I attended "The Symposium of the Book" in July, a full-day devoted to children's fiction, with 10 experts who included authors, publishers, professors, teacher-educators, librarians, and book reviewers from across the country. While there were many teachers and teacher-educators in the audience of over 100, I was surprised at how few writers were there, despite the event's value .
We learned about books for reluctant readers -- publishers can't get enough manuscripts to meet the demand; the need for cross-cultural books for ESL students; and the inconsistent shelving of YA novels in the adult sections of libraries, and more. Historical novels for teens are also in demand and publishers want more fresh voices writing about minorities whose history has been ignored; and time travel remains a popular form in this sub-category. Fantasy continues to be highly popular with all age groups, and not just the J.K Rowling books. Publishers put out a call for more wacko humour (Monty Python style) for grade 9-10 boys.
Panelists recommended YA authors read Reginald Bibby's (U of Lethbridge) 2001 book, Canada's teens: Today, yesterday, and tomorrow, to aspiring YA authors. Here's the summary about it: What's going on with teens today? What are their experiences with violence, sex, and drugs? What do they value, enjoy, and worry about? How do they feel about family life, spirituality, cyberspace, and Canada? How do they compare with teens of the past, and with their parents and grandparents today? And how are they going to turn out? Reginald Bibby addresses these important questions by drawing on his unparalleled nationwide surveys of young people and adults spanning the years 1975 through 2000. Today's teenagers, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Boomers' parents all speak out in this colourful landmark look at teens today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
Organizers gave attendees five newly published books from the authors on the panel; there were two floor mics so participants could ask questions and join in the discussions; and we had time to meet the panelists and other participants. All this for $75! I got my money's worth in the first hour.
Don't miss it next year - the symposium is run by the Summer Publishing Program of Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, at the downtown campus. Visit www.ccsp.sfu.ca/pubworks/index.html in January 2008 to see what the focus will be next year. Rumour says it may be creative nonfiction.
If you are not close to Vancouver, check out your local university continuing studies programs and/or summer schools, they often have excellent courses for writers, both emerging and experienced.