Youth Matters

Jennifer Burek PierceBy Jennifer Burek Pierce
American Libraries Columnist

Assistant professor of library and information science, University of Iowa, Iowa City

September 2008

Novel Encounters

Remembering what centers us 

It’s the conversations that tend to linger in my mind following ALA’s Annual Conference—the chance meetings that create a sense of human connection amid thousands of unfamiliar faces and the exchanges that spark new ideas and richer understanding.

At one point, I turned a corner and came upon a dark-haired man who was explaining how he loved his black-and-white patterned shirt because it turned into rainbows when photographed; he turned out to be illustrator Peter Sìs, at ALA to sign copies of The Wall and receive the Association for Library Service to Children’s Sibert Medal for nonfiction as well as a Caldecott Honor. (His children, he confessed somewhat ruefully, told him not to tell jokes while speaking at ALA.) I also found myself listening to Lea Lyon’s dynamic and engaging explanation of the processes involved in creating the illustrations for Keep Your Ear on the Ball and The Miracle Jar.

Then there was the conversation my librarian mother Ann Burek had after the ALA President’s Program with speaker Henrietta Gomez, Head Start instructor at the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. My mother learned how the vivid details of family stories allowed Gomez to recognize the places where her father and uncle stopped for water while hunting during her own mountain walks. The intimate experience of reading was often in mind during these moments.

I met Elizabeth Knox, whose Dreamhunter was named a Printz Honor Book. Learning that her second YA title was to be honored left her feeling “absolutely thrilled,” she said, adding that YA fantasy has been a regular part of her reading. “The best fantasy writers are writing for young adults,” Knox asserted.

A new project is in the works, she told me, taking place in the same quasi-realistic setting as Dreamhunter but in 1959, during the polio epidemic. As Knox signed books for librarian Kim Bauer of Chaparral High School in Harper, Kansas, Bauer talked about how the young readers she knew would respond. “Kids just love the signed copies,” Bauer told Knox. “It means so much.”

Sagas of every size

At the Archaia Studios Press booth, Mark Smylie, author and illustrator of the Artesia graphic novel series (intended for mature readers), talked about how the genre has been received by libraries. Smylie’s press may be best known for Mouse Guard: Fall 1152. (If you haven’t picked up a copy of this story for readers 10 and up yet, I have only two words for you: You must.)

Smylie observed that despite generally increasing interest, librarians’ reactions to graphic novels vary, with some remaining uncertain about the form while others are actively building collections.

Format seems to play a role in librarians’ receptiveness, Smylie noted, which increased with the appearance of graphic novels that looked more like books and less like comics. The relatively sparse aisles of the purveyors of larger-sized graphic novels on the perimeter of the Gaming Pavilion, versus the long lines that formed for signings of the tradebook version of the Prince of Persia videogame, bore out his observation. Smylie also noted the need to build not a single graphic novel collection, but separate ones for children, teens, and adults.

As Barbara M. Joosse signed copies of her books, including her new title Grandma Calls Me Beautiful, and received compliments from fans (“That was my mom’s favorite color,” one man told her as she inscribed
I Love You the Purplest), she talked about writing. Joosse praised reprints of children’s classics like those from the New York Review of Books press, observing that rereading such enduring tales puts her back in mind of the emotional center “where children really are.”

Joosse, too, enjoys Annual because “I leave thinking about things. The conversations are meaningful.”