After 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.
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.
Next 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.
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!”
Next 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.
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.
The 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.