Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Considering ALL Children

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

The final session I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2018 in New Orleans before catching my flight was ALSC’s Charlemae Rollins program, with the title: “Considering All Children: A New Ideal in Evaluating and Engaging Around Books for Youth.”

The speakers were Margarita Engle, Dr. Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Jason Reynolds. The moderator was Edith Campbell.

In the introduction by Nina Lindsay, we learned that a character in a picture book is four times more likely to be a dinosaur than a Native American child.

Ebony Thomas:

Stories matter. Lived experiences matter.

[She referred to the book Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature, by Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short. ]

Do we really give all stories the same weight? Do all stories matter?

A perennial attack: What really matters is whether children can read.

But if they can’t see themselves in books, what is their incentive to read?

She referred to a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Children are impressionable; the stories they hear matter.

Children are vulnerable; the stories they hear matter.

The statistics on multicultural literature have not moved enough.

Is diversity enough? What do children learn about non-white children?

Look at an article “The Metaphors We Read By.”

Remember there’s no such thing as objectivity in children’s literature.

Dr. Debbie Reese

She called her talk “The United States of Whiteness.”

“We the people” wasn’t talking about people of color.

The Little House books represent making America great. Consider ALL children.

This criticism is not new; social media makes it more visible.

William Apess, a Pequot man who lived 1798 to 1839, wrote A Son of the Forest in 1829. When he was four years old, he was placed with a white family. When he was six years old in school, he learned to dislike who he was. When he was eight years old, he saw a white man with darker skin, and he was afraid.

We believe books can inspire us. But who is “us” in that sentence?

“The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” is quoted three times in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Arguments in favor of the books say, “They were a product of her time.” and “That’s what they thought back then.”

Native people did not think that back then.

18 books published since 2011 have characters in the books talking about Little House on the Prairie. In 2003, CNN reported a POW in Iraq saying, “We were like Custer.” American Sniper, by Chris Kyle, uses “injun” and “savage” over and over.

Whiteness in “We the people” said “not you.” Whiteness in stories shapes how we view the “other.” What is whiteness in the US doing to children in 2018?

Margarita Engle

She called her talk “The Nature of Cages.”

This week, we’ve watched images of caged children. We don’t know their names.

Own voices – It looks different from the inside.

She has a project – “Bridges, not Walls: Poetry for Peacemaking.”

How can we speak of peace when we’re angry? Children are the only possible peacemakers of the future.

Compassion is the seed of peace. Listening leads to compassion.

Most Latino characters in children’s books are written by whites. Avoid assumptions and stereotypes. Don’t sprinkle in characters with Hispanic names but no background. “We’re real people, not characters.”

Latinx people have countless reasons to be in the US. “In other words, we’re complex.”

“Bridges reach. Walls separate.”

Words must be honest. Assumptions aren’t honest.

Ignorance is a wall; knowledge is a bridge.

Marketability isn’t a good reason to choose your story.

Her books are about people left out of history.

Jason Reynolds

He recently spoke at a business conference, where they kept saying, “Numbers don’t lie.” That may be true, but that does not mean that numbers tell the whole truth.

If that were true, he wouldn’t be here today. Numbers say black boys don’t read.

Ask proper questions. Is it that black boys don’t have books to read?

Obese people who live in food deserts don’t hate to eat!

Jason Reynolds writes three books a year because he’s terrified. He knows at any given moment, it can all go away. He was taught to work twice as hard to get half as much.

Why do we have to write about black pain? “I wish we didn’t!”

There’s a cost that comes with working as a writer.

He believes in Humility, Intimacy, and Gratitude.

His books are for everyone, but he writes with black kids in mind.

Your job is to write timely work. “If you’re teaching Ghost 40 years from now, we’ve failed.” Create springboards.

Black and brown kids don’t need our salvation. Thank them for coming into the library.

It’s dangerous to eliminate adults. Show kids: There might just be adults who care.

Panel Discussion

EC: We need stories. Not just with diversity sprinkled into them. What does it mean to be American? Kids need to know they’re real. Diversity has become a checklist.

What does it mean to decolonize children’s literature?

First, acknowledging that there were advanced nations here before the U.S.

A stance of humility is key. Be constantly learning. What criteria would the people you write for use in judging books?

ME: Poetry is a good way to connect with young people. When she reads poems to kids, they read poems back.

JR: He’s writing for kids like the one who wrote to him who had committed a murder.

Just be a human being! Actively work to be empathetic every day.

He wants to be honest. Kids connect to honesty and authenticity. Kids always know when adults are BS-ing.

False question: Who can decide what’s “literature”? When stories don’t look a certain way, they’re dismissed.

ME: Her fiction is seen as nonfiction and vice versa.

[Here the recommendation was made to donate to REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Project.]

Poetry is inviting for reluctant readers.

DR: Decolonizing means acknowledging your ignorance and going beyond it.

ET: Think about the white viewer gaze.

Become more precise in your geography. “America” is many places and countries.

Why should people who have no incentive care about any of this? We are all interdependent.

Celebrating 20 Years of Harry Potter with Brian Selznick

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

This session was just for fun – and was so crowded, I had to wait in line and sit on the floor. Sadly, I didn’t even try to get into the mad crush for free signed copies of Harry Potter #1 (new edition with Brian’s cover). I’d just shipped my loot that morning, anyway.

Brian Selznick came to Harry Potter late – only a few years ago. (Of course he loved it.) When he was asked to create new covers, he meant to say no, but was willing to project curiosity.

He ended up deciding to make it so all 7 covers would line up to make one single image.

He wanted something to draw all 7 covers together, and his initial sketch had a looping line. Of course! It looked like a snake!

The most important part for him was the relationship between characters and the battle between good and evil.

He pointed out some details in his work. To him, Umbridge is the very most terrifying villain.

Harry Potter fans are activists.

Can you do anything to stop people loving Harry Potter? No.

Here are the covers, photographed on posters in the Convention Center:

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Caldecott/Newbery/Legacy Banquet

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

This year, I only attended the speeches at the Banquet. The day before, the Wilder Award got renamed the Children’s Literature Legacy Award (effective immediately). The description of the award (and previous winners, including Laura Ingalls Wilder) stayed the same. (More on that later.) Here are my notes on the speeches.

Caldecott Medal Winner, Matthew Cordell, for Wolf in the Snow

Matthew Cordell began by saying that New Orleans is a personally significant city for him and represents our people and our country at its very best.

He grew up and went to school wanting to do graphic design. It was meeting and marrying a children’s librarian that got him started on children’s books. He started noticing picture books, including William Steig and Quentin Blake.

Adults are judgey and annoying, pretentious, jaded….
Kids are scary but accepting, odd and funny.

After illustrating his wife’s book, he started writing and illustrating his own work. “I subtly rip off the unbridled brilliance of my children daily.”

When you’re feeling blue, it’s effective to make pathetic passive-aggressive art. That’s how the first image of a wolf came about.

Then he read about wolves – they’re not creepy, dark, or vicious. And they want nothing to do with people.

He saw the story between wolves and people played out between people and other people.

If we can bridge fear with kindness, we can change the world.

Children need heroes – they need look no farther than schools and libraries.

To his wife – “Thank you for leading our wolf pack to greatness.”

Newbery Medal Winner, Erin Entrada Kelly, for Hello, Universe

First she told a story about her mother, who came to America to marry an American sailor. Erin didn’t look like the other kids at school. “What are you?” they asked her. She didn’t know how to answer.

She learned to escape through books.

The other thing that set her apart was her big dream: To get published. She wrapped it around her shoulders and it kept her warm.

She writes books for her characters – and other kids like them.

Her greatest wish is that her readers will feel less alone.

Books are incredible – and Librarians help them find their way.

We make dreams come true by putting books in the hands of kids.

“Once upon a time there was a little girl, and all her dreams came true.”

Children’s Literature Legacy Award winner, Jacqueline Woodson

[Note: The name of this award was changed the day before from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. The description is still the same – for a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

Here’s the ALSC page about the award.

This sentence is significant: “While we are committed to preserving access to Wilder’s work for readers, we must also consider if her legacy today does justice to this particular award for lifetime achievement, given by an organization committed to all children.”]

On to the speech! Jacqueline Woodson did say that in view of the name change and the events of this week (news reports of children in cages), the speech we heard was significantly different than the one she wrote in advance, which got posted.

She began with a poem from Rainer Maria Rillke. He was a writer of his time.

What does it mean to be a writer of your time?

We’re showing who we truly are in this time. Writing shows our essence.

“It’s been a tough year. If we think not, we’re in deep denial or on a hell of good medication.”

Art is what helps her get through. To escape, to laugh, to think.

Every one of us has a right to safely move through this world. That’s why she was asking, “Isn’t there a less controversial award they can give a sister?”

She wants to do the work that shines a light on the beauty of all people.

“None of us are writers. We’re all re-writers.”

