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WWU Children’s Literature Conference 2013


I’ve mentioned my intense jealousy of big cities like Chicago and New York, with their endless parade of children’s lit folk. Oh, sure, we’ll have an event with Rebecca Stead and RJ Palacio. Hey, come to our panel on middle grade lit. Come see _____ on their big city book tour! Argh!

I live a long way from New York City. Or Chicago. Or LA, or whatever. I live in Bellingham, WA. Which means I live about 90 miles north of Seattle, and 50 miles south of Vancouver, BC. I already feel neglected in the Pacific Northwest, our wet, green, little corner of the country. Our big little town is kind of off the path for the kidlit author circuit.

However, once a year, we get to be on the map.

Ten years ago, one year after I graduated from Western Washington University with a teaching degree, my pseudo-mentor and English-Elementary Ed advisor, Nancy Johnson, started a dream. In 2003, WWU hosted a handful of children’s authors and illustrators for its first Children’s Literature Conference. I don’t think I went to that one. But that’s when it started. A children’s literature event, in our little corner of the country.

I think I’ve been to the conference six times. I’ve seen Brian Selznick, David Weisner, Lois Lowry, Christopher Paul Curtis, Candace Fleming, Gary Schmidt, and many more. I don’t think I’ll ever miss it again, unless some sort of emergency comes up.

Last year, I was honored to be asked to introduce Patrick Carman. My Guys Read club made a video. It was amazing. Maybe that was the beginning of very good things in my life with children’s literature.

As you probably know, I’ve had quite the life-changing year. Kidlit has gone from a strong interest to a life passion. Thanks to Twitter. Thanks to #nerdybookclub. This year’s conference, therefore, had me positively giddy.

The WWUCLC has a pleasant habit of nailing award winners. Brian Selznick came a month after winning the Caldecott for Hugo Cabret. This year was no exception. Along with Michael Grant, Brian Pinkney, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, we’d have Newbery-winner Katherine Applegate in the house.

Gah! #nerdybookclub overload!

The conference was wonderful. I got to see Nancy, who had been absent for two years as she taught in Singapore. I saw librarian and teacher friends. I sat in the front row. With Kirby Larson (former conference presenter).

I am always revived by hearing passionate authors and illustrators talk about their work. February is a gray, wet, challenging month. My students are usually starting to be more middle school-y than elementary-y. It is my least favorite time of year. But there is always WWUCLC, shining on the horizon.

All of the presentations were excellent. Brian Pinkney was engaging and fascinating. Susan Campbell Bartoletti was funny and focused while describing her research and writing about morbid, depressing aspects of our history. And Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant killed me with their very grown-up presentation, particularly a hilarious, witty, mildly and entertainingly offensive “bio-pic.” Really, Katherine Applegate could host Saturday Night Live. She would be so good.

And we ended, as always, with cookies.

I got my classroom copy of The One and Only Ivan signed, and then sort of hung about, savoring my time at the Northwest’s premiere kidlit event. And then Nancy dropped a bomb on me.

She asked me to be a part of it. As in, “Will you join us on the advisory board?” What? What!

Is was stunned and honored. I looked around and saw three advisory board librarian friends huddled together sort of whispering, “Well? Well?!”

I said yes. Then we all had a group hug.

I attended my first advisory board meeting last week. We discussed our announced presenters, Steve Sheinkin, Jennifer Holm, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. We threw out names for another potential illustrator presenter. We could just say whoever we wanted! Ahhh! The names being bandied about!

I know we’re stuck way up in a far corner of the world, but I hope you’ll join us someday, as we celebrate stories and the people who make them. Maybe it will be next year, March 1, 2014. Maybe the year after. Someday. You’ll have a great time, I promise.



  1. Kirby Larson says:

    You will be a PERFECT addition to the team, Adam!!! Can’t wait for next year.

  2. Great piece Mr. S
    I caught that little Long way from Chicago line. well done and good luck on the advisory board.

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