Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thank You... and see you in Los Angeles!

SCBWI TEAM BLOG (l to r): Jaime Temairik, Suzanne Young and Alice Pope
SCBWI TEAM BLOG (l to r): Martha Brockenbrough, Lee Wind and Jolie Stekly
Once again, SCBWI Team Blog had a great time bringing you these highlights of the New York conference!

Being able to meet many of you here at the conference has been wonderful, and we hope we brought a taste of the experience to those of you who weren't able to join us.

We also hope to see you at this summer's

40th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles
August 5th-8th, 2011

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Happy Endings

Debbie Ohi is a SCBWI Success Story - I saw her earlier in the conference, and we arranged to meet during the autograph party so she could share her experience:

(The SCBWI Illustrator Mentees Blog she mentioned is here.)

Congratulations Debbie - your journey so far is exciting, and we can't wait to hear (and see) the great things you'll be doing!


Lucine Kasbarian: Happy Endings

Just before the autograph party I had the chance to talk to Lucine Kasbarian about her conference experience:

Congratulations on the publication of "The Greedy Sparrow," Lucine!


Autograph Time!!!

Got your books handy?? It's autograph time!
Mo Willems--Possibly my favorite autograph picture ever!!
Fabulous authors signing: Priscilla Burris, David Diaz, Jules Feiffer, Patricia Lee Gauch, Lois Lowry, Lisa Sandell, David Small, RL Stine, Mark Teague, Dan Yaccarino, Jane Yolen, Douglas Florian, Lenore Look, Leonard Marcus, Lin Oliver, Linda Sue Park, Mo Willems and Sara Zarr!!

Leeza Hernandez: Happy Endings

I caught up with Leeza Hernandez after Linda Sue Park's amazing closing keynote, and we talked about the exciting thing that happened to her at this conference:

And here's the artwork she had in the show that won her the grand prize!

Congratulations Leeza!


Linda Sue Park's Keynote

Nobody tells a story like Linda Sue Park.

Last night, hanging out in the hotel bar, a group of us were sharing stories of the most horrifying food we'd ever eaten. The answers were all funny, and yuck-inducing, but when Linda Sue Park was telling her story - it was like magic descended on the table. We were whisked across the globe, into a restaurant in Korea, plunked at the table with her, handed a hammer and a rock, and watched - no, experienced her smashing it open with a hammer to reveal not a geode... but some sea creature's flesh. Honestly, we were spellbound! (And there's a lesson there - don't just stay in your room after the conference sessions, but hang out in the lobby, go to the hotel bar, mingle with your fellow writers and illustrators and who knows what great conversations you'll be part of?)

Back to the Keynote. Nobody tells a story like Linda Sue Park. The people who choose the Newbery Medal think so. Readers all over the world think so. And like a relay race with the swiftest runner last, SCBWI has handed her the conference baton and tasked her with taking us towards the finish line...

After writing eight picture books and nine novels, she still thinks every book she writes will be her last. And the problem gets worse with each book.

And hundreds of school visits and presentations... but she still gets nervous. What if I lose my place? What if they don't like me? Every single time.

She urges us all NOT to believe in ourselves. If we're like her, we have doubts. Instead, believe in the work.

She's doing a bit of what she does in her school visits - and we're imagining we're a room of (a thousand plus) ten year olds. And she's weaving a beautiful story of her childhood and the fortune game played on a Korean child's first birthday.

And she's explaining now that when she's doing the school presentation, she's not nervous - she's focused on telling the story.

Similarly when she's writing, she's able to do it because she's focused not on herself and her doubts, but on telling her story.

That's brilliant!

She's telling us about writing her latest book, "A Long Walk To Water." And how she didn't need to believe in herself to write it - she needed to focus on the story that she had to tell.

Linda Sue tries to focus on craft - trying to choose the best possible words and put them in the best possible order to serve her story.

And now, (drumroll...) Linda Sue Park's definition of "voice," and it's going to sound familiar:

The best words in the best order to serve the story.

word choice - for meaning and nuance
word order - for structure and rhythm

and use those tools in service of the story.

And focusing on that task brings her work down to a manageable level. She sets a daily goal - work on that scene. make that list. Choose the best words in the best order to serve the story...

