Matthew Cordell – ALA Virtual Conference Featured Speaker

The last session I attended today at ALA Virtual Conference was author Matthew Cordell talking about writing his first picture book biography, Hello, Neighbor about Fred Rogers.

I have the book sitting in my house ready to review (positively), and it was fun to get a peek behind the scenes.

He played the opening song for us, and we were all transported back to our childhoods.

He talked about the things he loved about the show as a child: Special guests, how people make things, Trolley, the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

In 2008, he became a father. When his daughter watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he noticed new things to love about it: Calm, quiet moments, crafts, feeding fish, showing warmth and wonder, music everywhere, appreciating the arts, love and admiration for children, and inclusion and diversity.

When he did a little research, he found out that was Fred Rogers’ true personality showing on his show and he wanted to write and illustrate a picture book biography about him.

It was his first nonfiction book, so he “looked for the helpers” to make it happen.

Through all of this, it was fun to see slides of his drawings and pictures of his research trips to Pittsburgh where he saw some things actually used on the show.

Figures like Fred can bring peace in these times.

Look out for each other!

ALA Virtual Conference – Serving the Transgender Community – It’s More than Just Bathrooms

I attended a panel presentation at ALA Virtual Conference 2020 about libraries serving the transgender community. Here are some of the ideas I took away from the session:

How can we make libraries a more welcoming place for LGBTQ people?

Use gender neutral terms.
Wear a pin with your own pronouns. (Little things like that show you are approachable.)
Don’t ask invasive questions.
Be intentional about being welcoming.
Actively build connections with local organizations such as PFLAG, Pride, and more. They can help you bring in speakers, and then they will see the library as a resource.
Don’t silence trans stories.
Put Trans stories on book displays. Let people know they are there and available.
Go over institutional policies that are obstacles. Getting a library card — is it easy to change your name and gender? Are your only options for gender binary?
Do your own research — you don’t have to make the LGBTQ people you know educate you.
We hope the bathroom is a given at this point. It’s a basic starting point and a human right.
Those local organizations that you’ve gotten to know — have them come in and tell you if there are changes you should make.
Make resources more available — such as name change and gender change resources.
Have programs all year round, not only in June.
In an effort to present both sides, don’t give a place to denying trans people’s existence.
Find even small things to show the library is a safe place.

ALA Virtual Conference – Featured Speaker Sophia Thakur

Listening to Sophia Thakur speak for ALA’s Virtual Conference was an inspirational event for me, despite the woodchipper running outside my window here at home.

Sophia Thakur is a performance poet from the United Kingdom. She’s got a lovely voice and a beautiful accent, and much of this session was her performing her poetry, some even with musical accompaniment.

But she was especially inspiring for this youth services librarian listener as she talked about giving young people a voice through writing and reflecting the experiences of young people. The whole talk was poetic and lovely. I’ll list some beautiful quotes I was able to jot down:

Libraries are sacred places. After fasting, it’s a full plate.
They are tools for escape.
They remind us the world is bigger than our own.
The escape she found at the library enriched her reality.
Books deposit the option to re-exist.
Libraries are big maternity wards.
She holds mirrors up for people with her poetry.
Quotes are like holding hands to keep us together.
Poetry in school is taught as a science, but poetry is in everything.
Writing is easy. Living is the hard part.
She wants you to read her poems and see yourself.
Literacy is this profound tool to explore ourselves.

ALA Virtual Conference 2020 – Opening Session

The featured speaker for ALA Virtual Conference’s Opening Session was Misty Copeland, who was the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

She was talking about her new book, Bunheads, about her own experience starting in ballet at the “late age” of 13. The ballet studio where she began was a “little group of misfits” — not people of privilege, and not necessarily like people you usually see on the stage. She wants children to see that diversity and that everyone can be involved in ballet.

When she was a child, she was extremely introverted and didn’t really speak. Writing was how she expressed herself before movement came into her life. Speaking in front of people was a bigger transition than writing, but she does appreciate having a platform.

As an introverted child, she spent much time in the library, and it was a safe haven in every way.

The book introduces many diverse characters including a boy. She wants to give the message that dancers are athletic and powerful. There’s so much power in the images we see and power in representation.

She wants to bring ballet to a wider variety of people.

ALA Virtual Conference 2020 – Tracie Hall

ALA Virtual Conference kicked off today with an inspirational talk from Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of ALA, talking before the featured speaker Misty Copeland. As usual at ALA conferences, both speakers got me excited and energized about being a librarian.

I can’t give you pictures of being there among hundreds of other librarians, of people waiting to be let into the Exhibit Hall. Me at my computer isn’t a terribly inspiring image. But I can tell you some highlights from their talks, beginning with Tracy Hall.

