Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

2019 ALA Annual Conference Summary Post

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Here’s a post to consolidate all the links to my 2019 ALA Annual Conference in one place.

First, here’s a picture of all the goodies I picked up at the conference this year. It’s actually less than usual because I didn’t go to the exhibits at all on Sunday.

The conference began with an ALSC preconference on Friday featuring the Honor Winners of various awards.

Friday night, I got to hear Jason Reynolds speak and have dinner with the Newbery Honor Winners.

Saturday began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast where I received the Allie Beth Martin Award and Ann Patchett spoke.

The middle of the day Saturday featured the Margaret Edwards Lunch with M. T. Anderson and the auditorium speaker series with Eric Klinenberg and Carla Hayden.

Saturday evening was an amazing dinner with the Newbery committee and winner Meg Medina.

Sunday was the grand and wonderful Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday began by hearing George Takei speak.

The next speaker I heard was Tomi Adeyemi.

And I finished off the conference with the Printz Awards.

This also wasn’t nearly as many sessions as I usually attend at a conference, but this one was given over to celebration.

Here’s a pile of just the things I got signed over the conference:

Conference Corner: Printz Awards

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

The final event I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC was the presentation of the Michael Printz Awards. These are the top young adult books of the year. The only one I read in my Newbery reading was the winner, Poet X. I hope to fix that situation soon!

For the Printz Awards, even the Honor winners give speeches. First up was Elana K. Arnold, who wrote the book Damsel.

Her book was an exploration of embodied female rage.

It’s an original fairy tale. The prince must rescue a damsel and kill a dragon.

Damsel is a book about how patriarchy hurts everyone.

All of her books end with a girl stepping alone, head high, into her future.

It’s a book about boundaries.

As children, we operate inside borders. The teen years are when we notice the walls. Do we keep them or tear them down?

Examining real world problems through a fantasy lens.

She’s pushing down walls along with other writers.

Next up was Deb Caletti, Honor winner for A Heart in a Body in the World.

This book is about a marathoner who runs across the country after a horrible crime against her.

The author just made the same journey by plane, Seattle to DC.

She didn’t know all the places, but she knew her character’s heart.

She was a kid who needed books. They told her, “I see you. I understand you. Keep going.”

Then she repeated her childhood and chose a sometimes scary partner.

After some time, she went from voiceless to having a voice.

Then she read in the news about a kid who committed violence against his “dream girl” who broke up with him.

She wanted to tell what she knows about the story, about the slow progression of guilt and fear.

Misogyny sneaks in, barges in, rages in.

It’s confusing — we’re told we’re responsible.

Are we powerful? We can make men do awful stuff! Or are we powerless?

She’s heartbroken that the book is called timely. It’s been timely for way, way too long.

She still believes in the power of one voice and in the voice of her readers.

Then came Mary McCoy, who won Honor for I, Claudia.

She works at Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a book about politics and power.

This is about a girl who leaves her quiet life and grabs power.

Nixon’s people ratfucked their opponents. But fifteen years earlier, they’d done the same thing as students at USC. Corrupt politicians practice.

When she first wrote the book, she thought it was a tragedy that Claudia went into politics.

After 2016, she’s not sure anyone has the luxury of staying out of politics.

She would vote for Claudia — because she’s there to make a difference.

As people who work in libraries, we give a lot of fucks.

We know something about being a force for good in the universe.

And the final speaker was Elizabeth Acevedo, who won the Michael L. Printz Award for Poet X.

She’s talking about inscriptions.

When she was in high school, a teacher put Heaven, by Angela Johnson, into her hands. It was the first time she read about a teen father in a book. She had questions, and her teacher told her to write to Angela Johnson.

She didn’t answer, but then a book about that teen father was published — The First Part Last. It was inscribed to Elizabeth Acevedo and the students at her school. It was the first time she saw her name in print. That book won the Printz Award.

Later, as a teacher, she just tried to get the kids to love reading.

A kid asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She pulled authors who write about people of color. They read those and kept asking, “What’s next?”

That’s why she wrote Poet X.

She wasn’t going to make accommodations.

That’s why the inscription — to that student. This girl gets to see her name in print.

She’s thankful the family she married into supported her going to grad school in creative writing.

Her book ends: “Isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”

She hopes young people will allow themselves to be opened up.

Her role as a writer is to empower other people to write.

We’re here and deserve to be here.

We are still here and we can still heal.

Conference Corner: Tomi Adeyemi

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

On my final day of ALA Annual Conference in DC, I spent far too much time in line to get to meet George Takei and get a signed excerpt from his book. After that, I roamed the exhibits. I did manage to get some free copies of two of Meg Medina’s backlist titles as well as some other goodies and then had lunch. By that time the afternoon was getting on, and I went to the Auditorium Speaker Series to hear Tomi Adeyemi speak. She is the author of a bestselling Western African Fantasy series.

