For many of us who love books, the love affair began at a library. I remember quite vividly the unadulterated fun of a summer reading challenge undertaken at the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1970s. For every book a child read, we received a seashell; at the end of the summer, we completed craft projects with all the shells. (A varnished wooden box, shells decoratively glued on top, still holds the playing cards in my family home.) I remember, too, the powerful feeling of exploration and discovery as I wandered the stacks as a teen, stumbling upon mystery novels and volumes of 18th-century French history—my preferred genres at the time—by pure serendipity.

These happy library memories are top of mind as I prepare to attend the American Library Association’s meeting in San Diego at the end of the month. I attended my first ALA meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2019, just one week after starting at Kirkus. A weary veteran of many visits to Book Expo America (the booksellers’ now-defunct extravaganza), I was delighted to find the ALA meeting free of scavengers trawling the aisles with roller bags, grabbing advanced reading copies by the armload. Instead there were librarians everywhere, asking if they could help me find anything; I was back in my library bliss zone again. The attendees gathered their galley giveaways and author autographs with admirable professional restraint.

At this year’s conference, I’ll be in conversation on June 29 with author Dave Eggers, whose first picture book, The Eyes & the Impossible (Knopf, 2023), received the John Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature. In a starred review of the book (which was illustrated by Shawn Harris), our critic praised the work’s “interesting mix of poetic language, sophisticated vocabulary, philosophy, humor [and] hyperbole” before concluding, “One remarkable creature vividly shows readers that ‘there is so, so much to see.’” Joining us will be author Kwame Mbalia (whose Jax Freeman and the Phantom Shriek is out in October) and another Newbery medalist, Matt de la Peña, whose latest book is The Perfect Place, illustrated by Paola Escobar (Putnam, May 7), along with librarian-turned-author Xelena González and illustrator Adriana M. Garcia, whose picture book Remembering came out last year. We’ll be talking more about the joys of libraries as experienced by patrons, authors, and librarians alike.

Another big ALA award—the Randolph Caldecott Medal for distinguished children’s book illustration—this year is going to the author and illustrator who appears on the cover of this issue, Vashti Harrison. In a starred review, our critic called Harrison’s picture book Big (Little, Brown, 2023) a “healing balm with the power to make the world a bit kinder.” As Harrison tells young readers’ editor Mahnaz Dar in a profile on page 96, she was deeply moved to be the first Black woman ever to win this recognition, as well as inspired by the work of the seven Black women who received Caldecott Honors before her. Harrison’s acceptance speech in San Diego on June 30 will certainly be among the highlights of this year’s ALA meeting. I hope to see you there.

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief