Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

Barbara Vey -- February 3rd, 2011
Gabriela Pereira

Gabriela Pereira

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

Lois Lowry

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?”

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Picture book panel

Picture book panel

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.

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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.”

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Humor Panel

Humor Panel (I'm sorry, but it doesn't look like anything funny is happening here)

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

58 thoughts on “Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

  1. Sandra Elzie

    Gabriela,
    Good job as a cub reporter. I don’t write books for children, but I buy a ton of them for my granddaughter.

    Thanks much, Sandy

  2. Debbie Kaufman

    Hi Gabriela:
    I’m so glad you reported on this conference. Great job! I always have people asking me about information on writing children’s books. Now I can point them to your reporting as a starting point!

  3. Margaret Konieczny

    I have published a chidren’s counting book for ages 2 to 6. It is a delightful, suspenseful story about finger prints in the butter.
    Ten Finger Prints in the Butter
    I would appeciate a review. It will be listed on PW’s self-publishers newsletter

  4. Margaret Konieczny

    I have published a children’s counting book for ages 2 to 6. It is a delightful, suspenseful story about finger prints in the butter.
    Ten Finger Prints in the Butter
    I would appeciate a review. It will be listed on PW’s self-publishers newsletter

  5. Debby Giusti

    Gabriela, thanks for all the great info. I meet folks often who want to write for children, but I never know where to direct them. Now I’ve got a blog to send them to…wait, just read Deb Kaufman’s comment above. She and I are thinking alike. :)

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  7. Gabriela Pereira

    Hello all! Thank you for the wonderful comments. It was such a pleasure to do this report. Thank you especially to Barbara for letting me do this!

    Conferences are only as awesome as the people involved, and SCBWI NYC is one of those that continually spins my brain with how much talent, support and enthusiasm can be crammed into one NYC hotel ballroom.

    Debbie Kaufman and Debby Giusti — If you find people who want to know more about writing for kids, scbwi.org is a great resource to send them to (and no, I don’t work for scbwi so I’m not being paid to say this, I’m just a huge fan of this organization :) Also, please feel free to send them my way as well and I’d be delighted to help in any way I can.

    Chris Henderson — Great question! Tips on prepping for a conference… Here’s my short answer: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Be open to hearing new things and meeting new people. Be prepared (bring business cards, wear layers, bring something to take notes with).

    For a longer answer, you can check out my blog iggiandgabi.blogspot.com where I’ve done a few posts about going to conferences (I know, I know, shameless plug… but you opened the door ;) . Or just shoot me an email with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. iggingabi[at]gmail[dot]com

    Katy — Don’t worry! There are still plenty of other SCBWI events in NYC and another national conference (this one in LA) just six months away. If you’re not in NYC, check out your local SCBWI chapter.

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