Not perfect, perfect = dull.  Your characters should be aspirational and interesting.  Can you tell interesting stories with these characters because of who they are?  The pitch should be fun to read!


Linda walked us through a case study of a successful pitch by introducing my very good friend and coworker Jennifer Oxley, co-creator (along with another VGF and coworker Billy Aronson) of the upcoming PBS series Peg + Cat.  Linda was drawn to Jen and Billy’s pitch because it read like a children’s book, lots of pictures.  The Request For Proposals was to create a math show and they created a show that looked like math complete with graph paper backgrounds.  They had the bible written in Peg’s voice in hopes that the bible itself would feel as though you were reading a script and it worked.

Peg + Cat

Peg + Cat

So you’ve created your pitch materials and now what?  Linda emphasized doing research on the network you’re pitching to. KNOW WHO YOU’RE PITCHING TO. That’s right people, I went there, all caps.  Know the age range of the kids your show is for, what do kids that age like?  Your pitch should be appealing.  Even if it doesn’t have designs it should have a compelling title, idea and you should be compelling in the meeting.  Sure, you can send in pitches but it’s always good to make a connection.  Linda said it’s like planting trees – a long term thing.  Try to network and meet folks as much as you can at industry events (Shameless plug for CMA!).  If you pitch in person, practice your pitch. Don’t just read your pitch – that’s boring, talk about it passionately.  A pitch is like a job interview, they want to like you as well as your idea.

Linda then shared some intangible secrets of development.

Ability:  Know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. Find people who are good at the things you’re not.

Experience:  It’s more difficult to work with folks with less experience.  Who would you rather have operate on you?  A surgical vet (as in veteran not veterinarian that would be bad) or a kid right out of med school?


Capture Your Unique Sensibility:  What makes you creative?  Go for it in the pitch, make your pitch uniquely your own.

Knowledge:  Know your topic, your characters, the network and the audience.

Inside the Life of a Development Exec:  Linda says pitching for an exec is like going on a date with someone.  For you, the pitcher, it may feel more like someone poking at your baby.  Execs are wondering if they can get you to the point that your show is right for what they’re looking for or should they say, “I had a lovely evening” and move on.  Yes, that’s right, like a date, you’re at the mercy of lots of subjective opinions.  Network execs are always behind.  Things pile up and then they go to meetings, they never get caught up.  Be patient if they haven’t called you back.  If you haven’t heard back you can email them and say, “hey, I would love to hear any thoughts you have.”  Do not nag them.  If you sent materials via email it’s okay to resend if the person is out of the office.  If someone does call you back, you can pitch to them.  You don’t have to pitch to the VP, don’t get caught up with people’s titles.  To continue the dating analogy, don’t mention that you’re talking to other networks about the show.  Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say on a date.


And lastly, Linda recommended a few books:  Dave Levy’s Animation Development from Pitch to Production and Joe Murray’s Creating Animated Cartoons with Character. 


I’m sure there’s lots I missed, everything Linda says is valuable information and I’m just not that fast of a note taker.  Again, if you get a chance to hear Linda talk – take it.

Main Takeaway: There were too many to pick just one but I like that the art of pitching comes down to what I think should be a basic tenant of being a human being:  Be nice.  Do not tell the network that they suck and that you are the one to fix their air.  As Linda said, “You don’t want your development exec to have an existential crisis in the room.”  Try not to be nervous, be cordial and confident but not arrogant.   Be nice, not only because it’s how you should act in a pitch, it’s how you should act in life.


Personal Takeaway:  Linda said there’s going to be lots of rejection, let your optimism and your passion get you through it.  This makes me sleep better at night.  I am nothing if not optimistic and passionate.

imagesInappropriate Takeaway:  While you should treat pitching like dating I imagine you should not compliment your development exec on how beautiful their eyes are and you should not try to plow them with liquor to get to yes.

"Iz like Smurfs meets Snorks meets Dynasty.  You're in! 885 episodes!

“Iz like Smurfs meets Snorks meet Dynasty. You’re in!          885 eptisodes!”

Dan Zanes and Friends

Back by popular demand is the amazing Christina Zagarino, our own CMA secretary and content producer for  I wanted to be at this event but I was trapped under something heavy (bonus points for those who get the reference).  So take it away, Christina!


This is a hint.

Have you ever been to a Dan Zanes and Friends concert? Don’t even think about sitting down! With kids rocking a kiddie mosh pit up front and parents dancing throughout the aisles, this kind of show more closely resembles Woodstock than Rafi Plays Radio City.

When Mr. Zanes himself introduced his new short film Dan Zanes and Friends at its premiere, hosted by CMA at Little Airplane Productions on May 9th, he discussed his motivation for making the film (to be split into interstitials and hosted on his website The purpose was to find a new way for his audience to get to know him and his band on a more personal level. There’d be “no plot. no drama. just songs, snacks, and homespun fun,” according to Zanes. There was a lot of fun and snacks, but this tagline sells itself short (though it may also be a funny acknowledgement to how a network executive could respond).


The story follows Brandon and Lola, two urban kids on the precipice of pre-teenhood looking for fun on summer afternoons. Once Brandon’s mom announces her new job, tour manager for Dan Zanes and Friends, the fun begins!

The film itself flows, and the moments of transition to each of the three interstitials is clear, though not disruptive. Each interstitial is comprised of several features:

-Brandon and Lola always open the interstitial

-Brandon’s mom collaborates on plans for the day

-A snack is made (ants on a log, guacamole and corn chips, cheese and crackers)

-Music is sung

I couldn’t help but find the strong moments of plot that support music arts education. When thinking about arts education, I always refer to the trusty New York City Blueprints for the Arts. In this case, the Music Blueprint is a suitable curriculum guide for Zanes’s music teachings.

How does this show teach music? Zanes calls out the name of each instrument as he introduces it (e.g., guitar, drums) supporting music instrument literacy for the viewer, he explains the historical context of the folk songs that he shares (including “Pay Me My Money Down”), he creates instruments from household objects that the viewer can make at home (spoons) and teaches the viewer how to make music with them, and discusses how the chords on a piano go together. Bonus points for talking about a music tour: what one has to do to prep for a tour, and the routine once one is on the road!

The film is refreshingly suitable for kids a little bit older than preschool (my guess is best for kids ages 6 to 8), and takes place in a pretty average-looking neighborhood. With scenes inside Brandon’s house, visits to Dan Zanes’s studio, and visits to a local music shop, this live-action film has a neighborhood feel to it reminiscent of a certain Mister R. That intimate neighborhood, friendly feeling is at its core, and I can imagine kids itching to jump through the screen and join in the fun!

Zanes is no stranger to finding unique ways to interact with his audience. In addition to his countless albums, live recordings, a DZ ukulele, and music videos, Zanes recently collaborated with beloved New York City-based dish company Fishs Eddy,121.html. Check out these awesome kid-sized dishes featuring Zanes’ signature instruments. I’m debating a small collection for parties to serve (what else?) snacks on!

From Fishs Eddy

From Fishs Eddy

Special thanks to the always fabulous CMA events team and Dan Zanes and Friends for the thematic snacks and lively entertainment!


***This post was sponsored in part by Fishs Eddy, who has kindly donated a Dan Zanes dish set to be raffled off at the 2013 Children’s Media Association Holiday Party. Stay tuned for more details on how to win!

