Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SCBWI + Birmingham, Alabama


By J.G. Annino

                        It was a sunny and warm day when my husband and I drove

past fields of  cotton fluffs in North Florida and then crossed the line into South

Alabama. We enjoyed comparing the commercial plants to the tiny cotton patch

that shows little white bunny tails here in the yard.  We sight-seers arrived in the

afternoon at our North Alabama locale - leafy, hilly, greater Birmingham.

                        My SCBWI workshops weren’t until the next day. We had time to

eat (local Bar-B-Cue) and to tour the Civil Rights Institute. We saw the impressive

sculpture of civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth. Current renovations closed the

building to us, otherwise.

                                                 A National Historic Site

            So we were able to concentrate all our time on the beautiful 

            The church congregation keeps a proud history that stretches back to the

first one, a different building, in 1873 . The impressive double-towered building

is a National Historic site. More important, it is an enduring memorial to the four

girls who lost their lives in what should have been the sanctuary of the church,

in one of this nation’s most heinous acts of domestic terrorism. It remains

a very active church. It is also exceptionally welcoming to strangers.

            What struck me as I walked around the basement (this is the level of the

church the girls were in, for Sunday School, just before their murders), what

stays me now were expressions of love on the walls.

            These framed and displayed items were created by children and adults all

over the world. And then carefully wrapped and mailed. Needlepoint and

other crafts, original poems, works of art were sent and are still sent to the

congregation, more than 50 years after the bomb blast by hatred-filled men. 

One amazing work of art, a gift from the people of Wales, is on an upstairs

balcony wall. My husband and I had time for silent meditation, prayer and

reflection, near this stain-glass black Jesus, after one touring couple

left the balcony.

                                                    SEEDS OF FREEDOM

            So it was quite in keeping with my reflective mood, that Saturday’s

event featured both the artist and author of a new picture book about a

little-known corner of segregation history but also, integration history, in the 

U. S. 

            Quietly and without much outside attention at the time, a group of white

children integrated a black school in the far northeast corner of Alabama, at

Huntsville. But not without the help of many black children and the parents of both groups.

           The everyday details of segregation and the unique details of peaceful integration

in the 1960s are told with breath-taking water color paintings and lyrical writing.

            The story is SEEDS OF FREEDOM, the Successful Integration of

Huntsville, Alabama. This picture book is already honored with multiple well-deserved

awards for author Hester Bass and  artist E.B.  Lewis. 

                      They previously teamed up for THE SECRET WORLD of WALTER 

ANDERSON, one of my favorite illustrated biographries for young readers. The new

book is just as stunning and sends a beautiful message out to the world of

peace-wanting people, about how this historic group made peace happen.

            Hester is an energetic actress-turned-author who lives in Santa Fe, New

Mexico, with her artist husband. (She lived in Huntsville for 10 years and also, 

elsewhere in the south.)  I attended only one of her several events at the Writing and 

Publishing for Kids 2015 conference. 

            Our group loved shaking shoulders, rolling heads and practicing Hester's

techniques to wake up our bodies before writing.

            Then we thought about the many ways to borrow actor techniques - to

observe people and listen to language, which can add sensory details to our characters.

                              SEEDS OF FREEDOM author Hester Bass (left) , J. G. Annino 
                                                    #wik15 #scbwi #southernbreeze

                                                        MORE WORKSHOPS

            Middle grade novelist-funny girl author Kami Kinard was the second author

I felt fortunate to study with that day.  She also conducted more than one workshop.

Ours involved techniques and tips about layering a novel with elements other than

everyday normal text.  And of course this applies to picture books, too. 


Here are a few from her long list of eyedears:  a quiz the character

takes/gives; fortune cookie  fortunes; & notes on a bulletin board. My own notes 

were scrawled after that because it hit me for the first time ever, that my main

character in my MG novel has never had Chinese food, living as she does, in a tiny

coastal town in the 1970s. And then I was off & scribbling with dialog, etc. This

aspect may not appear in the story, but such fun to catch a wave of writing flow,

unexpectedly. And to discover new parts of her back story, which I need to know.

Like Hester, Kami is another author you will want to hear speak, if you have the chance.


            Every SCBWI workshop features editors and agents. I listened to

freelance editor Harold Underdown (above) discuss the future of children’s

publishing. (It’s great! Picture books are soaring! ) And I also attended packed

breakout sessions with talented house editors who look at manuscripts for children,

from poetry through novels. Each of them generously offered such minutiae, such

specifics related to them, that those two sessions were worth the low price of

Southern Breeze admission.


            I returned home with a buncha titles I promptly

thought our local library system should have, especially

the new historical fiction novel, that tore my gut up before

it put it back again. 

         This YA novel is HALLEY, by the much-appreciated

Faye Gibbons. I am so titlted in its favor, with the evocative

rural terms  (my Dad grew up on a tenant farm) and language

 used in this Depression-era story. They are similar and 

even exactly the same words & sayings I haven't heard since my 

dear Dad passed on. He was a great storyteller, about incidents in his daily life,

that are similar to experiences of the Oweby Family of this rugged story.  I love

the character, never-give-up, yet flawed, Halley.  Faye welcomes visitors to her

blog which is You may also enjoy her website, which is

separate-  Faye Gibbons. It is a real treat to meet her.

                    I also tipped off our youth librarian about the teen memoir

TAKING FLIGHT, by Michaela DePrince.  Michaela went from living bleakly

as a Sierra Leon war-orphan, neglected, hit & bullied, to soaring joyfully in glittery

costumes, as a principal ballerina with a European company today. MGM has bought

movie rights to her story. She wasn't able to attend, but I so much appreciated a chat

with her mother. And this was cold, not knowing what the book was about when I

picked it up from the table. She and her husband began the fairy tale dream come true,

via adoption, when Michaela was only four. And without spoiling the story, that

was unexpected. Read it to see what I mean. This enormously hard-working & talented

dancer became a professional ballerina at age 19. A story from love's heart. I cried.

Fortunately, I was able to smile, too. If I share more details, they are spoilers. But I

was thunderstruck how ballet reached out to Michaela across the Atlantic Ocean, at age

four, while suffering emotional & physical neglect in an impoverished setting.

A true goose-bumpy story.

                                                           MORE ON AUTHORS

              Group Bloggers know I have already recommended Lisa Lewis Tyre’s

LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS. It was fun to meet high-energy Lisa. I wish

I could have attended her talk. And all the presentations. There are a girnormous

amount of them every October at this much-anticipated Southern Breeze event. 

             HALLEY author Faye Gibbons is center in red. To her right is
             SCBWI RA-Emeritus Joan Broerman, who is a legend in her own time.
             At far left is Wanda Vaughn. Your blogger is holding HALLEY.  If you
             are in Homewood, Alabama, a Birmingham suburb, you will enjoy visiting
             this site - Little Professor. It is two floors of wonderfulness!  Cafe, included.

                                                             STILL, MORE!

            On top of all this goodness, WIK 2015 featured an arty party,  snazzy

handouts, huddletime/noshtime with friends new and old, & the book event

in a fabulous independent bookstore cafe (above.)  I also came across folks who

know Group Bloggers & this Blog. Plus, the on-the-spot p.b. colleagues' critiques

& the professional critique sent me back to the keyboard & to the paper notepad,

ready to work harder. While smiling.

            The conference is a gift that keeps on
giving. I returned revved up + writing.

As I type this Nov. 2,  the high-voltage energy
of the weekend carries on.

               I think it’s why I signed up +
completed the Scrivener tutorial, which I
delayed for too long, while I bumbled my way
around with my MG novel not organized spiffy,
in Word (on my mac.) The Wik15 bump is
also why I’m onboard this very, now
underway, NaNoWriMo 2015.

        Appreciations to #Southern Breeze.


  1. Wow, Jan sounds like so much goodness. Glad you got to attend the conference as well as get in some wonderful sight seeing.

    1. Glad to be a guide to it, vicariously, Leslie. Appreciations for your kind words.

  2. I have been going to Southern Breeze events for many, many years. Didn't make this one, but each one has been stellar. Great overview of the weekend. Thanks.

    1. Aww... We would have finally met, Sherri.
      'Nother time!
      Appreciations for your kinds words.
      Did you see any peeps in the photos?

  3. I loved the part about touring the church and seeing the artwork. Beautiful! (and the related pb)

  4. Appreciations, Tina. I hope your library can get a copy of SEEDS OF FREEDOM. Visiting the artist & author websites is also like a mini-visit to the book.

    If you can visit
    the church some day, I feel you will be very moved.

    my best to you!

  5. S9 much goodness. I was great getting to meet you!

    1. And scooby do to Sweet Potato Festival you, too, Tracey M. Cox.
      Can't believe we share a bit of geography & didn't know it.
      My hubby & I were in SW GA just this weekend....
      Hope to see you round bookish events, again!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Your goodness got on the page 2x Tracey, so that explains the blip.
      Appreciations for your visit here to Group Blog. Hope you can return

  7. Sounds like a great workshop. Looking forward to hearing more about it.

    1. Craft was my focus, but I met writers who got a lot from the publishing/marketing
      events, also. It was good to meet new folks + see pals from before.

      Thanks for stopping by Group Blog, Debra!