Linda Sue calls out to us all to believe in the power of story and the strength in focusing on our craft to change our own stories...

and she looks forward to the stories that will come in the years ahead from the more than one thousand writers and illustrators in this room!

And with that flourish, and a standing ovation, we burst through the tape and cross the conference speaker finish line with Linda Sue...

and we are all winners.

Lucy Ruth Cummins, Art Director: What Makes Your Work Publishable

 One of the most amazing reasons to attend a conference has to be getting to meet someone like Lucy. You can't tell from our blog posts how enthusiastic a presenter is or how good their comic timing is. All I'm saying, guys, is you have to get your butts out here.

Simon & Schuster Art Director Lucy Cummins loves, loves, loves children's books.  She's a no-nonsense champion of picture books and their creators. Actually, she's full of nonsense, but you know what I mean. Besides a great session, Lucy provided a six-page handout with fantastic advice and hints. SIX PAGES.

Lucy says she's always looking for new illustrators—her office is a fire hazard from all the postcards and print outs she has out or up on walls.

What's new? What's next?

Lucy provided some insight on what non-trendy trends were trending in picture books these days, a few, but not all of the ones she mentioned are:

SHORT BOOKS, sooo short. Ten words, five words, no words, that kind of short.

THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska (are you guys paying attention? Every art director has mentioned this book, though it's not from any of their houses.) AND BOYS, by Jeff Newman, which tells the story in multiple panels of wordless sequences—still elegant without words, says Lucy.

NON-FICTION, picture book biographies are hot, hot, hot.

BARACK OBAMA by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Meghan McCarthy's POP.

Jaime's Favorite Part

Lucy had had her favorite unpublished illustrator's postcard on her wall for four years before she found the perfect first book match for him. That illustrator is Jon Klassen, a personal favorite! And he just won Canada's Governor General's Award for that first book, CATS NIGHT OUT.

She showed us Jon's An Eye for Annai  cartoon:


Lucy told the group about some of her favorite websites and blogs that she visits daily, or, for Illustration Mundo, she visits that site twice a day!

Her best advice for making your work publishable:

Your most important obligation as an illustrator is to practice.

Linda Sue Park - The Chocolate Chip Cookie Tip

Okay, this was brilliant.

Linda Sue is explaining how just like chocolate chip cookies, the way you know you like one or not is because you've eaten a LOT of them. Like 'em crisp, or chewy, or soft, or with nuts? Because you've eaten so many cookies, you have an internal scale against which you can judge any cookie. Even if you've baked them, you know when you eat one if it's something you like, if it's good.

There is only one way to get similar judgement of your own writing: read A LOT.

Build that mental scale.

Read a thousand picture books, like Brenda Bowen suggested. Read 500 novels. But more than that, consider how long it takes to become an expert in other professions - doctors, lawyers, plumbers... all those people need to TRAIN. For years.

Our training is READING!

When Linda Sue writes a mediocre sentence, she knows because she has a vast storehouse of wonderful sentences that she's read in her mind.

We can each build that mental scale for ourselves. And maybe the next book we should all read is Linda Sue Park's latest novel, "A Long Walk To Water."

Patti Ann Harris: What Makes Your Work Publishable

Patti Ann Harris's session highlighted picture books from Little, Brown from the last two years, a real range in a variety of topics and artists that she works with. She wanted illustrators to see the catergories they publish into and hopes it inspires people to consider working in similar categories.

Patti Ann, first and foremost, says that it takes head and heart to drive a project to publication, and you need both.

NONFICTION BIOGRAPHIES: Schools need them, libraries love them, and kids love learning history through picture books and it turns them on to longer biographies.

Bob Dylan turns 70, anniversary moments are great, Grandparents might know Woody Guthrie, parents Dylan, so two groups of book buyers will be intrigued by this book.

Story of Jane Goodall. The image on cover is lifted from photo of her as a young girl with her stuffed animal monkey! If you have a dream and want to achieve something you go for it. This book will inspire kids to do that, says Patti Ann.
DAVE THE POTTER (Caldecott Honor winner)
You can take well known characters like Dylan, or relative unknowns like Dave the Potter and bring them to light. How did this book happen? The author was at a conference and heard a bit about Dave and saw one of the pots on Antique Roadshow and had to know more. Illustrator also did amazing research for this book. Patti Ann says it has so many levels of interest and is a great example of nonfiction done beautifully for children.

