SLJ’s 2011 Day of Dialog: “The best thing about being a writer is that you have readers” – Katherine Paterson
So let’s get a grasp on what exactly it is I’m talking about here. Day of Dialog. A day when School Library Journal and roughly 1.5 billion children’s book publishers (read: 16, give or take) get together and attendees (who are mostly children’s librarians and children’s booksellers) get to witness a variety of interesting panels and previews of upcoming children’s books for the Fall season. It tends to be held on the Monday before BookExpo so that it doesn’t conflict with anything going on at that time. And since my library was closed that day for it’s big time Centennial celebration, I thought to myself, “Why not go? I could report on what went on and have some fun along the way.”
Of course I had forgotten that I would be typing all that occurred on Dead-Eye the Wonder Laptop: Capable of carrying at least two hours of charge in its battery . . . and then dying altogether. So it was that I spent much of the day seeking out outlets and either parking myself next to them or watching my charging laptop warily across a crowded room. Hi-ho the glamorous life.
I was hardly the only person reporting on the day. Swift like the bunnies are the SLJ posts on the matter including the article BEA 2011: Paterson, Handler, Gidwitz a Huge Hit at SLJ’s Day of Dialog.
Day of Dialog is useful in other ways as well. It means getting galleys you might otherwise not have access to. It means sitting in a nice auditorium with a belly full of muffin. Interestingly the only problem with sitting in the audience when you are pretty much nine months pregnant (aside from the whole theoretical “lap” part of “laptop computer”) is that you start eyeing the panelists’ water bottles with great envy. I brought my own, quickly went through it, and then found myself wondering at strategic points of the day and with great seriousness “If I snuck onto the stage between speakers, do you think anyone would notice if I downed the remains of Meghan McCarthy’s bottled water?” I wish I could say I was joking about this.
Brian Kenney, me boss o’ me blog and editor of SLJ, started us off with a greeting. He noted that he had placed himself in charge of keeping everything on track and on schedule. This seemed like a hazardous job because much of the day was dedicated to previews of upcoming books, and there is no good way to gently usher a sponsor off of a stage. Nonetheless, Brian came equipped with a small bell. Throughout the day that little bell managed to have a near Pavlovian influence on the panelists. Only, rather than make them drool, it caused them to get this look of abject fear that only comes when you face the terror of the unknown. For some of them, anyway. Others didn’t give a flying hoot.
“It wasn’t wallpapering.”
Keynote Speaker Katherine Paterson
Luann Toth came after Brian to introduce our keynote speaker though, as she pointed out, “Does anyone really need to introduce Katherine Paterson?” Point taken. Now upon entering the auditorium this day, each attendee had been handed a signed copy of a new novel by Ms. Paterson and her husband (with illustrations by John Rocco) Flint Heart. Ms. Paterson is our current Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, a position that allows the holder to speak about his or her own upcoming projects with the greatest of ease. The focus on the book, therefore, made that much more sense and I, for one, was glad. I’d been hearing vague things about this title for a while and now I was finally going to get the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.
Now by all appearances the book is (and I hesitate to say this definitively) Ms. Paterson’s first fantasy novel. She’s done fantasy picture books of varying lengths in the past, but novel-wise I’m hard pressed to come up with anything to compare. It makes me ponder what it is about the form that lures in children’s authors who win awards for their serious fare. Lois Lowry is a good example of this. One minute she’s winning Newberys for Number the Stars. These days it’s all about the Gossamer, The Birthday Ball, and Bless This Mouse. Whence the change?
Paterson, for the record, is lovely. As you might expect. You don’t want me to say that she’s anything but that and I’m happy to oblige because, quite frankly, it’s true. I met Ms. Paterson very briefly once at an SCBWI cocktail party years ago where, if memory serves me right, my witty repartee consisted of me screaming, “You’re Katherine Paterson!” I have no doubt that this insight on my part has stayed with her long since, though I will never be able to confirm or deny it because she intimidates me and I haven’t the guts to approach her again.
Flint Heart is, as we’ve said, a collaboration between her husband and herself. And how is it to collaborate with one’s own spouse? “Well it’s a lot more fun than wallpapering the living room.” To explain the true origins Ms. Paterson began with giving full credit to, of all authors, Margaret Mahy. She explained that years ago she handed her husband The Catalogue of the Universe (winner of the 2005 Phoenix Award) when introducing him to her favorite authors. He fell head over heels in love with this book to the point where he would purchase it for all their friends (she points out that he’s never bought 12 copies of her book the same way). Fortunately, “Unlike ordinary writers I lack a sense of envy.” This said with infinite wry.
Now a couple of years ago Horn Book asked authors and illustrators to name the book that should most be read by children in the 21st century in an article called Future Classics. Katherine said Charlotte’s Web (indeed she was a little shocked to discover that no other author had suggested it). Margaret Mahy mentioned a far more obscure little title, however, that was called The Flint Heart by Eden Phillpotts. Said she:
“Many years ago, when I was aged about ten, I began reading a book called The Flint Heart by British writer Eden Phillpotts. In the second chapter, Phutt, the dying chief of a stone-age tribe, orders Fum, the tribal magician, to pass the Flint Heart (a wicked charm) to his grandson in order to ensure continued family dominance. Fum, however, disobeys him.”
John, ever the ardent Mahy fan, sought the book out, 1910 copyright and all. Once he had finished devouring it and loving it he next embarked on a personal quest to get it republished (did he consider the New York Review of Books, I wonder?). The problem? Well, as with many a 100+ year old book there are some dated elements. For example, there were entire pages just listing fairies and sly references to British politics at the turn of the LAST century. John was writing books for kids himself as well and when his book was accepted by Candlewick he was convinced they would republish the Phillpotts masterpiece. Various ideas were tossed around, including turning it into a graphic novel (which was summarily rejected). So everyone involved decided to create “a free abridgement of the original text”. Mission in hand, Katherine and John set to work. They’ve done four books together before so far, so this wasn’t new territory for them. In this particular case their strategy was to reread the book, then go through it chapter by chapter. John would take notes and Katherine would rewrite accordingly. If she disagreed or was confused she’d discuss it with him.
It had to hang together and it had to work. Finally, it was finished during the Christmas/New Year holiday. They sent it off to their editor but didn’t expect to hear from her for a while since she was on maternity leave. Four days later, during said maternity leave, Karen at Candlewick wrote back. After reading the response Katherine informed her husband that in her 40+ years she’d never gotten a letter like this before. To sum up: It’s good. Candlewick was pleased.
It would be interesting to compare the two novels. Indeed Monica Edinger at Educating Alice has done exactly that, though she has yet to post her results.
At this point Ms. Paterson sort of won me over when she started praising the fantastic John Rocco. John, to my mind, doesn’t get enough attention these days, so to hear Ms. Paterson praising him so voraciously… well it does the heart good. She spoke a little about Eden Phillpotts too . . . a man! He lived a good 98 years. Was an insurance salesman, an actor, and an author. British. He was a passionate conservationist. Said Ms. Paterson, “We think he’s terrific.”
With exquisite aplomb Ms. Paterson segued into a talk about the sense of wonder one may find in some novels that is lacking in others. What you’ll find in Jonathan Swift rather than, say, George Orwell. But in the end, “The best thing about being a writer is that you have readers.” Well put. “You have to work to read a book. You watch a movie passively.” This was mentioned in context with the film version of The Bridge to Terabithia. It was, in the end, a very good movie (thanks, she said, to her son’s work on it) and then she discussed the infamous trailer. She hated that trailer. That’s fair. We all hated that trailer. Do you remember the cries of pain that emitted from the internet when that thing was released? It was, as she said, the kind of trailer designed to disappoint every person on every level. In fact she even went so far as to point out to the executives who made it that readers of the book were turned off by the trailer and that kids who didn’t read the book but were into fantasy (which is what the trailer promise) would ALSO feel betrayed when they saw the movie. The film, however, was a film they could all be proud of. It’s funny to think that nowadays the actor that played Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is about to play Peeta in The Hunger Games. Small movie world.
Inevitably one wonders what Ms. Mahy thinks of this work on her beloved book. Ms. Paterson did not say. One hopes that she approves. Otherwise, this would be quite disappointing.
Finally Ms. Paterson ended by thanking teachers and librarians. She’s a class act, that one and if you’d like a different take on Ms. Paterson’s speech you can read the PW article BEA Show Daily 2011: Katherine Paterson Resurrects a Victorian Tale.
