Monday, January 21, 2019

Laura Geringer Bass: Editor & Writer Extraordinaire

For a variety of reasons, it's been way too long since I wrote in this blog. One of my New Year's resolutions for 2019 is to get back to writing regular blog posts. With that in mind, I want to finally write up a wonderful interview I had some months ago with Laura Geringer Bass. If you're a fan of children's books, her name may be familiar to you, as she was a long-time children's book editor who ended up with her own imprint at HarperCollins. She's also an accomplished author of books for kids and teens, and published a new children's novel in 2018, The Girl With More Than One Heart. It's a book that is close to Laura's heart, and took many years to write, but the resulting novel is a compassionate and insightful exploration of grief and resilience as the main character deals with the sudden death of her beloved father.

Before diving into Laura's many years of work on The Girl With More Than One Heart, let's take a look at her fascinating path through the world of children's literature. Laura's first publishing job was with HarperCollins, where she was hired by the legendary editor Charlotte Zolotow. While Laura was thrilled to get the editing job, she also made it clear that she also wanted to continue her work as a writer. "At the very first interview, I mentioned that I was working on a novel," Laura remembered. "She (Charlotte) gave me one of her very big smiles and said, 'I hope when you're ready, you'll show it to me.'" Because Charlotte herself was the author of about 75 books for children, "she was very empathetic to a person who wanted to both edit and write.... She was a mentor, she encouraged me."

When Charlotte retired in 1991, Laura was given her own imprint, Laura Geringer Books, and she published many noteworthy books over the years until her retirement in 2008. Throughout those years, however, Laura also was writing her own books. As she puts it: "There was always the writing." At this point, Laura has written over 20 books for kids and teens, including a teen fantasy, Sign of the Qin, an ALA Best Book shortlisted for the Printz Award, and Myth Men,  a series of graphic novels that CBS adapted into an animated show. In fact, Laura got off to a running start in 1984 with her first published book, A Three Hat Day. "I had the good luck to have (Caldecott Medalist) Arnold Lobel illustrate it," Laura said. "Arnold read it and loved it. He said, 'But I might make the main character a raccoon,' and I said, 'Anything you want to do. ' Instead, he made Mr. Potter a little man who looked a lot like Arnold." A Three Hat Day was chosen as an ALA Notable Book, spotlighted as a Top Ten featured selection on LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow, and is still in print.

After many years where she had to divide her time between editing and writing, Laura decided eight years ago to focus totally on writing. She runs writing workshops for several non-profit groups, including teens at risk in the NYC Prison Writes program, as well as with high school girls who participate in Girls Write Now.  Laura also spends a chunk of her time going to schools, especially in the Harlem area, working with kids interested in writing. Still, Laura carefully carves out time for her own writing, and when she retired from publishing in 2008, she joined a writer's group run by children's author Lore Segal. "I was working on The Girl With More Than One Heart way back then.... Lore was amazing -- so kind -- and she read my 38 chapters many, many times," Laura said.

In The Girl With More Than One Heart, Laura tells the story of eighth grader Briana, who has always felt closer to her father than her mother, especially since the birth of her little brother Aaron, who has special needs and seems to take all of their mother's attention. So Briana's world is turned inside out when her father dies suddenly of a heart attack. Not only is Briana dealing with her own grief amid the social challenges of middle school, she also must cope with her emotionally-shattered mother, who spends her days in bed and relies on Briana to take much of the responsibility for Aaron.  Shortly after her father's death, however, Briana suddenly feels as if she has grown a second heart through which she hears her father's voice. a voice that eventually moves her towards a new relationship with both her mother and brother.

Reviewing the book, Kirkus noted: "There are a lot of different topics covered in this book, but they never feel like too much, and they all fit into the scope of the plot. Bass tackles some heavy issues—having a sibling with a disability, losing a parent suddenly and at a young age, and coping with a parent's depression—but she manages to do it with grace and empathy. Readers will see Briana's understanding of her brother shift as she starts to really see him as opposed to what she feels he has cost her. This book is full of heartache and rare smiles, but that is because it is achingly real."

