Category Archives: ALA

Fun and Loathing in Las Vegas (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)

We were somewhere around a fake white naked statue (or maybe it was a faux Roman mural or an ersatz Egyptian barge) on the edge of Caesars when the lack of sleep began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit light-headed; maybe you should take another look at your phone…it must be just past that guy in the diaper or the lightly clad girl dancing in a cage over there…” And suddenly we were outside and there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge white wet sheets, all swooping and screeching “Do It” and diving around  the taxi, which was going about a hundred inches an hour what with the Celine Dion concert getting underway.  And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn people?”

Then it was quiet again.  My colleague had taken her sensible sweater off and was pouring green tea from her flask down her gullet. “What the hell are you yelling about?” she muttered, staring up at the sun with her eyes closed and covered with pink publisher swag sunglasses.  “Never mind,” I said and grabbed my Iphone to do a quick Instagram before aiming us toward the not-the-Eiffel-tower Tower.  No point mentioning the sad women selling bottles of cold water, I thought. The poor thing will see them soon enough.

It was almost five, and we still had more than a hundred casinos to go.  They would be tough casinos.  Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But then there was no going back and no time to rest. We would have to tough it out. The 2014 ALA Annual Convention Exhibits were already open and, for good or ill,  we had  to get there to grab as many ARCs as our rolling carts could hold.


ETA: I had a lot of fun really! — ate well, gawked a lot, won $25.10 at the slots, went to Red Rock Canyon, and had fun seeing friends as my roommate fairrosa notes in the comments. This is a parody of Thompson’s first few paragraphs of Fear and Loathing in Vegas that I thought would be fun to do as it undoubtedly expresses many people’s feelings.



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More About Roxanne’s and My Caldecott Banquet Attire

See a bunch more Red Carpet interviews (with some pretty awesome types) here.

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My ALA Recap

I’m not a librarian, but the Midwinter and Annual American Library Association meetings are two of the more exhilarating times of my year as they are just rich beyond measure when it comes to children and their books. This year’s Annual in Chicago was no exception and here are some highlights of my time there.

Attending the Peter Sieruta Memorial Event. Peter Seiruta was the shy blogger of the plainly named, but remarkable Collecting Children’s Books. If you didn’t follow it, I urge you to take a look through it as the posts are  still amazing. He died unexpectedly and much too soon a little over a year ago of a blood clot. Among many other things, Peter was the co-author with Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson of the forthcoming book, Wild Things, from Candlewick for which the following card (just provided as a teaser not the final cover or anything) was given out. It was moving to hear Peter’s brother John speak so beautifully about him and others as well. Betsy has also written about the event here.


Breakfasting with Patrick Ness. I’ve been a longtime fan of this author, ever since reading The Knife of Never Letting Go five years ago. (My rave review is here.) My first Huffington Post entry (also crossposted here) was “It’s All About the Horror of War in Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay and Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men” (I still wear my Monsters of Men t-shirt proudly) and as for A Monster Calls — do read this post in which two friends of mine who lost their mothers when young discuss the book with Patrick responding. They have long wanted a signed copy and I’m so glad they will finally get their wish. I’ve got an ARC of the forthcoming More Than This and can’t wait to read it (although I’m a little frightened as well as his books, in my experience, are emotionally wrenching). Patrick was fabulous in person (and I highly recommend following him on twitter as he is consistently hilarious in 140 characters).

Dressing for the Newbery Caldecott Wilder Banquet. My roomie Roxanne Feldman was on this year’s Newbery Committee and so had a great time dashing about from one celebratory meal to the next. Our friend Nina Lindsay was one of the organizers of the Caldecott Award’s 75th year commemoration. Among other things, they asked us to dress up for the banquet in some sort of Caldecott way and so I came up with an idea involving David Macaulay’s 1991 winner Black & White and Roxanne ran with it!


Of course this is NOT Jon Klassen’s hat.


Having a moment with Robert Byrd, illustrator of Africa is My Home. It was incredibly moving for me to listen to Bob talk about his research and the amazing decisions he made for the art. It is really glorious — you all wait and see. Here we are with the book’s fabulous editor, Sarah Ketchersid.


