by Shaina Olmanson, Associate Editorial Director, Twenty-First Century Books
On April 27th, Lerner headed to the sixth annual Teen Lit Con, a yearly event put on by Minneapolis/St. Paul area libraries to promote literature, reading and writing, and to connect readers and authors. Readers enjoyed a day of speakers, author signings, trivia, writer’s studios, and other bookish fun. The event is funded by a Legacy Amendment Grant and local sponsors and is free for students and the public to attend.
The convention saw a strong turnout. Kids from elementary through high school took part in book recommendation fortune telling, button making, and the impressive Wall of Faves decorated with attendees’ favorite books.
This year’s author headliners were Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone), Becky Albertalli (What If It’s Us), Lamar Giles (Fresh Ink), and Jarrett Krosoczka (Hey, Kiddo). Lines for Adeyemi and Albertalli’s signing booths wrapped around the exhibit hall. Some of the other authors featured included Martha Brockenbrough (Unpresidented), Bryan Bliss (We’ll Fly Away), and J.M. Lee (Tides of the Dark Crystal).
At the kickoff session, the four headliners shared the barriers they’ve overcome to get their books into the world. They also discussed the shame they felt about wanting to be authors while coping with pressure from friends and family to choose a more practical career. It was great to see such successful authors be so honest about the challenges of the industry, especially for the future authors in the audience. Giles, a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, talked about the groundbreaking work authors, academics, and librarians have done to push big publishers to be more accepting of authors of color and the impact it has had on the types of stories being told now compared to just a decade ago.
While there were several “teen only” events for students, Teen Lit Con had plenty to offer educators. One such panel was YA Lit Trends: Social Justice & Activism, run by Amanda MacGregor of Teen Librarian Toolbox. She shared extensive book lists featuring diversity in race, class, culture, ability, gender, orientation, and experience. She offers resources for librarians (including slides and handouts) in her blog post covering Teen Lit Con.
MacGregor stressed the importance of having books with a diverse cast of characters, along with books to help teens stand up and fight back against systems of oppression. Titles such as Lerner’s No More Excuses: Dismantling Rape Culture by Amber J. Keyser and Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing Almost Everything by Alexandra Styron are informative, practical guides for young activists. It was encouraging to see Lerner author Shannon Gibney’s newest book, Dream Country, featured on MacGregor’s list, as well as our National Book Award finalist, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold.
Lerner has been an exhibitor at Teen Lit Con for the past several years. The conference is a great opportunity to connect with readers and librarians, as well as gain valuable feedback about what teens are looking to read next. We hosted a focus group to talk to teens about our upcoming young adult titles. Attendees discussed their favorite topics for YA lit and gave their opinions on cover designs and future YA nonfiction topics. They were especially excited about forthcoming titles Queer, 2nd Edition: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and How Not To Be A Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide by Meghan Doherty. Focus group participants were strongly against short books (the thicker the better). We love connecting with our readers and finding out how we can continue to produce quality content for future seasons.
By far the highlight of Lerner’s booth each year is our beanbag toss game, where students and librarians have the chance to win a free book from our stack of advance reader’s copies, including several from our new YA nonfiction imprint Zest. Even after we ran out of books, people (and our staff members) kept playing for the fun of it. (A tip from the beanbag toss pros: watch others first so you know how hard to throw!)
Thanks to the organizers and attendees of Teen Lit Con, and everyone who stopped by our booth to talk about books. Be sure to keep an eye on the New Releases page of lernerbooks.com for next season’s titles. See you next year!
Special thanks to editor Jordyn Taylor and intern Anna Laandsverk for their help with this post.