Posts Tagged books

My First ALA Annual Conference


A little over two weeks ago I got to attend my first ALA Annual conference. It was an exciting experience… and so exhausting. I was there not just as an attendee, but as an author. Lucky me!  I  was thrilled to be representing  three of my publishers: Charlesbridge, National Geographic Kids, and Nomad Press.

Why exhausting? I spent four days on  my feet about 10 hours a day discussing all things BOOKS.  It was awesome!

If you haven’t been to an ALA conference yet, you should go. It is definitely something to see if you love the literary world.

So what did I learn in my first adventure into ALA?

1) ALA is HUGE! Seriously. The room is massive and is FILLED with exhibits from every type of book imaginable: children’s (PB, CB, MG, YA), trade, educational, self-published,  Adult books of many different genres, graphic novels, and even self-help books. There are places to buy benches for your library, consultants to help you plan your technical needs, and also representatives from the Library of Congress and NASA.

My recommendation: Go in. Take a deep breath and get your bearings. It’s a lot to take in all at once.


This gives you an idea of the massive size of the convention area. This is one of their empty rooms. It  was actually twice this size. The other half stretched under the walkway I was on. See? HUGE


2)  Use your Conference Directory


Yes, it’s a massive tome in and of itself. But it has all of the information you need. In fact, take a good look through it and make notes of things you want to do and people you want to see. There is a comprehensive list of authors who will be signing and if you know where they are you can get in line… EARLY!

That will save you the time of seeing a huge line, wondering who is there, and walking around to see that you missed the one awesome kidlit author that you definitely wanted to meet.  (Yes, that happened to me a couple of times)

3) Get a COGNOTES every morning

20160709_140603 This is the newspaper that the conference puts out. Every morning at the top of the stairs, people are standing their handing these out. Many people (like me) don’t take one. That is not a good idea. This is a GREAT source of everything that is happening that day.




Every publisher is handing out books for FREE. They are just stacked on the tables and you can take them. It’s like being a kid in a free candy store.

People kept asking me “Would you like a book?”  UM YES!!


This is just one small stack of the 20 books we came home with!


5) Find the Book Buzz Theatre, the Pop Top Stage and the Graphic Novel &Gaming Stage

These stages host various authors and editor speakers talking about fascinating topics. I was thrilled to be on a panel with Anastasia Suen and Chris Barton talking about STEM books for kids!



6) Take time to meet up with author friends


With author Miranda Paul at the We Need Diverse Books Booth



Meeting author Sylvia Liu for the first time




7) Spend quality time with your editors


With Alyssa Mito Pusey of Charlesbridge Publishing


8) Talk to many wonderful librarians about your books!


Playing BRAIN GAMES at the Nat Geo Kids booth


Whew! Are you tired yet? And I didn’t even get to go to any of the hundreds of fascinating workshops and programs put on by amazing librarians, editors and authors.

There were so many things to do and see, you can’t possibly get to them all. So here is a short summation of some of the highlights of the conference:

For an amazing wrap up, I give you ALA Annual’s very own video. Go to this page and click on it:

The ALA Archives has a great summary of many of the wonderful presentations here:

Some fabulous images from ALAAC16 shared by School Library Journal here

Matt de la Peña gave an awesome  2016 Newbery acceptance speech.                        It is a must-read! You can find it on the Horn Book Website here 

So are you game? Plan to attend the next ALA conference?

Here is my final piece of advice : Try to pick a few events that you want to attend and then fill in the rest of the time just walking around and seeing it all.  But whatever you see and do, just drink it all in. After all, its ALL ABOUT BOOKS!!


***** Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books, mostly about STEM, because, well, STEM ROCKS! You can find her at her website:

The Real Life of the Middle-Grade Reader

I love writing for the middle-grade reader.

There’s something very appealing about this audience. They’re old enough to understand humor and even sarcasm (in fact, some eleven-year-olds I know are Kings and Queens of Sarcasm).  By age nine, many children have mastered the mechanics of reading and they’re ready for challenging new vocabulary and themes that stretch their minds.

