Picture Book Boot Camp

YolenhouseHow do you keep your spirits up as a writer or illustrator with the isolating nature of the craft? We can go to conferences, retreats, connect with critique groups, and we can read books about being an artist that will inspire us. For me, the most amazing experience and inspiration of my career was going to Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Picture Book Boot Camp in September.

jane yolen
Jane Yolen
heidi stemple
Heidi Stemple

I was so excited before and after, that I mentioned this experience to many outside of the kidlit world. I was shocked that so few showed any recognition of the name Jane Yolen, master children’s author of 364 books, including the Caldecott winner, Owl Moonowl moonThen my wise critique group buddy, Paul Czajak, who also attended this boot camp, gave me a great analogy to use. He told me to tell people it was like if you wanted to learn how to throw a football and you went to Tom Brady’s house for four days. That couldn’t possibly be better than picture book boot camp! I have no interest in football, but I am passionate about children’s literacy. And to receive guidance from the genius mentor, Jane Yolen, is a gift.

I’d like to try and tell you about it, but find it was more about the total high I felt in my heart and head than in the exact schedule. It was like sitting in a revered spiritual leader’s study to find out life’s secrets.

Heidi's cooking
This was one of Heidi’s beautifully prepared and delicious meals. Our minds and bodies were continually nourished.

We didn’t have much free time. The day started around 7 in the morning with Jane sharing a poem everyday at breakfast and went through about 9:30 at night. We were nurtured with wonderful food and amazing knowledge about the world of children’s books.

We had specific mini-lectures with handouts, we chatted about books and life through meals…but mostly books, and we had time for reading our work aloud to get feedback. We also shared publishing stories. And this is a lesson I certainly need: If Jane Yolen gets rejections and waits for long periods to hear from editors, then the rest of us must accept, if not embrace, that this is part of the business and the process of writing. The only thing we have control over is writing the manuscript we love.

The groupatPBBC3

One of the mini-lectures was actually a “walk & talk” on landscape. We walked over to Heidi Stemple’s screened in porch overlooking an idyllic setting to try and see and hear nature. We listened and we talked. I sat with pen in hand. Jane Yolen said, “I find picture book ideas everywhere, and you should be doing that, too.” I didn’t come up with a new idea as I sat there, but I did come up with an ending line for a work in progress.

After our private tour of the Eric Carle. Heidi even packed us lunches for the field trip!

We had two wonderful #kidlit guests who gave a lecture and then joined us for a meal. We had a scheduled private tour of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art by the executive director, Alix Kennedy. She was professional and passionate. I felt so emotional. There was such an appreciation and respect for the art form of picture books. All through the four days, I felt more and more aware of what an important medium I am working on, how picture books have the power to touch lives.

I can’t imagine another writing conference, retreat or course ever topping this experience. So as they prepare for their next boot camp, I’d suggest if you are a published author and feel this might be the push and inspiration you crave, check out their FB page for the details.

I hope some of you will be able to attend. Your mind will be swimming with knowledge and ideas and inspiration as you continue to unpack little nuggets of treasures after the weekend, as you revisit notes, poems, and handouts. It will be the opportunity of a lifetime!

B.I.C. means Butt In Chair – Jane Yolen’s wise advice for writers


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