Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

The 2019 Walter Awards Presentation

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Last Friday, March 29, I got to attend the Walter Awards at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The Walter Awards are sponsored by and named in honor of Walter Dean Myers. A Symposium was held in the morning featuring the Honor Award winners, and the awards were presented after a coffee break.

Ellen Oh spoke first. She was the one who began WeNeedDiverseBooks with a hashtag on twitter five years ago. Since then, they incorporated, and have distributed all the benefits I mentioned in the first post, and this is the fourth year of the Walter Awards.

It’s not just about seeing ourselves. It’s also about reading the stories of others. It’s about building empathy in children. They need books that accurately reflect the world they live in.

The first year of the Walter Awards, they had 50 submissions. This year, there were 244 submissions. They are proud of the good work they are doing!

The executive director of WNDB, Nicole Johnson, spoke next. Their authors are saying, “We see you!”

The emcee for the awards was Linda Sue Park. She first told a story about Walter Dean Myers. He listened to her when she wanted to make a difference. When she floated the idea of internships in publishing, he told her that was the right track. For the next few years, she talked about internships to anyone who would listen. Now she’s the honorary chair of the internship program. “We’re doing it, Walter!”

Chris Myers spoke next, in honor of his father. He said it’s nice to hear so many nice things about his dad and almost makes him forget the other things! Chris told about a trip he took to Papua New Guinea. When he got off the boat on a small island, the villagers were excited to see someone get off the boat who wasn’t white.

They had no mirrors on the island or photos or electricity. He was struck by the immediacy of what he could do – he painted all the kids on the island. The universality of that problem struck him – we’re all starved for images.

Then he talked about the group of us gathered in honor of diverse books. We’re all Family. We’ve got characters and conflicts and cool uncles (Jason Reynolds). Five years in is a good time to note our common mission and conflicts. I know we’re on the same side even if I don’t like your approach to solving the problems.

But we’re family. We need to have creative fights together. Our job is to say, “We can do better.” This family has continuity.

We’re on an island with few images. Sit there and draw every kid.

Thank you for keeping that continuity going.

Then it was time for the Awards! We’d already heard from the Honor authors in the Symposium panel, so they accepted their awards with applause. The Winners each gave an acceptance speech.

The Honor winners in the Younger Readers’ category were David Bowles for They Call Me Güero and Veera Hiranandani for The Night Diary. The 2019 Walter Award winner for Younger Readers was Jewell Parker Rhodes for Ghost Boys.

Her editor Alvina Ling asked her to write this book. Her own child was growing and becoming more and more subject to racism. And images of Emmett Till have haunted her for 65 years, leaving a stew of passion in her heart.

Her other books were practice for this one. In fact, the adult books she’s written were practice to get good enough to write for children.

This book nearly undid her. It took years and came out in bits and pieces. Who was her lodestar? Walter Dean Myers. His commitment to excellence shines. She got to meet him when she wrote her first book, Ninth Ward, and she fan-girled shamelessly. He inspired her to keep writing Ghost Boys.

She always thought Emmett Till was innocent, but she’d already written that scene of the book before the truth came out and the woman admitted that she’d lied. She told what had really happened, and Jewell was able to rewrite that scene.

Another change was made after the ARC was already printed – she realized she needed to add a beat that Carlos could also have been shot for playing with a toy gun.

Then she told us a secret: In 2014, her daughter had a baby and in the same year applied for a WNDB fellowship. Her book will be published next year! WNDB is changing the world.

She finished by saying, “Even if I never publish another book, this was the book I was meant to write.”

Next came the presentation of the awards in the Teen category. Tiffany Jackson received an Honor for Monday’s Not Coming, and Emily X. R. Pan received an Honor for The Astonishing Color of After. Elizabeth Acevedo was the 2019 Walter Award Winner in the Teen category for The Poet X.

Elizabeth Acevedo began her acceptance speech talking about when she was an 8th grade English teacher in a school with many African American kids and many Latinx kids. But she was the first Afri-Latinx teacher in a major subject at that school. She felt “simultaneously seen and invisible.” It was at the intersection of many parts of her life.

