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On behalf of all of us on Team Blog, we hope you've enjoyed our reporting on the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference. Check out the more than 70 conference posts below to get a taste of the craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators is all about!
|'Bye For Now (right to left: Lee, Suzanne, Martha, Jolie and Jaime)|
Start planning now to join us at the next International SCBWI Conference, our 15th Annual Winter Conference, February 21-23, 2014, in New York City.Illustrate and Write On,Lee Wind
, Suzanne Young
, Martha Brockenbrough
, Jolie Stekly
and Jaime Temairik
|Paul O. Zelinsky, way, way, WAY undercover.|
Thanks to Author/Illustrator and SCBWI Board Member Pat Cummings for the photos!
|Mentees with Mentor David Diaz, taking a break from the Illustrators' Intensive.|
Rodolfo Montalvo, Maple Lam, Jen Betton, Linda Dorn, Corinna Luyken, David Diaz, Karen Raz, Andy Musser, Brooke Boynton Hughes, Lisa Anchin
Many SCBWI International conference attendees come back and back and back.
Lisa Marnell and Cindy Lin tell us why...
The main three days of the 2013 Summer Conference just ended, and I asked Hilarie and James Cornwell to tell us about their experience at their first SCBWI International conference...
You can visit them on Facebook at "Hilarie and James Cornwell."
Super agent Steve Malk and one of his many amazing clients, Carson Ellis, start out by sharing some of their favorite illustrators who weren't always illustrators. Unlike the British illustration world where many illustrators can take classes or even masters programs on children's book illustration, many American artists start out in different majors or fields.
A few of the best children's book illustrators and their original vocations:
Marc Simont, famous as an editorial illustrator
William Steig, editorial also
Bill Peet, animator
Claire Keane, animator (and generations of awesome artist in the family)
Jen Corace, amazing fine artist
Nikki McClure, amazing fine artist, waaaaaaaaay cooler than Steve
Jon Klassen, animation/film
The Provensens, animation and advertising
Carson did a lot of album art for her husband's band as well as art for galleries—art that looked a lot like children's book illustration but dirtier, as well as editorial illustration. All of which she still does, but she now considers herself squarely in the children's book illustrator role.
Steve saw one of Carson's covers for The Decemberists
, and was twitterpated. He felt like she needed to be making children's books and he didn't want anyone else representing her work but him.
|Carson's art that Steve first saw and said holy frijoles about. Steve thought this screamed children's book and he loved that it reminded him of art in the tradition of Edward Gorey.|
So, what if you aren't schooled in illustration but are an oil painter or a video game artist? Here're a few of Carson and Steve's tips:Read as many children's books as you can
Do some soul searching: How much do you love children's books? To Steve this is the most important ingredient, what works for all of the crossover artists mentioned above is their deep and abiding love for children's books. "It sounds intangible, but you really have to have it, it's what guides you through this business... We're all book nerds."
According to Carson if you love to draw and want to make money off of it, there are many different ways to do that in other fields, if you're getting into children's books to make money or for more creative autonomy, then you probably have a good chunk of what you need to be successful in the field, but you don't have the most important part which is love of the medium.
Be honest with yourself, it's okay to not love children's books!
Okay, you're still with us? Next thing to do is:Work as much as you can and as hard as you can.
Carson says: Work and work and work and compulsively draw and when you turn around and see what you've done and it's starting to look like children's book illustration, you'll know you are on the right track. Steve says: There's no excuse to not be working. Reillustrate a favorite fairy tale or kid's book cover. Getting published is a tough job and you'll be put through your paces, editors and art directors want to know you have a good work ethic.Develop a portfolio that's specific to children's books
Steve will defer to the art directors in the room, but when you're forcing an AD or editor or agent to make the leap for you, visualizing your work that does not speak to typical children's book art, you're making it that much harder on the people that want to hire you.
Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver are both inventors of many creative works in film, television and literature. Together they are creative partners and co-writers of the much loved series HANK ZIPZER: World's Best Underachiever. Individually they are hilarious. Together they are a riot.
To no ones surprise this session is standing room only and begins with a round of applause.
Together Lin and Henry wrote 17 books of the HANK ZIPZER series.
It's now being made by the BBC into a live television series. They are now writing some Little Hanks for the younger readers. So cool!
Henry was lucky because there was a lull in his acting career and his agent suggested he write a children's book about his learning difficulties. He felt he was too dumb, so how could he do that? Finally his agent suggested it again and he introduced Henry to Lin. Henry feels so lucky to work with her and you can feel the love.
They have written about 24 novels together. Lin has also written many others. While Henry has been in many movies and television shows.
Their first rule is that they have to make themselves laugh. You're writing your own kind of humor for yourself. Don't try to be funny for kids, on the kids' level. The fact of the matter is that we are all the same. So if you're connected to your material, if you think it's funny, someone else is going to think that too.
When something feels authentic, that's what makes Henry laugh while Lin loves character humor. They go hand in hand. Humor doesn't have to come from a joke, it can come from character.
The best is when you can make a reader laugh and cry at the same time. At the same time the funny thing happens there is also some pathos in it.
Right along with humor comes the risk of embarrassment, the risk of losing face.
A title is a really important thing. An overtly funny title gives the readers a cue it's a funny book and it's okay to laugh.Let me interrupt this blog post to let you know that these two are extremely lovable and wise. Wow!
It's important that the character you put in comedic jeopardy be loved and cared for by your reader.
Mean humor can make readers uncomfortable, it's like mockery. But if you love a character and something funny happens, we laugh right along with them.
"We have learned that kids know when it's authentic. Write what you know is true."
It's important to go on the journey. You have to follow the story, even if it deviates from the outline.
Specific details are always funnier than generalizations.
Go with your impulse. It's extremely important and valuable.
A ton of work goes on behind the scenes to make these conferences sing. One offering that means a lot to attendees are the manuscript critique sessions.
The hilarious and hardworking Kim Turrisi makes those happen. This year, she read 372 submissions--10 pages plus a synopsis for each novel, and the entire manuscript for each picture book. That adds up to thousands and thousands of pages.
With each, she matches the writer to the most suitable faculty member. She's just as invested in our success with these as we are.
And she has good things to say about much of what she reads. "The quality of middle grade and YA is improving every year. I read some really fun and good ones that I have no doubt will be sold or get representation from this conference," she said.
What's more, there's a special prize that some fortunate critique recipient will receive. Faculty are allowed to nominate the manuscript they deem most promising for the Sue Alexander award, named for the late SCBWI legend. The nominees go before a panel of judges, and Kim sends the winner on a trip to New York to meet agents and/or editors, depending.
, a New Yorker, is one of this year's nominees--and the YA manuscript that wowed editor Donna Bray was one that had been sitting in her drawer for several years.
"I decided on a whim to pull it out and get a critique this time," she said.
What's it like seeing an old manuscript? "It’s like running into an old friend who’s cooler than you remember and more screwed up that you remember," she said.
This is her fourth conference and she's signed up for a critique each time. "Donna Bray was very positive and very helpful." And she felt like Donna's comments on the manuscript's weaknesses aligned with ones she'd identified.
Her game plan for now is to finish what she's working on, and then "dig back in at the start [of the old manuscript] with all of her great advice in my head."
Meanwhile, Kim said, if you plan to get a critique at a future conference, remember to follow those guidelines. It's great practice for when you to submit to agents and editors, who don't want to work with people who can't follow instructions.
Jon's session kicked some butt and dropped some names on the topic of boy vs. girl writing.
It's a prickly subject for all groups—creators, publishers, consumers—but Jon tells the conference audience they are the people that will be able to change what's going on with the wacky gender divide in children's reading (and readers).
