Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

Closing Session at #alamw17 – Neil Patrick Harris

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

There’s not a whole lot to say about closing session of ALA Midwinter Meeting with Neil Patrick Harris except that it was superlatively entertaining. I will share a few nice quotes:

“Librarians are definitely the most literate group of people in the government.”

“I love books nursing my brain into uncharted territories.”

“Books are a crucial tool in my parenting magic kit.”

One of his favorite parts of magic is misdirection, and misdirection is also a valuable tool in an author’s quiver.

Reading and magic both need practice and patience and lead to perspective.

The Morris Awards and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards at #alamw17

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

There are two youth media awards which have the Finalists announced ahead of time — the Morris Award for a debut author of a young adult novel, and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction.

Because the Finalists are known ahead of time, they can be invited to give a speech at the awards ceremony at ALA Midwinter Meeting. That morning, they will find out which one is the winner, but all are thrilled to be there.

It’s always a treat to attend this ceremony. The Morris Award Finalists are especially fun to listen to. These are debut novelists. They are still thrilled to be published, let alone to win an award. I’ll give some tidbits from their speeches.

This year, honestly, the speeches were the occasion for a John Lewis lovefest. Happening at the end of a significant weekend and in Atlanta, the heart of John Lewis’s district, after he joined in the Women’s March on Saturday — each speaker mentioned how much they love and respect him. And the crowd roared.

The Morris Finalists were first.

M-E Girard for Girl Mans Up:

She was okay with thinking of this book as a niche story. Her character’s a girl, but not in acceptable ways, but with normal teen questions about things like family relationships and friendships. After getting comments from teens, she’s found that her character’s a lot more universal than she’d thought. Librarians are getting her book to the right readers. Why? It must be a calling.

Sonia Patel for Rani Patel in Full Effect

Sonia started out with a rap speech. Her character is not your typical girl next door. She has diversity within diversity. The author is a child psychologist, and she wrote a character who has trauma-related brain damage. She’s emotionally delayed and sees people by how they make her feel. Rani opens our eyes to the long-term damage from abuse.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for The Smell of Other People’s Houses

She thanked Mrs. Long, her elementary school librarian who picked out books just for her. She was someone who saw her as a person and noticed what made her tick. This is a book about Family that happens to be in Alaska. Even today’s Alaska is not the same as it was when she was growing up. As a kid, everything seems normal. The message they were taught was “Don’t be vain, and don’t ever talk about yourself.”

Calla Devlin for Tell Me Something Real

As a child, books and the library were her salvation. The library was also her future. A kid asked her, “What if no one wants to hear my story?” An important part of being a teen involves finding your voice. Librarians introduce teens to whole new worlds.

Morris Award Winner: Jeff Zentner for The Serpent King

He began the book on January 20, 2014. It was written mostly on his iPhone. He wanted to talk about the most ferocious sort of love between friends who fill the place of family for each other. They’re wrestling with faith, division, and disparity in America. There’s a festering poison in rural America that makes people afraid. He wanted to show young people wrestling with this. There’s a fundamental failure of empathy.

But stories build empathy. Stories are like fire: They give light, warmth, and they burn to let new things grow. The soul of our nation depends on getting stories to young people.

Then we heard from the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists:

Karen Blumenthal for Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History

At a time when the world’s tempted to divide the world between winners and losers, this award makes her feel like a winner. Hillary Clinton is still the most admired woman in America, according to a recent Gallup poll. In doing the research, Karen had to learn lots of terms for unpleasant women. Research was a challenge to learn what was actually true. She didn’t find any evidence that Hillary really did throw something at Bill in the White House, for example. She had to write two versions of the paperback ending, because it was due on November 9th.

Young people deserve to hear the full story. She mentioned this quote from Hillary: “Please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” Some other new terms Karen had to deal with were “gaslighting,” “fake news,” and “alternative facts.” The work of librarians is fighting for truth! Few trailblazers ever get to see their work completed. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a winner. And this is a life worth sharing.

Kenneth C. Davis for In the Shadow of Liberty

He speaks as a child of the public library. The library made him a reader and also a writer.

How could men who risked all for freedom go home to plantations dependent on slave labor? He decided to focus on 5 slaves of 4 great presidents.

William Lee was a manservant to Washington. Ona Judge was the tailor who sewed his uniform. She eventually escaped. Isaac Jefferson was in Yorktown with the British. He was taken back into bondage. Paul Jennings was taken to the White House as a 10-year-old child. Alfred Jackson was tried for murder and President Andrew Jackson paid for his defense. Alfred Jackson lived until 1901 — This is not ancient history. American slavery was a crime against humanity of epic proportions.

Today we celebrate literacy and reading. They can make us free!

Pamela S. Turner and Gareth Hinds for Samurai Rising

Yoshitsune is like King Arthur, but his story is true. Mostly. The author had no idea that sifting knowledge from fakery would be so timely. Fan fiction is not an invention of the 20th Century. Yoshitsune is deeply embedded in Japan’s national history. It’s crucial to teach young people what nonfiction is and how and why it’s fictionalized.

Linda Barrett Osborne for This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration

Librarians are the front line; authors are the supply line. Her book wasn’t as timely when she started writing it in 2013. What do we mean when we say, “This land is our land”? There’s nothing new about saying awful things about immigrants. Benjamin Franklin spoke against Germans. Our history shows us why we fear, but also invite, immigrants. People come here to make a better life for their children.

The book spans four centuries. There are many parallels between then and now. Negative comments about immigrants are remarkably unchanged.

Some surprising facts:
Immigrants from Asia were not allowed to become citizens until 1952.
The first patrols along the Mexican border in 1890 were aimed at keeping Chinese people out, not Mexicans.

Her book also tells about the immigrants themselves. We have the power if we want to treat immigrants with compassion and respect, not fear and hate.

Then the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Winner: John Lewis for March: Book Three

He didn’t grow up in a big city, but in rural Alabama, poor, with six brothers and three sisters. As a kid, he asked “Why?” about things like signs for different bathrooms. Teachers and librarians told him to Read. We should teach people to find a way to get in the way. He got in trouble, necessary trouble. His late wife was a librarian. She also taught him to have a love of books. With books you could travel!

As a young child, he wanted to be a minister. He used to preach to the chickens. Some of those chickens listened to him better than his colleagues today in Congress. Some are more productive.

Keep the faith! When you see something not right, tell people to be brave!

Then we were told each of us could choose 3 of the award-winning books to have signed. I went first to John Lewis’s line (and shook his hand), then Kenneth C. Davis’s line for In the Shadow of Liberty, and then Jeff Zentner’s line (the person signing behind John Lewis in the photo above), for The Serpent King.

I’m afraid this year I hadn’t read any of the books receiving awards. But that’s going to change!

Attending the Youth Media Awards at #alamw17

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

The announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards is without question the highlight of every ALA Midwinter Meeting.

You get up early to get a place in line. The doors open at 7:30 am for the 8:00 announcements. I found a friend and sat right behind the committees. (I like that I have good friends whom I only see at ALA events. It shows that these really are my people.)

When waiting in line, you exchange hopes with others. What do you think will win the Newbery? The Caldecott? Nobody I talked with mentioned what did happen.

Now, if I were a serious campaigner (and an extrovert), this would have been an ideal time to go up and down the line passing out my “Sondy for Newbery!” cards, asking for votes for the 2019 Newbery committee. As it was, I did give it to people I was near in line and sitting near, but all people I actually then spoke with. I even met someone at the airport who was on the current Caldecott committee! And this initiated some great conversations. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been so bold as to meet so many strangers if I hadn’t had this to introduce myself. (And I definitely needed some Introvert Time when I got home!) But it felt great to meet so many people who also love children’s books.

Here’s the crowd ready for the announcements to start!

Then the announcement of the awards began, with lots of surprises.

My friend Susan Kusel has pointed out the many striking things about the awards this year.