The moderator was Dr. Rose Brock.

RB: Why did you choose a fantasy setting?

TA: A story embedded in my DNA is Avatar: The Last Airbender. She wanted such a fully formed world. Before this story, she hadn’t realized there could be black gods and goddesses — not even in her own imagination.

She was in a Brazilian gift shop and saw art of gods and goddesses with black people in them.

From two paintings with black people in them, The Children of Blood and Bone was born. It shows the importance of representation. This is what can happen when you see a little bit of yourself.

The story was also influenced by The Hunger Games and the ugly backlash online that happened when good characters were black. It was also the year Trayvon Martin was shot.

She realized that it’s real and it’s deep. An unraveling started.

It got her feeling hopeless. Why dream? Why work hard? Why achieve anything?

At first, she thought her story would take something like the form of The Hate U Give.

When she made her plan, she discovered her Police Brutality story and her West African Fantasy were the same story.

She reclaimed common tropes from fantasy.

Every obstacle in the book is based on real things black people have gone through.

We all have prejudice on all sides. Zalie gets to hit people and express anger the author feels!

A fantasy world simplifies things. Fewer people have objections.

We experience it as a human empathizing with another human.

People in pain lash out. Hurdles on both sides, even where there are good intentions.

She didn’t admit to herself that she wanted to be a writer. She started a blog because she heard it helps you to get published — and it was very satisfying and could be finished.

Writers don’t want to say they’re writers.

Her first draft is literally a deformed potato. And she says that to demystify the process. Stories come together in revision — that’s important to know.

Hey, it’s all going to be bad for several drafts. It’s all failure.

Book Two is still in “failure mode.”

Before this, even the stories she wrote for herself were white people. She brought childhood stories where the characters were named Tomi — and they were white. She didn’t think she could write about black people.

Not only do I need to learn to love me, the world needs to learn to love me.

All it takes is seeing people to humanize them.

The hardest part of the book to write was the Author’s Note. Then she couldn’t hide behind fantasy.

RB: How do you take care of yourself?

TA: Terribly with the first one!

She did realize she’d have to change. She’s become a workout nut to get the book out of her head. She’s learned to say Yes to things.

Her allegiance is always to the story and the reader.

It has to be a powerful story first.

“The only thing more American than racism is capitalism.”

She’s trying to write good stories with things that haven’t been seen before. Five years earlier, she might have been told to make her characters white.

Racism isn’t over. We need to keep working. It’s a system and one title doesn’t fix it.

The only other book she knows of with a black face in detail on the cover is Michelle Obama’s book.

Her second book is a bigger adventure — but gets to be a step away from pain.

Question from the audience: How do you put your voice out there?

TA: I pump myself up. But being apologetic is inefficient. Only you are fully you and that’s what resonates.

Pump yourself up. Then do what you need to do.

Conference Corner: George Takei

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

On the final day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC, I made sure to get there by 10:30 to hear George Takei speak.

This program was telling about his upcoming graphic novel memoir, They Called Us Enemy. These are my notes on his talk.

George’s family was interned during World War II. When he was five years old, he was classified as an enemy and a threat by his own country.

When Pearl Harbor happened, young Japanese-Americans rushed to recruitment centers but were denied military service and were irrationally called enemy aliens.

It was completely irrational. They were born here.

Next, there was a curfew. Japanese-Americans must be inside from 8 pm to 6 am.

Then bank accounts were frozen.

On February 19, 1942, FDR signed executive order 9066. All Japanese Americans were rounded up and imprisoned in ten barbed-wire prison camps in some of the most desolate places in America.

George still remembers that morning.

Armed soldiers pounded on the front door. They were ordered to leave at gunpoint.

They were taken from Los Angeles to a camp in the swamps of Arkansas.

He remembers the spotlights that would shine on him at night. He thought it was nice that they lit the way for him to pee at the latrines at night.

He was five years old, so he didn’t know any better. It all became routine.

There was a barbed wire fence and a sentry tower outside the school where they recited “liberty and justice for all.”

In his upcoming graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, he tells this childhood story.

It also focuses on what his parents were going through — so much harder for them.

This is an American story.

The imprisonment was ordered by the president of the United States.

George became curious as a teen — but the books were silent about his childhood experiences. He learned about it through long and heated discussions with his father.

His father told him that our democracy is a people’s democracy. People have the capacity to do amazing things, but people are fallible and sometimes make horrible mistakes.

That conversation drove him to the Adlai Stevenson campaign headquarters to volunteer.

For democracy to work, people need to act.

There are many similar chapters in American history to this one he tells.

He tells the story because of hope.

We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants saw the Statue of Liberty — and it underscored their hope.

