In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

BEA & energizing authors

Dear Annie,

I’m just back from New York where I spent a day at BEA (Book Expo America: the booksellers’ convention). The day started with a really wonderful breakfast where three children’s book authors spoke. I realized after it was over that if I’m going to be blogging, I have to dust off my old journalist’s instincts and start taking notes. I didn’t, alas, but wanted to give you a few impressions.

Cory Doctorow is the author of Little Brother, a novel about Homeland Security gone wild, and the current For the Win. He was incredibly moving. He talked about the intensity of adolescence and how it’s a great age to write for. Tries to stay very connected to his audience, is deep into the world of high technology, cares deeply about injustice, and was a pleasure to listen to. I’m not doing him justice here, but in the spirit of this blog will quote one line from the bio on his website on a completely different topic:
“On February 3, 2008, he became a father. The little girl is called Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow, and is a marvel that puts all the works of technology and artifice to shame.”

Mitali Perkins
is a Bangladeshi-born, New York-raised author I wasn’t familiar with. Her current book, Bamboo People is about a friendship between two boys on the Thai-Burmese border. Her books all tend to be about cultures in conflict. She talked about kids’ books falling into two categories: mirror books or window books. Basically, a mirror book has elements with which the reader can strongly identify (she talked about Little Women being a mirror book for her because she was in a family of sisters), and a window book introduces you to experience foreign to your own.

And Richard Peck (I can’t find a website for him, which makes sense), the third speaker, was an angry and impassioned 76 year-old guy. I know him best for A Long Way from Chicago and sequels – middle-grade stories of the Midwest during the Depression for which he won a Newbery Honor, and for the first sequel, the Newbery Medal. He’s currently flacking Three Quarters Dead which harks back to his roots as a horror writer. Three girls are killed in a car accident while the driver is on her cell phone. The fourth, surviving member of their group starts receiving text messages from the dead ones… Peck made it clear that he hates cell phones, a lot of other technology, and what he sees as anti-authoritarian, anti-intellectual culture inspired by the upheavals of the 60s. He said he quit teaching (in the NYC school system) in 1971 (the year of Doctorow’s birth) because that’s when they took teachers’ authority away. I disagreed with a lot of what he was saying – and liked some of it too – but it was a pleasure to listen to someone who cared so deeply about communicating with kids through his writing.

Walking out of the breakfast, on my way to a day of visiting publishers’ exhibits at the Javits Center, I felt renewed. Here were three wildly different authors, all of whom had very strong world views, writing very different kinds of books, and caring deeply. It’s part of what makes my job so satisfying.



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