I came back and spent two weeks (punctuated by a weekend of Girl Scout outdoor training) typing up a very long document of all the notes I took on the sessions I went to, with the intention of posting it here. Then I realized that you probably don’t want to read five pages worth of conference notes, no matter how fascinating. Neither did my boss or the library board, who would need a report on it. I condensed my report down to a single page, which I was still planning to share with you here. Looking back on it, it still seems pretty dry, but I don’t think I have time to rewrite it a third time. So I’ll just put in some of the pictures I took (though I didn’t manage to get any good ones of myself, or either of my two roommates, Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte’s Library and Sarah Stevenson aka aquafortis of Finding Wonderland, though it was lovely spending time with both of them.) Text and pictures below the fold here, and send me a note if you’d like my full notes emailed to you.
I attended my second Kidlitcon, this time in Wichita, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Library. This is a very small conference that brings together book bloggers, librarians, teachers, authors, and enthusiasts. It is small enough that every session turned into a full room discussion with more intimate conversations in between.
The theme of Kidlitcon 2016 was Gatekeepers, looking at the roles that librarians, booksellers, and book bloggers play in determining what books come into the hands of readers and which don’t. The opening speech was given by Jen Swann Downey, whose Ninja Librarians series features children helping authors under attack throughout time. These are fun adventures with serious thoughts on free speech and censorship that apply even more to adults. It’s easy for gatekeepers who are part of the majority to be blinded by their privilege or to be like Han Solo at the beginning of “Star Wars”, more concerned about day-to-day business than justice and freedom. A take-away concept is the idea of the Overton window – the shifting ranges of acceptability over time.
Award-winning author A.S. King gave a moving keynote speech, which included her work with Irish adult literacy students. She says teens stop reading and forget how because the literature they’re assigned to read doesn’t resonate with them and leaves them no time for pleasure reading. Happily, as librarians, we can help with providing teens with the kind of literature that will keep reading a source of strength and pleasure.
The panel the Disinvitation Epidemic where four authors shared their stories of being disinvited from school presentations because of including things in their work, personal life, or presentations that schools or parents don’t want children to know about. These included the existence of sexual or gender orientation outside of the norm (no sex required – just the mention of its existence) or politics. It’s done to protect children, but has the effect of isolating kids whose realities are erased and destroying the idea of dialogue about difficult topics.
Nuts and Bolts
I went to two panel discussions on specific types of literature – “What is YA?”and “A Chat about Series Fiction” and was on the panel for a third, “Blogging the Middle Grade.” “What is YA?” had three YA authors, personal favorite Rachel Neumeier, as well as Sarah Stevenson and Debra Dockter. We discussed issues such as authors being pushed to include lots of romance in their books, even if authors and teens don’t want that much. Series fiction has a double standard, where kids publishers want it, but they’re considered lower quality books and get less press. In my Middle Grade panel, we talked about finding the right books for the child, and balancing what the child may need or want versus what the parent or school system may want for the child.
I also attended sessions on Diversity in Children’s Literature with Kristi of Kristi’s Book Nook and on Leveraging Social Media with Sarah and Sheila. Both of these had practical tips and sites to make these important jobs easier.
This is where I ditch the conclusion for the library board to say that Kidlitcon is awesome! There were so many sessions that I didn’t get to go to, but it is so inspiring to be among people who all care so passionately about books for young people and the work of getting the right books into the right hands. Not to mention finding support for the unpaid usually thankless job of book blogging. I got to chat with Rachel Neumeier about favorite historical fiction and how we felt about The Raven King, chatted with Jenn Swann Downey after the session about free speech issues I’ve run across at my own library, and met many other like-minded bloggers like Kristi (above) and Pam Margolis, the Unconventional Librarian.
Also, I’d never been to Wichita. It’s right on a beautiful river and has lots of art all over downtown. It’s lovely!