39th Annual Georgia Children’s Literature Conference

Wow, what a hectic pace it seemed to be at the 39th Annual Georgia Children’s Literature Conference in Athens, Georgia this year.  I must be slowing down!  Ha…  For those interested, here’s a breakdown on my take at the conference this year.

The event opened Friday, February 29th with Ian Ogilvy, author of “Measle and the Wrathmonk” which won the 2007 Georgia Children’s Book Award division (4th-8th grades).  Fighting laryngitis, but forging forward in a British accent that resonated through the auditorium, Mr. Ogilvy shared lots of interesting information about himself.  Originally from England and coming to American in 1989, we discovered that he was an actor…both in England and in America.  He was born during World War II.  Sent to boarding school at 6 years of age.  His mother was an actress and his father acted one year before he figured he needed to get a better paying job.  Attended Eton College.  After graduating, attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Art…was a contemporary of Anthony Hopkins.  He was in “Upstairs, Downstairs,” “I, Claudius.”  Worked in horror films with Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price.  Also worked with Roger Moore about 1979 in the British series, “The Saint.”  In late 1980s producers in America started making TV pilots in Europe and English actors started getting jobs.  This went on for about 2 years.  Came to America in 1989 and became an American citizen.  First job here was in “Murder, She Wrote.”  Did about 6-7 shows.  Was here two months when he found out his visa had expired and had to “escape” to Canada until getting a green card.  Worked regularly in America for about 10 years.  Has done a lot of the audio for James Bond books-on-tape.  About the year 2000, movie rolls dried up.  Decided to start writing.  Wrote first book taking place in England and then two more.  “Loose Chippings” was one of these books.  Has written one play.  When visiting friends in England he visited a director’s house.  Was left in a room with a fantastic model train that was fixed on shelving circling the room.  Noticed dark comedy in miniature figures placed along with the train set.  Got the idea for his Measle book series from this.  Spent about 3 years working on book.  Thought it would be good for 10-11 year olds…wanted to write something he would have liked to read at that age.  His story was sent to auction where publishers bidded to buy the story.  He went with Oxford University Press because of their enthusiasm…sent large green cake with train and giant cockroach.  The story then went to America and picked up by Harper Collins.  There are five books in the Measle series, but only three have been published in America.  Warner Brothers has bought rights to make into a movie.  Have rights for 3 years to work on script.  Script had only 2 of his characters left from book series.  Mr. Ogilvy wrote a nasty letter to WB complaining about drastic cha nges.  Was asked to come to lunch & told they didn’t like the script either.  Said he doesn’t know how to write children’s books…knows types of books he liked to read as a kid.  Had two stepsons in 1989 and liked to read to them.  Enjoys playing “World of Warcraft” video game.  For his finale, Ian Ogilvy read a teaser to his 5th book (one of those not published in the U.S., but is available via Amazon.com/uk), “Measle and the Doom Pit.”  Afterward, a Q&A session ended his part of the program.  Someone asked who were Barnaby & Matilda to whom he dedicated his books.  He replied these were his grandchildren, who were supposed to have visited him recently in America for the first time, but they weren’t able to do so.  He is currently working on writing a book about a family of nonscientific aliens in a rented spaceship.  The aliens think they are on a holiday planet called “Happy Days are Here Again” but they are on Earth.

In between each general session, concurrent sessions are offered with a variety of subjects or presentations to choose from.  While there were a lot of interesting sessions I would have enjoyed attending, I chose Pam Alexander’s session on “Travel Through Georgia from Top to Bottom, Past to Present!” talking about her books relating to Georgia.  She visited our school about three years ago sharing her books about Yumion the Vidalia onion that travels the regions of the state.  Her latest book introduces a newer character called Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is a time traveling tree frog.  In his first book, “Jeremiah Makes History Hop,” it is geared toward second grade objectives.  Jeremiah visits various figures/events important to Georgia history…Oglethorpe, Tomochichi and Mary Musgrove, Martin Luther King, the Civil War, etc.  In the next Jeremiah book, Pam plans to have the time-traveling frog visit Hershel Walker and the UGA Bulldogs winning the national conference, Martha Berry, and Ray Charles to name a few.  Pam does have a website to view her books at http://www.besweetpublications.com/.

