I should probably start out by saying that I neglected to mention one of the highlights of my first day at the conference... Gail Gibbons gave the closing speech that evening, and it was amazing. As you can imagine, Gibbons was full of energy and excited about so many different topics whether it was animals, weather, geography, plants, any kind of science-related topic you could think of. She talked about her illustrating process, and how she might travel, or consult with experts on her latest book, while her husband photographs whatever she's researching, and she bases her artwork off of that. She paints her work at 125% so that she can get all the details in, and then they shrink the images for final publication.
Gibbons also spoke at length about how magical it is living on a 300 acre farm in Vermont, close to nature, and her passion for preserving the land. I hadn't realized that she had started her career in television production. Working as a set designer on tv shows taught her how to work quickly under a deadline. Gibbons breezily whipped through her backlist of titles, explaining how she'd written one book after another, on nearly every non-fiction topic you can imagine. The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree was inspired by her son, although she did change the name for alliteration in the title. Someone in the audience asked her if there was ever a book that a publisher had suggested she write that she turned down, and interestingly, she said that she'd never write a book on hospitals, because it just didn't appeal! She did mention a few books that she's working on now. She's been working on a book on gorillas, which is coming out later this month, and another book on ladybugs -- I'm excited about that.
I started my second day at the Georgia Children's Literature Conference by attending a talk by M.T. Anderson. M.T. Anderson is the author of Thirsty, a riveting novel about doomed suburban teen vampire, as well as Feed, a sci-fi dystopian. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation., Volume I: The Pox Party, and Volume II: The Kingdom of the Waves, were both award winners. I didn't realize that he is also the author of Pals in Peril, a humorous middle-grade fiction series.
Anderson was a fantastic public speaker, and I really enjoyed his talk. He was so funny. He talked about growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, and told many entertaining stories about traveling the world, including a silly anecdote about trying to obtain a decent meal in Asia during the avian flu epidemic, which involved him fighting off a horde of stray cats for the last frozen chicken around. He also shared some of his hilariously disastrous attempts to learn French - by studying Baroque French Opera he ended up being fluent in mostly useless overly dramatic phrases. Anderson discussed his inspiration for Octavian Nothing, saying that during the time of the American Revolution, the people involved did not have the benefit of hindsight. They honestly didn't know how things would turn out - and they lived in a world very different from ours with a king, castles, and so on... so he wanted to make the time period fresh by not telling the readers where the story takes place at first. It's true, without the exposition, you start the book wondering if it is a fantasy novel or historical fiction or what? He also showed us some features from his beautifully designed website mt-anderson.com, including a "tourist's guide" to accompany his book Pals in Peril: Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware. Anderson seemed like a fascinating man with interests in history, classical music, geography, and of course, literature. I'm going to have to start recommending his Pals in Peril series to Lemony Snicket fans, and get caught up on reading his books.
After that I went to a presentation by Rob Cleveland, a local African-American storyteller and author. He talked about the importance of storytelling, and about how teaching through the use of a dramatic, memorable story will often yield better retention than other methods. Presciently, he talked about how the folk legends of the indigenous "sea gypsies" saved lives during the Indonesian tsunami, as they knew to flee to higher ground when the waves initially receded. He also shared (complete with hand motions) the tale of a boy who trades one item for another, until he gets the drum he's been hoping for, and illustrated how you could tie that in to lessons about sharing, without seeming didactic. A lot of his talk seemed geared for older Baby Boomers in the room, especially his good-natured complaints about raising teens, and distrust of government spending, but on the whole, it was a very engaging presentation.
Next, I went to see Karen Beaumont. Louella Mae, She's Run Away! and Duck, Duck, Goose! (A Coyote's on the Loose) have got to be some of my favorite books to share at storytime. She accepted the award for I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, winner of the 2009-2010 Georgia Picture Storybook Award. She had initially planned to talk only about her work, but inspired by earlier presenters, she went into a bit of detail about her personal life as well. Beaumont talked about the difficulty of making a living as a writer, describing a grueling schedule in her early days of working two jobs, raising a family, and staying up all night to write, getting perhaps 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. She also read some rhymes from some of her upcoming books. In Shoe-La-La, four girls go on a massive shoe shopping expedition - but find out the best shoes are ones from home that they redecorate themselves. Beaumont said she thought it was important to write a book with girly appeal that had a subtle message against consumerism. She has two more books slated for release, No Sleep for the Sheep, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic, out on March 7 and Where's My T.R.U.C.K., illustrated by David Catrow, coming out in September.
I was also lucky enough to be invited to the Storyteller's Luncheon, where Susan Liverpool regaled everyone with stories from her collection called Little Liverpool Diaries about growing up in Chicago.
What a terrific conference this was. Of course, it was fantastic to be able to hear so many famous authors, and it was great to be able to attend panels with inspiring ideas for everyone to take back to their libraries or classrooms, but it was really nice also, to be able to meet and chat with so many teachers and librarians from all over the state.