Jon: "I had a very particular view of how the world works, mostly through wrestling. I grew up with all brothers, I lived in MANWORLD."
"But when I became an elementary school teacher I had a strange wake up call, I was now in WOMANWORLD. Everybody wanted to hear from everybody else, people cared about other opinions and feelings, things weren't decided by wrestling."
"I learned how to teach from these great, female teachers, but in class when I'd say the same things they did, the kids would respond to me as a man in a completely different way."
He felt, at the time, boys in his class all thought reading was only for girls, since only girls (mom, lady librarians, mostly lady teachers) are reading to them or seen reading books.
Jon saw this as a two-prong problem, besides not having many examples in their lives of grown men read standard-looking fiction books (papers and magazines, yes), the fact that boys develop later than girls—they're (as Jon calls it) crazy for longer, that wild energetic boy energy that may not be conducive to readying and therefore they may not be ready for reading in kindergarten/1st grade—this makes for a huge reader population divide in early elementary. And today's educational system is exacerbating the problem, pushing reading/testing earlier and earlier. Even in second grade boys reading is dicey. And if they are not reading, they feel bad about themselves and Jon sees them either pretending they read or pretending not to like it.
Jon understands this mentality because of all his time in MANWORLD. So Jon had the boys in his class reading anything
they were willing to try, the sports section of the paper or Calvin and Hobbes
, not required reading or books that they'd ultimately be tested on, which turned those boys into readers.
To call attention to this problem Jon established guysread.com
with the simple first mission of having the site be a place to recommend good books for real boys, and to change the definition of what reading is: graphic novels, wordless books, short stories
Publishers are chasing the gender extremes of super girlie pink books or super farty dude books making the girl/boy book divide more divided, but Jon wants to know what happened to the real girls and boys like those portrayed in A Wrinkle in Time
? It's up to us to do something different. Just because Wimpy Kid
is a huge hit, doesn't mean the next eight ripoffs will be, it's up to us to write and illustrate unique things for real boys and real girls.
Jon's motto: LET KIDS READ ANYTHING.
Check out Jon's latest book with Mac Barnett, Battle Bunny
, which you probably heard while you slept because Jon and Mac have been breaking into hotel rooms and reading to our subconsciouses.
|Jeri Chase Ferris leads her workshop|
Jeri Chase Ferris is this year's Golden Kite-Winning Author for nonfiction for her picture book, "Noah Webster & His Words." She's also written eleven other biographies of people from 1776 to 1936 who did great and important deeds for America but have been overlooked in history.
Jeri starts out by saying,
"Kids want to know history -- they just don't know it yet."
She reviews the difference between secondary and primary sources, pointing out that in nonfiction we can't say "her smile was tinged with sadness" unless we have proof for that.
One anecdote is how for one of her books, What I Had Was Singing: The Story of Marian Anderson
, all the secondary sources (including the Encyclopedia Brittanica) claimed Marian Anderson was born in 1902. But when Jeri was doing her research, she came upon Marian's birth certificate. She was actually born in 1897! The encyclopedia had to correct their entry.
Jeri points out that with the Common Core, students will be looking at two or three books on the same person or event to compare how the authors treated the subject, and they'll also be comparing the facts... we need to get to the truth!
She discusses photo research, interview techniques, on-line research sources, "digging around in musty stacks" and so much more.
Here are just a few nuggets:
"I write about dead people, but I still need to interview family members and get quotes."
"I want experts to point out my mistakes before reviewers do."
"It's our passion that's going to make our nonfiction timeless."
Jeri is passionate not only about her own writing, but also passionate about sharing her expertise. The session is packed with great research tips, information and resources, and ends with an burst of applause. Her final words inspire
"Go forth and research with a passion!"
|Angelica Carpenter, Alexis O'Neill, and Susan Goldman Rubin|
People who attended the nonfiction biography breakout session were lucky enough to hear from three nonfiction experts:
- Angelica Carpenter, a librarian who writes biographies about Victorian authors;
- Susan Goldman Rubin, who started as an illustrator, but switched to writing about art when her when her house burned down and she couldn't draw anymore; and
- Alexis O'Neill - who got her start writing nonfiction biographies for magazines.
