The Annual SCBWI Pocono Retreat at the Highlights Foundation has easily become one of my favorite SCBWI events. It has the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of a writing retreat but with the faculty, facilities, and programming of a top-rate conference. This year’s retreat was truly a weekend to remember. The sold-out event featured many of the same wonderful programming opportunities that attendees have come to depend on, such as informative workshops, inspiring keynote speeches, and valuable faculty critiques, as well as all the perks that the Highlight’s Foundation has to offer. There were familiar faces of returning attendees as well as many new friends with whom we connected.
This year, our regional team also introduced some exciting new features that made the weekend even more special. We kicked things off with an optional tour of Lindsay Barrett George’s studio, and after that we all gathered at the Highlights Foundation Barn for an introduction to our faculty. Each faculty member was seated at a different table, and the attendees at those tables had only fifteen minutes to get to know them and find out their deepest, darkest secrets—and then present them to the whole group! We discovered their fears, phobias, passions, and possible secret identities—though I’ve promised not to publish them here.
Another new feature this year was the addition of member presentations. Some of our fellow Eastern PA authors and illustrators were given the opportunity to lead sessions of their own, including breakout sessions and a session of roundtable presentations. For the roundtable presentations, attendees could choose from a list of varying topics for a brief fifteen-minute presentation. After the first fifteen-minute presentation, attendees scattered across the room to sit in on another roundtable session of their choice for a total of three presentations. Some choices included “Games as Character Builders,” “Empowering Your Voice in a World Overrun with Gifs and Emojis,” and “Sensory, Rhythm, Music, and Theater in Writing Early Children’s Lit” among others.
The rain pounded on our cabins most of Friday night, but by Saturday morning the sun was out, just in time for a full day of activities on the Highlights campus. This was the busiest day of all, with keynote speeches, breakout sessions, faculty critiques, peer group critiques, and a silent auction to top off the evening. Our silent auction featured a wide array of donations from attendees and faculty including prints, books, critiques, and even Highlights Foundation workshops. All proceeds from the silent auction benefit our scholarship program, which allows our SCBWI chapter to fund scholarships for this event.
Not every part of the weekend was devoted to writing and illustrating. There were nature walks, yoga, some musical entertainment, plenty of socializing, and of course great meals. A few critters got in on the action (I’m thinking of Bob the Mouse in cabin 21 and a very active woodpecker that made quite a racket on my cabin walls in the wee hours of Sunday morning).
Of course, I’m not the only one raving about the Pocono Retreat. Here are some things other attendees had to say:
As a newcomer, I found that the retreat exceeded my expectations. I felt surrounded by creative support, generously shared practical tips, and insight into how publishing decisions are made. The first stop at Lindsay Barrett George’s studio inspired me to better integrate my work and living space. I came home with a clear revision plan and a strategy for seeking a publisher. Kudos and thank you to the EPA leadership and the faculty!
It was the best of times; it was the greatest of times! For me, one of the highlights of the retreat was the mealtime discussions. Opportunities to talk informally with fellow authors, share spirited conversations, and engage in active dialogue about common challenges was both invigorating and refreshing. Mealtimes were certainly nourishment for the mind as much as they were a sustenance for the body. Creatively speaking, they were also an incubator for new ideas (I’m currently working on two new book projects generated as a result of those exchanges). The retreat was truly an experience to savor . . . a delicious intellectual repast!
—Anthony D. Fredericks
I was so thrilled and excited to present at the Pocono retreat during the roundtable event. It was such a pleasure to talk about my characters, “Lola and Louie,” and to explain my process for creating a three-panel story. I greatly appreciated the presentation by Melissa Iwai about making art a daily practice and her emphasis on self-care. Mallory Grigg’s presentation on “The Art and Architecture of Picture Books” helped me see how I might improve my portfolio in creating artwork with varying perspectives. Another bonus from the retreat was the conversations I had with people who are as passionate as me about children’s books and gaining new fans of my work.
I appreciated the rare opportunity to personally interact with the faculty during happy hours, over meals, and through seminars. Eric Taylor’s seminar on the “Unspoken Elements of Dialogue” was especially helpful. I could immediately apply what he suggested to my writing. The Barn served as a perfect place to casually socialize with attendees all weekend long. In addition, the hospitality of the Highlights family can’t be topped!
One thing that makes the Eastern PA Annual Pocono Mountain Retreat a fully enjoyable experience is that the faculty members sit among the attendees at meals and mingle at the cocktail hours in a relaxed indoor/outdoor setting. This year, I was excited at the chance to offer a fifteen-minute “Roundtable” exercise in painting skin tones, and was pleased to have two faculty members joining in. Dissolving that invisible barrier results in members feeling more confident when submitting writing or art samples. Organizers make sure there are numerous topics of interest to illustrators and opportunities to display our portfolios. As a PAL illustrator, I appreciate the discounted registration fee offered us, along with the breakout gathering titled “PAL Clubhouse.”