To begin with, it is an insult slung at the young Shakespeare in 1592 by older, more-established but less successful playwright Robert Greene. His obvious irritation at the younger artist’s pluck and nerve is, we think, typical of the response of the old guard toward any new talent. There is something in the phrase that speaks of the audacity needed to make art, of courage in the face of doubters. We should all be upstart crows when it comes to our writing and our work.
It is that precise kind of daring that is exemplified in the writers and illustrators we represent. Among them are #1 New York Times–bestsellers; National Book Award finalists; winners of state reading awards and American Library Association prizes; Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners; and more—the kinds of accolades given to those creators commited to their voice and viewpoint, to the fine craft of their art.
Danielle Chiotti has worked in publishing for twenty years. Formerly an editor, she joined Upstart Crow when it was founded in 2009. Her clients include Story Prize winner and National Book Award Finalist Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, WVU Press), 2021 Kirkus Prize Nonfiction winner and 2022 Lamba Award winner Brian Broome (Punch Me Up To The Gods, Mariner/HarperCollins), Schneider Family Honor Winner and NYT Bestselling author Jacqueline West (Long Lost,The Collectors and The Books of Elsewhere), and many more. Danielle specializes in upmarket and literary fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as select nonfiction. Thanks to her extensive editorial background, she enjoys working closely with authors to develop projects. She welcomes first-time authors with a unique voice and point of view.
In her own words: "The first book I ever loved was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I remember when I got my very own copy.
"My dad drove me over to the Waldenbooks at the mall, and held my little hand in his big hand while he plucked the book from the shelf and handed it to me. I still remember the smell of it—a cross between oatmeal and papier maché.
"Oh, the thrill of a new book!
"I read Charlotte’s Web so many times I could recite the first chapter by heart. I read it until the pages became soft and worn and the cover fell off.
"It’s not a coincidence that when the time came to grow up and get a job, I decided to make a living out of making books. But I suppose that what I’m really doing as a literary agent is chasing that feeling I got way back in the third grade—that rush of emotion, that swell of love, that sweeping feeling of pure joy that comes from falling in love with a great book."
Kayla Cichello brings to Upstart Crow Literary nearly a decade of experience in children’s publishing. A former Conference Coordinator for the Summer and Winter Conferences for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she most recently logged several years as assistant to Senior Agent Jennifer Rofé at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She is open to picture books through YA and illustrators, and is searching for those voices that make her laugh and keep the page turning. Some of her clients include author Ana Otaru, author of the upcoming MASQUERADE FOR GRANDPA (Atheneum/S&S, 2023) and author/illustrator Kirbi Fagan, illustrator of SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY (Sleeping Bear, 2021).
In her own words: “I’ve always been a voracious reader. From the time I could read, I would spend summers staying up late with a flashlight reading, making my way through each Nancy Drew mystery and the Little House on The Prairie series. I would often imagine myself as a new character in the stories; a kind friend to Laura or Nancy’s sassy sidekick (move over, George). For me, reading has never felt like an escape from reality, but rather an invitation to run alongside the author’s imagination, and strengthen my own. Weekends always included a trip to the library with a list of books to check out and back up selections in case my first choices were currently checked out.
"Hailing from Texas, I did not take the traditional path into publishing. After majoring in English at the University of Texas, I found my way to California and into the generous and welcoming tribe of SCBWI. I owe my education in children’s books to Lin Oliver, Kim Turrisi, and Jennifer Rofé, each of whom imparted on me their knowledge of and passion for this industry.
“I may have upgraded from a flashlight, but I’m still on the lookout for those stories that will make me stay up late turning the next page.”
Susan Hawk has worked in children’s books for over twenty-five years. Her clients include Rachael Allen, author of multiple YA novels, including A Taxonomy of Love and the forthcoming DC Icons title, Harley Quinn: Reckoning; J.M.M. Nuanez, author of the MG novel Birdie and Me; Paul Acampora, whose newest MG novel is the forthcoming In Honor of Broken Things; Sarah Lariviere, author of the YA novel Time Travel for Love and Profit; graphic novelist Rachel Elliott, author of the forthcoming The Real Riley Mayes; author-illustrator Denis Angelov, illustrator of The Big Scream; and Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves Science board book series and the Made by Maxine series of picture books.
Before agenting, Susan worked in the Children’s Marketing departments of Penguin Books for Young Readers, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and North-South Books, where she managed campaigns for many books and authors including Eric Carle, Mary E Pearson, Richard Peck and Joan Bauer. She’s also been a children’s librarian and bookseller, and spent some time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring select picture book and YA projects for that list.
“I grew up in Washington, DC just a couple blocks from a wonderful children’s bookstore, The Cheshire Cat. Reading had me hooked at an early age, so this was a magical place for me. The minute I could get a job there—at the ripe old age of 13—I did. And ever since, children’s books and publishing have given me both a home and a career.
"After college, I got a job at another bookstore, a brand-new Borders. As a bookseller there, I met a number of publicists, coming from New York with touring authors. The travel, the media and the authors all seemed pretty thrilling to me, so I moved to New York myself, determined to find a job in Publicity. I landed in the Children’s Publicity and Marketing Department at Penguin. This was in the 1990s, when children’s books were becoming a force within publishing houses and it was an exciting time. As much as I loved the new books, I equally adored the opportunity to read more classic backlist titles than I could carry home, and pore over old author files—letters from S.E. Hinton, Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert McCloskey and more!