In the 2nd General Session, Cynthia Kadohata, winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal for “Kira-Kira,” spoke.  She currently has three books for juveniles.  Born in Chicago in 1956, her family moved to Georgia and had a southern accent when she was little.  Her father worked 100 hours/week (chicken business) and told her he has never read a book.  Her parents divorced and she moved to Chicago.  She moved to Los Angeles in early 1970s.  Dropped out of school and worked at a Big Boys restaurant.  Her mother stayed after her to go back to school.  After working at Big Boys she went back to school.  Was in a car accident when a car jumped a curb and hit her.  She received money from the accident and took a bus trip around the U.S.  Always wanted to write.  Received a lot of rejection letters.  Finally sold stories to “New Yorker” and then sold three adult books.  Said she hit a dry spell and hard times…which she showed us a picture of her wearing her patched-up glasses…held together with dental floss…lots of dental floss!  A friend got her to go back to writing what she was familiar with.  She chose Poston, Arizona to use in a book because her father had been there.  Cynthia has two adopted children and shared some of the process she went through to adopt them from other countries.  She loves dogs…her father loves dogs…and has friends who love dogs too.  Wanted to write a book about a dog.  Originally story was about a dog on another planet.  Instead, wrote “Cracker”  the best dog in Vietnam” about a dog in the Vietnam War.

On a sidenote, one of my favorite parts from the conference is when the authors & illustrators not only share in words part of their life and ideas, but pictures via slides or PowerPoint.

After Cynthia Kadohata’s session, we broke for the first luncheon…the luncheon where typically the winning books for the current year in the Georgia Children’s Picture Book (K-4) and the Book Award (4th-8th) are announced.  However, since the conference was held earlier this year, voting for the 2007-2008 nominees has not taken place year.  This was something I really missed hearing since I always call back to the school and have someone announce what book worn in our grade division. 

Another item missed this year from the luncheon was the ice cream pie topped with strawberries!  Those veteran attendees will surely have missed the delectable concoction I know that has been served since I first attended in the mid 1990s and the dessert I have heard numerous people through the years say was the highlight of their trip to the conference.  Some did ask why it was not on the traditional menu this year and was told that $5 would have had to been added to the conference fee this year to cover the cost of the dessert.  In my opinion, that would have been $5 well spent!  Ha…

I had to skip out of lunch early to set up my own session that started at 3pm…so I missed the 1:30-2:45  pm autographing time and previews & reviews session for upcoming nominees in the Georgia Children’s Book Award program for 2008-2009.  I liked the idea though that over an hour of time for autographing had been built in so it didn’t require you to miss a concurrent session if you wanted to get books autographed.  While I did enjoy doing a session, I had also wanted to attend one at the same time…”From Picture Books to Google Earth:  Expanding Geographic Perspectives for K-5 Students” conducted by Dera Weaver and Amy J. Evers.  After recently discovering Google Earth myself, I really wanted to catch someone showing some basic ideas on how they are using it.  I did get to talk to Dera for a brief few minutes and exchange handouts from our individual sessions.  Hopefully some of you reading this saw sessions you will share over LM_NET or GAMEDIA.  My session was on “In a dark, dark library:  Scary stories to rattle their bones” and I primarily talked about creating a dark (lights out) environment around Halloween and my use of a blacklight with stories like “A Creepy Countdown” by Charlotte Huck, “The Bones of Fred McFee” by Eve Bunting, and primarily “The Spider & the Fly” by Mary Howitt (illus. by Tony DiTerlizzi).

The 3rd General Session of the conference and last one for the day was held at 4pm with author and illustrator, Brian Pinkney, presenting.  He was extremely entertaining and energetic…what a great way to end a long day.  Born in 1961, Brian currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children.  As most of you probably know, his parents  Jerry Pinkney and Gloria Jean Pinkney) are in the literary business too…father an illustrator and mother an author.  He has illustrated about twelve books this his wife, Andrea Davis Pinkney, has authored.  The first book Brian did with his wife was called “Alvin.”  They also did “Duke Ellington” and “Ella Fitzgerald” together.  His brother, Myles Pinkney does photos for books.  Brian is left handed and said he used to write notes backwards…but then he had to get a mirror to read them co rrectly!  He admitted (to a collective gasp) that he used to go to the library and draw on those “wonderful blank pages” at the front of the books!  His first picture book assignment was to do the pictures in “The Boy and the Ghost” by Robert San Souci.  He found out later that his father had recommended he do the pictures for the book.  He likes to do the “scratchboard” technique with his illustrations…taking a black board and scratching out the lines then painting over that.  He works late…starting about 5pm and working until 3am.  He showed a picture of his old studio that he had in his house.  His new studio out of the house so the kids would not be getting into his stuff…ha..  Brian played in a marching band when he was in school…something you might pick up on in some of his books like “Max’s Sticks” which he wrote and illustrated.  I had not seen this book before, but do plan on adding it to my collection.  Bria n said he can work for about 20 minutes before he needs a break…usually involving taking out his drumsticks and beating on something…usually the back of his padded work chair.  He does have a set of electric drums in his new studio…as well as some other “neat things” he can play with.  He also has a black belt in karate…an interest he brought out in his book “JoJo’s Flying Sidekick.”  Just like JoJo, Brian had had a scary tree near his childhood home.  In the early part of his program, Brian had shown a slide of a picture he had drawn of a teen boy doing some sort of Kung Fu stance…and as pointed out by Brian when he broke out into song with “Kung Fu Fighting” you could tell from the clothing it was done in the mid-1970s.  Brian is currently working on a book with his wife about Sojourner Truth that is due out next year.  Also working on a book using a feather to draw with.   And did I forget?  Brian got the audience inv olved near the end by having them try a drumming technique…of course we couldn’t keep up with his skill!  Ha…

