By Andrew Rushton
As someone who began his career in the Book Trade as a 16 year-old Saturday helper at the local library, I thought I understood how libraries fitted into our world of printed matter, information and literacy. Until I started visiting the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that is. Everything is bigger in America, obviously, so finding 30’000 librarians in one place was an eye opener but nothing more. Discovering the role they play in US society however, was. In a country where the local bookstore may be several hundred kilometres away and where incomes don’t always stretch to buying books, the librarian is someone who takes their job of bringing knowledge, giving ambition to the underprivileged through reading, and championing books that might change lives, very seriously. This even extends to all the major awards, which are chosen and promoted by librarians.
Which is why publishers in the US take librarians seriously too and why all the major publishers are present at the ALA. Most even have special sales teams devoted solely to library sales. For NordSüd it is a chance to take the temperature of the American market but also to meet authors and illustrators that we either already work with or would like to work with.
This year I went to Chicago, the Windy City, with Marcus Pfister as part of the Rainbow Fish’s 25th Birthday celebrations. Here are some of my highlights.
Friday: Marcus went to the Summer Meals Charity Kick-Off event in Horner Park, west Chicago. Around 500 children, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds, enjoyed a sunny day in the park listening to stories and helping Marcus create some new characters.
I spent the day at the ALSC (Association of Library Services for Children) conference, which comprised of 3 panels featuring the honourees from the Caldecott, Newbery, Batchelder, Geisel, Sibert and Belpré medals. I discussed “As Time Went By” and the subject of overcoming difficult circumstances with Greg Christie, author Alexandra Diaz and two editors in front of around 300 people. Ours was one of three panels and there was a chance to mingle at lunch. This was a great opportunity to meet authors and publishers and discuss the themes of Perceive, Rise and Engage.
Sunday: After a 45 minute conversation and presentation with Marcus we returned to the booth where he signed around 200 books and chatted to librarians for 2 hours! This was a real highlight. It’s amazing how many stories people want to share about what the book means to them.
In the evening we attended the annual Newbery-Caldecott Banquet, America’s Children’s Book Oscars and like nothing we are ever likely to see in Europe. 2’000 of the industry’s finest gather to eat Salad, Chicken and Chocolate Mousse (the same every year) and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. It’s self-congratulatory but also highly motivating and celebratory. And NordSüd had 3 of 5 Caldecott honoured illustrators, Greg Christie (John F. Kennedy), Carson Ellis (Waz’n Teez) and Brendan Wenzel (Leben) so plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Our table was a fun mix of people including the new team of Jacquie Alcantara and Baptiste Paul who’s book “The Field” we’re publishing in Spring 2018.
Monday: Before flying home there was one last job to be done, collecting our Batchelder Honour. The presentation began at 8am but despite the early hour and the late night before, around 500 people gathered to hear the speeches and watch the presentations. If I had known it would be such a big event I would have had a shave! There’s always next time, like New Orleans in 2018.