Ricky Gervais is Wrong – Serendpitiy is (was) Awesome!

I recently saw a rerun of Inside the Actor’s Studio where Ricky Gervais said his least favourite word was “serendipity.”  That may be, Ricky, but it was one heckuva conference!

Serendipity is the name of an annual conference organized by the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable.  It’s a big deal.  Big deal people come in from all over.  It’s not really a conference in that there are break-out sessions and such – it’s more of a day in an auditorium with a slew of really great children’s writers, illustrators, editors, etc.  In the past, they’ve hosted the likes of Katherine Paterson, Linda Sue Park, David Wiesner, David Macaulay, Cornelia Funke, David Shannon, Liz Bicknell (from Candlewick), and so many others. I think a lot of manager types are hesitant to send staff to conferences that don’t have an obvious practical bent.  But I don’t think you can put a price tag on the kind of inspiration you get after hearing from the creators of books you love (oh boy – CHEESE ALERT – but it’s true!).

In any event, it’s a highlight of life here on the West Coast of Canadaland and this year was no exception.  It took place last Saturday and I had the pleasure of Mcing. Billed as a graphic novel event the speakers were (in chronological order of the day):

Matt Holm

Raina Telgemeier

Gene Luen Yang

Valerie Wyatt (winner of the Roundtable’s Information Book Award for How to Build Your Own Country)

Jason Shiga & Aaron Renier (they gave the coolest workshop on making your own comic.  Watch this YouTube video!  Now!  It’s the most amazing, simple, and low-budget thing you can do with kids)

Aaron and Jason also joined in a panel discussion in the last hour but should have had their own spot on the bill, fo’ sho’.

There are two things I wonder when I hear about an event I didn’t attend:

  • What is that author/illustrator/big deal person really like?
  • What neat things were shared?

Let me answer those questions for the first three presenters.  Why just the first three?  I had a really bad cold and was too busy blowing my nose and sneezing in the afternoon to take notes.  Note: I wouldn’t include the answers to that first bullet if all of the speakers weren’t amazing people.  You’re not going to see me write “___________ was a major D-bag.”

Matt Holm

What’s he like?

He personifies joy itself, not unlike Wilson the Weasel.  A generous laugher (the BEST kind of person – one who laughs with you when you’re trying to make jokes to impress them) and so easygoing and mellow and seemingly unaware of what a big deal he is.

Neat things learned:

  • He showed us an amazing collection of old family photos – heartening and really lovely to see all the real-life love behind Babymouse
  • He frequently forgets to draw Babymouse’s tail
  • A Babymouse book takes a year from start to finish

Raina Telgemeier

What’s she like?

So genuine and sweet (real sweet – not syrupy) and speaks so well and confidently.  That gal is the kind of role model you want for your kids.  I mean, seriously.

Neat things learned:

  • Her dad bought her this graphic novel when she was a young ‘un and it really stuck with her
  • She was reading Bone back when it was being published every month.  She was on top of that, yo!  She’s legit.
  • She is inspired by Calvin and Hobbes (Matt Holm said he was too – actually, I think everyone on the panel mentioned it)
  • Ann M. Martin was none too pleased when she saw that Raina had given Claudia a haircut in the BSC graphic novels
  • Smile was in a Cul de Sac comic!!!

Gene Luen Yang

What’s he like?

HILARIOUS.  Puts Jon Scieszka to shame.  For REALS.  But so, so insightful and eloquent.  He seriously is Children’s Literature Ambassador material.  I was blown away.  RUN TO SEE HIM IF YOU GET THE CHANCE.

Neat things learned:

  • He received a grant from the Xeric Foundation.
  • Great quote – he said that all one needs to be a comic creator is “a healthy ignorance of your own artistic limitations.”
  • Another great quote – “Self-publishing in comics is proof that you’re awesome.”  He had some very enlightening things to say on the differences between self-publishing a novel vs. self-publishing a comic.
  • He did his MA in Education thesis on teaching math with comics.  He also put this into practice with one of his high school classes (he’s a part-time teacher too).  I begged him to do a book on this.

Another highlight was when Aaron Renier signed my copy of The Unsinkable Walker Bean. He asked me “What do you like?” I gave the most obvious answer, of course: “Girls with big hair.”  He obliged by drawing the cutest gal with big hair and her peppy little dog, all the while fretting that it wasn’t good enough.  I was like “Dude, it’s awesome!  I’m the dummy for answering your question with ‘Girls with big hair!'”  Here’s what it looked like:

Oh, and I also won a Babymouse sketch in the silent auction!

There you have it.  Serendipity’s 2012 theme is Asian children’s literature and Paul Yee is already booked!  I’m going to suggest that we try and wrangle Grace Lin into coming.  How cool would that be!?  Very.

2 thoughts on “Ricky Gervais is Wrong – Serendpitiy is (was) Awesome!”

  1. Great summary, Shannon. One other notable tidbit I caught:

    Gene Yang, describing how he felt when he received his first book advance: “Wow! They could have just bought me a burrito!”


  2. Ozzy,

    I’m so bummed I couldn’t be there (had to be student teaching 😦 ) to see you in action and meet these awesome people. xoxo


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