Monday, April 11, 2011

Spotlight on Books Conference April 8-9, 2011

I had a chance to attend the Spotlight on Books Conference this past weekend in lovely Grand Rapids, MN. It was held at Ruttger's Sugar Lake Resort. This is a lovely setting for a conference. It wasn't quite warm enough to linger on the deck and the lake was still frozen over. But the massive brick fireplace and scenery made up for any lacks. 

I wasn't familiar with the authors and illustrators who were the main presenters this year. But, after hearing their presentations, I am really eager to find and read more of their books. 

Alison McGhee is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. She writes for all ages and in all forms, from poetry and stories to novels and picture books and essays, and her books are popular with critics and readers alike. Her novel Shadow Baby was a Today Show Book Club pick, and her picture book Someday was featured on NPR. 

It was fascinating to hear about why she has chosen to write books for children. It was also fun hearing about one of her more recent books - Bink and Gollie -- that she wrote with Kate DiCamillo. They were both influenced by their childhood love of the George and Martha books.

Mike Wohnoutka is a Minnesota illustrator. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in illustration. He talked about how he works and how satisfying he finds it to illustrate books for children. He showed sample art from Jack's House by Karen Magnuson Beil and talked about how he designed the art. He also talked about Can't Sleep Without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill and talked about the research he did for that book.

Mike also entertained us with a couple of quick sketches - a dragon and a sheep.

Sarah Weeks was the last speaker on Saturday afternoon. She talked about her upcoming release Pie which is a book about gratitude and includes numerous pie recipes. It will be published in November 2011. 

She also talked about her Oggie Cooder series which sounds like something my upper elementary students would really enjoy. I was particularly taken with the idea of charving - carving with your teeth in cheese. She showed a number of examples of different states that had been charved by student readers of her books. 

She also talked about another series that I thought my upper elementary students would really enjoy. I will have to go looking for her books in the Guy series

We began Friday afternoon hearing Anita Silvey speak. Ms. Silvey has written a number of books about children's books. She spoke to us about three aspects of a book - the story itself, how the book came to be written, and the stories that arise in the readers. She wrote Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book. She told us about interviewing a large number of celebrities in many fields of endeavor about the children's book that had the most influence on them.

Ms. Silvey also has a blog where she talks about a book a day. I have been a follower of the blog but didn't know that she was the person behind it. It is a great way to learn about some classic children's books or books that Ms. Silvey feels will be classics some day. 

Besides writing about children's books, Ms. Silvey has also written a couple of nonfiction books. I bought Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot and just ordered I'll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Both looked and sounded like something that would be fun for my students to read. 

It was a long exhausting weekend but I came home with lots of great stories and a bulging tote bag of autographed books for myself and for my elementary media center. 

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