ALA Annual Conference 2024 – The Newbery Banquet!

Sunday night of ALA Annual Conference is time for the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Beforehand, there was a big balcony to hang around outdoors in the breeze – and I got to talk with friends – and author Jason Reynolds!

The Newbery Banquet is always a wonderful chance for a grand celebration with fellow children’s book lovers. There’s always an amazing program with art from the Caldecott medalist, good food, and then the highlight of the night – speeches from the winners. Since I knew the speeches get printed in Horn Book Magazine, I held off from taking notes and just enjoyed the moment this year. I will consult said magazine for some of the highlights from the speeches.

First, the Caldecott Honor winners get to receive their award without having to give speeches. Then the first speech came from Vashti Harrison, Caldecott Medalist for her amazing picture book, Big.

Vashti Harrison began her speech by remarking that people told her right away she was the first Black woman to win the Caldecott Medal. And then she told us about seven Black women who had won Caldecott Honor: Faith Ringgold, Carol Byard, Ekua Holmes, Oge Mora, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Noa Denmon, and Janelle Washington.

Then she talked about her own story. For anyone who’s read the amazing book Big, it wasn’t a surprise, because she portrayed all of this with her art. But she did talk about coming to illustration in film school with animation, drawing Disney-style people who didn’t look like herself. Even as a child, she drew characters thinner than herself, and the images she tended to copy were mostly of white or light-skinned women.

She was empowered to draw beautiful Black women, and got love and support online, but she was still making them impossibly thin.

I love this part of her speech so much, I’ll copy it here:

I resolved to only draw children, children who are allowed to be chubby and chunky and thick, and we love them for it. Children, who have no wrong or incorrect curves or folds. Children, for whom big is good.

Drawing is such an intimate practice. You spend time with characters, you make decisions that seem microscopic but can change a character entirely: the placement of their eyes, the length of their neck. As I made these tiny creative choices, I wondered, At what age does big start being bad? For me it was in second grade, when a girl looked over at my round belly and asked if I was pregnant. That version of me is still inside, still hurting.

I needed to make something to heal myself, and I needed to confront my internalized bias.

And she succeeded! She went on to talk about adultification and Black girls being punished for being too much. Her book takes those on so beautifully.

It was amazing to be in the room when she received this well-deserved medal for creating the most distinguished American picture book of 2023.

Then came the Newbery! First all the wonderful Honor book authors received their plaques. Then came the presentation of the Newbery Medal to winner Dave Eggers, for his book The Eyes and the Impossible.

He began his speech with a delightful story of his first grade teacher helping all her students write books, telling us that great educators expect more of us. And then his fifth grade teacher did the same thing – and entered his story in the state young authors’ contest, and he was chosen to attend a celebration of young authors in another part of the state.

At that conference, he met Gwendolyn Brooks, who called the students “fellow authors.” He was never the same.

His parents died at the ages of fifty-one and fifty-five, and he is now fifty-four. He’d made a vow to himself that if he lived past fifty, he’d write whatever he wanted. I like this paragraph from his speech:

My secret that I can now divulge is that The Eyes and the Impossible was my love letter to being alive past fifty, and how I sometimes cannot believe my luck. To see what I see, to love who I love, to be able to convey these things in a book that I honestly cannot believe made any sense to anyone. This is the most personal book I’ve ever written, and it’s also the weirdest, and the fact that librarians of this great nation have recognized it – that word again! – means to me, and should mean to any writer anywhere, that if we forget our dignified selves and write with a kind of untethered abandon, sometimes that’s exactly what a reader wants. Johannes, the protagonist of this book, gave me a way to write the way I always wanted to write – actually sing the way I always wanted to sing – and the fact that you all have accepted his voice, as unbridled as it is, means the world to me. I thank you.

And I have to add his last two paragraphs where he thanks librarians:

Thank you, the Newbery committee. I can’t imagine how hard your work was, but I am grateful to you, and to all librarians everywhere, for accepting this very strange book, and for accepting all very strange books. Books are simply souls in paper form, so when we accept a strange book, we accept a strange soul. We say that soul, however unusual or unprecedented, how reckless or flawed, belongs among the other souls of the world. And once this soul has been welcomed to the library – which is nothing less than a repository of souls – it cannot be unwelcomed.

More than that, because of you, these souls will be protected. When the small-minded ban books, they are banning souls. They are removing certain voices from the chorus of humanity and the chorus of history. And it is librarians who are tasked with making sure these souls are not removed, that they always have a home and always have a voice. Librarians are the keepers and protectors of all history’s souls, its outcasts and oddballs, its screamers and whisperers, all of whom have a right to be heard. No pressure, but we count on you to save us all, to protect us all, to preserve us all. Thank you and godspeed.

The final award of the night was the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, given to Pam Muñoz Ryan. She gave another lovely acceptance speech.

She began her speech with thanks to the many, many people who have helped her along in her career. Then she talked about how when she started writing, “there were only a handful of stories written by and about Latinos in the United States.” Her book Esperanza Rising parallels her grandmother’s experiences in a Mexican farm labor camp, and that camp is where her mother was born.

She didn’t grow up in a print-rich environment, but both her her grandmothers nurtured her love of story. The small branch library near her house fanned that love into an obsession with reading. She went there to escape from younger siblings and cousins and to get out of the heat.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the books would leap from the confines of the stacks and hold me spellbound. Stories are powerful that way, and once I was captured, I carried books to kitchen tables, to the car, and secretly propped them inside textbooks at school. I tried on many lives far more interesting than my own.

As I made my way through junior high, books carried me away from the wrath of mean girls, tallness, big feet, and a big, noisy extended family. I coped through books. It is no surprise that I now often write for readers who are the same age that I was when books made the most profound difference in my life.

She talked about seeing the worth inside each other, as her grandmother did, and she told a story about Pablo Neruda from her book The Dreamer, when he exchanged gifts with a child he didn’t know through a hole in a fence.

As artists and writers, we pass our work through a hole in the fence, never knowing who is on the other side. Never knowing if or when someone might pick up our book and have a reaction, a revelation, a good laugh, or the clutching-to-the-chest moment of a book well-loved and long-carried. We’re never sure if we will incite our reader, cause an indignant rampage, or inspire a cult following. We write and draw, shackled to the beautiful tyranny of now. We work with hearts full of hope for the future, and the promise of unknown communions.

Once again, it was thrilling to be in the giant room with these brilliant creators doing great things for children along with hundreds of other people celebrating distinguished children’s books.

ALA Annual Conference 2024 Day 3

Here’s my post about ALA Annual Conference Opening, The Printz Awards, and Day 2.

June 30, 2024, was the Sunday of ALA Annual Conference in San Diego this year, and it was time to meet our Morris Award Winner and Finalists! Well, those who made it, anyway. Pictured above are winner Byron Graves in the center, with Hannah V. Sawyerr and Ari Tyson beside him.

I can’t begin to tell you how lovely it was to celebrate our winning authors. The William Morris Award is for the best young adult debut book of the year, and as a committee we read hundreds, discussed them, and came to a strong consensus about our Finalists. It’s especially wonderful to get to encourage these stellar writers at the beginning of their careers.

So the first event of the day was the YALSA Awards. We got to hang out with the authors in the green room beforehand, and then celebrate the winners with other YA book enthusiasts.

My pictures from a distance came out blurry in the fairly dark room, but let me give some good lines from the various winners.

First up was our winner, Byron Graves, for Rez Ball. (*Such* a good book! Read it, everybody!)

He said that he wrote the book so that a 16-year-old Ojibwe kid like he had been could now see himself in a book. He also gave credit to his mother, who “crafted and freestyled” bedtime stories.

The next award was the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, won by Dashka Slater, for Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed.

Her book started in the signing line for The 57 Bus, when someone asked her if she’d heard about this incident. And though she very much wanted to write about sweetness and light this time, the story wouldn’t let her go. She wanted to understand what had happened and why, and she very much wishes it had become irrelevant.

Almost all the high schools she’s visited had incidents of online hate – disguised as humor. Kids are having conversations about it. She doesn’t write for teens because she has answers, but because she has questions.

After the Alex Awards were announced (no authors were there), it was time for the Margaret Edwards Award Winner to speak. This award is given for lifetime achievement and was given to Neal Shusterman.

His speech made our jaws drop.

It started innocuously enough. His father wouldn’t read his books because they’re fiction. But he maintains that Fiction is the single most important thing we have.

At 18, he bought the Writer’s Market. He sent 20 copies of his first book to 20 publishers, and they were all rejected.

“Writers today are losing the benefit of soul-crushing rejection. We need to be reminded we haven’t arrived.”

His second book got him an agent, Andrea Brown. She couldn’t sell it. His third book sold when he was 23. “This author is gifted and in serious need of therapy.”

The goalpost has to keep moving. He wrote the Scythe trilogy to disrupt teen dystopia, to show a future when mankind really was getting things right. He came up with Scythe at the end of 2012, after his Mom had a stroke. Dying in the hands of people you love is not the worst way to go.

Then he began talking about Identity. Our identity comes from our people, or it’s forced on us by society or it’s something we choose. It defines who we are, who we love and hate, our whole world. And identity is a fiction.

Isn’t it wild that fiction defines our lives? Take great care in the stories you tell yourself and others.

