ALA Midwinter Meeting 2016, Final Day

After the Youth Media Awards on Monday morning, I checked out of my hotel and returned to the convention center for the Morris Awards and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards.

These are always a delight. The Morris Award goes to a debut author, and all the Finalists speak. They are always so thrilled even to be published, to be honored on top of that is wonderfully affirming. And the Nonfiction Awards inevitably have some incredibly intelligent people talking about interesting things.

First up were the Morris Award Finalists.

Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, wasn’t able to be there, so she gave a video speech.

Books are about connections in unlikely places.
She was a library lover and spent her whole childhood living other lives through books.
Her book asks Who are you when nothing in the world is like you believed?
All stories are redemption stories.
We’re forced to confront our shared humanity.

The next speaker was Anna-Maria McLemore, author of The Weight of Feathers.


It was at an ALA conference that she first found her voice about being a queer Latina author.
When she was a teen, she fell in love with a transgender boy.
She was taught to hate who she was. The boy she loved helped her get beyond that.
In her book, when her character sees the boy, she sees her own otherness as well.
Stories make us human to each other.
Each one of us is in 400 stories. (400 was her childhood word for infinity.)
Before librarians put books in her hands about Latina girls, she was disappearing.

Then came Stephanie Oakes, author of The Sacred Lives of Minnow Bly.

(Some authors did not hold still enough while they talked to get their picture!)

Her character Minnow Bly spent her life in a cult. Now she doesn’t have hands, and she’s in Juvie.
She never learned to read in the cult, but in Juvie, a teacher and a librarian teach her to read.
The author became silent after a childhood hurt.
She found reading at 12 years old, when she was handed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
She gathered and hoarded words.
Books put things into words she hadn’t known she believed.
Writing is like screaming at the top of your voice: “I exist! I exist!”
Librarians made a difference in her life.

Leah Thomas, author of Because You’ll Never Meet Me, was next.

There was an unspoken Voldemort rule about her high school librarian. She was “The Mean One.”
Leah found out that “The Mean One” was actually “The Cool One.”
Proximity has no relationship to distance.
Sometimes fiction is the only escape we get.
The power of words is tremendous.
Librarians destroy distance with every interaction.
Words are the death of distance.

Finally, the winner of the 2016 Morris Award, Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda spoke.


She has a three-year-old at home, who thought the sticker on her book would be a train sticker. Not even Thomas the Tank Engine on the cover of her book could top this!
She decided to write when she had a baby and quit her job. Don’t throw away your shot!
She was more honest in this book than ever before — because she didn’t really believe it would get published.
Books saved her as a lonely, wistful teen.
Publishing a book is the fastest way to find your soulmates.
Her book isn’t epic, it’s life-size.
It’s her husband’s grandfather’s senior citizen book club pick.
Who made the rule that every librarian has to be awesome?
They care about connecting readers to books.

Next came the Finalists for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

First up was M. T. Anderson for Symphony for the City of the Dead.


It’s about Shostakovich’s symphony, which was smuggled around the world. By the 1950s, the addressees’ names were removed — a suppression of truth in our society, too.
If Communism has amnesia, Capitalism has ADHD.
Capitalism also hides history, as Communism did.
Nonfiction is about revealing what’s hidden.
No child thinks asking questions is boring.
It takes adults to convince people that learning about this fascinating world is boring.
Librarians take kids to the window and say, “See this reality? It’s yours!”

Margarita Engle spoke next about Enchanted Air, her memoir in verse.


Her book is pure emotion — emotions are facts, too.
This allowed her to communicate directly with readers.
Poetry makes her happy.
Beautiful language was the only way she could handle excruciating memories.
Last year, she dedicated the book to 10 million stateless people. Now there are 50 million.
She felt like an invisible twin was left behind.
This book is for any reader who feels divided, half belonging, half shunned.
The overriding message is hope.

Then Tim Grove spoke about First Flight Around the World.

He works at the National Air and Space Museum. The Chicago is there — one of the first two planes to fly around the world.
The museum’s archives had a handwritten journal of one of the pilots, along with photographs.
They flew over many countries. It was a race! In 1924, there was no guarantee that anyone would make it.
4 planes left, and only 2 returned. But there were no fatalities.
The planes were named New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston.
He used journal excerpts as sidebars.
They tried to get the book printed in China, but China wouldn’t let them print the 1922 map!

Next was Nancy Plain speaking about This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon.


