On Thursday Doris Gebel, a librarian from Long Island who will be the director of USBBY next year, invited me to come to an event in New York with her. The French Cultural Services were hosting Tomi Ungerer, whose children’s books are being reissued by the art publisher Phaidon. Tomi is 80, so there was one sense of history in meeting a vital, engaged artist working in his 8th decade. But there was yet another meaning of past and present in the crowd.
Tomi began by talking about the first time he came to NYC, back in 1956, when he had no money and no reputation here, but caught the attention of the great children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom. And seated right there in the front row was Susan Hirschman, who had been Ursula’s assistant back then, went on to create Greenwillow book, and, ten years ago, retired herself. Seated near her was Barbara Dicks, who had been a contracts coordinator at Harper — and if you look carefully at, say, Syd Hoff’s books, you’ll see her name in the dedications.
So here we are in the 21st century talking about apps and platforms and social networking, and in one room on 5th avenue we had people who have been involved in creating great books for children for nearly 50 years — stretching back a decade before Where the Wild things are. There was something so wonderful to be in presence of history — to be with living, engaged, creative people who made the books I read as a child, and read to my kids, and they surely will read to theirs.