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.

The Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet 2022

The highlight of ALA Annual Conference is always the banquet where they award the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. The last time I attended, I was at a publishers’ table with other Newbery committee members and winners, so there’s just such a warm place in my heart for this event. This time I got to sit with my former boss, Laura — who one week earlier was my current boss!

I put my camera in the wrong pouch of my bag before I changed clothes and thought I’d lost it — so I didn’t take as many pictures as usual and only used my phone. But I did take notes on the winners’ speeches. And I’ll sum them up here.

Jason Chin, winner of the Caldecott Medal for his illustration of Watercress, by Andrea Wang

As a kid, he drew dragons and castles and would leave the real world behind.

In second grade, he moved to a small town in New Hampshire. And at school there, he met Trina Schart Hyman — she’d recently won the Caldecott Medal for St. George and the Dragon. It was an endorsement of the value of art, and drawing dragons.

In high school, he showed his artwork to Trina Schart Hyman, and she invited him to her house. He ended up visiting her many times and was his mentor and role model. She lived in her stories. Her deep empathy gave her art emotional honesty.

To make great art, pour yourself into it.

In making Watercress, meeting Andrea was the first step in the process.

He had to answer questions: What does corn look like? A 1957 Pontiac? He remembered times of being ashamed. He first tried making the illustrations in pastel, but he returned to watercolor, which has echoes of Chinese art. It was a symbolic merging of two cultures.

The words bring the art to life. “Be happy with what you have. Be proud of who you are.” It’s also a story of a mother dealing with grief. When she shares her story, she begins to heal.

It’s an American story.

To believe there’s one correct American story is behind book banning.

Book banning says kids should be ashamed of who they are.

Without empathy, resentment grows.

We need books that reflect the whole American story.

Donna Barba Higuera, Newbery Medal Winner for The Last Cuentista

She thought it could never happen to a kid like her.

“If you’re worried about putting your foot in your mouth, wear really big shoes.”

She grew up as a bold-faced liar, and couldn’t stop. Her first lie at 8 years old was that aliens landed in her yard. The adults didn’t stop her. They asked, Then what happened?

Her grandmother told stories, as did her aunt and her mother, and Esther Grigsby, the woman in her 80s who lived next door, and her father, who told her Al Capone was his great-uncle.

She loved books, beginning with Richard Scarry and Frederick and continuing to stories of Meg Murray and other science fiction, all told by cuentistas.

If all the cuentistas are going to hell for lying, we can sit around a fire pit and tell stories.

Her book is about love of family, dangers of conformity, and the power of story.

The elephant in the room is that erasure of stories is what she fears most.

Stories and memories are what she’d take from earth if she had to leave.

Erasure and banning stories is a pattern that repeats, and it’s based in fear.

We have to say out loud the parts that hurt the most.

It does take courage to put stories in the hands of children.

Grace Lin, Children’s Literature Legacy Award Winner

Let’s suck up each other’s book love!

She had a bad case of imposter syndrome winning this award. Imposter syndrome is like bugs that swarm late at night and are impossible to get rid of.

It’s hard when your life’s work is disparaged. “When are you going to write a real book?”

These bugs leave eggs.

The danger of diminishment is we start to believe it. If our work is not important, we are not important.

We are working to create a better humanity. We are showing what our culture wants to pass down. What we create is important.

Asian Americans have paid a deep price for otherness. Her books show how human we all are. None of us need to prove we are good enough to exist.

“No matter what, we’re going to keep working hard to do good things.”

We’re replacing outdated books with books that reflect our world today.

You are the essential workers of the spirit.

The worse bugs are those ideas. Put the ideas in the light for all the world to see.

We have changed the landscape of this world.

If others see us only as bugs, let’s show them we are fireflies! Humanity can also be beautiful.

[During the speech, Grace gave us drawing breaks, giving us step-by-step instructions. At the end of the talk, it turned out that we had all drawn fireflies!]

It was all a wonderful evening!

ALSC Collection Management Discussion Group and Library Family Feud! – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

Continuing my highlights from ALA Annual Conference 2022, on Sunday June 26, after the YA Author Coffee Klatch, I attended a Collection Management Discussion Group sponsored by the Association for Library Services to Children. I was especially excited about this session, because exactly five days before, I’d started my new job as Youth Materials Selector for my library system.

Though this was a lot of detailed and specific discussions, and I still didn’t really know what I didn’t know. But it was good to meet the group and I got my name on an email list.

Among other things, we discussed book challenges. Some libraries had dealt with “1st Amendment Auditors.” Their PR department made a good list of talking points. You have to be careful in email — “You end up with pen pals.” Talk about other options and know what you have on the shelves.

