NCTE/ALAN/Nerdy Book Club Family Reunion

A week ago (holy geez, has it already been a week? MORE than a week?! Dang.), I had the honor of attending the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Las Vegas (henceforth known as NCTE). Immediately following it (and sort of as part of it), I attended the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (henceforth known as ALAN). Mixed throughout the entire thing was the best “family” reunion I’ve ever been a part of (no offense to my blood relatives — I love you): the Nerdy Book Club gathering(s).

To begin, I must thank Dr. Teri Lesesne and everyone involved with ALAN for providing two grants to young teachers so they can attend ALAN and NCTE. I was fortunate enough to receive one of these. Though it did not cover all my expenses, it covered most of them, and really made this whole experience possible. If you’re reading this and are not yet in your 5th year of teaching, please, go here, read the details, and apply for next year’s grant (Gallo Grant). The worst that happens is you don’t get it. The best that happens. . .well, that’s what I’m about to tell you about.

I arrived on Thursday, not at all knowing what I was in store for. I did know that my sister classroom, the wonderful Jillian Heise, was eating lunch with several other Nerdy friends of ours — all but one of whom I had never met face-to-face before (including Jillian!). But first, I had to go check my bags at the hotel and grab a quick bite of my own.

And then the fun began.

Before I was even finished with my sandwich, Jillian began texting me, telling me to get a move on! There were people to meet! There was a session with Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Burke to attend! So I scarfed down the somewhat dry but delicious turkey sandwich I was working on and began the 3,000-mile walk to the conference center.

When I finally got there, there was practically a receiving line of Nerdy people at the end of the red carpet. I saw Jen Vincent, and then a bunch of people I knew but had never met, including Lea Kelley, Jennifer Fountain, and of course, my fantastic sister, Jillian Heise. We hugged it out and soon found the best couches in the world.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking: “This is all like a one-hour time span, and nothing in here is even about the conference itself! This narrative style cannot continue. Or if it does, I’m gonna bail, because I have things to do, man! Michigan-Ohio State is today!” Well, fortunately for you, I am like me, so I’m thinking the same thing. Time to pick up the pace. Let’s 2-minute drill this thing.

I went to some amazing sessions and workshops that not only validated what I’m doing in the classroom (which I needed), but also gave me practical tips to improve my teaching (which I needed even more). The conference committee did a good job making sure there were quality sessions (at least almost all the ones I went to).

I networked with some amazing, amazing people. Yes, all the Nerdy Book Club people were a big part of this. But they helped me get around and meet others, as well. Jillian Heise and Sarah Andersen especially were a big part of this (as they were my exhibition hall buddies for most of Saturday). I met and connected with several publisher reps, tons of authors, and countless teachers (not really countless, but there were a lot).

And then there were the books.

Oh, the books. I knew I was going to be overwhelmed by the books. Funny thing about knowing you’re going to be overwhelmed: that mental preparation still doesn’t keep you from being overwhelmed. The exhibition hall openend on Friday and there were just. . .TONS of ARCS and many other books to purchase with authors signings. It was overwhelming. Also, I need to find a synonym for overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed by the crowds. I was upset by the pushy people who didn’t care what they grabbed or whose feet they rolled over with their rolling luggage. I was put off by people taking 5 or 6 ARCs of something at once. But I made my way through, grabbed some books I knew would work in my classroom, and then took a breather. I needed guidance. Fortunately, that’s when Jillian and Sarah showed up. They had a more directed plan [note to self: have a more directed plan next year], and were able to get most of what they were looking for.

Once the big push of crowd was gone, we went through again, talking with the publisher reps, arranging a schedule for author signings, and realizing that holy cow, HarperCollins had an entire DAY OF AWESOMENESS planned for Saturday.

All in all, I ended up with 80 books from NCTE, every single one of which is a book I want to read or I have a student who it will be perfect for. Not a bad deal.

And then there was ALAN. Oh, ALAN. This I didn’t know how to prepare for. That’s one thing with being pretty much the lone newbie in a group of people who have done this several times before. Sometimes there’s things I forget to ask and they might not think to mention. Like how amazing ALAN is.

To begin with, everyone is given a box of books. A box of about 30 books. There are some ARCs and some finished copies, and every single book is in there because its author is speaking at ALAN. Which means they are probably speaking on a panel. And are also signing books.

So basically, ALAN is a book party. Except it’s quiet, because there are ROCKSTAR AUTHORS TALKING! So, yeah, it’s like a book party.

Okay, I need to stop. I could go on for way longer, but I shouldn’t (it seems I say this a lot in my posts). Things not mentioned but still awesome: The Nerdy Book Club gathering, meeting my author crush (possibly a picture below), the ALAN reception, and when a publisher picked up the tab for an amazing steak dinner.

Picture time!

I was glad to see Blind Spot had a nice placement on the table. I love that book.

Finally, wonder twin sister classroom teachers meet!

Lauren Myracle. Holy crap.

Alaya Dawn Johnson. I’m really excited for her upcoming book The Summer Prince.

It was great to finally meet Michelle Hodkin!

Chris Crutcher. Holycrapholycrapholycrap.

Jon Scieszka!

This is where I stayed. The glamorous façades were one of the few highlights of NCTE/ALAN being in Vegas.