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A Children’s Literature Breakfast

Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to attend Anderson’s Bookshops 9th Annual Children’s Literature Breakfast.

Here’s how the morning went down:

Actually, I should start with the night before…

11:00pm – Motown Night at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Loud and great. And loud.

Okay, now the day…

5:30am – Riiiiiiing! What’s that you say? I can’t hear you over my ringing ears. I question my decision to hang out in front of the huge speakers the night before. This may be a problem.

6:45 – MapQuested directions in hand, I head out to Naperville, IL.

7:30 – Dang, the Chicago suburbs are spread out. I arrive at the banquet hall expecting to see a pretty big group of people. I see a huge group of people. Lesson learned – never underestimate the draw of Weird Al.

7:35 – I meet up with fellow school librarian and Chicagoland local John Schumacher (he of the must-follow Twitter account @MrSchuReads and excellent blog Watch. Connect. Read.). He is also, thankfully, good at saving seats. The inevitable Anderson’s Bookshop swag (filled with all manner of poster, bookmark, button, and sticker):

7:45 – What do you know? It turns out I’m sitting at a whole table of Twitter folks. A great group. Here we are, not tweeting:

@100scopenotes @mindi_r @akgal68 @mentortexts @mrschureads

(Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for the photo)

7:55 – I realize that author Tim Green is sitting at our table – my students love his books. I ask him if any other former NFL players have ever approached him about getting into the writing biz. He says “no”. Indeed the path from sports star to author is not a common one.

8:10 – I realize that Order of the Odd Fish author James Kennedy is scheduled to talk about his 90 Second Newbery project at the end of the event – nice!

8:20 – Words in the Dust author Trent Reedy is the first of five keynote speakers. He talks about the military service in Afghanistan and the true events that led to him writing his debut novel. A moving account.

8:45 – Anderson’s emplyees Jan Dundon and Kathleen March share a few of their favorite recent books, including Cat Secrets, A Pet for Petunia, Young Fredle, and Small Persons with Wings. I am instantly inspired to buy a bunch of books.

9:15 – Author table chat time. Tim Green explains the ins and outs of author visits via Skype. Man, is there any better use of this technology? Author doesn’t have to travel, yet can visit schools in remote areas – there is no loser in that equation.

9:20 – Riiiiiiiing! I was hoping the Motown hits-induced ear damage would subside, but no such luck.

9:25 – Keynote speaker #2 – Mark Teague. Yeah! Having heard him on the Katie Davis podcast, I knew Mark was an eloquent, interesting fellow. And he’s true to form this morning, talking about his artistic process for this image from Firehouse:

9:35 – Mark Teague holds up his latest book, LaRue Across America. Did you know this was coming out? Slipped under my radar. Teague marvels at the strings Anderson’s must have pulled – the book doesn’t come out for another month, but it is for sale here. He gets one of the bigger laughs of the morning when he recalled his editor saying “But there’s no plot” about the first LaRue book when it was in its infancy. Watch the video:

9:50 – Book buying area is open. I go and buy those books I had on my mind:

10:05 – Keynote speaker #3 is up – Tim Green. Mr. Green gets motivational, espousing the truth that hard work and a bit of luck can go a long way.

10:15 – Tim throws in a friendly jab at Weird Al when  he describes his own singing voice to “a wet cat – like Weird Al”. Good natured laughs all around. Al is a good sport about it, but I have a feeling this might come up again.

10:30 – Authors switch tables, and I find myself next to Mark Teague:

(Thanks to @MrSchuReads for the photo)

10:35 – You have to get a book signed, right?

(Thanks to @MrSchuReads for the photo)

10:40 – Keynote speaker #4 – Katheryn Lasky. She begins with saying how pleased she is to not have to follow Weird Al. Lasky has written a lot of children’s books, but you might know her best from the Guardians of Ga’Hool series.

(Thanks to @MrSchuReads for the photo)

11:00 – Funny and thoughtful, Lasky encourages the audience not to put much stock in children’s lit trends, as all the good books come “from the inside out, not the outside in”.

11:05 – Authors switch tables again and we get a chance to talk with the aforementioned Trent Reedy.

11:15 – Keynote speaker #5 – Weird Al Yankoviak. They opt for the Q & A session, and Al fields questions that audience members submitted. He’s as funny and sharp as you might expect. Here he is talking about wanting to write a children’s book since back in the Eat It days:

11:35 – Al get his revenge on Tim Green, joking that Green was the inspiration for his picture book When I Grow Up. Green (and the audience) eats it up.

11:50 – 90 Second Newbery time! James Kennedy takes the stage to explain the project.

11:52 – They try to play the Wrinkle in Time 90 Second Newbery clip, but the sound isn’t working.

11:53 – Sound still out, the ever resourceful Kennedy just stands next to the screen and does a dramatic voice-over of everything the characters are saying. Awesome.

12:00 – Closing comments and then the mingling begins. Authors set up shop for book signings and lines begin to form.

12:15 – Hey – I meet Julie from the blog Hi Miss Julie! – we made a book review song together last spring, but I had yet to meet in real life. We talked about getting the band back together for another musical review.

12:35 – Time to head out and rest my ears. Thanks to Anderson’s Bookshop for a wonderful event.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Here I was, reading away, thinking, “Oh man! I wish I’d been there!” and then came across my own name! So I WAS kind of there. 8-) Thanks for the link love, Travis! Isn’t Anderson’s just BEYOND?!

  2. Thanks for the recap, Travis! I went to the breakfast a couple of years ago when I was still living up north. Anderson’s is awesome! :D

  3. Great recap, Travis! Thanks for driving down. You’ll have to attend another Anderson’s event.

  4. Why in the world is my mouth open during the group shot? How strange!!!

  5. Mirror = great purchase. That book is amazing! I got quite a charge out of seeing that you went to the Empty Bottle – back in my younger, crazier days, I saw many a show there. You’re lucky it isn’t July or August – that place gets disgustingly hot.

  6. This is so juicy!! I love Teague’s work — how great to see his book signing art. Thanks, Travis. :)

  7. This was my third Anderson’s breakfast. I always meet a lot of people worth knowing — it’s really great of them to put it on. Thanks for mentioning the “90-Second Newbery,” too! Planning on doing something for it?

  8. Anonymous (because Anderson's is pretty darned powerful) says

    I’m interested that no one has brought up the fact that this year Anderson’s asked writers to pay to attend the breakfast. “Rising costs require us to ask author participants for a nominal fee of $20 (less than half of what our general guests pay).” I find that slightly distasteful, especially given the nature of the event. The authors are part of the draw for the general audience. We’re a piece of the show, giving extra value to the teachers and librarians (who are getting CPDU credits), without many book sales to show for it at the end of the day. It’s not effortless to work the (too big) room, switching tables like you’re a guest of the Mad Hatter — dirty place settings and all. I think on balance we’re the ones doing Anderson’s a favor, and I hope they’ll go back to comping it.

    • You bring up a good point, Anonymous, and one that I have heard other authors and illustrators make. I agree with you that charging authors to attend sends an negative message – here’s hoping this goes away for next year’s event.


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