Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

December 3, 2014 bookish trips, events, Layla 33

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.

My suitcase after Day 1.

My suitcase after Day 1. Good thing I was planning on driving home.

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.)

Court of Thorns and Roses

Gloating (chortling, tenting my fingers, being generally deranged) in my hotel room.

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.)

Me, Ann M. Martin, and Summer

Me, Ann M. Martin, and Summer. (Photo courtesy of Summer.)

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.

Both of the memoirs!

Both of the memoirs! (Photo Courtesy of Summer.)

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.

Look how cool! I think Brendan did the drawings.

Look how cool! I think Brendan did the drawings.

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.

In closing:

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!

ALAN 4eva! (Photo courtesy of Summer.)

ALAN 4eva! (Photo courtesy of Summer.)

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?

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33 Responses to “Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap”

  1. Wendy Darling

    I am so very fond of this recap, and fond of you. <3 It's amazing you were able to go to NCTE and meet all the people--and OMG THE BOOKS! I'm so excited that you have all these wonderful things to read, I'm picturing you curled up with a cat surrounded by piles and piles of reading material all winter long. I can't wait to hear what you think of everything.

    Loved your tweets and summaries of the keynote speakers and such, too. Sounded like it was a great conference.

    PS--don't think I'm not still laughing over the "you know you want it" note you sneakily wrote into the list beside INVADED.

    • Layla

      I did not expect there to be as many books as there were. I’ve still only read one! ::weeps:: I’m so behind on this and also on everything I want to read for the Avon Addicts thing (I still need to mail you some because at this rate it will be NEXT SUMMER before I ever get to everything I want to read).

      But yes. It will be like this if I have my way: pile of books, pile of quilts, cats, tea, and the occasional mug cake because that’s how I roll.

      It was great. I loved Libba Bray’s keynote in particular, despite having been super whelmed by The Diviners. She’s an excellent speaker.

      PS – Heeeeeeeeeeeee. ;) I am genuinely curious to see what life on L’eihr is like. I disliked the first one so much, so there’s no where to go but up, right? I notice neither you nor Kim took me up on that, though. Strange. Very strange. :)
      Layla recently posted…Conversion: Review

    • Layla

      It is PRETTY GREAT. Especially because it’s fairly easy to trade with other people for stuff you want?

      It’s also pretty heavy, though. I don’t know how I would have managed if I hadn’t been driving. Media mail, probably!
      Layla recently posted…Beware the Wild: Review

  2. Carina Olsen

    Aw, yay :D Amazing post Layla. <3 It looks and sounds like you had an amazing time. So jealous :D But so happy for you too. <3 Thank you so much for sharing about it :) And so so many amazing books. Ack! Love them all. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…The Scorpio Races

  3. Pili

    What an amazing experience Layla! I’ve loved reading all about it!
    I’ve never been to any conferences yet, at least none book related (gone to my fair share of nursing related ones, and the goodies aren’t as exciting), but going to book events and meeting people that are excited about books is amazing! I went to my first two events in NYC this October and I’m dying to attend more!!
    Pili recently posted…2014 Debut Author Giveaway Hop!

    • Layla

      What did you go to in NYC?

      And yes, this was my first education conference (or YA Lit conference). Lots of firsts for me! And I hear you, there are never / rarely any goodies in the conferences in my academic field. (Although sometimes they put on plays and/or have dances and stuff. ;))
      Layla recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

  4. Ellen B

    So amazing! It’s one of my dreams to attend a conference like this! The free books would be amazing, of course, but I would also love to hear from all of the speakers. So far, in my life, I’ve been toted along to Catholicism conferences and covered academic conferences for my college paper. It would be amazing to go to one that was centered upon BOOKS!
    Ellen B recently posted…The Walled City Review

    • Layla

      Yeah, it was really interesting to listen to them speak about their work – I really liked hearing about Neal Shusterman’s perspective on his own work, but also enjoyed listening to people whose stuff I haven’t read (for example, M.T. Anderson was so funny!).

      I hope you’re able to get a chance to go to a conference like this. It was a wonderful experience, and yes, BOOKS EVERYWHERE. So great.
      Layla recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

  5. Peyton

    Oh, that looked like so much fun! I can’t believe you got ACOTAR, I’m so jealous! I hope one day I can go to a conference like this and meet so many cool book people. Twiiter’s great, but there is nothing like getting to actually talk face-to-face with the authors and people who love books as much as you do. Glad you had a great time! :)
    Peyton recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

    • Layla

      I hope you can too! I bet you’d be in your element. :)

      And yeah, it was lucky that Wendy’d told me about ACOTAR, because the Sarah J. Maas signing was actually on the day I drove up. If I hadn’t known about it, I might have missed it, tbh, because that day was crazy.

      Maybe someday there will be an awesome book conference in Florida we can go to. Have you ever been to SoFla for the Miami Book Fair? That is for reals a super fun event, though it’s not free books galore.
      Layla recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

      • Peyton

        Lucky you! And you just so happened to end up being the front of the line! :)

        Yes, I’ve heard of it. I don’t think I can go this year, but I do want to at some point.
        Peyton recently posted…Beware the Wild: Review

        • Layla

          I got there about 45 minutes early because I had no idea what the line’d be like. So I was one of the first people there, but because we didn’t immediately start forming a line, I was maybe … #9? Very close! I think I was #2 for Marie Rutkoski though. I am good at waiting in lines, apparently.

