I took it easy Sunday morning too, but I did end up getting to the conference in time to hear LeVar Burton speak. I’m so, so glad this worked out, because it was definitely a highlight of the conference and maybe my entire life. His talk was so powerful and rich. First he read the picture book he wrote recently and talked about how he was trying to carry on Fred Rogers’s legacy in writing it. Then he talked about his inspirations and heroes, including his mother, Alex Haley, and Gene Roddenberry. He talked about how powerful it was for him to see Uhura in the original Star Trek and how it made him feel like there was a place for people who looked like him in the future. He also talked about flawed heroes and how he came to realize that we can be inspired by people without turning them into impossibly perfect idols. Then there was a great Q&A session. Highlights: he would love to be in an adaptation of Octavia Butler’s books because he loves how she deals with the human condition. He was asked about his favorite picture books and one of the answers was Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and it turned out she was in the audience. He looked so overjoyed when she stood up.
There was a lot more, including a great quote about the value of libraries, but overall it was just one of the most wonderful things. I was choked up or in tears most of the time. I am really grateful that he spoke in a year when I could be there and that ALA got a speaker who has so much grounding in years of literary and literacy advocacy. LeVar Burton clearly knows what he’s talking about and it shows.
In a daze of happiness/tears, I wandered over to the exhibit hall and happened to see Leila and Kelly. I actually worked up the nerve to say hello, and I’m glad I did–it’s always nice to have that in-person connection, however brief. I walked through the exhibits and picked up a few books. Disney-Hyperion had put out ARCs of Black Dove, White Raven, but since I had an eARC from NetGalley and also plan to purchase it, I didn’t pick one up.
After that, I went to an Ignite session, mostly for the Crossover RA part. That was fantastic, and I want to read all the books! I am curious about how these sessions are grouped (for those who don’t know, they’re 5 minute presentations on a variety of topics) since it seems like the interests are very broken up. Why not group them at least by age or library type? I was also interested in the iDiversity student group at the University of Maryland and would like to find out some more information about their efforts.
My last session of the day was “Diversity Matters,” a follow-up from the Day of Diversity on Friday. The original Day was invitation-only, but this session was open to everyone. It was a thought-provoking and somewhat frustrating session. It opened with a brief recap of some of the key points from the discussions at the Day of Diversity, and then had several questions for the audience members to consider and answer. I think my issue is that the room really wasn’t laid out to have a good discussion (not at all the fault of the organizers!) and that some of the audience members seemed to come with a prepared agenda. Which is understandable when you feel passionate about an issue, but doesn’t necessarily make for a good in-depth discussion.
I did very much appreciate that the questions challenged me to think about my own role and assumptions, and what I can do to advocate for diversity in my own situations. If anything, I wanted more discussion of the nitty-gritty. When there’s an emphasis on stats and circulation, how do you talk to the board and community, for instance? I also appreciated that the organizers pointed out that books by and about diversity DO sell, and that the conversation has actually been going on for years, whether or not the wider community has been aware of it. Also, that STEAM and STEM success is not a matter of aptitude, but of preparation, access, and motivation, and that library programs can help break down some of those barriers. Someone also mentioned increasing opportunities for book giveaways, especially for minority kids, so that those who can’t necessarily afford to purchase books have a way to get books about kids who look like them.
After this, I went back to the hotel and then went down to Brandy and Sondy‘s hotel to have dinner with them (Cybils panelists united in person!). At this point, the snow had started, but I felt perfectly safe walking (though I would never have driven!). We had a great dinner, and a fun time talking about books and libraries and etc. When I tried to walk back to my hotel, though, the wind had picked up and it was way colder and I walked four blocks and then turned around. Brandy had very kindly offered her extra hotel bed if I needed it and it turned out I did. (Thank you once again, Brandy.)
I had to get up way, WAY too early to walk back to my hotel and pick up my badge, but fortunately, I got on a shuttle and got down to the conference for the Youth Media Awards. I was pretty early and managed to get there right after Brandy. I was a bit worried about how big the room for the awards would be, but it seemed to be enough space for everyone. Brandy & I got good seats too, with a nice view of both the stage and the video monitors.
I felt like the excitement of being there kind of had a cumulative effect. At first it was just fun, but then by the time half the awards had been announced, there was this hum of anticipation. It was great sitting next to Brandy too, since we have such similar reactions to a lot of books. Lots of cheering and few raised eyebrows.
Reactions to various awards
Alex: I will admit, I was disappointed not to see Girls at the Kingfisher Club. But the only one I’ve actually read is Lock In, so I really can’t judge how strong this selection was.
I am resolved to read the Schneider and Stonewall books, since I had only read Morris Micklewhite.
I loved the choices for the Coretta Scott King books this year, especially the illustrators. Great stuff, and a wide range of talents. I think the CSK Award for Brown Girl Dreaming was exactly right.
And then Sharon Draper won the Margaret A. Edwards award, which is for lifetime achievement! Huge cheers from everyone at that. I’ve loved the Edwards award picks the past few years.
I was really happy that Gabi, A Girl in Pieces won the Morris–I loved Story of Owen, but I think it’s great to see Gabi’s story being recognized.
I have read exactly one of the Printz books, This One Summer. In general, I don’t think this was a year with a strong body of work for the Printz committee to choose from, and I think the committee built a good slate out of their options.
I also loved all the Pura Belpre illustration choices this year. Again, a wide range of illustrators and talents.
And then Donald Crews won the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. I love his books, and I was so happy to see him recognized.
So then the Caldecott. I remember there being a gasp when six honor books were announced, and what awesome books they are! I love Lauren Castillo’s art, and Jon Klassen is also a huge favorite of mine. And then the absolute shocker, This One Summer. I’m actually really happy to see the committee pushing the boundaries of the award a little bit, while still remaining within the rules. And I thought the illustrations for This One Summer were incredibly strong.
After the six Caldecott Honors, there was another gasp when only two Newbery honors were announced. But I think it’s perfect: the three books that were honored are individually and collectively wonderful. I am so happy that all three got the recognition they deserved. And since The Crossover was absolutely one of my favorite books last year, and I didn’t expect that it had a real chance of winning in such a strong year, I was incredibly happy to be proven wrong.
What I remember from the awards is the point at which everyone realized that this was an absolutely exceptional year, and that the committees had done an amazing job of individually choosing wonderful books that represent all different kinds of experiences. And, let’s just be honest, the gasp when This One Summer got the Caldecott Honor and the cheers when The Crossover won the Newbery.
Since ALA, I have heard that some librarians are unhappy with the awards this year, that they weren’t what was expected, that there’s too much diversity. But I completely disagree. The excitement and joy in that room were palpable. And if you think kids don’t love these books, take a look at this video. As far as I’m concerned, the ALA committees put principle into action, and I love the results. I only hope that the committees continue to honor the diversity of our world and test the boundaries of the awards.
After the awards, I did one last circuit of the exhibits, and saw a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming absolutely covered in stickers. And that was my conference, although I did have a chance to visit with an old friend who lives in Chicago now.
I am so grateful to the library, which sent me to the conference, and it will always be a treasured memory for me. Parts were frustrating or challenging, but the highlights were amazing, from LeVar Burton, to the YMAs. Meeting some of the people I’ve known online was also wonderful, especially getting to see Brandy as much as I did–it’s so great when you get along well in person too!