Monday, November 23, 2009

My Awesome Time at NCTE

NCTE stands for the National Council of Teachers of English. This past weekend, they held their annual convention at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and through talking with my incredible professor/advisor/to-be (hopefully) thesis advisor, I found out that I would be able to go, and that my school would fund me for it! (Thank you, Swarthmore. Thank you thankyouthankyou.)

I'm really bad at taking pictures, but... first off, the location was amazing. Soaring ceilings (metal structures exposed, but that only lent to the cool convention-ness feel of it!), people walking everywhere, huge meeting rooms for all the gazillions of sessions that took place during each time slot. Friday morning, I first went to a session on mentor texts. The session title had Harry Potter in it, but it turned out it was less on HP than on... well, mentor texts, which are like "base" texts that the students then base their writing and/or character/story studies off of. It was okay. I got to write a really bad poem that hopefully won't see the light of day every again.

The next Friday morning session was called "Defending Intellectual Freedom" in which three YA lit superstars--Lauren Myracle, Jay Asher, and David Levithan--talked about censorship and why it's important to give students the right to read anything. Lauren was hilarious as usual. Her books (e.g. TTYL, Kissing Kate, Eleven, Luv Ya Bunches) are constantly encountering angry parents who feel that, and I quote Lauren here, "middle school students shouldn't know about: thong underwear, French kissing, tampons, and erections." Um, excuse me, but if I recall, I learned about all those things in middle school (thankfully, or I'd probably be a socially awkward mess right now) and I learned about them in books. Lauren read several hilariously excruciating negative reviews and letters from parents who blasted her as basically being Satan reincarnate. Seriously. She said that on a website called something along the lines of Virtue Alert, there was the post, "Parents beware! Satan is on the prowl, and its name is Lauren Myracle."

Hysterically painful reviews and letters aside, Lauren made the great point that controversial books just might play an important role in some lives, and that any adult who cares about what kids are reading isn't the enemy. She commends these parents for wanting to know what their kids are reading, but feels that people shouldn't make judgments based on just a few pages or passages from a book.

Then, Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) took the podium and talked about why it was necessary for him to write uncomfortable scenes in order to talk about a taboo subject such as suicide: the crucial scene (it involves a hot tub, though it's been a while since I've read it, and so I don't remember exactly) must be uncomfortable for readers to get it. He said that because people don't talk about suicide, that's a huge reason why there are people still doing it. Those who need help don't know that it's out there for them, and whenever people challenge his book, he always shows them emails he's received from teens who've told him, "Your book saved my life." Jay made the important point that YA books shouldn't be seen from an adult perspective, because, after all, they are not written for adults.

David Levithan's speech was shorter, but utterly powerful. He challenges educators, librarians, and publishing professionals who are afraid of stirring up controversy by supporting a controversial book: What's the use of keeping your job if you're not doing it? The educator's job is to represent every kid in school: kids should know that libraries and classrooms are there for them to seek information, understanding, and solace in. The author's job is to try to tell the truth with as much honesty, frankness, and directness as possible. Authors are not really there to provide them with advice to how to get better, but rather to guide them to professional help. Any adult working with kids must constantly engage with the kids and grow with them, trying to understand their needs instead of imposing their own values on kids.

The talk was amazing, and afterwards, I checked out the exhibits for an hour or two. What madness! Thousands of English teachers running around, crowding around exhibits; publishers handing out ARCs, selling books at extremely low prices for author was absolutely crazy in a nerdy, bookish sort of way, and thus, it was sort of like heaven. I got some great ARCs, a lot of which have been on my high-priority wish list for months. I also hunt out at the EgmontUSA booth for a bit, and got to talk to Regina and Allison (sorry if I spelled your name wrong!), who were both super-cool, laid-back, and totally friendly.

The highlight of that hour has to be meeting Malinda Lo though. She was signing copies of Ash at the Little, Brown booth, and I was super happy to see so many people buy her book and get it signed by her.  Malinda took a picture of us, in which I'm sure I look terrified, nervous, and star-struck, but it was seriously great to finally meet in person one of my favorite authors whom I've talked to for so long.

Afterwards I attended two more sessions. One was a presentation of 28 recently or soon-to-be published MG/YA books that the panelists believed could be a great addition to classrooms or school libraries. I was happy to see so many great authors on it: Lisa McMann, Suzanne Collins, Kristin Cashore, Don Calame, Fran Cannon Slayton, Sarah Ockler... Of course, lists like those are always subjective and can vary greatly between people. I would've added a lot more great books I feel deserve to be made available to students, and, er, taken a few off. But to each his or her own!