Audubon’s story includes Art, American History, and the Lives and Ways of Animals (3 things she loves very much).
Audubon was an incredible bird artist and water colorist.
He created a magnificent collection of paintings of 400 species of American birds.
His goal was to seek out all the wondrous things hidden since creation.
He was also the founder of modern ornithology and the first to band the legs of birds.
He was an over-the-top guy, stranger than fiction.
He was born in Haiti, raised in France, and saw the French Revolution. He came to America in 1803.
He had a country store on the Kentucky Frontier which went bankrupt, and he was thrown in jail for debt.
That’s when he decided to paint all the birds of America. He set out into the wilderness.
He had trouble finding an American publisher, so he went to Europe. He found a publisher — and fame — there.
He had an important legacy.
He predicted the extinction of the passenger pigeon and the near extinction of buffalo.
Audubon is an inspiration and invitation to protect and preserve our wildlife.

Finally, the 2016 winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction spoke, Steve Sheinkin for Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.

There’s always one thing that grabs him. This time it was a filing cabinet with a dent in it.
The cabinet belonged to a psychiatrist in Los Angeles. Two secret agents from the white house broke into the office to get damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.
This story cooperated.
Daniel Ellsberg started out incredibly not dangerous, a skinny, nerdy kid.
He walked into the Pentagon as a new analyst right before the Gulf of Tonkin.
The author was able to talk with Daniel Ellsberg, he’s still alive.
He saw the government telling lies and was faced with an agonizing decision whether to expose that or not.
Steve Sheinkin uses the library as a second home.
We’re allies! (Writers and librarians) We’re all doing the same thing!


After those inspiring words, we were given a chance to get books signed by the authors. As long as I had four books, I decided to visit the exhibits one last time and get enough to fill a box and ship them all home.


Then my plan was to roam around Boston before my evening flight. Looks like a lovely day, right? It was the first we’d seen of the sun all weekend.


But it turned out to be bitter cold! So I ended up seeing an IMAX film at the Aquarium. And I got to the airport early enough to have a sit-down dinner right by my gate. And I had a lovely flight home, reading.

Within a couple of days, 101 books arrived for me, which happens to be the exact number I sent home from ALA Midwinter Meeting last year!


Total spent on books: $10 for two signed copies of Madame Martine for my nieces.
Postage: I didn’t add up exactly, but it was approximately $100.

55 children’s books
30 teen books
16 Adult books
3 tote bags
1 hungry tomato (Or a very angry Bob the Tomato?)
1 diorama
15 books signed by the author
Oh, and only 1 duplicate — and it’s a children’s book, so will be a prize anyway.

What a lovely conference!

ALA Midwinter Meeting, Day Two

Laurie Halse Anderson

Today was my first full day at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2016 in Boston.

The day began with a meeting called “Leadership in ALSC.” I went to this because I’m chair of the Grants Administration Committee this year. I get to meet people who are active in ALSC — the other committee chairs, priority group consultants, and the ALSC Board. These are people who care about children and libraries — a wonderful group indeed!

Today we talked a lot about the recently revised Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive document — I plan to take a good look at it and show it to my co-workers (those who work with children and those who don’t).

Then I went to the exhibit hall. I caught the end of a talk on “Fantasy in Middle Grade” and got signed books from S. E. Grove, James Riley, and Monica Tesler. Then I grabbed more books — and went to the post office and mailed them home. (They will probably beat me home.)

After lunch was a session sponsored by ALSC on Curiosity and Creating. Here are my notes:

Curiosity Creates: Research and Best Practices

Curiosity sparks learning!
We are wired for curiosity.

Our Mission: To ignite and advance creative thinking for all children.
Presenter works at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, CA.
Have we gone too far scheduling kids’ time? Do schools squelch curiosity?
Center for Childhood Creativity launched
Creativity = Workforce Readiness
What we need children to learn is totally different than what they used to need.
We no longer primarily need people who follow directions.
Agricultural Age > Industrial Age > Information Age >>> Conceptual Age

What you do with what you know is more important than what you happen to be holding in your brain.
We need disruptive thinkers, inventive kids, creative kids.
65% of kids today will be in jobs that don’t yet exist.
What are we doing to prepare kids for their adult lives?
We know it will be important to be lifelong learners.

How to build a generation of innovative creators?
They have built an interdisciplinary team — neuroscientists, psychologists, economists, etc.

Today’s focus: Research & Resources.
“Resources for Promoting Childhood Creativity through Libraries”
Had 150 activities — good examples of something you can do and then screened for libraries.
Top 10 librarian selected activities. Photocopyable handouts.
Download at
Go there and download research for free!
Also you can Join Their List!
Have coming out in the next 2 months two useful resources: Searchable collection of activities and Spanish translation of paper.

