Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2016, Final Day

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

After the Youth Media Awards on Monday morning, I checked out of my hotel and returned to the convention center for the Morris Awards and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards.

These are always a delight. The Morris Award goes to a debut author, and all the Finalists speak. They are always so thrilled even to be published, to be honored on top of that is wonderfully affirming. And the Nonfiction Awards inevitably have some incredibly intelligent people talking about interesting things.

First up were the Morris Award Finalists.

Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, wasn’t able to be there, so she gave a video speech.

Books are about connections in unlikely places.
She was a library lover and spent her whole childhood living other lives through books.
Her book asks Who are you when nothing in the world is like you believed?
All stories are redemption stories.
We’re forced to confront our shared humanity.

The next speaker was Anna-Maria McLemore, author of The Weight of Feathers.


It was at an ALA conference that she first found her voice about being a queer Latina author.
When she was a teen, she fell in love with a transgender boy.
She was taught to hate who she was. The boy she loved helped her get beyond that.
In her book, when her character sees the boy, she sees her own otherness as well.
Stories make us human to each other.
Each one of us is in 400 stories. (400 was her childhood word for infinity.)
Before librarians put books in her hands about Latina girls, she was disappearing.

Then came Stephanie Oakes, author of The Sacred Lives of Minnow Bly.

(Some authors did not hold still enough while they talked to get their picture!)

Her character Minnow Bly spent her life in a cult. Now she doesn’t have hands, and she’s in Juvie.
She never learned to read in the cult, but in Juvie, a teacher and a librarian teach her to read.
The author became silent after a childhood hurt.
She found reading at 12 years old, when she was handed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
She gathered and hoarded words.
Books put things into words she hadn’t known she believed.
Writing is like screaming at the top of your voice: “I exist! I exist!”
Librarians made a difference in her life.

Leah Thomas, author of Because You’ll Never Meet Me, was next.

There was an unspoken Voldemort rule about her high school librarian. She was “The Mean One.”
Leah found out that “The Mean One” was actually “The Cool One.”
Proximity has no relationship to distance.
Sometimes fiction is the only escape we get.
The power of words is tremendous.
Librarians destroy distance with every interaction.
Words are the death of distance.

Finally, the winner of the 2016 Morris Award, Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda spoke.


She has a three-year-old at home, who thought the sticker on her book would be a train sticker. Not even Thomas the Tank Engine on the cover of her book could top this!
She decided to write when she had a baby and quit her job. Don’t throw away your shot!
She was more honest in this book than ever before — because she didn’t really believe it would get published.
Books saved her as a lonely, wistful teen.
Publishing a book is the fastest way to find your soulmates.
Her book isn’t epic, it’s life-size.
It’s her husband’s grandfather’s senior citizen book club pick.
Who made the rule that every librarian has to be awesome?
They care about connecting readers to books.

Next came the Finalists for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

First up was M. T. Anderson for Symphony for the City of the Dead.


It’s about Shostakovich’s symphony, which was smuggled around the world. By the 1950s, the addressees’ names were removed — a suppression of truth in our society, too.
If Communism has amnesia, Capitalism has ADHD.
Capitalism also hides history, as Communism did.
Nonfiction is about revealing what’s hidden.
No child thinks asking questions is boring.
It takes adults to convince people that learning about this fascinating world is boring.
Librarians take kids to the window and say, “See this reality? It’s yours!”

Margarita Engle spoke next about Enchanted Air, her memoir in verse.


Her book is pure emotion — emotions are facts, too.
This allowed her to communicate directly with readers.
Poetry makes her happy.
Beautiful language was the only way she could handle excruciating memories.
Last year, she dedicated the book to 10 million stateless people. Now there are 50 million.
She felt like an invisible twin was left behind.
This book is for any reader who feels divided, half belonging, half shunned.
The overriding message is hope.

Then Tim Grove spoke about First Flight Around the World.

He works at the National Air and Space Museum. The Chicago is there — one of the first two planes to fly around the world.
The museum’s archives had a handwritten journal of one of the pilots, along with photographs.
They flew over many countries. It was a race! In 1924, there was no guarantee that anyone would make it.
4 planes left, and only 2 returned. But there were no fatalities.
The planes were named New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston.
He used journal excerpts as sidebars.
They tried to get the book printed in China, but China wouldn’t let them print the 1922 map!

Next was Nancy Plain speaking about This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon.


Audubon’s story includes Art, American History, and the Lives and Ways of Animals (3 things she loves very much).
Audubon was an incredible bird artist and water colorist.
He created a magnificent collection of paintings of 400 species of American birds.
His goal was to seek out all the wondrous things hidden since creation.
He was also the founder of modern ornithology and the first to band the legs of birds.
He was an over-the-top guy, stranger than fiction.
He was born in Haiti, raised in France, and saw the French Revolution. He came to America in 1803.
He had a country store on the Kentucky Frontier which went bankrupt, and he was thrown in jail for debt.
That’s when he decided to paint all the birds of America. He set out into the wilderness.
He had trouble finding an American publisher, so he went to Europe. He found a publisher — and fame — there.
He had an important legacy.
He predicted the extinction of the passenger pigeon and the near extinction of buffalo.
Audubon is an inspiration and invitation to protect and preserve our wildlife.

Finally, the 2016 winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction spoke, Steve Sheinkin for Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.

There’s always one thing that grabs him. This time it was a filing cabinet with a dent in it.
The cabinet belonged to a psychiatrist in Los Angeles. Two secret agents from the white house broke into the office to get damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.
This story cooperated.
Daniel Ellsberg started out incredibly not dangerous, a skinny, nerdy kid.
He walked into the Pentagon as a new analyst right before the Gulf of Tonkin.
The author was able to talk with Daniel Ellsberg, he’s still alive.
He saw the government telling lies and was faced with an agonizing decision whether to expose that or not.
Steve Sheinkin uses the library as a second home.
We’re allies! (Writers and librarians) We’re all doing the same thing!


After those inspiring words, we were given a chance to get books signed by the authors. As long as I had four books, I decided to visit the exhibits one last time and get enough to fill a box and ship them all home.


Then my plan was to roam around Boston before my evening flight. Looks like a lovely day, right? It was the first we’d seen of the sun all weekend.


But it turned out to be bitter cold! So I ended up seeing an IMAX film at the Aquarium. And I got to the airport early enough to have a sit-down dinner right by my gate. And I had a lovely flight home, reading.

Within a couple of days, 101 books arrived for me, which happens to be the exact number I sent home from ALA Midwinter Meeting last year!


Total spent on books: $10 for two signed copies of Madame Martine for my nieces.
Postage: I didn’t add up exactly, but it was approximately $100.

55 children’s books
30 teen books
16 Adult books
3 tote bags
1 hungry tomato (Or a very angry Bob the Tomato?)
1 diorama
15 books signed by the author
Oh, and only 1 duplicate — and it’s a children’s book, so will be a prize anyway.

What a lovely conference!