Visiting Candy Fleming and Eric Rohman. My first personal contact with Candy was in 2005 when she wrote to me, expressing enthusiasm for my advocacy for teaching with primary sources, especially via my book for teachers, Seeking History. Since then we’ve met up when we can, but not often enough so we were both very excited to have a chance to really talk. I came early and so we did— talk about some of my projects and about Candy’s (and I must say I don’t know how she does it all!) — before others arrived. And then Eric brought us to his studio and showed us glorious stuff — journals, and sketches, and book dummies, letters, and art, and art, and art. Just all sorts of marvelous material about his work.

There were plenty of other fantastic moments including:

  • listening to Katherine Applegate, Jon Klassen, and Katherine Paterson speaking with such passion and intelligence at the Banquet;
  • watching Laura Amy Schlitz skip to the dais to receive her Newbery Honor plaque;
  • reconnecting with Sheila Turnage;
  • gushing to Steve Sheinkin;
  • admiring Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s green toenails;
  • not winning Melissa Sweet’s contributions to the Chronicle 25th anniversary raffle;
  • enjoying Brandon Mull’s Yoda;
  • learning from Mo Willems that his forthcoming book was the most “fecal” one he had ever done;
  • having excellent meals and conversations with some of the aformentioned as well as other terrific folks;
  • parties of various sorts (including the one in the Hyatt lobby that featured the Stanley Cup);
  • exploring the exhibits;
  • getting a chance to meet people in person I had only known before online;
  • seeing friends I don’t get to see except at ALA;
  • and a whole lot more.

It was a very grand time indeed.


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Bunnies ‘n Tiaras

So let’s start with the bunnies. While Battle Bunny (my review here) isn’t yet out, its fiendish villain has already received a movie treatment thanks to the always brilliant Pink Me.

As for tiaras, dust yours off for this year’s Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet where everyone who is anyone will be heading down the red carpet all decked out in attire celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award.  Need a little help figuring out what to wear?  No need for Stacy and Clinton — there’s Betsy and Jim to the rescue!

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ALA Moments 3

This is really a coda featuring Long Beach Airport, an unusually small airport given its proximity to Los Angeles. That is, somehow you just don’t expect something that has the feel of the tropics more than that of the airport of media moguls and the like.

The afternoon before we left I stopped by the Hilton cab stand to check about when we needed to leave for the airport. A tall dud (he epitomized that term) in a black suit and an earpiece immediately told me I could “arrange” for a cab for the next morning. After some unintelligible talk of freeway numbers we scheduled things and I smugly took off and told my roommate that I’d gotten everything ready. Long story short — we figured out he was not legit, cancelled, and took a regular cab. The thing was sketchy from the get go (he fumbled about claiming to be looking for his badge when I wondered if he was a  Hilton staffer) and being a veteran traveler who is usually hyper vigilant about scams I’m  still red-faced at having been so gullible.

At the airport I ran into Lane Smith who was waiting for the same flight and we hung out together. Lane and I first met many, many years ago when I tagged along with a 4th grade student of mine to his then-in-NYC-studio where she interviewed him for a little self-published newspaper of hers. If you like Lane’s work, especially the more subversive stuff and don’t know it yet, do check out his Curious Pages. On the plane he gave Roxanne a delightful drawing for her daughter drawn on a barf bag (how’s that for alliteration?).

What else? For days I (and many others) had been seeing #printzaccordian tweets from Victoria Stapleton related to the accordion she was literally lugging cross-country for Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman’s Printz speech.  Much as I wanted to see the actual speech I wanted more to spend some time with far-flung friends so had to miss what I heard was a fantastic evening.  But then at the airport, there was stalwart Victoria and the accordion.  And here is my final shot of her at JFK, shortly before the accordion headed to Brooklyn and the hashtag to oblivion, no doubt to Victoria’s pleasure — that instrument is heavy!


