… after the Most Excellent Ms. Ehlert did her thing, Mary Beth Dunhouse of the BPL stepped up to introduce the Nonfiction honors and winner. Although… really, almost all the books were non-fictiony this year, don’t you think? I mean, Mama and Sky Boys in the Picture Book category, and Yellow Star in the Fiction & Poetry category, were all based on real events and/or people. But I digress…
First up was A Mother’s Journey by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks. They both reside outside the U.S., so were represented by Emily Mitchell of Charlesbridge. Ms. Mitchell spoke about the way that new technology has made international publishing like this much more feasible than in days of yore, then read speeches from each of the creators. And lordy, Sandra Markle actually spent over a year in Antarctica researching this book, which sounded incredibly challenging. And it reminded me how I felt when I read the book (which is really good, btw) – that it totally sucks to be an emperor penguin. The females lay their eggs, and then have to trek for miles to the edge of the ice and eat fish for a while, then trudge back months later to take care of the newly hatched baby while the males go off and eat for a while. Why don’t they just live where the food is? I mean, the males and females hardly get to spend any time together… oh, wait. I get it now.
Next up was Taylor Morrison, accepting an honor for Wildfire. And, um… I’m just saying, Fuse #8, if you’re reading this (thanks for the nod today, btw!) that if you’re looking for a candidate for the next Hot Man of Children’s Literature, you might want to think about Mr. Morrison here. I’m sorry, I Googled, but there is only one picture of him out there in cyberspace and it’s not flattering. But in person, he’s got this strong-silent thing going on, with a healthy helping of sincerity and artistic integrity… and he was just a little nervous about the speech, which was totally endearing, and he talked about going to California and running around with the firefighters with a sketchpad, and how they laughed at him and one even offered to take a photo of the fire with his cameraphone for him… and then reading his bio online and finding out he gave up a football scholarship to attend RISD and be an artist… and have you seen his books? Especially Wildfire – I mean LOOK at that cover! Well. I’m just sayin’, is all… But there will be more about Mr. Morrison later. I haven’t gotten to the embarrassment yet.
Then it was the winner’s turn, If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty, illustrated by Steven Kellogg. You probably know, Faith McNulty passed away earlier this year, and her niece accepted her award on her behalf. It was sweet – she talked in depth about McNulty’s fearlessness, love of animals, and profound love for the Earth and everything on it. Then Steven Kellogg gave pretty much a page-by-page reading and description of the book and every illustration in it, in a speech that would have earned him a bazillion points in Scrabble. Seriously, he was like your favorite college professor on crack. I have to admit here, I’ve never been a huge Steven Kellogg fan – I get that he’s talented, and he has lots of fans, but personally his human characters always look like wobbly Campbell’s Soup kids to me. But I did really like what he did in this book. The mixed-media, 3-D looking stuff he did with the moon is awesome. And he said in the speech that, after experimenting with various media, he finally used black spray paint for the deep black of space.
Finally Robin Smith, a teacher from Nashville (my hometown! woo!) introduced the Fiction and Poetry peeps. The first honor went to Yellow Elephant: a Bright Beastiary by Julie Larios, illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Y’all, have you seen this book? It is excellent. It is lovely. And the author and illustrator, who both live in Seattle, collaborated beautifully, pairing whimsical words with colorful illustrations that fall somewhere between Russian miniature painting and Pueblo art. Julie Paschkis, wearing very cool lacy tights, showed an enlargement of a painting she did when she found out she’d won, showing a Medieval/Nouveau-looking woman holding a watermelon. And Julie Larios gave a very moving speech that she had written on an airport “forbidden items” list, and kept reading snatches of the list between statements like “Thank God children still love poetry” and “Poetry is addictive!” It felt like a call-to-arms, but in a good way.
And then Jennifer Roy stepped up to speak about Yellow Star. Now here’s a book I didn’t expect to like – I’d already read (and loved) The Book Thief, but it nearly killed me, and I was not really in the mood to read another Holocaust book so soon afterwards. Plus, I am really, really over free-verse novels. But having read it, I can see why free-verse was a good choice for this particular story – told in first person, by a young child, experiencing things she can’t understand. And it’s a story that needed to be told. Ms. Roy was surprisingly young, and earnest, and as Roger has already pointed out, made one of the most poignant statements of the evening: that her relatives who had lived through the Holocaust were always telling her generation to “never forget,” but that no one ever told them what to remember.
Yeah. Okay. So then, it was Kate DiCamillo’s turn, for the big winner of the night, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. And you already know how I feel about the book, but I’ll say again that I have nothing against Ms. DiCamillo personally, and have a lot of respect for her as a writer. And she really gave a lovely speech, that… kind of explained a lot, I guess. She started off funny, by shouting up to M.T. Anderson on the balcony to ask if his new book’s title, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, was a rip-off of Tulane. Then she talked about growing up in Florida (without her father, but always waiting for him to return), and going up to the top of the… Citrus Tower, I think… and how the distance from the real world would make things bearable. And she said that stories are like that; that starting a story with a word like “Once” creates a safe place for the reader. And she said that, when asked whether she herself believed in the redemptive power of love, even after repeated heartbreak and loss, that she portrayed in Tulane… she compared herself to Natalie Wood’s character in Miracle on 34th Street, who in spite of grave personal doubts and all evidence to the contrary kept muttering to herself “I believe, I believe, I believe.” I have to give it to her. I was sort of shocked at how uncomfortable I was at her naked admission of how painful it was to grow up with an absent father – after hearing about Holocaust survivors and Tsunami victims, it was really surprising to me that for her to talk about something so mundane a broken family seemed so almost-inappropriately honest. Which is a testament, I suppose, to how well she is able to convey that pain with her words.
And that was the ceremony. Roger shooed everyone out into the wine, cheese, and book-buying areas so they could rearrange the room for autographs. And here’s where it all went wrong for me.
It started fine. I was feeling pretty shy, and was thinking about maybe getting one book autographed, but I usually don’t feel like I have anything smart to say to authors and illustrators, and with all the other talented or important people around, why would they want to talk to me? So I was just hanging out with Jill and Kate, and talking to Emma some more, and sampling cheese, and a little wine… and eventually I got up the nerve to go talk to Robin Smith, the judge from Nashville. It had been bothering me all night, but she looked so familiar, I just KNEW I knew her from somewhere. So I kept skulking around her, trying to catch her when she wasn’t deep in conversation, and it didnt seem to be working… so back to the cheese. And the wine. And while I’m talking to someone, Kate glides by and places another glass of wine in front of me. Before I’m even finished with the first one. See? Enabler! And after she totally promised to watch my back!
Around then I spot Jarrett J. Krosoczka across the room, talking to a pretty brunette. Probably just his sister. But I’m still too shy to go up to him, even though I think Punk Farm is so freaking brilliant, and even though I loved him so much at the Guys Read panel discussion at PLA last spring (really all of the panelists – DiTerlizzi, Scieszka… it was a HMOCL buffet!) that I wanted to hold up a lighter when it was over. So, I wandered over to the autograph room, and eventually did talk to Robin, and after a lot of “Have you ever worked at…” and “Did you go to…” we still never figured out how I know her, if at all. Only moderately embarrassing. And so back to the cheese. And the wine.
I wandered some more, eventually finding Julie in line for Kate DiCamillo’s autograph. She was talking to a pretty brunette whom I did not recognize from earlier in the evening. But later… well, anyway, then I drifted over and talked to Daryl, our Head of Children’s Services and all-around Patron Saint of Children’s Librarians. While talking to her, I think… or was it Robin?… it’s starting to get fuzzy here… but I think that’s when James Ransome came up to say hi to her. And someone introduced us, and I just looked up into his sweet, talented face and blurted out “You ROCK! You rock like a HURRICANE!”
So, after he edged away from me, I saw Taylor Morrison sitting at the autograph table, and decided to pay him a little visit. During his speech he’d said something about the inability of digital images to capture the emotion of painted ones. This was the same day I was getting my ass kicked by a lot of digital illustrators for saying pretty much the same thing, only cruder, so I’d decided Taylor Morrison was my hero. I said something like, “Hi, I’m Eisha, I just loved your book, and I have a book review blog, and today I said that digital illustration sucks and a bunch of digital illustrators commented and they were mad and I just wanted to say that what you said about painting and stuff was great! Thanks for keeping it pure! YOU ROCK!”
And then… I figured it was time to buy my book and get it autographed. I can’t tell who it was, because it’s a present for someone else, but I think I was pretty restrained in talking to this particular author. I think.
But while I was waiting in line to buy it, someone bumped into me from behind and said “Excuse me.” I turned around… and it was Jarrett J. Krosoczka. And the brunette, who had been talking to Julie, who I was introduced to but totally forgot her name. And I said “OH MY GOD!” And they laughed. And then it went like this:
Brunette: “This is…”
JJK: (laughing) “Hi, I’m Jarrett…”
me: “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! YOU ROCK!”
Brunette: (laughing very hard)
me: “I’M EISHA, AND I’M A CHILDREN’S LIBRARIAN! AND YOU ROCK!”
JJK & Brunette: (barely-keeping-it-together laughing)
JJK: Eisha? That’s an unusual name.
me: I KNOW. IT’S ARABIC. BUT I’M NOT. YOU ROCK!
Mercifully, it was my turn in line here, and the conversation died a quick death.
So, as soon as I had gotten my autograph, I ran the hell over to Jill and Kate and said something like “Get me out of here before I do that again.” And so we made for the door, but standing RIGHT THERE was M.T. Anderson and his maybe-sister and a couple of other people, and Kate and Jill stopped and said, “Hey, Eisha? Don’t you want to say anything to him before we go? I mean, he’s right there… C’mon… Don’t you want to? Don’t you think you should?”
I was tempted. But after JJK I knew that the combination of a wee bit of wine and being so awestruck at being surrounded by all that talent and goodness had caused me to lose my mind, and with great effort I turned my body toward the door. And kept walking.