Considerations for programming in libraries: Space & volume constraints
Staffing constraints
Budgetary constraints
Unpredictable attendance
Activities should not feel like school.
Need flexible, inclusive activities.

Three Main Ideas:
Emphasize the learning process over the end product.
Shift language to open-ended prompts.
Choose activities for their playfulness and tinkerability.
Does that activity allow the child to choose what to do?
We’re looking for intrinsic motivation.

What is Creativity?
Heritability of creativity: Estimated to be 20-50% inheritability — less connected to genes and more to environment. Impact of the environment is tremendous.

Key Research Questions
1. What skills contribute to children’s creativity?
2. What types of learning environments foster creativity in children?
One of their kids invented a less expensive Braille printer with Lego Mindstorms.

7 Critical Components of Creativity. (155 studies cited from a variety of fields.)
42 specific recommendations.
14 exercises.

We’re wired for curiosity, which is why learning feels so good.
What we know about the brain changes every 6 months! About children, only since the 1990s do we have studies about their brain.
Much more brain engagement with open-ended questions.
Playing is an excellent way to learn.
We’re probably stopping children from playing too early.

Recent studies: Being curious before you have information significantly increases the likelihood you’ll retain that information. Curiosity relief effect.
When you’re curious, there’s arousal in your brain.
Because there’s a link between emotion and memory, satisfied curiosity helps you learn.

We also need to sleep! In your deepest sleep, your brain has the time to encode working memory into long-term memory.

Activity: Ice Exploration. Freeze interesting objects in ice. Have kids decide how to get the objects. (Provide salt, brushes, hot water…)

7 Components:
1) Imagination and Originality
2) Flexibility
A lot of innovations are recombining things.
We see it emerge in children related to language acquisition.
3) Decision Making
4) Communication and Self-Expression
5) Motivation
6) Collaboration
7) Action & Movement

On Imagination & Originality:
Childhood pretend play predicts later creativity.
Synthesizing ideas is a skill that predicts creativity.

Activity: Animal Remix — Imagine about it. (Front of one animal and back of another, then tell about it.)

Powerful Phrases: I wonder… (Showcasing your own curiosity about the world.)
I notice… (Sharing your interest and that you’re observing what they did. Not making a judgment.)
Tell me more… (Be sure to pause and listen after you say this.) (Try this!)
This gives kids the space and permission to elaborate on their ideas and go farther.

Activity: Finish the Drawing
It’s easier to measure convergent thinking than divergent thinking, so we don’t teach as much of that. Be sure in museums and libraries we give them time to play around with divergent thinking.

Key Concept: Design Thinking
Empathize Define Ideate Prototype Test Iterate
Adults listening to kids’ ideas is tremendously important.

Activity: Absolutely Very Worst Possible Idea Ever

Motivators: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic
Cultivate growth mindsets — Read book “Mindset.”
Use the word YET. “I can’t do that yet.”

Collaborative Activity: Build a cardboard maze collaboratively.
One word stories (each person adds one word).

Action & Movement — Physical activity is associated with better focus and ability to learn.
Read paper for even more! Go to their website
@C4Creativity on Twitter!

After this presentation, we saw what people were doing with Curiosity Creates Grants.
There was a new children’s area with a sensory table.
Another library did a Star Wars Reads Day with Creative Exploration (including a martial arts academy teaching light saber training! At another station, kids made their light sabers from wrapping paper rolls.) There was a BB-8 Maze.
Another library made “Toolkits for Emerging Artists and Innovators” — Robotics, fiber arts, engineering and paper crafts, with a different kit available for check-out each month and a launch party each month.
Finally, a library made an Open Art Studio called The Creative Edge. A tech-free zone with clay, paint, collage, oil pastels, and toddler crayons. They nurture creative confidence.
They told about a new Herve Tullet book: Art Workshops for Children


After that session, I went back in the exhibits and met Laurie Halse Anderson (see picture above).

I went to the Random House Book Buzz and of course now want to read *all* their books coming out this Spring. I got some more books from their booth, not being sure I hadn’t already gotten them and shipped them to myself.

And I finished off the day going to hear Lizzie Velasquez give an inspiring message. She has a medical condition that affects her growth and her appearance. When she was 17, she found a YouTube video someone had posted of her as “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” There were thousands of comments, saying horrible things. She read them all, looking for just one comment taking her side, and didn’t find even one.

