A Room Full of Love

My article from the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California newsletter, The Sampler. To learn more about the CLCSC, visit the website.

The 53rd Fall Gala of the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California took place on October 11’s beautiful morning in La Canada- Flintridge’s Descanso Gardens. Librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, and book lovers met in the lovely environs for the annual Awards for Authors and Illustrators of Southern California.

CLCSC First Vice President, Dr. Marjorie Arnett, introduced keynote speaker Bryan Collier. Mr. Collier has won numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the 2002 Caldecott Honor Award. Dr. Arnett described Mr. Collier’s interest in art—shapes, colors, textures—as having derived partly from his grandmother’s quilts.

Credit: CLCSC

Bryan Collier; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Mr. Collier explained how his love of books started at a young age with the influence of his mother, a Head Start teacher. Two books from his childhood stand out especially: Ezra Jack Keat’s The Snowy Day and Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. Mr. Collier described that the character in Snowy Day “looked back at me. I had the same pajamas,” and how reading that particular book and seeing that character “said something to me beyond any other book. I couldn’t articulate what it was, but I felt it.” Harold prompted thoughts on pies and on journeying home.

In what can be characterized as an incredible demonstration of perseverance, Mr. Collier haunted the publishing houses of New York City once a week for seven years. In addressing whether he became discouraged during that lengthy job search period, Mr. Collier replied, “It’s always been bigger than about just a book. It’s about being connected.” As if to confirm this belief, a young girl told Mr. Collier, “You need purpose” when, during a school visit, he asked students what is needed in order to make a book. This young girl’s words resonated with Mr. Collier, as did the directive from Henry Holt Publishing, who hired him, to “tell me what you know.”

In that continual process of expanding what he knows, Mr. Collier believes that research helps find truths to bring to light. It is a process of “talking and looking at history up close” and is a part of the work ethic that goes into making a book. Mr. Collier explained that “history is a chain and it’s connected. Picture books are the perfect vehicles to celebrate history.”

As part of his research for the picture book Rosa, Mr. Collier met with Mrs. Johnnie Carr, a friend of Rosa Parks. She told him the stories behind the story, such as the threats leveled against Ms. Parks’ church members, friends, and family. For authenticity’s sake, Mr. Collier tried the process of getting on and off the bus from the back, to try to understand what that must have felt like.

For Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, Mr. Collier visited the plantation in South Carolina where David Drake, a slave, added short poems on the approximately 40,000 clay storage pots he made. This plantation was in Edgefield, Strom Thurmond’s hometown, where Mr. Collier described meeting some “good ol’ boys” who helped with his research and shared what they knew.

Research and connection with the books’ subjects have influenced Mr. Collier’s artistic style, helping him to add details in his art. The School Library Journal notes that “alert readers [of Dave the Potter] will find hidden messages in some of the collages, but what stands out in these pictures are Dave’s hands and eyes, and the strength of his body, reflected in the shape and size of his legendary jars and pots.” The Kirkus Review of Rosa states “the art complements and extends the text, with visual references to Emmett Till, the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Martin Luther King, Jr. The yellowish hue of the illustrations represents the Alabama heat, the light emanating from Rosa Parks’s face a shining beacon to all who would stand up for what’s right.”

Mr. Collier’s love of art and books is fully evident in his speech, and the audience was lucky to share in it with him. It was, as Mr. Collier noted, “a room full of love” that morning.

Andrew Smith was not present to accept the Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature. He sent word that he is “deeply honored” by this recognition of Winger, especially as he had been told that “Winger wasn’t the right thing” for his career.

Holly Goldberg Sloan, a second-time honoree, stated just how very much being recognized by librarians and educators means to her. The Excellence in Juvenile Fiction awardee, Ms. Goldberg Sloan wrote Counting by 7s about a girl who likes math and science because she feels that girls are discouraged in pursuing these fields and wants that to change.

Most-Distinguished Juvenile Non-Fiction Book Award recipient, Kadir Nelson thanked the CLCSC for acknowledging his work Nelson Mandela, the namesake of which is one of Mr. Nelson’s heroes. Mr. Nelson went on to describe how distilling Nelson Mandela’s autobiography into a picture book was a difficult process. With it, he strived to amplify beauty and harmony, which is what Nelson Mandela worked toward.

Dan Santat; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Dan Santat; Photo Credit: CLCSC

Dan Santat was influenced by Smurfs cartoons and a librarian who surreptitiously gave him a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way because she knew that although his parents wanted him to become a doctor, he loved art. Mr. Santat has passed it along to his children. When this Excellence in Picture Book Illustration winner gave a speech at his alma mater, UCSD, he spoke about doing what he loves as a career instead of what he was expected to do.

Winner of the Best Narrative Voice in a Picture Book Award, Drew Daywalt discussed his process of writing and publishing The Day the Crayons Quit. He acknowledged the team effort needed over an eleven-year period from writing the manuscript to getting the book on shelves. His humorously described revelation that the manuscript took six years to sell is a rallying cry for aspiring authors to persevere. The much-anticipated sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home, is in the works.

Recipient of the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award, Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is an inspiration. This busy “retiree” described how “retirement is a continuation of your life’s passion” and that the “enticement of the literary world became even stronger” after her retirement. Currently the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature, Dr. McLinn has been a passionate advocate for multicultural children’s literature throughout her distinguished career.

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