Panel #1: Diversity in YA Literature
Still on schedule (it wouldn’t last) the first panel came up. Our own Liz Burns of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy was the moderator for a panel consisting of Rita Williams-Garcia, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Paul Griffin (whose newest book, Stay with Me Liz said, “broke my heart in a good way”). I like it when moderators are next to their panelists, but poor Liz was at a podium on the other side of the stage. This proved to be a good place for the moderators to be, however, since some panelists were unfortunately positioned directly in front of a screen onto which many images were projected.
I confess that since the topic involved YA Literature I did not pay much attention. YA is not my bag so I’ll just skip this one except to make a couple notes. Liz pointed out early on what a nice smattering of genres were being represented (historical fiction, contemporary realistic, fantasy, but no sci-fi). Over the course of an hour she also helped them touch on what they read as teens, their own definition of diversity, the Diversity Tour, authenticity, where are we going, etc. Together they defined the term “diversity”. “I’d like the reading world to reflect our actual world”, said Malinda Lo.
Paul Griffin, whom I had never seen in person before, turned out to be a fascinating fellow to watch. He speaks with this amazing New York accent, the kind you always kind of wish you could run into but rarely do. It’s fantastic. If his publisher had real sense they’d have him recite his own audiobooks. Seriously. In great detail, Griffin would explain how as a kid his dad would pitch novels to his son to get him to read books like Invisible Man. That book, he said, was about a cool loner without a name. Oh, thought young Paul. Clint Eastwood!
In fact, if you’d like a very thorough and fun rundown of this program, Mr. Griffin posted a great piece over at Bowllan’s Blog. Everything you’ll want to know, you will find there.
Now the next panel up and running was a publisher preview, but I figure that kind of thing would make for a better post all by itself. So I’ll skip over the previews for this point and put ’em up later this week.
“What are you gonna do, paste fur on the iPad?”
Panel #2: The Children’s App Landscape
The App Panel consisted of Moderator Lisa Von Drasek (Bank Street College librarian), and panelists Linda Braun (Libraries and Educators Online), Virginia Duncan (Harper Collins), Caroline Fraser (Scholastic), and Scott Gordon (Random House).
Brian began the discussion by saying that this may be the year of the app. In response, app reviews will start on SLJ in June. For my own part I’ve started doing them on my own blog, though I don’t know how regular that will be.
Now Lisa is a brilliant moderator at any and all times. The world would be a much smoother place if she simply was handed worldwide control of any and all moderation. And she’s as good as she is partly because when time is pressed (as it was at this point), she knows how to synthesize. I felt bad she had to stand at the podium, of course, but ah well. I meanwhile, had an excellent view of her and a so-so view of the panelists because I had to station myself in a chair along the wall once the danged battery on my laptop decided to die on me.
Lisa started by bringing up the criteria by which we judge apps, which was a point I put in my own SLJ article on the subject. For her part, Lisa said that in the end all criteria comes down to story. And reading through a whole mess of apps she was disappointed to find that more often than not, story was lacking. Then, finally, she saw the app for the Tad Hills book, How Rocket Learned to Read. Here’s the trailer they showed:
It’s narrated by Hope Davis, which was a clever move. And the trailer got me to thinking. Generally speaking, app trailers make a lot more sense than book trailers. I mean, it’s all a question of access. A person can flip through a book in a store. They can get the physical object in front of themselves. But an app? Either you buy it sight unseen or you don’t. App stores sometimes allow you a “preview” section where you can look before you buy, but this is hardly standard. Meanwhile you can read all the reviews in the world of a book app but unless you can see a little of it yourself at work in a trailer, you’re still out to sea.
Rather than pepper the panel with questions, Lisa stood back and let them present themselves, one by one. Virginia Duncan was up first with the pretty pretty Freight Train. I’ve talked this one up before in a couple different contexts before, and if you’re not familiar with it then I encourage you to seek it out. Our press release had said that author Donald Crews himself would be present, so I was a little disappointed when it was clear that he wasn’t coming. Turns out he had his knee replaced recently and his recovery was slower than he’d anticipated so Virginia read a statement from him instead.
Donald has sort of become the face of author/illustrators who embrace apps of their books. The ones who not only aren’t afraid of the technology but actively embrace it. I wonder to myself if it makes a difference to the author/illustrator if the books slated for app-i-fication are brand new or if they’ve been published (and potentially out-of-print) for years. Of course Freight Train, to the best of my knowledge, has never been out of print so Donald was truly given an “it’s your call” decision. He decided to help Greenwillow out, while retaining quite a lot of influence over the final product. In his letter he explained that while it might have been tempting to add things to the app, he worked very hard to retain the original feel and aspect of the book.
