I would like to thank Nadia Hohn for writing up this overview of the Picture Book Track of our recent Conference.
Stepping out of my comfort zone was something I felt ready to do at the SCBWI Art
of Story Conference Montreal on May 29- 31, 2015. I had just been on the tail end
excitement of the February NYC conference, my very first SCBWI event, in which I
had been a bit shy to participate in any critique sessions. Instead, SCBWI NYC left
me inspired and thirsting for opportunities to pitch, propose, and have my work
critiqued in front of my writing peers and professionals. At Art of Story Conference,
I had these opportunities-- to give me a chance to hone in on some of the ideas I
have in development. Of the three tracks, I selected the one for Picture Book
- Lily Malcolm, executive art director and associate publisher of Dial Books for
Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House
- Allyn Johnston, vice-president and publisher from Beach Lane Books
- Heather Alexander, literary agent of Pippin Properties
- Kari-Lynn Winters, author, playwright, and scholar.
Each speaker brought her perspective to almost fifty published and aspiring
picture book authors.
My first Picture Book session was “What makes a picture book good… and how
do you know?” in which both picture book authors and illustrators were in
attendance. The presenters, Heather Alexander and Lily Malcolm, gave an
overview about what they looked for in an author and/or illustrator. What
Alexander looks for in a writer is someone who has career longevity and a few
strong stories. Malcolm indicated that she looks for illustrators that have a
“memorable style”, something brand new, and hits “emotional highs”. The
presenters also provided examples of picture books that do “get it right”.
Afterward, Heather presented a workshop called “Picture Book Voice” to the
authors in order to capture the five main parts of voice—diction, perspective,
character as voice, dialogue, and interior monologue. She provided several
examples of books that do these things correctly. She also had warnings for those
of us who write in first person. Some take home points were: No first name
intros. Needed: A rise and fall in plot. Modern kids usually like modern stories.
Kari-Lynn then presented two back-to-back workshops that were complete with
exercises and demonstrations. The first was called “The Straight Scoop on Picture
books” in which she provided more lists including the 7 deadly sins for picture
book authors and 10 techniques for authors. (By the way, I love the lists.) Some short
points I took home are: A story needs a spark. Leave the lessons and teaching out
of the story. Hook the reader in. Don’t be repetitive.
In “Getting Your Act Together”, Kari-Lynn talked about ways to spice up your
readings and presentations. As a teacher who teaches drama among other subjects,
I especially appreciated this session. Kari-Lynn let us in on how she secretly gets
teachers and kids to love her presentations. I think the one thing that I will
definitely remember is that puppets are great.
In “Now Let’s Read Aloud!” session, Allyn Johnston presented a helpful picture
book syllabus with a wide range of titles and styles. Johnston described what has
worked for many successful picture books and we had an opportunity to browse
through her collection to see for ourselves.
A great experience for all. Looking forward to the next event.