For the past six years now the Eric Carle Museum has hosted an annual event in New York City where authors, illustrators, editors, and more have met and mingled with the chance of bidding on great works of art, honored folks in the field, and generally supported the museum and all it entails. And for at least five of those years I have had the pleasure of attending in 2007 (here and here), 2008, 2009, 2010, and now I have a 2011 notch on my bedpost as well (so to speak). Each year came with its own memories too. In 2007 I watched the wife of Mo Willems goose her husband (who had to take the freight elevator up to the event because he was wearing jeans) to show how the new Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus stuffed animal would work if you wanted to make it speak. In 2008 I stumbled into a vast room that was filled from wall to wall with desserts, akin to a Room of Requirement (though I was searching for the loo at the time). Upon returning to my table I watched Tony DiTerlizzi (or was it Mo Willems again?) lob spitballs at the adjoining table. 2009 consisted of the Very Hungry Caterpillar cake . . . a cake that returns in my dreams sometimes urging me to eat it (adjust its book to read “And she wasn’t a little librarian anymore. She was a big fat librarian!). And of course in 2010 I had just returned from a lovely jaunt to Chicago’s SCBWI chapter to discover that I was pregnant. Immediately after this discovery I ran over to the Carle Honors where I spent the entire time drinking loads of water, staring morosely at the glasses of wine going around.
Which brings us up to speed. Here we are in 2011 and things have changed a little. I’m less intimidated by the big names. I know a nifty spot near this year’s event space (the restaurant Guastavino’s) where I could change from comfy shoes to high heeled bits of painful ridiculousness. I’m no longer pregnant. And . . .
Okay, so I lied to you just now. Fact of the matter is that I’m still intimidated by the big names. Take Lois Ehlert. She was amongst the various folks being honored alongside Karen Nelson Hoyle, Jeanne Steig and Michael di Capua. If her name rings no bells then surely old Chicka Chicka Boom Boom does. She created the art for that one, amongst her many other titles. So when it was suggested that I hop on over and give her a howdy, I clung to my security blanket/best buddy Lori Ess of Scholastic Book Group and made my way over. And yes, I was terrified.
Cleverly checking my bag that evening I managed to also check my camera, so it is to Leah Goodman that I thank for many of the images shown in this post. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of what Ms. Ehlert was wearing at the time. Imagine, if you will, jewelry constructed out of colorful paper, so beautifully done that rather than resemble an overly ambitious Kindergartener, the subject instead appears to be a walking book herself. That was Ms. Ehlert’s outfit, and you can catch at least a glimpse of it in the Publishers’ Weekly article Picture Book Stars Shine at the Carle Honors.
In any case, Ms. Ehlert was charming. We spoke about her books and she was polite when I asked if she’d seen the original version of Bill Martin Jr.’s Ten Little Caterpillars. To give a sense of this book here is the original title, as illustrated with pictures by one Gilbert Riswold:
And here is the new version:
I’m not lying when I say that when I saw this (more recent) book for the first time my immediate reaction was to cry out, “AT LAST! Something to read alongside The Very Hungry Caterpillar in storytime!” Ms. Ehlert told me she did not look at the original book when illustrating this new one. And it wasn’t easy for her to do this art either. As she said, it’s mighty difficult to collaborate on a picture book with someone when your co-collaborator is dead. Unable to hold back any longer I complimented Ms. Ehlert profusely on the woolly bear section. I’m a big woolly bear fan myself, ever since I watched that Reading Rainbow episode that said that woolly bears could be used to judge the length of winters (or was that 3-2-1 Contact?). In any case, Ms. Ehlert withstood my woolly bear natterings with great dignity and aplomb. She’s a classy dame, that one.
After that it was time to check out the auction. There’s one at the Carle Honors every year, featuring original works of art donated by various artists. You can see the art that was up for auction here. This year they added a new element where folks had the opportunity to bid on “experiences” with authors and artists. I personally thought that should mean that each of these should contain the name “The Tomie dePaola Experience” or “The Jane Yolen Experience”. No such luck. The available options were pretty cool, though. There were:
- Your name in collage by Eric Carle.
- A studio tour and dinner with Tomie dePaola.
- A personal tour of Kadir Nelson’s Los Angeles studio.
- An original fresco on your wall by Rosemary Wells.
- Three original poems for you by Jane Yolen.
Jerry Pinkney also created and autographed an original litho called “What Will I Wear?” that was sold on-site for $75 to benefit The Carle.
So what did I bid on?
Still . . . had I a mysterious benefactor (there’s no way to write that without making the term sound like “sugar daddy”) I would have selected either the artwork of Steven Kellogg (I grew up with him so there’s nostalgia at work there) or the donated art from Chris Van Allsburg for my own. But more than any of that, what I really had my heart set on that evening was the experience of getting the name of a loved one created by Eric Carle. In past years this chance has been up for raffle, so I gleefully secreted away some money to buy tickets. I had not noticed that the raffle was not an option this year. Hence, no chance for a Carle work for me. Such is life.
Cocktails first. Dinner (including ample amounts of tiny food from waiters as well as fabulous real food too) with Betsy and Ted Lewin after that. Note: If you have the chance to pick and choose those you should and should not have dinner with, pick the Lewins. Better conversationalists you will not find. Get them to tell you that story about Ludwig Bemelmans in William Randolph Hearst’s home. It’s a good one.
Finally, the award presentation itself. Not having my camera on hand, Lori Ess had been nice enough to show people pictures of my baby when they asked. She now gave me a pen to take notes. Did I mention what a good friend she is to me?
In a recent ShelfTalker blog post, Elizabeth Bluemle noted that when we consider artists that have been overlooked by the Caldecott, people often forget to mention Eric Carle. Indeed a search of the Caldecott winners reveals that the man has never won so much as a Caldecott Honor. Oversight much? All that was at the front of my mind as he came up to speak.
Now the nice thing about the Carle Honors is that unlike most awards both those who deliver the honors and those who receive are brief, succinct, and to the point. You will find no ramblings here. Leonard Marcus, our resident scholar (speaking at my library on Tuesday, October 11th so do NOT miss him) introduced Karen Nelson Hoyle, curator of the Kerlan Collection and the Children’s Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota. The Kerlan, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is one of the finest collections of children’s literature in the nation containing “more than 100,000 children’s books as well as original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, and color proofs for more than 12,000 children’s books.” Little wonder they’d honor the woman in charge.
Ms. Hoyle spoke a bit about the collection’s founder, Dr. Irvin Kerlan, a “long time chief of medical research for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C., and an authority on toxicity and related matters.” Which is to say, a pretty unlikely benefactor. He collected children’s literature books and artwork in his spare time, discovering that many picture book artists would throw away their dummies after the publication of their books. He gave his entire collection to his alma mater, the University of Minnesota prior to his death and they, to their credit, rather than squirrel it away into some dark corner where it would never surface again, improved upon the magnificent collection making it a destination for anyone researching children’s books. Next September 18, 2012 will be Dr. Kerlan’s 100th birthday, so look for some hardcore Minnesotan partying to occur at that time.
After the librarian/curator spoke (if I could exchange my job for any other, that would be my dream occupation) it was on to Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties. She was charged with introducing Jeanne Steig, artist and writer (not to mention William Steig widow). Holly told a very funny story of staying with Jeanne years and years ago and the unfortunate 9 a.m. reaction she had to the early rising household. In the course of her talk we learned that there is a book out right now called Cats, Dogs, Men, Women Ninnies & Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig. Edited by Jeanne with an Introduction by Roz Chast and an Afterword by Jules Feiffer I immediately hungered for this hitherto unknown title. As it happened, when the evening was done it was revealed that people with a card under their chairs could get a copy. I’ll say no more except to mention that the book includes some photographs of Mr. Steig that show that the man was, not to put too fine a point on it, hot stuff.
The title Ms. Steig had earned from The Carle was what they call an “Angel”. So as she came up she commented, “Shucks, I never thought I’d be an angel (and Bill would be pretty surprised too)”. She was disarming and delightful.
Next we watched a video of Maurice Sendak speaking about his friend and editor Michael di Capua. I’d heard of Mr. di Capua for years and had somehow come under the impression that he was an ancient, withered, husk of a man barely clinging to the frail bonds of life. So the fellow who looked to be in his 50s and verily bounded up to the podium instead took me off guard. He graciously tipped his hat to the great editors of the past and mentioned that his current imprint will celebrate its 25th year on January 12th (joking, “I was 14 when I began”). After referring to a cryptic “Harper Collins interlude” and quoting Tony Soprano, he made it very clear that he was going to continue to stick around.
Next up was the guy who can make everyone feel better about where their life is heading, Ashley Bryan. Wearing this killer vest and shirt combo he entranced the room. Watching him, I found myself thinking that whoever suggested him as a potential Ambassador of Young People’s Literature was right on the money. He described Lois Ehlert and her work with great feeling saying things like “She will somersault the images”. To close, he read an adapted poem from his book Sing to the Sun. As Lori Ess commented beside me, “Can I belong to The Church of Ashley Bryan?” Amen to that.
Finally, a surprise was revealed. You may have heard that a Leo Lionni sculpture has been donated to The Carle, and you may even have heard rumors about a certain Mo Willems red elephant statue as well. What you may NOT have heard, however, is that last year’s Carle honoree Nancy Schön (shown here between Carle Executive Director Alix Kennedy and Director of Development Rebecca Goggins) has created original little maquettes just for the museum. You may remember that Ms. Schön is the one responsible for the marching ducklings in Boston and other great children’s literary statuary. Well lo and behold, she has created tiny Very Hungry Caterpillar statues that will be sold to benefit The Carle. Here you can see Mr. Carle looking at a tiny prototype:
The maquettes will be for sale in time for the holidays, so if you’re looking to find just the right gift for a caterpillar of your own acquaintance, you are in luck.
After that it was the downing of copious small desserts and I fled so as to replace my mightily uncomfortable shoes. Thanks to the good people at The Carle for inviting me once again! There’s nothing like a good party.
Sidenote: I will be speaking at The Carle on Thursday, November 10th alongside Lisa Holton and *gulp* Anita Silvey about the future of books. No pressure. If you happen to be in the area then, I’d love to see you. Moral support is always welcome.