pattycakes: musings on life, love, writing...

A Few Things I Learned On the Way Thru My First ALAN Workshop

December 4, 2011

I had the honor and pleasure of attending the ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English) two-day workshop after the NCTE Conference in Chicago this year.

I felt like I had won the "golden ticket" to attend, but I had no idea what I was in for or the amazing teachers, librarians, and other book people I would soon meet. And, while I have been fortunate to attend ALA Conventions (with the most wonderful librarians) and SCBWI conferences (with the equally extraordinary fellow authors and illustrators), it has, however, been a while since I felt so connected or akin to book people as I did during those two days.

Here are just a few of the things I realized, learned, promised, and even pledged on my way through what I like to call my first ALAN YA LIT LOVE FEST:

1. I REALIZED that I must have been living under a rock or a tall stack of books since I never actually knew what ALAN stood for or joined "one of the largest and most active & professional organizations devoted to young adult literature" until now. I am planning to join ALAN if they will have me. And, you can too, at You will be forever changed.

2. I LEARNED that William Sleator, a Fantasy Writer for Young Adults, changed the face of YA literature by criss-crossing fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I am sorry that I never had a chance to meet him (He just passed away far too early at the age of 66), or read any of his works including the HOUSE OF STAIRS that publisher Susan Van Metre confessed that as a child she brought to a slumber party and read with a flashlight. Fortunately, I can remedy the latter, and I will. Maybe, I’ll even read it with the lights off.

3. I LEARNED that M.T. Anderson is not only a wonderful author, he is wickedly smart, easy on the eyes, and an engaging speaker. (Can you tell that I have a mini-YA crush on him? Well, I do!)

As the event's keynote speaker, Anderson spoke with such style, and class—and delivered a polished presentation that convinced everyone (well, at least everyone around me) that the new formats of YA literature can co-exist with the ones of old-- and even enhance one another.

4. I PROMISED: After attending ALAN and listening to panel after panel of really smart YA literature people, I PROMISED that I will never call a YA novel edgy or dark again. Cross my heart. And, here’s why: while some YA novels may appear to have those aforementioned qualities (see, I didn’t use these descriptors again) on the surface, they may be just the right story in the right adolescent’s hands who needs to see himself/herself in a story, or see how someone handles a difficult situation that he/she may or may not ever experience –or develop compassion and empathy for people who might be living and breathing difficult choices--and lives. And, what’s so edgy or dark about that?

5. I PLEDGED (and you can, too) to join what author and editor extraordinaire, David Levithan, called the Army of Empathy. As Levithan eloquently put it, it is “An army of teachers, librarians, and authors that represents all of humanity, that celebrates people and books that are like us--and not like us, that looks out for the under-represented groups in the classroom or world and fights for them to be heard, and that sees all of us human beings.”

And while many of the attendees may have already committed to putting the right books into the right hands, and offering what David called “mirrors and windows” to their students through the courageous literary choices they make, David’s plea surely renewed their commitments (and mine in my writing) and encouraged the rest to bare armfuls of books--and join his ARMY OF EMPATHY. And, what could be more important than that? I can’t think of a thing. Can you?

PJMJ 2011