And Publishers Weekly said: "The narrative moves seamlessly between past and present and incorporates Greek myths, Briana’s “fractured fairy tales,” and Grandpa Ben’s tall tales, highlighting the power of storytelling to foster healing and strengthen relationships."

Heart --Laura's shorthand for the book -- pulls together many strands from Laura's own life. One major character, Grandpa Ben, is based on Laura's father. "My father was a terrific storyteller. He was funny and he loved these long, shaggy dog stories -- what he called Jewish jokes -- that actually included material from every mythology and culture. He used to tell my son these stories. My son is on the spectrum and had a lot of trouble adjusting to the world. He had epic tantrums. My dad was able to turn his meltdowns into something much more joyous."

Laura taped her father telling stories, and when he died she wanted to write about him, and about his storytelling. "So the book kind of started with me transcribing the stories as my dad told them. I wanted to capture his cadence and ability to wryly deliver a line." Laura showed the initial manuscript to Tamar Brazis, now an editor at Abrams, who -- in a neat twist -- had started in children's publishing years before as Laura's editorial assistant. After reading it, Tamar suggested that Laura turn the manuscript from a series of stories into a novel. "I thought she had a great idea -- I just didn't know how to do it," Laura said. "At the time, I was writing fantasy -- Chinese mythology. So I put it aside for a bit. But I had to just keep going back to it, and at one point, I found myself writing about a 13-year-old girl who had lost her dad. That was me; I was very close to that feeling."

Then Laura had the idea of a "dad heart, which became kind of the engine of the book. And a little bit of the mystery of the story, as the heart says things to her." But the idea of the heart was "the hardest thing to work out," Laura said. "At first, there were seven hearts. They were characters in a way but that wasn't sustainable. It was kind of weird at first... Then, as I was writing it, it just became clear it all would come out. I know that Brianna was working her way back to her mother." With that in mind, Laura then focused on the idea of the "dad heart" that would help Brianna and her mom rekindle their emotional bond..

As for Briana, "She's no angel, and she wants to be less of an angel than she is.... I think she's a young and pretty innocent 13-year-old whose head is filled with stories and writing." Even as she deals with her father's death, Briana's life goes on, "she suddenly has a crush, suddenly her friends are different."

The Girl With More Than One Heart went through many, many revisions on the road to publication. Laura asked someone to take a picture of her standing next to a pile of revised manuscripts -- the stack is taller than Laura, who is six feet in socks. "I wanted that photo encourage other writers who are going through the same thing. You want it to be the best it can be, and you must have a crazy amount of patience and the ability to go back and back and get it just right."

It was worth all the revisions, Laura said. "I am very happy with it. I'm very proud of it and I love holding it in my hands." Now, Laura is hard at work on her next book, a middle grade fantasy, a book "which has been marinating in my head for a while."

Overall, Laura feels very fortunate to have been both an editor and a writer (and a teacher even earlier in her career). As an editor, "I got to work with some amazing authors and artists, I really enjoyed that career. But I always wanted to write, so I feel really lucky to have all my time now to devote to the writing and also the the teaching. It feels like all these strands in my life have come together."

END NOTES: Huge thanks to Laura for her remarkable patience with me in getting this blogpost done. I have been greatly inspired by your writing and your work with young writers. Thanks also to Tracey Mason Daniels of Media Masters for setting up the interview with Laura.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Rising Star in Our Town

I first heard about Minh Le several years ago from his wife Aimee Oberndorfer Le, who participated in one of my library's early literacy classes with their then-toddler son Jacob. Aimee told me that Minh reviewed children's books for Huffington Post and other outlets, so of course I said that I must meet him!

Over the past few years, I've gotten to known Minh, Aimee, Jacob (now a rising first grader) and their newest family member, preschooler Ezra, as both library patrons and friends. And it's been fun having a front row seat as Minh's reputation, both as a reviewer and a picture book author, has grown nationally. When Minh published his first picture book, Let Me Finish! in 2016, he came to my library to read and talk about the book, along with the book's illustrator, Isabel Roxas. Also on hand was the book's editor, Rotem Moscovich, who made the trip down from NYC, bringing a specially decorated cake for the program. Let Me Finish! won praise from critics and marked Minh as a picture book creator to watch.

Fast forward to this year, when Minh published his second picture book, Drawn Together, which details how art allows a young boy who only speaks English to communicate with his Thai-speaking grandfather. It's not your normal second picture book, however. First of all, while it's a very personal book for Minh, it also has a universal message that seems to resonate with everyone who reads it. Second of all, the illustrator for the book is Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, and when you've got a Caldecott Medalist illustrating your picture book, you know that it's going to be something special.

So it's really no surprise that Drawn Together has won raves from critics, including starred reviews from all of the major professional children's book review journals. The book also is an "Indie Choice" in the newsletter published by independent bookstores around country, and it was sporlighted early this month as an "editor's choice" by The New York Times, which called it "at once touching and thrilling." Personally, I believe it's got a great shot at winning the 2019 Caldecott Medal, or at least a Caldecott Honor (although, of course, the actual Caldecott Committee operates in secret, so we have no idea of what they are considering).

Photo by Maurice Belanger

Interestingly, Minh wrote Drawn Together based on his experience as a Vietnamese-American, while Dan Santat's illustrations portray a Thai grandfather and his Thai-American grandson. In a recent interview with me, Minh noted that he's thrilled with Dan's portrayal. "I wrote the book based on my personal experience as a Vietnamese-American," he said. "But, for the picture book collaboration, I wanted to leave space for Dan so he could illustrate from a very personal place. He really did take it on. That's what makes the book so special -- it really did resonate with him.

"Even though the language (shown in the illustrations) is Thai and the cultural details are different, it's still very much the story I wanted, and still very true to my experience. And, from a visual perspective, the Thai script has much more visual distinction," Minh said. (Publishers Weekly recently asked Minh and Dan to interview each other about the book, and the results offer a fascinating backstage look at how a picture book is created.)

Minh also has been delighted to find that the story inspires readers from all types of backgrounds. "For something so personal, it's interesting to see what a broad appeal it has. It's an interesting dynamic, and it gave the book amazing traction even before it was published."

Photo by Maurice Belanger

At the same time that Minh has been getting national attention as the author of Drawn Together,  he's also cemented his reputation as an expert in the children's book world after recently serving as one of three judges for the prestigious The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Minh and the other two judges spent hundreds -- maybe thousands? -- of hours reading books for children and teens; their choices were announced at the end of May and the winners will give their acceptance speeches in October.

In the midst of all of this activity, Minh, who works full-time as an early childhood policy specialist for the federal government, found time to ask if my library would host a celebration on the day Drawn Together was published in early June. Minh hoped that we could also tie in a wonderful local Takoma Park institution, Capital City Confectionery, by having them create goodies for the program. Our Friends of the Takoma Park Maryland Library group was happy to provide funding and so our book party for Drawn Together was created.

Photo by Maurice Belanger

Minh is currently at work on another project, writing a graphic novel for kids featuring a new Green Lantern character. I'm proud to say that my library is noted for its extensive graphic novel collection, plus our graphic novel expert Library Associate Dave Burbank. Minh has taken advantage of both our collection and Dave's expertise, saying: "I'm using the library to do my graphic novel 101 studies!"

Minh's graphic novel, Green Lantern: Legacy, will be published in the fall of 2019 by DC Comics, under its DC Zoom imprint. The book is aimed at older kids and teens, and Minh was inspired to do a new Green Lantern graphic novel because of the fact that "there is not just one character. There are a number of Green Lanterns. So I'm creating a new character within the Green Lantern world.

"Green Lantern is a character who gets power from a green power ring, which draws its strength from the character's own strength of will. When looking at that, I had an image suddenly of my grandmother and one of her jade rings. She always had a jade ring. In my story, a boy's Vietnamese grandmother passes away, and the ring falls into the hand of her grandson. The grandmother had actually been a Green Lantern, and my story follows the grandson as he learns how to use his new-found powers as he learns more about his grandmother's history as a Green Lantern."

Minh said that writing a graphic novel has been a learning experience. "Unlike picture books, there is a lot of emphasis on the illustration notes. It's like you're the art director, and you provided as much detail as possible for the illustrator. It's basically the opposite of pictures books, where you leave as much space as possible for the illustrator."

DC Comics has contracted with Minh to write one book, "and we'll see where it goes," Minh said. "The feedback initially has been  fantastic."

Minh hasn't given up on picture books, and he's currently working on two more books with Hyperion/Disney. And Minh also hasn't quit his full-time federal government job, noting that "I hope to get to a point where we can make that work, but we're not there yet. Right now, with the day job, there's a nice stability there. Having the day job and that stability means we can be more intentional with our choices and wait for the right opportunities."

Minh added: "I'm at maximum capacity, and I'm hoping to stay on the right side of that line, although some days, I feel like I tip over it!"

End Notes: Thanks so much to Minh Le for taking the time to let me interview him in the midst of a hugely busy time. Thanks also to Aimee Oberndorfer Le, Jacob and Ezra for being such a fun part of our library family!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Books and Music: The Intensely Creative Mary Amato

In the world of children's fiction, there are some superstars, folks like Newbery Medalists Kate DiCamillo and Kwame Alexander, Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, and Jacqueline Woodson, the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

But there are many more authors -- a whole host of them -- who don't get to be in the big-time spotlight, but whose books are well-written, well-reviewed by critics, and -- most important -- popular with young readers. One of these authors is Mary Amato. If you're a children's librarian or teacher, you're likely familiar with at least one of Mary's more than 15 novels, which include books in the Good Crooks and Riot Brothers series, stand-alone books like Invisible Lines and Please Write In This Book, and a trio of novels for teens.

Since Mary's first book, The Word Eater, was published in 2000, her novels have won a number of awards, including Children's Choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah and Arizona. Her books also have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for TV and produced onstage. Along the way, Mary has also been a dancer and choreographer, a songwriter, a serious player and teacher of the ukulele, a writing coach, and the co-founder of the Firefly Shadow Theater. In addition, Mary created her own website, which is filled with resources for teachers and parents and also connects to the separate website for her teen books.

In the midst of all this activity, Mary also keeps writing books for kids and teens. This year, Mary will publish two new books: News From Me, Lucy McGee, the first in a new series for ages 7-10, and Open Mic At Westminster Cemetery, a darkly comic book for teens. Recently, Mary and I -- who have known each other for years, as our sons attended the same high school -- met for lunch where I got the chance to hear about these new books, as well as her other writing and musical projects.

In writing News From Me, Lucy McGee, Mary says she wanted to "explore the idea of a little girl who is emotionally vulnerable, especially to being swayed by her peers and letting the popular group steer her.... She makes a pretty big mistake because of that." Fortunately, "Lucy has a strong moral compass because she has a great family," Mary adds.

As News From Me, Lucy McGee opens, Lucy is a fourth-grader and she is thrilled when the most popular girl in her class invites her to help fix up her clubhouse. But that means she has to skip the after-school meeting of the Songwriting Club established by another friend, and Lucy discovers how complicated friendships can be.

While friendship stories are perennially popular with kids, the Lucy McGee series features a extra added attraction. As part of the each book in the series, several songs written by Lucy and her friends in the Songwriting Club are embedded in the text.

Kids in the Carpe Diem Arts program where Mary volunteers.

The series also will offer a special webpage with extras for fans, including sheet music, mp3s of kids singing the songs, as well as karaoke versions. Mary's had a lot of fun writing the songs for the books, and is recording them with kids who work with Carpe Diem Arts, a Maryland nonprofit that coordinates arts outreach programs.

