The 2nd Annual NOVA Teen Book Fest happened yesterday, March 7 at the Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, VA. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but I was thrilled that there was a festival dedicated to Teens and YA and that it would be held in my neck of the woods. My attendance ended up being limited because my family and I couldn’t get our plans for the day quite together and I ended up arriving a few minutes after 2, so I missed the last round of small panels, so I shopped for books, of course and waited for the keynote address.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has a fantastic cover and is a book I have been hearing a lot about. It’s already been sold to become a movie, so we all need to read it before the filmmakers interpret the story for us. I just read who is going to star in it and I’m not going to share it here, because I hate having an image of a character when I read a book. What the character looks like and is like is something worked out between me and the author, damnit. I’m also annoyed that I just read that it’s described as “mega popular YA book X” meets “mega popular YA book X” because I’ve already read those books, so I am hopeful that this is a new and unique story not a mash up of already written books. Jennifer Niven was at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and she was charming and took time to speak to dozens of teens who were getting their books signed. This one is absolutely on my list to read. I am going to take it to school tomorrow and give it to one of my voracious readers so I can hear what she thinks of it. I have so many books on my to read list that I can’t leave this one around unread. It’s a strategy I use often with books I collect. I announce to my students, “I need somebody to read this for me to tell me how good it is!” It’s a great way to get books read and they get to be my reviewers. They’re brutally honest and they know that I respect and want their feedback.
I also bought:
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. It’s so hard to just scan over book covers and then make a decision. Because I am not up to date on fantasy YA, I was shopping in mostly the realistic fiction books. This one has an intriguing cover and a local Virginia author! I thought it was a particularly great story to be presenting on the 50th Anniversary of the March in Selma, because it tells a story about a civil rights pioneer.
From the inside flap description – which sold me:
“In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.”
Teens need as many stories of the dangers and personal impact of racism as they can get. I can’t wait to share this book with my students and my own children. When I spoke to the author Robin Talley when she signed my copy, we discussed how so many students don’t fully appreciate the cruelty of institutional racism and how it affected so many children’s and teen’s daily lives. I am eager to read this.
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. I am a huge Jason Reynolds fan. Huge. I only learned about him at the National Conference of Teachers of English last November. He was one of the many authors who came to the exhibit hall to sign copies of his books and to talk to teachers. I’ll be honest here. I stopped because he looked unlike any other author I’ve ever seen. He’s young, tall, has long big dreadlocks and dark skin. I knew that I had students who would be attracted to his books because he looks so different from many of the other authors they’ve encountered. I got in line and then had to decide which of his books I wanted to receive and have him sign. I chose his first book, When I Was the Greatest primarily because it has an image of a gun covered in colorful crochet on the cover. I knit and crochet a lot and I love bright “circus horse” colors. So it was a love match. One of the characters in the book is a young man who has Tourette’s Syndrome and knitting helps him to control his verbal and physical tics. I asked Jason who in his family knits and he said that he did! He learned to knit because he could never find a hat that was big enough to fit over his head and hair. I read When I Was the Greatest and I absolutely loved it. I recently bought his new book The Boy in the Black Suit about a young man whose mother dies. Afterward he wears the same black suit that he wore to her funeral every day. His friends don’t understand his wardrobe, but he’s been hired at the funeral home that handled his mother’s burial. The funeral home pays much more than the fast food jobs that he could get and he’s working to help pay the bills that his father is unable to pay. Teen boys who feel rushed to become men seems to be a theme that Jason Reynolds explores. I am looking forward to finally reading this one.
I also recommend Jason’s book My Name is Jason. Mine Too.: Our Story. Our Way co-authored by Jason Griffin. It’s a magical book of Jason Reynold’s poetry and Jason Griffin’s paintings. I bought it and shared it with my students who absolutely love it. It’s one of those books that you have to turn around to read the words or to look at the images and tells the stories of both artists working to become “legitimate” artists in Brooklyn, NY. It’s a little hard to find, but it’s just magical.
So all of these magnificent people were at the NOVA Teen Book Festival along with many others. Here’s the Book Fest’s official page on Tumblr where you can find the full list of authors and the program details. http://novateenbookfestival.tumblr.com/ I can’t wait to go back next year and I will definitely be volunteering.
I got to the festival in time for Matt De La Peña’s amazing Key Note Address. I love Matt’s books. He’s a vocal advocate for the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ campaign and is a wonderful writer of books about Hispanic Americans – especially boys. Because I teach so many students from Central America and so many boys, I have recommended Matt’s books to them as stories about kids like them. Matt’s address was a series of humble and hilarious stories about his journey to become a published writer. I hope that someone videotaped it and will post it on youtube. It was fantastic.
He spoke about the young men he sees when he visits high schools. He said that he can see so many of them putting up a wall or a front of toughness that protects their reputation and their hearts as they navigate becoming men. He said that he wants to tell them:
“Books can become your secret place to feel and nobody has to know about it.”
That is something that I will take back to school with me and it will become a writing prompt for my students. It’s so deeply true. I have said for several years that books are often the only therapy that many teens and young adults will ever get and with authors like Matt De La Peña and the other authors who came to the NOVA Book Fest to connect with their enthusiastic readers and fans who have been moved by their writing, they will get the understanding and the emotional outlet they need in a safe place that nobody has to know about.
Thank you NOVA Teen Book Fest and I’ll see you next year!