This year I've had a hard time identifying my favorite ALAN moment. What to choose--the dozens of books happily stacked and waiting to be signed? The chat with Sarah Porter about her newest project, Vassa in the Night? Meeting David Levithan to tell him about my favorite scene from Two Boys Kissing? My chance to tell Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds that if I had to choose just one book to start the year, it would be All American Boys? A.S. King's kick-butt keynote? While each of these moments was special, my hands-down highlight was a conversation with Laurie Halse Anderson. She shared some fabulous teaching tools for her Seeds of America series and then graciously agreed to continue our conversation at the KSU Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults, where she will deliver the keynote. I am grateful for the many opportunities to talk to these authors in real life, and now I'm hooked. I can't wait for KSU and ALAN 2017. (whole-group photo credit to Bryan Gillis)
Going into my first ALAN conference the only thing I knew for sure was that I would get books and hear authors speak. I was not prepared for how inspired I would be by the authors and the educators in the room, nor how full my teacher heart would be as I taped up and shipped boxes of books back to my school ready to be read by my eager students. The graciousness of the authors willing to sign and take pictures was definitely at the top of my highlights, but their words are what I carried back through the sky to Michigan with me. A.S. King, Jason Reynolds, and Matt de la Peña, Sarah Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, and more reaffirmed how important just the right book is to teens--how important those books are as a mirror for students to see themselves as well as a path to empathy as they experience via characters feelings they would never encounter otherwise. This was my first ALAN conference, but I am confident I will attend many more.
I promised the students in my Young Adult Literature course a report on the ALAN Workshop. I’ll focus on the authors and topics we have studied during the semester. Here are a few of the highlights I’ll include:
-As Sy Montgomery was signing a copy of The Great White Shark Scientist, I told her we had read and loved The Soul of an Octopus. She told me I made her day!
-A.S. King told us that we should care about the “Common Core of Compassion,” and write that into every lesson. I intend to.
-Several authors, including Neal Shusterman, talked about mental illnesses—their own, those of their loved ones, those of their characters. They helped us problematize the concepts of normal and abnormal and disability; they urged us to empathize with others and promote the emotional well-being of our students. Over and over again, authors talked about books saving lives—literally.
-Political and ethical issues came up repeatedly and intertwined. My class has investigated YA literature using a morality lens. I will introduce Patricia McCormick’s The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, and invite students to participate in an online discussion club during our January break to continue our exploration and stay bonded.
-And speaking of bonding, I will end my report to my students by sharing my memories of the remarks made by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely as they accepted the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, as well as the picture I hope will stay in my mind forever of them, standing with their arms around each other, as Jason asked us to look at them, to really see what friendship looks like.