ALA Midwinter Meeting, Youth Media Awards

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

The final day of ALA Midwinter Meeting is the morning when the Youth Media Awards are announced!


I got up early and went to the awards and enjoyed the celebration of books! It’s a tremendous place to be – so much energy and excitement about wonderful books being honored. You can find a list of all the award winners at

Before announcing the awards they showed a message from the recently announced new Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang.


The message was directed to Librarians, telling us how important we are because we match people with books they love.


He definitely made the crowd there happy!


I’ll comment on a few things from the awards.

Jerry Pinkney won both the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for a substantial and lasting contribution for children’s literature. Reaction in the hall was surprise that he hadn’t already won either award. They are both well-deserved honors. I have heard Jerry Pinkney speak many times, and he comes across as a wonderful warm and caring person with a love for art and a love for children. How wonderful that he was doubly honored this year.

Another wonderful person who was honored was Jacqueline Woodson. She will present the 2017 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. This is an honor that comes with a requirement to work hard. The lecture is to be a significant work on children’s literature.

David Levithan won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which is YALSA’s award for lifetime achievement.

There’s something in me that’s happy that a book about a transgender child, George, by Alex Gino, won the Stonewall Book Award.

For the Caldecott, right when I first read it early last year, I’d had hopes that Sophie Blackall would win for illustrating A Fine Dessert. However, objections to how some slaves were depicted having a happy moment together in one of the four episodes of the book started some controversy. Sophie Blackall still won though, but for Finding Winnie. (My review is written, but not posted yet. Soon!)

The funny thing to me about Finding Winnie is that it was the second book about the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh to be published in 2016. In fact, because the first book, Winnie, was so good, I didn’t want to enjoy Finding Winnie as much as I did. But it is so wonderful, I fell in love, and am very happy about that Caldecott. I’m only kicking myself for not naming it a Sonderbooks Stand-out. The truth is that I had a hard time deciding between the two history-of-Winnie-the-Pooh books and ended up listing neither.

I hadn’t read as many middle grade novels as usual this year, so I didn’t expect to necessarily have read the Newbery winner. In fact, I haven’t read any of the Honor books yet. (Even though I got an Advance Reader’s Copy of The War That Saved My Life at ALA Midwinter last year! It won Newbery Honor, a Schneider Family Award, and the Odyssey Award.)

However, I was on the Fiction Picture Books panel for the Cybils Awards, and one of our finalists won the Newbery Medal! Yes, the first picture book chosen to win, and the first Latino winner was The Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena. The illustrator, Christian Robinson, won Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

Be sure to read this article about Matt de la Pena from 2013. He finished reading his first novel in college — and that ended up changing his life. And he brings that message to kids today. He writes plenty of novels — what a wonderful surprise that he won the Newbery Medal with a picture book — a truly wonderful and deserving picture book.

How can a picture book win the Newbery Medal? Well, the criteria states that it’s the most distinguished contribution to literature for children in the award year, with consideration mainly given to the text. The text is evaluated based on criteria of excellence in various things, and books are rated based on the audience they are for. The writing in Last Stop on Market Street is poetic and beautifully conveys the story of a kid and his grandmother riding the bus to the soup kitchen after church. The pictures do not detract.

ALA Midwinter Meeting, Day Two

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Laurie Halse Anderson

Today was my first full day at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2016 in Boston.

The day began with a meeting called “Leadership in ALSC.” I went to this because I’m chair of the Grants Administration Committee this year. I get to meet people who are active in ALSC — the other committee chairs, priority group consultants, and the ALSC Board. These are people who care about children and libraries — a wonderful group indeed!

Today we talked a lot about the recently revised Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive document — I plan to take a good look at it and show it to my co-workers (those who work with children and those who don’t).

Then I went to the exhibit hall. I caught the end of a talk on “Fantasy in Middle Grade” and got signed books from S. E. Grove, James Riley, and Monica Tesler. Then I grabbed more books — and went to the post office and mailed them home. (They will probably beat me home.)

After lunch was a session sponsored by ALSC on Curiosity and Creating. Here are my notes:

Curiosity Creates: Research and Best Practices

Curiosity sparks learning!
We are wired for curiosity.

Our Mission: To ignite and advance creative thinking for all children.
Presenter works at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, CA.
Have we gone too far scheduling kids’ time? Do schools squelch curiosity?
Center for Childhood Creativity launched
Creativity = Workforce Readiness
What we need children to learn is totally different than what they used to need.
We no longer primarily need people who follow directions.
Agricultural Age > Industrial Age > Information Age >>> Conceptual Age

What you do with what you know is more important than what you happen to be holding in your brain.
We need disruptive thinkers, inventive kids, creative kids.
65% of kids today will be in jobs that don’t yet exist.
What are we doing to prepare kids for their adult lives?
We know it will be important to be lifelong learners.

How to build a generation of innovative creators?
They have built an interdisciplinary team — neuroscientists, psychologists, economists, etc.

Today’s focus: Research & Resources.
“Resources for Promoting Childhood Creativity through Libraries”
Had 150 activities — good examples of something you can do and then screened for libraries.
Top 10 librarian selected activities. Photocopyable handouts.
Download at
Go there and download research for free!
Also you can Join Their List!
Have coming out in the next 2 months two useful resources: Searchable collection of activities and Spanish translation of paper.

Considerations for programming in libraries: Space & volume constraints
Staffing constraints
Budgetary constraints
Unpredictable attendance
Activities should not feel like school.
Need flexible, inclusive activities.

Three Main Ideas:
Emphasize the learning process over the end product.
Shift language to open-ended prompts.
Choose activities for their playfulness and tinkerability.
Does that activity allow the child to choose what to do?
We’re looking for intrinsic motivation.

What is Creativity?
Heritability of creativity: Estimated to be 20-50% inheritability — less connected to genes and more to environment. Impact of the environment is tremendous.

Key Research Questions
1. What skills contribute to children’s creativity?
2. What types of learning environments foster creativity in children?
One of their kids invented a less expensive Braille printer with Lego Mindstorms.

7 Critical Components of Creativity. (155 studies cited from a variety of fields.)
42 specific recommendations.
14 exercises.

We’re wired for curiosity, which is why learning feels so good.
What we know about the brain changes every 6 months! About children, only since the 1990s do we have studies about their brain.
Much more brain engagement with open-ended questions.
Playing is an excellent way to learn.
We’re probably stopping children from playing too early.

Recent studies: Being curious before you have information significantly increases the likelihood you’ll retain that information. Curiosity relief effect.
When you’re curious, there’s arousal in your brain.
Because there’s a link between emotion and memory, satisfied curiosity helps you learn.

We also need to sleep! In your deepest sleep, your brain has the time to encode working memory into long-term memory.

