Changes And Gender Issues

Or: What I Learned From KidlitCon 13.

I kind of have some unformed thoughts that I’d like to put into something Grand and Introspective, but I think it’s just going to end up being  a jumbled mess.

One of the questions that was brought up in the Middle Grade panel was reader ages and appropriateness, and since we’re really blogging for the gatekeepers, rather than the readers themselves, what we, as bloggers, can do to help with that. And the thing that I got out of it was this: ages for books are Not Helpful. Rather, content advisories are preferable. So: one of the simple changes is that I’m going to do away with the age range on the books. Instead, I’m going to (briefly, I hope) mention anything I think is worth bringing up (ie, anything “offensive” or just general content), the general “feel” of the book, and where I’d shelve it in the bookstore. And then let the reader decide the age.

I hope that helps.

Also: the thing I took away from Lee’s panel was that labeling posts — not broadly, but specifically — helps reader find posts better. And that my general categories — middle grade, YA, science fiction/fantasy — are not especially helpful. So, I’m going to try to be more specific in my labeling. Hopefully, that will help readers better be able to find books.

And: I think I’m going to start a monthly list feature. It was one of Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson’s suggestions in order to get blogging groove back. And it came up again in Lee’s session. I’m going to try to, once a month, come up with a list of books on some topic that I think are worthy.

Which brings me to gender issues.

The question I asked in the middle grade panel was this: I find that I have a very hard time selling a book with a cover like this

to the parents/grandparents of boys. And sometimes, even, the boys themselves (though not as much, since I don’t really interact with kids that often.) Likewise, I have problems selling books like this

to parents/grandparents of girls, though less so.

I know a lot of it is the way “we” as a society raise our boys. (Granted: I don’t have ANY experience with this, having 4 girls, but this is what I’ve observed.) We are much more comfortable, for many reasons, with our girls being Masculine than our boys being Feminine. But, what I’m really asking is not how to Solve This, but rather, what can I, as a blogger (and a mother of girls and a bookseller), do to help people the truth that every avid reader knows: a good story is a good story! I’m not sure I have answers, but I am thinking about it, which is more than I was before.

Other people have brought this up in better ways than I can. Shannon Hale, obviously (I didn’t dig through her blog to find a specific post, but she often blogs about gender issues), but also go check out what Charlotte and Anne Ursu have to say about the AASL panels this coming weekend.  Either way, it’s going to be an ongoing discussion, and one I hope I can add to.

Which is all one blogger/mom/bookseller can ask.

Ten Things About KidlitCon 2013

1. As always, I have a THOROUGHLY enjoyable time at KidlitCon. Also: I’m pretty loopy after driving 9 hours. And three days away from my bed makes me a DANGEROUS person on the highway, even when I’m highly caffeinated.

2. Kidlit Bloggers are Awesome. Seriously. They are fun, and smart, and interesting. And I want to bring them all back to Kansas and have them move in next door so I can hang out with them all of the time. I knew this already, but it’s worth reiterating.

3. And I met Holly from Book Harbinger (who’s also one of the YAcker’s with me). She was really, really cool. Also: it was nice not being the only LDS blogger at the conference. Unless there’s more out there incognito.

4. I didn’t take any pictures, but I was completely blown away by Cynthia Leitech Smith‘s keynote. I haven’t read any of her books, but then back in 2010, I hadn’t read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s and look how that turned out. Also: we both have KS and MI connections. I should have taken the time to go chat with her after her address. But I was too busy talking to other people.

5. Lee Wind gives AMAZING presentations. I learned SO much, not the least of which is that I need to label my posts MORE and BETTER, because if I don’t label things how will people find them. There was also the themes of DIVERSITY and how it’s important to read outside of your comfort zone, which is something I used to be better at, but have gotten out of the habit. Also: he’s a great person to sit next to at dinner.

Photo courtesy (ie stolen from) Rosemund

6. One of the reasons the Kidlit Community is so tight-knit is because of the Cybils. I’m not sure I realized this before now, but I’ve served on panels for the last 6 years, and through that I’ve met a LOT of bloggers. And meeting them in person is great. Also: we tend to swap Cybils horror stories, which is hilarious.

Maureen, me, Charlotte, Sherry, Jennifer.

7. You can take notes at your own panel, but they may not make sense. Also: if you bring up the idea of covers and gender and the fact that people really do judge books by their covers and ask a (slightly incoherent) question about how to get people to stop looking at the covers, you will probably make people uncomfortable/offend them. Oops.

8. Lists. Lists. Lists. I’m going to start doing lists. Once a month. Hopefully. Because all reviews all the time are boring. (And HEY, look: I’m starting today!)

9. The food committee this year did AMAZING. It was yummy.

10. And, of course, when bookish bloggers get together, where do they go afterward?

The bookstore, of course. It was fun hanging out there with other like-minded people (the most common phrase heard: “Have you read….?”). I totally envy their shelf space (so many face outs! So much ROOM!), and they do clever things with their staff recommendations. Yes, I was totally snooping to get ideas.

As always, it was WONDERFUL seeing people I enjoy hanging with, and meeting new people. I loved that it was small enough that I had a chance (I think) to talk to pretty much everyone there. And, as always, waiting for next year is too long.

KitlitCon and Blogging Middle Grade

I don’t know why I’ve been mum about writing on KidlitCon this year. I’m going. And I’m quite excited. Call it laziness, business, or just blogging burnout (hey, there’s a panel for that this year!), but I haven’t quite gotten around to putting it out there that 1) it’s happening (November 8-9, Austin, TX, only $65!) and that 2) you should come. Seriously. (Reigstration’s open until Nov 1.) It’s a great place to hang out with like-minded people, chat, stay up late, get away from the family (well, maybe that’s only a reason I have…), and become excited about kidlt and blogging again. It’s worth your time and money. Promise.

I’m not saying that because I’ve thrown my metaphorical hat in with Charlotte and Katy on a panel/round table discussion on blogging about middle grade books. Our Grand Plan for this is to lead a discussion on middle grade books, reading them, blogging about them, enjoying them, and so on… Charlotte’s got a discussion list going on her post (follow the link above), so if you’d please go check it out and add whatever you think we should be talking about to the post, we’d appreciate it. Oh, and we’re all planning on bringing our piles of middle grade ARCs to hand out, so there’s that, too.

Hopefully, we’ll see you in Austin!

In Which I Drive 7 Hours for An Author

First, some background. I discovered The Lightning Thief on a shelf in my library in Macomb, Illinois. The cover was Awful…

(Even Rick thought it was awful.)

but I gave it a chance, and fell in love. I passed it to M, who adored it, as well. Over the next eight years, I would have another daughter, bringing the total up to 4, and we continued to buy (and love) Rick’s books. All of us. (Yes, we even got Hubby on the bandwagon.) And Rick became more and more popular.

Then, we finally got old enough to start thinking about going to author events. And #1 on the list of authors we would ALL love to see was J. K. Rowling. But we knew we’d never see her, so the real #1 was Rick. We know we should have seen him 7 years ago before he got HUGE, but that wasn’t in the cards. So we waited for him to come relatively close. We did think about going down to see him in Austin last year, but the timing wasn’t right, so we didn’t make it.

But THIS year, he came to St. Louis (only 7 hours instead of  9) and it happened to be on a weekend night, on a week when the girls had a small fall break. THIS WAS IT. And I bought the tickets, made the arrangements, and we were off.

(Hubby didn’t come; he went to Texas for a conference instead.)

The day of the event, we spent a good 5 hours at the St. Louis Zoo in the morning and then went swimming at the hotel in the afternoon. This is important because A, who is the BIGGEST fan of them all, ended up with a huge headache from dehydration, but still insisted on going to the event. (When I asked her the next day if it was worth it, even with the headache, she said, “HECK YEAH.”)

A remembered her Annabeth hat, but forgot her Camp Half Blood shirt,
so we made a quick trip to Target and found a purple shirt to make Camp Jupiter. 

It was at the St. Louis County Library, and we got there a half hour before the doors opened. The line was already halfway around the building. So we waited.

Wrong fandom, but we thought it was awesome anyway.

Once we got in, there was more waiting, but we had two copies of the books. They were snagged by A and C.

Look! A signed book!
We weren’t the only ones reading.

Eventually, the waiting ended, and the program began! Rick Riordan was a TON of fun. His teaching background comes out in presentations; he knows his fans and exactly what to say. From references to Twitter and Tumblr, shipping and “Everyone’s favorite character…. Octavian! Oh, wait. LEO!” He basically told his path to becoming Rick Riordan Successful Author, and even though I knew most of it already, it was still highly entertaining.

The best picture I took.

Rick took this one. We’re about a third of the way back,
all the way on the left. No, you can’t see us.

Then, at the very end, he did a really brief Q&A. I was smart enough to know that this part was truly unique, and turned on the camera to record. I missed the first question which was, “Rick, why are you so sassy?”

And then it was over. Too soon, I might add. I think we all thought we could have stayed there all night, but the hour was fabulous.

K won a Camp Jupiter shirt, which I didn’t take a picture of, and we made it back to our hotel, exhausted, but thoroughly happy. There are very few people (I’m not related to, anyway) I’ll travel any distance to, but I’m definitely glad I managed to get the girls to this one.

A Couple of Quick Kidlit Remdiners

First off: nominations for the Cybils open on Tuesday. I’ve been busy thinking of books to nominate for each category (follow the link for category descriptions), and then back-up books for those just in case my first choices are already nominated by the time I get to the computer. The nominations are open to everyone, and are for books published between October 26, 2012 and October 15, 2013. You’re going to nominate something. Right???

Registration for KidlitCon 2103 is open. You should come, and not just because it’s going to be in Austin, TX. Need some convincing?? Check out Bookshelves of Doom, Jen Robinson, Charlotte’s Library, Mother Reader, and Fuse #8 for some thoughts. I’ve already registered, asked for the days off of work, and got myself a roommate (hopefully), so I’ll see you there. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, learning, and getting the chance to hang out with my people.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s my favorite time of the year: the call for Cybils judges!! It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s… well, fun AND exciting. And a lot of work. But fun (and exciting) work. I’ve done this for several years now, and I have to say that one of the reasons I keep my (almost 9 years old) blog going is so I can be a part of this. (*fingers crossed*) You want to be a part of it too? Check out the call for applications and throw your hat into the ring.

