For writers, some places are inspirational—or just plain lucky. Whatever you call it, my inspirational/lucky place is the Highlights retreat center at Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania. Over the years, I’ve participated in numerous workshops and “unworkshops” sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. The workshops are always both educational and motivational, and the unworkshops have been simply magical. Unworkshops offer unstructured writing time, and I have composed two successful picture books during different unworkshops. I always find inspiration in the rustic, yet comfortable, cabins and the beautiful wooded surroundings.

In October 2014, I sat outside the retreat center for at least 15 minutes watching the last two leaves sway on a tree in the breeze. As I wondered if they would fall while I watched (they didn’t), a line popped into my head: “One leaf, two leaves, on the tree.” I rushed back to my cabin. Then another line came: “Three leaves, four leaves, count with me.” By nightfall, I had prepared the draft manuscript for what became the counting/seasons picture book One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me. The book, with illustrations by Clive McFarland, was published in 2017 by the Nancy Paulsen imprint of Penguin. It drew strong reviews and was included in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program from 2018 through 2021. Order from Penguin or Amazon.

Lightning struck again in fall 2017. Like my counting book, Raindrops to Rainbow was conceived and drafted at a Highlights Foundation unworkshop. Raindrops beating against my cabin roof on a rainy day inspired the opening lines: “Plip-plop, plip-plop, plip-plip-plop/Will these raindrops ever stop?” And from that developed Raindrops to Rainbow, a “colors” book about a young girl who is distressed by GRAY skies on a rainy day. As thunder rumbles, she huddles under her GREEN blanket and hugs her BROWN bear tight. Her mother entertains her until BLUE skies and the YELLOW sun return, and together they head outside to experience a RAINBOW together. Other colors appear throughout the story as well. With lovely illustrations by Charlene Chua, this book was published by Penguin Workshop in spring 2021. The Delaware Center for the Book has chosen Raindrops to Rainbow as Delaware’s selection for the “Great Reads from Great Places” feature of the 2021 National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress. Order from Penguin or Amazon.

I highly recommend Highlights unworkshops to all writers. Located in northeastern Pennsylvania, these unworkshops offer cozy cabins, three gourmet meals a day, hiking trails, and gloriously unstructured time to write. Mealtimes bring you together with the other writers to discuss ideas, progress, and writing in general. I look forward to doing another unworkshop soon. The Highlights Foundation also offers a variety of other, more instructional workshops on a wide variety of topics. I’ve taken several of those, and I highly recommend them as well. You can learn more at the Highlights Foundation webpage.

I’ve tried to replicate these unworkshops by doing other self-initiated writing retreats at the beach or in the mountains, with varying degrees of success. Wherever your inspirational/lucky place may be, visit it as often as you can!

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