Archive for the ‘Conference Corner’ Category

Conference Corner: Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday, July 8th, 2019

On Sunday of ALA Annual Conference, I had big plans. I had a full day’s schedule worked out and was planning to change clothes for the banquet in a hotel restroom. And I managed to get out of bed. And I thought to myself Why? And I went back to bed.

I ate a late and leisurely lunch and got dressed for the banquet and left around 3:30 to get to the 5:00 Cocktail Party for those sitting at the HarperCollins table, including Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Brian Lies (Caldecott Honor winner), their family members, and some more committee members.

The party was on a top-floor terrace of the same hotel where the banquet was happening. I do not know why I did not take any pictures. It was lovely.

Around 5:45, we went to the Green Room. There, lots of pictures were taken. I’ll just include ones I took, though many of them aren’t very good. (My camera doesn’t do a great job in low light.)

First, we met the John Newbery Baby! Yes, Emily gave birth the Saturday before deliberations began on Friday! Yes, she came and deliberated! And her baby is completely adorable!

With Lali:

With his Mom:

I was all dressed up:

Ellen Riordan, our committee chair, with our winners: Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Veera Hiranandani, and Meg Medina:

All the winners! Left to right, back row: Veera Hiranandani, Christopher Myers, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Oge Mora, Brian Lies.
front row: Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Sophie Blackall, Juana Martinez-Neal

With Meg (and noticing we have almost identical glasses):

With Veera and Catherine:

At the banquet, I got to sit next to Catherine! There are always really wonderful programs made by the Caldecott Medalist.

With Ellen during the break after the meal:

I decided for once not to take notes on the speeches, because they had a card with links to the speeches on the table, and I knew they’d be printed in Horn Book Magazine.

First was Sophie Blackall’s Caldecott Speech:

Then Ellen took the podium to give out our awards!

There we are! (Rats! I was in a hurry to take the picture before standing up, so it’s blurry.)

I got a close up look at Catherine’s Honor Citation!

(I tried to take Veera’s picture collecting her citation, but it came out too blurry, alas!)

Then it was time for Meg’s speech!

I noticed I had a nice angle on some committee members and Meg’s daughter watching the speech:

A couple things happened at the actual speech that weren’t in the pre-written speech that is on the website. Meg did name all committee members in her speech — but instead of listing our full names, she called us all by our first names, and she used Sondy for me instead of Sondra. She also mentioned the amazing evening we’d had together the night before.

Another thing was that the night before Candlewick had given us bicycle bells in honor of Merci. Written on them, it says, “Take a deep breath and ride” — Merci Suárez

Well, naturally I brought mine to the banquet to ring every time the crowd was applauding Meg. Toward the end of the speech, she thanked Candlewick for the bicycle bells, and naturally I rang the bell then — but this time everyone heard me do it and the entire enormous ballroom laughed! (I immediately hid the bell and pretended it wasn’t me.)

The next speech was Christopher Myers accepting the Children’s Literature Legacy Award on behalf of his father, Walter Dean Myers.

And finally, when the banquet was all done, I got a picture with one of my all-time favorite authors, Shannon Hale!

The whole thing added up to an amazing evening, the culmination of our two years (really) on the Newbery committee!

Conference Corner: Newbery Winner Dinner!

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

On Saturday of ALA Annual Conference, Candlewick Press hosted a dinner for the Newbery committee and the Newbery Medalist, Meg Medina.

It happened at a restaurant with a light and airy room. At first, we milled around and chatted.

When we were seated, we were all at one big table, and this time we could hear not only the person next to us, but what anyone had to say.

That night was extra special because after eating, we had a great big conversation together. First we asked Meg some questions.

She told us that one surprising result of winning the Newbery was that past winners got in touch with her. They urged her to learn right away to say No to speaking engagements and to take time for herself.

She told a fun story about when she’d been at a conference with Kate DiCamillo, who has won the Newbery three times. Kate called her hotel room and bought her burgers and talked her through a lot of things she’d need to think about. It was super sweet.

I asked Meg about a story she’d told a year before at a breakfast about Merci. I’d been mentioning this in my booktalks, I wanted everyone to hear it, and I wanted to make sure I had the details right.

It turns out that yes, the incident in Merci Suárez Changes Gears where a kid’s eyebrows had to be cut off to get out of a plaster cast really did happen! When Meg was a brand-new 6th grade teacher, she was super enthusiastic about projects. (She said that she was childless at the time, and the parents must not have appreciated it.) She had them transform the classroom into an Egyptian tomb.