And best of all, middle-grade readers aren’t ready for all the angst, sexual issues, cussing, and violence that those Young Adult authors have to face head on when writing for teens. Right? I mean, the middle-grade genre is all about best friends and dogs and family vacations and…


If you dig, even not too deeply, you’ll probably find an interview in which I’m quoted saying something very similar to the previous paragraph. But I now know that when I had those thoughts, I was thinking about the middle-grade books of my youth, not today’s middle-grade kids.


My local school district has an “Intermediate” building for 5th and 6th graders. Last time I was there, I was surprised that most of the library books I saw being toted around by these ten- to twelve-year-olds were YA titles. They were devouring “The Hunger Games” and going ga-ga over “The Fault in Our Stars.”  Why weren’t they reading middle-grade books? Why weren’t they reading my books? Aren’t these the very students I (and other middle-grade authors) write for?

To find the answers, I think we have to look more closely at today’s nine- to twelve-year-old.  Here are some interesting facts* about the MG audience. Our MG audience:

In middle childhood, children might:

  • form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships
  • feel very emotional about those friendships
  • encounter higher levels of peer pressure
  • notice bodily changes and have unanswered questions about their bodies
  • begin to develop body image issues such as eating disorders
  • feel the pressure of harder classwork and academic challenges
  • begin to see themselves apart from their family unit
  • experience fears such as: fear of disappointing parents or parents finding out about negative behaviors or thoughts
  • experience anxiety over their social standing
  • become more aware of community threats and dangers such as violence

Whoa. That’s a heavy list for kids who haven’t even hit their teens yet. But it’s reality and it’s our audience. These are the children for whom we write.

So, what does this mean? No more dogs and best friends and family vacations? Of course not. But what it does mean is that we shouldn’t shy away from the reality that is life for today’s middle grader. Sometimes parents go to prison. Aunts and uncles can be alcoholics. Preteens think about their sexuality. Gangs and violence don’t suddenly appear after age 13. Nine- to twelve-year-olds sometimes live in homes or communities that are dangerous.

It’s okay to address the tougher side of preteen life. As storytellers, we can choose the right measure of tact, honesty, and humor to soften the blows of middle grade reality.


What are your current favorite middle grade titles? I’d be willing to guess that beneath the general premise there are some serious issues which today’s middle graders understand all too well.

What do you think? Share your comments below!

*facts listed above come from:

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She shares The Mark Boney Promise with young people at school and library visits in an effort to bring more kindness to classrooms everywhere.  Find Michelle at On Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.


Little Library on the Prairie


Caldwell Public Library, Caldwell, KS

A library in a little town is more than just a library. Many of the small-town libraries I visit for author talks are at the heart of their communities, serving as a hub for all manner of events. But what has impressed me most about these libraries are the amazing people who lead them. Please join me in talking with Tina Welch and Lisa Moreland, who connect kids with good books and so much more in rural Kansas. Just be sure to park your muddy boots outside!

How long have you been youth librarians?


Tina (in white) in her element!

Tina: My job title is Library Director. We do not have enough staff to “delegate”
so we are all children/youth librarians.  I have been at Harper Public Library for 10 years. I love reading and thought I could really serve my community through this job.

Lisa: I have been the Director at the Caldwell Public Library from 2006 until present. The “official” size of Caldwell is a little over a thousand so I order books and lead story times and change toilet paper. 🙂

What other services do your libraries offer that benefit the community?

Tina: We have a conference room that people can rent, we offer DVD’s, GED
testing, Kill-a-watts, display room, a notary service, our teen club
(service and fun, not a book club) and we bring in various speakers and
presentations from a retired NASA Astrophysicists to a Bee Keeper.

Lisa: Some of the things we do to reach out to the community are host Parents as Teachers, Legos Clubs, and art exhibits. We also host local performers and news and weather personalities, as well as bring in other interesting professionals.

What are some of the challenges and advantages of libraries in small towns?

