Book & Author Breakfasts Draw Engaging Authors

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Both the Children's and Adult Book & Author Breakfasts were highlights of BookExpo America, featuring authors who were both funny and moving, often simultaneously.

The Children's Book & Author Breakfast at BookExpo America began with the presentation of the Lucille Micheels Pannell Awards by the Women's National Book Association to two stores that have distinguished themselves in children's bookselling. The Green Toad Bookstore was the winner in the general bookstore category, and Little Shop of Stories was the winning specialty bookstore. Both stores received a cash prize, along with framed original art by illustrators David Diaz and Gianna Marino.

The breakfast also featured a performance by 4Troops, a quartet of former soldiers. The group is the subject of a new book, 4Troops: The Mission is Music, which will be published by Newmarket Press in September.

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was the master of ceremonies, and she made oblique references to her current controversy, which made news just before BookExpo began. "As you will know, I really don't like grownups," she said, before talking about her series of children's books, published by Sterling.

Cory Doctorow (For the Win, Tor) began by saying, "For me, there was never a time when being a young adult reader and young adult writer weren't the same thing." He teared up as he told the audience about groups of readers in Iran and Burma who translated his Creative Commons-licensed Little Brother into local languages to expand the book's readership.

Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People, Charlesbridge) talked about the way books can be both windows (giving readers insight into a different culture or experience) and mirrors (reflecting something in the reader's own life). As an example, Perkins read part of a letter she received from a girl in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about her previous book, The Secret Keeper (Delacorte), set in 1970s India. "This was supposed to be a window book for her, but it ended up becoming a mirror," Perkins said, because the girl saw parallels to her own family among the characters. "You are the ones who have the power and the grace to turn a mirror book into a window book and a window into a mirror," she said to the librarians and booksellers.

Richard Peck (Three Quarters Dead, Dial) returned to one theme throughout his talk: "Real life is too extreme for fiction." He captivated the audience as he described his path from teaching to writing, and the fatal distracted-driving incident that inspired his new book. "A novel is always a question, never an answer," Peck said.

At the Adult Book & Author Breakfast the following morning, master of ceremonies Jon Stewart was preceded by Books & Books owner Mitch Kaplan, who spoke to the audience about the 20th anniversary of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "One day in my store, an FBI agent walked in," he said. "If it weren't for ABFFE, I wouldn't have known what to do."

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had started out intending to write about her years in Washington but found that she needed to tell her parents' story instead (Extraordinary, Ordinary People, Crown). "I have parents that were extraordinary, but in many ways they were ordinary," Rice said, explaining how they raised her in Jim Crow-era Alabama and taught her the "transforming power of education." As she finished, Stewart, who has taken many digs at Rice on The Daily Show, begged her, "Don't make me like you!"

Although Stewart's introduction of John Grisham had the audience laughing, the tone quickly turned serious as Grisham described his work with the Innocence Project and the group's efforts to overturn wrongful convictions. "We're not supposed to have projects to get innocent people out of prison," Grisham said. "The innocence work is not a liberal or conservative issue." Following his nonfiction book The Innocent Man, Grisham's upcoming The Confession (Doubleday) is a fictional take on a wrongful conviction and the real criminal's experience.

"Most books about space tend to be about "the Right Stuff," said Mary Roach, whose Packing for Mars (W.W. Norton) traces some of the more mundane aspects of space travel. The lengths NASA and other space agencies have gone to in learning how to manage human hygiene and similar issues in zero-gravity. "It's the coolest, strangest science you will ever find," she said.