Member Spotlight: Meredith LeVande

Meredith LeVande, creator of Monkey Monkey Music, is the latest visitor to drop by the CMA blog for a member spotlight interview.  Her videos now air in almost 80 public television markets, but if you can’t catch them there, make sure to stop by her site and give a listen to her upbeat tunes.


Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media?

I didn’t start off as a children’s musician.  When I went to college, I was introduced to women’s studies. Most people don’t really know what women’s studies actually is, as it’s often highly misconstrued.  I instantly gravitated towards it because through its lens, I began to see and make connections that explained many different social inequities that affected so many women and consequently, children. So, I went to law school for a host of reasons, one of them being that I was going to go into some type of advocacy for women and children.  But at that time of my life, I also realized that I never really had the opportunity to pursue my own creative will which was singing. It was in law school that I decided I wanted to pursue singing, so I did. To make a long story short, that career led me to performing on college campuses and then that led me to performing for children and families which I instantly fell in love with. My adult music wasn’t light and happy and my children’s music was. So, I was drawn to the lightness of being that it gave me.  While I was pursuing children’s music, I was also lecturing on college campuses on a very particular women’s studies subject. So, I pursued both simultaneously and actually returned to school to earn a master’s degree in music. I knew this then, but it’s even clearer to me now how my work as a women’s studies speaker was quite related to my work as a children’s music video producer and performer.

You are the creator of Monkey Monkey Music. Please tell us about the company and share any past successes and/or future projects you’re excited about.

Even though I technically am a “company,” and it’s important to think of myself as a business, there really is no company information other than I hire many, many people to help with different aspects of the several projects I’m working on.  I started playing children’s music around 2001, but didn’t record a CD until 2004. I was always drawn to public television. Partially, because I didn’t grow up with cable television and also because there was something about it that always soothed me.  When I started to write my own children’s music in 2004, I contacted WLIW because I simply loved the cozy feel of the station.  I developed a relationship with someone there who really liked my work and well, roughly EIGHT years later, my music videos began to air on NJTV when WNET acquired NJN and they launched the new network. Prior to my videos airing on NJTV, they first aired on KCET in Los Angeles and about 20 stations picked them up prior to NJTV airing them, but seeing them here, in my hometown, particularly since I grew up in NJ, was very emotional and special to me. My videos began airing in 2011 and now they are in roughly 80 public television markets. They recently began airing on Kids 13 and by far, my videos airing on public television has been my greatest accomplishment.  I feel justified using the word “accomplishment” because I worked very diligently, altruistically, and hard to get them where they are today.  So, while I am excited for the longer form series I’m developing and all the creative music and videos I’m producing, I’m excited that my heart still melts when I see an adorable child just walking in the street.

What has been the most rewarding and challenging aspects of starting your own music production company?

For sure, the most rewarding parts of making music is having an idea, a melody, and then turning that melody into a full- fledged song. What I love about writing music for children is that the possibilities are far less restrictive than writing for adults. Children are imaginative, playful, loving, and just so excited to learn about things.   Children responding to my music has a spiritual feeling for me, so that is rewarding and it’s been kind of surreal to see my videos air on public  television.  It’s partly surreal because I knew one day they would, and it’s rewarding because on a personal level, I had to overcome a great deal to be able to do what I do now.

The most challenging part is definitely monetizing it. I do also think that being a children’s musician is far different than when I first started out.  I try and create my own space and keep in mind that so long as I’m connecting with children and people, and putting my best self out there, it doesn’t matter that it happens at a birthday party, a library, or a performing arts center.  I am incredibly honored that both my music and message are reaching children through public television on a national scale, and also internationally as well.  It’s also been particularly rewarding for me that I could create visions of childhood that got people questioning what they were all about. One of the best moments of my career was a call from someone at KCET who said she was in public television for 35 years and saw more music videos than she cared to discuss, but there was something uniquely compelling about mine. Despite my earlier videos not having the highest production quality, it demonstrated that people, especially children- sense the human condition on a very deep level. I realized that the creation of these videos was really another way to tell my story a bit more and that happy, light, fun, bubbly music videos don’t necessarily come from happy, light, fun and bubbly childhoods. I am very open about my personal story because there are so many children who have so much adversity in their lives and I think it’s important to demonstrate that not all successful people come from places of great advantage. This is a larger conversation, but it’s what motivates me probably the most.  I was an at-risk kid and my life could’ve gone in a very different direction than it did. So I want to serve underserved children and that was one of public television’s main tenets, and that is another reason why I am committed to it.

Do you have any tips for people who wish to start their own media ventures, music or otherwise?

I think it’s very important, particularly working with children’s media to stay true to your vision despite what “industry” people say they’re looking for.  My advice is to prioritize connecting with children instead of trying to please “insiders.”    Unfortunately, particularly with social media, we are digressing farther back into herd/mob mentality mindsets.  If one is going to venture into their own media venture, I think it’s important to shut out the noise that surrounds us to create something authentic. Don’t go with the crowd.  Be willing to work hard and make that work a part of your being.  

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now? I’m mixed to be honest. It seems like we’re truly moving far away from a print and play culture into a screen culture. So, while it’s exciting that people can “develop” apps and all that jazz, I have to admit it scares me a bit. I guess I long for nostalgia and am a bit worried that we are not giving children the chance to experience all that sensory information. I am excited that the technology enables us as adults to create for children more readily and easily, but am not convinced that it’s necessarily the best thing for them. Last year,  I met this religious sect of people at an early childhood conference that sold handmade children’s furniture. I sat in their rocking chairs for half the conference and listened to them sing these old folk songs that they sung to their children and you could hear the history from generation to generation. Even the furniture had a soul to it. I was comforted by it and longed for more of that simplicity in my own life.  I wish we had more of a balance than we currently do. So, it’s exciting that we have all these tools, but it makes me feel very far away.   I’m not really a trendy kind of person, so trends don’t necessarily excite me. But, I do like self-empowerment and I suppose that is a trend that I like.

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?. Highly embarrassing but since my favorite books and tv shows are all kind of dark, and not places I’d necessarily want to live in, I’m going to admit that I had an unhealthy viewing habit of Little Women many years ago. So, I haven’t seen it in years and perhaps I would be horrified if after answering this, I watched it again and was like, “huh,” but I recall longing to be in that house with a loving mom and close sisters.  I love things that are old fashioned. It’s a completely romanticized version of a time period that I would’ve felt circumscribed, had I lived in it, but its presentation is very appealing to me.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is

Joan Rivers. The show “Joan and Melissa.” I can’t get enough of Joan Rivers. That, and food shows where people eat bacon on everything.


Okay, you’re really gonna have to bare with me this week, (please be) gentle readers.  I am one of those people who barely knows that the interwebs exist.  Oh, I use them all the time but I think there’s a magic elf in my computer that obeys my commands and makes my data and stuff appear.  My husband, being an IT guy, is friends with this little elf and together they make sure I stay up on the latest apps and Facebookings and what not but explaining to me how it all works is like me trying to figure out Penn and Teller’s bullet catch – nigh impossible.

Seriously watch this, it's awesome.  And let's face it, it's Friday.  You're not working.

Seriously watch this, it’s awesome. And let’s face it, it’s Friday. You’re not working.

Thank goodness I had Linnette Attai, founder of PlayWell, LLC on hand to explain the new COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) regulations that are going to go into effect in July and how to navigate them.  Since I understand my own limitations in this area, may I suggest you check out this article after I’ve thoroughly confused you with my take on the subject:

Thanks, now I feel better.  So the Child Online Privacy Act ensures that folks with websites, apps and stuff (see that technical term I just used there?) are transparent about their data collecting practices when it comes to kids under the age of 13.  Online operations have to post their privacy policies, get parental consent before collecting data from kids and provide parents with a means to review data collected and delete it.  COPPA has expanded their definitions to include a broader definition of operators and websites directed to kids.  So first you have to figure out if your site is targeted to kids (Hint:  If you have to ask, then it is) and figure out if you’re collecting data off your site or app (you should know that) but – here’s the catch – you also need to figure out if a third party is also sucking data off your site because you’re ultimately responsible for what’s going on on your own site.

data_sucking_life-animYou can do a tech assessment, you can also partner with one of COPPA’s designated safe harbor companies to help you get compliant.  The safe harbors encourage the industry to be self-reliant and police itself.  If your site is named compliant by one of the safe harbors, then you’re good to go.  But people, don’t take my word for it, check it out:

And, as with everything, retrofitting stinks.  So if you can, it’s best to build in privacy and data protection from the start.  So what happens if you’re caught being non-COPPA compliant? (Why do I think of Barry Manilow when I type that?)  You’ll get fined sometimes up to $880K.  You could have to do a yearly compliance audit for 4-20 years and no one has that in their budgets, and people will think you’re dastardly.  Maybe not the latter, but you get my drift.

Few people know Dick Dastardly got his rep by being non-COPPA compliant

Few people know Dick Dastardly got his rep by being non-COPPA compliant

Unfortunately, during the session there was no talk of elves or magicians so that’s about all my brain could successfully take away.  I hope I haven’t confused you too much.  And a personal shout out to Linnette for tackling this tricky and very important subject.

Main Takeaway: Do not mess with COPPA.  Be compliant, if you’re not sure if you are or not, find out.  It’s like paying taxes, not very many people understand how it all works but we all have to do it.  Or else.

2012-08-04-ssbcpcoppa20121Personal Takeaway:  There are so many things in this world that I just do not understand.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  Oh, all the COPPA song parodies that popped into my head.

At the COPPA, COPPA cabana.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Watch out app for Hannah Montana.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Data compliance and safe harbor alliance at the COPPA – I fell in love.

Look it up, younglings

Look it up, younglings

Lesléa Newman “October Mourning” Book Signing

Hello dear readers, once again I have a wonderful new guest blogger to introduce to all of you.  She leads many lives, all of which sound, as we New Englanders say, wicked fun.  She’s immensely talented and has the honor of being my boss at Speakaboos (that’s how much of a pleasure it is to work with me folks).  But enough out me, here’s some stuff about the lovely and talented Christina, this week’s guest blogger!   Christina Zagarino is a content producer for Speakaboos by day, secretary for CMA by night, and fan of Mister Rogers for life. Prior to working in children’s media, Christina studied educational theater at NYU and was an arts education administrator and teaching artist at the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, where she honed her juggling skills and developed a deep love for circus arts. Christina received her Master’s degree from Tufts University in Child Development in 2011, and was a 2010 recipient of the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship which allowed her to produce a series of five interstitials that used circus arts to promote physical activity ( Stay tuned for the upcoming Speakaboos app, available in the AppStore this month!  Take it away, Christina!

Matthew Shepherd. Does that name ring a bell? Lesléa Newman described at Books of Wonder on the evening of Wednesday, April 17th, that some young people she has met don’t know who Matthew Shepherd was. That’s one reason why her book is so important and timely.

Matthew Shephard

Matthew Shephard

Lesléa Newman is the author of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepherd, a collection of poems in honor of Shepherd through the voice of inanimate objects, or “silent witnesses,” that surrounded the events of his death in 1998. When Lesléa began speaking about her new book, I wondered what her connection to Shepherd (or “Matt”) was and why she was so inspired to write the collection of poems.

october-mourningLesléa is the author of the groundbreaking children’s book, Heather Has Two Mommies (, as well as a short story collection A Letter to Harvey Milk (, among many other titles under her belt. Her award-wining books with GLBT themes, as well as her commitment to the GLBT community, led her to Shepherd’s university in 1998 where he was planning the school’s Gay Awareness Week. She reminds us in one of her poems: “It was gay awareness week. He was caught unaware.” Lesléa was scheduled to speak, but arrived several days after Shepherd was kidnapped and attacked, eventually dying because of a hate crime against his sexuality.

heather-has-two-mommiesLesléa mourned with Shepherd’s fellow students and experienced, first-hand, the need for change. October Mourning both honors the memory of Shepherd, as well as promotes acceptance in a world that suffers from the bullying of those that are different.

Lesléa’s progress as an author is creatively inspiring. When she decided to write Heather Has Two Mommies, she couldn’t find a publisher that was willing to take the project on. So, with a friend’s help, she fundraised the book herself and self-published. It reminded me of what might now happen on Kickstarter. The book launched her into a mix of praise and controversy, and ultimately, success, making her a modern pioneer in children’s literature. Her personal success story reminded me that some of my favorite picture books such as And Tango Makes Three are now published and welcomed into families’ homes because of Lesléa.

AndTangoMakesThree1October Mourning is an eloquent and wise collection of poetry 15 years in the making. Lesléa’s commitment to Matthew Shepherd and his story are evident in each word, as well as in the solidarity ribbon given to her by Shepherd’s schoolmates in 1998, which she wore proudly on her left arm throughout the event.

Leslea Newman

Leslea Newman

Job Hunting with Janice Meisler

This week the ol’ blog’s happy to introduce a fresh new face.  Who better to review Janice Meisler’s job hunting event than an actual person in search of a job?  Hold your applause!  Katie Brookoff has worked in school, camps, and museums teaching kids stained glass, fractions, puppet making, and the hand motions to The Itsy Bitsy Spider.  She’s a writer, a public programs educator at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and a doodler on  Introducing Katie Brookoff.  Now you may applaud.

"Did you know Katie does her own drawings, dearest?"

“Did you know Katie does her own drawings, dearest?”

“What’s the secret to your job hunting success?” people often ask me.

I can’t blame them for being impressed that I have gotten interviews to be a mushroom vendor, a carousel operator, a cash-4-gold sign twirler, and a professional magician.  “Craigslist,” I tell them. Because I trust my job fate to the same website that was also responsible for the fact that I used to be roommates with a former member of Gwar.

Love in the Time of Gwarlera

Love in the Time of Gwarlera

Thankfully, Janice Meisler, who does recruitment for children and family media, came to the CMA to give (for me, some much needed) advice about hunting and interviewing for jobs in children’s media. She left us with the following tips:

On Landing an Interview:

Use LinkedIn.  Fill your profile with words that potential employers would search for, including specific names of projects you’ve been a part of, specialized tasks you’ve done, and words as simple as “children’s media.” Also, join the CMA group for updates on jobs.

Where your status is conveyed by subtle winks

Where your status is conveyed by subtle winks

Personalize your cover letters. Employers want to know that you did your research about the company. When possible, also address letters to specific people rather than to Whom You Think It May Concern.

Personalized letters really stick out

Personalized letters really stick out

For those of us who are trying to break in to children’s media, highlight internships and any child-centric or administrative/creative work you did in past jobs. If you worked in the children’s museum, focus on the fact that you helped facilitate activities with children over the fact that you were in charge of sanitizing the ball pit.

