Kristie Choi

Atheneum Books for Young Readers (S&S)

My Manuscript Wish List®

I’m a children’s book editor with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that is known for publishing award-winners and commercial books with outstanding literary merit. I’m looking to acquire fiction and non-fiction for young adult, middle grade, picture book (4-8), and graphic novels.

My Mission: I’m seeking the sort of books that can stand the test of time where readers can get lost and immersed in a refuge, see themselves, be transformed and healed, and experience the world with a new perspective. I’m especially looking to highlight intersectional, marginalized, and traditionally underrepresented voices (BIPOC, queer, disabled, neurodivergent, body type, etc).

My taste in short: MAGIC AND MYSTERY, whether that be literal fantasy magic or the magic within the mundane, traditional mystery who-dunnits or characters simply trying to discover the secrets of the universe.

Broad strokes: Ranging from light and humorous to gritty, edgy, and thought-provoking, the stories I tend to be drawn to are creatively ambitious and can straddle both the commercial and literary line (“upmarket”) or have a literary timeless feel. For novels and graphic novels, I’m seeking voice-driven coming-of-age or genre fiction with a character-focus written with captivating, literary prose; for picture books and early readers, I’m looking for outrageously funny, silly, absurd stories or those that are gorgeous and lyrical and touch upon universal themes like love and family. Regardless of genre or format, I’m drawn to voice-y, cinematic, character-driven stories with a high-concept hook that are immersive, compulsive, and evocative of some emotion–those that can get me invested in the characters and make me laugh or cry (or both at the same time). I enjoy stories of young people confronting a little more than the ordinary, anything from dealing with financial insecurity, trauma/grief, family dysfunction, to battling political corruption or literal demons. I also love slice-of-life that highlights the beauty within the mundane. Even with my favorite cozy stories, though, I enjoy having some weightier threads woven in (think any Hayao Miyazaki film or Howl’s Moving Castle where the wizards turning into monsters is a metaphor for the horrors of war). I have a particular soft spot for offbeat threads and misfits on the fringes of society, nerds, autistic/neurodivergent folks, and the cerebral types thinking big questions about life, relationships, and philosophy from a young age.

Specifically, in picture books, I love:

  • Emotional stories about family and love that inspire empathy like WATERCRESS and LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET
  • quietly profound, moving, and lyrical picture books like OUTSIDE IN or IS WAS
  • Nonfiction or fiction told with evocative, beautiful prose that can inspire action or raise social or environmental consciousness in the vein of WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS

  • Poetic, affirming, inclusive, and empowering concept books that convey SEL through the story, like EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS
  • Innovative and quirky, wry humor a la Jon Klassen, Ben Clanton, Oliver Jeffers

Early Readers:

  • Graphic novels with series potential that are super funny and silly like Narwhal and Jelly and Dogman

In MG/YA, I love:

  • a bit of complexity: high-concept hooks, atmospheric writing, a strong voice/command of language, characterization that’s multidimensional, complicated family dynamics, complex themes
  • all kinds of character-driven speculative/fantasy from high, epic, cozy, dark, or portal, to urban or contemporary with a dash of magic, so long as it’s grounded with believable nuanced characters, realistic emotions, universal themes (e.g. family, found family/friendships, impermanence etc)
  • cerebral quirky main characters who are flawed/imperfect, and make mistakes, but have some redemptive quality
  • mysteries/thrillers or a sense of mystery that has me turning the page wanting to figure out what happens next
  • lyrical prose, and evocative verse novels with powerful emotions and vivid imagery
  • moral complexity and generally having some nuance and texture to the writing
  • characters becoming politically aware or active; relatedly, stories of resistance
  • spooky thrillers that are imaginative and doesn’t rely on visceral guts/blood to scare – my favorite horror stories are those that understand the anxieties and frightening experience of growing up, drawing upon real-life emotions and experiences of terror (think GET OUT being about the horrors of systemic and benevolent racism)
  • historical or nonfiction with immersive prose that shows a fresh perspective and time or setting (no WWII stories, please, unless there’s a very fresh spin)
  • strong female protagonists and male characters that dismantle toxic masculinity
  • genre-benders that feel seamless (e.g. YELLOWJACKETS being a feminist, queer survival-adventure psychological thriller/mystery that at its heart is a complex portrait of life after trauma, with a dash of supernatural horror; SIX OF CROWS being a character-driven high fantasy that’s really a heist novel with a dash of romance)
  • found family, or characters dealing with dysfunctional, complicated family dynamics with threads that still beat with love; I’m especially a softie for characters in MG who have to grow up a little faster than normal
  • humor from dark and absurdist, to clever/witty (think smart humor like Parks & Rec, Community, or Bottoms)
  • in MG, a sense of imagination and a tone that there could be magic and wondrous things in the world in even the most mundane of settings; in the contemporary/realistic sphere, my taste for MG is comparable to Taika Waititi’s blend of quirky, heartfelt, and humorous (think Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

