I’m just back from four days at the Children’s Literature Association’s conference. This year’s theme? Change and Insurrection in Children’s Literature.
The conference was held at Hollins University. For me that meant a three-hour ride through some of the most beautiful countryside in Virginia. Scholars of children’s literature from universities across the world came to present papers and debate ideas about books for kids. I sat in on sessions about apocalyptic heroines and the use of music as a catalyst in YA literature; on racial whitewashing in The Babysitters Club and “kick-ass slayers and teen terminators;” on gendered portrayals; on how Maurice Sendak tackled taboo. Often, it made my brain hurt the way a good workout reduces my muscles to Jello. Here are a few other reasons I’m so glad I got invited.
Steve Withrow’s documentary The Library of the Early Mind. Steve is a children’s book author and now a film producer. His documentary is a collection of the big names in children’s literature – authors, influential critics, librarians — talking about the books that are on everyone’s shelves. It is by turns informative, heartbreaking and hilarious. (Yes, Lemony Snickett is just as over-the-top in real life). I hope this movie gets shown everywhere and that it finds its way to PBS because it’s fantastic. Beyond the absolute “cool factor” of seeing what each author looks and sounds like – it’s an intriguing look at why and how writers compose. Here’s a peek at his trailer.
A beautiful exhibit on children’s book illustration at the Eleanor Wilson Museum on campus. The lecture by illustrator Thacher Hurd made my whole Saturday. He’s the son of Clement Hurd, illustrator for the beloved classic, Goodnight Moon. His family knew Margaret Wise Brown – known to them as Brownie – who was, of course, also the author of The Runaway Bunny and countless other works that have endured. How strange to find out she loved fur coats and was fond of a sport called “beagling.” (Think fox hunting on foot, except with a rabbit as the victim in the dog chase.) You have to shudder to think what might have inspired the title for that classic bunny tale.
Sitting on a panel with Uma Krishnaswami (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything), Wendy Shang, (The Great Wall of Lucy Wu), and Maha Addasi (The White Nights of Ramadan). It felt like a meeting old friends as we talked about multicultural books and why we write them. Thanks to everyone who came out so early to hear us.
Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel’s awesome paper called “Radical Children’s Literature Now.” They covered books that truly speak to conservation and to organizing for opposition. They listed books that challenge gender roles, tackle war, and speak to LGBT issues openly and joyfully. Here are the notes.
Dinner with my friend and colleague Valerie O. Patterson (The Other Side of Blue), Brie Shannon, and other friends. The grilled seafood and naan (bread) was delicious!