Ci2024: Meg Medina & Brein Lopez

Children's Institute 2024 officially opened Monday night in New Orleans, La., with an evening keynote featuring Newbery-winning author Meg Medina (No More Señora Mimí, illustrated by Brittany Cicchese; Candlewick) in conversation with Brein Lopez, general manager of Children's Book World in Los Angeles, Calif.

Prior to the keynote, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, took the stage to welcome nearly 400 booksellers to the "largest kid's institute ever." She noted that roughly 40% of this year's attendees are first-timers, and she said there were some late changes to the conference program based on feedback from Winter Institute 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She hoped that attendees found the changes "meaningful."

Meg Medina

Discussing her role as the 2023-2024 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Medina said it was "beautiful" to be able to "invite families in and talk about books." It has been like "being a caretaker for 74 million children at the same time." And while these children of course have parents, guardians, and other members of their caretaking teams, Medina is trying to be "the caretaker of their reading lives."

Every bookseller in the room, she continued, "is part of the caretaking team of American children." Booksellers care for "their reading lives, their literary lives, their imagination, their learning," as well their "relationship to story and other people."

Lopez brought up the platform that Medina created as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature--"Cuéntame!: Let’s talk books"--saying, "every bookseller is going to love this platform." As the first Latina in that role, Medina said, it was very important for her to have a bilingual platform, and fundamentally it was based on all that she's learned from booksellers and librarians.

"That is, how do you talk about a book with someone else, from your heart to their heart," Medina explained. She remarked that yes, when people talk about the books they love, they talk about plot and character and exciting moments, but "the big thing that is revealed is the heart of that person." Talking about books, she added, can be an "essential part" of creating connection and trust in classrooms, families, and communities.

Lopez agreed, calling it the "best part of the job" and saying, "in bookstores, we do it every day." He added that he hasn't been a bookseller for more than 30 years because of the money. Rather, it is the experience "of being able to share books with other people and with your community and see it impact them." He encouraged booksellers to "seek outside of your physical store" and extend their caretaking to their wider community.

Expanding on the subject of caretakers, Medina said her book No More Señora Mimí is about a little girl who is initially excited that she won't need her babysitter anymore because her grandmother is coming to live with her family. She then realizes "what that loss is going to be." It appealed to Medina to explore the "emotional ties" that children have with their caretakers, and to have a book "where caretakers are seen as a valuable part of a kid's life."

"It's a caretaking book at a time when I think a lot of kids are cared for by a lot of people," said Medina. --Alex Mutter

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