PSA: The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is Fabulous

This past weekend, the third annual Virginia Children’s Book Festival took place on Longwood University campus in Farmville, VA. I’m not affiliated with the festival except as a gleeful, starstruck visitor, but let me tell you: it is the best. They bring in some real rock stars of the writing and illustrating world for panel discussions, presentations, workshops, signings, and more. The local schools know what a great event this is: thousands of schoolkids of all ages are bused in, some from schools more than two hours away.

Oh, and did I mention the part where it’s all free?

A few things I got to do at the festival:

  • Listen to Matt de la Peña talk about how he went from reluctant reader to author and Neal Shusterman explain how he develops book series

author Matt de la Peña

author Neal Shusterman

  • Attend a lively, funny panel discussion wherein Rita Williams-Garcia told the story of how she missed the call announcing her third Coretta Scott King award, then waxed enthusiastic about using money made by her books to finally buy a new refrigerator
  • See author/illustrator John Rocco’s fantastic presentation on how he makes book covers like the ones he did for the Percy Jackson series
  • Listen to Tim Tingle tell the story – accompanied by music! – of his picture book Crossing Bok Chitto

author Tim Tingle

  • Watch a panel of fantastic authors talk about civil rights in children’s literature, with the event being held in the historic R.R. Moton museum

panel of authors

  • Hear Neal Shusterman and Christy Marx – who created the show Jem and wrote for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and more – discuss writing for TV shows and video games
  • Learn about how one writes a Choose Your Own Adventure book from Anson Montgomery, whose late father was a founder of the series

Despite all the classes of schoolkids who get bused in, there are absolutely opportunities for one-on-one conversations with the authors and illustrators. They’ll sign your book, take a photo with you, answer questions, smile patiently while you fangirl at them . . . it’s great. If you get the chance to check out this festival, go for it. You’ll be glad you did.

Book Expo America!

You guys you guys you guys!

This year, for the first time, I got to attend Book Expo America. This was located in New York City, a place of which I am distinctly nervous*, but I was still beyond psyched to travel there for this magical event.

Book Expo America, for those who may not know, is a giant convention put on by publishers. Attending it are librarians, booksellers, book reviewers and bloggers, and other people with the power to buy and/or promote books. Oh, and authors. Over six hundred of those this year alone! There are panels on various book-related topics, booths run by publishers, and autographing sessions by authors. The entire time, free books – both advance reader copies (ARCs) and finished books – are basically being shoved at you.

(Also, there’s candy.)

BEA 2015 was held in the Javits Center, which is a space so vast that I can only measure it in terms of how many Costcos would fit inside. (Maybe five?) The whole thing, inside and out, was plastered with giant advertisements for books. I appreciated that. It made me feel catered to.

Look at the STAIRS!

I was there for all three days of the conference, and I had an incredible time. A few highlights:

1. Met Todd Strasser. Todd Strasser has written over one hundred books for kids and teens, many of them dealing with tough topics like homelessness and school shootings. I was there to gush over a middle grade book he wrote called Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School, which is about a boy who accidentally switches bodies with his dog. Which was followed, of course, by the unforgettable classic Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again. I read both of these multiple times as a kid. And now I have a signed copy of his upcoming book, The Beast of Cretacea.

2. Met Louis Sachar, whose Wayside School books I loved as a kid. Got a signed copy of his upcoming book Fuzzy Mud.

3. Met A.S. King and told her how much I (and my mom, and my mom’s book group) loved Everybody Sees the Ants! Also, got a signed copy of her book I Crawl Through It.

4. I got to meet Anne Ursu and congratulate her on the excellent review of her book The Real Boy I’d read on the site Disability in Kidlit. I was touched by how thrilled she was about the review. And I got a signed copy of The Real Boy!

5. Libba Bray and Barry Lyga did a hilarious interview/banter session at the Librarians’ Lounge. Libba Bray answered an interview question in song. This area was librarians-only, and the crowd was really small, so we got up close and personal with these awesome authors. (And, you know, got signed copies of their upcoming books, After the Red Rain and Lair of Dreams.)

I think the woman in the middle was their publicist. She was a good sport.

6. Saw a panel on comedy that included Dave Barry. I LOVED his books as a kid. I still can’t believe this happened:

7. MET KATHERINE FREAKING APPLEGATE YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. Okay, so the Animorphs series was basically my entire life when I was a tween. My friends and I bonded over it and competed over who could get the new book first. I didn’t even know the word “fanart,” but I was drawing Andalites. My dad made me an Animorphs birthday cake, but on the cover it had me morphing into a cat instead of Rachel, and the author said “K.A. Applecake” instead of “Applegate” because it was an apple spice cake and, you know, dad jokes. I had Animorphs dreams. If I was going to wash a bug down the sink or something, even now I might first warn it aloud that if it is an Animorph, this is its last chance to transform and save itself.** And at BEA, I got to MEET KATHERINE APPLEGATE.

I was there so early that I was first in line. That was an achievement. This is the face of a girl whose dreams are coming true.

She was SO NICE, you guys! And she gave me a signed copy of her upcoming book, Crenshaw! Which I’d finished by the end of the day, and it was beautiful!

8. Met author Shannon Hale! And, in case I still have to say it, got an autographed book: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, which is lots of fun.

9. Met R.L. Stine, whose Goosebumps books were VERY IMPORTANT to me as a kid. It must be weird to be R.L. Stine at an event like this. It’s all grinning adults coming up to you saying, “You gave me nightmares for years!”

That’s him in the red lanyard.
10. While waiting in line to meet Felicia Day (because life is so much cooler than I’d realized it could be), I spotted a couple of cool-looking ladies. This was nothing extraordinary, as BEA was full of amazing people, which meant a lot of great conversations while waiting in lines. But I’d noticed that one of these ladies had on a shirt that I know is sold by Forever Young Adult, which is my favorite YA book review site. I asked if they were with FYA, and they said yes! I fangirled a bit, telling them that I’ve ordered books for our library (um, and myself) based on their reviews, and that their funny recaps got me watching both Pretty Little Liars and The 100. Confirmed that they will be recapping the Shadowhunters miniseries once it starts. Yay! We exchanged cards, and I had another person in line take our picture. In the green is FYA reviewer Jennie; in the blue, with the shirt I recognized, is reviewer Mandy C.

More coolness: they posted their BEA recap today, and I got a shout-out!

11. Oh yeah, and I did briefly meet Felicia Day. Who was super-nice. Got a preview of her upcoming memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet – Almost. I’ve read the preview already, and it’s witty and fun.

12. And I met Meg Cabot, which was exciting mostly in that she told me she is continuing the Heather Wells series, which I love and had thought was over. But I also got a signed ARC of Royal Wedding.

Whew! I left BEA with forty books. If I’d been indiscriminately grabbing, I could have bagged many more, but all forty of these genuinely interest me. Which is good, because they represent, according to my bathroom scale, thirty-three pounds of books, which is a lot to lug from NYC to Massachusetts. But if amazing memories could be measured in pounds . . . well, it’s a good thing they can’t, actually. A really good thing.

BEA’s in Chicago next year. I’m already like, “Try and stop me from going, world. Just try it!”

(Though next year I may not have a job that’s willing to not only pay me to be at BEA, but cover my travel and hotel costs. I love my library.)




*Because I have this notion that New Yorkers all want to murder you and also spit on you, like some kind of bloodthirsty archerfish.

**This rarely comes up, as I take bugs outside and release them like a huge softy.

Your Last-Minute YA Book Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday season is here, ready or not! And in case you’re not ready, and your state of unreadiness involves indecision over what to get someone as a gift, and that person reads YA books, your friendly neighborhood Teen Services Librarian is here to help! I have personally read all of these in the past year, and recommend them all whole-heartedly.

(Course, you could always buy these books for yourself, too. You deserve it. Yeah, yeah you do.)





For the fan of drama, darkness, and stories of healing: Pointe by Brandy Colbert. Theo is a mega-talented ballet dancer. She’s also recovering from anorexia. Then her best friend, Donovan, who was kidnapped four years ago, is found, and his kidnapper caught. That’s when Theo discovers that she knew Donovan’s kidnapper. What she could say in court might make all the difference, both to the case and to Donovan and Theo’s lives.

of metal and wishes





For the fan of smart, atmospheric reboots of classics: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. It’s Phantom of the Opera, but in a reimagined industrial Asia. Instead of an operahouse, it’s set in a slaughterhouse. Grim yet beautiful, and you’ll root for capable and empathetic protagonist Wen.






For the fan of rapid-fire action and stuff that makes you go “coooool!”: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. A strange new star appears in the sky, and suddenly people are developing superpowers – and turning evil. These superpowered “Epics” quickly come to control the world. The Reckoners are a group of humans with the mission of assassinating Epics. David wants to join the group to avenge his father, but it’s not easy to get in. Good thing he has a bargaining chip – he might hold the secret to taking down one of the most powerful Epics in the world.

the living





For the fan of nail-biting disaster stories: The Living by Matt de la Peña. Shy is spending his summer working on a cruise ship, making a little money and goofing off with his friends on the crew. Then a massive earthquake strikes. Their training didn’t prepare Shy and friends to deal with tsunamis hitting the ship. Or with what comes afterward.






For the fan of rollicking fantasy adventure: The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. Maybe a little more middle-grade than YA, but this gorgeous ongoing graphic novel series appeals to everyone. Seriously, everyone.

if you could be mine





For the fan of realism with an unusual viewpoint: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. In modern-day Iran, homosexuality is a crime, so girls in love, like Sahar and Nasrin, have to be careful. And they certainly can’t get married. But being transgender is not a crime – in fact, the government will help you get sex-reassignment surgery. Sahar is a girl, and she knows it. But if she could be a boy, then maybe Nasrin wouldn’t have to marry someone else. Maybe they could be together.


I’d also like to recommend this Holiday Shopping Guide by Diversity in YA. (They also sing the praises of The Living.)

Fun with Other People’s Characters

I’ve been doing fanart!

I’ve been writing, too, of course, and reading a lot. But fanart is great fun, so I thought I’d share a bit of that. I recently read and enjoyed a YA low-fantasy novel called Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but set in a factory complex in a reimagined industrial Asia. It’s pretty great, and I had to draw some of the characters. These are, from left to right, Melik, Wen (the protagonist), and Bo:

drawing of three characters

(Also on deviantART.)

I also drew Bo with a character from another YA fantasy I love, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. The character’s name is Erris, and in case the drawing isn’t clear, his body is made of clockwork under the shirt.

Bo and Erris have words

(Again, on deviantART.)

Nothing profound to say about any of this. I mean, I do find creating fanart to be inspiring to me as a writer, insomuch as it’s powerful to be reminded that people can create characters you care about so much that you want to play with them yourself, to spend more time with them and see them expanded. I’ve never written much fanfiction, but it’s the same concept.

Yay fanart!