Then Virginia gave some background on their process together. Interestingly, work on the app started as early as 2009 (early embracers indeed). They were looking at “popular, already-published books” though original titles weren’t off the table. Freight Train was perfect, in part because its lesser known sequel Inside Freight Train could provide the art for peering inside of the train. No new art would need to be created. Then Virginia showed Don’s storyboards for the app, which once more made it clear that what may sometimes separate a good app from a bad app is creator input. Don was also involved in the voice talent (for the narrator in English as well as the narrator in Spanish), as well as the public domain music that was used. And he stood firm in his belief that no original art would be created for the app. This in spite of the designer’s pleas.
You can get a sense of what the app looks like here:
All this talk suddenly made me realize that there are other older picture book titles out there that would work just as beautifully as Freight Train. Think about what an app for Round Trip by Ann Jonas might do. Wouldn’t that be a brilliant choice? Or the comic possibilities of Black and White by David Macaulay. The possibilities are endless.
Caroline Fraser was up next. Her presentation was less a single title explained and more a vast overview of some of Scholastic’s apps. Scholastic took a lot of its big brands (Clifford, Goosebumps, 39 Clues, etc.) and adapted them to the app format. Over the course of the presentation it occurred to me that on a panel such as this, showing off a single app rather than a bunch may be a better presentation format, if only because a single app stays in your brain long after you’re done. A bunch of apps, in contrast, leave you a bit baffled by what their individual qualities might be.
What I did pick up from the presentation was that the Walter Wick I SPY books make for natural apps. Ditto 39 Clues, though when Ms. Fraser mentioned that series it made me wonder the extent to which author Patrick Carman has embraced apps. He likes technology, but seems to be more of an online guy. Ah well. He didn’t seem to come up in this particular conversation, so I remain unclear.
Of all the apps Ms. Fraser mentioned, The Magic School Bus ones are probably going to be the most telling. There are so many ways you could go with that series, so I’d be interested in seeing their app firsthand. There’s no way of telling from just looking at stills whether or not they’re taking full advantage of their premise. I thought that maybe a video review would clear up this question but unfortunately I don’t quite trust this Kirkus review of one of the Magic School Bus apps. The reviewer sort of loses me right at the start when he refers to the teacher as “Miss Frizzie”.
Scott from Random House was up next. He immediately switched out computers which seemed a particularly gutsy move considering the plethora of strange experiences panelists had with technology this day. However it seemed to work out fine for him. Scott clearly does this a lot. Then in one fell swoop he proceeded to mention the apps for Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, Pat the Bunny (I definitely saw some question mark rising above folks’ heads when he said that), Princess Baby by Karen Katz, and The Poky Little Puppy, the mere mention of which got the whole room to say “awww”, which was mildly unnerving.
Since the Pat the Bunny app is the one that makes folks the most curious, Scott began with that. He mentioned that his mom had said to him, “What are you gonna do, paste fur on the iPad?” which got a big laugh from the audience. And I admit that I was skeptical at first, but I gotta credit him with this one. After all, the whole reason Pat the Bunny was big in the first place was because it was interactive. The great children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore notoriously did not approve of such tactile books. More recently I remember folks complaining about its plastic spiral binding and its propensity to pinch tiny fingers. With all this in mind, the company made 14 interactive scenes and placed them within the app. Said Scott, they consider it a companion to Pat the Bunny. Like so:
When he managed to actually project the app to the screen (sending Lisa into paroxysms of delight) he showed how you make a table of contents for kids who don’t read. In providing this information he inadvertently hit on one of the app aspects I’ve always wanted in the reading experience. Basically, I want you to be able to go to any page at any time. This app does that. And there was some new art created for the app, but it’s subtle.
A pet peeve of mine with apps is when a game suddenly appears in the middle of the reading experience, distracting the child. That, unfortunately does exist with this app in the paint mode. To his credit, Scott did mention that he thinks it’s a bad idea but says he likes this because it’s really good for their level of find motor skills. Can’t say as I personally agree, but it’s less distracting than some book app games, perhaps.
Next he showed us the Wild About Books app and its crazy 3-D environment. It’s kind of fantastic.
