Crimes & Misdemeanors: Children’s Literature Institute at Simmons College

What better inspiration for a writer than spending three full days talking about books with book-minded people? Not only that, the fare was children’s literature: picture book, middle grade, young adult, graphic novel, fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Here are a few of my personal highlights from the Institute:

I thanked Jack Gantos for the nice response he sent to my whiny email about writer’s block. I read Jack on the Tracks last year and it renewed my faith in books and writing. And it was hilarious, as is Mr. Gantos. He also told us a story about a fantastically horrible Rotten Ralph costume that I think he should bring to the next Institute.

After being treated to a bit of Joni Mitchell by Martha Brooks (who sings in a jazz band) and wacky, murderous folk songs by JonArno Lawson, I decided that I need another talent to spice up my book talks. I chatted with JonArno about this. He suggested maracas.

Kristin Cashore did a lovely job of connecting the origins of Graceling to the Institute’s theme of Crimes & Misdemeanors, but in a way that was unexpected and more personal. Blue Balliett shared photos of the art, locations, and severely messy desks that inspired the creation of Chasing Vermeer and her more recent novels. Her talk made me want to visit a town and take notes and imagine scenes of my characters scrambling around, getting mud on their sneakers and ice cream on their shirts.

Many more authors spoke, all of them severely wonderful (Marilyn Nelson has the most beautiful reading voice, and M.T. Anderson is simply stunningly brilliant) and I can’t possibly write about all of them. There were also some sprightly discussions during breakout sessions on the topics of censorship, book reviews, and a seriously impassioned discussion about “bad boys” in literature and how they have changed (and not changed) since Byron.

If anyone reading this is interested in children’s literature, please check out the program at Simmons – or at least check back in two years about the next Institute. Part of the fun of attending is meeting librarians, teachers, authors, editors, and reviewers – everyone with a love for this literature. That said, I’ll leave you with the question that Anita Silvey poses in her new book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: what children’s book changed the way you see the world?

Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 9:06 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I can absolutely see you taking up maracas!

  2. 1st: ditto what Anna said about the maracas
    2nd: this institute sounds fun…perhaps I shall make time for it next time around.
    and finally:
    how do I pick just one book that changed me?!
    a specific author might be easier, so that is what I will do.
    I started reading Tamora Pierce in 4th(?) grade (possibly 3rd…) and I still read her to this day. I can’t remember whether I read the Circle of Magic books first, but I know I read Alanna soon after that, and I was sure that these were the kind of books I wanted to write. My first novel attempt, in 6th grade, resembled a Tamora Pierce novel thrown in a blender with some kind of Shakespearean comedy about mixed identities and this delightful old hag who lived in a cave by the sea (and of course by delightful I mean cruel, nasty, and generally a hater of all living things- but she was fun to write!). That novel will probably -HOPEFULLY- never see the light of day, but maybe someday I will write something worthy of comparison to Tamora’s Tortall quartets. I think that will be the day when I will feel like I have succeeded as a writer. Tamora Pierce’s books are what convinced me I wanted to be a novelist (although Tolkien may have had a hand in that as well), and so I guess you could say that her books changed the way I saw myself in the world.
    Alright, mini-essay over. Time to find breakfast.

    • Awesome! Thank you, Megan – you’ve just increased my current must-read list!


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