Writing has a complicated journey.

May it remind us all of the work ahead.

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Escaping the Library

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

I’m writing about ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and I’m up to Sunday afternoon. After a publisher lunch (one of the yummiest meals I’ve ever eaten!), I went to a short film called “A Chance to Dress” about a Harvard professor who cross dresses, and has since he was a child. He’s not transgender and sees himself as too tall to pass for female anyway. But he often dresses as a woman and takes delight in that. His wife says he’s a more pleasant, softer person when he doesn’t go too long without it.

Then I went to a more practical session — “Escape the Library: Escape Room Design Workshop,” presented by Sarah Mulhausen and Adam Stockley from Tulsa City-County Library. Here are my notes:

[I’ve done several escape rooms using a lock box and ideas from Breakout EDU. But Breakout EDU has switched to a subscription service, and most of their programs are really more suited to a classroom setting. So I’ve been thinking about creating my own. Any ideas will be helpful. This program was so crowded, I had to sit in the back on the floor.]

First definitions: An Escape Room is a real life game that integrates puzzles with physical challenges. There’s usually a theme that intertwines with the clues.

Teamwork is essential. This is a STEM program, using logical, lateral, and spatial thinking.

These programs have had by far the highest turnout for teen programs at their branch.

How to build an Escape Room?

1) Choose a theme.

Use what you love. The more knowledgeable you are, the better.

Start listing ideas. “It would be cool if…” Have 10 to 20 ideas.

Examples from their Harry Potter room: Using a pensieve, making a potion, getting sorted into houses.

2) Describe what’s in your room.

How should it look? Example: Stone walls, pensieve, potions book…

3) Create a story

Make it creative and consistent with the theme. Be urgent and interesting, with a clear and logical ending that makes the winners feel triumphant.

4) Make a flow chart.

This is where you really build your room. Conceptualize the flow of the room. She writes on different colored index cards to make a flow chart.

Different colors for: Object – Challenge – Reward

In a linear room, one clue leads to another. Nonlinear rooms have multiple starting places.

[Note: They recommend a linear room to start, but the rooms I have done with Breakout EDU have all been nonlinear. The good thing about that is that there are no bottlenecks.]

5) Make a puzzle for every challenge.

Write short descriptions of every challenge on cards.

Make puzzles contingent on being in the room, not on prior knowledge.

If you’ve got a linear room, start with an easy puzzle.

Examples: Jigsaw puzzles with clues on the back, things in the room, locks, computer lock, hidden objects, cyphers, QR codes, weird keys… Google it!

6) Build and test the room.

Change what you need to change and test it again. Give yourself PLENTY of time.

Extras: Costumes, actors, decorations, food. The more you do, the more immersive.

Budget: Use the resources available to you. (They use funding from their Friends.) Recycle and reuse, ask friends…

Age limits and group sizes: Stick to it! The younger you go, the more concepts you lose. The bigger the group, the fewer people feel they’ve participated. They do a few times in one day, with a good hour in between sessions.

Advice: Make backups of anything that could disappear or get broken.
Give plenty of time to reset the room between sessions.
Make a reset list for the room.
Streamline the room to only what’s needed for the game.
Don’t wait until the last minute. Allow two months minimum to figure out a room.
Do you need to be in the room? (With younger kids, Yes!)
If you’re in the room, should you offer help?
Try to design the room to be hands-free for you.
Have a Session Zero — explanation and instructions before they enter the room.

Some examples they did: Mario room — boxes with tissue paper bottoms – coins with clues fell out.
Pensieve – a video under the bowl and fog on top.
Potions – Cabbage water turns purple – add acid or alkaline to change color. “Graded” potion with the correct color gets a clue.

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Meeting with the Newbery Committee!!!

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

On Saturday from 1:00 to 5:30 and Sunday from 8:30 to 11:30 – I met with the 2019 Newbery committee!

All 15 of us were together for the first time. (A few hadn’t been able to be at ALA Midwinter Meeting in February in Denver.)

On Saturday we talked about logistics. We went over the manual, looking hard at the criteria, reminding ourselves what we’re looking at, and what’s eligible and what’s not.

We talked about methods of storing and keeping track of all the books we’ve received from publishers. (I’ve received 328 as of today. Not every single one is even eligible.)

We talked about the nominating process – We will each nominate 3 books in September, 2 in October, and 2 in December, while continuing to suggest books. But only the nominated books will be discussed in Seattle.

One member asked how many pages our nomination justifications should be, and the chair answered, “No pages!”