FORMAT BUSTERS: What are you doing to the book? Patti Ann loves the idea of taking the book and enhancing your story or character by manipulating the actual, physical book.

GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER Is a total favorite. Sometimes a book idea comes from another book, seeds are planted--pop-up TRUCKS GO POP had a promotional poster that Patti Ann and her colleagues couldn't stop staring at. That poster turned into a seek and find format book called LOOK! A BOOK!

Leonard Marcus: Look Who's Laughing

The humor panel's moderator, Leonard Marcus, you have to sing his name like a song from FUNNY GIRL — "Leonard Marcus! Leonard Marcus! What a beautiful, beautiful, byooooutiful naaaaaaame!"

Lin calls Leonard our residential scholar and a national treasure.

He's the author of among others, DEAR GENIUS, A CALDECOTT CELEBRATION, THE WORD AND THE WAND, and his latest, FUNNY BUSINESS, all about writing humor, which we'll get a taste of in the current panel of Mo Willems, Lenore Look, and Marvin Terban.

Leonard says we have three of the most talented and funniest people in our field on this panel. Mo Willems, picture book artist and writer. Everyone of his books is an event. Lenore Look, a very versatile writer with two series of chapter novels and various picture books. She's written about girls and boys, entertaining her audience while introducing them to Chinese culture. Finally, a change at the last minute, sitting in for Douglas Florian is good friend and fine writer, Marvin Terban. He's known as Mr. English for kids, Scholastic refers to him as "Professor Grammar."

Leonard asks us what makes funny funny? It's well known if you have to explain a joke, that's a problem. He brings up some funny adults writing for adults. Aristotle said we laugh at stories about people not as smart as ourselves. And Will Rogers said everything is funny as long as it's happening to someone else.

Leonard reads an excerpt from a letter Ursula Nordstrom wrote to William Péne du Bois about his illustrations for THE MAGIC FINGER by Roald Dahl "...No place does the author specify the gesture of the finger is done using the middle finger... couldn't you draw the gesture as using the index finger instead?"

Leonard reads another Ursula letter illustrating how to respond to angry letters, this time a letter to Hilary Knight:

Dear Hilary,
I hesitate to worry you, but some enemy of yours is writing me very angry letters and signing your name to them. Have a good week.

Leonard says no one at the conference or on the panel has ever been late with a manuscript or set of illustrations, but imagine receiving this letter from your editor (this went to Edward Gorey):

Dear Edward,
Thanks for your card telling me you are having a nervous breakdown. Welcome to the club. I think you know I have his and hers straitjackets hanging in my closet... If you are stuck or discouraged I might be able to help you get unstuck or encouraged... I thought I'd experienced all the editor experiences there are to experience, but you are a new experience... It makes me feel all young again."

Oh, oh! Check out Leonard's next book coming out this year, THE ANNOTATED PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH.

Lenore Look: Look Who's Laughing

Look is laughing! Or certainly keeping kids laughing.

Lenore Look is the author of the Alvin Ho series and the Ruby Lu series. Both are humorous chapter books about surviving the mishaps, misunderstandings and mischief of childhood and feature Asian American narrators.

Lenore never wanted to write humor. She wanted to write grim and dark.

Her first book LOVE AS STRONG AS GINGER was based on her grandmother's life in Seattle working in the crab canneries.

She was asked to do something more uplifting and thought, "Uplifting is good. Okay! I can do uplifting."

Humor is a lot of work. It takes a lot of tweaking and reworking.

When asked to do this panel she was excited, but then concerned because a magician never tells. She ran to the Internet to see what it said about writing humor so she didn't have to give away her secrets.