"I think of the Lucy McGee books as 'mini-musicals,'" Mary says. As for the mp3 versions available on the series' website, Mary says she'll be very much in the background as "I want kids to hear other kids singing the songs." That way, Mary hopes young readers may be empowered to try their own skill at songwriting. The books are aimed at ages 7-10, but Mary is hoping that they will appeal to even broader age range, given the musical "hook" and the fact that the characters are fourth graders whose friendship dilemmas will ring true to young readers."They are funny books with a serious side to them," Mary says.

Mary test-drives some of her songs with the Carpe Diem kids.

So far, Mary has completed the first two books in the Lucy McGee series, and is working on Book 3.  The first book will be published in October, and the others will follow every six months. Mary says she and her editors at Holiday House "are all hoping that the series will be very well-loved." If so, that could allow Mary to write more books in the series, a task she would welcome.

Meanwhile, Mary's teen novel, Open Mic at Westminster Cemetery, will be published on September 1 by Carolroda Lab, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In the book -- which Mary calls "my edgiest yet" --  the main character, 16-year-old slam-poet Lacy Brink, wakes up dead in Westminster Cemetery, the historic cemetery where writer Edgar Allan Poe is buried. Lacy is understandably confused by her situation and wants to leave the cemetery to find out the details of her death, but learns that every soul there must complete a job. Lacy is given the task of providing entertainment, and proposes an Open Mic night, which offers the other cemetery residents a chance to express some long-buried, difficult truths.

"There are a lot of funny parts," Mary says. "But the book is ultimately about telling the truth, and how hard that is to do." Mary admits to be being a "little nervous" about the book, which is written in a hybrid style combining the novel format and stage script. 

Overall, Mary is grateful to spend her time writing for teens and younger readers, and has plenty of ideas for future projects. "I just have to write," she says. "To wake up every day and write is a dream come true."

ENDNOTES: A big thanks to Mary Amato for inviting me to write about her newest books. And thanks to Holiday House and Carolrhoda Labs for the book cover images.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Snapshots from the 2018 Walter Awards

Electric energy permeated the room at the recent 2018 Walter Awards as the always-amazing Jason Reynolds accepted the 2018 Walter Teen Award for Long Way Down and author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Eric Velasquez accepted the first-ever Walter Younger Readers Award for Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library.

2018 Walter winners and judges

It was an amazing event, filled with thought-provoking comments by the winners, plus an opening symposium. Focused on "The Power of Books," the symposium was moderated by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park and featured the three authors who won Walter Honors: Margarita Engle (Walter Younger Reader Honor for Forest World); Mitali Perkins (Walter Teen Honor for You Bring the Distant Near); and Francisco X. Stork (Walter Teen Honor for Disappeared).

Jason Reynolds

Reynolds brought down the house when, in his acceptance speech, he made a brilliant, impassioned comparison between a tree falling in a forest with no one around to a child falling without adult intervention. "From a scientific standpoint, if the child falls and no one is there to hear it, does that disqualify the life of said child?," he asked. "Where are the people? The question is: WHY is no one around?... Do your work to save our babies." As my friend Alison Morris of First Book put it in a tweet: "There's not a dry eye in this room NOR SHOULD THERE BE. We have an obligation to do better."

Walter Dean Myers

Named for the late children's and teen author Water Dean Myers, the Walter Award was established by We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), a non-profit created less than five years ago as a Twitter hashtag by a handful of people that now is an influential children's literature organization with a global reach. The Walter Award was first given in 2016 and is aimed specifically at honoring outstanding books for teens (and now also younger readers) that celebrate diversity. As WNDB president and founder Ellen Oh puts it: "To change the landscape of children's literature, WNDB believes we must highlight and promote books that broaden our notions of diversity."

Each year, the winners and honor authors are feted at a ceremony co-sponsored by WNDB and the Library of Congress. It's always a gala occasion, and a chance for local teachers, librarians and students to meet some of the best authors and illustrators writing today. This year's event was hosted by Jacqueline Woodson, the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and began with the symposium at which Park posed a series of questions -- including a fun lightning round --  to the three Walter Honor authors. After that, Reynolds, Weatherford and Velasquez got a chance to speak.