Another day at the children's museum, which, I'm sure you know, is a museum that displays children

Another day at the children’s museum, which, I’m sure you know, is a museum that displays children

Once You’ve Got the Interview:

Be nice to everyone you encounter. This seems like it should be obvious, but you should remember the interviewer will probably take an assistant’s negative encounter with a person into account. You also never know when the office you’re interviewing at is participating in one of those reality shows where the boss spends the day working maintenance.

Nobody suspected s

Nobody suspected the new maintenance guy at Sesame workshop was really a higher-up.

Talk about why you are great for the job. Even if the interviewer isn’t asking the right questions, keep bringing it back to what you would accomplish based on what experiences you’ve had.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Interviewer

Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Interviewer

Be honest with your salary needs. You’ll need to know about salary when considering some jobs, so it is okay to be upfront about it. If they ask what you are looking for, give a $10,000 range, but say you are flexible. It is also good to ask people who have similar jobs what range of salary to expect so you know what range to request.

Money talks, but it sure is boring.

Money talks, but it sure is boring.

The Take Away:

Being strategic about looking for a job will make it less painful – so don’t give up and don’t settle for a job you found on Craigslist at 3 AM, because those “foot modeling” jobs and sugar daddy arrangements aren’t satisfying if you want to work in children’s media.

Sugar Daddy

Sugar Daddy

Spotlight Interview: Angela Santomero

We are thrilled to have Angela Santomero stop by the CMA blog to share news about her latest project–two pilots she has in development with Amazon Studios: Sara Solves It and Creative Galaxy.  She provides some great tips for content creators wanting to partner  with Amazon and explains why she needs your feedback!

What’s the secret to getting two pilots included in the first Amazon development slate?  How did your relationship start with Amazon?

My secret?!  I hypnotized Tara Sorenson!  No really, I’m fortunate that Tara, VP of Kids Series Development at Amazon Studios, is a fan of Blue’s Clues, Super Why and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  We share the same sensibility for what good, quality programming for kids is, and we share a vision of wanting shows that are highly entertaining and highly educational.

The secret is truly the shows, themselves, and that I have the BEST team in the children’s media industry to help bring them to life!

The vision behind Sara Solves It was to create a strong female role model, Sara, who is a whiz at math.  She is fun, sassy, passionate, and looks at every problem as a mystery that she wants to solve with math!  How cool is that?  I want to inspire ALL kids to solve problems with math!

The vision behind Creative Galaxy was to bring a solid creative arts curriculum to media.  The series follows Arty, a creative preschool alien, as he soars through the galaxy of art planets (including the Museum Planet, Building Planet, Painting Planet) and fixes every-day problems using art! At the end of every episode we will have segments with real kids doing a cool craft project, step by step.

You’re the creator of Blues Clues, Super WHY! and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for Nick and PBS – how has development differed or been similar with Amazon?

The development process has been very similar, with the exception of open feedback from the public. We created pitch materials, presented them to the executives at Amazon, and negotiated a deal to develop the series further.

Amazon is calling for feedback from the public – how will this shape your content and role as a content creator?

I love that parents will now get to give input and demand high quality shows for their kids!  As someone who believes in research, I always want to hear from our audience as to what they are looking for in a show. Parents told us they want a show that would educate their kids while making them laugh. Preschool teachers wanted a show to have elements of the best curriculum you would find in a classroom. Kids, themselves, told us they want to be part of the story. And we listened. Now, Amazon Studios is listening, too!

What makes your programs unique?  What makes them appropriate for Amazon?

There is a ton of children’s programming out there, but sadly, most of it isn’t very good.  My team works tirelessly to ensure that we create shows that empower, challenge, and build the self esteem of preschoolers, all while making them laugh.

What advice do you have for content creators looking to work with Amazon?

  1. Watch Media:  Find out what is currently out there in children’s media and what is missing.  Create and formulate your vision and mission to meet the needs of kids.
  2. Do your research:  Take your concept out to kids, and make the tweaks and changes necessary to make sure that it sings!
  3. Build connections. Organizations like the Children’s Media Association are the perfect place to do this.   Find out who is where and Google them. Watch what is on Amazon (or any network you are pitching) so you understand their voice and know who you are talking to.
  4. Do it! If you have an idea, write it down. Do your research, call in favors, and use the technology available to all of us, to articulate your idea.
  5. Submit it. Children’s networks are constantly looking for great ideas and new content. Use your connections and your written ideas and put them in front of someone. Amazon Studios has an open submission page. We’re at the dawn of a new age with exciting opportunities for new content on a whole new platform.

We want to hear your feedback! Check out our pilots, Creative Galaxy and Sara Solves It on Amazon Studios. I would love to continue to do what I do, to make shows for kids that educate, get them to giggle, and make them part of the story.

This Just In…

A few months back our CMA Writers’ Group was joined by Stephanie Smith, editorial director for Scholastic News.  Stephanie talked to us about the ins and outs of making news for kids!  Remember the colorful news magazines you used to get in classrooms when you were a kid?  That’s Scholastic News!  And they’re still around and bigger than ever!  The newspapers are shipped out to schools all over the place to support teachers’ needs.  Current events are not currently (see what I did there?) part of school curriculum (which to me seems goofy) and as Stephanie sees it, it’s our duty to keep up with current events and kids like to keep up with current events so Scholastic News help fill that void in classrooms.


One of the biggest challenges for Stephanie and her team is how to go about reporting troubling news like the Newtown shootings.  When troubling news comes up Scholastic often enlists the help of school psychologists to figure out how best to deal with things.  It’s important to explain that the event is over and not likely to happen again.  Their stories try to take a positive spin and emphasize heroics that happened, especially something that involves other kids.  Like after 9/11 Scholastic did a story on kids pitching in to collect money for the Red Cross.  They don’t emphasize the gory details and they certainly don’t want to frighten kids any further but certainly if it’s important national news, it needs to be reported! NewNewsman

Looking at these magazines is pretty neat.  I myself learned a bit about how astronauts eat and sleep in space.  Unless it’s big news, Scholastic tries to contextualize the news so it’s not based on breaking news that may be over with or outdated before kids get the magazines in their classrooms.  There’s also an opinion section where kids are asked to write in for the “debate of the week” like whether video games are good for you or not.  They’re also asked to write in with advice on a “sticky situation” like what should you do if your friend starts getting into trouble.  Tell his/her parents?  Talk to them?  Keep your mouth shut?  Wait, stop looking at me.  I don’t have the answer.  I was just giving an example…Fine, sheesh.  Talk to your friend.  That’s what friends are for.  Happy now?

I have no idea what this is about, but I've been laughing for 5 minutes

I have no idea what this is about, but I’ve been laughing for 5 minutes

Main Takeaway: While adults are yelling that print is a dying medium, circulation for Scholastic News is through the roof because classrooms aren’t caught up to the latest technology yet.  And with current events not being a part of curriculum, I think it’s awesome that Scholastic is helping make the kids of today informed citizens.  In fact, I just decided to get a newspaper delivered to my apartment because I never know what’s going on in the world and man does it make me feel goofy sometimes.  Maybe now I’ll finally get that invite to be on Meet the Press.

What do you mean this doesn't count?

What do you mean this doesn’t count?