Humor Secrets (and these are hers):

1. The manner in which you tell. Look tells in a grave manner so that the reader doesn't see the funny coming.

2. Create diversions.

3. Look lets bad, unexpected things to happen to the character and lets things get messy.

4. She gives the character my flaws. Or flaws she's interested in.

5. Preoccupation with self is really good.

6. Spend time with your character and answer all the: who, what, when, and whys.

7. Write to make readers writhe on the floor. Write to make them cry.

Listen to the kids. Kids are funnier than adults. Write down all the funny things you hear.

Look suggests you think about what works for you. What's funny for you?

Here's what works for her:

1. Incongruity
2. Word Play
3. Misheard Words
4. Reversal of Expectations
5. Exaggeration
6. Understatement
7. The Omniscient Reader
8. Embarrassing Moments in Your Life
9. The Shock Value

Marvin Terban: Look Who's Laughing

Marvin Terban, a gallant humor-panel replacement for Douglas Florian, has been associated with the SCBWI when it was just S, he says. He's written 35 books for kids about the English language, and is known as Mr. English for Kids. Booklist called him a Master of Children's Wordplay.

He started his panel with a question: What makes something that you write funny, and what makes you funny?

You don't have a funny persona, he says. Once he figured out he wasn't going to make his fortune based on his face, he decided to be funny.

Woody Allen cast Marvin in seven movies based on recommendation from Mia Farrow's kids. His wife's uncle is Henny Youngman. Neither Woody nor Henny was funny in person, but both are when performing and/or writing.

He recommends his book FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK for aspiring humor writers. And he recommends it again. And again.

Some things that make jokes funny:
  • Wordplay makes a joke funny (homonyms, homophones, idioms--he goes over these in his book).
  • The unexpected, or a reversal of expectations.
He told us a story about being near an Egyptian bus accident that killed eight people, and noticed how, not long after the wreck, the survivors were gathered around in a circle, telling funny stories. "Laughter can take us, hours after a tragedy, and lift our spirits."

He encouraged us all to put humor in our books, even the really serious ones. (Gosh, if only someone had written a book about humor writing--that would be the one thing that would have made his presentation feel complete.)

Mo Willems: Look Who's Laughing

Mo Willems' work in children's books, animation, TV, theater and bubble gum card painting has garnered him 3 Caldecott Honors, 2 Geisel Medals, 2 Carnegie Medals, 6 Emmys and multiple bubble gum cards. Upcoming non-bubble gum card projects include Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator, a portrait of the relationship between a girl and her stuffed alligator told in 6-1/2 stories. More info about Mo's past, present and future can be gleamed at .

Hilarous panel called Look Who's Laughing: How to do Funny for Young Readers and Why. Amazing chemistry with the speakers that has the audience laughing like crazy!

Mo began by throwing small sketch books into the crowd! Totally unexpected. Then he talked about being a stand-up comedian. He said that nobody knows what will be funny. But we all know what's NOT FUNNY. So keep working on it until it's not not funny.

It's all about the exercise of the work. And it's tough to be in a room of 1500 people not laughing (we all were) and he says you can't be funny without doing the work. After taking questions from the audience, Mo said that the Knuffle Bunny is a completely true story, although everything in it is a lie. And the difference between kids and adults is that kids are shorter.

Funny, funny, FUNNY panel! Highlight of my day!

#pilobumps Transcript: A Tweetchat Inspired by R.L. Stine's Keynote)

leewind Lee Wind
Hello @mbrockenbrough ! Are we live? #pilobumps

leewind Lee Wind
So this is going to be the color commentary blog of R.L. Stein's keynote at #ny11scbwi #pilobumps

EllenHopkinsYA Ellen Hopkins
@leewind I see you. Of course I'm sitting next to you. #pilobumps

mbrockenbrough Martha Brockenbrough
@leewind Do you have pilobumps or are you just excited to... OMG! What was that? #pilobumps

leewind Lee Wind
Well Howdy, Ellen. Thanks for crashing! You're always welcome... #pilobumps

mbrockenbrough Martha Brockenbrough
@leewind, Oh it was just @ellenhopkinsYA. She scared me. #pilobumps

leewind Lee Wind
Okay, we're ON! #pilobumps

leewind Lee Wind
So, should we share how we came up with the brilliant hashtag?: #pilobumps

mbrockenbrough Martha Brockenbrough
@leewind My rapidly dwindling battery will add delicious tension to our conversation. #pilobumps

EllenHopkinsYA Ellen Hopkins
@mbrockenbrough @leewind it's cool in here or scary or both #pilobumps.

leewind Lee Wind
Ooh.. as delicious as the chicken? #pilobumps

Sara Zarr Keynote

Sara Zarr delivers the keynote speech to kick off the final day of the 2011 SCBWI Annual Winter Conference.

