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WWU conference features top children’s writers, illustrators

Gene Luen Yang is among the celebrated writers and illustrators at this year’s Children’s Literature Conference.
Gene Luen Yang is among the celebrated writers and illustrators at this year’s Children’s Literature Conference. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

If this year’s Children’s Literature Conference at Western Washington University seems heavy on artists, blame that on Gene Luen Yang’s powerful talent as a writer and illustrator.

Yang is among four of the top writers and illustrators who will be appearing Saturday, Feb. 27, at the 13th annual conference, which focuses on young people’s literature. Other speakers are Cynthia Lord, whose “Rules” won a Newbery Honor; Peter Brown, whose “Creepy Carrots” won a Caldecott Honor; and Melissa Sweet, winner of the Caldecott Honor for “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.”

Participants will discuss what inspires the writing and their art, how they create characters and plot, and how they use their art to create a story. In addition to the conference, Brown will speak Friday at student assemblies at Silver Beach Elementary and Lord will speak Friday to students at Roosevelt Elementary.

You invite people whose work will take us places. That’s why we’re readers, to live more lives than the ones we’ve had.

Nancy Johnson, WWU children’s literature professor

Yang, who was just named this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress, won a 2007 Printz Award, the top honor for young adult literature, for his “American Born Chinese.” He’s also known for his graphic novels and works for young readers, including “The Eternal Smile,” “Superman #41 — Present,” and the “Avatar” series.

“I’ve always loved Gene. He’s a science guy, a nerd, and he was a teacher,” said Nancy Johnson, professor of children’s and young adult literature and English/language arts education at WWU. Johnson started the conference, which has helped put Bellingham on the national map as a center of children’s literature.

She has a knack for selecting top writers and artists in the genre, including many at the height of their talent, such as Newbery and Printz winners John Green, Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate and Matt de la Peña — who is this year’s Newbery Medalist and a member of last year’s WWU conference panel.

“Some of it is luck,” Johnson said, “but I’ve been involved in the field, and our conference has such a good reputation. Some of these names are pretty big names and they’re busy people. I love what’s happened at the conference because there’s a magic there.”

Still, literary awards and bestseller lists mean nothing if the writer or illustrator can’t give a compelling presentation, Johnson said.

“Melissa Sweet, she’s such a dynamic speaker. She brings real people to life,” Johnson said, noting that Sweet will show participants how she prepares for a project. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that illustrators do research, too.”

“You invite people whose work will take us places,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re readers, to live more lives than the ones we’ve had. That’s the bonus of reading — it really is amazing that way.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-715-2805, @bhamMitty

Children’s Literature Conference

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27

Where: Performing Arts Center, Western Washington University

Registration: $175 general, $75 for retired teachers or WWU employees, and $40 for students and para-educators

Information: wwuclc.com

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