ALA Mid-Winter 2019

By: Hannah Mermelstein, St. Ann’s School and Kyle Lukoff, Corlears School

In January, HVLA members Kyle Lukoff and Hannah Mermelstein attended ALA midwinter in Seattle. Below are a few thoughts and highlights from each of us.

Hannah: I spent some time ducking in and out of the exhibit hall, gathering ARCs and listening to publishers present about their favorite upcoming titles. When I needed something that was a little less of a free-for-all, I attended sessions both small and large. One of the larger events was the The President’s Program featuring Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Her presentation was insightful and polished and important, particularly for the vast majority of librarians who are white. Look her up, read her book, watch her speak.

One thing I love to do at midwinter is sit in on the Notable Children’s Books Committee meetings, which are actually open to all. The people on the committee sit around a U-shaped table and pass a mic around while they discuss each book for about 5 minutes in front of whatever audience assembles. It’s a great way to hear what they’re thinking about books I love, and to find a few new gems as well.

There’s a film coming to theaters this spring called “The Public.” As in, the public library. As in, a group of patrons who are homeless takes over the library one particularly cold night in Cincinnati and refuses to leave. Emilio Estevez made the movie, starred in the movie (with an ensemble cast), and came to ALA to present it and tell us about the organizations he worked with in the process. While parts of the film smacked of a kind of voyeurism that is hard to avoid in a feel-good Hollywood film, it also seemed like Estevez put in some of the necessary work to form relationships with people and groups, and many of the actors in the film were people who are homeless themselves. One of my favorite details Estevez shared was that he originally planned for a particularly terrible character (a person in power) to have a change of heart at the end, but after an early screening his father (Martin Sheen) said, “You can’t let the fascists win!” So the fascist remains a fascist, and the oppressed get their moment. (The film also included a shout-out to the Connecticut Four–look them up if you don’t know them.)

Of course, the highlight of midwinter is always the Youth Media Awards. I love sitting in the room, hearing the oohs and aahs and gasps whenever a committee chooses any number of honors that is not three, and observing some of the committees’ amazing and dorky coordinated outfits and props representing their winners. As someone whose own Mock Newbery Committee was livestreaming the event back in Brooklyn, I was particularly excited to see where there was overlap between our choices and those of the actual committees. Night Diary was one of our finalists at Saint Ann’s, and won an actual Newbery honor. The medal (Merci Suárez Changes Gears) and the other honor (The Book of Boy) were both books we had in our Mock Newbery, but our students did not end up choosing them. Other award winners that we had considered in our Mock Newbery Committee included Front Desk (our Mock Newbery winner and actual APALA winner), The Parker Inheritance (Coretta Scott King honor, Odyssey winner), The Season of Styx Malone (Coretta Scott King honor), The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (Schneider winner), Hurricane Child (Stonewall winner), Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (Stonewall honor), and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (Sydney Taylor winner)

Kyle: I very briefly joined Hannah at a Notables committee session, and decide that I never want to sit on that committee. It reminded me of book club, except with microphones and the surveillance and possible judgement of peers and colleagues that I had never met and didn’t know were in the room, which actually is nothing like book club at all. They didn’t have any cheese, either. No Notables for me.

I grabbed a few ARCs (only three!) and met a few authors, but the highlight of ALA for me was a Reader’s Theater event sponsored by Scholastic, where several authors talked about their books and then chose a scene to read aloud, with different parts played by different authors. Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within was beautiful to listen to, and it was fun getting a sneak peek of Bill Konigsberg’s The Music Of What Happens. Also, Scholastic has the best snacks.

I grew up north of Seattle, so it was pretty cool to be back there for a professional conference. The YMAs were exciting, as always, even though none of the winners were particularly exciting to me (and one made me, uh, grumpy, which I’m happy to tell you about some other time).

Both:

The first full day in Seattle Hannah and Kyle went to Pike’s Place Market, which was only about a ten-minute walk. Having grown up north of Seattle, Kyle convinced Hannah to get a hombow, a Chinese bun (Hannah’s had chicken, Kyle’s had pork), and also a moon cake (exactly as delicious as Little Star led us to believe). Hope to see some of you at Annual, just down the road in DC!

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