2012 SCBWI-MN Conference-David Small & Sarah Stewart

Could there be a cuter couple?

The 2012 Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference proved to be an ah-ha event.  The high”lights”, endearing keynote speakers, David Small and Sarah Stewart,  captivated us with their devotion to one another and their genuine interest in the dreams of novices, like me, who looked to them for encouragement.

To launch the conference David bared his soul with a gut-wrenching presentation about his graphic novel,  National Book Award finalist, Stitches. The  bestselling memoir confronts his nightmarish childhood under the care of unstable caretakers unwilling — or perhaps unequipped — to express parental love for him, his brother, or each other. Small called his family a “long conga line of generational dysfunction.”

Why publish such a disturbing piece after a lifetime of success writing and illustrating conventional, light-hearted children’s books?  David’s answer: For his own well-being.  As a middle aged adult he still suffered.  The reoccurring by-product of his youth: Post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer of the thyroid.  To cope, he reflected on his past as his own psychoanalyst and used his art to fill the gaping  hole of neglect in his heart.  He called this process “narrative” or “cartoon medicine”.

See and read Small’s jarring, line-drawn account in his NEW YORK TIMES bestselling novel, STITCHES.



Favorite David Small 2012 MN SCBWI conference quotes:

  • “Drawing, for me, is like breathing.”
  • “It seemed right, since my life was wordless to make my book as wordless as possible.”
  • “My trash can is a good friend.”
  • “Having a contract is like having a flamethrower on your butt.”
  • “Keep the author and artist as far apart as possible.”
  • “A good book calls up good pictures in everybody’s mind.”

Sarah Stewart wrapped up the eventful day describing the co-creation of The Quiet Place — Sarah, as author, and David, illustrator.  Sarah confessed that she writes to save her life as she knows it — and to keep the demons away.  She recommended that we unplug ourselves and go to that slow, quiet place to meet ourselves.

  • “The writing is a muscle and you have to keep it taut and firm.  Get it very tight — every word a world.”
  • “You know we can change the world one reader — one word at a time.”
  • “I hope you have a partner or a friend who doesn’t think you’re crazy.”
  • “Good criticism is what you already told yourself, but you thought you were going to get away with.”

    Sarah’s beloved Richard Bear

  • “Do you still have something from your childhood? It’s important for you to have something from your youth.”

As a gift to Sarah, David incorporated her beloved childhood companion, Richard Bear, throughout her children’s books.

Hidden in The Quiet Place, you’ll find another loving bonus from David to Sarah: an exquisite fold-out  illustration — an elaborate quiet place for Sarah’s protagonist Isabella —  a colorful contrast from the black and white drawings depicting the starkness of David’s youth.

Can you find Richard Bear?
Sarah Stewart beamed as David opened her book THE QUIET PLACE to reveal his elaborate love note. “David Small gave me a gift of a gatefold,” she said. “Gives me goosebumps, Darling.”

More than one audience member wiped away tears as Sarah expressed her heartfelt thankfulness for having David Small for a spouse.  “I’m still in awe,” Sarah said. “It’s like making magic explode.”

The blessings go both ways.  Sarah seems a seven/seventy-fold gift to David as well — a warm, loving, and sweet recompense for the cold, loveless, bitter life he once lived.

Thanks, David and Sarah, for your candid mentorship and kindness. And, thanks to the MNSCBWI Conference organizers: Quinette Cook, Jessica FreeburgAlicia Schwab, Celia WaldockCatherine Glancy, Kristi Herro and all volunteers for once again producing a positive, memorable  event!

My next post: Wisdom from conference speaker, Agent Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt Agency.

Hello Dolly Date

The sweetness of our first official grandparent/grandchild “date” prompted me to plan another happily-ever-after family event just for the girls:  me, my doll (my daughter), her dolls (her three daughters), and their dolls (really — their dolls: McKenna, Ashley, and Katie). Our foo-foo destination — brunch at the American Girl Doll Bistro.

The younger girls’ dolls are Americans, girls, and dolls – just, unbeknownst to them, with a less expensive “g”.  To avoid melt-downs, I called ahead to inquire if all dolls would be welcome. Thankfully, the AG representative assured me that they do NOT discriminate against dolls of any origin, even from the less affluent side of the tracks.

When I picked up my dates, I expected the front door welcoming committee with the usual accolades – hugs, kisses, and “You’re the best grandma in the world”.  Instead, one granddaughter argued with her mom about the relevance of brushing hair, another love-wrestled her little brother to tears, and the littlest stomped, crossed her arms and protruded her bottom lip.  “I didn’t get bweakfast.”

“We’re going for brunch, Sweet Pea.”

“I don’t want bwunch. I want pancakes.”

Their dolls looked perky and groomed — but them — not so much. Apparently, they’d stayed up past their bedtime the night before. I threatened that we couldn’t go until they brushed their hair.  No bristles made contact.  I stood my ground — for about 45 seconds — until the one who once cut her sister’s hair said, “Why can’t we just be bald and wear wigs?”

Everyone gets great service at the American Girl Doll Bistro.

At the bistro, while I envisioned bald granddaughters, two girls at the table next to us gushed over official AG photographs.  I whispered to the server, “How much?”

“Twelve dollars each.”

I flinched.  It seemed a silly extravagance on top of barely touched $14 pancakes, especially since I brought my camera.  Unfortunately, the granddaughter with perfect hearing determined that life would not be worth living without official pictures.  So, she whined. I stood my ground — for about 55 seconds — until the “cheapskate” sign flashed on my forehead.

Apparently, the AG photographer saw my neon sign.  She humored me by asking if I wanted to take some pictures, too.  I happily  complied.
To escape the paparazzi  frenzy, the girls fled to nearest amusement park ride — the AG store escalator.  As my daughter and the oldest descended, I climbed on the top step with the youngest.  The middle granddaughter let go of my hand and stopped, causing a jam of escalator-goers behind her.  I heard “I’m too scared” as her sister and I disappeared below.”You wait there!” The Superman theme played in my head as we hastily got in line to ascend.

“Wook!” The youngest pointed.  The bottom half of the descending escalator was empty.  In the middle, an embarrassed, but chivalrous teenage male AG security guard held my granddaughter’s hand.  Granddaughter #2 beamed like a little debutant as an amused entourage packed behind them.

Better than an escalator.

Nickelodean Stare Down









We grown-ups suggested real amusement park rides to avoid making the AG Doll’s worst customers list.  After zooming, swooping, spinning, and saying “no” to 375 pleas for SpongeBob SquarePants novelty items, my daughter and I suggested a dessert diversion. The girls chose cotton candy and then determined they liked my daughter’s and my ice cream better.  I stood my ground for about 15 seconds — until they found extra spoons.

The flawed fairy tale might have seemed a disappointment — if not for little boxes of table topics that grace the tables at the AG Doll Bistro.  One question: “What was your favorite childhood memory?”

My daughter and I reminisced about holidays past. Two of the granddaughters cited their birthdays.  But, soon-to-be-Escalator-Girl put her head on my shoulder and wistfully sighed, “THIS is MY favorite childhood memory.”

Seems the best memories don’t require perfect hair or even perfect harmony.