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Ooh, tantalizing title for a blog post!
Picture book writers eager to be represented scour the web for info about the tastes and preferences of kidlit agents. Well, stop searching and look no further.
I asked the picture book agents participating in PiBoIdMo as grand prizes to talk about a client’s new or upcoming release that they’re excited about.
And if you’re wondering about PiBoIdMo GRAND PRIZES, they will be announced on Monday, December 14th!
Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management
I began representing my own clients 2.5 years ago and, as publishing has a long cycle from sale to publication, have only had two (EARLY BIRD and NIGHT OWL by Toni Yuly!) publish to date. Next calendar year will see 14 of “my” books publish. It’s hard to pick just one but HANNAH AND SUGAR (Abrams, 3/16) is author/illustrator Kate Berube’s debut, sold in a 2-book deal, at auction. I first read about Kate on the blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” She and husband Mark live in Portland with their beloved one-eyed wonder-dog, Sugar, the book character’s namesake.
Every day after school, Hannah’s school bus is greeted by her classmate’s dog, Sugar. All the other kids love Sugar but Hannah just can’t conquer her fear of dogs. Then, one day, Sugar goes missing, so Hannah joins the search with her classmates. Will Hannah find a way to be brave, and make a new friend in the process?
Kate worked at Portland’s famous Indie bookstore Powell’s—please consider pre-ordering from your favorite Indie!
Deborah Warren, East/West Literary Agency
Some of East/West Literary’s clients have excelled in all three PB creator roles, as an illustrator, as an author, and as an author/illustrator. To that end—and in honor of PiBoIdMo—we are proud to highlight award-winning Jim Averbeck and his latest book ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA (Atheneum/S & S), a Kirkus Best Book of 2015, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail.
Averbeck’s 2015 “must read” IndyNext Top 10 ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA, is about a girl who uses very creative means to ask for a pet giraffe–from her mother (a judge), father (a businessman), Uncle Conrad (a politician) and Grand-mama (who is very strict!). Yasmine’s illustrations brilliantly add another layer to the story. And Jim created a text that engages the audience with well-placed page turns, pacing and performance possibilities, creating a book that has been embraced for its celebration of words.
And it’s been embraced in more than one way! We’re more than thrilled that SOPHIA has just been extended to a 3-book series by his publisher (Margaret K. McElderry/S & S). Look for TWO PROBLEMS FOR SOPHIA and the third SOPHIA sequel, soon! Oh; and how incredibly cool is it that the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance selected ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA as one of two titles to be included in their national, inaugural #Diversity, hand-selling initiative, #MirrorsAndWindows. [Thank you, indies—diverse books DO sell!]
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
How do you pick just one of your authors’ projects to spotlight? I’m going to circumvent that decision by going with the book that’s been most recently released, Nancy Tupper Ling’s THE STORY I’LL TELL, which is exquisitely illustrated by Jessica Lanan. This book is really a love letter from parent to child, a poetic telling of how that child came to be part of their family.
Words and art alike are unforgettable, and mark my words—this is a book that’s going to be around a long, long time. Don’t miss it!
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
I’m really looking forward to seeing Jess Keating’s PINK IS FOR BLOBLISH hit shelves this February 2nd, 2016 from Knopf Book for Young Readers. Jess’s voice and vision for this project had me excited about it from day one.
In this debut nonfiction picture book, Jess highlights all manner of unusual pink creatures that readers never knew existed. It’s fascinating and funny, but what also makes it so special is that it goes deep. Yes, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH is full of incredible animal facts, but it also carries a subtle sociological message that pink is not just for girls—it’s for everyone and anyone.
Pink is often associated with princesses, and Jess’s book lets readers know that pink is also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. I don’t know about you, but I love that expanded world view!
I admire how Jess manages to engage readers with her humor and fresh voice, provide little-known animal facts, AND deconstruct outdated gender stereotypes—with a clear passion for the material and a wit all her own. And with the talented David DeGrand adding his dynamic, hilarious illustrations, what’s not to love?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
I’m very excited about an upcoming project BABY LOVES SCIENCE by Ruth Spiro, with illustrations by Irene Chan. In the first two books of this picture book series, Ruth explains some complex ideas—Quarks and Aerospace Engineering—in terms so clear that even the very youngest listener can understand.
