Monday, July 1, 2013

Slice of Life - Memories from ALA

This past weekend I attended my first American Library Association (ALA) conference. It was held in Chicago, which I figured was one reason to attend. The fact that the Newbery and Caldecott award presentation was occurring sealed the deal – I had to go.

It was interesting to attend a conference, but really just go for the exhibits and dinners, not the sessions. In many ways it was more relaxing. My days weren’t filled with session but my time still filled up quickly. I attended lunches with friends, museum tours (see yesterday’s blog HERE), publisher breakfasts or lunches. I visited the exhibit hall and had the chance to see the amazing books that will be coming out this fall, speak to some of my favorite authors, talk to publishers about the reactions my students have to their books.

The nights were jam-packed. Friday night I had the privilege of attending a party hosted by Walden Pond Press and was able to tell Anne Ursu how amazing I felt her books were, especially her fall release – The Real Boy.

Saturday author Elizabeth Fama was kind enough to host a whole group of us at her house for dinner. It was the perfect location – quiet spots to visit with friends, amazing food, inspiring discussion. Elizabeth was the perfect hostess - this was the first time I had met her or been to her house, but I felt right at home. 

An added bonus was meeting so many wonderful authors there - Laura Golden, Amy Timberlake, Liesl Shurtliff, Elizabeth Dahl, and then Kirby Larson. I've wanted to meet Kirby for what seems like forever. I knew she would be amazing, and she was. Meeting Kirby for the first time was strange in that once we met, I felt like I had known her my entire life. What a warm person. 

Sunday night was the banquet. I wept as I listened to Jon Klassen, Katherine Applegate, and Katherine Paterson accept their awards. All three speeches inspired in a different way. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to their words.

I first began to appreciate Jon’s work with I Want My Hat Back. I’ve driven to Anderson’s to hear him speak before, handed out Christmas presents created in the likeness of his characters, and purchased every book of his I could find. He never fails to great me with a hug when I see him. He has a sense of humor that comes on quietly but leaves me laughing through my tears. Also, what little interaction I have had with him has led me to believe he is the best kind of person: hardworking, kind, loyal. He always talks about the other illustrators who have helped him get where he is, and I like that he honors others. Finally, when he talked about his books as his “little guys” and said how proud he was of them, my heart melted. Such an amazing person. 

Katherine Applegate was an author I hadn’t met, but felt as if I had. I’ve “talked” to her on Twitter a great deal over this year. After reading her brilliant The One and Only Ivan over a year and a half ago, I knew it was going to be big. I first knew about Katherine through the series she and her husband created, Animorphs. Then I fell in love with her writing in a beautiful book called Home of the Brave. With IVAN, she reached a whole new level. I love that in her speech she not only brought up her prior books, such as a Harlequin Romance novel, but poked fun at her self as well. Katherine is not a new author, she has been writing for some time. I’m thrilled to see her honored, not only because I believe her writing to be on another level, but because she is so genuinely kind. She was swamped this Spring with press after the Newbery was announced, but still took time to answer some questions a few of my reading students had for her. She is quick to hug, share some kind words, and then make you laugh. I’m so thrilled I had the chance to meet her.

Katherine Paterson was honored with the Wilder Award for lasting contribution to the field of children’s literature. At one point I tweeted that her books shaped my childhood, which means they also shaped me into the person I am today. I still remember touring the NCTE exhibit halls with John Schumacher in 2011. John grabbed my arm and pointed Katherine out and said we should go up to her. I froze. I tried to explain that saying hello to Katherine Patterson is not the same as saying hello to Mo Willems – her books own part of my heart. My ten-year-old self could never have imagined that one day I would even be in the same building as the woman who wrote the beautiful story of friendship between Jess and Leslie, let along actually meet her. Bridge to Terabithia is a book in my personal canon, as Donalyn Miller likes to say. It is part of who I am, my reading history. I couldn’t talk to Katherine in 2011. I’ve seen her several times since then, and still have been unable to say hello. It was only half way through the receiving line last night after the banquet that I realized I was going to be forced to say something, and I did. Katherine was at the end of the line. I reached her and she grabbed my hand. At first, I froze. Tears welled up in my eyes as I tried to tell her how much her books meant to me, how I had seen her many times and have not been able to say a word. She was unbelievably kind as she chided me for that, telling me that if I ever saw her again, I was to say hello.

Heroes come in all different forms. The three people I saw last night are surely some of mine. They are brave, kind, and fearless in their own way. All touched on how grateful they are for teachers and librarians working to match the right book with the right kid. That is my job, and they help make it possible. I won’t be able to attend ALA every year, but boy was I glad I could go this year. I cannot imagine a better way to spend my weekend. 
Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers