Last Saturday was the 5th annual Bond Children's Literature Conference at Western Washington University. I went last year to hear Lois Lowry speak. It was fantastic. Did you know part of her childhood she grew up in Japan, living in a completely Americanized sector?
This year a far-off friend wanted to meet up for the conference. When I found out the speakers... I was more than happy to pay out my hard earned money. To put it bluntly, it was a sausage-fest of a conference.
Christoper Paul Curtis, Newbery Award winner
John Rocco, illustrator linked to Shrek (the movie)
Eric Rohmann, Caldecott Award winner
Chris Crutcher, banned book author extraordinaire.
As most conferences go... some speakers are good, others are great, and some you kinda wonder what they are talking about and why. That being the case, I'll focus on the highlights.
Christopher Paul Curtis:
Not only an incredible writer, but an incredible public speaker as well. He told his story of going from a factory worker to Newbery award winner, with humor and humility. To summarize a bit... right after high school he entered the factories of Flint, Michigan. During down time on the job he took up writing. When he fell in love with a girl several miles away and killed two cars visiting her, he took up writing. When that same girl told him to take a year off work to take up writing, he was in heaven. He also has extremely large hands. When he signed my book we shook. Just big hands, that's all. His works include: The Watson's Go to Birmingham 1963, Bud, Not Buddy, and Elijah of Buxton. Curtis was a real treat.
Now probably my main draw to the conference was Chris Crutcher. In high school my favorite teacher was highly distraught that the book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was being challenged or banned somewhere (I have no idea where). Now, I didn't have the slightest clue as to what this book was about, but I figured if it was being banned... I better read it. Crutcher has many many challenged and banned books. There's even a pamphlet for teachers about teaching banned books with his photograph on it! I was dying to know what he would say to defend/explain/justify/glorify his writing. Ok, so he didn't really do that. At all. But he did read excerpts from his autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier. Luckily, I'd purchased it that morning on a hunch because his reading was hilarious and all the copies sold out. Reading the book now I have Crutcher's voice in my head, making all the delightful bits that much more delightful...("I was working my sphincter muscles like a body-builder.") I also like how he explains moments in his life that later play into his writing. Plus, his unique background as a family therapist enriches the characters and situations he writes in his books. I love banned books. They only make adolescents want to read them all the more.
Other conference notes:
Next year, bring own lunch. Two years in a rough of tough eggplant and soggy bread sandwiches are enough for me. Plus, my sandwich was half the size of my friend's.
Next year, don't drink water at lunch. No matter how hard you try you can't get down to empty before the speakers come on... and hearing stories about someone nearly wetting their pants does not take the focus off your own situation.