Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the SCBWI 41st annual conference in L.A. a couple weeks ago. I had attended a few conferences before, but hadn't been to one since my son was born about four years ago. My sister-in-law, Dorine White whose debut novel The Emerald Ring comes out next year with Cedar Fort, flew down from Seattle to join me. We hung out all weekend with Cheryl Sena, a friend of mine and a gifted writer.

There were many keynote speakers, all of whom were astoundingly entertaining and inspiring. Sara Shepherd (Pretty Little Liars), Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall), Tony DiTerlizzi (The Search for Wondla) and Chris Rylander (The Fourth Stall) kept us in stitches. I laughed so hard my cheek muscles hurt.
Me and Cheryl Sena

Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) brought us from laughter to tears and back again with her shocking and inspiring story of her day in a Lithuanian Gulag. Gary Schmidt (Lizzie Bright and th Buckminser Boy) carried us on a creative journey with his dog tagging along.

Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray and  Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall

I didn't quite make every keynote. I missed a few, but I loved hearing from Arthur Levine about what makes a book timeless, Deborah Halverson's very thorough discussion on the current children's book market, and Dan Gutman's (My Weird School) talk about books for kids who don't like to read. In fact, Dan's presentation was one that impressed me the most, probably because out of my five kids, two are or have been what some call reluctant readers. (My daughter, who is not a reluctant reader, happens to be a big fan of Dan Gutman.)

Me and Dan Gutman

Dan is a very prolific writer, having authored more than 100 books for young readers including the ever popular My Weird School series. And I had to agree with him that sometimes "fluffy" books are good, because kids who might not otherwise read anything will actually pick one up.  He described the joy of a child who had never read a book being able to read a short funny book all on his own. There is a certain level of pride that comes from having read to the end of a book, even if that book was just for fun.

My older son was a kid like that. I couldn't get him to read anything. What changed that for him was Captain Underpants, which was a big bestseller a few years back. The series caught a lot of flack by some parents and librarians for using too much bodily function humor, but I loved it. Why? Because my son was actually READING! And not only that, he was reading WHOLE BOOKS! From beginning to end! And then he read the whole series!

Some very funny and exciting books.

Next came The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, still one of the most successful series out there. More books with insanely immature humor and lots of artwork to catch a non-reading child's attention. The cool thing was that by the time my son was done with that series, he actually LIKED to read! Now at 15, I can't get him to STOP reading. He reads a lot of YA dystopian and science fiction. He loves all the Halo novelizations, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, and is reading Ashes by Ilsa Bick as I write this. I've lost count how many books he's read. And it has been an awesome transformation to behold.

My other son who is eleven hasn't quite found that magical book that had transformed him yet. He's read some Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and tends to read the first pages of lots of books, but tends to set them aside. Unlike his older brother, he prefers non-fiction. He loves books about rocket ships and how to build pin hole cameras and schematics about lego robotics. So this kid reads, just not what some people consider reading.

That brings me to what Ed Masessa said in his presentation about Scholastic Book Fairs. We need more creative non-fiction books for kids. Apparently, there is a big need for it.  But most writers like me like writing fiction. But as the mother of a boy who wants to know everything about everything, non-fiction has a definite place in the world of children's literature.

But back to Dan Gutman. What did I learn? Fluffy is good. Light and rib cracking funny is good. If a book motivates a child to turn the page and to fall in love with reading, it is good.

Thank to you Dan and all the funny writers out there who keep my kids staying up late at night reading their favorite books. You are my heroes.


  1. Now I'm wishing I'd attended the Scholastic Book Fairs talk. How did I miss that one? I second everything you've said. Let's get kids to read no matter if it's the computer instruction manual, a comic book or whatever else strikes their fancy. These are great insights, Laurisa!

  2. Thanks for reminding and reinforcing that whatever kickstarts a love of reading or kicks away that initial hurdle in the way of 'reluctant readers' is worthy writing. Thanks.

  3. It sounds like the whole event was lots of fun...and productive :)