Then he told the jaw-dropping story about his own identity. He grew up believing he took after a grandfather who was a Sepphardic Jew. But ten years after his parents had died, his son did an Ancestry DNA test – with surprising results that motivated research – and he learned that he was half Black and half Scotch-Irish. So that gave him lots of thoughts about identity.

People tell writers to stay in their lane, and his lanes go every which way now.

There are three kinds of diversity:
We need all kids to see themselves.
We need all writers to be able to speak.
We need all to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

We are all human beings. Every story is our story to tell. He’s chosen a narrative where this is additive in his life.

After the awards celebration, we Morris Committee members who were there got to have lunch with Byron and Hannah! It was a wonderful time. They signed books for us, and we signed one book for each of them. *smile*

After lunch, we walked back to the convention center. I just barely had time to make it to a program I’d been eyeing: Welcome to the Puzzledome! It was a sample program to show how to run a jigsaw puzzle competition! This is something I’ve long wanted to try. I was late, but got there before they started, and joined up with these two from a base library in Japan. Our team came in second place, finishing the 500-piece puzzle in One hour, five minutes. The winning team did it in 58 minutes, but they had four people, so we were quite pleased with ourselves.

The Elephant in the Room

So – I did something stupid. Incredibly stupid.

I used the words “Covid positive” in my original post about my ALA Conference attendance.

Someone found this post just before I got on a plane to go home from San Diego. They had seen me at the conference – after I had tested negative – and because I wasn’t wearing a mask outside in the wind after I tested negative – they concluded that I had attended the conference giving people Covid willy-nilly.

Because I’d posted this picture (again, outside in the wind) from Day 2, they concluded that I’d completely lied that I’d ever worn a mask at the conference.

Before I say anything else, let me mention that none of these people in this picture – my fellow Morris committee members and the main people I talked with the first two days of the conference – got Covid from me, as they have reported two weeks after the conference.

By the time I got off my plane, Twitter was in a frenzy about me going to the conference and spreading Covid. They wouldn’t listen to anything I said about the precautions I took and the medical advice I got. I stayed off Twitter for a week and shut off notifications, because being a target of all that hatred and loathing was more than I could take.

My plan was to not post about the rest of the conference, because after I was Covid negative, I started meeting authors and taking pictures with them – but those folks will never believe it.

However, after the furor died down, I remembered that I *like* to post about the conferences I attend. It helps me make the most of what I learned and remember the wonderful people I interact with. So I’m going to post about the last two days of the conference – when I was Covid negative – and refer to this post if anyone objects.

And I figure my own blog is my chance to give the full story – which chance I did not get on Twitter. If people don’t believe me, I feel sorry for them keeping all that hatred and contempt in their hearts. I have been thankful that those who actually know me have backed me up when I discussed the situation with them.

Here’s how it started: I’ve caught Covid two times, and both times it was on a long plane flight with one stop. This time, thank goodness, it was on the way back from Germany instead of on the way there.

But the flight was only a week before ALA Annual Conference in San Diego.

So I assumed I wouldn’t be able to go, and I emailed my fellow Morris committee members. They answered to not give up yet. I made a virtual appointment with a doctor to talk about Paxlovid, which she prescribed. I asked her what she thought about whether I could go to the conference, and she repeated the current CDC guidelines that if my fever is gone for 24 hours and my symptoms are going away, I can carry on normal activities, wearing a mask. I told my friends I might be able to go, and they cheered for me.

I never had much of a fever – 99.5 at the highest. But I took Paxlovid and felt better quickly. By Wednesday afternoon, it was back to my normal of 97.4, and my symptoms had left. All day Thursday that kept up (and all through the conference, too – I brought my thermometer on the trip) and I felt fine on Thursday and spent the day packing my bags to go.

Now, my sister lives near San Diego, and we made a deal that I would only come to see her after I was Covid negative. Because passing people in a convention center or sitting next to someone wearing a mask is a lot less contact than staying in someone’s house, so we decided a stricter standard would apply. So I did bring tests, and I was negative by Sunday and went to her house Monday night – and it was after I was negative that I started meeting authors and taking pictures with them.

So, yes, I was still positive when I arrived at the conference on Friday. But I was very aware of that. And presumably after your fever and symptoms have left, you’re shedding a lot less virus. When my Morris committee friends came up to me at the Printz awards, I stood at a distance and kept my mask on to talk with them. Then Saturday when I saw them at a reception on a boat, we talked outside in the wind. Even if I were at the very beginning of the illness and shedding lots of virus, I fail to see how that virus could have transmitted to someone else in the wind on that boat.

And that’s the thing. There are some on Twitter who believe that I was responsible for every case of Covid that someone caught at ALA Annual Conference. But thousands of people arrived at that conference after taking a plane trip. Who is more contagious? The person with no remaining symptoms who’s wearing a mask, or the person who caught Covid on the plane trip to the conference but doesn’t know it yet and isn’t wearing a mask?

