ALA Dispatch: Series Fiction & Claudia Kishi’s Wardrobe

Hello all! The ALA conference is going wonderfully. I’m so happy to be in New Orleans with so many rad librarians (and my non-librarian friend Arianna, who is graciously hosting me even though I won’t stop telling her about YA things that she doesn’t really care about.)

Anyway, we’ve only been at the conference one day, but I wanted to post about the session I attended last night, because it was wonderful! The session was Keep ‘Em Coming: Series Fiction Creators Talk Shop. The panelists were:

  • Dan Gutman (Baseball Card Adventures, My Weird School)
  • David Levithan (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; The Lover’s Dictionary; and, among other things, ghostwriter for Ann M. Martin)
  • Jonathan Stroud (the Bartimaeus Sequence)
  • Lauren Myracle (TTYL, etc)

I’d only heard of two of these authors (Levithan and Myracle), but all four were great speakers. I really want to pick up Jonathan Stroud’s books after hearing him talk (and not just because of the British accent). I probably won’t pick up any of Dan Gutman’s books since they are for younger readers and/or are about baseball, but they sound great for younger readers and/or baseball fans.

But, let’s talk about David Levithan, shall we! He talked about the “heyday” of series fiction in the late 80s/early 90s, when the Babysitters Club and Goosebumps and Animorphs books were all coming out once a month or even twice a month. And now publishers have moved away from that kind of “episodic” fiction, where there isn’t much character development, but the same characters come back over and over and stay in 8th grade forever and deal with Jackie Rodowski forever. (He said something about how unbelievably cruel it was to keep characters in 8th grade forever. He and Lauren Myracle both talked about how junior high is traumatizing but provides great fodder for books.) Now the trend is toward series books like Harry Potter, where there’s a smaller number of books and a definite plot and character arc. But, for example, Levithan edited the Hunger Games trilogy, and he said when he came into the office with the cover for Mockingjay, which says, “The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy!”, his adult co-workers all said things like, “Is it really the last one? Can’t she write one more?” and he said, “No! It’s a trilogy! The story is over!” But even adults have this impulse to want more of characters we like, and that’s why books like the Babysitters Club stick with us. We had more of them. We know those girls. They were our friends.

David Levithan proposes that with digital publication, we’ll see a return to this kind of episodic, book-a-month series fiction. The 39 Clues, which I have not read, is apparently a step in this direction as a “multimedia” series, where there are the books, but the characters and adventures continue online in between books. What an exciting concept!

He also talked about how in 1996, Scholastic got its first Internet connection and used it to host AOL Chats with the Babysitters. (I very definitely remember reading about those chats in the backs of books and being soo mad that we didn’t have AOL.) If you did have AOL and participated in those chats, you were talking to young David Levithan, who started off as a 19-year-old intern at Scholastic (“I was this 19-year-old man sitting on the subway reading the Babysitters Club books with a highlighter.”) He talked about how funny the chats were, since the girls already knew everything about the babysitters–which got him into trouble when he was asked about Jessi’s favorite ballet. (“The Nutcracker.” “What’s your favorite character from The Nutcracker?” “Uh… the Nutcracker?”)

“I was this 22-year-old gay Jew from New Jersey, and these 11-year-old girls were asking me, ‘What are you wearing?’ ‘Uh, Capri pants, of course!'”

Love it. Now I would please like for David Levithan to host AOL chats as Katniss Everdeen. “What are you wearing, Katniss?” “Clothes don’t matter! No one is safe!”

Anyway, after the presentation I sidled up to David Levithan and told him how much I’d loved reading my friend Amanda’s stories about his visit to her library, and all the fun facts he told her about the Babysitters Club. I told him how I got an extra hole in one of my ears to be like Claudia Kishi. “I’ve since realized that I am no Claudia Kishi, but it never healed over, so I have an extra hole in my ear because of the Babysitters Club.”

Also, THANK GOD, he told me that in the process of relaunching the BSC books and making them “time-neutral,” they made no changes to Claudia’s wardrobe, because “Claudia doesn’t care what’s in fashion.” So true!


Fear not: beneath this trendy new cover, Claudia Kishi's wardrobe remains unchanged

I also got my picture taken with David Levithan, and you bet your books (I meant to type “boots” but I think “bet your books” is actually more appropriate) that I will post it, as soon as I get it from my friend Michelle’s camera.

Edit: here it is! God, I look kind of psychotic. That is just how happy I was to meet David Levithan, I suppose!

David Levithan & Renata

My face looks as crazy as Claudia's outfits! (Topical humor.)

More about ALA later–I have to leave and go see Jeff Kinney!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *