Monday, June 10, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #3: Author Panel

The next session I attended was about the YA Choice Awards, which, as the name suggests, are voted on by young people.  In between the announcements, four YA authors presented their answer to the question of how their books were making a difference.  (The theme of the convention was "Celebrating Teachers Making A Difference.") You can find an annotated list of the books chosen here, so I won't dwell on that, but I will tell you a little bit about what the authors had to say. I learned last year that my favorite sessions are the author presentations, and this one was not a disappointment.

The first author we heard from was Ruta Sepetys. I've read both her novels and reviewed them here and here. Sepetys talked about her genre, historical fiction, and the "search for story." She started writing books because of wanting to find her own family story. Studies show that kids who know a lot about their families do better in traumatic situations; knowing your own history can create a "stronger intergenerational self." She talked about the paths she traveled to find out her family past, since the only person alive who knew about it had dementia. The nearly miraculous discovery of a trunk full of letters set her on her way. The result of that search was Between Shades of Gray, a story about a Lithuanian family beginning in 1939. Sepetys talked about how this book has been received, with readers in different countries seeing different themes in its pages. It has just been illegally published in Iran, and Sepetys was invited to speak about her story at the European parliament, where a delegate expressed amazement that he had learned about history and its effect on current events through a book for young adults. Switching from Lithuania and Siberia in the 40s to New Orleans in the 50s may seem a stretch, but Sepetys explained that when her father came to the United States, he saw pain everywhere. Exploring this idea led her to write her second book, Out of the Easy. Again in this book, themes of family are important. Sepetys concluded that "when you find yourself in a book, the world is a little less lonely."

On a lighter note, in the question time at the end, someone asked Sepetys what we were all thinking: how did it affect her that her book's title is so close to another recent book about shades of gray?  She admitted that sometimes people who show up for her book signings are confused, and also revealed that she was invited to do a joint radio interview with E.L. James, the other shades of gray person (not going to link you), and was very disappointed when James herself didn't show up, but was spliced in later from a tape. 

Next was Sharon Flake, whose book  The Skin I'm In is popular among my students. She talked in this presentation about working on her book Pinned, a story about a struggling reader who is also a wrestler. While Flake was writing the book, she too struggled. Most of her books have come easily, she said, but this one took more than five years to write, and was very difficult. She read a few excerpts from the book, which sounds very much worth picking up.

I hadn't heard of Susanne Colasanti before,  but it turns out that many of my students have been reading her.


This video shows an interview with Colasanti, talking about her latest book, All I Need, and you can see her fun and quirky personality. I haven't read any of her books yet, but from what my students say, it appears that this personality comes out in what she writes. Interestingly, Colasanti's own teen years were not fun. She says it was important to her to be an optimist, because as a kid she knew that things were the worst they would ever be in her life. She now does presentations in schools to encourage teenagers that there are things they can control.

I heard the fourth author,  Matt de la Peña, at last year's convention and I was excited to get to hear him again. He talked about how young working class males learn to be men by observing violence, and they come to define themselves that way, in addition to the negative definitions placed on them by parents, teachers, and others. He also talked a bit about the situation where his own books and those by other Latino writers were removed from schools in Arizona, quoting Junot Diaz, who said the quickest way to create monsters is never to show kids a reflection of themselves in literature. You can read more about current issues he's involved with here.

Here's highlight post number one, and here's highlights post number two.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

a delegate expressed amazement that he had learned about history and its effect on current events through a book for young adults.

My 9th grader was studying for his world history final last week, and we were both answering review questions based on YA books we'd read!