I had an opportunity to join the good folks of the Highlights Foundation in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. (You may recall listening to my interview with program director Alison Green Meyers and executive director George Brown on this episode of The Children's Book Podcast). It was a quick trip as we have just started the new school year and I didn't want to miss any of the crucial beginning moments of building relationships with my students.
That said, here's a photo recap of my 36-hour getaway to Honesdale, PA.
To those familiar with the Highlights Foundation, it is a magical place. A retreat center in a remote woods up in the mountains where writing can happen without distraction and inspiration can take place among friends. I was invited to join as a faculty member on a workshop led by Don Tate and Carmen Oliver, titled THE JOURNEY: A CRASH COURSE IN HOW TO WRITE BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2018. Stellar faculty.
So I set out in the rain to travel north.
8:30am - The highway is quiet and a little foreboding.
10:15am - Rest stop and some interesting signage. Thank you for keeping good house, Pennsylvania.
10:45am - Fun family fact: whenever we pass this rotating statue outside the Weightlifting Hall of Fame in York, PA I always tell my kids, "Look at daddy! I'm working out!" Because #dadjokes.
11:58am - Nearly there. It's take a bit long than expected and I've re-listened to nearly the entire first season of the Revisionist History podcast. That is a whole lot of Gladwell.
12:45pm - Oh my word it's a sign! And it's dry here, too. Because 3+ hours of driving in the rain is not awesome.
12:46pm - I'm late for lunch, but I know Don and Carmen are waiting for me inside and that gives me all sorts of butterflies.
1:30pm - Walking past the cabins. Beside each door is a name placard indicating who is joining us this weekend.
1:32pm - I'm staying in the lodge. As I walk I turn back to look at the cabins, but the woods are already holding them safe.
1:33pm - The lodge has a beautiful front porch. I'll later sit here and talk with workshop attendees about diversity in kidlit as we watch the rain move in. The breeze will smell like the woods around where I grew up.
1:35pm - My room is cozy. It's got a comfortable bed, a great view, a large desk for writing, and...
...a well-stocked bookshelf!
3:30pm - There are trails around the retreat center but we were warned that a tornado recently came through the valley and downed a number of trees. I hiked to the spot. It was breathtaking. This photo will not do it justice.
5:00pm - Back in the barn and gazed in awe at a wall of original prints by Shadra Strickland made for A Child's Book of Prayers and Blessings: From Faiths and Cultures Around the World, written by Deloris Jordan.
7:30pm - We ate dinner together, the faculty and workshop attendees. The main course was beef stroganoff. All of the ingredients for the food are locally sourced. I nearly licked my plate. Carmen Oliver then kicked off the workshop with a talk entitled "Creating and Building Characters Readers Care About". The writing exercises she walked everyone through had the room abuzz with character ideas.
11:00pm - Stayed up talking to faculty. Rethinking my presentation. Wanting to make the talk serve this specific group of attendees as best as possible. Man it's dark out here.
11:45pm - Cool bag. Not a strong wifi signal. The presentation changes can wait till the morning.
7:00am - Breakfast and getting ready to hear Don talk about "Turning Real Life into Nonfiction" (which he does exquisitely, btw). We even get to see a video of him in a bodybuilding competition from a few years ago as he shares the background interest and research that led him to write Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth.
8:30am - I found a quiet place to touch up my slides before presenting. I even found this interesting chair which I felt like I needed to photograph. Morning yoga was hosted up here in the loft, but I didn't make it this time.
9:00am - Was very excited to meet Executive Director George Brown. He's got a great vision for the center and has helped a great number of books and bookmakers on their paths.
11:00am - And here's our guy, doing a slideshow selfie before sharing "Children’s Books in today’s classrooms and libraries".
11:05am - And here's the stack of books I incorporated throughout the presentation. All Are Welcome is the second book down (spine not displayed).
12:45pm - After finishing the absolute best comfort-food-lunch ever (grilled cheese and tomato bisque) I hurried over to Program Director Alison Green Meyers to thank her for her kindness, her vision for programming at the Foundation, and promises to stay in touch.
1:38pm - ...Says the GPS for the drive home.
6:00pm - But the rain slowed down the drive a bit but gave me plenty of time to reflect on what a truly exceptional place and service the Highlights Foundation is offering to authors and illustrators.
I hope to return to the Highlights Foundation in the future. I found the time away to be relaxing and inspiring, and I was particularly impressed with how easily writing came to me while in the space. There were no distractions. There was focus on story. And so story came to the forefront of my mind.
Before leaving I drew this mini comic in the guest journal inside my room. Maybe it will end up being in there beside something one of you writes on a visit sometime on your journey in making books for children. I think that's as good a place as any to close the cover on this trip.