Monday, May 17, 2010

Rochester Teen Book Festival

This past weekend, I dragged my friend, Bri, along to the Rochester Teen Book Festival.  It was AWESOME!  Yes, I know it was geared toward teens, but I'm still young at heart. Yes, I know that all the authors there write teen lit.  "Don't you ever read adult lit, Jessie?" you're asking.  Rarely!

 Teen lit is quick because teens don't have long attention spans. (Apparently, neither do I.) It can be on a variety of subjects and is sometimes more edgy than adult lit, without the graphic sex...most of the time. It's relatively easy reading, and honestly, I get bored with adult stories because I live every day as an adult.  I know what that's like.  Teen protagonists can be much more interesting, honest, brass, cool, scared, cruel, sensitive, perceptive, thoughtful and knowledgeable than we give them credit for. (I could name many more character descriptions, but I'm sure you don't want a laundry list, so fill in the blank yourself.)

Anyway, I digress.  The main idea is TEEN LIT BOOKS ROCK!  I love to read them and even more, I love to write them, which is why I attended the book festival. I'm on a mission to surround myself with successful authors. So, I Twitter and Facebook and follow agents and authors to read about their daily lives and struggles in this business.  They're very similar to my own struggles, so I know I'm not alone.

The annual festival is held at Nazareth College.  I'm an alum there, having received my Masters in Special Education, so I hope when I am published, they will invite me to speak. The best part is, it's open to the public and it's free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. So all you parents who think that bringing your teen to something like this would cost too much money, save your pennies for that fancy vacation and bring your kid to this festival!

It began with the authors arriving in limos, heralded by a marching band.  Unfortunately, I missed this part since I was too lazy to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 A.M. to be there right on time. By the time I arrived, we had a few minutes to look over the book table.  I had to restrain myself, only buying a few books, but I could have easily spent hundreds.  The money here goes to help fund the program and allows it to be free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. After a few minutes, the authors were introduced one at a time and gathered on the bleachers where they did a lightning round of Q&A.
This is the entire panel of authors. Top row first from left to right: Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly Black, Coe booth, Robin Brande, Lindsay Cibos, Jared Hodges. Row 2: Marissa Doyle, Simone Elkeles, Ellen Hopkins, James Kennedy, A. S. King. 3rd row: Daniel Kirk, Alisa Libby, Barry Lyga, Lisa McMann, Mari Mancusi. 4th row: Ben Mikaelsen, Alyson Noel, Sarah Ockler, Matt De la Pena, Amy Kathleen Ryan. Bottom row: Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer E. Smith, Terry Trueman, Vivian Vande Velde, Martin Wilson.

Next were the break out sessions.  You could choose three, unless you wanted to skip lunch. Then you could do four.  (Of course I went to four.  I wish I could have gone to more! Who needs to eat anyway?) I chose to see Terry Trueman, author of Stuck In Neutral first.  He was in a classroom on campus, and after joining about 20 or so others, we settled in to hear him speak.  Mr. Trueman was very laid back and spoke a little about everything, mostly in response to our questions. He even read from his WIP, (Work in Progress) which is a sequel to Stuck In Neutral.  For those who don't know, Stuck In Neutral is about a boy with cerebral palsy and the book is written from his perspective!  AWESOME book. Below are me and Terry Trueman.

After that, we saw Laurie Halse Anderson. Just knowing her success is inspiring.  She was super nice, AND she remembered my blog about Wintergirls. :) Ms. Anderson had a slide show, which she used to discuss her life in writing. I'm jealous of her writing "cabin."  I think I need to hire her carpenter husband to build one for me! In case, you don't know her, she is the author of Speak, Chains, Fever 1793, Twisted and many others.  Here are a few pictures:  The one on the bottom is my friend, Bri with Laurie. 

Next was a trio of Super geeks who spoke on what it was like to be outcasts. Each took time to tell their most embarrassing moments and read from their books. Below are Lisa McMann, author of the Wake series; A. S. King, author of The Dust of 100 Dogs; and Robin Brande, author of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature and Fat Cat.

Lastly, was Ellen Hopkins, who wrote Burned, Crank, Glass, Identical, Impulse and Tricks. Her story is amazing, and for anyone who doesn't know, Crank and Glass as well as a book she's currently writing is based on her story and her daughter's struggle with Crystal Meth.  The books are highly controversial due to their truthful look at the world of drugs, which makes them both intriguing and essential for teens. It's my belief that instead of banning books like these, we as parents should use them to our advantage.  Read them yourself if you think they're not appropriate! And, as Ms. Hopkins said, come and listen to her speak. Then you'll know what she's all about. 

What an amazing weekend.  Thank you to the authors who took time to travel to Rochester to meet with a bunch of crazy teenagers and people like me who want some encouragement in the realm of writing. It was an honor, and I hope that one day I can call myself your colleague. 


  1. Great pictures and descriptions! Ellen Hopkins' work really intrigues me, because her books are stolen from the library shelves as fast as we can buy them. I also went to the "Teen Humiliation Panel" and laughed out loud at their personal stories of humiliation. Vivian Vande Velde was an enjoyable speaker. One of my favorite works of hers is "Companions of the Night" and the short story "Morgan Rohmer's Boys." She is good with ghostly, spooky tales. Wendy Black was very entertaining. She cowrote the Spiderwick Chronicles with Tony DiTerrlizzi, but her YA stuff includes The Good Neighbors and other dark tales. She likes to incorporate a con into her stuff and talked about how she plans these cons. It was fascinating to hear about what influenced their work, and what fascinates them.

    My favorite speaker of the day was Allyson Noel. Hers is the classic story of the highly talented, unmotivated high school student who barely makes it out of school, drifts from college to travel and back again, finally working in the travel industry on the morning of 9/11. That served as her wake up call, plus getting excessed from her job, so she got serious about the writing. Everyone needs a push to do what they love/want/need to do sometimes. That was hers.

  2. I think it's really interesting that you say we should use controversial books like Crank to teach kids rather than ban them due to their inappropriate content. Recently there was an article in The Post-Journal about a mother who wanted to get rid of Go Ask Alice from her 13 year-old kid's classroom in Jamestown because she considered it to be highly unsuitable. She called the book "trash". I got pretty upset when I read that article - I think cencorship is ridiculous. Glad you feel the same way. =)

  3. I heard about that. It's touchy, I know, but depending on how they're handled, controversial books can be used as a great teaching tool. I think parents get up in arms because many teachers don't know how to address subjects in a respectful and honest manner. That makes sense. I've seen teachers who I would not want teaching a book like that to my kid. But I know teachers who would do a fabulous job of it as well.

    If she doesn't want her kid to read the book, that's her prerogative, but don't let that stop others who may learn from reading something like that. Perhaps it's inappropriate for certain ages. I'll give them that, but that's an individualized decision. What may be appropriate for one may not be for another.

    Parents should be involved in what their kids are reading. They should know what their kids can handle and what they want their kids exposed to, but they shouldn't say a word unless they've read the book themselves. (Note: I have no idea whether the parent you are talking about did this or not.) I like that the parent wanted to get involved and stood up for what he or she believed in, but it's up to each parent to decide what is right for his or her kid.

  4. It is also hugely important to write honestly about difficult subject matter, as I mentioned in my talk. Kids' BS meters run pretty high. If you sugarcoat or generalize or pretty things up, they will call you on it! Understanding that every choice creates a consequence, good or bad, is vital to their becoming smart, well-equipped adults. I personally respect them enough to believe they can process what they read. Hey, they see it every day. Why not try to bring them perspective?

  5. That parent did read the book, incidentally. So I gave her credit on that. I totally know what you mean by it really depends on the teacher who's introducing the book to the students - I wouldn't trust my English 12 teacher to properly explain Mother Goose, let alone A Child Called "It" or I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.

    I also agree that adults should give it to us straight. I've spent too much of my life being looked down on as too young to understand a subject properly. It also deeply amuses me when teachers dance around inappropriate subjects, trying to look for ways to completely avoid them. Whole lot of time and effort that wastes, if you ask me. I'd rather they'd just talk about it. If I don't hear it from them, I'm just going to hear it somewhere else. And no one loves to get into a philosophical discussion and point out the common sense compromise more than me.

  6. Great post, Jessie. I hope you don't mind if I link to it in my TBF blog! Also--so glad you enjoyed our session!

    On the subjects of banning books and teens' BS meters, I'm in complete agreement. I don't censor my books because the stories are supposed to lead readers to a place where they can see the many choices, and examine the corresponding consequences. I recently received a comment from an angry reader who said that using foul language and gross jokes in my books was me disrespecting teenagers. He didn't get any of the jokes, though, so I think he might have missed the point entirely.

  7. My mom reads every book that I read. It's a good thing to me. She'll read books before me so that she knows what happening (That wasn't the case with Identical though, she told me that she could have felt more comfortable reading it before I did.. Oops :))

    Teenagers know about these things. It's like adults think we are stupid or something. Like someone else said. If we don't hear it one place, we WILL hear it in another. It's everywhere. There is no denying it.

    I, personally, LOVE Ellens books. And it's because it's ALL truth. I mean there are some parts in the book where I'm reading and I stop and think... My mom read this, weird. Ya know? But like she said, nothing is sugar coated. It's all real stuff.

    So.... if you think it's inappropriate, DON'T READ IT! That simple :)

    Your favorite person in the whole wide world ;),

  8. Sure, go ahead and post it. Maybe It'll get this blog read more. That's the goal, right?

    I had an interesting conversation with my dad today about censorship. He mentioned that he read an editorial on the above article that Saiyagirl mentioned saying basically that we shouldn't censor books. His thoughts were that if you think about it, all of us censor books. The schools decide what's appropriate to put into their curricula, we decide what our kids should or shouldn't read, religious texts are banned everywhere. Aren't those forms of censorship? Good point,Dad.

    I give credit to the parent for reading the book and deciding what's appropriate for her child. That is what all parents should do, but that doesn't mean that we should read and write books that deal with these issues. Like Saiyagirl said, if the teachers aren't going to address the subjects, she'll learn it somewhere else. Personally, I'd rather make sure that I as a parent am the one teaching my child about such issues. Yes, teachers should still address these topics, but ultimately, it's the parent's responsibility.

  9. I agree that it's the parents' responsibility to teach their children about the sensitive subjects, but unfortunately, many parents aren't doing this. For many kids, the only place where they get the opportunity to talk about these things is at school or with their friends.

    I'm not saying that it's the job of the teacher to BE the parent, but I do feel that we're called "educators" for a reason. I think we need to teach the whole child if we have any hope of making a positive difference in their lives. If we leave the job to their friends, they may be getting "educated" in a whole different way. Responsible adults need to give kids the opportunity to be heard, and they need to show them that they recognize the problems they are facing.

    We shouldn't be saying, "Oh, it's a faze, you'll get over it when you get older." Or, "this may seem like a big deal to you now, but when you get older, you'll see that it's not." Comments like that are the ones that lead kids to do horrible things like commit suicide because they feel invisible and misunderstood.

    I applaud people like Ellen Hopkins who are writing truthful stories about the real issues. I, personally, will continue to shelve these books in my classroom.

  10. I agree that TBF is amazing! They really rolled out the red carpet for us and made us feel appreciated. Stephanie and her entire staff ROCK!