My colleagues and I flew to Chicago to attend Book Expo America, a huge annual gathering of publishers, authors, booksellers, and, increasingly, librarians. BEA lasted three days, the first of which we spent at the Day of Dialog, presented by School Library Journal (for professionals serving youth) and Library Journal (for professionals serving adults). BEA has been in New York for a number of years, but this year was hosted in Chicago, just to give us a change of scene.
Day of Dialog is a wondrously concentrated dose of information tailored specifically toward librarians and teachers whose work it is to push books on kids. SLJ knows just what we need, and presents individual speakers, panels of authors who address trends and issues in current literature, and panels of publisher representatives who fill us in on the hottest upcoming titles by their respective authors. Except for lunch, the participants stay in one room and just soak it all up.
Richard Peck was our opening speaker. At 82, he is still as sharp and witty as ever, and his remarks applied his seasoned wisdom to the edgiest current topics. Nothing is off the table with Mr. Peck! Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I carpooled with a school librarian who was having a tough time with a class of rowdy fifth-grade boys. She asked me for a title that she could read to them, hoping to get them interested in books. I suggested Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. Although the humor was down-home, I thought boys would really appreciate it. A couple of weeks later, she thanked me profusely. She bubbled over with good news about her boys, marveling that you could hear a pin drop in her class now, unless the boys were roaring with laughter in all the right places, and that they couldn’t wait to get to her class to hear the next chapter. We felt much the same way on Wednesday, hanging on his every word. You can get a taste of his speech on YouTube here and here. His latest book, The Best Man, comes out in September.
There were great discussions on the making of children’s nonfiction, particularly illustrated nonfiction guaranteed to entice young ones into learning. If I may recommend a few, don’t miss Will’s Words, by Jane Sutcliffe, who invites us to explore the words and phrases introduced into our language by the bard’s works, Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet, a biography of E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, and Around America to Win the Vote, by Mara Rockliff, one of many excellent books on women’s suffrage coming out in this 100th anniversary year.
The middle grade author panel was worth the price of admission for me. Middle grade books are the ones that we remember fondly from childhood, and almost all of the great classics fall here, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Secret Garden. These new authors discussed the truth that we find in children’s literature and the sometimes overwhelming issues that children deal with, whether the adults in their lives try to shield them or not. Adam Gidwitz described his new medieval novel, The Inquisitor’s Tale, which he researched while in Europe with his historian wife. Quite a leap from his Tale Dark and Grimm and Star Wars retellings! I am looking forward to this one. Jason Reynolds, author of As Brave as You (among others), held us spellbound as he mused on the themes that were common to all of us as we read stories of other cultures. As he said, stories are true when they explore the fundamental touchstones of life, such as family and the universal need to be loved. I had the privilege of hearing Jason again at the AAP Children’s Author Dinner that evening (see photo below) when he went into greater depth about his new book that explores a boy’s discovery that his grandfather, who has always been his hero, is totally blind. It is our response to life’s surprises that makes us grow bitter or grow into heroes ourselves. I have a feeling Jason will be a new favorite author for me.
During lunch, I was able to speak to Betsy Bird, purveyor of SLJ’s celebrated blog Fuse#8, about the fabulous Children’s Literary Salon that she had hosted a couple of weeks before. Presented with the topic “Death and Theology in Children’s Literature,” Nathan (N.D.) Wilson, of 100 Cupboards fame, and Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved “Penderwicks” series, discussed the Christian and post-Christian humanist points of view, respectively. SLJ has made this and other webcasts available here. I highly recommend this webcast, particularly for Christian teachers and parents, and for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to see the author lauded for his children’s and adult works. I confess that I watched it live in my family room, weeping and saying, “Yes! This is why we sacrifice for the children!”
After lunch, Laini Taylor gave a wry and thoughtful speech about genre fiction, which I love, but which is often not valued as highly as realistic fiction. Her hot pink hair was also on display in the following panel of women writers of young adult fiction. Here’s a new statistic by Bowker: more than half of all YA fiction is read by adults! I do know a lot of adults who read YA, but I thought my perspective might be skewed by my environment.
The day rounded out with a full panel of picture book authors and illustrators. I must admit that I was flagging by the middle of the afternoon, but certainly not because of the program. Another smashing success! Kudos to School Library Journal.
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) Children’s Author Dinner was held at the opulent Palmer House Hotel that evening, and in addition to another brilliant panel of authors, I was surrounded by terrific children’s librarians from around the country. All kinds of shop talk went on while consuming a scrumptious meal accompanied by generous amounts of wine. After dinner, the authors spoke about their books, which included picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction.
One of the great advantages of attending events like Day of Dialog and the authors’ dinner is that I learn which books the publishers are featuring this season and next season, and I will be sure to order all of these titles, if I haven’t already! That is their point, of course, but it is also the point for me. As a selector, I have learned over the years that if a publisher is pushing a title, they think it deserves to do well, and, conversely, if they choose to market a title strongly, it will do well as a result! This helps me to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and get the books that kids will love. All of this is in addition, of course, to being starstruck by meeting the authors of my favorite books—my rock stars! Truth be told, I only geeked out once, and that was on Friday, which will be another post!
The image of the SLJ Day of Dialog logo was obtained from Google Images, as was the image of Betsy Bird. The other grainy, dreadful photos are my own. Apologies to the photogenic originals!