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Students attend children’s literature conference

Professor and author Gary Schmidt signs a book at the Mazza conference.  Photo by Anna Lambers
Professor and author Gary Schmidt signs a book at the Mazza conference. Photo by Anna Lambers

On Friday, Nov. 9, 15 Calvin students took a bus down to the Mazza Museum Weekend Conference at the University of Findlay in Ohio.

The Mazza Museum Weekend Conference, which ran from Friday evening until late Saturday afternoon, is an annual gathering for people who are passionate about picture books and children’s literature in general.

English professor Nancy Hull coordinated the Calvin trip, inviting those from her Children’s Literature classes and other interested students to join. She saw this experience as a way to connect the content of the class with the real world.

“I wanted my students to see the passion of the authors and people involved with children’s literature,” said Hull. “It was great for them to mingle with other adults and students, and to see how it all applies to what we talk about in class.”

Students had the opportunity to hear from some very influential authors and illustrators in the field in children’s literature. Presenters included David Macaulay, Philip and Erin Stead, David Ezra Stein, Jon Muth, Mo Willems and Calvin’s own Gary Schmidt.

“There was a great variety of presenters,” said Schmidt. “They showed a lot about the working of illustrators’ and authors’ minds, which is so valuable.”

The Mazza Museum specializes in international art in picture books. The conference, in its 15th year, continues to uphold the values of the museum. The staff at the museum is particularly invested in the importance of illustrated books for children.

“People underestimate the value of visual literacy compared to print literacy,” said Calvin alumnus Terry Olthouse, education coordinator at the Mazza Museum. “We stress the importance of images and pictures, and we really work to honor the marriage of words and images.”

The conference began with the presentation of the Mazza Medallion of Excellence for Artistic Diversity to David Macaulay, the Caldecott Award-winning author and illustrator of “Black and White” and “The Way Things Work.”

The next morning, attendees were treated to the collaboration of the husband-wife team of Philip and Erin Stead, who won the 2010 Caldecott Award for their book “A Sick Day for Amos McGee.”

Later that morning Gary Schmidt addressed the crowd. The only non-illustrator speaking at the conference, he made clear that visual art was not his strong suit.

“I can’t draw,” said Schmidt. “If you don’t believe me, just ask my middle school art teacher.”

Despite his lack of artistic abilities, Schmidt was able to connect with the crowd, receiving hearty applause and a standing ovation.

“I really enjoyed Professor Schmidt’s talk,” said junior Jodi Ebbeling. “It was definitely powerful.”

The day also featured speeches and demonstrations from David Ezra Stein, Jon Muth and Mo Willems.

Willems, who wrote and illustrated “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” gave the final presentation of the conference. He took the crowd step-by-step through his pigeon-drawing process, giving instructions and advice along the way.

“Never fall in love with a drawing,” Willems said as he began sketching. “You may own the copyright, but your audience owns the meaning.”

Throughout the weekend, the students benefited from the chance to interact with authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians who were invested in this kind of writing and education.

“I was inspired by all the supporters present at the conference,” said junior Tanice Mast. “All the librarians and teachers are there because they believe in the power of stories, words and pictures. It’s incredibly encouraging to a student in writing because it reinforces the care you also hold for these things.”

About the Author

Catherine Kramer

My name is Catherine Kramer and I am a senior hailing from Grandville, Mich. I am the features section editor for the 2013-2014 school year. As an English literature major and writing minor, I have a love for words and people and the ways they interact.

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