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An embarrassment of riches

BBF logoI adore the Boston Book Festival. It’s a place to discover new authors. It’s a place to fawn over authors you already know all about. It’s a showcase of how books can be many things to many people, set against the backdrop of Copley Square in the fall. What’s not to love?

When this year’s speakers were announced, I was especially excited about two of them: middle-grade author Louis Sachar and YA author Libba Bray. I’ve enjoyed Sachar’s work since I wiggled my ten-year-old ears along with Mrs. Gorf in Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Bray’s range, from the hilarious Beauty Queens to the creepy-creepy Diviners series, is super-impressive to me, and I suspect she’s a very entertaining speaker. (I hear there was a cow costume involved in her promotion of Going Bovine.)

And then I saw the BBF schedule. Kids’ Keynote: Louis Sachar Talks with Roger Sutton: 10:45. YA Keynote: Libba Bray Talks with Robin Brenner: 10:45.

I understand the thinking behind putting the kids’ and YA keynotes at the same time. Fuzzy Mud, Sachar’s latest, is recommended for ages 10 and up on its website; Lair of Dreams, the second Diviners novel and Bray’s latest, is recommended for ages 15 and up. It’s probably easiest to schedule other events around one keynote time slot than two, and in theory, these authors are speaking to two different audiences. As interested as my colleagues and I are in children’s and YA literature, both professionally and personally, we aren’t the target audience for either, and we aren’t the most important attendees. The priority for a middle-grade author’s talk at an event like the BBF is middle-grade readers, the priority of a YA author’s talk is young adult readers, and that’s as it should be.

But can you name the moment in your youth when you stopped being a middle-grade reader and started being a YA reader? I can’t. The blurry lines between age categories was a hot topic at the Middle Grade Greats panel at the Cambridge Public Library a few weeks ago, where, for instance, Alice Hoffman asserted that the best time to read Ray Bradbury is when you’re twelve. I bet there are some twelve- and thirteen-year-olds interested in the gore and the glitz of Bray’s latest series or the subversive humor of some of her books. I bet some of them haven’t left also-kinda-subversive books like Fuzzy Mud behind. I know Holes is a big middle-school book; I bet some of them would love to meet its author.

(Stephen Savage and Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s story times overlap with the two keynotes, too. I would guess there are fewer common audience members there; I’m just sayin’. Embarrassment. Of. Riches.)

This is, without a doubt, a good problem to have, and I really applaud the BBF for taking children’s and YA lit seriously and including so much programming (check out this panel! And this one! And this entire separate kids’ media festival!) I know where I’ll be on the 24th: somewhere around Copley Square. I just don’t know exactly where yet.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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