Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Queen of the TearlingKelsea grew up in a cottage in the woods with her foster parents, but she always knew that when she turned nineteen, the queen’s guard would come to take her to the Keep to become the new queen of the Tearling. What she didn’t know was how devastated and corrupt the country had become, and Barty and Carlin had certainly never given her a clue.

Now her nineteenth birthday has passed, and Kelsea’s uncle is perfectly happy reigning as regent. Furthermore, the Mort witch queen in the next kingdom is ready to use all her evil powers to keep the true queen from reaching the capital city. Even the guards sent to protect her on the trip are not too sure of their loyalties. It will be a miracle if she makes it alive. Fortunately, Kelsea has friends she’s never known.

At first, I was surprised that this novel was even published because of the striking similarities to Rae Carson’s “Girl of Fire and Thorns” trilogy, although Queen of the Tearling is an adult novel. They both portray a plain, hefty heroine, a strong young woman who becomes queen at an early age, a gruff, older guard to protect her, and even a jewel that glows. Not that I’m complaining, of course. I really loved them both, and the “Fire and Thorns” trilogy is, sadly, finished. However, as the novel continues, Kelsea’s story grows beyond “Fire and Thorns” in terms of politics and government. Johansen does have a political agenda that gets a bit heavy at times, but the reader can overlook it for all of the intrigue, adventure, and even a hint of a romance. There are clues in this medieval-sounding setting that there once was a country called the United States. Fortunately, this debut is the first of a series, so eventually we will all get to find out who her father is. Oh, I hope it’s not who I think it may be.

This one is not for the kiddos. Some of the descriptions of twisted evil are disturbing. The movie rights have already been sold—even before publication!—and Emma Watson is slated to play Kelsea, because she’s so plain and chubby, I suppose. Highly recommended for those of you who, like me, are epic fantasy fans. Available July 8th.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Victory for the Children

Families at legislative buildingNothing eloquent to write tonight. Just a full heart and the wonderful feeling of gratitude that so many individuals’ hard work came to a victorious conclusion today. Governor McCrory has agreed to sign House Bill 1220, which passed this afternoon. It gives me hope that sensible people can see the truth– if they have the right people to guide them along.

If you are one of those who wrote to her senator or representative, or who talked to his friends about it, or who called a legislator on the phone, I wanted you to see this picture of just a few of the families that you helped. Even if you just patiently listened to me blather on these past few months, thank you for being kind. And if you prayed, let’s all thank the Lord tonight– and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

God bless you.

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The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

ImageHenry Whittaker, son of a gardener on a wealthy English estate, claws his way to riches using his wits, knowledge, and sheer bravado. By the time his daughter, Alma, is born in Pennsylvania, Henry—though barely literate—is one of the richest men in the world. Alma’s mother, Beatrix, is a well-educated, forceful Dutch woman who makes sure that Alma receives a top-notch classical education. At age nine, Alma understands calculus, Latin, and, more than anything else, botany.

Alma’s life takes a turn when her parents adopt the abandoned daughter of one of their tenants. Prudence is the same age as Alma and is radiantly beautiful, and for the first time in her life, Alma realizes that she is plain and unattractive. Despite the satisfaction she derives from the brilliant intellectual life that her father cultivates on their estate, Alma yearns for love, but hides the affection she feels for a family friend. Late in her life, she meets a man who is different from the scientists she has known, a man who revels in the spiritual world, and who seems to understand her desire to discover that unknown quality that underlies all of life and ties all living things together.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has shown great writing prowess in following her memoir with this epic historical fiction novel spanning several generations and continents. Even though Alma is not the most relatable heroine in fiction, the reader’s heart is bound up in her search for significance and her scientific mind’s desire to understand human relationships. She is brilliant, ingenuous, and resilient. I must admit that the ending was not what I had hoped, but it was fitting for this woman who devoted her life to endless research. Gilbert’s writing was polished and appealing all the way through, and even the artwork—botanical prints from Alma’s age—lent the novel authenticity and beauty.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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It Passed the House!!!