We discussed that children’s nonfiction collections didn’t go out as much during the pandemic. Some libraries were building “curriculum kits” for home schoolers, working with local schools. Some of the nonfiction collection is switching to ebooks.

I did learn that for those who had tried it, a “Lucky Day” collection didn’t work as well with children’s books. Mainly, children’s book usage doesn’t fall off as much as adults do — children don’t care as much if it’s new, because it’s new to them. One person said their library did 5 or 6 “Lucky Day” books for children per month. (These are always available.) After 6 months, if each copy hasn’t gone out in the last two months, that title is weeded from the Lucky Day collection.

There’s been some plateauing of ebooks, but we’ll see what the summer holds. The pandemic has changed a lot of patterns. Everybody’s buying fewer CDs — mostly just children’s and not young adult.

After that meeting was Library Family Feud!

I got to be on a team of Librarians to compete against a team of Authors to win real money for book-related charities! Here’s the Author team:

It was a whole lot of fun. I knew two of my teammates from Capitol Choices (a DC-area group of librarians that makes a list of 100 notable children’s and YA books each year). Hundreds of librarians were surveyed to get the answers, so we may have had an advantage, though in the past the authors usually won.

I’m most proud of my answer when the topic was “Famous Poets” and I thought of “Amanda Gorman” to steal it from the Authors.

And — we won! Here’s the winning team of Librarians!

We got books signed by the authors when we finished.

After that, I went back to the exhibits, where I got more books signed and attended a Book Buzz Fall Preview for Levine Querido Books, Chronical Books, and Candlewick Press. They made me want to get all the books!

Then it was time to change for the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

YA Author Coffee Klatch – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

My third day of ALA Annual Conference, on June 26, 2022, began at 9 AM with the YA Author Coffee Klatch.

Most years, the authors who participate in this event were all award winners, but this time there were some debut authors in the mix. We got about five minutes with each author before they moved to the next table, so not much time to interact, but it was fun to hear personally about their books.

At first I was shy, but after the first few, I took pictures, so I’d remember them and their books.

Here are the authors I met:

Lisa Fipps, author of Starfish. Book Two is coming!

Vincent Tirado, author of Burn Down, Rise Up. The characters go back in time to the Bronx in the 70s.

Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper’s Daughter. Book Two is also coming for her! It will be same setting, different characters.

Kyle Lukoff, author of Different Kinds of Fruit.

Gail Jarrow, author of American Murderer. She gave us gummy worms as swag for a book about a worm parasite!

Anath Hirsh, author of Pixels of You, soft sci-fi graphic novel about artificial intelligence and presenting as human.

Laekan Zea Kemp, author of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, Heartbreak Symphony (2022), and An Appetite for Miracles (2023). The first one was about food, the new one is about music overcoming grief, and the next is about food and music and dementia.

Tim Grove, author of nonfiction The First Flight Around the World, and a new book, The World Turned Upside Down, about Yorktown, including a story about Lafayette’s spy.

Diana Peterfreund, author of the Clue trilogy. It’s great for doing library programming around. Send her pictures if you do a themed game night!

Judy Lin, author of A Magic Steeped in Poison and Venom Dark and Sweet (coming August 2022). It’s Taiwanese-Chinese-inspired fantasy about a magical tea competition.

Cory Anderson, author of Morris Finalist What Beauty There Is, crime fiction set in rural Idaho.

Francesca Padila, author of What’s Coming to Me, a debut novel, a mystery about a girl on her own in rural Long Island who discovers her boss is laundering money. (Oops! Missed her picture!)

Darcie Little Badger, author of two of my recent favorites, Elatsoe and A Snake Falls to Earth. They’re inspired by storytelling structures and themes for the Lipan Apache. She has a PhD in Oceanography and wanted to combat a sense of helplessness and environmental anxiety.

Susan Azim Boyer, author of Jasmine Amideh Nees a Win, a funny book about the Iran hostage crisis and an Iranian American student feeling shame around her identity.

Vanessa L. Torres, author of The Turning Pointe (pub 2/22/22), about a Latinx ballet dancer in the 80s in Minneapolis. She encounters police brutality and leaves her emotions on the dance floor.

Marsha Argueta Mickelson, author of Pura Belpré Honor book Where I Belong, a contemporary YA novel where politics brings out the story. Her next book is called The Weight of Everything.

Ebony LaBelle, author of Love Radio, a YA romance set in Detroit. A love letter to Detroit and to families. Black joy.

ALA Annual Conference Day Two – Authors for Freedom to Read and Newbery 100 Celebration!

