This week has been chock-full of books, authors, and publishing news centered around Book Expo America in New York City. I was very fortunate to not only attend BEA 2012 on Wednesday, but also to attend a very fun and insightful event for the first time this year: the Children’s Author Breakfast.
After locating a seat and delighting in finding both a free poster and an Advanced Reader Copy of Chris Colfer’s upcoming book, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, I settled in happily to wait for the speakers. The audience was pleasantly surprised to first see the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, Walter Dean Myers, take the stage. Mr. Myers took the opportunity to appeal to book sellers, librarians, and book lovers in general to bring children to books. He asserts that we have begun to fall woefully behind in making children want to read, and that it is a shame, as “For [his] life, reading has been the key.” Myers said that reading transformed his existence, and that children around the world need to be brought to that same turning point through exposure to books.
After Mr. Myers left to resounding applause, many members of the audience, myself included, burst into rather over-enthusiastic applause as actor-turned-author Chris Colfer took the stage. With the ease of a born charmer, Mr. Colfer immediately launched into a self-deprecating, delightful story about both the creation of his new book and the interesting reactions he has gotten in launching his non-Glee-related writing efforts. For instance, though his book features siblings that fall into a magical book and go on several adventures with famous fairy tale characters, Colfer has been asked, “So, is it autobiographical?” “Will there be singing and dancing in the book?” and “Does your book feature a main character struggling with his sexuality and trying to find acceptance among his peers?” At this point, Colfer paused, waited for the snorts of laughter to die down, and with a wry smile confirmed that for those who might be unsure, the answers were, “Ummm … no,” “It might be hard to have singing and dancing inside the book unless each page was like a singing Hallmark card that played as you turned it,” and “No, I’m sorry, but Kurt is not making a cameo in the book.”
Before the room got completely out of control, Mr. Colfer took the opportunity to introduce another famous funny man in the YA world, John Green–or, as Chris referred to him, “the Justin Bieber of the literary world.” Though Mr. Green gave an enthusiastic shout-out to all his devoted Nerdfighters questing to decrease Worldsuck, and although he accepts that he is known for being “exceptionally good at the internet,” he proclaims that we in the book world need to fully embrace the book. Mr. Green reminded the room that we need to remember that reading is an immersive experience, demanding concentration, and that “enhanced” books will only provide distractions, detracting from the actual reading experience. As someone who found that “the only way [he] found that other people were really real was through stories,” Mr. Green charged the audience to remember that “story trumps everything” and to embrace the fact that books are different from everything else in our lives and should be loved specifically for that difference.
One inspiring speech led to another as Lois Lowry took the podium. Ms. Lowry spoke openly about not only coming full circle in attending BEA for the first time in 25 years, but also in what inspired her to write Son, the final addition to The Giver Quartet. Her son, an air force pilot who died in the line of duty, once wrote her a letter asking why humans do such awful things to one another. This particular question inspired all four of the Giver books and has led Ms. Lowry to determine that “Evil exists, has always existed; we will fight it again and again, and it is the young that step forward to face it.” Though real life may be a dark place, Ms. Lowry decided to honor her son in one final way by allowing the book’s hero to face evil and prevail. More than one tear was shed in the audience as this YA legend stepped down in the midst of thunderous applause and a standing ovation. As Chris Colfer put it, “I’m so glad she gets to keep her shoes on [at the airport] because I don’t think anyone else could fill them.”
The breakfast was brought to a close with a visually inspiring presentation by Kadir Nelson, illustrator of I Have a Dream. He related how inspiring it was to paint images that would fully embrace “one of the most important speeches in American History.” His hope is to share joy and relevance through his work. Mr. Nelson also shared how pleased he was with the final book, though there were points where he’d been challenged to find just the right images to convey the import of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message. However, if you “keep walking and working, voilà! Your challenges will work themselves out.” A great message with which to end a very inspiring breakfast!
— Jessica Miller, currently reading Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross and petting her shiny new books from BEA!
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