Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 13, 2010

Overcoming Challenges: New England SCBWI Panel

I spent a lovely day at the Carle where the ever-amazing Melissa Stewart hosted a panel of four authors and/or illustrators of books for children. All were both honest and positive as they discussed ways they overcame career and creative challenges. Sara Pennypacker, best known for her chapter books about Clementine, thanked the organizers for using the word challenges instead of problems. She talked about seeing that life does not last forever, so to invest the year it takes her to write a book as well as considering a reader’s time, she wants “a character I would take a bullet for if she were real. … I have to love that person.”

From left: Lita Judge, Sara Pennypacker Grace Lin Elise Broach

All of the panelists returned to the theme of working from their own passions. Grace Lin, author most recently of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, spoke about overcoming her resistance to being labeled a multicultural writer and illustrator, formerly hearing it as someone’s twisted way of saying she couldn’t do any other kinds of books. After illustrating some books with cute anthropomorphic characters, she realized these didn’t engage her the way her Asian-American protagonists did. She didn’t want to spend time proving any doubters of her artistic ability were wrong, but working on “things that were dear and important to me, and to be honest, in my culture.”

Lita Judge talked about her days, often beginning before dawn “in the brave hours,” writing and illustrating picture books with themes of nature and history, including Pennies for Elephants and Yellowstone Moran. She also spoke of her struggle to trust her readers. She wants them to walk away from a book having learned something, but not every beloved detail will fit within thirty-two pages. So she strives above all else to make an emotional connection. And articulate Elise Broach offered a lot of very practical advice about finding and choosing agents and editors who would be a good match. “Sometimes,” the author of Shakespeare’s Secret and Masterpiece, said, “it’s not about what we do but who we do it with.” And finding those people wasn’t quick or easy for her, but you could feel her strength and gratitude for having done so.

It was great also to see friends, get hugs and a few bookmarks, before going back out into the rain. Thinking about how four people from different parts of New England answered questions about overcoming challenges by digging deeper into their own work, making sure it has a beating heart. And Sara Pennypacker reminded creators not try to foist our hearts, shining as they might be, or anything else, on a child. Our challenge is not to hand something over, but to move as close as we can to the young characters we’re creating. If we’re successful, then perhaps the heart of a character and reader may seem to beat to the same rhythm for while. And a child may feel a little less alone.



  1. Thanks for telling about the day! I loved hearing about it!
    And I especially love, “perhaps the heart of a character and reader may seem to beat to the same rhythm for a while. And a child may feel a little less alone.” Wow! Exactly!

  2. There was so much to love about this post, and so much to think about. I especially liked the idea that, if we dig deep enough into our work to ensure that it has a beating heart, the character’s heart and the reader’s heart might fall into the same rhythm. I know I’ve felt that way about the books I loved most as a child and the ones that speak to me most now (still children’s books). This gives me food for thought as I continue working on a revision. Hope you’re having a great weekend! Jeni

  3. I agree
    With Jeniwrites—a very fantastic post.
    (all of yours are)
    Beth Kephart

  4. Great summary, Jeannine! I was so inspired yesterday. What a wonderful event. I hope they do more of these soon! (And also because it means I get to see you!)

  5. Thanks for commenting, Cindy. And for all you do to make so many feel less alone with the books you hand them and your perfect attention.

  6. I’m glad you found something to ponder here as you’re deep in the heart of revision. Good luck with hearing those beats that let you know you’re right on track.

  7. Re: I agree
    Beth, thank you so much.

  8. Yes, a very rich program, with speakers with a talent for speaking to varied members of the audience. And, yes, always great to see you, and your P. always makes me laugh.

  9. Overcoming Challenges
    Jeannine, what a great recap! It was so nice to meet you and spend some time together. Thank you also for bag o’books– Rose is delighted!! Can’t wait to get yours… soon, I hope!
    Take care,

  10. Great to see you!
    It was great to see you at this event. I only wish we had more time to catch up–but I was a bit crazy helping Melissa…
    Now I have to check out BORROWED NAMES. Congratulations!

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