Author and SCBWI member Lynn Becker reports on this year’s Writers & Illustrator’s Day.
This year, the Los Angeles Writers & Illustrators Day at the Skirball Cultural Center added a strong illustrator component to the mix. Along with a double dose of illustrator challenges and paid portfolio reviews, there were two breakout sessions specifically geared toward illuminating the intersection of picture book art and text. These presentations offered a chance for writers and illustrators alike to think about picture books as intertwined parts of a medium.
The day started with a keynote speech by Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books, addressing nearly a dozen children’s book taboos and how to break them. Among others, she discussed rhyme, fairy tale retellings, and using inanimate objects as main characters. Not only did she lay out the problems these tend to pose, but she also showed examples where they were tackled successfully. Death and violence, for instance, got age-appropriate treatment in Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat.
Author and story coach Lisa Cron’s keynote speech, while geared toward novelists, was a fascinating look into the power of story. She also shared her unique ideas for adding emotional heft to our narratives, which relates nicely to picture books, as well.
Lunch provided an opportunity to enjoy the art contest entries and to vote for a People’s Choice award for each of the challenges. The high skill level was impressive and the wide variety of styles was fun to see.
After lunch, I attended my first breakout session, which was with Manlove. She gave a terrific talk on voice in the text and art of picture books. She advised creators to leave clues “like a terrible criminal” for young readers to think about. Using tools like word choice, sentence structure, and pacing in the text, along with composition, style, and palette in the art, picture book creators can point readers towards the emotional undercurrent of the story. She showed, through specific examples, how illustrations can steer readers into understanding what’s important in the book.
In my next breakout session, Clelia Gore, an agent at Martin Literary Management, described the picture book as a collaboration between two artists, the author and the illustrator. Each brings his or her own unique vision. The author provides a text that inspires her, and the illustrator’s job is to expand that text into a fully-realized world. She provided art to support her ideas. She stressed the importance of writers relinquishing control to their illustrators to create the very best book possible.
While most Writers Days focus on —yes—writing, I truly appreciated the inclusion of material geared to illustrators, and writer/illustrators. Learning more specifically about the way that art needs to complement text will be of great help going forward. I, for one, learned a tremendous amount this day.
Photos by Lynn Becker.
Lynn Becker is a board member for the SCBWI Central/Coastal California region, for which she runs a monthly online Book Talk. She contributes children’s book reviews to Shelf Awareness Pro and Shelf Awareness for Readers. Lynn has an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, and has worked in animation for both film and television. You can view her Book Talk picks and recommendations, along with some of her reviews at lynnbeckerbooks.blogspot.com.