NESCBWI Conference– was that a dream?

It’s taken me a while to come down from the clouds after the NESCBWI Conference in Springfield a little over a week ago. The theme of diversity, “Think Outside the Crayon Box,” was delivered in multi-layered and invigorating ways all weekend long.

Being on the faculty of the conference was an honor and delight!

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It was my first time presenting, and everything went so well. My wife Bonnie (a middle school guidance counselor) and I presented “Developing Gay & Questioning Characters for Middle-Grade Fiction.” The workshop went smoothly, our participants asked great questions, and we received wonderful feedback. We have even been approached about offering the workshop in other locations! To be continued…

M&B NESCBWI

The keynotes were inspiring and affirming. Jo Knowles spoke about the importance of diversity in middle grade in a powerful and personal speech. Dan Santat had me thinking about the sources of  inspiration, and considering ways to stretch myself creatively. Kwame Alexander held an entire banquet room in thrall as he read from his picture book Acoustic Rooster— something I told my teachers in training about. Talk about holding the attention of your audience!

Kwame A. speaking

I used The Crossover in my Children’s Lit course this semester, and in a poetry presentation I gave in February to St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx. For those reasons and more, meeting Kwame Alexander ever so briefly, and basking in his mega-watt  interpersonal energy, was a total delight!

Kwame Alexander + M

Finally, the workshop on giving effective school presentations, offered by Marcia Wells and Kwame Alexander, was phenomenal. It was chock full of great examples, strategies, facts, and humor– practical and inspiring. And Marvin Terban, a towering presence in SCBWI, had us rolling in the aisles at his keynote on humor in children’s books.

I floated home, full of inspiration, the warmth of fellowship with other writers, and lots of notes and resources to keep me going. Congratulations to the organizers for a wonderful conference!

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Gay and Questioning Characters in Middle Grade– planning our presentation!

The New England SCBWI* conference is coming in April, and I’ll be presenting, along with my wife, middle school guidance counselor extraordinaire Bonnie Jackman. Here is the description of our presentation:

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in the Middle-Grade Context

Research indicates that kids who grow up to be gay may have an inkling by age 10 or earlier, but not self-identify until ages 14-16; there is a rich “middle” territory here for middle-grade writers. Some of our characters may indeed grow up and identify as gay, but what does that look like at the middle-grade level? How can we create space in our stories for those characters to be who they are (and for our readers to recognize themselves), before they are ready for romantic connections? We will consider family dynamics, school setting, and social relationships. Writer Mary E. Cronin and middle-school guidance counselor Bonnie Jackman will share age-appropriate character development tools, current research, and timely anecdotes to deepen your understanding of middle-graders, gender identity, and the characters in your work in progress.

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The conference takes place in Springfield, MA (April 24-26, 2015), and registration opens February 4, 2015—more details here.

Bonnie Jackman and  Mary  E. Cronin, co-presenters
Bonnie Jackman and
Mary E. Cronin, co-presenters

Bonnie and I are using our snow day today (thanks, Big Blizzard!) to map out our presentation. What middle-grade books do you suggest for the reading list we’ll be giving to participants?

*Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators