How To Proceed When the Eric Carle Museum Asks You to be Their Guest at the 2007 Carle Honors Benefit Dinner and Awards Ceremony:
1. You say "thank you".
My experience with benefit dinners was, prior to the Carle Honors last Tuesday evening, limited. Suffice it to say, I’d never been to one. "Benefit" = "money" and "money does not = children’s librarianship". But when I received a truly lovely invite asking me to attend… oh I was there, baby. This being New York, it didn’t hurt matters any that the event was to be held precisely one block away from my workplace. I actually had to kill time before attending! My kind of party.
Now you may ask, "What the heck is the Carle Honors Benefit?", and you would be right to ask. Basically it’s a dinner that awards, "the creative vision and long-term dedication of key individuals and organizations to the art of the picture book and its vital role in supporting art appreciation, early literacy, and critical thinking." This year’s recipients were illustrator Ashley Bryan, Martin and Lillie Pope of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, editor Margaret K. McElderry, and Twila Liggett of Reading Rainbow.
The ceremony was to be held in a place called The University Club. There are advantages to walking around New York knowing nothing at all. These include, but are not limited to, walking into structures of this sort and getting to say, "Hey! This place is big!" Big and woody. The kind of place where the women’s restroom door is made of leather and has multiple brass studs emerging from it. Entering the seventh floor there was live music, delicious teeny tiny food items, and drinks. Seating was arranged by handing guests smooth black stones with the letter of your table inscribed in silver. This apparently had something to do with a vague overarching Spiderwickian theme which also involved the various ladies dressed in fairy wings who were attempting to get people to purchase raffle tickets on the sly. Later I would ask Holly Black if they were her fault. They were.
The problem with entering a big space with live music and, momentarily, more servants than guests is that if you don’t know anyone there then you’re in a bit of a pickle. Leonard Marcus and I always end up early to these events, but he is famous and I am not, so he always finds someone to talk to right away. Eventually people began to saunter in and if I saw anyone who looked even vaguely familiar I glomed onto them like a leech.
The best part of the evening to my mind was getting to meet the spouses of famous people. So it was that I met the mates of Holly Black, Mo Willems, and Jon Scieszka. Note: If you go to a fancy schmanzy party, skip the well-known people and locate their spouses.
Speaking of Mr. Mo, he was there but just barely. Yes, the invitation said that we were to dress in "business wear", but failed to take into account the fact that "business wear" for author/illustrators involves blue jeans. Mr. Mo got in by the skin of his teeth. Apparently the University Club took just one look at his pants (with a sport jacket, mind) and had him escorted upstairs to the party via freight elevator. Damned amusing to hear about, I assure you.
After running into Alvina Ling and getting to re-meet Peter Brown it was dinner time. Thanks, once again, to the good people of the Eric Carle Museum I was seated at the Mo Willems table. Next to us was the Tony DiTerlizzi/Jon Scieszka table, which seemed to produce an unprecedented amount of spitballs (and not by the guy you’d expect either). At the table I was able to ascertain who most of the people at this party were. Many of them were Connecticut natives with children who enjoyed supporting the Eric Carle Museum, even if their knowledge of contemporary picture books was a bit light. I had to explain to the very nice businessman next to me (when asked what he did he simply gave a modest, "I create companies") that Mo Willems was, in fact, very famous. Ditto Scieszka.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)