School Library Journal 2016 Day of Dialog Recap

SLJDOD2016_SLJHeader_900x250Each year, School Library Journal presents a Day of Dialog, which allows librarians, educators, and library students the chance to come together and learn the latest about childrens and teens publishing trends and upcoming releases.  This was the first time I have attended a Day of Dialog and I would definitely recommend future attendance to anyone who works with children and/or teens promoting books and reading. Check out my recap of the middle school/high school panels and speakers from the day!

The day opened with the keynote speaker, Richard Peck.  He spoke about writing, the importance of reading, and his new book The Best Man.  Here are some of his key points from his talk:
  • I am a writer because of a teacher, any writer will tell you that.
  • My junior high students made a writer out of me… They taught me how to write.
  • As a writer, you introduce the reader to the characters they want to be and then you spend six drafts trying to erase yourself from the pages.
  • The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you.
  • The Best Man is about a boy putting himself together with parts of various role models, but it will be labeled as a book about same sex marriage because one of his role models wants to marry a man.
  • Putting the right book in the right young hands is no more important than now.
Peck infused his presentation with humor, even inserting a good political zinger at one point, courtesy of Mark Twain:
Peck also read from his new novel, The Best Man:
Panel: Some Nonfiction! Dynamic Information Books for Young Readers
Most of the titles listed on this panel were for young readers, but the topics covered are of interest to anyone who enjoys reading both fiction and nonfiction.

Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann, Giant Squid
Julia Kuo, The Sound of Silence
Mara Rockliff, Around America To Win the Vote
Jane Sutcliffe, Will’s Words
Melissa Sweet, Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

Moderator: Deborah Stevenson, Director for Children’s Books at GSLIS, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Editor of Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

How does fiction and nonfiction relate? What are the rules?
  • Rockliff: He feels responsible to tell kids the truth. Illustrated nonfiction books can’t be held to the same standard as text only books because the illustrated characters on the page have to be doing something. Her top priority: what are kids going to walk away with.
  • Kuo: The Sound of Silence is the true story of the author’s memory. When you illustrate it’s all about interpretation, but it’s almost impossible to be true with nonfiction because the illustrations are her best way of creating the environment of the story.
What is the role of text in the page design along with illustrations?
  • Fleming: it’s amazing what design can do to tell a story. It is important that illustrations are supporting rather than decorating the text.
What choices did you have to make through the editing process and what was left on the cutting room floor?
  • Kuo: most of the editing was done to the text. Kou drew what was left.
  • Rohmann: there’s a hierarchy and you have to ask questions like: what do you want the reader to see first? Is it a color? Is it a thing? Is it a breather or a break from the imagery? Where do you want the audience to look?
  • Sweet: When the book is done you don’t remember what was lost because it is so right… It is the essence of what you set out to create.
Any unexpected challenges?
  • Most challenges were with the illustrations, like finding references and the best medium for the material.
Panel: Truth Be Told: Big Questions in Middle Grade Fiction and What Adults Keep From Children
The theme for this panel was that all these author’s books all deal with the truth and they also think deeply about the truths that people speak to themselves.
Moderator: Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager at the Evanston Public Library

The panelists introduce themselves and their books:

  • Reynolds: has two middle grade novels to be published this year. As Brave As You is an homage to his “country cousins.” He wanted to write the story about those who migrated north and then as a city kid being sent to the South for the summer.
  • Holm: her new novel Full of Beans, is a companion (prequel) to Turtle in Paradise.
  • Gidwitz: his new novel is The Inquisitor’s Tale. He’s excited and nervous, because this was a big project and dear to his heart. While in Europe, for his wife’s dissertation, he collected stories. One was The Holy Greyhound (written in what was called an inquisitor’s notebook) and was the inspiration for The Inquisitor’s Tale.
  • Barnhill: her latest title is The Girl Who Drank the Moon. She is very interested in the notion that if you change the narrative, you change the world.
  • Telgemeier: her new graphic novel is Ghosts. This is her first foray into magic/supernatural stuff. This is magical realism, though, because she needs to be grounded in realistic stories. This graphic novel also ties in to her interest in the tradition of The Day of the Dead.

How do to make a book truthful to your experiences and also so that the kid will believe them?

  • Reynolds: If you are authentic others will recognize this. There’s a universality of truth if the person is being truthful.
  • Telgemeier: Your emotions are true no matter what the details are. You edit to get to the truth.
  • Barnhill: Memory and imagination are similar. If all memories are partially fictional, what is the truth of the moment? Both the accurate and invented tell about why the moment matters to you. Try to give the reader enough raw materials to create something that is true to them.
  • Holm: Keep things authentic and truthful, and keep it grounded in a young persons point of view. Focus on telling a story using details of what are kids focused (i.e.: eating, family, the media of their time)
  • Gidwitz: He creates his protagonists so that they are avatars of him at that age and then he thinks how would he act and react.
  • Reynolds: It’s not about disseminating the truth it’s about presenting questions that they think about all the time and putting it on the page.


Post lunch speaker: Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor spoke about such things as genre reading, how she became a writer, finding her characters, and her new book: Strange the Dreamer

  • This book, Strange the Dreamer, started out  as stand alone novel but has become a duology.
  • Genres should be encouraged to marry each other and have mutant babies.
  • “Follow your heart” is her creed as a writer.
  • She started writing Strange the Dreamer and the title was “Muse of Nightmares” where the female lead was both the victim and the villain. It was her story… so she thought… but another character ended up stealing the story.
  • When she was 21, she had all of two dramatic life experiences and once she wrote about them she didn’t know what else to write about. She had no trauma or drama in her life. She closed that door (to writing), and went to art school. Thinking back it was probably the worst alternative that she can think of to a career of writing, but it worked out. She learned creative strategies and she met her husband.
  • She read Harry Potter when it was first published and that opened the door for her to reading more fantasy and when she went to write again she found she had so much to write about.
  • How do our minds interact with stories and how do genres affect this?
    • Her Fantasist explanation: think of our mind as a harp. Each string at its own frequency. Frequencies that resonate and play us like music. Genre is about finding these direct and pure resonances and playing them.
  • With fiction it’s feelings we are after. Feels (as the kids say) are the drug of fiction. Genres comes in as the scope for these feelings.
  • How and why did books like Twilight and Harry Potter resonate with readers? They tapped into the craving to be special. We have a “myth hole” that wants to be filled.
Here’s a short clip of Taylor speaking about her new book Strange the Dreamer:
Panel: Mind-Bending Women of YA
An all female panel speaks to the struggles females face as writers and stigmas of female characters in YA lit.
Moderator: Janice Del Negro, Associate Professor and Follett Chair at Dominican University
What are the expectations of women writers and expectations of the feminine in your work?
  • Kincaid: People are very sensitive to female characters that are weak or timid. There is more criticism towards female characters, in general, when it comes to writing.
  • Taylor: She hasn’t felt pressure with her female characters but she sees this expectation that YA female characters should be Katniss-y and if they aren’t, they are criticized.
  • Cameron: She has felt the expectation for her females to be the Katniss trope. But when she writes characters she wants to write human characters in the way the world is. She asks, are you telling an incredible human story about this character? Her new novel’s character is a quiet rebel. This came about from reaction the Katniss trope agenda. This character has a rich internal life. She always wants to move to the humanness of her characters.
  • Ruby: She wants to limit the word strong when it comes to female characters. She’s lucky that she hasn’t felt the pressure to write a certain type of female character. There are feminine powers that we have that we don’t have to borrow from men.
  • Chokshi: When it comes to female writers, you can’t always shout about how proud you are about what you are doing. You have to wait for someone else to say it first then you can repost or talk about it. Women are power hungry just like men and they shouldn’t have to hide it. We also need to think before we throw around accusations of the girls that are not how we want them to be.
How about depictions of sexual feelings or encounters– can you speak to the depiction of sexuality in your work or in YA Lit in general?
  • Cameron: She has never written a story that warranted an explicit sex scene. She is very Austen about this and likes the tension and when the small things mean a lot. That’s ok, that’s the way her stories go.
  • Taylor: She likes the smolder. But there’s two different kinds of sex scenes: explicit sex when someone is learning about sex is invaluable and helpful when it’s based in reality, but explicit sex scenes like those found in romance novels where everything is perfect is not her favorite thing. She likes the scenes that are about discovery.
  • Chokshi: She would have liked to write more kissing and whatnot scenes, but she was living at home with her parents, and it was weird. She just couldn’t. The way we talk about sex and the different ways we show intimacy in YA novels is beautiful. Sex is not the seal of soul mates and it’s OK to explore. She likes that we are moving towards this message.
  • Kincaid: A lot of what she wrote had to do with her comfort level as a writer. It’s important to be true to the character’s experience.
  • Ruby: has written hazy magical bee sex as well as more realistic sex scenes. She thinks a lot is about point of view. But she does think you can get away with a lot more in fantasy rather than in contemporary fiction.
Do you think sex as a seal for the soulmate is more for feminine readers rather than masculine readers?
  • Taylor: It is promoted towards girls but boys will read it and like it, but don’t tell anyone.
  • Ruby: Boys aren’t allowed to say things like they want a girlfriend.
  • Chokshi: It’s for both. The first time you fall in love is intoxicating.  Romance is often a fantasy and plays to our what ifs.

What do you think of the labels of Boy Books vs. Girl Books?

  • Kincaid: Her first books were packaged as boy books. It was a divide both ways, but an artificial divide that doesn’t need to be there because it has to do with the presentation of the book.
  • Cameron: Covers are changing lately and are not playing one against the other. The attitude of writing for those who are reading books (traditionally females) is changing.
  • Chokshi: Separation is not nice. Story is an incredible treasure that can be given to a person. Reading choices don’t emasculate you, they strengthen you.
  • Taylor: She loves the covers that welcome in anyone. Covers need to reflect the neutrality, if that is what the story is about.
 –Colleen Seisser, currently listening to All Fall Down by Ally Carter