I've just returned from YALSA's first YA lit symposium, "How We Read Now." There were some minor glitches, of course, but overall I have to say it was enjoyable, educational, and well-organized.
I got into Nashville late Friday afternoon, just in time to get my registration materials, unpack, and get to the happy hour sponsored by Little, Brown. Many thanks to Victoria Stapleton and all at LBYR for a fabulous time. There were books and good conversation. Then, I confess, I had to go be boring and head back to my room to do a run-through of the presentation I was giving with Liz B. I think our hour-and-a-half presentation probably involved 10 hours of work, total, between putting the presentation together and practicing the timing.
Saturday I attended "Thrilling Young Adults: How to Keep the Attention of Today’s Teens," a panel with authors Margaret Peterson Haddix and Patrick Jones, editor and author Deborah Noyes, and librarian moderator Amy Alessio. The first part of the program, the panelists talked about what makes a book thrilling regardless of genre, followed by questions about publishing and marketing YA. I was most interested by the answers to the question of whether or not awards are important in the YA lit world. Noyes noted that for her house, Candlewick, awards were important because as a house they tend to focus on more standalone, literary fiction, the type that tends to win awards. Jones said that the fastest way to make reluctant readers run away from the book is to put an award sticker on the front. To this, I say, "maybe." I think it depends much more on the book. Repossessed is a great reluctant reader read, imho. To every book its reader and all. Also, reluctant readers aren't the only readers out there. The readers who want more esoteric and literary books must be reached as well.
After this program, it was back to work on our presentation. Starbucks, a few run-throughs, and timing. Then it was time to set up and present.
If you're interested in seeing our PowerPoint presentation, you can view it at the YALSA wiki here: Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture.
Saturday evening I had the pleasure of dining with Susan Kuklin, author of No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row. No Choirboy is an outstanding look at how these teens got to death row and how their lives are affected and restricted. I am addicted to watching shows like Lockup so perhaps I am a little biased, having a special interest in this topic. I think, though, that whether or not you're into watching law procedurals of any kind, this is a book worth reading. More than simple interviews with death row inmates, Kuklin writes about our criminal justice system and those who help young offenders. It's also nominated for Best Books for Young Adults 2009 and I hope it makes the final list. Many thanks to Tim Jones at Henry Holt BYR for organizing this event.
On Sunday I attended "Hit List or Hot List," presented by Drs Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance. By far, the thing I found most interesting about this session was their showing the audience the extreme dissonance between the Accelerated Reader level of a given teen book and what audience the book actually appeals to. For example, Barry Lyga's Boy Toy has a reading level of 4.5, or about mid-fourth grade. Tyrell by Coe Booth has a 4.4 reading level, and The Hunger Games has a 5.3 RL, or early fifth grade. I find all of that completely insane! Of course, those AR reading levels are determined solely by vocabulary and sentence structure. They ignore content and characterization, the things that make a book more than just the words on its pages. I would have absolutely loved for the entire session to cover AR, reading levels, lexile levels, and what it REALLY means when a fourth grader "can read on a ninth-grade level," but that's for another session entirely. Instead, Lesesne and Chance talked about censorship and content versus reading level, then invited authors Barry Lyga, Coe Booth, and Julie Anne Peters to talk about their books and readers' reactions.
I confess I skipped the rest of the sessions that day in favor of eating lunch and trying to make an earlier flight home (which didn't happen, sigh), but there's plenty of information on the YALSA conference wiki and Melissa at Librarian by Day liveblogged all the sessions she attended. If you Twitter, there's also an index of many Twitters from the symposium here (including my own that says I was too tired to Twitter, but that I would blog later, ha!).
The next YALSA YA Lit Symposium will be in Albequerque in 2010, if you'd like to plan ahead. And personally, I'm lobbying the planning committee to look at Pittsburgh for 2012. YA lit plus the Smashed Potato pizza from Fuel N' Fuddle might make for the best conference ever.