picture books

A House of Makers and Readers

Today was my third amazing day, and final day, at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference for 2016. The conference continues through Friday, but my time there is done due to family commitments. As always, I leave buoyed by the spirit of the authors/illustrators, as well as the contagious enthusiasm of the librarians and teachers who attend, and the deep love and commitment of the Mazza staff and volunteers. As I said in an earlier post, this is the place to be if you love picture books.

Today, attendees heard from three keynote speakers–Steve Light, Lita Judge, and Elly MacKay. Only one had I met before. I was familiar with the work of two. All three made me feel so privileged to hear their personal stories and catch a glimpse of their creative processes. But the one thing that I took away from all of them was the knowledge that each of them were “overcomers.”

Two admitted to struggling with dyslexia. One was that odd ball kid who becomes the target of bullies.

But despite these challenges, none of the three gave up. All had people in their lives who believed in them and one even had the option to hide out in the library if the need arose. (Honestly, I still have days where I need to hide out among the stacks. How about you?)

They each spoke passionately about playing with words and their art materials, about trying new things, about keeping collections of what they love. Though their backgrounds were wildly different, each of them knew the value of time alone, time in nature, and of being close observers of their worlds.

And the thing I guess I love about all of them is that they are still kids at heart and they carry the children they were within.

Here’s some of the wisdom nuggets they shared:

“I live in my sketchbook.”–Steve Light

“You need to be an observer to be an artist or a writer.”–Lita Judge

“If I show up for it, it will show up for me.”–Lita Judge

“There are advantages to living where no one else wants to live.”–Elly MacKay

“I grew up in a house of makers and readers.”–Elly MacKay        

Here’s to all the makers and readers, the painters and dreamers, the kids hiding sketch books and pencils in their baseball mitts, and those of us who know the safety and delicious solitude of rooms full of books.

And… here’s looking forward to the Mazza Fall Conference, November 2016!

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Smoke Alarm Epiphanies and Other Lessons from Mazza

Day One at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference was a grand success. Each year those Mazza magicians create a masterpiece on a corner of the stage featuring books and gizmos meant to introduce the authors and illustrators who will present. I think this year’s display is one of my favorites.





Chris Barton charmed the crowd with pictures and stories from his childhood, as well as reminding everyone that inspiration is everywhere…including the story of How Daddy Installed the Smoke Alarm…a simple story from real life that Chris’s toddler begged him to tell over and over and over. This inspired him to begin writing stories down for all children, and adults, to enjoy. 








Rosemary Wells told us true. Practice, she insisted is the key for writers and illustrators and anyone who wants to be good at what they do. Just as a pianist runs scales every morning, the writer must warm up with words, the artist must paint or draw or cut. Always be curious and learning. Write for your reader. Draw for your reader. Copy shamelessly! That’s how you learn. Work without ego entirely. She exhibited this trait brilliantly by taking time to talk to each person. Lucky me!









Barney Saltzberg helped us laugh and sing and remember that even an Oops can be Beautiful.








Hint of the Day: The artist is only the scribe, the vehicle. It comes from somewhere else.–Rosemary Wells

You never know what will start with only one–Chris Barton

There are no mistakes–Barney Saltzberg

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On the Road to Mazza Museum

Wow! What a busy summer.

So far a wonderful writing retreat in Maine with good friends, a visit to Candlewick Press

with fab friend and author, Michelle Houts, and now I’m on my way to the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio for the Mazza Summer Conference. If you love children’s picture books this is the place to be. Stay tuned for updates from the field.

Hint of the Day: Though your writing desk may get lonely, you don’t have to. Take advantage of the many conferences and book festivals available. Find your people!  (Especially if they make you laugh…)


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Snow Day Picture-Booking

IMG_3322 Because it is doing this today, school is closed, and I am busy at the Little Red Writing Desk. IMG_3320


I’m dressed for adventure in my Agent Carter t-shirt, IMG_3318IMG_3319                                                                                 and patched from an earlier mishap in a Scooby Doo bandage. (Why I still have Scooby Doo bandages in the house, is a mystery…)

I’m picture-booking, studying Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson. It just won the Newbery (yes, a picture book!) and a boatload of other awards, so it might be worth my time to figure out why it is so special. And it is. Then, with any luck and a lot of hard work, I can apply what I learn to my own projects.

Hint of the day: Use an old desk calendar page to see a whole picture book at once. Fold the page until you have 32 boxes in which to write the text and mark where illustrations go. IMG_3321

What are you working on today?

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