Children's Corner: Little shushing at rollicking librarians convention
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was a pivotal moment for author Jack Gantos when he recently discovered that he wasn't the first convicted felon to win the Newbery Medal, given annually to the best written children's book.
"I've always felt so impure for breaking the law and then going on to write books for innocent young readers," he said.
Known for his sardonic wit, Mr. Gantos is the author of the 2012 Newbery Medal-winning book, "Dead End in Norvelt" (FSG, $15.99, ages 10-14). But he served a year and a half in prison in the early 1970s for smuggling hashish.
"But recently my spirits were lifted when I learned that, prior to winning the Newbery for 'Smoky the Cowhorse' in 1927, [author] Will James had been sentenced to 15 months in a Nevada state prison for cattle-rustling.
"He was released a month early, as he convinced the parole board that he wanted to write books for children. Shocking! Just amazing how history repeats itself."
Mr. Gantos made his comments during a hilarious speech to the hundreds of librarians gathered at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet on June 24. The banquet is one of the high points of the American Library Association's four-day annual meeting, which took place this year in Anaheim.
Mr. Gantos' speech, filled with revelatory comic vignettes of the steps -- and missteps -- he took along the way to becoming a children's author, brought down the house. At the same banquet, author/illustrator Chris Raschka offered a more introspective speech in which he detailed the ingredients of his artistic blossoming.
Mr. Raschka's picture book "A Ball for Daisy" (Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $16.99, ages 3-7) won the 2012 Caldecott Medal, given annually to the best illustrated children's book.
"First, I'll draw what I see. Then I'll draw what I remember. And finally I'll draw what I feel," said Mr. Raschka, who won his first Caldecott Medal in 2006 for "The Hello, Goodbye Window."
He noted that Daisy, the delightful black-and-white dog who stars in his book, was challenging to draw.
"... [T]here was a lot of trouble with the nose of my dog Daisy. Lots of trouble. And not just about the nose, but the tail, and the eyes, and the fur, etc.," he said. In the end, Daisy "is very much a dog I dreamed up, which is to say she inevitably has a lot of me in her."
As is traditional, Mr. Raschka, as the Caldecott winner, designed the printed program for the banquet. Librarians who attend the banquet eagerly await the programs, which are one-of-a-kind keepsakes.
This year's program drew cries of delight from banquet attendees. The outer part was crafted from blue paper, about the size of a hand, with an octagonal shape and folded accordion-style. When the folds were opened, a flat red paper disc, placed just inside, popped up -- Daisy's ball! Underneath was the program booklet, which featured Daisy romping with her ball through its 20 pages.
Daisy also made an appearance as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon on the cover of the newest edition of The Horn Book, a highly respected children's literature review journal. The magazine cover, created by children's author/illustrator Melissa Sweet, was a twist on the cover of her book "Balloons Over Broadway" (Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, ages 4-8).
Ms. Sweet's illustrations from "Balloons Over Broadway" also were on the cover and inside pages of the program for another children's literature awards event at the conference.
This event, which took place on June 25, spotlighted other awards sponsored -- such as the Newbery and Caldecott -- by the Association for Library Service to Children, the children's division of the American Library Association.
These awards include the Robert Sibert Medal, given annually to the best nonfiction book for children. "Balloons Over Broadway," a picture-book biography of the man who created the technology behind the huge Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, won the 2012 Robert Sibert Medal. (Disclosure: I served on the 2012 Sibert Medal committee.)
In accepting the award, Ms. Sweet said: "I am honored that you not only chose a book about a man who continues to light up our imagination, but also a picture book that celebrates the creative process that inspired him."
During the same event, Josh Schneider, who won the 2012 Theodor Geisel Award for his book "Tales for Very Picky Eaters" (Clarion, $14.99), provoked gales of laughter with his acceptance speech. The Geisel Award, established to honor the man better known as Dr. Seuss, is given annually to the best book for beginning readers.
Mr. Schneider revealed that he had trouble writing his acceptance speech until he walked into a door by accident one day.
"What being whapped in the face with a door made me realize ... is that I don't have much to say about this book ... but that I do have something to say about learning to read," he said.
"Reading opens doors. When a child scraps her way through her first beginning reader, she is walking through a door that leads, not just to knowing what Frog and Toad are up to this time, but to a new person."
Mr. Schneider concluded by thanking the door that "whapped" him, adding that after rubbing "my nose and clearing my head, I looked down, saw that the sign said 'Pull,' not 'Push,' and walked through yet another door opened for me by reading."
First Published July 3, 2012 12:00 am