No one could possibly want to go to Tucson. This is what the AZ Department of Transportation apparently thought when they made the decision to close all of the exits from I-10 save the first one. Miss it and you'll be having lunch in Nogales. By some stroke of unusual good fortune, I did not miss it, having spent the last hour of a two hour drive from Phoenix hunched over the wheel squinting intently at each and every sign on the highway, from "Slow Workers Ahead" to the long abandoned Nickerson Farms turnoff (Nickerson Farms being the west of the Mississippi version of Stuckey's, nut logs included.) I arrived at the University of Arizona's 17th Annual Conference on Literature and Literacy for Children and Adolescents, dusty and nearly blind, but ready for my presentation. The theme of this year's conference was Bridging Cultures-Crossing Borders and the featured guests were Pam Munoz Ryan and Rafael Lopez, both of whom have their own blogs I'm sure. MY breakout session topic was Drawing a Bridge: The Challenges and Rewards of Illustrating Another Culture, and I talked primarily about illustrating the books The Best Eid Ever and A Party in Ramadan for Boyds Mills Press. What began as a typical Power Point show became a lively discussion about differences and similarities between cultures, religions, even age groups (kids today with their hair and their music...). One of my goals in illustrating these two particular books was to make the story accessible to all kids, to show the similarities that bind us all together: love of family, sharing with others and attempting new and difficult challenges. The group consensus seemed to be that the book was successful in this respect, as well as being a much needed addition to libraries that are sadly lacking in books for kids who practice the Muslim faith. The day ended with a signing out in the Arizona sunshine complete with a Mariachi group from Davis Bilingual Magnet School. Normally, one might cringe when an eight year old steps up to the mike with a trumpet, but these kids were magnificent, talented and really, really cute, as the twenty photos I snapped can attest to.
I don't go downtown often. If someone says they live in downtown Phoenix, the first response is usually "why?" There's light rail now, and impressive sports arenas, but try and find a sandwich after five o'clock. Then IRA came to town and I had books to sign and swag to amass. I set my GPS, which is the gift from the gods my directionally challenged soul has been asking for its entire, turned around life, giving me a freedom not known since I decided to wear shorts under my skirt to play on the monkey bars, and headed for the convention center. The economic day of reckoning being upon us, attendance was underwhelming, but for this illustrator, meeting folks and signing books is always a thrill. Brittany from Boyds Mills Press was the ultimate booth manager: calm, friendly and unflappable, something I envy as I tend to start flapping at the slightest provocation. We got a lot of books out there, and I went home with a nifty tote bag.