Right from the outset, she encouraged us as librarians to let our legacy be Justice.

Libraries play a pivotal role in bringing justice. She came to libraries after working in a homeless shelter. When she would bring folks from the shelter to the library, they would say, “I can’t believe this is free!” The right and access to resources leads to enfranchisement.

She wants ALA to focus on three goals and priorities:

1) Universal Broadband

Libraries have been wonderful in promoting literacy. Now we need to promote access.

2) Diversification of the Library Field

The communities we serve are diverse, so we who serve them need to be diverse as well. Having a mainly white profession limits our reach and credibility.

3) Deepen Investment in Libraries

We need to increase funding at the local and federal levels and from public and private sources. Libraries are first-stop community resources, but our funding doesn’t reflect that priority. We need to highlight the unparalleled work we do.

Embedded in these three calls is the overarching call for Justice.

ALA Virtual Conference Obstacles

I’m attending ALA Virtual Annual Conference and agreed to liveblog the conference for ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children), to make sure that I pay attention and take notes!

I have to say that I wasn’t planning to go to the physical conference, so I hadn’t been paying much attention to virtual conference plans. Then last week I opened an email at 12:45 that said registration for the virtual conference closed at noon Central time – 15 minutes after I started reading the email. But it also said that the registration fee was drastically reduced for ALA members thanks to generous donations from sponsors. (Plus no hotel or flights!) I didn’t have time to think about it – I registered right away!

But today there have been a couple of bumps in the road. I looked at the schedule and saw the opening session was at 10:00. So I made sure I could get into the livestream about 15 minutes early. Oddly, a countdown clock said it was 45 minutes before it would start. I saw something on a different page about technical difficulties, so I thought that was it. I worked on something mindless on my computer so I could jump to the opening session whenever it did begin. I think it was about an hour later that I looked back at the schedule and saw all the times were Central Time. Oops! Oh well — now I know for the rest of the conference.

When the opening session started then it was the perils of working from home — a grounds crew that must have been hired by my condo’s management company began pruning branches off trees right outside my window and running a woodchipper. Seriously. For hours. If you’ve never been right next to a woodchipper, it turns out they are exceedingly loud. My windows are usually pretty good about cutting down on noise outside. But this is extreme.

Anyway, I’m glad I have something positive to listen to, to try not to think about this roaring in my ears! And I don’t have to figure out how to mail books back! Posts about today’s sessions to follow.

2019 ALA Annual Conference Summary Post

Here’s a post to consolidate all the links to my 2019 ALA Annual Conference in one place.

First, here’s a picture of all the goodies I picked up at the conference this year. It’s actually less than usual because I didn’t go to the exhibits at all on Sunday.

The conference began with an ALSC preconference on Friday featuring the Honor Winners of various awards.

Friday night, I got to hear Jason Reynolds speak and have dinner with the Newbery Honor Winners.

Saturday began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast where I received the Allie Beth Martin Award and Ann Patchett spoke.

The middle of the day Saturday featured the Margaret Edwards Lunch with M. T. Anderson and the auditorium speaker series with Eric Klinenberg and Carla Hayden.

Saturday evening was an amazing dinner with the Newbery committee and winner Meg Medina.

Sunday was the grand and wonderful Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet!

Monday began by hearing George Takei speak.

The next speaker I heard was Tomi Adeyemi.

And I finished off the conference with the Printz Awards.

This also wasn’t nearly as many sessions as I usually attend at a conference, but this one was given over to celebration.

Here’s a pile of just the things I got signed over the conference:

Conference Corner: Printz Awards

The final event I attended at ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC was the presentation of the Michael Printz Awards. These are the top young adult books of the year. The only one I read in my Newbery reading was the winner, Poet X. I hope to fix that situation soon!

For the Printz Awards, even the Honor winners give speeches. First up was Elana K. Arnold, who wrote the book Damsel.

Her book was an exploration of embodied female rage.

It’s an original fairy tale. The prince must rescue a damsel and kill a dragon.

Damsel is a book about how patriarchy hurts everyone.

All of her books end with a girl stepping alone, head high, into her future.

It’s a book about boundaries.

As children, we operate inside borders. The teen years are when we notice the walls. Do we keep them or tear them down?

Examining real world problems through a fantasy lens.

She’s pushing down walls along with other writers.

Next up was Deb Caletti, Honor winner for A Heart in a Body in the World.

This book is about a marathoner who runs across the country after a horrible crime against her.

The author just made the same journey by plane, Seattle to DC.

She didn’t know all the places, but she knew her character’s heart.

She was a kid who needed books. They told her, “I see you. I understand you. Keep going.”

Then she repeated her childhood and chose a sometimes scary partner.

After some time, she went from voiceless to having a voice.

Then she read in the news about a kid who committed violence against his “dream girl” who broke up with him.

She wanted to tell what she knows about the story, about the slow progression of guilt and fear.

Misogyny sneaks in, barges in, rages in.

It’s confusing — we’re told we’re responsible.

Are we powerful? We can make men do awful stuff! Or are we powerless?

She’s heartbroken that the book is called timely. It’s been timely for way, way too long.

She still believes in the power of one voice and in the voice of her readers.

Then came Mary McCoy, who won Honor for I, Claudia.

She works at Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a book about politics and power.

This is about a girl who leaves her quiet life and grabs power.

Nixon’s people ratfucked their opponents. But fifteen years earlier, they’d done the same thing as students at USC. Corrupt politicians practice.

When she first wrote the book, she thought it was a tragedy that Claudia went into politics.

After 2016, she’s not sure anyone has the luxury of staying out of politics.

She would vote for Claudia — because she’s there to make a difference.

As people who work in libraries, we give a lot of fucks.

We know something about being a force for good in the universe.

And the final speaker was Elizabeth Acevedo, who won the Michael L. Printz Award for Poet X.

She’s talking about inscriptions.

When she was in high school, a teacher put Heaven, by Angela Johnson, into her hands. It was the first time she read about a teen father in a book. She had questions, and her teacher told her to write to Angela Johnson.

She didn’t answer, but then a book about that teen father was published — The First Part Last. It was inscribed to Elizabeth Acevedo and the students at her school. It was the first time she saw her name in print. That book won the Printz Award.

Later, as a teacher, she just tried to get the kids to love reading.

A kid asked her, “Where are the books about us?” She pulled authors who write about people of color. They read those and kept asking, “What’s next?”

That’s why she wrote Poet X.

She wasn’t going to make accommodations.

That’s why the inscription — to that student. This girl gets to see her name in print.

She’s thankful the family she married into supported her going to grad school in creative writing.

Her book ends: “Isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”

She hopes young people will allow themselves to be opened up.

Her role as a writer is to empower other people to write.

We’re here and deserve to be here.

We are still here and we can still heal.

Conference Corner: Tomi Adeyemi

On my final day of ALA Annual Conference in DC, I spent far too much time in line to get to meet George Takei and get a signed excerpt from his book. After that, I roamed the exhibits. I did manage to get some free copies of two of Meg Medina’s backlist titles as well as some other goodies and then had lunch. By that time the afternoon was getting on, and I went to the Auditorium Speaker Series to hear Tomi Adeyemi speak. She is the author of a bestselling Western African Fantasy series.

The moderator was Dr. Rose Brock.

RB: Why did you choose a fantasy setting?

TA: A story embedded in my DNA is Avatar: The Last Airbender. She wanted such a fully formed world. Before this story, she hadn’t realized there could be black gods and goddesses — not even in her own imagination.

She was in a Brazilian gift shop and saw art of gods and goddesses with black people in them.

From two paintings with black people in them, The Children of Blood and Bone was born. It shows the importance of representation. This is what can happen when you see a little bit of yourself.

The story was also influenced by The Hunger Games and the ugly backlash online that happened when good characters were black. It was also the year Trayvon Martin was shot.

She realized that it’s real and it’s deep. An unraveling started.

It got her feeling hopeless. Why dream? Why work hard? Why achieve anything?

At first, she thought her story would take something like the form of The Hate U Give.

When she made her plan, she discovered her Police Brutality story and her West African Fantasy were the same story.

She reclaimed common tropes from fantasy.

Every obstacle in the book is based on real things black people have gone through.

We all have prejudice on all sides. Zalie gets to hit people and express anger the author feels!

A fantasy world simplifies things. Fewer people have objections.

We experience it as a human empathizing with another human.

People in pain lash out. Hurdles on both sides, even where there are good intentions.

She didn’t admit to herself that she wanted to be a writer. She started a blog because she heard it helps you to get published — and it was very satisfying and could be finished.

Writers don’t want to say they’re writers.

Her first draft is literally a deformed potato. And she says that to demystify the process. Stories come together in revision — that’s important to know.

Hey, it’s all going to be bad for several drafts. It’s all failure.

Book Two is still in “failure mode.”

Before this, even the stories she wrote for herself were white people. She brought childhood stories where the characters were named Tomi — and they were white. She didn’t think she could write about black people.

Not only do I need to learn to love me, the world needs to learn to love me.

All it takes is seeing people to humanize them.

The hardest part of the book to write was the Author’s Note. Then she couldn’t hide behind fantasy.

RB: How do you take care of yourself?

TA: Terribly with the first one!

