Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference Report- Part I

Ready for some stories?

It's taken me a few days but I'm ready to share all the fabulous things I heard and learned at last weeks conference on children's literature. I met some great people! The audience was a mix of well read parents, teachers, librarians, children, and authors. There were books for sale for signings also. If you know me, then you know of my classification of purchasing childrens' books and I have to LOVE it to buy it hardcover. Also, if I know it will be destroyed by kids at home or in the classroom, then I usually buy it softcover. So...I felt a little silly having the authors sign their paperbacked, well worn books-but there you have it. I didn't want to spend a ton of money on hard covers of books I already had, plus I liked the idea that mine were worn out by kids. I wrote down tons of quotes, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Here is the Provo City Library, which is a very old building that has been fully restored and has great character. When my husband brought the kids the first day to meet me for lunch at a nearby favorite restaurant, he said, " is the library that mommy is at for her important meeting!" My daughter, Haleigh replied, "This isn't a library! This is Hogwarts!"

I was impressed that at the beginning of the conference, they said a prayer. Since BYU, the private religious college, sponsored the conference, they were able to do that. Actually each class session at that college begins with a prayer. I hadn't heard a prayer in any of my colleges for years so it was refreshing to hear the mixture of spiritual with cognitive learning.

The first speaker was author, David Shannon. He was a very entertaining speaker who was using a powerpoint for the first time and was very proud of himself. He mentioned that "it was the blessing at the start though it wasn't mentioned specifically," referring to his powerpoint working.

He began by talking about Rosemary Wells (who writes and illustrates many books-especially Max and Ruby), who likes to leave her audiences with more than a few anecdotes, and he added, "but that's all I have!"
He showed the page in David Gets In Trouble with something broken and spilled that read, "But it was an accident!" and compared that to his career and how he has become an author for kids.

He said, "Children's books are more than duckies and bunnies, although there's room for duckies and bunnies-especially naughty ones!" I hadn't realized that I didn't have a copy of Duck on a Bike, but it's on my list now!

He went on to share that "Your imagination is informed by everything you've ever experienced." and told the story of one of his early books about baseball with a character named Boss Swaggert who he thought he had made up but later learned that he had unknowingly drawn his sixth grade math teacher, Mr. McDougal who contacted him about it. He asked the audience,

"Accident or Destiny?"

He also told a very cute story of his neighbor, Ray, across the street who loves to decorate for every holiday to the delight of the neighborhood. David used Ray as inspiration for Mr. Merryweather in his Christmas book, Amazing Christmas Extravaganza about going a bit too far. He didn't want to offend his neighbor and kept in mind as he drew/wrote it that he wanted to hand it to Ray in the end and that helped keep him main character sympathetic. As he would work on a painting, he'd glance up to see Ray add more to his outdoor decorations and then say, "You're not gonna beat me!" and add more to his illustration and more and more after he'd thought he was done.

Ray ended up loving his book and even bragged to David later that he'd planted flowers out of the front of his house that were from David's book about him.

He told us about his ongoing habit of adding his beloved dog, Fergus in all his books. He said that in a book he illustrated about ancient Hawaii, it was hard but Fergus is in there too. He is in the foam of a wave. "If I don't put him in my book, he gets mad at me. He's very interested in fairness!"

His early work was illustration for the editorial cartoons in the New York Times and as he transitioned to childrens' books, you can see his dark tone slowly fade as his childrens' work progressed.

When showing us the cover of No David, he said, "Oh there he is...the little rascal!" He told the story that is in the cover of the book about his 5 year old book that is similar to this one and how he wanted to try to imitate his first edition. When he pitched to his editor that he wanted to write a book all about No's and illustrated with stick-like figures, he was told, "No, David!"

He had tried to illustrate it similar to other styles like his Bad Case of Stripes but it wasn't working and then he mimicked his original with the pointy teeth and all, and all of a sudden, "he came to life, picked his nose and left the room."

The page with that he describes as "the most popular piece of my life. I've gotten 1000's of letter!" was the naked page of David's bottom. He shared that many librarians place post it notes over it and call it the "David flap."

"The thing about David is he doesn't do anything that every kid hasn't thought about doing."

Many people have asked him if he writes too many boy books but he has decided that girls like to read books about boys getting into trouble too.

He shared some of the silly things that have happened because of that book. Everything from mom crying to him over the last page to a mom calling him from Israel asking parental advice since her kids won't stop climbing on things. He said that people have asked if he has A.D.D and he always replies that he has D.A.D.

After No David's success, he asked himself where David should go next. "The teacher's are the next person to tell you 'No!' " and so became David Goes to School. In that story, he begins to see that all his actions affect other people. I loved hearing his little comments, almost under his breath, about the characters he has created. When showing a page with David playing a loud air-drum next to a girl, David Shannon mentioned, "I think her name is Cindy. I think David likes her. You can tell because he's doing a good drum solo for her" On another page of his doodles in class on the blue lined paper, little David draws her as a pig.

David Shannon says that often when he was growing up, people would tell him, "You weren't thinking, were you David!"