Tina: Smaller budget, smaller staff, often have to pay extra to get speakers out
here. The same small set of people do the majority of volunteering or
fundraising for everything in town and are often “tapped out” by time it
comes to the Library.  Everyone knows where I live, what car I drive, my
home phone number and family members – often  have to literally leave town
to get “away” from work.  Returned books show up on my front porch or in my


Harper Public Library, Harper, KS

The small things that can be a disadvantage can be an advantage.  Because we have less money to work with, we are appreciative of what we do have. The staff is so small, that cross-training is a must.  Because we can’t afford Big Name – out of town people, we highlight the ones that are here. Even if people watch to see my car go to the library, they are also the first to ask if I am sick or my husband or my youngest son (Type 1 Diabetic) anytime I am not at work.

Lisa: Yes, I think it IS harder to be a children’s or ANY librarian in smaller towns because, in my opinion, the unemployment rate seems to be higher due to the smaller amount of jobs available.  A  librarian is serving not only his/her patrons’ literary needs, but also their spiritual and emotional and DAILY LIVING needs. I have been known to bring in food from my pantry for patrons or buy them lunch . . . as I say, “I don’t work for the money.” Of course, I need to be paid something to cover my own expenses, but I really do believe that working at the library is my ministry, however small it may be . . . fortunately, my husband agrees!

How does being in a small town give you the opportunity to reach at-risk children?


Tina and her fellas.

Tina: Big opportunity!!! We work with the school on many projects such as: Battle of the Books, AR books, presentations.  I have even had teachers that would call me at the Library to let me know about a kids’ homework so that I could help them here and would not let them play games on the computer until the homework was done (parents agreed to this arrangement). We are the closest thing to a “Latch Key” program our little city has.  We often have kids after school until Grandma, Mom, etc. pick them up after they get off work.  In the summer we get kids that cannot afford the pool and sometimes do not have air conditioning at home. The school often sets up tutoring for kids to take place at the Library. In the summer many of the kids eat the free lunch provided by local churches downtown and then come to the library until a parent gets off work or until the heat of the day is gone. As I stated earlier we are a safe place and we would not let anything happen to one of our “kids.”  Heck, we even go to 8th grade and high school graduations for some of these kids because we are so glad they stayed in school.

Lisa: I’ll give you a couple examples: Todd (I’m making up that name, per your books:) is a twin and he and his twin brother will be in the 5th Grade next year. Their parents have recently divorced and both parents have re-married. His twin brother mows lawns with his new stepbrother, but Todd doesn’t and is therefore at the library a lot.

To be honest, last summer, Todd was a problem and would often be disruptive. This year, I kind of “took him under my wings” and gave him various volunteer projects. He tells others that he “works for me” and has “worked at the library for about a year.”


Story time with Miss Lisa and Friends.

Like most kids, he would always “push his luck” and try to “get” more and more out of me, whether it be a drink from the fridge in the break room — or even the library’s digital camera! He said that his camera needed batteries…. The next time I worked, I made a point of bringing in a new pack of AA batteries and when he saw them, Todd said, “Are these for me?!” with the biggest grin on his face. You would have thought I was Santa Claus! It’s amazing how the littlest things to us can be the biggest things to kids who feel unloved or unappreciated at home.

Another young patron (same age as Todd) said that his mother “wouldn’t let him” fill out his summer reading chart because she couldn’t find any pens. . . . who knows if that was the truth, or if she just didn’t have the motivation or interest in helping out her son . . . so SAD! Of course, I still gave this patron reading prizes because I know he is a reader, given the books he asks me to order for him. This young man has diagnosed mental illness issues and can become quite agitated. One day, when I knew he was about to break down (he starts yelling and/or crying), I gave him $5 and said to go to the gas station and buy a treat for himself. He told me the next time I saw him that he used the money to buy presents for his younger brother and sister. Now, Lou — THAT’s why I do what I do!! And because I have always loved people and books!!!

Thank you ladies for all you do to build up your communities and your patrons!

Please tell us about YOUR favorite library or how a librarian has touched your life in the comments below.

Louise Galveston is the author of By The Grace of Todd and In Todd We Trust (Penguin/Razorbill.)