My ALA14 Recap: Fun-fun-fun-fun!

ALAAnnual14_zps4215473bI had a magical time this past weekend in Las Vegas, hanging out with librarians at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Las Vegas.

I flew in late on Friday and had the pleasure to hang out with author-illustrator Arree Chung (NINJA!) We met in Paris, dined over crepes, and then he shared artwork with me from some of his upcoming books. What a treat!

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On Saturday, anticipating a long, draining day ahead, I fueled up with an hour of power yoga in my hotel room, and then I zapped myself right over to the convention center. First I signed IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW (Lee & Low), as well as a few older L&L titles, including SUMMER SUN RISIN’ and BLACK ALL AROUND. Believe it or not, two years after this book published, this was my first signing with Lee & Low, so this was especially meaningful. And guess what, Lee and Low possessed the hottest commodity at the conference: #WeNeedDiverseBooks bling!

Me with my Lee & Low Books family.
Me with my Lee & Low Books family.
Lee & Low Books with #WeNeedDiverseBooks bling
Lee & Low Books with #WeNeedDiverseBooks bling

Next I signed THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN with my publisher, Charlesbridge. I was especially excited to meet my editor, Yolanda Scott. I’ve worked with Yolanda on two books, DUKE ELLINGTON’S NUTCRACKER SUITE, and THE CART, but this was our first face-to-face meeting.

Signing THE CART with my Charlesbridge peeps!
Signing THE CART with my Charlesbridge peeps!

That evening, I hopped a cab over to a Paris ballroom, where I had the pleasure of attending LET OUR REJOICING RISE! A celebration of 45 years of the Coretta Scott King award. The panel discussion was moderated by none other than Andrea Pinkney. Panelists, including Patricia McKissak, Theodore Taylor, Nikki Grimes, Rita Williams-Garcia, Bryan Collier, and Kadir Nelson, fielded questions such as: Are the Coretta Scott King Awards still relevant and necessary? The answers were resounding, and unanimous: Yes!

Prior to the discussion was a reception for past winners. I was dumbfounded to find myself in the mix of Christopher Paul Curtis, Jacqueline Woodson, Bryan Collier, Kadir Nelson, Nikki Grimes, Rita Williams-Garcia, in addition to others like Frank Morrison, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Christian Robinson. And leave it to me to greet everyone with cheese stuck in my newly grown beard. Doofus.

Celebrating 45 Years CSK Awards, LET OUR REJOICING RISE! Panel discussion
Celebrating 45 Years CSK Awards, LET OUR REJOICING RISE! Panel discussion. From left: Theodore Taylor, Nikki Grimes, Rita Williams-Garcia, Bryan Collier, Kadir Nelson, Andrea Pinkney. Not pictured, Patricia McKissak, far left.

Sunday morning was the Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast. The most touching moment was when Patricia McKissak accepted the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement award, her three son’s at her side. She gave a heartwarming, emotional — and funny! — speech. And then it was off to sign my iRead posters!

One thing I have forgotten to talk about here, is that I am the 2015 iRead artist . That afternoon, I signed posters to enthusiastic librarians. The highlight: my mother-in-law, who lives in Vegas, fought her way into the convention center and came to my signing. Very sweet.

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The very cool, 3-D popup banquet program, featuring art by Brian Floca
The very cool, 3-D popup banquet program, featuring art by Brian Floca

I capped the day off by attending the Newbery/Caldecott banquet, in which I escorted my editor at Charlesbridge. For a children’s literature fanboy like me, it was like being in a candy store. Too many names to call off. It was a classy evening, and the 3-D popup banquet programs were definitely a keeper.

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My editor and I were too tired to hang around for the lengthy reception line, so we dragged ourselves back to our respective hotels, and I got a couple of hours of sleep before heading back to Austin.

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My editor, Yolanda Scott, and I enjoy the scenery!

My advice to authors and illustrators: Even if you are not going to participate in an ALA conference, I highly advise you attend one simply for the magical experience.

Here are a few of my favorite selfies with children’s literature celebs (forgive the dry beard, I forgot to take my beard care stuff, so I’m looking like Wolfman McGee):

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