This is the first project that I sold for Ruth, and the one that she sent me with her initial query. I was very taken with the books, of course, but also with the savvy way Ruth approaches the picture book business; she’s continued to wow me ever since! These books are sweet, gentle and smart, and I can’t wait for them to be out in bookstores and libraries.
The first two are coming in fall 2016—keep your eyes out for them.
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Well, I have to go with Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT which just won The 2015 Best in Rhyme Award in NYC at the RPB Revolution Conference.
Why I think DRAGON is so special? It’s been a long road to publication for Penny. She’s been working tirelessly the past few years to really learn the picture book craft and to hone her skill. Adding to that, DRAGON is in rhyme, so Penny’s not only had to figure out picture book plot, she’s had to learn poetry and rhyme (not easy) and I think there’s been more days of no big success than there have been days with success.
DRAGON exists because Penny didn’t give up. And now DRAGON has a life of his own. I’m still a bit terrified of him, so here’s hoping he steers clear of me. 😉
Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties
One of our new-ish releases is Jennifer K. Mann’s TWO SPECKLED EGGS, winner of the Washington State Book Award this year; it’s the story of an unlikely friendship that’s sparked when two girls find they have more in common than they thought at first.
Jennifer K. Mann came to Pippin through the slush pile (it really happens!) and this is her second picture book. When her query came in, her artwork immediately caught our attention, and then her letter was so exquisitely written and charming and she had clearly done her research . . . it was a no brainer. Here’s to more well crafted slush-pile treasures!
Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris, Liza Royce Agency
We are both mothers of 1st graders; so, as much as they are moving onto chapter books, picture books are still alive and kicking in our homes. One particular recent publication that stands out is ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015). It’s a biography of the world’s first computer programmer—and she’s a GIRL!
Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. Especially now with schools incorporating “STEM” in the classroom and empowering girls to develop into strong women, this book hits all the right notes. It is written by Laurie Wallmark and stunningly illustrated by April Chu. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is not only a remarkable story of triumph, but marks a turning point in our agency—it is our first book to receive THREE STARRED REVIEWS (Kirkus, PW & Booklist) along with NYT praise.
Jodell Sadler, Sadler Children’s Literary
A recent picture book publication would have to be a newer contract, a two-book deal, for Phil Gosier as an author-illustrator package: SNOW BEAST (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).
Phil marked the quickest pull from my submission bin so far. He’s a huge talent and his cover letter sported part unreliable narrator (sending only to you and will not send out until polished more) and part personality punch (I cry at most Tom Hank movies). But what really called me to his project and what is true of every submission: it’s all about the work, and in this case, his work stood on its own merits: breathtaking, amazing, and professional. SNOW BEAST will be published by Roaring Brook Press in 2017.
Remember, come back on Monday for the GRAND PRIZE announcements. There will be 13 PiBoIdMo Winners to be paired with one PB literary agent each for an email consult about their five best story ideas.
Good luck, everyone!
I asked the kidlit agents participating in PiBoIdMo as your “grand prizes” to tell us why they love picture books. Their answers are sure to inspire!
Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties
Picture books are easy to love because they are tiny little windows that offer beautiful glimpses out into the whole, wide, wonderful world, and into hearts like and unlike our own.
Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
I do love picture books! There is nothing more satisfying than to find a picture book manuscript which has been carefully crafted to share a story with the youngest readers. The Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir said that painting is “making love visible” and I can’t help thinking that is why some picture books are so endearing and everlasting. They make the love we feel for our children, our grandchildren, and the children within us very visible. It is a true craft which needs to be learned and practiced. And I honor those who learn this craft and honor children.
Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency
Picture books pretty much have me wrapped around their finger. I’m obsessed by the story-telling opportunities offered by this highly-visual genre! Picture books (as a format) seem simple at first blush, but they are often in fact quite layered and even poetic, displaying an elegant interplay between text and art. Best of all, picture books are accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be able to read in order to love them. They can be savored for what they offer visually, and when read aloud, until a reader has command over the written word. Simply, what format is better than the first one that takes children by the hand and turns them into book-lovers?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
The best part of picture books, for me, is way words and illustration marry together to create a sum greater than its parts. I love the way art builds meaning in the story, and how the simplest of texts can be full of emotion and heart. I remember so well the picture books that I poured over as a child — mystified and delighted to be invited into the world of reading and books. For me, it’s an honor to represent picture books!