Now, when the Twitter furor erupted, I was paranoid I’d find out my committee friends had caught it from me. But time has passed, and the people I actually talked with and spent the most time with those first two days did not catch it from me. My family that I saw later that week did not catch it from me. I can’t bring myself to believe that I filled any of those convention center rooms up with virus and infected people I didn’t even talk with.

Though if you really want me to be your scapegoat, if you won’t believe me that I took precautions, and that I think those precautions were effective – there’s not really anything I can do about that. I now have new sympathy for teens who get bullied on social media, and I’m going to try to stay out of any social media shaming in the future.

So – that’s what happened. I followed CDC guidelines and went about my normal activities, wearing a mask, when my symptoms and fever were gone for more than 24 hours. After a swab up my nose didn’t even detect any virus, I no longer worried that I might accidentally infect someone.

Now I’m going to write up the rest of the conference without mentioning Covid, but this is my explanation if someone has an issue with what they see.

ALA Annual Conference 2024 Day 2

Saturday, June 29, 2024, was the second day of the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Diego.

The first session I attended was about selecting Board Books.

Panelists were board book authors Anne Wynter, Carole Boston Weatherford, Alisha Sevigny, and Steve Light

I liked the way they talked about joy and play in board books. Steve Light wrote his first board book (about trucks) when he imitated a boy in his class of 3-year-olds who just found joy in drawing trucks.

Board books are inherently playful, and kids play physically with the books, but also play with the language of the books. Also many board books are interactive, encouraging play. The interactive books are perfect for the wiggly ones.

Next I got in on the end of a panel of Newbery Honor winners led by Travis Jonker. I didn’t get notes written, but afterward I personally congratulated Erin Bow on her amazing book, Simon Sort of Says, and somehow we got to talking about my mathematical knitting.

Next, I went to a panel of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors called “Chaotic Good and Lawful Evil: The Appeal of Morally Gray Characters in Science Fiction and Fantasy books.”

Here are the signed books I got after that panel ended:

The authors were O. O. Sangoyomi, Mary E. Pearson, Veronica Roth, and Yume Kitasei

Moderator: Your books are based on folklore and myth. How do they get populated with these morally ambiguous characters?

MP: Morally ambiguous characters are real, and they are us.

YK: So often retellings flip who the good guys and bad guys are and help us see more. Gives the myths a whole new life.

OS: You can also give traditional villains more of a back story, which makes the story more interesting.

VR: A quote: “Through folklore we learn about a people and what they think about humanity.” We learn from Slavic folklore that being human is a drag! Unfair stuff happens all the time. They teach us about humanity, not necessarily about morality.

Moderator to OS: The king in her Hades retelling is so convinced he’s right?

OS: That’s what drew her to the myth. She wanted to give Persephone more agency. Love bordering on obsession. Love can change people for the better or the worse.

YK: He’s a villain but not a villain. The love story is somewhat toxic, but still beautiful. He’s a foil for her journey.

Moderato to VR: Your book gets us cheering for vampires.

VR: The long history of Monster Fiction is making them sympathetic. The character is deprogrammed from brainwashing. Polish immigrants came to Chicago fleeing monsters, too. They’re just trying to survive.

YK: VR has got characters working toward opposing goals, all sympathetic, but they can’t all win.

Moderator to YK: Everyone’s hero is someone’s villain. In your book, every side has a solid reason for what they’re doing. They all have a valid point.

YK: As someone biracial and bicultural, within herself, her own identities war against each other. Everybody has a different perspective, rooted in their background.

VR: Come to YK’s book for Indiana Jones and stay for thoughtful meditation on what it means to be human.

Moderator to MP: Romantasy has a trope of morally gray characters with a trope “I must keep secrets from you for your own protection.”

MP: She gets in their heads and explores their motivations. They all think they’re doing the right thing. One guy is lying because of past betrayal. Another one has a very deep fear for people’s lives. Moral conundrums are true to life. Life isn’t black and white.

VR: As an author, we don’t even want to have all the answers. Better to write questions you don’t know the answers to.

YK: Selfishness itself is not inherently bad. It can be your motivation, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Now some responses that came from audience questions:

VR: Folklore is for people in the time it exists. It’s a living thing.

MP: Celtic folklore was never written down until the Christian monks. She tries to get at what it would have been behind that filter.

OS: Greek mythology + Nigerian mythology is her personal interpretation.

VR: How much can you forgive? You don’t get to decide what other people can forgive.

MP: Can a person be redeemed?

OS: What do we consider offenses in the first place? We might not need to forgive them if we understand their motivations.