“Perhaps it was those files (and the possibility of becoming an archivist) that led me to pursue librarianship. And that, in turn, eventually brought me back to Penguin, where I ran the Library Marketing Department and was able to work simultaneously in Dutton Editorial for a brief period. Finally, I began to think about agenting—a place where I could put my passion for kid’s books together with my experiences in marketing, editorial, bookstores, and libraries. I haven’t looked back since taking on my first client in 2010!
“When people ask me about my favorite part of agenting, I say it’s hard to choose just one, because I enjoy the variation so much: the deeply thoughtful work that goes into an edit letter, helping a writer to dig more deeply into her character and story. The strategy, and pleasure, that goes into selling a project, matching it to an editor that I suspect will feel just as strongly about it as I do. Brainstorming new ideas with my clients. Thinking big picture about a client’s career, and the patient process of building that career, together.
“But if I had to pick just one thing, it would be this: I love the moment that I open a query, and find myself pulled completely into a new world, with characters I never want to leave. I can trace that feeling right back to my own childhood and the thrill of cracking open a new book. I didn’t know, those years ago, that books would take me on so many different and marvelous journeys—not least of which is the one that brought me here.”
Ted Malawer is a veteran agent who specializes in middle grade and teen fiction. Before working in children’s publishing, Ted studied Comparative Literature at Columbia University and trained as an opera singer at the Juilliard School. Ted’s favorite kind of author is not afraid to get his (or her) hands dirty to make a manuscript the best that it can be. He especially loves stories with artistic themes—or dachshunds.
In his own words: “I cannot imagine a more fulfilling job than helping to create books for children.”
"When I was younger, I read anything I could get my hands on. While other kids spent their summers playing baseball, I kept charts of the stories in my “to read” pile from the library and rewarded myself with a gold star when I was finished. (Looking back, if that wasn’t the sign of a future English major I’m not sure what is.)
"Now, my favorite books for young readers are ones that capture the spirit of burgeoning adolescence, whether through humor or sadness or romance or fantastical storytelling—or, better yet, through all of them!”
Alexandra Penfold has been working in publishing for over a decade. Formerly an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, she specializes in young picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult. Prior to becoming an editor, Alexandra was a children’s book publicist. She worked on media campaigns that appeared in USA Today, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s the co-author of New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks and the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop, illustrated by Jane Massey and We Are Brothers, We Are Friends, illustrated by Eda Kaban as well as three forthcoming picture books, for more on Alexandra’s books visit her website. Alexandra is looking to take on select lifestyle and cooking projects in addition to children’s books.
In her own words: “I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t filled with books. From an early age I loved to read and write stories. I was an obsessive reader as a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on and bankrolled the public library with my allowance because I always wanted to read books one more time before I returned them. I like to say that some of my favorite people live in books.
"I didn’t follow the traditional English major track, instead my concentration at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study was in Entertainment Business and Marketing, basically did a business major with lots of writing and entertainment and media classes thrown in. I rediscovered my love of children’s books through an internship in the marketing department at Simon & Schuster the summer of my junior year. I joined the team there as a publicity assistant soon thereafter and two years later, transitioned to the editorial side of things in 2005.
"In the close to ten years that I spent at S&S, I had the privilege to edit award-winning picture books and novels. I look forward to continuing to champion books and their creators as an agent.”
Michael Stearns is the founder of Upstart Crow Literary. Formerly editorial director and foreign acquisitions manager for HarperCollins Children’s Books, before that he was Senior Editor, Director of Paperback Publishing for Harcourt Children’s Books. He has worked on hundreds of books for children and adults during his more than twenty years in the industry. Among the many bestselling and award-winning books he’s edited and published are A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly; Gone and Hunger by Michael Grant; Tangerine by Edward Bloor, East by Edith Pattou, The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise Primavera, Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge, the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and the Chet Gecko Mysteries by Bruce Hale, as well as a whole slew of books by Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, Vivian Vande Velde, Andrew Auseon, and Ursula K. Le Guin, among others. He has taught a dozen classes on writing, published three anthologies of original stories, and is an award-winning writer of fiction for both children and adults—most recently The Blood Guard series under the pen name Carter Roy.
"I never intended to work in children’s books. Like most careers, it was something I labored at while I was on my way to answer some other calling. (That Other Career was filmmaking: I’d won a state award with a film I made as a kid, had gone to USC film school, had spent years behind a camera, coaxing people into ridiculous situations so that I could “get the shot.”)
"But it turned out that the “labor” of children’s books didn’t feel like labor at all. I’d always been a freakishly avid reader, and—after taking T.C. Boyle’s classes at USC—realized that I loved that act of writing as well. It turned out that the position of children’s books editor wasn’t a diversion off some path, but was my perfect job. It fit me like a well-worn coat.
"I didn’t figure that out immediately, of course; I quit and became a freelance editor for years. And while I spent nights and weekends editing books, I got a graduate degree, taught for a while, worked some thirty-five odd jobs doing all manner of things, and then finally realized that the thing I most loved doing was the one I’d begun with: Working with words and pictures and story. So I called up my old bosses, asked them to rehire me, and was relieved when they answered, ‘Sure!' I never looked back.”