Super Children's Book Boot Camp at Highlights Foundation

WOW! I just got back from a whirlwind four days at Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA at the Super Children's Book Boot Camp. It was such a privilege to spend quality time with the amazingly talented faculty of Pat Cummings, Denise Fleming, Bruce Degen and Paul O. Zelinsky, and publishing guests Rotem Moscovich, Rachel Orr and Laurent Linn. (Um, how did I get here again?!) 

 

Day 1: Thursday

We've arrived! The weekend kicked off with a behind-the-scenes tour of Highlights and Boyds Mills Press, a very charming and quaint office. We then headed over to "The Barn" for a welcome reception with the faculty and our fellow Boot Campers! There were about 20 of us -- some authors and some author-illustrators -- all with varying levels of experience. Everyone gave 3-minute project pitches, and we finished off the night with a breakout session with our assigned groups and advisors (I was lucky to be a "Bookie" with Pat!)

We also had our first and only BEAR SIGHTING!

The lovely setting behind The Barn, including a word garden!

The lovely setting behind The Barn, including a word garden!

Gorgeous roof in The Barn.

Gorgeous roof in The Barn.

Day 2: Friday

Every morning kicked off with a yoga class at 7 am (shhh… I never went.) After breakfast -- more on the ridiculously amazing food later! -- breakout teams met again to discuss our projects in depth. We all took our very thorough feedback and retreated back to our cabins for some independent work time before meeting one on one with each faculty member.

I started my rounds at 4:15 with Bruce Degen (hellooo, Jamberry fangirl moment!!) Bruce had great tips on my artwork and recommended a course I can take in the fall. He also called my art "lively and fun" which was a supreme compliment coming from him. Next, I met with Denise, who is, hands-down, one of my favorite folks from the conference. She is super fun, super kooky and full of life! Denise had helpful feedback on my story and also liked my art a lot! I rounded out my sessions with Paul O. Zelinsky. Paul is so thoughtful and just talented beyond belief. I also love that he is a fellow Brooklynite! It was very humbling to get feedback from him.

In the evening, our publishing guests Rotem, Rachel and Laurent arrived and we got to schmooze over cocktails before another eating another amazing farm-to-table dinner. The faculty did another Q&A before we all headed off to get ready for the next day's big critiques!

Our legendary faculty: Paul O. Zelinsky, Bruce Degen, Denise Fleming and Pat Cummings. I got to watch Paul doodle!

Our legendary faculty: Paul O. Zelinsky, Bruce Degen, Denise Fleming and Pat Cummings. I got to watch Paul doodle!

Cabins are perfect for peaceful, independent work time. Just watch out for the bears.

Cabins are perfect for peaceful, independent work time. Just watch out for the bears.

Day 3: Saturday

Today was filled with sessions about the publishing business. We started off with a panel led by Rotem, Rachel and Laurent, who gave us great insider info about what they look for in a submission. The faculty then took over again with sessions about marketing, social media, contracts and negotiation, business practices and more, oh my! There was so much great head-exploding information in such a short time. 

Paul did a really fun session about school visits, and Denise made sure this was truly authentic by sitting on the floor in front of Paul and doing her best imitation of an impatient 5 year old. Paul drew his fabulous Moose character which was so fun to see!

At 4:15, I met with the publishing panel to review my work. We were allowed to show the publishers more than our one Boot Camp project, so I was able to share a bunch of art with them. Rotem compared a character study I did to Barbara Lehman (!!) and some of my other work to Edel Rodriguez, but they all said I did it in a fresh and different way. WOW! My story needs a bunch o' work, but I was thrilled with the feedback on my art. They were so encouraging and said to keep going, then asked for a card. Yeah!

Everyone is listening to Paul talk about school visits.

Everyone is listening to Paul talk about school visits.

Our publisher friends, Laurent Linn, Rotem Moscovich and Rachel Orr.

Our publisher friends, Laurent Linn, Rotem Moscovich and Rachel Orr.

MOOSE by Paul O. Z.!

MOOSE by Paul O. Z.!

Day 3 continued: Saturday night

Saturday night's events deserve their own section of this post. Since we all got through our critiques mostly unscathed, it was time to have some fun! Pat and Denise organized a talent show that we ALL had to perform in... ALL of us. So, obviously, I decided to write a rap song on the fly and perform it in front of the entire Boot Camp! I think it wound up being the most impressive thing I did there!! I got so many compliments on the rap song. Maybe I am pursuing the wrong talents...

After the talent show, Denise ran a game of "Verb Charades" which was hilarious (I had to act out "drowse.") And if that wasn't enough… she created her own glow-in-the-dark bowling game made out of empty water bottles, glow sticks and light up flashing bowling balls!! This is precisely why DENISE. IS. AWESOME.

 

Day 4: Sunday

Boo! It's the last day of Boot Camp! We had a great panel with Rotem, Rachel and Laurent that allowed for some last-minute questions on submissions. Our breakout groups met up once again to reflect on feedback we'd gotten, and we helped each person work out three goals to be completed by August 1st. It was really helpful to walk away with actionable steps that we can all hold ourselves accountable to and keep our projects going.

Our group appreciated Pat's humor, wisdom and advice SO MUCH. She is a special lady and there is a reason she has such a tremendous reputation! My "Bookie" group mate, Margo, had the wonderful idea to make a card for Pat to show our appreciation, so I painted a little landscape of the view out of my room, and we all signed it.

We love you, Pat!

We love you, Pat!

The Food!

OK! Now we must discuss the ridiculously delicious food at Highlights Foundation. Our chef, Joseph, cooked some of the best meals I have ever had! Every meal was fresh, delicious and prepared with so much pride. What a luxury to have him cooking for us… a few women even volunteered to take him home, but he had to decline so that he can help his son finish high school :-).  The blackberry pie was one of the yummiest desserts I have ever eaten. Ever!

Highlights also stocked us up round the clock with snacks, drinks, coffee, wine, ice cream and anything else we might need for a late night work session. So, so good! Oh, and did I mention the campfire and s'mores? Yep, we had that too.

 

In conclusion...

Boot Camp was a wonderful experience. I am so glad I decided to apply on a last-minute whim, and even more glad I got accepted! I left with more knowledge, more confidence and a great new circle of supportive children's book friends. I can't wait to see everyone's work in print someday...