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Sunday Visits Postponed

The First Annual KidLit Conference: Chicago '07

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I frequently lament the amount of traveling that I do. The introvert in me just wants to be at home, staying caught up with my own stuff, but my job requires pretty frequent trips. Therefore, it was somewhat surprising that when Robin Brande proposed hosting a potluck supper for children's book bloggers IN CHICAGO, I jumped up and said "I'll go." I mean, who flies almost all the way across the country to have dinner with a bunch of people they've never met face to face? And yet... how could I resist the chance to meet some of the wonderful people from this community in person? People that I email with, or read blogs from, practically every day.

Short answer: I couldn't resist. And neither could a lot of other people. And what started out as a little dinner evolved to add "a couple of talks in the afternoon". Eventually, thanks to the tireless efforts of Robin, and some meeting planning support from her friend Annette, it became a jam-packed one-day conference with roughly 70 attendees: The First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference

And let me tell you, it was SO SO SO worth the trip. It was a little surreal at first (as Adrienne said), talking face to face with people I'd only chatted with online before. Some people were exactly the way I expected them to be, and others were more of a surprise. But everyone was warm and friendly and smart and articulate - it was simply a joy to be there.

We spent most of the conference in a big room, sitting around a single rectangular arrangement of tables, open in the center. This meant that everyone could see pretty much everyone else, and facilitated discussion. And boy, was there plenty of discussion. In the morning, we covered blogging basics, podcasting, the Cybils, and ideas for promoting the Kidlitosphere as a whole (with the authors off having their own discussion of blogging for authors during the Cybils session). In the afternoon, we talked about techniques for raising your blog's profile, ways to write better book reviews, and the ethics of reviewing. Then we had an array of visiting and local authors in a meet and greet event organized by Esme Raji Codell.

And then, after a break for cocktails, we did sit down for the dinner (though it was a bit more formal than a potluck supper, thanks to Annette). We had a couple of speeches, and a raffle with amazing prizes. I won a very cool set of books, thanks to the efforts of Faith Hochhalter, Children’s Book Buyer for Changing Hands Bookstore, who got publishers to donate to the cause. (More about those books later). It's fortunate for me that I had Mheir with me, to help me tote home all of my loot.

I'm not going to go into detail about all of the sessions, at least not right now. But I do want to share with you what Robin said about why the conference was so wonderful:

"It’s because people are getting to hang out with friends they’ve never met in person, we’ve all proven we aren’t actually prison inmates who are just posing as librarians or authors (although I still can’t vouch for those who weren’t able to come), and it’s just crazy-wonderful to talk nonstop with so many like-interested people."

That's the real key: finding like-interested people. Such a relief, for we adult fans of children's and young adult literature. Here's what Mary Lee from A Year of Reading said:

"It's like being inside a story along with some of your favorite characters who have come to life from other books!"

I love that! You can find the group photo, posted by Mark from Just One More Book, here, and some other photos from Mark and Andrea here. After the dinner was over, a bunch of us stayed in the function room for two more hours, milling about, talking, drinking a little. I think that other groups migrated to Starbucks. Of course some people had to leave, but many of us couldn't tear ourselves away. To talk in person with Fuse #8 about snarkiness in book reviews, to share mutual regret over the cancellation of Roswell with Liz B., to compare notes with MotherReader about a picture book that didn't work for either of us, and many many other conversations... It was such a gift. I'm both grateful to and awed by Robin for putting it all together.

To those of you who I met this weekend, thanks for being such kindred spirits. I'm not going to try to list everyone I talked to, because I know that I'd slip up and leave someone out. But know that I'll be reading all of your blogs and books with a new level of appreciation and connectedness.

And to those of you who weren't able to attend, you were missed! I hope that some of you will make it next year. And yes, there is going to be a next year. We even have a location already. Robin proposed holding next year's conference in Seattle, and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to run it. And Jone Rush MacCulloch (MsMac from Check It Out) said: "If you have it in Portland, I’ll do it." Since she said this in front of 60 witnesses, I think it's going to happen. More details are here. It sounds like Robin plans to remain very involved next year, too.

So, start thinking about how you can justify a trip to Portland, OR sometime next year. Looks like it's going to be a two-day conference, with a slightly less frenetic pace. My guess is that we'll have even more participants, and I KNOW that we'll have interesting panels, as well as informal discussions that we can't tear ourselves away from.

On this trip, Mheir and I also got to spend Friday night with old friends who live in Chicago, and to meet their three beautiful daughters. They (the kids) did some Irish dancing for us, and I was able to read a little bit with the youngest. The adults watched the Red Sox together, and generally caught up with each other's lives. That was a great evening, too. Overall, I am feeling very fortunate right now. Tired, but fortunate. Most definitely worth the trip.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.