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!