The ALA Midwinter Meeting has posted fairly strong attendance in recent years, but this year’s meeting in Philadelphia was off to a noticeably quiet start, largely due to Mother Nature. Fresh on the heels of a major snowstorm and with temperatures lingering in the teens, travel snarls contributed to a lightly attended opening night reception on the exhibit floor Friday. Travel woes aside, the show goes on, with a full slate today of meetings and sessions, following Friday’s opening general session.

The opening session featured five acclaimed children’s book creators, who chatted with Booklist senior editor Ilene Cooper “about creating great nonfiction for youth.”

Panelists included Brian Floca, award-winning author of Locomotive (Atheneum); Kadir Nelson, the bestselling author/ illustrator of Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Scholastic); Tonya Bolden, whose 2005 book Maritcha (Abrams) was an ALA Notable Book for Children; Steve Sheinkin, whose book Bomb (Brook/Flash Point) won a Newbery Honor; and Melissa Sweet, Caldecott-winning illustrator for Jen Bryant’s 2008 book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Scholastic).

Each of the authors spoke intimately of their own processes, and of what drives them to write great nonfiction for kids, even though many of the authors conceded that they did not like history when they were growing up.

“It is our job as illustrators to deliver the impact between those two covers,” Sweet told the audience. Although she said delivering on that challenge was “a ton of work,” there was no more exciting feeling than knowing that you got it right.

Nelson echoed the sentiments of all the panelists when describing what drew him to nonfiction: “I was really attracted to great stories," he said, noting that history is filled with moments of great drama.

Saturday’s program features a packed schedule of author appearances and general sessions, inlcuding Wes Moore, whose first book, The Other Wes Moore (Random/Spiegel & Grau), was a New York Times bestseller; Matthew Quick, bestselling author of the Philadelphia-based Silver Linings Playbook, whose new novel The Good Luck of Right Now will be published in 2014 by HarperCollins. Bestselling author Ishmael Beah, who wrote A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, will deliver the Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture in the auditorium. Beah’s debut novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, is just out from Sarah Crichton Books.