          Miami Book Fair used to be the HIGHLIGHT of my childhood. I remember one year Margaret Atwood came and I almost diiiiiied. You should go at some point! It’s pretty great.

          PS. Mailed you a package today! Sorry it’s so late in coming!
          Layla recently posted…Beware the Wild: Review

          • Peyton

            Top ten is just as good! Waiting in lines is the skill to have for book events.

            I just realized Miami Book Fair was last month, so . . . yeah, not going this year haha.

            Thanks! It’s no problem. :)
            Peyton recently posted…Beware the Wild: Review

  6. Brenda

    How exciting and fun to meet and talk books with other authors/bloggers. Makes me wish I went into teaching or studied to be a librarian. The conferences I used to attend for work were always very medically based, which really made some speakers easier to listen to then others. I always loved the conference in Baltimore though, they always included an author and it was so fascinating to hear them talk about there book. Where is the Mango Princess? was one of my favorites. So excited that you got to attend, hope it works our for you for next year too.

    • Layla

      What kinds of conferences did you used to go to? And yes, it was absolutely wonderful to meet and talk books with so many folks in person. I loved it.

      Haha, I wonder if this is a popular area for conferences; my dad used to have quite a few in DC when I was a kid that we tagged along to (he’s a pediatric cardiologist, and I remember getting lots of free pens and notepads from those conferences).

      Also, ooh. I’m adding Where is the Mango Princess? to my TBR list. That looks really interesting. Thanks, Brenda!
      Layla recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

      • Brenda

        I used to go to the American Speech and Hearing Association meetings for speech pathologist’s, and a few on brain injuries.

  7. Katie @ Spirit of Children's Literature

    This is fantastic! I loved reading about your adventures at NCTE/ALAN–I have wanted to go for some years now, but it just never worked out, so I really need to plan to go. I think I proposed to present a paper there some years ago, but didn’t get in, and didn’t have funding to go on my own! I think it’s time to change that and I plan to experience NCTE soon.

    Can totally understand your reaction to the Sarah J. Maas encounter–so awesome you got ACOTAR. Loved seeing that suitcase bursting with books. And I LOVE that picture with Ann M. Martin! She’s my hero because I grew up with the BCS books and still have ALL the books. In fact, I was able to see Ann for the first time when she was speaking at the Boston Book Festival this year!! It was an amazing moment. I still need to read Rain Reign. So fun seeing Tara in your last photo–love her blog. I see Red Queen and Vanishing Girls in your suitcase–both top books on my list for 2015! So glad you had such a wonderful time and what a great location for the conference this year.
    Katie @ Spirit of Children’s Literature recently posted…#TopTenTuesday: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward To In 2015

    • Layla

      It was pretty excellent. I definitely want to go again – but it’s in Minneapolis next year, and I’m not sure what my work or financial situation will be like. D.C. was a good location for me because it was relatively easy to get to. In any case, you should definitely go to NCTE and/or ALAN – I loved it!

      How do you still have all your BSC books? That’s incredible. (I feel like I only have a small portion of the books I grew up with – definitely the Anne books, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy books, and maybe Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising. In any case, I’m impressed.) Anyway, it was pretty cool to see other folks with their well-worn copies of BSC show up to Martin’s signing. So cool that you were also able to see her this year! Wish I’d heard her speak – how was it?

      Tara’s the best! She’s one of the friends I went to the conference with – because she’s local, we drove up together. Luckily, she’d also been before, & consequently tried to help me figure out how to navigate NCTE/ALAN. She was basically the font of all wisdom for the conference, is what I’m saying. :)

      Yes! So excited about Red Queen in particular but ALSO (from your list) A Cold Legacy. Man. I just read the last book and am super excited to read this one.

      Anyway, hopefully we’ll be at NCTE together sometime! It was fun.
      Layla recently posted…Layla at NCTE / ALAN: Event Recap

      • Katie @ Spirit of Children's Literature

        I still have my BSC books because I told my parents–keep those boxes of books in the garage–I NEED my Babysitter’s Club books for all times!! LOL. So that’s how I still have them. I also have my Anne books–so wonderful to hang onto those. I still find myself buying new editions of them though.

        Hearing Ann M. Martin was fantastic–I really enjoyed hearing her talk about co-writing The Doll People books. I always wondered what it would be like write a book with someone else. There was a girl in the audience who said that Ann had replied to her written letter about the BSC books way back when!

        Just finished the second Madman’s Daughter book and wow, was that intense! Can’t wait for A Cold Legacy. Really excited about Red Queen!!

        It would be fabulous to meet up at one of these conferences one of these days! :)
        Katie @ Spirit of Children’s Literature recently posted…Review: Belzhar (2014) by Meg Wolitzer

  8. kindlemom1

    Oh my gosh this is amazing! Look at all those wonderful wonderful books and authors you got to see and meet! I am so excited for you that you got to attend this amazing event!
    kindlemom1 recently posted…WoW Pick of the Week