What better time to recap a wonderful ALA Midwinter conference than while sitting in my hotel bed? Thanks to the latest blizzard, which librarians and publishing folks got to experience in Chicago before it traveled onward to Boston, I am spending an extra 36-ish hours in the Windy City. Better to be in a fancy old hotel than the airport, though, right?
Chicago definitely lived up to its nickname yesterday, as I trekked out in the 40 m.p.h. whiteout conditions in search of some Super Bowl snacks with my intrepid friends. (It turns out people who regularly visit the South Pole are just the teeniest bit better at managing inclement weather than wimpy writers named Jenn.) But while watching the flakes swirl around from the 14th floor was pretty awesome, I’m not sure it counts as a highlight of ALA.
Which brings us to… the actual highlights!
1. On Saturday afternoon, I met one of my all-time favorite YA authors, Meg Cabot. Now, the Princess Diaries books were a huge contributing factor to my love of YA, as they were some of the first modern-era YA books I read, via a junior high student I tutored while in college. I’m such a sucker for any book (or movie) featuring the awkward princess Mia Thermopolis, so meeting Meg Cabot was extremely high on my ALA to-do list. Luckily, even though the line was quite long by the time I got there, it only took half an hour until I got to meet her. She was every bit as delightful as one would expect, and I managed to not be totally flustered. I told her that Michael Moscowitz was my first and most enduring book boyfriend. (Completely true.) And I may or may not have worn the special Princess Diaries paper crown from the signing when I began reading my ARC of Royal Wedding, even though it was sized for a ten-year-old’s head.
2. When Charlesbridge invited me to appear on an ALA Buzz panel to discuss debut children’s books, I jumped at the chance. As a once-and-future debut author, I have so much love for debut books. Some of my favorites every year are debut titles. For 2014, Nest and The Meaning of Maggie were among my very favorite middle grade novels and both are by authors publishing for the very first time. Along with Charlesbridge editor Julie Bliven and the Boston Public Library’s Head of Children’s Laura Koenig, I really enjoyed discussing ways that librarians (and booksellers, and really anyone) can promote and discover debut voices. I left with a growing list of other debut titles to check out. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, I’m looking at you!
3. The surprise theme of every trip to Chicago (a place I called home for eight years) lately is reconnecting with old friends. Prior to ALA, I trekked out to the Homewood Public Library, where I began my library career. It was so wonderful to spend time chatting with my former coworkers, who were so supportive of my book and so eager to have me come to the library when it comes out. I was reminded by one of them that even Chris Pratt lived in a van in Hawaii before he made it, so if this is my “living in a van like Chris Pratt” moment, well, I’ll take it. At the conference itself, I caught up with a couple of fellow Best Fiction for Young Adults committee alums, and also kept just missing a few other friends.
4. How have I gotten this far without mentioning the books? Oh man, THE BOOKS. In total denial, before I left, I told my husband I would come home with a couple books. More like a couple bags of books. Oops. It’s a slippery slope at ALA. You start searching out a few specific titles, but then you talk to someone from sales and marketing who has all these suggestions (many of them debuts) and before you know it, you have forty pounds of ARCs and three tote bags and a page of Origami Yoda stickers and you remember your 7 year old nephew might like some books too, and, and, and… yeah. I’m a tidy person, but I think I am also technically a book hoarder.
5. Though I did not make it to the convention center for the ALA Youth Media Awards at 8 AM, I watched the pre-game show with Betsy Bird, and the awards, and the post-game breakdown. All I can say right now is WOW. Any surprises were surprises that made me just more psyched about ALA. All of the love for fantastic diverse titles was so well-deserved. I’ve been raving about The Crossover to anyone and everyone for the past month or so since I read it, but I never said out-loud how much I wanted it to win, out of fear that I’d jinx it. This book is going to be so beloved by kids. It has everything I love in a middle grade book: verse, heart, readability, voice, characters that feel achingly real, tears, sports, siblings… GAH! I could go on and on. Just–happy. So happy that this book got the recognition it did. And happy for all the other authors and books I love that were recognized, like El Deafo and Viva Frida and I’ll Give You The Sun. Now if I could actually read all the books I want to read!