This weekend was like a dream come true. I got to attend the 10th Annual Children’s Literature Conference as a student volunteer. Every year, Western Washington University’s library invites 3-4 professionals from the field of children’s literature for a day of talks, book signings, and networking. This year’s guests were 2013 Newbery Award Winner for The One and Only Ivan and co-author of Eve & Adam and the Animorphs series Katherine Applegate and her husband/co-author/author of BZRK and Gone, Michael Grant as well as the most engaging and relevant non-fiction writer for adolescents that I have yet to find, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and the brilliant illustrator Brian Pinkney whose work’s depth of color and movement bring children’s books to life.
Of course I got to meet them all (Read: stood in line with hundreds of others, got books signed, and said “Thank you so much you are so amazing thank you”), get my picture taken with them all, and hear them each present on their process as writers and artists.
The woman nice enough to take our photo didn’t get the sign. My boyfriend and I spent our Valentine’s Day evening making these for Katherine Applegate and Brian Pinkney. Brian complimented my swirls!
First up in the morning was Brian Pinkney, who shared his growth as an artist from a young boy until today. He shared his artistic process, his education, and his work breaking in to the industry. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on Thursday where he led us in dancing meditation, sumi-e art, and drumming. The man is honest and like his work, he flows. I found his personal experiences as a young student most helpful to my future teaching practices. He said he needed a lot of visual stimulation, and so teachers would let him do book covers for book reports, posters instead of reports, decorate the classroom doors, and more, in order to stay engaged.
Next was Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who shared her research process for writing non-fiction. She writes about intense and emotionally loaded historical subjects such as the KKK, the Hitler youth, and child labor in US coal mines, but with a voice for the adolescent and young adult audience. She shared that her experience for 16 years as an eighth grade teacher helps her to think about what kinds of things young people would like to hear about — what’s the story that hasn’t been told yet? Her theory is that wherever there is a gap in literature, there is a story waiting to be told. For example, in her first book, Growing Up in Coal Country, she explores the role of child labor as well as what young women were doing during the first part of the 20th century in mining towns. She got the idea by going to the library to find a book on the subject and realizing none existed. Her most potent point of the morning, I believe, was that historical writers MUST. NEVER. INVENT. If something can’t be back up by primary sources, don’t write it in a non-fiction book.
See her amazing signing poster?
Now, I don’t know about any of you, but I was an avid Animorphs fan as a kid. I made my mom rush out and buy me each one as soon as it was released. I couldn’t get enough of those teens that could morph in to animals and try to save the world from evil aliens that invaded human brains. Meeting Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant (who did co-author them even though his name didn’t end up on the cover) was a long time dream come true!
They shared about their experience breaking in to the children’s lit industry, works they collaborated on, and works they wrote independently. Michael Grant shared the presentation he gives to middle schoolers about his series BZRK and Gone. His presentation included a number of book trailers, which can be found on his website. I’ve been hearing a lot lately about using book trailers as a more interactive and engaging form of a book report. Katherine Applegate shared ways in which her latest book, The One and Only Ivan have been explored in classrooms via the Global Read Aloud project. Essentially, classrooms from around the world pair up with each other and have Skype conversations about their readings from The One and Only Ivan. So cool! That helps students not only with their reading, but also with their intercultural communication and their technological literacy — triple win.
One of the main themes among all the speakers was how their stories “just haunted them” until they wrote them down. As a writer, what are the ideas that keep coming back to me? The stories waiting to be told? As a teacher, I think we should all keep in mind two of Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s quotes from the closing Q&A section. She said:
“Each time I write a book, I’m an aspiring writer all over again.”
“I can tell someone is meant to be a writer because instead of saying ‘I could do that!’ after they read a book, they say ‘How did that author do that?!'”
Or, for good humor, Michael Grant’s theory on being a writer:
“Either you’re born with it or you’re not. Sorry.”