I believe the final author count was 53. Some authors were local, some from far flung places. Some were relatively new authors. Others had vast experience writing for these age groups. It did not matter; the mix of panel members and moderators was wonderful, and the mix did lead to some hilarious moments.
I was fortunate to moderate two panels. The first was on retellings with Sarah Mlynowski, Teri Lynn Childs, Stuart Gibbs, Rachel Caine, and Claire LeGrand. I opened with some questions of my own that elicited some responses from the various panel members, but I also invited questions from the kids in attendance. They lined up for the mike as though they were in a race to see who could ask the first question and then the second and the next, etc.
I dashed from that panel to the last one of the day, the Reading the Rainbow panel with David Leviathan, Sara Rees Brennan, Lauren Myracle, and Alex London. The room was already packed when I arrived. The authors graciously took their chairs to the back of the room so we could allow 7 more kids to come attend the session. I can honestly say I was moved to tears several times as these kids shared stories and asked questions. Many of their questions were not about the authors' books, but were practical questions about coming out to family and friends. One was about fanfiction. But most of the questions demonstrated the courage of the kids in attendance.
What struck me throughout the day were the sheer number of kids present, buying books, getting autographs, sitting in sessions. This was the start of their Spring Break, and here they were talking books and reading. How I wish some legislators had been present to see that the state of education is not quite as dire as they would have others believe. There are plenty of kids who love books and reading. Give me those kids and I can take it from there. I can assist them in passing the blasted test; I can counsel them on careers (many of them write fan fiction already and would love to become authors) and colleges later. Right now, I want to grab them, book talk to them, fill their hands and their bags with books and more books.
Just when I think I will pull out my last hair with my frustration with educators who ignore research or those who have never updated their curriculum or those who insist on spending 6 or more weeks analyzing one work of literature, I have the chance to see kids who are readers, who love books, who get giddy around authors, who ask pointed questions, and who spend their own money on books. It fills me with hope and confidence that there are educators out there making a difference. So, to those folks who support kids in finding great books, a mighty thanks for all you do.