They divided the session into three segments: research, writing, and elements of book proposals.
The first thing to do is research which books have been written on the subject already, Angelica said:
- Amazon.com is a good place to start;
- The U.S. Library of Congress is free (search on juvenile);
- Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (you can sign up for a seven-day free trial; and
- Worldcat.com - a librarian's search tool
Research isn't easy. Most primary source materials haven't been digitized, so you can't find them online. But you can find library catalogs and tell what's out there. Your library might be able to borrow microfiche from other libraries.
One more pro research tip: Make friends with a librarian (and bring her flowers on Valentine's Day).
Angelica Carpenter takes notes in Word in chronological order. If you've entered your dates consistently, you can find them. You have to put a source on every entry in your notes and pictures. She also makes travel notebooks with planning information in them before she goes, and she adds things she picks up on her adventures to these.Writing:
Susan Goldman Rubin doesn't like to be as neat and thorough as Angelica Carpenter. She doesn't do it as she goes, which leads to "three-martini evenings."
"We so want you to think of biography as a wonderful genre for writing," she said. "There's a real need for biography."
You're looking for lively anecdotes that bring a character to life (not to mention people who kids are going to care most about). Biographies can give a student the impetus to know more about the period their textbooks cover, which is especially important in the common core age.
Most of all, "Be passionate. Passion is everything," Susan said.
Alexis starts her research at home. But then she goes out into the field. "You have to live and breathe your subject to fully understand." It also opens up other avenues of research. She's also hired freelance researchers (one in Nebraska was $25/hour).
Also, "don't trust everything you read." Sometimes misinformation is out there and repeated.
Primary sources--letters, papers, interviews--are vital, Susan said.
Pro tip: "Save your butt and document everything," Alexis said. She writes the date she read her material, where she got everything. If there's a museum that thinks you got something wrong, they won't carry your book or recommend it.
They also gave great advice on negotiating photos and structuring proposals.
Selected from all the portfolios submitted to this year's Portfolio Showcase, here are the five mentees for the SCBWIBICMP - how's that for an acronym?Brooke Boynton Hughes
Corinna LuykenAndy Musser
and Rodolfo MontalvoCongratulations to all!
Priscilla Burris presents the awards from this year's portfolio showcase...
The Grand Prize Winner is Maral Sassouni
Here are three of Maral's images, and you can check out her online portfolio here
And there are two Honor Award Winners,Lisa Woods
andBrooke Boynton HughesCongratulations to all!
When Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser were trying to figure out who they could get to top last year's Golden Kite Luncheon Keynote Speaker -- Richard Peck -- they came up with only one name... Richard Peck!
Calling us "people of the story," Richard Peck talks about writing, the passage of time, language and story. He has all 1,200 plus of us laughing, and thinking, and it's as if every sentence was crafted to be embroidered on a pillow, or carved into a wooden plank, or perhaps even tweeted.
Here are just a few of the golden nuggets he shared:
"We learn to write from better writers than we are."
"Books are written on our level not grade level."
"We who write those pages they read in search of themselves."
His speech is profound, and thought-provoking, and ends with these words,
"No civilization lasts... but there are always survivors, and we... we write their biographies."
Everyone leaps to their feet to give Richard a standing ovation!
This year's winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award is the iconic Mo Willems, for his chortle-guffaw- and laugh-filled Goldilocks and the Three Narhwals - whoops, make that Goldilocks and the Three Accountants - what was it again? Ah... Goldilocks and the Three Mosquitoes!
While Mo wasn't able to attend in person to accept his award for Goldilocks and the Three Zombies
, he did send a video. A really, really funny video.Goldilocks and the Three Robots
is a book that stays with you, in the wackiest and best possible way. Well, except for that title.