Here are a few snapshots from the event:

__ Responding to Park's question, "When was the first time you felt seen or heard in a book?," the three panelists had very different answers. Stork noted that he "grew up with the identity of being Mexican" (he didn't become an American citizen until he was 26) and so mostly read Latin American authors in his youth.

Perkins, who is of Bengali descent and was the only person of color and the only immigrant in her elementary school, noted that she "didn't like being seen. I read books as a way to see and hear other lives....I was learning to become fluent in imagining other lives, and that's served me well."

Mitali Perkins

Engle, meanwhile, said hers was the only Cuban family in a Mexican neighborhood and said it wasn't until she was in her 50's that she truly saw herself in a book.

__ Asked to name an author whose work was influential in their lives, Perkins cited Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Perkins said she re-reads it annually because, among other things, it showed her that she could make money and be independent as a writer. That was particularly important, Perkins quipped, because to her parents, there were only three acceptable occupations: "Engineer, doctor, and engineer!"

Stork named Flannery O'Connor, saying that "the ability to see things differently is the power she gave me."

Francisco X. Stork

Engle, meanwhile, said Carver: A Life in Poems, Marilyn Nelson's Newbery Honor-winning biography of George Washington Carver, showed her how poetry could help spotlight "someone who has been neglected by history. It's what I have strived to do -- to write about those who have been left out of history."

__ Park asked each panelist to talk about how they organize their writing day. Perkins said frankly that "I am motivated by shame" and needs a deadline. She likes to work in coffee shops "because I like that buzz;" she drew laughter from the crowd when she noted that she has just discovered an app that mimics the sound of a busy coffee shop.

Stork is more methodical. "I sit in front of the computer and see what happens in two hours. Sometimes I write a few sentences, and sometimes I write more."

As for Engle, she told the crowd to "take everything that Mitali (Perkins) has just said and reverse it. I need peace and quiet. I write in long-hand, and day-dreaming is the essence of my process."

Margarita Engle

__ As she asked about key moments they have experienced as authors with their readers, Park started things off with a laugh by talking about a letter she once got from a student who wrote: "I was absent the day we picked an author to write to and you were the only one left. So my question is: Do you know Gary Paulsen?"

Linda Sue Park

Engle responded that, for her, "the most powerful moments are when students stand up and read their own poems to me."

Perkins, meanwhile, talked about doing a school visit shortly after the death of her father. "I was trying hard to hide my grief," but she lost her composure when a student asked her why a particular character in You Bring the Distant Near had to die. "I started crying in front of all those 14-year-olds," Perkins said.

For Stork, he's particularly touched by the emails he gets from students about The Memory of Light, which addresses teen suicide.

__ Park then asked the panelists what their next book is/will be. Stork is working on a sequel to Disappeared, Engle's next book, Jazz Owls, comes out in May, Perkins is working on a picture book "about a wall," and Park is writing a picture book about "a little mixed-race dragon."

__ In accepting the Walter Young Readers Award for Schomburg, Weatherford noted that she feels like she's "come full circle." When she was an aspiring author, Weatherford said she was motivated by the work of the man for whom the award is named, especially his books Brown Angels and Harlem.

Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez

__ Velasquez, who pushed Weatherford to write Schomburg, said he first learned about Arturo Schomburg from a poster of African-American heroes that his third grade teacher hung on the classroom wall. "Thirty seven years later, while at the Schomburg Center (of the New York Public Library) attending an event, a friend noted that no children's books had been written to honor Schomburg. Suddenly I realized that this was the same person I looked at every day in third grade."