His grandparents turned what was considered wasteland into rich farmland. His other grandparents built a newspaper.

When they came back to LA, they felt like immigrants again.

But hope makes our people’s democracy better.

Then George introduced the people who helped make the graphic memoir happen: Harmony Becker, Steven Scott, and Justin Eisinger. They continued the talk as a discussion.

HB: She’s half Japanese. She learned in libraries about Americans of Japanese descent being interred. It was jarring to realize as an adult that not everyone knew about that.

SS: Met George working on Archie comics.

JE: This book exists to pass this information on to another generation.

GT: He hopes librarians will convey the story to as many people as possible. Harmony did a great job capturing his parents’ love for each other.

His mother actually smuggled into the camp her favorite portable sewing machine.

Harmony nailed it through the eyes of children.

JE: It’s a history book. It’s George’s story, but also how it happened in history.

GT: His mission in life is to tell everyone: We all need to participate and make our democracy a truer democracy.

We’re a majority who uphold these values. It’s shameful that less than half the population vote.

He hopes the next generation will be better Americans, and the Parkland students give him hope. Young people will encourage more young people.

The story is continuing on the southern border.

We find many enemies through our history. Our country’s diversity is our strength.

An acronym from the starship Enterprise: IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. On the ship they represented Asia, Africa, America, and Aliens.

They had to update the book after the Muslim ban and detention at the border.

SS: They could not have predicted how relevant the book would be.

GT: A lot of the text is from his book To the Stars. It’s unsettling to know that American citizens can be deprived of their citizenship during wartime.

Many younger Japanese Americans don’t even know about this because the older ones were too ashamed to talk about it. Many don’t even know in which camp their parents or grandparents were detained.

I got in line while he was still taking questions.

The line was very, very long. It turned out, they were giving out a very short excerpt, but I didn’t find that out until I was almost to the front.

I met Brad Takei, too! (Or at least I was this close to him.)

The other creators of the new book signed as well.

I thanked George and said how sorry I am that the book is so timely. That did get me eye contact! I’m looking forward to telling kids in the library about this book. The excerpt is amazing!

Conference Corner: Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday, July 8th, 2019

On Sunday of ALA Annual Conference, I had big plans. I had a full day’s schedule worked out and was planning to change clothes for the banquet in a hotel restroom. And I managed to get out of bed. And I thought to myself Why? And I went back to bed.

I ate a late and leisurely lunch and got dressed for the banquet and left around 3:30 to get to the 5:00 Cocktail Party for those sitting at the HarperCollins table, including Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Brian Lies (Caldecott Honor winner), their family members, and some more committee members.

The party was on a top-floor terrace of the same hotel where the banquet was happening. I do not know why I did not take any pictures. It was lovely.

Around 5:45, we went to the Green Room. There, lots of pictures were taken. I’ll just include ones I took, though many of them aren’t very good. (My camera doesn’t do a great job in low light.)

First, we met the John Newbery Baby! Yes, Emily gave birth the Saturday before deliberations began on Friday! Yes, she came and deliberated! And her baby is completely adorable!

With Lali:

With his Mom:

I was all dressed up:

Ellen Riordan, our committee chair, with our winners: Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Veera Hiranandani, and Meg Medina:

All the winners! Left to right, back row: Veera Hiranandani, Christopher Myers, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Oge Mora, Brian Lies.
front row: Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Sophie Blackall, Juana Martinez-Neal

With Meg (and noticing we have almost identical glasses):

With Veera and Catherine:

At the banquet, I got to sit next to Catherine! There are always really wonderful programs made by the Caldecott Medalist.

With Ellen during the break after the meal:

I decided for once not to take notes on the speeches, because they had a card with links to the speeches on the table, and I knew they’d be printed in Horn Book Magazine.

First was Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott Speech:

Then Ellen took the podium to give out our awards!

There we are! (Rats! I was in a hurry to take the picture before standing up, so it’s blurry.)

I got a close up look at Catherine’s Honor Citation!

(I tried to take Veera’s picture collecting her citation, but it came out too blurry, alas!)

Then it was time for Meg’s speech!

I noticed I had a nice angle on some committee members and Meg’s daughter watching the speech:

A couple things happened at the actual speech that weren’t in the pre-written speech that is on the website. Meg did name all committee members in her speech — but instead of listing our full names, she called us all by our first names, and she used Sondy for me instead of Sondra. She also mentioned the amazing evening we’d had together the night before.

Another thing was that the night before Candlewick had given us bicycle bells in honor of Merci. Written on them, it says, “Take a deep breath and ride” — Merci Suárez

Well, naturally I brought mine to the banquet to ring every time the crowd was applauding Meg. Toward the end of the speech, she thanked Candlewick for the bicycle bells, and naturally I rang the bell then — but this time everyone heard me do it and the entire enormous ballroom laughed! (I immediately hid the bell and pretended it wasn’t me.)