Congratulations, Mo, for your Sid Fleischman Humor Award for Goldilocks and the Three
(wait for it...) Dinosaurs!Find out more about the legendary children's book author and Newbery Award-Winner Sid Fleischman here.
This year's Golden Kite winner for fiction is Joanne Rocklin for her fantastic book, THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK. Even if you're a dog person, this story will touch your heart and quickly become one of your favorites.About the book:
In this warmhearted middle-grade novel, Oona and her brother, Fred, love their cat, Zook (short for Zucchini), but Zook is sick. As they conspire to break him out of the vet’s office, Oona tells the stories of his previous lives, ranging in style from fairy tale to grand epic to slice of life. Each of Zook’s lives have echoes in Oona’s own family life, which is going through a transition she’s not yet ready to face. Her father died two years ago, and her mother has started a relationship with a man named Dylan—whom Oona secretly calls “the villain.” The truth about Dylan, and about Zook’s medical condition, drives the drama in this loving family story. About the author:
Joanne Rocklin is the critically acclaimed author of several other books, including ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, which won the California Library Association's Beatty Award, the FOCAL Award of the Los Angeles Public Library, and the California Book Award Gold Medal from the Commonwealth Club. It was also voted best middle grade by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. STRUDEL STORIES was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and an American Library Association Notable Book, and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!, was a School Library Journal Best Book and a Bank Street Best Book. Her early readers THREE SMART PALS and THIS BOOK IS HAUNTED will soon be e-books, the latter also to be released as an App.
This year's Golden Kite winner for nonfiction goes to Jeri Chase Ferris for NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS.
Jeri has written 12 biographies, this is her first picture book biography.
Jeri defines the word "appreciation" for the crowd before giving her generously offered thank yous.
Originally her manuscript listed her word count on the first page, which was over 2000. When she received it back from her editor, that number was crossed out and next to it read, "Not any more."
Noah was a master of self-promotion. He travelled all across the 13 states, speaking, and giving free copies of his book to librarians and teachers. One only knows what he could have done with Facebook and Twitter.
Everyone knows the one book he wrote that took 20 years (it reminds me of my current work) but he was also a major reason the States stayed united. Language was the tie.
Lovely speech by the charming K.G. Campbell who thanked SCBWI and others for his success with Lester's Dreadful Sweaters.
K.G. ended with words of encouragement to all of those out there in the audience as yet unpublished:
"As you can probably tell, I'm not originally from here, I grew up in Scotland. Those that know us know the Scots are usually dour and pessimistic, we're happiest when we're congratulating ourselves that things turned out as miserable as we expected."
|A Scotsman being decidedly undour|
"When I first thought about being an author/illustrator I was bracing myself from the very beginning for failure. For the bitterness of undiscovered genius and boxes of unsold books. But now I feel like Matt de la Peña, like I'm an impostor here, why me? How did I succeed?"
"Just years ago I was sitting where you are sitting now, attending conferences, listening to great creators like Marla Frazee and trying to make the most professional work I possibly could."
"If it can happen to a pessimistic Scotsman patiently awaiting disaster, it can happen to you, too."
And holy buckets! K.G.'s next books out include one with Kate DiFreakingCamillo
and Ame FreakingDyckman
This year's Golden Kite Award for picture book text went to Mara Rockliff
for her book ME AND MOMMA AND BIG JOHN (illustrated by William Low).
It's about the construction the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (the Momma in the book is a stonecutter).
"Mara, with her beautiful writing, helped bring it to life," Steve Mooser said.
In her speech, Mara let us know she never expected such a thing. "Winning the Golden Kite and all the other good things that have happen ... did come as a huge surprise to me."
Nine publishers turned it down before Candlewick rejected it. The reason for the rejection: It was set in Manhattan and they didn't think anyone who lived outside of New York would be interested.
"It look for a long time that this story I had written was a failure," she said. "This was not a surprise to me. It was something I had accomplished many times before."
She shared the many ways she'd failed in the past, including one form rejection she received for a manuscript she'd submitted three years earlier.
"All this form rejection was made possible by SCBWI," she joked. "If you don't give up, eventually you end up selling some books."
"When we do succeed, when we do finish that book and it isn't horrible," she said, "that's when we're really grateful to have this community celebrate with us and share the joy. So thank you all."
|Alexis O'Neill, author|
The SCBWI has a huge number of volunteers who make an extraordinary difference for the children's writing community.
This year's Member of the Year is Alexis O'Neill, who writes picture books and a column for the SCBWI Bulletin. She also has a PhD in teacher education. She's been a volunteer for the organization for 18 years in the Central California Coastal Region, whom she thanked for their enthusiasm.
Traditionally, Alexis starts every conference with a song. Lin made her bust out her pipes as she accepted the award.
"All I know is a really raunchy sea shanty," Alexis said, with understandable reluctance the audience overrode.
She taught us the one who do when you hoist the anchor (we think that's not a euphemism). She sang. We said, "Yaa!" at appropriate intervals. And we meant it in every way. Congratulations and thanks, Alexis!
The ballroom is transformed...
or should it be
???Tweet at #la13scbwi or comment below with YOUR favorite onomonopia for eating!
A glowing Lin Oliver (left) introduces the folks that make the magic of SCBWI and this conference happen.
From left: Joshua Smith (Webmaster), Sara Rutenberg (Chief Operating Officer), Kim Turrisi (Director of Special Projects), Henry Winkler (Lin's personal chef*), Gee Cee Bahador (Director of Operations and Membership), Brandon Clarke (Logistics Coordinator), Kayla Heinen (Office Coordinator), Sarah Baker (Manager of Illustration and Design) and Chelsea Confalone (Director of Outreach.)
The main office staff receive well-deserved applause!
*Huh? Wait a minute...
Joshua Smith, Webmaster
Regional Advisor (RA) Team
|Andrea Pinkney |
Andrea Davis Pinkney has a unique dual perspective: that of an Editor (she's Vice President and Executive Editor at Scholastic) and a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of picture books, novels, historical fiction and nonfiction.
Andrea opened with having us do the same centering exercise she does every morning before she writes, and then shares her tips for finding those nuggets that can become books, for being a writer. She covers writers block (and how she doesn't believe in it) , the myth of genius, and tells us to write every day, read every day, and much more...
One great anecdote she shared was how a friend told her, "I'm thinking of making a little money on the side by writing children's books." Andrea's reaction was that it was like her
saying, "I'm going to make a little money on the side by becoming a professional ballet dancer."
Writers write. Every day.
She walked us through the evolution of a number of the books she acquired, including Jennifer Anne Moses's "Tales From My Closet," Sharon G. Flake's "The Skin I'm In," and Deborah Gregory's Cheetah Girls series.
Andrea started her career in newspapers and magazines, and uses that brainstorming strength to both generate her own ideas and help writers find their own unique talent (their "twinkle") and match that with the stories that only they can tell in their own unique way.
She answers a wide range of attendee questions and challenges us to
"Depart your comfort zone!"
and reminds us, each of us, that
"You have a twinkle!"
Allyn Johnston has worked with many picture book greats. She is Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books located in San Diego.
Allyn sees picture books as a piece of theater, as a performance piece. They are meant to be read out loud to children who cannot read. When they are read aloud, you want them to be so delicious that the person who is reading it out loud is having the best time which captivates the child being read and he or she has a great time with the reader.
The language in picture books is closer to poetry than anything else. That doesn't mean there is rhyme.
Don't forget when you're writing how much is about the pacing and the page turn. Your best friend, if you're a writer, is a glue stick and paper to make a picture book dummy. At Beach Lane, they too make book dummies all the time.
