After 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.” Bored, 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.
Librarians 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.
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.
Finally, 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 http://blogs.ellingtonschools.org/larkin/ .
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. Lastly, 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.