At the Bologna Bookfair last year, chatting to Martin West of Troika books, he was telling me about a wonderful and regular Chinese customer of his who always seemed slightly amused at Martin's enthusiasm for the books he was presenting. One year, when this gentleman arrived at Martin's stand, he opened the conversation by asking, "Well, Martin, what are you passionating about this year?"
I think this is a most fabulous word, and never does it seem so appropriate as when describing a group of enthusiastic librarians - boy, do they passionate! And there's nothing like a tribe of book lovers gathered in one place, passionating, to raise your spirits.
I kicked off my conference with lunch at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant with Kirsten Cappy the energetic owner of Curious City - a children's book consulting company. Now, I say, 'nearby'... In Vegas, in 110 degree heat, only things that are within 100 meters can be regarded as nearby. Though we'd arranged to meet there, I got a frenzied call from Kirsten suggesting we take a cab. It was only about two blocks away, but we would have melted!
The Portland project uses nine books in particular which were the focus of a 2013 city-wide read and I'm thrilled that my My Friend Jamal is one of the nine.
After lunch I checked in with the fabulous team at Charlesbridge: Meg Quinn (Director, School & Library Markets - no relation unfortunately) and Donna Spurlock (Director of Marketing supremo).
Of course, this is when the photo for Publisher's Weekly gets taken - when I'm still hot from the 12 foot walk from the taxi to the Convention Center!
But there are always some talented but extremely nice people to meet on the Charlesbridge booth. It was great to be introduced to Rafael Lopez, illustrator of (among many books) the wonderful The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (by Samantha Vamos who I was lucky to meet at last year's ALA). He explained his amazing painting technique to me (he works really really slowly) but if I told you I'd have to kill you (or he'd have to kill me... or something).
Who was there was Don Tate (illustrator of The Cart that Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting) who I met a little later, but then he too was rushing off to something or other. If there's a problem with ALA it's that you meet so many interesting people that you really want to get to know better, but you have so little time to get to chat. But even in those few moments you can make a connection, find the person's website, start corresponding and then, maybe next time...
Lee & Low's publisher, Jason Low, also hosted a Book Buzz session Moving the Needle: Diversity in Children’s Books and How to Make a Difference. I loved Jason's emphasis on moving forward (rather than getting stuck in the 'there are not enough diverse books' place). Jason said, "we need to get from Diversity 101 stories—stories focused simply on the lack of diversity in children’s books, in very basic terms—to Diversity 102 stories, which address both the complexity of the problem and the range of possible solutions."
One of Jason's big announcements was that Kirkus Reviews will be seeking to diversify their reviewer pool, and that several other major review publications have expressed an interest in doing the same. Diverse reviewer pools mean that books can be evaluated for cultural accuracy and that reviewers bring a wide range of perspectives to the table.
At 11.00 sharp we were off: Yolanda Scott Editorial Director extraordinaire at Charlesbridge (who were hosting the session), Suzanne Bloom author and illustrator extraordinaire (whose books I have the honour of publishing in the UK) and me - Early Ears, a Book Buzz session on choosing books for the youngest readers .
My pet peeve out of the way, we moved on to Yolanda's peeves (books with no story arc)...
and more of mine - words out of context and out of scale...
Fortunately Suzanne was there to buoy us up with examples of wonderful language and visual literacy...
Then it was back to our respective Publishers' booths for signing:
After a busy day, there was only just time to change, have a quick chat with the ever-enthusiastic Ilse Crane from BookStop then we were off to the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet. So exciting! I am really grateful to Kerry McManus and the team at Boyds Mills Press for having me along and thrilled to end up sitting next to one of the authors of one of my favourite books, Busy Fingers - Wendie C. Old (published, of course, by Charlesbridge).
It was tragic to have to head for bed to prepare for tomorrow when I wanted to mingle...
Charlemae Hill Rollins (1897-1979) was a Chicago librarian and author who was dedicated to improving the image of African Americans in children's literature. She served as an advisor to authors, teachers, and publishers, encouraging them to disregard negative stereotypes and honestly portray black culture and history.
Rollins's role in elevating the status of African Americans in children's books earned her many awards including the Coretta Scott King Award in 1971. In 1974 Columbia College, Chicago awarded Rollins a doctorate of humane letters, and three years later the Chicago Public Library dedicated a room in her name at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library*.
In her memory, the ALA's Library Service to Children division presents the Charlemae Rollins President's Program at its annual summer conferences. So you can imagine how honoured I was to be invited to speak at the 2014 program.
I was extremely nervous, but we were made so welcome by Brandy Sanchez & Rachel Payne
Co-chairs of the Program Planning Committee and ALSC president was quick to set us at ease.
She really knew how to reel the crowd in - beginning with a funny piece on Librarians in Vegas, then moving to her childhood, tracing the development of her love of books...
I kicked off by talking about the outreach work I did when I started working for Sure Start Acton.
For some reason, I thought dressing as Bob the Builder would help my cause! I have NO idea where that came from and I'm not sure the parents in the local health centre, drop in baby clinic, doctor's surgeries or anywhere else I went thought me anything but a bit odd...
When one mum explained to me (with a patient but slightly pained smile) that there was no point in my offering her little one a book because "see, he's only a baby and he can't read yet" I went back to the drawing board and realised that before I could promote the library and the groups I was running there, I had to start at first principles and explain that babies could enjoy books.
I also had to work out how to deliver this message in about 60 seconds and in time, of course, I discovered that books themselves were the answer. I have a core 'kit' and find that 90% of babies react to this sad baby - often by crying themselves...
The programme closed with three short presentations from three librarians on partnership programs they are working on including one very moving one about working with families of prisoners. There's a guide to innovative partnerships here.
The conference ended (for me) with dinner with a wonderful collection of librarians, editors, illustrators and other book enthusiasts. Was happy to sit near Sharon McKellar and hear some of her thrilling taxi stories; and to debate with Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman - what a fabulous way to end the trip.
* There really is a red thread... last year at ALA, I was asked by Chicago Public Library service to do some sessions for under fives in some of the city libraries. My favourite event was in the Carter G Woodson library where the staff were incredibly welcoming and the kids were fab. You can red last years blog here.