Joint Conference of Librarians of Color

“Gathering at the Waters, Embracing Our Spirits, Telling Our Stories,” The Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, is ongoing this weekend at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Dallas.

On Thursday afternoon, I spoke on a panel, “Celebrating Our Cultures and Our Children: Authors Share Their Stories,” along with Varsha Bajaj (author interview), Greg Leitich Smith, Asma Mobin-Uddin, and Lori Aurelia Williams. The session was organized by Sylvia Vardell of Texas Woman’s University.

In her introduction, Sylvia pointed to the importance of kids seeing characters like themselves and connecting with other cultures through books. From the individual presentations, I recall…

Varsha’s mentioning that her debut book How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? illustrated by Ivan Bates (Little Brown, 2004) has been released in Australian and British editions as well as in a Korean translation and has sold more than 80,000 copies in part because of its universal appeal.

Asma’s observation that Islam may be the second largest religion in the United States, yet picture books about America’s Muslims are still hard to find. Asma is the author of My Name Is Bilal, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak (Boyds Mills, 2005)(recommendation), and she generously shared a bibliography of recommended books with Islamic themes and Muslim characters, which also is available on her website.

Lori stories about her childhood in urban Houston and how she writes to “give voice” to teenagers, like pregnant girls, who would otherwise go unheard. She also discussed the banning of her books, including When Kambia Elaine Flew Down From Neptune (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

And Greg’s report on translation questions–mostly slang related–about the Japanese edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Poplar Sha, forthcoming).

I shared some of the stories behind my stories, including requests by some event planners to “skip the death part” in Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) in the months that followed 9-11.

The next day, it was a thrill to attend the presentation of the first American Indian Youth Literature Awards, given by the American Indian Library Association. The winners were: Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, illustrated by Sam Sandoval, who made a personal appearance at the ceremony, (University of Nebraska Press); The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Hyperion); and Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac (Scholastic). Winners received $500, and the award will be given every two years.

Afterward, I had the honor of giving a keynote address, followed by another by Lisa Yee, at the children’s author luncheon. I mostly told stories from the front lines of my writing life. Lisa discussed the question of being an “ethnic writer” and absolutely wowed the crowd with her tremendous charm, wit, intelligence, and humor. We each talked for a half hour. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Celebrity sightings on the exhibit floor included author Diane Gonzales Bertrand and librarian Lisa Mitten, who runs the Native American Home Pages. My one regret is that Greg and I had to check out before author-storyteller Tim Tingle‘s session on Sunday.

Thanks to Dutton for sending Santa Knows (2006) for my signing at Combined Book Exhibit, to Candlewick for shipping the ARCs and gorgeous new promotional bookmarks for Tantalize (2007), and to HarperCollins for graciously sponsoring me to the conference and providing copies of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) for the signing at the Harper booth. Thanks also to Sylvia, new ALA president Loriene Roy, the AILA, and everyone else at the ALA JCLC for their hospitality! What an inspiring event!

Cynsational Notes

Sylvia’s blog is Poetry for Children: About Finding and Sharing Poetry with Young People.