ENDNOTES: Thanks to mentor, friend and Walter co-chair Maria Salvadore for the invitation to the Walter Award event. Plus a big shout-out to another mentor and friend, Deborah Taylor, who was one of the judges, plus Kathie Weinberg, who works as the co-director of the Walter Award and a Library of Congress consultant. Thanks to the We Need Diverse Books folks for some of the photos I used for this post. (My own photos were terrible!). Thanks to the Library of Congress for hosting the event in such a great space. And huge thanks to all of the honored authors for the incredible work they put in to create truly memorable -- and diverse -- books for kids and teens.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Midwinter Conference Highlights

The American Library Association's annual Midwinter conference is billed as a business meeting, and that's true. In fact, I was there -- it was held in Denver this year -- mainly because of my position on the Board of Directors for the Association for Library Service to Children. But's it's also a great conference for learning what books publishers are spotlighting for the spring (with a few sneak peeks at fall) and doing lots of networking with friends in the children's library world. Plus there's the biggest deal of all -- the annual Youth Media Awards announcements!

Here are just a few highlights from my time at ALA Midwinter 18:

__ First, I'm especially proud of some actions we took as ALSC Board members. First, we voted to establish a task force to explore the ALSC Awards program to, as ALSC President Nina Lindsay put it, "within the context of our core values and our strategic plan." The task force will begin with the Wilder Award, named for Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder and given annually to an author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature. But it's time to take a second look at the name of the award, given the racism found in Wilder's books and how it reads in today's world and affects the children we serve. Here's Nina's initial ALSC Blog post about why we were considering this step; the comments to that post are particularly interesting. Here's Nina's follow-up post explaining why we voted unanimously to establish the task force to consider this issue. And here's a link to a post by Dr. Debbie Reese on her American Indians in Children's Literature blog as to why she and others see Wilder's legacy as so problematic. I look forward to hearing the task force's report, which is expected to be done in time for the announcement of the 2019 Wilder Award winner early next year.

__ On a related note, the 2018 Wilder Award recipient is author Jacqueline Woodson, the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and the winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor for her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming. Woodson is truly a fabulous choice for this award, and I very much look forward to hearing her acceptance speech at ALA's Annual conference in New Orleans this June.

__ In the past few weeks, the issue of sexual harassment in the children's book industry has exploded as another #MeToo moment, and I'm proud of the ALSC Board's quick action to do what we can to keep our members safe. Publishers Weekly has the backstory here. A fellow ALSC Board member, Amy Koester, noted at our Monday meeting that she was approached by a couple of ALSC members wondering what is our policy for appropriate behavior at conferences. We follow the ALA's codes and conduct of ethics, but apparently that fact hasn't been made specific at the upcoming ALSC Institute in September. So Amy offered a motion to ensure that the Institute is covered by ALA's codes; we passed it unanimously. You can read more about it in Amy's ALSC blog post on the issue. I'm proud that we could be so nimble in our response to an issue of this magnitude.

__ I attended several publisher's events and heard about some amazing kids and teen books coming out this spring. I'll note just a few. First, there's Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, which was written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. They were severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing; she lost both legs, he lost one. Writing this book (which doesn't mention the bombing, but instead focuses on the relationship between Jessica and her service dog Rescue) was cathartic for them. It's also a great way for kids to see how people cope with disabilities.

 Another stand-out book is Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, in which she tackles the issue of police brutality against black males. Rhodes' book, which will be published in April, is aimed at kids ages 9-12, an important fact, since most books on this subject have been geared towards teens.

Finally, there's Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card, a memoir by debut author Sara Saedi. In this book, Saedi details her view of her family's struggle to become American citizens, even as they lived and worked here, paid taxes and participated in everyday American life.

__ A final highlight is, of course, the announcement of the Youth Media Awards. While the most famous are the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, there are many other awards focusing on difference aspects of children's & teen literature. This year, the theme of the books winning awards was -- more clearly than ever -- diversity and inclusion. Big winners included African-American wunderkind author Jason Reynolds, debut African-American author Angie Thomas, and author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon James, whose picture book, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, won both a Caldecott Honor for its art and a Newbery Honor for its text. Check out the winners here. And here's a great Publishers Weekly article on the reactions that Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly and Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell had to the news that they had won the most prestigious awards in children's literature.