File:NC Legislature.JPGNorth Carolina House Bill 1220, Hope 4 Haley and Friends, passed the full House on Thursday with the final vote 111 to 2! We are so thrilled. The two representatives who voted against are both Democrats, Rep. Dana Bumgardner from Gaston County, and Rep. Carl Ford from Cabarrus and Rowan counties. Interesting. You can see the official legislative record here.

I spoke with Acy Watson from Senator Brent Jackson’s office today, and he feels that the key in the Senate will be to get the bill through the Republican caucus, where it will land on Monday morning, June 23rd. That means that you only have tomorrow, Friday, to call your senator! Find out how here. Help him not to be afraid to vote in favor of legalizing cannabidiol to help children suffering from intractable epilepsy.

Our neighbor, Steve Carlin, will be on WRAL tonight at 11:00, and he hopes to get area neurologists, who work with these children every day, to educate the senators and the public on the safety and efficacy of this treatment. He shared a verse that his pastor brought to his attention concerning this struggle:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 (ESV)

What about you? Will you go?

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They Didn’t Want to Do It


Rep. Pat McElraft

Rep. Mark Hollo, the chairman of the NC House Committee on Health and Human Services, canceled the meeting last night in which the Hope 4 Haley bill would have been considered.  Rep. Hollo had repeatedly refused to meet with families of children with intractable epilepsy, even when they showed up in his office. Needless to say, the parents of these suffering children were extremely discouraged last night, and could not be comforted by assurances that the bill would be taken up in the long session next year. Every day is precious for a child with constant seizures.

Unexpectedly, the bill (House Bill 1220) was added to tonight’s committee meeting, and our neighbor, Steve Carlin, was in time to speak to the legislators. By the time he was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and the bill passed unanimously! What a turnaround in twenty-four hours!

Rep. Pat McElraft, the sponsor of the bill, expects that it will pass a committee meeting tomorrow morning, since many of the bill’s co-sponsors are on the committee, and then will make it to the full House by tomorrow afternoon. If all goes smoothly, it should reach the NC Senate by next week. Many thanks to Representative McElraft for her tireless work for these families.

Here’s the rub: The Senate does not want to hear the bill. They are still not educated about cannabidiol and believe that the bill is too controversial. It is an election year, and I suppose winning elections is more important to some of them than saving children’s lives. It is up to us to show them that the people of North Carolina have better values than that. Please find out how to contact your state senator here and let him or her hear from you by Monday. Think how many lives could be saved by just a phone call or an email!

Pray, pray, and then pray some more.

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Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing: BEA #4

ImageMy very first conference at Book Expo America this year was called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” I was glad to find this on the itinerary, since inspirational children’s titles have been a growing hole in our collection. Many of the older titles are phasing out, and the reviewers don’t provide a lot of information on new offerings. Perhaps they just don’t know much about this niche market, and I have to admit that I am not always a big fan of what’s coming out of most of the Christian publishing houses these days. Of course, most Christian publishing companies are now part of huge secular corporations. Zondervan, for example, is a subsidiary of HarperCollins. This workshop gave me a lot of great information that will help me to make some solid new selections for the library system.

As a Christian, it really bothers me that an inspirational sticker on the spine almost guarantees that there will not be a literary award sticker on the front. We are not talking about the Bible or C.S. Lewis here– and there are notable exceptions– but most books written expressly for the Christian market are formulaic and mediocre. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction. In adult books, fiction is full of prairie romances and treacly chick-lit. The nonfiction marketing game is to get a megahit self-help book that instructs the reader to repeat this prayer, turn around three times, and click his heels together so that God will give him everything his heart desires. Once the publishers find the hit title, they repackage it for each little demographic: a pink one called Heel-Clicking for a Mom’s Heart, a boldly-colored one called Cool Heel-Clicking for Teens, and a primary-colored 365 Family Devotions for Heel Clickers. Ah, capitalism.

