I just got back from the International Reading Association conference in Orlando, FL. I went there as a guest of Highlights, who flew me out and put me up in a hotel so that I could sign copies of the poster I illustrated for them. Every year, especially for the IRA annual gathering, they commission a poem about reading and an illustration to go with it. This year it was the enchanting “Welcome, Reader” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, a talented poet.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had been to the Texas Library Association annual conference. Since I failed to report on that in a timely manner, I decided I would just use my experience there to compare with the IRA. Both events are quite large. The Texas Library Association annual conference, held in Austin this year, is nearly as big as the national conferences, I’m told. Everything is big in Texas, including the power of the librarian! Despite it’s large size, the crowds weren’t huge. The Highlights crew, who invited Shelley and I to come sign copies of Upon Secrecy, said it was because of all of the school and municipal budget cutbacks. The IRA was a bit larger and more crowded. It was a national gathering. Once again, I was told attendance was diminished because of state budget deficits. Also, many attendees didn’t stick around after their lectures because of the seductive call of the nearby theme parks. Oh, Orlando!
I obviously expected librarians to be the main attendees at the TLA. I didn’t know who to expect for the IRA. Turns out it is mostly reading educators- reading specialists and elementary school teachers. Who knew they had their own giant convention? The vendors were pretty similar at both events. All of the big book publishing houses and many of the little ones had booths, along with magazine and educational materials publishers. The TLA had vendors of information systems and library furniture plus a group of puppeteers who do library performances. The IRA had more of the teaching supplements and materials vendors.
Both conventions had a lot of big name authors and illustrators there signing books at their publisher’s booths. I got a book, YOKO, and poster signed by the renowned author/illustrator Rosemary Wells at the IRA. She was at the Hyperion-Disney booth, which I hope to be at next year signing Wiener Wolf. At the TLA, Shelley and I got to meet the multi-talented Dan Yaccarino. We also went to listen to a panel of illustrator and authors that he participated in. There weren’t any author or illustrator presentations at the IRA, as far as I could tell.
Then there was the signing itself. At the TLA in April, Shelley and I were there just to sign purchased copies of Upon Secrecy. We managed to lure over a couple of buyers and hand out a handful of free promo bookmarks. Highlights/Boyds Mill Press had just two staff members there, Elizabeth Knight and Laura Frazier. They were both very nice and helpful and were very experienced at the whole convention thing. At the IRA, Highlights and Boyds Mill Press had their own separate booths along with two other booths for Stenhouse and one other branch of the Highlights company and about a dozen people to staff them all, including Elizabeth and Laura and editor in chief, Chris Cully. I signed nearly 400 posters over two days and maybe 20 copies of Upon Secrecy. Free signed posters are apparently a pretty big draw!
Finally, there were all of the great people I got to meet. The staff at Highlights/Boyds Mill Press are one of the greatest groups of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. At the TLA in Austin, I got to mingle with all of the local authors and illustrators that have made Shelley and I feel so welcome in our new home. And even though I had my head bent over a stack of posters for most of the time at the IRA, I did get to venture out and talk with a couple of people. There was Dina Sherman, who remembered me from TLA, at the Hyperion-Disney booth. She is very excited about Wiener Wolf and I look forward to working with her at future convention signings. I also ran into Lou Waryncia, the editorial director for Cobblestone Publishing. Shelley and I met the very friendly and generous Lou at a Highlights writing workshop at Chautauqua a few summers ago where we got to have lunch with him and show him our portfolios. I have since created many, many illustrations for Cobblestone magazines. It pays to leave the studio and go out to these wonderful conventions and workshops!