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.

Found by Salina Yoon

My review at Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature.

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Salina Yoon has created a wonderful story with Found (Walker Books for Young Readers /Bloomsbury 2014; $14.99, Ages 2-6.) Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and wants to find its owner, so he posts “found” flyers in the forest. Time passes and no one claims the bunny, and Bear becomes attached to it. It is, after all, “the most special thing he had ever seen.” But eventually Moose, the owner, spots Floppy, and Bear must prepare to part with his new, treasured toy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it has just the right touch.

The magic of this picture book is its simplicity. The storyline is straightforward and the words are chosen perfectly for the young audience. My kindergartener greatly enjoys Found, and is transported into Bear’s world. When Moose arrives to claim Floppy, my little one’s thumb goes right in her mouth (nervous trait), and when Bear sheds a tear at the thought of parting with Floppy, my little one’s eyes well up, too. Children understand simple, pure emotion and Found presents that to them through the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and love.

The artwork is colorful and appealing. The characters are just adorable. Parents will appreciate the clever play on words and the cultural and historical references on the “lost” flyers. My favorites are “Lost Seasons 1-6,” Peter Pan’s “Lost shadow,” and “Lost my marbles! HELP!”

Your child will get lost in the world of Found, and that’s a good thing.

Socks! by Tania Sohn

My review at Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature.

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Colorful socks are for more than just keeping tootsies warm. A young girl and her adorable kitty explore what they can do with an armful of socks in Tania Sohn’s picture book, Socks!

The striped socks inspire the girl to dress up like a witch and the green socks are an opportunity to hop like a frog. Knee socks are the perfect length to imitate an elephant’s trunk. What’s in the package? Special socks called beoseon that Grandma sent from Korea.

Simple in its language and concept, Socks! is a guide to seeing these everyday accessories as more than mere footwear. With a little imagination, a child can transform these foot warmers into puppets or even use them as an opportunity to become a super hero.

Socks are fun. Socks are colorful. We love socks!

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

My review of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett Krosoczka from Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest greatest in children’s books.

Summertime means the beach. It also means opportunities to meet new people at camps, so a story about seahorse Peanut Butter and his best friend, Jellyfish, is a perfect avenue to the themes of friendship, bullying, and coping.

The pair loves to explore their ocean home. They have so much to see, such as a sunken ship and reefs. Unfortunately, their explorations take them near Crabby who taunts them every time they swim by.

Crabby was relentless. “You guys smell like rotten barnacles! Pee-yew! I’ve seen sea snails swim with more style. What a bunch of bubbleheads.”

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish do their best to ignore Crabby’s teasing and, when that doesn’t work, stand up for themselves.

Jellyfish puffed up his chest and said, “Driftwood and sea stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.”

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Then one day, Crabby isn’t on his rock. In fact, he is in big trouble and needs Peanut Butter’s and Jellyfish’s help. The duo decides that even though Crabby has been so mean to them, they should still try to help him. With an exciting endeavor, the sea friends manage to rescue Crabby. Will their actions make a difference in how Crabby behaves?

Krosoczka’s illustrations, made from digital collage of acrylic paintings, are bright and cartoon-like. The characters are fun to look at and children can watch for a clam who appears on many of the pages. My daughter especially enjoys the continuity of the plot found on the inside of the front and back covers. She also very much likes the heart-felt nature of this story and we’ve read this picture book probably every day since I’ve brought it home. So, while she won’t touch peanut butter the food, she can’t get enough of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.