VR: People who demand moral clarity have a lack of appreciation for a narrative arc. Do you want me telling your children what to do?

After that panel, I got the four books signed. Then I went to the main session where Kwame Alexander was speaking.

He had fun talking about winning not just a Newbery, but also an Emmy for Crossover.

Then he read an amazing and precocious letter from a 5th grade fan who demanded that he write a book with a female main character. So he talked about his next book, inspired by his great-grandmother, Black Star. It is book two of a trilogy.

Then he told us about Black librarians who fought against book bans 100 years before Moms for Liberty. Folks had forbidden too many Black books in one place. But in 1921, Virginia Lee found ways to get the books to the people, despite the orders.

Public librarians, if you want a model – look no further than the Black librarians of the early 20th Century.

We are in the imagination business, and we are reimagining what it means to be in community in a paradoxical time.

Libraries aren’t just the refuge in the storm – libraries are the rainbow.

His parents surrounded him with books that made him believe he mattered.

Then during the audience question time, Kwame called Jerry Craft on stage and announced that they’re collaborating on a book together! (Even though Jerry Craft has never won an Emmy.)

It was funny, because after Kwame finished speaking, I got in a line to greet librarian Mychal Threets, who posts about Library Joy and Library Kids.

After that session, I went back to my hotel room and fell asleep – but woke up in time to walk 2 miles along the bay to go to a Macmillan Happy Hour on a boat that’s part of the San Diego Maritime Museum. There were lots of authors there, and it was an opportunity to talk with some, but I mostly hung out on the deck, where it was breezy, and talked with my fellow Morris committee members who were there, finally meeting them in person after all our Zoom meetings.

And to top it off, they told us to take as many books as we wanted, so I walked back with these. Two of them are second books from debut authors who made an impression during my Morris reading.

All in all, it was a grand first full day of the conference. No wonder I was tired!

ALA Annual Conference – The Printz Awards

The first big event of ALA Annual Conference is the Printz Awards and Reception on Friday night.

The ceremony was as exuberant and lovely as ever. I love that we get to hear from all the honorees, not the winner only.

My camera doesn’t do great in a big auditorium, but let me post some pictures and notes from the speeches:

First Honor Book Author was Moa Backe Astöt for Fire from the Sky

This award is beyond anything she imagined. She was 22 when the book was published, but was 15 when she started writing it. As a Sami teen, she didn’t see books about teens like her. She wanted to write a painful story with a happy ending. It’s crucial that indigenous people and minorities feel seen and represented in literature.

Next, her translator, Eva Apelqvist, spoke:

Sometimes we meet a book that we just want to share with the world. She first just translated a chapter to promote the book, and was so happy to get to translate more. The setting brings you to northern Sweden. She had to let go of cultural shackles and approach it with humility.

Next up was Kenneth M. Cadow, author of Gather:

A book with an award and a dog on the cover – and the dog lives!

He told a story of going to the solar eclipse – somehow we like to be reminded that we are small. People are unpredictable, sometimes pleasantly so. Our hope comes from knowing each other and tiptoeing around each other’s humanness. His book humannizes the data about white rural males and drugs.

Then came Shannon Gibney for The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be:

She reaches out to other people on Planet Adoptee. Other adoptees see and recognize the experiences here. And non-adoptees have told her: We didn’t know.

Next up was Candice Iloh for Salt the Water:

Cerulean is someone she never had the chance to be at 17. She’d believed she had to follow what adults said she should do. Young people lose hope in the institutes they’re supposed to trust. What happens when our young people have had enough? She illuminated one Black queer child’s choice to seek safety. No one is safe until we all are.

Finally, they presented the Printz Medal for the short story collection, The Collectors, edited by A. S. King. All the authors went up front to the side, and A. S. King gave the speech.

She wanted the speech to be weird. (And succeeded!) She started off with a story of how she ended up recommending Slaughterhouse Five to an old guy – and then warning him it’s a weird book.

She thinks the word “weird” actually means “humane.” Which means that being humane is weird.

Teenagers live in an entirely different world than we did. There’s emotional currency in weirdness. It’s weird to tell the truth. Weird is humane. It wants you to tell the truth.

They remove humane books.

Not one career here tonight was self-made.

Protect trans kids for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

We work with battle-weary kids whose adults can’t see the war. We serve children because we’ve all been children.

The opposite of humane is Shame.

We are artists. We are art.

Some claim to protect children by removing their emotional fire extinguishers.

Be weird!

ALA Annual Conference 2024 – Trevor Noah and Exhibits!

I just finished attending the 2024 American Library Association Annual Conference!

I flew to San Diego on Friday, June 28, and here was the view from my hotel room:

And the view of the Convention Center:

My flight was delayed about 45 minutes, and even with just a quick stop in my hotel room, I wasn’t in time for the start of the Opening Session with Trevor Noah, but I did get to hear the end of it.