In Seattle next January, we’re going to meet for preliminaries on Thursday evening, then meet all day in a locked room on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We have to have our decision made by Sunday afternoon. We’ll get up early on Monday morning and call the author.

Our chair told us that ALSC is going to mail a locked trunk to the conference. It will contain all the books that were nominated by committee members – the only books we’ll be discussing. There is one key to the trunk, and our chair will be the one who has it! We also discussed tricks for reading nominated books on the plane ride to Seattle. I liked the idea of taking off the book cover and replacing it with a cover from an older book. Top secret!

On Saturday, we had practice discussions! We each presented one book and then discussed it, listing strengths first – being very specific – and then concerns, also being very specific. This discussion didn’t “count,” but we got the idea of how it works and how long it will take. And perhaps our opinions about those particular books may have changed. We also got an idea of how the committee as a whole feels about some of the issues that come up. (I won’t be specific about that, but if you’ve ever wondered, “Can such and such a type of book win the Newbery?” – we may have looked at some of those type of books.)

At the end of the discussions – I may not exactly have 14 new best friends, but do have 14 new friends, and I am part of a Team that works together well, and I’m super excited about the selections we’re going to make together next January!

When I got home from ALA, 22 books were on my doorstep waiting for me, in 6 different packages. I always like to include current stats in my Newbery Notes posts, so here they are. So far, I’ve read this many eligible books:

Middle grade books (or parts of books): 143, a total of 29,466 pages.
Young adult books (or parts of books): 43, a total of 12,765 pages.
Picture books: 293, a total of 11,002 pages.

Grand total: 479 books, 53,233 pages.

And I need to read a whole lot more than that before the end of the year! Better get busy!

ALA Annual Conference 2018 – LeUyen Pham – Wandering Wonderland: How an Outsider Found Her Way In

Friday, June 29th, 2018

On Saturday of ALA Annual Conference, I went to an excellent session given by illustrator LeUyen Pham. It was her story – not about one of her current books. So I think I can post the notes.

She’s come to a place in her life where she wants kids to see the face behind the books. So many kids out there need voices like this.

She talked about her childhood and how children’s books shaped her.

At 9 years old, she was terrified of Where the Wild Things Are. Her father loved to watch war movies with his kids, and she had just watched Apocalypse Now. The images of the wild rumpus made her think of Vietnam. To her Max was a kid lost in a very real jungle.

It was tough to find a book a little immigrant girl would relate to. She took books as a chance to help parse the culture.

She was only 2 when they left Vietnam. She didn’t know much about the war. She didn’t know much about her own culture, let alone about American culture. TV was confusion – reflection of culture without explanation. Books, though, let her into the secret world of westerners.

She thanks the teachers and librarians who knew the kid she was inside.

She loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond because she was an outsider like Kit.

She loved The Westing Game because she loved puzzles.

She wasn’t given books about Asian girls just because she was an Asian girl.

She’s not claiming her story speaks for anyone but herself.

“You don’t have to look like the kid in the book to be the kid in the book.”

“Books are looking for kindred spirits.”

Her mother read them books about Vietnamese princesses – who had it rough!

When they finally read the Disney Cinderella – it was a big disappointment with no gruesome death for the stepsisters.

From 5 years old, she was dropped off at the library with her brother. Her favorite book was Where’s Wallace? by Hillary Knight. She looked at it for evidence of ordinary life. She envied Wallace – an orangutan who could fit in perfectly! “I’ve spent my entire career chasing Wallace in one form or another.”

“Amelia Bedelia is my hero.”

She loved reading aloud in class – that was the only place she’d get her pronunciation corrected.

She loved Charlie’s house in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

She understood that being poor makes you an outsider, too. Like Charlie, they had to prove their worth.

Ramona and Her Father was an eye-opener. Even Ramona could be perplexed by her father.

She read A Little Princess over and over and over. Mostly because she loved her doll Emily. She wanted a doll – to be named Jenny. After a big disappointment – her father got her the doll.

She talked about her teacher Miss Sangren, who gave her a new book every week. Like Kit in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, she called her a tropical flower in a world of daisies and roses.

She related to Charlotte’s Web differently than the rest of her class. Especially after the quails she had named before her mother cooked them. When it came to Wilbur, she was pretty jaded!

In The Westing Game, Turtle reminded her of herself, getting by on smarts, not on looks.

She’s still growing through books. Harry Potter is painfully relevant since the election.

Her approach has changed since the election. 2017 was a year of anxiety, which made working tough.

