Happy December! So I had a book adventure / conference adventure right before Thanksgiving, which was appropriate because as a Layla, I am perpetually thankful for books.
Two weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (as well as the workshop on YA Lit that followed the conference, ALAN). This year’s conference was held in Washington, D.C., which is close-ish to where I live in North Carolina, so it seemed like a good year to go. An added bonus – I had a group of friends who were already going, one of whom was a seasoned ALAN veteran who promised to show me the ropes.
Road trips! Learning! D.C.! Count me in.
Although I went to NCTE for professional reasons, it turned out to be unexpectedly and delightfully relevant to my work as a reader and blogger. Conferences in my field primarily consist of different panels or workshops; this is what I expected of NCTE/ALAN and it was what I came prepared to do. And while I was able to attend lots of different panels at the conference (on topics like social justice pedagogy, teaching Middle Eastern literature, and the role of YA Lit in the classroom) and do all the professional development stuff my little heart desired … I was also able to meet young adult authors, to listen to them talk about their work, and to collect so. many. books.
Seriously, so many books. And so many authors! And so many really awesome publicists who were more than happy to share their excitement over their upcoming releases and/or to make suggestions about what books might fit a given class! (And to admit that they, too, cried when they read Sarah J. Maas’s Heir of Fire.) Many of you may be seasoned conference-goers who are used to this kind of thing, but I was not at all and thought it was pretty magical.
… like Hogwarts, but for teachers.
So here are some of the highlights from my five days at NCTE/ALAN:
In addition to a few panels I wanted to attend on the first day, I really wanted to make Sarah J. Maas’s book signing. Because a Wendy-shaped bird had told me that copies of A Court of Thorns and Roses were going to be at NCTE, I showed up early, flitted around the Bloomsbury tent like a creepy ghost, and was consequently one of the first in line for Sarah J. Maas.
This was lovely because I got to chat excitedly with other teachers, book bloggers, and librarians about the books they were most excited to read this year (and about the Throne of Glass books in particular. Are Celaena / Chaol endgame? How much suffering can their love endure? Manon – awesome, y/n? (yyyyyyy)).
And then Sarah J. Maas showed up and I lost my shit. Which is to say, I think I just stared at her and asked her to sign my book. I don’t even know if I articulated any of that properly, because I actually felt like I lost the ability to form complete sentences. (My mom would tell you that this is no small feat.) She was pretty much the loveliest, though. I later regretted being a total newbie and not asking her to take a picture, but it’s possible that she was too awesome to be captured on camera. (Although Kim has done it, hmm.)
Other excellent parts of my day included: finding out that Marie Rutkoski and Cory Doctorow would both be doing signings over the weekend; meeting Sajda, a D.C.-area blogger who geeked out with me all afternoon and helped me snag an ARC of Landers’s Invaded; and locating free coffee.
When I returned to the room that night, one of my roommates informed me that we would be going to the Ann M. Martin signing the next day.
So that is what we did. (I made her stop for free coffee and donuts first, though, because it’s important to keep up your strength while you’re waiting in line.)
Ann M. Martin was signing copies of her new book, Rain Reign. While we waited, we reminisced about the Baby-Sitters Club (which I was never allowed to read as a child, because one of the baby-sitters had a boyfriend), talked about Martin’s other books that I did read (Ten Kids, No Pets! Eleven Kids, One Summer!), and debated which baby-sitter we were. (According to internet quizzes but also to my heart, I am Kristy.) I also really wanted Ann M. Martin’s vest, because the detailing was lovely.
Because Ann M. Martin is Ann M. Martin, I witnessed a non-zero number of BSC fans crying when they met her. Summer and I cackled delightedly instead, as you can see. (Both responses are totally legitimate.) I then freaked out and sent Ann M. Martin’s picture to everyone.
The rest of the weekend was excellent, but totally exhausting. In addition to attending conference sessions and chatting about books, we also braved the crowds to go see Mockingjay – Part 1. By the time ALAN rolled around, I was genuinely excited that all I’d have to do for the next 48 hours would be to sit in a large conference room and listen to various YA authors discuss their books.
And then I got my box for ALAN. Oh, Jesus. Registering for ALAN gives you a box of ~40/50 books, which you can swoon over and/or trade with other conference-goers, since everyone’s box is different. Let me tell you, I got really good at lurking around the trading table waiting for things I wanted to show up (and also telling everyone who paused over This Shattered World to pick it up, which happened more than once). The folks who were working the trading table were particularly kind, though, and kept an eye out for Kristen Simmons’s The Glass Arrow for me. It was one of the books I was most excited about finding at NCTE/ALAN, and I was absolutely delighted when someone traded it in because then it became mine forever.
Some of the sessions that really impressed me at ALAN this year included:
1. Libba Bray’s keynote speech on the importance of addressing sexism in YA literature. She talked about how books were marketed as “girls’ books” or “boys’ books,” & dismissed the idea that girls’ books are overrepresented in YA lit, claiming that “women are so often underrepresented in the world that we see even small gains as too much.” It was a great beginning to the conference.
2. “Celebrating Our True Identities: Personal Stories of Transgendered Teens and their Families.” Both Arin Andrews and Katie Hill came with their mothers to speak about their memoirs – Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal. This was probably the most emotionally moving panel of the conference for me; all of the speakers were great, but I was also so glad to see the trans* community represented at ALAN this year. I always want more good YA books to speak to the range of experiences that LGBTQIA-identified people have.
3. “Parent & Child: Writing as an Examination of Boundaries with Your Own Child” – a panel with Ying and Vinson Compestine (Secrets of the Terra Cotta Soldier), Clare and Elena Dunkle (Hope and Elena Vanishing), and Neal and Brendan Shusterman (Challenger Deep). Because Unwind was hands-down my students’ favorite book last year, I was really excited to hear Neal Shusterman speak. I had no idea what Challenger Deep was about, but after hearing both Neal Shusterman and his son Brendan speak about its origins in their family’s experiences with mental illness, I’m anxious to read it.
Finally, Rainbow Rowell was also there – Eleanor and Park received the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for 2014, and Rowell was there to receive it and participate in a panel alongside the other nominees.
One of the best parts of the conference was being able to talk with other people – teachers, librarians, and bloggers – who are just as excited about YA lit as I am. That was really one of the loveliest things ever. Obviously, this is one of the reasons I love the internet (hello, internet, you are the best) – being able to access and interact with this huge community of book lovers is all kinds of special and magical. So, doing that in person? Was equally wonderful, and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of that this year. So, thank you thank you to all of the publishers who offered me ARCs, to Tara and Sajda for showing me the ropes, and also to all of the other lovely folks I met!
And now, I have a million books to read. (If anyone is curious about what I’m most excited about in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, it’s Robin LaFevers’s Mortal Heart, I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above, and Megan Miranda’s Soulprint.)
Has anyone been to NCTE/ALAN before? Was anyone else there this year? Are there other conferences I should make it my mission to hit up?