My One Thing

Author Sarah Stewart recommends that writers for children cling to one thing from our own childhood for inspiration.  (See her one thing.) In my search for my one thing I finally uncovered a treasure — this tattered, torn, and taped Fun at the Beach book by Gloria Trachtenberg; illustrated by Dagmar Wilson.

MY one thing.

As you can see, it’s old and outdated.  But, that’s okay.  I’m old and outdated.

The Tiny Tales book, copywritten in 1960, made me relieved that books — and their owners — don’t have expiration dates.  And, it made me happy, because I had my one thing from my childhood.  The feel of the little book’s soft pages and even its smell brought me back in time to my mother’s cozy lap, fire crackling in the fireplace, and Pa playing the fiddle.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the fiddle. Okay, the harmonica.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the harmonica. Nevertheless, the book made me happy…


We were rebels. Notice: no seat belts or car seats.

…at least until I photographed the book for this blog post.

This book belongs to…BOBBY? I wonder if he wants it back?

I’ll have to contact Ms. Stewart.  Can a book, borrowed from my cousin half a decade ago, count as my one thing?

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.

2012 MN SCBWI Annual Conference

Compliments of Quinette Cook, Regional Advisor, MN SCBWI:

2012 MN SCBWI Annual Conference

Saturday, October 13, 2012, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U of M Continuing Education and Conference Center, St. Paul

Early Registration (Postmarked by September 28): $125 member, $150 non-member
Registration After September 28: $150 member, $175 non-member
Portfolio and manuscript reviews will be available again.

Download a registration form.

Click for more information.

Does your writing need a little magic? Does your artwork want for a few
new tricks?

Do you lack focus and wish for a little more hocus-pocus to make your work
come alive?

Then join us for an amazing day that will awe and inspire. You may not be
able to pull rabbits from a hat, but you just might come away with a few
fun ideas, some great information and new friends.

Speaker include (subject to change):
David Small, Illustrator (Stitches, The Gardner, The Quiet Place)
Sarah Stewart, Author (The Gardner, The Quiet Place)
Stephen Shaskan, Author/Illustrator (A Dog Is A Dog)
Linda Pratt (Wernick & Pratt Agency)
Minju Chang (Book Stop Literary Agency
Sara Sargent (HarperCollins)