Archive for July, 2011

Review of Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run, by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run

by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009. 168 pages.
Starred Review

This book was absolutely perfect reading for this weekend — the 150th anniversary of the 1st Battle of Bull Run. I actually had tickets to a reenactment today, an especially big one because of the Sesquicentennial. However, then we had a heat wave and I’ve had a headache for three weeks that I’m really hoping will finish up. Basically, I figured out that being outside during a heat advisory to watch people pretend to kill each other probably wouldn’t be a very smart thing to do. Instead, I read this book, and it thoroughly convinced me I made the right choice!

I love the way the book begins, giving you the tone right from the start:

“All right, let’s get the whole name thing out of the way quickly.

“My name is Stonewall Hinkleman.

“No, it’s not a nickname. It’s my real name. Like I tell my parents — even Stonewall Jackson’s real name wasn’t Stonewall. But they don’t listen and it’s too late now anyway. I’m stuck with it.

“So, you’d think I could at least go by my middle name, right? It’s Traveler, after Robert E. Lee’s horse. Yeah, that’s right, a horse!

“I’m Stonewall Traveler Hinkleman and if you think that’s as bad as it gets, you haven’t heard the worst part.

“You see, both of my parents are Civil War reenactors. This means my dad — who’s really a geeky computer tech — dresses up in a uniform and runs around in fields with a bunch of other boring guys who are all pretending they are in the Civil War. My mother pretends she’s a nurse, even though in real life she barfs at the sight of blood.”

And Stonewall explained all about a reenactment, so I didn’t need to see it myself!

“You want to know what a reenactment is really like? It doesn’t matter which battle it is, because they’re all the same.

“A big bunch of guys wearing blue Yankee costumes come huffing up the hill. Waiting for them are my dad’s friends — a big bunch of guys in gray Confederate costumes. We jump out and we charge. I have to blow my bugle and everybody else fires their guns, which don’t have ammo but are still ridiculously loud. About half of them fall down and pretend to be dead. They roll around with these hilarious grimaces on their faces. Then they’re still for a while, probably taking a nap or eating a candy bar, until the ‘battle’ moves somewhere else and they get back up and rejoin the ‘fight.'”

But the reenactment of the First Battle of Bull Run ends up being completely different for Stonewall. You see, he left his bugle at home. When he goes to buy a replacement, he’s given a magic bugle. He doesn’t know it’s magic until he blows it and it sends him back in time — to the actual Battle of Bull Run. It turns out, he’s been sent on a mission. A crazy right-wing nut has also gone back in time, and he’s planning to change history to make it so the South will win the war. Stonewall’s job is to stop him. Fortunately, the crazy guy’s beautiful daughter, about Stonewall’s age, also got sent back in time.

And the real battle is not anything like a reenactment.

“Am I freaked out? Of course I’m freaked out. Reenactments may be boring, but at least they’re predictable — pretend to charge, pretend to shoot, pretend to die. But there’s no pretend about this. I can actually hear bullets buzzing over my head. I look down. There’s a guy on the ground in front of me holding his bloody stomach and trying to keep his insides from spilling out. I throw up all that leftover soup I ate for breakfast.”

This book is a completely fun way to learn about Civil War history. I’ve listened to Bull Run, by Paul Fleischman. It’s very excellent and well-written, but I’m not sure I retained a lot. In this case, following along with Stonewall Hinkleman, I got a much better grasp of the advances and retreats involved in the battle. Of course, I’ve also been to the battlefield (It’s a few miles down the road.), so it was easy to visualize the houses, roads, and hills he refers to. (And that made me wonder how they can make the reenactment work at all, since it doesn’t take place on the actual battlefield, just on a big field — without the houses and hills at the actual battlefield.)

I loved it that Stonewall knew what was going on because of his parents being Civil War buffs and his having gone to reenactments all his life. He knew when Yankee charges were due; he knew when to expect retreat. His perspective makes it easy for the reader also to understand the various movements of the battle.

And Stonewall meets his great-great-great-great-uncle Cyrus, the one he’s always mocked for getting shot in the butt at Bull Run and dying of an infection. It turns out that Cyrus is a teen and the furthest possible thing from a coward. In fact, Stonewall would like to just get out of there, but that’s hard to do when someone like Cyrus is around, gallantly helping the injured, capturing artillery, and the like.

I’ll definitely be pushing this book all summer. In fact, I think it will make great reading for the entire Sesquicentennial. It gives you a taste both of what the war was like and also the whole reenactment craze. But even more, it’s a great read. Laugh-out-loud funny, but with real danger and a difficult task.

Sam Riddleburger is the pseudonym of Tom Angleberger, who wrote The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and he’s becoming my number one choice of author for middle school boys. Though it’s not only middle school boys who love his books.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/stonewall_hinkleman.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Barefoot in Baghdad, by Manal M. Omar

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Barefoot in Baghdad

A Story of Identity – My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos

by Manal M. Omar

Sourcebooks, 2010. 244 pages.

Manal Omar knows how to work cross-culturally. She begins her book like this:

“Throughout my childhood I struggled to answer the simplest of questions: where are you from? I was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents who moved to Lubbock, Texas, when I was six months old. During my childhood, my parents would uproot me every few years, from Texas to South Carolina to Virginia. Living in the American South, I was far from the image of a Southern belle, and yet the summers I spent in the Middle East only emphasized my American identity and made it clear to me that I would also never exactly be an Arab poster child.