She had to teach them how to love reading, because “if they love to read, they will figure it out.”

The kids asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She provided all she could find. Then they asked, “What’s next?”

That’s what prompted her to write for young people. That was the spark. She wanted the kids to see themselves.

She read Walter Dean Myers and interned at the Library of Congress, so it feels like a homecoming to be in this space.

She was writing for young people in the first place, writing in secret, not knowing if anyone would read it. She worked on it for years.

Then in 2014, Walter Dean Myers wrote, “Where are the people of color in children’s books?”

She is so honored to win this award. Those words emboldened her to keep writing. They told her there is room for her in publishing and a need for the stories she wants to tell. In another connection, her editor was also the editor of Walter Dean Myers for many years. Today’s an arrival of sorts.

Write about people of all backgrounds.

Writing love onto the page is pivotal.

Writing can be healing – for the writer and the reader.

She wants to write characters as nuanced as the people she loves.


After the Awards Ceremony, there was a book signing. Since I already had a copy of almost all the books from my year on the Newbery committee, I didn’t purchase any more, but hung out behind the official photographers taking pictures of the awardees.

And, yes, I took a minute to introduce myself to Meg Medina, “our” Newbery Medal winner!

The Walter Awards Symposium 2019

Monday, April 1st, 2019

On Friday, March 29, 2019, I got to attend the Walter Awards at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

The Walter Awards are named after Walter Dean Myers, and are sponsored by WNDB,

I was familiar with #WeNeedDiverseBooks when it was a hashtag, and was delighted to learn all the organization has been able to accomplish in its five years of existence. They have given sixteen grants to aspiring authors and illustrators, including Angie Thomas, who went on to write the bestselling book The Hate U Give. They have awarded 33 internship grants, and 22 of those recipients have gone on to get full-time jobs in publishing. They have enabled 38 mentorships between upcoming writers and illustrators with veterans, and several of those mentees have secured book deals. They have also donated over 14,000 diverse books to economically disadvantaged schools nationwide.

This is the fourth year of the Walter Awards, and I hope to make attendance at this event an annual experience.

The first event of the morning was a symposium with the theme, “Read. Discover. Grow.” Meg Medina was the moderator. She is the author of this year’s Newbery Medal winner, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, and she was a big part of why I made the effort to come to the awards. (It was awesome – in the future I will come for the awards alone.)

The panelists were the honor book winners: Tiffany Jackson, author of Monday’s Not Coming; Emily X. R. Pan, author of The Astonishing Color of After; David Bowles, author of They Call Me Güero; and Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary (a Newbery Honor book).

Meg Medina began with the question, How did you find this story?

TJ: It was based on her background.

EP: Her grandmother’s stories started it. And it spoke about identity and fear. She wrote it several times, with different casts of characters – but the grandmother was always the same.

DB: It was meant to be a collection of poems at first. An editor who read the poems said they wanted 50 more poems in that kid’s voice. It took a while, but once he got to know the character, the poems flowed out.

VH: Finding your voice and the character’s voice has layers. She was inspired by her own father’s experiences but wasn’t sure how to access it. She had a boy main character at first, but didn’t want to write just her father’s story. The diary format was what it took to reach the voice.

MM: How did you decide the form to use?

TJ: It’s a series of Befores and Afters. She wanted people to get to know the girls and their relationship. She didn’t want Monday to be just another dead girl. She wanted her to live on the page. She also wanted it to be an experience like her character – all over the place.

She originally wrote it in linear format. Then woke up at two in the morning and realized she could rearrange the scenes.

MM: How did your background affect your writing?

TJ: Her background in film made her ready to rearrange the scenes.

EP: “My background is all over the place and so is my book.” Her life would be simpler if she could write linearly. When the book was sold, it was more of a fantasy novel.

DB: He was an English teacher for 14 years, then got his doctorate, and now is a university professor. He asked himself, What do teachers need? He had the character experimenting with poetic forms. The editor said it was like a textbook, and he had to rethink his approach.