Linda Braun who was on my SLJ app panel was up next and had a heck of a lot of fascinating things to say. Braun’s approach to apps was far more sophisticated than those of her publishing peers. For example, she mentioned the five different categories of ideas when making apps: Selection, Curation, Connection, Interaction, and Engagement. Linda spoke about “building collections” of apps in the hopes that someday they’ll circulate. Which means we, the librarians, have to do the selection. She called this “curation”, a buzzword that’s been floating around a bit lately. Don’t believe me? Liz Burns found a New York Times article (admittedly from 2008) that covers that very notion. The idea is that since we are dealing with information overload, we need to be able to curate content (which was always our role to a certain extent). I have to admit, this is a sexy term. And she drilled home that we need to curate apps. The aforementioned app panel covered some of the difficulties with this, which I recommend you seek out. For my part, I wish that more people who talk about apps in public libraries would acknowledge the lack of funding that currently exists for these projects to take place.
And that was that! For more on this panel you can read all about it in the SLJ article Tech Trends: Getting Down to Business with Children’s Book Apps.
Lunch Speaker: Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket
Lunch occurred at this point, and I had rather hoped that Mr. Handler would serenade us with his dulcet tones while we munched on oily potato chips and big black and white cookies (what, me eat healthy?). Instead, he was less the “lunch speaker” and more the “digestion speaker” as I parked myself in the audience after my meal to see what it was he had to say.
“I am a 41-yr. old Caucasian male,” he began. He then laid out the rules of the day. When a slide of a towel stained with the circular footprints of onion rings appeared on the screen, we would be encouraged to ask questions. “I don’t know how I could make it any more clear than that.”
At this point my top-notch note taking took a turn for the worse. This was partly because Mr. Handler is very good at slides. In this case he showed a series of ridiculous photographs that Maira Kalman sent him and explained that each time she sends him such an image he writes her a small story to accompany it. I am praying that Day of Dialog was filmed because even with my whizbang pregnancy carpal tunnel defying typing skillset, I still could not adequately capture what he came up with. They were just too funny.
Next up, Handler spoke a bit about his prior Maira Kalman/Snicket collaboration, the picture book 13 Words. You remember that one, yes? It had a trailer I much enjoyed, as I recall. Here. You can listen to Mr. Handler himself if you like:
Mr. Handler mentioned that he included a plethora of cakes in this book because he knows that Ms. Kalman likes cake. His own favorite cake is poppyseed. “I’m not going to say no to a piece of red velvet cake but I’m not going to think about it when I’m not eating it.” Amen to that.
Roundabout this time the maintenance staff decided that we weren’t getting the full Handler experience, and they attempted to raise and dim the lights for a while for fun. He was a good sport about ignoring this, but after it grew to be too much and he interjected with a polite but firm, “Any lighting scheme is fine but I think we should chose just one.” This got a great deal of applause.
When asked how he came to be friends with Ms. Kalman, Handler explained that originally he met Maira at the Bologna Children’s Festival. Or, as I like to call it, the happiest place on earth. “We should all go. Why are we here?” Figures he wasn’t there the year that I was. Anyway, he was an enormous fan of her work and that was pretty much that.
Of course the real reason he was present this day was for his second Kalman collaboration. For this book he asked Maira what she wanted to paint. Turns out, she wanted to paint small objects. So this, in turn, lead to the YA novel coming out with Little Brown this fall, Why We Broke Up. Earlier this same title was referred to by Luann Toth as a crossover book. I assume she means adult crossover because while it is beautiful it is hardly a middle grade tween novel. And Little Brown was kind enough to give us all signed galleys as well. Pretty sweet.
After explaining the premise, Mr. Handler mentioned that in the book’s couple’s life, “in their relationship they lose two things: virginity and an umbrella.”
“Thank goodness it’s the umbrella slide, eh?”
At this point I just started copying down the bon mots. It was easier.
– Handler sang in Tosca as a boy. “Until puberty wrecked my career. My parents say they considered castration and I think, in retrospect, that they made the right choice.”
– “Maira Kalman has an onion ring collection…. They keep.”
– On the internet: “Like a long magazine on your computer with mostly porn articles.”
– When asked what she wanted to draw, “I was a little worried that she would say, ‘I want to paint Freud . . . and sugar cubes’.”