“By the time I was in high school, I had learned to embrace and love all parts of my joint identity with the fervor only a teenager could feel. I was an Arab and an American. I was a Palestinian and a Southerner. I was a Muslim and a woman. As I grew, I accepted that the emphasis on each facet of my identity would shift with the phases of the moon. Growing up in a world struggling to understand multiculturalism, I saw this ability to move among my many identities as my own secret superpower. . . .

“In Iraq, I was finally able to put my superpower to full use. A wave of my American passport at the checkpoint of the fortified Green Zone allowed me access to the representatives of the U.S.-led coalition. My adherence to Muslim dress and my fluent Arabic made it possible for me to live in an Iraqi neighborhood with no armed security. This unique access allowed me to see an Iraq that was accessible to few others. With each passing season, the country would shed its skin from the past and emerge as a completely new place. Who was better positioned to adapt within a country experiencing a period of tumultuous change than someone who had been raised with an ever-shifting identity? In Iraq, I found a place with as many complicated contradictions as I had in myself. Here, though, my internal complexity was manifested in an entire society. My international colleagues were struggling to force Iraqi culture into convenient boxes, but I simply accepted its unique, fluctuating shape. International journalists marveled over the fact that women who were covered head to toe walked side by side with women with orange-colored hair and wearing tight jeans, but I simply shrugged. It was natural to me. The mosaic of identities inside Iraq was not hypocritical or schizophrenic; it was what made the country powerful.”

Manal went to Iraq to work for Women for Women International.

“Women for Women International focused on the most vulnerable women. This usually meant those who were the primary breadwinners in their house: widows, divorcees, or unmarried women living with elderly parents. In addition to the economic challenges, there was a social stigma attached to these women. This meant that their finding work was even more difficult.”

This book tells about her experiences there, and tells stories of some of the women she met and was able to help or wasn’t able to help. However, over the years she was there, the situation in Iraq deteriorated, and eventually she had to leave and base her actions from Jordan. So in that way, this book tells a sad story. Manal herself describes it this way:

Barefoot in Baghdad is not a story of the war in Iraq. It is the story of the women in Iraq who are standing at the crossroads every dawn. It is the story of my time working with Iraqis as they struggled to create a new nation and a new identity. It is informed by my years of living and working within communities throughout the country. It recounts my own experiences and the stories of the men and women I encountered, each of them players in one of the most complicated political struggles in our era. It is also a memoir of the discovery of my many identities and the strengths and weaknesses inherent within them. Finally, it is a story of finding love in the most unlikely place. As my life became intertwined with the lives of the Iraqis around me, I lost sight of where my horizons ended and theirs began. Their expectations became my expectations; their disappointments, dreams, pains, and losses became my own.”

This book tells a fascinating story, and will give you insight into the lives of women in Iraq today.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/barefoot_in_baghdad.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

ALA11 Wrap Up

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

I’ve given you the play-by-play. Here’s my wrap-up of the splendid time I had at ALA Annual Conference, with the posts all in order.

Here’s what I came home with in my suitcase:

(I kept out Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Bread Box, since I hoped to start on it, but I ended up having no time for reading except the book I’d started on the flight over.)

DAY ONE

The first day is mostly about the exhibits, grabbing Advance Reader Copies, meeting authors, meeting other librarians, and being excited to be there. I was already thrilled about some of the books I had grabbed during the “Running of the Librarians” and meeting Laini Taylor. I was also already exhausted from waking up early to catch my flight.

Here are the books I shipped that first day:

DAY TWO

Day Two began with more time at the Exhibits and the HarperCollins Fall Book Preview, which I called More Book Frenzy.

Then I attended the Margaret Edwards Luncheon, honoring Sir Terry Pratchett.

Next came the most practical and helpful program I attended – “Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends.”

Saturday was finished off by attending the screening of the “Library of the Early Mind” film.

Here are the things I shipped Saturday morning:

DAY THREE

Sunday morning began with the YA Author Coffee Klatch.

Then more author signings and programs.

And the evening finished off with the fabulous and memorable Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet.

Here are the books I shipped on Sunday. I was beginning to show more restraint!

DAY FOUR

Monday started off getting to hear Marilyn Johnson speak.

Then I attended the Gala Author Tea.

And the grand finish to the entire conference came when I attended the Printz Awards.

Here is the oh-so-small shipment I sent on Monday:

When I got home, the package mailed at the Post Office on Sunday (falling apart) arrived on Wednesday. On Thursday, the UPS packages were waiting on my doorstep when I got home:

WAS IT WORTH IT?

So, what did I get out of ALA Annual Conference 2011? Was it worth it? I give a resounding Yes!

For me, the conference was mostly about Connections.

I made connections with other librarians and bloggers whom I’d only talked with online. And I also met again some librarians and bloggers I’d met before. If I start seeing them at conferences more often, we’re going to get to know one another. It adds something to the conversations I have online and gives me more people to discuss my work with. I’m also excited to start serving on my very first committee and meet some of the people on that committee.

It was also about Inspiration. All the speeches, talking about how libraries change lives, inspired me to keep going, despite budget cuts. I am revved up and excited again about what we do. It also inspired me as a “pre-published” writer to keep going, keep going, keep going….

And it was about Ideas. Ideas for better Readers’ Advisory, for better kids’ programs, for ways we can get the word out about libraries. Lots and lots of ideas are simmering in my mind after the conference.

