04 Jul

My ALA wrap-up, in which I give a civil rights pioneer a piece of gum

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This time (early) last Sunday morning, I was on my way to Washington, D.C., for a quick visit to the conference of the American Library Association. My time in D.C. turned out to be not quite as brief as I’d expected (more on that in a minute), but it was every bit as jam-packed and enjoyable. Here are a few of the many highlights and otherwise memorable aspects of the experience:

The First Person I Ran Into at the Convention Center
My Austin friend Liz Scanlon. If you want to be easily spotted on a crowded show floor, it helps to have great hair. Liz has great hair.

The Complete Current, Recent, Long-Ago, or We’ll-Them-Anyway Austinite Wrap-Up
I saw Liz again at the banquet where Marla Frazee picked up the Caldecott Honor for illustrating Liz’s All the World. Jacqueline Kelly was there, too, to receive her Newbery Honor for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. In the post-banquet receiving line, I met Thom Barthelmess, president of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), which sponsors the awards — I hadn’t known that he used to be the youth services manager at the Austin Public Library. Austin librarian extraordinaire Jeanette Larson was also there, and earlier in the day, I got to meet Vicky Smith, the children’s book review editor at Kirkus, which is now owned by an Austin company. On Monday, I was delighted to see Austin authors P.J. Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson when they dropped by while I was signing Shark Vs. Train. And it would not be a legitimate publishing event if I hadn’t gotten to see former Austin bookseller Heather Scott.

Holy Moly, I Got to Go to the Caldecott/Newbery Banquet!
Eerdmans, the publisher of one of my forthcoming books, invited me to sit at their table and, in the process, made me want to never, ever, ever not be at one of these banquets. At the Eerdmans table alone, I got to meet Melissa Sweet, who received a Caldecott Honor last year for A River of Words, and also visit briefly with and/or holler across the tablecloth at Carole Boston Weatherford and Jen Bryant. Before, during, and after the dinner, the elbow-rubbing opportunities were off the charts — old friends, editors I’d been wanting to meet, freshly behobbled and temporarily tattooed Betsy Bird, John Green (whom I quickly gushed at over Will Grayson, Will Grayson as we were commanded to take our seats), Françoise Mouly (whom I gushed at in a more leisurely fashion over her Little Lit books adored by my sons), and many more folks, including my marvelous agent, Erin Murphy.

Plus, Those Speeches!
I’ve been reading the Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches in The Horn Book for years now, so to hear them as they were delivered — exceptionally well, I should add — by Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney — was a thrill. It was a little disconcerting, though, to find a souvenir CD containing those very speeches at my place at the table before the banquet even started. So much for being able to procrastinate on those suckers.

Breakfast #1
Don’t be surprised, if you go to a restaurant called “Teaism,” to find that they don’t serve coffee. It’s kind of a thing with them.

Breakfast #2
The main reason I was at ALA this year was to attend the ALSC breakfast where the Sibert awards (along with the Batchelder and Geisel book awards, plus the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video) were handed out. The breakfast included coffee (which had become kind of a thing with me by that time), nifty speeches (including one by Mo Willems, for his Carnegie, that really ought to receive an award of its own next year), and the opportunity to say hello again to Sibert medalist Tanya Lee Stone and honoree Brian Floca, and to introduce myself to my other fellow honoree, Phillip Hoose.

Just to My Left…
At the Sibert ceremony, I got to sit next to Claudette Colvin, the subject of Phillip’s deservingly lauded book Twice Toward Justice. During one of the speeches, I surreptitiously (I thought) snuck a package of gum from my coat pocket and began to extract a piece. That’s when I felt an elbow in my side and from the corner of my eye saw Ms. Colvin smile. I gave her a piece of gum. I figured it was the very least I could do.

Books for the Trip Home
I managed to bring home only two new books from ALA, but I sure chose well (and exclusively from Charlesbridge, the publisher of The Day-Glo Brothers): Mitali PerkinsBamboo People and Karen C. Fox and Nancy Davis’ Older Than the Stars.

About That Trip Home…
Around 4 p.m. Monday, after a late lunch with Shark Vs. Train‘s editor, Alvina Ling, I took a cab to Union Station. From there, I took Amtrak to the Baltimore airport, then a shuttle bus from the train station to the terminal. At pretty much the same moment I arrived to check in for my flight, it was canceled (for reasons presumed to be weather-related but which were never actually explained by American Airlines). So, I hopped a bus back to D.C., and took the Metro to back to the hotel I’d checked out of that morning, arriving five hours after I’d begun trying to leave town. I decided to view the whole thing as an unplanned adventure, and in fact I did get to see some mighty pretty Maryland countryside from my seat on the bus. Andrea Spooner’s profile of Jerry Pinkney in the current Horn Book really helped me keep things in perspective:

Jerry would be the first to say that he’s been blessed in many ways, but luck is not always in his favor when it comes to traveling. Every time I speak to him after a trip, there is a story of wretched flight delays or other mishaps. And yet he always relays these tales with a bemused chuckle, in the spirit of “Such is life! Why complain?”

Breakfast #3
This one wasn’t supposed to happen, and I’m not entirely convinced that it did. Surely I didn’t have my most important meal of the day at a Fuddrucker’s in the Ronald Reagan airport at 5:30 a.m. when I was supposed to be asleep in my bed back home…

One Last Reminder from ALA
Thursday afternoon, back at the office, I was starving. I had only a $5 bill, so couldn’t use the snack machine. Then I remembered the Luna bar that Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich gave me on Monday between my back-to-back book signings. It was still in my messenger bag, and it was delicious.

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5 thoughts on “My ALA wrap-up, in which I give a civil rights pioneer a piece of gum

  1. Chris, I loved this wrap-up — and it made me even more determined to get to ALA next year. Giving Claudette Colvin a piece of gum = so funny and cool. Glad you and so many others were there to represent EMLA and your own fab books. xo

  2. Chris, congratulations on the Sibert honor! I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you at ALA. Hooray For Books was selling books for Simon & Schuster (because we’re a local bookstore), and they kept us very busy! Just wanted to let you know that I was on a local NPR show last week for a summer reading segment, and Shark vs. Train was one of my three picture book suggestions!

  3. Chris–Those CDs (formerly cassettes) are a tradition. When first you are seated, rip off the cellophane to find out how long the speeches are…then adjust your drinking and bathroom runs to match.

  4. It was so neat to meet you in person and not just on twitter! I plan to wear my Shark hat to the office on Tuesday and will allow another staff member to wear the train hat! Thanks for a great wrap up……….

  5. Elizabeth, I’d love to see you there next year. Another of this year’s highlights was showing Gbemi around and getting to introduce her and brag on her book to lots of folks I’ve gotten to meet at TLA — a major benefit of living in a state with such a strong library association.

    Trish, thank you, and I’m sorry I missed you in person, but at least I can listen to you here: http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2010-06-29/summer-reading

    Jeanette, I’m surprisingly excited about listening to that CD — which says a lot about how enjoyable those speeches were in the first place.

    And Carol, getting to meet you was yet another highlight. You all wouldn’t wear those hats at RIF without taking (and posting) photos, would you?

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