In 2018, we’re fighting to redefine this country again. Poverty is actually the biggest divider of our nation.

Paint the world you want to see for all these kids.

2018 Printz Award Reception

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Last Friday night, I got to attend the reception for the Printz Award and Honor winners. One thing I like about this reception is that all the winners give a speech – not the big winner only. Here are my notes from their speeches:

Deborah Heiligman, for Vincent and Theo:

Deborah Heiligman doesn’t remember receiving the Printz call. “Apparently, I screamed.” She told us the story of getting Transient Global Amnesia. She started asking “What just happened? What’s going on?” She was agitated and confused. She could only remember for 90 seconds at a time. This is why she missed the YALSA Nonfiction Awards in Denver.

It turns out that TGA can be caused by strong emotion. Is the moral to “try not to get too excited”?

Vincent painted for art’s sake – and Theo’s approval.

Vincent was a great artist in spite of his mental illness.

We want to leave the world a souvenir. Wake someone up to the world.

Laini Taylor, for Strange the Dreamer:

She works hard at not getting hopes up at award time. It’s a unique form of meditation – “No hope.”

But Hope isn’t something you decide not to have. Hope is all surly and defiant.

Usually good news comes in pieces, over time, with assembly required.

When she did get the call, there was a “totally overwhelming clobber of emotion.”

“Sometimes this writing thing feels like launching a paper boat when you can’t see the far shore.”

With Fantasy, recognition feels extra good, since Fantasy is often dismissed.

Shame is heavy — but it is a safeguard. It says decency is real and lines exist. Our government is being shameless and erasing lines. The thought of her 8-year-old daughter being separated from her makes her lose her mind.

As readers and writers, we imagine other lives. “Decency depends on empathy. Empathy depends on imagination.”

Strange the Dreamer hinges on whether it’s possible to save a traumatized child from her consuming hatred. As long as there’s even one dreamer left — there’s hope.

Angie Thomas, for The Hate U Give:

This past week has been trying as horrific events unfold in our nation. She can revive her characters with the stroke of a pen, but she can’t revive Antwone Rose, who was gunned down this week in Pittsburgh.

In fiction, she can delete injustice.

We should not live in a world where children become activists. Kids shouldn’t have to tell us we need to change.

These young people feel fired. “The least I can do is fan the flames.”

What children’s literature has always shown is that anyone can be a superhero. Yes, even you.

Let’s not leave the work all on them. Acknowledge the injustice around you to the point it angers and exhausts you.

“By faith, I thank you for changing the world.”

Jason Reynolds, for Long Way Down:

There are good writers and good storytellers, not so many people are both.

He wants people to read his books more than once.

He’s proud to win a Printz Honor, especially since the first Printz winner was Walter Dean Myers.

This book was a passion project. Based on when he was a 19-year-old college kid in 2003. His mom was engulfed in the flames of cancer. A friend called and told him that their friend had been murdered.

He remembers the blade of grief. He remembers the anguish of their friend’s mother. All his friends are missing parts of themselves – like cancer. The death changed them chemically. They realized they could do what they couldn’t do before – they could kill.

This book is about the weight of anger, or the rules, but also the weight of cages, the weight of separation, the weight of us.

What happens in the end? “I don’t know.”

The fate of a child is in your hands.

Now we’re certain his friend’s legacy will live on forever.

Nina LaCour, for Award winner We Are Okay:

This is the first time an Own Voices book about queer girls has won the Printz.

We Are Okay is the product of a painful time.

Her own grandfather died when she was hospitalized with preeclampsia. She had a vision of him pushing her on a swing and with his arms open wide in greeting. He grew up in New Orleans.

Gramps in the novel is an altogether different man.

Since orphans are a trope in children’s literature, for her first few books, she did her best to keep the parents alive.

Grief orphans us.

Her own parents split soon after her baby was born, and it was as if her own past were erased.

The big question of the book: When we don’t recognize our own past, what can anchor us?

ALA Opening Session with Michelle Obama!

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

I spent last weekend at ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and one of the highlights was getting to hear Michelle Obama speak, interviewed by Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.

My flight was delayed almost 4 hours, so I didn’t think I’d make it. Fortunately, there was lots of Opening-Session talk first. I was way in back, but I was in the room!

I left excited and inspired by her talk. Here are my notes on what she said:

They began by talking about her background with books. Carla Hayden actually knew her from libraries in Chicago.

Michelle said that she was the kind of kid who read to her stuffed animals. She remembers getting her first library card when she was four years old. The library was three blocks from their house, a community space.

She needed the escape of story the last 10 years, but most reading happened on longer trips. She’s not an ebook reader. Even now that she’s writing, she likes to hold it, feel it, touch it. As a result, they have lots of books on shelves. Her husband won’t let her get rid of them.

Her first real job was in a book bindery – doing the same thing over and over. It gave her respect for people who do work to pay the bills and don’t have the luxury of looking for their passion. Her father had MS, but faithfully went to his blue collar job. He put both his kids through Princeton. She’s who she is because of her parents.

She knows from experience why affordable child care is crucial. Her mom stepped in to take care of her kids when she was desperate and ready to quit working.

Her mom didn’t let anyone do her laundry at the White House – and she taught the girls to do their laundry. She kept them humble and focused on what was important.

Michelle’s mother listened and didn’t try to solve her problems for her. Her responses would be things like, “What are you going to do?” and “You know what to do!” She taught that from an early age – listened to and encouraged her kids to contribute and solve their own problems.

Michelle had many high-powered jobs before she was first lady. Had to switch from being an executive to being a spouse.

“You can have it all — but usually not all at the same time.”

Life is long. There are trade-offs that you make.

After Sasha was born, when she was ready to quit working, she felt the freedom in an interview (with Sasha in the room) to say what she actually needed in her job because she was ready to quit. They gave it to her, much to her surprise.

It’s not easy for women to tell someone we’re worth a lot.

While writing her book, she’s been reliving these things and writing about them. There was no time to reflect in the White House. There was no room to make mistakes. They were laying the red carpet down for others to follow.

On her first trip to Africa, all in a few days, she did pushups with Bishop Tutu, met Nelson Mandela, went on a safari, and gave a speech to a group of young women. Later on, she literally forgot that she’d ever been to Prague.

Balance is a challenge.

8 men with guns accompanied their teenage daughters everywhere. There is an upside to that for parents! Though they wanted their kids to have a normal childhood.

If kids know you love them, you will be home for them. Kids are resilient. But there are a lot of broken kids out there — which shows that we need to do better.

Give yourself a break. Your kids are loved.

How do your kids interact in the world? They tried to teach their kids kindness, compassion, and empathy.

Let kids see you be good people in the world.

Kids want someone to tell them they’re okay. This could be the interaction that changes a kid’s life.

Women tend to make ourselves a low priority. The oxygen mask metaphor is real.

Michelle has a posse of women who keep her sane. She wants her daughters to see she has friends. They have been there for her since childhood, and when she was a new mother. She did a boot camp with friends at Camp David. Her girlfriends gave her support and fun.

We aren’t meant to parent in isolation. We need community. Build your village.

She wanted the White House to be a place of fun, especially during the tough times.

While they were in the White House, they tried to do a lot of things for kids, bringing them in from all over the country. Every major star who came to the White House had to also do a performance for kids.

She told about when Lin-Manuel Miranda came. He did the first song of Hamilton and told them it would be a Broadway show and they laughed and said, “Good luck with that!”

They wanted to make sure kids of all backgrounds felt like the White House was a place kids were supposed to be. The kids felt like they were something special when they were in the White House.

They did a mentoring program with 20 kids from DC – and saw a shift in who they thought they were.

The program said, “You are worthy.” You are worthy of being talked to and listened to.

If you can go in the White House, there’s no room you can’t enter. They gave that message to the young people who came.

Her book, Becoming, is a re-humanization effort. A black woman from a working-class background doesn’t often have a chance to tell her story.

We think there are only a handful of legitimate stories that make you a true American.

Her book hopes to show the ordinariness of an extraordinary story. She’s not a unicorn. There are many out there like her.

We’re all people with stories to tell.

We need to know everyone’s stories. Americans are good, decent people. There are no devils out there. Maybe if we listen to each other’s stories, we can be more empathetic, inclusive, and forgiving.

2018 Morris Awards and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

I’m blogging about my experience at ALA Midwinter Meeting in February 2018. Last time, I blogged about my first meeting with the 2019 Newbery committee meeting. On Sunday, I went to a couple of publisher events (which I’m not going to talk about) and some interesting talks.

One was about Equity and Diversity in Libraries. It was an inspiring session and encouraged us to reach out to our communities and make new connections. They also encouraged us to find people of color and encourage them to become librarians. Only 10% of our profession is people of color, which is a crying shame. Where to find them? They are already working in our libraries in positions that don’t require a library science degree. Encourage someone you know to get that degree and join our profession!

Another session I went to was on Blockchain, Open Civic Data, and TV Whitespace – all ways for libraries to bring access to their communities. They are just beginning to research using these. But some websites to watch and find out more are:

I also went to a session sponsored by Demco where they talked about transforming event and collection discoverability with linked data. They have a product that takes your event data and makes it discoverable by Google – so, for example, someone searching for a yoga class in the area will have a library event come up, and it will be on top because of being free. Tagging with the location, the price (free), and the time the event happens all will help library events show up on top of search results. (Our library just got a new event system, so I’m not sure we can use this, but it is an exciting development.)

After the exciting Youth Media Awards announcements on Monday morning and breakfast with friends, I finished up my conference with the Morris Awards (for a debut novelist) and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards. All the Finalists give speeches, and they let you choose five of the winners to take home with you (Yay!), so I love going to this event. Here are my notes on the speeches, with the Morris finalists beginning:

Nic Stone, Dear Martin
Such an honor to be part of everything happening right now! This book had a wild journey to publication, and it’s amazing to be here.

S. F. Henson, Devils Within
She’s dreamed of being a published author since she was 4 years old.
This book began when she saw a news article about a 10-year-old boy who killed his white supremacist father.
She grew up in the South – accustomed to be silent when people made racist comments.
When hate is all you know, how do you learn to love?
Nothing will change if people remain silent.
Books are a gateway to empathy.
Silence hurts people.
Seeds don’t grow on their own.

S. K. Ali, Saints and Misfits
Peace – the one thing our world needs.
What if we need inner peace first?
Her agent asked her: What if we looked for stories featuring young Muslim heroes?
Readers have told her, MeToo!
The main character has to grapple with the power of words. Words save us and break chains of shame.

Akemi Dawn Bowman, Starfish
Thank you for knowing how important stories are for teens.
Her book has trauma, racism, abuse, and feeling alone. So she’s sad when kids say they see themselves in the book – but glad they feel seen.

2018 Morris Award Winner:
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

Her favorite rapper is Tupac. He’s never won an award, but he has changed lives – by acknowledging young people like she was.
The greatest achievement is sparking other brains.
It’s an honor to write for these young people.
Our world would be a better place if current political leaders read books about people who are not like them.
Be the light in the darkness.
The child you hand a book to today may some day be a president with a Twitter account.

Next came the Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists, though not all were present:

Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, Eyes of the World
This is the second book they’ve written together and the second that’s been a finalist for this award.
Collectively the finalists give fresh approaches to nonfiction, books that take risks and experiment with voice.
For teens, many voices come at us at once.
“Good for reports” is over – these are “real books” with innovation and invention.
The story of the people in this book is also our story.
They were refugees from an anti-Semitic Fascist state.
The book was a year-long dive into photos she treasures.
A love story – and their book is, too.
Two refugees with a camera tried to stop Hitler before it was too late. (They did not succeed, but they still shed light.)
When hatred is the path to power, we must all fight with our own voices.

Dashka Slater, The 57 Bus
The story happened in her neighborhood. How could such a thing happen? But she asked follow-up questions.
We believe in the power of stories.
But the Truth isn’t always black and white.
That’s the beauty and power of nonfiction storytelling.
Young people are capable of understanding complexity and nuance. They require it.
The stories we give them must be as complicated as they are.
We live at a time when we place value on certainty.
Uncertainty is a humbler place – but it leads to investigation and understanding.
Give kids tools to do better next time – and give them a next time.
Give them true, complicated, and messy stories.

Deborah Heiligman, Vincent and Theo
(These remarks were delivered by her editor, Laura Godwin.)
She’s bolstered by a community of young adult nonfiction writers.
Writers are using new techniques.
The books “leave the world a souvenir.”
Without Theo, we wouldn’t have Vincent’s art.
Theo told Vincent to use more color, to lighten and brighten his pallette.
Vincent would envy us our community.

First Meeting of the 2019 Newbery Committee!!! – 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Part Two

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

I’m blogging after the fact about my attendance at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2018. Saturday afternoon was the highlight of the conference for me, because it was the first meeting of the 2019 Newbery Committee!!!!!

Our first meeting is not, actually, closed to anyone outside the committee. So – I can even post my notes about it.

Our chair is Ellen Riordan. 12 of the 15 of us were there. (The first meeting is strongly recommended, but not required.) We introduced ourselves and told about a past Newbery winner or honor book that meant a lot to us. I mentioned The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, as I love the intricate plot that fools the reader, as well as the wonderfully drawn characters.

I thought about mentioning The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown, both by Robin McKinley, as they are the past winners I love the most. But I think excellent plotting or the opposite may end up being a theme of my committee service. (It has been when I’ve served on Cybils committees.) I thought maybe I should give the committee fair warning. (Besides, I love The Thief, too.)

Other books that were mentioned were The Witch of Blackbird Pond (another one I love!), Island of the Blue Dolphins, Holes, Caddie Woodlawn, The Perilous Gard, The Giver, A Single Shard, A Wrinkle in Time, Call It Courage, Out of the Dust, Lincoln: A Photobiography,, and The Hundred Penny Box. It’s fun how knowing a favorite Newbery helps you know about people.

Ellen gave us a pep talk first. We’re all so thrilled to be here, and she reminded us what a luxury it is to be on the committee. Every committee is different, but we’re beginning with respect: For the child reader and for each other. Toward the child reader, we’re keeping a sense that what’s being said is important. Toward each other, we will learn to listen to each other.

We will need to read past our own personal taste and to know our own biases, both objective and subjective. We will get familiar with the manual, particularly the criteria and eligibility. Our sense of the criteria will grow with us as a committee. The process works!

We talked about the timeline and calendar. We’re going to be sending suggestions to Ellen by the 15th of each month. We should only suggest if the book is striking and we think it’s distinguished. (I will have to shift gears from looking for the best 100 books of the year in Capitol Choices to looking for the best few.) A guideline is: “If you’re wondering about it, try to say No.”

By the end of each month, Ellen will send us the list of what has been suggested. We are required to read everything suggested. (This is why we shouldn’t go overboard.)

She told us to make room in our house for all the books publishers will send us! Someone asked how many books to expect. She said we’ll end up with “hundreds.” She wouldn’t give a number to how many hundreds, but it will be more than one hundred.

Then we talked about protecting the integrity of the award. She recommends going off social media altogether. At the very least, we should stop “liking” publisher posts about publishing. The important thing is never to give the impression a title is being considered. All titles written by an American author and published by an American publisher in 2018 are eligible – but don’t ever communicate which books are getting attention from the committee.

We were reminded that the world is watching us. So we must not talk about books online. “Anything that appears to be a conflict” is the problem.

All our communication is confidential, and we should only communicate about committee work through Ellen. We don’t want to have side conversations about books, because the whole committee is going to work together to make the decision.

She reminded us: “Take joy in every moment.” (Yes!)

We had a special guest speaker for the last half of our meeting, Deb Taylor, who’s been on numerous committees.

Her first piece of advice was: Trust the process!

We will go from being individuals to being a group.

It’s a joyous experience.

Reading is very personal, but do remember that we’re standing in for the kids, reading for our child readers, not for ourselves.

Deb’s experience has taught her not to question a committee’s choice. You simply don’t know what they considered or what factors made the difference. Only those people know.

We will own whatever we come up with. It’s almost alchemical.

The children’s book community is growing in diversity and reflecting the full tapestry of the world. We need to be considerate of all the children we love these books for. She recommends looking up Ta-Nahesi Coates on YouTube, “Why White People Shouldn’t Use the N Word.”

“I believe in the people this profession attracts.”

She said to be sure to enjoy the discussion – It’s super high-caliber. “Damn near Librarian Nirvana.”

We are reading differently, and we will have to learn about ourselves as a reader.

As far as a note-taking method, she used cards. She recommends the worksheet in the manual on page 27.

Then she told us about someone who reacted to the announcement of the win for Last Stop on Market Street by saying “The committee obviously put diversity over quality.” That made her realize why she loves the book so much. CJ is on a Hero’s Journey, a universal search. But part of the point is that people will criticize our decision.

The most daunting part of the process for her? Rereading. Going back and rereading books she already thought she knew. It’s a little easier at the “suggestion” stage. Tougher at the nomination stage.

The rereading process is tough. Have a separate set of questions and make the second reading dig deeper.

It also takes discipline to move on to the next book.

She did have a method for getting input from kids. She liked to find out how kids thought. What books engaged them more? If no kid connects with a book, it hasn’t done a great job.

I decided to use her idea of including a card with the book at my Newbery Book Club meetings and getting opinions from kids on the cards.

Yes, we can and should look at reviews. This is yet another perspective and may help us to notice things about the book.

After the meeting, energized and excited, I went back to my hotel room, where my brother and his wife picked me up and took me out to dinner! That was a wonderful finish to a fantastic day.

I’m ready to read!