Cambridge Picture Book Conference Wrap-up

I'm on the train back to Edinburgh after a wonderful weekend and conference in Cambridge. The conference was called Synergy and Contradiction: How Picturebooks and Picture Books Work held on the beautiful campus of Homerton College.
There was an impressive showing of some of the top scholars in Children's Literature Academia in attendance. The keynote was given by Perry Nodelman, author of Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Picture Books - a book I've been using in my Picture Book Design course at Hollins University since 2013. In fact, I own two copies - one on each side of the pond. So, it was lovely to finally get to meet this man who has made such an impact on the field. For his keynote, he talked about Fish in Children's Literature - how they are used to represent people and human emotions. It was a topic that he obviously had a lot of fun investigating and set up the weekend with a running joke about fish!
The guest lecturer was Pam Smy, creator of Thornhill. She gave a fascinating talk about her process behind creating this masterpiece - four years worth of work!
I especially enjoyed the bubble diagram she created of the things that mattered most in her life while she was creating the story. As someone with my fingers in several different pies, I may have to try to make one of these myself. It seems a good way to make sense of how things can connect in your life.
Besides these key lectures, there were a few panels, such as the one I was on with Pam, Vivian French, and Karen Coats (more on that later). Another was a panel of publishers, refreshingly from various small houses. Laura Little of the new publishing program at Bath University moderated the discussion with Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island; Holly Tonks, Commissioning Editor at Tate Children's Books; and Sam Arthur from Flying Eye Books. I'm used to panels with BIG publishing houses, so it was interesting to hear the challenges these smaller houses face.
Between these talks, there were several break-out sessions to choose from. I especially enjoyed the talk by Miki Yamamoto about new takes on Little Red Riding Hood. Despite thousands of attempts to tell the story in a new way, it seems there are still more clever new ways to do it, and she shared several. In this slide, the forest leading from Red's house actually runs along the back of the wolf, which you don't realize until you turn the page and find Read hiding behind tree trunks, which are actually the legs of the wolf. Very cool!
I also enjoyed the talk by fellow artist, Stella East who discussed "The two primordial characteristics of language" words AND images. (She has a description of her talk HERE.) This slide especially pointed out how we have developed as an icon-driven, symbolic-language driven species. I hope to write more on that subject myself.
There was also a panel of illustrators who shared some of their work. I especially loved this one.
In fact, that was one of the delightful things about this conference - the mix of academics and practitioners building bridges between craft and criticism, art and analytics. It ended with a panel of three of the top academics in the field, Perry Nodelman, Maria Nikolajeva (head of the Children's Lit program at Cambridge), and Kristin Hallberg of Stockholm University, moderated by Clémentine Beauvais.
One of the most interesting questions turned out to be seemingly the most simple, although it's been surrounded by debate for years - "Is it 'Picture Books' or 'Picturebooks'?" It was decided that it was partially geographic, imminently imperfect, and in the end, didn't really matter all that much which version one uses!
     As with any conference, one of the main reasons to attend is to connect with people - put names with faces - and share what we find fascinating and exciting with each other. And that we did, in spades. I was able to represent the University of Glasgow. But I was also shocked at how many attendees had connections to Hollins University as well. Truly, our world of children's lit is a small one and I look forward to the next chance for us all to gather!

CLICK HERE to read Perry Nodelman's wrap-up of the event.


Stella East said...

A tiny correction to this wonderful blog:
The “two primordial characteristics” of Language, according to Ferdinand De Saussure: The first characteristic is that the bond between the concept and sound image is arbitrary, meaning the word has no resemblance whatsoever to the object or idea it represents. The second characteristic is that auditory words unfold in time, and written words over a measurable span.
I claim that picture language on the other hand has a non-arbitrary, natural bond, and a layered structure to be read simultaneously.
Both language systems then contain the “two primordial characteristics” but in opposing ways.
Stella East

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Thank you for the clarification, Stella! :) e