Activity: Ice Exploration. Freeze interesting objects in ice. Have kids decide how to get the objects. (Provide salt, brushes, hot water…)

7 Components:
1) Imagination and Originality
2) Flexibility
A lot of innovations are recombining things.
We see it emerge in children related to language acquisition.
3) Decision Making
4) Communication and Self-Expression
5) Motivation
6) Collaboration
7) Action & Movement

On Imagination & Originality:
Childhood pretend play predicts later creativity.
Synthesizing ideas is a skill that predicts creativity.

Activity: Animal Remix — Imagine about it. (Front of one animal and back of another, then tell about it.)

Powerful Phrases: I wonder… (Showcasing your own curiosity about the world.)
I notice… (Sharing your interest and that you’re observing what they did. Not making a judgment.)
Tell me more… (Be sure to pause and listen after you say this.) (Try this!)
This gives kids the space and permission to elaborate on their ideas and go farther.

Activity: Finish the Drawing
It’s easier to measure convergent thinking than divergent thinking, so we don’t teach as much of that. Be sure in museums and libraries we give them time to play around with divergent thinking.

Key Concept: Design Thinking
Empathize Define Ideate Prototype Test Iterate
Adults listening to kids’ ideas is tremendously important.

Activity: Absolutely Very Worst Possible Idea Ever

Motivators: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic
Cultivate growth mindsets — Read book “Mindset.”
Use the word YET. “I can’t do that yet.”

Collaborative Activity: Build a cardboard maze collaboratively.
One word stories (each person adds one word).

Action & Movement — Physical activity is associated with better focus and ability to learn.
Read paper for even more! Go to their website
@C4Creativity on Twitter!

After this presentation, we saw what people were doing with Curiosity Creates Grants.
There was a new children’s area with a sensory table.
Another library did a Star Wars Reads Day with Creative Exploration (including a martial arts academy teaching light saber training! At another station, kids made their light sabers from wrapping paper rolls.) There was a BB-8 Maze.
Another library made “Toolkits for Emerging Artists and Innovators” — Robotics, fiber arts, engineering and paper crafts, with a different kit available for check-out each month and a launch party each month.
Finally, a library made an Open Art Studio called The Creative Edge. A tech-free zone with clay, paint, collage, oil pastels, and toddler crayons. They nurture creative confidence.
They told about a new Herve Tullet book: Art Workshops for Children


After that session, I went back in the exhibits and met Laurie Halse Anderson (see picture above).

I went to the Random House Book Buzz and of course now want to read *all* their books coming out this Spring. I got some more books from their booth, not being sure I hadn’t already gotten them and shipped them to myself.

And I finished off the day going to hear Lizzie Velasquez give an inspiring message. She has a medical condition that affects her growth and her appearance. When she was 17, she found a YouTube video someone had posted of her as “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” There were thousands of comments, saying horrible things. She read them all, looking for just one comment taking her side, and didn’t find even one.

That devastated her, but I’m going to interject that it’s wonderful that she was able to tell her parents about it. Cyberbullying is incredibly horrible — which I learned at the YALSA Institute in November. But Aija Mayrock was younger when her cyberbullying happened, and she didn’t know how to tell her parents.

Both women, though, have gone on to tell their stories and be proud of who they are and speak up with a strong message against bullying.

Lizzie Velasquez gets great meaning out of sharing her story and helping other people who might be facing hard things.

She wasn’t going to let the bullies define who she was.

Now she’d thank that bully, because that event ultimately helped her find her passion for public speaking and helping others.

ALA Midwinter Meeting Day One

Friday, January 8th, 2016

This morning I got up early and my son drove me to the airport — and we survived the experience! (It was his first time driving in months. I have a hard time not exclaiming aloud when in the passenger’s seat. Sometimes, I had to just close my eyes. This was mostly the backing out of the garage part.)

In the plane, I was seated next to another librarian. (Surprise, Surprise!) (We can pick each other out.) We had matching color carry-ons and coats. We were staying at the same hotel, so we navigated the subway together. We live in the same neighborhood, but she’s a cataloger for the Library of Congress. But it was a friendly way to start the conference!

I decided to walk from my hotel to the Convention Center. It’s a mile — if you don’t take a wrong turn. If you take a wrong turn, it turns out that you can see the Convention Center, but it’s hard to actually reach the Convention Center. But I did so eventually. And it was a nice walk. I do like Boston.

I decided to spend the afternoon at the ALSC Notable Books Committee meeting. They were discussing picture books. While I was there, they discussed titles starting with F through M. Since I was just on the Cybils panel for Fiction Picture Books, I especially enjoyed it when committee members shared my enthusiasm for certain titles and my concerns for other titles. I won’t say which!

Then I went to catch the Booklist Author Forum, featuring Ken Burns, Terry Tempest Williams, and Mark Kurlansky. I walked in a little late, so didn’t get the intro, but their conversation was fascinating. The moderator was Donna Seaman.

When I walked in, they were talking about National Parks. Terry Tempest Williams’ new book is about that. Here are my notes:

Ken Burns: National Parks: We don’t have cathedrals, but look what we have.
You feel your atomic insignificance, but you’re made larger by that.
A wonderful thing that the parks do.

Terry: The Hour of Land, out in June.
Writing this book was a transcendent experience.
Not sure they’re our best idea. They’re an evolving idea. There’s a shadow side to our national parks.
Writing this book, she didn’t have anything to hide behind. Her vision has been too small.

Mark Kurlansky: His view of the living world (does both fiction and nonfiction). Much easier to write fiction and nonfiction at the same time than two of the same.
What they have in common is they have to be true.
Where do you get that truth?
In fiction — lots of self-searching and reflection. Often don’t turn out like you thought they would.
In nonfiction, the stories in real life are so great, you could never invent something that great.

Ken Burns is writing a children’s book about Presidents.
When his daughter was 4 or 5, they would lie in bed and go through the sequence of the presidents. Her favorite part was “Grover Cleveland, AGAIN!” Now she’s 33.
A book to teach the sequence of the presidents. “Grover Cleveland, Again!”
Can use it with several age groups.

Talk about bringing humor to complicated subjects:
Mark: Humor is what we live on. Tells his editors: “If it’s funny, I’m not going to cut it!”

Moderator: Terry, you bring beauty and sensuousness to your books. Is that a habit from journal-keeping?
Terry: Beauty is truth, truth is beauty for me. We’re witnessing terrible beauties. Like a swirling rainbow from an oil spill.
How she deals with this is she writes. It’s an act of consequence. Takes hard truths and attempts to recreate them on the page. That’s an act of beauty, of creation.
We are now at the Hour of Land.
Ultimately, the earth will survive us. Wanted the book to be an object of beauty. Photographs, but not feel-good images.

Ken: In Terry’s work, there’s an idea of presence. Youu force me back into this moment, which is a great gift.

Moderator: I think of your work, Ken, as slowing down time.
Ken: In a book, the author has no control over how long you spend with it. He tries to ask for your attention at that moment.
In film you have a little more power to control the moment.
Humor is an important glue in his war films. And helps bridge the gap to different times.
We think because we’re here we know a lot more than folks a hundred years ago.

Moderator: Mark’s forthcoming book is about paper. A uniquely human trait is that people record.
Mark: The history of humans is the story of trying to service this urge to tell stories. Search for more and more efficient ways of writing… and it goes on. We want to tell our stories. We want to pass our experiences on. That will continue as long as we’re around.
Every new idea is confronted with the same objections. Plato said that learning by reading isn’t true knowledge.

Terry: I have a disease with journals. It’s not real unless I hand write it down. Goes through a journal a month. She’s witnessing on the page.
Her journal is her personal library of experience. She feels like she lives twice. Uses them as reference points when she’s writing. Wow. Told about an amazing experience she saw with bison in Yellowstone. Had to get it down in writing right away.
In the act of writing it, it becomes you.

Ken: I write everything out by hand. It doesn’t seem as real without writing it out.
“beautifully pathetic grasp at immortality.” Stories are a way to try to live on.
A seemingly chhaotic world– story puts order into our lives. It keeps us from perceiving our mortality. A wonderful kind of distraction. Writing down things makes sense of it.

Mark: I sometimes think that we talk too much.
With writing, you’re alone with your thoughts and there’s not a lot of talking.
At a Benedictine monastery, the silence keeps the effect of beautiful music.

Moderator: Thinking about distillation. Each of you deal with huge topics. How painful is it to edit it down?

Terry: Out of 400 national parks, focused on 12, and in 30 seconds, each park is its own universse. Was paralyzing. Had to come to grips with her own limitations. The only way to go foorward was to say, “I’m a storyteller.” and approach it that way. You can deal with the world that way.

Ken: It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Exactly like making a film.
Shooting ratio of easily 40 to 1.
Began to understand this is not dissimilar to sculpture. What’s on the floor of the studio is not part 2. It’s the negative space. In order to be a there, there has to be a not-there.
Doesn’t like Director’s Cut or extras on DVDs.

Terry — after she was interviewed by Ken Burns for 4 hours, she cried like never before. It was that outpouring of emotion that made her realize she had to write about it.

Ken: It’s important to be challenged, important to bite off more than you can chew and learn to chew it.

Mark: It’s painful to get research into a manuscript. He blows a conch shell when he’s done with that part.

Ken rings a cowbell. Terry howls.

Mark: Then he cuts it and pares it. It’s his favorite part, doing that paring.

Terry: And then you have to return to your family.

Moderator: Tales from the front?
Mark: I love research, and do it myself. Research is learning. It’s exciting and fun and why I do the kind of books I do.
There’s no substitute for a personal experience. Doing the salt book, he went to the site of Carthage — and understood the Roman empire in a way I never have before.
“You have to go places and see things, and when possible talk to people.”

Ken: All history, all biography is failure. Think of the people closest to you and how inscrutable they remain. But we have to try. You can’t farm out the research.
Terry: when she went to Rwanda, she made a pilgrimage to the Library of Congress and looked at all the maps of Rwanda she could find.
One of most powerful things has been curating the photographs.
Researching the images changed her perception of what a park was.

Moderator: Their energy level went up when they started talking about research!

What sticks in Ken’s mind about the Civil War is that Winchester, VA, changed hands 72 times.

Terry: Those details! Was wondering if there were prairie dogs in Gunnison County — found out in a museum.

Ken: In publishing, we’re results-oriented. Research is about practice. What it’s about, really.
He’s exhilarated that it’s the process.
The second it’s done, it’s yours, not mine. What’s mine is the process.

Mark: I know so much more about writing now. Writing is about the only thing you get better at with age.

Moderator: “Collaboration is the only way forward.” What do you mean by collaboration?
Terry: This converstaion is a collaboration. Books are a collaboration with the reader and those who take your words seriously.
It’s especially important for writers because our tendency is solitude. Seeing the world from all these different angles as we become more and more complex. In that prism we see the beauty of the spectrum.

After the talk, we were given books or parts of books by all three authors and they signed them. With Ken Burns, it was pages from his book Grover Cleveland, Again! With Terry Tempest Williams, it was a nice chapbook with the chapter on Grand Tetons National Park from her upcoming book The Hour of Land. With Mark Kurlansky, it was an Advance Reader Copy of his upcoming book Paper. I definitely want to read all three! (And I got about halfway through the chapbook while standing in line for the other two. This is good writing!)

Then came the exhibits!

You know how medieval soldiers used to go berserk? There is a Book Frenzy which takes hold of a normally mild-mannered librarian on Opening Night of ALA, which I believe is similar.

I tried to thwart it a little bit by not participating in the Running of the Librarians when the ribbon is cut and the exhibits open. Instead I waited in line for the signed books.

However, I did collect 30 more books, 3 tote bags, and a hungry tomato.

And the Post Office on the Exhibit Floor isn’t open on Friday night, so I inevitably spend the rest of the conference figuring out where I will tote all those books to ship them home. There is a UPS store across the street from my hotel….


YALSA Institute Part Four – Filling the Library with Teens and Digital Literacy for Teens

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Here are notes from the last two programs I attended at the November 2015 YALSA Teen Services Institute

Yes You Can!
Presenter: Jenn Cournoyer

Mission Part One: Fill the Library with Teens!

Their program had a real divide – most teens from the wrong side of the tracks.
They had a quiet place to do homework and changed to a Teen Den.
Attitudes you’re fighting: “Us against them,” “This is how we’ve always done it,” “That doesn’t work here.”

Step One: Start with what you have.
She had an anime club, so got to know some of the teens.
Use fresh eyes to assess the space and how patrons are using it.

Step Two: Make the space teen friendly.
Have available food and drink! After school, they’re hungry! It helps behavior to feed them.
The library will be cleaner when patrons aren’t trying to hide food.
Wifi and computer access for teens.
Comfortable seating
Positive signage (Watch the tone of signs!)
Attractive displays of teen materials

Step Three: Be Accessible
Have a Teen Librarian Desk.
Do your teens know how to contact you? Email, Facebook…
SAY HELLO! Introduce yourself to teens in the library.
Hang out. Be yourself.

Step Four: Give the Teens a Voice
Have a white board/ chalkboard.
What do you Geek? Posters with pictures of the teens
Teen Newsletter – sent electronically to middle school and high school. Let them highlight books.
Showcase their work on Facebook, around the library, local news.
Let teens create a display.

Step Five: Let’s talk programming.
Build off the audience you have, not the audience you wish you had. (They started with an anime club rather than a book club.)
Use your own passions and interests as a springboard. (Writer’s workshop, coding club, Hour of Code…)
Don’t be afraid to try something and fail.
Don’t cancel a program just because no one signed up.
Market, market, market!
Advertise on Parent Facebook pages from the schools.
Have program reviews. If teens write it, give them a piece of candy at the end of the program.
Start listservs for program reminders.
Passive Programs – have at least one every month
Don’t forget your volunteers!

Step Six: Bookstore your collection!
They got rid of spinners and added genre baskets.
Get face-out shelving (like bookstores!)
New books display
They have 2-3 displays at any time (use Pinterest for ideas!)

Step Seven: Outreach
She’s had trouble with schools, but good relationships with Boys & Girls Clubs, Phoenix House, etc.

Mission Part Two: Create Buy-in

Model to other staff how to talk to and interact with teens.
Introduce your teens to other staff and brag about them.
Talk about how you handle issues. It’s not a secret.
Empower staff to use behavior modification they are comfortable with.
Have a staff training with role playing.
Remind staff they don’t have to be you, or use your style.
Acknowledge the power of a name – Get to know and use the names of regulars.
Get your Admin’s blessing – use the YALSA report.

Mission Part Three: Keep Your Sanity

Only you know how much you can do.
Consider your budget and your time.
Ask for what you need. The worst that can happen is “No.”
Find a formula and go with it for as long as it works. (Try a monthly routine for programs.)
Don’t reinvent the wheel! Your colleagues – and Pinterest – are great resources.
Take a vacation! You should want to come to work.
Good is not the enemy of perfect.

Final thoughts:
Never make it you and the teens against the other staff.
Back up your colleagues.
Ask for your colleagues’ input.
Change your story: What’s one thing you can change? (More programs? Contact with PTO?)
It’s ultimately about the teens!!!


Using Digital Literacy with Teens
Darlene Encomio, Martin County Library System, Florida

Vision: Introduce teens to technology and information, opening the gates of creation and communication.

Technology: Makey Makey, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, 3D printer, Circuit Scribe.
Most of the technology came through grants and donations.
Used open source software and social media.

First program: Makey Makey – Piano with cups of water.
Their website is great – Watch the 2-minute video with them and have them go to the How-to page.

MIT’s Scratch Lab
Pulled up video. Show them the ideas from Pinterest – let teens decide what to do.

Teens love to see themselves on film. They posted the videos on the library’s YouTube channel – The library’s stats went right up!
Used a MacBook and had the teens write their own booktalks.
Edited in YouTube video editor and sound editor – FREE.

3D Printer
They had a small Mini Makerbot

Arduino and Raspberry Pi
“wonderful for the advanced tech teens” especially those who want to mentor others.
Use instructables. Patron base will be smaller groups for this.
For ideas, show them and Kickstarter. Get them thinking about inventing…
Show them the Arduino TED talk.
It’s a great way to introduce technology and engineering. (Though arguably Lego Mindstorms does it a little better.)
They often start Teen Tech Lab with a video.

Circuit Scribe
Great website and Pinterest pages.


STEAM Break – every day of Spring Break
10-12 Technology. (Got funding to order subs for lunch.)
12-2 Science program (Teachers came in and did experiments)
2-3 Art programs

3D Printing Showcase
Vendor came in and set up 3D printers in the hallway

Summer Camp Visit Expo
When summer camps visited the library (groups of 30), they brought out the technology.

Teen Tech Lab
Once a month, 2 hours on a Saturday.
(Would also bring out Makey Makeys on demand.)

3D Printing Resources
(They’d allow one 3D print-out per day.)
Tinkercad – need to be a little more familiar with this
3DHubs – locate 3D printer vendors. (Do a showcase?)

Don’t tell teens step by step what to do. Show them where to find ideas.
Seek out donors and grants. (They got $80,000 from Jim Moran Foundation for Homework Center.)

VolunTeens – Teens helping teens. Empowerment and resume building.
Quality Programming
Got teens into the library. Allows them to fail in a safe place and try things out.
(If just starting a program, Lego Mindstorms are good value for the money.)


Teen Tech Lab Series
1) Ice breakers and creating YouTube videos. (Bean Boozled challenge was their ice breaker. They filmed the challenge and uploaded onto YouTube.
2) Makey Makey
3) Create a story using Scratch.
4) Arduino and Raspberry Pi
5) Digital Art Portfolio/Online Resume
6) 3D printing
7) Circuit Scribe (This is a little more involved – use Pinterest.)
8) Stop Motion Videos (Programs: Stop Motion Studio app and YouTube. Make a challenge, with prizes.)

Then they took questions.
They had four Makey Makey kits – 4 kids per kit.
Check their Make It Idaho Facebook page.
“Makerspaces and the participatory library.”


And that’s the end of my notes from YALSA Teen Services Institute. You can see why my head was spinning with ideas! Will I be able to carry any of these out at my library? We’ll see….

Then there was the fun part of the Institute. There was a Reception Friday night at the top of the hotel. And it ended up with a Teen Poetry Slam.

Saturday night, there was a big room full of authors signing books, and we got tickets for six free books. I met Anne Jacobus and knew I had been to a conference with her. It took a few tries before I realized that she was at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference I went to in Paris exactly 10 years earlier! And she was one of the organizers.

Ann Jacobus

Here are the free signed books I got at the conference. A very manageable amount this time!

YALSA Signed Books

YALSA Institute, Part Three — Teen Programming

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Here are my notes from two afternoon sessions on November 7, 2015, at the YALSA Institute in Portland, Oregon.

If You Build It, They Will Come: Establishing Teen Services in Public Libraries
Presented by Molly Kelly and Kat Tigges

After months of research and proposals, they got a renovated teen space at a branch of Chicago Public Library and established a dynamic Teen Services department.

How They Did It:

Build a Framework: Why?

Theoretical Framework: What informs your practice? Consider the developmental needs of teens.

Structural Framework: Work out how your practice will be organized. Their Teen Services became its own department. Where does Teen Services fit in your library?

These speakers recommended putting Teen Services under Adult Services if they can’t have their own department. It’s more attractive to teens than when part of Children’s Services.

HOMAGO: Hanging out, messing around, geeking out.

These are different levels of engagement:
HO: Spontaneous, Flexible, Natural
MA: Self-directed, interest driven, experimentation
GO: Focused, Instruction, Advancement (Level Up)

Connected Learning:
Learning principles: Interests, peer culture, academically oriented
Design principles: Production-centered, openly networked, shared purpose
Core values: Equity, social connections, full participation
Want to be a link between home, school, and community

After you know why, assess what you’ve got and where you are. This was a huge long process. Start with the big picture and work your way down.

Break it into the component parts.

Know your audience: Administrators like options. Make a timeline of component parts.

Empower the whole staff and community: Get input.

Research: Look on the internet for photos of teen spaces.

Prepare patrons. They will offer valuable input (in their case, providing enough outlets) and will feel valued when you use their ideas.

What You Can Do

Work with what you’ve got.
Capitalize on your resources no matter what they are.
They kept board games out and available without check-out.
Remember Numbers lead to Funding!

Be visible. “Hey! I saw you at my school!” Outreach and marketing don’t have to be perfect. Be out there! Show them what they’re getting in terms of programs and impact.

Get input from teens. Make it easy for them to tell you what they want.
Have a Suggestions Box: It’s your space. What do you want to do with it?
Survey for gift cards
Let Volunteers give you info – rather than shelf-reading
Just Ask!

