Alright... last day of conference (writing this particular entry feels as tiring as that final day was!)- after our final welcome in the ballroom, we were treated to a panel of agents and editors to discuss the topic of what we should be expecting children's books to look like this upcoming year. This group was endlessly helpful with some great insight. I could go on about it all, but the main point I took away was a thread I had picked up on earlier:
Children's books take a long time to actually hit the shelves. An idea will get picked up and then two or three years later, it's gone through the whole process and is ready for consumption. Knowing this, it makes sense that so many books this year are focusing on things like the Climate Crisis, inclusion, empathy, and giving voices to indigenous people and communities of color. If we follow the thread back a couple years, it becomes clear that, starting in 2016, when the current administration was voted into office, children's book creators turned their attention to quietly combating the hate in a way only they could. They wrote to the children to show that science should be believed, dark skin has value, and we have more in common with each other than we have different.
My final breakout session was dedicated to improving my craft of illustration. Illustrator Bret Helquist (you know him from the Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate
Events) and author/illustrator Judith Schachner (Skippyjon Jones)
gave practical advice on composition and character development, while moderator Cecelia Yung, who works as an Executive Art Director, instructed us, reminiscent of a hard-as-nails college professor that I would fight to work under. This 3 hours flew by, and by the end, I felt I had grown 10 years. I left this session literally giddy to get back to work and confident I could develop these new tools to make my current WIP vastly more succesfull.
Our third Keynote was waiting to be introduced as we entered the ballroom for the last time.
Derrick Barnes is the Author of "the Blackest Book Ever," Caldecott, Newberry, and Coretta Scott King Award winning Crown, An Ode to the Fresh Cut. I was immediately struck by his modesty and genuine love of his family. Admittedly not a public speaker, Derrick began by introducing the crowd to each member of his family, not just by name and age, but what he loved most about them. By the time he was through these first slides, he had warmed up to speaking, and we had gotten a glimpse at the deep passion that drives him. He told of his early successes, and how the deals dried up. About working at a library and writing loads of books that nobody wanted. He told us about the catalyst- his son telling him to stop writing what he thinks publishers want, and just write what he wants ("If they are already saying no, why not?"). And so he did- giving black boys some representation that is not about slavery or segregation, that just celebrates the day to day and the beauty of their confidence. For him to summarize an underlying theme of the weekend so beautifully was the perfect way to end the conference.
*I tagged Derrick Barnes in an Instagram story, and he actually responded, thanking me for posting and being so kind... seriously! The guy is so normal and nice!
One of the things that struck me at the conference was a sense of deja vu. I remembered back in my second year of teaching- I was at a new school within the district and I was sitting at a conference table mostly listening to the staff meeting. A fellow teacher who happened to be my same age was challenging a policy and making suggestions on how to improve practice. I asked somebody how long she had been teaching, and was floored that it had only been 5 year. I, in my ultra-timid state could not imagine being that confident after only 3 more years of experience. I thought for sure that I would never get there. I was out of my league, and it was discouraging. Fast forward a few years, and I now know that I had hit my stride by my 4th year and had been every bit as confident and full of moxy as my co-worker had been. It happened quickly, as it must when you are immersed, but somehow imperceptibly- there was no click, just a realization that somewhere along the way, I had changed.
This anecdote is the only way I can think to explain what this conference did for me. It gave me perspective- to pull back and see just how much of a beginner I truly am. I have so much to learn, and so much work to do. There are a million people ahead of me in the race, and probably just as many that want a metal as badly as I do. But this conference also gave me hope- there are people I can ask for help, practices that can push me forward, and a noble purpose for success. I listened to speakers describe their versions of being scared at a staff meeting, and wonder at how far they had come. It made me feel that, if I had found success and confidence once as a teacher, it is possible to do it again in kid-lit. Not one presenter attributed their success to skill and innate ability. Instead, they spoke about hard work, curiosity, and conviction. And I know that, if that's what it comes down to, I've got this.
Thanks for reading. Much love.