And, yes, I must admit, it was about Books. Here’s a picture of all my loot gathered together:

Now if I can only find time to read them all!

Printz Awards – ALA Annual Conference 2011 Final Night

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Monday night, my last night at ALA Annual Conference 2011, @LizB tweeted, asking if anyone knew a good place to eat before the Printz Awards. @foodandbooks answered that the Palace Cafe is a good one, and I asked Liz if I could join her, and I tweeted to my roommate, @inked2ways, and it actually worked! Liz, April and I met up (tweeted up?) at the Palace Cafe and had a delicious dinner before the Printz Awards and a great time talking.

One thing I love about the Printz Awards is that ALL the honorees give a speech, not just the big winner. Also, it is not limited to American authors, but is for any distinguished books for young adults published in the last year. This year, that meant a lot of delightful accents to listen to!

I thought it was a bit ironic that the Printz Awards happened the same night Megan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal posted another follow-up to her article that caused a stir, claiming YA is horribly dark. (Okay, I’m linking to my post about it, not to her post — It’s gotten enough attention.) The fact is, all the books honored are indeed dark. But they are outstanding books. And the speeches all pointed out so many reasons why they are powerful books, and truly worthy of celebrating.

First up was Lucy Christopher, with her utterly adorable accent. She now lives in Wales, but moved to Australia when she was 6, so I’m not sure exactly how to categorize her accent. I only know it was fun to listen to! Her Honor Award was for her debut novel, Stolen. It was kind of mean to have the debut author go first! Though the order is determined alphabetically, so no one intended to be mean. How brilliant to win such an honor with her first book!

Her speech was fabulous! She talked about researching her book. She traveled to the Great Sandy Desert, which she says is aptly named. Among others she thanked, she thanked the “bemused customs official” who let her bring orange sand from the Great Sandy Desert to New Orleans. She’s never felt so close to something so wild.

She made the same comment Karen Slaughter made about Southern writers at the Author Gala Tea: She had to turn to books because the library was the only air-conditioned place when she was growing up.

She wanted to get across the emotions of fear and excitement, alienation and yearning, because those emotions define a teenager’s world.

Her message: “Be brave.”

All writers are immigrants.

Books help young people be brave.

A. S. King was up next, honored for her book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. She had the audience practically in tears as she described how, when she was a teenager, her mother died in front of her and was revived by hospital staff, but then was in danger for the next several months. (We cheered when she said that her mother is still alive today. But she didn’t know that would be true when she was a teen.)

She came right up front talking about the issue of darkness in books. She said, “Great satire begins in a place of darkness.”

Adults are important in teens’ lives, but “There IS no bubble to grow up in.”

Adults would like to keep their teens in a bubble, but “teens know that the rainbow-colored bubble doesn’t exist.”

“If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong, how are we supposed to make it right?”

As she talked about her own mother and how they discussed books, she gave us a magic question to use on our teens: “What do you think about that?” Use it on the news, on books, on injustices you see around you. You’ll get some answers that surprise you, and your teens will come to understand that you respect their thinking.

The fact is, we try to build our own bubble as we grow up. There are things adults don’t want to talk about. “Now what do you think about that?”

“Our time on earth is too short to ignore reality.”

The next speech was by the handsome and dashing Marcus Sedgwick, who had a melting deep voice with a British accent. He told a story about trying to be suave and having a glass of wine spill in his lap the first night of the conference, and all us ladies were thinking that it didn’t matter what happened to him, the moment he opened his mouth and talked, he was suave as far as we were concerned! (My notes just say “Incredible accent!” I find I remember what that means.)

He was being honored for Revolver, an unquestionably “dark” book. It was his tenth book, but the first where the feeling in his head got down on paper. He went to the Arctic part of Sweden to research the book. He told about walking on the ice gingerly — until they heard Volvos driving around.

He said he’d heard about the kerfuffle about dark YA on our side of the Atlantic and that it happens regularly over there, too. He thinks it’s much more to the point to get children reading at all.

He was subtle about the violence in his book — but he did that because it’s better writing, not because he thought young people couldn’t handle it.

“We run the risk of underestimating teenagers.”

“We all go through being a teenager and then run away as fast as we can.”

And I love this question, perfect for the “Darkness in YA” discussion:

“What better place is there to address tough issues than a thoughtfully written book?”

Janne Teller, author of Nothing, gave the final Honor Book speech. She had a lovely Danish accent. She tried to apologize, telling us that she only speaks through stories, and then gave an outstanding speech. She said that being from Denmark, getting recognition from America was a fiction itself.

She always writes about things she doesn’t understand and learns through story.

In Nothing, the teens in the story become fanatics in their search for meaning.

“All the largest questions in life are very simple.”

“Teenagers ask these questions that adults can’t answer.”

She did get some strong opposition to her book when it was first published in Denmark eleven years ago. She said that the kids, unlike some adults, see that the book is about hope and light even though it’s dark.

“This is a tough time to be human, especially for young people.”

“Young adults can take everything, much more than adults. That’s our hope for the future.”

Finally, Paolo Bacigalupi, the winner of the 2011 Printz Award for Shipbreaker gave his speech. He was particularly pleased that a science fiction book won this honor. (I’m with him here!) His father introduced him to science fiction, and it was his gateway drug to reading. “Genre fiction was my crack and I smoked a lot of it.”

“Literature and ship-to-ship battles can coexist.” (Yes!)

“Science Fiction asks big, important questions. These questions are worth asking!”

