I got to see Melissa Sweet present at the Children’s Literature Research Collection (aka the Kerlan) at the University of Minnesota recently. Not only was it great to see lots of kidlit friends, like Joyce Sidman, Tracy Nelson Maurer, Catherine Thimmesh, Julie Reimer, Jill Braithwaite, Lisa Von Drasek, John Coy, Peter Pearson, and more (and Jane Yolen was there, though I didn’t get to say hi), but it was fascinating to see Melissa’s process! There was such a large and energetic crowd, not only of kidlit people I knew but also of preservice educators and other book lovers.
One thing that really struck me was how she was artsy-craftsy as a kid, and so was her family. Handmade hats and toys. Spirographs, Etch-a-Sketches, and Colorforms. Creative energy everywhere! Not everybody grows up in that kind of family, though. I thought about the maker spaces proliferating in media centers around the country, and how they are incubators for artists and scientists and engineers. I thought about the educators who make time for creative writing in their classrooms (even when it’s not part of the standards), and how they are hatching future writers and creators and–no matter what career path kids choose–THINKERS.
Kids sometimes ask me on school visits what the first story or poem I wrote was. I didn’t really write as a kid. I remember creating my “poetry book” during our fourth-grade poetry unit. And somewhere in my upper elementary or junior high years, in English class we drew a story title out of a bag and wrote a story to go with it. My title was “The Werewolf of Winter Park.” That is literally all I remember about the story. The title was probably the best part. Anyway, I wish creative writing had been a part of my childhood, but it wasn’t. I love finding schools and classrooms that are embracing the arts right along with other important curriculum areas. They are ALL necessary.
A few other highlights from the talk:
She and CatherineThimmesh are working on an updated edition of Girls Think of Everything!
Although sometimes her process involves the computer, she loves that “working by hand allows for serendipity.”
She thinks a lot about being factual vs. being true in the biographies she illustrates (or writes!).
For Carmine (a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood), when she was experiencing a bit of writer’s block, she gave herself the assignment of writing down a list of 100 words she liked (at left). Then she saw she had words for every letter of the alphabet. That gave her the idea to write an abecedarian book. She proceeded to write 37+ drafts before the text was ready.
For each biography, she tries to think of one word to encapsulate the person/project.
- Tony Sarg (Balloons Over Broadway): movement
- Roget (River of Words): list
- E.B. White (Some Writer!): typewriter (and freedom)
All in all, this was a fabulous event. And don’t miss the Kerlan Collection’s digital exhibit of Melissa’s work and process from Balloons Over Broadway here: http://gallery.lib.umn.edu/exhibits/show/balloons-over-broadway