Friday, March 10, 2017

SCBWI New York Conference Report Day 1

Over 1,000 writers and illustrators braved winter storms to attend the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City. I was fortunate to arrive in the middle of the night, just before the blizzard.
My first day was spent at the Writers’ Intensive Writing the Novel in Verse lead by SCBWI’s Bonnie Bader and featuring Emma Dryden, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Ellen Hopkins and Sonya Sones. The intensive was a nice balance of lecture, writing exercises and roundtable collaborations.
Bryan Collier and Kathy Evans

The conference opened with a keynote from Bryan Collier who inspired us with his artistic journey and shared an illustrated picture book that brought the audience to tears. He encouraged us to, “Lean into anything you can, remember it all, even into your childhood, even if it is painful. These are your gifts.”
This was followed by a panel about crafting picture books moderated by Laurent Linn with Andrea Beaty, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Greg Pizzoli and Daniel Salmieri. Andrea Davis Pinkney shared, “I don’t tone it down for children. I take them on a journey. My goal is that they don’t even know that they are reading a book.” Andrea Beaty spoke about collaborating with her illustrator and mining her own imagination when her publisher and readers wanted more Iggy Peck, Architect books. Close examination of Iggy’s classmates in the illustrations inspired her new book Rosie Rever, Engineer. Greg Pizzoli compared picture books to music, specifically punk rock. Daniel Salmieri spoke about picture books that inspired him as a child (Stinky Cheese Man) and offered this tip for illustrators, “Mimic the facial expressions and body language of your characters. Feel what the character feels.”
The first day offered two breakout sessions. This is an opportunity for attendees to learn from industry professionals in a classroom type setting. I attended Writing Middle Grade Fiction with Andrew Harwell, Senior Editor Harper Collins and author of The Spider Ring. He used the award criteria for the Newbery Medal to offer advice about writing middle grade fiction that stands out and encouraged writers to seriously consider what makes their manuscripts different and special. A common pitfall he notices in submissions is that they begin with a subject important to a child reader, like divorce, yet include tons of details about the experience examining the parents’ feelings. He urged us to stick to the perspective of children 8 – 10 years old.
Lunch was my first social of the day, the International, Spanish and Translator Social. A large group gathered and discussed international resources, La Cometa (SCBWI’s Spanish Bulletin), publishing in Spanish inside the US and outside the US, international publishers, translator initiatives (SCBWI members can contact to be included on the translator listserve) and international rights. 

SCBWI International and Translators Social

My second breakout session was First Chapters with Andrea Davis Pinkney, Vice President and Editor-at-Large of Trade Books at Scholastic. She spoke about the important elements of writing, especially the first chapter and how to invite the reader into the chapter with a hook - pull - hold. Hint: Think about sitting in the audience before a play. The environment indicates that something is about to happen and when the curtain goes up the audience should be instantly dazzled. This is what the first chapter should do for the reader.
Martha Brockenbrough moderated a panel about social media in children’s literature featuring Travis Jonker (The Yarn podcast), Cynthia Leitich Smith (Cynsations) and Matthew Winner (Busy Librarian & All The Wonders) All of whom praised Debbi Ridpath Ohi as someone who uses social media well because: she is a resource for others, she gives takeaways for her audience, she’s playful, she says what we’re all thinking (through her humorous cartoons) and she is truly herself.
Kathy Evans and Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Taherah Mafi spoke about her journey for the closing keynote. She said, “When your skin is thin and you feel things deeply, this can seem like a problem but actually for a writer this is not a problem, feeling deeply is something positive.”

Taherah Mafi and Kathy Evans getting cozy over Taherah's book Shatter

SCBWI threw a Gala Dinner for all in attendance. Imagine a party with 1,000 friends old and new. At the conference I met Tribute Fund award winner Kathy Evans of SCBWI British Isles who has now stepped into the role of co-RA for the region. Kathy’s debut novel More of Me will be released in Germany soon. 
Kathy Evans German cover

You might think that would be a full day at a conference. But SCBWI is known for socials. After the Gala Dinner Party was the opportunity to attend one of three socials: Illustrators, New Members & First Time Attendees, or LGBTQ & Allies. I attended the LGBTQ Social. We discussed new trends in LGBTQ literature with industry experts and shared our challenges and successes. Greg McGoon told of how his fairytale picture book The Royal Heart received positive national media attention and has been acquired by the GSAs of many schools. 

Stay tuned for Day 2 in a future blog post.

Angela Cerrito serves as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor. Her novel, THE SAFEST LIE (Holiday House) has been named one of The Guardian’s Best Children’s Books of 2015, a Notable Social Studies Book for Young Readers, a Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award. THE SAFEST LIE is based on her research in Warsaw, Poland, including interviewing Irena Sendler, a mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance who helped over 2,500 children escape the Warsaw ghetto. This research was made possible with the help of SCBWI’s Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant. Angela’s debut novel, THE END OF THE LINE (Holiday House, 2011) about a boy coming to terms with his role in the death of a friend, received many awards including VOYA’s Top of the Top Shelf. Her one-act play IF THEY COME TONIGHT, based on the life of Irena Sendler, was produced in Texas. She speaks about writing, early literacy and the Warsaw ghetto children rescues at schools, workshops and international festivals.


  1. Thanks for the highlights, Angela!

  2. Thank you Angela, for this review. The conference was such an important experience for me, and it was very nice meeting you there.
    Your books seem very interesting. I'll look for them on my next trip to the US

    1. Iris, it was great to meet you as well. SCBWI conferences continue to be important to me - for craft, inspiration and meeting so many wonderful writers & illustrators. I hope our paths cross again --somewhere in the world!