Conference Corner – KidLitCon 2012

KidLitCon in New York City! At the New York Public Library! KidLitCon is a conference for bloggers who blog about children’s books. I went to KidLitCon09 close to home in DC, to KidLitCon11 in Seattle, and just had to go when it was so close by and free to boot.

I’m way behind on my Conference Corner posts. So, for fear I’ll never get to KidLitCon, I decided to post the same night I got back, when everything’s fresh. Instead of giving you all my notes, I’m just going to give you the high points. Here are the things I took home from KidLitCon12, in chronological order.

1. Publisher Previews are Dangerous.

I only was able to go to one preview, since I flew in to New York at noon, and that was probably a good thing. It was at the offices of HarperCollins going over books they’re publishing soon.

Why are previews dangerous? First, I had packed lightly. They gave us a full bag of advance reader copies, as well as three hardbound published books and a blank book. Did I tell them, no, I couldn’t possibly carry the bag home on the plane or fit it in my suitcase? No, I did not. Did I even tell them my neurologist said, since my vertebral artery dissection, that it’s not a good idea for me to walk around carrying more than 15 pounds? No, I did not.

Now, don’t worry, as I walked 20 blocks up 5th Avenue to our dinner (which I actually enjoyed. Definitely gave me the feel of New York City.), I found a FedEx and stuck the bag on their counter, and had them ship the whole bag home to me. But the other reason the preview was dangerous is after hearing them talk about the upcoming books, I want to read every single book! Was I hurting for ideas of books to read? No, I was not. Did I need to know about more books I’d like to read? No, I did not. Does that make me want to read them any less? No, it does not.

Now, later in the conference, I did end up with two more hardbound and two more paperback books. My suitcase ended up being hard to close, but I managed it. But to show how dangerous I find publisher previews, and how impossible I find it to resist free books — this morning I woke up from a dream where I was in a line to get advance reader copies of some adult books I didn’t even find very interesting, and which I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit in my suitcase, and when I knew it was Sunday and I wouldn’t be able to ship them — but I took them anyway! I was so relieved when I woke up! I had not taken more books than I could carry after all.

Yeah, I have a problem.

2. KidLit Bloggers are My People.

Okay, I knew this already. But it was a lovely to spend a weekend with other people who are a little nuts about children’s books. My resolution: Read more of their blogs! More regularly! These are my people, and it was wonderful to see the ones I already knew and meet some I hadn’t met before.

And I got to be roommates again with Lisa Song, who blogs at Reads for Keeps. She helped me navigate the subways, and having some quieter time with her between busy days was definitely a highlight of the conference.

3. Grace Lin shines with niceness and has a Really Cute Baby.

4. Sushi tastes good.

Who would have thought?

5. You should be creating something you want to share with the world, not something to show how clever or talented you are.

This was from Grace Lin’s talk. Just an inspiring reminder why I blog: To share special books with other people.

6. Although they are My People, not all Children’s Book Lovers are introverts like me. The extroverted ones are really fun to be around, though.

Here’s Pam Coughlan, Mother Reader, “auctioning” off ARCs from the Publisher Previews the day before. (I managed not to take any, I’m proud to say.) That’s Charlotte, middle grade science fiction and fantasy specialist, on the right. (Who is in the middle?)

7. Make your blog easy to share.

Resolution: Add more sharing buttons, besides the Tweet button. Must get around to this….

8. “If you talk like you’re alone in a room, you will be.” — Marsha Lerner

This point brought a small epiphany for me. Since I began Sonderbooks as an e-mail newsletter consisting of book reviews, I think of it as my thoughts I’m sharing with people. I’m talking like I did when I was the instructor lecturing the classroom.

9. Ask questions you want answers to.

All these last three points are from Marsha’s talk. And, mulling them over, I had an idea this morning. I think I am going to start using comments to discuss the books I review with other people who have read them. So I will put Spoilers in the comments. So far, I don’t get a lot of comments on book reviews. I mean, what do you say if you haven’t read the book? You can say, I’m looking forward to reading that. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk about that annoying or brilliant thing at the end of the book and find out what other people think? I could use the comments for deeper discussion.

What do you think? I am honestly curious. Do you think spoilers in the comments is a good idea, if I put lots of warnings? My main blog doesn’t show comments, and on my website, you’d have to click over to the blog to see them, and I’d make sure to put warnings. Do you think it will work?

10. Winnie-the-Pooh!!!!! The Original!!!!

Okay, this was NOT something I took home with me, but this WAS a big huge enormous thrill. I got to see the original animals that Christopher Robin played with! Don’t they look so much like the Ernest Shepard illustrations? Especially Tigger:

And you can clearly see why Piglet is truly a Very Small Animal:

Eeyore actually looks patched, which easily explains the story of him losing his tail. All the animals, including dear Pooh, were clearly much loved.

