BELLINGHAM - This year's Children's Literature Conference at Western Washington University not only features several acclaimed writers and illustrators, it also marks the return of WWU professor Nancy J. Johnson, brainchild of the annual event that brings together some of the genre's top names.
One of this year's featured speakers is Katherine Applegate, who won the 2013 Newbery Medal for "The One and Only Ivan," about the gorilla that was kept for years at a Tacoma mall. She also is the author of "Home of the Brave," the "Roscoe Riley Rules" series, and the "Animorphs" series - co-written with her husband Michael Grant ("Gone"), who is also a speaker.
"We've had our share of huge names. We were lucky to get her," Johnson said by phone last week from Singapore, where she has been teaching eighth-grade English for the past three years at the Singapore American School.
Johnson said the Feb. 23 event at WWU is Applegate's first public engagement since the Newberys were announced Jan. 28 by the American Library Association at its midwinter meeting in Seattle. The Newbery and its companion the Caldecott - for illustration - are the top awards for American literature aimed at younger readers.
Also featured at the conference is acclaimed illustrator Brian Pinkney, whose wife Andrea Davis Pinkney won the 2013 Coretta Scott King Award for "Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America." It's illustrated with Brian Pinkney's powerful ink and watercolor portraits. Brian Pinkney earned a 1999 Caldecott Honor for "Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra," which his wife wrote.
A fourth participant is the prolific nonfiction author Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who won a Newbery Honor, a Siebert Honor and an Orbus Pictus Honor for "Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow." Her most recent works include "The Boy Who Dared" and "They Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group."
As the conference enters its 10th year, a list of previous participants reads like a "Who's Who" of children's and young adult writers and illustrators: John Green, Kirby Larson, Gary Schmidt, Katherine Patterson, Laurie Anderson, Lois Lowry, Christopher Paul Curtis, Brian Selznick and Chris Raschka.
"Every year, we think, 'Oh! We'll never top this,' " said WWU librarian and associate professor Sylvia Tag, who's been running the conference in Johnson's absence. "This year is no exception. But one thing about this year that is special is the range of writers and illustrators that we have."
Tag said the event gives teachers, writers and serious fans of children's literature a glimpse of what it takes to be a published writer or illustrator.
"It's more than just a book signing. It's about the creative process," Tag said. "It's fascinating to hear their stories of what it's really like to be an author, how they find their voice. They show their humanity, discuss how hard it is. It's encouraging for young people who are creative to learn that you can make your dream come true."
Johnson said she chose children's literature as a focus of study as she was earning her doctorate after years of teaching at the elementary grade level.
"These are adult writers, but because they have chosen children as their audience, they give kids their very best," Johnson said.
ATTEND THE CONFERENCE
What: Children's Literature Conference.
When: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.
Where: WWU Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.
Assistance: Scholarship funds may be available. Contact Sylvia Tag at 360-650-7992 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extra: Coffee and muffins provided in the morning. Lunch provided. Books will be available for purchase. Time will be allotted for autographing.
Robert Mittendorf is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Contact him at 360-756-2805 or email@example.com.