She did realize she’d have to change. She’s become a workout nut to get the book out of her head. She’s learned to say Yes to things.

Her allegiance is always to the story and the reader.

It has to be a powerful story first.

“The only thing more American than racism is capitalism.”

She’s trying to write good stories with things that haven’t been seen before. Five years earlier, she might have been told to make her characters white.

Racism isn’t over. We need to keep working. It’s a system and one title doesn’t fix it.

The only other book she knows of with a black face in detail on the cover is Michelle Obama’s book.

Her second book is a bigger adventure — but gets to be a step away from pain.

Question from the audience: How do you put your voice out there?

TA: I pump myself up. But being apologetic is inefficient. Only you are fully you and that’s what resonates.

Pump yourself up. Then do what you need to do.

Conference Corner: George Takei

On the final day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 in DC, I made sure to get there by 10:30 to hear George Takei speak.

This program was telling about his upcoming graphic novel memoir, They Called Us Enemy. These are my notes on his talk.

George’s family was interned during World War II. When he was five years old, he was classified as an enemy and a threat by his own country.

When Pearl Harbor happened, young Japanese-Americans rushed to recruitment centers but were denied military service and were irrationally called enemy aliens.

It was completely irrational. They were born here.

Next, there was a curfew. Japanese-Americans must be inside from 8 pm to 6 am.

Then bank accounts were frozen.

On February 19, 1942, FDR signed executive order 9066. All Japanese Americans were rounded up and imprisoned in ten barbed-wire prison camps in some of the most desolate places in America.

George still remembers that morning.

Armed soldiers pounded on the front door. They were ordered to leave at gunpoint.

They were taken from Los Angeles to a camp in the swamps of Arkansas.

He remembers the spotlights that would shine on him at night. He thought it was nice that they lit the way for him to pee at the latrines at night.

He was five years old, so he didn’t know any better. It all became routine.

There was a barbed wire fence and a sentry tower outside the school where they recited “liberty and justice for all.”

In his upcoming graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, he tells this childhood story.

It also focuses on what his parents were going through — so much harder for them.

This is an American story.

The imprisonment was ordered by the president of the United States.

George became curious as a teen — but the books were silent about his childhood experiences. He learned about it through long and heated discussions with his father.

His father told him that our democracy is a people’s democracy. People have the capacity to do amazing things, but people are fallible and sometimes make horrible mistakes.

That conversation drove him to the Adlai Stevenson campaign headquarters to volunteer.

For democracy to work, people need to act.

There are many similar chapters in American history to this one he tells.

He tells the story because of hope.

We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants saw the Statue of Liberty — and it underscored their hope.

His grandparents turned what was considered wasteland into rich farmland. His other grandparents built a newspaper.

When they came back to LA, they felt like immigrants again.

But hope makes our people’s democracy better.

Then George introduced the people who helped make the graphic memoir happen: Harmony Becker, Steven Scott, and Justin Eisinger. They continued the talk as a discussion.

HB: She’s half Japanese. She learned in libraries about Americans of Japanese descent being interred. It was jarring to realize as an adult that not everyone knew about that.

SS: Met George working on Archie comics.

JE: This book exists to pass this information on to another generation.

GT: He hopes librarians will convey the story to as many people as possible. Harmony did a great job capturing his parents’ love for each other.

His mother actually smuggled into the camp her favorite portable sewing machine.

Harmony nailed it through the eyes of children.

JE: It’s a history book. It’s George’s story, but also how it happened in history.

GT: His mission in life is to tell everyone: We all need to participate and make our democracy a truer democracy.

We’re a majority who uphold these values. It’s shameful that less than half the population vote.

He hopes the next generation will be better Americans, and the Parkland students give him hope. Young people will encourage more young people.

The story is continuing on the southern border.

We find many enemies through our history. Our country’s diversity is our strength.

An acronym from the starship Enterprise: IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. On the ship they represented Asia, Africa, America, and Aliens.

They had to update the book after the Muslim ban and detention at the border.

SS: They could not have predicted how relevant the book would be.

GT: A lot of the text is from his book To the Stars. It’s unsettling to know that American citizens can be deprived of their citizenship during wartime.

Many younger Japanese Americans don’t even know about this because the older ones were too ashamed to talk about it. Many don’t even know in which camp their parents or grandparents were detained.

I got in line while he was still taking questions.

The line was very, very long. It turned out, they were giving out a very short excerpt, but I didn’t find that out until I was almost to the front.

I met Brad Takei, too! (Or at least I was this close to him.)

The other creators of the new book signed as well.

I thanked George and said how sorry I am that the book is so timely. That did get me eye contact! I’m looking forward to telling kids in the library about this book. The excerpt is amazing!