But wait. You may be asking, like me, “What is that OTHER stuffed animal doing in the case?” That, dear reader, is a Travesty. You see, not only was a sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh and The House of Pooh Corner “authorized,” a new character was created. A stuffed animal of this new character was created, and someone had the Very Bad Idea of putting the new stuffed animal in the case with the original toys with whom Christopher Robin once played. Here is a picture Leaving It Out:

I took these pictures on my lunch break, and was so glad I’d made the pilgrimage. Wow.

11. Keep my inner fangirl in check. Maybe?

There was quite a lot of talk about the relationship between writers and bloggers. Do we get too nice because we don’t want to hurt the authors’ feelings? Is our professionalism hurt when we “know” the writer online or have met them in person?

I began writing Sonderbooks when I was working in a library, but was not yet a librarian. Now I’m a librarian, and I’ve been to the William Morris Seminar, and I closely follow the Heavy Medal blog — and I would so love to be on the Newbery committee some day. If I don’t want my reviews to be merely cheerleading, I should practice thinking critically. Yes, I feel I can continue with my policy of only reviewing books I like, but why do I like them? And, come on, it’s more professional if I try not to Squee too hard when I meet an author. Maybe less pictures with them? (And you’ll notice at least I posted Grace only with her baby.) Hmm. I’ll have to work on this one.

12. If you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation, make sure you are not scheduled after Brian Selznick.

This point is courtesy of Maureen Johnson; it seems very wise.

13. Always feel free to bring a friend.

Maureen roped her friend Robin Wasserman into sharing the keynote, and that added lots of fun to the talk.

14. Keep in mind every day why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Another one from Maureen Johnson.

15. Central Park is lovely.

Who knew?

I had a late afternoon flight, so I went into Central Park, and when I walked a little way in, I heard and saw an actual waterfall. So lovely.

I liked the juxtaposition of the trees with the skyscrapers.

Then later I came upon a large lake. Walking through Central Park was simply a lovely way to spend a couple hours after an inspiring weekend.

How about you, other KidLit Bloggers? What did you take away from KidLitCon?


At KidLitCon in Seattle a couple weekends ago, there was a session on reviewing critically, and lots of discussion about how a critical review is not necessarily a negative review.

But then a statement about reviewing critically on the Cybils site, and a comment about book recommendations vs. critical book reviews in an excellent wrap-up article had me feeling a little bit defensive. I do only review books I like. But I maintain that by no means disqualifies me from calling them “reviews.” Yes, I’m writing recommendations, but I try to tell the reader why I liked the book.

The word that came to mind was “flavor.” I want to give my readers enough information for them to figure out if they will like the book I’m reviewing. I want to give them the flavor of the book, so they know if that’s what they are in the mood for. This is why I so often include quotations from the books I review. Then my readers can “hear” the voice the author is using and see if it appeals to them. I want people to get a feel for the book.

As a librarian, my mantra is “every book for its reader.” I don’t like to write negative reviews, since I don’t want to imply judgment of the person who enjoys that sort of book. Now, I do think that every book I review on my site has some level of excellence. (And believe it or not, despite my volume of reviews, there are some books that I read but don’t review because I don’t really recommend them.) But I want to give you enough information about the book so you can decide if it is right for you at this particular time.

Mind you, judging for an award is quite different. I enjoy the Heavy Medal blog very much, which discusses potential Newbery books, and love debating in the comments the strengths and weaknesses of the books they mention. That’s a different kind of critical thinking. After all, choosing a book for an award requires different information and different discussion than telling a friend this is a good book and I think you might enjoy it; here’s what it’s like.

To me, it’s the difference between telling someone the flavor of a cookie or critically evaluating the skill with which the cookie was made. Both are a lot of fun, and I very much hope I’ll get to be on an award committee some day. But on this blog, I’m trying to let you know all the wonderful flavors that are out there.

KidLitCon 2011

I spent last weekend in Seattle at KidLitCon and had a fabulous time!

KidLitCon is an annual gathering of bloggers who specialize in children’s books. I went when it was in Washington, DC in 09, and loved it. Last year, it was the same weekend as the Horn Book Colloquium at Simmons, and that was closer, so I went to Boston instead, and got to be a fangirl meeting Megan Whalen Turner. But this year, especially when I heard it would be in Seattle, I wanted to go to KidLitCon again.

What did I take away from KidLitCon?

1. Connection!

KidLitCon is the friendliest conference you could ever hope to attend. I figure it’s because almost no one who attends blogs for their job — they do this because they love it. So you’ve automatically got about a hundred people who love what you do. Definitely a bunch of kindred spirits!