The next speech was Christopher Myers accepting the Children’s Literature Legacy Award on behalf of his father, Walter Dean Myers.

And finally, when the banquet was all done, I got a picture with one of my all-time favorite authors, Shannon Hale!

The whole thing added up to an amazing evening, the culmination of our two years (really) on the Newbery committee!

Conference Corner: Newbery Winner Dinner!

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

On Saturday of ALA Annual Conference, Candlewick Press hosted a dinner for the Newbery committee and the Newbery Medalist, Meg Medina.

It happened at a restaurant with a light and airy room. At first, we milled around and chatted.

When we were seated, we were all at one big table, and this time we could hear not only the person next to us, but what anyone had to say.

That night was extra special because after eating, we had a great big conversation together. First we asked Meg some questions.

She told us that one surprising result of winning the Newbery was that past winners got in touch with her. They urged her to learn right away to say No to speaking engagements and to take time for herself.

She told a fun story about when she’d been at a conference with Kate DiCamillo, who has won the Newbery three times. Kate called her hotel room and bought her burgers and talked her through a lot of things she’d need to think about. It was super sweet.

I asked Meg about a story she’d told a year before at a breakfast about Merci. I’d been mentioning this in my booktalks, I wanted everyone to hear it, and I wanted to make sure I had the details right.

It turns out that yes, the incident in Merci Suárez Changes Gears where a kid’s eyebrows had to be cut off to get out of a plaster cast really did happen! When Meg was a brand-new 6th grade teacher, she was super enthusiastic about projects. (She said that she was childless at the time, and the parents must not have appreciated it.) She had them transform the classroom into an Egyptian tomb.

She remembered the name of the boy they used to make the mummy case. They put garbage bags around his body, but for the mask, they forgot to put Vaseline on his eyebrows — and he had to be cut out. She said she used round-tipped scissors in hope she wouldn’t poke his eye out! Meg did a wonderful job of putting that mortification onto the page!

Meg also asked the committee questions. She had said during the initial call, “I know how little separates the books.” It turns out that she had once served on the National Book Award Committee — so she really did know how difficult the decision is and how a different committee would probably pick a different book, because there are so many good ones. She thanked us for picking Merci.

Next, Meg signed a new book for each one of us.

We’d also been given a bicycle bell in honor of Merci. It made joyous applause!

And the night finished with more talking and hugging and picture-taking!

Conference Corner: Day Two at ALA Annual Conference 2019

Friday, July 5th, 2019

After the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast on Saturday, I visited the exhibits and then went to the Margaret Edwards Brunch, where M. T. Anderson was receiving a YALSA award for his books Feed and the two Octavian Nothing books.

At each seat, there was a copy of his book Feed.

Here’s the review of Feed that I wrote in 2003. I will take credit for being sure it would be a future classic! After all, it won the Margaret Edwards Award!

Here are my notes from the talk he gave after the meal:

He began at 22 years old as an office assistant at Candlewick Press.
He has been ahead of several trends by six years: Vampires, dystopian, steampunk… (Soon there should be a trend on nonfiction about World War I.)

It’s a good time to be writing for the young, and his speech was about Hope.

In the past, he’s written to leave the reader with anxiety and even panic. If we want things to be different, we need to do something.

Now he’s filled with hope and fury. There’s hope in action.

The turn of the century (when he started writing) was the time of the Death of Cute. Nothing was allowed to be innocent. The sweet had to bear the wound for the rest of us. The culture was engorged with disillusionment.

Bitter cynicism is often the sign of sensitivity.

The party that denied Darwinism became the party of social Darwinism.

He hopes his work of that period distinguishes itself with compassion.

It was the Age of Spoliation. His worries about that are: It became cliché and it could hurt kids’ sense of wonder.
If none of this has intrinsic meaning, we need to make meaning.

Don’t crush kids’ sense of wonder.

Training in happiness is as important as training in crisis.

We knew things were wrong but were too terrified to act. We were worried that kindness and generosity were a suckers’ belief. We tried to avoid thinking about it.

It’s easier to teach that nothing is good than to confront the bad.

Thirteen years of post-apocalyptic literature have brought us to a time when we don’t need to imagine a dystopian world; we live in one. Even the privileged can’t hide any longer.

The Age of Spoliation was protecting us from admitting the horror is real.

Authors who were eccentric and political in 2005 are now swamped.

The Age of Spoliation is over. Now is the Age of Action.

Teens today know the stakes. Our nation is galvanized and ready for action.

You’re here on this earth for a little while. Together, let’s make this the world you dream of.

Librarians are central in converting cheap cynicism to compassionate action.

Let’s act so the young don’t have to shun the cute, but fight for it.

