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August 4 Summer of Learning Live Event Brings Successful Series to a Close

TLA Annual Conference, TLA News

The last live date of the TLA 2020 Virtual Summer of Learning closed this series on a high note, with appearances from authors Tami Charles, Brian Jay Jones, Marie Lu and Diane Cardwell, as well as the presentation of the 2020 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Thanks to the volunteers, speakers, organizers and participants, Summer of Learning – the first in TLA’s history – was a hit. More than 1600 people registered for Summer of Learning. All told, virtual attendees were able to access 132 virtual sessions (educational sessions plus exhibitor showcases) through the virtual portal. For CE, participants could earn 66+ possible SBEC hours and 33+ TSLAC credit hours. The sessions will remain available on the virtual portal until August 31.

During her live opening keynote address, author Tami Charles said, “What could I possibly have to say to an entire group of superheroes? That is what librarians are to me and have always been.”

Charles talked about growing up in the 1980s in New Jersey, spending a lot of time at the library. “Nothing topped what this little girl experienced when she walked through that library door. Adventures in new lands, both real and fictional, books filled with hopes, dreams and possibilities.”

Though she loved the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry and was a devoted fan of the Sweet Valley High Twins series of books, “I didn’t see myself in them,” Charles said. “My summers were spent going to the bodega, busting open a fire hydrant to play in the water, there weren’t swimming pools where we lived. So as much as I loved reading — I really wanted to be an author — I thought that wasn’t possible. I thought you had to be rich, old and white to be an author and I was not any of those things.”

Charles has written middle grade novels and YA fiction; she has a new book, All Because You Matter, that is an all-ages picture book meant to enrich the conversation about Black Lives Matter and to celebrate children of color.

She wrote the book for her son, and for all children of color, “to show him all the reasons he matters, all the reasons black and brown children matter.” Charles asked the audience, “Will you normalize the conversations about important topics for those who need it most?”

Charles thanked librarians for the work they do every day.

“Librarians gave me the wings to fly. To enter this new world and to have the courage to write the books that were in my heart.”

Biographer Brian Jay Jones gave an energetic presentation about the life of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His new book, Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, is packed with interesting details about this legendary children’s book author and illustrator. The author joined alongside it in a live chat and answered questions from viewers.

Geisel worked in advertising for many years, as well as drawing cartoons for magazines in New York. His varied career included time in the U.S. military, and working for director Frank Capra, where they created animated films to help recruit and train American soldiers.

After working with Capra, Geisel spent time in Hollywood as a script doctor, and even wrote a movie called “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.” “He ended up hating the film, he didn’t like his stars and there were budget issues,” Jones said. Geisel “had no joy left in the movie business. Fortunately, the failure of this sends him back to do something else.”

Eventually, a publisher of children’s educational books challenged Geisel to write a book consisting of only words from a recommended first-grade reading list; the same type of list that generated books like Dick and Jane, which Geisel derided.

Although he described it as “writing in a straitjacket,” Geisel eventually produced The Cat in the Hat, just one of many children’s classics he eventually wrote and illustrated.

At noon, Summer of Learning participants enjoyed the recorded presentation of the 2020 Texas Bluebonnet Award to author Adam Rubin and illustrator Crash McCreery for their whimsical book El Chupacabras. Each line in El Chupacabras combines English and Spanish.

Rubin, speaking in a recorded message from his home in New York City, said “I want to say thank you for saving this book from obscurity. There were some people who said, ‘I don’t want to have Spanish in my book’ and people on the other side who said, ‘Who are you to write a book in Spanish?’ And our book was in the middle,” he said.

“The story of this book is about a monster who is misunderstood. They assume it is scary. We are in a time where the ‘other’ is vilified. So, if I can teach that lesson of understanding and compassion to kids it is a wonderful thing.” Rubin gave his acceptance speech in both English and Spanish.

He continued, “El Chupacabras is a silly book, there are goat farts, and why do silly books have value? Silliness is a form of fearlessness. It means that we are fighting against fear. It’s hard to be silly when you are afraid. Laughter brings us together. Laughter means we are not afraid.”

Author Marie Lu has written several YA series, including the bestselling Legend, The Young Elites, and Warcross series. Her new book, Skyhunter, is set 500 years in the future, in a place where “society has regressed and has forgotten its past. It’s centered in this tiny country called Mara … it’s the only free country left standing.” The protagonist is a girl who has come to the country as a refugee and who has lost her voice.

Lu also discussed her book The Kingdom of Back, based on the life of Nannerl Mozart, the sister of Amadeus Mozart. Nannerl was also a child prodigy in music, but her career ended when she married. The real Mozarts had an imaginary land called The Kingdom of Back that they created together; reading about this inspired Lu to write this work of historical fiction.

Lu described growing up in Sugarland. “I have a huge love for Texas and it’s where I grew up. I lived at the library. I spent long summers camped out in the kid section. I still remember when I ventured into the adult section to check out my first Stephen King book. My librarian knew me and that was where I started writing my first stories.”

The afternoon “LIVE Chat: Marketing & Advocacy” was moderated by Kristi Starr, Library Media Specialist at Coronado High School in Lubbock ISD. The panelists were Tracey Mendoza, Library Director, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio; Jennifer LaBoon, Coordinator of Library Media Services, Fort Worth ISD; and Manya Shorr, Director, Fort Worth Public Library.

Asked “What methods or tools are you using to advocate for library services, programs and funding during this time?” LaBoon said, “I want to encourage people to figure out whichever platform you are using to communicate with kids this year. Figure out what platform your district is using and have a virtual library there.”

Shorr said it was important for librarians to “figure out intelligent ways to measure online engagements. I never miss an opportunity to put data in front of our city manager.”

There was robust discussion about the greatest change librarians were seeing at their institutions in response to COVID-19.

Participant Leslie E. said, “The need to bridge the digital divide is so much more urgent. People who didn’t have access to the internet or couldn’t access digital library services easily, could always come in for help to ask questions. Now they can’t.”

The closing keynote speaker was former New York Times journalist Diane Cardwell, whose new memoir, Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life, describes how she reinvented herself by learning to surf in her late 40s.

“The book is a memoir about how I transformed my life from one that was very success-driven but that was empty and unfulfilling, to one more focused on joy,” Cardwell said.

“I made this transformation through a highly unlikely middle-age obsession with surfing. That ultimately brought me to Rockaway Beach, where I found a community that I didn’t even know I was looking for. The inspiration to write the book came from the response I got from essays I wrote about this transformation. I did make a pretty big pivot in my late 40s, early 50s. It’s never too late to make a change… So much of life is trying to make the most of where you are.”

Remember, all of the virtual educational sessions and exhibitor showcases will remain available on the virtual portal until August 31. Participants have until August 31 to view sessions and download their CE certificates.