January 2016 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

ALA Midwinter Conference Reflects Richness and Diversity of Americans

The American Library Association (ALA) held its midwinter meeting in Boston last weekend. Nearly 11,000 educators, writers, publishers and exhibitors attended lectures and lunches that focused on how librarians could better engage the communities they serve. Attendees also basked in the glow of celebrity--among others, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns talked about creativity and writing, and newly minted children's book author Chelsea Clinton delivered the closing speech about how children can positively impact their communities.

Scholastic hosted its annual Picture Book Lunch on Saturday at the Westin Hotel adjacent to the Boston Convention Center, where editors Arthur A. Levine, Tracy Mack and others highlighted forthcoming titles for 2016. (Keep an eye out for books on babies, birds, and ballet.) Author-illustrator Barbara McClintock and husband and wife illustrating team Sean Qualls and Selina Alko discussed their latest projects and the challenges in making picture books chime with children. McClintock shared her process of getting the images of little ballerinas just right for her forthcoming book, Emma and Julia Love Ballet. To sketch dancers in motion, McClintock visited a local children's ballet studio. She also laced up a pair of slippers so that she could feel the movements for herself. Qualls and Alko used their recently released picture book on Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas to illustrate the ups and downs of working together on the same project while also living under the same roof. (Their secret to creative tranquility is separate studios.) 


The highly anticipated Youth Media Awards were delivered on Monday in recognition of the best contributions to children's literature, and this year's group was especially diverse. Matt de la Peña is the first Latino author to receive the Newbery Award for Last Stop on Market Street, and the Caldecott Award went to Sophie Blackall for illustrating Finding Winnie. (NBC News profiled Peña and also explored the country's rapidly-growing Latino readership.) A full list of award and honor recipients can be found here.

last stop.JPGnoah.JPG
Other highlights: The Geisel Award is a relative newcomer to the awards scene (established in 2006), and recognizes the most distinguished beginner reader book. The illustrations and text must be geared to children in grades kindergarten through second grade--perhaps the most challenging audience for authors to sustain interest and promote developing literacy skills. This year the award went to Sam Ricks, illustrator of Don't Throw It to Mo!, written by David A. Adler. In the debut young adult novel author category, every award or honor recipient was a woman, and the top award went to Becky Albertalli for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Jerry Pinkney was honored with two lifetime achievement awards for his overall contributions to children's literature.

While the awards were exciting, this conference was about making connections with all readers, and that the world of books offers constant companionship. As John Adams advised his son John Quincy before departing for Europe: "You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket."