Posts Tagged ‘Erin Stead’

A Wild Ride: Caldecott Preconference at ALA 2013

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Continuing my coverage of my wonderful time at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, last Friday I was at the ALSC’s preconference, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal. Even though I don’t consider myself an art expert by any means (I’ve always dreamed of being on the Newbery committee, but never the Caldecott), when I heard the event was taking place at the Art Institute of Chicago, I couldn’t resist.

One of the wonderful things about the preconference? Being with a large group of people who take picture books seriously, discuss them as art, and believe in the magic of what they do for children.

I was happy that I’m getting to know more and more members of ALSC (the Association for Library Service to Children). I saw many people that I have already met at the breakfast, and met some new people. Capitol Choices, a group from the DC area that I attend, was well-represented.

The first speaker was Brian Selznick, who put on the sparkly jacket he wore for the Caldecott Banquet.

After taking this picture, I realized it was rather futile to take pictures of every speaker! Oh well.

Brian gave an illustrated talk about the history of the Caldecott Medal. He talked about how Randolph Caldecott and Frederick Melcher were about entertaining books just for children. Caldecott’s pictures added to his books; they weren’t just repeating the words. The pictures had a sense of life, rooted in his sense of humor. And that sense of humor was a shield against tragedy.

Brian also talked about Maurice Sendak, their friendship, and how Where the Wild Things Are sums up what the Caldecott is all about. It shows how Max went farther than he intended and came home safe again. It scared adults. It contained life.

The second session was a Spotlight with Erin and Philip Stead and their editor, Neal Porter. The title was “Matching Words and Pictures,” but they gave it the alternate title: “Everyone Makes Mistakes.” I liked the way they showed some early versions of their work and how their editor helped them to the final product.

One interesting point they made: When they eliminated excess words, they actually slow readers down. Sometimes when there are too many words on a page, readers don’t spend as much time looking at the pictures.

With And Then It’s Spring, Erin wanted people to pay attention. She wanted to “trap readers with pictures.”

The next session was with Chris Raschka and his editor, Lee Wade, looking at the making of A Ball for Daisy. A Ball for Daisy is wordless, so you might not think it needs a lot of editing? You’d be wrong. Chris Raschka gave the alternate title: “The Daisy Journey: Not a Walk in the Park.” The book went through multiple versions, even multiple styles. He joked, “Should the ball die? All these questions.”

I was simply amazed at how far the book came from his original sketches to the practically perfect picture book that won the Caldecott Medal last year. A fascinating look at the process that got it there, a give and take between artist and editor.

After that was lunchtime, and they kept us engaged with an Honor Book panel — artists who had won Caldecott honors.

That’s Leonard Marcus moderating, followed by Kadir Nelson, Melissa Sweet, Pam Zagarenski (hidden, sorry), and Peter Brown.

Here’s a shot that includes the lovely room we were in, the former Trading Floor:

Leonard Marcus asked some intriguing questions, starting off with “Why picture books?”

Kadir Nelson: “Books chose me. I always was a storytelling artist.”

Melissa Sweet: She saw Little Bear and felt she had come home. It is like a mini-movie. Art is so varied, she’ll never get bored.

Pam Zagarenski: She’s always been illustrating. Even as a girl, she wanted to be Beatrix Potter when she grew up. She’s never had any other ambition. What she had to do.

Peter Brown: He was a reluctant reader, and more interested in creating than reading. He thought he’d be an animator, but hated it because he wanted to tell his own story.

There was more intriguing talk about making art and making picture books, and then we got to hear from Jerry Pinkney and his editor, talking about The Lion and the Mouse. Sorry that my picture of them is blurred:

He talked about his own history, what got him into picture books. He used to sneak down where he could watch a printing press in action. He enjoys the rhythm… of the printing press, of turning the page.

With The Lion and the Mouse, the editorial, design, and production all worked together. What it’s about is holding that object in your hands.

They also showed the book set to music, with pictures inserted from Jerry’s first book about Anansi the Spider. He said, “I’d love my art to feel the way music sounds.”

After those inspiring sessions, we had an elective. I wish I could have gone to all of them! I chose Leonard Marcus’s talk on Randolph Caldecott. (Oh, and I met Eric Carpenter, a fellow frequent Heavy Medal commenter!)

Leonard’s coming out with a book about Randolph Caldecott. (I wish I had gotten to his signing the next day, but had something else going on.) He titled the talk, “Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing.”

Randolph Caldecott was not a sentimentalist. Even though he made books for children, he wrote about the adult world. (He showed us some humorous examples.) Leonard showed us slides of places from Caldecott’s life. His father was an accountant and had lots of practical ideas for Randolph. When he worked in a bank, he discovered that bank slips are great for drawing on. (And we saw some pictures of those slips.)

Picture books for fun were a new idea in Caldecott’s time. It was also a time of the explosion of train travel, so they sold books for people to take on trains. Color printing was new, and they developed the predecessors to the motion picture.

