The Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference (CLC) is in full swing with a slate of virtual author/illustrator visits and happy hours that will lead up to a concluding, two-day in-person event and a young reader-focused celebration at the Handley Library in Winchester at the end of June.
The conference, which features a host of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators, kicked off on April 28, with a virtual visit with prolific author Katherine Applegate, known for “The One & Only Ivan,” “Wishtree,” “Crenshaw,” “Home of the Brave,” the Animorphs series and more. She’s a returning author for the CLC, which she said is very special to her.
Finding a ‘best-friend book,’ dealing with doubt, and becoming writer by being a reader
Applegate’s presentation for the conference was watched in classrooms across the U.S. and, in it, she admitted that as a child, she “just didn’t get the point” of reading. A lifelong lover of animals, she felt that way until she found her “best-friend book”: E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web.” “It just captured me,” she said.
So, it’s unsurprising that many of her books feature animals – most famously, “The One & Only Ivan,” which is based on the true story of a gorilla living as an attraction in a shopping mall. Applegate said she often writes about what makes her angry, and the idea of a gorilla living in such conditions horrified her. In the writing process, she researched gorillas, added some new characters with whom the gorilla, Ivan, would interact, and decided to tell the story from Ivan’s point of view, with the slow and halting language she imagined a gorilla would use. Still, she wasn’t confident in what would become a best-selling story and feature film. She almost abandoned the whole thing. The moral, she discovered, was “Don’t give up on your stories.” But, even though she said that, she admitted to moments where she says to herself, “I don’t know how to do this.”
While she also said she gets stuck “all the time” when she writes, she never considers it “writer’s block.” In life, one isn’t allowed to have a parent, teacher or student block, and instead, when she gets stuck, she realizes there’s a problem and that’s when she puts the story away for a while. Sometimes, the answer to her question will pop up. Sometimes, she powers through by using free writing, in which she just writes whatever comes into her head.
As she writes, she’s always thinking of what it’s like to be in elementary school, she said. For those students who want to write, she advised them to “read, read, read, read, read,” because that’s how they can find story ideas and open up their imaginations. She urged them to write for themselves, to tell a story that they’ve never heard, that matters to them, and speaks to their heart. Those are the stories people will treasure, she said.
Ultimately, Ivan’s story ended fairly happily, with him being transferred to Zoo Atlanta, where Mr. Schu – whose book, “The Gift of Story,” is serving as the theme for this year’s Children’s Literature Conference and for which Applegate wrote the forward – was able to visit Ivan and get his fingerprint, too, in paint, in a copy of “The One and Only Ivan.” (Ivan was an artistic gorilla who fingerpainted.)
For fans of the Ivan story, which has extended to the book “The One and Only Bob,” Applegate offered a tantalizing hint of what’s to come, noting that she’s writing another book with a title that begins with “The One and Only. . . “ Her newest book, “Odder,” which was inspired by otters that foster baby otters, will be released in September.
A conference with something for everyone
Applegate’s appearance was the first of many for the CLC season, which features virtual author/illustrator visits and happy hours every Tuesday and Thursday through June. Then, on June 23-24, the in-person conference returns to Shenandoah, with appearances by Mr. Schu, author/ illustrator Lauren Castillo, author Heather Fox, author/illustrator Deborah Freedman, author Trudy Ludwig, author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli, author Jonathan Stutzman, author Jasmine Warga, and author Alicia D. Williams. Upcoming virtual author visits include Josh Funk (May 24), Linda Sue Park (May 31), and Lois Lowry (June 9).
Children’s Literature Conference information
You can see the whole conference schedule, get information on continuing education credits, register to attend and more at the Children’s Literature Conference website at su.edu/clc.
Support for the conference comes from the Claude Moore Center for Literacy at Shenandoah University and the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation. For more information, you can also email email@example.com.