Last weekend I was in Springfield Illinois for the Illinois Reading Association Conference and was fortunate to be in the audience when Eric Rohmann gave his acceptance speech for the Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children. He spoke with warmth and grace:
The imagination doesn’t require much: a sudden light under a dark doorway, a line of smoke on the horizon, a nudge down a snowy hill…[as a child] I [once] sat on the grassy slope of my front lawn looking out at the house across the street. Suddenly, a black cat ran behind the house and a moment later, from the other side, a crow flew squawking into the sky. I knew better, but to my young mind the running cat, through some enchantment, had become the flying crow.
Children only need a place to start.
What a lovely picture–a cat becoming a crow! For great photos of the Prairie State Award Banquet check out Sharron McElmeel’s blog.
I had gone to Springfield with Sharron McElmeel, Michelle Edwards, and Dori Butler. We gave two panel presentations–one on how we each do our research. Dori actually took a citizens’ police course to learn about police procedures for her mystery novels. Michelle has interviewed school kids to help herself understand what it really feels like to be the new kid at school, and she once asked her own kids to scout out some authentic names. I talked about the importance of going to the places where our stories happen, and Sharron pointed out to us all that there are many kinds of research. We met some very dedicated Illinois teachers, whom I am glad to know. And we had a wonderful time chatting with Candy Fleming, who was also at the conference.
We also decided to be tourists in Springfield for a while. There is nothing like a “place” to bring a person to life. Standing in the old Illinois capitol and thinking that this is where Lincoln argued cases on a regular basis was awe-inspiring. Or walking up the steep staircase at the Lincoln home and knowing that he too walked up this staircase. The whole experience seemed to fit right in with thinking about the importance of going to the place where our stories take place. Just being there made me want to write one more story about Abraham Lincoln.