Another successful Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks

Hi everyone,

Another Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks has come and gone — the 35th — and I’d call it another success. About 2,000 children attended and hundreds of adults. This year there were eight authors and artists and as I sat at my table signing books last night I was reminded, as I often am on such occasions, of all the talented people around the room.

Brad Sneed, Janie (J.B.) Cheaney, June Rae Wood, KD McCrite, Marie Smith, Obert Skye, and Roland Smith were all there and had spent the day thrilling young audiences with their wit, wisdom, and special genius for telling stories and bringing characters to life through words and pictures. One boy asked me if we every felt like competitors, a question I don’t believe I’ve been asked before. I told him that we’re all friends and celebrate when something nice happens to any of us.

During the evening event, Janie and Obert gave brief talks/performances and everyone in the room loved them. They were funny and charming and highly entertaining. My thanks again to Chris Craig and Gale Clithero (the other two members of our Byron Biggers Band) for the fun of performing six numbers together.

It was a lively evening, well attended, and as always we were all grateful for the long hours of preparation by the committee of dedicated women who create the festival and run it year after year, including Becky Crowder, Karen Martin, Margaret Butler, Judith John, Sue Charles, Melinda Hammerschmidt, and I know I’m forgetting someone.

I slept well last night.

Almost there

Hi everyone,

Sometime in the next day or two my blog will register visitor number 100,000. Most visitors don’t leave comments but I want to make it more appealing for those who do. When the meter hits 100,000, I’ll send an autographed book to the person whose comment is registered closest to that moment.

Today I’ll have the pleasure of participating in the Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks, which is held on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. The eleven other authors and artists present are JB Cheaney, Vicki Grove, Cheryl Harness, Nina Nelson, Obert Skye, Marie Smith, Roland Smith, Brad Sneed, Michael Spradlin, June Rae Wood, and Judy Young. Twenty-five hundred children are coming so we’ll all be busy.

David

June Rae Wood today

Hi everyone,

My summer program of re-posting favorite Featured Guests continues with June Rae Wood. Many of you enjoyed June’s comments on March 3, 2010. For those who missed them, or want to read them again, it’s my pleasure to say, “Here’s June!”

By June Rae Wood

I love words—printed words. When I was four years old and my sister Shirley learned to read in first grade, I was eaten up with jealousy. I couldn’t wait until I, too, could unlock the secrets of words on the printed page.

I’ll never forget the day in first grade when my teacher praised me for reading that big word, “chickens.” It was a lucky guess. I had peeked ahead and seen the picture of baby chicks, but oh, what joy in getting that word right. I’ve been hooked on reading ever since.

Shirley and I, being the oldest of eight children, had plenty of chores, but we nevertheless found time to read. We’d walk to the library a couple of times a week, check out our limit of books, and walk home feeling rich. We’d climb the tree in the backyard, drop onto the flat roof of the porch where the other kids couldn’t reach us, and lose ourselves in another world through books.

Although I loved reading, I didn’t particularly like writing. In elementary and high school, I wrote only what was required of me to get good grades. In college, I studied business education and didn’t stay long enough to earn a degree. However, I was a natural at grammar, punctuation, and spelling—the basics that help writers succeed.

My life changed when our family moved to the country, away from close neighbors and all the busy-ness of town. With my husband at work all day and our daughter in school, I needed something to do besides clean house and watch soap operas, so I tried my hand at writing. I could compose grammatically correct sentences, but I didn’t have a clue about how to develop character, dialogue, and plot. I learned from reading “how-to” books and, of course, by writing.

I honed my skills by listening to my work on a tape recorder. This helped me to catch overused words and the sentences that looked fine on paper but weren’t pleasing to the ear. My first venture was a children’s novel that I wrote at least six times. That was my “practice set,” with each rewrite being a little better than the last. Though each version came back with an editor’s rejection slip, my time was not wasted. I was learning how to develop characters and plot, how to prepare a manuscript, how to write a query letter to publishers, and how to market my work.

