Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

New York 2014 Conference Buzz

on February 26, 2014
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Big giant head in hotel lobby sporting Suess hat for the children’s writers

Another amazing SCBWI conference is in the bag. Just a quick run through of my notes. Hope this helps some who couldn’t be there, but there’s nothing like being there.

The overall theme was the seven essentials for children’s literature. Some speakers really took this to heart. Others did not.

I did not attend a Friday intensive though I did help with the registration for this event. I hear the intensives were great.

There was a party for industry professionals Friday night, along with the illustrator portfolio showcase. A lot of freaking talent in that room! My Co-Regional Advisor, Sue Peters, and I used the opportunity to start seeking speakers for regional conferences. (Sneaky RAs)

Saturday began with introductions by Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver. With 1085 registrants, 153 were men (up a little), 867 were women, and 65 were apparently neither. 47 states (no Dakotas or Hawaii) and 20 countries were represented. The joke contest was to write a headline for the Winter Olympics starring a children’s book character. Boy, was I surprised to actually win with the first one that popped into my head: Team Rapunzel Best in Curling. Some other good ones: Steve Mooser’s Does a Russian Bear Putin the Woods? And Lee Wind’s Vladimir Putin’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Gay. At least we have fun.

Jack Gantos gave the opening keynote. He spoke about his process. He even shared photos of his writing desk at the Boston Atheneum. For picture books, he makes a 16-square grid. Starts with character introduction, setting, problem, action, action, emotion, crisis, resolution, solve problem, and end. One of his best points was that the best stories have two endings – a physical one and an emotional one. After writing, he moves on to a focused re-write, concentrating on one issue at a time.

I attended the morning breakout session on Creating Nonfiction with Debra Dorfman and Marisa Polansky from Scholastic. Their seven esssentials consisted of:

  1. Explore your interests
  2. Explore your strengths
  3. Explore your audience
  4. Explore your bookstore, school book fair, school book club
  5. Explore the opportunities
  6. Explore sources
  7. Explore publishers

Of course, being from Scholastic, they had some really good examples to back up each point. They mentioned they’re always looking for that unusual idea that speaks to kids. Biographies of little-known people or about quirks of already-famous people are a plus. Combining ideas, like their new Dinosaurs (or sharks or dolphins) in a Box are great. (This is a nonfiction book, a fictional story, poster, and flash cards boxed together.)

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Some of HMH’s recently published picture books

My afternoon breakout was with Jeannette Larson of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, speaking about Writing Picture Books. She had a list of essential ingredients for a great picture book (originality, rhythm, economy, conflict, wholeness, purpose, and authenticity) and a list of ingredients of a writer of great picture books (curiosity, love of language, observance, flexibility, patience, courage, and honesty). Originality means yanking out those clichés. Rhythm means making your text readable, especially out loud. Economy means making every word do its job. Conflict is not about arguing. Wholeness = beginning, middle, and end. Purpose is not about a message. Authenticity means it’s truly child centered.

She also came with great examples. She says that picture books matter, especially in emotional terms, because you never know what the ripple effect will be.

The afternoon keynote was given by author Elizabeth Wein, who spoke about accepting responsibility for everything you write or do. She said that maintaining grace in the face of success will win you a lot of friends.

After that was a discussion panel about banned books.

The evening began with a dinner hosted by the individual regions. It was great to meet with some of the people from our region. I was so glad to see that each of our regional states was represented. And the mini cupcakes were scrumptious.

Later, I had volunteered to attend a social especially for brand new SCBWI members. I’d forgotten how energetic and inspired new members are. What a wonderful group of people!

Sunday morning was the time for award presentation. Tomie dePaolo, at 80, and Jane Yolen, at 75, were unbelievable. I adore them both.

Kate Messner gave a great talk on the Power of Failure. She spoke a lot about not looking at so-called failures as failures, but turning them into learning opportunities and one more step forward. She used her speech at a TED event in 2012 as one example and invited us to be brave. Failure teaches us to celebrate the dance and gives us a chance to start over.

The last panel on Sunday was about the Art of the Picture Book. Five established illustrators (Marla Frazee, Peter Brown, Oliver Jeffers, Raul Colon, and Shadra Strickland) and Arthur A. Levine talked about the direction of the industry, about mistakes and moving on, and on art notes from writers and how aggravating those can be. (This came up more than once during the weekend.) Illustrators want to bring a different dimension to a project. One illustrator wanted to make the point that the writer and illustrator don’t collaborate. The words and pictures collaborate.

Nikki Grimes gave the closing keynote. As a poet, her process is very different. She usually starts with individual pieces (poems) and then ties them together. She approaches them like a jigsaw puzzle.

After the door prizes, I said a find farewell. The hotel staff continued to call us the children’s writers group and kept asking when we were coming back. Very soon, I hope.

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8 responses to “New York 2014 Conference Buzz

  1. What a great overview of the conference, Sue! Especially for those of us who weren’t there.

  2. This was wonderful Sue! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I can’t wait to attend this conference one day.

  3. Sandy Perlic says:

    Thanks for this, Sue! I’m glad for the peek at such a wonderful conference.

  4. Shelley Koon says:

    Reblogged this on As the Eraser Burns and commented:
    I don’t know about you guys but I’m still in conference mode after Springs Revised Draft! It’s actually a great frame of mind to be in as I find I’m most productive after basking in all the writer and artist energy – so thank you all for that. I’m now in the midst of tidying up all the new Critique Group members and getting ready to send the info out (by this weekend I promise!) so I’m going to take advantage of the generous offer from Sue Poduska to run her wrap up of the 2014 NY SCBWI conference! You know – to keep you all in conference mode with me…
    Take it away Sue!

  5. Thank you, Sue! I’ve saved some nuggets from your synopsis of the conference sessions. Also, I love the way you write.

  6. Lyn Logan says:

    Wow…this was thorough and informative. There’s plenty of information here to keep my juices going. Thanks for the share.

  7. Pam says:

    Great wrap up, Sue! I wish I could have been there!

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