I spent most of the Saturday of ALA Annual Conference in the exhibits, having a wonderful time. I got books signed by Nancy Pearl, Christina Soontornvat, Gail Jarrow, L. M. Elliott, and I’m sure several more people. I went to a lunch hosted by Scholastic Press where they gave us a nice tote bag filled with five books and had the five authors speak — so of course now I very much want to read all five books. They also gave some swag related to the books like these lovely pink glasses!

I picked up lots more free advance reader copies in the exhibits, and had to make a trip to my car in the middle of the day so I could reload. Here’s how my pile looked after Saturday:

As you can see, restraint had gone out the window!

I went to a talk by David Levithan with some teen DC Public Library interns talking about Freedom to Read. Here are some notes from him and the teens he was interviewing:

As of 2020, David Levithan was the 8th most banned author in America. Book bannings feel different now — it’s a national movement to ban books.

Book banning always does more harm than good.

Kids will still find out about the issue. But books give a fuller picture.

Once teens get in the library, there’s always a chance they’ll pick up a book.

How do you ban someone talking about their life story?

Story isn’t a competitive thing. Movies and books don’t compete with each other.

David Levithan taps into the universality of teen experience.

He started in publishing as the editor of the Babysitter’s Club series — and he still edits the Babysitter’s Club series.

Books don’t get banned as much if you actually have to read them to know there’s LGBTQ content. His books, such as Two Boys Kissing, obviously have LGBTQ content.

They’re trying to prey upon parents who are scared, to get people to run away from public education.

Our literature has to be representative. Reading a story with emotions make LGBTQ kids feel they belong. The power of recognition.

There isn’t an ounce of truth in the mud-slinging. He’s not writing to push buttons, but being truthful will push buttons.

His new book, Answers in the Pages, is about book challenges. (I did get a copy signed by him later!)

The authors are in it together. The publishers don’t walk away, they double down.

Now there are more books about LGBTQ Joy, not just trauma.


After that inspiring session, I had more time in the Exhibit Hall. Besides picking up free books, I also talked with some vendor representatives our library purchases from and had the fun of mentioning that I’m the new Youth Materials Selector for my library system.

And the day ended with a celebration of 100 years of the Newbery Medal!

Besides that being very cool all by itself, I was looking for the room along with Megan Whalen Turner, one of my favorite authors, who won Newbery Honor with The Thief in 1997. We helped each other find the room (She found the right hall, and I found the right door) and sat together.

The celebration was fun stuff — a film showing titles, with quotes from authors, a presentation of trivia, and a competition of authors vs. librarians of knowing detailed facts about their award-winning books. I’d read all the books featured, but hardly knew any answers — these were *very* obscure details!

After the formal program, many Newbery authors were doing giveaways and signings. I got an ARC from Meg Medina — along with a hug! She was the winner of the Newbery Medal the year I was on the committee. She has written the third and final book about Merci Suárez, and I was delighted to get a signed copy.

I went home “early” that day (leaving DC around 6 pm), but with a full heart.

PLA Member Welcome Breakfast – ALA Annual Conference Day Two

In this series, I’m hitting the highlights of the 2022 ALA Annual Conference in DC — first time in-person since 2019. And since the 2019 conference was a peak experience for me, and I was given the Allie Beth Martin Award at the Public Library Association Member Breakfast, I thought it would be fun to attend it again. (During the pandemic, the awards are on hiatus, so I didn’t get to cheer someone else getting it.)

The speaker was April Ryan, the first black woman to be a White House correspondent. She’s written The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America and Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House, and has an upcoming book, Black Women Will Save the World. Since childhood, she’s been a benefactor and supporter of the public library system.

She reminded us the story is being written right now. They’ll come to us. Be well-read in the midst of book bans.

This moment is one people will write about, and we’ll have on our shelves. Every avenue of this country, there’s a challenge. We matter in these moments. Information matters. Breaking stereotypes matters.

When no one else will, who will? Shirley Chisholm said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” It’s about owning the table.

When we get there, there’s a thing called imposter syndrome. She’s the longest serving black woman covering the White House. Groups fought for her not to be there.

We still have underserved communities. Reach back and bring them in.

What does the fight look like? It’s not just at the Supreme Court.

All the controversy and consternation is over Truth. Black women are leading. This is a moment to use critical thinking.

There’s a rollback for every advance, and the rollback is here. Where do you stand in this moment?

Truth. Stories. The Written Word. They’re all so crucial in this moment. Books are more important than they’ve ever been.

Who can we trust to give us information today? Each of us plays a part in this system. Fight for those who don’t know what’s going on.

We are the curators of this moment.