Yes, he wrote about a dark, bleak future. But he’s only going to be wrong if people face reality to come up with solutions.

“You need to get past PR Orcs.”

“As wealth increases, empathy decreases.”

Then he started talking about how stupid and short-sighted people are to cut library funding. (You go, Paolo!)

“The rich hoard information as well as wealth.”

“Dysfunctional and ignorant democracy is a great place for wealthy people.”

“We’ve decided to fund our present wars rather then affirm our future prospects.”

“Librarians are at the dikes holding back the tide of ignorance.”

“Wither our libraries go, our society goes.” (Preach it, Paolo!)

After getting completely jazzed up and being as proud as could be to be a librarian who works with young people, I went to the reception. I talked with many wonderful people and authors, including Nancy Werlin, whom I met last year at the Printz Award Reception, and her husband. (I am determined that next year at this time, I WILL have read her books, which I have heard great things about.)

Of course, I had to get pictures with the honorees. Here I am with Paolo:

He looks happy, don’t you think?

And here’s the still-adorable-up-close Lucy Christopher:

And of course I wanted to meet the dashing Marcus Sedgwick:

All in all, it was a fabulous way to finish up ALA Annual Conference 2011! Nice and interesting people, rousing speeches, and new books added to my hugely long I-Really-Really-Want-To-Read-That List! A lovely evening indeed.

Review of Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Zapato Power

Freddie Ramos Takes Off

by Jacqueline Jules
art by Miguel Benitez

Albert Whitman & Company, 2010. 77 pages.
2010 Cybils Award Winner: Short Chapter Books

I’ll mention right from the start that the author of Freddie Ramos Takes Off is a friend of mine. She’s in our DC KidLit Book Club and is a very sweet person. So I was super happy when her book won the Cybils Award for short chapter books.

Since then, I’ve had more than one parent ask for a chapter book for a child who has just recently learned to read, and this book is perfect. There are eight chapters, with large print and lots of pictures, so the book is not daunting at all. Best of all, the story is about a Hispanic boy who receives a gift of shoes that make him Super Fast! What child hasn’t fantasized about that?

I love the refrain of Zoom! Zoom! Zapato! when Freddie runs with his purple sneakers. He runs so fast, all people see is a puff of buzzing smoke. He races a train; he recovers a library book left behind; and he solves mysteries!

This book is a lot of fun, and it fills a nice niche as well.

Zoom! Zoom! Zapato!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/freddie_ramos_takes_off.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Gala Author Tea — ALA Annual Conference Day Four

Friday, July 15th, 2011

After attending Marilyn Johnson’s speech for Citizens for Libraries, there was still time left in the 10:30 sessions. I thought I’d try to catch the Fantasy/SciFi Author Panel. Well, I got to hear them answer about two questions. But then they announced that the authors, Brandon Sanderson and Nnedi Okorafor, would be signing books given away by the publisher. Could I resist? I could not.

Also consider that I’d heard great things about Nnedi Okorafor’s book Akata Witch and had a copy checked out from the library, and that my siblings had been urging me to read Brandon Sanderson’s adult fantasy books for some time. So I thought at the very least, I could make my siblings jealous, and even better, I would own some books that sounded very good indeed.

Here Brandon Sanderson signed my book.

Then Nnedi Okorafor signed two books.

All this is a little ironic, since with all my might I was trying to stay out of the Exhibits. On the last day of the Exhibits, publishers start giving away the sample copies and you can get as much loot in a few hours as in the whole time before — or at least I did last year. But I was determined NOT to do that this year, and hoped not to have to mail another package home. As it turned out, I was not able to withstand the signed copies from these authors and the authors speaking at the Author Gala Tea.

The Author Gala Tea was a ticketed event, and I had purchased tickets before I saw the schedule, thinking I’d attend something that featured authors who write for grown-ups for a change. So I ended up with seven more authors whose books I really want to read. NOT what I needed, but a whole lot of fun.

The whole thing was kicked off by Karen Slaughter, introducing Eleanor Brown and talking about Citizens for Libraries. She was delightful and funny, talking about sisters and writers. Be sure to read her oh-so-entertaining blog about this tour she went on that included ALA.

My favorite quotation from Karen Slaughter was when she explained why Southern Writers are so great. They get a lot of exposure to books, because the Library was the only air-conditioned place available when they were growing up.

Eleanor Brown is the author of The Weird Sisters, a book I’ve heard a lot of good things about and now want to read more than ever. She said her best advice from her parents was: “Always take a book with you wherever you go.” The first library she went to as a child was Dolley Madison Library — which is part of Fairfax County Public Library, the system where I work! (I wonder if she knows Dolley Madison Library has just been beautifully renovated.) It would be very cool if we could get her to speak at Dolley Madison Library some day.

She wrote The Weird Sisters when she was thinking about sisterhood and adulthood and reading. It’s a book for people who love books.

My favorite quotation from her was this one: “There’s not a problem a library card can’t solve.”

Dorothea Benton Frank was up next. Like the rest, she was funny and charming and completely delightful. She told us some of the background of her new book, Folly Beach, which is based on the true story of Dorothy Hayward, who wrote Porgy and Bess. She told us fascinating things about Dorothy’s life and definitely got me intrigued.

The next speaker, Amanda Kyle Williams, is the debut author of a book called The Stranger You Seek. Her story is incredibly inspiring. She learned to read at age 23, after being diagnosed with dyslexia at age 22. She said that libraries used to be scary places for her, but now they provide a calm, safe place.

