Reflections From The SCBWI Conference



I’ve just returned from the annual Society of Children’s Book & Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles. Here are four quick reflections on what I carried away from the meetings and encounters there.




What an amazing opportunity to hear and see how creative minds like Don Tate and Drew Daywalt and Jon Klassen work. I thank them for sharing their journeys, their insights, and their struggles through the completion of a project. Thanks too for reminding me to follow my heart—to listen to that inner voice that makes my story, my creation unique and relevant in this ever-changing world. They helped reaffirm that we SCBWI members–our words, pictures, story may be just the one needed by a young struggling mind, searching for answers, for hope, for laughter, for light. They reminded me to believe that I [we] can make a difference in one child’s life.




The conference was overflowing with storytime celebrities around every corner. When I spied Richard Peck at lunch and met Bruce Coville and Arthur Levine at a small group gathering, I was awed. To hear my heroes Pam Munoz Ryan or Linda Sue Park speak is humbling and amazing. I heard agents and editors, writers and illustrators—each helpful and inspiring, all come to life! I felt sometimes as if I’d gone down the Rabbit Hole and might meet Alice on my next elevator ride.




I was reminded by these celebrity book gurus that being creative is scary—over and over again with each new attempt. It would be so much easier to hide away in a safe place rather than expose myself to rejection time after time. That staying strong requires the hide of an elephant—and by the way, I felt an elephant’s hide once with hairs like a bristle brush. And even though every breath an author or artist breathes says “Like me—like my creations, please!” that we must be prepared to hear “No! No! No!” over and over again. The super important point to remember is that the refusals do NOT mean the end—unless we let them. We MUST NOT let them!!!




What an amazing place the SCBWI Conference is! And I’m not just talking about the over-the-top Hollywood art deco glam of the Biltmore where this year’s conference was held. I was able to hang out with pals old and new. To forge friendships while discussing plot and characterization and the word puzzle challenge of picture books. To share critique horror stories over a glass wine and jubilation at lunch for a friend’s starred Kirkus review news. To hug and to laugh and to sigh. To relish shared passions and dreams and struggles. To know that we all are part of a special tribe who place the importance of children’s literacy paramount in our lives. We are SCBWI!


Monstrous Fun

On Friday night I had the privilege to attend the Premier Event at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters, featuring R.L. Stine and Marc Brown. R.L. Stine is famous for his spooky adventure series GOOSEBUMPS. While author and artist Marc Brown is equally well known for his ARTHUR ADVENTURE books and delightful PBS television series ARTHUR.


Leave it up to these two amazing literary sensations to combine talents and produce a frightfully fun picture book for young readers, THE LITTLE SHOP OF MONSTERS. The two friends explained the beginning of their teamwork. “We should do a book together,” Marc Brown said he had suggested a few years ago. R.L. Stine countered that comment with, “I think Marc had this inner monster waiting to get out.”

Picture Book Writing Isn’t Easy

R.L. Stine told the large audience that writing a picture book was hard work. He wrote and rewrote it—six times. Then he sent a text copy to his friend and Marc proceeded to draw right on the text! Here is a picture of one of the preliminary illustrations.


Mr. Stine said that he enjoys writing “scary and funny” stories. He’s excited about the upcoming Goosebumps movie (October 16) starring Jack Black as R.L. Stine himself.



Big Ideas

Mr. Brown described a turning point in his youth when he read his kid sister’s book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, and realized just how powerful pictures could be in helping tell a story. Back then, he was “a little kid with big ideas.” Those ideas eventually included creating the Arthur characters based on children and adults from his real life. His latest book is MONKEY NOT READY FOR KINDERGARTEN



The authors’ parting words for the evening were, “Life is short. Read great books!”BookPlate1

An Evening with Author/Illustrator DAV PILKEY


How does an evening with children’s author Dav Pilkey begin? (well,after waiting in a looooong line wrapping all the way around Headquarters library…)

Waiting for Captain Underpants

Waiting for Captain Underpants

With, of course, a loud “Tra-la-laaaa!” yelled in unison by all the kids (and many of the parents) in the audience. It’s Captain Underpants’ typical call to action.

I had the fun opportunity to be part of this attentive and rambunctious crowd last night at the St. Louis County Library’s Author Event, celebrating the release of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE SENSATIONAL SAGA OF SIR STINKS-A-LOT. (# 12 in the series)

Screen Saver for Captain Underpants

Screen Saver for Captain Underpants



Dav Pilkey, who will have 60 books to his credit with 2016’s THE ADVENTURES OF DOG MAN, has revolutionized reading for boys especially. USA Today called him the “savior of the reluctant reader.” His short, graphic chapter books with their silliness, fast pace, and bathroom humor are a perfect fit for young readers. The kid-friendly author creates his tales based on his own elementary school experiences.

The Adventures of Dog Man

The Adventures of Dog Man

As a child who suffered from ADHD and dyslexia, he understood the power of pictures to tell a story. Even though he often found himself doing hallway detention for drawing in class, he couldn’t resist making more clever comics—to the delight of his fellow students and the dismay of his teachers.

“Underwear is not funny!” said Mr. Pilkey’s second grade teacher. “Grow up!” she cautioned him. “You can’t spend the rest of your life making silly books!”

Drawing favorite characters

Drawing favorite characters

Oh, how little she knew, and how very far Mr. Pilkey has enriched young readers with the delights of his underwear crew.

Some of his other titles include:

The Ricky Ricotta Series 

Dog Breath

Paper Boy

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk

Super Diaper Baby



Nowadays, the author prefers drawing in more natural spots, like along the beach in Japan when visiting his wife’s family. But even there, he still suffers criticism—from some monkeys that is. Mr. Pilkey shared a video of himself at work sketching, while several monkeys attempted to confiscate his pens and offer vocal commentary on his work-in-progress.

Dav Pilkey Attempts to Draw Despite Monkey Antics

Dav Pilkey Attempts to Draw Despite Monkey Antics




At the end of his presentation last night, Mr. Pilkey made a point about perseverance. He showed a picture of a scowling egg and a happy potato in boiling water. “Don’t let adversities overcome you,” he said. “Rather use them to build on. In boiling water, a potato softens but an egg becomes hard.”



Many young readers in the crowd wore red capes, similar to Captain Underpants. On back of the capes was the message, “Reading is Power!” Thanks, Mr. Pilkey, for enhancing children’s literature with your comic characters and delightful illustrations and proving that strong reading muscles really do rock!