Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chicago ALAN Workshop in Pictures

So, you know I love the ALAN Workshop, right? I've been a member of ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE) since I knew about it thanks to the awesome Jim Blasingame. I try to go to the ALAN Workshop every year and this year was especially cool because I got to do a breakout session with Heather Brewer and Jackie Morse Kessler about teens who experience bullying, eating disorders and self harm and teens who need help navigating safe relationships. I love Jackie and Heather--we are all dedicated to talking about tough things with teens because a lot of times, adults in their lives don't know how or don't think it's appropriate.

When one in ten kids today are self harming, isn't it okay to talk about it?
When one in three girls is assaulted before they're out of college (16-23 being the high risk age group) isn't it okay to talk about it?
When ONE MILLION kids PER WEEK are bullied, isn't it okay to talk about it?

I'm not going to get into the dark/not dark/honest/who needs honesty question. I'm a writer. It's an art thing. I don't set out to send some dark, heavy message. (And I quite think I send a hopeful, positive message, and so do Heather and Jackie, but anyway.) I just write the stories that come to me. The kids I write about (and for) are smart and they happen to know that, you know, death, abuse and, say, bulimia exist...even if some adults have a beef with them knowing it.

The question that I get a lot that I do want to talk about is this one: Did you write a bullying book because bullying is a hot topic these days?

Here's my answer:

  • No.
  • When I wrote ANTS, bullying was not a "hot topic." In fact, I was asked by one editor to take the bullying out of the book.
  • Books take quite a while to go from my computer to the shelf. What's a hot topic today is not going to be a hot topic in three years.
  • Sad to think that only three years ago, bullying was not a "hot topic."
  • I sure bet it was for those million kids a week.
  • It sure was for me twenty years ago.
  • And long after this "hot topic" goes away and is replaced with another, those million a week will be suffering in silence, just like they/we always did.

This is why Heather, Jackie and I (and many other YA authors) go to schools and talk about this stuff. We have our own stories and we like to talk honestly with teenagers who appreciate honesty. This time, at ALAN, we got to talk with a room full of educators who also like to talk honestly, and that was a particularly awesome hour of my life. Sometimes, as YA writers, we get so boxed and labeled and banned and shushed by adults that we forget that there are many others on the front lines with us.
To them: THANK YOU.
Long after the news shows move on to another "hot topic" and the masses follow them, we will  still be on the front line with other honest people who are fighting a good fight. Kindness ninjas unite!

ANYWAY! Some pictures.

First, my brief visit to the floor of the NCTE conference where everyone was packing up. I got there just in time to hug Sara Zarr and get my picture taken with the starry book.

Love the starry book.
Sara Zarr, dude, our lunch conversation was pretty much life-changing. Thank you.
The ALAN Workshop starts with a great cocktail reception where everyone gets to mix and talk and it's always a blast. I got to chill with a bunch of cool ALAN folks (you all know who you are) and some groovy authors like Jennifer Donnelly, Matt de la Pena, Coe Booth, David Levithan, Laurie Halse Anderson, Lauren Myracle and of course, Heather Brewer and Jackie Morse Kessler. I got to meet some new authors, my complete author fangirl moment with MT Anderson and Andrew Smith.

Dudes! Me with Andrew Smith of Marbury Lens fame.
After the cocktail party, I was treated to an AMAZING Little, Brown dinner alongside Sara Zarr and Matthew Quick and 30 librarians and teachers and teacher trainers. There are no words to describe how much I loved that dinner. But here's a picture of me afterward that proves that I do wear a skirt from time to time. (If only vaguely, considering you can only see my knee.)

Photo credit: Viklets and ginger ale
So, then everything became a whirlwind. Monday I had an AWESOME visit at Niles West High School where I found these two awesome signs:

Why do I find this awesome? Because I've never seen one before. Spot the easterner.

I left this image huge if you want to read it. It's about bullying. And it quotes MLK.
And yes, its on the back of a bathroom stall.
Which means I take pictures while peeing. So?

And then there was the awesome Anderson's Bookshop event with nine other amazing authors.

The rest is a blur, guys. Tuesday we had our breakout panel and it was really great to share our resources and our concern and talk about ways to combat the bad that touches millions of kids every single week. I then had to run out the door to catch my car to the airport...which got stuck in two hours of traffic but only by luck was my plane late, which means I MADE MY FLIGHT. It was a miracle. An O'Hare Airport Miracle.

Thanksgiving was nice. I really missed my family.
Then on Friday, my daughters and I pieced the triangles into squares and then we pieced the squares into blocks on our tinfoil hat book quilt.

I'm digging it.
ONE MORE my favorite high school in Omaha (That's you Bryan HS) and then I am home for three and a half months. Woot. Writing. Writing. And more writing.

Stay tuned for a super holiday mega giveaway contest in the next week. Fun contest. Books to win. You want to enter. Trust me.

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