– His particular summaries of Goodnight Moon and Swimmy should be done in three-panel comics by his wife, Lisa Brown. Just my two cents. Actually, I kept coming up with book ideas for the man’s family. At one point Mr. Handler mentioned that his son (5) wrote a book and asked his dad to pass it on to his editor. Called Sam and Bagel and Their Baby Bacon. Mr. Handler explained that while his family is non-practicing Jewish, they don’t have bacon in the house in the same way that fallen Catholics still feel guilty about sex. Personally, I think that book should see the light of day. The title alone has potential.
Because I was in the second row I had a great deal of fun looking at Katherine Paterson in the audience watching Daniel Handler. First one. Then the other. It sort of shook up my universe a bit. I also happen to love this picture of the audience during the talk because it puts in my mind the old Sesame Street song One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.
When the questions arose we got a little inside information on a variety of different topics. For example, The Composer is Dead is now being turned into a puppet theater. James Mason would have been the world’s best Count Olaf. And because I apparently can’t get through a day this week without mentioning the illustrator Jon Klassen in some way, Handler’s next picture book will be with that supremely talented individual. It is called The Dark.
“And that shit doesn’t happen in high school!”
Panel #3: Picture Book Biographies
Mediated by Martha Parravano (A Family of Readers), this next panel consisted of Patrick McDonnell (Me…Jane), Meghan McCarthy (The Incredible Life of Balto), Matt de la Pena (A Nation’s Hope), and Melissa Sweet (Balloons Over Broadway). A rather grand line-up, no?
Meghan was up first! Until recently I was unaware that she has a biography of that Nome-saving dog Balto coming out, but out it is coming! For fun, Meghan showed her research process on the title (which I won’t discuss too much since I have every intention of reviewing that book). Altogether Meghan showed video clips from newsreels, photographs, and even newspaper articles (I love that one newspaper she showed carried a second scandalous headline about “Chaplin’s Bride”). And to my amazement Meghan discovered that these days Balto is stuffed and on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “You can see him today!” Always assuming he’s on display, that is.
Melissa Sweet was up next, which made me pretty excited. I’ve never seen her in person before! You probably know her best for her Caldecott Honor winning picture book A River of Words by Jen Bryant. Well in this particular case she spoke about her new title Balloons Over Broadway which I’ve seen and really really like. This is the first book that Ms. Sweet has both written AND illustrated. The story concerns Tony Sarg, a puppeteer responsible for the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ms. Sweet said she heard about this guy ‘from a fellow illustrator’ and . . . wait wait wait. Hold the phone. Was that guy the illustrator Ward Jenkins? I only ask because I believe (and my memory may be a bit fuzzy about this) that years ago Ward mentioned the same dang thing to me when he saw that Sarg had illustrated a picture in my children’s room’s guest book (we own some pretty old guest books). I’d check the guest book right now, but unfortunately it’s on display in the current Centennial exhibit. There are worse things.
In any case, Ms. Sweet’s hook for the book was the toys that Mr. Sarg created and used. To work on the title properly, therefore, she made her own toys too. Giving a little background to the story, she pointed out that in the early days the parade was 7 miles long with live animals from the zoo. This was, needless to say, a bad idea. When the animals got agitated the parade organizers turned to Sarg for an alternative. He came up with the idea of balloons one year, and the next of getting the balloons so they’d be upside down marionettes. It was important to Ms. Sweet to make sure that this was always Mr. Sarg’s story and not the history of the parade. As she says, she wanted to show “how a designer thought”.
Matt de la Pena is a fellow who tends to do novels. Now he has done a picture book, the Joe Louis biography A Nation’s Hope, and the Caldecott buzz has been flying fast and furious around it. The four starred reviews it’s garnered don’t hurt much either. When asked why he got into picture books Mr. Pena told a story of sitting on a book panel with Bryan Collier. At that time Mr. Collier told a story of a time he went to a school and all the kids were waiting outside. When he asked why they weren’t in class they said, “We’ve been waiting for you our whole lives.” Quote Mr. de la Pena, “And that shit doesn’t happen in high school!” He asked Bryan if kids would ever do that for him and Bryan said, “Matt, they’re waiting for you right now.” The timing of this book is particularly good, what with Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney coming out at just about the same time. Might be a good idea to pair of the two together in some context. Something to consider.
Lastly was Patrick McDonnell. I’ve sort of covered him before, though, so if you’d like to know what he talked about you can check out his speech at the Spring 2011 Little Brown preview from last fall. I would like to thank Martha for quoting my review of his book in his introduction, though.