VH: She’s an editor, but not a great line editor – not that detail-oriented. But she is a writing teacher, and doesn’t attach herself to any particular draft, because she knows it will change. She is a linear writer. Using a diary format helped her to limit herself – to that character’s perspective – and helped keep the writing manageable.

MM: Everything you’ve done in your whole life makes you a writer.

MM: Talk about how we write about the nuances of our communities.

EP: It’s a matter of being honest. When you start out, you try to write the perfect character. That’s not actually interesting to read. Put the faults on the page. She had to be willing to delve into things that were difficult to talk about. She tried to capture truth as respectfully as possible. She interviewed lots of people to get more perspectives.

MM: It’s important to have humility when we approach our work, even when it’s about our own community.

DB: He looks forward to the day when we don’t have to talk about diversity. Güero means light-skinned Mexican American. He’s the most privileged in his family because of that. He’s in the liminal space, neither one nor the other. He looks white, but then he isn’t.

VH: She understands the idea of being in between. Her mother is Jewish, born in America, and her father is Hindu from India. She asked herself if she can even do this. She wanted her character to be asking where she belongs. Her whole life, she’s been managing multiple identities. She looks and asks, Where can I connect deeply with this story? Then she asks, What research do I need?

TJ: The book is set in southeast DC. Berry Farms is the actual place it’s based on – a notorious housing project. There they had gentrification on speed, and the entire community was evicted. She changed the name in order not to put more negative light on the community. There’s a delicate balance between perpetuating stereotypes and telling the truth. She can see the beauty in the community, and she wants to get that across.

MM: We feel the weight of our community’s dirty laundry.

MM: Let’s talk about writing hard, emotional truths for children. What do you ask yourself?

TJ: She’s kind of known for gut-punching people. We grossly underestimate what kids can handle. She wants her stories to be raw.

DB: It’s dangerous to start off trying to protect the kids. He deliberately tries to tap into raw things. If he doesn’t weep during the writing, something’s wrong. Be the person who holds the kids’ hands and walks with them through the darkness.

EP: She was in a fugue state writing the opening pages. She’d lost her aunt to suicide the year before. When her grandpa died, her parents waited to tell her and when they did, said, “You don’t need to be upset.” She was trying to grapple with many issues. The first draft was for herself.

She needed to talk about how depression affects the whole family. Later she could think about how to protect the reader. To allow for the safe space. Her book provides a safe space for someone to have something fictional to cry about in place of something real.

MM: Veera, you show violence adults do in full view of children.

VH: When people who lived through Partition talk about “the trains,” they mean trains full of corpses. How to show the truth of this history? There’s a certain urgency. People who lived through it are now in their 80s and 90s. The true history is so violent. What can kids handle? She tried to make the raw story something they could handle.

MM: What a career this is! What has surprised, delighted, and shocked you about being a writer?

TJ: She thought it was a solo career! She’s surprised at how many people she actually has to talk to. At school visits, the kids keep her humble. It’s a joyous surprise.

EP: She’s perpetually surprised when an Asian-American reader says, “I didn’t realize we could do this.” She’s the first Asian-American author they’ve seen. That’s both good and bad.

DB: He’s surprised by how incredibly edifying it is to be part of a community of writers of color. There’s solidarity.

VH: It’s healing. She’s welcomed into so many writing communities. She wasn’t sure if she’s allowed, being half-Indian. “It’s okay being me.”

MM: We enjoy the company of people who live in their imaginations. She’s so excited to be writing books in the time of these people here.

[Then the audience asked questions.]

Question: How did you find the ending?

TJ: Her book was inspired by real cases, so she knew the ending from the start. She used the real case and worked on making sense of the tragedy. She wants to understand how these things happen.

Question: How did your family react to your book?

EP: My parents haven’t finished reading it. My family isn’t prepared for how honest I am. She did reach out to her parents and cousins when she began writing it. Her parents had always said, “Don’t let people know there’s depression in your family.” We need to talk about these things. She’s always been more vocal than her parents want her to be. But they are now becoming more open, and her mother has said that now she wants to write about their family.

That was the last question, and we had a break before the awards ceremony, which I’ll report on soon.

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.