Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Children's-bookier than life as usual

I suspect I'm not the only one in this field who sometimes laughs at the concept of Children's Book Week. Celebrate by reading and talking about children's books, you say? Okay! While we're at it, we'll celebrate Breathing Week, and Walking and Talking Week, and Being a Carbon-Based Life form Week.

But then the calendar fills up with events, and there are organized opportunities to discuss children's books while concurrently breathing and being a carbon-based life form (and possibly walking and talking, depending on the nature of the event). This year, the highlight for me was A Place at the Table, a "speed-dating" event for rotating small-group discussions about the big topic these days, the conversation that I'm delighted people are clamoring to join: how #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

The Boston children's lit community has had discussions on this topic before, of course - even whole events on the subject that have raised important questions. But this event felt like a new step. The guidelines for the discussions asked that we keep the space safe by agreeing not to share specific people's sentiments without permission, so I'll only share my own, but I felt that the emphasis on "action steps" what each of us can take in our own spheres of influence forced us to start coming up with our own answers to the questions being raised lately. Can any of us solve the whole lack-of-diversity-in-kidlit issue single-handedly? Of course not. (For one thing, diversity by definition needs a variety of people.) But our store is getting more folktales from around the world in lately, and I can make it my business to familiarize myself with them so I'll be equipped to handsell them. I can handsell The Great Greene Heist even if Eight Cousins and Odyssey are going to beat the pants off us in the handselling challenge. I can be mindful of the need for diversity in my own writing. I can keep hanging out at the #WeNeedDiverseBooks party on social media, while bearing in mind that that's a fun and valuable first step, but it's only a first step.

And A Place at the Table was only one children's-booky part of a week that also included a galleylicious visit from our Candlewick rep, the kidsourced creation of a "we love books" poster for the store, and lots of reading and writing and children's book-related planning. (Apparently, I'm diversifying my writing by including made-up words. That's right, I said galleylicious.)

Now they tell me it's #IreadYA week! Guess I'd better get on that.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oh, snap! Creating bravely and making our mark at NESCBWI14

"Oh, snap!" That was a friend's response when I told her the theme of this year's New England SCBWI conference: Create Bravely: Make Your Mark. The theme really was ever-present this year as keynotes and workshops focused on taking risks. I have nothing but admiration for the attendees who got up in front of every-freakin'-body and pitched their manuscripts for this new thing called Pitchapalooza. (Now that I've seen it and know what's expected, I could see myself doing it next year please don't hold me to that, but signing up without seeing examples? Oh, snap.) Peter H. Reynolds talked about making your mark even if you think you can't draw, and Laurel Snyder rallied us to share the stories only we can tell. Agents and editors urged us to submit manuscripts that don't look like what's out there, particularly in terms of diversity (woot!). Authors encouraged us to look beyond the age categories prescribed by the industry. A Bravery Posse gave out gold stars - literally.

I'm sure the conference partly felt like it was about stepping outside our comfort zones because I was constantly thinking about my own projects, in which I'm doing some of that and hoping I'm getting it right. (We're talking small steps in which I remain wholly myself, as Madeline L'Engle might put it. No murder mysteries are forthcoming from me or anything.) At the risk of being infuriatingly vague, I feel inclined to create at least a little bit bravely.

Who can worry around friendly faces like these?

Simmons reunion! Photo shamelessly swiped from Sandy, co-registrar extraordinaire.