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AISLE Conference 2018

I spent the past three days at the Association of Illinois School Library Educators Conference in Tinley Park, and I am so inspired and excited to head back to work tomorrow with this experience in mind! Here are a few highlights:

Kathleen March and Beth Van Curine from Anderson's Bookshop held an incredible three hour session on Thursday afternoon, sharing their favorite new releases for kindergarten through 5th grade. They featured board books, picture books, nonfiction, graphic novels, and early chapter books. I’ve seen them book talk together before at the YA Literature Conference, so I knew I was in for a treat... and they did not disappoint. I still feel so new in the elementary school, so I was thankful for these incredibly well-read booksellers to share their expertise! I already borrowed a few of the picture books from my public library to read at home with my own kids, and I absolutely adore Mixed by Aree Chung and The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee! Can't wait to make my way through the rest of the list -- and most likely add many of them to my school library collection.

Ellen Oh was the keynote speaker on Friday morning, sharing her insight as a reader, an author, and co-founder of We Need Diverse Books. Ellen said, “Books saved me… books don’t judge you. In books, you can be anything you want.” She shared painful experiences where she faced racism in school due to the portrayal of Asian characters in books they read, and then reading The Joy Luck Club, and realizing the transformative power of finally feeling represented.

Ellen explained how she believes reading breeds empathy, and how exposure to different cultures and experiences can help children become more open-minded. Ellen went on to say, “I’m hoping that together, we fight for a better place for all our children. Let kids meet new culture, experiences, and friends through the pages of a book.” She left us with the important challenge to speak out when we witness intolerance or bigotry: “If we don’t have uncomfortable conversations, hate will continue to grow.”

Author Hena Khan held an incredible workshop called “Writing with Love: Changing the Narrative of American Muslims.” Hena said, “As a kid, I just accepted that books were about white characters. They were the ones who got to have adventures.” She described the fears she later had for her own children as Pakistani-American Muslims, explaining, “My son was six months old when 9/11 happened… I had to work hard to instill self-love and confidence in him.”

Hena has written many children’s books that teach about Muslim religion and culture, but she also spoke of the importance of sharing stories that do not put an emphasis on the character’s heritage. When speaking about writing Amina’s Voice, she said that she wanted to “create a character who was unapologetically American and Muslim.” Hena concluded the hour by reminding us that, “Muslim children deserve to see themselves as complex and nuanced characters that don’t just perpetuate stereotypes.”

Then I was up next after lunch! This was my first time presenting at such a large professional conference, so I had some major stage fright right before I began. My workshop was called “Redefining a Culture of Reading,” where I shared my experience developing programs at the middle school the past few years to help encourage a love of reading, like book raffles, summer reading program, Caudill Challenge using our state award list, book clubs, connecting kids with authors, etc. I had a lot of fun describing what we’ve done successfully in my school to help change our attitude about reading for fun. It felt so good to give credit to my incredible colleagues who do a great job encouraging reading, and I was proud to talk about some of the ways I advocated for this position as a full-time librarian. It was very well-received overall, but I was also glad to have it behind me!

Breakfast on Saturday morning with Mr. Schu was just as incredible as I had heard it would be! John Schumacher is the Scholastic ambassador for school libraries, and he has an unparalleled passion for books! During the course of his 90 minute presentation, he probably gave away 40 books (I was the lucky recipient of a copy of The One and Only Ivan - I can’t wait to gift it to a student!) and solidified my belief that I have the best job in the world. He asked each of us, “What will you tattoo on your hearts during the 2018-2019 school year?”

I loved the powerful quotes from authors he included to help us recognize the impact of sharing books with students’ hearts. From Jacqueline Woodson: “I think young people should be judged not by the level of their reading, but by the way a book makes them think and feel. By the way it gives them hope. By the way it opens them up to new perspectives and changes them.” He talked about Kelly Yang, author of Front Desk (my favorite MG book this year), and her experience as a Chinese immigrant; she said, “I am living, walking proof in the power of libraries and librarians to change lives.”

When speaking to the criticism that children’s literature should stay away from topics that might be too said, Mr. Schu replied, “I believe when you experience sadness in books, it gives you coping skills for real life.” He also read sections of the gorgeous picture book Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, pointing out how every page started with an “if” statement and ended with the word “imagine.” One of Mr. Schu’s closing remarks was: “If every school had a full-time librarian who loved children’s books and loved sharing them with kids... IMAGINE.” I so enjoyed hearing him speak, and hope I can bring him to our schools someday! (If you've never heard of Mr. Schu, you can watch this news segment to get a sense of why I was so inspired!)

Some other fantastic sessions included sharing current and engaging nonfiction titles, ways to teach digital citizenship through thought-provoking images, and how to design efficient library spaces. There is a lot more to being a librarian than many realize, and it was so encouraging to be surrounded by colleagues throughout the state who I could relate to and share ideas with. I loved meeting other school librarians, and look forward to continuing to network and collaborate with them in the future.