SCBWI, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators holds its winter conference in New York City each year. I've never gone before, in part because I wasn't ready. I've been writing, studying, practicing, and learning about my craft as a children's writer. For the past few years, I've felt like I'm more of a student of children's writing than a professional in the field. As I finish the edits on my completed manuscript, I feel things shifting and changing for me. So, going to SCBWI felt like a big shift from learning to doing. What do professional writers do? They participate in conferences with their colleagues from around the world to dig in and talk about everything happening in children't literature!
I was overwhelmed by the panels, the speakers, the generosity of the participants, the information and the overall vibe. We sang Jane Yolen happy birthday. We told jokes. We wrote. We listened. We learned. Seriously. What could possibly be cooler than a room full of children's writers and illustrators?
I got a chance to test out a new project I've been working on at a roundtable session with 9 other writers. I went to several great panels, but the panel on diversity in children's publishing, something very near and dear to my own work, was phenomenal. Ellen Hopkins and Cynthia Leitich Smith shared their experiences, their approach to writing, resources, materials, and an overview of the field. Their panel was generous, helpful, and practical. Diversity in children's literature is, perhaps, the single most important topic before us right now. I am currently preparing to teach an Introduction to Children's Literature course in New York City. This is a course I teach often, and I struggle to find readings that fully represent the field and history of children's literature. I want my students to be immersed in the field, but I also want to choose texts that my very diverse student body will relate to. I came away from this panel invigorated by the importance of talking about why we need diverse books and why we need to highlight and support diverse authors.
My favorite talk was Bryan Collier's keynote speech where he talked about the importance of kids seeing kids like themselves in literature. I'm not sure if this was an intentional theme throughout the conference, but it's one that I kept hearing in the panels I attended. Perhaps I am keenly aware of this topic because it's on my own personal radar as I finish my last edits, but I hope I kept hearing it because it was on all of the speakers' minds. I'm going to write more about Bryan's talk later, so suffice it to say, it was one of the most powerful and most meaningful writer talks I've ever heard.
I came away with more than 30 pages of handwritten notes. One of the cool things at the conference was following the Twitter hashtags. The illustrators win Twitter. Really. Their notes were colorful, playful, and exciting. Mine are messy and took forever to decode later and look like this: