The NCTE/ALAN Blur

The past five days whooshed by in a blur of sessions and hotel and authors and books…so many books!

The Gateway Arch from the Mississippi River

Thursday was the travel day with the gas incident.

Friday morning my colleagues who write with me at The Educator’s Room and I led a session about blogging and social media. Then I went to a panel of YA Lit authors about how they use humor in writing about difficult subjects to make them accessible to teens. Then I planned to hit the exhibit hall, but I took one step in and realized I was so tired from getting almost no sleep the night before that I simply could not talk to one more person.

So I got myself a coffee, walked back to my room, and texted with Cortney for awhile. And then I passed out cold on my bed until The Pastor’s Daughter, N, came bounding into the room all excited to talk about the sessions she attended.

She and I got ready and waited for her mom, The Pastor’s Wife. Around 5:30pm, we headed out to a book signing event and met some pretty awesome authors and had some yummy appetizers.

Saturday morning I attended a panel of YA authors discussing voice in writing. Then I was able to grab lunch with a friend before heading to a round table session where I was a respondent about a discussion about the culture of skinny and how YA novels address it.

The afternoon was filled with some exhibit hall wandering and then dinner with some post secondary professors and PhD students who gave me great advice about my future studies, and who I enjoyed listening to about research and future discussions that they hoped NCTE would engage in.

Sunday morning N and I headed to get some books signed at the exhibit hall.  Around noon, I had my round table session with Penny Kittle about incorporating choice into a curriculum that seems choiceless.

That afternoon the Pastor’s Wife, N, and I enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner of St. Louis BBQ before heading to the ALAN reception where we met yet more YA authors.

Monday was the ALAN conference all day. After we got back to the hotel that evening, I counted 60 new books for my classroom library, and about 8 for my own children!

Today we made the 6.5 hour drive home.

I type this from my comfy spot on the couch, my eyes feeling heavy, and my teacher heart full and inspired. I am ready for this this much-anticipated holiday weekend, but I am inspired and ready to bring back new strategies and ideas to my department and classroom.

Book Love, Author Love

I met some authors. It was cool. I’m exhausted.

Brendan Kiely

 

Shaka Senghor

 

Julie Murphy

 

Chris Crutcher

 

Matt de la Pena

Lynn Weingarten & Amy Reed (2nd and 3rd from left)

And so many more.

I’m tired.

One more big day.

Gone Girls

Hello from St. Louis!

Having the goal to blog each day is ridiculous when you have a giant conference in the middle of it. Ah well, at least I have a good travel story to tell you.

We decided to drive to St. Louis (and by “we” I mean the Pastor’s Wife, her 13-year old daughter N, and me). It’s less than seven hours and it’s much more cost effective than flying and then having to ship our books home and all that jazz. So we drove.

I brought along our Garmin, named Judy, to get us there in case we started gabbing, The PW downloaded a book by Jason Reynolds to listen to, and N had the whole back seat to herself. It was going to be great!

Since I had to work yesterday, we decided our departure time would be between 6 and 6:30pm. That would get us to St. Louis around midnight. Late, but not terrible.

When PW and N arrived to pick me up, I said my good-byes to the kids (which involved Eddie clinging to me, Alice screaming that she wanted to come too, and Charlie yelling he hated me and he didn’t want me to hug him–he has issues dealing with Big Feelings and saying “goodbye” for five days involves Big Feelings), kissed Cortney a thousand times, and finally jumped in the passenger seat.

“We have a full tank of gas!” PW declared as she backed out of my driveway. I got Judy Garmin up and running and we were off.

If this was a book or movie, that statement would be seen as foreshadowing.

We made it to Illinois and stopped at the Oasis to try to get the fast past working. That didn’t work because they were closed; however, we only ended up paying $1.10 in tolls, so it was a wash. Thinking that was our biggest drama, we set off for the next leg of the trip.

We listened to a book for about 90 minutes, which took us deep down into Illinois. Realizing we had been in the car for around four or five hours, I casually asked PW, “hey, how is our gas looking??

“Oh! The light is on!” she responded.

Huh. Ok, no problem, just pull over and get gas.

Except that we were in the middle of Illinois and it was like 11pm local time. So I whipped out Google Maps and said, “gas stations” and up popped three all within 5 miles. After two more miles, we pulled off the highway and into a Shell station.

That was closed.

But wait! Pumps will still work! They were on! They took the credit card and went through all the prompts and then…

no gas.

Huh. Ok, well, the next gas station is about 5 miles away. The car started, so we figured we could make it happen. Instead of putting us back on the highway to the next exit, Google maps had us take this weird little access road that ran along side the expressway and had fields or something and a train track and gravel roads on the other side.

Creepy, but whatever. We were close to gas.

Until we started slowing down and coasting.

Because we were out of gas.

I saw the panic creeping in on PW’s face and I thought quickly and said, “it’s fine. We will be fine,” as she called AAA. I did not feel 100% fine, but what does freaking out do? It doesn’t put gas in the tank, that is for sure.

So while she got on the horn with AAA, I checked to see how far away we were from a gas station. It looked like only a couple miles on Google Maps, but who knew if that one was open, right?

Once we were assured AAA was coming, I tried to reassure my friend with a little white lie, “I’ve run out of gas before. It’s seriously not a big deal. We will be fine.” It worked! Instead of worrying, we took out our conference schedules and started making lists and planning our time.

I’m not kidding when I say this was a creepy area though. It was pitch black dark and only about four cars passed us the entire time. One stopped to see if we were Ok (don’t worry, mom. We didn’t get out or open our door to strangers. We assured them we were taken care of). A train went by at one point lighting up the area enough to see that all the cross-roads were gravel. So creepy.

But my lie of having been through it before got us through. When the AAA guy showed up, he chuckled at how close we were to a gas station. Sure enough, once he gave us enough fuel to get moving, we crested a hill and man-made lights twinkled welcomingly to us.

Good grief.

Before we got on the highway in our full-tank-of-gas vehicle, I confessed my lie (because I can’t fricking lie and sit with it), and PW turned to me and said, “you’re going to blog this, aren’t you?”

“HELL YES I AM. I have a blog-a-day goal for November.”

We finally got to our hotel just after 1am local time (which means our bodies thought it was 2am). I had been up for around twenty hours.

You can imagine what today has been like which is why I am currently in our hotel room after presenting this morning and attending another session.

I need some rest.

NCTE17

 

Last year my good friend, the Pastor’s Wife, convinced me that I needed to attend the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Atlanta. I had been going to our state-level conference, the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE), for a few years, and she was sure this was my next step.

I balked a little at the cost: ticket price, hotel, conference passes (If you go to NCTE, you may as well stay and spring to go to ALAN–The Assembly on Literature of the Adolescents of the NCTE–as well. It was just a lot. Plus having to take time off work, make sub plans, work out the details of Cortney being the solo parent for a long weekend right before Thanksgiving. It really seemed to be too much.

She is convincing though, my Pastor’s Wife friend. She even somehow made it not just sound ok to Cortney, but he was all on board with how great this would be for me. Then the Pastor’s Wife convinced me to submit to present. And THEN I was accepted on a round-table as a respondent AND as a panel member.

NCTE in Atlanta last year was one of the best things I have done for my career EVER.  My whole recap is here.

This year NCTE and ALAN are in St. Louis, and the Pastor’s Wife (who is a college professor, in case I didn’t mention that) and I are ROAD-TRIPPING! We are leaving Thursday, November 16 after a full day of teaching, and driving through to St. Louis where we will stay until Tuesday morning.

I am part of THREE presentations this year: I’m a round-table presenter, a round-table respondent, and a panel chair with The Educator’s Room.

I am almost exhausted just thinking about it.

But I’m also really, really excited about it.

And stressed because I only have 2/3 of my presentations set.

But it’s going to be great. I’m going to learn and grow as a teacher, and I am going to fan girl all the YA authors

 

GRR to ATL and Back Again

The weekend before Thanksgiving I got on a plane and went to Atlanta for back-to-back English teacher conferences: NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English) and ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for the Adolescence of NCTE). It was an excellent experience, but man. I am so lame at traveling away from my family!

I left Friday morning. The whole family drove me out to the airport for my 8am flight (which means we left the house around 6am). Eddie–who is just a tad like me–had been worrying over my leaving all week. He kept saying things like, “This is the LAST time you will put us to bed” and “This is the LAST time you will eat dinner with us.” He is a bit melodramatic. I assured him I was going to Atlanta, not Heaven, and that I would be back home Monday night after they were in bed. He clung to me at the airport, not really wanting to let me go or say goodbye. Alice followed his lead and hung onto my leg or wanted to sit on my lap. I think she could sense that they were leaving me behind.

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Charlie, on the other hand, had been counting down the days until “we can bring you to the airport and see the planes and Dad Dad will make brownies while you are gone!” He was not outwardly concerned about my being gone at all.  However when we got to the part where everyone was saying goodbye to me, he wandered off (it’s a small airport, so it’s not like we didn’t know where he was), and avoided me. When I found him and knelt down to his level, he let me hug him. He said, “I love you, Mom Mom” after I told him I loved him. But he would not say “Goodbye.”

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I gave Cortney a long hug…both because it’s hard for me to leave him and because I knew it would be a long four days of parenting by himself. I hugged and kissed my three babies one last time, and I was off through security. This was my third time flying solo for a conference; the first two times were to California for BlogHer ’11 and BlogHer ’14 (I was pregnant both times). Both trips to California involved multiple airports and connections and layovers, so a direct flight that was less than two hours long to Atlanta felt like nothing! Although I will say the Atlanta airport is HUGE. I mean, I took a train inside the airport to get from one end to the other where my bag and the exit was. Crazy.

I must say, I am proud to be getting pretty adept at getting myself a taxi and having great conversations with the driver. I had a remarkable political discussion with my driver who was from Kenya. She was listening to a very conservative talk radio station and must have sensed my tension (I just opened a book and started to read), because she said, “You must wonder why someone like me wants to listen to something such as this.” And then she went on to say she listens to all of it: left, right, and in between. She wants to be informed. She talks to other immigrants who are now citizens–like she is–to hear their perspective.  I dare say it was one of the highlights of my trip!

Well, that and the fact that I tried Chick-fil-a for the first time (and ate there three times in four days…what? It was right across from my hotel!) SO YUM!

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Friday was a whirlwind of travel, hotel, lunch, exhibit hall (where I met authors and got free books!) and going out to eat with my editor and fellow contributor at The Educator’s Room.

Oh, and one of the author’s I met on that very first day was Dav Pilkey–you know—the guy who wrote the Captain Underpants books? Eddie and Charlie about died when I texted Cortney this photo of me getting the first book in his newest series, Dogman, signed. And yes, I am talking too much. I was telling him about how my boys LOVE his books and that we are in the middle of re-reading them RIGHT NOW at bedtime.

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Like I said, my editor at The Educator’s Room was there–she is local to Atlanta–so she picked my fellow contributor Colette and me up for an early dinner. We went to a place called Six Feet Under. It’s across the street from a large cemetery, naturally. She ordered us something called Spicy Rat Toes–jalapeños stuffed with shrimp and wrapped in bacon. Oh my gosh. So good. Then I got the crab cake sliders for dinner.

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I was so exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel room. I flopped into my jammies before 7pm. In fact, since my roomies were still out, I called home to talk to my loves after a long day away. The boys were super excited to talk to me. Charlie asked if I was coming home now with the Dogman book. I could hear Alice in the background being confused about hearing mommy’s voice, but not knowing where I was. It was good to hear everyone, but because I was so tired, it also made me sappy and wish for my own bed. Thankfully the roomies came back shortly after and we chatted and laughed until bedtime.

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Saturday was my big day of sessions. I was part of a round table at 9:30am that included authors Meg Medina and Kekla Magoon (both excellent YA authors. I suggest grabbing everything they’ve written for you To Read Pile). I then attended a session about the narrative of The Other in literature and in our students’ own narratives. After lunch, I joined back up with Educator’s Room co-writers and presented about using blogging and social media to advocate for teachers. I ended the day in a session about making nonfiction more accessible (and exciting) to students.

I ended the day meeting my three roommates (one of which is one of my best friends, The Pastor’s Wife) for the annual Scholastic Dinner. Scholastic invites anyone who wants to attend to have a full-on turkey dinner together. It was pretty sweet. Plus there was lots of laughs and good conversation.

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After dinner we went over and watched an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates (correspondent for The Atlantic and author of the novel Between Me and The World). While way brief (I blame the interviewer), it was worth hustling out of the Scholastic dinner and down to the auditorium to hear him speak about the presidential election and what is happening in society from his point of view.

Sunday was more exhibit hall, Chick-fil-a, and then that evening was the Author Reception for the ALAN conference that began the next day. The highlight of the Exhibit Hall for me was a tie between all the free Advanced Reader Copy books I got and meeting Matt de la Peña and having him sign a copy of Last Stop on Market Street for my kids. Let’s not talk about my bad hair, mmkay?

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As I said, the evening brought the Author’s reception and I will fully disclose at this point that I went a little fangirl on my favorite YA authors. I met Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (All American Boys), A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), Laurie Halse Anderson (The Chains trilogy, Speak, and many more), David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, Another Day, and more) and others. It was a crazy two hours of conversation and selfies. I think there were appetizers and drinks too, but I was too distracted to stand in those lines.

After, The Pastor’s Wife and I went out for BBQ with some colleagues from universities around the country. We had fabulous discussions about YA over chicarrónes. I had an American mule while splitting brisket and pulled pork while talking religion and love. It was glorious and a definite favorite part of my trip.

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Monday was my last day, and the day I got to attend the ALAN conference. As you can see, it was a bit overwhelming. They handed me a box and a bag FULL of books. There were 500 people in attendance all sorting through their books deciding what to keep, what to get signed, what to trade. It was the most beautiful chaos I have ever witnessed.

I was privileged to spend the day surrounded by books and listening to YA authors. I am positive that this must be what heaven is like.

After shipping four boxes of books (I counted 88 when I unpacked the ones for my classroom…and there were quite a few picture books and elementary chapter books I kept for my kids on top of that…so probably over 100 books total), we grabbed one more meal of Chick-fil-a before getting an Uber to the airport.

The flight and everything was smooth and on time and I was on my own couch by 11pm. I sneaked into the rooms of my children and gave kisses as I tucked them all back in.

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Tuesday evening after school and running around, these two small people stuck to my side like glue. I think they were afraid I would go away again. I was cool with it; I missed my littles. Cortney an I were in constant text or email the whole weekend. My roomies thought it was funny, but I am just so bad at being away from their lives!

I will say it was a wonderfully awesome trip! I hope to go again next year when it’s in St. Louis!

If you’re interested in more of my professional highlights, I wrote about it at The Educator’s Room.

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