August 4-6, 2023 – “Let the Wild Rumpus Start”: Writing for Young Readers

Ask me about a novel I read last year, and at best I’ll give a blurry summary. But ask me about the books I read in childhood, and often I can not only recall character traits and plot points but recite lines verbatim. Children’s books change lives and leave a lasting imprint. As noted education professor Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote, literature offers children “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors,” inviting readers to see their own “lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”

Writing for children is important—and fun!—but not easy. As picture book giant Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) remarked, these stories are “deceptively simple.” Lower word counts do not mean less work.

Designed as an introduction or refresher for pre-published writers, this retreat will survey the givens and the controversies of contemporary children’s literature and offer techniques and tips for honing craft, delighting readers, and pursuing publication. Although picture books will serve as mentor texts, the workshops will touch upon similarities and differences in middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction.

The Details:

Cost: $450.00 per person (includes 2 nights in a private suite, 5 meals, snacks, 4 workshops, and plenty of private time for writing)

Date: Friday, August 4, 2023 (Check-in: 4:00-6:00 pm) to Sunday, August 6, 2023 (Check-out: 11:00 am)

Place: Rockvale Writers’ Colony, 6994 Giles Hill Road, College Grove, TN

Retreat Schedule (tentative):

Friday, August 4, 2023:

4:00 to 6:00 p.m. – Check-in and settle in. We’ll show you to your assigned room.

6:00 p.m. – Dinner

7:00 p.m. – Welcome and Overview of Retreat

7:15 p.m. – Writing Workshop: Contemporary Children’s Lit—Understanding Your Audiences (yes, plural!)

We’ll discuss recent standout children’s books, including Newberry and Caldecott winners. Who reads these books? Who buys them? And why?

9:00 p.m. – Free Time / Bedtime

Saturday, August 5, 2023:

6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready!

6:30 a.m. — Morning Walk (optional)

7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available. Come anytime you’re ready.

8:30 a.m. – Writing Workshop: What Makes a Compelling Story?

We know the ingredients of story: character, plot, setting, theme, language. What are the genre conventions for these in picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult?

9:45 a.m. – Free Time for Writing

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

1:00 p.m. – Writing Workshop: From Brainstorming to the First 10 Pages

Where do stories come from? We’ll practice generating ideas and then turning them into prose that hooks readers right from the start.  

6:00 p.m. – Dinner

7:00 p.m. – Writing Workshop: All Writing Is Rewriting

The story’s on the page, but it doesn’t always sing. Yet. How we can improve our text through revision—re-envisioning everything from the central conflict to the final sentence?

8:30 p.m. – Reading: Share a Draft or Your Favorite Picture Book – Sharing is optional; however, we ask that you attend whether you read or not, in order to support other writers.

10:00 p.m. – Free Time / Bedtime

Sunday, August 6, 2023:

6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready!

6:30 a.m. – Morning Walk (optional)

7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available. Come anytime you’re ready.

8:30 a.m. – Writing Workshop: Approaching Agents and Editors

Welcome to the wonderfully supportive community of children’s book writers. Sharing resources, we’ll  touch upon ways to break into, or sustain a presence in, a competitive publishing marketplace.

9:45 a.m. – Free Time for Writing

11:00 a.m. – Checkout and Goodbye

Facilitator: Sylvia Whitman

Writer/educator Sylvia Whitman has published hundreds of articles for adults and children and a dozen books for young readers. Recognition for her work includes two appearances on the Banks Street College annual list of Best Children’s Books of the Year for What’s Cooking? A History of American Food and The Milk of Birds, a YA novel which the International Reading Association named one of its Notable Books for a Global Society in 2014. In fall 2023, she’s looking forward to the publication of her first middle-grade novel, If You Meet the Devil, Don’t Shake Hands, and a nonfiction picture book.

Sylvia lives in Sarasota, Florida, and teaches professional and creative writing at Ringling College of Art and Design, including the Writing Picture Books course. A longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), she has led a picture book “boot camp” for the Florida chapter and served as a contest judge. One of her favorite picture-book characters is Ferdinand the Bull.

For more information, please see

Photo Credit: Jenny Foster

Please note the following due dates and refund policy:

• $100.00 non-refundable deposit due upon registering.
• $350.00 balance due one month before retreat start date (July 7, 2023)
• If cancellation by retreater occurs 2 weeks to 1 month before retreat (July 7 to July 21, 2023)– refund is 50% of the balance owed.
• If cancellation by retreater occurs less than 2 weeks before retreat (July 22 to August 4, 2023) – no refund
• If RWC cancels the retreat for any reason, full refunds will be provided to all retreaters.