The mother-daughter pair Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas were up next, having written a book together, How I Planned Your Wedding. It sounds like a whole lot of fun. Susan said that she always thought librarians were the richest people in town because they have so many books.

My favorite quotation from Susan is a modification of another well-known quote: “It takes a library to raise a child.”

Elizabeth said that being the daughter of a romance writer means you grow up loving books and libraries.

Nevada Barr was the final author to speak, promoting her new book, Burn. I totally love her definition of optimism: “Walking into a bookstore and thinking, ‘Ooo! Maybe there’ll be a new Jane Austen!'”

She also made a wonderful point from her experience with helping libraries after Katrina: Libraries don’t need your books. They need your money! (So true.)

Then, of course, they gave out copies of those authors’ books and we got to stand in line to get them signed. Once again, I was completely unable to resist, since I had been thoroughly charmed by these delightful ladies.

So, my next stop, no surprise, was the UPS shipping office. My arms were sore (go figure!), so even though I probably could have fit that day’s loot into my luggage, I decided not to.

Shipping the books made me a little bit late to the Odyssey Awards. Next year, I will make sure not to miss them, because that ended up being one of the most fun events of all. The Odyssey Awards are for audiobooks, and they mostly had the actors and actresses who read the books there to give speeches and to read excerpts of their award-winning performances. Why am I not surprised that every one of these people was an incredibly good reader? It was great fun to hear them.

These are the two readers who read Will Grayson, will grayson. Watching them interact was entertaining as well. The shorter one actually sang part of Tiny’s musical! That alone was enough to convince me I’m going to have to listen to the audiobook.

One of the speeches (I forgot to write down which one. Oops!) said that Audiobooks are all about storytelling, which hasn’t changed. Storytelling is “the classic human art form.” And the people who were there are definitely skilled artists of that form.

So, my time at ALA was almost finished. I have one more event to report on, the Printz Awards that happened Monday night.

ALTAFF President’s Program Featuring Marilynn Johnson – ALA Annual Conference 2011 Day Four

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Monday, the last day (for me, anyway) of ALA Annual Conference, was where I made my first miscalculation in planning. Before I saw the conference schedule, I spent $10 to sign up for a Walking Tour of the French Quarter. I figured as long as I was in New Orleans, I should do some sight-seeing. They told us to meet in front of the cathedral at 8:00 am, and the Walking Tour was to be from 9:00 to 12:00. They mentioned having beignets at Cafe du Monde, so I optimistically thought that the extra hour before 9:00 was to give us time to eat breakfast.

Well, I walked from my hotel to the meeting place. It was HOT. At Jackson Square, in front of the cathedral, there was a group gathered together, with no sign of any tour guide. They were standing in full sun, simply getting hotter.

I knew I needed food and caffeine, so since there was no sign of the tour starting, I walked over to Cafe du Monde and had beignets and coffee. By the time I got there, I actually had sweat dripping from my chin. As I sat and ate my yummy beignet, it occurred to me that being outside for the next three and a half hours would only make me hate New Orleans. I had noticed some sessions that really sounded good in the conference program. They were air conditioned.

That decided it! I will go back to New Orleans some day — in the winter — and do some sight-seeing.

I went back to my hotel, changed out of my thoroughly wet clothes, stood over the air conditioner for about ten minutes, and put on a nice sleeveless dress to wear to the day’s events. I took the air conditioned shuttle bus to the air conditioned convention center. I had missed the 8:00 sessions, but I was actually early for Marilyn Johnson’s program.

Marilyn Johnson made me her complete fan when she first wrote a fantastic book about librarians, and then gave me copies to send to each member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in protest of their cuts to the library budget. So I was excited about hearing her speak.

Her program was the ALTAFF President’s Program, and right away they announced that ALTAFF — Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations — has had its name change to the much much better and more memorable “Citizens for Libraries.”

Here are my notes from her talk:

Marilyn is spearheading an initiative of Authors for Libraries. They are our natural advocates.

She said that Librarians and Writers have a lot in common:
— We both hate to be lumped together.
— We don’t want to be presumed about.
— We want to be free to be creative in our work.
— We believe in the power of the word.
— We share the same workspace.

Librarians provide many things for authors:
— A place to work
— A place to speak
— We buy their books.
— We defend them against censorship.
— We create a congenial space for literacy.

Without librarians, there are no authors. Without authors, there are no librarians.

The relationship between writers and librarians is very personal.

She gave some tips about hosting authors, from her own experiences:
— Staff should be present at author programs.
— Take writers to the back room beforehand and feed them and meet librarians. Make them part of a team.

She took part in an outstanding fundraiser at a library. There were lots of authors, and lots of local restaurants offering samples, and there was a librarian for each author. That personal touch is important!

She talked about the website for Authors for Libraries and the Searchable Data Base of Library Quotes

Remember: Writers, like Librarians, are an endangered species.

Ask authors, “What do you want from us?”

When you connect with an author, get what you can — a quote, a list of what they’re reading now. Writers are perfectly happy to do publicity for us.

Writers don’t bite!

And I enjoyed one last quotation that showed that she understands librarians better than most: “I didn’t appreciate how many kinds of stupid there are until I sat at a reference desk.”

Coming up on my blog tomorrow: More books and authors signing them.