ALA Annual Conference Opening and Printz Awards

I like to post highlights from ALA Annual Conference each year that I attend. It’s all so overwhelming when it happens, and writing up notes helps me absorb what I learned and what I experienced. You can follow these posts in the Conference Corner category. It’s already been a couple of weeks since I was finally at an in-person conference again. It was in Washington, D.C., the same as the last time it was in-person. I still don’t feel great about traveling in an airplane, but this meant I could drive in and out of the city each day.

The first day of the conference was Friday, June 24, 2022. I got there early in the afternoon to get my badge, show my vaccination status, and show my doctor’s note to get permission to bring a wheeled bag onto the exhibit floor.

My first activity was a fun excursion — ALSC (the Association for Library Services to Children) was sponsoring members to visit Planet Word — a new museum of the spoken word — a few blocks away from the convention center. Unfortunately, I remembered the time wrong and got there before the main group of people. I had fun exploring the museum — it’s worth a trip — but unfortunately my mind was on the conference so I didn’t linger enough to really do it justice.

I went back to the conference in time for the Opening Session with ALA president Patty Wong interviewing the chairperson of the FCC, Jessica Rosen Worcel. They mainly discussed efforts to get broadband to the underserved, with the help of libraries — and how much difference this makes in people’s lives.

She talked about an “Emergency Connectivity Fund” to use to help schools and libraries give students and patrons internet connectivity, a continuation of the eRate program that began in 1996, “a quiet powerhouse.” They’ve made eRate easier to apply for.

Kids who don’t have connectivity fall behind. And here she mentioned my friend Alma, who works in a rural school library, and the kids need internet access to do their homework.

Kids are affected by the digital divide even more after the pandemic. We can’t stop until every student has access at home.

The FCC has signed a Memo of Understanding with IMLS to work with libraries to connect communities.

After the Opening Session, the Exhibits opened. I showed a lot of restraint and only picked up nine books, some of them signed. I lost that restraint the next day, but it was a good start!

Then I dropped the books in my car and found a hotel bathroom where I could change my clothes to go to the 2022 Michael L. Printz Awards.

I love that at the Printz Awards, the winner and all the honor authors speak, instead of just the winners. Here are some notes from those speeches, with the honor authors first:

Angie Thomas, author of Concrete Rose

First, she broke to us that her book being set in 1998-1999 makes it “Historical.” Back in the day when women had full rights.

Black men didn’t have cell phones with cameras to document police brutality.

Life should be different by now. What are we doing to change things in 2040?

Limited perspectives create limited leaders. We are frontline soldiers in the battle against censorship.

The real Mavericks are invisible until they’re a threat. Acknowledge the roses. Fight for them. Help them grow.

Andrew Carr (editor), reading the speech for Malinda Lo, author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

(He was really cute reading the nice things she said about her editor!)

Book bans have skyrocketed and laws targeting librarians. Those who seek to repress the new reality — they have teamwork. We need teamwork, too.

Librarians curate books about all of us for all of us. We have a team behind us, too.

All the authors are on our team. Our team is bigger than their team.

Our team is better, motivated by truth, curiosity, and compassion.

You are not alone!

Kekla Magoon, author of Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

20 years ago, she thought of the Black Panther party as Black guys with guns — so scary, we didn’t talk about it.

The first thing that caught her attention was when she found out about the free breakfast program. She became eager to learn more. She was angry it had been kept from her.

This was the project of her passion. She spent 10 years on study and travel and gathered nearly 180 photos.

Meanwhile, echoes rang out constantly.

After all that wait, this is the right book at the right time.

The struggle for representation continues. Black history is our history. We need multiple perspectives.

We have to trust our kids to build a better future.

Lisa Fipps, author of Starfish

Librarians have to fight a lot. Thanks for all of it!

It’s unknown how many lives have been saved by school librarians welcoming loners at lunch.

For many children and for her, Starfish is nonfiction and biography.

Children need this book.

Fat children have a right to take up space.

To children: I’m sorry. People hurt you, and then laugh.

Words can hurt, and words can also heal. Words can set us free.

Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper’s Daughter

Her Ojibwe language and culture are still here — because of stories.

We’re honoring stories and storytellers. She really is a Firekeeper’s daughter. Only good thoughts and words are allowed around a ceremonial fire. Stories are good medicine.

She told about the “creative jigsaw puzzle” behind the story that is her book.

She was 18 before she read a book with an indigenous protagonist. It was disappointing, and it was also too late.

Representation in children’s books matters.

She mentioned the “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” we talk about in children’s books and quoted Debbie Reese — “Some of those windows need curtains.”

She writes to preserve her culture and edits to protect it.

There are traumatic events in her book, but it’s not a tragedy.

Stories are good medicine. They are like women: Strong like the tide, with forces too powerful to control.