In the classroom, the authors of children’s books are celebrities; the authors of young adult literature are rock stars. So when the National Conference of English Teachers (NCTE) and associated independent organizations the Council of English Leadership (CEL) and the The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) converged on Las Vegas last week, publishers made sure their authors were front and center, delivering keynote addresses and personally meeting and signing books for some of their greatest fans-teachers.
Highlights of the convention included Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) delivering a keynote address to an enthusiastic audience of readers who know how he can reach their reluctant readers. Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties) was there representing the oh-so-popular dystopian fiction. Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) was there for the older readers, including the teachers themselves, with new educational materials for high school classrooms. Newbery Award winning Lois Lowery (The Giver, Number the Stars) spoke to an enthralled crowd of middle school teachers at ALAN.
The convention had invited many authors; book publishers arranged to bring even more to the exhibition hall. There were over 200 “signing” stations in exhibitor booths advertised in the conference program to alert teachers where to purchase and get books autographed.
Most booths were mobbed, but on Sunday morning, I came upon a table where a solitary Jon Scieszka sat with a exhibitor. I could not believe my luck. For those who do not know, Scieszka is the author of Math Curse, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,and the series The Time Warp Trio, which was made into a TV series. His retelling of the The Three Little Pigs is told from the point of view of A.Wolf. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs was my first Scieszka book experience.In the book, A. Wolf explains how his requests for a cup of sugar from each of the pigs eventually led to his “sneezing” not “huffing and puffing” which sets off the unfortunate demise of the pigs. Illustrated by Lane Smith, this book was one of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. I concur, and I use the book to explain literary point of view to all grade levels. In 2008, Scieszka was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Librarian of Congress.
There Jon Scieszka sat, and there was no teacher in sight!
“Jon Scieszka!” I exclaimed, ” I can’t believe you are alone!”
“Neither can I,” he grinned.
“Me either,” said the exhibitor with him, much more uncomfortably..
“Well, now that I have you all to myself,” I was ready with a question I had asked so many times in my head, “Can I ask how you know so much about my brothers?” I was referring to his hilarious YA memoir Knuckleheads in which Scieszka relates his
experiences growing up. The publisher’s review:
“Growing up as one of six brothers was a good start, but that was just the beginning. Throw in Catholic school, lots of comic books, lazy summers at the lake with time to kill, babysitting misadventures, TV shows, jokes told at family dinner, and the result is Knucklehead. Part memoir, part scrapbook, this hilarious trip down memory lane provides a unique glimpse into the formation of a creative mind and a free spirit.”
The book is almost a mirror reflection of watching my younger siblings compete with each other, set fire to things, and survive Catholic school (with fewer nuns). “I swear you must have been watching my three brothers grow up!” I babbled on.
“You’d be surprised how many people say that,” he chuckled.
“And your short stories in Guy’s Read?” By this time, I was positively gushing, “they are exactly what I need for my 9th grade boys who only want a short read.”
“That’s why we wrote them,” he nodded appreciatively, “for short reads. Now, what name do you want in this book?”
Yes, I got a signed book Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka! For free. A conversation and a book.
20 minutes later, I passed by the table again, but I caught only a glimpse of him. He was surrounded by a throng of teachers,the serpentine line of fans waiting to talk to him went down the long aisle. My brief and personal moment was obviously a fluke. That’s because he’s Jon Scieszka, children’s book author. Jon Scieszka, Rock Star.