She remembered the name of the boy they used to make the mummy case. They put garbage bags around his body, but for the mask, they forgot to put Vaseline on his eyebrows — and he had to be cut out. She said she used round-tipped scissors in hope she wouldn’t poke his eye out! Meg did a wonderful job of putting that mortification onto the page!

Meg also asked the committee questions. She had said during the initial call, “I know how little separates the books.” It turns out that she had once served on the National Book Award Committee — so she really did know how difficult the decision is and how a different committee would probably pick a different book, because there are so many good ones. She thanked us for picking Merci.

Next, Meg signed a new book for each one of us.

We’d also been given a bicycle bell in honor of Merci. It made joyous applause!

And the night finished with more talking and hugging and picture-taking!

Conference Corner: Day Two at ALA Annual Conference 2019

Friday, July 5th, 2019

After the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast on Saturday, I visited the exhibits and then went to the Margaret Edwards Brunch, where M. T. Anderson was receiving a YALSA award for his books Feed and the two Octavian Nothing books.

At each seat, there was a copy of his book Feed.

Here’s the review of Feed that I wrote in 2003. I will take credit for being sure it would be a future classic! After all, it won the Margaret Edwards Award!

Here are my notes from the talk he gave after the meal:

He began at 22 years old as an office assistant at Candlewick Press.
He has been ahead of several trends by six years: Vampires, dystopian, steampunk… (Soon there should be a trend on nonfiction about World War I.)

It’s a good time to be writing for the young, and his speech was about Hope.

In the past, he’s written to leave the reader with anxiety and even panic. If we want things to be different, we need to do something.

Now he’s filled with hope and fury. There’s hope in action.

The turn of the century (when he started writing) was the time of the Death of Cute. Nothing was allowed to be innocent. The sweet had to bear the wound for the rest of us. The culture was engorged with disillusionment.

Bitter cynicism is often the sign of sensitivity.

The party that denied Darwinism became the party of social Darwinism.

He hopes his work of that period distinguishes itself with compassion.

It was the Age of Spoliation. His worries about that are: It became cliché and it could hurt kids’ sense of wonder.
If none of this has intrinsic meaning, we need to make meaning.

Don’t crush kids’ sense of wonder.

Training in happiness is as important as training in crisis.

We knew things were wrong but were too terrified to act. We were worried that kindness and generosity were a suckers’ belief. We tried to avoid thinking about it.

It’s easier to teach that nothing is good than to confront the bad.

Thirteen years of post-apocalyptic literature have brought us to a time when we don’t need to imagine a dystopian world; we live in one. Even the privileged can’t hide any longer.

The Age of Spoliation was protecting us from admitting the horror is real.

Authors who were eccentric and political in 2005 are now swamped.

The Age of Spoliation is over. Now is the Age of Action.

Teens today know the stakes. Our nation is galvanized and ready for action.

You’re here on this earth for a little while. Together, let’s make this the world you dream of.

Librarians are central in converting cheap cynicism to compassionate action.

Let’s act so the young don’t have to shun the cute, but fight for it.

After his speech, he signed the books we’d been given.

Next, I went to the exhibits and stopped by my co-worker’s poster session!

My next event was to attend the Auditorium Speaker Series with Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces of the People being interviewed by Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

The book is about social infrastructure. Here are notes on their interview:

Carla Hayden: You included libraries!

Eric Klinenberg: I discovered the library later in life. And the idea of social infrastructure, which is just as important as other infrastructure.

After Hurricane Sandy, they held a design competition, and there was a proposal for a “Resilience Center” — it would be a building in every city across America, staffed with extras, stocked with resources, etc. (The whole room laughed because he described libraries.)

We’re searching everywhere for community. We walk by this place every day.

“The most amazing social infrastructure designers could ever build — it’s called the library.”

“The most extraordinary institution one could imagine is already here, the library.”

A lot of people think every problem needs a new solution. People in elite circles don’t realize all the library does.

We need libraries more than ever, but they’re still under threat.

Local leaders need to take advantage of the commitment of librarians. Think of libraries as essential social infrastructure.

Librarians are a critical part of democratic culture. Libraries are a safety net when social services are cut.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg reviewed his book before anyone had heard of him. How cool is it that a presidential candidate is talking about libraries?

The 2020 census will be online — we need libraries.

Wouldn’t you love to ask all candidates about libraries?

