Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The bigger scope of BEA

Imagine a place with endless rows of publishers, clusters of authors, previews of the hottest fall titles, and free books, all while being surrounded by others who love books and can't get enough of them. This is Book Expo America, known to many as BEA, the largest trade book fair in North America.

I've been blogging about children's books for four years and have read countless posts about everyone's experience at BEA. This year, instead of envying those able to attend, I decided to finally experience the craziness for myself and believe me, it's crazy. Overwhelming at first, you quickly realize how to navigate the Javits Center and if you come as I did with an excel spreadsheet itinerary in hand, the amount of activities you can fit into one day is pretty impressive.

It kicked off with a Children's Author Breakfast, where the original WNBA, the Women’s National Book Association awarded Seattle’s Queen Anne Books a 2011 Pannell Award, recognizing  the bookseller for stimulating, promoting and encouraging children’s and young people’s interest in books. I knew right away this was a room full of people who eat, sleep and breathe books. But that was only the beginning as master of ceremonies Julianne Moore, actress and author of Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever; Katherine Paterson, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Brian Selznick, author of Wonderstruck (clad in the shiniest red shoes ever); Sarah Dessen, author of What Happened to Goodbye; and Kevin Henkes, author of Little White Rabbit and Junonia all stepped onstage. 

WonderstruckIt was fascinating to hear Julianne Moore's love for books evolve from Ann Likes Red and I think everyone was doubled over as Selznick debuted the illustrations for his latest, Wonderstruck. Selznick explained how it took him 3 years to put the book together (9-10 months for the artwork alone) and how it has 100 more drawings than The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Are you drooling yet? Sarah Dessen then took to the podium to explain how she just stumbled into writing for young adults, but there's nothing like catching teens at the beginning of their reading lives. It was apparent that Dessen has a passion for writing for teens and she stressed that an important part of reading is to feel less alone in the world, knowing that others have felt these emotions, too. Kevin Henkes read his latest picture book, Little White Rabbit and hit on the speculation of the death of picture books. Henkes explained that a picture book is an extraordinary art form, a kid's first exposure to art, and the trend of pushing kids to chapter books is small and misguided.

As if the breakfast wasn't fulfulling enough, there was an entire day left for visiting publishers, authors autographing their newest books, and collecting free Advance Reading Copies. Yes, many experienced BEA'ers come with rolling suitcases just to load up. Although I heeded the advice not to grab every book available, it was impossible not to leave without a backpack full of picture books and novels and I have the sore shoulder today because of it.

Some other fascinating parts of the day? A Guys Read: Thriller panel with Jon Scieszka, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Matt de la Pena. Nobody told Krosoczka that it was about their collection of short stories, so he hit the stage in red pleather and one glistening glove, ala Michael Jackson. Too funny! The authors shared their insight about creating lifelong readers and getting boys to read. I thought Scieszka made an excellent point when he said their goal isn't just on reluctant readers, but all readers and he stressed the original premise of the Guys Read initiative that young guys enjoy reading most when they have reading they can enjoy, something each author on the panel strives for everyday.

The Unbecoming of Mara DyerA young adult editors buzz panel consisted of some amazing editors who continue to contribute to the world of children's publishing and hyped up some of their latest titles. My takeaway? I cannot wait to get my hands on Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.These are two titles we'll definitely be hearing a lot more of come their release dates in September.

If you've never attended BEA, it's an exhilarating experience and will definitely give you the bigger scope when it comes to the world of publishing. As an author, it was amazing to see all of the possibilities available, how the market works, what publishers are looking for, how publishers market their books, and just how big the industry really is. You'll easily acquire knowledge about the industry, get inspired and approach your writing, so that it will hopefully be you at the autograph booth signing your latest bestseller at a future BEA.

It was inspiring being surrounded by others who love the industry and love books as much as I do and as Kevin Henkes said when it comes to books, "We love them, we need them and we know it!"

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