Essential Coversations at the Highlights Foundation

Our goal is to provide spaces both online and in person for children’s literature changemakers and innovators to lead—with the support and resources of the Highlights Foundation.

Children’s Literature is a Change Agent.

When children are centered in the pages of a book, equity is amplified. When children expand their experiences through the pages of a book, access is amplified.

Children’s books that reflect the richness of the human experience through diversity, inclusion, and access are catalysts for change.   




In-Community and Professional Development Opportunities

To amplify the need and call for more diverse, inclusive, and accessible books, the Highlights Foundation developed Essential Conversations programming.

Our goal is to provide online and in-person spaces for children’s literature changemakers and innovators to lead—with resources and support.

Our action comes through craft, education, and community-building for creatives and professionals in and around the children’s book industry.

  • In-community opportunities offer reserved and respected spaces for affinity and connected care, growth, and collaboration.
  • Professional development opportunities are open to all, to gather and do the work in our children’s book community.


Connecting with Kids and Teens Through Story

Khadijah VanBrakle

Khadijah VanBrakle Announces Book Deal

Muslim Storytellers Fellow Khadijah VanBrakle has announced her first two-book deal.

Learn more about Khadijah’s story.

C. Rowen Maccarald

Rediscovering Joy with Picture Books

C. Rowen MacCarald was a student first, and later faculty for Writing the Rainbow, part of our Essential Conversations series.

“Kyle Lukoff’s presentation got me thinking about books that are not so much about being queer as they are about queer people and their lives. Queer joy, not queer problems.”

Learn more about C. Rowen MacCarald’s story.

A.R. Vishny

A Weekend Without a Glossary

A.R. Vishny shares her story about coming to the Highlights Foundation: first for the Jewish Symposium, and later for a retreat for Jewish writers in kidlit.

“But from the moment I stepped into the Barn, I knew all my worrying was for naught. That weekend instead was one of the most energizing and inspiring things I’ve done so far as a writer. My voice was respected in a way that I had never experienced before in a creative space.”

Learn more about A.R. Vishny’s story.

Workshops & Retreats

Since 2016, we’ve held Essential Conversations workshops on our campus in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and online.  Here are some examples.

In-Community Experiences:

  • Latinx Voices Retreat
  • Writing the Rainbow
  • Writing About Mental Health
  • Amplify Black Stories
  • Black Creators Retreat
  • Jewish Symposium
  • Asian-American Retreat
  • Muslim Storytellers Fellowship
  • Native Creators’ Retreat
  • Writing Stories to Empower Through Trauma: A Workshop in Memory of Rebecca Dykes

Professional Development Experiences:

  • Disrupting Youth Literature
  • Responsible Representation in Children’s Books
  • Writing from the Outside In
  • Viewing Children’s Books Through an Intersectional Lens
  • Anti-Racist Writing Workshop Training
  • Cultural Competency
  • Empowering Readers and Reader Choice

Each year, we commit to greater representation in our Essential Conversations programming. We seek collaboration in both the leadership and voice of the programs, and financial commitments to support creatives as they attend and lead this important work.  

Please note: Essential Conversations at the Highlights Foundation respond to changing messaging and evolving language. We remain flexible about additional programs and stay open to new conversations that surface in the industry.

See Current Essential Conversations Workshops

Muslim Storytellers: A Crash Course in Children’s Book Publishing

Muslim Storytellers: A Crash Course in Children’s Book Publishing

Disability Representation in Books for Kids: A Two-Night Mini

Disability Representation in Books for Kids: A Two-Night Mini

Latinx Voices: An In-Community Retreat

Latinx Voices: An In-Community Retreat

Rainbow Retreat: An In-Community Experience for Creatives

Rainbow Retreat: An In-Community Experience for Creatives

2023 Jewish Symposium: Writing Jewish Novels, Finding Jewish Joy

2023 Jewish Symposium: Writing Jewish Novels, Finding Jewish Joy

Will You Join Us?

Partnerships and sponsorships help the Highlights Foundation fund our Essential Conversations programming, and bring access to more children’s authors and illustrators across the globe.

Workshops for Writers & Illustrators

> Online
> In-Person
> On-Demand (Self-Paced Online)

New to the Highlights Foundation? Try these:

About Children's Publishing | The Whole Novel Workshop | Summer Camp


Need help deciding on a workshop?  Ask an ambassador!

Visiting Our Campus

Our campus (The Barn at Boyds Mills) is tucked away in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  It's a few hours from both New York City and Philadelphia, but worlds away from everyday life.

Line drawing of the Barn at Boyds Mills

Our Mission in Action

Equity & Inclusion in Kidlit

The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.  Learn more about our impact.

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