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Comics Showcased at NYC School Librarian Conference

Book Expo, Comic Con, ALA Annual. If you’re a librarian, book seller or publisher, you’ve probably heard of one if not all of these conferences. Chances are, unless you are a NYC School Librarian, you haven’t heard of the NYC School Librarian’s Fall Conference. Each fall, NYC School librarians gather for a mini conference. There’s a keynote speaker, exhibitors, and many breakout sessions. (Keep in mind that NYC Schools service over 1 million students. There is no exact number of how many librarians there are, but there are a lot!)

In the past, comics have been front and center of this conference, but this year, the theme of the conference was Creating Engaged Learners: Bringing the Common Core to Life through School Libraries. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see at least one panel on graphic novels.

Facilitated by Sarah Hinkle, librarian at Queens Public Library, the panel consisted of four excellent comics artists: Kevin Pyle, Dave Roman, Misako Rocks!, and Colleen AF Venable.

After each author introduced their books and told about their work, the rest of the session was left to the audience. What was on the librarian’s minds?

Q. Age ratings are still a huge concern with comics. If a parent flips through a comic, they’ll more easily see any objectionable material.  So what are librarian’s options?

A. The librarians were pointed to a number of sources. They were reminded that many trade journals such as SLJ, Library Media Connection, Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA, etc. are regularly reviewing and featuring graphic novels.  They were also pointed to this site as well as ALSC’s list of Graphic Novel Core Collection, Yalsa’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens and Robin Brenner’s site: No Flying No Tights.

(Note: Robin recently covered this topic in her Question Tuesday column.)

Q. How are comic books leveled?  Often, classroom libraries are leveled. Here in NYC we use Fountas and Pinell.  But the school library does not level their books. After all, it would go against the Library’s Bill of Rights. It would pigeon-hole students to a limited number of books. Still, how do you address the student who comes in looking for books—comic books—on a certain level?

A. There’s no pat answer for this question. Colleen, who just released book 4 of Guinea Pig Series, talked about how often graphic novels often use a more difficult vocabulary because the pictures provide context clues to the definition.  Which led the way to the discussion of wordless comics. Titles like Owly, Robot Dreams, and the Adventures of Polo were all mentioned. Incidentally, if you want to see a list of more wordless comics, I stumbled across this GoodReads lists.)

Q.  Do you do author visits in schools?

A. There was a resounding yes to this one.  Each cartoonist had their own fee, workshop, and way to schedule. But they all pointed to their websites for more information about school visits.

Q. What are some of the latest trends that you’re seeing in comics?

A.  Dave thought there was a greater move to nonfiction titles in comics. He shared how his wife, Raina Telgemeier, pitched Smile, she was dissuaded because there was no market for it. But in fact, the title was a huge hit and there is a market for the title.

Colleen thought titles for emergent readers were coming into fashion. Toon Books was in the lead, but more recently Balloon Toons is entering the race.

The session quickly came to a close, but the librarians who missed the session were able to meet the panelists at an author signing and later an author speed dating event.

I have to quickly describe the author speed dating, because I’ve never done anything like this! The librarians sat in groups of 3-5 at a table and every 5 minutes the authors rotated. Each author talked about something different.

I was fortunate enough to sit with Dave Roman who talked about his latest book Astronaut Academy and his upcoming release Teen Boat. He talked about the visits he and his wife conduct in many different schools. He also showed us one of his mini comics and explained how he had students start creating one in his workshops.

Misako Rocks! also stopped at our tables and talked about her titles.  I never knew that her first title, Rock-N-Roll Love, was a bit autobiographical. She was actually an exchange student and fell in love with a rocker when she was a young teen! And in order to write her Detective Jermain title, she went into schools and “stalked” teenagers to see what it was like to be an American teenager. The detective aspect of the book is based on the fact that her father is a detective in Tokyo.

As I was trying to get out the door to go home, I passed by the cartoonists again and overheard Kevin Pyle describe his upcoming title, due to be released this March: Take What You Can Carry, which is a fictional story about the Japanese Internment.

So for one panel, there were a whole lot of comics showcased at the 2011 NYC School Librarian Conference.  (I very briefly talked to Barry Lyga… but it was mostly to just say hi.)  The comics community is still vibrant and has much to share.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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