Trevor’s an advocate for libraries. I don’t remember all he said, being in a bit of a daze after my flight. But he did speak about the power of libraries and books that aren’t trying to manipulate you and get clicks.

Next was the opening of the exhibits.

I have a neck condition (a small right vertebral artery) which means I shouldn’t carry heavy bags of books. So usually, I go to ALA Member Services, show my doctor’s note, and get permission to bring a wheeled bag on the exhibit floor. But now I have a job where publishers send advance reader copies to me directly. Surely I don’t need to grab so many at the conference? I decided not to bring a wheeled bag and limit myself to not carry more than 3 books at a time. And, well – the first three days I succeeded in keeping it down to 4 at a time.

The first night, I picked up 4 books, 5 tote bags, some Booklist magazines, and a publisher catalog:

I must say that I demonstrated incredible restraint!

Then it was back to my hotel to get ready for the Printz Awards.

Conference Corner – Virginia Library Association Conference 2023

ast Tuesday, I got to attend one day of the Virginia Library Association Conference. It was close by — basically in between my home and my workplace. I like to write up notes to consolidate what I learned, always bearing in mind that a big part of the value of librarian conferences is connecting with colleagues. In this case, I got to see many friends from my own library system and have lunch with people I used to see daily.

First up, the keynote speaker was author Jason Reynolds.

Now, if you’ve never heard Jason Reynolds speak, you need to find a way to do so. And I can’t communicate in notes his humor and presence — you had to be there.

But I will also note some good points he made (with lots of humor and poignancy):

He talked about relating to kids, as he does as an author but also as a person. He says you need three things: Humility, Intimacy, and Gratitude.

In his writing, he needs Humility because he’s no longer 13.

He’s got intimacy because the language of his neighborhood (rap) has become the language of youth culture. He puts boys in stories where they can be vulnerable.

Gratitude — He shows kids as human beings. His books are his love letters to kids.

Books are the tickets he created to get access to human beings, his golden tickets to every school in the country.

When we deal with humans, we need:

Humility — Deal with our egos. Adults are an entitled population. We need humility to create a relationship with kids.

Intimacy — Thank them for coming. Without the kids, we have no purpose.

Books are important, but we ban humans every day, by not acknowledging them.

Look up and see the people around us. We’re all made to be opened.

***

After lunch, the next session I went to was the Cardinal Cup Author Spotlight.

The Virginia Library Association gives an annual award to honor a distinguished biography, historical fiction or American history book for young people. It has this year been renamed the Cardinal Cup instead of the Jefferson Cup.

The winning book this year was Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves, by L. M. Elliott. The author talked about her research about the Nazi U-boats that used to patrol the East Coast of the United States and in March 1942, before sonar, were sinking an American ship every 8 hours. Five U-boats sank 397 ships. I’d had no idea! Her talk about her research and the tidbits she found was fascinating.

Her writing process is research, then imagination, dictated by fact. I was enchanted by all she had to say and got two signed books (this one and her next one), which I plan to read just as soon as we’ve chosen this year’s Morris Award winners.

***

The next session was called Legislative Panel on the Right to Read in School and Local Public Libraries

It was moderated by VLA’s liaison to the legislature and featured a Virginia state senator and state legislator who have been fighting increased legislation attacking the right to read and trying to limit what’s available in Virginia libraries.

As the legislator said, parents who *want* their children to have access to books have rights, too.

The Virginia senator speaking is also a professor of literature, so this is close to her heart. After all, we know the dangers of book banning.

This past legislative session, they talked about bills that were defeated, and a bill that got through. On its surface, it is saying parents have to consent to study books in class. In practice, it made it easier to ban books.

They warned us that advocacy is important. Right now, those who want to ban books have the loudest voices, and we need to change that. Advocacy matters.

This is driving government control on speech and thinking.

Remember: We never want politicians to determine what is literature!

***

The final session I attended was four “lightning talks” with basically nuts-and-bolts library issues, including two friends from my library system who made an app that helps manage our collection.

Altogether, it was a great day to get out and mingle with other librarians and be inspired and refreshed to continue doing the work.

Conference Corner: Walter Dean Myers Awards

Today I livestreamed the Walter Dean Myers Awards and Symposium from We Need Diverse Books.

First, I highly recommend watching it yourself. Super inspirational.

I was a little sorry I hadn’t taken the trouble to go into DC and attend in person. But when I found out they were livestreaming it, it was way too tempting to watch from home.

I do take notes to help me pay attention. And then transcribing the notes helps me absorb what I heard. But instead of transcribing everything I wrote down, let me just give some highlights.

