Friday, March 28, 2008

Journeys of Discovery

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the 16th Annual Conference on Literature and Literacy for Children and Adolescents, Journeys of Discovery Across Time and Place, at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The hardest part about attending this conference featuring Ted Lewin and Cynthia Kadohata* as keynote speakers, was deciding which books by Ted Lewin I wanted to buy. Look at this table! It went on and on and on! Filled with books I've read a many times, books that were new to me, even one I have on loan from the library that I've renewed way too many times. I chose three. The Girl on the High-Diving Horse an old favorite of mine. After hearing him tell the story behind the story of The World's Greatest Elephant that's a book I had to have. And I can finally return my library copy of High as a Hawk.

Some of Ted Lewin's more than thirty books.

As I went through my notes to see what all I could share from Ted Lewin's keynote address, I found I had very little down on paper. I was totally engrossed in the stories of his life, of how he works, of the adventures he's been on, the places he's traveled to, the animals he's encountered, and the insight he offered. One of the things I related to the most was his use of research and reference material. He said research and reference help you to find the details to make your illustrations authentic. He also compared the picture book to a movie or film, it should tell the story in the same way, but slower. Now if we could only be so lucky as to get to travel the world to research our stories!

The second hardest part about this conference was deciding which break-out sessions to attend. There were more than 20 to pick from, but only two time slots. As it turns out (for a reason I just can't figure out) Ted Lewin's break-out session had very few people. I got there early and he happened to be sitting and talking to a few other people in the front of the room. I sat down behind him and the session turned into a literal "conversation with Ted." He asked a few others sitting in back to come closer and join in. Nothing formal, we all just talked and asked questions.

He told us about his life growing up with very unconventional parents. The way the kids brought home pets. But not the normal stray dog, they filled the house with a lion, an iguana, a chimpanzee and some monkeys. (Which he stressed today wouldn't be in the best interest of the animals. And that his family did end up sending these animals to the Buffalo Zoo.) He left home at a young age to join the circus. He also followed in his brother's footsteps and became a professional wrestler, which led him to later write an autobiography called I Was A Teenage Professional Wrestler. He had a surprise gift from David Edwards, a big fan and a collector who was attending the session. Edwards had found on old wrestling playbill with Ted's name on it and bought it on Ebay. Ted was genuinely touched as he read the names and reminisced about the venues he once wrestled at. Then he appropriately thanked Edwards with a headlock.

The other session I chose was "The Art of Storytelling" with illustrator Guy Porfirio. This guy is filled with passion and energy. Now I know why he has illustrated over a dozen books! He is bursting with energy. Plus, he has one great sense of humor. Which I'm sure was a big plus while he was working with Billy Crystal on Grandpa's Little One. (Unlike most situations he did get to work directly with the author on this book. He even told us how Billy Crystal changed the text to expand more on an image he had created, because Mr. Crystal found so much humor in the image.) His latest book Junk Man's Daughter just made The Bank Street College of Education in New York City's list of the "Best Books of the Year" for 2007.

He talked about the importance of "telling the story with artwork" and showed how he uses the illustrations to add a sub-plot. His work is full of vibrant color, wonderful composition, tons of emotion, and little bit of humor. I have been in awe of his work for a while, but until recently l hadn't realized he was a fellow Arizonan. After his session I got to talk with him, and I'm really looking forward to all he has to share with our local community.

Here are some of the locals I was able to capture.

Author/Illustrators Debbi Haun and Joan Sandin

Juanita Havill and Guy Porfirio at the autograph table.

The line for autographs at Ted Lewin's table.

Performance by Japanese ensemble group during the autograph session.

* More to come later on Cynthia Kadohata. Sorry, no pictures. I was late getting a seat to her "full house" keynote address and wasn't able to get any good photos.


Susan Sandmore said...

It sounds wonderful! I used to pull and pull Ted Lewin's books off the shelf when I was browsing for PBs. I just love his beautiful work. How funny that his session wasn't full, but so great for you all! Wish I'd been there.

gail said...

It really made for one cool experience with such a small group! He is a very down to earth guy. I put a hold on his autobiography and will be picking it up this week. I can't wait to read more about his life. I found it so fascinating.

Sherry Rogers said...

Wow Gail that looks like a great conference. . .now I have more books to buy! Yikes! I already have to many. It would be so great to have you come to the Vegas Conference and to meet you! Come if you can!