The Newbery – Caldecott – Wilder Banquet – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

To me, the highlight of ALA Annual Conference is the Newbery – Caldecott – Wilder Banquet. I guess it goes back to when I was first actually writing things to submit for publication. At the time Writer’s Digest had a t-shirt that said “Pulitzer Prize Winner (in training).” I’d never heard of a writer for children winning a Pulitzer, so that shirt didn’t catch my imagination. But I thought of a t-shirt that would have thrilled me: “Newbery Medal Winner (in training).”

No, I really don’t expect to ever win the Newbery Medal. Not at all. But if I ever daydream wild dreams, that’s where mine go.

I was so delighted when I started subscribing to Horn Book Magazine years and years ago and discovered that they print the winners’ speeches. I saved all those copies so I’d have past speeches to study if I ever won!

And my writer’s critique group made a pact that the first one of us to win the Newbery would pay for the other three to come to the Banquet! (No, we don’t expect to ever be called on to do this, but it’s a fun pact!)

So when ALA Annual Conference was in DC in 2007 and I found out you could get tickets to the Newbery Banquet, I was thrilled to do so. Susan Patron was the Newbery winner that year and David Wiesner the Caldecott winner, and I was completely enthralled by their speeches.

Last year it was again in DC, and I attended again and met lots of authors during the cocktail hour before.

This year, my plan was again to do lots of schmoozing before. I had bought a new dress, but decided to wear my red dress from last year. Actually, I think more people remembered me that way!

However, when I was all dressed up and ready to walk around the corner and a block down to where the Banquet was being held — there was a torrential downpour! I went back to my room for my umbrella, then tried to wait out the storm — to no avail. Finally, I ventured out with the umbrella and made it with only wet feet. Not as much fun as schmoozing with authors, but there was still a little time for that.

And first, I saw my fellow Children and Technology committee members, Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes, and John Schumacher from Mr. Schu Reads. I’d met Travis the night before, and he introduced me to John. They’re both very nice, and I love seeing men as Elementary School Librarians (Good ones, too! — You can tell from their blogs.) You can see why I wanted a picture with them, all dressed up:

Last year, I met author Jim Averbeck, since he was at another table organized by our mutual friend Susan Kusel. So I went in quest of another picture with him (as long as I was getting pictures with good-looking men, he came to mind quickly). Well, he was doing his Red Carpet Interviews, and he asked if I wanted to be interviewed! So I decided that an interview trumped a simple picture. (Though I did find myself feeling like the writers who were in the Library of the Early Mind movie — wishing I could edit my words.)

Then I saw James Kennedy. I’d met him last year and had bought his book — And I started reading it on the plane. So I told him this, and that I was really enjoying it. I ended up tweeting about it as I read on — so I was happy that I really did find it brilliant and funny!

Here I am with James Kennedy:

Well, I was about running out of time, but I again saw Maureen Johnson, together with Ingrid Law, both of whom I’d gotten books signed by earlier that day. I kind of apologized to Maureen for running into her so much, and she was very nice about it. She even got things around to my own writing. She said the key to getting published is persistence, which is a good word! I became more her fan than ever. She’s so nice!

At the banquet, I’d gotten into a table organized by Sharron McElmeel of McBookWords, and had some very distinguished dinner companions.

On my immediate left were Kay Weisman and Shirley Duke, both delightful conversationalists:

Here’s Sharron with her lovely granddaughter Aubrey:

Here are Arianna Lechan and Deb Logan (Sorry for the blur!):

And then Anastasia Suen, Wendy Stephens, and Susan Polos:

You can tell everyone was having a great time!

Then the speeches! This year both the Newbery and Caldecott winners won on their first book. I was expecting extra emotional speeches, and I was not disappointed!

Most of the pictures I took were too blurry to show, but I did get a few fun ones. (The key is taking LOTS!)

Here’s David Ezra Stein collecting his Caldecott Honor Award for Interrupting Chicken:

And here’s Erin Stead giving her Acceptance Speech for the Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee:

Her speech was emotional and beautiful, with her sniffling most of the way through. (It was sweet!) She talked about a “huge planet of gratefulness.” The story of how she came to illustrate A Sick Day for Amos McGee is very moving. As Erin said, it’s so appropriate that it’s a “book about having good and loyal friends.” She actually hadn’t done any drawing at all for three years.

Her husband wrote A Sick Day for Amos McGee, but it began this way:

“At the end of the third year, I was unable to ignore the fact that without drawing, a part of me was missing. With a lot of patience and encouragement from Philip, I began to draw a picture that had been knocking around in my head for years. I did it at the kitchen table so as to not overwhelm myself, a little bit at a time. It was a very tiny drawing.

“It was a drawing of an old man and an elephant.

“It is a tremendous gift to have people in your life that know better than you.”

Her husband and his editor were the ones who convinced her to do the book. So everyone owes them a thank-you!

I also loved what she said about picture books:

“I never grew out of picture books. I believe in them. A picture book allows a child ownership of art — even if it’s just for the two weeks they check it out of the library. That book is theirs. I’m not sure any other art form replicates that feeling.”

“I believe the best books translate through time because they tug at something true within us.”

“Books are my home. When I walk into a bookstore, or a library, or crack the spine of a new book, I am home. These are personal experiences to me because there are people behind all of them. And so, I try to make personal experiences. I will continue to try to make honest pictures. I make art with my hands. It has flaws, but so do I.”

