Book Expo wound down on Friday with Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush moderating the children’s breakfast, and promoting their new picture book Sisters First. Barbara told the audience that they conceived of the picture book before their 2017 memoir of the same name, but that that “after waking up the day after election night 2016” they wanted to put the book for adults out first to inspire women and “celebrate sisterhood.”
The conversation again turned to representation in publishing when Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Virtue and Vengeance) took the stage. Adeyemi spoke about the narratives she’d loved as a child, how they all focused on white characters, and how long it took her “from white washing myself in my own imagination to being able to write [about characters who looked like her.]” Addressing the booksellers in the room, Adeyemi said that by choosing which books to promote and put in the hands of readers, “you have the power to create the world you want to see.” Lupita Nyong’o had a similar message. Her book Sulwe deals with the issue of colorism, and she wrote it partially to “hold up a mirror” to children who rarely see themselves represented in fiction.
Eoin Colfer, presenting his new Artemis fowl spin-off novel The Fowl Twins, kept it light, but remarked that his favorite part of Book Expo is meeting talented new authors. “The future of literature for young people is in very good hands,” he said. Da Chen (Girl Under a Red Moon) closed out the breakfast with the story of his family during the Cultural Revolution in China that inspired his new book.
On Wednesday evening, Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke about her new picture book Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You with her illustrator Rafael López. Sotomayor stuck to questions about the book, which was inspired by her own struggle with diabetes as a child and the desire to spread a message of inclusion. Notably, she did mention the books she had loaded on her tablet to read next: First, Evan Thomas’ biography of Sandra Day O’Connor; John Paul Stevens’ memoir Five Chiefs; and Becoming by Michelle Obama. She made just one oblique reference to politics, when asked by an audience member about what gives her hope for the future. “The vehemence of the current dialogue fills me with hope,” she said. “I think that engagement is so terrifically important…Apathy, if we don’t care, then we have no hope. It’s only when we do care that we have the possibility of something better.”