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Award-winning children's authors and illustrators visit WWU

The Children's Literature Conference opened up the world of storytelling and illustration to campus

Children read literature together in a peaceful space. They smile at their open books underneath a window. // Illustration by Sam Fozard

The 21st annual Children's Literature Conference at Western Washington University returned to campus Saturday, Feb. 17. The event hosted renowned authors and illustrators who spoke on their journeys, signed autographs and answered questions. 

The conference, which took place in the Performing Arts Center, included presentations, book sales and a Q&A panel. 

According to Sylvia Tag, Western librarian and conference director, the audience would be filled with aspiring authors and illustrators, regional educators and librarians, as well as Western students. 

Tag mentions that many attendees of past conferences bring what they’ve learned back to their classrooms, are encouraged to take risks with collections they’re developing and are inspired by the journeys shared by the presenters.

“Whenever you have creative writers or artists who are generous with their journey, that is of great value to any age,” Tag said. “But especially when you're a student and you are in that very process yourself: ‘what will my career path look like? What will my life look like? What will my personal choices look like?’” 

Some Western students have had the opportunity to volunteer at past conferences through their children's literature courses. One of these students is Western alum Faith Giboney.

Giboney is an aspiring writer who has gotten to meet authors like Donna Barbara Higuera, another author of multiple award-winning books. According to Giboney, they had the chance to ask the authors and attendees their advice on how to stay focused amid the constant flurry of new ideas.

“I was taken aback because they told me . . .  jump from project to project, follow that inspiration. A lot of these guys are working on multiple projects at once,” Giboney said. “Follow what inspires you, what keeps you interested. There's just something about bringing them to our school and hearing about them as people rather than as award winners.”

The Children's Literature Conference and their presenters draw a wide range of people, according to Giboney. Many are familiar with the authors and illustrators present, which this year will be David Bowles, E.B. Lewis, Dashka Slater and Jillian Tamaki. 

James Rosenzweig, a children's studies librarian at Eastern Washington University, is not only familiar with these speakers, but has their works on his shelves.

Rosenzweig explained that there are a lot of children's books about kindness, making things right and how to achieve a happy ending. But “Each Kindness,” a book by Jacqueline Woodson, is unique in that it reads as a somber story, dealing with topics not usually portrayed in children's literature.

In this story, a new classmate is continuously ignored and made fun of in school, despite her pervasive efforts to make friends. Eventually, she doesn’t come back to school. In the wake of her absence, the class is taught that each act of kindness is a ripple that extends out into the world. 

“It's an opportunity to talk with kids about the fact that you can’t always count on the fact that you'll get a second chance to fix a thing, and that doesn't make you stained forever,” Rosenzweig said. “I'm not going to see her again. I won't get to tell her I'm sorry. So what am I going to do with my life now that I know that I did that, and I could have done something different or better, but I didn't? I don't think that's too big a thing for a kid to learn. In fact, I think it's a really important thing for a kid to learn.”

Although registration for this event has closed, there are plenty of similar events coming to Western in the spring. 

In April, in honor of national poetry month, the opening of the Jack Prelutsky Antiquarian Poetry exhibit is set to take place, sponsored by Western’s Children's Poetry Collection and Special Collections. The collection was gifted to the university by Prelutsky, the renowned children's poet, containing over three centuries of poetry. 

Other speakers include Emmy and Newbery winner Kwame Alexander (community event on April 10, co-sponsored with Village Books), and Washington State Poet Laureate Arianne True who will be the Spring 2024 Special Collections Distinguished Lecture.

“Any college student, I think, who goes and encounters these sorts of stories, will find that really well presented, really well written, really well illustrated books for kids hit something in us that we still need, no matter whether we're 18 or 38 or 68,” Rosenzweig said.

Mina Di Virgilio

Mina Di Virgilio (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year Spanish major and journalism/public relations minor. Outside of reporting on Western’s campus, Mina enjoys reading, drawing, and figure skating. You can reach her at

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