Our Cub Reporter today is Gabriela Pereira who is a writer and teacher living in New York City. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School with a special focus on Writing for Children. Gabriela writes middle grade and teen fiction, with the occasional short story for grown-ups thrown in for good measure. She has lots of super-secret but super-exciting schemes up her sleeve and can often be heard saying “So, I have this crazy idea…”
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City is one of my favorite writerly events of the year. After all, what writer could resist the opportunity to hear legends of the children’s book world speak about writing? And then there’s the energy. When you fill a room with over one thousand writers, illustrators and industry professionals who are passionate about children’s books, you can feel the sizzle and excitement in the air. Here are some of the highlights:
Lois Lowry kicked off the conference with her keynote and set a high bar when she tackled that ever-so-difficult question: “how do you get your ideas?” In her speech, she took us on a journey through nine of her books and the moments of inspiration that sparked those stories. She also revealed that the second-most common question from her readers is: “do you have a dog?”
The picture book panel, consisting of Jane Yolen (author), Mark Teague (illustrator), Patricia Lee Gauch (author and editor) and Lin Oliver (moderator), reinforced how challenging and yet how important picture books are. They reminded us that picture books aren’t just about teaching kids to read, but also making them into lifelong lovers of books.
In his lunchtime keynote, R.L. Stine shared what he learned in his career. His advice included being open to everything and not making too many plans because you never know what can happen. He also added that “it’s always a mistake to go on a parade with Mickey Mouse.” This theme of being open to opportunities continued with Jules Feiffer’s keynote, where he said he never thought of illustrating The Phantom Tollbooth as a career move; it just happened. He even failed to save many of his original sketches from that project because “Norton neglected to tell me he was writing a classic.”
The humor panel with Marvin Terban, Lenore Look, Mo Willems and Leonard Marcus (moderator) emphasized both the importance of surprise in writing humor for children, but also that it’s hard work. As Mo Willems explained, no one really knows what’s funny. Funny people know what’s not funny and they work at it until it stops being not funny.
Which brings me to the topic of “work.” Sara Zarr gave a truly inspirational keynote about the characteristics and obstacles of a fulfilling creative life. Her message: the goal is to love doing the work. You may not be able to control many parts of the writing or publishing process, but you can control how you choose to experience doing the work. This message was echoed later in Linda Sue Park’s closing keynote where she said: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in the work.” Because in the end, it’s not about the writer at all, it’s about the story.
In addition to these inspiring speakers, there were fantastic break-out sessions with agents, editors and art directors and a full day of intensive workshops for writers and illustrators on Friday. For me, though, the high point of this conference has always been the keynote speakers, because of their heartfelt and honest words.
Bottom Line: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”— Emilie Buchwald