The SCBWI Winter conference in New York was informative and inspiring, and when I think back over the keynote and craft-focused presentations that I heard, one stands out above all the others.
Most of you have probably heard of James Patterson. He is a best-selling author who has sold more books than J. K. Rowling and Stephen King (more than 300 million, as of 2014). And within the past few years, he has started writing books for children, and I honestly did not know what to expect when I took my seat at the Golden Kite award ceremony to listen to James Patterson’s keynote address. What could this best-selling author of books for adults who is now writing and publishing books for young readers have to say that could relate to my own creative journey?
“States in the US use third grade reading levels to plan future prison capacity.”
Wow. I don’t know what I was expecting Patterson to say, but it was not that!
Having informed us as to how states use the information regarding student reading levels, Patterson had more startling facts to share.
The best state has 58% of kids reading at grade level. In many states, 2/3 of kids are reading below grade level. In other words, in many states, the percentage of kids not reading at grade level is higher than the percentage of kids who are reading at grade level, in the best-performing state.
So why did James Patterson share these facts with us? And why is he writing books for young readers? Why did he start a children’s publishing imprint, Jimmy Patterson Books, at one of the major US publishers?
Because as an author he visits prisons, where he sees men who spend 20-23 hours a day in their cells, and to pass the time, they read. As he visited these prisons, talking to these men, he asked himself, “How could their lives have been different if they were reading like this as children?”
He challenged us, as creators, as publishers and editors and agents, to think about the kinds of books we’re putting out into the world.
“PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER BOOK!”
This is the motto of Jimmy Books, and the motto he challenged us to embrace as we create our own stories for young readers.
Even if you’re writing for a different regional market, where the situation is (hopefully) less dire, the core message still resonates. We need to create books that will make young readers want more books, because whether they’re reading a chapter book biography of a famous inventor, a middle grade adventure about space aliens taking over the school cafeteria, or a young adult contemporary romance, when kids are reading, they’re developing empathy, increasing their literacy and phonological skills, and improving their math skills.
We’re all members of SCBWI because we want to write and/or illustrate stories for young readers, and we’re committed to improving our craft as we create those stories. As we start a new year, and a new decade, I hope that we can all approach our creative projects with a renewed sense of purpose, a renewed understanding of the importance of the stories we’re telling, and that we find camaraderie and support along our own creative journeys from interacting with other members of SCBWI.
The New York Winter Conference in February 2019 was fab! It had a different format from previous years with intensive breakout sessions over two days. Our very own RA, Elisabeth Norton, was there, right in the thick of it.
Here she gives us some keywords which stuck with her throughout the conference:
That was just a very tiny bit of what Elisabeth came away with from the New York Conference. Do you feel like you have missed out? You could not get to New York?
Well, fear not!
If you need inspiration, are looking to improve your craft, or want to connect with fellow creatives, come to the Europolitian Conference in May in Switzerland!
Registrations are still open for a short time.
See you there!
Willkommen! Bienvenue! Benvenuto! Bainvegnì! Welcome!