The 4th General Session was held Saturday morning and the speaker was the three-time Caldecott winner, David Wiesner (Weez-nuhr).  I didn’t take as many notes…I couldn’t take my eyes of his artwork he shared on the slide screen.  David said his mother saved his artwork from his childhood.  His older brother and sister painted and they handed down their paint supplies.  When he was a kid, he would get up early in the mornings and watch Jon Gnagy TV shows to learn drawing techniques.  He would go to the public library in New Jersey to look through art books and was drawn toward the Renaissance period.  Enjoyed comic books (believe he said specifically Marvel comics) and was influenced how some told a story without using any words.  Went to the Rhode Island School of Design and was influenced by Lynd Ward’s “God’s Man” woodcut-illustrated books.  Michae l Hayes, illustrator of “Abiyoyo” by Pete Seeger was his roommate.  Graduated in 1978 and his first book illustrated was “Honest Andrew” by Gloria Skurzynski.  Also illustrated “Owly” by Mike Thaler and illustrated chapter books and covers.  In 1988, he wrote and illustrated the book “Tuesday.”  He utilized the comic book panel techniques and was done in watercolor.  He had gotten the idea for “Tuesday” after doing an assignment for “Cricket” magazine and used frogs on the cover.  He was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time…and in some scenes in the book he commented he could run down to the corner to get images to use for scenes in the book…scene with emergency vehicles at the end, etc.  He used frog models he made to help in his drawing.  He suspended the model of the frog on a cardboard lily pad using fishing string.  He could use this to look at the frog and lily pad from different angles to get an idea how to ill ustrate the book.  Also used models (pigs) to cast shadows to be more accurate.  Idea for his “Flotsam” came from a poem by Ogden Nash.  He was a fan of “Moby Dick” by Melville Dewey…as evidenced by the name of the underwater camera found in the story (It was a Melville Underwater Camera).  Thought of changing the title and went through a variety of sketches for cover and pages in the story.  Thought about changing the title to “Cheese” (like saying “cheese” when your picture is taken…).  Images of children in different time periods came from family and older children from photos found on the Internet and Googling “old class photos.”

I missed the last set of concurrent sessions standing in line to get my final books autographed by Brian Pinkney and David Wiesner. 

The 5th and final General Session was hilarious and we were thoroughly entertained by Mo Willems, author/illustrator of the 2006-2007 Georgia Children’s Picture Book Award with his book “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.”  He had originally been in the entertainment business and had had a hand in the “Sheep In A Big City” show…which he said didn’t last long.  He also did stand-up comedy for about 10 years.  He claimed he got out of it because no one liked him…but he kept us laughing.  Spent one month in England at Oxford working on books.  Wrote for “Sesame Street” too.  He said he has one rule in his illustrations…that every lead character can be drawn by a five-year-old.  Everyone in the audience had been given a pencil and piece of paper before he started.  He said he had enjoyed drawing cartoons as a child and still holds to that style …bunch of shapes put together in the right order.  He said the more fun you have drawing the better the drawing.  He then showed us how to draw the pigeon from his story (making appropriate sounds as he drew and asking us to repeat it as we copied him).  He said the faster you draw the more personality your image/cartoon has.  Someone asked him why he used photos in some of his books.  He said he hates drawing backgrounds…which is why he used real pictures with illustrations in some of his books.  He did digitally edit photos and said if he hadn’t we would have seen missing letters on store signs, etc.  Someone also asked if there would be a Knuffle Bunny #3…which he said yes…expect one in 2 to 2 1/2 years.

All in all the conference was great and the authors/illustrators not just informative, but entertaining too.  A big thank you for all those who worked so hard in putting this together!

Tony Pope

Library Media Specialist

McHenry Primary School

100 McHenry Dr.

Rome, GA  30161



Posted on March 3, 2008, in Activities, Conferences. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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