After his speech, he signed the books we’d been given.

Next, I went to the exhibits and stopped by my co-worker’s poster session!

My next event was to attend the Auditorium Speaker Series with Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces of the People being interviewed by Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

The book is about social infrastructure. Here are notes on their interview:

Carla Hayden: You included libraries!

Eric Klinenberg: I discovered the library later in life. And the idea of social infrastructure, which is just as important as other infrastructure.

After Hurricane Sandy, they held a design competition, and there was a proposal for a “Resilience Center” — it would be a building in every city across America, staffed with extras, stocked with resources, etc. (The whole room laughed because he described libraries.)

We’re searching everywhere for community. We walk by this place every day.

“The most amazing social infrastructure designers could ever build — it’s called the library.”

“The most extraordinary institution one could imagine is already here, the library.”

A lot of people think every problem needs a new solution. People in elite circles don’t realize all the library does.

We need libraries more than ever, but they’re still under threat.

Local leaders need to take advantage of the commitment of librarians. Think of libraries as essential social infrastructure.

Librarians are a critical part of democratic culture. Libraries are a safety net when social services are cut.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg reviewed his book before anyone had heard of him. How cool is it that a presidential candidate is talking about libraries?

The 2020 census will be online — we need libraries.

Wouldn’t you love to ask all candidates about libraries?

CH: Plant the Library Question! [If you’re ever in a town hall with a presidential candidate, ask them about libraries!]

EK: Libraries help people elevate themselves. The public library is still a place where massive numbers of people are going all the time to make something more of their lives.

He told about Virtual Bowling at Brooklyn Public Library.

Think of how many relationships happen because of the work you do in the library every day.

CH: It helps having someone not part of the library be an advocate.

EK: We need to bring the message to Congress.

The truth is that the library has transformed. The library is dynamic and has modernized.

Across the country, our infrastructure is out of date. Libraries are critical social infrastructure.

In libraries, people have experiences that aren’t pre-scripted. Something about the radical inclusiveness of the library is important.

His book is a story of librarians as much as libraries.

CH: Being a public librarian means you are empowering people.

EK: Librarians are critical actors in a social experiment.

What makes our communities work? When this incredibly powerful institution is there and invested in, things work.

Find language that works well. Shout it from the rooftops.

There’s a growing realization that democratic institutions are at risk.

There are not many places that invite communities to discuss issues together. Tech companies invest millions in social infrastructure. Meaningful social engagement happens in a physical space.

Data don’t speak for themselves. Just throwing numbers doesn’t do the trick.

There are different kinds of data: REcord what’s happening and explain it with qualitative data. After we have the numbers, we have to have a powerful narrative. We are wired for story.

Put together a story, based on good evidence, for why libraries deserve better.

Conference Corner: PLA Member Welcome Breakfast

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The second day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast — where I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. This award is given for “extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.”

I agree with the Newbery Honor winners that it’s a real treat to be given an award that doesn’t require a speech. In many ways, my work on the Newbery committee this year made my knowledge of books easier to come by, but I felt like the award also gave me some credit for the Sonderbooks website I’ve worked on since 2001. Who knew they gave an award for being obsessed with books?

All year I’d thought of getting on the Newbery committee as validation that I made the right choice in becoming a librarian. And since I wouldn’t have become a librarian if I hadn’t gotten divorced (probably would have continued to work in libraries part-time), it was also big strong evidence that God can work even bad things together for good.

Winning this award put a capstone on those things. Yes, being a librarian is my calling! How lovely to have this reinforced!

I was allowed to invite four guests, and since the conference was in DC, they were able to come. First, with my supervisor, Gary Goodson, who wrote my nomination:

I also invited Jessica Hudson, our library director, who had the idea to nominate her people for Public Library Association Awards, and Nancy Ryan, who used to work with me at my first Fairfax County library and suggested me for the award. My co-worker Suzanne Lapierre was at ALA that day and also came along.

And Fairfax County Public Library won *two* Public Library Association awards. This group won an award for a program series about fake news.

And the speaker at the breakfast was Ann Patchett!

She did a powerpoint presentation, and promised a list of the titles she mentioned on her website, annpatchett.com

She didn’t want to talk about her new book, which would be full of spoilers, so she talked around it, talking about her life interviewing other authors.

Interviews are great for authors, not so great for the store (more work!).

She talked about authors she’s met. She loved J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which she got to read early and was later panned by critics. But she hadn’t read any Harry Potter books, so maybe her lack of expectations helped.

Alan Alda changed her attitude to interviewing. He says to be prepared, then leave all the preparation behind and be completely in the present.

Her book Commonwealth was an autobiographical novel. None of it happened and all of it was true.

Then she interviewed Zadie Smith, who was very kind. She said that the mother in the book is the mother I’m afraid of becoming.

