At the service of the love of literature

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To serve
a love of literature

Santa Barbara County Office of Education
70th Annual Breakfast with the Authors

By Leslie Dinaberg | November 10, 2022

Authors and illustrators for children and young adults recently gathered for the 70th annual SBCEO Authors’ Breakfast. Left to right: Bonnie Lady Lee, Andrea J. Loney, Alexis O’Neill, Greg Trine, Nikki Barthelmess, James Burks, Mary Penney Hershey, Joan Bransfield Graham and Anita Perez Ferguson. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

There are so many different philosophies on education, but one of the few things almost all of us can agree on is that a love of reading goes hand in hand with learning. With an eye (and an ear, and a belly full of quiche, fruit, and donuts) to feed that love of literature, the Santa Barbara County Office of Education hosted its annual Breakfast with Authors this fall for the 7th year!

Students, parents, teachers, librarians, community members and, of course, children’s book authors and illustrators came together – many in seasonal costumes as their favorite literary characters, including Greg Trine (gregtrine.com), whose last book is Dino Mighty: Age of the Heist — to talk about writing in general and the theme of “voice” in particular.

Anita Perez Ferguson writes historical adventures for young adults. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Highlighting the importance of having voices from many different cultures and different periods of history, Anita Perez Ferguson, a native of Santa Barbara (anitaperezferguson.com) writes the young adult mission bellstrilogy, which weaves together historical characters and events with thrilling action. She explained that her first book, twisted cross “begins in Spain in the late 1700s. Most of you in this room will know that we have Mission Santa Barbara here in our community. And there are a whole series of missions in the state of California. Even before these were built, this story begins as a boy who started in Spain and ended up in prison, he made a big mistake. Back then, in some prisons and companies, when we needed no more people to work on the ships crossing the Atlantic, we were going to take the prisoners out of the prison, and they ended up being the workers on the ships at that time.

This creative signage was part of the Dyslexia Project stand. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Joan Bransfield Graham (joangraham.com) is a fiction writer and poet. His children’s books Splish-Splashand twinkling flash, are what she described as “concrete poems about water and light” that can be used to inspire students to write their own poetry. “I have the opportunity to use many types of voices in my poems,” she explained. His collection of illustrated poems, The poem that will never endis a charming vehicle for teaching children forms of poetry, from sonnets to limericks, conversational poems, villanelles, and more!

“I have a love for wildlife conservation. It’s my voice. I can anthropomorphize just about any animal on this planet and give it a voice,” said author Bonnie Lady Lee (bonnieleebooks.com). She both charmed and baffled audiences as she shared the challenges of being asked to develop a screenplay for the Hershey Company, despite being “someone who absolutely despises chocolate!”

Lee said, “It was a really tough subject for me. One being that I absolutely hate chocolate. Being someone with such a passion to dislike it gave me a different voice and offered to tell the story of how milk chocolate is made.

Ironically, Lee’s presentation was attended by Mary Penney Hershey (marypenneyhershey.com), who joked, “I was really worried she’d say something bad about the Hersheys.” Hershey caught the attention of his first publisher at Random House with the title of his first book, My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book. “It was the first time I heard my voice for her. And then she read all 10 pages and asked for more, and finally she bought it.

A young reader holding the dictionary | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

His most recent book is titled Green eyes and ham, which is about “two 8th grade boys who discover they have crushes on each other. Finding my voice to become this character – I tend to write in the first person – was really exciting for me. I really enjoyed that. And I hope to write more about some of the marginalized groups who need voices.

Author Nikki Barthelmess (nikkibarthelmess.com), who writes young adult fiction, explained the concept of voice acting. “I wanted to start by talking about how our voices are all different,” she said. “So what is the voice? The perspective from which the story comes. So when I tell a story, or when I walk into a room, for example, it’s very different from anybody else in that room because I’m a different person. I am Nikki; I am an author. I grew up in Nevada, but I’m from California. I grew up in foster care. I am bicultural. So whatever I bring to the table makes me who I am.

Children’s book writer Andrea J. Loney (andreajloney.com) had a suitable analogy for creating characters. “If you like Legos, and you buy the box, and you have the box, and you see the house or whatever you want to do with the Legos, you don’t just empty it and all the blocks fall into place…. You actually have to spread them out and play with them…. You have to work on them. It’s the same with writing. And that’s part of how you find the voice.

“There is never just one voice you write; you have to play with the voice itself when you write,” echoed author Alexis O’Neill (alexisoneill.com), whose books include The efficient, inventive (often boring) Melvil Deweya picture book about the inventor of the Dewey decimal system.

Andrea J Loney | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Animator, author and illustrator James Burks (jamesburks.com) shared that taking improv classes and learning magic helped him learn how to become a character. “I used to work at Starbucks,” he said. “I was going to take my kids to school, and I was going to sit at Starbucks and sit in the corner with my laptop and my sketchbook. And I would have these made-up conversations between a bird and a squirrel. If you saw me there, you’d probably think I was crazy. ‘Why is he making those stupid faces?’ I try to find the voice of these characters that I create, whether they are birds, squirrels or little girls.

In addition to the featured authors, the tireless team of education activist Cheri Rae (author of the book Dyslexia-Earth) and Monie DeWitt (Photographer extraordinaire) were on hand to provide information for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October. For more information about their work, visit projectdyslexia.com.

See sbceo.org.

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