“I believe there is an infinite beauty in the limitations of paper books…. The more flash and whiz-bang we add, the more we limit the possibiloities of our own imagination. Books are simple. They must be felt. The copies of my very favorite books are not pristine. They are worn and dog-eared and a little bit dirty because they are loved.”

Then they gave out the Newbery Honor Awards. I love the exuberance of Rita Williams-Garcia:

Clare Vanderpool gave another moving speech for her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech:

She talked about the spirit she gained from her family that enabled her to write a book:

“Their approach to life is what gave me the wherewithal to write a book. To work hard at it. To try and try again after many attempts and many rejections. Figure it out. Make it work. Keep at it. Their confidence and their optimism allowed me to dream big and set lofty goals.

“But even with that spirit, that optimism, that determination, I never set out to win a Newbery. I never even dreamed of it. And I have always dreamed big! Just not that big.”

Like me, Clare Vanderpool was in a writers’ critique group for many years where she was the only “yet to be published” writer in the group. She said, “Without them I would still be an aspiring writer.”

I love this analogy: “Someone asked me recently if winning the Newbery is as wonderful as having a baby. That analogy falls a bit short, but it is like having a baby if you didn’t know you were pregnant.”

About her book, Moon Over Manifest, she said, “I knew I wanted to write a story about place and about home from the perspective of a young girl who didn’t have a home.”

“I try to approach my writing the same way I approach everything else in my life. Work hard at it and have fun with it. Enjoy the experience.”

“What is a true place? What would a true place be for someone who had never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time?”

“And story — the way we give voice to our laughter and tears.”

“Your story touches mine and mine mingles with yours, and as writer and reader we throw in our own ingredients to the story pot to simmer and stew, to make something new, something greater than the sum of its parts.”

Finally, the last speaker was the distinguished and very experienced Tomie dePaola, giving the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal Acceptance Speech:

Tomie’s speech was a lot of fun. He explained how his career began when he was four years old:

“Even though no one asked me, I announced, ‘When I grow up, I am going to be an artist. I’m going to write stories and draw pictures for books, and I’m going to sing and tap-dance on the stage.”

“Every chance I got over the next few years, I would tell the grownups around me what the future held for me, and they all took me seriously.”

He mentions people who nurtured little Tomie: Art teacher, tap-dancing teacher, parents, grandparents, and a librarian.

I love it that when he finally got his big break and an illustration assignment for a picture book, “There was a hitch. I also had a job for ten weeks in Provincetown for — you guessed it — a musical revue in which I would sing and dance on the stage.” So little Tomie had his whole dream come true!

One of his early reviews said, “Good facts, but the illustrations by first time illustrator dePaola are far too imaginative for a science book.” He was thrilled.

And I love this image: “This is what I do. I call little four-year-old Tomie to sit on my lap when I write and when I draw. He tells me what is true.”

What a beautiful evening! I’ll plan to begin blogging about the 4th and last day of ALA Annual Conference 2011 tomorrow.

Programs and Authors and Bookmobiles, Oh My! – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

Friday, July 8th, 2011

After the YA Author Coffee Klatch, I headed back to the convention center. By this time, the very thought of the exhibits was starting to wear me out. However, there were some authors signing that day whom I really wanted to meet. I mostly restrained myself to those books on Day 3. Below are some authors I met before and after and between the programs I attended:

I was super excited to get an advance copy of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s new book, Wisdom’s Kiss. She wrote Princess Ben and the contemporary Dairy Queen trilogy, all outstanding, and I’m excited that she wrote another fantasy.

Then, wandering the stacks, I saw the genius Mo Willems with his family. (I tried to make it to his signing, but I was too late.) Since he’s the one author several librarians had asked me to be sure to meet, and since I was wearing a t-shirt with his characters on it, I was so bold as to ask for a picture with him:

After those encounters, I wanted to hit some programs. I wanted to attend a program called “Newbies and Newberys” featuring people who had won a Newbery Honor with their very first book. However, the crowd for that program was overflowing the room, so I looked for my next choice: “Learning from Elmo, Blue, and Dora: Applying the Science of Educational Television to Storytime.”

This program had some fun clips and some good, solid ideas. It didn’t feel like anything I didn’t already know, but it didn’t hurt to review the basics of a good storytime.

I liked the circle the leaders talked about: Participation encourages Comprehension, which encourages Repetition (Kids like to “Do it again!”), which builds Motivation (Kids enjoy what they know), which encourages Participation again.

They also encouraged us to see Storytime as Family Time and include brief information for the parents. You can pass out an informational flyer with songs used or a list of books and include concepts you’ve used.

Another good word of encouragement was to learn from others. Visit other storytimes, look into online resources, read the literature — and don’t forget educational TV!

After the program and lunch, I went back to the exhibits. I had tried to snag an advance copy of The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson’s new book, but the line looked to be about an hour long. I came back after lunch, and was able to get a copy of her already published book, The Last Little Blue Envelope.

After that, I got books signed from two Newbery Honor-winning authors:

Ingrid Law won her Newbery Honor with Savvy, which I can’t believe I still haven’t read, because I love it when fantasy books get Newbery attention. Anyway, I now have signed copies of Savvy and its new companion, Scumble, so I have no more excuse for not getting them read.

Kirby Larson’s Newbery Honor was four years ago for Hattie Big Sky. I met her at that ALA Annual Conference when she saw my SCBWI tote bag and said hello. She has a new book out, The Friendship Doll, and it was fun to say hello again.