Then, I went to a session about Pairing Fiction with Nonfiction in the classroom. Kate Messner, Loree Burns, Jenny Moss, and Tanya Lee Stone presented. It was a sweet and straightforward presentation that I hope the English teachers there will immediately apply to their own classrooms.

In the last hour before I had to leave, I returned to the exhibit hall and got in the SUPERMEGALONG line for Becca Fitzpatrick. S&S was giving out free copies of Hush, Hush, and Becca was signing them. The line was consistently HUGE, to which I say, Yay, Becca for all your success and the support you've gotten! She had been signing for almost 90 minutes by the time it was my turn (and no, I didn't wait 90 minutes; I waited about 15), and I was afraid she was going to be completely, like, comatose from signing so many books and talking to so many people. But when I introduced myself, it was totally a squee moment: Becca jumped up and gave me a great big hug, and I talked to her and her editor, the wonderful Emily Meehan, for a couple minutes. Again, it was great to meet another author friend at NCTE.

On Saturday, I was only able to go in the morning due to a swim meet, but I still had a great time. I attended a session on how to promote literacy in content classrooms of all kinds: math, science, social studies... and apparently, at this middle school, it works wonderfully! They basically make reading into a game, and you can score points or win prizes depending on how many pages/books you read. The lady who talked about the success of her book club really made me want to start one of my own.

Among the people I saw at the exhibit hall that morning: Maggie Stiefvater (busy signing copies of Shiver and the just-printed ARCs of Linger), Kate Messner (taking pictures of friends' books at the EgmontUSA booth), and Malinda Lo (as we were both walking out of the exhibit hall). I also got a couple more books, which you will see...oh, now!...

But first, a shot of what Maggie wrote in my copy of Shiver. :)

Ash by Malinda Lo (signed)
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (signed)
Epitaph Road by David Patneaude
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
The Clone Codes by Patricia McKissack
Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (signed)
Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler
The River by Mary Jane Beauford

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (signed)
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (signed)
Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson (signed)
The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams
Half World by Hiromi Goto
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez


  1. So so jealous! Especially about the ARC of Linger! I thankfully got to meet a lot of authors at the Children's Book World signing on Sunday, and they also gave out the Will Grayson, Will Grayson ARC. And I'm glad Becca is as nice in person as she is online!
    Keep an eye out for an FNC post today or tomorrow about our epic book signage, too!

  2. Sounds like some really good speakers and writers. And like you say, some of those "taboo" subjects just might save lives and sanity.

  3. Great times! That panel with Lauren sounds like it was very interesting. I just did a google search for "satan and Lauren Myracle. Did she have little horns? lol Some people!

    I met the Egmont ladies at BEA and you're right they are totally cool.

  4. I've never even heard of this conference but it sounds like it was a blast!!

    I am hearing great things about Ship Breaker...and of course I NEED a copy of Linger stat!

  5. Oh wow you got some of the new dystopian stuff I'm looking foward to! The speakers sound amazing. I would have loved to have been there!

  6. Sounds like you had a fantastic time, and got to meet a lot of awesome authors!

  7. You got some great books! I am jealous of Linger and The Thirteenth Princess. I just read Three Rivers Rising last week and loved it, hope you enjoy it too!

  8. Wow, what an amazing experience this must have been for you! Look at all those books and ARCs you scored too. You are one lucky lady!

    I was there Saturday morning to hang out with Becca so I had a pretty incredible time too! We didn't get to go in the conference at all but having a couple of hours to sit and chat with Becca and her editor made for an awesome experience. Too bad we didn't get to meet you, but you were already gone by the time we got there.

  9. Sounds awesome, you are sooooo lucky you got funding. I'm glad you had such an awesome time. And we need to plan our meal and book hopping:-)

  10. brb coming to your house to steal Scarlett Fever and The Red Umbrella and Three Rivers Rising.

    This sounds like such an awesome conference! Glad you had fun and glad you got to hear the amazingfabulouswonderful David L. speak. (:

  11. Wow, that conference sounds AMAZING :) It must've have been wonderful meeting all those authors and speakers.

    And you came out with lots of lovely books as well!

  12. Did i see an ARC of Linger up there? OMG I'm so jealousssss. It looks so great. And seemed like you were having such a great time. I wish I could meet my favorite authors like that some day soon too : )

  13. Wow, so many awesome books. I'm glad you had such a great time!

  14. Thanks for giving Three Rivers Rising such good company in the pic!

    Can't wait to read some of those myself!


  15. Wow, sounds like you had an amazing time! I particularly like what Jay Asher said, and I'm jealous of your Linger ARC. It seems that this book is coming in so, so long!


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