CH: Plant the Library Question! [If you’re ever in a town hall with a presidential candidate, ask them about libraries!]

EK: Libraries help people elevate themselves. The public library is still a place where massive numbers of people are going all the time to make something more of their lives.

He told about Virtual Bowling at Brooklyn Public Library.

Think of how many relationships happen because of the work you do in the library every day.

CH: It helps having someone not part of the library be an advocate.

EK: We need to bring the message to Congress.

The truth is that the library has transformed. The library is dynamic and has modernized.

Across the country, our infrastructure is out of date. Libraries are critical social infrastructure.

In libraries, people have experiences that aren’t pre-scripted. Something about the radical inclusiveness of the library is important.

His book is a story of librarians as much as libraries.

CH: Being a public librarian means you are empowering people.

EK: Librarians are critical actors in a social experiment.

What makes our communities work? When this incredibly powerful institution is there and invested in, things work.

Find language that works well. Shout it from the rooftops.

There’s a growing realization that democratic institutions are at risk.

There are not many places that invite communities to discuss issues together. Tech companies invest millions in social infrastructure. Meaningful social engagement happens in a physical space.

Data don’t speak for themselves. Just throwing numbers doesn’t do the trick.

There are different kinds of data: REcord what’s happening and explain it with qualitative data. After we have the numbers, we have to have a powerful narrative. We are wired for story.

Put together a story, based on good evidence, for why libraries deserve better.

Conference Corner: PLA Member Welcome Breakfast

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The second day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast — where I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. This award is given for “extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.”

I agree with the Newbery Honor winners that it’s a real treat to be given an award that doesn’t require a speech. In many ways, my work on the Newbery committee this year made my knowledge of books easier to come by, but I felt like the award also gave me some credit for the Sonderbooks website I’ve worked on since 2001. Who knew they gave an award for being obsessed with books?

All year I’d thought of getting on the Newbery committee as validation that I made the right choice in becoming a librarian. And since I wouldn’t have become a librarian if I hadn’t gotten divorced (probably would have continued to work in libraries part-time), it was also big strong evidence that God can work even bad things together for good.

Winning this award put a capstone on those things. Yes, being a librarian is my calling! How lovely to have this reinforced!

I was allowed to invite four guests, and since the conference was in DC, they were able to come. First, with my supervisor, Gary Goodson, who wrote my nomination:

I also invited Jessica Hudson, our library director, who had the idea to nominate her people for Public Library Association Awards, and Nancy Ryan, who used to work with me at my first Fairfax County library and suggested me for the award. My co-worker Suzanne Lapierre was at ALA that day and also came along.

And Fairfax County Public Library won *two* Public Library Association awards. This group won an award for a program series about fake news.

And the speaker at the breakfast was Ann Patchett!

She did a powerpoint presentation, and promised a list of the titles she mentioned on her website,

She didn’t want to talk about her new book, which would be full of spoilers, so she talked around it, talking about her life interviewing other authors.

Interviews are great for authors, not so great for the store (more work!).

She talked about authors she’s met. She loved J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which she got to read early and was later panned by critics. But she hadn’t read any Harry Potter books, so maybe her lack of expectations helped.

Alan Alda changed her attitude to interviewing. He says to be prepared, then leave all the preparation behind and be completely in the present.

Her book Commonwealth was an autobiographical novel. None of it happened and all of it was true.

Then she interviewed Zadie Smith, who was very kind. She said that the mother in the book is the mother I’m afraid of becoming.

So she wrote a novel about her deepest fear — becoming a horrible stepmother.

She reread Angela’s Ashes to review how to write in first person.

Then she was distracted by children’s books, writing one illustrated by Robin Preiss Gleisman. And Sandra Boynton loaned her a house to work on her novel.

But she threw it away.

Then an interview with Barbara Kingsolver told her to go back to what she threw away.

And Kate DiCamillo gave her the ending of the book — after just hearing what it was about.

And she told a super interesting story of the trials and tribulations and many attempts to get that novel right. Meanwhile, she did multiple interviews and had 10 different houseguests in the month of April alone.

Afterward, she signed Advance Reader Copies for all of us!

Conference Corner: Opening Night ALA Annual Conference 2019

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

After a delightful ALSC Preconference on June 21, I headed to the Washington Convention Center and was on time to hear Jason Reynolds speak at the Opening Session — though I had to listen in the Overflow Room.

