The Children’s Literature Council of Southern California’s 2016 Fall Gala

In September, 2016, I was honored once again to be asked to write the feature article for the CLCSC’s annual gala. It was, as always, a wonderful event, a literature lover’s heaven. Below is my article. The article with event photographs can be found on  CLCSC’s homepage.

October 8, 2016

The 2016 Fall Gala: Connect, Support, and Celebrate
by Rita Zobayan

Something about being in a room packed full of book lovers speaks to my heart. Maybe it’s the like-mindedness, the understanding that books are important not only in education but also in life. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that whether your favorite genre is picture books, middle grade, or young adult, your appreciation of children’s literature provides a common ground. So it was with a happy heart that I attended the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California’s 2016 Fall Gala held in the Luminarias Restaurant.

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President Laurie Reese welcomed the attendees–librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, book reviewers, and literature lovers. She recognized the Board and presented the organization’s mantra of “Connect, Support, and Celebrate.”

Katherine Loeser, Co-First Vice President, then introduced the keynote speaker, the venerable Sharon M. Draper, explaining how Out of My Mind “changed me as a person. These are real people. Thank you for introducing me to histories and stories I didn’t know.” Ms. Draper, an author with a multitude of honors to her credit, began by describing her appreciation for the connection between books and learning. She spoke about the power of a story, the power of words and how words “make us whole. We have the privilege of reading, writing, and sharing them. If you know how to tell a good story, you can do anything.” Ms. Draper’s exposure to the power of words began at age three, when her mother took her to a library. The gleaming floors, sunlight dancing through windows, smell of books, and the card catalogues written in perfect cursive mesmerized Ms. Draper, and she knew she’d found a place for herself. By age ten, she’d read all the books for elementary students, and was given a card for the adult section. Ms. Draper explained, “I learned a lot at the library.” She never noticed as a child that there were no books with children that looked like her. No one questioned it because that was the world they knew. At age 12, Ms. Draper read Forbidden City, which was her first venture into a culture outside of the USA. She recalls that the book “stayed with me,” and she later became the State Department’s Literary Ambassador to the children in China. She read chapter one of her book, Out of My Mind, and explained, “I knew I had to give voice to someone who was voiceless. The books come to me.” A very touching story was Ms. Draper’s recollection of her father’s request to write a story about his mother, who had to quit school at age 10 to work. She kept journals and would write on her porch, and one of the journals was passed down to Ms. Draper. Stella by Starlight is the product. Ms. Drapers’ grandmother’s words aren’t in the book, but the premise of Stella writing a journal on the porch is.  Ms. Draper concluded her speech with “There is a book for a child. Just one book can make an impact.”

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Maxine Lucas then presented the award for Outstanding Work of Fiction, which was awarded to Pam Munoz Ryan for Echo. Ms. Munoz Ryan was on tour and sent her thanks for the honor.

The Outstanding Picture Book Award was presented by Meredith Kent McGowan to Antoinette Portis for Wait. Ms. Portis recalled her journey to becoming an author/illustrator from writing and drawing in sixth grade to working in advertising and for Disney to taking classes at UCLA Extension and the Art Center.

Katherine Adams presented the winner for the Excellence in Illustration Award, Vincent X. Kirsch for Gingerbread for Liberty. Mr. Kirsch recounted his work as a designer of gingerbread cookies for Dean and DeLuca. He stated, “I had so much fun with this book. It was a game for me. I am in the business of ‘wild imaginings’ and they can turn into anything. Pursue your wildest imaginings because you never know…they could become a book one day.”

The Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature was presented by Rachel Lizotte to Noelle Stevenson for Nimona. Ms. Stevens was unable to attend but sent her thanks.

Laurie Reese took the stage once more to present the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Children’s Literature to Marjorie Arnett. Ms. Arnett is a former educator and one of the three individuals who helped found the annual Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival. A major influence on Ms. Arnett was her parents’ examples of hard work and community service. Her father read a lot of Little Golden Books to her, and by age four, Ms. Arnett was reading to her younger siblings. Her parents advised her to “follow whatever path made you happy,” and that lead to education. Her siblings and she were the grandchildren of sharecroppers, and all of them went to college. Ms. Arnett’s mission has been to bring children and books together through “mirrors and windows”: having children see themselves portrayed in literature.  Whatever she has been involved in, she has pursued with the lesson she learned from her family: “to attack life with a passion.”

The event ended with the joy of feeling connected, supported, and celebrated.

Read Across America

Reading is a cornerstone life skill that is the basis of classroom success. The abilities to learn about new subjects, to find information on topics, and to conduct research depend on reading. On Monday, March 2, schools, libraries, and bookstores throughout the USA will celebrate the memory of Dr. Seuss. For many children, Dr. Seuss is their first introduction to reading. Let’s help children develop the life-long joy of reading on what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 111th birthday.  Check with your local schools, libraries, and bookstores for events that promote this celebration.

At home, model an example and read with your family throughout March. Research shows that when children read outside of the classroom, they do better in schools. Worried about reading to your child? Don’t be. Use different voices for characters, hand gestures, and movement. For emerging readers, point to easy sight words (for ex., I, he, she, am, in, on) and have them read. Ask your children what they think will happen next in the story.

Make it fun, not stressful. You can find more ideas at the National Education Association site. Most of all, kids will love the attention and the time they spend with you.  Reading is a skill, and one that can bring joy and fulfillment throughout life. Give your voice and your time and read.

(Some content was adapted from Councilman Mike Gatto’s Read Across America notification.)

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.

PitMad Is Coming!

Alright, all you aspiring, pre-published, agent-seeking writers, get ready for tomorrow’s #pitmad. 

If you’re not familiar with this event, here’s a brief explanation. 

You have a book you want to pitch. You write your pitch in a tweet and use the hashtag #pitmad and the hashtag for whatever genre your manuscript is. Agents cruise Twitter and look for genres and manuscripts they might be interested in. If an agent favorites your tweet, then that’s an invitation to send in the manuscript.

Check out the facts (and the rules!) from the lady who started it all, Brenda Drake. Go to her explanation page, and see if you want to play. 

Good luck!

We Need Diverse Books

The New York Times recently published an article about the lack of diversity in children’s books.

This set off a firestorm in the kidlit and social media spheres. Tumblr is spearheading the current #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that’s taking place on its site, as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs.

Details can be found here. Essentially, people post photos of themselves or books with the caption “We need diverse books because” and they give a reason. An example is below.

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We need diverse books because everyone has a story to tell.

If this topic is of importance to you, be a part of the conversation!

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