Oh you LA Times Festival of Books, I love you!

This weekend was one of my fave times in LA. The LA Times Festival of books! Every year I love it! Books everywhere! 130,000 loving books everywhere! Amazing authors everywhere!

I always look forward to it. And I love when I get to participate in it! This year was especially wonderful because I got to interview the amazingly fun, wonderful and talented Meg Cabot (who always looks so pretty!) (and is a big dork like me!)

Meg Cabot explaining about where ideas come during her one on one!

And there was a YA stage this year! Which was fantastic and wonderful! We threw two triva palooza’s and I moderated two panels Boys Will Be Boys with Ben Esch, Blake Nelson, Andrew Smith and Alan Zadoff and Truth / Fiction /Fiction / Truth with Cylin Busby, Sherri L Smith and Davida Wills Hurwin.

Other highlights:

Hanging in the green room with amazing authors including the always fabulous Antoine Wilson, Carolyn Kellogg, Mark Sarvas and Tod Goldberg (whose guide to my panels was hysterical)

(and whose first order of business was that he accidentally broke a chair)

Other awesome things? Introducing John Green to Wil Wheaton (who I had just met) (who is just as cool as you think he is.) Signing at Every Picture Tells a Story with Dave Horvath. Almost Karaoke with Edan Lepucki, Chris Daley, and so many others (whose singing stylings I so wanted to hear in that kooky weird place.) Seeing the delovely David Levithan. (I love you.) And talking with Stephen Elliot as we walked across the whole festival. (don’t forget you owe me a coca cola dude)

And hello! Meeting all the amazing people who came to the panels, asked briliant questions and who are avid book lovers! (reading rules!)

But the biggest highlight and honor this year was that I was the presenter of the YA award for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult which went to the marvelous book Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge.

Me and fellow presenter (for Mystery) Mark Haskell Smith before the awards.

So many people came up to me after the awards to tell me about how much they loved what I said in my introduction of the category (because I love young adult literature!) (yeah!) (YA!) and what I said about the five extraordinary books, that I thought I would share what I said here.

I would bet that everyone here in this room has one book from their childhood that they still give to friends. A book that says, this is my heart. This is what I mean.

One of the things that makes Young Adult literature so wonderful is that it is ageless. It has the ability to lift hearts, both young and old, with its variety and richness of truths told both in fiction and non-fiction. It has the strength to show us everything that we need to know and understand in order to transform us from who we were to who we are. Young adult literature has the power to be that book, the one we give to the children we know, or to the children that still live inside of us.

In literature for young people, we find everything that makes us human: whimsy, troubled history, science, love and worlds rich with magic. Such is the case with the five books nominated for Young Adult literature.

1. The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy by James Cross Giblin

It is hard to take an un-likeable character and make him understood, but in James Cross Giblin’s capable hands, we do just that. Tracing the life of Joe McCarthy, this complicated, yet highly influential American senator, the author makes the incomprehensible understandable, as we see the little moments that come together in a mans life to make him who he is and triggering him to do such harm. Along the way we learn something about our own country and its relationship to the world. In the end it is satisfying that there is a fall to a man who famously claimed “I can investigate anybody,” and in that process held America hostage to her fears. Whatever we think of Joe McCarthy, he is a powerful reminder that freedom is a delicate and fragile thing. This book is a plain hard look at what makes someone like “Just call me Joe”, tick.

2. The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Set on an island with a rich landscape and an even richer imagined native history, The Lost Conspiracy, tells the story of two sisters who come from a tribe that always smiles, no matter the circumstance, and is hated by the colonists that have taken the island over. Arilou, a girl who is thought to be one of the lost, those who act as oracles and whose gifts consist of senses that they can scatter away from their bodies, is revered by all. Haithan her younger sister, is her invisible caretaker. But all is not as it seems, Arilou is not quite right, and it is not certain that she is truly one of the lost. The truth could mean life or death for the tribe. When a conspiracy on the island murders all those who have the gift, except for Arilou, the two sisters are jolted into a grand adventure where everything about the world they live in is turned upside down. Frances Hardinge masterfully weaves a world of wonder, intrigue and conspiracy, gripping the reader with twists and turns steeped in the gentle heroics of two fierce spirits. She has us rooting for these girls who are more than what they seem and exactly who they were.

3. Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heligman

The story of Darwin’s struggle to reconcile his wife’s faith and his own doubts about religion alongside the birth of his theories is riveting. We journey with him on a radical ride. The evolution of their love, their family life, the tragedy of losing their daughter and their life long opposing views on faith, comes together beautifully to mirror the evolution of an idea. It is all the more poignant that Darwin’s day to day life was filled with this remarkable woman who challenged him to his core, but also was his staunch supporter to the very end. It’s a beautiful book that makes the birth of a something that revolutionized thought, very simple to understand because it shows how his personal life affected his work and how his work affected his personal life. Elegantly written and lovingly told, Heligman takes us on a journey that makes us understand both sides of the questions that surround the theory of evolution by making science and religion personal and human to Darwin himself. We are left astounded by the voyage as it goes from the Galapagos to the family room, and culminates in the writing of the momentous book the On the Origin of Species, which changed how we understand life as we know it.

4. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

History can sometimes seem to young people as though it is only something that happens to grown ups. It doesn’t. This book tells the history of the Civil Rights movement and the events in Selma from the unique perspective of the youngest activists. The children who marched alongside the adults in the fight to get the right to vote in the spring of 1965. Drawing on recollections of ordinary children who did the extraordinary, help to change history, Partridge walks us through the struggle in Selma, to Bloody Sunday to the five-day march in Montgomery, breaking down the history, the timeline, and the day to day fight that helped to change the tide. The book is coupled perfectly with gorgeous photographs that reveal the spirit, the urgency, the danger and the intense emotions of that time. This book is an inspiration, reminding us that even those who cannot vote, still have the capacity to understand to have an opinion on politics and more importantly, despite the dangers, have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and what they know is right.

5. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Set in no suburb that we can recognize, one that lives on the outskirts of the deepest imagination. These small tales, all deliciously strange, ring perfectly true in their depiction of the human condition. In this neighborhood we find every kind of weird tale. The grandiose story of how marriage, in the old days, used to consist of a scavenger hunt of impossible things done together. A man, who roams the streets in diving suit who softens the meanest woman on the block. An other worldly exchange student who lives in a pantry. Scraps of poetry that form a ball that lifts the heart and then returns to scattered pieces. A buffalo who always has the exact right advice. And yards full of colorfully painted missiles that find better uses than the ones they are meant for. Beautifully illustrated, the book itself, in its layout and design, is a wonder. This is like no other picture book you’ve read and yet it’s exactly the one you’ve been waiting to read. Shaun Tan manages to tell these simple odd tales in such a fashion that they curl into the corners of the soul and nourish the imagination.

And the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult goes to _______________.


5 thoughts on “Oh you LA Times Festival of Books, I love you!

  1. oh thanks for pointing Deborah’s blog entry. And oh! I will keep the extra The! I just copied directly from my speech. And enjoy all the books!

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