Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Day at Book Expo America

After the Ben Franklin awards ceremony Monday evening, I spent Tuesday at Book Expo America. The looming Javits Convention Center has escalators looping this way and that. Lithe young women in boots and very short skirts handed out convention newspapers but could give no information about where anything was.

The Children's Book Breakfast featured an inspirational panel and a bag of free books at every seat. Katherine Paterson, author of A Bridge to Terabithia and now the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, spoke about how reading sweeps children away into a place where they can recognize themselves and not be alone. Julianne Moore introduced her character Freckleface Strawberry. Kevin Henkes and Brian Selznick took us through the process of creating a book where the illustrations carry a huge part of the story. Sarah Dessen talked about how young adult literature is becoming more respectable and mainstream.

After the breakfast Scarletta's publisher, Ian Leask, pushed his authors out to walk the show. He has us do this so we'll know what's out there: what's new, what's compelling. What I observed: The Dork Diaries is big enough to merit a huge advertisement painted in strips on the risers of a double stair. The children's books-- board books, easy readers, phonics books, workbooks, books with music CD's, middle grade fantasy, YA paranormal romance, full color hardcover science and history books for the school market, graphic novels, dual language books--were less numerous than at the London Book Fair, but still enough to leave my feet aching. Two feelings arise from seeing so many books. The first, uncomfortable, is that the world already appears to have plenty of books. The second, rather more reassuring, is that I really don't see any books out there that are just like what I'm writing.

In the afternoon I attended a packed talk where five YA publishers presented their most exciting new properties to booksellers. Every one of the five featured main characters with either paranormal gifts or very close to super crime fighting powers. I wonder if this means that in the current economic environment teens are feeling dull and powerless, so they need a fantasy of power and escape. Or is it just a case of publishers falling over each other to get in on a current craze? At the end of the editors' bubbling presentations the audience had a chance to pick up advance copies of the books they were pitching. I got Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, a funny, action-packed guy book in which the homely female Lithuanian exchange student turns out to be a hot and sophisticated assassin. I also picked up Laini Taylor's beautifully written Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Then it was time to head for the airport to fly to DC, where I'm serving on a panel to suggest a research agenda for examining the impact of the Common Core State Mathematics Standards. Quite a switch from imaginative to analytical thinking. Still, I wonder if any editor will ever talk about one of my books the way the editors talked about their hot new YA acquisitions: "I shut myself in my office and couldn't stop reading." "After twenty pages I called the agent and said, 'Don't you dare let someone else take this before I have a chance to bid!'" "Halfway through, I ran to my boss and said, 'You have to read this tonight.' We made an offer the next day."

Maybe someday.

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