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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Library

ALA came to me this year!

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What better way to kick off the new blog kick than with posts about ALA 2015? In my town! Got my badge today and helped three lovely librarians from Nigeria take a picture in front of the Moscone Center. The fun starts tomorrow! Stay tuned.

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Can We Have It All?: Redefining Success

Our culture is obsessed with success stories. We love a good rags to riches tale, an American Idol who came from nowhere and rose to the top can move millions to cast their votes, and we teach our kids they can become whatever they want to be if they just work hard enough. The dark inverse of this “meritocratic” societal belief, as writer/philosopher Alain de Botton infers in a fascinating TED talk, is that we must think those who are at the bottom are there because they deserve to be.  When success as defined by status, fame and riches is perceived to be attainable by all, the stakes of failure become higher. We become “losers” if we try and fail. We become envious that others are able to achieve their dreams while we somehow cannot.

This puts enormous pressure on those pursuing their passions to succeed. David Sedaris says if your life is a stove with four burners for family, friends, health, and work, you have to cut off at least one of the burners in order to be successful.  Throw kids into the mix and the dreams feel even further out of reach. Ayelet Waldmen expresses this well in an essay in her book Bad Mother in which she says she feels lied to by the feminists of the ’70s who taught her she could “have it all”, a family and the career of her dreams. Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet that “the various pressures of twentieth-century living have made it impossible for the young mother with pre-school children to have any solitude. During the long years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict.”  I relate to her frustration and her quip that none of the great artists would have qualified for a mental health certificate (much less a Parent of the Year award).  This sentiment was reflected in a recent article at the99% about Chris Guillebeau from the Art of Non-Conformity. He says, “Balanced people don’t usually change the world. Something’s gotta give and it’s up to each of us to determine what that’s going to be and how we’re going to allocate our energy.”

Since my return to working everyday, these ideas have all been warring in my head with the emotions of missing my baby, and longing for more time to pursue writing and other creative ventures. Botton’s assertions that you cannot have it all, that there is no such thing as work/life balance, and that you have to accept loss in some areas were causing despair to set into this perfectionistic over-achiever’s heart. His only hope came in urging everyone to define for themselves what a successful life is. This theme also appeared in the book I just posted about by Summer Pierre, when she suggests answering “what does the good life look like for you specifically“?

It was an excellent practice for me to think through what my ideal of “success” would look like. Status, fame and riches are nowhere near the top of my definition of success. I found an alternative definition from another TED talk by John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”  I love that. It’s only measured by me, not what anyone else thinks.

When I look back on my life so far, I am satisfied that I have accomplished everything of which I was capable. I could only define success in relation to what I knew at the time, so it has changed and expanded. When I was young, it was simply to make better choices than my parents – to stay sober, to not get pregnant too young, to go to college. When I went to college, I had no idea what else I wanted to achieve, so I decided to become the highest and best career I had been exposed to and emulated a beloved teacher, becoming a high school art teacher at the age of 21. Then, as I saw more of the world through travel, I realized there was so much more I might want to do, and that I wasn’t ready to teach yet. Success at various stages since then have meant pursuing a relationship with God, working on a harmonious marriage, learning to cope with anxiety, starting my own businesses, becoming financially stable, and lately, being the best mama I can be. When I look back to where I started, instead of feeling envious of where I see other people I admire, I can be proud of the choices I’ve made, and know I can go on to achieve whatever I set my mind to do.

The fact that I even have space for this desire to achieve something new is a function of my previous successes. I am building on the balance I have worked so hard to create, and I do believe I can have it all. I don’t have to turn off the burner of my health or my family to make room for creating art. I have already started ruthlessly weeding out other things that waste my precious time. In addition, it might mean turning off the TV or the Internet more often. Maybe it means a little less sleep (now that Little Man is almost a year old and sleeping well, this is an option again). I don’t have to achieve all my dreams at once, but if I can break them down into small pieces and work on them a little bit every day, I will define that as success at this stage of my life.

