NextGen Picture Book Writers!

Last weekend I had the privilege of meeting many talented young writers who’d created their own picture books, and other types of books, at the 43rd Annual Illinois Young Authors Conference (Yes, the 43rd!) This fantastic event celebrated exceptional writers in grades Kindergarten through 8th who’d won writing contests at their schools.
(Each school district decided the number of students invited to the conference — usually one or two winners per school.) The Illinois YA Conference was co-sponsored by the Illinois Language and Literacy Council and Illinois Reading Council, though many states across the country hold their own Young Author contests and events.

So please join me in celebrating these enthusiastic young writers, and the wonderful volunteers put on this great event. Here are a few photos/highlights of the day …

Long before the winners and their families arrived Saturday morning, the Young Author volunteers were already hard at work organizing and setting up.

YA Team: Ruth Stevig, Doris Aimers-Voss, Sue Anderson, Christina Podraza, Meg Pyterek, Kathleen Jesukaitis

Kathleen Jesukaitis (volunteer/conference organizer from past years), discussing autograph stickers with volunteer, Richard Arnall.

First, the day kicked off with an opening ceremony. Then students broke into groups and headed out to small group sessions where they shared their stories with one another, met with authors to learn about their writing journeys and asked questions, and listened to a professional storyteller. While students were enjoying their group sessions, parents had the opportunity to attend their own parent breakout and explore campus.

Authors who presented to small groups (from left): Mike Grosso, Michael Spradlin, Suzanne Slade, Liesl Shurtliff (front), Kathryn Atwood (back), Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, Chris Rylander, Lori Degman, Kevin Luthardt, Marianne Malone, Kim Sheahan (storyteller), and Allan Woodrow.

After their day of enriching sessions (and a great pizza lunch), students and their families came back together for the closing ceremony. There each child was welcomed onto the stage and the title of his or her winning story was announced (which now proudly wore the gold sticker it received during the day.)

As winners exited the stage, they shook hands with the author they’d met earlier in the day, and were presented with an autographed copy of the author’s book.

But the exciting day wasn’t over yet! Students and their families gathered in the bookstore where children shared their stories with the authors, asked more questions, took pictures with authors, and had their books (and conference t-shirts) autographed.


One student named Leyton shared his winning book, A BOOK OF AUTHORS, filled with fascinating facts about various authors and clever illustrations with me. (Thanks to Leyton’s mom for permission to share these photos.) The highlight of my day was reading Leyton’s book and the other students’ fantastic books. I can’t wait to read the books these young writers will publish in the future!

The Illinois Young Author Conference was thrilling for everyone involved: students, families, volunteers, and authors. Unfortunately, the state funding for this event was cut a few years ago. Organizers are working hard to find ways to finance the conference through fundraisers. If you’d like to help, you can donate to this wonderful event via GoFundMe. You can also find out more about the Illinois Young Author event on Facebook.

I’d love to hear your comments about how your state, town, or school helps encourage and inspire young writers!

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. What a fabulous event! I’m so glad you got to attend and encourage young writers.

  2. Events like these make an impression on some young writers that lasts a lifetime. In Nova Scotia, I have organized such events to celebrate writers from Grades three to twelve. They were always a highlight for published authors and students.

  3. How wonderful, Jane, you organized events to celebrate young writers in Nova Scotia! It’s exciting to think about how one event like this could make such a huge impression on a child. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I don’t know if our city or library or school system has a program such as this to encourage young writers, but they should!
    I have 2 granddaughters in the area just graduating kindergarten. One of them is already a budding writer/illustrator! My two older grandkids live out of state, and also love to read and write!
    This is so exciting!

  5. How exciting to have a granddaughter who is already writing and illustrating in kindergarten, and other grandchildren who are readers and writers! You are one lucky Grandma! Thanks for sharing.

  6. There are so many programs designed to encourage children to read, (very important, too!). It is wonderful to hear of this event that encourages children to express their creativity through writing. Congrats on inspiring and acknowledging the efforts of these future authors!

  7. What a wonderful event! I love Leyton. He’s got a great start by knowing the value of authors and books.

    • Yes, Leyton’s book topic was priceless! I should have taken photos of his artwork inside as it was very clever. For each author he had glued in half of a picture of the author’s head, then had drawn in the other half himself!

  8. This is great! I love the whole idea. Thanks for sharing.

  9. LeeAnn Rizzuti

    Any program that encourages creativity and imagination in kids is to be commended. Kudos to Illinois for doing their part.

  10. Suzanne,
    I love your book about George Gershwin. One of my favorite picture book bios. Encouraging the next generation of picture book writers is so important. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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