Books, Library, People

ALA 2015 Debrief: You have to see it to be it.

 

T-shirt design by the Harry Potter Alliance, beign sold at the conference
T-shirt design by the Harry Potter Alliance

Finally getting a chance to process all that I experienced at  the ALA conference in San Francisco. For those librarians who want to learn more about the specific sessions I went to, I have included short write-ups of those at the end of this post.
But the best part first:

It's Mo!!
It’s Mo!!

Of course, I was starstruck by all the authors signing their books in the exhibit hall (Mo Willems! Brian Selznick! Rita Garcia-Williams! Thanhha Lai! Oh my!) and was blown away by amazing speakers like Gloria Steinem and Edwidge Danticat, but the awards ceremonies I attended were truly inspirational. My heart hurt for Dan Santat accepting the Caldecott after years of hard work and self-doubt. My body was covered in head-to-toe goosebumps when Kwame Alexander recited his speech on how to win a Newbery like it was a poetry slam for his life.  I felt Jandy Nelson’s spiritual ecstasy as she described her process of writing her Printz award-winner, I’ll Give You the Sun.

Jason Reynolds at the CSK breakfast
Jason Reynolds at the CSK breakfast

But best of all was the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast. Kwame Alexander said he felt like it was church, and I think everyone in attendance would agree that they felt elevated to a higher place that morning. From Jason Reynolds’ absolutely electric opener to Christian Robinson and Patricia Hruby Powell’s joyful Josephine-inspired dance to another amazing Kwame performance to Chris Myers’ hopeful assertion that we are rewriting the world – wow!

Shivers. Tears. Joy.

Josephine would be proud, Christian and Patricia!
Josephine would be proud, Christian and Patricia!

Diversity was the overarching theme at the conference for me this year, perhaps only because of the sessions I chose to attend or the incredible news of SCOTUS’ decision kicking off the conference on a high note, but it seemed again and again that the need for diverse books was affirmed and is being heard and acted upon. Gloria Steinem said in her talk, “You have to see it to be it,” and over and over I heard that sentiment repeated in some shape or form, asserting that all readers need to see themselves in the pages of books, to know they matter, to know they have voices, to know they could become whatever they want to be. The beloved group at the CSK breakfast are toiling for it, writing windows and painting mirrors, keeping all children dreaming. The creators at the diverse comics panel are pushing for change and succeeding – Ethan Young even offered himself as an example, only allowing himself to dream of creating comics because he saw Gene Luen Yang’s success.
Change is here. Diverse books seem to be increasing and their amazing authors are being given a platform. And do you know what they say?
They thank librarians.
Because we are the ones who get the right books in the right hands at the right time.
Like I said in my last post, Jandy Nelson called us “the light keepers, the ones who hand out the light”.
This is what it’s all about, people. We are rewriting the world together. Keep on handing out the light.

The Newbery, Caldecott and Wilder acceptance speeches are available  here.

And here are my session reviews:
Robot Invasion: How Librarians in School, Public and Academic Libraries are Educating with Robots
Programs in robotics are becoming more commonplace and this wonderfully helpful panel of school, public and academic librarians helped break down the process of getting a program started in all different types of libraries. If you are interested in getting tips on how to start your own program, you might contact one of the presenters in the type of library you work and ask for tips because they were all very approachable and made robotics seem feasible, even for the least tech-savvy librarian to pull off. The panel was hosted by Sara Kepple, who has a book called Library Robotics coming out this September (get it for 20% off with the code q21520 here).

Resource Re-Defined: School Libraries as Learning Spaces
School librarians Nancy Jo Lambert and Stacy Cameron from Texas shared how they have transformed their traditional library space into a true 21st century learning commons. They discussed the importance of fighting for flexible schedules, seeing makerspaces as an idea not a place, highlighted the useful technology and configuration of the space, and went over some of the successful programming that ensured they were integrating their services into the schoolwide curriculum, including in math. They offered an excellent example of the shift from the library being a quiet study space to becoming the learning community hub, and with their tremendous ideas and energy you could see why their space is now often “two glowsticks short of a rave”.  I will write more about this in full over on the AASL Knowledge Quest blog.

