by Denise Johnson
Last week I attended the Book Expo of America (BEA) for the first time. I had heard teachers and librarians rave about this conference for years, but I’d never had the opportunity to attend. Now I know why they get so excited about it!
The 2015 BEA conference was held in New York City at the Javits Convention Center, with a total area of 300,000 square feet. It was filled with books, authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, book sellers, and book reviewers. My teaching and research extensively involve children’s and young adult literature, so naturally a conference about books was appealing. However, I had never attended a conference solely about books. The conferences I usually attend include books and authors, but also offer sessions on literacy instruction. What made this conference very special was that the Javits center was full of book lovers who love to be around other book lovers. At this conference, there weren’t any sessions on how to teach literature or literacy strategies or how to motivate students to read. It was simply a conference for people who love to read. In short, nirvana!
Many well-known authors with new or soon-to-be-released books in the children’s or young adult genres were there signing books. Avid book lovers love to meet the authors of the books they love. Books really do change lives, sometimes in significant ways, and there is something very special about seeing, talking to, shaking the hand of, and getting the signature of an author who wrote a book that moved you to tears, touched your heart, made you laugh out loud, or took you on a magical journey. When you meet the author, you make an important physical connection to the person who has affected your life. As I stood in line waiting my turn to get an author’s new book and signature, I heard many people share their stories of the effects certain books have had on them.
Another wonderful aspect of the conference was that the books, mostly Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs), were given to participants free of charge. Yes, free! For teachers and librarians who often buy books out of their own pockets, this was a big bonus! As I saw the many smiling faces of educators receiving books for their schools, I thought about how these educators will go back to their schools in the fall and share the story of meeting the author and getting his or her new book. Many educators ask that the dedication be made out to their school and students, rather than to them personally. And often, after experiencing what it is like to meet an author, educators will ask authors to visit their schools so that students can share in the experience.
BEA was an amazing event. It is rare to be in the midst of so many book lovers at one time. I hope to return every year.