I read children's books. I say this confessionally, because I am so accustomed to being the only fully grown-up person around reading this stuff. So it is slightly surreal to attend the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents , in a ballroom ranked with hundreds of other people who get my literary allusions, arrayed to receive the more than sixty authors who spoke for as little as five minutes. But it was another YA author event in Philadelphia that literally shifted my perspective on what it is these people are doing.
Children's Book World in Haverford hosted a benefit signing for the Philadelphia Free Library last Sunday. Like the best indie book store experiences, CBW requires a cognitive shift to a place where bookstores contained books you actually wanted to buy. And last week you could have a conversation, immediately afterwards, with the author, in an environment devoid of the press and grab of the exhibit floor. And these were the authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen, Steven Kluger, Justine Larbalestier, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld, and Jacqueline Woodson. Wow, huh? (Westerfeld & Myracle above) But seeing these rather august individuals compelled to mill about with their readers make me think there is something to the industry quite apart from writing.
Perhaps its because of NaNoWriMo , and the extremely workmanlike advice I have seen distributed over the course of the month, but I began to see the process of working at this sort of writing for young people as distinct from sitting in a garret, waiting on the muse. It is more like content creation, crafting tools which will engage young people and push them forward on a path to full literacy and democratic participation. And we are like wholesalers for this work, connecting it with the end consumers, quite apart from any sense of literary merit. And I began to wonder about readership of YA outside of institutional settings, and how my own fangirl enthusiasm can help serve my students when I am too star-struck to attempt conversation. Meanwhile, the close proximity to these amazing authors will give me something to sigh about while shelving.
Prediction: As chain bookstores stock an increasingly limited range of materials, professional development opportunities connecting school librarians with noteworthy fiction will be more important than ever.