The Five Best Things About KidLitCon

The ninth annual KidLitCon in Baltimore, themed Celebrating Young People's Literature, was a treasured, personalized experience for its attendees. Here's why!
The Ninth Annual KidLitCon took place this month in Baltimore. The theme was “Celebrating Young People’s Literature.” Attendees enjoyed two keynotes, one by Carrie Mesrobian (Cut Both Ways, 2015) and one by Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies, 2015) and 15 programs, including “Keeping Things Interesting for You and Your Readers” and “Intersectionality: The Next Step in Diverse Books.” So why should you attend KidLitCon? That’s easy: Community, Intimacy, Personal Presentations, Enthusiasm…and the CYBILS. Tracey Baptiste greets eager attendees.

Tracey Baptiste greets eager attendees.

COMMUNITY

The need for community, to meet face to face the people you talk with online, is what started KidLitCon in 2007 and why it continues today. KidLitCon is a haven for everyone involved in children’s literature: readers, bloggers, authors, publishers. It moves from city to city each year. New places mean new local attendees. New organizers mean that each year is a little bit different, unique to its locale. As co-organizer Paula Willey explains, “Having [KidLitCon] in Baltimore [meant that] more local librarians could attend and become more involved in the children literature’s community. We’ve absolutely seen that—it’s a great professional development opportunity, and the school and public libraries are supporting attendance by their employees.” The community of KidLitCon is not about authors or readers; it’s about authors and readers as equal members of the community. Panels and presentations are by both. The audience is composed of both, and everyone mingles and talks over meals and during breaks. Pam Coughlan (MotherReader blog) summed it up best: “I love seeing my online friends in real life, but only at KidLitCon could I talk art with Matt Phelan at lunch; get an original, spontaneous sketch from Kevin O’Malley at the book-signing; and share an umbrella with Tracey Baptiste on the way to bowling! Author, blogger, librarian, speaker, longtimer, newbie, old friends and new: at KidLitCon the barriers come down.”

INTIMACY

KidLitCon is not a huge convention, so it’s easier to connect with fellow attendees. It’s not about getting thousands of attendees or tons of advertisers. Yes, the more the merrier, and everyone involved in the online children’s literature community is welcome, whether their participation is through blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. Publishers have provided sponsorship, bookmarks, bags, and review copies and sent authors and staff to KidLitCon. But because the focus is specific—children’s literature—and local—attendees get a real sense of intimacy that isn’t found at larger conferences. This year, 90 people attended the two days of KidLitCon. Some people attended both days; others were there for only one day. With a group that size, and with never more than two programs happening at the same time, faces quickly became familiar. New friends are made, online friendships are deepened, and old friendships are renewed.

PERSONAL PRESENTATIONS

The first KidLitCon in Chicago was literally a group of people around a conference table. Attendees brainstormed things to discuss. Now, the process of planning is more formal, with proposals submitted and the conference organizers selecting and creating programs. While some people have presented before, for others it’s a new opportunity. Karen Yingling (“Ms. Yingling Reads” blog) moderated the Middle Grade Horror panel: Mary Downing Hahn (Took, 2015), Tracey Baptiste, Ronald L. Smith (Hoodoo, 2015), and Dan Poblocki (The House on Stone’s Throw Island, 2015). Yingling not only kept a good pace for the program but also had the group laughing. She was a terrific moderator, so I was surprised to hear she hadn’t done it before. Charlotte Taylor (“Charlotte’s Library” blog) and Sheila Ruth (“Wands & Worlds” blog) shared their expertise as they presented on “Keeping Things Interesting for You and Your Readers.” As Taylor said, “Being personal is OK. Blogs are more than the books we read.  We change as we get older, and so, too, does how we read and blog.” But this was more than two people talking. Taylor and Ruth invited questions and contributions from the audience, turning the session into a real conversation that included everyone.

ENTHUSIASM

One of the authors I met, Alison Ashley Formento (Twigs, 2013), drove down from New Jersey to present and to be part of the Author Mix and Mingle, as well as to attend programs. She explained that she “likes in-person events like KidLitCon because this is the real connection” with readers. “Here’s the chance to share.” Carrie Mesrobian, who gave the other keynote, gushed on Twitter: “If you have a chance to go, if yr [SIC] invited to go, You Must GO. It’s a weekend of delicious reader advisory.” “The panels at #KidLitCon? Master class in engaging audience and diverse representation.” “LOVED being at #KidLitCon in Baltimore. Baltimore, I need to return to you. And the ppl of #KidLitCon? So much fun. Pure delight.” Carrie Mesrobian signing Cuts Both Ways.

Carrie Mesrobian signing Cut Both Ways.

Again and again, I heard that people were happy to be there, excited to be there. Leila Roy (“Bookshelves of Doom” blog) said that being at KidLitCon reenergizes and inspires her to keep blogging and to keep participating in the community of children’s literature.

THE CYBILS

The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (CYBILS) was founded in 2006 by Anne Boles Levy (The Temple of Doubt, 2015) and Kelly Herold. It’s just one year older than KidLitCon. Many of those involved are also tied in to KidLitCon, such as Sheila Ruth, Charlotte Taylor, and Pam Coughlan (“MotherReader” blog). A CYBILS-specific panel—Nonfiction Roundtable, moderated by Ellen Zschunke (“On the Shelf 4 Kids” blog) with panelists Amy Broadmoore, Delightful Children’s Books; Carol Wilcox, “Carol’s Corner” blog; Alysa Stewart, “Everead” blog; Jennifer Wharton, “Jean Little Library” blog; and Jennie Rothschild, “Biblio File” blog—debated how to evaluate nonfiction books. CYBILS judges were also part of “And the Winner Is….a Panel Discussion with Literary Award Judges.” Make a wish, KidLitCon devotees!

Make a wish, KidLitCon devotees!

Best of all, though, the CYBILS celebrated its birthday on Friday night at KidLitCon, complete with everything a birthday party should have: wings, bowling, and a cake with candles! It was a cheer not just for the CYBILS and for all the work Levy has done with it but also for all the children literature enthusiasts who nominate books.

LOOKING AHEAD

Where will KidLitCon 2016 be? The rumor is Kansas. All it needs is a volunteer or two on the ground to bring together local children’s literature enthusiasts, as well as arrange for a main hotel for out-of-towners. Wherever it turns out to be, I hope to see you there! If you want to read more reactions to KidLitCon, search for “#KidLitCon” on social media.  
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tanita

I was bummed to miss it - and the Cybils party - this year, but it sounds like it was stuffed full of fabulous things as usual. Kansas should be interesting!

Posted : Nov 06, 2015 09:51


Carol Weston

I was honored to be part of it all! Here's to kids' books and new friends!

Posted : Oct 30, 2015 04:24


Sondy

Great write-up, Liz! And it was great to see you there! Everyone who loves children's books -- make a chance to go to KidLitCon some time!

Posted : Oct 29, 2015 10:21


Ms. Yingling

Thanks, Liz! I loved all of the inspiration. There were so many great ideas, from Matthew Winner's podcasting tips to your thoughts on representations of diverse readers. I was able to go back to my job and start implementing things right away. (I reactivated a Bookshare account for students who needed audiobooks, among other things.)

Posted : Oct 29, 2015 02:50


Anne Levy

Thanks so much for the Cybils shout-out! It was great seeing you and reconnecting to so many people. I hope to see everyone in Kansas -- or wherever we go next year.

Posted : Oct 29, 2015 12:26


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