20 June 2011

Lunch with a YA Trifecta: This is Teen with Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater

Last Friday I was privileged to be included in a luncheon hosted by Scholastic Books and the New England Independent Booksellers Association for YA writing sensations and all around awesome-women Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater. The ladies were in town to visit the Wellesley Booksmith and to promote This is Teen, Scholastic's integrated teen community initiative, which works to unite teen readers with their favorite authors and other like-minded readers, mainly via Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook, here is a stellar example of how social media can morph into face-to-face interaction. I swung this invite because of a connection I made on Twitter--an individual who then put my name forward to the woman organizing the event, who was looking for Boston based YA book bloggers. I had never met my Twitter connection, nor the individual who eventually invited me (via Facebook I might add,) but I was more than happy to go and say thank you when we all met, for the first time, on Friday. So if you take grief about your addiction to social media, just remember this--it does pay off. And sometimes, there is even cake involved!
Self-righteous, defensive rant over--back to the main event.

I cannot say enough nice things about Mses. Cabot, Bray, and Stiefvater. Getting back to all that stuff I said about social networking; there's a reason why I find it so appealing--I'm shy. Well, these ladies put me (and everyone else, too, I assume) at ease. They were approachable and--in the case of Meg Cabot, who zeroed in with an outstretched hand and firm handshake--fast-approaching. Those ladies worked the room with charm. If I've learned anything from my recent lunches with authors (wow--it felt good to type that!) it's that an author's job doesn't end once the book is finished. The amount of meeting and greeting that is involved is amazing, and they have to be just as good at the people skills as well as the writing craft.

So many books, only so many pens
After lunch, but before cake, there was the book signing. I had a teeny stack, but there were book sellers there with BOXES of books. The ladies no doubt worked off lunch just by signing them all. Still, I'm sure it's a gratifying task all the same, imagining the excited hands to which those autographed books will be delivered. I know at least one ten year old girl who was beside herself when Mummy brought her an autographed copy of Allie Finkle: Moving Day. And please allow me a fan girl moment to post this:

Lunch, books, and schmoozing finished, the grand finale was, indeed, the cake. Decorated with the jacket covers of each of the ladies' most recent book, enhanced with toys to represent key moments from each, and boasting a most delicious frosting (I think it was Cool Whip,) the honored authors graced us all with one final photo call.

They then proceeded to cut the cake. With relish.

Best of all--they served us the cake. Authors truly are versatile.

A big thank you to the folks at Scholastic and NEIBA for a slap-up lunch, fantastic bookish discourse, and a chance to hob-nob with some truly outstanding writers who just happen to be outstanding--and very fun--women, too.

10 June 2011

Picture books for the Stanley Cup: Number Four, Bobby Orr!

Now that the Bruins have made a series of the final, I thought this was a good time to draw attention to Mike Leonetti's Number Four, Bobby Orr! It took ages for Ted Williams to get his own picture book, but this Boston sports legend got his in 2003 (any news on a Larry Bird picture book? How about Yaz--the last winner of baseball's Triple Crown? Someone get writing!) Illustrator Shayne Letain sets the triumphant tone for this book with his rendition of the iconic 1970 photo of Orr's cup winning goal. The book itself is about a young boy named Joey who loves hockey and idolizes Orr. When an injury curtails his season, Joey writes a letter to Bobby Orr, asking for advice on being a better defenseman. Joey's recovery coincides with the progression of the season, culminating with a healed Joey sitting in the Boston Garden to witness his hero make history.

There is quite a lot of information in this book about Bobby Orr and his impact on the Bruins and the city of Boston. For locals there are a number of little details which give fanish delight (such as mention of the fact that Joey is watching the Bruins on channel 38.Remember WSBK?!) Number Four, Bobby Orr! is an unashamed love letter to a hockey legend, and a fun read for Bruins fans as they face the rest of the series.

05 June 2011

The Wall Street Journal--saving the world from YA

Last night, as Doctor Who spoilers and Bruins lamentations fought for control of my Twitterfeed, I started noticing a recurring hasthtag: #YAsaves. Someone--specifically, blogger and Youth Services Consultant Elizabeth Burns--was retweeting a vast amount of responses to an article which had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled "Darkness too Visible" and was followed by the following: "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"

Silly me--for a moment I thought the article was going to explain why it was, in fact, a good idea. What the author wrote instead was damn near medieval in her disdain for and ignorance of what she considers to not just be a current trend in YA literature, but an agenda championed by librarians and book publishers to introduce teenagers to every grim reality this world has to offer--all in the name of freedom of expression and overriding parental controls. Yeah--that's why I went to library school.

There's a lot wrong with this article, and voices across the blogosphere are already starting to point that out. (And by the way, if you want to find any dissenting commentary about this article, stick to the blogosphere and Twitter, because as of this writing--which is 13.02 on Sunday the 5th of June--you won't see much disagreement in the comments of the original article, which is a stunning fact in itself.) I can't let this article pass unnoticed either, so I am going to comment on the anecdote which opens the article: the story of a woman who "popped into [Barnes and Noble] to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed."

My question is this: if she wanted a book recommendation, what was she doing at Barnes and Noble?

No offense to the many fine folks who work at B&N stores all over the world. There's one in the town where I work, and they do a great job of reaching out to the community and promoting literacy and making books and reading as fun as possible. But let's be honest--Barnes and Nobles is a big-box chain store. If this woman wanted to ask a knowledgeable professional for book recommendations, why didn't she go to her public library? At my library we have all the dark lurid stuff--because some people actually want to read those books for whatever reason that isn't mine or yours to judge--but we also provide alternate titles (because that's what libraries do.) And more importantly, any library worth its salt is going to have someone who can talk to the woman, determine what she is looking for, and steer her in that direction. One of the comments at the end of the article is by this particular woman herself, and she indicates that the staffer at B&N who was trying to help her didn't know anything about the books, and really was no help at all. Was she unlucky to have happened in on the one day that there was no one knowledgeable to help her? Again, no offense to Barnes and Noble, but the answer is--no. Because cashiers and book stockers at B&N are not librarians. They may be book enthusiasts, but are they professionals who can talk knowledgeably and reliably about a range of books even if they are not in their particular department? Probably not--because they are not librarians. They have not made it their business--their vocation!--to be able to recommend titles to any person on any given day who wants any type of book. That's what you get from a good librarian, and it is probably the most under recognized and under appreciated facet of my job by anyone who assumes that a library is just a building to store books.

It seems to me that publishers follow trends as much as they dictate them, so if any given Barnes and Noble is full with only a certain type of book, there's a reason for that--it's a popular type of book. Yet another reason to visit the library, where many different types of books are available for many different types of reasons and readers. I wish the author of this article had focused on that. But I think she had her own bone to pick. Evidently, instead of being helpful, librarians--by sheer virtue of their association with the big bad American Library Association which comes in for a lambasting as well--are, like publishers, trying to "use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives." I don't know. Yesterday it looked like The Wall Street Journal, with their strident article, written by their regular children's book reviewer, was the one driving the bulldozer.

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