ALSO: the announcement for the 7th annual KidLitCon was announced. So far it’s just the city — Austin, TX — and the dates — November 8 and 9th. If you can, I’d strongly encourage coming. It’s a blast.

Eoin Colfer is Actually a Stand-Up Comedian

I could have titled this something normal like “Eoin Colfer Author  Event” (which is what it was), but this went so far beyond “author event” that I had to tell it like it is. I was warned by a co-worker going in that he 1) had the Irish storytelling gene and 2) was a leprechaun but I still wasn’t prepared for the absolute hilarity that the evening was.

I’m not even going to try to recount his stories except for one. He was telling us about his teenager, Finn, and how he never tells Eoin that he loves him anymore. Then Eoin got sick on a plane once and decided to play it up like he was dying, thinking he’d get Finn to say those dreaded words. He drew it out for a while, but eventually Finn came over saying, “Dad, I need to tell you something.” Eoin thought that it’d be “I love you” but it turned out to be: “My headphones are broken.” Everyone laughed and he moved on. Eventually, he started taking questions and A (all of 9 1/2) stuck her hand up. He called on her, and she asked, “So: did you ever fix Finn’s headphones??” Everyone cracked up, and she rendered Eoin speechless. I think he said something like “Are you a plant from J. K. Rowling??” (to which A nodded; of course she is!) But then he proceeded to tease her the rest of the evening.  It was pretty funny.

Traveling with Eoin was a magician (who was pretty funny — and good — in his own right). But afterward, he sought A out and told her that he’s been traveling with Eoin for 9 days and had never seen anyone call him out on one of his stories. He gave her a high five, did a couple of tricks just for her, and became her friend for life.

Kindred spirits

I do have to mention that A took Eoin’s teasing pretty hard — she was convinced he hated her. But (especially after the magician cheered her up) she stood in line to talk to him after. He gave her a wink and a smile and shook her hand and cracked jokes right before the camera went off.

It amuses me that he’s the only one not smiling.

I had him sign Airman, which is my favorite of his books.

And we decided on our way home that out of all the events we’ve been to, this one was the best. Period.

Marissa Meyer Author Event

I look like a dork.

Marissa Meyer was in the store last night, and it was a lot of fun. I dragged one of my girls (C, on the far right) and she brought one of her friends (who keeps winning stuff whenever she comes to these things), and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Mostly because Marissa is adorable. She talked about how Cinder came to be published (she was super lucky!), was really good about not divulging spoilers, told some pretty awesome fairy tales, and was just a lot of fun.

I hope we can get her back for her next book; I’d definitely go see her again!

SLJs Battle of the (Kids’) Books, Week 3 (Part 2)

Round 2, Match 3: Starry River of the Sky vs. Splendors & Glooms
What judge Thanhha Lai has to say about Starry River:

Starry River drops readers into ancient China, yet its timeless theme of finding one’s self by returning to one’s roots will be understood by any video-game junkie living in, let’s say, Dallas.”

And about  Splendors:

“Readers then step into the enchanting horror of icy Strachan’s Ghyll, where a puppet, a witch, two kids and a villain come together for a good vs. evil battle that rivals any video game.  In this verbal version, the sentences alone will remind a certain junkie of what words can do—as entertainment.”

Her choice? Splendors. Do I agree? Yes. Although I enjoyed Starry River, between these two, Splendors is the richer, deeper novel.

Jonathan asks the most intriguing question in the commentary, though: ” Is there a subtle bias at work that favors young adult novels over middle grade novels?”

Possibly. Because, as adults (who are judging this), I think we crave the complexity in the story that a YA novel usually provides over a middle grade one. With the exception of Bomb and Starry River (up to now), the winners have been the complex, deeper novels, with richer narratives. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend holds (it probably will this year).

Round 2, Match 4: No Crystal Stair vs. Seraphina
What judge Paul Griffin had to say about No Crystal Stair:

“Lewis Michaux’s legacy is one of courage.  It’s in the literacy and fearless love he gave to his neighbors.  Part of Vaunda’s legacy will be that she showed us that love with selflessness.”

 And about Seraphina:

 Rachel never lets up on the tension, and this 450-page novel reads like a 200-page thriller.  I can see our YA friends trying to read it all in one sitting.  I know I did.

His decision? No Crystal Stair. Do I agree? NO! Actually, for the first time, I can see Roger Sutton‘s point about judges being wimps and not actually choosing. Griffin flipped. a. coin. to get the winner (at least he didn’t pretend!), and while I agree both of these books are excellent, I think Seraphina is the stronger novel. But perhaps that’s my bias for fantasy leaking out.

Between the two, though? I’m calling Splendors & Glooms to reach the final. Maybe I’ll be surprised.