The conference opened with a talk by Mary Downing Hahn, the author of The Doll in the Garden; A Ghost Story; Time for Andrew; and, most recently, Deep and Dark and Dangerous. She has also won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for her book Stepping on the Cracks. I was so excited to see her speak, because one of my favorite, favorite books was Wait Til Helen Comes. As a child, I must have checked that book out from the library at least a half dozen times.
Hahn talked about her childhood, growing up in the 1950's (she assured us that the '50's wasn't as rosy and safe as we seem to think nowadays.) What I didn't know was that she actually had wanted to begin her career as an illustrator. She shared some of her earliest grade-school efforts, picture books that she had created, and humorously told us about the moment when she realized that the way to get around the perspective problems in some of her drawings would be to use words to describe what was happening, rather than pictures. And that was the moment she became a writer! She shared about how got involved with the writing club in college, writing somewhat autobiographical pieces, and drinking coffee in order to try to fit in with the beatniks there (although she wasn't hardcore enough to manage drinking her coffee black.) I also didn't know that she went on to spend many years working as a children's librarian!
After Hahn's talk there were over a dozen interesting panels to choose from, and I went to none of them, because I was busy preparing for my own presentation, announcing the Georgia Picture Book Award Nominees for 2011-2012. What an interesting process this was, working with this committee. I was surprised and pleased at how quickly we were able to decide on our top picks for the list. There were many books, too, which were easy for us to put aside. It was the books that were in the middle, especially if they were a "love it or hate it" sort of book that gave us the most trouble. Some compromises were made, but on the whole, I am really, really pleased with the selection that we decided upon. It felt like a really nice balance too, a diverse representation of cultures, of reading levels and of subjects. Now it's all in the kids' hands as they read and vote upon the final winners this school year!
After we presented the list of finalists, I was able to make it to a panel on middle-grade science-fiction and fantasy presented by Dr. Edie Parsons. She talked about themes drawn from various titles, and ways to use science-fiction to get a new perspective on history, social issues, or to promote critical thinking. I was familiar with a number of the books that she discussed, such as DiTerlizzi's The Search for WondLA or Phillip Reeves' Larklight series, but some of the books Parsons booktalked were new to me, such as Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey -- I'll have to add that to my ever-growing list of books to be read.
Athens is a great little college town, and I ended the night by meeting some friends at this amazing vegetarian restaurant, The Grit.
More tomorrow on how day 2 of the conference went!