Winning Weekend

At the Abrams dinner with a giant poster board of Super Boba Café and the only time I wore cute shoes

I’m home after a whirlwind 3 days in Chicago for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference where I saw exactly one sight (the bean, on my walk to a luncheon). Instead of sight seeing, I reveled in the joy that is found with people of the book. I signed for three of my books (Super Boba Café, Shark Party and Strong) and attended events in between.

Smiling at the Caldecott-Newbery dinner. L to R, me, Samira Ahmed, Jerry Craft and Joanna Ho

At times, being with authors feels intimidating. Jerry Craft is a Newbery winner for his important and wonderful book New Kid. Joanna Ho received an APALA honor for her recent book The Silence that Binds Us. Samira Ahmed is a NYT best selling author for her many titles including Love Hate and Other Filters.

But at ALA, I never thought about their awards or accolades. We may have met for the first time or the 7th but our shared love of words and art connects us. It feels familiar and comfortable. We talk about how to support each other, share tips that only a select few need (like using illustration board for watercolors to prevent buckling) and enjoy each other’s company. As my author friend Jessixa Bagley said, it’s like grown up summer camp.

At the bar with bags of books! L to R: Minh Lê, Christina Soontornvat, Alyson Day, Joanna Ho, me, Mirelle Ortega
After party time! L to R Joanna Ho, Xelena González, Catia Chien, me, Vashti Harrison and Minh Lê

On Monday afternoon I attended the Stonewall Awards because our book, Strong, won an honor. I’ve worked on a number of books as an illustrator with limited contact with the writer. This was not the case with Strong. Eric Rosswood and I became very good friends. We were each other’s accountabilabuddies (say that ten times) during the pandemic, sharing weekly fitness challenges and daily 10k step goals. That blossomed into a beautiful friendship even though we are on separate coasts. Being at the awards with Eric was more emotional than I expected.

Eric and I before the Stonewall Awards ceremony began – he was a mirrorball and I was a rainbow

I am a loving but guarded person. My joke is that I cry four times a year. As we walked up to accept our Stonewall Honor I felt like I would crumble into a puddle.

Holding back tears, reading my thank you speech. I will cry 5 times this year

I spend a lot of time alone, questioning whether the work I do matters, whether I’m worthy/good enough and this moment felt unreal. To stand in front of a room of my community of queer authors, librarians and allies was beautiful. To receive an honor from librarians who champion and share our work is affirming. In a time when Black and LGBTQIA+ books are being challenged, banned and removed from libraries that room represented power, hope and strength.

Signing stacks of STRONG with Eric

After the many emotional Stonewall speeches, we signed books. It’s always a joy to work on books but to be there, sharing the award with my very good friend made it extra special.

I rushed to the airport to catch my flight home full of love, with an almost overweight suitcase full of books and fueled up, ready to get to work.

Nidhi sandwich! With Minh Lê and Xelena González