Book Expo America: What’s In it for Us?

What is Book Expo America? Well, it’s lots of things. First, you’ll likely hear it called B-E-A. We all love acronyms, but you want to pronounce this one by its letters, not as a name (like Aunt Bea).  Publishers, authors, book-related-product makers, and lots of other reading-related industry folks all set up shop. Authors, publishers, book-related-product makers, librarians, book-buyers, bookstore owners, and the like all come to visit them.  To learn, to share, snag a few autographs, and pick up free books.

It is part book fair (in the sense that there are lots of books), part media session (authors and illustrators sign books ), and part professional training (there are lots of seminars). What BEA is not: the mall. You don’t just browse. It is so big and so jam-packed you HAVE to have a plan. Wendie at Wizards and Wireless has a great post about how (and why) to prepare for BEA. Check it out.

For the Reading Tub® , BEA is all about networking. We are all about reading, and this coming weekend, BEA celebrates and promotes reading. This is our chance

… to personally thank (and finally meet) many of the authors, publishers, and publicists who have so generously donated books to us. Yes, they get the one-time benefit of a book review. But the book they give us offers a life-time benefit to an at-risk reader.

… to make new connections. My planner is packed with appointments already. I’ve got a list of new publishers and authors I want to meet, but there are other literacy-minded folks I need to spend time with, too. I’ll be meeting with Robert Kesten, Executive Director of the Center for Screentime Awareness. They sponsor “Turn Off TV Week” among other things.

… to see how the industry plans to get kids reading. There are are seminars on what kids are/aren’t reading and how literacy programs are/aren’t working, among others, but the easiest way to see what the industry thinks is by looking at their displays of books.  What are the trends? Do they still think post-Potter fantasy is the way to go? Are there new themes?

… to offer an opinion. There are three items on my influence agenda. My reasons are largely based on personal experience, but they are reinforced by studies.

First: We need better learning-to-read stories.
An “I Can Read” book should be a story, not a stale collection of sight words. Why does an I Can Read book have to LOOK different than other picture-book stories.  I just read a whole series of “Level 2” books that were blah. They were tied to movies/TV shows and I was really excited about using them with an at-risk reader I tutor. But they didn’t fly. Essentially, they were character lists, not stories.

Second: We need books that better fit the intellect v. reading gap. This past spring, we had multiple requests from teachers working with high school students who are reading at a middle-to-high elementary level. Match these anecdotal requests with reading test scores and we’ve got something we need to look at: books for a more intellectually sophisticated audience  written at a more basic level.

Third: We need more sensory books for emerging and semi-independent readers. I’m talking about books for older kids that were like the pop-ups and texture books we read to them as preschoolers. Why? Because 1 of every 150 (or so) kids is autistic. Some autistic children are sensory averse, others are sensory seekers. This is a way for children to learn through touch. At this level, sensory language is not enough. Sensory averse children can benefit by having the opportunity to build confidence with a friendly tool that they control (i.e., they can read without touching … their choice). Sensory seekers need books that stimulate them physically so they can better focus mentally. Those preschool pop-up books don’t have the vocabulary or offer more sophisticated stories that these readers need to develop reading and comprehension skills.

At BEA, there will be books, authors, and illustrators everywhere. Although I’ll walk the floor and visit publishers of all sorts, my radar will be tuned to Children’s books. And while it all has a very serious business purpose, it will also be lots of fun personally. I can’t wait to meet some of the Kidlitosphere gang and watch the sunset over the Pacific (it has been 30-odd years since I did that). I want to meet and thank Henry Winkler for the Hank Zipzer books and his insight on dyslexia. I am really excited about the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast. I’ll have a chance to see two colleagues from a former work life who wrote a great book about the Unabomber. And I am even thinking about getting up at 5:30 so I can get a ticket to thank Jamie Lee Curtis … Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born is part of our adoptive family library, and I love her reasons for writing Big Words for Little People. [Reason in a nutshell: we don’t give pre-readers enough credit and dumb down books.]

So when I board the red-eye back to the East Coast on Sunday night, I’ll be exhausted. I’ll complain about how tired my legs are and how little sleep I got. I’ll harumph and groan and feel overwhelmed on Tuesday when I open the Virtual Inbox and blog reader.  But at the end of the week, the UPS guy will deliver my prize: boxes of books. For a moment I’ll get to relive BEA. Then I’ll start sorting. After all, these books aren’t for me. They are each going to an at-risk reader. So I’ll sigh and remember, knowing that it was worth every minute.