He called his talk “This Is the Ridiculous and Absurd Study of Architecture,” and the structure imitated the style of his new book, Look Both Ways.

Part One: He told the story of his mother’s first funeral.

She was at an old-fashioned funeral and was fumbled as they passed the little girl over the casket. (He told it much, much more colorfully than that!) She became obsessed with death.

At 17 years old, she began studying Buddhism and Hinduism.
She eventually joined the Catholic church because it was quiet and meditative.
When Jason was 12 years old, he said he didn’t want to go to church, and she said, “Okay.”

Part Two: Sundays at his friend Aaron’s house

On Sundays he’d sleep a little later and visit his best friend Aaron’s house.
Their family had 5 kids. Nobody had time to clean.
It was a place of freedom for Jason. (Jason’s house was a place of comfort for Aaron.)
Sunday was fried chicken at Aaron’s house.
Then they’d climb on the roof and share stories and dreams.

Part Three: The Library of Alexandria

In 300 BCE Alexander the Great was in Egypt. First thing he decided to do was build a library. Biggest library on earth. At its peak, it held 400,000 papyrus documents on its shelves. They created an overflow library that shared space with a temple.
Nobody knows what it looked like or how it disappeared.
The theory that’s most true: The Roman empire came in and they got rid of anything against it and burned the books.

Part Four: Rewind. Words from his mother:

“I don’t wanna go to church.” “Okay.”
“My job is to help you find your path, not stop you from looking for it.”
“Your body is a temple.”
“Anything that makes you feel bigger than your burden is sacred.”

Part Five: Principles

Come as you are.
All are welcome.
Turn away no one.
Build community.
Enact service.

Share stories to build community.
Narrative is what we use to fortify us.
Something’s the matter when people try to stop the narrative flow.

Every sacred thing suffers persecution.

Think about this:
Maybe what librarians truly are is architects.
Maybe we’re building walking, talking libraries.
Telling each other stories is storing books in our personal stacks.
Imagine training young people to actually be safe spaces.

The role of an architect:

1) Build a building that pays homage to you.
2) Build a building that services the world.

We’re creating walking, talking libraries.

He’s preaching to the choir — but choirs need to practice.


After that inspirational message, I went back to my car to get my wheeled bag (I have a doctor’s note) and hit the exhibits after the first wave of the Running of the Librarians had subsided.

I had some fun:

And I picked up some loot:

Finally, I headed to a restaurant right next to where I’d parked, where the complete Newbery committee was being treated to a nice dinner with the two Honor authors, Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Veera Hiranandani. It was the first we’d seen each other since January.

Here’s my place card:

We were at two tables, with an author at the center of each:

They spoke to us after dinner:

And traded tables during dessert:

After eating, they signed books for all of us.

Lali showed off her beautiful tattoo from the cover of The Night Diary.

Here are our two honor winners, Veera and Catherine:

And here are most of us with the authors (Alas! Abby, Eric, Pam, and Sue got cut out):

It was a joyous night!

Conference Corner: 2019 ALSC Preconference

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Last weekend I spent at ALA Annual Conference. It was in Washington, DC, this year, so I drove in early each morning and drove home each night. I had an awesome time, and now I’m going to post my notes and pictures from all the inspiring sessions.

The first event happened on Friday, a preconference sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children that honored the Honor book winners for various awards — Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, Sibert, Pura Belpre, and Batchelder Awards. Since the winners get to give speeches but not the Honor books, this is an opportunity to hear from the other honored authors and illustrators and publishers, and I didn’t want to miss it.

I found two of my fellow Newbery committee members to sit with and we all three chose to go to the sessions where “our” honor authors were featured.

First was an intro session where the 22 honored individuals told three things about themselves. These were fun and light-hearted. I got not-very-good pictures of our Honor authors Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary:

and Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of The Book of Boy:

Then came lunch, and Caldecott-Honor-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal sat at our table, so we had the fun of getting to know her a little bit.

The first panel after lunch was called “Who Am I? Where Do I Fit In?” The panelists were Leo Espinosa, Belpre illustrator of Islandborn, Claudia Bedrick, Batchelder publisher of Jerome by Heart, Juana Martinez-Neal, Caldecott illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name, David Bowles, Belpre author of They Call Me Guero, and Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Newbery author of The Book of Boy.

I’ll write out my notes from the panel.

Question: How do your books resonate with kids who feel they don’t fit in?

