Opening General Session & Keynote

Thursday, October 19 | 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

“Patriotism is standing up for justice for all. Art brings us together and allows us to create conversations for us to go deeper.” – Nikkolas Smith

Nikkolas Smith, ARTivist, concept artist, children’s books author, and film illustrator, will keynote the opening general session of the AASL National Conference. As an illustrator of color, Nikkolas is focused on creating captivating art that can spark important conversations in today’s world and inspire meaningful change. Nikkolas’ latest book, The Artivist, praised as “a meaningful portrait of artistic advocacy”, is a call to action for young readers to point out injustice in their lives and try to heal the broken bones of the world through their art.

“I’ve always loved making art, and always had a desire to help my community thrive. It started as art-as-therapy, but it became a way for me to paint the world I had always wanted to see, to not only see the broken bones of the world, but also find a way to fix them. I realized that is when my Art became Artivism. When one of my illustrations went viral and people began sharing it on signs all around the globe, I realized how connected we all are, and how powerfully art can inspire us to create a more fair and just society. I truly believe that each and every one of us is full of creativity. It is up to us to use those talents to call out what is broken and visualize a path forward that allows for true healing, equity, and inclusion.”

Friday General Session

Friday, October 20 | 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Presented by the Campaign for Our Shared Future (COSF) and sponsored by Sora by OverDrive Education, the Friday General Session will explore how curriculum censorship can diminish a learner’s access to high-quality, age-appropriate instruction.

Heather Harding, Ed.D., COSF Executive Director, and COSF Student Task Force member Cameron Samuels will discuss the impact of censorship in today’s K-12 education environment. Drawing on her experience as a mother and lifelong educator, Dr. Harding will provide messaging strategies that attendees can leverage to effectively communicate the importance of intellectual freedom. Leveraging their experience as an Anti-Censorship Activist and the Honorary Chair of Banned Books Week, Samuels will provide a student perspective on the importance and value of diverse perspectives and representation in education.

Heather Harding, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Campaign for Our Shared Future. Throughout her career, Heather has focused on the intersection between access to high-quality education and racial equity. She believes that respectful collaboration between parents and teachers is an essential tool for helping our kids succeed in life. As a mother of two teenagers, she knows that parents play the role of a child’s first and primary teacher. Before earning master’s and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Heather taught middle school and high school in underserved communities. Since then, her mission has been to improve education opportunities for all children, regardless of their class, color, or neighborhood. She had an opportunity to do this while serving as Teach for America’s Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships; as the founding Executive Director of EdCORE, a DC-focused education research consortium to improve outcomes for the students of the nation’s capital; and in senior philanthropic leadership roles at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and most recently the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

Cameron Samuels (they/them/theirs) organized nationally recognized efforts against book banning and an LGBTQ+ internet filter in the Katy Independent School District in Texas. Within months of once facing the school board alone, receiving no applause while other speakers stoked fear with bigotry, Samuels packed school board meetings and distributed hundreds of banned books donated by publishers and non-profits to students across Texas. The ACLU filed a legal complaint on Samuels’ behalf that resulted in the district unblocking queer internet resources like the Trevor Project and the Montrose Center, and President Barack Obama recognized Samuels for their efforts against book banning.

In 2022, Samuels was named the inaugural Youth Honorary Chair of Banned Books Week, a Seventeen Magazine Voice of the Year, an NBC Pride 30 trailblazer, and one of Teen Vogue‘s 21 Under 21 and GLAAD’s 20 Under 20. Samuels also served on the Campaign for Our Shared Future’s Student Task Force.

Karen Smith is the school board member that represents Central Bucks Region 1 in Pennsylvania. Karen is passionate about the importance and value of public schools in our society. Recently retired, Karen has worked extensively in school public relations. She was the Executive Director for the Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association from 2010 to 2018 and the Public Relations Director in Central Bucks from 2004 until 2010. In her recent position at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, Karen provided support for the Education Foundation and the Director of Community and Government Relations. She was accredited in public relations by the Public Relations Society of America, and is a Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellow.Karen is currently serving her second four-year term on the Board. Before her term as a Board member, Karen attended School Board meetings regularly for over 10 years. Karen has served as the Central Bucks School Board Vice-President, and as the Board Representative on the Bucks County Intermediate Unit Board and as one of three Central Bucks Representatives on the MBIT Board.

The Campaign for Our Shared Future (COSF) is a non-partisan effort to support high quality K-12 education and preserve access, inclusion, and meaningful content in our schools so that every student has an opportunity to succeed and thrive. COSF is a common ground effort committed to fighting the attack on education across the country.

The session is sponsored by Sora by OverDrive Education.

Saturday General Session

Saturday, October 21 | 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.

Acclaimed author Nic Stone will keynote the Saturday general session during the 2023 AASL National Conference.

A New York Times bestseller, Nic Stone writes the kinds of stories she wished were on the shelves when she was a kid.  Believing that sharing our stories is vital to doing the essential work of racial and social justice, Stone’s most recent book, Chaos Theory, aims to destigmatize mental illness disorders.

Stone’s first novel Dear Martin debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list and has been translated into six languages, receiving the William C. Morris Debut YA Award in 2018. In 2021, Stone’s, Dear Justyce received the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her most recent book, Chaos Theory, delivers a gripping romance about two teens: a certified genius living with a diagnosed mental disorder and a politician’s son who is running from his own addiction and grief. “Chaos Theory is actually the first Nic novel I ever read but Nic set it aside to write Dear Martin. Other YA and middle grade novels followed. After the publication of Dear Justyce and Fast Pitch, Nic and I felt it was time to return to Shelbi and Andy’s story. We were so saddened that in recent years, so many teens have been grappling with mental health issues. Whom better than Nic to write a mental health novel that is honest, uplifting, and yes, funny in all the right places? Our proudest moments have been when teens have come to us after reading Chaos Theory and shared, ‘Nic, got it exactly right. I know kids like Andy. I understand what Shelbi went through.  Thank you, Ms. Nic for writing another real book for us.’ Nic is continually pushing herself as a writer. Chaos Theory is her gift to all of us,” says Phoebe Yeh, Nic’s editor and Crown Books for Young Readers Co-Publisher and VP.

Aside from her work as an author, Nic Stone was the 2020 NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award Winner and co-author of the book, “How to be a Young Anti-Racist” with Ibram X. Kendi.

Stone’s appearance is made possible by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House.

Closing General Session
Authors on the Right to Read

Saturday, October 21 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

A panel of authors from We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) will close out AASL23! Moderated by Cornelius Minor, the panel will include bestselling authors Samira Ahmed, Phil Bildner, and Tracey Baptiste. The authors will present concrete ideas for how to respond to censorship attempts in the school library.

In conversation with Cornelius; Samira, Phil, and Tracey will present strategies and resources educators can use when responding to parents initiating challenges. Strategies will include how to book talk a challenged book effectively; how to get support from the greater community; how to get resources from the publishing community of writers, publishing professionals, activists; and how to start a book club and get the parents and students involved.

Samira Ahmed is the New York Times-bestselling and critically acclaimed author of numerous works for children and teens including Love, Hate & Other Filters, Internment, the Amira & Hamza middle grade series, Hollow Fires, as well as the comic book series, Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit.

Phil Bildner is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books for kids including the 2021 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor-winning middle grade novel, High Five for Glenn Burke, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize-winning Marvelous Cornelius, and the Texas Bluebonnet Award-winning Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy.

Tracey Baptiste is the New York Times-bestselling author of Minecraft: The Crash and the acclaimed middle grade fantasy trilogy: The Jumbies. She has also written the middle grade nonfiction book African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History, as well as the popular picture books Because Claudette and Mermaid and Pirate.

Cornelius Minor is a Brooklyn-based educator. He works with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support equitable literacy reform in cities (and sometimes villages) across the globe. His latest book, We Got This, explores how the work of creating more equitable school spaces is embedded in our everyday choices—specifically in the choice to really listen to kids.

The session is sponsored by We Need Diverse Books.