The campus of University of Findlay was abuzz with child-like excitement recently, as the Mazza Museum’s Summer Conference was held on July 15th through the 17th.
The three-day conference where teachers, librarians, and book lovers partake in educational and engaging presentations from some of the top authors and illustrators in the picture book industry, included keynote speakers Jessixa Bagley, Allison Black, R. Gregory Christie, Matthew Cordell, Fred Koehler, Erin Stead, Philip Stead, Emma Virjan and Adam Watkins.
For this season’s conference, participants were treated to a wide and wondrous array of presentations, including breakout sessions from Mazza staff, local illustrators, and Findlay teachers and professors.
Black, author and illustrator of such books as All These Things I Wish for You, Barnyard Boogie, and What Do They Do with All That Poo? as well as the owner of the stationery company Hip-Hip, was particularly impressed with the camaraderie of the folks involved. “From volunteers and staff to speakers and attendees, every single person I encountered was passionate about children’s books, excited to learn something new and ready to make friends,” she said. “I’ve never been to a conference where there was such a warm and well-established community; I felt like I was invited to join an amazing family.”
Koehler added “the most extraordinary thing about Mazza is its people. Never have I met such thoughtful, innovative folks who love art as much as I do and who really know how to celebrate the splendor of picture books.”
From the keynote speakers explaining their craft to presentations about the number of picture books to feature kittens and cats, and others offering advice to help with beginner and young readers, there was seemingly something for everybody.
Cordell’s most recent book about a little girl and a wolf cub both lost in a snowstorm is titled Wolf in the Snow. The book, he said, celebrates differences, both literally, between the girl and the animal, and symbolically, between people for numerous reasons. He added that this ability to tell important stories through picture books is something that should and can be understood on a grander scale, and that the Mazza Museum’s conferences are a way to provide that sort of education. “There’s a hidden ‘specialness’ about the creation of a children’s book,” he explained. “Educators see it, children see it, but beyond that, people generally don’t think about how much beauty, design, and attention goes into these books. Things like this conference are a really great way to celebrate it and hopefully draw other people in and get them to recognize it, too.”
The participants in the conference were visibly wide-eyed, appreciative, and, at times, awe-struck by both the artists themselves and the work and messages they were showcasing. One participant said that she loves the conferences because she’s seen that the artists are always so friendly and easily approachable during their set time for autographing, and even when they’re just moving about the museum in between presentations. According to Phillip and Erin Stead, a husband/wife duo who work both collaboratively and on their own, illustrating and writing books such as A Sick Day for Amos McGee, If You Want to See a Whale, and Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, that’s largely due to the regard the artists and writers have for their particular audience. “I respect this type of audience quite a bit,” Phillip said. “Over time, a lot of adults tend to lose some of their ability to engage with both writing and art, but not those who are lovers of picture books. The lack of cynicism in our audience–those that you see here–makes it an ideal environment in which to be an artist.”
The next Mazza Conference will be in the fall on November 8th and 9th, and if this most recent summer conference is any indication, you will certainly want to be a part of it! Check out the website for more information!