Memorable Moments Characterize ALA Conference

By Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, Calif.

When I attended my first American Library Association Midwinter Meeting a few years ago, I felt as if I were crashing an elite private party. Would these librarians find out that I was an educator and demand that I leave? I did receive a few strange looks when people discovered that I was an elementary principal and not a librarian, but I am happy to report that librarians are good book people who recognize a kindred spirit.

Recently, I attended ALA’s 2013 Annual Conference in Chicago to spend four days celebrating books. I read somewhere that 26,000 people descended upon McCormick Place Convention Center to participate in workshops, committee meetings, and to wander the exhibit hall visiting with various vendors. Unlike my first ALA conference where I could leisurely wander up and down the aisles visiting with publishers, browsing through upcoming new books, and meeting authors, this time I had a schedule that included vendors I was to meet, committee meetings, and events to attend.

From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, I had the honor of serving on the Schneider Family Book Award Jury. The Schneider Family Book Award is one of about 20 ALA Youth Media Awards, which include the well-known Newbery and Caldecott Awards. According to the website, this new award “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Three books were recognized with the Schneider Family Book Award for 2013: Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander; A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean; and Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis.

The Schneider Family Book Awards are given during the ALA Award Ceremony and Reception. It was very special for me to be part of this celebration June 30, and I look forward to serving another year on the Schneider Family Book Award Jury. After the ALA Award Ceremony celebration, I headed over to the Sheraton, where all of the pre-activities leading up to the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Reception were happening. Both Donalyn Miller (of The Book Whisperer and Nerdy Book Club fame) and I had busy weekends, but we managed to connect at the Scholastic Pre-Newbery/Caldecott Reception. While there, I also ran into Teri Lesnese, Kirby Larson, Raina Telgemeier, and Dave Roman.

When we headed up to the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet, I located my seat at one of the tables reserved by Scholastic for their guests. In addition to author-illustrators Telgemeier and Roman, I met Charisse Meloto from Scholastic and sat beside Scholastic editor and young adult author David Levithan and 2008 Caldecott Award winner Brian Selznik. Fellow Scholastic Principal Advisory Board member Zipporah Hightower also attended.

Of course, the biggest highlight of the evening was the celebration of the 2013 Newbery and Caldecott Awards. The Youth Media Awards announced in January are akin to the Oscar announcements, while the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet is a cross between the Oscar ceremony and the after parties. Everyone dressed up to celebrate the biggest evening in children’s literature. The energy in the room was filled with the magic of the stories we were there to celebrate. And celebrate we did.

Jon Klassen, winner of the 2013 Caldecott for This is Not My Hat and a Caldecott Honor Medal for Extra Yarn, fought tears as he thanked everyone, displaying a combination of genuine awe and appreciation for the honor bestowed upon him and his books. His speech was laced with a touch of humor as he talked about the phone calls from the Caldecott Award Selection Committee.

Next, Katherine Applegate, winner of the 2013 Newbery for The One and Only Ivan, gave her acceptance speech. I wonder if any Newbery book has ever been as loved and supported as this one. Much as we have come to love Ivan, those in the audience also love the writer who brought Ivan to us. Applegate’s warmth and humor came alive in her words.

The evening was capped off with the presentation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to Katherine Paterson. According to the website, “The Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” Everyone was surprised that Paterson had not already won the award. Even the committee chair joked that everyone assumed she had won it.

Paterson’s acceptance speech was given with the same warmth, humor, and genuineness that filled the speeches of Klassen and Applegate. And just as with the others, having a pack of tissues handy was essential since there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end.

Thank you, Scholastic, for making it possible for me to take part in one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the site and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board and the Schneider Family Book Award jury. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog, kidlitfrenzy.com.
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