For me, winter is a long, solitary season. My only contacts with the children’s book world are online and in occasional meetings with my brilliant writing group. Even writing sometimes feels like (gasp!) drudgery. At last, along with wildflowers and migrating songbirds, children’s books are bustin’ out all over. Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, but truly, children’s book lovers have reasons to celebrate.
In spring, with travel less risky, schools open doors to visiting authors. What joy! My spring school visits with enthusiastic students remind me of those first glorious warm days when everyone abandons a jacket on the playground.
This year, May 1-7 marked the first annual National Picture Book Writing Week. What fun! I wrote one on an airplane, a couple at my desk, and several in the backyard. The stories are all dreadful, but I have something to work with. Yippee!
I spent Tuesday, May 5, at the 54th Annual Convention of the International Reading Association in Minneapolis. I strolled through aisles between wonderful books, rubbed elbows with enthusiastic teachers, stood in line for autographs of amazing authors, and shared my thoughts about writing poetry. Wandering through the convention center, I recognized Susan Marie Swanson signing her award-winning book The House in the Night and Jacqueline Woodson, author of many award-winning books of her own.
I turned a corner and found Phyllis Root signing copies of her adorable new picture book Flip, Flap, Fly.
I bumped into Kimberly Willis Holt, who contributed to a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market article I wrote about writing fiction inspired by real life (a future Teaching Authors topic, thanks to a reader request).
I met Laura Purdie Salas for a quick conversation and recognized a dedicated poet and teacher.
The teachers who attended my workshop ("Write a Poem, Step by Step: A Simple, Logical, Effective Way to Write Poetry With Your Students") plunged right into the process. A few shared snippets of their work. Many said they were surprised and pleased by the results. I was pleased, too, but not surprised. As the IRA Mission explains, teachers are always looking for new ways to advance the quality of literacy instruction. These teachers, from elementary, middle, and high school, diligently wrote their own poems, step by step, so they could understand the method inside out and use it to help their students write poetry. Writing is work, and here you can see every teacher hard at it.
On Saturday, May 9, I met Kevin Henkes at the Council for Wisconsin Writers Annual Awards luncheon. My nonfiction picture book Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move received an Honorable Mention (the thought-provoking Mousetraps by Pat Schmatz received the main award) in the Tofte-Wright Children’s Literature category. Kevin Henkes received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to children’s literature. He spoke about his creative and publishing history and read hilarious, heartfelt letters from young fans. To quote his Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, just about all I can say is “wow.”
In spite of the dismal economy, school budget cuts, and upheavals in the publishing industry, readers still read, teachers still teach, and writers still write. Although Children’s Book Week is officially May 11-17, for everyone who loves children’s books, every day (especially in spring) deserves a celebration. Hooray!