100 CupboardsNot that there are no great Christians writers out there. There are, but many of them are not writing under Christian publishing contracts, and I imagine that it’s for the same reason that many Christian musicians would rather release their music with a secular music label: they just don’t want to fit their creativity into someone else’s box. Marilynne Robinson and Annie Dillard are winning Pulitzer Prizes with MacMillan and HarperCollins, and Nathan Wilson (Douglas Wilson’s gifted son) and Mitali Perkins are writing excellent children’s books with Random House. Christian authors do sometimes write for specifically Christian publishers, of course, but I hesitate to name names, since it is inevitable that I will miss someone wonderful. Eric Metaxas wrote his masterpiece, Bonhoeffer, with Thomas Nelson, and Andrew Klavan writes teen thrillers with them, as well. Ted Dekker writes truly terrifying tales for Worthy Publishing, another Christian outfit, and many others are noted below. I am eager to discover new writers who will raise the level of the craft for all of us.

In any case, on a Thursday morning, I walked a few blocks up 35th Street to the Javits Center for the very first official day of Book Expo America. The Javits is this enormous glass building that takes up six city blocks and is surrounded by construction zones. Just before 11:00, I walked what seemed like several miles down the stairs and into the conference section of the building for a workshop called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” The four panelists were representatives of Zondervan, Thomas Nelson’s children’s division (called Tommy Nelson), and Big Ideas. You remember Big Ideas: they produce the adorable VeggieTales stories.

Zondervan logoThe Zondervan representative spoke first, and she was very instructive on Zondervan’s many imprints for children. Their new teen line, Blink, is intended to be a “clean reads” selection of titles. Clean Reads are not supposed to be as evangelistic as traditional inspirational titles, but a Christian parent can feel good about handing one to his or her child. There may be religious characters in the story, but converting the reader is not the goal of the book. In the past, the emotional conversion scene was de rigueur, and often felt somewhat forced. Sometimes teen inspirational titles had such gritty characters and plot lines that the delicately reared Christian child could learn about shocking issues that they had never known existed, even though the library had placed an inspirational sticker on the spine. The point of the book was to lead teens from all sorts of situations to Christ, but the sticker would keep the goth/drug-addicted/gang member reader from ever picking up the book. Once the Christian parent figured out the content of the series, their children would never read them, either. Talk about narrowing your audience! Season of WonderWith Clean Reads, though, the parents know that there will be no sex or profanity in the book, so it is safe for their kids. If your kids are already believers, that may be all you need. I have purchased several Blink titles already, just because of the good reviews. They have themes and plots that will be enjoyed by today’s teens. Check out Lisa Tawn Bergren’s “Remnants” series, for example. As a matter of fact, check out everything by Bergren; she’s a terrific author. I love her “River of Time” series, published by David C. Cook. We have her titles in ebook, as well.

On a younger level, Zondervan has the Faithgirlz imprint. This line is more obviously Christian than Blink, with cute, girly covers intended for upper elementary and tweens, whatever that is. (I have a niece who thought she was a tween when she turned nine.) For boys, they have the new series “Game Face,” with the first title, Snap Decision. The cover shows a guy-friendly football huddle. Teen and younger girls will also enjoy the series “Soul Surfer,” based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm to a shark several years ago. We just received Hamilton’s nonfiction title, Body & Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun, and Fabulous Life. Very nice. There are many more series and authors by Zondervan, including Sally Lloyd-Jones’ exceptional Jesus Storybook Bible, so I am a dedicated customer.

Thomas Nelson logo

DreamtreadersThomas Nelson publishes the very popular books by Wayne Thomas Batson. If you’re not familiar with them, these are fantasy or swashbuckling tales, probably targeted for boys twelve and up, but since girls are broader readers, they may like them, as well. The covers are fantastic. Frank Peretti, Jerel Law, and Jason Lethcoe are other popular Thomas Nelson authors for the same age range.

Tommy Nelson has the corner on the Heaven Is for Real children’s adaptations, and they are the publishers for Max Lucado’s beautiful picture books. I Love You All the SameJust last week, the library received the big board book, I Love You All the Same, by Donna Keith. This lovely title features a family of bears—all different kinds of bears. It is the sweetest story of interracial adoption that I’ve seen for the very littlest children. I know so many Christian families who have adopted children from many ethnicities, and this book is perfect for them and for all of their friends. Kudos to Thomas Nelson.

Big Ideas, or VeggieTales, is producing video content more than anything else, but there are books that are based on the video stories. True, you don’t get the fun songs and silly voices, but if your kids already love the characters, why not get them reading with Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato? Great Big Veggie StorybookI was delighted to find that VeggieTales is making a comeback! Mike Nawrocki, the man who is the voice of Larry the Cucumber, was on the panel and gave us an unexpected and convincing demonstration of Larry’s voice. They plan to bring out beginning readers for the “I Can Read” imprint, as well as books of prayers and My Great Big Veggie Storybook. I hope to be able to purchase these soon for a new generation of Veggie lovers.

After the workshop, I wandered around the exhibitor space— thousands of square feet on the third floor—and found Shadow Mountain Publishing. It turns out that I have been buying their books by Brandon Mull and Obert Skye for years without realizing that Shadow Mountain is a Mormon-based publishing house that prints “clean reads” and what they call “value-based” books for all ages.13th Reality I can say that their staff at BEA were the nicest and most helpful of all of the publisher reps. that I encountered, followed closely by DK—but only after the DK reps. found out how much money I have to spend. Shadow Mountain also publishes the popular new “Janitors” series and the phenomenal James Dashner’s “13th Reality” series. They have a few cookbooks, most notably The Romney Family Table. Not a Christian publishing presence, but a safe choice for children’s fiction.

To cover all faith-based publishing, I would have to include the wonderful Jewish voices out there, as well as emerging Muslim children’s writers, but that is for another day. This workshop and the resulting research have helped to guide me to great new titles for the library, and I hope this article will help parents to some new reading experiences for their families. It is encouraging to know that there are still Gideons out there, beating out the wheat in the winepress.* Let’s find them.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article, while brilliant, are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, my church, or anyone else.

*Judges 6:11

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We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

ImageThe Sinclairs are part of the beautiful people. They are wealthy, privileged, untouchable. They are all tall and blond, athletic, with toothy smiles. Harris and Tipper Sinclair had three beautiful daughters, Carrie, Bess, and Penny, and these three girls grew up to have children of their own who were taught never to fail, or at least, never to reveal it in public.

Harris Sinclair owned a private island off the coast of Massachusetts where his entire clan spent their summers. Every summer, Cadence, the oldest grandchild, and her cousins soaked in the freedom and sweetness of months together, each family in its own mansion, coming together for meals and family gatherings.

Somehow, though, the fathers all fell away. When they were eight years old, the cousins—Cady, Johnny, and Mirren—were joined by Gat, the son of Carrie’s new boyfriend and Johnny’s best friend. Harris and Tipper did not approve. Gat was not tall and blond; he was dark, and his last name was Patil. The four children were the best of friends, though, and they called themselves the Four Liars.

By the time she was fifteen, Cady was sure that she was in love with Gat. She spent her entire school year looking forward to summer, when she could see him again. This summer was different, though. Gat was confusing in his attentions to her. Could he have a girlfriend at home? Furthermore, the mothers were being set against one another by Harris, now that Granny Tipper was gone. He wondered aloud about his estate and how he would dispose of it, and the mothers started drinking a lot and fighting.

And then something happened that changed everything. Cady can’t remember what it was. Her mother found her on the beach in her underclothes, lying halfway underwater in shock. She spent time in the hospital and began having migraines. The next summer, Cady is packed off for a European tour with her estranged father, even though she wants to go to the island. The more she tries to figure out what happened, the worse her headaches become.

Lockhart has written a novel that explores the intricacies of family relationships, both the bright and beautiful elements and the unspoken, malignant manipulations. Even after listening to E. Lockhart discuss unreliable narrators at a BEA panel, there was a certain point in this novel at which I was quite sure of the answer to the mystery. I was wrong. You will be, too. Lockhart signed my copy of this novel as she does all the others: “Please lie about this book.” I didn’t lie, but I certainly haven’t told you the whole truth. You’ll have to read it to find out.


Disclaimer: I read a signed copy of this book, given by the author. (Yay!) Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton

ImageAva sets out to tell the story of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a full set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. Lucky in love these women were not. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, he would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.

Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery after they move into a lonely house with a strange history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her in a different way. All she wants to be is a regular girl.

Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was completely in love with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that he would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died just might still be around, and the living may have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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How to Tell a Librarian from a Banker: BEA #3

ImageAfter the SLJ Day of Dialog, I practically ran to the Princeton Club for the Third Annual BookExpo America Children’s Librarians’ Dinner, presented by SLJ and the Association of American Publishers. I spent the week in fear that I would not be able to get where I needed to go on time. Just for full disclosure, I was pretty intimidated by the idea of the Princeton Club, particularly since the dinner would be held in the James Madison Ballroom. I had emailed the coordinator, Becca Worthington, to make sure that I did not need to dress up. She assured me that ball gowns were not required. Still, I pictured a dark-paneled interior with older men in suits, sitting around drinking and reading newspapers. I was right about the paneling.

Needless to say, I was ridiculously early for the dinner, and the doors to the Madison room were locked. Becca and Chris Vaccari, of Sterling Publishers, were on the second floor, sitting at a table covered with name tags and brochures. They graciously told me that there was a bar on the third floor where I could wait, or I could go to the first-floor lobby, where there were comfortable seats. I chose the lobby, where I checked all of my email and sent a few texts before I saw the sign that said, “No Cellphones.” Men's dress shoesBored, I took the elevator to the third floor, hoping that I’d see a few librarian-looking faces, but the bar was full of older men in suits, sitting around drinking. So I went back to the second floor, where Becca and Chris were telling well-dressed gentlemen that the Hedge Fund Managers’ meeting was in the Alexander Hamilton room across the hall. (How appropriate!) Soon, two other librarians, Jen and Lisa from Connecticut, arrived and we took the three seats while Becca and Chris dealt with the dinner details. We quickly became skilled in directing the right people to the right room, preventing hedge fund managers from hovering over the table. Evidently, there exists a universal longing for a name tag. Sharp suit? Alexander room. Sensible shoes? You’re one of us. I only saw one woman arrive for the Hedge Fund Management meeting, and we knew that she was not a librarian because of her almost non-existent skirt. She would have been fired if she’d tried to put books on a bottom shelf in that outfit.

Walking shoesLibrarians have a look. No, not the cardigan and cat’s-eye glasses, but we do not look like financiers. Oh, adult services librarians can sometimes pull off that look that says, “I’ve been sitting in a café in Paris for months, drinking, smoking, and writing incomprehensible poetry.” It’s not true, of course; they’re just pale. Children’s librarians, though, look more like disheveled elementary school teachers. Perhaps avant-garde teachers, maybe Montessori, but still. We have lots of degrees, but not in fashion design. We have tons of opinions, especially about education. We are bookish, and we like it.If You Want to See a Whale

We began reading the program for the evening, and I mentioned that, although I really admired Phillip and Erin Stead, I did not know how they were related. Husband and wife? Father and daughter? Sister and brother? Lisa immediately picked up her phone and said, “Well, let’s see.” While she scrolled around the internet, the rest of us chatted and shooed away bankers until a small group of people came up whom Chris seemed to recognize. They congregated in front of the table while he handed them very special nametags, and I thought, “Aha! Our speakers!” In the meantime, I had forgotten about Lisa looking up the Steads, and suddenly she piped up, “They are husband and wife! It says so on Wikipedia.” Chris turned around and we both smiled at Lisa and tried delicately to point to the Steads. Lisa was having none of it, being completely engrossed in her new information. “It says here that they’ve been married since 2005!” Finally, I gave her a little nudge, and motioned to the Steads. “Huh?” “That’s them.” She looked up. “Oh!” And she proceeded to turn fifty shades of pink. No worries. They never heard.

ImageFinally, we were able to move into the James Madison Ballroom, a beautiful room filled with large, round tables, ceiling-to-floor bookshelves lining several walls, and every chair filled with a bag of brand-new books and galleys. Rachée and her colleague from Philadelphia sat to my left, and then Jackie from Tumwater, Washington. There were several more, and those of us who were early rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine and began digging through our goodie bags. Rachée and I continued the conversation about diversity in children’s literature that had begun at the Day of Dialog, and Jen told me about the YA fiction blog that she and her seventh graders write at Ellington Middle School. It is so impressive! You can visit them at .

During dinner, we enjoyed another panel of phenomenal authors. These seven writers were able to speak to us one at a time, beginning with National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin, who described her artistic process in the new book, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Ms. Griffin was followed by two transgendered young people, Arin Andrews and Katie Rain Hill, who shared their stories in their two books, Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal. Caldecott honor-winning author John Rocco shared hilarious stories about his new picture book, Blizzard, and then the Steads stood up to talk about their two new picture books, Sebastian and the Balloon and If You Want to See a Whale. As they approached the podium, I leaned over to Lisa and murmured, “I hear that they’ve been married since 2005.” She laughed. B.J. NovakLastly, TV and movie star, B.J. Novak, talked about his new book, The Book with No Pictures, which looks exactly like a picture book, but– as advertised– with no pictures. I am the most disappointing fan for TV and movie stars. I know a few people, but I draw an utter blank on most names. Hopefully, others in the crowd were more attentive.

At the end, the authors signed their books, and I swore that I would just take a nibble of dessert and then leave it alone. It was chocolate mousse covered with a chocolate shell. I did not leave it alone. Rachée and I shared a cab back to the New Yorker, where I fell into bed for a few short hours.

The next day was Thursday, the first day of Book Expo America! Yes, that’s right. I’d had all of these experiences, and BEA had not even officially begun.

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Wednesday Was Incredible: BEA #2

ImageAfter my power breakfast of leftover corned beef and chocolate cheesecake (see yesterday’s blog) on my first full day in New York, two of my colleagues and I headed over to the McGraw-Hill building. Janet and Tracy were going to the Library Journal Day of Dialogue, and I was attending the School Library Journal Day of Dialogue. Even though I am a public librarian, SLJ is a premier source of reviews and information on children’s books. They have a wonderful blog, Fuse #8, and during the awards season, I read their Newbery, Printz, and Caldecott blogs with the kind of breathless anticipation that other people have for Dancing with the Stars.


Jacqueline Woodson

Walking through the reception area filled with breakfast foods (all carbs!), I entered a dimly lit, cool auditorium. The seats were cushy, too, and after my late bedtime the night before, I knew that I would need lots of coffee. Jacqueline Woodson was speaking, and even though I have liked her work since the Newbery honor-winning picture book, Show Way, I realized that I did not understand the depth of her talent until now. She has a fresh, friendly face and she speaks as lyrically as she writes. She said that her stories come to her in verse, in chunks with lots of air around them, which is the white space. Ms. Woodson was talking about the new memoir of her childhood, Brown Girl Dreaming, which she signed for us later. If you are not familiar with her work, be sure to look her up. She has written everything from picture books to young adult novels, all of exceptional quality.

ImageNext there was a panel discussion about wordless picture books by four famous authors: Aaron Becker, Raúl Colón, Molly Idle, and Bob Staake. Naturally, they are all great artists, and they talked about why they made a decision not to use words. One of them had even submitted his book with words originally, and his editor said, “You know what? It doesn’t need them.” Bob Staake said that having pictures by themselves put the burden on the reader to make up the story. Aaron Becker wrote one of my favorite picture books of last year, Journey, and has followed it up this year with Quest. I highly recommend them. More on picture books in a future post.

Kat Yeh SLJ

Kat Yeh

After a break, the next panel was on diversity in middle grade fiction, a continuing concern in children’s publishing. The authors were Kwame Alexander, Coe Booth, and Brenda Woods, all of whom are African-American, Raúl Gonzalez, Latino, and Kat Yeh, who is Chinese. Not very balanced, but perhaps representational. Kat Yeh was adorable. As the only Asian on the panel, she made a point of leaning into her microphone with a big smile to insert “or Chinese!” into any discussion of minority groups, just in case we forgot about Asia. The Truth About Twinkie Pie is her debut novel, coming out in January. You can bet that I will buy it for the library and read it myself. The discussion brought up questions such as, “Why are all African-American stories in gritty, urban settings?” and “Why are Latinos always gang members?” The conclusion of the discussion is that we do not need to divide ourselves into little groups, since we are all part of the human experience, but we should have diverse thinking, so that we could imagine all sorts of people having these experiences. This sort of thinking could open up the world for a child, breaking him out of his expectations. At the question and answer time, I raised my hand and asked what they thought of our library system’s use of an African-American sticker. Even though the initial intention of this sticker was probably good, I was worried that it was not getting the book to the right reader, but was rather keeping the book out of everyone else’s hands. They all deplored the idea of a sticker the same way that they hated bookstores shelving all of the minority books in little cubbies tucked away. They said that we would have to sticker all the books to be consistent, and the moderator asked if we labeled all of our “white” books. Kat Yeh said, “And Chinese!”

LindberghNext came a panel of representatives from seven publishers, pitching their favorite books of the season to us. These big-screen presentations by knowledgeable people who love their products always make me want to yell, “Yes! I want 40 of each!” In other words, they’re quite effective. Next came lunch—a salad with grilled chicken! This diabetic didn’t have to pick the innards off a sandwich or wrap! We had extra time, so I wandered around the exhibitor’s room, which is a different kind of buffet: all the new books in galley form, ready to be scooped up and read by the buyers. At the end of the day, I realized that I had taken too many and had to put some back. We had to pay for our own shipping, and it cost one colleague $48 to ship just one box. In the end, I took home just a few signed galleys and a signed hard copy of the extraordinary Lindbergh, by Torben Kuhlmann, a very nice young German man who needed help with the American spelling. I encourage you to seek out this picture book, whether your children are budding engineers or artists.

After lunch, we listened to Garth Nix tell us about his upcoming Clariel, which is a prequel to his famous series that begins with Sabriel. This Aussie author told us a long, enchanting tale that turned out to be completely false, which set us up for the next panel.


E. Lockhart

The first afternoon panel’s topic was unreliable YA narrators, a very hot theme these days. The fabulous authors were Jodi Lynn Anderson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, E. Lockhart, Barry Lyga, and Meg Wolitzer. Ms. Wolitzer, who is perhaps better known for her adult novels, was a hoot. Her new YA novel, Belzhar, is being highly touted by Penguin, so I did take one home. Speaking to the theme, E. Lockhart and others discussed how adolescence is a time when children begin to realize that everything that adults have always told them is not necessarily true, and that there may be different kinds of truth and doubt, and so it is natural for their literature to reflect this. I finished Lockhart’s new book, We Were Liars, by the time I got home to North Carolina, and I highly recommend it. Review to come. She signed it with the book’s motto: “Please lie about this book—E. Lockhart.” Her name is Emily, by the way.

The afternoon publisher’s panel starred Little Brown and Company’s brilliant rep., who could moonlight as a stand-up comic. At one point, she groaned, “And don’t ask me how my books meet Common Core standards. Every time somebody asks me about Common Core, an angel dies in flames.” The entire room burst into applause. It seems that the only people who don’t hate Common Core are school boards and textbook publishers.

ImageThe last panel of the day was called “Storied Lives,” and featured picture book biographies and memoirs. The venerable Lois Ehlert started off with her colorful autobiography The Scraps Book. She says that her grandson enthused, “I want to be just like you someday: making nothing out of something.” Dubious praise, but she’ll take it. Chris Raschka presented his Cosmobiography of Sun Ra (a jazz musician), Peter Sís talked about The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Raina Telgemeier featured Sisters, the latest installment of her graphic novel memoir that began with the award-winning Smile. Lest you think that they work in a bubble, the most impressive element of this panel was the authors’ enthusiastic, sincere praise of each other’s work.

Afterward, we moved into the exhibitors’ room and lined up for author signings, because all readers are fans of authors the way other people are fans of rock stars. Well, we are fans of theirs, too, but authors are the best. I didn’t stay long, because I was headed to the SLJ Children’s Librarians Dinner, but that is another story.

Looking back, I realize that Wednesday was the best day of the week for me, professionally speaking. There was so much information from authoritative sources, all concentrated in my own area. Book Expo was all mixed together, but the SLJ Day of Dialogue was especially for children’s librarians. Great speakers, excellent venue, and careful planning made this my most valuable BEA day.

Other posts won’t be this detailed, but the day was packed! Stay tuned for more!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Quotes may be approximate.

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June 3, 2014 · 6:33 am