writing workshop

The View from Pennsylvania: A Trip to Highlights Foundation

highlights rock garden
Here is a little poem I created out in the poetry garden at Highlights Foundation. Make weeds, believe in your pen.


A little over a year ago, Stacey posted about an “Unworkshop” at a place called the Highlights Foundation. Her experience sounded blissful and it soon became something on my bucket list. I then began looking for workshop opportunities at this special little place in Pennsylvania. What I found was that they offered a variety of workshops and one called, The Picture Book Academy, caught my eye. It would feature amazing authors and great information from presenters. I decided to take the plunge and go on an adventure.

It was early October and fall colors were just starting to peak! I was in a lucky place to view such a spectacular seasonal change and the weather was perfectly crisp with sunshine. I arrived on a Friday afternoon and was picked up at the airport by one of the foundation’s drivers.

highlights cabin

When I arrived I was dropped off at my cabin to get comfy and relax before a tour of the Highlights building back in town, where I met several editors and those who work for the Highlights magazine as well as Boyds Mills Press. It was a great way to kick off such a unique experience.

That evening I had the pleasure of listening to Floyd Cooper talk about his methods for illustrating. He has a special technique he calls “the subtraction method.” He does all of his illustrations with color and erasers, taking away parts of the illustration to cast light and glow that you can’t find anywhere else. He taught us this method of subtracting color using chalk and a special eraser that felt like sticky tack in my hands. Here is my illustration using the subtraction method of a face.


The next morning I was greeted by another beautiful day and took a walk down a two track road toward a little stream. I found the perfect rock to sit on and take in the morning before breakfast. This place was magic.

highlights stream

On the first full day, we started with Caldecott Committee Chair, Junko Yokota. She talked about the qualities of award-winning picture books. She compared them to a great dish. Junko explained that every good picture book needs four things, quality ingredients, expert cooking, appealing presentation and time to enjoy.

Then I met Laura Beltchenko, an educator and administrator with more than thirty years experience, who talked about the social and emotional development in children and the impact that picture books can have. We all have that favorite picture book we use with students during tough times. She highlighted a few of my favorites like I Wanna Iguana, Knuffle Bunny, and Crazy Hair Day.

Following lunch, Laura then talked about Visual Thinking Strategies. When guiding students through a picture book using this simple format of questions can elicit a great conversation.

  • What is going on in the picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find out?

Allison Green Myers, a teacher and presenter at Highlights, then showed us some fun ways to build picture books with students. She taught us to make paint with eggs and chalk, showed us several different ways of binding books, and talked about dissecting picture books with kids.

That evening, Lori Nichols, author and illustrator talked about growth rings and her journey as a maker of books.

After a quiet night in the cabin and some writing time I woke up to yet another amazing meal (I didn’t even mention how great the food is) and a keynote with Junko, this time all about diverse books. She discussed how picture books create community, help us share experiences, address issues and raise issues that really matter.

I wrapped up the morning with Lori Nichols as she took us through some of her favorite picture books. It was a great opportunity to share and talk about books.

Following lunch I had time to myself, time to write, time to walk and time to think in this peaceful environment.

That evening I had a VERY memorable meal with a new friend and cabin neighbor Lucy Staugler, Lori Nichols and author/illustrator Lindsay Barrett George.

highlights dinner

This was, by far, the most unique and amazing workshop environment I have ever experienced. The people, the food, and the information were all incredible. I made lasting friendships and can’t wait for my next visit.

7 thoughts on “The View from Pennsylvania: A Trip to Highlights Foundation

  1. Sounds like one of those moments that will live in your soul and maybe change you. There have been a few times and places in my life where I felt that inspiration and peace. I hope to get to Highlights one day too! So glad you had the experience.


  2. My grandmother was born in the neighboring town of Hawley. I am lucky enough to visit that beautiful area every summer, but I haven’t been to the Highlights Foundation before. I learned about it last year, and after reading your post, I think it would be so great to attend. Thank you for sharing!


  3. Ditto what Michelle said! I had wonderful leaders, met wonderful fellow writers, loved the wonderful setting, and got a wonderful boost to my writing– yep, Highlights gets an overall WONDERFUL rating. I look longingly over their upcoming workshop list each time it comes out. I would go back in a heartbeat but it’s just not in the cards or budget right now… but one day, the kids will no longer be in college 🙂 I encourage anyone reading this to GO. Thanks for the post, Betsy.


  4. Betsy, I LOVED my time at Highlights!!! Thank you for bringing me back there for just a moment this morning. I attended in the summer. Fall sounds like a perfect time too…come to think of it, any time spent at this magical place is time well spent!


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