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, June 14, 2012

"A room full of elephants"

Dear Annie,

Emily's poetry post is spectacular.  I've ordered a few of the books for the store -- such knowledge and enthusiasm.  Thank you, Emily!

It's been a week since I was at Book Expo America, and I've finally found a site with Lois Lowry's speech, and some other excellent ones given at the Children's Author Breakfast.  Navigation there is a little odd.  Here's the site, then click on "Author Breakfasts and Editors' Buzz" so that tab turns green (you won't go to a new page), and look at the videos listed in a line beneath the video screen.  Tenth from the left is "Children's Book and Authors Breakfast," running 01:07:26. Speeches during that hour, and their hit times:
00:06:00 - Walter Dean Myers, current Ambassador for Young People's Literature (our post here) made opening remarks.
00:25:00 - John Green, about whom we've written here, with more below.
00:40:10 - Lois Lowry.
00:53:30 - Kadir Nelson, illustrator and author -- see posts here and here.
In the order of things that morning, as you can see, John Green spoke before Lowry.  He's both a good YA writer and a masterful internet and social media communicator.  Although he wears both hats, he gave an impassioned ode to the empathetic power of reading.  At one point, he described the setting -- a booksellers' convention -- as " like being in a room full of elephants, as an elephant, talking about how great elephants are."  Not sure how I feel about being an elephant, but it captured the we-all-love-books feeling in the room.  His speech got eclipsed a bit by Lowry's knock-out one, so I'm offering some excerpts here.

As you may have already seen in his video blog, Green speaks at breakneck speed, only occasionally implying commas or periods.  My transcription:

The thing about books is that because they are composed out of text, because there is this act of translation that one has to do when reading, because I have to turn these meaningless scratches on a page into ideas that exist inside my head, I become the co-creator of the story when I read the story, in a way that I don’t become the co-creator of any other kind of medium. Which is precisely why reading takes concentration and it takes focus and it is an activity that you can’t do while you do other things.  It’s a very unpopular kind of activity these days.  But it was through stories and through people like Scout Finch and Pecola Breedlove and Holden Caulfield that I came to understand that other people were really real – and those people being real by extension made you real.
  I don’t think we need to become something that you look at while you do other things. I don’t think we need to become twitter or tumblr – and god knows that I don’t think we need to become angry birds.  I can take a break from creating a Power Point and glance at twitter.  I can play angry birds for 20 seconds while I’m waiting for lunch.  But that is not how I read a book.  Reading is quiet and contemplative and immersive and that’s why I like it.  And that’s why it matters.  And that’s how we’re going to compete, is by being the thing that we’re great at. 
I do believe that someday someone will create a multimedia text-based narrative that lights the app store on fire but I don’t think that it will succeed because it has a lot of bells and whistles or social media integration or whatever. I think it will succeed because of its story.  I believe that story trumps everything.
A lot of applause for that line.

I hope your grading frenzy is easing up.  Your guest bloggers are excellent, but we all look forward to your return.



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