At 1:30, I had planned to attend a meeting of the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, where they have teens talk about books they’ve read. However, I ended up deciding I needed to mail another shipment to save my arms, and spent a little too much time in the post office. When I did get to the program, it didn’t go as long as the program guide said, and I only heard a few teens speak about a few books. One interesting thing was that two of the books talked about were Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt, and Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Septetys, books I’d heard discussed by ALSC’s Notable Books committee. The teens had similar praise of those books to what the Notable Books committee members had said.

To me, it goes to show that those books are excellent for both children and teens. I hope the committees see it that way and decide they should be honored by both committees.

After that, it was back to my hotel to get ready for the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet, which I’ll blog about tomorrow.

I promised Bookmobiles, so here are some pictures of the striking vehicles parked on one end of the Exhibit Hall:

This truck has a Library of Congress mobile exhibit, which they take all around the country for people to enjoy who can’t get to the actual building. They’re also promoting the National Book Festival, which I’m very much looking forward to.

And here are some local Bookmobiles from Louisiana. Aren’t they beautiful?

YA Author Coffee Klatch – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

I’ve already blogged about my first two days of adventures at ALA Annual Conference, including meeting authors, the Margaret Edwards Award Luncheon, a program on Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends, and the movie “Library of the Early Mind.”

The third day of ALA Annual Conference 2011 in New Orleans dawned sunny and HOT. I only needed to get across the street to the YA Author Coffee Klatch at 9:00. It’s kind of like speed dating, with 8 authors having about 5 minutes at your table. There’s luck involved in which authors you get, but most authors who attend have won a YALSA award or had their books on the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. You get to meet them, and they pitch their latest book, and you end up having a bunch more books you want to read. (Just what I needed!)

Jay Asher opened the session with a speech to everyone, in which he applauded that Libraries match the right book with the right teen. (We don’t have to worry about parents not being able to find a book for their teen in the library!)

Then the mad dash around the tables began. Our first author was Claudia Gray, promoting her new book Fateful. This is the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and her book is love story with werewolves on the Titanic. It was fun to hear about all the research she had done, even figuring out which lifeboat her characters would have gotten on. I definitely want to watch for this one. I’m not a big fan of werewolf stories, but I loved all the research she’d done, and you could tell she’d had a lot of fun with her premise.

Next was Ilsa Bick. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture in the short time she was there. Her new novel is called Ashes, a post-apocalyptic story, and the first of a trilogy. She convinced me to get an ARC of the book as she talked about the real science she put into it. She’s former military and has done survival training. In her book, she’s using the post-apocalyptic settings to explore big questions — with a lot of life-and-death adventure thrown in.

Then Julie Halpern talked about her books, including the newest, Don’t Stop Now. She told that it’s based on a childhood friend who actually faked her own kidnapping and told no one but Julie. So Julie was questioned by the FBI — and lied to them! She said she never did find out why her friend faked the kidnapping, so the book situation is intended to be different. Despite how serious that sounds, she said this is a funny road-trip novel. I know I’m intrigued.

James Klise was next, talking about his book, Love Drugged. It’s set in a future where they have a drug to “cure” same-sex attraction. He said his book is also a comedy. Things don’t work out as simply as the main character hopes.

Bobbie Pyron is not only an author, but also a Librarian. (Yay!) She’s written The Ring about an angry 15-year-old girl who takes up boxing. She finds her confidence not through a relationship, but through herself and building her skills and through friends. Because of having a boxer on the cover, boys also find this book and enjoy it.

Joseph Lunievicz’s book, Open Wounds, sounded particularly interesting. Despite the sword on the cover, this is not a fantasy novel, but a historical novel set in 1930s New York. The main character loves swashbuckling movies and wants to be an actor — and he gets a fencing instructor. The big issues of the book include dealing with loss, and there’s plenty of action with the fencing. It sounds like a very interesting book.

Then came my old acquaintance, Franny Billingsley. (I guess I decided that since I’d already had her pose for a picture, I wouldn’t ask again.) She talked about her brilliant book, Chime. She said when she began it, it was going to be a story about a sister rescuing her baby brother, who had been replaced by a changeling. Those who have read Chime will realize that the result has nothing about that! But that was her process of finding the story.

Our final author of the morning was Steve Hamilton, an author for adults who won an Alex Award — for adult books that appeal to teens. His award-winning book, The Lock Artist, features a 17-year-old kid skilled at cracking safes. He never talks in the entire book.

After the authors visit the tables, it’s fun to watch the whole crazy crew get their pictures taken. Most of my pictures came out blurry (They wouldn’t hold still!), but I did get a few:


You can pick out the authors I met. I’m not sure of many other names, except that it’s Lauren Myracle sitting on Maureen Johnson’s lap.

I know more names from this side of the crowd. On the far left, that’s James Kennedy, whom I met last year at the YA Coffee Klatch. Next to him are Printz Honor Winners A. S. King and Marcus Sedgwick. Franny Billingsley is there in the second row, fourth from the left. And the adorable Lucy Christopher, another Printz Honor Winner, is the second from the left on the first row.


Here’s a more focused picture of the stellar authors on the right side of the crowd having fun.

I should perhaps stay away from this event in the future. The authors made me want to read all of their books, and I really don’t need more books I want to read! But it’s always fun to meet authors, and hear some background to their stories, so I’m glad I attended this event again.

After the YA Coffee Klatch, I headed back to the Convention Center for more programs and, yes, more book signings. I’ll blog about those tomorrow.