Last week I attended my first Book Expo America, and it was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a long while. The main purpose was to meet booksellers, librarians, and reviewers to promote Little Elliot, BIG CITY at any chance I could get. Buckle up, this is a long ride…
It all started Wednesday with a studio tour put together by the American Booksellers Association. Two groups of booksellers came to our humble abode to meet me and see how I work. I was flattered that they braved traffic and came all the way to Brooklyn! I showed them some original drawings, and they got a special sneak peek at the second book in my series, Little Elliot, BIG FAMILY (Fall 2015). It was a great way to get to know each other! I got to meet representatives from Secret Garden Books (Seattle, WA), Anderson’s Bookshops (Naperville, IL), Oblong Books and Music (Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY), Octavia Books (New Orleans, LA), Redbery Books (Cable, WI), and Bethany Beach Books (Bethany Beach, DE). Yay new friends!
Later that night Dan and I attended the 20th Annual Children’s Book Art Auction, sponsored by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the ABC Children’s Group at the American Booksellers Association. Proceeds benefited the Kids’ Right to Read Project and Banned Books Week. I submitted a print of one of my favorite pages from Little Elliot, BIG CITY, and was happy to see that it raised quite a few bucks. Other highlights included an author/illustrator talent show and a mashed potato martini bar (yes, that’s a thing). Then there was a big author/illustrator get-together at a nearby pub. Drinks were had. Shenanigans ensued. Blackmail-worthy photos were taken. SO, it was a good night! Also, I made friends with Joyce Wan and Molly-freaking-Idle. Boom.
Thursday started with a signing at the MacMillan booth. We were giving away hardcover copies of Little Elliot, BIG CITY, and Little Elliot tote bags (especially made for BEA). It was a surreal experience. Sitting, smiling, signing. And the people kept coming until we ran out of everything! Rosemary Stimola actually waited in line for my book! I must mention that these bags caused something of a sensation. Even Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple came to get a bag (but they were smart and came early!). I was asked at every turn where one could get an Elliot tote during THE ENTIRE CONFERENCE. It was…weird. But good weird. After the signing, I headed over to see my friends at Merry Makers Inc. Their president, Clair Frederick, was the person who ended up winning my print at the auction! I’ve been keeping a BIG secret for a few months, and Clair gave me the thumbs up to finally announce: there’s going to be a Little Elliot plush doll!!! I immediately sent word to the Twitterverse. I’m really impressed with the care that Merry Makers has taken to get it right. The next prototype is being created right now, and I can’t wait to meet him! I don’t have a specific release date, but he will probably hit the shelves next Spring. Here’s a pic of the first prototype: After that, I was whisked away to a MacMillan lunch where I had the pleasure of meeting more book sellers and a few more authors/illustrators, including Jack Gantos. I was seated at the same table as Sophie Blackall, which I think made me more nervous than meeting the booksellers!! I got a peek at her upcoming book, And Two Boys Booed, written by Judith Viorst. I don’t need to tell you how lovely it is, because you obviously already know (on sale 9/2).
On Friday, I loaded up my Little Elliot tote with a LOT of books from home. I was determined to get some autographs! I got my copy of Blackout signed by John Rocco, Stinky Cheese Man and It’s a Book signed by Lane Smith, George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale signed by Margaret McNamara, Edwin Speaks Up and Missed Connections by Sophie Blackall, and Flora and the Flamingo and Camp Rex signed by my new friend Molly-freaking-Idle. I had yet another signing, but this time in the main autographing area, which is WAY more overwhelming than the in-booth session. But it was still super fun, and I had my posse with me for moral support: Laura Godwin (my editor), Brenda Bowen (my agent), and Ksenia Winnicki (my publicist).
After that Ksenia and I made our way to a “Speed Dating Lunch” hosted by ABC/CBC. We got there a little early so that we could eat lunch and ended up bonding over our common love of Xena, Warrior Princess. Channeling Xena, I shined my chakram and howled my battle cry…or rather, I gripped my book and practiced my spiel. The setting: 18 authors with new books coming out and 17 tables with several booksellers at each. The mission: each author had four minutes to pitch their book and dazzle each bookseller. Minus a few brain farts here and there, I think I did well. That concluded all of my BEA responsibilities, so I totally earned my “I’m a new author and I survived my first BEA blitz” tee shirt. Also at speed dating was my friend Kelly Light, whose beautiful book Louise Loves Art comes out Sept 9, and Scott Campbell, whose cuuute book Hug Machine comes out Aug 26. They have both illustrated other authors’ books, but these will be their debut books as authors as well, and I’m so happy for them!
On Saturday, I returned for Book Con. The plan was to meet up with my friends Ruth Chan and Misa Saburi (two illustrators that you should look out for in the future!) to attend a panel entitled “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks”. Unfortunately, the space was too small, and we couldn’t get in (you can read about this panel here). Meanwhile, there was a second panel at the same time called “Where are the people of color in children’s books?”, which mostly focused on African Americans in children’s literature. It was in a section of the conference that was apparently NOT open to the rest of Book Con, and it was really frustrating that this panel was not accessible to everyone attending that day. It was encouraging though to see that industry professionals filled most of the seats. The panel included Patrik Henry Bass, author & book editor for Essence Magazine; author Tonya Bolden; Regina Brooks, author and literary agent at Serendipity Literary Agency; Bernette Ford, author and CEO of Color-Bridge Books; Wade Hudson, President of Just Us Books; Harlyn Pacheco, CEO of Qlovi; Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati from The African American Children’s Book Project; and moderated by Troy Johnson, Founder of The African American Literature Book Club
I think Tanya Bolden put it best when she said “All the children need all the books!” In other words, not only do children of color need to see themselves reflected in books, white children also need to see different kinds of children in books as well. By the lack of children of color represented in books, we are telling our children that people of color are not important enough to be in books and that white people are, reinforcing the culture of racism in our country. Some children give up on reading altogether because they don’t see themselves represented in books. Ms. Bolden also referenced an article by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop entitled “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors“, published in 1990. While its message is still relevant today, I find it unfortunate that we have not come much further in over 20 years. EVERYONE can do their part to solve this. Publishers can showcase more multi-ethnic books and hire more diverse authors; writers and illustrators can create more diverse characters; parents and educators can select diverse books for their children, no matter what their ethnic origins are. Perhaps most importantly, consumers must demand these books from booksellers, because the reality of our capitalist system is that money talks. If the consumer demands it, the seller will provide it.
Afterwards, I waited in line to meet Bob Staake and get a signed print promoting his new book, My Pet Book. The print features many characters in the city, all different colors: a green girl, a pink cat, a blue grown up. Coming from the diversity panel, it made me smile a little wider.
I wrapped up the day in the most apropos way. When I swung by the MacMillan booth to say goodbye, a woman came by with her son to ask for book recommendations for kids his age. We all started talking about Elliot, and suddenly I was sitting on the carpet, holding the book open for him to read. It was perfect.
Well, that’s the end of my BEA adventure, but my Little Elliot adventure continues! I’m officially in the depths of promoting this little book, so be prepared to hear about it ALL THE TIME. In case I haven’t mentioned it enough, Little Elliot, BIG CITY comes out August 26th, and is available for preorder on several sites. Visit the book’s landing page for buying options. I will also be going on tour in September, and will post my itinerary as soon as I know where I’m going! Heeeeere we goooo!!!…