There were a few of his topics that his editors weren't sure about. One of them was his book about kids hating lima beans in Bad Case of Stripes. Apparently his editor loved lima beans and had never heard how awful people think they are, so they took a poll at Scholastic and found his presumption to be true. Also, they did a poll about kids getting soap in their mouth for saying bad words to see if Scholastic felt that kids today would understand the page about David having "something else" slip.

He shared that on his preschool evaluation, which was 2 pages long, it said "David should be spanked particularly in public by his father if he thinks he's getting away with something."

In his book, Duck on a Bike, he liked how the animals all reacted uniquely to something new happening at the farm. He imagines the voices of all the animals and can do some great impressions of them. He shared that one big error in his illustration, which has been pointed out by many, many children (the first a three year old) was that on the cover there is a bell on the handlebars and later in the book with the bike front and center, he forgot to draw the bell. He said he wanted to send a sticker of a bell to anyone who writes to him complaining so they can put it on that page. He'd call it the "No Bell Prize." He also likes that the last page has the duck looking at a tractor and he's heard of many teachers making that a writing prompt, which he thinks is very creative. If you do that with kids, send him copies of the stories care of Scholastic because he is collecting them.

He then showed the cover of Alice the Fairy and said, "This is my daughter!"

He followed her around one whole day to get some direct quotes like the page about changing a plate of cookies into her own. That was a quote from his daughter. He thought the book really started to work when he changed the voice to 1st person. The page with Alice reading a book made him comment, "She still looks like that. She's 12 now."

"If it wasn't for my family, I'd have writers block for the last 10 years." He mentioned throughout his talk of his mom sueing him for royalties from No David, and his dog sueing him for royalties from Good Boy Fergus and now his daughter is sueing him for Alice the Fairy. He had us all laughing!

The book Good Boy Fergus is based on the true story of his dog and the love/hate relationship of the next door neighbor cat, Trinity who teases and taunts him through the window each day. He describes his dog in such a cute way. Later at the book signing, as he signed my copy of this book, he opened the cover and said, "Oh...there's my boy!" He drew a little Fergus face and signed my copy. I love it! Also at the signing he told me that he needs to come to Utah more often because as he signed all my books for the kids, he said that everyone has 8 kids and he could really sell some books!

He next shared some thoughts on How I Became a Pirate written by Melinda Long that he illustrated. He loves that book and said that he sometimes forgets that he didn't write it. "The pirates were just a blast!" He showed a page of the pirates sitting squished in a boat and told us that he decided to name all the pirates and quickly spouted off their names. I couldn't write them down fast enough! I just knew that I had to know all the pirate name or I'd just die, so later when I went up to introduce myself, I asked him to please tell me all the names. He grabbed my writer's notebook and wrote them in there. I almost fainted. So, here's the pirate names for anyone who cares beginning on the left...

Braidbeard, Laffee', Crooke, Jean (named after a guy he knew in college), Badir, Gilley, Bloort, and one final pirate that he tried and tried to remember but couldn't.

He felt that in that book, the pirates represented big kids. Like your big brothers friends that let you play with them for a while, but eventually you start to wonder what you got yourself into. Especially at night. He showed the page with the kid trying to sleep with a pirate breathing on him on the left and a cat butt on the right. David said that at school visits, he always makes the kids vote, "What smells worse...pirate breath or cat butt?" My son, Carter thought that was a hilarious story when I told him.

In Too Many Toys, he based it on his household and the main character is his daughters best friend next door. "It all begins with stepping on a lego." He got a little upset that parents are fast to get rid of toys when he feels that a toy might be used "a year and a half later for a whole other purpose." He continues, "My G.I. Joe's went through all sorts of phases." He described putting clay on their heads and making them into a rock band. "You get a toy for everything these days...going to a birthday party...etc." He also used to collect those toys that come in plastic bubbles at grocery stores for a quarter when he was in college.

The next book he showed was his collaboration with Jon Sciezka about robots called Robot Zot. He named the little sidekick in the story Rusty. I asked him later if he plans to continue his books with Jon and he replied that he was meeting him for dinner on Friday with Lane Smith (who illustrated Stinky Cheese Man). As long as they get a very big expense account at these occasional dinners, they usually end up with quite a few book ideas to do together.

The next book coming out very soon is the next David book about Christmas. He thought that "everything just comes together in a perfect storm of No's" at that time of year. ...All of those No's make that big Yes on Christmas so worth it. Yes, you can open it. Yes, I can play with you, I'm home all day. Yes, you can have another." It looks really great!

During the Q and A, someone asked his medium and he replied, "spiritual" followed up by "acryllics but might try oils."

He also is working on a fishing story next.

Pheww....Can you tell I had a great time? I just love to write quotes from authors. I think it really helps to add depth to the art of children's literature. And if you're like me, once you hear the backstory, you never forget it. Let me know your thoughts. Tomorrow...part II with Elizabeth Partridge.

1 comment:

  1. I love the notes about him getting quotes for Alice the Fairy from his daughter. I love that book, it's one of my kids favorites, and now I love it even more!