Reliving ALA

Some of my family and friends have been asking why I went to the American Library Association’s annual conference when I’m not, in fact, a librarian. I hope this post will help answer their questions. 

Saturday I picked up my nieces, Victoria and Savannah (hereafter abbreviated as Vic and Sav) at 7:00 AM. It took us a little over two hours to drive to McCormick Place West in Chicago. It was my first time driving in Chicago, and I was so nervous. But to my amazement, we arrived at the correct parking garage without once getting lost or stuck in traffic. Woot! Many thanks to Vic for handling the map, and to Sav for holding the GPS when it fell off the window!

Once inside McCormick Place West, we had to buy our exhibits-only passes—which means we didn’t have access to the ALA conference, only the exhibit hall (also known as The Stacks). But we easily spent all day at The Stacks, which housed over 1500 booths targeting librarians. We focused our energy at the publishers’ booths, where we could find books and meet authors. 

I knew some publishers would give away free stuff … but I was unprepared for the vast number of books. I came home with almost thirty free books, and several of them were ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies—the books won’t release in stores until August, September, or October). Here’s my treasure:



We had to make a trip to the car at lunchtime to unload our bags and make room for more stuff! Sav and Vic were lucky to have these large bags to carry their books in:

Rolling Stones

In case you can’t tell from the picture, they’re Rolling Stones covers of Jimi Hendrix and Bono; those bags received a lot of compliments. Everyone wanted to know where they got their bags (the answer:  Walmart. LOL!).

I was especially thrilled to receive these four books I’ve been eager to read:

4 books

Now I wonder how I’ll write my book when I have so many great books to read! The only ARC we really wanted but couldn’t get was CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic wasn’t offering those until Sunday morning, and we had to drive back home Saturday night. We were so tempted to ignore real life and stay at ALA all weekend!

First author encounter:  we’d been browsing an audiobook booth and were getting ready to leave, when a familiar voice made me glance over. There, talking to a lady about audiobooks, was John Green. Ironically, I just listened to the PAPER TOWNS and LOOKING FOR ALASKA audiobooks a couple weeks ago, so I recognized his voice from when he read the acknowledgements for both books. Plus I’d seen enough photos to identify him. 

Vic and Sav were already walking out of the booth, so I grabbed Sav’s arm and whisper-shouted, “That’s John Green.” She turned around with wide eyes, which widened even more when she saw him. I thought she’d hyperventilate, but she pulled it together nicely. I don’t blame her though, cause my hands shook for the whole encounter. 

Seeing John Green was the biggest shock cause we didn’t expect him to be there. I’d looked at all the ALA schedules I could find, and I never saw his name. So to suddenly see him in the audiobook booth was very surreal. Sav owns all his books (and Vic wants to read them but hasn’t had time), so she regretted not bringing them. But the girls did have blank autograph books, so those could work in a pinch. 

We discreetly waited outside the booth while John Green discussed audiobooks. Then, as he prepared to leave, we sidled up to him. Here’s a vague approximation of our conversation:

Me:  I’m sorry to bother you …
John:  You’re not bothering me.
Me:  We were just wondering if we could get your autograph.
John:  I’m actually on my way to do a signing right now.
Me:   OH, I didn’t know … *feeling like a dork for not knowing he’d be at ALA, and attending to immediately find the booth for his signing*
John:  But I can sign yours now so you don’t have to stand in line.
[I have no idea what I said at this point, cause I was too spaced out by how friendly he was]
*I push the girls forward. Vic hands him her autograph book and a pen*
John:  Should I use your pen or is mine okay?
[I think Vic said his was okay … but still freaking out, so not sure] 
John:  *looks at her ALA name tag* Is that your real name? Some people use a fake name to get in here.  *signs for Vic, then takes Sav’s autograph book. Looks at her name tag*  Cool shirt. Van Gogh as a pirate.

I wish I could remember the whole conversation. John also signed the ALA t-shirt I brought along and graciously agreed to let me take his picture with the girls: 


The picture is blurry because my hands were still shaking. I know, I’m a nerd. But check out John’s Nerdfighters shirt! That makes me feel slightly better. So after the picture we thanked him, and then we disappeared into a deserted aisle to melt into incoherent goo. 

Our following author-encounters were a little easier to handle, simply because we knew about them beforehand; we were mentally prepared. We went to a signing for Holly Black, who was very cool. She signed my t-shirt and wrote riddles in the girls’ autograph books. 

We stood in line for quite awhile to meet Laurie Halse Anderson, but it was so worth it. Laurie was down-to-earth yet still amazing. I just wanted to sit at her feet and soak in her wisdom. She signed for all of us and talked about writing and family. She took the time to say heartwarming things, like how I was a “good aunt.” Look at this cute picture of her with the girls:


I also got to see the fabulous Jeri Smith-Ready, whom I met last year in Tulsa; I always have fun talking to her! I told the girls about her YA book, SHADE, which releases in May of 2010. Jeri introduced us to her friend and fellow author, Stephanie Kuehnert. She was incredibly nice, and now the girls look forward to reading I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. Jeri and Stephanie patiently suffered through camera problems until they finally got this pic with me (Jeri’s on the left, and Stephanie has the wicked blue hair):


After that, the girls and I walked to the Simon & Schuster booth in search of Stephanie’s new book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, which comes out July 21st (check out the awesome cyber launch party she’s starting this week!). And that’s how we stumbled upon the S & S party, which included authors, free books, and dessert! M. T. Anderson and Lisa McMann signed my t-shirt, and they were both very friendly. Laurie Halse Anderson, recipient of the 2009 Scott O’Dell award for her book CHAINS, came to the party as well, and everyone toasted her success. Congrats to Laurie!!

After the S & S party, we made our way to the booth for Illinois SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). SCBWI is a national organization, but this booth consisted of Illinois authors only—which is a cool idea. I’m a new member of SCBWI (joined a few months ago), so I was curious to meet fellow Illinois SCBWI. Emily Ecton and Cynthea Liu happened to be the two authors signing when we arrived. 

I haven’t read Emily Ecton’s books before, but I plan on doing so soon. Emily has to be one of the sweetest authors I’ve ever met. She talked to me about SCBWI and conferences like we were old friends. She signed my t-shirt and gave me a copy of BOOTS AND PIECES. What a sweetheart. 

Then I talked to Cynthea, whom I learned about when she hosted an auction to raise money for Tulakes Elementary ($15,000 so far! Visit her website to donate more!). I wanted to tell her how awesome she is for raising all that money … but somehow she turned the tables and made me feel awesome. She said my t-shirt idea was “genius,” and continued to gush until I was probably blushing. I was so surprised that I forgot to take a picture of her and Emily. I hope I get to meet those wonderful women again someday!

ALA had so many authors and not enough time to meet them all! We’d planned on meeting Judy Blume; but we missed her first signing, and her second signing got rescheduled for a later day. I’d even brought along BLUBBER and JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER, two of my oldest books that I’ve had since elementary school. Sigh.

We also really wanted to meet Neil Gaiman … but his line was so long, they had to stop additional people from getting in line. He signed for at least two hours, probably much longer. He was supposed to do another signing Sunday or Monday, but of course we weren’t there on those days. It was disappointing, so we comforted ourselves with walking by the HarperCollins booth a couple times. No, we weren’t stalking. I just wanted to take a picture of him and hear a few snatches of his dreamy voice … ahem. Anyway, here’s his pic (and I do apologize to the lovely lady whom I caught with her eyes closed):


And here’s the t-shirt I made for ALA:



My friend Jenny, who taught me everything I know about making t-shirts, is probably wondering why on earth I used a light t-shirt transfer on a dark t-shirt. Long story, Jenny. I hope the cool signatures make up for my lame workmanship.

The Stacks closed at 5:00, so then we left for Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. I’ll have to tell that story another time, as this post is already very long. But I want to thank ALA, McCormick Place West, and all the publishers and authors who made the day so special. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity. Thank you!!

Best. Book. Day. EVER.


5 thoughts on “Reliving ALA

    • It was fun to meet you, too!! I was sorry we couldn’t stay for Sunday and make it to your signing. Hope you had a great birthday, and good luck with your new release!!

      Thanks for stopping by to comment (I’ll email you that pic)! 🙂

  1. Hello Erin……

    Just to say I enjoyed reading about your trip to the conference…..and how sweet your nieces look.

    How fortunate to have met Neil Gaimon. I’ve just about finished reading The Graveyard Book……he has an imagination I could die for! (no pun intended)


    • Hey Ann! Oh, I LOVED “The Graveyard Book”… probably my favorite Gaiman book so far! He does have a killer imagination. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment! And yes, my nieces are beyond sweet!

  2. Pingback: ALA Chicago! | Erin Keyser Horn

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