I was very grateful to attend Kidlitcon in Baltimore this last weekend, courtesy of the Friends of the Library. Kidlitcon is a small conference sponsored by the Kidlitosphere, an association of children’s and young adult literature bloggers. They also sponsor the Cybils award, now in its 10th year, which I use at least weekly in Reader’s Advisory for our young patrons. (I am also serving as a Cybils judge for the second time. This was, however, my first time attending Kidlitcon.
Kidlitcon is a cozy conference, with only about 100 people attending, mostly librarians, teachers, and authors, with a small sprinkling of enthusiastic readers who blog about children’s literature without doing it as a career. It is (as I had previously been told) the perfect conference for introverts. There are no large groups coming from libraries, but it’s easy to get to know everyone there without being intimidated because there are just a small number of people, all of whom are happy to talk about books. There was no giant room full of vendors, just a set of tables in the hallway outside the meeting room filled with publisher and author donations. All of the authors and illustrators I talked to were happy not only to autograph books but also to let me photograph them holding my knitting project. Both of the keynote speakers went to other sessions and hung out with the rest of the attendees at mealtimes.
I attended nine and half sessions at the conference. The two author keynote sessions were with Carrie Mesrobian, the author of several realistic teen books, on Friday and Tracey Baptiste, author of the middle grade horror/adventure novel The Jumbies on Saturday. Carrie talked about finding the “edges” for teen readers – reading at the right level to meet them where they are. Baptiste, who grew up in Trinidad, talked about writing the oral traditions there and her childhood love for printed fairy tales, which inspired her to write the mystical creatures of her homeland into a novel for children. Except she was very funny and approachable about telling the story.
I attended four sessions focused on different ages/genres of books, all with panels of authors and/or artists. Middle Grade Horror featured authors Tracey Baptiste, Mary Downing Hahn, Dan Poblocki (“best use of ghost Nazis ever” according to the moderator), and Ronald L. Smith. I was very pleased to note from the get-go that the panel was evenly divided both between men and women and between whites and people of color. Although the whole discussion was fascinating, the most useful take-away from this session was having benchmark books to reference when helping kids find the right level of scariness for them.
Visual Storytelling had picture book artists Matt Phelan, Minh Le, Kevin O’Malley and Shadra Strickland, and was moderated by former Caldecott committee member Susan Kusel. Here, the artists talked about how they fit the art to the story and what choices are theirs versus the publishing house, editor, and author. Message: don’t rate the artist down for plain endpapers – every one of them will jump for fancy endpapers if the publishers give them a choice.
How Graphic Novels Work had author/artists Jay Hosler, Maggie Thrash, Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre, moderated by extremely enthusiastic graphic novel librarian Miriam DesHarnais. The author/artists (still ethnically diverse) also wrote a large range of books from science to memoir to fantasy adventure. Jay, the science writer pointed out that studies have shown that the combination of words and pictures is much more powerful in getting kids to learn and remember than either by themselves. Maggie, the memoir writer thinks that words put you in someone’s head, while comics put you in the situation yourself. Rafael, one of the fantasy adventure team, talks about the magic that happens in kids’ heads when they fill in the events that happen between one panel and the next. Comics stimulate empathy and let you linger on a moment as long as you want, unlike movies.
Middle Grade Madness had authors of realistic middle grade fiction Elissa Brent Weissman, Erica Perl, Elisabeth Dahl, Carol Weston and Wendy Shang. The authors talked about what they like to put into books for 9-13 year-olds. A particular topic that came up was writing for boys vs. girls – only Carol Weston writes specifically for girls. Everyone else is trying to let stories be for everyone, whether they’re writing about boys or girls.
Diversity was the main focus of last year’s Kidlitcon. This year’s conference had two panels specifically focused on diversity, and the organizers paid close attention to having diversity on every panel whether or not diversity was the focus. Intersectionality with Mary Fan and Libertad Araceli Thomas and Guinevere Zoyana Thomas (the Twinjas), with absent member Zetta Elliott, looked at how people usually belong to multiple groups – not just the one we tend to want to limit them to. The Twinjas, for example, are Black and Latina; Mary Fan is a woman from a “good” minority, and talked about privileges and prejudices in various parts of her life. Let’s move past allowing book characters only one minority identity or problem.
Authentic Voices with bloggers Pam Margolis and Liz Burns focused specifically on GLBTQ literature (Pam) and on making things available and authentic to people with disabilities (from Liz, who works for a library for the Blind.) It’s good to have these kinds of people represented in books – it’s even more important that their voices be authentic and show the full range of people in these categories. Liz opened our eyes to just how few books the Library of Congress is able to publish for the Blind each year, both in their special audio format and in the different Braille types. It’s staggeringly few.
Just for Bloggers (and Librarians)
I also attended “And the Winner is…” a panel discussion with literary award judges, most of whom had judged on lots of different committees, including the Cybils, Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, Schneider, Odyssey, Eisner, as well as state awards. They talked about theoretical issues – making sure you’re reading for the specific criteria of the award you’re judging for – and practical ones like how to keep track when you’re reading a really large volume of books. Also, once you’ve been a judge, can you turn off those filters and read just for pleasure?
“Who Is the Reader… and why that matters when I’m talking about books” with bloggers Katy Manck of BooksYAlove and Barb Langridge of A Book and a Hug. A Book and a Hug has a database of book reviews tagged by reader type (Katy and many other reviewers contributed to this.) They explained their system of identifying reader types. Barb developed four reader types, which on the web site are shown as different types by gender, even though they’re not. (Descriptions of the types for girls: http://www.abookandahug.com/books-for-girls2 and for boys: http://www.abookandahug.com/books-for-boys ) Basically, the types are realistic, empathetic (which often tends towards fantasy/sci-fi), thrill-seekers, and nonfiction/fact readers. We had fun taking the quiz and figuring out our types – way skewed off the types that they’ve found with real kid readers. They also talked about applying this kind of reader’s advisory to Ranganathan’s Five Laws. It’s always helpful to have different approaches to try with reader’s advisory, so it was good to hear about this different twist on it.
Kidlitcon was a great conference, kind of like the much-lamented Fantastic Fiction, but twice as long, for kids, and with session presenters drawing from a broader pool. I really enjoyed the sessions I went to, as well as getting to know so many people outside of the sessions. I heard from those who attended other years that this year was more author-focused than it has been in the past – I’d really love to attend next year in Wichita, when the focus will be on gatekeepers – both our role in being gatekeepers, and working with young peoples’ other gatekeepers. Thank you again to the Friends of the Library for supporting my trip to Kidlitcon!
For me, too, it was especially exciting to meet so many bloggers I’d only known on-line for so long. Here’s a few more pictures: