Friday, October 17, 2014

In Search of Wonder With the Greats

Today was an exciting day. I don’t talk much about one side of my life on this blog, that of being a high school English teacher, but today was one where both the author and teaching sides came together. I spent the day immersed in the NCBLA In Search of Wonder conference in Perry, Ohio, with authors of varying experience levels, librarians and teachers from around the state. It was a diverse collection of literature lovers, new and old. Part of me felt like a kid again, finally making it to the equivalent of Disney World, while the author side got to pick the brains of elite members in the YA and children’s writing industry.

There were new authors like Jody Cassella, first-time published YA novelist of Thin Space, science fiction and fantasy author Mindee Arnett, and veteran authors and winners of various major awards like Katherine Paterson, Steven Kellogg, Nikki Grimes, and Chris Crutcher. There’s no way anyone could have grown up in the last 30 years without reading some of their books. It was great meeting authors who have found so much success and touched so many lives for the better.

Nikki Grimes
 During the conference, I had the opportunity to see Nikki Grimes, winner of the Coretta Scott King award for Jazmin’s Notebook, speak from the heart about striving to bridge the racial gap between readers and chosen books. Her passion for writing stories and poetry was clear in her voice and face and certainly spoke to me. When another presenter followed and began reading poem excerpts from Grimes’ published works while the poet and author sat on stage behind her, her eyes closed—nostalgia and emotion floating behind her eyelids as the words echoed through the school theater. A small smile even played across her lips and cheeks. When love and passion are so easily visible, it’s difficult not to be astounded.

Steven Kellogg Speaking at
In Search of Wonder

Steven Kellogg, who wrote and illustrated children’s books like Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, and many more, was a man so filled with enthusiasm that every other word brought an eruption of laughter from the audience. He’s great as a presenter, and I can only hope you get a chance to see him work. As a fan of his books as a child, it wasn’t to be missed.

Many people may know Chris Crutcher best for his YA novels Deadline, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and The Crazy horse Electric Game.  Originally a therapist in Spokane, Washington, he began writing later and truly comes up with some of the best novels, and quotes. After talking about Deadline, he said something I could not forget, “If you want to make life important, shorten it.” The main character discovers he has Leukemia in the first 7 pages, hence the statement’s relevance.  He also said something that reminded me of a friend and Special Education/English teacher I know named Ed. After reading an excerpt where he compared a secondary character to an “evangelical senator,” he said, “Every once in a while you have to throw your politics in there.” I couldn’t help but chuckle, because it was certainly something Ed would say. The two even look alike, don’t they?

Chris Crutcher and Weston Kincade

Katherine Paterson
Ending the conference was Katherine Paterson, best known for her Newberry Medal award winning novels Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved. Also a great speaker, I couldn’t help but enjoy her story about being a weird kid in North Carolina in fourth grade with another “weird, round kid” named Eugene who wanted to ultimately become a ballet dancer. In the 1940s, this was unheard of, but she later discovered that he succeeded, even performing in New York a great deal. A very spiritual woman, she spoke of how essential parents, teachers and librarians are to the future of our children, saying, “It is up to each one of us to be children’s word of hope made flesh.” Another of her novels, The Great Gilly Hopkins, is being made into what looks to be a wonderful movie and should be released soon.

Katherine Paterson Speaking at
In Search of Wonder

The NCBLA is doing great things for our children and adults alike. We were all children once and grew up with these wonderful books. I encourage you to see these authors present if you can and grab their books. They are certainly worth the time investment, no matter your age.

Weston Kincade ~ Author of the A Life of Death collection and Strange Circumstances