The great thing about the ALAN reception on Sunday night is that one gets to see authors in a semblance of their “natural habitat”. It was awesome to see John Green, M.T. (Tobin, I learned) Anderson, and Neal Shusterman hanging out talking about the irritations of Southern California. Coe Booth walked up in the middle of this and they all exclaimed about how long it had been since they had seen one another. Sarah Dessen came in and geeked out (her words, not mine) because John Green was there. Then SHE ASKED ME TO TAKE A PICTURE WITH HER PHONE of her, Sara Zarr and Lauren Myracle. PEOPLE, I TOUCHED SARAH DESSEN’S PHONE. I almost couldn’t take the picture because my hands were shaking with excitement.
Monday was the beginning of ALAN proper, which is my favorite part of the week. Honestly, if it weren’t for ALAN, I’m not sure that NCTE would be such a draw for me. This is where I get to let my inner author-stalker run wild. I was freaking out by the time we arrived to the Grand Ballroom and got our box of books. The ever-present, ever-intimidating, always-funny Walter was directing traffic and keeping a watchful eye on the publishers’ gifts in the back of the room. I have promised him a cape, staff and crown for next year. And maybe a boa.
M.T. Anderson started things off with a humorous discussion of where book publishing is headed with the advent of eBooks. Angela Johnson, Walter Dean Myers and Janet Tashjian talked about how their own pasts and historical events influence their books. Jacqueline Woodson wowed again discussing how her books and characters evolve. John Green broached the topic of social networking and how it simultaneously connects and alienates its users. Matt de la Peña entertained us talking about his creative process and how a teacher led him and his father to literate lives. Leslie Margolis, Jennifer Neilsen, Sarah Weeks and Rita Williams-Garcia bantered about the difficulties and rewards of writing for middle graders.
After lunch I attended the session: Proposing, Designing, Teaching, and Defending a High School YA Lit Elective. It was informative and very practical. I think students need this type of offering now more than ever and I am excited to work on attempting my own proposal. Back in the Grand Ballroom Sarah Dessen talked to us about her journey with her writing. Then a panel of excellent and sometimes controversial authors discussed writing about challenging topics and when those books are challenged. Lauren Myracle, Cheryl Rainfield, Andrew Smith, and Paul Yee all discussed that while they realize these topics are sensitive and sometimes divide readers, they still feel they are books that NEED to be in the hands of kids. Kazu Kibuishi discussed her creative process with eloquence. Then Elizabeth Scott and Abby McDonald addressed the label “Chick Lit” and how they AND READERS are working to battle the pejorative connotation of this term.
Then it was award time. Teri Lesesne introduced the Amelia Elizabeth Alden Award Finalists: Kristen Chandler, Matt de la Peña, Matthew Quick, Jordan Sonnenblick and WINNER Francisco Stork. After that Laurie Halse Anderson came to talk to us about her writing journey and why censorship inhibits learning and growth. There were some touch-and-go moments during Anderson’s speech. I happened to be sitting near the “author staging area”. While she was waiting to go on, a colleague and I spoke briefly with her and she told us she wasn’t feeling well. A few minutes into her talk, she asked to sit down and eventually ended up lying down on the floor with her feet propped on a chair! I assumed she would bow out and go to the doctor. But, true to form, she soldiered on FROM THE FLOOR! From where we were sitting, we could see her, prostrate on the floor, holding her legal pad in the air with an ice pack on her forehead and multiple ALAN-ites hovering nearby. She finished her speech and received a standing ovation, which I’m not sure she could see. Eventually paramedics were called just to be on the safe side and she was taken to the hospital. They discovered that she had a bad case of food poisoning. I was sorry she felt so bad but relieved that it wasn’t anything more serious.
Tuesday dawned rainy, which was nice of Chicago to wait until the end of the week to be ugly to us. The fearless ALAN-ite leaders/editors spoke with us about the ALAN Review and encouraged everyone to get involved and GIVE ALAN MEMBERSHIPS FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS! Then Chris Crutcher spoke about his books, his counseling, his battles with censorship, and the problems he sees facing American education. There were so many good lines it’s hard to pick just one, but this stood out, “No child is being left behind because no one is going anywhere.” When it was over, I wanted to kiss him on the mouth. Metaphorically, of course. Then a phenomenal panel of Cara Chow, Sharon Draper, J.L. Powers and Matthew Quick talked about writing books about people of difference. It was interesting to hear that they don’t always set out to write a book of “other” characters. The stories and the characters just come to them and I am so glad they do. Then Kenneth Oppel talked conversationally about his writing journey. And the dynamic duo of Jennifer Donnelly and Neal Shusterman talked about creating worlds in which their characters are comfortable and how to move between those worlds.
After a coffee break, Coe Booth spoke about writing books from what she knows. That when she was growing up she wanted to see herself and her surroundings in books and so determined to write them. B.A. Binns, Simone Elkeles, Stephanie Perkins and Sara Zarr spoke to us about writing love stories, keeping them relevant, and embracing the “edgy” label and all that comes with it. Then it was off to a water-logged lunch. We dried off listening to James Dashner, Megan McCafferty, Veronica Roth and Dom Testa talk about creating future/dystopic worlds. They all mentioned that one of the most intriguing things about their writing is that because it’s not really fantasy, the exciting and frightening thing about their created universes is that they COULD become a reality. Then Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler gave a well-choreographed speech about writing in tandem. The next panel was dubbed “The Future of YA Lit”. Katie Alender, Beth Fantaskey, Michelle Hodkin, and Thanhha Lai all expressed surprise at being thought of as THE FUTURE but all spoke eloquently about their writing and where they think YA Lit is headed in the next year.
David Levithan took the stage and spoke to use about becoming an Army of Empathy. He encouraged us to use empathy to reach our most alienated students and arm those students with books and stories as shields. To work together to promote acceptance and freedom of though and expression, while loving one another through words and deeds. Needless to say – standing ovation. The final breakout sessions were wonderful and I had the great opportunity to go to a session about book blogging and ground-breaking teen bloggers and book bloggers in general who are redefining the way books are marketed and distributed. I met three amazing bloggers: Lynn Miller-Lachmann at piratetree[dot]com, Crazy Quilt Edi at campbele[dot]wordpress[dot]com, and Reading in Color at blackteensread2[dot]blogspot[dot]com – who has graciously agreed to guest blog at the beginning of the new year. Maggie Desmond-O’Brien wasn’t able to join them but had prepared responses to some questions. It was an interesting panel and really highlighted how the publishing industry in changing in the face of technology.
I’m always saddened to leave NCTE/ALAN, recharged and excited about what I’ve learned, and utterly exhausted. I met some wonderful people and even connected (in person and technologically) with a few of my new Tweeps. I made new friends (Hi, Nicole and Kelly!) and new professional connections with CJ Bott, Teri Lesesne and Dr. David Gill. And, as always, I read and wrote and LEARNED – which really is the whole point.