In recent weeks, thousands of students and hundreds of educators across the United States have learned about everything from understanding others’ perspectives and to how to draw anything using three basic shapes and some letters, to what it looks like when a group of “astro-nuts” blast off in a rocket crafted from the nose of a presidential sculpture, all courtesy of Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Conference.
And the conference, which is operating virtually this year, isn’t even close to being over.
Along with virtual author visits for students, the conference, which is in its 35th year, also features virtual “happy hour” events where educators can engage in live conversations with the authors later in the day. The conference is also offering virtual versions of the keynote sessions that anchored what was, in previous years, a weeklong in-person event held at the end of June for educators and librarians. Just as in past years, educators, librarians and lovers of children’s literature have an option to earn graduate credit for participating.
The 44 virtual events that constitute this year’s conference began in mid-April and continue through June 25. The CLC kicked off with a virtual author visit with author/illustrator Sophie Blackall (“Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear”); and has since featured a host of visits, including those by Jon Scieszka and his son-in-law Steven Weinberg, who have collaborated on the “Astro-nuts” series; author/ illustrator Tom Lichtenheld (“Duck, Rabbit”); author/illustrator Dan Santat (2015 Caldecott Medal winner for “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend”); author Minh Lê (“Drawn Together”); author/illustrator Oge Mora (“Thank You, Omu!”); author Jason Reynolds (“Long Way Down” and the “Track” series), author/illustrator Ashley Spires (“Binky The Space Cat”) and more.
The authors and illustrators featured through the conference create a wide variety of works for young people, ranging from picture books and chapter books to novels in poetry and prose, and graphic novels as well.
Individual author sessions have drawn hundreds of registrations. For example, Scieszka and Weinberg’s author visit logged more than 400 registrations by teachers and librarians. And presenters have already covered a lot of ground. Sciezska and Weinberg noted how they wanted their readers to have fun, because when you’re having fun, learning comes easier. Lichtenheld talked about everything from the brand of crayons he prefers to how, in “Duck, Rabbit,” two people are looking at the same drawing but can’t agree on whether it’s a duck or a rabbit, revealing that while each viewer sees the world differently, neither one is wrong. (Even he doesn’t know if it’s a duck or a rabbit.)
Santat described his writing process, his habit of collecting hobbies, how a librarian led him to inspiration through the book “Learn to Draw Comics The Marvel Way,” and how his fifth grade teacher gave him the best gift: a box of colored pencils. He talked about the length of time it takes for him to illustrate a book, or to create a book from start to finish (it was about a year for “The Adventures of Beekle”). He discussed his characters and how he created Beekle, as well as how his love for his wife makes another one of his works,“After the Fall,” his favorite of his own books. He also revealed how a circle, some letters and a simple cloud outline can become a face, or how a circle, square and triangle, along with a few letter shapes, can really allow one to draw almost anything in the universe, from the Death Star from Star Wars to SpongeBob SquarePants.
The sessions have been great so far, said Chair of Shenandoah University’s Department of Education Studies; Director of Children’s Literature Program, and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D, who also anticipates that in the future, Zoom options will be offered for the conference. “But I do hope that there are still teachers that would prefer to be with us in person,” she said. “I miss the informal conversations between participants and authors and the excitement of the community events.”
Upcoming sessions include author visits with Phil Bildner (“A High Five for Glenn Burke”), Matt de la Peña (Newbery Medal winner for “Last Stop on Market Street”), Raina Telgemeier (“Smile”), Vanessa Brantley Newton (“Let Freedom Sing”), and Mac Barnett (“The Terrible Two” series), and keynotes with Angela Johnson (“The First Part Last”), Mr. Schu, Kelly Yang (“Front Desk”), Peter H. Johnston, Jack Gantos (“Rotten Ralph” series), Melissa Stewart (“Feathers: Not Just for Flying”), and three-time Newbery Medal author Kate DiCamillo (“Because of Winn-Dixie”). Gantos is also conducting a virtual writing session with middle and high school students.
The Children’s Literature Conference receives support from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation. To learn more, please visit https://www.su.edu/education/special-programs/childrens-literature-conference.