Elizabeth (Betsy) Partridge emailed me the other day to say that she will be presenting at the NCSS conference in Denver from November 12-14 and noticed that I would be as well. That’s true — and the fact that she and I and Ann Bausum (and others? let us know) will be there is significant. For decades the conference children’s book publishers have attended in November has been NCTE-ALAN. NCTE and ALAN are terrific, a wonderful place for authors of YA books to meet teachers, talk about their books, become known. The conference was, originally, scheduled during Thanksgiving week — as a kind gesture to many attendees who were single and did not have a big family over-stuffed meal to attend. But then that scheduling became more of a burden and it was moved a week or so away from the holiday. In turn NCTE is generally a week or so before that. But the reason why NCSS has been in the shadows for children’s trade publishers is not mainly the unfortunate proximity of dates.
The last time I went to NCSS was in 1988; even then publishers felt it was not our conference, and they were right. The exhibitor’s halls were totally dominated by the textbook houses, while the sessions were split between highly academic theoretical debates and the most practical mimeographed classroom handouts. This was clearly a conference for those selling textbooks to states, for academics interested in concepts of education, and for classroom teachers. It has no place for, really, no need for trade book authors. This year we authors are testing the waters to see if that might have changed. NCSS itself has made trade book in elementary schools a discussion strand in the conference. In the days of NCLB testing where Social Studies has lost out the recognize that readability — books kids might actually enjoy reading — may give Social Studies a new entry into classrooms.
I feel like we authors are scouts — pioneers — exploring this new land to see what fit, if any, there is between the world of Social Studies teachers and we who write about history in trade books. I am certain that the issue of price and printing will come up — since so many of our books are in hardcover, which means they are by definition not suited to the classroom. But if all we return with is ammunition to open up discussions with publishers about classroom editions, or site-license downloads, or whatever — we will have accomplished something. If any of you will be in Denver, please say hello — I will be speaking Saturday morning at 8 and at 9, Besty at 10:30 (I don’t know Ann’s schedule), and I’ll be at the National Geographic booth at 10:30.