Tag Archives: events

Bemidji Book Festival 2011

You’d think that being in rural Minnesota wouldn’t bring much in the way of industry happenings, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  My Midwest visit just so happened to coincide with the Bemidji Book Festival, a 6-day marathon of events with local authors, poets and illustrators.  Kudos to the Bemidji Library and the MN Legacy Fund for making this all happen!

I stepped off the plane and immediately headed to a presentation by Catherine Friend, author of both children’s stories and the adult books, Hit By A Farm, Sheepish, and The Compassionate Carnivore.  With a humble, witty voice on her 1 1/2 memoirs and a great perspective on local farming (and sheep), she’s like a lady Michael Pollan with a personal touch.  I’m thinking it’s time to take a closer look her kids’ books, and also take up knitting!

The next morning, I accessed my inner child by attending Thursday morning’s library event with author/illustrator Lynne Jonell.  While Jonell got her start in picture books, she’s now known for her middle-grade novels, like Emmy And The Incredible Shrinking Rat.  I think the design (by Amelia May Anderson) and art (by Jonathan Bean) for Emmy is impeccable – the hand-drawn type is seamlessly integrated to the limited-color line drawings, which carry over into a flip-book style interior. Plus, it was a pleasure to listen to Lynne’s story and watch her graciously field questions from aspiring picture book authors with just the right answers (five letters: SCBWI) and some kind inspiration.

On Friday night, we headed to the high school for an author’s fair.  While most of the authors were of the niche, poetry or self-published variety, I did discover Erik Evenson, a graphic novelist/illustrator who is – get this – originally from New Hampshire!  His Gods of Asgard and autobiographical web comic, Erik’s Sketchbook Diary, were easily the best-designed finds at the fair.  Definitely check out his work if you’re interested in comics.

But nothing at the festival could top Friday’s keynote speaker, Roxana Saberi.  Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was imprisoned in Iran and falsely charged of spying in 2009, now speaks about her life, Iran, and the book she wrote about her experiences (Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity In Iran).  She talked eloquently and powerfully about the human rights movements in Iran and the Middle East, and it certainly encouraged me to get more involved.  Can’t wait to finish reading her book!

It’s been an action-packed visit here in Bemidji, and while I’m always happy to return to Brooklyn, I could still use another week or two relaxing in the country and soaking up all that Minnesota has to offer.


The Brooklyn Book Festival Re-cap

Where have I been all week? Sick sick sick. And when I’m sick I’m in no mood to blog, talk or communicate in any form – unless it’s to whine. So enjoy the post that should have been posted on Sunday!

Despite the grey and rainy weather, I had a wonderful time at the Brooklyn Book Festival!  I must have been super-distracted in September over these past few years, because who knew there was such a fantastic annual event celebrating books and NYC culture – just down the Fulton St. Mall?

I didn’t drag out of bed early enough (surprise surprise) to make the Jon Scieszka, E. Lockhart and Matt Barnett presentation, but I did manage to get myself to the Youth Stoop by the end of the improv-style Illustrator Draw-off! (with Mike Cavallero, Shane Evans and Vanessa Brantley Newton).  I spent some time wandering the maze of bookseller tents, and bumping into familiar faces such as my pals at Star Bright Books, professor Pat Cummings and Putnam author/illustrator Michael Rex.

Overwhelmed by the dozens of panels available at any given hour, I stuck pretty close to the Youth Stoop, and caught two really excellent presentations.  The first, Where Concrete Dreams Are Made, featured authors Laura Toffler-Corrie, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Newbery Award winner Rebecca Stead, whose middle-grade characters all discover adventures growing up in NYC.

As a new resident of Park Slope (and halfway-through the novel Prospect Park West), it seems like the issue of raising children in the city is a hot topic. I’m always surprised that nearly all my Brooklyn-loving compadres would easily move in favor of a big yard in Westchester or Fairfield. Yes, it makes me nervous to raise children in a city where there is less control over their independence, very different from where I was raised. But I find the “Little Boxes“-style suburban life to be bleak and depressing, and the country, while beautiful, to be isolated. I don’t know where life is going to take me, but raising my future kids with the diversity and opportunity of NYC seems like the best of all scenarios.

So, it was encouraging that these three authors and longtime New York residents, had such a positive outlook on childhood in the city.  When asked if there was a loss of innocence in urban kids, all adamantly agreed that’s an outdated stereotype. The protectiveness of parents in NYC, combined with the national media, mean that kids today are seeing the same images and can get into just as much trouble in a small town as in a big city (truth!).  When raised with the right values, New York kids are asked to confront real issues and develop a better sense of personal identity – in a good way. I totally agree!

