If there was a theme to Wednesday’s Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, it was that reading books does not just educate and entertain young readers, it can inspire them to, in speaker Lois Lowry’s words, “fix this world.” National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers set the tone for the event in his welcoming remarks to a packed hall of 1,100 booksellers. “Reading has made my life, reading has transformed my existence,” Myers declared. “We need to develop the next generation of readers. We can make children believe that books can take you far.” Following Myers, the event’s youngest speaker, actor Chris Colfer, 22, a star of the television program Glee, exemplified what young people can do.
Colfer—whose debut children’s book, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, will be published by Little, Brown in July—told the starstruck audience that The Land of Stories was a fairy tale he’s wanted to tell since he was a child, when he was “obsessed” with a book of fairy tales his mother read to him. After entertaining the audience by recounting some of the questions he’s been asked “on the red carpet about The Land of Stories, such as ‘Do you make a cameo appearance in the book?’” Colfer described the long process of illustrating the book, including showing off illustrations of two drawings he’d created as a third-grader and as a 10th-grader, which inspired illustrations included in The Land of Stories.
Next up was John Green, whom Colfer introduced as the “Justin Bieber of the literary world.” Green revealed that he’d found fan fiction about himself and Colfer on the Internet, prompting Colfer later to admit that he was responsible for writing the fan fiction and had titled it, “50 Shades of Green.”
Green is renowned for successfully using social media to promote himself and his books, and with his brother, Hank, created a wildly popular virtual community called Nerdfighters, who “work together to increase awesome and decrease world suck,” according to their Web site. Nerdfighters currently boasts 77,000 members. But Green wasn’t at Javits today to talk up the Internet: he was there to talk about books, including his latest YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which was released in January by Dutton. Reading is “quiet and contemplative” and takes concentration, Green said. “It takes focus—it’s not an activity you can do while doing other things.” In contrast, he said, social media is for scanning, for “looking for what’s next.”
Lois Lowry, whose YA novel Son, the conclusion to the Giver series, will be published by Houghton Mifflin in October, recalled the first booksellers convention at which she spoke, in 1987, in D.C., with a record 22,000 attendees.
Lowry visibly moved the audience as she spoke about “young people, who believe they can fix this world.” The Giver, published in 1993, was written, she recalled, in response to her son’s question as he fought with the U.S. military in the Middle East: “Why do people do such terrible things to each other?” It’s a question, she says, that remains unanswered, but it haunts her even more since her son was killed in an F-15 fighter plane crash in 1995.
Kadir Nelson made the case for the extraordinary things young people can do when called upon to act. Recalling the first time he heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in fifth grade, when he later had to recite it from memory in front of his class, Nelson described both the emotional and the creative process of illustrating I Have a Dream, a picture book containing excerpts from the 1963 speech. I Have a Dream will be released by Random House/Schwartz & Wade in October. “How [could] I possibly add anything to Dr. King’s powerful words?” Nelson said, recalling that reciting the speech in fifth grade made him “stronger, more confident.”