That devastated her, but I’m going to interject that it’s wonderful that she was able to tell her parents about it. Cyberbullying is incredibly horrible — which I learned at the YALSA Institute in November. But Aija Mayrock was younger when her cyberbullying happened, and she didn’t know how to tell her parents.

Both women, though, have gone on to tell their stories and be proud of who they are and speak up with a strong message against bullying.

Lizzie Velasquez gets great meaning out of sharing her story and helping other people who might be facing hard things.

She wasn’t going to let the bullies define who she was.

Now she’d thank that bully, because that event ultimately helped her find her passion for public speaking and helping others.

ALA Midwinter Meeting Day One

This morning I got up early and my son drove me to the airport — and we survived the experience! (It was his first time driving in months. I have a hard time not exclaiming aloud when in the passenger’s seat. Sometimes, I had to just close my eyes. This was mostly the backing out of the garage part.)

In the plane, I was seated next to another librarian. (Surprise, Surprise!) (We can pick each other out.) We had matching color carry-ons and coats. We were staying at the same hotel, so we navigated the subway together. We live in the same neighborhood, but she’s a cataloger for the Library of Congress. But it was a friendly way to start the conference!

I decided to walk from my hotel to the Convention Center. It’s a mile — if you don’t take a wrong turn. If you take a wrong turn, it turns out that you can see the Convention Center, but it’s hard to actually reach the Convention Center. But I did so eventually. And it was a nice walk. I do like Boston.

I decided to spend the afternoon at the ALSC Notable Books Committee meeting. They were discussing picture books. While I was there, they discussed titles starting with F through M. Since I was just on the Cybils panel for Fiction Picture Books, I especially enjoyed it when committee members shared my enthusiasm for certain titles and my concerns for other titles. I won’t say which!

Then I went to catch the Booklist Author Forum, featuring Ken Burns, Terry Tempest Williams, and Mark Kurlansky. I walked in a little late, so didn’t get the intro, but their conversation was fascinating. The moderator was Donna Seaman.

When I walked in, they were talking about National Parks. Terry Tempest Williams’ new book is about that. Here are my notes:

Ken Burns: National Parks: We don’t have cathedrals, but look what we have.
You feel your atomic insignificance, but you’re made larger by that.
A wonderful thing that the parks do.

Terry: The Hour of Land, out in June.
Writing this book was a transcendent experience.
Not sure they’re our best idea. They’re an evolving idea. There’s a shadow side to our national parks.
Writing this book, she didn’t have anything to hide behind. Her vision has been too small.

Mark Kurlansky: His view of the living world (does both fiction and nonfiction). Much easier to write fiction and nonfiction at the same time than two of the same.
What they have in common is they have to be true.
Where do you get that truth?
In fiction — lots of self-searching and reflection. Often don’t turn out like you thought they would.
In nonfiction, the stories in real life are so great, you could never invent something that great.

Ken Burns is writing a children’s book about Presidents.
When his daughter was 4 or 5, they would lie in bed and go through the sequence of the presidents. Her favorite part was “Grover Cleveland, AGAIN!” Now she’s 33.
A book to teach the sequence of the presidents. “Grover Cleveland, Again!”
Can use it with several age groups.

Talk about bringing humor to complicated subjects:
Mark: Humor is what we live on. Tells his editors: “If it’s funny, I’m not going to cut it!”

Moderator: Terry, you bring beauty and sensuousness to your books. Is that a habit from journal-keeping?
Terry: Beauty is truth, truth is beauty for me. We’re witnessing terrible beauties. Like a swirling rainbow from an oil spill.
How she deals with this is she writes. It’s an act of consequence. Takes hard truths and attempts to recreate them on the page. That’s an act of beauty, of creation.
We are now at the Hour of Land.
Ultimately, the earth will survive us. Wanted the book to be an object of beauty. Photographs, but not feel-good images.

Ken: In Terry’s work, there’s an idea of presence. Youu force me back into this moment, which is a great gift.

Moderator: I think of your work, Ken, as slowing down time.
Ken: In a book, the author has no control over how long you spend with it. He tries to ask for your attention at that moment.
In film you have a little more power to control the moment.
Humor is an important glue in his war films. And helps bridge the gap to different times.
We think because we’re here we know a lot more than folks a hundred years ago.

Moderator: Mark’s forthcoming book is about paper. A uniquely human trait is that people record.
Mark: The history of humans is the story of trying to service this urge to tell stories. Search for more and more efficient ways of writing… and it goes on. We want to tell our stories. We want to pass our experiences on. That will continue as long as we’re around.
Every new idea is confronted with the same objections. Plato said that learning by reading isn’t true knowledge.