My first sale was such a shock that I lost my appetite for three months—and shed 11 pounds. It was a short story about my brother, Richard, who was born with Down’s syndrome. For 36 years, my family had catered to Richard, spoiled him, and loved him; and after he died, I wrote the story to cope with my grief. “The Boy Who Taught Love” was published in Family Circle magazine and was later reprinted in Reader’s Digest with a new title, “My Brother Who Brought Sunshine.”

Readers all over the United States sent letters telling me how much they appreciated the story. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I could touch adults with Richard’s story, perhaps I could touch children, too. After all, it was children who had laughed at my brother, been cruel to him, and been afraid of him. That’s when the idea for my young-adult novel, The Man Who Loved Clowns, was born. The main character is 35-year-old Punky, a man with Down’s syndrome, a comical and lovable personality, and some very unusual habits—such as telling people they’re fat, pouring shampoo down the toilet, and flinging chicken bones behind the TV. My brother Richard did all those things, and he was my pattern for Punky.

Nowadays, the letters I receive are from kids—kids who say they will never again make fun of or be afraid of someone who is different. Because this story was written from my heart, young readers have taken it to heart. My advice to fledgling writers is this: If you write about things you care deeply about, your readers will care, too.

June Rae Wood tomorrow

Hi everyone,

I’ve been looking forward to re-introducing June Rae Wood, although I realize that many of you are already well acquainted with June and/or her wonderful YA novels. Sometimes we dwell so much on poetry that we may lose the interest of writers who are more involved in other genres. Featuring a guest of June’s caliber is the perfect way to bring us back to the larger issues of creating children’s literature.

Tomorrow you’ll see what June has to tell us. For now, here’s a brief bio. Like so many others, June could have said a lot more than she did but I hope you’ll take the time to discover additional information about her on your own.

June Rae Wood grew up with seven siblings in Versailles, MO, reading every chance she got. However, writing didn’t interest her—not even when she went to college.
Many years passed before she got bitten by the writing bug. She honed her skills by studying “how to” books and listening to her work on a tape recorder.

Her first novel, The Man Who Loved Clowns, won the 1995 Mark Twain Award in Missouri and the 1995 William Allen White Award in Kansas. She has written four other novels for young adults—A Share of Freedom, When Pigs Fly, Turtle on a Fence Post, and About Face—and she contributed to two anthologies edited by Sandy Asher: Writing It Right! and On Her Way: Stories and Poems about Growing Up Girl. Mrs. Wood’s work has appeared in Family Circle, Reader’s Digest, School & Community, The Lookout, New Ways, the Sedalia Democrat, and other publications.

She is still happily married to William Wood, the man she met on a blind date years ago. They have a daughter and two granddaughters and live near Windsor, MO.

See you tomorrow!

David

42nd annual Children’s Literature Festival

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I’ve spent the last three days in Warrensburg, Missouri at the Children’s Literature Festival. This year the event was attended by 5,300 boys and girls in grades 4 – 8 and 1,200 adults. Forty-one authors and artists spoke to four groups of kids each day on Monday and Tuesday. The first day, Sunday, we attended a luncheon and spent the afternoon sitting at tables signing books. Over the 42 years of the festival’s history about 350 authors and artists have participated in the event, which was started by English teacher Phil Sadler and librarian Ophelia Gilbert. Ophelia died last year and Phil died two months ago but their legacy lives on and is now in the capable hands of librarian Naomi Williamson and a dedicated committee.

Among the talented speakers this year were Sandy Asher, Gary Blackwood, J. B. Cheaney, Sneed Collard, III, Jan Greenberg, Vicki Grove, Mary Downing Hahn, Cheryl Harness, Patricia Hermes, Peg Kehret, Claudia Mills, Barbara Robinson, Brad Sneed, and June Rae Wood to name just a few. The entire list was stellar and kids went away with useful information about writing, signed books, and good memories.

If you have an interest in learning more about the festival, contact Naomi Williamson, director, at williamson@library.ucmo.edu . Next year’s festival is set for March 20 – 22, 2011.

By the way, since Kathy Temean created this blog for me last August, my meter tells me that as of yesterday the blog has been visited more than 20,000 times. My thanks to all!

David