Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bookish Teachers Invaded Las Vegas for NCTE

Disclaimer: I have to immediately apologize for my lack of articulateness and overuse of superlatives like amazing, awesome, and inspiring throughout this post. For the past week I have been avoiding writing this recap because the sheer wonder of all that I encountered during my five days attending this amazing conference overwhelmed me. But alas, I go back to work tomorrow and I know if I don't do it now, I will continue to procrastinate and it will be Christmas before I can actually sit down to write a proper reflection. Also pardon my narcissism at the sheer number of photos of myself I posted in this recap. :)

Last year I attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention for the first time because it was in Chicago, a mere 4 hour drive from where I live. But since last year was such an amazing, inspiring experience, I knew that Chicago would not be my last NCTE experience and lobbied to make sure I could attend again in 2012. In fact, I was also lucky enough to attend the 2-day ALAN (Assembly for the Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE) workshop after the main convention as well.

This year the convention was held in Las Vegas and for some this might mean skipping sessions to hit the casinos, but I assure that I am not one of those people. In fact, I am proud to say that I did not gamble once during my entire stay in Vegas. Nerdy, bookish people and the vices of Vegas just don't mix.

That by no means implies that I had no fun; quite the contrary. I had so much fun and so many amazing experiences that I am often brought to tears remembering and reliving the time I spent hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones.

The festivities got underway on Thursday evening with a few pre-convention sessions to choose from. I chose to attend the Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Burke session with some Nerdy Book Club friends. Listening to these three inspiring teachers talk of their passion for teaching and what really consists of best practices helped to reaffirm that what I'm doing in the classroom really matters.

I continued to attend some wonderful sessions throughout the course of the conference, but the Thursday night pre-session is really the one I will take the most from.

The most memorable part of my time in Vegas, however, was getting to hang out with all of my Nerdy Book Club friends, some old, some new. Friday night was one I will never forget because Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp hosted a party for all NCTE attendants who were also Nerdy Book Club blog posters. Normally I am shy, awkward, and stand-offish at parties, but this was no ordinary party. I was in a room full of 60 people, all of whom were book-lovers. There wasn't a conversation I could join where I didn't feel like I belonged.

There were so many highlights from the Nerdy party, but here are some of the best:

Getting to hang out and talk with beloved Nerdy author Jenni Holm:

Meeting author RJ Palacio, who wrote one of my favorite books of 2012, and of all time, Wonder:

Watching author Jonathan Auxier give the best book talk/yo-yo demonstration ever (see the video here):

Hanging with my Nerdy friends from Michigan:
Brian Wyzlic, Niki Barnes, Colby Sharp and me

Finally meeting people in person I've tweeted with for the past two years:
Me with Katherine Sokolowski, Cindy Minnich, Paul Hankins, and Lea Kelley

Getting hugs from and talking with my teaching idol, mentor, and friend, Donalyn Miller:

In addition to meeting new Nerdy friends and hanging out with old ones, another wonderful part of the NCTE/ALAN experience is meeting and talking with authors and publishers.

I can't thank the publishers enough for being so generous with their time and showing their passion and excitement for their books. I am especially grateful to Kellie Celia from Walden Pond Press who spent time with me over dinner talking about books and teaching. Her enthusiasm for the books in her imprint was so infectious that I told her she must book talk with my class via Skype so my kids can hear another voice of an enthusiastic book lover.

Speaking of book talks and enthusiastic book lovers, I'll never forget standing in line for a Libba Bray signing with Danielle from Mercurial Musings. We spent our time waiting talking about books and I couldn't help but be completely swept away by the way she drew me into the book she was talking about. Even though she teaches high school, I think I need to some how find a way to get her to talk to my students about books. 

And then there were the authors. I cannot tell you overall what wonderful people YA and middle grade authors are. Some of my most vivid memories of NCTE and ALAN will be from the authors I met and conversed with.

I loved talking to Gabrielle Zevin, author of All These Things I've Done, about how even though people are calling the series a dystopia, it is so NOT. Gabrielle completely agreed with me and then went on to say that it's really a character story and she wrote it thinking it was more of a Dickensian family saga but that sort of label doesn't exactly sell books these days the way "dystopia" does. Because we bonded over the dystopia thing, Sherry Gick and Niki Barnes and I got her to secretly (shhhh...) tell us the title of the third book in the series but it's top secret so I can't tell any one. ;)
Gabrielle Zevin and I bonding over our mutual disagreement over genres :)
Proof that our conversation existed
More bonding at the ALAN author reception. :)

I'll also remember meeting Ruta Sepetys, author of one of the most important books of the decade, Between Shades of Gray. I introduced myself to Ruta at her Penguin signing and mentioned that I was the teacher of the kids of one of her dear friends from college. As soon as I told her who I was, she got up from the signing table, came around and gave me a big hug. We were able to connect again that evening at the ALAN reception where Brian Wyzlic and I made a case for why her publisher needs to send her back to Michigan when her newest book, Out of the Easy, comes out in February.
Me with Ruta Sepetys
Ruta's speech the next day at the ALAN workshop was so moving that it brought me to tears - the kind of tears you can't easily hide and spend the next 10 minutes trying to pull it together as you wipe them from your eyes. If you want an inkling of how inspiring it was, watch this video.

More NCTE/ALAN memories:
With Sherry Gick and Niki Barnes

With my girls Jen Vincent and Alyson Beecher

Jen and Gregory DFTBAing it up :)

With another one of my teaching mentors: Kelly Gallagher

With literary rock star, Sherman Alexie
With Shannon Hale

With Libba Bray

With Chris Crutcher

With the adorable Jo Knowles
Middle grade authors: Blue Balliett, Rebecca Stead, Jo Knowles, Kate Messner and Jody Feldman
Graphic novelists extraordinaire Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman

And of course, I can't forget about the books. I filled 2 carry-on suitcases and shipped a 43 lb box of books home. I can't wait to share this bounty with my students! Once again, thank you so much to the authors and publishers for being generous with their time and books, and as always thank you so much to my Tiwtter PLN, particularly the Nerdy Book Club, for making me a better teacher and person.

I know I have failed to mention a large number of people in this recap and for that I apologize. Even if I didn't mention your name, know that there are way more people that inspired me than were mentioned in this recap.

I can't wait to see you all again in Boston and meet more new friends!


  1. Very, Very Cool Beth. I am so jealous!! I love Kelly Galagher and would love to hear him speak and you met some awesome authors. I just envy you being in a room with like-minded people for a fun bookish party. Just remember you are a great teacher!!

  2. Beth! What an amazing trip! I can't wait to hear all about it this week :)

  3. I am thrilled that I got to spend so much time with you, Beth. Now, we just have to count down to MRA in March.

  4. What a wonderful post! I really wish I'd posted the disclaimer you posted :) Clever!

  5. How FUN! I'm glad you had such a fabulous time, and I'm loving all these pictures. You met so many fantastic authors!

    (And I hope we end up at the same conference together at some point!)

    1. I hope so too Allison! I don't suppose you're going to ALA in Chicago this year. I'm considering it.

  6. Loved your NCTE recap - and loved getting to spend a little time with you at the conference, too!

    1. Thanks Kate! I can't wait to tell my students about Hide and Seek! My box of books hasn't arrived yet but once it does, I'm book talking that one like crazy!

  7. Beth, Thank you for the amazing, awesome, and inspiring recap of NCTE. I admit that I was crazy jealous of all my Michigan nerdy friends that got to attend, but I SO appreciate your thorough reflection. You really captured it in a way that made me feel like I got to learn and gush from all the goodness. I especially loved all the photos of you with the authors. I think you've given me a bit of confidence to do the same at the next conference. Thanks again, Beth!