The 265 educators, artists, authors and all-around book lovers from 14 different states who attended the Mazza Museum’s Summer Conference this July heard from 12 authors and illustrators about their work with picture books. Hosted on the campus of the University of Findlay, each of the keynote presenters, including Chris Barton, Rosemary Wells, Barney Saltzberg, Marie Louise Gay, Lizzy Rockwell, Steve Light, Lita Judge, Elly MacKay, Randall de Sève, Steve Swinburne, Jim Averbeck and Jason Chin captivated the audience with presentations that offered insights into their creative process and the meaning behind their work.


Here are some highlights from the week:

  1. To give her characters’ lifelike expressions, Rosemary Wells explained her technique: “Put the expression on your face and let it run down your arm,” she said. She also gave the audience an inside look at some of the tools she uses to create texture in her illustrations. She photocopies things like brown rice, tapioca, lentils, Cheerios, or the bristles of a broom and creates stamps that are incorporated into the illustration.
  2. After sharing some of the stories behind his books Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep and Beautiful Oops, author and illustrator Barney Saltzberg picked up his guitar and led the audience in songs about friendship and his characters that inspired the same warmth and fun as his books.
  3. Marie Louise Gay who specializes in “getting into the skin of her characters” shared memories from her time as a child actor beginning with helping both of her parents who acted on stage learn their lines. She explained how she “drew from the magic of her childhood memories” as drawing invaded her life, and she began to write and illustrate books.
  4. Autographs! Participants had the opportunity to purchase books from the keynote presenters and ask them to personalize it with their name and a signature.Autograph
  5. “What do I want to say to my captive audience?” is the question that nonfiction author and illustrator Lizzy Rockwell asks herself when writing her books and that she asked again when she began her presentation at Mazza. While sharing some of her inspirations, she stressed the importance of celebrating and propagating literacy by empowering children with information and engaging them with things like the food they eat and where it comes from.
  6. Elkie Burnside, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at UF announced a website she and her students have put together that allows teachers to capitalize on the lesson plans that can be created to extend the educational impact of a class visit to the Mazza Museum found at
  7. Author Randall de Sève considers picture books a venue for young readers to get to know themselves and writes so they can find a meaningful rich experience within the pages. Her books often include a lesson such as “Look beyond your first impressions,” as illustrated in The Duchess of Whimsy.
  8. Swinburne“Writing is about paying attention,” said Steve Swinburne, who worked as a ranger in several national parks before becoming a children’s book author. He shared video from his research of the loggerhead sea turtle, an amphibian that’s been around since the dinosaurs and is now struggling to avoid extinction, for his book Sea Turtle Scientist. In fact, only one in 1,000 loggerhead hatchlings becomes a full-grown sea turtle.
  9. As he talked about his books Oh, No, Little Dragon, A Hitch at the Fairmont, and upcoming projects, author and illustrator Jim Averbeck opened up about his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and how it has affected him and his family. “I know she will never be forgotten,” he said, “because she’s in every book I write,” adding that it’s museums and libraries that ensure those stories aren’t forgotten.
  10. Throughout the week, pull-out sessions led by teachers, artists, Mazza staff and others, offered participants the opportunity to explore techniques for using graphic novels in the classroom, learn about the history of Children’s Book Week, see behind the scenes at Mazza and so much more!

See more pictures from the event here.

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