I spent Wednesday, 13 April 2011, at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference here in Austin, TX. It was a day packed with great information, wonderful people and fabulous books. In fact, I have so much to say about my first ever visit to TLA that I’m going to break it into 3 posts. Part I: A Busy Day is an overview of all that happened (and that I forgot to take photos of—hey, I’m new at this blogging thing.)

Upon entering, I was happy to hear a familiar friendly voice—that of fellow Girllustrator (my illustration critique group) Marsha Riti. She attended with some of her children’s literature writing classmates.

Though the TLA is run by and geared toward librarians, it attracts all kinds of other folks, too: writers and illustrators (published and unpublished, alike), teachers, students, and people who just love books. It’s a great chance for all to come together and discourse on what’s new, what’s needed, and what’s next in publishing. For those of us who are lucky enough to be published, TLA is a great chance to meet some people at our publishing house with whom we’ve usually only corresponded through email or phone before. And for those of us who are new to the city that happens to be hosting TLA, it’s a great chance to get out and meet some peers. From what I hear, TLA is the only regional conference that a lot of publishers attend, because it is such a large and influential group. (Yea, Texas!) Let’s face it, TLA is a great place to be all around! (Except possibly for the food—two dollars for an apple? Yeesh!)

First thing, we went to hear a great talk Picturing Greatness: Picture Books that Stand Out in a Crowd with Morgan Marie McMillian, Dan Yaccarino, Chris Barton, Eric Rohmann and Kevin O’Malley. So many poignant things were said on the panel, I’m going to write a separate post on the subject. Stay tuned for that.

Next, my husband Jeff Crosby and I headed over to the Boyds Mills Press booth to sign copies of Upon Secrecy, written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated collaboratively by Jeff and me. Upon Secrecy, a tale based on true events of George Washington’s spy ring during the Revolutionary War, was published by Calkins Creek, the American history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, who is the publishing house of Highlights for Children. The Boyds Mills booth was manned (or womanned?) by marketing coordinator for Boyds Mills, Elizabeth Knight, and convention coordinator for Highlights, Laura Frazier. Both were quite lovely and we are very grateful to have been included in the event! Thanks ladies!

We forgot to take a picture during the signing, but here we are posing later with the advertisement for the event, while the amazing Layne Johnson signs copies of Farmer George Plants a Nation behind us in his fancy Revolutionary tri-corner hat. (I now know what is missing from Jeff and my signings—costumes!) We had the pleasure of getting to know Layne over dinner later that night.

After the signing, we scarfed down some fragrant yet pricey noodle salad, then popped in to meet some more locals at the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels ice cream social. The Sweethearts and Scoundrels are a group of local authors and illustrators with an omnipresence in the local kid lit scene. They formed the group (brilliantly, I think) with a common goal of marketing themselves and their books, and they do a fabulous job of it. Luckily, they are more sweetheart than scoundrel, so it’s always a good time when they’re around. Thanks for the ice cream, guys!

Next, we spent some time cruising the booths. We were excited to find a new book illustrated by our old SVA buddy, Andy Rash: Sea Monster’s First Day. I’m always happy to pick up a new book by Andy because I know it will be both funny and delightfully illustrated, and because Andy is an overall great guy. Our four-year-old daughter, Harper, loves Andy’s books as much as we do. She often acts out scenes from Andy’s Are You a Horse? with her toys. Plastic lion to cowboy: “I’m a man eating lion. Are you a man?” Reply: “Nope—I’m a cowboy!” Great stuff, Andy!

Harper, who attended the conference with us, is an absolute horse fanatic. As such, she was delighted to get a free copy of A Friend for Einstein from Hyperion, just for making a birthday card for the teeny equine. (One of the perks of attending a conference such as this—free books!) Also at the Hyperion booth, Jeff saw his F & Gs (an unbound proof called “fold and gathers”) for the upcoming Wiener Wolf (to be released July 2011)! It was really exciting for Jeff to see that his book is already being promoted before it’s even been released!

Another noteworthy picture book that I discovered at the conference was When Bob Met Woody (about Bob Dillon). It was written by Gary Golio, another local talent, whose Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow (about Jimi Hendrix) I absolutely love. I’ve made promises to cut back on my personal picture book library spending, but I think these two both deserve a place on my shelf. They uniquely introduce the early lives of their respective beloved musical figures with text and art that are musical themselves. What a great way to introduce children not only to reading and art, but also history, music and the passion of a musician.

This post is getting long and I haven’t even gotten to the cocktail party! But since I mentioned it, I might as well say that I had a lovely chat at said party with a couple members of my new writing critique group, Donna Bratton and Carmen Oliver. (At least I think it was lovely, I had had some wine by this time.) The group hasn’t met yet, since I’ve joined it–the dust is still settling from TLA and two area SCBWI conferences–but I’m really looking forward to getting started! Also at the cocktail party, Jeff schmoozed with the charismatic author Phil Bildner, who spends almost as much time in Texas as he does his home (and our former home of 13 years), New York City. Phil is a Texas Bluebonnet Award winner for his book, The Hallelujah Flight, and I’ve even heard rumors of a bluebonnet tattoo…You’ll have to check Jeff’s blog for a photo of him and Phil from the cocktail party!

Straight from the party, we were whisked off to dinner at Old Pecan Street Café by the Boyds Mills Press crew. Elizabeth Knight assigned our seats so that we were alternating librarians with creatives. This ensured that we got to spend some quality time chatting with nice folks from the other side of the library shelf, and also meant that Jeff and I couldn’t go splitzies on dessert. (I had to eat the whole thing! By myself!) Again, we were so engaged in conversation, we forgot to take photos! I loved learning about author Dotti Enderle’s passion for horror movies! Her YA novel, Crosswire, like other Calkins Creek books, is a heavily researched historical fiction, set in 1883 Texas. After listening to her recount her favorite suspenseful movie moments, I can only imagine the tension she achieves in Crosswire!

Being an author or illustrator can often be a lonely biz. Despite what others may think, it’s hard work with usually very little fanfare. Sure, I sometimes get to see the cute guy in the next cubicle, but it’s usually to hand off the toddler so that I can get some real work done. My one busy day at the TLA was like the office party that I never get to attend working freelance: I was treated to some fancy food and drink, learned what folks on the other floors actually do, and celebrated a mutual passion for the company that is publishing.

Please check back for One Day at TLA – Part II: Picturing Greatness and One Day at TLA – Part III: Dan Yaccarino is Awesome, But is he Stalking my Dog?