Monday, October 08, 2007

First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference

So, Jim and I went to "Chicago"** (see note at bottom) this weekend for the First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference and one of the first things I learned is that I should always name my blog posts clearly to best attract google searchers -- it's called something daunting like "search engine optimization" or some such. Aiieee! Anyway, this conference was the brainchild of Robin Brande, and when I read about it early in the summer, I knew I just had to go and meet all these folks whose blogs I read. This stemmed from my monthly jealousy of "kidlit drinks night" in Manhattan and reading about all that fun. I thought: here's my chance to have a swiggy with lots of booklovers! That's really what I was thinking, I admit, of the fun, rather than the learning side of things. But once the one-day conference began, I began to understand I was "present at the inception" of something wonderful -- the blossoming of a wonderful community of bloggers into a force to be reckoned with!

If you're here reading this, you're probably pretty blog-savvy already, but most of us don't have to go back very far in our memories to recall the time we didn't know what a blog even was, or if we thought we knew, we really had a wrong impression. Well, for many many folks out there, that is still the case. So, there is this amazing online resource for lovers of children's books -- the "kidlitosphere" is emerging as a default name for it, though many do not like it -- but a lot of people who should know about it, still don't. That is, parents, teachers, librarians, and all other readers. In a nutshell, here's what it is: a community of bloggers who are passionate about children's books and who provide reviews, news, interviews, and all manner of other goodness on a daily basis.

Here is a sampling of kidlit blogs to check out:
Fuse #8 (Betsy Bird)
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Jules & Eisha)
Big A little A (Kelly Herold)
BookMoot (Camille Powell)
Shaken & Stirred (Gwenda Bond)
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy (Liz Burns)
MotherReader (Pam Coughlin)
Book Buds Kidlit Reviews (Anne Boles Levy)
Jen Robinson's Book Page (Jen Robinson)
KidsLit (Tasha Saeker)
Miss Rumphius Effect (Tricia Stohr-Hunt)
Planet Esme (Esme Raji Codell)
Bookshelves of Doom
Miss Erin

Here are some author blogs of attendees:
Gregory K. Pincus (a fellow Arthur Levine author!)
Ysabeau Wilce
Sara Lewis Holmes
Robin Brande
Barry Lyga's myspace
(I'm sure I'm forgetting people, for which I apologize!)

P.S. You can go to Big A little A for a much more exhaustive list of kidlit blogs.

There has been much snark from the "establishment" about bloggers as critics. What are their "credentials," the old-school book critics want to know? Who are they to tell you about books? Well, this is a populist movement. Again, it's a community that readers can engage in, in a way they absolutely cannot with traditional book reviews. There are all kinds of fun ways to participate, including online meet-the-author Q & A's, author tours, book-reading challenges, and even the Cybils -- "the Children's & YA Bloggers' Literary Awards" -- which are nominated by readers and selected by panels of bloggers. (And Blackbringer has been nominated! Yay!)

Anyway, it's a tight-knit community, and when Robin decided to create this gathering, she did not realize everyone would want to go to it, but they did, and so we came together as a pretty good size group on Saturday to talk about what we do! For me, it's a little different, being an "author blogger." I don't do book reviews, but I do want to be more involved in the kidlit blog community because I [heart] children's books, and I [heart] children's book lovers. We weren't extraordinarily organized, this being the first year, but there really was that feeling of being there at the beginning of something, the beginning of growing this organization into a more recognized resource for parents/librarians/readers. The early plan that emerged is to create an umbrella website that explains what the "kidlitosphere" is and links to the many websites and blogs that are out there. Ideas were discussed for reaching "you" and also, beyond "you" -- that is, folks who are not already blog-savvy. We tossed around ideas, but it was very much only the beginning of the discussion.

So, that's what this conference was about, as well as lots of talk about blog content, ethics and etiquette, writing book reviews, increasing blog traffic, and the like. Saturday afternoon, after that was all done, there was a display/signing for the attending authors, who included Ysabeau Wilce, Barry Lyga, Ellen Klages, Sara Lewis Holmes, Robin Brande, Esme Raji Codell, quite a few others, and moi. It was a real treat to meet everyone. I had just read Flora Segunda last week and loved it, and I was very excited to meet Ysabeau. Flora Segunda is a fantasy novel with a very unique flavor and world and a terrific character voice. Flora is the youngest daughter of a great but sadly diminished family, expected to go into the military barracks on her fifteenth birthday -- but she would prefer to be a "ranger" (a very adventurous spy) despite the fact there are no more rangers. There is also the matter of a banished magical butler, a captured pirate, frightening half-bird half-human warriors, a tough General for a mother, a mad father, and a best friend with a zest for fanciful hats. And a lot, lot more. Read it!

Jim and I had both read The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Gothgirl by Barry Lyga many months ago and it is a terrifically fun read, especially for comic book nerds, but not only, about a smart kid following his creative passion; the awkwardness of adolescence comes right off the page at you.

Sara Lewis Holmes' first novel, Letters from Rapunzel sounds like a fairy tale book but isn't -- it's about a young girl coping with a parent's hospitilization for depression, and the way she uses her imagination to get through a very difficult time -- it deals with tough subject matter in a whimsical, fun-to-read way, yet without treating it too lightly, which is quite a feat.

I've already mentioned Robin's terrific first novel, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature about a girl who is ostracized by her church group after taking a stand against their intolerance -- and how this affects her freshman year of highschool.

The book I wanted to read but didn't get a chance to yet is Ellen Klages' award-winning The Green Glass Sea about scientists' kids living at Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb.

So many cool books to read!

And here are some photos:
Our fun dinner table-- clockwise from the foreground guy with the beard -- he is PJ Haarsma, author of The Softwire; Besty Bird, Gwenda Bond (who in addition to having a great blog is writing her first YA novel), Christopher Rowe (sci fi writer), Ysabeau Wilce, Scott Christianson, Jim, Me, & Barry Lyga. Had such a great time hanging out with Betsy, Gwenda, and Ysabeau! Jim & Christopher had the brilliant idea of sneaking across the street to buy vino at Target, for which there has been some wrist-slapping -- sorry, Robin!

In the blue chairs: Anne Boles Levy, Kelly Herold & Besty Bird. In yellow: Sara Lewis Holmes; on the floor in pink: Adrienne Furness, in black: Jules & Eisha; and in white: Tricia Stohr-Hunt. In the back: Greg Pincus and Liz Burns, and others.

Jim with Christopher and Gwenda, who are from Kentucky, and Andrea Ross and Mark Blevin, the power-podcast duo behind Just One More Book.

Betsy Bird, Liz Burns, Camille Powell, Jen Robinson (& her sig. oth. Mheir) and Pam Coughlin.

At Esme's library (there will be a whole post tomorrow on Esme's AMAZING library) From left: Bill, Anne Boles Levy, Esme Raji Codell, Pam Coughlin, Camille Powell, me, Liz Burns, Greg Pincus.

And here's everybody:

So, it's been decided that next year's conference will be right here in Portland, Oregon, which will be wonderful. I will be helping Jone organize it, and I can only imagine right now how much will have happened within the community by then!

P.S. For some reason she's not in any of these photos, but thanks also to Faith Hochhalter for bringing the bookseller's perspective (from Changing Hands Books in Tempe, AZ) and for being fun and such an enthusiastic supporter of kidlit -- espcially fantasy & sci fi -- and of children's book authors!

** (We were really out by O'Hare, not in the city, and dummy that I am, I made our travel arrangements to not give one single window of time to actually go see the city, not even from afar, so no, we did not actually go to Chicago, drat it. Another time!)


Micol Ostow said...

It must be said that swigging with the bloggers and authors was my main reason for attending as well, and my conversation with your loverly husband re: Buffy, graphic novels, and all sorts of etc., did not disappoint! Until next year....

Erin said...

Thanks for posting the pics/recap! I'd love to go next year...we'll see...

Anna M. Lewis said...

Great post!!!

I have also cried in my pillow over Kidslit drink night in Manhattan!!!

**Jumping up and down waving arms**
I just finally posted also!!!

Sara said...

Laini! Awesome to meet you and Jim. Thanks for the button. I think I will wear it as I slave away---I mean, joyfully re-write, in a non-robotic way---my second manuscript. Thanks for all the conversation and inspiration, both of you!

Anonymous said...

What fun! Thanks for the cool links and book recommendations, too.
So many good books, so little time (sigh).
Oh, congrats on Blackbringers, nomination!

Annie said...

It is so great to see the photos and start putting faces with new names I'm learning. Sounds like a fine time was had by all. Count me in for next year.

Greg Pincus said...

Wow. Great post. At least I got up something shorter first so I don't feel so intimidated :-)

Great seeing you (both) again, and I look forward to the next time our paths cross....

Amber said...

"who are THEY to tell YOU abotu books"??
This is funny to me! Umm, readers? Writers? Can't anyone tell anyone about good books? I didn't know! LOL


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Laini. I'm excited to be here at the start of this "kidlitosphere" revolution, too. But just hanging out with other people who love children's books is great, too. Thanks so much for the book! I'm looking forward to it. And to further discussions with you as we go forward. I will certainly plan to be in Portland for the next conference, too. That's great that you'll be helping Jone! I can't wait. Well, I can, because I have a lot of great books to console me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the list of books! I'm always on the lookout for good kidlit. Just fyi, the link for Flora Segunda isn't working for me (I'm using Mozilla).

Mary Lee said...

Great pictures! Both Franki and I are planning to be there in Portland next year, so A Year of Reading will be there in full force!

Kim G. said...

Wow - this sounds great! What an amazing group of people and opportunity for people who love children's lit. Will it be open to teachers? Let me know and I'll pass the word on through Brad to his co-workers.

Hope you and Jim are doing well! :)

Anonymous said...

Laini, It was great to meet you. I put Blackbringer on hold as soon as I got back home. Hope to be reading it soon....

MotherReader said...

Hey, I also put Blackbringer on hold today. Us library folk.

It was so fun hanging out with you guys this weekend. You're such a cute couple - and so talented together. (Okay, so I haven't read Blackbringer yet, but I know that I've heard that it's all that and a bag of chips.)

Rita said...

Ooh, thanks for this write-up! I'm reading Flora Segunda next!

:D :D

Brian Mandabach said...

So, I'm still writing my post about kidlit, but I sort of want to forget it becuase you nailed it so well. YOu were the first person I met there, and I thank you for the great introduction to the fabulous group!

See you in Portland!

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