Dreams and Nightmares! CBI conference 2018 Day One

The highlight of my year; of many years now, in fact; is the Childrens' Books Ireland conference. It is a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues, meet many new kidslit folk and glean more knowledge about what is being published, what children want to read at every age and gain more focus and enthusiasm. It is so incredibly wonderful to be surrounded by people who understand your passion and energy for childrens' literature. All of us always go home with a greater amount of knowledge and a hefty amount of childrens' books to read. Frankly, it's just so much fun!!! I would recommend attending if you have an interest in childrens' literature; authors, illustrators, publishers, teachers, kids booksellers...really anyone.
This year, for two days we were treated to 'Dreams and Nightmares' (as the theme of this years' conference) from some of the most exciting authors and illustrators working in childrens' books. It cast a magical spell over us all.
I'm going to break this into two blog posts for the sake of clarity and....well, it will be a bit lengthy otherwise.
Day One:
The day opened, as they all do, with Elaina Ryan welcoming all the delegates and speakers and letting us know, in a concise but still in depth manner, what CBI has been up to over the last year, and there was always a hint of things to come.
Then, we jumped right in with Peter Brown. Peter's work graced the cover of the conference brochure this year, with an illustration from his book, The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes. Thematically, his books have a recurrence of the 'earnest outsider'; one who is looking for understanding, belonging and companionship in a world that can seem very big, very scary and very lonely. All of this he accomplishes with great humour, warmth and a sense of deep joy. His talk on the dark and light to be found in all of his books included a wonderful, brief journey into his writing past, escapes along his journey and some insightful glimpses into how he works to develop his story and his own artistic voice. Story-mapping and illustrative storyboarding lead to books with short chapters, each ending with a cliff-hanger; which are excellent for encouraging young readers who may not be quite so confident in their skills at the moment.
MG Leonard (author of the Beetle Boy series) was in conversation with Dave Rudden; and a lively and exciting conversation it was! Her books are all based on factual accuracy rather than a fantasy world; exploring and finding joy in the natural environment and learning to find a method with which to deal with phobias. All the beetles in her stories are biologically accurate, and so cannot do anything outside of the possibilities for a beetle.
Wrapped up in all of this is a keen exploration of mental health issues and emotional well-being, something young people need to come to terms with quite early in our world today. Add to this a thrilling adventure of a boy (Darkus) in search of his kidnapped father, a fashionista villainess with an alarming fascination with insects and hilariously depicted scenes of daring, exotic beetles and friendship and you have a truly captivating series that must be read. There's even a new Beetle Collector's Handbook available which not only gives the reader beetle 'facts', but relates these through a wonderful narrative voice in story-telling fashion.

The New Voices session is always a welcome treat. This year, nine author/illustrators (only two of these worked together) presented their debut books, all published just this year. Each had a quick-fire five-minute speaking slot to present.
The presenters were: Tina Callaghan (Dark Wood, Dark Water; YA horror fiction, Poolbeg); Kelly McCaughrain (Flying Tips For Flightless Birds, Walker Books); Caoimhe Nic Lochlann (Scéalta le hlnsint don Ghealach, Cois Life); Cethan Leahy (Tuesdays Are Just As Bad, Mercier Press); Pádraig Kenny (Tin, Chicken House); Alsion Healy (How Billy Brown Saved the Queen, Little Island Books); Brendan O'Donoghue (Adventures in Philosophy; Storeis and Quests for Thinking Heroes, Gill); Aga Grandiwicz and Rob Maguire (Dr Hibernica Finch's Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals, Little Island Books) and Emma Quigley (Bank, Little Island Books).
Lydia Monks joined Oisin McGann to discuss her quirky, imaginative illustrative style that has made her one of the most recgonisable and beloved illustrators working today. Lydia is one of the few remaining childrens' illustrators who has not engaged with digital media to produce her work. She still works by the 'old-fashioned' method of drawing and painting. Lydia feels strongly about the originality and hand-crafted quality of illustration, and that perhaps, working digitally produces an image that has too much similarity of style and content. I think her work speaks for itself...
And she even did a bit of drawing for us while answering questions.
We ended our day with an insightful discussion; Sarah Moore Fitzgerald in conversation with Louise O'Neill. Louise is a pivotal young Irish author writing Young Adult fiction that is hard-hitting, evocative and speaks of realistic traumatic issues facing young women. Her previous books are Only Ever Yours and Asking For It. These books gave young women a different voice; the permission to have conversations they felt they couldn't have previously and to enter into a discourse that is about informing rather than concealing and protecting. And isn't informing a different method of protecting?  Her latest is a bit of a departure; a re-appropriation of The Little Mermaid fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled The Surface Breaks (also for young adults).
Thus ends day one of Dreams and Nightmares...next post; day two.


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