SCBWI Winter Conference: A Weekend with the Tribe

I still remember the first time I heard about SCBWI. “It stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators,” my friend told me, “and you need to join.”  I did. And when I went to my very first SCBWI event – the regional conference in New England – I understood why. The writers I met at that conference seven years ago are among my best friends now. They critique my manuscripts, share struggles, cheer successes, and keep me going. It is a magical thing to walk into a hotel conference center and realize, all at once, “These are my people!”

So when I was invited to give a keynote talk at this year’s SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, I jumped at the opportunity.

I made it into the city a day early and spent some time researching an upcoming book here…

Hint: I was upstairs in the Museum of Natural History’s invertebrate zoology department most of the day. Think bugs!

I also had a chance to see the children’s book exhibit at the New York Public Library, which was an amazing tribute to the history of our work.

There were so many books, original art, and manuscripts to ogle, but I think my favorite part of the exhibit might have been this small display of library cards – reminding us how libraries (and the books inside them) create great thinkers.

Here’s Carl Sagan’s card…

Thursday evening, it was off to the Grand Hyatt, where the giant head statues in the lobby were decked out for their children’s book celebration.

On Friday, I gave a talk and facilitated a roundtable discussion at the Plot Intensive, which was such a fantastic experience. The participants at my table were all such great people as well as writers, and they not only shared their own work but supported one another beautifully. I’m fully expecting to see their novels in bookstores & libraries before too long.

Here’s SCBWI’s Lin Oliver welcoming the tribe for the full conference Saturday morning.

Sunday morning was my talk on “The Spectacular Power of Failure,” and it was an absolute gift to speak to this incredible group of writers and illustrators.


Photo courtesy of Nancy Castaldo

 I learned that sometimes, illustrators draw pictures of you while you are talking.

(Thanks to Dana James Sullivan for sharing this great keynote doodle!)

During the autographing session, some people asked me about the books & poems I’d talked about in the keynote. “What Happened to Your Book Today” is here, just in case you need a reminder of why we write and illustrate for kids. And here are links to some of the books  and website I mentioned:

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

One Star Review Guess Who at 100 Scope Notes

Wake Up Missing

Over and Under the Snow

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Marty McGuire

Capture the Flag

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Monster Road by David Lubar

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

Laurel Snyder’s blog post about Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (and the very best way to go out of print)

Regina Dugan’s TED Talk (She was the “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” speaker.)

My 2012 TED Talk (This is a TED blog summary – the video hasn’t been shared online yet.)

TED-Ed Lesson based on my TED talk on world building, “How to Build a Fictional World”

My son’s project-blog (This is not about the project that caught on fire….it’s about his weather balloon that got stuck in a tree in MA. Another “malfunction” with a happy ending.)

Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win

Here’s my blog post from the Friday plot intensive and a link where you can download those handouts.

And of course…our anthem. With lyrics, so you can sing along when you finish your work today. 🙂

One last note…I was actually working on this blog post at the airport, waiting for my flight home. Just before it was time to board, a stranger stepped up to my seat and said, “I made this for you.”  It was a thank you card (she’d been at the conference) with this on the cover:


(Thank you so much, Meagan Moore! You made my whole night.)

I want to say a HUGE thank you to the staff and volunteers who made this conference happen and invited me to be a part of it this year. It was truly a magical weekend – one that reminded me how very lucky I am to be part of this incredible community of writers and artists.

#NY14SCBWI Plot Intensive Handouts

I’m speaking at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City this weekend, participating in a Plot Intensive workshop today & then giving a keynote on Sunday morning. It’s already been a magical trip. This morning’s sessions at the Plot Intensive were great. Here’s editor/author Jill Santopolo reading a picture book as an example of plot structure.

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One of the handouts I’d created for my presentation, “Inventing the Tools We Need,” didn’t make it into the packet for attendees, so I wanted to share it as a download here, along with the original handout. Just click to download & they’ll open in MS Word!

Kate’s Plot Intensive Handout

Kate’s Big-Picture Story Chart

Arctic Visitor

If you have any interest in birds…or Harry Potter and Hedwig…or just unexpected beauty, you’ve probably heard about the irruption of snowy owls in areas south of their usual Arctic habitat this winter.  I’ve been hoping to see one, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been haunting bird watching websites, paying attention to reported sightings, and dragging my family out on owl-searching drives (all of which turned out to be wild goose chases.)

Today, I had plans to meet my friend Linda for lunch in Vermont and decided to take the long way home so I could drive through Addison, where a number of snowy owls had been spotted this week. I knew it was a long shot. If you’ve read Jane Yolen’s OWL MOON, you know all too well that sometimes there’s an owl, and sometimes there isn’t. But I was hoping…and then I spotted something that made my heart jump.

A snowy owl – a female, based on what I’ve read from experienced bird watchers who’ve spotted her -was perched in a tree just off the road.  I watched her for about half an hour. She was mostly still but obviously hunting. Twice, she flew from the tree over the fields. Once, she plunged into some weeds but came up empty and returned to her spot.

She was stunning. And I’m so glad I took the long way home.

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

All eyes may be on Sochi for the Winter Olympics this week, but next month, the great race happens in Alaska when the Iditerod begins. Kids are fascinated by this race – from its historic roots in Balto’s story to the modern tales of dogsled teams, and there’s a great new book out today that captures all the excitement of being a musher.

While not an Iditerod tale per se, Terry Lynn Johnson’s ICE DOGS is the story of 14-year-old Victoria Secord, a dog sledder who loses her way in the Alaska wilderness and must survive the elements, along with a mysterious boy who turns up in the woods.  ICE DOGS is a serious page turner, one of those perfect hot-chocolate-by-the-fireplace reads. It’s a book for dog lovers, to be sure, but also a riveting  survival story, perfect for middle school and high school readers who love Gary Paulsen and are ready for something a little older.  Pair it with Paulsen’s memoir for adult and older YA readers, WINTERDANCE: THE FINE MADNESS OF RUNNING THE IDITEROD, in high school classrooms and literature circles for some great discussions.