Saturday, October 25, 2014

KidLitCon 2014

It's been 2 weeks since the conference in Sacramento and I've finally managed to carve out some time to write about my experience attending this wonderful event. I know I'm late in reporting but perhaps my delayed post will help keep the positive energy flowing a bit longer.

This year's KidLitCon organizers: Maureen Kearney, Tanita Davis, Jen Robinson,
Charlotte Taylor, Melissa Fox, Reshama Deshmukh, and Sarah Stevenson
KidLitCon is an annual gathering of bloggers who focus on Children's & YA Lit. These dedicated literati hail from all over the country. They are librarians, teachers, authors, parents, and other voracious readers who can and often do change a life with one book recommendation. That's this year's team of organizers pictured above—the ones who made it all happen.

Sadly, I was a bit off my game during the conference. After almost a year of experiencing a mysterious chronic cough, my condition was recently diagnosed and is being treated as environmental asthma until further testing. And it was in full swing during this two day conference.

My persistent cough has rendered me the person for whom I usually reserve my most searing stink-eye. You know, the one whose cough is distracting during a talk. The one who slinks in late to a session (due to yet another wracking coughing fit) OR gets up and leaves in the middle (to hit the inhaler). Yeah, I'm suddenly that person. My apologies to all—especially Jen Robinson who had the unfortunately pleasure of sitting next to me during one of my most challenging episodes and refrained from smacking me. Thanks, Jen, I owe you.

But back to what really matters. Blogging Diversity, What's Next? was this year's KidLitCon theme, a conscious decision by organizers to help keep the focus on this critical issue. They filled their presentation line-up with authors and bloggers who were out there fighting for this cause even before We Need Diverse Books brought it forth as a mainstream issue. There were so many outstanding speakers that I won't be able to cover them all. Just know that each and every presenter brought vital information and enlightenment to the gathering. There's a reason they were chosen to speak and why they have hordes of followers.

Meeting Guinevere Thomas!
Being a white author who writes across racial/cultural boundaries can be interesting at times. And let's face it, I'm not just white—I'm blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Irish pink-pale white. For the most part, I've found incredible support and encouragement from authors and bloggers of color and I can't begin to express how much this means to me.

Meeting Libertad Thomas!
Two of my greatest supporters are the amazing bloggers of Twinja Book Reviews and now Diverse Book Tours. Libertad and Guinevere Thomas are quickly becoming respected leaders of the Diversity in KidLit movement. They came all the way from the East Coast, bringing their undeniable energy and presence to KidLitCon. And let me tell you, people naturally gravitate toward them. To finally meet these incredible writer/bloggers in person was a gift.

Author, Mitali Perkins, was a great choice for keynote speaker. She's just such a positive, engaging speaker and we all got ARC's of her latest book, Tiger Boy. Of course, I totally related to her saying that she wants to feel free to write for characters outside her own race/culture/gender—doesn't want to be relegated to writing only Bengali girl characters! Having a successful author of color say that was reassuring.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about of the scientific law of nature; how positive attracts and negative repels. It's natural and right to be angry about inequality and injustice in the world. But when that anger is turned into positive action and moves forward in a way that's inclusive and attracts others, it becomes something powerful. We Need Diverse Books is the perfect example.

Now a non-profit organization, WNDB has quickly become a force of nature the traditional publishing industry can no longer deny (and is wisely clamoring to sign up with). Four members of the We Need Diverse Books Team presented on Saturday. It was so great to see some of them in person and in action. Mike Jung has a brilliant sense of humor and he made me laugh a lot during their presentation. Laughter heals and I needed it.
Authors and WNDB Team Members, Karen Sandler, S.E. Sinkhorn, Mike Jung.
(Martha White's not pictured as she insisted on taking the photo.)  
Please keep in mind, I wasn't able to interact with every blogger and author who attended KidLitCon but those I did get a chance to meet made a lasting impression. Their very way of being in the world gives me hope for the future of diversity in Children's and YA Lit and therefore, future generations period.

Nathalie Mvondo & Libertad Thomas
One such blogger is Nathalie Mvondo of Multiculturalism Rocks! Together with Kim Baccellia of Si, Se Puede they presented, Finding and Reviewing the Best in Diverse Children's & YA. It was the first session I attended and set the tone for all that followed. Sorry I didn't get a pic of Kim but that's Nathalie with Libertad who presented later that same day. Teaming up with with editor, Laura Atkins and author, Zetta Elliot, Libertad spoke at Sistahs (and Brothers) are Doing It For Themselves, enlightening bloggers to the growing number of authors and illustrators who are independently creating diverse literature and encouraging bloggers to support them. FYI Twinja Book Reviews and Diverse Book Tours focus almost exclusively on Indie Authors, so check them out if you are serious about supporting Indies like me. Remember, lots of us couldn't land an agent or publisher because of our diverse characters and stories. The tide is turning.

Faythe Arrandondo and Hannah Gomez. If I had snarky hip librarians like these
when I was a kid, I would have read WAY more!
Faythe Arrendondo of YSLA-The Hub and Sarah HANNAH Gomez of McLicious are bloggers and librarians who work in libraries at opposite ends of the spectrum. Hannah brings the real world to kids in a predominately white area of economic wealth, while most of Faythe's library population struggle daily with the realities of socio-econonic strife.  On day two, Hannah and Faythe joined forces with bloggers Kelly Jenson and Summer Khaleq (she's only 16!) to present, We're Not Going To Take It Anymore, Why Bloggers Have the Ability To Make Diverse Books Happen. A brilliant bookend to a successful conference.

When Faythe spoke to the realities of not having books her young library clients can relate to—it was powerful. How is she supposed to hand a kid who struggles daily with poverty yet another book with a protagonist who is likely white (either wealthy or middle-class) and heading off to an adventure at boarding school or vacation?! Faythe's mission to bring change in this regard gave me pause and I'll not soon forget her words or her passion.

Housemade veg gnocchi at Grange.
Side note: At the end of the first day of KidLitCon, I decided it was best I not talk anymore as it only resulted in more coughing fits. Instead of attending the first night's dinner at a local Brew Pub, I slipped downstairs at the Citizen Hotel to sample the locavore cuisine of Grange—once a foodie, always a foodie. As some of you know, in real life, I work at The Kitchen. Delta Legend is based in the Sacramento Delta, a region known for agriculture. I grew up enjoying the asparagus, corn, pears, and strawberries grown there. Therefore, a restaurant that focuses on a locally sourced menu was calling my name.

There were quite a few ARC's for the taking at KidLitCon and when I saw Jewell Parker Rhodes', Buyou Magic on the table, I snapped it up in a heartbeat and started reading it at dinner. Jewell herself was also in attendance and a presenter. Her writing is lovely and her characters enchanting. This author is not only a prolific writer of both adult and children's novels, she's also the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Arizona State University (just to mention one of her many affiliations). Yeah, she's that level of writer, as well as, a kind and gracious person.

ARC of Jewell's latest book. 
A great book, lovely food, and a glass of wine after a full day at KidLitCon was just what I needed. I crashed out early to rest up for day two of the conference.

I could go on and on about this awesome event, but by now I've likely lost most of my audience. Unless of course you were there and like me, are wanting to keep the experience and feeling alive until the next gathering of this amazing tribe.

Thank you to all who made KidLitCon 2014 happen and who graciously allowed me to participate and included me in your circle. Until we meet again...

And now it's time to post this and watch the World Series. You might be surprised who I'm rooting for (hint: I love an underdog). I'll make any corrections tomorrow but for now, I'm off the clock!