Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Do You Explain the NCTE Annual Convention to a 10 Year-Old?

First of all, NCTE is like a gigantic family reunion. I get to see friends from around the country who I haven't seen since last year, I get to meet people I only used to know through social media or (in the case of authors) their books. My two "family reunion" highlights this conference were

meeting Natalie Merchant (I wrote the teachers' guide for her book, Leave Your Sleep)

and presenting with these rockstar poets about the inspiration for our poetry and about the Poetry Friday Anthology

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, me, LeslĂ©a Newman, Irene Latham,   (new poetry friend Janet Fagal), Janet Wong, Laura Purdie Salas)

NCTE is also a book-lover's paradise. I took two very lightly packed suitcases to Las Vegas and came home with two suitcases that both nearly tipped the 50 lb mark on the scale when I checked them! I'm happy to report that nearly every book I brought back is now in the hands of a reader! 

Here is a list of authors I heard speak or chatted with at a lunch or dinner or party:

Jon Scieszka, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales  

Jenni Holmes, Babymouse #16: Babymouse for President

Anita Silvey, Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

Kate Messner, Capture the Flag

Janet Tashjian,  For What It's Worth

Cecil Castellucci, The Year of the Beasts

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Julie Paschkis, Mooshka, A Quilt Story

Monica Brown, author of Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People 

David Shannon, Jangles: A Big Fish Story

Deborah Ellis, My Name Is Parvana

Karen Lynn Williams, My Name Is Sangoel (Young Readers)

Floyd Cooper, These Hands (Golden Kite Honors (Awards))

Marla Frazee, Boot & Shoe 

Last of all, NCTE is like going back to college. There are so many great sessions/classes from which to choose. Here are some highlights of my session notes:

Jon Scieszka: "Tell the boys that reading something written by women won't kill them."

Lemony Snicket: "Don't ask the obvious questions, ask the important questions...Avoid temptation to know what story means and insert a moral."

David Shannon: "There's a fine line (fishing line--ha, ha) between liar and storyteller."

Sharon O'Neal (with others): In a nonfiction study, use a blend of traditional nonfiction, "new nonfiction" and nonfiction poetry.

Ann Marie Corgill (with others): "Teach, practice, reflect, share. Resist the the talking so we can listen. Resist teaching so we can learn and answering so we can question. Don't say you can't because, NEWS FLASH -- you can."

Deborah Ellis (at the CLA Workshop: Books that Make a Difference: Kids Taking Action for Social Justice):

War = anything that kills people unnecessarily (diseases we've allowed to spread, poverty)

Afghanistan -- what if she couldn't do whatever she wanted to do just because she's a woman? Spent time in refugee camps. Her books about this time all have kids for whom books are important (illegal books). Parvana books.

Josef Mengele had access to books and education. Books aren't the sole answer to the problems of the world. 

Social action is expensive. It costs. It makes us uncomfortable. It loses us friends. 

Feed the poor --> I am a saint. Ask "Why are there poor?" --> I am put in prison.

What if WE are the problem.

Center of the wheel is WAR. Poll -- raise your hand if you believe we will always have war, or if we will someday live without war as a part of our human story. Every human accomplishment has started out with a dream -- "What if..." It has to be the same with war. What do we really believe -- can we live in a world without war? Do we believe that governments can exist who don't use foreign policy to bash other countries?

Iraq war commentators tell about kinds of weapons being used, but forget to mention that there were people feeling the blasts, losing homes and being killed.

We know what war does. We have to decide what comes next. Are we going to continue to slaughter other people, or are we going to try something else. We're lying to kids if we tell them that anything else makes a difference in the world, until we settle in our minds what we're going to do to stop the war.

How will you answer when your children/students ask you, "What did you do to stop the war?"

Unless we can meet each other and talk to each other, we are the monsters under each others' beds.

We need to be careful who we allow to take and hold power, and make sure that no one's making money off all the bad stuff.

The first thing we have to change if we're going to believe that we live in a world where war doesn't have to exist is that we don't need to be afraid of the "other." They are like us more than they are different from us.


  1. I love this explanation! So clear and concise! Perfect for ten year olds or adults! Thanks so much!

  2. Thanks for the book recommendations!


  3. Mary Lee, I love the way you've shared your NCTE experience. I need to follow you around next year. You got to see some great people! There were so many great sessions, it was hard to pick. I'm anxious to get Natalie Merchant's new book (and your teacher's guide).

  4. Anonymous8:34 PM

    It was simply a wonderful conference. That's me in the background of your picture! Yippeee! I am still buzzing from all of the inspiration. ~Kelly

    unDeniably Domestic

  5. Hi, Mary Lee. I love the picture of you and the Poetry Friday ladies! Thanks for sharing these convention highlights. I got to see Daniel Handler once. Isn't he hysterical?

  6. Thanks for sharing! There is value added in just reading your report of what you experienced and noted worthy at the NCTE Conference.

  7. Thank you, Mary Lee--I keenly missed being there and I'm glad to hear that Las Vegas didn't do anything to dim the wonder of NCTE! I have Natalie's album and the little book that came with it--didn't realize there was another version. I'm a great fan (just told Daisy this week that if I auditioned for X Factor I'd sing "These Are Days") and now I can have two heroines in one book! Gift to self this holiday.


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