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The Happiest Place on Earth, Part 2

I actually arrived in Orlando last Thursday night because I also attended and presented at the NCTE Convention (this is my second year). It was a busy, busy few days, so here are some of the highlights..

On Friday morning I got a sneak peek at some ALAN friends in action. Once I got the bus service figured out (no, I don't want to talk about that), I listened to Don Gallo, CJ Bott, and Jeff Harr booktalk some of the newest and best YA books. I got lots of titles for my own to-read list and learned about lots of books I will recommend to my students. (I'll see if they have their handouts posted anywhere and if they do, I'll put a link here.) My fellow presenters for Saturday, Jennifer Buehler and Jen Walsh, and I took some “notes” on how Don, CJ, and Jeff divided up the titles, how long they spent on each book, and whether they worked from a script, ad-libbed, or did a combo of the two. I was also really pleased to arrive and find that two of my favorite librarians, Mary Arnold (my ALAN fairy godmother) and Bonnie Kunzel, were at the session. It was a great way to kick off NCTE!

Saturday morning was the ALAN Breakfast. It starts at 7 AM and, though I am not a morning person, it is totally worth it to be up at the crack of dawn in order to attend this event. Several ALAN awards were given at the breakfast:
–This year's Hipple Award, which honors service to ALAN, was given to scholar, author, and past ALAN president Chris Crowe. Chris announced that a new award, the Nilsen-Donelson* Award, had been created and named after two of ALAN's and the ALAN Review's founding members in order to honor the best article published in The ALAN Review.
–The ALAN Award for contributions to YA literature went to Jack Gantos. I was really excited to hear Jack Gantos for several reasons: 1) I have never heard him speak before. 2) His autobiographical Hole in My Life was a big hit in my classroom until it went missing. 3) My crazy cool librarian friends (and, if you think “cool librarian” is an oxymoron, then you're not hanging out with the right librarians!) have selected Jack's book to be the YA tie-in to our county's One Community, One Book title, The Color of Water. 4) I had learned on Friday that Jack and Gary had made one other notorious appearance at the ALAN Breakfast several years ago. Jack referred to it as “returning to the scene of the crime”. I'm not sure it's good for your digestion to laugh that much after eating, but it sure was fun :)

The breakfast wrapped up with Gary Paulsen as the keynote speaker! This guy is everything you'd expect him to be and more. I wish my students (especially my boys who really do love his books) had been there to hear him talk about his life—from his difficult childhood to a stint in the Army to a job as an aerospace engineer to being a Hollywood screenwriter to becoming an author to running the Iditarod—which has clearly helped to define his work. Gary's final charge to us was to, “Go back to your jobs and kick ass!”

* I have not had the pleasure of meeting Ken Donelson, but I am familiar with his reputation in the YA community and have used his articles several times for papers, projects, and research. I did have the pleasure of meeting Aileen Nilsen on Sunday afternoon. She was positively delightful and was willing to let me pick her brain about the founding of ALAN.

After the breakfast, I headed to the other NCTE venue to hear part of the panel that my friend Jennifer Buehler had organized and was facilitating with Matt de la Pena and Coe Booth, two fantastically talented young authors at the beginning of what are sure to be extremely fruitful careers. There was a lot of discussion from both the panel and the audience about who Matt and Coe's audience is. Can kids who aren't Latino or African American connect with characters whose race and ethnicity is different from their own? The consensus in the room was yes, but unfortunately it seems that some teachers, pre-service teachers, librarians, and booksellers, don't realize that teens need lit to provide both a mirror and a window and that, even teens who don't share the same background with characters in books, will still be able to connect with the humanity of the characters. Spread the word!

Saturday afternoon, Jennifer Buehler, Jennifer Walsh, and I did our presentation celebrating the newest award winners in YA lit. We did a similar presentation last year and we'd like to do it every year in order to help teachers and librarians sort through the over 3,000 YA titles published each year to find the ones that might be right for their kids, classrooms, and/or libraries. We cross-referenced several award lists to highlight books that won or were finalists/honor books for several awards. Our handouts are up here: http://www.getemreading.com . I had fun booktalking my titles and thought Jennifer and Jennifer did a fantastic job with theirs. Getting to booktalk lots of books that you actually like is a pretty good gig. I think the audience enjoyed it too, as all 60 of our handouts were gone (and several people requested copies of them). We had great feedback from the people who came to talk to us after the session was over, and we even had some requests for our handouts from people who hadn't attended our presentation but had heard how good it was. Squee!

Then my roomies Kelli and Amber (some of those crazy cool librarians I mentioned earlier) arrived from Michigan. Amber will be blogging about their ALAN experiences on the library's blog for teens, Kitabu http://apps.monroe.lib.mi.us/bookclub/ . You can bet it will be hilarious and while you're there, check out some of her other blog posts (she's Alaska—bonus points if you can guess why she chose that codename). These two are young, fun, knowledgeable, and are doing great work in their branches (http://monroe.lib.mi.us/voice/main.htm). I'm proud to report that we had 3 librarians from our county at ALAN this year! Our biggest number ever was 4, but with budget being an issue just about everywhere in Michigan right now, I think 3 is pretty good. We did miss Sheree, though, because she is an absolute riot (and I can only imagine what she'd have done if she'd had the opportunity to meet Jack Gantos). We also had the literacy consultant from the biggest school district in our county there, so Monroe County, Michigan was well represented. My goal for next year is to lure an English teacher from the “regular” high school in my district and at least one of the people from EMU's Children's Lit program to Chicago.

The three of us shared a cab over to Downtown Disney (boy, things sure have changed since I was here in the early-ish 80's) where I had a terrific meal at Fulton's Crab House hosted by Macmillan Publishing. The food was fab, some of my friends were there, and I met some super cool authors*. I made two especially cool connections. The first was with Sally M. Walker a writer of nonfiction. Jennifer B. had booktalked her Written in Bone in our presentation earlier that day. I am generally nonfictionphobic, but it sounds like this book could cure me. I also talked to graphic novelist George O'Connor who is working on a series of GN's about the 12 Olympic gods. I asked him about when he was going to be working on the book for Hephaestos (the smith god) because I have a really reluctant reader who is also a blacksmith. George gave me his card and asked me to put him in touch with my student so he could make sure the blacksmithing scenes are drawn correctly when the time comes to work on the book. OMG! How cool is that?!? Then I met up with my friends Wendy and Ricki, who just happened to be having drinks with friends on the first floor of Fulton's.

*Just an aside here: Every time I meet an author and/or hear an author talk about her/his book, it almost always makes me want to read the book. So, if meeting an author can have that affect on a grown-up, just think what an author visit (either virtual or in person) could do for our students.

Sunday was the the day I had the most down time and opportunities to get outside, so naturally it was bit overcast and drizzly in the afternoon. It was OK, though, because I got to spend some time hanging out with people I really like. I slept in, had a fabulous brunch hosted by Scholastic, made some progress on a project(s) with my friends Ricki and CJ, and got to attend the ALAN cocktail party.

The cocktail party is one of my favorite things about ALAN. It is hosted by several publishers and there are authors roaming around everywhere. It's a great opportunity to talk to authors and let them know how grateful we are that they do what they do. One particular highlight for me was getting the chance to talk to Ellen Hopkins. News of several recent challenges to Ellen's books didn't sit well with my students when we read about them during Banned Books Week and her books are always a big hit with my girls (I sure hope her newest, Fallout, was in that box I sent out, or I'll never hear the end of it). I wanted her to know that she does have support with kids and teachers and that her books are so important, not only because they help convert reluctant readers to ravenous readers, but also because they tell the truth about the lives of kids who are often marginalized. I know that she knows this, but it's got to be tough to be criticized and told that your work is offensive and/or inappropriate, so I figured it's one of those things that it's always nice to hear.

