Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conference Notes: "Our Greatest Children's Books," part 4

A continuation of the opening speech on Saturday at the SCBWI-C conference by Anita Shipley on the stories behind some of the greatest children stories of America.

Here are some more of the highlights from the speech. Click for parts 1 and 2 and 3.
  • Where the Wild Things Are was originally a book about wild horses, but Sendack couldn't draw horses, so he drew wild things. His inspiration was his family: his aunts and uncles would pinch his cheeks and says "you're so good, we could eat you up". Side note: This was the first American picture book that made the Europeans sit up and notice America—and begin to take American children's literature seriously.
  • A Week With Willi Worm was never published—the editor didn't like worms. However, the editor did like caterpillars...and so The Very Hungry Caterpillar was made. It now sells 1 copy somewhere in the world every 7 minutes.
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was written about the author's son, Alexander. The author had been a poet since the age of 4, when she wrote an ode to her dead parents...which wasn't approved of by her very much still alive parents.
  • When an illustrator presented a book about a gargoyle beauty pageant to an editor, the editor said he didn't like the story, but the gargoyles were wonderfully drawn. So the illustrator developed a series of books on architecture, starting with Cathedral. This author/illustrator brought nonfiction to the forefront by adding interesting pictures and kid-friendly information.
  • Bridge to Terebithia was written by the author for her son, who had just experienced a similar loss.
  • The Westing Game is a book that we can really see the writing process by the author. It is the only children's classic with drafts available online through the University of Wisconsin. We do not, however, have many editorial comments. The author was the editor's hairdresser, and they discussed the book while doing hair.
  • For Hatchet, Gary Paulson went into the wilderness. Anything written about Brian in the book is something Paulson did himself: including eating raw turtle eggs.
  • Lois Lowry wrote The Giver after having already established a good career as a writer—she already had 35 books published. Although her editor said that it would hurt her career, Lowry insisted that The Giver be published. The editor basically said, "If this is a book you have to write, this is a book we have to publish." The editor always thought that Jonas died at the end, but Lowry never did; the thought never even occurred to her as a possibility.
  • Lily's Purple Plastic Purse was written by a 19 year old author, Kevin Henkes, who made a list of his favorite publishers and went down that list presenting his book to editors until he had a publisher.
  • Karen Hesse always used photographs of people who reminded her of her characters as she wrote her books. She never told anyone this—it's just part of her writing process to have these photographs. The editor of Out of the Dust decided to put a photograph (instead of art) on the cover, and chose the exact same photograph that Hesse had used to write the main character.
  • Shipley called Karen diCamillo "a classic author in the making." Di Camillo's writing was rejected over 4,000 times before anything was accepted. Because of Winn-Dixie sat on an editor's desk for two years before an editorial assistant picked it up, loved it, and helped publish it.

That was basically Anita Shipley's speech...an hour speech spread out over four days! I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have...it was an amazing, inspiring speech that really made me consider how much of a business writing is, and how important it is for an author to believe in her work outside of business.

To conclude this massive, four part series, I'd like to leave you with the image Shipley left with me: She showed us a picture of a copy of The Secret Garden that has been passed down her family for generations. When she touches the book, she says, she feels the women of her family with her. "That is the power of a classic book."
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