By Hannah Mermelstein
Saint Ann's School
In October I attended the USBBY conference in Seattle. USBBY is the US branch of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People. The theme of this year’s regional conference was “Radical Change Beyond Borders: The Transforming Power of Children’s Literature in a Digital Age.” As with all conferences, some speakers more directly addressed the theme than others, but all were either entertaining, informative, or both. You can find out more about the conference and its programs here, but for now, a few highlights:
- A local authors’ panel featured 3-minute presentations by each of 12 authors about their latest book, favorite book, or writing/illustrating process. The short nature of the presentations, and the fact that each author came up to the stage, showed a slide or two, and then left, made for an engaging hour rather than an overwhelming one. Authors included Karen Cushman, George Shannon, and a number of authors new to me.
- A session called “Illustrating Radically” featured Sonja Danowski, Suzy Lee, and Peter Sis. I especially enjoyed hearing Suzy Lee talk about how she uses the book gutter as a border in her books (Wave, Mirror, Shadow), and how some readers still don’t get it (including the Amazon reviewer who said they liked her book despite the publisher’s best effort to “ruin” it with sloppy printing that seems to show a girl disappearing into the page). :)
- A panel called “Indigenous Experiences in Children’s Books” featured Lisa Charleyboy (Dreaming in Indian), Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and Christy Jordan-Fenton (the last two are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and authors of the memoir Fatty Legs). The three read from their work and their stories were powerful, both in what they’ve written and in their use of acronyms like MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls); the fact that such an acronym exists underscores the magnitude of the problems their communities face.
- A session on “Asian American Experiences in Children’s Books” was perhaps my favorite, mostly because of the all-star lineup: Uma Krishnaswami, Linda Sue Park, and Philip Lee (of Lee & Low Books). Krishnaswami discussed her new book, Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh, about a girl who grew up in the mixed Punjab-Mexican community in World War Two-era California. She mentioned the research she did in order to successfully write outside her own experience (she’s from India but not Punjab, she is not Mexican, and she’s never played softball). Linda Sue Park, Newbery winner for A Single Shard, talked about the conscious decision to be seen as someone not *only* writing books with Asian themes. She came to write A Long Walk to Water because she personally knew Salva, the Sudanese “lost boy” at the book’s center. Her latest project is a fantasy series called Wing & Claw, the first book of which came out in March. Her other new exciting project: a novel about Henry VIII and his six wives, written by M.T. Anderson and six women, including Park, Candace Fleming, Deborah Hopkinson, and more!
- A continuation of the Linda Sue Park thread, but deserving its own point: Park spoke of her role as the internship coordinator for We Need Diverse Books. In her time, they have had 25 interns, and 12 now have full-time jobs in publishing. While 12 is not necessarily a revolution, it does mean 12 new diverse voices in the field of publishing, something that is so desperately needed.
Have you been to any children’s literature conferences or meetings recently? Share in the comments below, or give us a teaser and then write a guest blog post!