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ALA Moments 2

Was surprised by how much I enjoyed the readers’ theater at Scholastic’s Sunday Brunch.  The deal is that a group of writers each present a snippet of each of their books. This time I learned that Sharon Flake can do some very convincing wiggles, Sharon Cameron‘s got  loads of good humor, David Shannon is ready to try out for High School Musical, Trent Reedy can do earnest with great conviction, Raina Telgemeier acts with her whole body, Eliot Schrefer is most convincing, and James Dashner can pull off every sort of British accent from cockney to Downton Abbey.  Great fun!

Then I was on to an S &S illustrators lunch where Raul Colon spoke of how he managed to work nonstop for days to complete the illustrations for Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless the Troops, Denise Fleming spoke of her fascinating process making paper for underGround, Loren Long spoke of his development of the small bat character in Nightsong, Ashley Wolff spoke of her printmaking process for Baby Bear Sees Blue, and Peter Brown showed how he developed his art for Creepy Carrots!.  Fascinating stuff.

Then on to a very good panel on the New Nonfiction where there was plenty of passion and conversation.  Panelists included my good friends Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt (of Heavy Medal fame), Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Then it was time for the one and only Newbery Caldcott Banquet where Chris Rashka and Jack Gantos gave splendid speeches. If you get a chance, be sure to read and view them. Both were so heartfelt and genuine while also very much the sum total of each man, Chris’ being pensive and intriguing while Jack’s was outrageous at moments (as in his books), funny, and caring.  What a great night (even if my dessert was brought to my table and removed before I ever saw it. Darn you, Marriott servers!).

On Monday I went to the ALSC awards, had lunch with the delightful Lisa Brown, and a giddy (as we were so overtired by then) dinner with Starr LaTronica, Linda Perkins, Nina Lindsay, Roxanne Feldman, and Melissa Sweet (who did something way, way too kind at the end — we seriously owe her).

Now it is Tuesday morning and I need to get up and get ready to fly home.  Thanks once again to all the publishers for hosting me at so many wonderful events. Great, great conference!


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ALA Moments 1

Went to Disneyland for the first time ever four years ago so this time I had some sense of what to expect.  We started in Fantasyland intending to do a few story rides. Got to the Alice one only to hear them announce that there was a problem and those on the ride should just relax as it would be repaired in 30 minutes. 30 minutes!  That meant a lot of very small children in very dark tunnels in very small vehicles.  We turned and did Small World instead. Came back later and did Alice, Peter Pan, and Toad.  Had a very relaxing lunch of fake BBQ and watched fake cowboys yodel (sort of). Pet a donkey and a horse. Relaxed at a fake New Orleans square (remembering we’d been at the real thing a year ago) and then went on the more eye-opening of all rides — the Jungle Cruise.  Scary headhunters shaking spears along with roaring animals. Really?  In 2012?

Delightful dinner at Catal Restaurant with Chronicle celebrating author Ellis Weiner and his new book The Templeton Twins.  Great food and conversation — Ellis wrote for National Lampoon and Spy Magazine back in the day and it was a lot of fun to reminisce about those iconic publications. Ended the evening at Macmillan’s dessert reception and saw lots of folks.

Garth Nix was very gracious as I gushed over him at the HarperCollins breakfast. May I now take a moment to recommend A Confusion of Princes — an extremely entertaining romp of a space opera.

Top secret meeting about the 2013 SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books….shhh.

Outstanding presentations at a Penguin lunch for Middle Grade Readers. Four authors spoke, three of them discussing their process with their editors.  Excellent — more of these sorts of things, please. The authors were: Adam Gidwitz (In a Glass Grimmly)  Sheila Turnage (Three Times Lucky), Sheila O’Connnor (Keeping Safe Stars), and Joan Bauer (Almost Home).

A wonderful reunion with Laura Amy Schlitz, some of her Candlewick peeps, and a healthy number of my fellow 2008 Newbery Committee members.

Met Tao Nyeu at Penguin’s cocktail party and was able to let her know how much I and my fourth graders adore her books.  Bunny Days was a touchstone book for them, but I think her new friendship book, Squid and Octopus may be its equal.  Hurray to those boots, socks, and mittens!

And then there was Little Brown’s dinner with …. the truly one and only Lemony Snicket, or rather his representative, Daniel Handler.  Managed to spill red wine all over the white table cloth (but fortunately not on anyone), converse with the always-witty Mr. Handler and his delightful wife Lisa Brown, and had an overall wonderful time.  Can’t wait for the new book, Who Could That Be at This Hour?