In YA, I love:

  • a bit of grittiness, or writing that can reveal intriguing juxtapositions of beauty within the grittiness of life
  • stories that aren’t afraid to tackle difficult social themes (e.g. sexual assault, racism, mental illness, social inequities) and have multiple threads to balance with levity so that characters aren’t defined solely by their trauma or hardship
  • stories that destigmatize female and queer sexuality and don’t shy away from representing the realities of experiencing desire, lust, and longing at this age…
  • …relatedly, characters whose main goal in life or at the start of the story might be simply to flirt with all the folks they can; charismatic amoral types more interested in getting laid and copping a feel than being a hero who grow by the end with believable emotional arcs
  • thrillers, especially complex psychological thrillers or mysteries
  • romance and rom-coms featuring quirky nerdy leads, especially with characters discovering queer desire
  • dark/gritty fantasies that explore grief/trauma a la SIX OF CROWS or with magic as metaphor like LEGENDBORN
  • the enemies-to-lovers, rivals-to-lovers, or lovers-to-enemies trope (I’m a huge sucker for this trope)

I am a bit genre-blind when it comes to fantasy/speculative, contemporary, historical, and whatnot, but.. I am NOT the best fit for:

  • board books–Atheneum only publishes picture books within the ages of 4-8
  • anthologies–just not a format I love!
  • Main characters of AAPI, BIPOC, queer, or other traditionally marginalized identities, who are self-hating
  • plot-driven stories where there is little to no interiority or where the only aspect of the world that has changed by the end of the story is external and not internal; where external events drive the action more so than character’s decisions
  • In MG/YA, any characters that feel cartoon-y or where the emotions and characterization don’t feel believable (unless it’s absurd and silly humor, which I love)
  • sports stories centered on the sport (though I love character-driven stories that aren’t really about the sport a la Ted Lasso)
  • stories centered around terminal illness, especially those ending with the character’s death
  • graphic novel pitches with only a script/writer attached; graphic novels must be author-illustrator
  • trauma-driven narratives that are relentlessly heavy (i.e. the main character’s life is defined by their trauma or racism they’ve faced, with no or few threads of levity or love for balance)

Fun facts about me:

  •  I grew up in Southern California and have spent time living in NYC, San Francisco, and Seoul. I now live in Denver with my partner with whom I have two cats (and one as of yet imaginary dog).
  • I am genderfluid and bi/pan, while my partner is queer and trans/nonbinary, and I’m very involved with the queer community
  • I used to help run the cash register at my parents’ small mom-and-pop T-Shirt store when I was a kid.
  • I’m a nature/outdoors lover with dreams of living off-the-grid, foraging, and surviving in the wild. I love hiking, camping, and stargazing in my free time, cooking over a campfire.
  • I love all things plants, gardening, herbs, tea, candles, natural medicinal tinctures, homeopathy, crystals–I’m a basic plant witch.
  • Knitting tickles my neurospicy brain.
  • I play the guitar with which I sing almost exclusively David Bowie songs.
  • I enjoy rock climbing and bouldering and one of my goals in life is to climb an actual mountain in the outdoors as a lead climber
  • I speak and can read Korean, Spanish, and a little French – I love studying languages.
  • I once ate a live termite, and have basic knowledge of how to survive in the Amazon Rainforest (the two are connected).
  • I once interned in Seoul for a North Korean human rights NGO

Submission Guidelines

To agents: please submit to my Simon & Schuster email address with the full pitch and manuscript. You are welcome to submit to more than one editor at S&S; however, we ask agents not to submit simultaneously to editors within the same imprint or publisher. S&S BFYR, Atheneum, McElderry, Salaam Reads, and Denene Millner all fall under the same publisher. To authors and illustrators: Unfortunately I can only accept agented submissions. If I’ve expressed interest in your MS, please have your agent forward it to me!