Personal Takeaway:  You never know what stories are going to grab a kid’s attention.  Stephanie said at election time, they got more letters from kids about an article on third party candidates (the kids by and large didn’t know that there was such a thing) than they did on a piece they thought would be more appealing about big cats.  Kids if it makes you feel any better, most adults don’t really know there are third party candidates either.  This coming from a frustrated third party voter.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  Stephanie pointed out that ever since the contested election in 2000, there’s been a big disaster about every 6 months:  9/11, school shootings, war in Iraq, the Star Wars prequels.  It’s weird, eh?


Boys Vs. Girls: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

As a woman, a tomboy and one of the proponents of the big name change from WiCM to CMA, gender issues and media is a topic I’m really interested in, sometimes conflicted about and always passionate about.  So I was delighted when CMA welcomed cultural historian, writer and teacher Lori Rotskoff; creator of “Princess Revolution” Melissa Levis and co-director of the Educational Equity Center Barbara Sprung for a discussion.

The presentation started with Lori who gave us a little history on the “Free to Be You and Me.”  Lori is the editor of “When We Were Free To Be” an anthology looking back on the historical television special.  You know the old axiom “You just can’t win?”  Well, it turned out Marlo Thomas really couldn’t.  When Carol Hall did a song about different jobs sung by Harry Belafonte and Marlo they set out to show all kinds of work – blue collar and professional and to affirm the important role of parenthood as a kind of job.  Check it out!


Well, radical feminists criticized it for being too heteronormal while the network was made uneasy by portraying Marlo and Harry as an interracial couple.  See what I mean, can’t win!

The song “William’s Doll” dealt with issues of a little boy being bullied and made fun of because he really wanted to play with a doll.


The message in the end:  Let the poor kid have a doll!  Progressive, eh?  Especially for 1972.  Well, it was criticized for going too far and for not going far enough.  Some critics didn’t like that the song portrayed William as still loving sports and saying that he’ll grow up one day to be a daddy.  Other critics would’ve been right out there with bullies chanting, “A doll!  A doll!  William wants a doll!”  Poor Marlo just couldn’t win. The big question:  How do you be progressive and popular at the same time?  When we figure out that one let me know!

Barbara was up next to talk about some of her work with the Women’s Action Alliance.  She set out to create a non-sexist early childhood curriculum.  Barbara showed us some of the books that were in vogue in preschool classrooms in the ‘60s and ‘70s and man, oh, man (or woman, oh, woman) was I shocked!  The most appalling entry:  “I’m Glad I’m a Boy, I’m Glad I’m a Girl” included the following pages:  “Boys can eat.  Girls can cook.  Boys invent things.  Girls [wait for it] use what boys invent.”  If you listened closely you could probably hear the sound of all our hearts breaking.  Barbara worked to make changes in classrooms, she put up pictures of kids playing with their dads (before that most pics showed moms as primary caregiver), she made job toy sets that included men and women doing the same jobs.  Normally one would buy these little sets and there would be one woman for every 7 men and that woman would always be a schoolteacher or a nurse.  Barbara says she noticed that there was a chance toward gender equality and then a backslide as girls’ clothes showed off bling and tutus and boys’ clothes were all about camouflage and sports. And that backlash is still around today.

Whoever wrote this never saw me ice skate or walk or lift a 30 lb. box of frozen fish - True story.

Whoever wrote this never saw me ice skate or walk or lift a 30 lb. box of frozen fish – True story.

Last but not least, we heard from singer/songwriter Melissa Levis who is redefining princesses one song at a time.


Melissa read fairy tales to her son and didn’t like the messages of princesses having to be rescued by a man so she made an album “Princess Revolution” that tackled all the fairy tales and turned them on their heads.  The album has won a well-deserved Parents’ Gold Choice Award!  My favs are “Give Yourself A Kiss” and “Sing, Little Mermaid.”  She wanted to reinforce that girls aren’t just pretty, they can rescue themselves and just because you like pink doesn’t mean you have to be dainty.  The panel left us with a question to explore for ourselves:  What do we see in the current kids’ media landscape?  Where are we succeeding in having gender equality and where are we struggling?


Main Takeaway: For me, I’m always thinking of the little girls like me.  I wasn’t interested in pink or things that were stereotypically identified as girl.  I need a “William’s Doll” equivalent that’s all about a little girl who doesn’t want a doll, she wants an action figure with kung fu grip.  As long as we have a “boy’s aisle” and a “girl’s aisle” and separate boys and girls happy meal toys, we’re not there yet.  And a change would be so simple.  How about instead of asking, “Do you want the boy toy or the girl toy, the cashier just asks EVERY kid and parent, “Do you want the Barbie or the Hot Wheels?”  No need to mention gender at all.  Why am I so upset about McDonald’s?  I dunno, but it is lunchtime.

2011?  Don't you mean the Stone Age?

2011? Don’t you mean the Stone Age?

Personal Takeaway:  Did anyone see the “Big Bang Theory” where the guys went to talk to jr. high girls about getting into science?  There was some clever, lovely irony at the end when the woman scientists (Bernadette and Amy) talked to the girls via speaker phone while dressed as princesses at Disneyland.  Melissa’s right – women can be princesses and scientists and football players and whatever they wanna be.  I know I’m all those things, if only in my head.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  Ever since watching that William’s Doll video I want to point and chant “A doll!  A doll!” every time I see a kid with a doll.  Not in a malicious way, more in an envious way.  Where’s my doll?  The kicker?  I live right next door to a school.  My life is hard.

Is this doll pointing and laughing at ME?

Is this doll pointing and laughing at ME?

Member Spotlight: Allison Johnson

We are quite fortunate to have Allison Johnson in our Member Spotlight today.  Not only is Allison Senior Producer at CloudKid, but she’s also helping to host CMA’s first event in Boston on April 16th.  Read on to learn more about CloudKid and the Beantown children’s media scene.


Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what drew you to children’s media? 


I’ve been interested in a career in children’s media for as long as I can remember. I loved television as a kid and would come up with new story lines and recreate some of my favorite episodes with my own puppets and toys at home (mostly from Lamb Chop’s Play-Along… I was obsessed!). I found so much of my creativity through watching children’s programming, and I thought it would be amazing to have that type of impact on kids with things I helped make. So, when I got into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for my undergrad, I gravitated towards the children’s media classes, and found an amazing mentor in Lynne McVeigh (who happens to be a CMA advisor).


While in school, I was fortunate enough to have worked as an intern and a production assistant at Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, CBeebies, and Disney’s Johnny and the Sprites. After spending some time post-college working in TV development, I decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree in Technology, Education and Innovation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While television was my first love as a kid, I was so excited by the potential of reaching kids via new platforms, and I knew I wanted to be working in that evolving space.


You’re now the Senior Producer for CloudKid based in Boston.  Please give us an overview of the company and tell us about any past successes and/or future projects you’re excited about. 


CloudKid is an interactive media studio that creates games, apps, web series and animations for kids. We do work for a variety of major children’s media organizations, as well as create and distribute some of our own original content. We’re unique in that we’re a one stop (toy filled) shop, with artists, animators, programmers and producers all working under one roof. I feel very lucky to work with such an amazing group of people who are equally as passionate as I am about entertaining and teaching kids in new and exciting ways.


