Orlando Strong: A Report from ALA Annual

By Lisa Periale Martin

My trip to the ALA annual conference in Orlando, Florida, was a great departure for me. I typically go to ALA conferences that I can drive to because of all the books I acquire there (I can easily fill up my mini-van)!

In spite of that, Orlando was calling me. It had been two years since the 2014 conference in Las Vegas, and I wanted to be in the thick of all those authors, illustrators, publishers, and booksellers again. The idea of going to presentations to get fresh inspiration and ideas for working with young readers is pretty compelling. And then there are the “extras.”

One of the highlights of this conference was a side trip to Eatonville, Florida, organized and sponsored by EMIERT (Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table – an ALA committee). For any serious fan of the writings of Zora Neale Hurston (American folklorist, novelist, short story writer, and anthropologist, publishing in the 1930s and 40s), the town of Eatonville, Florida, looms large in the imagination.

Hurston grew up there and weaves characters, local lore, and the speech and expressions of the residents of her beloved hometown into much of her writings. I jumped at the chance to visit this historic town.

It was a short bus ride to Eatonville. Our group of librarians started out at the St. Lawrence A.M.E. Church, where a local historian gave us some background on Hurston’s writings, and the history of that church. From there we went on to visit the historic Moseley home (where Hurston often stayed when she returned to Eatonville), and the town hall, where another historian gave us more of the history of how it became the first all-black town to incorporate in the United States in 1887.

We walked to the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts. After viewing very creative and moving exhibits, many of us bought some of her books. Of course, we also toured the local library before heading back to Orlando in time to catch the opening key note speaker, Eric Dyson.

Over the next few days I attended sessions about: the best new apps and web sites for k-12 educators, building cultures of inquiry and literacy in STEM, and how to give kids opportunities to help others with the Harry Potter Alliance, to name just a few.

Did I go to lots of book signings? Of course! Did I experience the insanity of boxing up way too many books, ARCs, posters, and irresistibly silly book-related swag in the convention post office for my two school libraries back in Arizona? You better believe it. Sigh. But it was, as always, so worth it.

I enjoyed meeting authors Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Peña, and Pam Muñoz Ryan, and seeing our local Pura Belpre Award-winning author Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford at the Cinco Puntos Press booth. Sharing stories and photographs of these author and illustrator encounters with my students will inspire many of them to check out and read their books. I’m jazzed and ready to launch new book displays, and plan some reading club and family literacy events and activities.

With everything going on in the world, I was glad to be in Orlando standing with that community and now I’m glad to be back in Southern Arizona ready to passionately share the love of reading with young people. It is truly one of the best ways I can positively impact my corner of the universe in a way that promotes critical independent thinking, appreciation of all cultures, and helps kids discover their own voices and stories as they learn to appreciate the voices and stories of others. All that from one conference? Yes, all that and more.

In closing, let me say that library professionals in this state are fortunate that our state library designates some funding for continuing education scholarships. Check their website for library development resources that include information and forms related to this scholarship. Without it I wouldn’t have had this valuable opportunity for professional development.

Lisa Periale Martin is the Coyote Trail Elementary and DeGrazia Elementary School Librarian, Marana Unified School District.

Leave a Reply