Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my first National Book Award ceremony. That I had not attended one before is not surprising since (A) it’s pricey and (B) I am not in the publishing business or (strictly speaking) a member of the press. As it happens, my lovely President of NYPL invited me along with a crew of fellow catty librarians. Then he got hit with a nasty bit of bronchitis and had to bow out. I was disappointed. I don’t often get a chance to speak with my President. This would have been a lovely chance to do so.
In preparation, earlier in the day I freaked out over the fact that the event was to be black tie and so I made the executive decision to put on make-up. Skin related make-up at that (which I’ve very little experience with). Fun Fact: If you’ve never done powder for your face before, be careful with it else you may find your powder has exploded all over your clothing and you’ll need to wear that t-shirt you keep in the drawer of your desk for the rest of the day. Not that I’d know, of course.
I was seated with two of my former Jefferson Market Branch mates, my former boss Frank and Billy Parrott. When Billy first started working at the branch Frank took an inordinate amount of pleasure in saying “Betsy Bird? Meet Billy Parrott! Billy Parrott? Meet Betsy Bird!” As you can see, it was perfect.
Frank, by the way, has apparently made a video of an adult version of the song “Where is Thumbkin?” which is a fabulous idea. Read the words aloud to yourself sometime and make them dramatic. Most fun you’ll have all night.
Of course my primary interest in the evening was children’s literature based. In terms of the NBA for Young People’s Literature, I figured it was entirely between One Crazy Summer and Mockingbird. Not that I thought the YA wasn’t any good, but rather I hadn’t read any of it and therefore wasn’t counting it in my brain.
That isn’t to say that I wasn’t gung ho about hearing Jon Scieszka introduce Joan Ganz Cooney, though. How cool a connection is that? And best of all, Kevin Clash made a surprise appearance with Elmo out of a clear blue sky. He and Jon riffed for a bit, suggesting that in case this whole children’s book / daytime children’s television stuff doesn’t work out, they can always take their show on the road.
Here’s Joan with Jon lurking behind and Elmo being uncharacteristically silent, next to Kevin.
After that, food. Andy Borowitz was the host that evening and separated his time between being amusing and insulting the sponsors. Tom Wolfe was honored as well and gave the history of the 60s and 70s as he experienced them at length. 1989 Caldecott acceptance speech long, if you catch my drift. I became that horrible person who tweets and reads tweets at fancy events, and did manage to quote him once when he said (almost out of the blue), “I don’t know how many people remember but everything in the automat was yellow.” Lines like that make for good tweeting.
You know how the Oscars always leave the big awards to last and begin with the things that folks don’t care quite as much about? That may explain why the children’s awards were the very first announced. After we’d finished our dinners (fish, potato thing, rabe, dinner roll, chocolate warm thing) they immediately plunged right into it. Tor Seidler presented the children’s side of things, which was cool as I’d never seen him before. As you have no doubt heard by now Kathryn Erskine won and everyone rightly congratulated her. She gave a lovely speech in a deep green dress and helped Penguin to become the only publisher that night with two National Book Award wins (the second being poetry). Well played, Penguin!
The press, as it happens, doesn’t get the food of the other folks at these awards. They live in what Rocco Staino (shown here) dubbed the press bleachers. They get a sandwich and a brownie, but that’s about it. It was cool watching them work on their laptops. Made me slightly envious, but only slightly.
Other folks won as well (Patti Smith, notably) and it was just the loveliest evening. I left before the after party went into full swing (with more tiny food, like hot dogs in rolls, which I adore). A big thank you, then, to my President for inviting me along. It’s fascinating seeing the adult and children’s side of publishing mingling together at last. I hope to get a chance to see it again someday.