Sheboygan Children’s Book Fest

I took a day trip to Sheboygan, Wisconsin yesterday for WI’s first children’s book festival.

First, I met Kathi Appelt, who writes the kinds of folklore-inspired fantasy novels that I’m dying to finally translate from brainwave to book.  My inner 7-year-old was thinking, as I scanned Saturday’s schedule, “She’s going to talk about mermaids!  Mermaids!  I have to meet her!”

Expect a review of her Keeper and The Underneath sometime soon.

I was able to chat with Mrs. Appelt for a few minutes before her presentation, and she highly recommended that I register with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for networking opportunities.  Afterwards, she gave the audience a video-tour of her home and studio, where her four cats live, and described the family camping trip and other experiences that inspired her stories.  Her main messages:  write about what you love, and write about what you fear.  What/who do your characters love most?  What are the desires that drive the plot?  What do they fear most?

I also attended Gerald Morris‘ presentation on “History and Story.”  Morris, who wrote The Squire’s Tales series, was extremely animated and engaging as he compared the literary with the popular history of King Arthur.  He compared the Arthurian stories with those of Pocahontas, in order to explore the main question:  What, if anything, about these stories is history, and what is myth?  Why do authors (and Disney) make the decisions they do when they re-tell these stories?  For example, why did Disney turn the short, squat, middle-aged mercenary into a Mel Gibson-voiced Adonis, and the twelve-year-old Pocahontas into a Barbie-shaped 18? 20?-year-old?

Morris ended his discussion with the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  He jumped quickly and fluidly from character to character — from his hilarious, hyperanimated version of Bercilak, to the weary but polite Gawain, to the persistent Lady Bercilak, to the solemn and serene Green Knight.  By the time he reached the Green Knight’s final message to Gawain, I had goosebumps.

In conjunction with the book festival, the Bookworm Gardens — a collection of small gardens designed around themes in children’s books — held their grand opening celebration yesterday.  According to the volunteers there, the Gardens will be open year-round.  Families can walk around McElligot’s Pool, play in the Magic Treehouse, visit the Little House in the Big Woods, and read the books hidden in secret cabinets throughout the gardens.

I definitely hope to visit again.


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