Leave room for the art. Worry about making the writing stunning and calm down about telling the artist what to do. Picture book manuscripts almost never need illustrator notes.
Study Mem Fox to learn about rhythm and language. Study books you love and how the page turns fall, etc.
Allyn wants the ending experience to be *sigh* perfect.
When I read there would be a workshop on Common Core--the new American educational standards--I immediately wanted to hear more. The new Common Core is still a bit of a puzzle, so I was interested to hear a publisher's perspective.
Leading the workshop was Bonnie Bader, the associate publisher of Frederick Warne as well as the editor-in-chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers. She is also set to launch an 8x8 picture book program in spring 2014 with both fiction and non-fiction titles.
The session was packed. Bonnie immediately told the room that this was not a political discussion, but a workshop about how publishers and writers could work with Common Core. As Bonnie mentioned, there will be three areas of focus with CCSS:
1. Students should demonstrate independance
2. Students should be able to construct arguments and support with text evidence
3. Students should develop strategies to demonstrate content knowledge
(these are vague descriptions and not the actual standards)"This is gonna get wild pretty quickly."
From the onset, the room buzzed with differing opinions. CCSS are hotly debated right now, and the audience was mostly made up of teachers. The beginning of the session had a debate in the audeicne about Common Core itself.
"Creativity is important to compete Globally."
"I'm a college teacher and I would appreciate if students came in with these skills."
Bonnie was quick to explain how teachers could incorporate some creativity in their lessons, combining historical fiction with non-fiction. What really got her excited about Common Core was the emphasis on non-fiction. "There is a tone to non-fiction. There is a voice."
So in response to Common Core, Penguin has put together a new line: Penguin Core Concepts. The imprint will launch in Spring of 2014, and will have 4 non-fiction titles. Along with the non-fiction topics, the books have 20 core concepts to help teachers focus on the concept they want to tie into their lesson. This gives writers more opportunities to write non-fiction.
Some of the new books Bonnie will be publishing will be narrative non-fiction, full of facts and photographs. To align to Common Core, authors can take stories and approach them from a different direction, telling a story in a new way.
Ultimately, Bonnie felt these new educational standards will bring about more opportunities for teachers, librarians, and booksellers to work together.
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Kirby Larson is the Newbery-honor-winning author of HATTIE BIG SKY, along with many other beloved books. She's multi-talented, writing everything from nonfiction picture books to historical middle grade novels.
She talked to a beyond-capacity room about taking one-dimensional words and turning them into three-dimensional actors in our books.
She talked about the manipulations we make as writers to buy our readers' time--along with the risks we have of creating characters who feel nothing more than pawns.
Memorable characters are ornery, lively, funny, disobedient, persistent, she said. They return from the store with a dog instead of the macaroni they were supposed to buy, for example.
Kirby quoted Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook: "In figurative language, a familiar thing is linked to an unknown thing as a key to unlock the mystery or part of the mystery that is unknown."
Your character is one of the unknowns and you can use figurative language to unlock that mystery, Kirby says. When Kirby was writing Hattie Big Sky, she read everything from 1918 she could get her hands on: letters, newspaper stories, memoirs. This was so she could her understand her character's voice, which is essential to the story.
No matter what, research is going to be part of your process, even if you're not writing historical. This is because our characters have interests that we don't.
"I spend so much time researching, you can't even believe it," Kirby said. "But it really pays off. I'm able to ground myself in the world and the character."
Vocabulary is the key building block to creating figurative language. Kirby wrote letters as Hattie to almost all of the characters in the book. She also wrote a form of poetry called a cinquain
. These things didn't end up in the book, but they helped her understand her characters.
She also talked to us about illusions and analogies, giving examples from a variety of books, including BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo and ZELDA AND IVY by Laura McGee Kvasnosky.
Her breakout session was every bit as charming as her books (even if we had to sit on the floor).
Kirby Larson's website