Editorial: Mixed Emotions (July/August 2022)

When Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson won a Newbery Honor in 2016, it was notable for several reasons: as only the second graphic novel to receive such recognition (after Cece Bell’s El Deafo the previous year); as the first to focus on roller derby (though second to be about roller skates; see 1937 Medalist); and also for giving readers funny, memorable, and specific new terms for mixed emotions. While contemplating her big roller-derby bout — and the painful, irreparable changes to her best friendship that occurred over the course of the story —­ protagonist Astrid feels “shad” (a combination of sad and happy) and “nersick” (nervous and, well, sick). In addition to being ­fun-to-say portmanteau words, these are wonderfully apt descriptions of how so many of us may be feeling about attending ALA Annual this year.

The shadness comes hand-in-hand with anticipation, and with feeling so lucky to even have the choice. This is the first in-person ALA conference since ­COVID-19 upended all of our lives. January 2020, in Philadelphia, was the last time we gathered — a Midwinter that now, undoubtedly, holds an outsized place in many people’s hearts and memories. (And it’s shad that Midwinter is no more, but this year’s virtual LibLearnX was also enjoyable — and accessible.) Having missed two years’ worth of Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Banquets, Pura Belpré Award ­Celebraciones, CSK Breakfasts, AJL Noshes, panels, talks, exhibits, drinks, ­galley-grabs, swag-gathering, and more, the opportunity to finally be together among children’s book people is hugely happy-making.

And yet, it’s impossible not to think about all that we’ve missed. And lost. And continue to struggle with. The people who have left us and been taken from us. A feeling of normalcy. Taking for granted the comfort of arms-wide hugs and unmasked laughter. All of that is indescribably upsetting. And anxiety-producing. And nerve-wracking. It’s a very “nersick” feeling, indeed.

Holding mixed emotions is a much-too-little-cultivated skill. It can be uncomfortable, even painful, which is why so many people deliberately choose not to. Others just never learned how — which is one of the many reasons that Astrid’s example, and the examples of so many others in children’s literature who grow, change, make realizations, evolve in their thinking, overcome their assumptions, build empathy, and come into their own (hi, cuentista Petra) can be so instructive and relatable to readers. The protagonist of Watercress is “ashamed of being ashamed of my family” — and even just putting a name to that feeling is a huge step toward understanding. (What might Astrid call it — “ashfammed”? “­famshamed”?)

Being a kid nowadays requires bravery, what with generation-shaping pandemic stress, catastrophic and traumatic school violence, social unrest, and political upheaval, along with the usual growing-up challenges of evolving relationships, peer pressure, identity formation, brain development, and everything else. Kids need more — not fewer — examples of strength in vulnerability to which they can turn. To quote Carole Boston Weatherford on page 61: “During the ­fleeting ­formative years, we must pour every good thing that we can into our children to foster healing from historic trauma and to empower them to question ­injustice and to speak their own truth.” This includes acknowledgment of our own ­discomfort level; our own mixed — and mixed-up — feelings and how to sit with, think critically about, and work through them on our own and together.

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Kristy South
Administrative Coordinator, The Horn Book
Phone 888-282-5852 | Fax 614-733-7269

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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