What I noticed was the March Madness — March: Book Three won an unprecedented four awards — The Coretta Scott King Author Award, the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, the Printz Award, and the Sibert Award! Not an Honor in any of them, but the award. Moreover, the event was happening in Atlanta, in the heart of John Lewis’s congressional district. The crowd was thrilled.

My only sad thing was that I’d hoped for some kind of award for the book Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet — probably the Sibert, but maybe even Newbery or Caldecott Honor. Anyway, she’s been honored before, and I sure don’t begrudge John Lewis the Sibert.

Sadly, even though I read and loved March: Book One, I still have not read Book Two or Book Three! This is going to be remedied, especially now that I have a signed copy! (More on that in my next post.)

I also haven’t read the Newbery winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, but I have proof that I was meaning to — I’ve got it checked out! I’m going to start reading it tonight!

So I’m just going to mention which of my Sonderbooks Stand-outs did win something. (Of course, the reason I read The War That Saved My Life was because of the awards it won last year.)

Sachiko, by Caren Stilson, won a Sibert Honor (for children’s nonfiction).

Another Sibert Honor went to a book I liked very much, We Will Not Be Silent, by Russell Freedman.

Newbery Honor went to two of my Stand-outs: The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz and Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk. I’m super happy about those. (Someone I talked with in the line really wanted Wolf Hollow to win because it’s one of those rare children’s books with two parents who are great role-models.)

The audiobook version of Anna and the Swallow Man, which I have yet to listen to but have on hold, won the Odyssey Award for best recording of a children’s or young adult book.

And my favorite young adult novel I read all year, The Passion of Dolssa, by Julie Berry, won a Printz Honor. Yay! I hope I’ll get to go to the Printz Awards this year and hear her speech!

It was fun to go through the Exhibit Hall after the awards ceremony and take pictures of the books with their new stickers!

I hadn’t realized until I saw their booth that Little, Brown, has published the Caldecott Medal winner for three years in a row!

Campaigning Connections (Vote Sondy for Newbery!)

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

At ALA Midwinter Meeting this year, I’m meeting lots of people, especially in various lines and at events. When someone gives evidence of being a children’s librarian, I’m giving them the card I made, which has the image at the top of this post, and a link to my Sondy for Newbery! page.

What’s been so much fun about it is that most of the people I meet this way say something along the lines of, “Oh, that would be so wonderful!” Many also ask me, “How does the process work?” I hope I’ve inspired several more people to try to serve on a committee in the future!

But it’s just brought home to me how very much the people who come to ALA conferences, especially children’s librarians, are kindred spirits and my people! I have found my tribe!

On Thursday, my friend was telling me about her experience serving on the Caldecott committee and how thrilled she was when she was selected and how the first person she told didn’t have a clue what it was. It’s so much fun to share my hope about this with people who agree with me that it would be awesome!

It’s made me just a little braver to introduce myself to people — and I have been rewarded by meeting so many wonderful people!

It’s been a lovely conference. And bright and early tomorrow morning, we get to find out who this year’s winners are….

Kwame Alexander at #alamw17

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

I always love hearing Kwame Alexander talk.  His speeches are also poetry.

He began by saying that we need to feel that we aren’t going backwards.  As Langston Hughes said, “But I don’t care, I’m still here!”

What should we do?

Remember:  We are the army!

He read a poem using book titles.  Librarians, fire your cannons!  Books have a job to do and words plant seeds.

He told about his work with kids in Ghana.  Books connect us to each other.  Books don’t segregate.  We do.
What should we do?

Remember.  Recognize.  Resist.

You have to sing somewhere.  Words connect us all.  You’ll feel empowered if you lift your voice, wheher people listen or not.

We’ve been here before.  This is just one more river to cross.  Wrap yourself in a mountain of prayer.  Rise into the wonder of daybreak.

The alternative is unimaginable.  Fortunately, in this room, we are nothing if not imaginative.

