By Kathy Mansfield
I’ve been a Kentucky school librarian for 25 years. During all that time, I’ve worked to instill a passion for reading in my students. For those students (and for my fellow librarians and me), the rock stars of our world are children’s and young adult authors and illustrators.
As librarians, we don’t usually get to meet most of our rock stars. Certainly there are the occasional author/illustrator school visits. And school librarians patiently stand in line at library conferences and book festivals to snag photos of their favorite authors and to get autographed copies of much-loved books. But, by and large, librarians peddle the wares of unseen word cobblers, all for the opportunity to see the glimmer of excitement when the right book lands in the hands of a hopeful child.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to see inside the secret life of those literary rock stars. I participated in the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Midsouth Conference in Franklin, Tenn. Each year, SCBWI Midsouth awards scholarships to the event. For 2016, the organization gave one full scholarship (all expenses paid) and one honorable mention scholarship (conference fee paid) to Kentucky school librarians: Dorie Raybuck, East Jessamine Middle School library media specialist, and me.
Raybuck and I are veterans of school library conferences, but this was our first time to attend a conference specifically for writers and illustrators of children’s and young adult books. Both of us are published writers in journals and magazines, so our personal interest in learning more about the craft of writing led us to apply for the scholarships.
“I have published an article for ‘The Horn Book’ and a book review for ‘Kentucky Monthly,’ as well as poetry in high school,” Raybuck said. “I have always been interested in writing and would love to write a novel for middle grades.”
I, too, have several books “in the works” and was eager to learn more about how to work toward submission to an agent or publisher. Sessions at the conference included “Keeping Calm and Confident on the Road to Publication,” “Again and Again (and Again): Thoughts on Writing Series Books,” and “Transforming Facts into Compelling Stories.” In the sessions I attended, I sat among authors whose work I have read and whose books lined the shelves of my former school libraries.
A highlight for me was meeting 2016 Newbery Honor winner Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, author of “The War That Saved My Life.” I also enjoyed attending a session co-led by Courtney C. Stevens, author of the 2016 Kentucky Bluegrass Award for grades 9-12, “Faking Normal;” and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, author of books for middle grade readers. Their session was “Back to School! How to Book, Prepare for and Ace School Visits.” The session provided tips for conducting school author visits. I have attended many sessions on the topic during my career as a school librarian, but this was the first time I heard from the actual authors’ points of view. I now have a better understanding of the protocols and requirements involved in bringing an author or an illustrator to a school, and I can pass that information along to my colleagues.
I also took advantage of a critiquing session for authors. As an educator, I’ve spent many years encouraging students to share their work and to be receptive to feedback and constructive criticism, and for the first time, I felt some of the anxiety they must feel. I sat in a circle of six authors, including a screenwriter, all of whom shared several pages of a manuscript they were working on. We took turns reading to the group, while each participant followed along with a copy, making notes and suggestions along the way. Each person then shared her thoughts about the manuscript.
I discovered that these types of critique groups are part of the life of most authors and illustrators. Every author and illustrator who spoke at the conference talked about the necessity and the power of critical feedback from colleagues within their genres. The level of trust between the authors and illustrators was evident, as well as the sincerity behind their comments.
“Everything about the conference was amazing!” Raybuck said. “This was my first writer’s conference, and one of the sessions was about developing our character. What a hoot! I plan on sharing with my students who keep their own writer’s notebook.
“We wrote everything we knew about our characters and then became that character as our peers quizzed us. It was so much fun, and I learned so much more about my character.”
Although writing for children is a hobby for me right now, I discovered new inspiration by spending the weekend surrounded by the rock stars of my world. Who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll step into their magical realm and create books that turn students into lifelong readers.
MORE INFO …
Dorie Raybuck email@example.com
Kathy Mansfield Kathy.firstname.lastname@example.org