Then make their wishes come true! Ask what they want, then make it happen.
You gain credibility when you follow their suggestions. They heard one teen say, “I asked for couches, and they got couches!” If one teen believes in you, they’ll tell their friends.

Remember Teen You. Be honest with yourself about who you really were.

Be Real. Teens can smell BS a mile away. Teens really like honesty. They really like being treated like adults. Your interests are valid points of connection. You can get them to respond to you.

It won’t be easy!
Get support. Online if not in person.

Funding is a numbers game. Have proof teens are interested.

It really takes: Two YEARS of constant effort to get regulars.
Keep existing participants engaged. Where are they? (including online) Go there.
Keep track of what you’re doing.

Remember: It’s worth it! You can make a difference in a teen’s life!
You’re playing the long game. Look and listen. Try things, and see what works.
Every failure is the chance for a new beginning.
Done is better than perfect.

The next session:

A Series of Fortunate Events: Library Collaborations that help LGBTQ Young Adults Transition to College Life
Amanda Melilli – Curriculum materials
Ashley Nebe – AP teacher
Rosan Mitola – Outreach librarian
David Levithan – Author of Another Day
Susan Kuklin – Author of Beyond Magenta
Ann Bausum – Author of Stonewall
Mariko Tamaki – Author of Saving Montgomery Sole

First, report from librarians. Their program is in the 5th largest school district in the nation. They built a partnership between a high school and a local university.

Look up the GLSEN Report on LGBTQ teens.

High school victimization means teens are less likely to go to college, more likely to miss school, and more likely to be depressed.

The more supportive staff, the more helpful. Supportive staff can help keep kids in school.

Support student clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances
Provide training
Increase student access to appropriate and accurate information.
The first day of school can be stressful for trans students.
Student success in college is measured by retention, progression, and completion.
For student engagement, focus on: Active & Collaborative Learning, Student-Librarian Interaction, and Supportive Campus Environment.

The library supported high school and university LGBTQIA organizations.
They began with Banned Books Week. Did a Book Tasting with Banned Books.
An event for all people, highlighting LGBTQ issues in everyday events.
Charger Coffee House event – a Talent showcase
Author events
Partnered with UNLV for the Las Vegas Pride Parade.

The library is a way of connecting people. They brought in many different groups from the community.

UNLV partnered with a high school Gay-Straight Alliance – made kids excited about going to college.

Then there was discussion with the authors present:

Question: Major barriers to LGBTQ teens in education?
MT: The word “appropriate” Comfort level is tricky. In her books, she talks about boundaries and feelings more than sex.
DL: Talking about identity. Kids aren’t seeing people saying, “I’m ___.” They think their identity is invisible. If adults aren’t willing to talk about it, how can they?
AB & SK: Safe places are important?

Question: Why is LGBTQ Literature important?
DL: Interesting and frustrating that we still have to defend it. We are reflecting the population of our students. They need actual stories, getting emotional context from fiction and historical context from nonfiction. This is what books do so well.
AB: Historical events allow you to have a conversation about difficult topics.
MT: LGBTQ literature is important and also amazing.
SK: To provide windows and mirrors.
The four authors write on the same subject, but write so differently.

Question: Talk about “politicizing” of the issues.
SK: It’s about identity, individuals, and human beings. How do we treat the marginalized?
AB: How can a school have integrity if they won’t look at difficult issues?
DL: Volunteer to take out all books dealing with social issues! It’s who you are. It’s the challenging that politicizes it.

Question: What can we do as librarians to improve the lives of LGBTQ teens?
DL: Let LGBTQ teens know you’ve got books for them.
AB: Provide books that put human faces on the community.
SK: Creating very safe space to all come together.
MT: Include LGBTQ books in their broader context.
Moderator: “We’ve all read Harry Potter and none of us are wizards.”

Question: Talk about the transition to college.
MT: It was amazing – She made gay friends. It was an opportunity to put on a new identity.
DL: Freedom is exciting, but also scary. The narrative of their lives has gotten more complicated. Still an exploration.
AB: Trickiest part: A very vulnerable place. They don’t have allies and friends yet. Knowing about resources helps. Safety nets are critical.

Question: What are the needs of young adults after graduation?
MT: Very similar: Community and support. In high school, you’re trying on personalities. Same thing in university.
AB: New generation grows up at a different pace. More vulnerabilities.

Question: What groups can libraries connect with to support LGBTQ teens?
MT: Activist groups in every community.
DL: Trevor Project. Try to get 4 different generations in the room at the same time.
SK: Queer Theater. See the back matter in her books.

Summing up:
DL: Teens don’t make as much of a distinction any more. It’s no longer true that only queer kids are in the queer books.
SK: It’s a natural thing to write characters as a picture of the community.

Jack Gantos Lunch – YALSA Institute, Part Two

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Here’s another installment of notes from the YALSA Institute I went to in Portland last month. I want to get the notes posted before I go to ALA Midwinter Meeting next week. If you attend a conference and never go over your notes, did it really happen? There were some good ideas offered, and copying out the notes reminds me of them in a setting where I can take my time thinking about them.

The next event of November 7, after the events of Part One of my notes, was an Author Lunch with Jack Gantos.


I was wonderfully lucky and accidentally found a place at the same table with Jack Gantos!

He’s delightful to talk with in person. I still haven’t read his new book, which is biographical, but we were given a copy and it’s at the top of my pile of books to read next. After we ate, he got up front and gave a presentation to everyone.

He began with appreciation for librarians (knowing his audience).

“I love the library because they have to take you in.”

He has written 20-25 books in the Boston Public Library, but has since switched to the Boston Atheneum, a subscription library. If anyone dares use a cell phone in that library, he comes down!

The library is the place where everyone comes together. In the library, you are anyone you want to be at any age you ever were.

He talked about other authors and books. Kevin Henkes is too nice. When Jack Gantos stands next to him, he feels the blackness in his own soul.

The magic of literacy is that when Frog is sad, Toad is sad, and the reader is sad, too.

We’re reckless junkies for feelings – that’s why we read.

You want the book to move into you like a squatter – for about 3 days.

Writing a picture book takes the same energy as writing young adult or middle grade novels.

He writes from his childhood journals. He went to 10 schools in 12 grades. His friends were the Joey Pigza kids – they’d worn out everyone else, so they were friendly to the new kid.

Here are his notes about where he lived in Florida:


When you’re at the library, watch someone reading a book and see their face change.

We know this simple truth about each other: Inside there’s so much more than on the outside.

There’s something exclusively yours every time you read a book. Yet you want to share.

There’s a time in your life when you’re completely uneven. His new book, The Trouble in Me, is about that unevenness and self-loathing.

His books have been used for Community Reads. Everyone leaves feeling so connected.

There’s a Literary Spiritualism among those of us who read and get involved in the community of readers.

You wouldn’t be the same person if you didn’t read good books and put good books in the hands of other readers.

Let’s be little fires for literacy.

(This is a terrible picture, but it shows his enthusiastic gestures.)

YALSA Institute 2015, Part One

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

YALSA Institute Notes

Last month, I attended the YALSA Institute in Portland, Oregon. It was amazing, and ideas buzzed around my head afterward. I am typing up my notes here to try to organize my thoughts about it. I thought it would be nice to start before I head to ALA Midwinter Meeting next week!

Opening Session, Friday night November 6.


The speaker for the YALSA Institute Opening Session was Aija Mayrock, author of The Survival Guide to Bullying. She told her story.

The bullying against her started when she was 8 years old and continued for five years. She moved to another state when she was 13 – and then the bullies found her online and cyberbullying started.

She performed a rap poem. I like this line:

Have you ever hid
what made you wonderful,
Just to appear a regular kid?

She decided to write a book when she was 16 and another kid committed suicide. First she self-published, and now the book is commercially published. There has been an international outpouring of support.

Bullying impacts 13 million American kids and more all over the world, including Russia and Japan.

Five Biggest Problems:
1) Kids don’t communicate.
2) Parents don’t know how to hndle this issue.
3) Teachers don’t know how to interfere in the classroom.
4) Bystanders are afraid to stand up.
5) In schools, bullying is not taken seriously.
Cyberbullying: She wants to empower kids to be superheroes online. You can change someone’s life by standing up for them. In her day, one person was kind to her and got her through.

Creativity helps kids get through anything and communicate. The library was that place for her in middle school.

A teacher later told her, “It’s never your fault when you’re bullied.”

Often the problem is that bystanders don’t feel empowered.

Coding Camp

The Saturday of YALSA Institute, the first session I went to was about Coding Camp, but trouble catching the train meant I was quite late. I think I was mainly there for questions at the end, so the things I heard may seem a bit random. Here’s what I did catch:

The sessions of their coding camp lasted an hour and a half to two hours each. You could do it in an hour, but it can often take 45 minutes to get going.

They used Scratch, which has interactive curriculum. Scratch has many resources, and is coming to tablets.

It helps kids be willing to share if they see all is a work in progress.

In doing programs like this, be willing to fail.

You can do different formats. Once a week, 2-day intensive, etc.

If the kids share laptops, they talk more.

Try to get kids into coding through a variety of interests.
Having interns helped!

One library has an event monthly where kids play each other’s games.

Publicity: Emphasize the interest, then the coding. You do need to know what your patrons are into.

Make presentations optional.

Bringing coding in shows how kids can take interests and do something awesome.

Introducing Middle School Students to the YA section

Presenters: Todd Krueger, Alicia Bowers, Carrie Ryan, Beth Saxon

Todd Krueger:

There’s a dearth of material on middle school switch to YA. For recreational reading, middle school students read more personally relevant books than assigned reading. They find most things more fun when done with others.

Always give middle school students a choice what to read. They love to talk about books. Give them a chance.

Girls are more likely to read recreationally. More educated parents mattered, but not social class, race, or grade. They get as little as 17 minutes per day to read in the classroom.

Don’t use the term “reluctant reader.” Use “occasional reader” instead.

Carrie Ryan’s transition book was by Jude Devereaux. She’s written both YA and middle grade. The heart of the difference is not age or length.
The violence level is different – off screen in middle grade.

Sex is still mostly off-page in YA, but there’s plenty of angst on the page. “All angst all the time.” – the angst of figuring out who you are in the context of romantic relationships. Love triangles are about knowing who they are.

You won’t put anything past a kid reader. If they don’t know a word, that’s what a dictionary is for. In middle grade, there’s a little more telling with the showing and more signposts.

There’s still romance in middle grade, but it’s about friends and family.

In middle grade, you’re figuring out who you are in the context of someone else’s rules. In YA, you realize you make your own rules.

In YA you’re looking forward to the life you’re going to lead. It’s about the firsts.

YA readers don’t realize it’s going to be okay. “That’s not allowed; this can’t happen; I don’t know what to do.”

It’s about what the reader needs: In middle grade, they need to know it’s okay to leave some things behind (like Doll Bones, by Holly Black). In YA, they need to know they can transition forward. The characters are captains of their own ship.

In middle grade: Have a safety net. What reassurances does the reader need right now? Sometimes the safety net is the book itself.

Don’t withhold books. Say, “If you have questions, come and talk to me.” It will be okay.

Alicia Bowers:

She’s a book pusher. She helps transition readers to middle school reading.

Have a safe space, comfortable seating, quick picks, puzzles and games. Lure them into reading.

Kids always link on videos for book trailers (on her library web page).

Assigned reading, she uses Book Bingo: Choose the 5-in-a-row that works best for you. No page count minimum! No written assignment! Put down books you don’t like.

She does author visits and field trips on the weekends.

Choice is the main factor in the summer reading list.

There are always booktalks when she’s around.

Summer: Harry Potter Camp and Hunger Games Camp (see Their favorite thing in Harry Potter Camp was dueling.

Set traps to lure your children into reading!

Beth Saxon:

Program for circulation. All programs should promote some of your collection.

Make the solitary reading experience a social reading experience.

All programs should promote some of your collection.

Goal: An inclusive community of readers.

Go outside your own comfort zone.

Give the message: I see you; I hear you; you are welcome here.

Middle schoolers are always trying to find out how they fit in.

She gave lots of program ideas:

Book Tasting or Book Speed Dating: Give them 3 minutes to read the cover, etc. Give them paper and pencil to note down titles. Pass the book to the right after 3 minutes.

Book Club formats: Traditional read & discuss, BYOB, “Limited Run” – 3 months in a row, that’s it, Quarterly, Genre (Specific or Rotating), Guest speaker (Math teacher with An Abundance of Katherines, detective with a mystery, etc.).

Booktalking: 30 books in 30 minutes (Flash booktalks). Have kids time you on their phones.

Throwback Thursday: Highlight some great backlist titles.

Multimedia: Fandom (collage, fanart), photo sets (Tumblr), music play lists, book trailers

Character Chats: Role-playing program. Come as a character. Ask loaded questions. (This works great for an anime club.)

Programs for Specific Titles and Series: Validate fandom. Encourage curiosity. Really talk with teens about what they’re into. Cosplay? Fan art?

Technology Programs: The Catalog for Fiction Readers (show how to place a hold), e-Content Tutorials, Follow-a-thon (author twitter accounts and Instagram feeds).

Passive Programs: Awesome Box — If you think it’s awesome, return it here; Six Word Book Review Challenge — Every submission is an entry; Nutritional Label for a Book (Example: Total Sex: 100g; Actual Sex: 5g; Desired Sex: 95g; Unfairness: 75g; Love: 250g)


That was only the first evening and morning of the Institute! More notes to come…

KidLitCon 2015 – Part Three

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I’ve already posted about the first day of KidLitCon 2015 in Baltimore.

Since Baltimore is driving distance, I chose to drive rather than stay at the hotel, but my goodness it was quicker on Saturday (both directions) than it was on Friday!


