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SCBWI NY: A Confirming Experience

I say that I officially started this writing journey with my attendance at a Highlights workshop last September called The Power of the Picture Book.  Taught by author Deborah Underwood (http://www.deborahunderwoodbooks.com/) and author/illustrator Lindsay Barrett George (http://www.lindsaybarrettgeorge.com/), it consisted of three days of immersion in the craft of writing picture books.  It also included private cabins and gourmet meals and new friends.  I highly recommend such a workshop for newcomers to the field.

Really though I have been on this journey for half my life.  I just didn’t realize that I was building a foundation that would help me later; I thought while I was waiting to write someday, that I wasn’t actually on the journey yet.  Travel backward about 25 years to when I first knew I wanted to be a writer.  I was reading Rick Bass’ Winter and laughing and crying and smiling at various places, sometimes in the same chapter.  Wow!  I wanted to do this.  I wanted to write something that made the reader laugh or cry or hold my words in their head after the book was done.  I know that seems quite egotistical, but that is not how I see it.  I see it as a big way to say thank you for all the times I have been moved.

Next though, came the journey of parenthood.  My children became my personal trainers in children’s literature.  For about six years and for at least a half-hour each day (most days much, much more) we read picture books.  I’ve estimated that during those six years we read at least 6,570 books.  That is based on three books each day, but I know that the number could easily be double that amount since most days we read more than just at bedtime.

While I learned at the Power of the Picture Book workshop that the market has changed since in the last twenty years since I was reading them daily, all that exposure to the craft was a foundational part of my journey.  It was also a delightful one.

The delight continued for a few more years as we morphed into early readers and chapter books.  Read aloud sessions in the evening were my favorite part of the day.  Even when exhaustion and a dry throat set in, it was wonderful to hear, “One more chapter, please.”  I knew this was as important as hugs and warm food in their bellies.  It was bittersweet when they started reading ahead after they went up to bed.  I had created readers, but they didn’t need me on their reading journey anymore.

Fast forward to the present.  Last weekend I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York City.  It was big, crowded, at times overwhelming, but everyone there is connected to children’s literature.  That is inspiring.  The most inspiring and engaging parts of the conference for me were the keynote addresses by authors Jack Gantos (http://www.jackgantos.com/) and Kate Messner (http://www.katemessner.com/). They are as talented speakers as they are writers and I feel privileged to have heard them speak.

Gantos’ talk was about his writing journey and about the structure of the craft.  My favorite quote from his talk was about when we finish reading a good book:  “The book is like an infection.  When the book is over, the book is the same. You are changed.”  Sound familiar?  I immediately thought of Rick Bass and many other writers that have changed me over the years. Yes, I still want to do this.  The idea of making a child laugh or smile or feel changed after reading my words is no more egotistical than being a teacher, which I was for several years, in that we want to empower children to be the best self they can be.

Messner’s talk was about the power of failure.  She told us things we know, yet that we don’t apply to our own craft; that no invention or great art or great athlete got made without failure along the way.  Failure is part of the journey.  Hmmm, maybe I should frame my rejection letters.  My take home quote from Kate: “Do the work that you are meant to do.  Write what you fear, dare, want to know.  Make lots of failures.”

I’m so glad my path crossed with Gantos’ and Messner’s.  Their words have changed me.

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The Gardener

I was delighted to find an old friend at my local library this week.  The Gardener, a Caldecott Honor Book, by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997) was a favorite of mine when I taught fourth grade.  I love Lydia Grace’s resilience in the face of trying times and in being separated from her parents.  I also found the book great for teaching inferring to students because it is told through letters by the main character.  Much must be gleaned from reading between the lines.

I find the illustrations delightful and the colorful flowers on every page serve as metaphors for hope, love and acceptance.  The Gardener makes everyone look at a seed differently.

If you’re interested in the lesson plan please see: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reading-Lesson-Plan-for-The-Gardener-by-Sarah-Stewart-1121090