Sara is the acclaimed author of three novels for young adults: STORY OF A GIRL (National Book Award Finalist), SWEETHEARTS (Cybil Award Finalist), and ONCE WAS LOST (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009). Her fourth book will be out in late 2011. She's also written for IMAGE JOURNAL, Hunger Mountain Online, and RESPONSE MAGAZINE, as well as for several anthologies. (If you need a reading recommendation, ask Sara--she recently read over 200 books as a judge for the National Book Awards.)

Click here to read a pre-conference interview with Sara.

Sara came the the SCBWI conference as an attendee in 2001, at which time she had been pursuing writing for five years and was becoming frustrated. She came back in 2005 and she was really getting discouraged that things weren't happening in her career.

"They say write the book you want to read. I'm going to give the speech that I need to hear," Sara told us. "I speak to you as a colleague, comrade and friend."

The time between when you're no longer a beginner but have yet to break into the business is probably the hardest in your career, she says. Your greatest creation is your creative life. It's all in your hands. Rejection can't take it away; reviews can't take it away. The life you create for yourself as an artist, may be the only thing that's really yours, she continues. Create a life you can center yourself in calmly as you wait for you work to grow.

Here are a few some of the characters tics of a fulfilling creative life that Sara shared with us...

It's sustainable. Celebrate career milestones, but remember that they aren't the point. What's important is the love of the work. "Most creative I know don't have a retirement plan."

It invites company. Most creatives are introverts. Seek mentoring and be a mentor. Other creatives are the only ones who understands the joys and struggles of the creative life. There's never a point where you have nothing else to learn. But at the same time, don't consider hundreds of people on Twitter who you've never meant as your inner circle of friends.

It knows when to send company away. Ultimately this is about you. When it comes to getting your work done, no one can do that but you. There's power and importance to privacy. Think before sharing, name dropping. Know when to turn off Google alerts and GoodReads. "We can't let all of these voices and opinions be present in our creative moment."

It gives back. It give back to you and to others. As you're engaged with you work and your world you'll be a better spouse, friends, sibling. You'll be more self-actualized.

Art Showcase Award Winners Announced!

This is always one of my favorite moments of the conference. There is huge, huge talent in our organization, and it's so much fun to look at all the work people bring to the show. There were more than 200 pieces of art in the show this year--the most ever.

Priscilla Burris, the chair of the illustrator's committee and an SCBWI board member, said it was a tug-of-war to choose a winner because the entries were so good, and they chose three honor award recipients instead of the usual two. 

Feast your eyes on the winners, and be sure to visit their sites--their names are links:

Leeza Hernandez

She'll have three appointments with art directors in New York, and the SCBWI will cover her travel expenses (all the way from New Jersey).

Kelly Light

Greg Pizzoli

Laurie Sharp

Sunday Morning Comics

The conference day is almost ready to begin, but there's still time to do what must be done every Sunday morning, read the funny papers. Below are a few of my favorites, but I would love to know what everybody else is reading, too.

Have you all been following SAILOR TWAIN? It's the beautiful online comic written and illustrated by Mark Siegel of First Second (Macmillan.)

By Mark Siegel

The lovely Debbie Ohi, are we sure she's not a group of quintuplets she's so prolific? (And remember she won a 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference Portfolio Honor Award and Mentorship Award.) Check out her comics here.

By Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Those of you that attended S&S Art Director Lucy Cummins's sessions might have heard her mention finding illustrator Chris Eliopoulos from his short comics. He has a few online.

By Chris Eliopoulos

Kate Beaton (would be a nice edition to the SCBWI Conference faculty sometime!) has groovy history funnies here.

By Kate Beaton

And if you need just a little bit more Feiffer, a nice interview with a few extra comics images.

By Jules Feiffer