Reflections on the 40th Annual Conference on Children’s Literature, UGA

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This weekend was the 40th Annual Conference on Children’s Literature at my alma mater, the University of Georgia.    This year’s conference (as usual!) featured an all star lineup of children’s authors and illustrators as well as a menu of outstanding concurrent sessions.  Kudos to Kinga D. Varga, the UGA Department of Language and Literacy Education, and the College of Education at UGA for organizing a conference that was energizing, educational, and inspiring!

I was sad to miss the first speaker, Paul Janeczko, because I got caught in traffic and didn’t want to enter the auditorium late.  I also missed seeing Gail Carson Levine and Bryan Collier due to some family commitments and needing to get back home (a 2 + hour drive from Athens—next year I will stay overnight at the hotel!).  However, I had the privilege of hearing Peter Sis speak—-I have been a fan for many years, but I discovered on Friday that not only is he an incredibly talented author and illustrator, but he is also an amazing storyteller.  We all sat enthralled as he shared stories about his childhood behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, his early experiences in the United States, and his journey of becoming a children’s illustrator and author.    I only wish that I could have heard more of his stories—I easily could have listened to him all afternoon!  If you are interested in his work and art, check out my favorite pages at http://delicious.com/theunquietlibrary/petersis ; if you are in Georgia, there are several great (and recent!!!) full text articles about and by Mr. Sis in the Academic Search Complete database from EBSCOhost via GALILEO.

As the auditorium emptied, I sat in my seat still somewhat mesmerized.  I then somehow summoned the courage to approach Mr. Sis—I learned quickly he is a personable man who enjoys conversing with fans and educators.  I managed to get past my star struck state of being and actually converse with him for a few minutes, and then I even had my photo made with him!  My only regret is that I stupidly left my books by him in my library office and didn’t get an autograph—I now wish I had bought one at the conference for autographing, but hopefully, I will have an opportunity in the future to meet him again.

What I find most inspiring about his work is the common theme of celebrating those who dare to dream and to engender change.  In his speech (which really felt more like the most wonderful informal conversation of storytelling!), he repeated his admiration of those who bring about change just as he did in this 2003 article he wrote for School Library Journal:

As an author and artist, I want my work to celebrate innovative thinkers. And I want to show that the discovery process is not easy. Let’s face it, very few individuals have changed the way we view our world. That’s why visionaries like Columbus, Newton, and Einstein continue to inspire me.

I think the idea of having the courage to believe in your dreams and ideals in the face of difficult circumstances resonated with many of us in the audience.   In this era of No Child Left Behind, it is easy for teachers and librarians to feel discouraged as the insidious effects of NCLB creep into our practice.  Hearing Sis’s  own story of overcoming adversity and overwhelming odds personally renewed my spirit and commitment to my vision of school libraries and librarianship.   For me, being a school librarian is not just a job—it is a way of a life, a calling, an art, a mission.  I think that is where the power of story lies—we can often find or even discover ourselves in the stories of others to help us find our way.  I have been revisiting this idea of the power of stories the last 24 hours (a theme I explored in my graduate school days), but that is a post for another day.  Sis’s speech was definitely the buzz of the conference—everyone I talked to raved about how moving and powerful he was.

I was also honored to present two sessions at the conference:  Poetry 2.0 and YA Lit 2.0. ; if you are interested, you can find my resources and materials for both sessions at http://theunquietlibrarian.wikispaces.com/ .  I was thrilled that both sessions were well-attended, and I have received positive feedback about both sessions both verbally and via social networks!  I was even more honored that several UGA friends attended as well as new friends I met from my conference sessions at COMO last October.  I also enjoyed making new friends from the session as well, and I look forward to networking with my newly found colleagues!  I already have some ideas for a conference presentation proposal for 2010—I am looking forward to working on those ideas the next few months.

Another wonderful aspect of the conference was seeing friends and professors from my graduate school days at UGA.  I am incredibly blessed to know so many amazing teachers and librarians—reconnecting in person with these people was wonderfully heart-warming and inspiring.  In the movie Field of Dreams, Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham says:

This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.

These words reflect how I feel about the University of Georgia—every time I have stepped onto that campus as a student and alumna, I have been overwhelmed by the energy that just radiates from the people in the College of Education—this weekend was no different!  I have been most blessed to study in two different programs at UGA; I earned my M.Ed. in English Education (concentration in Children’s Literature) in 2003 and my Ed.S. in Instructional Technology/School Library Media in 2005.  The professors and fellow students have and continue to enrich my life in so many ways—these are people who have shaped me profoundly as an educator.  When I am on campus at UGA, I feel like anything is possible—the positive energy and intellectual freedom are truly liberating.  My only regret is that I could not have more time with them—it is my hope that one day I will be able to find my way back to this wonderful place as a full time student.    For now, though, I feel lucky to still communicate with these dear friends and mentors through social networks.

I realize I have waxed sentimentally  in this post, but the common thread here is the positive energy of this conference—the people, the ideas, the children’s and YA literature—these are the things that are real and that matter.    My conference experiences this weekend have  refreshed and rejuvenated me—thank you for restoring my faith in the belief that change is possible and to hold fast to my dreams.

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