Sunday, November 4, 2012

COSCBWI Fall 2012 Workshop Recap

Last weekend, COSCBWI held their 4th Annual Scarlet & Gray Writers and Illustrators Event!  It was a great half-day workshop, with wonderful presentations led by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers editor, Kristin Ostby, and author-illustrator, Lindsay Ward.

If you couldn't attend the event, shame on you!  You missed a fantastic learning experience.  But, I'm still happy to share some of the day's pearls of wisdom with you.

Session 1: Kristin Ostby, "The Intersection of Literary and Commercial Middle Grade Fiction"
During Kristin's first session, she discussed Literary versus Commercial fiction.  Commercial fiction, she explained, are books that are on the best seller lists and ones readers don't want to put down.  (Think Hunger Games and Harry Potter.)  Literary fiction, on the other hand, are quieter books that often deal with deeper topics and timely issues.  (Think award winners and starred review books, like Wonder by R.J. Palacio.)  Kristin suggested we all think about our work in terms of "Literary" and "Commercial" and to compare it to others in the market.  She also recommended that we all read widely in both categories and learn all we can from their successes.  By understanding where our books fall in the market, she said we can do a better job presenting them in the best light.

Session 2: Lindsay Ward, "The Perfect Marriage: Illustration & Text in Picture Books"
Lindsay led the second session of the day, which was full of useful information for both illustrators and writers.  As she explained, words and pictures are both oh-so important in picture books, relying on each other to produce an end product that kids will love.  She explained the different types of picture books, including:

-Symmetrical: The illustrations and text reflect one another.  Readers can read the text and look at the illustrations separately, but gain the same understanding.
-Complimentary: The images and text are integrated, and readers need both to understand the full story.
-Contradictory: The image and text don't "work" together, but still tell the story.  Books like these often tell two stories in one.  (She suggested reading Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley by John Burningham to understand this better.)
-Wordless: The entire story is conveyed through pictures, with no words.  It's a less-common picture book style that is often hard to pull off, but can be spectacular if done right.

Lindsay explained that by understanding these different types of formats, writers can think about how their words will work with illustrations.  Similarly, illustrators can be more aware of how their art will affect and illuminate the written story.  Lastly, Lindsay recommended that both writers and illustrators read all they can in the market and study what makes the best picture books stand out from the crowd.

Session 3: Kristin Ostby: "The Middle Grade Marketplace: What Works (and What Doesn't) for Boy Readers"
The last session focused on the reluctant readers of the world: Middle Grade Boys.  Kristin explained that in general, boys move away from reading the older they get.  This can be due to many factors, including their development rates, learning techniques, competition from TV and video games, and a lack of interest in feelings (which often run rampant in literature.)  Fortunately, she assured us that boys WILL read if it's something they're interested in!  Kristin recommended we study the books that capture boy readers in the market, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Captain Underpants, and Origami Yoda.  She also said to pay attention to the other trends that interest them, including popular movies and video games.  By thinking about the humor, themes, activities, and genres that snag their attention, we can make sure our books are something they won't just cram into the bottom of their backpacks.

I'm so glad I got to help in the planning of this year's wonderful Scarlet & Gray Event!  Kristin and Lindsay were delightful speakers, and I think all of our members learned a lot from the sessions.  (I know I did!) 

If you missed this workshop, don't fret--COSCBWI will have more great events soon!  Do check out our website at  Our last monthly meeting of 2012 takes place on November 14, when we'll be celebrating our published members.  (Please note: it's a week earlier than usual, so mark it on your calendars!)  Hope to see you there!

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