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Follow up to the Non-fiction Panel at Politics & Prose

On Sunday evening this past weekend Politics & Prose hosted their second annual picture book panel – this time the focus was on non-fiction. It was amazing and well worth the 2+ hours I drove each way. First of all, P&P is the best indie bookstore with the feel of a REAL bookstore.

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The panel was moderated by Leonard Marcus who knows so much about children’s books and who has published numerous books on the subject. His questions were insightful and allowed the authors and illustrators to hone in on the specifics of their craft. They talked about how their books changed as they researched further and found the facts leading them in a different direction than they were initially headed.

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Brian Floca, in talking about his recent Caldecott book, Locomotive, talked about how he intended to follow one railroad crew throughout the book. Then he learned that the crews changed somewhat regularly so that shot that idea out of the water. He then told us that he drove across the US following the railroad and that it was that trip that inspired the book so much. He took pictures but he also sat down and sketched. He said that the act of sketching forces you to notice the details and it was those sketches that informed the book.

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Susan Roth talked about her amazing collage illustrations and how she often does work from pictures – at least when that’s the only thing available.

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R. Gregory Christie seemed pleased when an attendee talked about how his illustrations in the Coretta Scott King award-winning Bad News for Outlaws really made the story come alive. The art is in black and white and the subject of the book is a real life African-American lawman in the wild west. Doing the art in black and white was so powerful!

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Duncan Tonatiuh spoke about his new civil rights book, Separate is Never Equal, which tells the story of the Mendez family in Los Angeles (before Brown vs. The Board of Education) who took their school district to court to allow their Mexican-American children to attend school alongside white children. Thankfully, they won! He talked about the influence of Mexican folk art in his work (which is stunning, by the way) and the importance of books for Latino children.

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Jen Bryant talked about how certain topics just draw her in. For example, in A Splash of Red, she researched the life of artist Horace Pippin and just knew she had to tell his story. It really is a remarkably moving story – I am so glad she took it on.

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Finally, Richard Jackson, editor extraordinaire, talked about non-fiction in children’s books and some of the author/illustrators he has worked with. In particular, Brian Floca and Chris Raschka. It was an amazing panel and the panelists happily signed books for anyone who wanted them. I was first in line! 🙂 I encourage you to look at the non-fiction offerings in any children’s section and you will be amazed at the content and the deign of the books. How could children not enjoy it? Believe me, it’s not the non-fiction I grew up with. Thanks heavens!

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