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they celebrate a time in our life we all look back on so fondly. I love being a part of helping to create them because we’re creating books for kids who will look back on them for the rest of their lives.
Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I became a reader because of picture books, and I became an agent because of picture books. They are one of the richest and most influential forms of literature. So much feeling, so many laughs, in so few pages, meant to be read over and over again!
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they speak to the quintessential child in each of us. They reach across the gaps of age and culture and language and bring us under their spell. A perfectly-crafted picture book is a full-senses experience that can last a lifetime.
Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
I love the breadth of story and emotion—from clever and comical, to poetic and pondering—that can be found within the framework of a 32-page picture book. I love the right prose, the visual subplots, the rhythm and rhyme and repetition (and repetition, and repetition). But, most of all, I love them because they’re short.
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
I love working with picture books because they remind me that the earliest literature we read in life can be some of the most memorable (and the most fun!).
Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
I love picture books because they’re fun to read aloud, and they’re meant to be read with someone else.They can’t not be shared! Even now, I don’t have kids, but when I read a good picturebook, my husband gets to be the audience. He’s very understanding. 🙂
I call the agents who participate in PiBoIdMo “agent prizes”, but let me make one thing clear: you do not get to bring them home with you.
Oh, sure, I know how you’d love to cuddle up with an agent, dress them in adorable footie pajamas and read them bedtime stories, but alas, they are remaining in their respective homes. For now. Who knows? If they really LOVE your ideas, maybe they’d like to snuggle beside you? But I digress…
At the conclusion of PiBoIdMo, on December 1st, I will post the “PiBo Pledge”. Leave a comment on the pledge post if you have completed the challenge with at least 30 ideas. You do not have to submit those ideas to prove that you have them. You’re on the honor system. It’s OK, I trust you.
If you have “signed” the pledge by commenting AND you had also registered, then you are eligible for an “agent prize”—a.k.a. THE GRAND POOBAH OF PRIZES. You will get your 5 best ideas evaluated by a kidlit agent. They’ll tell you which ideas might be the best ones to pursue as manuscripts. (Or not.)
Don’t worry–you’ll get a few days to pick your 5 best ideas and flesh them out before sending to your assigned agent.
This year we have NINE NOTABLE AGENTS participating! This means there are NINE GRAND PRIZES! I hope to add more, but these are who we have thus far.
Now…let me introduce you…let me make you smile… (wait, that’s let me entertain you…oopsie…but I bet you’re smiling anyway)…
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)
Joan is a Senior Agent with EMLA, working from her home office in Massachusetts as the “East Coast branch” of the agency. She represents all forms of children’s and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time.
An EMLA client herself, Joan is also the author of numerous books for children, most recently the picture books Ghost in the House (Candlewick, 2013) and Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion, 2013), and the novels Paradox (Random House, 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker, 2013). When she is not on the phone, answering email, or writing, you will most likely find Joan curled up with a book. Or baking something delicious. Or talking about something delicious she’s baked. Really, after books and food, what else is there worth saying?
You can read more about Joan’s writing and agenting process here.
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)
Tricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 18 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.
As associate agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.
Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here and here.
Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle—teaching, marketing, publishing & bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. She is also book curator at an independent toy store/bookstore. Read a recent publishing industry piece by Marietta here.
Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary
Danielle Smith began her agent career at Foreword Literary Agents in 2013 where she represents picture books and middle grade authors and illustrators. Her enthusiasm for children’s literature began as a young child, but grew exponentially when her own two children were born and shortly thereafter she began reviewing books at her top rated children’s book review site There’s A Book. For more than five years she’s been involved professionally with books through print and online publications such as Women’s World and Parenting Magazine, as a member of the judging panel for The Cybils awards for fiction picture books, as well as locally by serving on the board of The Central Coast Writer’s Conference.
Danielle is also a writer, represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg for her middle grade novel The Protectorate. She’s a member of SCBWI and can frequently be found on Twitter talking about anything from children’s books to the BBC’s Sherlock to her own parenting woes & joys.
Read more about Danielle here.
Mira Reisberg, Hummingbird Literary
Mira Reisberg came to launch Hummingbird Literary following a 25-year history in the field of children’s literature working as an award-winning illustrator, a writer, editor, art director, designer, a children’s literature and art education professor, and a teacher/mentor to many now successful children’s book creatives.
Her mission is to successfully represent all age-levels to create wonderful books that bring meaning and/or joy to children’s and young adult lives. Hummingbird Literary will have a limited number of clients so that Mira and her team can focus on building long-term careers and fruitful relationships.
Learn more about Mira and Hummingbird here.
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
Susan Hawk represents authors who write for children of all ages, babies to teenage.
Susan comes to TBA from Children’s Book Marketing, where she worked for over 15 years, most recently as the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. She’s also worked as a children’s librarian and a bookseller.
Susan handles books for children exclusively: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA, fiction and non-fiction. She wants a book to stay with her long after she finishes reading, and she’s looking for powerful, original writing. She’s open to mystery, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). Her favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial. In non-fiction she’s looking for books that relate to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world. In picture books, she’s looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and characters as indelible as her childhood favorites Ferdinand, Madeline and George and Martha.
Read more about Susan here.
Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management
Lori Kilkelly is an agent with Rodeen Literary Management, founded by Paul Rodeen, formerly of Sterling Lord Literistic, in 2009. After working in sales for a number of years, Lori decided to follow her passion for books. She attended the Denver Publishing Institute, subsequently joining the agency as an intern in early 2010. Ascending the ranks from intern and reader to assistant, she worked with current and potential clients as well as editors and publishers. In early 2012 Lori took on the role of Social Media Manager, creating and maintaining the Rodeen Literary Facebook page as well as Twitter and Pinterest accounts, to provide promotional opportunities for RLM clients as well as keep interested parties informed about books, news and events involving RLM. In December 2012 she began representing her first client, Toni Yuly, and has subsequently taken on an additional four clients. She represents authors as well as illustrators and is actively seeking talented Middle Grade and Young Adult writers.
Please visit here for more on Lori and Rodeen Literary Management.
Sean McCarthy, McCarthy Literary
Sean McCarthy began his publishing career as an editorial intern at Overlook Press and then moved over to the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. He worked as the submissions coordinator and permissions manager before becoming a full-time literary agent. Sean graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English-Creative Writing, and is grateful that he no longer has to spend his winters in Minnesota.
He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings. He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, or query letters that pose too many questions.
Jill Corcoran, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency
Prior to becoming an agent, Jill Corcoran worked at Mattel, LA Gear, Leo Burnett Advertising and her own company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. With an English degree from Stanford University and a Marketing and Finance MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business, Jill has marketed everything from Barbies to Disney toys, Kellogg’s cereal to LA Gear shoes. But when she started writing books for children, and then agenting them, she knew she found her true calling.
Jill represents Picture Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult plus a select list of adult non-fiction. Visit her agency website here.
Interesting story—back in 2009, I met Jill in person at the NJ-SCBWI annual conference after chatting via social media for months. We never really got a chance to talk in depth, so I asked if I could email her some of my picture book ideas so she could give me feedback on which might be the best to pursue as manuscripts. She agreed and I sent her a bunch of ideas, one of which was for THE MONSTORE. And the rest, they say, is history.
My experience with Jill is how these “agent prizes” came to be. I know how valuable it is to receive guidance from someone who really knows the market. Now that I have an agent myself (Ammi-Joan Paquette), I’m lucky enough to bounce ideas off her before I do any writing. But if you don’t have an agent, just how can you discern a lukewarm idea from a HOT one? Hopefully these agent prizes will give you a head start in that department.
Yay! So those are our agents, folks.
Now I should end on a humorous note, but you know, running PiBoIdMo just wipes the witty right outta me sometimes.
Maybe…yabba dabba do?
Knowing I have blog followers who are eager to snag a picture book agent, I sat down with Susan (after we bumped—yes—right there on the floor) and asked her some questions about picture books, agenting, and the surreal softness of the carpet. Was it Turkish cotton? Or do they only use that for robes and towels? (Um, scratch those last couple questions.)
Susan, what led to your decision to become a kidlit agent? Can you tell us about your professional background?