The official first day of ALAN! I spent a lot of time finalizing preparations for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Ceremony and Reception during the day today—powerpoints, giant checks, and “raffle” tickets, oh my! I did go to a fantastic breakout session by a prof from Western Michigan University (Go, Broncos!) about working with incarcerated youth. It sounded a lot like the stuff Sheree and Donna are doing at the youth center here in Monroe County. She also faced obstacles that are similar to the ones I face in my classroom.

Last year I had the privilege of chairing the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (there are a few blog posts about it here, so feel free to check them out). Monday was the night that we recognized our finalists (Jill S. Alexander, Justina Chen Headley, Francisco X. Stork, and Rick Yancey) and winner (Kristin Cashore). On the cusp of Thanksgiving, we had a lot to be thankful for:
–We were so fortunate that the wonderful folks at Penguin Publishing brought Kristin Cashore to Orlando so she could receive her award in person and talk to us about her book.
–Kristin gave an absolutely phenomenal talk that had us laughing and crying (to read the text of her speech, click here: http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/2008/02/amelia-elizabeth-walden-award.html)
–The Walden Award comes with a $5000 cash prize and when Kristin announced that she would be donating the cash prize to a camp for kids that her sister works with, I'd be surprised if there was a dry eye in the place—I wouldn't know because I was too busy blinking back tears and trying to swallow the lump in my throat.
–Penguin donated 100 copies of Fire and Macmillan donated 50 pre-signed copies of The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander.
–Kristin graciously agreed to sign books for the people who stayed for the ceremony.
–After the ceremony, a few members of the committee (Jean, Bonnie, and Ricki) and I attended a dinner at Il Mulino with Kristin, her publisher, Scottie, and her editor, Kathy. Having the chance to talk to all of these people in a small, intimate environment was such a treat. It was delightful on every level and I am even more eager for Kristin's next book, Bitterblue!

Because of travel plans people tend to clear out over the course of the day on Tuesday, but the day was packed with many great authors with a lot to say. By Tuesday all of my responsibilities were over and I was able to just sit and enjoy. Some of my faves were:
–The panel on boys lit which included Brent Crawford (Carter Finally Gets It series), Derrick Barnes (We Could Be Brothers), and Tom Angleberger (The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda). Martin Chatterton was also on this panel and he said, “There are 3 rules to writing a novel...unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”
–Heather Brewer, author of the Vladimir Tod Chronicles, who called libraries “bully kryptonite”.
–Past ALAN president David Gill talking about dystopian lit, his book Black Hole Sun, and high school, “By the time you get to high school you feel like a pancake house breakfast. You've been smothered, scrambled, fried, and laced with ham.”
–Ally Carter, author of Heist Society, who said, “I write for teens, quite frankly, because I don't want to take the time to dumb my stuff down for adults.”
–The panel on LGBT Lit which featured Michael Cart (someone whose work I really, really respect) and Malinda Lo (Ash—which I booktalked for our presentation).
-The breakout session on nonfiction by super-skilled booktalkers (& 3 of my fave ladies): Mary Arnold, Bonnie Kunzel, and Teri Lesesne (2011 Walden Award Chair and new ALAN Executive Director). They talked about a lot of titles that I'll be adding to my to-read list and, once again, Jennifer B. and I "took notes" on their booktalking styles.

There were many others, but I lost my program sometime during the day on Monday. All in all, it was another remarkable year. ALAN President Jim Blasingame put together a fantastic program with just the right mix of new and experienced authors.

My friend, Wendy Glenn, the incoming ALAN president (yippee!) has already announced some highlights for next year's workshop. The theme: “Flash Back. Forge Ahead.” ALAN Workshop Keynote: MT Anderson. ALAN Breakfast Keynote: Jacquelyn Woodson (2009 Walden Award Finalist). Join us next year in Chicago, won't you?