March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

One Step Ahead: SLJ Leadership Summit 2011

SLJ’s latest leadership summit tackles the swiftly changing world of reading and ebooks

It was like a scene out of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Suddenly, there was a collective gasp, followed by a heartfelt explosion of cheering, clapping, and ear-to-ear grins, as more than 200 librarians and educators found out they’d each be receiving an autographed copy of Brian Selznick’s new, eagerly anticipated novel, Wonderstruck (Scholastic). Welcome to SLJ‘s two-day Leadership Summit, September 22-23 in Arlington, VA.

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Graphic artists (from left) George O’Connor, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Eric Wight demonstrated a live comic-making experience with the audience.
Photos: Sara Kelly Johns

As the event’s opening keynote speaker, Selznick showed a captivated audience how he had created the 608-page novel, which features 460 pages of the Caldecott Medal winner’s trademark black-and-white drawings. In addition to sharing how he’d painstakingly researched the story, set in rural Minnesota and New York City, Selznick also talked about how difficult it was to write the book, and showed the mark-ups to his original manuscript, complete with scores of handwritten edits and comments by his editor, Tracy Mack. It was a side of children’s book publishing that most people never see—and a humble gesture by one of its hottest stars.

While the three-year road to finishing Wonderstruck was grueling and at times disheartening, Selznick says he was determined to complete the book, which focuses on two interconnected tales set in different time periods and told through words and pictures. The 45-year-old author-illustrator says he’ll consider an audience suggestion to feature pages of this manuscript on the web so that kids can learn from his experience.

Selznick also spoke about his appreciation for how Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated Hugo, a 3-D movie adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007), managed to preserve the integrity of his text—and how fascinating it was to see the drawings that he created for the book, such as a detailed metal gate at a train station, brought to life on a Hollywood set. The movie, which stars Ben Kingsley and Jude Law, lands in theaters just in time for Thanksgiving.

Selznick’s hour-long presentation was a perfect way to kick off this year’s summit, an invitation-only event that brought together school librarians, education leaders, as well as authors, publishers, vendors, and technology innovators to address the most pressing challenges and the greatest opportunities facing school libraries. The theme, “The New World of Reading,” explored how librarians, teachers, and authors are using social networking to engage readers, how transliteracy—reading, writing, and interacting across a range of platforms—is transforming library collections, and offered practical advice for creating ebook collections.

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Author Laurel Snyder signing books.

In the session “Authors Engaging Readers through Social Media,” Laurel Snyder, Erica S. Perl, and Michael Buckley spoke about the ways in which authors can reach classroom and library communities through the web. Snyder, for example, used social media to give away more than 800 copies of her novel Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (2008) to schools and libraries. And this fall, she plans to Skype with 100 schools to read and talk with students about her latest book, Bigger than a Bread Box (2011, both Random). “The entire initiative was accomplished via my blog, Twitter, and Facebook,” all because she had existing relationships in these communities, explains Snyder. “I wasn’t just shouting into the void—I was asking my friends for help.”

Perl also said social media keeps her connected to readers and important gatekeepers such as librarians and media specialists—and she makes sure to align her online presence with causes she believes in, like First Book and indie bookstores, as well as to provide educators and readers with engaging content, such as book trailers and videos, through Skype. In short, “seizing opportunities to turn virtual connections into real ones,” Perl says.

In “What’s Appening,Scott Gordon, the senior manager of creative development and digital publishing at Random House Children’s Books, spoke about how apps—such as Pat the Bunny and How Rocket Learned to Read—can engage young readers in new ways. Gordon also explained the difference between ebooks and book apps and offered advice on what to look for when selecting the latter for kids.

Chris Russell, an editorial director at Penguin, talked about the publisher’s first foray into apps with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road app and how it achieved the goal of making the best use of new technology with the publisher’s content. That included collaborating with the executor of Kerouac’s literary estate to gather supplementary materials, from journal entries and sketchbook drawings to never-before-seen family photos and rare audio recordings.

John Schumacher, a school librarian at Brook Forest Elementary School in Illinois and Shannon Miller, a district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School in Iowa, met at the 2010 SLJ summit and had only seen each other face-to-face three times. Yet the two, who presented in “Networked Librarians Take Reading Promotion to the Next Level,” manage to keep their classroom and students connected almost every day—even though they’re 340 miles apart. How do they do it? Through Twitter, Skype, text messages, HeyTell, email, and Google Docs. They also share collaborative projects and celebrate their students’ accomplishments on their blog, Two Libraries One Voice.

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Librarians John Schumacher and Shannon Miller are 340 miles apart but share lessons via Twitter, Skype, and Google Docs.

In the “90 Second Newbery,” James Kennedy, author of the fantasy novel The Order of Odd Fish (Delacorte, 2008), spoke about the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, a children’s literature festival he’s curating at the New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Children filmmakers are asked to make a video that compresses the entire story of a Newbery Award-winning book into 90 seconds or less. Check out the inaugural entry—a 90-second Wrinkle in Time—and read the contest details. There’s still time to enter—the deadline is October 17. “This is a great opportunity to get kids reading, thinking, and discussing Newbery Award-winning books,” says Kennedy.

Rachel Chou, the chief marketing officer of Open Road Media, spoke about the current reading devices on the market and ebook functionality in “What Is an Ebook: The Future of Digital Reading,” Meanwhile, in “Ebooks—Regional Models,” Christopher Harris, director of New York’s Genesee Valley School Library System, said digital books would work better in a library consortium than at an individual library level because the “digital properties of ebooks allow shared use by a larger pool of readers.” In Harris’s school library system, for example, libraries pool 20 percent of their state library materials budget to fund a regional digital library.

Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Jersey’s New Milford High School, spoke in “Leadership 2.0” about how educators can harness the power of web 2.0 tools, especially social media, to become more effective and efficient at what they do. Meanwhile, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, talked about the role of reading in this digital revolution. There was also an entertaining presentation by graphic novelists George O’Connor, Jarrett Krosoczka, and Eric Wight, who demonstrated a live, collaborative comic-making experience in which the audience decided what happened next.

About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.