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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

KUDOS FROM ALAN PANEL AUTHOR AT NCTE 2013 CONFERENCE

When I taught high school English I used to go to teacher conferences annually for my required Continuing Education Units (CEU). But this was my first teacher conference where I went as an author speaking on a panel. It was awesome! The pressure was off to attend dozens of exciting and informative talks, but the pressure was on to do well speaking about coming-of-age in classic YA novels and more recent YA releases, including my own NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Merit Press, January 2014).

This new adventure began when author Beth Fehlbaum put in a proposal with Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) at the National Council of the Teachers of English Conference 2013 in Boston. Beth put together a diverse YA panel consisting of Ellen Hopkins, Jeri Ready Smith, Shannon Delany, Selene Castrovilla and one other author. The last author had to bow out and so Beth asked me if I’d like to join them.

Would I? You bet! The President of ALAN, Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan, notified us that our proposal was selected. Our ALAN moderator was Lee Ann Spillane. Once accepted, in August I re-read the books for our panel discussion: CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger, THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton, YOU DON’T KNOW ME by David Klass, SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.

In these novels we looked at the search for self, search for significance, alienation, and desire to belong. After we compiled our notes, we stated a position and our topic title became “Coming of Age, Now and Then: The Truth Remains the Same.”

I couldn’t remember having been to Boston, and I really wanted to sight-see, too. I contacted my friend Victoria Coe, a writer I met at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in LA at least a decade ago, and arranged to meet since she lives in Boston. Author Tara Sullivan offered to shuttle me from and to the airport and find me a place to stay.

SCBWI member Lauren Barrett volunteered to let me stay with her. Lauren was a marvelous hostess and is a sweetheart of a person. She helped me to experience Boston as a native. It was a plane, bus, train, walk, taxi transport week. On one particular bus ride I did a comedy act with fellow riders and they reminded me of the power of a smile and laughter. Many thanks to Tara for introducing me to Lauren, and to Lauren and her friends for putting up with my odd hours of coming and going for four blustery days.

Saturday morn Lauren and I met Beth and her husband and Jeri for breakfast at a downtown restaurant. Afterward I joined Victoria and her husband for Mass at the Paulist Center. While finding these places I walked through the Common twice. I saw the MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS statues inspired by the Caldecott winning picture books. (I told a Boston native that, and she said, “You must be a teacher.” Aye, that I am.) Vicky pointed out the courthouse with the gold dome just up the street from her church. I paused at the Congregationalist Church where President Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech. I am grateful to Vicky and her husband for not only driving me home, but giving me more than the “nickel tour” so I could see more of Boston in a short time.

Sunday evening I went to an Author reception at the Hynes Convention Center and talked to many teachers. I found Canadian teachers a bit nervous about new Common Core Standards crossing the border from the U.S., including standardized tests. I confessed to several Canadian educators that I write not only educational materials according to CCS but also have written some of the tests. One teacher said she’d never met anyone who wrote tests before. After the reception the six of us on our author panel, plus our moderator, went to dinner to discuss our discussion for the next day.

Monday I spent all day at the convention center. There were moments during the weekend where my brain felt as if it was disconnecting from my body due mostly to fatigue. (Even though it was extremely cold, I was handling the weather change pretty well except for one late evening hour-long walk into the frigid harbor wind.) Shannon Delany gave me a little package of crackers and cheese that helped tremendously before we spoke. I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s books. There is so much more depth to stories than what the packaging—title, cover, book description—shows. It’s hard for me to say how we did on the discussion. I feel that the teachers would be a better judge of how they thought we did.

Exhausted, I went downstairs with Beth and her husband to find something to eat in a hotel dining room. But Beth and her husband had to get to the airport in less than an hour—not enough time to be served. I decided to eat there anyway. A woman from the conference invited me to sit with her. In turned out Angela is a librarian in Indiana. She was delightful company and I learned new things about how books are selected for state awards. In Indiana the award judges respect the input of teens on the committee.

Tuesday I flew out of Boston in time to spend Thanksgiving in Texas with my husband and son in San Antonio. Yee-haw! I am very thankful to all the people I named in this blog article, and thankful to all the educators who braved the cold to make our welcome at NCTE/ALAN a warm one.
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