GraphiCon Discussion Forum: On Diversity in Comics
This panel of exceptional comics creators who are working to turn the tides in terms of diversity in comics was outstanding. Comics are for everyone, and creators like these are ensuring a diverse audience sees themselves on the pages. Check out the link to see slides with the list of all the panelists and an array of titles featuring characters that defy stereotypes, then get them on your shelves!

Best/Worst Comics and Manga for Kids
What an excellent list of recommendations these experts put together! Check the link for the handout to get a great list of graphic novels that will disappear from your shelves as soon as you put them on. Note: They were not calling out the “worst” comics as in, “these are terribly done”; instead, they offered much-appreciated suggestions about titles which were not suitable for children due to their graphic and violent content. Beware if a 10-year-old comes in asking for a copy of The Walking Dead, for example.

Marie Lu Chats with 8 Young Adult Debuts
Marie Lu of Legend fame (and now The Young Elites) moderated a panel of eight debut authors offering a delectable smorgasbord of new diverse YA novels. Check out the link to get the list of authors, stock up on their books, and invite them to come to your library to speak. All eight women were excellent speakers who have written stories that dismantle any YA tendencies toward a cookie-cutter cast of characters.

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Activities, Books, Library, People

ALA 2015, Day 1: My Happy Place

  
Today felt epic. 

Not only because it started out with this news, but because I got to spend it with the best people on earth: librarians!

I began by watching a panel of comics creators speak on Diversity in Comics put on by GraphiCon and weneeddiversebooks.  The main theme I got out of it is that the tides are turning. The creators, the market, librarians, etc., are pushing for change in the publishing industry and it’s happening exponentially. Corporate gatekeepers are opening up the doors to new voices and progressive themes. There are so many more books out now with strong female protagonists (some even with breasts proportionate to the rest of their bodies), characters of color, and of different sexual orientations and abilities. The panelists expressed the hope this isn’t a fad, but a reflection of true change and recognition of the need for people to see themselves reflected in the books they read.

  

From there, I went to the opening of the Exhibit Hall. Librarians swarmed to get free swag – posters, pins, bookmarks, tote bags, even Its-Its! But best of all books! Some advanced reader copies of books not even available yet, and some hardcover new releases, free for us librarians so we can read ’em and spread the word. Oh, the joys of this job! 

  
(My swag!)

Some authors were even there signing. I got to meet the lovely Thanhha Lai (of Inside Out and Back Again) and have her sign a copy of her new book Listen, Slowly. 

  
(Terrible picture. I was too excited to hold still.)

I ended the night at the Michael L. Printz Award reception. What a fantastic bunch of authors and books were honored this year. Getting to hear winner Jandy Nelson (for I’ll Give You The Sun) give her speech was inspirational. What a gift for words this woman has. She thanked us librarians and called us lightkeepers, the ones who hand out the light, the ones who work tirelessly to get the right books in the right hands at the right time. “We are rewriting the world, people.”

Yes, today it truly feels like we are.

People

Poetry Friday: Halleluiah

I have not had the chance to post an action to create wonder this week, but I hope you all get a chance to do something wonderful over this long weekend. I am hoping to recharge my wonder juices out in nature, holding these words by Mary Oliver in my mind.

Halleluiah

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway that I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

-Mary Oliver, from Evidence

Activities, People, Places

Getting in the Flow

The creative action I proposed this week was to visit a museum. I thought it was an easy assignment, but when you’re busy and tired, it’s hard to squeeze something in that doesn’t feel like a necessity, isn’t it?  I made myself do it, though, and what I’m realizing more and more is that doing something that feeds me creatively is more “necessary” than most things I routinely put first in my life.

After visiting the Maira Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and looking at the catalog of the Wayne Thiebaud show at the San Jose Museum of Art (because I’d missed the actual show, darn it), I was inspired to paint again. They are two very different artists, but two of my contemporary favorites. Kalman’s paintings were smaller than I’d imagined. Little pieces of paper with wonky objects and people and words, mostly painted in gouache with more than a little whimsy and chaos. Thiebaud’s oil paintings are on large canvases with luscious, thick layers of paint that make you want to dip your finger in and lick it off like frosting. Hers were mainly intended for books and magazines, his for museum and gallery walls, but their work has two things in common that made me want to go home and try it. They both paint objects from the everyday – cakes, gumball machines, flowers, candy, shoes – and they both do it with wild colors.

I have always wanted to be wilder than I am. I am drawn to work by artists that can really go crazy with color. Kalman is clearly influenced by Fauvist painters like Matisse. Les Fauves were “Wild Beasts” with color. Kalman is cuckoo for hot pink and orange and blending colors on the page and leaving the brush strokes visible and uneven. Thiebaud is a little more restrained in his compositions. His perspective actually makes sense. But his color is just as wild. A slice of pie with white frosting on a white dish on a white countertop will have at least a dozen neon colors competing in the shadows. As an art teacher I was always encouraging my students to experiment with color, saying “the sky isn’t just blue, what other colors have you seen in the sky?”, but when it’s my turn, I can’t put hot pink in the sky, either.

I came home the other day, about an hour earlier than usual, my son was still with my in-laws, and I forced myself not to turn on the computer or take a shower or clean the house, but to get out the paints. I would try using gouache on a small piece of paper (totally different than the large acrylic on canvas or walls I usually do). I would paint a simple object, a white one, and try to use far more colors than just white. I saw my son’s Lamby. His lovey. The stuffed toy we’d lugged all the way to Taiwan and back because he can’t sleep without it. I propped him up, and got to painting, letting go of my to do list, and there it was.

I remembered how much I loved to paint.  Since hearing this TED talk, I know the name for what I was feeling: “flow“. There is nothing else like being fully immersed in the task at hand. Time stops, “existence is temporarily suspended”, and I can enjoy just being in the moment swirling colors around and putting them down. The product isn’t that great. It’s a one hour sketch in which you can see I am still tight and cautious with my colors and composition, not as wild as I want to be, but maybe if I let myself play like that more often, I could get there. Or at least enjoy the process, which seems to be the key to happiness. For years now I’ve been operating in a mode where I  spend most of my time doing things that contribute to my family’s bottom line, where the emphasis is on the product, but it has taken much of the joy out of the process. I’m going to try to allow myself more time for this getting lost in wild wonder, making things just to make them, because that positive, energized feeling I get is indeed necessary to a worthwhile life.

I also made time to take my son for a quick visit to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This is him experiencing flow.

I hope you make some time to create wonder and find your flow this week, whether it’s through painting, dancing, or programming software. We are all wired differently, but we all have something that moves us. Remember, if you post a comment sharing your museum experience by this Sunday night, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my book.

Books, People

Summer Pierre: The Artist in the Office

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

I have been thinking a lot about jobs lately – why we work, how we end up doing what we do, what those choices lead to, etc.  I’ve often felt a disconnect between what I do for a living and what I wish I was doing with my time (even more so now with a baby). I’m sure everyone goes through moments like that, but I think creative types often have an idea that making Art (with a capital A) and making a living are incompatible and struggle with not feeling like a legitimate Artist if they have an unrelated day job. As I’ve recently gone back to work full-time, I have been trying to deconstruct that myth and look for ways to incorporate Art into the everyday.

