Suzanne Bloom, critically acclaimed children’s book author of A Splendid Friend, Indeed among others, as well as illustrator to many of Eve Bunting’s books, stands in the center of the Ithaca Barnes & Noble activity room. She greets each member of the Western New York chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as if they are an old friend, whether they are or not.
With an extremely welcoming misdemeanor — she’s a hugger, not a hand shaker — Bloom, a Queens native transplanted to the decidedly quieter hills of Chenango County, makes everyone feel immediately at home. Bloom is no stranger to these SCBWI meetings and, as an accomplished author/illustrator with a Theodor Seuss Geisel award to her name, she’s most certainly qualified to be leading tonight’s shop talk. The subject: picture books and rhyming, asking writers the question of why one should write a book that includes rhymes, or why not?
Bloom touched upon the importance of reading rhyming books aloud to children.
“I love reading out loud. I love the way words sound,” she said. “Active reading is physical: reading out loud to your child is like a big embrace.”
She reads her book Piggy Monday aloud to the circle of SCBWI members to demonstrate, accentuating each internal and end rhyme. The room erupts into applause when she finishes, and she bows her head in appreciation.
Blooms sets a standard — with writing as well as editing.
“Once I worked with a copy editor who thought my adverbs weren’t necessary,” she said. “I said, ‘No! You want me to give them oatmeal! I want to give them oatmeal cookies!’” she shook her head. “Show them what you want, and your editor will grumble all the way, but they’ll go along with it if you have enough heart and talent.”
Bloom believes in the sentimental as well as the autonomous, educational aspect of children’s books.
“Beatrix Potter’s editor wanted her to change the word ‘soporific’ because they didn’t think kids would understand what that meant,” Bloom said. “She opted to keep it because if they see it, they’ll learn it and understand it and know it.”
Sue Heavenrich and Clara MacCarald, co-leaders of the chapter, usually start off meetings by introducing that month’s shop talk presenters, providing a bit of background information on each presenter. Previous speakers have included professional storytellers and authors Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton, Highlights Foundation representative Rob Costello, self-publishing guru and author Sally N. Kammerling, among many others. Each meeting is meant to appeal to different parts of the children’s book writing, illustrating and publishing process with different points of view and educational output. Various topics have included self-publishing, working for hire in the educational market, children’s book marketing, etc.
The SCBWI was created in 1971. Founded by Stephen Mooser and Lin Oliver, the mission of the organization is “to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world.” They do this by creating chapters, from as far as Taiwan and Australia, of authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers and more, educating and supporting their literary endeavors in the world of children’s book publishing. Primarily authors, illustrators and students attend the Western New York SCBWI meetings, but all are welcome.
Along with a star-studded Board of Advisors, which includes Judy Blume, Jerry Pinkney, Jane Yolen and Pat Cummings, years of experience in every aspect of writing, illustrating and publishing help make SCBWI what it is: a community of writers and illustrators who support, teach and help one another in their field.
SCBWI has two annual conferences: one in February in New York City, and one in July in Los Angeles. They also offer various awards and grants for authors, illustrators and student writers and illustrators. •
The Western New York chapter of SCBWI meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in the Ithaca Barnes and Noble. For more information on the SCBWI, visit https://www.scbwi.org/.