Since starting work at CloudKid, I’ve produced projects for Scholastic Education, Sesame Street and the Fred Rogers Company. I’m excited to be starting work this month on two new games for Sesame Workshop: one for the Electric Company, and another for a new Sesame Street STEM initiative. I’m also very excited to oversee play testing on games for a new PBS preschool series my coworkers have been hard at work on. Working directly with children is usually one of our favorite things–it’s always unbelievably rewarding to see kids interacting with the media we’ve created.


Speaking of Boston, Children’s Media Association is thrilled to be hosting their first event in your fine city on April 16th.  Can you tell us more about the purpose and goal of the event as well as how this collaboration came about? 


We’re so excited about this kickoff mixer, which will be on Tuesday, April 16th from 5:30pm-8:30pm at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square. Boston has a really diverse group of children’s media professionals, students, and academics and we think that there’s a great base here for another chapter of Children’s Media Association. The goals of this first event are to start to spread the word about CMA in Boston, get people excited about future events, and hopefully encourage people to join CMA both now and when we eventually have an official Boston-based chapter.


After having breakfast back in December with CMA’s president, Sarah Wallendjack, and CloudKid’s founder, Dave Schlafman, we all agreed that Boston would be the perfect next step for expanding CMA membership, and I gladly volunteered to help in any way I could to make this happen. We thought hosting the first event when some CMA NYC folks would be in town for the Sandbox Summit would be a great opportunity to kick off this exciting endeavor. I’ve been working closely with Livia Beasley, the founder of Women in Children’s Media, and a group of fellow Boston-based kids’ media professionals to help spread the word about this initial event and generate interest for future Boston CMA events.


Boston will also be hosting this year’s Sandbox Summit (April 15-16).  How do you and your colleagues at CloudKid stay current with the rapidly changing technology and products available today? 


We do our best to stay current in a number of ways. We try to use tools like Twitter strategically by following industry leaders and news sources, and read Cynopsis Kids and Kidscreen daily. We also do our best to attend events like the Sandbox Summit and are constantly sharing links and resources with our fellow team members. Most importantly, we try hard to stay in touch with kids themselves. Whether it’s through our own friends and family, via play testing, or from reading research reports that others have done with kids, we think it’s vital to stay in touch with our primary consumers about what’s relevant.


What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now?


 I’m really excited about the potential for new online/digital originals for kids. With the likes of Amazon Studios and Netflix officially getting into this game, I think there is a ton of potential for new content to make its way to children via subscription-based services. I think a lot of this will feel like traditional TV on the web to start, but I’m hopeful that with time, we’ll start to see some interesting advancements that push interactivity and capabilities that are unique to the new platforms.


Ok, now for some fun stuff. If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?


I’m a Jim Henson fanatic, so it’s a really tough call between Fraggle Rock, the Muppet Show or Sesame Street. I’m gonna have to go with Fraggle Rock I think…


Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…


Always has and probably always will be television. As much as I like creating interactive experiences, I’ve always been a TV junkie myself. I like to think I have good taste in TV, but I do occasionally find myself hooked on a guilty pleasure program or two.



Emily’s Crusade

This week we have an amazing new guest blogger who offers her own personal perspective on our Writer’s Group with Emily Kingsley.  And she’s a PhD!  Dr. Melissa Morgenlander is the Founder and Editor of the iQ Journals, a blog about autism, media, technology, and a boy named Quentin. She is also a freelance researcher and curriculum designer who is passionate about leveraging the power of television, games, video, and mobile technology for all children’s learning. Her career began in kids’ TV production, working for shows like PBS’ Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Nickelodeon’s Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss and Blue’s Clues.   Her research credits include stints for several children’s media powerhouses, such as Sesame Workshop, Cyberchase, Word World, and Little Einsteins. Melissa received her PhD from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2010.  Take it away, Melissa!

On March 11, 2013, CMA hosted longtime Sesame Workshop writer, Emily Kingsley, for a Writer’s Group gathering. Her talk was called “S is for Special Needs.” As both a kids’ TV researcher and a parent of a child with special needs, I was more than excited to attend.

Kingsley began by telling the group the story of how she started at the Workshop. While she had established a career in TV production for game shows and talk shows, when Sesame Street came on the air, she knew she had to be a part of it.  She stalked the production team, who passed her on to research, who passed her on to editing, etc. No one wanted to hire her, but she stayed persistent. After nine months of constantly watching the show and asking the Workshop for work, she finally made her break into the writer’s room.

Kingsley eventually became known as the champion for special needs inclusion on the show. It began with her writing sketches for the Little Theater of the Deaf – a performance group that included both hearing and deaf people (and Linda Bove, who went on to become a cast member). But Kingsley’s insistence to include special needs children became much more personal when she gave birth to her son, Jason, who was born with Down Syndrome.  It was at that point that Kingsley realized her real life mission: To make sure that all children were represented on the show, including those with disabilities. “The feeling of being left out and not represented is so painful,” she told the group. “I realized that I was in a unique position to do something about that.” She lobbied for more diverse casting: children in wheelchairs, people on crutches, and deaf people who sign. This sentiment is beautifully summed up in one musical segment that Kingsley wrote the lyrics for, along with her son, Jason: Count Me In.

Kingsley was clear with her mission at Sesame Street: “People with disabilities are the America’s largest minority,” she told the group. “That does not even include all the parents and people who care for them! They need to be represented and heard from.”  In my blog, The iQ Journals, I spend a lot of time seeking out media that can help my son Quentin learn and adjust to our strange, non-autistic world. I also seek out media that includes people with ASDs so that he and his twin sister, Fiona, can find some representations of their reality on screens.

Let’s keep this conversation going.  What are your thoughts?

Bloggin’ the Tom Ascheim Red Chair Event Discussion

This week I’m happy to introduce a brand new guest blogger!  The lovely and talented Jordan Geary!  I used to work with Jordan back in the day and it was lovely to work with him again.  If by work you mean this:  “Hey, Jordan, wanna write a blog?”  “Sure.  Here it is.”  Those email exchanges were magical.  Jordan is the Head of Production and Development at FlickerLab, the award-winning animation company located in the heart of Soho (fancy digs).  A  creative producer, director, show creator, writer, and on-air personality, according to his bio, Jordan absolutely loves working in Children’s Media and telling stories.  I would hope so!  Because he’s really excellent at it (you’ll see below).  He also has a character named after him on the Disney Junior series 3rd & Bird.  True story.  With that, here’s Jordan:
Chilly nights in late February stink.  The fun of the holidays waved bye-bye to us a long time ago and chances are that it will be cold and dark for a while longer (even if that accursed groundhog says it will be an early spring).  Besides throwing vegetables at the television whenever a weatherman says, “More snow on the way”, it can be hard to find activities after work to look forward to during this time.
Enter Tom Ascheim, speaking at the CMA Red Chair Event Discussion with moderator Amy Friedman.
Tom is someone I had heard about a good amount over the years, mostly from coworkers that have worked with him.  Despite the fact that he’s worked in some seriously lofty positions, such as EVP & General Manager at Nick, CEO of Newsweek, and most recently as the Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Sesame Learning, I almost never hear of his credentials whenever his name is brought up in conversation.  The things I hear repeatedly in regards to Tom Ascheim?
“He is a friendly guy” and “He is tall.”
This fascinates me.  I too fit these descriptions.  In fact, these descriptions follow me around to a level that often overshadows anything I am doing or likely will ever do.  I am convinced that even if I were to run outside right now, strip nude and scream, “The redcoats are coming” on the streets of New York City while firing a t-shirt cannon into office building windows, any newspaper headlines the following day would simply read, “Tall, friendly man causes a ruckus.  Hundreds gain free t-shirts.”
"Free T-shirts for all!"

