Friday, May 24, 2019

SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Moments

Our SCBWI-MI listserv has been all abuzz about the recent Marvelous Midwest Multi-Region Conference held in Naperville, Illinois. Our members expressed gratitude and appreciation for the organizers' hard work as well as praise for the thoughtful and motivating key-notes and breakout sessions. Two SCBWI members offered to share their takeaways, and we have lots of photos thanks to Angela Verges and Dave Stricklen.

Lynn Baldwin, an SCBWI-MI member from Ann Arbor, writes:

What a Marvelous Weekend!

SCBWI’s Marvelous Midwest Conference certainly lived up to its name. It was a marvelous weekend of networking, learning and being inspired by a great line-up of authors, illustrators, editors, agents and other kidlit industry experts.

While it would be hard to summarize everything seen, heard and learned, here are some key take-aways:

Community: Our own RAs and conference co-chairs, Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, kicked off the event with an inspiring presentation that cleverly used the titles of children’s books to convey the idea that we’re on this journey together.

I certainly felt the community as I reconnected with old friends and met some new ones, including some wildly creative people at the Friday evening social who were dressed for the theme of let’s go to the fair (think cows, balloon vendors, baking contest participants and more!) Everyone I spoke with – from newbies to multi-published authors – was kind, engaging and eager to share experiences.

Creativity: Beyond the creativity of the costumes, there was a general sense of creativity in the air that came from being surrounded by so many like-minded people. We were also treated to the visual creativity of the illustrator community whose artwork was on display for all to enjoy.

Today’s children’s book market is open to creativity in terms of book topics and formats, according to librarian and Kirkus reviewer Betsy Bird. In her keynote, she spoke of today as a “new golden age” in children’s literature. She and fellow librarian Travis Jonker expanded on the topic of creativity in their fascinating breakout session on “picture books outside the boundaries.”

Opportunity: Our opportunity as authors and illustrators isn’t just to sell books. We also have the chance to right some ingrained wrongs.  Many speakers, including a diversity panel representing multiple facets of the industry, spoke of the importance of making sure that ALL kids have books in which they can see themselves. We learned that the industry is making strides to better represent diverse voices but that there’s still a long way to go.

Author Jack Cheng gave an inspiring presentation about the role of children’s books in reducing violence against women and girls. He spoke of the need to write books that move beyond stereotypical representations of boys and men and about how important it is for boys to read books starring girls. (Jack made his presentation available online for everyone to read and share. Don't miss this one:

Beauty: In one of the most hopeful breakout sessions I attended, agent Stephen Fraser spoke of our role as writers and illustrators in countering the toxic negativity found in today’s world and bringing beauty and kindness to children. He said that creating books for kids is a “joy and a privilege.” Several other speakers reinforced the idea that children’s books can have a lifelong impact on the reader, certainly a beautiful thought.

Lynn Baldwin is a picture book writer on the path to publication. When not writing, she enjoys traveling, studying/speaking foreign languages and being active outside. Lynn lives with her husband and son in Ann Arbor. Learn more at

MaryAtkinson, an SCBWI New England member from Maine writes:

A New Englander Goes to the Marvelous Midwest

Have you ever thought of attending an SCBWI conference outside of your region? This year, instead of attending my local New England conference, I decided to shake things up and go the Marvelous Midwest. 

I’d looked through the schedule and seen that there were many faculty presenting that I’d never heard before. I could catch up with friends from Vermont College whom I seldom see. And I was super impressed with the wide variety of sessions— from writing from the heart to revision techniques and developing secondary characters; from photoshop tips for illustrators to how to make a pop-up book; panels on diversity, self-publishing, and what agents want; keynotes both inspiring and informative.

I found a direct flight from Portland, Maine (where I live) to Chicago, took a quick ride to Naperville, and there I was. I knew immediately when I entered the hotel and registered that I’d made a good decision. We attendees were well taken care of from the start. The Marvelous Midwest volunteers made the conference run smoothly and efficiently. Thank you!

Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. Conversations popped up on elevators, at the dinner table, in the hallways between sessions. I soon wished I could’ve cloned myself to attend everything and meet more people.

There’s something about leaving home and traveling to a new place that recharges my batteries and makes me see my work as a writer in a new light.

I left with renewed energy and a notebook full of things to do (consider those secondary characters, experiment with a different POV, pump up my social media), and contact information from lots of new friends. I discovered many new-to-me authors and illustrators to follow.

So thank you, Marvelous Midwesterners. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your next conference!

Mary Atkinson is the author or Owl Girl, Tillie Heart and Soul, and Mario’s Notebook. You can learn more about her at

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1 comment:

  1. Great seeing the pictures and hearing how inspiring the conference was. Hopefully I can attend one of these days.