BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - "Take a look at the menu, and order anything you want," said Steve T. Bickmore, Associate Professor of English Education at LSU. Young girls holding menus looked closer and their eyes widened. "Anything you want. It's on us," assured Bickmore.
LSU's Young Adult Literature Conference and Seminar was in its fourth day since its Sunday start, and this luncheon was a side-bar far from the madding crowd of teachers, educators and librarians gathered from around the state on the LSU campus. This was a simple crowd of well-dressed people.
"The luncheon is the result of a writing contest that we offered in the area for middle school kids to write about their favorite author," said Bickmore. "And the three kids today who are: the winner and the two runners up, both wrote about the author Sharon Flake. And Sharon Flake is here as a presenter and so one of their prizes that they get to have is lunch with Sharon Flake."
Flake's very popular books, like "The Skin I'm In," "Money Hungry" and "Who am I without Him?" connect with teenaged girls. Flake joins other authors also chosen for their African-American perspective and popularity.
Coe Booth, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander and Sharon Draper also are keynote speakers this week, as teachers and librarians furiously take notes and hope to inspire students to read more in the coming school year.
In literature LSU distributed at the seminar, there are links to news articles with titles that stress the importance of the gathering this week: "Where are the people of color in children's books/New York Times," "Where's the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?/CNN" and "Diversity in Children's Lit: Mediocrity Matters as Much as Masterpieces/TheAtlantic."
Some participants have returned to LSU's YAL seminar. LSU praised Martha Guarisco, a 6th grade teacher at Episcopal School in Baton Rouge for partnering with Dr. Louise Freeman of Mary Baldwin College to plan an academic unit for her students to learn about mental illness and empathy based on R.J. Palacio's book "Wonder."
The seminar continues through Friday on campus at LSU. The conference is a brainchild of Dr. Bickmore and he emphasizes how YAL can telegraph success to the young readers.
"Students seeing themselves in literature makes their immediate goals, issues, hopes, and dreams attainable and applicable," said Bickmore.