Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature: Summer Institute

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Unknown-1This summer has not gone as planned, to put it mildly. After the adventure I’ve had over the past three weeks, my advice to you is this: check for ticks. For such tiny parasites, they can certainly cause havoc.

One of the things I was most looking forward to this summer was the Summer Institute at Simmons, a three-day conference featuring the authors of books for children and young adults, master’s seminars, opportunities to talk with teachers and librarians, and to reconnect with other graduates of the Simmons Masters in Children’s Literature program.  So, while my unwelcome visitor caused me to miss most of the conference, I did participate on Saturday and it was so worthwhile.  Among Saturday’s speakers were:

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Kwame Alexander – the 2015 Newbery winner for his novel in verse, The Crossover

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Rita Williams-Garcia – the author of many young adult novels and the award-winning middle grade trilogy: One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama

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A Panel of Illustrators, including Shadra Strickland, David Hyde-Costello, and Hyewon Yum

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Emily Jenkins – author of Toys Go Out, That New Animal and Five Creatures — and as young adult author E. Lockhart, the author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and We Were Liars.

Although all of the speakers were interesting and inspiring, it was Emily Jenkins’s presentation that I found especially moving. She was a generous speaker – warm and honest. At the end of her talk, I felt like gathering all of the books she’s written (as both Jenkins and Lockhart) and re-reading every one of them!

Jenkins had a peripatetic childhood – living on several communes with her mother, visiting her father in New York City, and her grandmother on Martha’s Vineyard.  Books, she said, were her stability. She loved Pippi Longstocking because she “created a home for herself.” She was a fan of The Boxcar Children because of their “fantasy of self sufficiency.”  She also talked about the importance of a 1978 book called Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston. (I just checked – you can buy a used copy on Amazon). Winston’s book belonged to her grandmother and it was about making a home, a topic that resonated with Jenkins. Although, as she pointed out, a young girl was not the target audience for this book, she read Getting Organized over and over until Winston’s book was part of the experience of visiting her grandmother.

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It brought me back to my grandmother’s house in Kettering, Ohio. She had a cabinet of paperback romances, and I pretty much made my way through the entire shelf – several times. My favorite was a book called Sally’s True Love – an Amish romance. (yes, it’s embarrassing now) Years later, thanks to a web specializing in romance novels, I found a copy and bought it. Just looking at it reminds me of sitting on the floor in front of that cabinet reading one romance after another. I wouldn’t have been interested in those books in any other setting, but sitting there felt like home.

Jenkins also talked about the importance of children owning books, not to the exclusion of visiting the library, but in addition. Owning books makes them “part of your internal picture of home,” she said. “You share your life with them.”  And my favorite line of the whole day was Jenkins’s definition of home as “the place where she keeps her books.”

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I’m a little behind on my reading this summer (due to the previously mentioned varmint), and there are so many books I should be reading, but last night when I was selecting my next book to read, I decided to read exactly what I want to read with no feelings of guilt. I’m reading Re Jane by Patricia Park. I first heard about Parks’ novel, an updated version of Jane Eyre, from Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air (http://www.npr.org/2015/06/02/411457923/four-books-that-deliver-unexpected-and-delightful-surprises-this-summer).

That was in early June. Since then, I’ve read several glowing reviews, and yesterday, author Jean Kwok talked about it on NPR’s Weekend Edition.  That sealed the deal. I’m on Chapter Four and it’s wonderful. The other books can wait.

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5 thoughts on “Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature: Summer Institute

  1. You brought back a great memory of Grandma’s book cabinet. Just reading that paragraph made me almost smell the books as you opened the door. I was too young for the romances, but loved reading her books that she had as a child. I think I may have one or two. Glad you are feeling better.

    • Hi Carie,
      The magic book cabinet – you and I must have been its most loyal customers! Before moving on to the romances, I read a few Bobbsey Twin books. You probably read those as well! It brings back cozy memories, doesn’t it?

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