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.

16 Replies on “SCBWI Winter Conference: A Weekend with the Tribe

  1. Kate,
    As always, your passion and energy pop out from this beautifully flowing blogpost. Congratulations on your success and your willingness to share your journey as a writer.

  2. I loved your speach! Would u be able yo share it? Even though it was about failure, it was a huge success!

  3. Thanks so much for such an honest, enthusiastic and inspiring keynote yesterday – definitely nowhere near a failure, so the incline of your post-speech learning curve should be pretty flat.
    When I turned on the radio this morning I caught a completely apropos interview on WHYY Philadelphia’s Radio Times, with Megan McCardle, author of UPSIDE OF DOWN: WHY FAILING WELL IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS.
    You may have read more about failure than you ever wanted to (though I hope you’re not done talking about it – because you do such a great job!) – but if not, the show is worth a listen. (
    One thing McCardle said that grabbed me: failure “is supposed to feel bad, or you wouldn’t stop doing what you’re doing” that isn’t working. A little brutal – in a Darwinian way – but true. She also recounts the story of a contest that asks teams to use spaghetti noodles and tape to build a structure to support an egg, in which kindergarteners fare especially well – very much in sync with your observations about kids’ attitudes towards failure.
    In any case, many many thanks!

  4. This was my first SCBWI conference and your speech really hit home for me. I have been thinking a lot lately about how to kick away my fears as a writer and let failure happen. Hearing your perspective was like turning on another light in my head. Thank you for such an inspirational talk.

  5. Loved your keynote, loved the links, loved connecting. Am saving the video sing-along for when I finish my writing today! (finishing up this pot before making the next!)

  6. Dear Kate,
    As I am singing Aretha Franklin’s Respect for just finishing my 2nd day of writing after a long writer’s slump. I am celebrating the small successes and not raising the bar higher just yet. Thank you so much for reminding me that failure is not really failure but a chance to learn and grow. After completing an online writing course I felt discouraged by the critiques I received and stopped writing altogether. After hearing your speech, I have taken the critiques as a learning experience and I am moving forward. I didn’t realized it until after you spoke, but you were the reason I went to the NY conference. Thank you so much. I have recommended you to all my principal friends. Children could learn so much from your inspirational talk which was definitely not an epic fail but a shining success.

  7. Kate,
    This was my first conference and you made it an incredible experience. Thank you for your words of wisdom and for all your incredible books.