Georgia, Golf & a Great Conference!

March 22, 2018

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

For the past three years, I have attended the Kennesaw State University (KSU) Conference on Young Adult Literature (YAL), which has fallen on the Monday after my university’s (Mississippi State University) spring break.  I also get to meet up with my good friend, Dr. Steve Bickmore (Associate Professor at UNLV), whose scholarly expertise includes young adult literature (check out his blog).

Dr. Steve Bickmore

Dr. Steve Bickmore

Typically, I fetch Steve from the Atlanta airport on the Sunday before the conference.  As soon as his luggage is loaded into the car, our conversation picks up right where we left off (Steve was the keynote speaker for the Mississippi Council for the Social Studies this past October) as if there had simply been a pause in our friendly banter rather than a five-month hiatus.  Our talk of family, politics—we stand on different sides of the political fence, religion, and sports eventually turns to synchronizing our YAL conference presentation, reading list suggestions, and future writing projects all while squeezing in a couple of rounds of golf and partaking of the local cuisine (Provino’s Italian Restaurant never disappoints and the dessert is not to be missed!). 

Both Kennesaw and KSU have experienced tremendous growth over the last few decades.  The YAL conference, hosted by the KSU’s Bagwell College of Education, is in its 24th year.  The conference provides a first-rate lineup of authors, which this year included Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace, A. S. King, and Meg Medina.  (Props to Associate Professor, Bryan Gillis for his service as director of the conference this past eight years!)  Each author gives a book talk, which also often contains valuable nuggets about their research, writing process, and the challenges of publication.  A “Q & A” follows along with concurrent sessions, book giveaways, a luncheon, awards, book signings, and interactions with the authors.

In regards to YAL, Steve first opened the pages of possibility for me by suggesting that I read Roll of Thunder:  Hear My Cry.  Although a bit ambivalent at first, reading this Newbery Medal winning work of historical fiction convinced me that YAL had much to offer to both ELA and the Social Studies.  As a result, I have read many more compelling YAL books—often at Steve’s suggestion, which shed light on the human experience—a common point of interest for both content areas.  Some of these titles include:  Chains, Death Coming Up the Hill, March, MuckersMississippi Trial, 1955Out of the Dust, and, most recently, Bound by Ice.


From 1818 to 1908, there were 92 expeditions (from nine different countries) to the Arctic in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, the northernmost point in Greenland, and, of course, the North Pole.  Bound by Ice:  A True North Pole Survival Story, by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, is a rich historical treatment of the U.S.S. Jeannette expedition (1879-1881).  Bound by Ice describes the Arctic odyssey of Captain George W. De Long and his crew, which endured many months stuck in the ice, a portaging of life boats, materials, and supplies, the gales and swells of the open sea, and a traversing of the Siberian tundra.

The narrative is often gripping, and the fate of this expedition involves equal parts miscalculation and heroism, perseverance and suffering, survival and tragedy.  The story is augmented with a trove of diary and journal entries, drawings, illustrations, newspaper articles, maps, and photographs.  This book would be an engaging and relevant read for students in World Geography, World History, and/or US history.  A pre-reading activity (Arctic Exploration 1818 to 1909:  Fact or Myth) and a during reading activity—a side-by-side comparison and Venn Diagram of a passage from Bound by Ice with a journal entry about the same event can be found as this link.

YA Wednesday, the Kennesaw State University Conference on Young Adult Literature, and Bound by Ice are all time well invested!

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