I am passionate about children’s literature and representation of stories, and so I decided to attend as many sessions as I could that were presented by authors and/or illustrators of picture books. I wanted to capitalize on the rare opportunity to meet with them and hear the stories behind their stories. It was such an eye-opening experience! Contrary to my assumptions, I learned that most authors and illustrators are contractually not allowed to meet or have conversations during the process, especially during the early stages. This is so that illustrators’ imaginations are not restricted. Authors are allowed to take a look at the illustration drafts and make comments to revise any misrepresentations of cultural or historical depictions, as well as any illustrations that seem to misalign with the text.
For some author/illustrator pairs, NCTE was the first time that they met directly. This lack of contact proved to yield powerful results. For example, the book Where Are You From was written by Yamile Saied Méndez, who is an Argentine-American married to a Puerto Rican man. She addressed the story to her son who will have to navigate his mixed identity and his roots as he grows older. The illustrator Jaime Kim is a Korean native. Yamile and Jaime both came to the United States at age 17-18 for their college degree. Regardless of their differences, Jaime was able to deeply relate to Yamile’s text, and successfully portrayed Yamile’s story and emotions, while also incorporating her own interpretations. I learned that this kind of collaboration and merging of interpretations allow stories to become more robust and touch the hearts of a wider audience.
During the conference, I was also invited to join some sessions hosted by the Asian (American) caucus. In one panel session, a group of Asian American English Language Arts teachers shared their experiences on teaching literacy through their positionality. Considering that there were only 5 sessions in the whole program that were by or about the Asian demographic, it was refreshing to hear from this perspective that I am a part of, and I wished that there had been a little more Asian representation at the conference.
When I wasn’t attending presentations, I was at the exhibition hall for free books and book signings. I met authors of books that I have either used in a classroom, lesson plan, or that I treasure in my personal library. Among many were Jon Sciezka (of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs), Thanha Lai (of Inside Out and Back Again), and Yuyi Morales (of Dreamers/Sonadores).
By the end of the conference weekend, I had obtained a collection of signed books that represent stories of characters from minority groups. I am excited to finish reading all of them, use them in future lessons/lesson plans, and to also recommend and share them with colleagues!
One of the book-signing highlights was meeting the keynote speaker, George Takei!
During the conference, I was also able to attend some sessions by my professors and cohort from the University of Pennsylvania. NCTE was a great experience that allowed me to catch up with colleagues’ personal and academic endeavors.
Overall, this experience allowed me to see how the work that has been done within Dr. Kim’s research team directly plays a role in the development of teachers’ practice. Although the work of teachers, researchers, and authors inform and shape one another, we often do most of our work in isolation. This conference was an opportunity and space for all members within the field to meet face-to-face, and have conversations about their respective work. Observing how research contributes to the field and supports practitioners really helped to reinforce my desire to want to be a part of academia and continue to be involved with research.