I recently had the privilege of attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) annual gatherings. Or, as I recall them, “heaven with free tote bags.”
Hanging out with English teachers, librarians, authors, publishers, and general children’s book enthusiasts was nothing short of magical. A two day expo held every wonderful thing I could imagine for free. Advance reader copies of books? Free! Want favorites from your childhood autographed by Judy Blume? Also free! Do you want posters, bookmarks, teaching aids, a hug from Laurie Halse Anderson? Free, free, free!
Technically I paid to register. But since the conference was held in Boston, I did not have to travel and I did not have to pay for lodging. And at the ALAN portion, I received a forty pound box filled with books, many not yet on sale. I got my registration fee back fivefold and had the ability to make a fort out of YA galleys to boot.
After I received my books and learned how to barter and trade in the free book economy (I scored the new Sarah Dessen as well as Gene Luen Yang/Lark Pien books by trading extras of Perks of Being a Wallflower and How I Live Now), I watched panel after panel filled with authors from every genre—humor, sci fi, realistic contemporary fiction, romance, and so on. After every panel you could have your book signed, obtained through your book box, through trade, or from the free book distribution table they set up in case you weren’t able to get the book the first two ways. Librarians are thorough people.
For the readers among you, I have a list of books that I received from the conference that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to read. Find here recommendations, and take my word that all of the authors are kind, brilliant people.
Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang & Lark Pien
Romeo and Juliet: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Handle, Who Knew What He Liked by M.T. Anderson
The Field by Tracy Richardson
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
For any writers out there, the best moment for me came not just in getting lots of books, but also came in meeting Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now, Picture me Gone). I told her I took heart in the fact that she hadn’t published her first book and won nine literary awards before her nineteenth birthday. (In fact, she published her first novel when she was in her forties.) She told me, “Being a writer isn’t like being a ballerina. You don’t want your biggest success to be at twenty-one, because then you’ll have decades ahead of you. And what then? Take your time.” I didn’t manically scream “I love you!” at her like I did at Judy Blume. But know that I was thinking it.
All in all, I would like to send a love letter into the world for the NCTE and ALAN and encourage anyone to take a look at the wonderful world they offer. Or, if you would rather, let me know if you need a book to borrow. I have a few to spare.