The second panel we saw, Happily Ever After?, brought the discussion to a YA level with authors Jenny Han, Sara Shepherd and Lauren Oliver.  All of their books (Pretty Little Liars included, by the way) deal with the drama and growing pains of teenage girl-hood. So, with a panel full of adult authors who spend their days reflecting on adolescence, it begged to ask the classic question: are people always doomed to play the part they were in high school?

Again, the panel felt the same way I did: not… really. It is true that some people never grow up from the petty social behavior that plagues every high school (case in point: Bachelor Pad). But I think life allows too many opportunities to change your stripes if you want to. In high school, I was cast as a “good girl” and flew under the radar (looking back, I have no problem with this!). But even though I felt like I stayed the same person, I was perceived differently in college… and I played a much more public role. Maybe it was a change in confidence, or maybe just a change of scenery… but I certainly haven’t been my high school stereotype since the day I left Concord.  Hopefully, that’s how it is for most people!

Anyway, by 3 PM, I’d had enough reliving my childhood and standing in the rain… it was time to go home and curl up with a good book!  Until next year, when I will actually plan to go to these things…

What’s Hot… And What’s Not: Current Trends In Children’s Book Publishing

Last night after work, I remembered to head to midtown for the latest panel put on by the Children’s Book Group of the Author’s Guild – and I wasn’t disappointed.  Author and chair Rachel Vail moderated to a packed crowd at the Scandinavia House on 38th St, to discuss “What’s Hot And What’s Not: Current Trends In Children’s Book Publishing”.  Aka . . . vampires.  

Authors and enthusiasts of all ages came to hear Kim Brown, VP of Merchandise, Barnes and Noble; Lisa Desimini, author/illustrator; David Levithan, author of Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Exec. Editorial Director at Scholastic; and Marcia Wernick, literary agent at Sheldon Fogelman.  With these bigwigs speaking, it’s not surprising that I picked up a LOT of good info.  Here’s what they had to say . . . 

Kim Brown got things rolling with a quick run-down of, literally, what is selling (and she’s buying!).  If it’s pink, purple, and sparkly – it’s selling.  If it’s dark, purple, and is a vampire book – it’s selling.  In a nutshell.

Lisa Desimini gave a refreshing, and to me, the most relatable, perspective.  She encouraged her fellow authors to not simply jump on every trend that is selling at the moment because, by the time you try to ride the wave, it’ll be over.  Instead, follow your heart and your taste, and just be open to new challenges (like her bestseller, Dog The Fire Dog).   But, speaking of vampires, she does the covers for the True Blood series.  

Next, lone male David Levithan took the publisher’s point-of-view, and spoke about where new media is going to take the industry.  Essentially, he was encouraging, because even though we are on the brink of major change (like the music industry, circa 2000), technology is not going to replace books – it’s going to give more options to the way that we read, write and learn.  And picture books aren’t going anywhere.  Phew.  

Marcia Wernick wrapped it up with the agent, aka. the middleman’s, story. She said that, regardless of trends, great content, powerful characters, and that magic “hook” will always start the next wave.  

Opening the floor for questions, the conversation turned to the NEXT wave – after vampires – the distopia.  I’ve heard of the book, Hunger Games, that represents that next fad for YA, and I think I better pick it up.  Because, as YA dominates, it crosses over with the trends of adult literature.  Example – 40 year old stockbrokers reading Twilight on the subway.  

Other tidbits of useful information for aspiring authors/illustrators:

1.  GET AN AGENT.  It’s a bunny-eat-bunny world out there.

2.  Make sure you know what rights you are giving away, because the contracts signed today will be the ones in the spotlight when major changes happen in the industry.

3.  Sales figures and awards don’t correlate – so don’t stress about winning Caldecotts any time soon. 

4.  Librarians are Twittering!!   And so is Mo Willem’s pigeon.  And after this talk, so will a lot of little old lady writers.  

5.  Teens rule.  


Prattsters to Watch Out For!


photo by Janelle Fike

photo by Janelle Fike

Last night I had a catered and business card-filled evening working the Pratt Show, an annual event to showcase design grads coming out of Pratt this week!   Despite the customary “who got in?” drama, I was really impressed with the final presentation of Communications Design (COMD) picks.  


For children’s book illustration, the grads to watch out for are: 

Chelsea Greene Lewyta, whose linear+watercolor style looks like it jumped off the cover of an old Harper’s – gone wrong.  Love the macabre themes that she explores against the traditional look – reminds me of Trina Shart Hyman’s Little Red Riding Hood.

I thought the most marketable and fun children’s book illustrator was Patricia Raubo.  Her characters were expressive and entertaining… so I look forward to seeing them in the pages of a book soon!  

Also to check out are design superstars Alex Szymczak, Suraj Gandhi and Janelle Fike, whose Define Yourself project I had the honor of helping out on (see above), and am completely obsessed with!  

For more info and people in the Pratt Show, check out my work blog, Pratt Success.