Got to hold William Joyce’s Oscar (it is heavy!) at S &S’s dessert reception and express my love of Fake Mustache to Tom Angleberger.

Thanks to all the publishers and friends for such a great time so far.  Now on to Sunday.  Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka await!

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Me, on the Red Carpet..Wow!

Thank you so much, Katie Davis!

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Happy NOLA and ALA

Yesterday I came back to NYC from New Orleans in the early hours of the morning pleased to see my dog and a slightly cooler and less humid town. I had been incredibly disturbed at what I experienced and saw in 2006 so it was fantastic seeing tons of tourists, streetcars (weren’t there six years ago), and a city more like the one I remember from visits before Katrina.

I spent my first day with friends brunching at Dooky Chase, a fantastic place I’d been to many years ago and was so heartened to see revived after the storm; taking the St. Charles Street streetcar through the Garden District to the end and back; having drinks at Napoleon House; and visiting the Voodoo Museum, a place I first went to years back because of the connection to African spiritual beliefs and practices I knew of from my time in Sierra Leone.

The following day Sarah Ketchersid, the editor for Africa is my Home,  and I went to the Amistad Research Center to look at the original Amistad materials. Since the book is going to be interactive — Ology-like with flaps and envelopes and such — we wanted to see if we might use some of the materials in the book.  The staff was incredibly helpful — thank you so much, Chris and Andrew — and seeing and handling the materials again (as I’d first done in 2006), this time with Sarah who has been equally immersed in the story for a couple of years now, was moving beyond belief. We read Sarah Margru’s letters as well as those from other Amistad captives, their supporters, and even John Quincy Adams.  One side note — editors read differently than you and I.  That is, I read fast and scan and so I would take a look at a letter with its faded-difficult-to-make-out copperplate-script and figure there was nothing for us in it. But then Sarah would keep looking and suddenly point out a reference to the “children” or “the girls.”  Editors know how to hone in and read in a way we don’t!

The convention itself was grand — seeing friends and their books, learning about forthcoming ones, connecting with new folks, eating (and eating and eating and eating…) terrific meals, and enjoying the touristy parts of NOLA.  I don’t wish to make anyone reading this too terribly jealous, but some especially memorable experiences were:

Thanks to all for making my NOLA and ALA time so delightful!

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Thoughts on Newbery: Something Old or Something New?

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

That is the current criteria #2 for the Newbery award and I’ve written here before about my frustration with it. (Thoughts on Newbery: The Design Thorn.) As I complained in that post and Betsy Bird points out today, it keeps the committee from being able to recognize some of the most exciting books for children being created these days, those where art and design are intertwined with the text in original and innovative ways.

Betsy’s solution is a new award and while I’m absolutely fine with that something new, it doesn’t satisfy my problem with the something old — the Newbery.  After all, it is the most prestigious award for children’s books in this country.  It is the only one most people know. One Frederic G. Melcher proposed it to ALA and they approved it in 1922. This is from his formal agreement with the ALA board:

“To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

“Original creative work for children.”   88 years ago Melcher and the others who created this award wanted books for children to be consider literature on the level of works for adults.  Can we agree that this is now moreso the case?  A few years back Anita Silvey wrote a provocative article asking if the Newbery had lost its way.  She felt it had because young people were not longer “rushing to read the latest Newbery winners.”  However, as many pointed out in response to the article, that wasn’t the original intent of the award at all.  Nor is it today.  If the books end up being popular, that is just grand. But the award isn’t about that; in fact, some of the least popular winners have been the most creative (say, ahem,  “my” winner).

But, to steal from Silvey, I do think the Newbery may be losing its way if it continues to leave art and design outside the circle of consideration.  Some of the most exciting and original books (and these are still very much books) for children being created today have these elements as integral parts. For those books not be recognized as the best because of this or for them to be recognized in spite of this frustrates me tremendously.

How to do it is a huge problem, I realize.  But I hope somehow it can be done so that the Newbery continues to truly recognize the most original and creative work for children of the year.


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