Some hodgepodge notes from this talk: Caldecott was thinking of how to pare down a picture book to the fewest possible lines. When he traveled on trains he’d make “lightning” sketches. He played with composition in new ways. He only once did a book with animals in human dress, and you can see its influence on Beatrix Potter, who admired Randolph Caldecott with a “jealous appreciation.” He invented all the tricks of the trade.

The final general session was Paul O. Zelinsky speaking on “The Caldecott Medal in the 21st Century.”

He wore his Rapunzel tie, which he painted just after turning in the artwork for his Caldecott-winning book Rapunzel

He did some joking about what might happen with the Caldecott in the future. (“We can extrapolate. They’ll all go to Jon Klassen.”) But he did point out that we can’t figure out what will happen.

“Picture books may change, but Story never will.”

He pointed out that your consciousness *is* story — the autobiographical self.

“We are stories. So we cling to stories.”

“Stories take you out of yourself and take you away.”

He talked about writing Rumpelstiltskin and how he got pictures of straw from the New York Public Library photographic archive. He wanted to find a spinning wheel, but there was none to be found anywhere in New York City. (I loved his aside: It was just like the situation in Sleeping Beauty. Made him wonder.)

He concluded that the picture books of the future and those that get honored are completely unpredictable. But bottom line, speaking to that crowd of librarians, “The Caldecott of the future is up to you.”

By the time I finished that amazing Preconference, the entire weekend in Chicago was already worth it. I was energized and inspired and all the more excited about showing children the wonder of art and words and story that picture books are.

The Newbery – Caldecott – Wilder Banquet – ALA Annual Conference Day Three

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

To me, the highlight of ALA Annual Conference is the Newbery – Caldecott – Wilder Banquet. I guess it goes back to when I was first actually writing things to submit for publication. At the time Writer’s Digest had a t-shirt that said “Pulitzer Prize Winner (in training).” I’d never heard of a writer for children winning a Pulitzer, so that shirt didn’t catch my imagination. But I thought of a t-shirt that would have thrilled me: “Newbery Medal Winner (in training).”

No, I really don’t expect to ever win the Newbery Medal. Not at all. But if I ever daydream wild dreams, that’s where mine go.

I was so delighted when I started subscribing to Horn Book Magazine years and years ago and discovered that they print the winners’ speeches. I saved all those copies so I’d have past speeches to study if I ever won!

And my writer’s critique group made a pact that the first one of us to win the Newbery would pay for the other three to come to the Banquet! (No, we don’t expect to ever be called on to do this, but it’s a fun pact!)

So when ALA Annual Conference was in DC in 2007 and I found out you could get tickets to the Newbery Banquet, I was thrilled to do so. Susan Patron was the Newbery winner that year and David Wiesner the Caldecott winner, and I was completely enthralled by their speeches.

Last year it was again in DC, and I attended again and met lots of authors during the cocktail hour before.

This year, my plan was again to do lots of schmoozing before. I had bought a new dress, but decided to wear my red dress from last year. Actually, I think more people remembered me that way!

However, when I was all dressed up and ready to walk around the corner and a block down to where the Banquet was being held — there was a torrential downpour! I went back to my room for my umbrella, then tried to wait out the storm — to no avail. Finally, I ventured out with the umbrella and made it with only wet feet. Not as much fun as schmoozing with authors, but there was still a little time for that.

And first, I saw my fellow Children and Technology committee members, Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes, and John Schumacher from Mr. Schu Reads. I’d met Travis the night before, and he introduced me to John. They’re both very nice, and I love seeing men as Elementary School Librarians (Good ones, too! — You can tell from their blogs.) You can see why I wanted a picture with them, all dressed up:

Last year, I met author Jim Averbeck, since he was at another table organized by our mutual friend Susan Kusel. So I went in quest of another picture with him (as long as I was getting pictures with good-looking men, he came to mind quickly). Well, he was doing his Red Carpet Interviews, and he asked if I wanted to be interviewed! So I decided that an interview trumped a simple picture. (Though I did find myself feeling like the writers who were in the Library of the Early Mind movie — wishing I could edit my words.)

Then I saw James Kennedy. I’d met him last year and had bought his book — And I started reading it on the plane. So I told him this, and that I was really enjoying it. I ended up tweeting about it as I read on — so I was happy that I really did find it brilliant and funny!

Here I am with James Kennedy:

Well, I was about running out of time, but I again saw Maureen Johnson, together with Ingrid Law, both of whom I’d gotten books signed by earlier that day. I kind of apologized to Maureen for running into her so much, and she was very nice about it. She even got things around to my own writing. She said the key to getting published is persistence, which is a good word! I became more her fan than ever. She’s so nice!

At the banquet, I’d gotten into a table organized by Sharron McElmeel of McBookWords, and had some very distinguished dinner companions.

On my immediate left were Kay Weisman and Shirley Duke, both delightful conversationalists:

Here’s Sharron with her lovely granddaughter Aubrey:

Here are Arianna Lechan and Deb Logan (Sorry for the blur!):

And then Anastasia Suen, Wendy Stephens, and Susan Polos:

You can tell everyone was having a great time!

Then the speeches! This year both the Newbery and Caldecott winners won on their first book. I was expecting extra emotional speeches, and I was not disappointed!

Most of the pictures I took were too blurry to show, but I did get a few fun ones. (The key is taking LOTS!)

Here’s David Ezra Stein collecting his Caldecott Honor Award for Interrupting Chicken:

And here’s Erin Stead giving her Acceptance Speech for the Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee:

Her speech was emotional and beautiful, with her sniffling most of the way through. (It was sweet!) She talked about a “huge planet of gratefulness.” The story of how she came to illustrate A Sick Day for Amos McGee is very moving. As Erin said, it’s so appropriate that it’s a “book about having good and loyal friends.” She actually hadn’t done any drawing at all for three years.

Her husband wrote A Sick Day for Amos McGee, but it began this way:

“At the end of the third year, I was unable to ignore the fact that without drawing, a part of me was missing. With a lot of patience and encouragement from Philip, I began to draw a picture that had been knocking around in my head for years. I did it at the kitchen table so as to not overwhelm myself, a little bit at a time. It was a very tiny drawing.

“It was a drawing of an old man and an elephant.

“It is a tremendous gift to have people in your life that know better than you.”

Her husband and his editor were the ones who convinced her to do the book. So everyone owes them a thank-you!

I also loved what she said about picture books:

“I never grew out of picture books. I believe in them. A picture book allows a child ownership of art — even if it’s just for the two weeks they check it out of the library. That book is theirs. I’m not sure any other art form replicates that feeling.”

“I believe the best books translate through time because they tug at something true within us.”

“Books are my home. When I walk into a bookstore, or a library, or crack the spine of a new book, I am home. These are personal experiences to me because there are people behind all of them. And so, I try to make personal experiences. I will continue to try to make honest pictures. I make art with my hands. It has flaws, but so do I.”

“I believe there is an infinite beauty in the limitations of paper books…. The more flash and whiz-bang we add, the more we limit the possibiloities of our own imagination. Books are simple. They must be felt. The copies of my very favorite books are not pristine. They are worn and dog-eared and a little bit dirty because they are loved.”

Then they gave out the Newbery Honor Awards. I love the exuberance of Rita Williams-Garcia:

Clare Vanderpool gave another moving speech for her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech:

She talked about the spirit she gained from her family that enabled her to write a book:

“Their approach to life is what gave me the wherewithal to write a book. To work hard at it. To try and try again after many attempts and many rejections. Figure it out. Make it work. Keep at it. Their confidence and their optimism allowed me to dream big and set lofty goals.

“But even with that spirit, that optimism, that determination, I never set out to win a Newbery. I never even dreamed of it. And I have always dreamed big! Just not that big.”

Like me, Clare Vanderpool was in a writers’ critique group for many years where she was the only “yet to be published” writer in the group. She said, “Without them I would still be an aspiring writer.”

I love this analogy: “Someone asked me recently if winning the Newbery is as wonderful as having a baby. That analogy falls a bit short, but it is like having a baby if you didn’t know you were pregnant.”

About her book, Moon Over Manifest, she said, “I knew I wanted to write a story about place and about home from the perspective of a young girl who didn’t have a home.”

“I try to approach my writing the same way I approach everything else in my life. Work hard at it and have fun with it. Enjoy the experience.”

“What is a true place? What would a true place be for someone who had never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time?”

“And story — the way we give voice to our laughter and tears.”

“Your story touches mine and mine mingles with yours, and as writer and reader we throw in our own ingredients to the story pot to simmer and stew, to make something new, something greater than the sum of its parts.”

Finally, the last speaker was the distinguished and very experienced Tomie dePaola, giving the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal Acceptance Speech:

Tomie’s speech was a lot of fun. He explained how his career began when he was four years old:

“Even though no one asked me, I announced, ‘When I grow up, I am going to be an artist. I’m going to write stories and draw pictures for books, and I’m going to sing and tap-dance on the stage.”

“Every chance I got over the next few years, I would tell the grownups around me what the future held for me, and they all took me seriously.”

He mentions people who nurtured little Tomie: Art teacher, tap-dancing teacher, parents, grandparents, and a librarian.

I love it that when he finally got his big break and an illustration assignment for a picture book, “There was a hitch. I also had a job for ten weeks in Provincetown for — you guessed it — a musical revue in which I would sing and dance on the stage.” So little Tomie had his whole dream come true!

One of his early reviews said, “Good facts, but the illustrations by first time illustrator dePaola are far too imaginative for a science book.” He was thrilled.

And I love this image: “This is what I do. I call little four-year-old Tomie to sit on my lap when I write and when I draw. He tells me what is true.”

What a beautiful evening! I’ll plan to begin blogging about the 4th and last day of ALA Annual Conference 2011 tomorrow.