First, check out the winners on the We Need Diverse Books site. The program was emceed by Jacqueline Woodson, and first up was a round table discussion with three Honor Book authors, moderated by Ellen Oh, one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books. Some gems from that talk:

Ibi Zoboi became a writer after she read a book by Edwidge Danticat where her mother’s hometown in rural Haiti is mentioned right at the start. She felt validated and that she could be a writer, too.

Sonora Reyes was in a mental hospital when they read a book that was a rom-com centering a trans boy. It was full of joy and funny and happy and it saved their life.

When asked about book bans, Sabaa Tahir responded that you can look at the history of marginalized people. They don’t give up! We’re all going to keep writing! More books! Louder books! We absolutely refuse to be silenced. We’ll keep yelling until you’re ready to join that shout.

Ibi Zoboi thinks about dystopias. Even if somehow all books were destroyed, there would still be stories. Kids are telling stories already. That is impossible to stop.

Even though Sabaa Tahir switched from fantasy novels to realistic, they all focus on Hope through difficult times. The question she’s asking in all her books is, “Why do we treat each other this way?”

Ellen Oh asked them all if they had advice for young writers.

Sonora Reyes: Keep in mind that a lot of advice out there won’t work for you, and that’s okay. Test out writing advice and keep only what works.

Ibi Zoboi: Octavia Butler wrote about empaths. Many artists and writers are feeling people. Lean into that. Question your feelings. “We need more heart people in the world.”

Sabaa Tahir went with the practical: You need to get words on the page, so bribe yourself. She uses chocolate. Even if it’s garbage, put words on the page.

Next, recent Newbery winner Amina Luqman-Dawson spoke. She was a recipient of a writer’s mentorship from We Need Diverse Books. In 2018, the last time Jacqueline Woodson emceed the awards, she was sitting in the auditorium, clutching her manuscript that later won the Newbery Medal.

She talked about fighting book banners who claim that young people need to be protected from feeling bad. If that were true, we’d be talking about gun control.

The war on books isn’t about how young people feel. It’s a war to control your minds. It’s about the power of your ideas. The ideas in your minds can and likely will change the world. They worry if you learn, you might stand up for change.

Remember you have power to change the world!

Then it was time to give the trophies, and the winners gave speeches. First up was Angela Joy, who write the words for Choosing Brave.

She was at a writer’s conference feeling like a chocolate chip in a sea of marshmallows and heard about We Need Diverse Books as a call to action.

Lots of people were skeptical of a picture book about Emmett Till’s mother. Lots of Americans don’t want to hear his story at all. But that story is still being played out, and our youth see this. We need to help them process the trauma. Books are tools for conversations.

She wanted their book to be age-appropriate but honest, factual but inspiring. Once they landed on the theme of bravery, they had the handle for that balance.

Mamie’s life inspires her, and she’s trying to spread that with Choosing Brave.

Future leaders of tomorrow’s hate groups are being indoctrinated as babes in arms. We should be just as intentional about teaching our kids.

Then she sang a wonderful and beautiful song, “You’ve got to be carefully taught to hate.”

Let us also teach with intention.

Then illustrator Janelle Washington spoke. She talked about all the books she loved as a kid. Books are her forever friends and wise teachers.

Our connections with each other give us the strength to be brave in the face of everyday diversity.

Then it was time for the Teen category winners. Andrea Rogers, author of winner Man Made Monsters spoke and introduced herself in Cherokee.

She got serious about writing when her kids were faced with the same lack of stories about Indians as she had seen. Many times, other kids told her kids that they couldn’t be Indian, because all the Indians are dead.

For her, reading is a way of escape, but writing is a way to say, “We are here!” “I write, therefore I am.”

Her tribe’s story doesn’t end with the Trail of Tears.

How do you thank people for finally seeing you?

Everything in life is made up. Help children make up a better future.

Boundaries Be Gone! Using Stories to Intersect and Connect – ALA Annual Conference Day Four

On Monday, June 27, 2022, the fourth day of ALA Annual Conference, I stumbled a little late into a program called “Boundaries Be Gone! Using Stories to Intersect and Connect.” I missed the first speaker, Dr. Cora Dunkley, but have some great notes from those who followed:

The first speaker I got to listen to was Michaela Goade, the Caldecott-winning illustrator of We Are Water Protectors.

She is indigenous and grew up in Juneau and Sitka.

She wants kids to feel seen and powerful. Indigenous roots are a superpower.

She grew up with shame. Storytelling is so important, and the books she had weren’t written by indigenous people. But the native kid lit community is growing! There are more tribe-specific books. We’re all working together toward greater awareness.

These different communities have their own unique histories and traditions. They’re trying to communicate the breadth. There’s no one way to be indigenous.

She’s part of an organization making Native books for Native peoples. Working with authors from different indigenous communities. They use the author as the anchor. They focus on emotion and universal calls to action.

Unfortunately, We Are Water Protectors will always be relevant.

We need non-indigenous folks to see and love on these books.

The next speaker was author David Bowles.

There’s a liminal space in borders. He grew up in a transnational place. Borders can be porous but important. You see yourself as someone defined by the boundary. Inside of you is this liminal space, a convergence of heritages.

Growing up bilingual emphasizes linguistic duality.

He’s from a family of storytellers. His grandmother was a cuentista who refueled the stories.

His mother took him to the library every day in Kindergarten and he saw that the language in books was different. He knew he wanted to do something with story. He’s both a cuentista and a writer.

Even growing up on the border, the books had nothing about Mexican heritage. He felt a calling and needed to be a teacher first, paying a debt to the community.

The system kept people in their place. He needed to breach the boundary between teacher and student. He didn’t want to be above them talking down to them.

How do our boundaries intersect? Boundaries are important, but not impermeable.

He began a journey digging into his roots, de-centering the European part.

Cross over boundaries in yourself and reach out in solidarity to others.

A central thread in his work is rooted in the experience of living on the border. He wants these books to broadcast to others that these stories matter and are beautiful. There’s so much overlap in humanity.

Banning books tries to make permeable boundaries into concrete walls. If you control what kids are exposed to, it’s easier to try to make everyone the same.

After the speakers were questions and answers. My favorite comment from that was when Michaela Goade said that being the first (Indigenous Caldecott Winner) feels great but not great. The tricky part is that then you’re expected to be an ambassador.

I went to a couple more sessions, including the Stonewall Awards celebration, wrapping up a wonderful time at ALA Annual Conference, in person again.

In Conversation: Yuyi Morales and Donna Barba Higuera – ALA Annual Conference Day Four

Monday morning, June 27, 2022, I drove into DC for the fourth day of ALA Annual Conference. I began the day in the exhibits and got books signed by, among others, Travis Jonker and Varian Johnson. Here’s how my piles looked after the fourth day!

Then I went to a panel discussion with Yuyi Morales, whose book Dreamers (my personal favorite picture book from my Newbery year) was an important part of the story in this year’s Newbery-winning title, The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera.

Shelly Diaz, the reviews editor of School Library Journal, was the moderator, so the first question she asked Donna was “When did you read Dreamers and what did you think?

DBH: In an earlier version, the book the little brother treasured was Frederick, but then she read Dreamers, and it changed everything. It’s about collecting vision and hope.

YM: She was very moved when she read The Last Cuentista. It made her cry. A connection she never would have dreamed of. The story felt as real as when other children see themselves in Dreamers. Seeing the book carried by Petra and Javier — told her she’s done her work.

SLJ: Who was a librarian who affected you?

DBH: Mrs. Hughes at a small rural library. She’d have books set aside for her to read. She knew what she liked and the worlds she was living in.

YM: Nancy, a children’s librarian, welcomed her. She didn’t understand either the language or the dynamics of the library, but Nancy and the other librarians created a space where she felt safe.

SLJ: What can we do?

DBH: Keep putting books in the hands of children. It’s a lot of pressure and easy for the public to say. Kids will find a way to get these books. Librarians are really doing a lot already.

YM: In Mexico, books aren’t used so much for education. We’re going to have to fight like warriors. Books still need to be created. We need to have and protect those books and get them in the hands of children. They should be everywhere.

DBH: It can’t just be librarians. Ask. There will be parents and teachers who support freedom to read.

SLJ: Has anyone seen something in your story that surprised you?

YM: All the time. The San Francisco main library filled her with wonder. She did a reading there and it felt like coming back home. A homeless woman said, “This is me and my child.” It’s written to give everyone the value of their stories.

DBH: She’s surprised by kids who know the folklore and mythology. As a kid, she’d thought they were something her grandma made up. She didn’t expect recognition from children — a satisfying surprise.

SLJ: Both books have focus on folklore and mythology.

DBH: She did lots of research. Oral tradition is one version. El Canejo in the moon is a story lots of kids haven’t heard — but she heard it as a child.

YM: Her favorite thing was that Petra made the stories her own — just like children in classrooms. Kids take from stories what they need, not what she intended.

She also does research. In Dreamers, she put in butterflies and other animals that migrate. Snakes make us fearful – but we’re about to learn something important. It has vital energy.

SLJ: What are you working on now?

DBH: Picture book about her own journey, and El Cuycuy story. Another sci-fi novel with lots of moving parts.

YM: The more books she makes, the longer they take. She has a very different process now, related to her own growth.

“Our biggest rebellion is to be happy.”

And happiness is connected to the well-being of everyone.