“Free T-shirts for all!”

 Don’t get me wrong, “friendly” and “tall” are both fantastic qualities that mean you are doing something right (namely being a good person and fostering a bang-up pituitary gland), it’s just rare to find someone else so innately connected to these two descriptions in Children’s Television in New York.  And upon sitting and watching the CMA Red Chair event I had the same reaction countless others have had before me: “Wow…that is one tall, friendly man.”
Amy Friedman started off the event by reminiscing with Tom over their time together at Noggin, and I quickly realized that roughly 80% of the audience had worked with Tom in some capacity.  In fact, after a Q&A where almost everyone in the audience spoke of their personal experiences with Tom, I was tempted to dub the event “Remember When: A Night Of Reminiscing With Tom Ascheim.”   Rarely if ever have I seen a constituency more excited to speak about how great their interactions were working with someone.  Obviously, Tom is doing something right.
 I too found myself charmed by Tom’s words, as he seemed to lack any of the cockiness and negative outlook that can come with a successful career.  He also seemed to love talking, if for no other reason than to connect with others and use conversation as a bridge to fostering quality work.  Of his time at Noggin, he said that he tried to find programming for children that was, “Weird, but not mean,” an admirable set of traits that can be lost all too often amongst the quick-laugh slapstick programs for kids.  He also pointed out that he puts a strong emphasis on audience research, a trait he brought with him to Newsweek.
Perhaps the most interesting moment of the evening on a personal level occurred when an audience member asked Tom how it was to work as a male in a predominantly female field.  I scanned the crowd at the event, noticing I was largely in an audience composed of women.  Once called “Women in Children’s Media,” the Children’s Media Association has taken great strides in recent months to rebrand itself to be less gender-specific and open to everyone working in the field.  A huge part of the reason I am now involved with the organization is due to this shift, a realization that speaks to the willingness of the organization’s members to see walls and break them down to better embrace their colleagues.  Likewise, before answering, Tom paused to take in his audience.  In a measured response, Tom said that gender frankly doesn’t matter when you’re working with talented people to make good content.  He added that he did notice the disparity, but that it wasn’t something that he actively thought about.  It was a darn good answer.
Once the event had wrapped and everyone was either chatting or getting their coats to head out into the crummy late-February weather, I had a chance to speak briefly with Tom Ascheim. I shook his hand, introduced myself, and said the most obvious thing I could think of off the top of my head: “It’s nice to meet another tall, friendly guy in Children’s Media in New York.”  He smiled and responded, “There aren’t many of us.”  Glancing around and noting that we towered over everyone like two buildings in a hayfield, I agreed.  If there are indeed only a few of us out there, I’m glad one of them is Tom Ascheim.

Member Spotlight: Kristen McGregor & Jennifer Treuting


This month’s member spotlight features Kristen McGregor and Jennifer Treuting, who recently started their own production company.  Having met through a fellow CMA member, they’re a true blue CMA success story, and they’ve been kind enough to share the details behind that setup as well as what’s new with Squirrel Friends Productions and their thoughts on children’s media in general. Take it away ladies! 

Kristen (L), and Jennifer (R) pose at the annual Christmas party for the Children's Media Association.

Kristen (L), and Jennifer (R) pose at the annual Christmas party for the Children’s Media Association.

Can you both tell us a little about your professional backgrounds and what drew you to children’s media?


I remember sitting in a car one day and asked my mom if it would be an okay job if I were a “children’s entertainer”. From there that moved to an interest in acting, which introduced an opportunity to study clown and perform at the Kids Fringe festival in Edmonton, Alberta (in Canada, where I’m originally from). I loved working with children and entertaining them – they are hilarious, and really the most honest audience you could ever hope for, which I think hones your skills as a content creator. I was also getting into video production at the time and thought that children’s television might be the perfect combination (plus it sounded like a more stable career than “clown”). I studied children’s television at Ryerson University and got a job at Kids’ CBC (Canada’s national broadcaster). After a stint covering every position between outreach, production assisting, and associate producing, I moved to Sinking Ship Entertainment and worked as a creative producer and producer on a couple of their shows including one I co-developed, “Giver” – all about communities coming together to build playgrounds. Meanwhile, I had been inspired by Angela Santomero’s story and started my master’s degree at Teacher’s College to study how children learn through digital media, first online, and then moved to NYC to finish. Now I work doing all sorts of fun children’s media research at the Michael Cohen Group. Phew!

Going to the movies and seeing the new Disney animated feature was always a treat—same with getting to watch Nickelodeon at a neighbor’s house. (We didn’t have cable.) I was always writing and telling my own stories and making videos with friends. After getting my film degree and moving to New York, I worked in advertising and post-production, moving up the ranks from assistant producer to freelance post producer. While I was happy to have a job in my field and loved working with gifted designers and animators, I knew I wanted a change, but wasn’t sure what. Thinking back to the personal work I made that I liked the most, and the work others were making that I admired, I realized that it was kid-friendly or family-friendly, whether that was intentional or not. And that’s when I realized where I needed to be. Fast-forward, and I’ve been at Nick for almost five years now. I work on promos, interstitials, and all sorts of short-form content for Nick Jr. and Nick Preschool.

Around the same time I started at Nick, I also got involved at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and I’m now a director/producer for one of their video teams. I love taking what I learned at UCB and using it to create great children’s content: there’s a lot of overlap in the kinds of humor and story-telling that you can use. Funny is funny.

We understand you met through a fellow CMA member.  How did your collaboration come together?


I went to school with fellow CMA member LaToye Adams: after graduating, we both ended up in New York. Last year, when I was working on a pilot for the New York Television Festival, I needed some help on-set and LaToye put us in touch. When we met, we realized we had an insane amount in common: not just filmmaking and production but specifically children’s media and comedy: Kristen does a lot of improv and I do sketch comedy. (And later we learned our dads are both chemists!)


We were basically Canadian/American doppelgangers. You know those movies when you see twins separated at birth meet for the first time? Imagine living that experience!


After the shoot, we got together for drinks and to talk about life. And then project ideas came up like crazy! The first was “Brother’s Day,” a short child-led documentary we’re currently in post-production on: we both knew of a family upstate where the boys had formed their own holiday, and knew there was a story there. I had known about the boys from casting a prior film project, and Kristen met them separately on a research trip. One day they came up in conversation, and as we compared notes on our experiences with them and how unique these boys were, we knew we had a story on our hands.


This is all a true. I was just happy to use my production skills for a day on-set for Jen’s pilot and eat some free pizza. I didn’t know that a creative partner would come out of it!

Please tell us about Squirrel Friends Productions and some of the current projects you are working on

We’re always working on something. Here’s the link to our site:

Our first release was What’s Inside? – two very short programs showing the taking-apart of common household objects. We’ve since filmed two more (with an orange and an iPod). We’re also working on the release of Brother’s Day – our child-led documentary. As always, we have other ideas floating around so stay tuned!

Jennifer (L) and Kristen (R) on the set of their documentary Brother's Day

Jennifer (L) and Kristen (R) on the set of their documentary Brother’s Day

What has been the most rewarding and challenging aspects of starting your own production company?


We’ve actually thought of Squirrel Friends as more of a collective. Somehow, collectives sound better when you’re not making money. I’m inspired a bit by the atmosphere in Brooklyn, which for me gave me some bravery to form the collective with Jen.

For rewarding aspects, I love seeing things come together. Two heads are definitely better than one, and it’s good to have someone to talk out the difficulties with regarding any particular project. It’s also double the contacts, and double the ideas.

For challenging aspects, I’d say it’s just tough to balance this with the rest of our lives sometimes between our full time jobs and comedy commitments. Sometimes I think what going full time and having funding would be like.

On Set of What's Inside

On set of What’s Inside


Hmm, like any new thing, it’s interesting to watch it take shape. I think a big challenge is to get our name out there and find exposure for our projects. We’re not in it to get rich, but to create quality content and find an audience to connect with. Building that connection and that reputation takes time.

As for the reward, I’d say I love feeling like I’m part of a real team, and that depending on the project, our team can grow to include our friends. Taking a step back to look at what we’re doing and be able to say “Yeah, this is more than just us, this could be bigger,” was exciting.

What emerging trend in children’s media are you most excited about now?


I’m excited about second screen experiences– Kidscreen this year had a really interesting panel showing what you could do with apps to create real-time experiences for kids as they watched a show. I think it has a long way to go, but I’m curious to see what kind of content gets created and how it evolves.

I’m also excited about the democratization of content: Amazon, YouTube, and other outlets are providing new ways for stories and characters to find homes. Even more exciting, it’s not just adults that are utilizing these tools: I love getting great videos passed to me that kids have created and shared on their own.


I’m excited about the idea of “broadcaster as a democracy” – and am intrigued to see how selecting pilots through audience votes goes for Amazon. I’m excited to see a shift in producers preparing projects for not just one broadcaster, but the whole audience at large.

I’m also excited about the spread of children’s stories via viral video. For me, it feels like this is one way to attempt to foster co-viewing. There’s something really special about media content that appeals to adults that makes them want to share it with their children together.  I hope we’ll be able to accomplish this with our work.


I love how we tackled these questions separately but are excited about the same things.

If you could live in any TV program, game, or book, what would it be?


My first answer that comes to mind is “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” – Mr. Rogers got his start in Canada, so we could totally bond over that, but mostly I’d just ride the trolley around and around, sitting in the back. There’s something comforting about riding trolleys.

My second, and most correct answer (though not technically a book) is a Lisa Frank school supply folder. Who wouldn’t want to slide down a rainbow and ride a unicorn?


The first answer that comes to mind is Harry Potter. I’d give Hermoine a run for her money—I would totally nerd out at Hogwarts. But digging a bit deeper, I’d say Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass series also comes to mind. Lyra’s closeness with her daemon Pan was something I was always envious of as I was reading, and long after I put the books down, I’d wonder what form my daemon would take if I had one.

Complete this sentence: My media guilty pleasure is…


Right now, I hunker down with fantasy shows like “Once Upon a Time” or “Lost Girl,” where fairies, werewolves, and other mystical creatures live in the real world among humans, but they’re in disguise.


Well, aside from all the shows I’ve had a part in making, I’d say shows like Teen Mom, Catfish, The Bachelor, and Girls. I love documentary/reality style programs with real people. I love seeing how producers line everything up so well.  I also really love Disney’s “Enchanted” – I wish more of life was like that movie.

Grand Prix Jeunesse

Vroooommmmm!  And we’re off!  30 children’s television shows from around the world all in one day, led by the nicest tour guide you could ever hope for – David Kleeman.  Indeed folks it’s the Prix Jeunesse extravaganza!  Prix Jeunesse international is a bi-annual competition unique among other competitions because all participants can vote for the award winners.  Each festival has a theme with research presentations, activities and discussions.  In 2012, the theme was “Watch, Learn, Grow with Children’s TV.”  I’ve had the pleasure of going to a few Prix Jeunesse screenings and David is always eager to emphasize that the submissions seen here are not typical what’s on TV every day in those particular countries – they’re festival submissions so everyone wants to put their best foot forward and submit the equivalent of the very special Family Ties where Alex’s friend got killed in a drunk driving accident.  You get the picture.

A Blog Deadline?  No Way!

A Blog Deadline? No Way!

I’m not going to go through each of the programs we watched but I will highlight a few that stood out for me and that sparked debate among the audience.  For most folks, all the segments showing preschoolers doing things that our litigious society would never show them doing – using hammers, saws, and taking apart a giant industrial scale without adult supervision – caused the most stir.  And every time I see these things I wonder if we underestimate our own kids and what they can or can’t do.  I remember learning how to shoot a BB gun when I was around 8 years old and no, I didn’t shoot my eye out.

That's pretty much what I looked like then and what I look like now

That’s pretty much what I looked like then                              and what I look like now

For me, as far as dangerous viewing went I thought the most egregious entry was a program from Thailand called Vitamin News.  In this one they were trying to teach safe practices during a flood and the host quizzes two kids about dos and don’ts.  One kid is giving the right answers and one kid is giving what I imagine are supposed to be glaringly wrong answers.  My problem?  I don’t know if someone who’s not schooled at all in the subject would know which answers were right and which were wrong and it seems that the host nodded and validated BOTH kids.  But maybe in Thailand knowing these things is like my assumption that a preschooler knows shoes don’t go on your head?


My favs were a selection from the Netherlands called Sien van Sellingen (  in which a little girl cuts off her grandma’s hair but for all the right reasons.  And The Doll Adventure from Sweden wherein two girls totally trash their baby doll by making it “sick” and feeding it various goo from the kitchen as “medicine.”   And then there was The Pirates from Sweden which I totally want to be on.  A game show that immerses kids in a piratey world and gives them tasks to do and adventures to go on.  In the clip we saw the group of kids had already had several mateys disappear mysteriously.  It was awesome even if one of the tasks they had to do was a glorified pirate game of Jenga.

Man is there anything you can't find on the internet?

Man is there anything you can’t find on the internet?

The most innovative award (from me) had to go to Open Story from Finland.  The concept of the series is that schoolchildren entered a contest by writing open-ended stories.  The best were produced for air with a call for viewer ideas on how to complete the story.  We only saw the beginning but I’m rooting for poor Jimi to learn how to deal with his alcoholic mom and find happiness.  Also, I think I wrote a very very similar story when I was 14.

There were also your fair share of documentary programs about very unique children:  kids with autism (which gave a great view of the autism spectrum), the story of two brothers one of which is confined to a wheelchair with a degenerative disease and a show about boys who believe they should have been girls.

There was also the very controversial, bittersweet and sad Duck, Death and the Tulip from Germany which I thought was really beautiful and others thought was inappropriate.  But you should check out Dade Hayes’ article on this from the New York Times


All in all it was a day of great programming, great company and I’m not gonna lie, my fair share of candy.

Main Takeaway: I wrote a note that says our capitalism stifles us.  How very socialist of me.  These entries definitely brought home how we in the US tend to play it safe and many of our shows have a greater desire to tackle toy shelves than they do tough issues.  There’s nothing wrong with that but I think our kids could handle some meatier content if everyone weren’t so afraid of offending everyone else.

Personal Takeaway:  I so want to be on that pirate show.  Think they take thirty-something contestants who are as short as kids?

Yo ho a pirate’s life for me!

Inappropriate Takeaway:  David said Prix Jeunesse submissions are like beer.  Some are more full-bodied and some are lighter.  And not all of them are for everyone.  Mmm…beer.