The rest of these notes are from answers to audience questions, so the topics flit around:

He tells kids, If you can’t travel, read a book.

Poetry helps people deal with things.  It calms us, soothes us.

Kids from all over the world, all over the country, want to be engaged, want power, and want you to sign their forehead.

Poetry isn’t the only answer, but it’s an answer.

He writes for everybody.  He writes for all of us.  His characters are universal.  We all laugh, cry, smile, and love the same.

Novels in verse work with kids because in 15 lines you get a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Poetry is the opposite of intimidating, and it’s a bridge to other literature.

“Books are like amusement parks.  Sometimes you have to let kids choose the rides.”

To get kids excited about poetry, model that excitement.  We’ve all been a little afraid of poetry.  We send them from Silverstein to Shakespeare.  Give them a bridge.  Teach accessible poetry.  Show them how much fun it is.  Let it energize and excite you.

Poetry is the answer to draw people to reading.  It works everywhere.

And when Kwame recites it, it certainly does!

Then he signed copies of his new book with National Geographic Kids, Animal Ark

Shipping Books at #alamw17

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

“It’s a sickness.”  
“At least we all have it.”

That was my conversation with a stranger-I-just-met on the Exhibit Hall floor, talking about the free books we aren’t capable of resisting.

If you consider yourself a Book Addict — No ALA conference will ever cure you.  And you’ll be surrounded by other Book Addicts confronted with piles of their drug of choice.

I DO want to proudly declare that yesterday, I did not step into the Exhibit Hall even once!  
I know!  Am I amazing or what?

However — today I went to a Scholastic Preview where they gave me a bag of six Advance Reader Copies.  Combined with the four signed books I got yesterday and the books I’m going to get by going to the Morris Award ceremony — I know it’s already more than I can comfortably carry in my suitcase and carry on.  (I could fit them, but I’m not supposed to carry heavy things.)

So — since I decided I needed to do another shipment — might as well make the shipment count!  I went into the Exhibit Hall and began taking ARCs.  In about two minutes, I’d filled my rolling bag.  After about five minutes, both the bag and a tote bag were full.

The good news — There is a post office in the Exhibit Hall.  The bad news is that it closes before the exhibits do, so you have to plan things carefully.  But this is where my lightning-quick bag-filling came in handy.  I had plenty of time.

And this is where the Book Addicts hang out.  I had a nice conversation while waiting in line about our mutual problem.  I even saw someone I’d encouraged yesterday about grabbing ARCs and told her you can ship them home.  Always happy to Enable a new friend!

I should say that the employees at the Atlanta post office today were extra helpful!  A man was putting boxes together for us and bringing around tape.  I shipped two flat-rate boxes.  I didn’t count how many books it was, but I will when I get back.

I like to use middle-grade ARCs as prizes for a games program.  When the books are prizes, they are all the more valued, and may get read.

As my friend told me when I was shipping my first box, “It’s for the children!”  I don’t have a problem at all….

Publisher Previews at #alamw17

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

My main activity at ALA Midwinter Meeting today was two publisher previews – Scholastic and Boyds Mills Press.  The second one fed me lunch, which was much nicer than waiting in line for high-priced fast food.

Even more than the books previewed, the sessions were a nice chance to talk with more children’s book people whom I haven’t seen since the last conference or to make new connections.

It’s gotten where I love the world of ALSC – These are my people!

A lot of the faces I’ve seen many times before.  Perhaps after awhile we’ll remember exactly when and where we met — but I know they’re children’s book folks, and thus my people!

As for books — It sounds like it’s going to be another good year!  I liked that Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg wrote a book about a boy who is half Jewish and half Chinese (This Is Not a Test).  I wonder if they know about the book I heard about yesterday by Susan Tan about a girl with the same ethnicity.  (The books sound completely different, but both very interesting.)

It was fun to hear Gordon Korman talk about his new book.  I didn’t realize that he got his first book published when he was 12, in 1976.  That means he’s the same age as me, which doesn’t surprise me, because my 28-year-old heard Gordon Korman speak at her school when she was in middle school.

His new book, Restart, is about a bully who hits his head and gets amnesia.  It seems like an opportunity to become someone different — but that turns out to be harder than it might seem.

We also heard from Natasha Tarpley, author of The Harlem Charade, a story about three 7th graders and some interlocking mysteries.  It celebrates the history of Harlem.  She reminded us that you can create change through stories.  Libraries are important to help kids discover their own stories.

At the Boyds Mills Press lunch, we saw some fantastic picture books.  I especially liked Puppy! Puppy! Puppy!  There was a nonfiction picture book called The Secret Life of a Red Fox with simply glorious art. And there were books for older readers, including an oh-so-timely biography of Alice Paul.

Also, I was given a bag of 6 more Advance Reader Copies.  Guess I might as well go into the exhibits and make another shipment….

Arts and Crafts at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

I just posted about a program I attended at ALA Midwinter Meeting about Creativity brought into the library using an Open Art Studio approach. They talked at length about how doing Art is not the same thing as doing crafts.

This was somewhat ironic timing, because I had just spent an hour at a program called “DK Maker Break.”

DK was promoting a new book coming out called Out of the Box about making things from cardboard.

We all made owls.

Now, I had a lot of fun, and the book is packed full of ideas and projects.

But — I could really see the point that was going to be made in the next session I attended.

First, I could easily see that my owl wasn’t very “good,” especially compared to the examples we were shown. Even compared to the people next to me making owls. My conclusion: I’m not very good at this.

Those are all things we don’t want kids to feel or think after making something in the library.

Second, I have absolutely no emotional investment in the owl. I plan to throw it away before I go home.

If it were a project I had come up with, I might care about the result. But the whole idea of making this was imposed by others. It’s cute, and it makes a fun picture. But it doesn’t express who I am or say anything about my life.

Finally, if I were a kid, and my mother decided to display the owl I made — I’d be just plain embarrassed! I know it’s not very good. If my mother tried to say it was, I would be far less inclined to trust her judgment about my art in the future! And I don’t have any emotional investment in the product, so it’s not something I want to be reminded of again and again.

It really made me think, and strongly supported the point made in the Creativity program.

Now, Out of the Box is a beautiful book. I absolutely do think it’s a great idea to make the book available to kids, along with a variety of art supplies. But a context where they can browse and choose something they’d like to make would be far more meaningful to the artist, and far more likely to make Art.

I may be a DK Maker, but the experience combined with the next workshop also has made me a person who believes in letting kids make art rather than coercing them into making crafts.

The Creative Edge at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

My first afternoon session today at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017 was run by two people from Avon Public Library in Connecticut, “The Creative Edge: How One Small Library Is Leading the Way in Creative Arts Programming.”

Mary Fletcher’s official title is Creativity Specialist.  She has been in charge of a program where they have brought the arts into the library.

Arts are not crafts.  Art is an open-ended process.  Art has no planned product.  Art is open-ended.  Art has no adult sample to copy.  Art can be spontaneous.

A pre-planned craft can discourage creative choices.

The presenters showed us many pictures from their Open Art Studio.  I liked the image of a wall covered with buildings made of paper.  No two buildings are exactly alike.  Together, they form a wonderfully diverse town.

I was writing furiously.  I’ll include some good nuggets below:

Art is guided by the child’s choices.

When children are fascinated, they make amazing things.

We encourage exploration without imposing our ideas.

When self-motivated, kids will persist despite difficulties.

In their Open Art Studio, frustration is rare.  They gain self-confidence and self-reliance.

Creativity is intelligence having fun.  In the future creativity will be needed more and more.

Creative confidence hits a slump around 4th grade, when kids start wanting to conform.  Creativity must be nurtured to survive.

Open-ended art encourages imaginative play and storytelling.

Scribbling is to writing as babbling is to speaking.  With art, the library can support early writing as well as early reading.

A table anywhere will work, even if you don’t have the budget for a dedicated space!

The beauty of a library is that it’s not a school.  They will learn, but it’s child-guided exploration.  We can encourage imaginative tangents.  Facilitators are intentionally quiet and unobtrusive.

Facilitators get to serve at the banquet!  They provide materials designed to encourage experimentation.

They also encourage art through movement, and have hosted three Family Dances at the library.

They do a reading buddies program pairing teens with young children and spending a half-hour reading and a half-hour doing art together.

The program inspired me.  Though we may not be able to have an actual studio open all the time, it made me think about having more programs involving open-ended art.

Author Panel and Book Signing at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017


This morning I had the privilege of listening to an author interview in the big auditorium at ALA Midwinter 17 moderated by Dan Kraus, featuring Scott Westerfeld, LeUyen Pham, and Susan Tan, who all have new books coming out soon.  He began by asking them about their new books.

LP:  Real Friends is a graphic novel memoir written by Shannon Hale. It’s her story about her first group of friends.  After you read it, you realize the same thing happened to you.  She captures the pain of what happens whe you get ousted from your group.  It’s about very young friendships, but complete with all the emotion of that, and feels universal.

ST – Her debut novel is Cilla Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire.  Her protagonist is growing up in a mixed race family, just like the author.  She’s 8 1/2 years old and getting a new sister.  She’s asked “what are you?” Because of being mixed race, and decides that what she is is a best-selling novelist.  She decides to write her novel before the baby is born so her parents can’t forget about her.

SW – His new book is a graphic novel named Spill Zone.  It’s about a 19-year-old raising her 10-year-old sister.  Their town was destroyed in a disaster no one understands.  He was into climbing buildings and urban exploration in college.  Those spaces are natural places to think about loss and about life.  He started it in 2006, after the tsunami when he realized the drama in having your home town disappear.

LP:  All three books are about sisters.

ST:  Working with the illustrator shaped the novel.  The illustrator found the heart of the scenes, sometimes in a way the author hadn’t realized.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel, especially a memoir, is trickier than writing a picture book and needs a lot more interaction with the author.  She usually strips out the art notes first, but does send the writer editing notes.  It’s like choreography.  A graphic novel gives you the perspectives of more characters.  And the faces of the characters make a big difference in the emotions conveyed.

SW:  The graphic novel gives you the ability to easily jump in and out of different points of view.  But you can still be inside someone’s head. Teenagers have lots of investment in reading to become another person.

ST:  Her book is in first person, but there’s lots of misunderstanding that the reader can see, and the illustrations helped with that.  It’s a child’s confrontation with a larger world.

SW:. Kids are still learning how Point of View works.  For them, books are a machine for becoming another person.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel with her husband when she was pregnant was good practice for parenting.  They had to learn to tell a story together.

They talked about working with an illustrator.

SW:  It’s not good in a movie when character’s say, “He’s getting away!” There’s a balance on when the pictures can and should do the work of telling the story.

Moderator:. All three of these books are earnest, without irony and sarcasm.

ST:  It was important to her to write a confident and exuberant character.  She wanted to capture her indomitable spirit without diminishing it.  Some day, this girl’s deep self-confidence will get shaken…
SW:  Good books for children don’t minimize the pain of being a kid and the pain of making choices.
On Diversity:
SW:  The explosion of the popularity of manga did a great thing for graphic novels.  They even have a different way of telling stories.  Kids are good at reading through difference and reading diversely.
Audience question:  All 3 books are about sisters.  Did you have relationships you pulled from?

LP & ST: Yes

SW:  He has an older sister who’s bad-ass and does real spelunking.  The artist did a great job making his character look like a knight.  She’s more overwhelmed by having to be a parent than by the monsters in the spill zone.  She’s bad-ass like his sister.

After that, we stood in line to get advance copies of all three books signed.  LeUyen Pham drew a picture of the person getting it signed! (Or she substituted a picture of Shannon.)  As usual, I met some great librarians for youth in the line.

Another inspiring session that gave me insight on the process of creating a children’s book and got me excited about three upcoming titles.