(On another note, I started this blog nearly two years ago, and it has been as scattered as my mind was through this time. It has been a place for me to vent, to try out various forms of writing from mommyblogging to travel journalism, and to post my art work. I have a new vision for it now. A more focused approach that I’m really excited about. Expect big changes in the blog and my website over the next few weeks. Prepare to be inspired. Nothing is going to stop me from having it all, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.)

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.

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Mothering on the Middle Road

Modern mothers are bombarded with vast amounts of conflicting information about their parenting choices and are pressured to choose sides. Even upon becoming pregnant, it felt as if I had to opt between a hypnotic orgasmic water birth at home or a conveniently planned c-section at a baby factory hospital. Like most issues in life, I don’t find myself drawn to either extreme, but fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra, or a peacekeeping middle child, but I’m often able to see value on both sides of any argument. The birth of my son ended up falling in the middle,too –  a natural childbirth in a hospital (and I’m not ashamed to admit that if there’s a next time, I’ll probably choose an epidural).

The middle road does not grab headlines. It doesn’t spur comment wars in blog posts. The middle isn’t sexy, but I’d venture to guess most people dwell there and are doing just fine, taking bits and pieces from this or that side of the spectrum and making it work for them when it comes to a whole host of issues, from sleep training to deciding what to feed their babies. Yet at each new stage, I continue to be barraged by the fear-mongering headlines and blog posts and forums of those opinionated enough to say that their way is the right way. Little Man is eight months old now and I’m hearing things like I should be getting him on preschool lists now (or more like, yesterday) and I should be starting to develop his brain with education materials, especially bilingual ones if I want any chance of locking in a foreign language while I can. And so I’ve stumbled upon the next two camps looking for new recruits: “concerted cultivation” vs. “slow parenting”.

I can very easily turn into a Type-A worrywart overachieving listmaker, but over the years I’ve learned that very little comes of this. Worrying doesn’t make things go my way and the stress of spinning my wheels just isn’t worth it.  So I try not to buy into all this fast-track parenting, the concerted cultivation thing saying I should be giving my kid a head start by inundating him with educational materials on him, signing up years in advance for the right school, taking a million classes, etc. Not because I’m too lazy or it’s too overwhelming, but because I don’t really believe in the end result. Jump into the rat race now and it will never stop. I don’t want him to live in a pressure cooker this young, only to end up a stressed-out adult. It’s difficult to avoid, though. Even after reading Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, which debunks a lot of the myths we think will make our kids smarter (hey, it turns out those lame Baby Einstein videos are actually bad for your kid!), I found myself making a checklist of things that their studies show do work. I had to give myself the ‘ol “whoa nellie”, when I started getting excited about having Little Man write up play plans because it will improve his concentration and help him engage in extended play. Hello! He’s eight months old!

So I was relieved to discover the other side when I heard Carl Honore being interviewed about his book “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting“. He actually doesn’t use the term “slow parenting“, though there is a whole group of people who do. Instead, he encourages doing things at the “right speed”, or the appropriate pace at which each task can best be enjoyed, emphasizing quality over quantity, and being present in the moment. A quote from a New York Times interview with him says “childrearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product development. It is not a project; it’s a journey.” Ah…what a relief. I’m sure I will end up in the middle of the two extremes as usual, but it helps to be aware I have choices and there is no right way. I will make my best concerted effort to cultivate enjoyment of this journey.

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Inspired (finally!)

Ah, the muse is back. The fog has lifted. The juices are flowing. Insert whatever mixed metaphor here that works for saying I feel like my old creative self again. My son is almost eight months old, and on a great sleep schedule, and suddenly my brain is functioning again. For awhile there it was touch and go; there was a period when the Twilight series was the only thing that I read, and any writing consisted of notes scribbled down about how often said son was napping and pooping. At last, I am beyond that newborn haze, and my mind has a few brain cells that can be occupied with creative things.