I’m lucky to have worn a number of hats within the children’s book world. I’ve been a bookseller; I have a degree in Library Science and have worked in an elementary school library as well as the Brooklyn Public Library; I acquired a few book projects for Dutton Children’s Books. But most of my background is in Children’s Book Marketing, gathered at Penguin, Henry Holt and North-South Books. All of that led to my decision to make the jump to agenting three years ago, which feels like the perfect way to put these experiences to work. But, really, I think it all began with this: I’m a reader. I love reading books, I love meeting new characters and going new places in the pages of a book, and that’s always been true for me.
Ah, a great question. It’s hard to stop!
- ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell
- SPOON by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon
- I’M NOT by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock
- THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
- SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT by Judith St George and David Small
- OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann
- “MORE, MORE, MORE,” SAID THE BABY by Vera B Williams
- BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey
- GEORGE AND MARTHA, or anything by James Marshall
- SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig
- MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney
- LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes
- BREAD AND JAME FOR FRANCES by Russell Hoban
- FREDERICK by Leo Lionni
What about those books make them special?
Three things: character, humor, and each of these is a very satisfying book.
In most of them, the main character is someone I love. Like, obsessively love. ME, JANE—I already think Jane Goodall is amazing, but in the pages of this book, we’re introduced to a real little girl who’s so true to her own interests, that you can’t help but be entirely charmed. Spoon features the most adorable spoon you’d ever want to meet, not to mention his smart, reassuring parents. And it goes on—every one of these books holds a real, textured person, brought to life in just a few words and pages.
Almost all of them are funny. Some of them are more broadly so, in some of them the humor lies more in a clever twist, but with all of them, I find myself smiling. A lot.
You know the feeling when you close a book and think, I can’t wait to read that again? That happens when the author and artist, together, create a perfect symphony of voice, character and plot. When everything works in concert, you finish the story feeling somehow more whole, and will want to come back to that story again. Obviously, which books do this will be different for different people, but for me, these books all give me that sense.
What do you look for in a picture book submission?
Pretty much what I described above!
Also, shorter text (about 500-600 words), and I’m not usually a fan of rhyming text.
What makes you stop reading a submission?
Predictably, longer texts, rhyming texts—I usually stop reading those. There are also quite a few “evergreen” stories, themes or subjects out there—making a new friend is one. (Here’s a list of a few others.) These can be tricky because in the right hands, they can feel fresh and new, so I’d never say that I’d automatically stop reading a story like this. Still, these texts will be competing with quite a few others out there, so I’m cautious with these.
Is there anything you see too much of in your submission pile?
I see quite a few projects that want to teach kids a lesson. I’m not particularly interested in this, though there are quite a few picture books that want kids to understand some values—fairness, for instance—and do this quite skillfully. I guess that, in terms of message books, I want to see this emerge from the character’s journey, rather than leading the story.
What is the word from picture book editors these days? What are they seeking in picture books?
The main thing editors ask me for is strong, original characters with a compelling, meaty story. If that character has the potential to build a series, all the better. Length should be shorter (see word count above). Most editors will find something funny very appealing and are often looking for something quirky. This is harder to quantify—one gal’s quirky is another gal’s odd—but in general, I think this is about looking for something that feels new and different.
What factors go into your decision to offer a picture book author representation? (Do you offer representation based on only one picture book, or do you prefer that the author have a few ready to submit?)
Two things—I need to love the work, and I need to feel that I can sell it. Easy to explain, hard to find! Mainly that’s because it’s ultimately personal and what I may love is so different than what someone else may love. It’s best if the writer has a few books in the bag, so to speak, but not 100% necessary.
Do your rep author-illustrators? Is it best for them to query with a full dummy, or just a story and a portfolio?
I do! In fact, I’m very eager to take more author-illustrators on. I love seeing a full dummy, but querying either way is fine. My submissions information is here: http://www.thebentagency.com/submission.php.
Could you describe your ideal client?
Someone who loves their work. Writing and illustrating is amazing work, and I feel super lucky to work with children’s book creators, but it requires dedication, patience, flexibility, and some grit. You’re probably going to hear no a few times before you hear yes. Being able to balance all that against a deep love for your work, and a real pleasure in doing it, is key.
Are you open to submissions? How can writers reach you?
Very much so. Please visit The Bent Agency website to learn more about being in touch.
Thank you, Susan! I hope to bump into you again soon! Without dumping us both onto the floor. Although, it sparked a lovely, informative conversation, didn’t it?