“I want to hang out with that doodle.”
Panel #4: Stellar Debut Authors
Last panel of the day and a fascinating line-up. Here we found Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark & Grimm), Julie Kagawa (The Iron King), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out and Back Again), and Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy). Four superb authors, and Brian Kenney (now moderating) pointed out that this is one seriously diverse variety of types of books. All four books catch the reader from the first page, and all of them have a very strong voice. Of the four, Ms. Kagawa was the only person I was unfamiliar with. In her book a girl finds out that she is the daughter of Oberon. YA, sadly.
Everyone discussed the impetus for their books’ creations. Ms. Lai discussed how she came to write her own book. Apparently she came to it after reading a notice in the SCBWI bulletin about how teachers were looking for new ways to teach the Vietnam War. Batta bing! Dave Roman, for his part, wanted to do a book about side characters because he always was more interested in the minor characters. One example might be Luna Lovegood and Neville or Willow and Oz on Buffy. As a result his book is really about a troop of characters.
Brian asked about the motivation behind these books. A “why now?” question. Ms. Kagawa stepped up to the plate. She mentioned that in her world fairies have evolved out of our technology. I liked that idea. We had that whole “urban fairy” boom about 5-10 years ago, but evolution never really played into many of the stories so this is a nice switch. Then Adam talked about being a substitute teacher and reading the original Grimm fairytale “Faithful Johannes” to a group of second graders in his school’s library. “So some of them went into the corner to weep…” Hearing this I was sorry that Mr. Handler didn’t stick around to hear Adam. Thannha had a Vietnamese protagonist learning English and how do you write that? And Dave said that his idea came when a friend asked him to pitch for a manga anthology. He doesn’t draw in a manga style but thought it was neat, so he wanted to make a kind of mix-tape of all the stuff he loved growing up. Then he talked about how going to art school can kill your confidence when everyone can draw, not just you.
Brian next asked what their writing experience was prior to writing their first group. That’s a really good question. Dave serialized a series online which gave him instant feedback. And he did take a comedy writing class but it was awful. Thannha has an MFA from NYU which meant she wrote a novel for 10 years that never got published. She felt you’re better off taking a writing workshop. It’s more about finding how to do it. Adam was in a workshop class at Bank Street with Amy Hest but had difficulty. Reading his work to kids directly, he said, is more useful to him. Ms. Kagawa is participating in a writing group which is helpful. It’s always good to have another pair of eyes look over your work.
Finally, Brian asked how the books got found and published. Kagawa got a lot of rejections. Then, one day, she was at a writers’ workshop in Louisville, Kentucky and at the end of it agents and editors were brought in for pitches. At long last she got an agent after years and years, but her manuscript never sold. So she worked on The Iron King instead. Adam’s story he says is not as interesting, but I’d disagree. He wrote a puppet play and a parent came up telling him it was really well done. That parent turned out to be an agent of children’s fiction. Batta bing. Lai just Googled “middle grade agent new york city” and went with what went up. In 2 days she had an agent. As for Dave, Astronaut Academy was online when he was a full time editor at Nickelodeon Magazine. One day an editor at Little Brown emailed out of the blue to come in. He went in. Little Brown said it loved the comic but it wasn’t for kids. So… bye. After that he met an agent who gave him “the talk” with “How much do you think you’re worth?” type questions. Then it was just a matter of turning it into a book.
When asked about the best reactions they’ve received to their books, I liked Dave’s where a kid wrote him and said they wanted to hang out with his main character. And Dave’s like, “Whoa. This is just a doodle from my notebook and somebody’s like ‘I want to hang out with that doodle’.”
And while I can’t say that anyone necessarily “won” this discussion, I find it significant that SLJ chose to include these three names in its summary of the day: BEA 2011: Paterson, Handler, Gidwitz a Huge Hit at SLJ’s Day of Dialog.
Thanks to SLJ for allowing me to sit in on all this craziness. If you’re coming to NYC around the time of BEA next year, be sure you keep an eye out for the next Day of Dialog. They’re seriously worth visiting.
Photos stolen with a shocking lack of guilt from SLJ’s Photos of the Week as well as the article BEA 2011: Paterson, Handler, Gidwitz a Huge Hit at SLJ’s Day of Dialog.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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