A Love-Letter to Children’s Books

Saturday’s Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference was a love letter to children’s books. Attended by over 600 librarians, educators, and writers, it featured four amazing talents: Kate DiCamillo, Matt de la Pena, Yuyi Morales, and Joyce Sidman.

Next year’s Children’s Literature Conference will feature Cynthia Lord, Gene Luen Yang, Peter Brown, and Melissa Sweet. If you get a chance to head to Bellingham, Washington next February, I’m guessing it will be just as great as this year’s conference!

For those of you who weren’t able to be there this year, here are some highlights. I hope you find them as inspiring as I did!

Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman

My eight-year-old daughter’s new-favorite book of poems.

One of the nicest things about this conference was finding a new author to add to my list of favorite. Joyce Sidman, a talented and award-winning children’s poet, is now on my list. Her poems feature natural rhythms and biological facts with a sense of wonder and mystery that is really compelling.

She spoke about how she comes up with her ideas and said most of them came from what she called “dawdling” out in nature: looking, hearing, smelling, feeling. That rich sensory imagery runs throughout her lovely poems.

I write for the person inside me who wonders about the world. –Joyce Sidman

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Picturebook author/illustrator Yuyi Morales exudes infectious energy as she speaks. That vibrancy is reflected in her fanciful drawings, which often recall the folklore, culture, and history of her birthplace in Mexico.

When we start sharing stories, we realize how interconnected we are. –Yuyi Morales

The Hunted by Matt de la Pena.

Matt de la Pena’s new book, The Hunted, comes out in May.

I’m from Indiana, so I consider myself honor-bound to know about anyone who writes basketball stories for children. But even knowing his books didn’t prepare me for Matt de la Pena’s dynamic talk. He emphasized the importance of humility in reaching reluctant readers, and pointed out that self-definition is often even more limiting than the labels that are applied by others to children in today’s world. The talk was a good reminder not just to write for the eager reader, but to write for the child that has not yet discovered a love of books.

Books become a secret place to feel. –Matt de la Pena

2014 Newbery Medal-winner Flora & Ulysses

2014 Newbery Medal-winner Flora & Ulysses

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that Kate DiCamillo drew me to this conference. Her beautiful, heart-wrenching stories inspire me every single time I pick one up. So it’s no surprise that she was kind, humble, a little shy, very funny, and all around magnificent in person. Getting to thank her for writing the glorious Flora & Ulysses was a bucket-list item for me.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the conference:

It’s a privilege to have anything to do with books. –Kate DiCamillo


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Julie Artz
JULIE ARTZ spent her childhood sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now that she's older, people think that’s creepy, so she writes middle grade instead. Her stories for children feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to contributing to The Mixed Up Files, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, writes about local Washington history for Gatherings, contributes regularly to The Winged Pen, and is co-RA of SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit.
  1. Nice post Julie! Maybe next year I can join you there.

  2. My wife was there. She bought three books and the one I have read is Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor & other poems of the night.