Lo and behold, one of my favorite Artists, blogger/author/illustrator Summer Pierre, has written a book on the subject, and I had the opportunity to see her read from it last night at Books, Inc. It’s called The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week. I haven’t read it all yet, but just from the excerpts she used to sum it up and the first few pages I perused last night, it is exactly in line with what I’ve been pondering these days. She doesn’t encourage wild fantasies of dropping everything in your life to become who you truly think you’re meant to be. She asks you to look at the life you are in and analyze how you got here and what the job you have is doing for you. For example, though dogwalking has its frustrations, it allows me a lot of time to think, to be outdoors, to be with happy dogs instead of disgruntled co-workers, to be my own boss, and to afford to live in this amazing city where I can actually go see authors speak.  I’ve had a few “dream jobs”, but no matter how good a job is, they get old. I bet even if I was writing and illustrating full-time, I would find things to be frustrated about. In the book, Summer challenges you to shift your perspective and find ways to keep yourself living creatively throughout your days, as opposed to feeling like you can only create while you’re off the clock. Instead of feeling like you are living two lives (your work life, and your “real” life), she reminds you it is only one life, and it is yours. With examples of famous authors and artists who had day jobs alongside their illustrious careers, tips for prioritizing your life and exercises to try to get your creative juices flowing, Summer makes you feel like it’s not only possible, but a realistic and tangible goal to be an Artist (with a capital A) and keep your day job.

I am thrilled to have met her, as I’ve been following her blog for awhile. It’s such an odd thing to feel like you know someone you’ve officially never met, but she is a kindred spirit and it was nice to connect. Her husband and darling son were in the audience. They are on a small California book tour together (see if she’s coming to a town near you). She has another book coming out in November. Hooray for artist mamas making the life of their dreams. I am inspired. Congrats, Summer!

Check out her book and her blog.

And check out another job related podcast that has been fueling my thoughts about our occupational choices lately.

Books, People

Little Man Reads – 10 months

We are getting back into the swing of things after our trip. It is wonderful to be on our home turf in our beloved city, San Francisco. Sometimes it takes going away to see your life with fresh eyes and realize how good you have it. We really do live in one of the best cities on Earth and I’m glad to be back.

One of my favorite things about this city is all the opportunities to meet authors and illustrators as they share their work at bookstores. We still have a number of excellent independent bookstores in the Bay Area and they are popular stops on book tours. Just this morning we went to see Nikki McClure at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. She is one of my favorite artists. I posted about her back when she had a local show of her amazingly intricate and beautiful cut paper pieces. Her subject matter is often a celebration of nature, simple things, and motherhood – kind of a modern outdoorsy Mary Cassatt. So it’s a natural that she also does childrens books, the latest being Mama, Is It Summer Yet?


She explained to all of us at the reading that she created this book in response to her son’s question. The illustrations show the clues in nature that the seasons are changing and getting closer and closer to summer. As someone who dreads winter, and gets giddy with the spring and arrival of warmer weather, I loved it, even though my son is too young to be into it just yet. I was also inspired to get out my art supplies and get back to work on some stories. She said when she was little she played pretend that she was an artist, but thought it was similar to being a princess, a make-believe wish. Sometimes I still feel this way, so it’s always encouraging to see someone in person who is making their art in real life, not in some magical castle far, far away. She even did a demonstration of her technique and wowed the kids (and me) with her X-acto knife wielding skills.

So, that’s my mom pick for the featured childrens book on my sporadic review of what Little Man is reading lately. I posted at around 6 months and now at 10 months he is into completely different things. For one, he rarely sits still in my lap anymore unless he’s very, very tired, so sadly, our storytimes are fewer than when he was less mobile. At around 8 months his favorite was Sing-Along Song, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by San Francisco local LeUyen Pham. He enjoyed the rhythm and onomatopoeia of the text, and would reach out and touch and smile at the pictures of the little boy exuberantly going through the routine of his day. Now, he’s as busy as that little boy, zooming around the house with a very short attention span.

So, at 10 months, he likes Go, Dog. Go! the board book version. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s action-packed. He’s also into books with texture and sounds and pop-ups, basically he needs bells and whistles to keep his focus now. And he wants to destroy them. Chewing, grabbing, tearing. Books have to be tough now for him to enjoy. So, I will be putting my signed copy of Mama, Is It Summer Yet? away until he’s ready, and letting him enjoy tactile books like Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet.