The Inspiration of Finn's Feather with keynote speakers Rachel Noble and Essie White

A touching observation from Roving Reporter, Shaye Wardrop during the SCBWI 2019 Conference Dinner Dance on the special relationship with US agent Essie White and Australian author Rachel Noble.

Rachel Noble

Rachel Noble

Never ignore the stories that come from your heart,’ says author Rachel Noble as she tells us the story behind the publication of her debut picture book Finn’s Feather.

I don’t think there’s a dry eye in the room as Rachel talks about the heartbreak of losing her darling boy, Hamish, and her passion and determination to honour him through her words.

After exploring different genres and using writing as therapy, the idea for Finn’s Feather came in a perfect moment. After rushing home to write it down, Rachel tells us she found a feather waiting for her on the front step and she knew she had found the story she was searching for.

My throat is full of rocks and tears well in my eyes as I listen to Rachel speak. She is passionate and strong and brave and amazing, and Finn’s Feather is a powerful and special picture book that helps kids understand death and loss in the most gentle and heart-warming way.


It is a book for every home, every school, every library, and I urge you to find a copy and experience the powerful and magical story for yourself.

Rachel introduces the crowd to her literary agent, Essie White, of Storm Literary Agency, and Essie tells us how she met Rachel and her work.

Essie says, ‘stories can heal’ and ‘the importance of good literature cannot be understated’, and the crowd nods in understanding, knowing exactly what she means.

Essie tells us she ‘believes so much in the transformative power of literature’, that ‘an authentic story will help you heal’, that ‘stories help kids navigate emotions’.

She is so right, and we all sit quietly and ponder on these insightful words as she talks about her experience and extensive involvement in children’s literature over her career, about her love of books and her belief in the power of books to teach and guide children through their lives.

Essie leaves us with one more thought — one more piece of advice I will never forget.

Essie says,

this isn’t a profession; it’s a vocation. Do your best work because the best people in the world are waiting.’

Thank you Rachel for sharing your journey with us all, and thank you Essie for your amazing insights and powerful advice.

Shaye Wardrop


Masterclass D: Picture Books with Essie White

Storm Literary agent/partner Essie White is passionate about creating beautiful and meaningful books for children. Her passion started as an educator when she learnt that providing children with exceptional literature was imperative in education.

Five years ago, Essie made the seamless transition from educator to agent – both careers harbour a true love for children’s literature.

Essie White MC D (1).JPG

Essie’s masterclass was generous and thorough providing all participants with important takeaways.

  • Title – make it good and alert the reader to the concept. The title must also set the tone, introduce the character and setting.

  • First sentence – make it better than the title. It must snag attention and hold it immediately.

  • Narrative Arc – start with a great plot and begin with a ‘bang’. Immediately alert the reader to the crisis and establish the character’s motivation. Motivation drives the story forward. The protagonist responds to the crisis or cause which results in ACTION. The Protagonist then overcomes!

  • Create a satisfying ending – bring the story full circle. It must also resonate deeply.

  • Unforgettable Characters – ensure they are fully developed and they are authentic, memorable and create merchandising opportunities.

  • Language and word choice – Be selective – 500 to 750 words or less. Non-Fiction can be longer.

  • Verbs – Vivid, Active, and Visual!

  • Cadence – rising and falling of voice.

  • Convey emotion – be authentic to the character

  • Avoid rhyme (it does work occasionally).

Essie outlined some Universal Themes in picture books.:

  • Firsts: First day of school, first pet, first birthday, first unicorn costume!

  • Momentous Events: New baby, new pet, Doctor visit etc.

  • Relationships: Parents, siblings, grandparents, neighbours, teachers, community members

  • Animals and more!


The necessary collaboration between author and illustrator


  1. Provide illustration notes but give artist room to breathe

  2. Share research/background info

  3. Offer feedback on sketches (when asked)


  1. Do your research (especially non-fiction)

  2. Accuracy is imperative

  3. Be selective

  4. Sometimes your vision needs to be flexible.

Illustrations should:

  • Help children understand what they are reading.

  • They should enhance the text and move the narrative forward.

  • Stimulate imagination and allow children to analyse.

  • Help create the mood of the story.

  • Must have storytelling capabilities and establish the primary character…especially in wordless picture books (very popular in the US right now).

Essie also spoke about the use of shapes and colours to create mood and feelings in illustrations.

  • Yellow – hope

  • Red – anger

  • Blue – calm

  • Grey – gloom

  • Circle – warmth, completeness, wholesome

  • Rectangles – ridgity, inflexibility, enclosed

  • Triangles – Hierarchy, power, strong, solidarity, substantive

Click on the video for a visual snapshot of the session by Roving Reporter, Giuseppe Poli.

Essie’s final message was so important.

The goal of picture books should be to:

Provide a beautiful experience that leaves the reader impacted, empowered, challenged and changed. Good children’s literature is transformative!

by Rachel Noble