This year, there was a special connection for me. You see, seven years ago, I posted a review of The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle. Clare also lived in Germany at the time, and she got in touch with me, and we became friends. Clare was the one who put me in touch with Farida Dowler. Sure enough, our reading tastes made us friends and we became e-mail buddies. Later, when my marriage was falling apart, I needed friends to talk to about it who didn’t know my husband, so I could say all I needed to say without hurting his reputation. Farida provided a kind and helpful ear, and over the years I came to think of her as a dear friend.

So, at KidLitCon, I finally met her!

Here I am with my dear friend Farida, finally meeting in person! (And I was delighted when her round up of the conference also talked about how nice it was to meet!)

Some other lovely connection moments were meeting my roommate, Lisa Song of Reads for Keeps (we’d worked out the arrangements via e-mail, and she ended up being delightful); having a spontaneous dinner with Dorine White of The Write Path; and finishing off the conference with breakfast with Liz Burns, of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, whom I first met at KidLitCon09, and saw again at two ALA conferences. But that doesn’t mention all the many interactions with so many wonderful and friendly people. From start to finish, KidLitCon is the perfect place to meet people who love what you love and are happy to meet you, too.

Here’s a lovely group of people I had lunch with:

Above are Lisa Song, Melissa Fox, Maureen Kearney, Liz Burns, and me.

Let me repeat that the people I met at KidLitCon (including the ones I didn’t get pictures of) are fantastic people! Passionate about books and reading and literacy and libraries, and just a wonderful community to be part of.

What else did I get out of KidLitCon?

2. Encouragement!

A lot of the panels were about doing what I believe I’m already doing: Blogging about both old and new books; writing reviews that tell why I reacted a certain way to a book; trying to do good with my blog. These panels were inspirational, and gave me additional ideas to do what I do even better. They rekindled my excitement about being a book blogger.

Chris Singer of Book Dads reminded us that the books you choose to review can make a difference.

The panel with Maureen Kearney, Melissa Fox, and Jen Robinson encouraged that blogging a variety of types of books can keep your passion alive.

The panel on Critical Reviews, with Kelly Jensen, Abby Johnson, Julia Riley, and Janssen Brandshaw, gave us some nice tools of things to look at when analyzing why a book worked or didn’t work for you.

Richard Jesse Watson talked about using your blog to play, to express yourself. He said, “Isn’t blogging like yodeling into the abyss?” He also said that play is one of the most important ways to rejuvenate your voice. He left me inspired to have fun with blogging and try new things.

3. Fascinating Information!

Friday night, we met a whole bunch of Seattle-area authors, as they got to talk for 90 seconds about their latest book. Of course my to-be-read list just got longer.

The Keynote Address by Scott Westerfeld on Saturday morning was wonderful. He talked about how he came up with the idea for the Leviathan series and how working with an illustrator changed how the story went. He talked about how technology changes our lives, but you can’t predict ahead of time how it will go. He showed some fan art and said that, thanks to fan art on the internet, we may be living in the age of the illustrated novel again. Another good quote: “In the west, we crazily think that illiteracy is related to pictures.”

In the panel “Moving Beyond Google Reader,” Jen Robinson gave some good instruction about how to set up a weekly or biweekly newsletter with your blog. Since that’s how Sonderbooks started, I definitely plan to follow her instructions to get back to that.

And the final panel, “Prejudice and Pride,” on Diversity, was simply amazing in all the good stuff that came out.

In the picture are Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, moderator Lee Wind, Justina Chen, and Sarah Stevenson.

Some quotables from that panel:

“What we are doing is art, not sociology.” — Brent Hartinger

“We’re writing a character, not an archetype.” — Lee Wind

“Do you have the right to write a character who isn’t you? YES!”

“This is a call for a plenitude of stories.” — Justina Chen

More than one author pointed out that the more stories there are about a group, the less tense people get. So the solution: Let more stories be told!

“You have tremendous power in what you choose to talk about.”

Also, we do need a certain distance from a topic, so sometimes people NOT in a particular group can tell a story better.

Remember: “People are not only one thing!”

So, that begins to tell you how wonderful KidLitCon was. I never would have gone if I’d realized I’d be recovering from a stroke, but I’m so glad I did! And it did not solve my problem of needing more sleep, and so getting way behind on blogging. However, it did remind me how much I love blogging and books and bloggers and book people. And it reminded me I’m doing it for fun, but I am also doing good while I’m at it.

Finally, big kudos to the organizers who put together a fabulous conference! Here are Jackie Parker of Interactive Reader and Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray:

Thank you so much, ladies, for planning a weekend I will never forget!