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Local Man Attends 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference

Artwork by Oge Mora

Artwork by Oge Mora

I did something new a couple weekends back – left my mitten-shaped home and attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference. You ever been to one of these things? They’re pretty great. I was invited to talk about unusual picture books and social media.

Usually when I travel I have a one bag rule. This time out I had to break that rule. Two bags. Hey, I needed to keep this recording stuff somewhere:

Recording Equipment

More on that later.

After arriving at the Grand Rapids airport I spotted something new: a book exchange at the gate.

It was put there by the local public library. What a great idea.

After landing in New York I got on the subway (look out – candid NYC subway shot):


And visited the offices of School Library Journal. Even though this blog has been on the SLJ site for a few years now, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the mothership.

It was fun to see the fine folks at SLJ. Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka has a series of photos called Tall People to the Left of Kathy (or #tallguytotheleftofkathy for the hashtag-savvy). For example:

Kathy and Roger

Kathy and The Bowtie himself, Horn Book Editor Roger Sutton.

So . . .

Kathy and Me

Photo by SLJ art director Mark Tuchman.

From there I headed back to the Hyatt for some SCBWI meet and greet time.

Blurry Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potato bar!

My head was kind of spinning at this event.

Oh, hello Richard Peck!

Hey there Tomie DePaola!

(were all things said Travis in his head)

And this group might know a thing or two about picture books:


And in the midst of it all, I convinced Greg Pizzoli to leave the party and record an interview for The Yarn (coming soon).

Yarn Recording

The next day I got to talk about unusual picture books – a subject near and dear to my heart. If you’re interested, you can find the slides from my presentation here.

Now here’s something I didn’t realize might happen. It turns out that if you’re presenting at a conference full of illustrators, they might end up drawing you:

Later on that day I took part in a panel discussion on social media. It was moderated (excellently so) by Martha Brockenbrough and included Cynthia Leitich Smith, Matthew Winner and I:


(L-R: Martha, Me, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Matthew Winner)

If there was a theme, it was to encourage folks to use social media to enrich the world of children’s literature, rather than seeing what it can do for them.

After calling it an early night, I had one more presentation: Social Media: An Author’s Best Frenemy. Slides from the presentation are here (warning: they might not make a ton of sense without context).

If you’re like me, you get really nervous about presentations and then they end and you think – that was fun. This session was a great example of that. It was a great group and they were willing to share and discuss.

I reiterated the theme from the previous panel discussion and tried to talk honestly about the good and bad of social media.

Session wrapped up and conference over, I managed to sneak in one last New York cultural experience before heading back home:

Dance (I) by Henri Matisse

Dance (I) by Henri Matisse

Thank you Lin Oliver and SCBWI for inviting me. It was a great time.

If you’re interested in learning more about the conference, The Official SCBWI Conference Blog has a ton of good stuff.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Delightful account!

  2. katherine applegate says:

    You had me at “mashed potato bar.”

  3. Fellow Michigander and SCBWI MI co-regional advisor popping in to say the panel was A+…had to miss your solo adventure due to a family illness and early departure, but I heard it was great. And yes, the potatoes were delish. Sigh.

  4. Nice to learn about the schbwi winter conference,