So she wrote a novel about her deepest fear — becoming a horrible stepmother.

She reread Angela’s Ashes to review how to write in first person.

Then she was distracted by children’s books, writing one illustrated by Robin Preiss Gleisman. And Sandra Boynton loaned her a house to work on her novel.

But she threw it away.

Then an interview with Barbara Kingsolver told her to go back to what she threw away.

And Kate DiCamillo gave her the ending of the book — after just hearing what it was about.

And she told a super interesting story of the trials and tribulations and many attempts to get that novel right. Meanwhile, she did multiple interviews and had 10 different houseguests in the month of April alone.

Afterward, she signed Advance Reader Copies for all of us!

Conference Corner: Opening Night ALA Annual Conference 2019

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

After a delightful ALSC Preconference on June 21, I headed to the Washington Convention Center and was on time to hear Jason Reynolds speak at the Opening Session — though I had to listen in the Overflow Room.

He called his talk “This Is the Ridiculous and Absurd Study of Architecture,” and the structure imitated the style of his new book, Look Both Ways.

Part One: He told the story of his mother’s first funeral.

She was at an old-fashioned funeral and was fumbled as they passed the little girl over the casket. (He told it much, much more colorfully than that!) She became obsessed with death.

At 17 years old, she began studying Buddhism and Hinduism.
She eventually joined the Catholic church because it was quiet and meditative.
When Jason was 12 years old, he said he didn’t want to go to church, and she said, “Okay.”

Part Two: Sundays at his friend Aaron’s house

On Sundays he’d sleep a little later and visit his best friend Aaron’s house.
Their family had 5 kids. Nobody had time to clean.
It was a place of freedom for Jason. (Jason’s house was a place of comfort for Aaron.)
Sunday was fried chicken at Aaron’s house.
Then they’d climb on the roof and share stories and dreams.

Part Three: The Library of Alexandria

In 300 BCE Alexander the Great was in Egypt. First thing he decided to do was build a library. Biggest library on earth. At its peak, it held 400,000 papyrus documents on its shelves. They created an overflow library that shared space with a temple.
Nobody knows what it looked like or how it disappeared.
The theory that’s most true: The Roman empire came in and they got rid of anything against it and burned the books.

Part Four: Rewind. Words from his mother:

“I don’t wanna go to church.” “Okay.”
“My job is to help you find your path, not stop you from looking for it.”
“Your body is a temple.”
“Anything that makes you feel bigger than your burden is sacred.”

Part Five: Principles

Come as you are.
All are welcome.
Turn away no one.
Build community.
Enact service.

Share stories to build community.
Narrative is what we use to fortify us.
Something’s the matter when people try to stop the narrative flow.

Every sacred thing suffers persecution.

Think about this:
Maybe what librarians truly are is architects.
Maybe we’re building walking, talking libraries.
Telling each other stories is storing books in our personal stacks.
Imagine training young people to actually be safe spaces.

The role of an architect:

1) Build a building that pays homage to you.
-Or-
2) Build a building that services the world.

We’re creating walking, talking libraries.

He’s preaching to the choir — but choirs need to practice.

***

After that inspirational message, I went back to my car to get my wheeled bag (I have a doctor’s note) and hit the exhibits after the first wave of the Running of the Librarians had subsided.

I had some fun:

And I picked up some loot:

Finally, I headed to a restaurant right next to where I’d parked, where the complete Newbery committee was being treated to a nice dinner with the two Honor authors, Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Veera Hiranandani. It was the first we’d seen each other since January.

Here’s my place card:

We were at two tables, with an author at the center of each:

They spoke to us after dinner:

And traded tables during dessert:

After eating, they signed books for all of us.

Lali showed off her beautiful tattoo from the cover of The Night Diary.

Here are our two honor winners, Veera and Catherine:

And here are most of us with the authors (Alas! Abby, Eric, Pam, and Sue got cut out):

It was a joyous night!

Conference Corner: 2019 ALSC Preconference

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Last weekend I spent at ALA Annual Conference. It was in Washington, DC, this year, so I drove in early each morning and drove home each night. I had an awesome time, and now I’m going to post my notes and pictures from all the inspiring sessions.

The first event happened on Friday, a preconference sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children that honored the Honor book winners for various awards — Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, Sibert, Pura Belpre, and Batchelder Awards. Since the winners get to give speeches but not the Honor books, this is an opportunity to hear from the other honored authors and illustrators and publishers, and I didn’t want to miss it.

I found two of my fellow Newbery committee members to sit with and we all three chose to go to the sessions where “our” honor authors were featured.

First was an intro session where the 22 honored individuals told three things about themselves. These were fun and light-hearted. I got not-very-good pictures of our Honor authors Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary:

and Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of The Book of Boy:

Then came lunch, and Caldecott-Honor-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal sat at our table, so we had the fun of getting to know her a little bit.

The first panel after lunch was called “Who Am I? Where Do I Fit In?” The panelists were Leo Espinosa, Belpre illustrator of Islandborn, Claudia Bedrick, Batchelder publisher of Jerome by Heart, Juana Martinez-Neal, Caldecott illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name, David Bowles, Belpre author of They Call Me Guero, and Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Newbery author of The Book of Boy.

I’ll write out my notes from the panel.

Question: How do your books resonate with kids who feel they don’t fit in?

Leo: He gets to choose the stories he wants to illustrate. His job is to amplify those messages. He offers reflection and empathy. Some kids see themselves in the books. Some kids feel empathy and want to know these kids who aren’t like themselves. As an illustrator, he has the luxury of adding mini-stories within the big story (such as showing a family with two fathers).

David: Identity and belonging is the core of the story. Kids who are different from a group while simultaneously in that group and feeling solidarity with that group. With light skin, he’s treated differently inside the community. There’s a cognitive dissonance — privileged and oppressed at the same time. Any child can identify with this.

Juana: To fit in is to know who they are, and that’s why she wrote Alma. She couldn’t see herself in picture books. Latinx fit into so many different groups, and that’s why she made Alma. She hopes more kids will see themselves.

Claudia: Jerome By Heart was intentionally about two boys, because if it had been two girls being so tender with each other, it wouldn’t have been so special. In France, two boys holding hands and declaring love is taboo.

We’re shaped in who we are by the responses we receive. This child’s buoyant expression of his personality is not readily embraced by his parents. It shows agency and embracing one’s identity.

Catherine: Her character is an orphan in a goat shed. None of her readers can relate to that, but kids deep dive into it. Kids make it part of them.

Question: Do you write more for reflection or for empathy?

David: He’s primarily thinking of a particular group of students when writing. Kids that need him to write stories about themselves. But other kids need to hear the story as well. The universal comes through the specific.

Claudia: The author of Jerome at Heart was focused on telling the best, truest story about these kids as he could. Every good story promotes empathy. You’ll come away slightly changed.

Leo: He realized the book would be important for Latinx kids. But it’s also important for other kids. He’s read it to Latinx kids, but also to white Mormon kids, and the response is similar.

Juana: She prefers “underrepresented” to “marginalized.” Alma is just about that specific little girl. She hopes this book won’t only be enjoyed by Hispanic communities. We all have names, and we all have families.

Catherine: She had to consider her audience in choosing the words for her book because they need to be understandable for a variety of reading levels.

David: He chimed in that kids are sophisticated thinkers but don’t necessarily have the vocabulary required.

Question: How do you feel about groups you’ve found in publishing circles?

David: The Latinx caucus of children’s publishing tend to gravitate toward each other and there’s a larger community of authors of color. It’s nice to have people helping guide you through it.

Juana: She’ll often spot another author of color across the room.

As far as publishing, editors help her find a balance between what she wants to do and what can be put in a book and what people will understand.

Leo: He doesn’t write his own stories. English not being his first language makes writing scary. He uses illustrations as an international language.

Claudia: Her experience as a small independent publisher is very different from a big publisher. It’s a very different community. There’s a big power difference between indie publishers and the Big Five. She doesn’t hear about “trends.”

Question: Talk about balancing the tension of what we want the world to be and how the world could be.

Catherine: Her big goal is to take readers of all ages back so they’ll say about medieval times: “It was really weird!” If you can appreciate the different values of that time, you can appreciate different values today. We’re part of a big puzzle, and the puzzle is more complicated than we realize.

David: Guero wants the life he lives to be allowed to exist. Guero isn’t looking for perfection — he’s looking for respect for the autonomy of his community. Kids on the border have to grapple with what’s happening to kids their own age.

Claudia: Depicting characters as actors with agency is all about “What If?” So much we live within can be changed.

Leo: He struggled with depicting “the monster” — how to put a really cruel dictatorship into a children’s book? The beautiful part is that the characters are able to defeat the monster.

Juana: She hints at a dark part of history when she depicts Camilla taking a stand.

The second panel was called “Rough Grace.”

Participants in this panel were Veera Hiranandani, Newbery author of The Night Diary, Don Brown, Sibert author of The Unwanted, Gail Jarrow, Sibert author of Spooked!, Brian Lies, Caldecott illustrator of The Rough Patch, and Nathan Rostron, Batchelder publisher of Run for Your Life.

Question: How do you define grace? Rough grace?

Veera: Grace is not an intentional thing. Nisha carries herself with grace in rough times. It’s part of who she is, and it’s not intentional.

Nathan: There are many definitions of grace and graciousness. In the book, set in Sicily, it’s the idea of salvation from on high. What do you do when you can’t rely on outside forces to help? Need to find salvation in yourself and find people to help.

Brian: Rough grace is peace or acceptance through or in spite of adversity. His character’s grace comes because he can’t help being who he is. Souls and stones both get their luster through adversity. It’s not necessarily acceptance, but simply being.

Don: He hasn’t come to a conclusion about grace. There’s no grace when you watch your family drown in the Mediterranean. Or dying in a gas attack. Hemingway romanticizing war was wrong. He’s left not knowing.

Gail: Grace is a gift bestowed on others. The gift of history given to us — we can learn from it. We can learn from the history of The War of the Worlds. There’s a gift bestowed on us from what happened in history. Rough grace is like tough love. Some lessons from history are tough.

Question: How do people go on? How do you wrestle with that as a writer of books for young people?

Veera: I don’t know. Part of it is the not knowing. Nisha’s an observer because she has no choice. In that listening space, an openness comes with that. Taking it in can give you a certain kind of strength. Courage comes in the ability to simply keep moving forward.

Don: It’s a mystery why humanity keeps going. Maybe it’s a basic biological thing to move towards life. It’s inconceivable. As Americans, we look from the outside. The blessing: “May you live in uninteresting times.”

Gail: She also writes about diseases. When you read about people in history who experienced terrible things — some are strengthened and some despair. We can learn from history and those who went through it.

Brian: Resilience. In books, we model resilience for our readers. If you’ve never imagined resilience, how can you learn it?

Nathan: For a kid, the world is always normal. Their author just described daily life. She keeps it very immediate. She has two narratives going — the main character at 6 years old and at 11 years old. Making it immediate can open it up for kids.

Question: Do you self-censor?

Nathan: Self-censors now more than before, from being socially conscious.

Brian: He doesn’t self-censor, but he does self-criticize. Figuring out how to show the dog had died was an example of that. If you don’t see it, you’re asking the reader to care, not making the reader care. It felt more honest to show it on stage. But he didn’t make the reader feel awful — but they see Evan feeling awful.

Veera: She thought about it all the time. More than a million people died in horrific ways during Partition in India and Pakistan. She wanted to show some of the violence. She wanted to include a train with violence — but limited it for a young reader.

Gail: If she has doubts about the accuracy of information, she doesn’t put it in the book. Orson Welles was a notorious liar. Medical mysteries have a lot of gory stuff, but she doesn’t censor.

Don: Do you self-censor because of yourself or other people? I don’t know if I’m being sensitive or I’m being cowardly? Sometimes he can draw around terrible things. The Syrian war began with teens drawing graffiti and they were tortured for it. How to portray that? It’s something he struggles with all the time. How to present nonfiction to kids ages 8 to 13? Older kids can handle literally anything. For them, anything less is phony.

Great difficulty in a book about 9/11 as to how to show someone who jumped.

Brian: Every book is imperfect.

Veera: Kids let in what they’re ready to understand. Don’t let go of the struggle. That’s how you learn.

Don: After writing books, he only sees the mistakes.

Brian: He seeks a 5-year book, a book he’ll be happy with for five years. He has to come to a place of forgiveness. And make sure the next book is better.

Don: Do you like your books?

Gail: I don’t look at my books again.

Veera: I don’t read it again. It’s the readers’ now, not mine.

Question: Talk about the common threads of Fear and Forgiveness.

Nathan: Fear is a big part of Run for Your Life. The boy understands the code of silence. The Mafia’s built it into that society. The structure of fear enables the Mafia. To get over fear, you must let go, and forgiveness is a kind of letting go. Letting go of the silence of the past.

Brian: He purposely avoided reading about the “stages of grief.” There’s an anger aspect to Evan’s grief that wasn’t intentional. Forgiveness comes with time.

Gail: Fear is a big part of Spooked. She told about a couple who fled — and learned that their fear was based on sand. Sometimes fear has no basis. Get info before you act on fear. This story gives you a way to deal with fear.

Don: Fear is in abundance for Syrian refugees. As an example of grace, on a rainy day when he and his wife were visiting a camp, a refugee leant his wife her raincoat. Probably one of her few possessions. That simple act of humanity was one of the most touching things he’s seen in his life.

Veera: Her book is all about fear and forgiveness. People who survived Partition are now in their 80s. It’s up to her generation to preserve the history and begin to heal. That’s why Nisha had a Muslim mother and Hindu father — to be a bridge. Her generation has the distance to do that.

How do you forgive attackers? But now there’s distance, so forgiveness can counteract fear.

Moderator: What does it mean to be human in an imperfect world? Literature reminds us of humanity in the world we live in.

***
So that was the ALSC preconference. The only frustrating part was that several other fascinating sessions were going on in other rooms while I was at those two! But those two were inspiring.