New Client Alert — Samantha Cleaver and Reuben Nantogmah

  • By: Naomi Davis | Date: Jun 24 2022

Samantha Cleaver and Reuben Nantogmah


What you Write:

Picture Books 



Naomi Davis


Why BookEnds?

We have followed BookEnds since we started looking into agents and love the projects they champion, the commitment to diversity, and the transparent love of authors, writing, and supporting writers from idea to publication. 

When we talked with Naomi on “the call” we were so excited to hear her vision for our work. She “got” our work in a way that blew us away. And, we liked her as a person. She was definitely someone that we wanted to work with, and hopefully have lunch with some day! 


Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often? 

We are a collaborative team, and we live in the same house with our four kids who are ages 8, 6, 4, and 1, so writing doesn’t feel like a process (lol!). Typically, we start with an idea—like we did for a story about a Ghanaian outdooring. Then, we write up the first draft with a focus on structure (in this case it was a progressive text). After the kids are asleep, we’ll brainstorm ideas for how to shape the story, next steps for a character, and the right information to insert at each point in the story. We read the stories aloud to our kids (our 8-year-old and 6-year-old are fierce critics!). We take our manuscripts through multiple critique groups and partners, and finally, work through Naomi’s suggestions and thoughts. We’re a collaborative team, but it also feels like our stories come together with the help of our whole community. 


Where can readers find you on the web and social media? 

Instagram: @activereadingmama

Twitter: @Cleaver5S


Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)

Samantha loves to print out drafts and work on them with a pen. There’s something about feeling the scratch of pen on paper while writing. Samantha also carries a notebook with her wherever she goes, so she can have a place to jot notes and ideas when they strike (it’s amazing how many ideas come while waiting in the carpool line). Reuben likes to put words on paper first, without worrying about how they sound and then return to the text to read it over. He also likes to talk through decisions while writing—word choice, character actions, etc. 


What do you love about writing picture books? 

Samantha loves when a turn of phrase comes out just right so that it feels good to read it aloud (again and again). Reuben likes the editing process and hearing the story read aloud. We both love creating characters and seeing how they react throughout a story; often, our characters (like our kids) surprise us! 


Why did you choose the genre you’ve chosen?

Samantha grew up with fond memories of being read to. She studied picture books as a genre while getting her PhD in special education and reading, so she had lots of experience reading and analyzing picture books. Reuben came to picture books by accident. Before he had kids he didn’t know that picture books existed—he wasn’t read to as a child. Reading aloud to his own kids and living with Samantha led him to an interest in picture books. We started writing picture book manuscripts when we tried to find books about Ghana to read with our kids, but couldn’t. 


What is the hardest part about writing picture books?

Making sure it’s a true read aloud text. Thinking about how a book could become something that a parent wants to read over and over, and that a child can engage with again and again. 


If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?

Samantha -A busy café with never-ending refills and a plate that always has a chocolate croissant.  

Reuben – A luxurious cabin in an isolated forest. 


Do you belong to any writing organizations?

SCBWI Carolinas 

During the pandemic, we’ve enjoyed engaging in SCBWI and Writing Barn courses and events across the country. 


What was the most important question you asked when interviewing agents?

We honestly did more listening. We wanted to work with someone who “got” our work and saw a long-term vision for our collaboration. We also wanted to work with someone who seemed enjoyable to work with. Perhaps the most important question, for a partnership, was how the agent was going to work with each of us individually and both of us collaboratively. 


How did you know your book was ready to submit?

Writing is community. Our manuscripts had been through multiple critique groups and gotten the “green light” to send to agents. Also, we have a few trusted critique partners who also gave the “green light.” We are lucky to have a really wonderful writing community that we trust and who believe in us.