Friday, May 14, 2010

May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture a Real Treat

On May 13th, I had the privilege of attending the 2010 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture at the University of California at Riverside Extension Center. Sponsored by the Association of Library Services to Children, the lecture was presented by the Riverside County Library System in collaboration with the University of California – Riverside Libraries. This was the first time the Arbuthnot lecture has been held in the Inland Empire in the lecture’s 35-year history, and only the fourth time it has been in California. While the name May Hill Arbuthnot may not be familiar to most, older Americans will recognize her books, the Dick and Jane readers, which she co-authored with William Scott Gray.

This year’s guest speaker was Kathleen T. (K. T.) Horning, the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The author of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books, now in its second edition (Harper Collins, 2010), her talk was “Can Children’s Books Save the World?” While Ms. Horning admitted that this lofty title was the idea of the lecture committee and not herself, she did an excellent job rising to the challenge.

Her passion is multicultural literature, and she firmly believes that every child should have access to books. Most writers would agree with her on that one! She discussed the role that minority librarians have played in the field of children’s literature, then lamented the fact that few medal winners are minority writers.

During the question and answer period, one librarian raised the issue of book covers and why minorities are rarely depicted on them. Ms. Horning stated that the publishers believe that multicultural covers that won’t sell in the bookstores, or more correctly, that the bookstores won’t stock multicultural books. She cited the example of Justine Larbalestier’s 2009 novel, Liar, which features a bi-racial main character. Ms. Larbalestier was very upset to discover that the publishers had put a white girl on the cover, and she blogged about her feelings. The publisher changed the cover.

Two young students blogged about another book by this same publisher that had the identical problem, and the cover was changed. Ms. Horning pointed out the power of the Internet and added that things will change with e-books and self-published material.

It would seem that if librarians are clamoring for books by and about minority cultures that the major publishers would heed their desires. They expressed a need for books not about cultures in other countries but other cultures here in the United States. Writers, keep this in mind for books you publish yourselves or through small presses.

At the reception that followed the talk, Ms. Horning signed autographs, and the line was long. Mrs. Nelson’s Book Shop hosted a display of multicultural books and also both hardcover and softcover editions of From Cover to Cover. Of course, I bought a copy and had it autographed.

The site of next year’s talk has yet to be determined, but write yourself a note to check for it. If it’s in your area, you’re in for a treat.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Charlotte S. Huck Children's Book Festival

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 14th annual, two-day Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Book Festival on the beautiful campus of the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. Geared for teachers and librarians, the festival featured an array of well-known award-winning writers and illustrators, including Native American storyteller/author Joseph Bruchac; author of fiction, nonfiction, and picture books Candace Fleming; picture-book authors Kristine O’Connell George, Pat Mora, and Patricia O’Reilly Giff; and illustrators Ashley Wolff and Chris SoentPiet.

In addition to their presentations to the general session, in which they shared their work and their creative processes, they each led a small group session. These consisted of Q&A sessions; how poetry and children’s literature can help us understand the trials, tribulations, and rewards of siblinghood; and the art of picture books.

Other small group sessions, led by librarians, teachers, and professors, included using children’s literature as a springboard for strengthening literacy in homes, how to engage children in literature, locating and selecting high-quality children’s books about Latinos, using the design elements of picture books to enhance comprehension, the role of literature in elementary schools, outstanding picture books and literacy lessons in elementary classrooms, and taking nonfiction reading strategies into writing with young readers.

Pat Mora and Joseph Bruchac led sessions with grade-school children, who were thrilled to meet the authors whose works they have been reading and studying. The children showcased the learning that resulted from their efforts.

A treat for writers and illustrators was an informative session with literary agent Kelly Sonnack, of the Andrea Brown Agency, who discussed the pitfalls to avoid when writing children’s books. Writer and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Kite Tales editor Rilla Jaggia rounded out the program with her networking/small group discussion session for writers.

Another highlight was an exhibit in the university’s Peppers Art Gallery. This exhibit featured children’s book artwork from the private collection of Les and Zora Charles.

The Vendors Room provided the attendees the opportunity to spend money on their favorite books and artwork from Mrs. Nelson’s Book Store. I bought four of Joseph Bruchac’s middle-grade novels myself—and got them all autographed, of course—and I can’t wait to read them.

Attendees came from all over the country. The $150 registration included breakfast, lunch, a wine and cheese mid-afternoon spread, and dinner on the first day and breakfast and lunch on the second day. Vegetarian meals were available. The food was wonderful! Thanks to Planning Committee Chair Marjorie Arnett and her team for putting on such a fabulous and memorable event.

Unfortunately, educational budget cuts resulted in this year’s attendance being about half that of last year. As a consequence, the conference is in danger of being cut back or even canceled. Several authors suggested that a track for writers could be added, thus opening the festival to an additional target market and perhaps increasing the attendance back to its former level.

Next year’s conference will be held March 4 and 5, 2011. Help keep the conference going. Bookmark so you can keep up-to-date with preparations for next year’s event. Plan on attending. You’re in for a terrific experience!