Leo: He gets to choose the stories he wants to illustrate. His job is to amplify those messages. He offers reflection and empathy. Some kids see themselves in the books. Some kids feel empathy and want to know these kids who aren’t like themselves. As an illustrator, he has the luxury of adding mini-stories within the big story (such as showing a family with two fathers).

David: Identity and belonging is the core of the story. Kids who are different from a group while simultaneously in that group and feeling solidarity with that group. With light skin, he’s treated differently inside the community. There’s a cognitive dissonance — privileged and oppressed at the same time. Any child can identify with this.

Juana: To fit in is to know who they are, and that’s why she wrote Alma. She couldn’t see herself in picture books. Latinx fit into so many different groups, and that’s why she made Alma. She hopes more kids will see themselves.

Claudia: Jerome By Heart was intentionally about two boys, because if it had been two girls being so tender with each other, it wouldn’t have been so special. In France, two boys holding hands and declaring love is taboo.

We’re shaped in who we are by the responses we receive. This child’s buoyant expression of his personality is not readily embraced by his parents. It shows agency and embracing one’s identity.

Catherine: Her character is an orphan in a goat shed. None of her readers can relate to that, but kids deep dive into it. Kids make it part of them.

Question: Do you write more for reflection or for empathy?

David: He’s primarily thinking of a particular group of students when writing. Kids that need him to write stories about themselves. But other kids need to hear the story as well. The universal comes through the specific.

Claudia: The author of Jerome at Heart was focused on telling the best, truest story about these kids as he could. Every good story promotes empathy. You’ll come away slightly changed.

Leo: He realized the book would be important for Latinx kids. But it’s also important for other kids. He’s read it to Latinx kids, but also to white Mormon kids, and the response is similar.

Juana: She prefers “underrepresented” to “marginalized.” Alma is just about that specific little girl. She hopes this book won’t only be enjoyed by Hispanic communities. We all have names, and we all have families.

Catherine: She had to consider her audience in choosing the words for her book because they need to be understandable for a variety of reading levels.

David: He chimed in that kids are sophisticated thinkers but don’t necessarily have the vocabulary required.

Question: How do you feel about groups you’ve found in publishing circles?

David: The Latinx caucus of children’s publishing tend to gravitate toward each other and there’s a larger community of authors of color. It’s nice to have people helping guide you through it.

Juana: She’ll often spot another author of color across the room.

As far as publishing, editors help her find a balance between what she wants to do and what can be put in a book and what people will understand.

Leo: He doesn’t write his own stories. English not being his first language makes writing scary. He uses illustrations as an international language.

Claudia: Her experience as a small independent publisher is very different from a big publisher. It’s a very different community. There’s a big power difference between indie publishers and the Big Five. She doesn’t hear about “trends.”

Question: Talk about balancing the tension of what we want the world to be and how the world could be.

Catherine: Her big goal is to take readers of all ages back so they’ll say about medieval times: “It was really weird!” If you can appreciate the different values of that time, you can appreciate different values today. We’re part of a big puzzle, and the puzzle is more complicated than we realize.

David: Guero wants the life he lives to be allowed to exist. Guero isn’t looking for perfection — he’s looking for respect for the autonomy of his community. Kids on the border have to grapple with what’s happening to kids their own age.

Claudia: Depicting characters as actors with agency is all about “What If?” So much we live within can be changed.

Leo: He struggled with depicting “the monster” — how to put a really cruel dictatorship into a children’s book? The beautiful part is that the characters are able to defeat the monster.

Juana: She hints at a dark part of history when she depicts Camilla taking a stand.

The second panel was called “Rough Grace.”

Participants in this panel were Veera Hiranandani, Newbery author of The Night Diary, Don Brown, Sibert author of The Unwanted, Gail Jarrow, Sibert author of Spooked!, Brian Lies, Caldecott illustrator of The Rough Patch, and Nathan Rostron, Batchelder publisher of Run for Your Life.

Question: How do you define grace? Rough grace?

Veera: Grace is not an intentional thing. Nisha carries herself with grace in rough times. It’s part of who she is, and it’s not intentional.

Nathan: There are many definitions of grace and graciousness. In the book, set in Sicily, it’s the idea of salvation from on high. What do you do when you can’t rely on outside forces to help? Need to find salvation in yourself and find people to help.

Brian: Rough grace is peace or acceptance through or in spite of adversity. His character’s grace comes because he can’t help being who he is. Souls and stones both get their luster through adversity. It’s not necessarily acceptance, but simply being.

Don: He hasn’t come to a conclusion about grace. There’s no grace when you watch your family drown in the Mediterranean. Or dying in a gas attack. Hemingway romanticizing war was wrong. He’s left not knowing.

Gail: Grace is a gift bestowed on others. The gift of history given to us — we can learn from it. We can learn from the history of The War of the Worlds. There’s a gift bestowed on us from what happened in history. Rough grace is like tough love. Some lessons from history are tough.

Question: How do people go on? How do you wrestle with that as a writer of books for young people?

Veera: I don’t know. Part of it is the not knowing. Nisha’s an observer because she has no choice. In that listening space, an openness comes with that. Taking it in can give you a certain kind of strength. Courage comes in the ability to simply keep moving forward.

Don: It’s a mystery why humanity keeps going. Maybe it’s a basic biological thing to move towards life. It’s inconceivable. As Americans, we look from the outside. The blessing: “May you live in uninteresting times.”

Gail: She also writes about diseases. When you read about people in history who experienced terrible things — some are strengthened and some despair. We can learn from history and those who went through it.

Brian: Resilience. In books, we model resilience for our readers. If you’ve never imagined resilience, how can you learn it?

Nathan: For a kid, the world is always normal. Their author just described daily life. She keeps it very immediate. She has two narratives going — the main character at 6 years old and at 11 years old. Making it immediate can open it up for kids.

Question: Do you self-censor?

Nathan: Self-censors now more than before, from being socially conscious.

Brian: He doesn’t self-censor, but he does self-criticize. Figuring out how to show the dog had died was an example of that. If you don’t see it, you’re asking the reader to care, not making the reader care. It felt more honest to show it on stage. But he didn’t make the reader feel awful — but they see Evan feeling awful.

Veera: She thought about it all the time. More than a million people died in horrific ways during Partition in India and Pakistan. She wanted to show some of the violence. She wanted to include a train with violence — but limited it for a young reader.

Gail: If she has doubts about the accuracy of information, she doesn’t put it in the book. Orson Welles was a notorious liar. Medical mysteries have a lot of gory stuff, but she doesn’t censor.

Don: Do you self-censor because of yourself or other people? I don’t know if I’m being sensitive or I’m being cowardly? Sometimes he can draw around terrible things. The Syrian war began with teens drawing graffiti and they were tortured for it. How to portray that? It’s something he struggles with all the time. How to present nonfiction to kids ages 8 to 13? Older kids can handle literally anything. For them, anything less is phony.

Great difficulty in a book about 9/11 as to how to show someone who jumped.

Brian: Every book is imperfect.

Veera: Kids let in what they’re ready to understand. Don’t let go of the struggle. That’s how you learn.

Don: After writing books, he only sees the mistakes.

Brian: He seeks a 5-year book, a book he’ll be happy with for five years. He has to come to a place of forgiveness. And make sure the next book is better.

Don: Do you like your books?

Gail: I don’t look at my books again.

Veera: I don’t read it again. It’s the readers’ now, not mine.

Question: Talk about the common threads of Fear and Forgiveness.

Nathan: Fear is a big part of Run for Your Life. The boy understands the code of silence. The Mafia’s built it into that society. The structure of fear enables the Mafia. To get over fear, you must let go, and forgiveness is a kind of letting go. Letting go of the silence of the past.

Brian: He purposely avoided reading about the “stages of grief.” There’s an anger aspect to Evan’s grief that wasn’t intentional. Forgiveness comes with time.

Gail: Fear is a big part of Spooked. She told about a couple who fled — and learned that their fear was based on sand. Sometimes fear has no basis. Get info before you act on fear. This story gives you a way to deal with fear.

Don: Fear is in abundance for Syrian refugees. As an example of grace, on a rainy day when he and his wife were visiting a camp, a refugee leant his wife her raincoat. Probably one of her few possessions. That simple act of humanity was one of the most touching things he’s seen in his life.

Veera: Her book is all about fear and forgiveness. People who survived Partition are now in their 80s. It’s up to her generation to preserve the history and begin to heal. That’s why Nisha had a Muslim mother and Hindu father — to be a bridge. Her generation has the distance to do that.

How do you forgive attackers? But now there’s distance, so forgiveness can counteract fear.

Moderator: What does it mean to be human in an imperfect world? Literature reminds us of humanity in the world we live in.

So that was the ALSC preconference. The only frustrating part was that several other fascinating sessions were going on in other rooms while I was at those two! But those two were inspiring.

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: