Today was my first day at ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Meeting and the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Mini-Institute!
I’ve agreed to blog about the conference for ALSC, so my conference posts will happen in both places.
I was extra excited to go to Breakfast for Bill this morning, because I wore my Kevin Henkes t-shirt that says “Share Books With Friends”! And I got a picture with him afterward.
The breakfast featured Kevin Henkes and his wife Laura Dronzek, as well as another married couple, Erin Stead and Philip C. Stead. All four of them were delightful to listen to.
Kevin said that a high school teacher told him, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some day I see a book with your name on it.”
He’d always known he wanted to be an artist, but that inspired him. If someone else believed in him, it made it easier to believe in himself.
On the other hand, for Erin, art school professors discouraged her because they said she needed to do her art differently. But her husband kept her going.
For Philip, a teacher handed him a pamphlet showing how Where the Wild Things Are was made. That made him realize making picture books was something you could do. He had a single-minded mission from there on out. (Erin commented, “Phil has this ability to will things into happening.”)
Talking about process, Kevin said that he reads his picture book texts again and again and again. Good picture book texts are like poetry, but they’re also like theater.
Both Kevin and Philip talked about the joy of letting go of a picture book text and passing it on to another artist. (This is less easy to do when the illustrator is their wife.) They both get excited to see what the other will do with it. Erin thinks it’s easier for them to do because they’re illustrators themselves. They are able to let go of their vision of the work and completely give it over.
Talking about specific books, Philip said he doesn’t like the question as to whether Ideas Are All Around is a book for children or adults. It’s a book for some children and some adults. As a kid, he was nervous about coming up with his own ideas, and it would have been nice for him. Coming up, he’s doing a book called All the Animals Where I Live, which is its spiritual sequel.
They talked about Erin’s book coming up called Tony. Philip found the text in a local paper in Nashville. It’s a lovely and simple poem, and he thought it was the perfect picture book text, leaving exactly the right amount to the illustrator. When they contacted the paper, the author had just passed away at the age of 96. But their publisher was able to get the copyright. It’s Philip’s favorite book Erin has ever made. (We saw some of the art and it’s just lovely.)
Kevin and Laura have a book coming out, In the Middle of Fall. It’s a companion to When Spring Comes.
Then questions came from the audience, so responses are a little more disjointed.
I like this quotation from Philip: “I’m consistently floored by how special a picture book is to a child who doesn’t have books at home.”
They were asked for titles of 3 picture books they’d give to every child if they had the chance. They went with titles from their childhood.
Philip: The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig; and Swimmy, by Leo Lionni
Erin: The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel; and Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Laura: The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton; and Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Kevin: The Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams; Is This You? by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson; and Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer.
The last question got Erin talking about a new book that she’s not allowed to talk about, but check a big newspaper this weekend! She started writing it two years ago, but there’s a character who’s a bullying tyrant. It has a message that seems timely: “Be nice to each other, for gosh sakes!”
It was a nice way to wrap up a lovely time with people who love the works of art that are children’s books and respect the child reader and want to bring light and goodness into the lives of children through their work.