Boston Book Festival
I don’t usually write on a Saturday, but am making an exception. I spent all day today at the Boston Book Festival, on Copley Square in Boston. I attended a session titled “Border Crossing: Understanding Social Justice Through Fiction.” In attendance were several well-known authors who spoke about their books and how they can be used to teach about challenges faced by children in different countries.
Katie Smith Milway (author of the new picture book book “The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough” and the 2009 Massachusetts Book Award winner for “One Hen: How one small loan made a big difference”) was the MC. She spoke about “The Good Garden’s” Honduran main characters and the issue of sustainable farming practices raised in it.
Next to speak was Richard Michelson, a fellow Brooklynite, who spoke about his new picture book “Busing Brewster.” This book tells the story of school desegregation through forced busing from the point of view of the children who were part of this historic Supreme Court decision. He deliberately did not choose a specific city for his story because he wanted it to be read in all the states that had gone through this issue back in the 1970′s.
The next speaker was Christina Gonzalez, author of “The Red Umbrella.” This book recounts the 1961-1962 airlifting of 14,000 children in Operation Pedro Pan. This Operation allowed Cuban children to be sent to the U.S. by their parents. Parents made this difficult decision to send their unaccompanied children to a foreign country under great duress because they saw it as the only way to protect their children from Castro’s regime and forced indoctrination into Communism. Christina was inspired by the story of her mother-in-law, whose parents chose this route of safety for her to escape Cuba.
Afterwards, I had a chance to speak more with Christina about her book and tell her how much I had enjoyed it. We also spoke about the Poster Session I’ll be presenting at the upcoming YALSA Diversity Symposium I’ll be attending in New Mexico. She had briefly mentioned the topic in her speech I’ll be discussing; namely, the fact that books about Latinos are “lumped” together under a generic “Hispanic” heading instead of the country of origin’s heading. Our similarity across cultures is that we all speak Spanish, but we have different foods, political beliefs, music, etc. As a result of our conversation, we made plans to meet in New Mexico and continue our talk.
The next presenter was Mitali Perkins, who spoke about her new book “Bamboo People,” about children who are forced to become soldiers in the Burmese War. She noted Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Two characters tell their story – a Burmese child forced to become a soldier, and a Karenni child soldier – mortal enemies of the Burmese. Afterwards, I had a chance to speak with Mitali, and she mentioned she has visited all the elementary schools in Needham, but has not visited Pollard. I will see what I can do to rectify that.
The last to speak was Lionel Vitale, a recent immigrant from Haiti, who is working his way through school and is in his senior year with a double major at the University of Massachusetts. He was a featured character in Youme Landowne’s book “Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian story of hope” which tells the story of a group of homeless children who worked together to speak about their needs and were, eventually, able to start a radio station which was used to reach other young children.
My next session was a Kids’ Keynote speech by Jeff Kinney, author of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. Jeff entertained us with photos of his art and funny stories that led to the creation of his wildly popular books. The series was made into a movie, with a new book in the series “The Ugly Truth” slated to be released in November.
My last session was titled “It Books: Four YA writers discuss what’s hot and what’s not.” Featured authors included new author and Harvard student Noni Carter who spoke about her book “Good Fortune.” Written about slavery, it was inspired by a family story of what happened to her great-great-great-great Grandmother. Afterwards, we spent some time talking and, when she told me she visits schools, we talked about arranging a possible visit to Pollard in the near future.
Kristin Cashore, author of the “Graceling” and “Fire” wrapped up the panel discussion. She talked about the difficulty of writing, and the many revisions that have to happen in order to get a good book out in print. She mentioned that sometimes she feels her work isn’t the best it could be.
During the question and answer period, I was able to tell Kristin her books are great because of the effect they had on a reluctant female reader who only read manga in 7th grade. I was able to convince her to read a non-manga book “Manga Touch,” because the character loved Japan and manga – just like she did. Over the summer, the student started reading “Graceling” and wasn’t able to finish it. In Sept., she asked if I had it in the library and was thrilled I did. The next day, I saw her in the 8th grade hallway and told her the book had a sequel and we also had it in the library. She squealed and jumped a foot in the air with joy. Such is the power of a good book.
The Boston Book Festival was a very inspiring time. If you get a chance, come and see it next year. It’s free, and is a great opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the best writers in the field.