At first, when my wits returned to me, I didn’t know what to do with them. I could look around and see with new clarity that a few things had been neglected in their absence – my household, my husband, and my wardrobe, to name a few. But I’d also been forgetting to feed my soul, which leads to despair for me and renders me incapable of taking care of those other aspects of my life. To regain my creativity, I needed to “fill the well”, to borrow a concept from Julia Cameron’s, The Artist Way. I needed to do things that sparked interest in life, that got my ideas churning again, that made me feel engaged and present, instead of merely getting through the days and craving escape to vampire land (or werewolf-ville, since I am for Team Jacob).

Here are some ways my well is filled:

  • Listening to stories: The Moth, NPR and PRI have some of the best- Great stories get me going, mostly about people who are pursuing their passions, but really learning anything new can get me high on ideas right now. Here are some that excited me recently: Bootlegger Blues: L.Gabrielle Penebaz’ obsession with trying absinthe turns into a serious creative pursuit (anything can be your art!).   Change Over Time – Carl Honore talks about the Slow Movement (I will blog later about how this got me interested in “slow parenting” and “slow travel”) and Amy Gorman decides to interview older women artists to see how they keep at it. Very inspiring! (Makes me want to go get the book she wrote about it.)
  • Looking for role models – If I just bumbled through life with what I know and what I learned from my parents or my limited experiences, I wouldn’t have much to work with. It’s hard to create in a vacuum, to make something from not very much, so by looking around and seeing how others are fashioning interesting lives for themselves, I get ideas for how to dream bigger in my own. The documentary Who Does She Think She Is? is a recent example of this, my new heroes being those women who pursue their artistic life while also choosing motherhood. It helps me be more creative about how I spend my days to ask myself “who do I want to be like?” and “how do I start taking steps to become more like that now?”.
  • Reading – Just finished Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Very interesting studies, deserving of its own post later.
  • Planning things to look forward to – It’s easy to get into a rut of just going through the motions one day after another while childrearing. It can feel like Groundhog Day. But we’ve just planned a three-week trip to Taiwan in April, and the anticipation has been a tremendous boon to my energy level.

It really is amazing how different life feels with a little sleep and some inspiration. By taking care of my own spirit’s needs, I have so much more to give to my family. And maybe that will even trickle down to this blog. I might actually have some interesting things to share with you soon!

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Little Man Reads – 6 months

One of the perks of parenting, at least from the perspective of an aspiring author/illustrator, is having an excuse to read childrens books every day, multiple times a day. I can’t get enough of it, and fortunately, neither can my son. Periodically, I will post on Little Man’s favorites.

He started showing interest when he was three or four months old, for books like First Words and the ABC book from the Bright Baby First Learning Box by Roger Priddy. He liked photos of real objects or babies on bright backgrounds with big, bold words. When he became coordinated enough to reach out and grab and put everything in his mouth, his preference was soft cloth, interactive books. An old hand-me-down copy of The Busy Book was his favorite, even though we have some newer, flashier ones.

Now, at 6 months, he’s really into board books that have a good cadence or noises when I read to him. He can pick Sandra Boynton‘s Barnyard Dance out of a pile and will do so every time. The illustrations aren’t as bold and bright as he was into before, but he loves that we bounce to the rhythm and I slap my thigh and call it like a square dance. He’s also into the First Book of Sushi, Mirror Me, and Toes, Ears and Nose.

He’s not ready for longer picture books, which I can’t wait for him to get into. His attention span is too short and he still wants to grab or eat the pages, but I’ve had some luck reading him One Is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by Grace Lin. The sing-song verse plus the gorgeous pattern-filled pages and lots of children in action keep his attention. I love how multicultural it is; it shows all kinds of kids enjoying typical kid activities like playing in sprinklers and riding a carousel, but incorporates many things from Chinese culture, like dragon boat racing, mahjong, and foods like eggs tarts and fish balls while it teaches the concept of counting to ten. My husband is Chinese so it’s great to find books that will help us teach our little guy more about his heritage.

I would love suggestions for what your 6 month to 12 month old is/was into, so we can expand our library. Happy reading!