Saturday began with a keynote speech from Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies.

It never occurred to Tracey that she was writing horror — she thought she was writing a fairy tale! She loves the adventure and bravery found in fairy tales.

She took from the mythical characters — the Jumbies — that she’d grown up with in Trinidad.

She does believe that the majority of stories about a culture should be told from deep inside the culture. The more personal a story is, the more universal they seem to be.

Stories that come out of great need are stories we all need.

After Tracey’s talk came the most entertaining panel of the day — the Comic Book Panel


Moderator Miriam DesHarnais, fitting to the theme, had made pictures and word cards and arrows to use for the panel. She’s on the right in this picture. The other woman is Maggie Thrash, author of Honor Girl. The tall guy in back is Jay Hosler, author of Last of the Sandwalkers, and the other two men are Jorge Aguirre (on the left) and Rafael Rosado, authors of Giants Beware! and Dragons Beware!.

The panel was entertaining, including game-show-style questions. I’ll list a few gems.

Maggie said: Teens are brave. They like reading about people different from themselves.

Jay (a college biology professor) said: In kids, the desire to participate is huge. This is lost by the time they’re college students who don’t want to stand out. They don’t want to question authority.

Each author has someone in their books who says, “You can’t do things this way.” And the main character challenges that.

Maggie: Girls are told it’s not nice to excel.

Jay: It’s a glorious time to be a cartoonist. Put your stuff on the internet. Don’t wait. You’ll never be good enough in your head.

Galileo made the first comic: Stars next to the moon. Something happens when words and pictures are put together. More learning happens. It contextually motivates learning.

Rafael: Connections are made in between the panels.

Jorge: Between the panels, action happens in your head — so there’s more interaction between the book and the reader.

Maggie: Comics are so intimate. They bring you there. To see a body slump adds more empathy than to read about it. Also, you can linger more than over a movie.

And Jay says his next book involves this question: What do you do when your best friend turns out to be a parasite coming out of someone else’s head?

What indeed?

The next panel I attended was called “Intersectionality: The Next Step in Diverse Books”

The panel was to have included Zetta Elliott, but she wasn’t able to come, and her opening talk was read by Mary Fan. The other panelists were Mary Fan and twins Guinevere and Libertad Tomas.


Zetta Elliott pointed out that each person is at the intersection of multiple aspects of our identities.

When you’re reviewing a book, publicly locate yourself and notice your own positionality.

Guinevere Tomas: She used to wonder why marginalized characters had to die off. The sisters are black, but also Cuban. Why did one or the other identity have to be sacrificed? Then there are religious, gender, sexuality identities. She doesn’t want to leave part of her identity behind.

The Tomas Twins blog at Twinja Book Reviews. They’ve written a fantasy book called The Mark of Noba.

Libertad was looking at random YA Queer book lists — all are about cis white people.
Muslim lists — don’t reflect black and Latino.
Disabled lists — all white.
Latino lists — all have the same brown skin color.
When you’re at the intersection of many of these, you have to walk around with someone defining your identity for you.
She was so happy when she read a book with a main character who was like her.

Mary Fan: None of us fit into boxes. At the end of the day, we’re all “Us,” and the only “them” is ignorance.

How to keep up? Keep reading.

You have to be uncomfortable to change it.

When white people review books, they often don’t mention people of color or queer people. Libertad does want to know when marginalized people are represented. Tell if the books have diversity and if the diversity is on point.

Mary Fan gave a cynical definition of dystopia: “What if all the horrible things in the world also happened to white people?”

The next panel I attended, “Authentic Voices,” had a similar theme. It was led by Liz Burns and Pam Margolis.

In particular, they talked about books for the blind. Like anyone else, they’d like to see themselves in the books. Everyone would like to be the main character some time.

Pam looks at the author and asks questions like:
Why are they writing about this? Does it seem authentic? What’s their motive?

Do you know how to tell the publishers what you want? Buy books that have diversity.

The next panel I attended was “Middle Grade Madness.”


On the left in this picture is moderator Sam Musher, then Wendy Shang, Elisabeth Dahl, Carol Weston, Erica Perl, and Elissa Brent Weissman.

They were talking about writing for middle grade readers. They all appreciate the humor you need to put into the books, but also the importance of dealing with the characters’ emotions.

In middle grade: Who you’ll sit with in the cafeteria is more important than whom you’ll grow up and marry.

Erica: These kids have one foot in childhood and one foot out the door. They’re not in between; they’re both!

Carol: These kids go through things in such a big way. And a young reader who loves your books is totally in love and will read them over and over.

All agreed that there’s a playfulness to middle grade writing that is refreshing.

And the final panel of the day was “Connecting with Debut Authors,” led by Kathy MacMillan and Alyssa Susannah. Here’s Kathy:


Kathy has a debut novel coming out in January 2016, and talked about debut groups and how bloggers can find them.

Debut authors are “tender little souls, like soft shell crabs.” And the publishing process is long and slow and crazy-making. So please don’t tag a new author with your review unless you liked their book!

But debut authors will be especially appreciative of reviews — and that’s the best way you can support them.


That’s my wrap-up of KidLitCon 2015 in Baltimore. Of course, the panels and talks are only a small part of the experience. What’s beautiful about KidLitCon is the small setting, getting to meet authors, and especially the other bloggers whose work you’ve read and who have served on the Cybils and made their voices heard in various ways.

Most of all, Children’s Book Bloggers are *my people*! It was a huge treat to be among them again.

KidLitCon 2015 – Part Two

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

I’ve already told about my first morning at KidLitCon 2015 in Baltimore.

After lunch, I got to hear Carrie Mesrobian, author of Sex and Violence (really!) talk. And I was won over, and loved listening to her.

She teaches teens and writes about them. Both are extremely creative endeavors — but that’s all they have in common. As a teacher, she wants them to have everything good (though it’s impossible to save them). As a writer, she lets them suffer.

We teach ourselves about reality through story. All our lessons come in story form. The trouble with reality: It’s ubiquitous. But everyone’s ubiquitous reality is different.

Do we ever say, “strong male character”? What are our default assumptions?

Being outside the kingdom of white middleclassville makes some nervous. They either see it as terrifying or of no value.

Readers may get emotional cover talking about sexual violence of fictional characters. When we quarrel with fictional reality, the end result is loss.

After Carrie’s talk, there was a panel made up of people who have been on multiple award committees. They agreed that reading for awards changes how you read and makes you self-aware of your own prejudices. They also reminded us not to second-guess the committees. They are the only ones who have read all the eligible books in that much depth.

They also told us to be sure to suggest books to the various committees! (And Cybils nominations are open for one more day as I’m posting this!)

After this session, there was an Author signing and meet and greet. And we finished up the night with a Cybils birthday dinner and bowling. I got to bowl with author Jacqueline Jules and her husband.

Here is Anne Boles Levy, who began the Cybils, celebrating with us:


It was a wonderful first day of KidLitCon!