Today was the first day of the exhibit halls for BookExpo America, or BEA, the (hopefully still) annual U.S. trade show for the book business. This year the exhibit part of the show is compressed into two days instead of three, and one floor of the Javits Center instead of two. In spite of that (or maybe because of it) the show was buzzing with activity and, well, buzz. The aisles were so crowded you could barely walk, and the autographing area smelled like a locker room. Debate about "p" vs "e" could be heard throughout the exhibit floor, and more than one person was heard to exclaim that print is not dead. And judging from the number of people standing in line for autographed books, print is definitely far from dead.
This morning I attended the Children's Book and Author Breakfast, an event which featured Sarah, Duchess of York as MC, with Cory Doctorow, Mitali Perkins, and Richard Peck speaking. A music group called 4TROOPS, comprised of four combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, performed their song "For Freedom" and sang some beautiful harmonies.
All of the speakers were wonderful. Sarah was poised and funny and didn't seem at all phased by the reporters and camera crews climbing over each other trying to see her. She showed her new line of children's books, and concluded by saying, "I'm Sarah Ferguson, I'm a children's book author and a mom, and I'm proud of it." (I may have the exact wording of the quote wrong, but this is in essence what she said. I apologize for any errors on my part).
Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and his newest book, For the Win, talked about how much he loves connecting with teens. He called adolescents nature's daredevils, and said that it's a time of taking risks without the experience to necessarily understand the consequences. He talked about the exhilaration of doing things for the first time.
Through the medium of stories about her life, Mitali Perkins talked about books as windows and mirrors. Books can give us a window into another culture or another way of life, or they can be a mirror in which we can see ourselves. Growing up all the books she read had white characters, and yet she connected with those characters in many ways, so the books were mirrors. In the same way, she thinks of her books as mirrors for Asian-American children, and windows for many white American children, as a look at another culture. Yet many white children also find mirrors in her books and connect with them in unexpected ways.
Richard Peck talked about how he had to quit teaching in order to be able to communicate with children. He was quite funny talking about the changes in the teaching profession as a result in the changes of society's attitudes towards children, remarking that the Latin teachers were kicked out and chased out of town by angry mobs, and then after the Latin teachers were gone there was so little English left to teach that the name had to be changed to "Language Arts." He talked about the importance of the book The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and its influence on Peck's new book, Three Quarters Dead.
After the Author Breakfast, I spent most of the rest of the day bouncing between meetings with various publishers to talk about the Cybils, and standing in autographing lines. I did meet and talk to some interesting people while standing in the lines. Rick Riordan is a champion autographer; his line moved quickly as he chewed through the crowd. Matthew Reinhart apparently signs more slowly, as his line crawled along, but to be fair, his book was a lot more awkward to handle, so that could account for the difference. I was also thrilled to get a copy of Cory Doctorow's For the Win, which I'm looking forward to reading.