Terry: I have a disease with journals. It’s not real unless I hand write it down. Goes through a journal a month. She’s witnessing on the page.
Her journal is her personal library of experience. She feels like she lives twice. Uses them as reference points when she’s writing. Wow. Told about an amazing experience she saw with bison in Yellowstone. Had to get it down in writing right away.
In the act of writing it, it becomes you.

Ken: I write everything out by hand. It doesn’t seem as real without writing it out.
“beautifully pathetic grasp at immortality.” Stories are a way to try to live on.
A seemingly chhaotic world– story puts order into our lives. It keeps us from perceiving our mortality. A wonderful kind of distraction. Writing down things makes sense of it.

Mark: I sometimes think that we talk too much.
With writing, you’re alone with your thoughts and there’s not a lot of talking.
At a Benedictine monastery, the silence keeps the effect of beautiful music.

Moderator: Thinking about distillation. Each of you deal with huge topics. How painful is it to edit it down?

Terry: Out of 400 national parks, focused on 12, and in 30 seconds, each park is its own universse. Was paralyzing. Had to come to grips with her own limitations. The only way to go foorward was to say, “I’m a storyteller.” and approach it that way. You can deal with the world that way.

Ken: It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Exactly like making a film.
Shooting ratio of easily 40 to 1.
Began to understand this is not dissimilar to sculpture. What’s on the floor of the studio is not part 2. It’s the negative space. In order to be a there, there has to be a not-there.
Doesn’t like Director’s Cut or extras on DVDs.

Terry — after she was interviewed by Ken Burns for 4 hours, she cried like never before. It was that outpouring of emotion that made her realize she had to write about it.

Ken: It’s important to be challenged, important to bite off more than you can chew and learn to chew it.

Mark: It’s painful to get research into a manuscript. He blows a conch shell when he’s done with that part.

Ken rings a cowbell. Terry howls.

Mark: Then he cuts it and pares it. It’s his favorite part, doing that paring.

Terry: And then you have to return to your family.

Moderator: Tales from the front?
Mark: I love research, and do it myself. Research is learning. It’s exciting and fun and why I do the kind of books I do.
There’s no substitute for a personal experience. Doing the salt book, he went to the site of Carthage — and understood the Roman empire in a way I never have before.
“You have to go places and see things, and when possible talk to people.”

Ken: All history, all biography is failure. Think of the people closest to you and how inscrutable they remain. But we have to try. You can’t farm out the research.
Terry: when she went to Rwanda, she made a pilgrimage to the Library of Congress and looked at all the maps of Rwanda she could find.
One of most powerful things has been curating the photographs.
Researching the images changed her perception of what a park was.

Moderator: Their energy level went up when they started talking about research!

What sticks in Ken’s mind about the Civil War is that Winchester, VA, changed hands 72 times.

Terry: Those details! Was wondering if there were prairie dogs in Gunnison County — found out in a museum.

Ken: In publishing, we’re results-oriented. Research is about practice. What it’s about, really.
He’s exhilarated that it’s the process.
The second it’s done, it’s yours, not mine. What’s mine is the process.

Mark: I know so much more about writing now. Writing is about the only thing you get better at with age.

Moderator: “Collaboration is the only way forward.” What do you mean by collaboration?
Terry: This converstaion is a collaboration. Books are a collaboration with the reader and those who take your words seriously.
It’s especially important for writers because our tendency is solitude. Seeing the world from all these different angles as we become more and more complex. In that prism we see the beauty of the spectrum.

After the talk, we were given books or parts of books by all three authors and they signed them. With Ken Burns, it was pages from his book Grover Cleveland, Again! With Terry Tempest Williams, it was a nice chapbook with the chapter on Grand Tetons National Park from her upcoming book The Hour of Land. With Mark Kurlansky, it was an Advance Reader Copy of his upcoming book Paper. I definitely want to read all three! (And I got about halfway through the chapbook while standing in line for the other two. This is good writing!)

Then came the exhibits!

You know how medieval soldiers used to go berserk? There is a Book Frenzy which takes hold of a normally mild-mannered librarian on Opening Night of ALA, which I believe is similar.

I tried to thwart it a little bit by not participating in the Running of the Librarians when the ribbon is cut and the exhibits open. Instead I waited in line for the signed books.

However, I did collect 30 more books, 3 tote bags, and a hungry tomato.

And the Post Office on the Exhibit Floor isn’t open on Friday night, so I inevitably spend the rest of the conference figuring out where I will tote all those books to ship them home. There is a UPS store across the street from my hotel….