Of course the award itself belongs to Laura Amy Schlitz and the honor citations to Christopher Paul Curtis, Gary Schmidt, and Jacqueline Woodson, but it feels like mine too. And so this particular ALA convention was a very special one for all of us on the 2008 Newbery Committee. Here’s a report on some of the ways we celebrated. I’m sorry for the lack of photos, but I was too excited to stop to take them. Others did and I should have some to post eventually. But for now, just imagine….
Last Thursday, after a remarkably uneventful flight (always feel I dodged a bullet when that happens!), I got my first taste of Disney when I joined 2008 Newbery Committee chair Nina Lindsay and fellow members Luann Toth, Dean Schneider, and Kathy Isaacs for dinner at Naples where there were loads of kids with mouse ears and more to keep us all very aware that we were truly in the Mouse’s domain.
The next day after a great time at Disneyland I went over to Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel where my committee had the first of many remarkable experiences: dinner with Laura Amy Schlitz. How wonderful it was to meet her at last as well as her editor Mary Lee Donovan and illustrator Robert Byrd. It was also great to celebrate with executive marketing director Sharon Hancock and others from Candlewick. Laura gave us the best present possible — an elegant, witty, and smart story that she assured us she had never told before. Could I tell it to you now? No (because I can’t quite remember enough of it), but I can say it was funny and so intelligent that it made us all the more excited about what she would do at the Banquet.
On Saturday we had lunch with Jackie Woodson. It was a sunny space and it was great fun to see Jackie (the one honoree that I already knew) and celebrate with her, editor Nancy Paulsen, agent Charlotte Sheedy, marketing wiz Scottie Bowditch and others from Sterling Lord and PenguinPutnam. They gave us the neatest thing — a lovely blue feather pen with a note penned by Jackie herself. That evening we were whisked away to an undisclosed location —well, not really, but it was a restaurant with not a mouse ear to be seen. Unlike the previous two events, this one was not just for our committee. Rather, Scholastic, having the fortunate situation of multiple honorees, decided to invite all the committees to celebrate together. We were a bit dubious, but it turned out to be a glorious evening. And so there we were with the Caldecott Committee, the Sibert Committee, and the Coretta Scott King Committee. There were also many other luminaries — I was beside myself because I was sitting next to Suzanne Collins, author of the terrific forthcoming book, The Hunger Games. I also had a chance to tell Don Wood how wonderful I think his forthcoming graphic novel, Into the Volcano. is. Roger Sutton and Elizabeth Hall presented Christopher Paul Curtis with the Scott O’Dell Award (and how heavy that shelf of awards for Elijah of Buxton is getting to be!), John Mason was his witty self as MC, the editors of the honored books all spoke beautifully, and we each went home with two signed prints from Brian Selznick and Kadir Nelson.
And then there was Sunday and the Newbery Caldecott Banquet. Beforehand we all mingled in the Hilton’s Green Room where I convinced others to take photos of our committee with all the honorees. Now just to get them (especially those on Dianne Hess‘s camera as she isn’t too certain how to get them off). We then headed into ballroom itself and had one memorable night. I sat at the Candlewick table with Laura Amy Schlitz and Nina Lindsay directly in front of me on the dais. As others have related, it was a remarkable night. Both speeches were unique and brilliant. But it is Laura’s that I want to most celebrate. After Brian’s, most of us worried about Laura. How could she possibly top his? Well, not to worry. She stood on the side of the dais with a lapel mike and told her speech like the storyteller she is. I was close enough to assure all that she was poised, in the moment, and every look and gesture was part of the story. Or stories, should I say, as she told several. I so wish the speeches were videotaped and put on youtube because I don’t think reading or even listening will do Laura’s justice. A storyteller is a performer and Laura used her whole body to tell her speech — she held out her arms to catch a falling child, delicately touched her brow when talking about bears and moles, and clutched an imaginary string as she flew a kite. To the Powers that Be (whoever you are): if there is any possible way to get Laura to do her speech again on video, please, please, please do it!
What was wonderful was how Brian and Laura each echoed their books in their speeches. That is, they showed us what made their books deserving of the medals; they showed us how unique and groundbreaking each book is; they showed us what the books are all about. In Laura’s case, what made me fall completely and totally in love with Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is that it is a book to perform. Sure, you can read it on your own (Robert Byrd’s illustrations are beautiful as are the nonfiction interludes between the monologues and dialogues), but what it is meant for is to be performed, to be told, to be acted, and for children to be it! They should BE Maud and Otto and Hugo and Giles. They should experience those stories, live those stories, inhabit them. Several of Laura’s colleagues from the Park School were at the banquet and I was able to hear a little from fifth grade teacher Sharen Pula, who has been using the monologues for many years in her classroom. She told me that she begins by just reading them to the children; eventually they decide which they want to do. Then they become those people; it isn’t so much a performance for others as one for themselves. Laura did that for her speech — she became this person who did playground duty and saved a child, she became a person who either had moles removed or was clawed by a bear, she became someone who finally and at long last got a kite up into the air.
And then it was Monday evening and our dinner with Gary Schmidt. What a lovely final night for all of us. We were in a cool private room (scroll all the way down to see it — the tapestries and such made it more GMSL than WW, I’d say) at another mouse-free restaurant. It was just lovely to be with our committee (sadly sans Yolanda Bolden who had airline woes that forced her early departure), Gary and his delightful wife Anne, his legendary editor Virginia Buckley, Clarion publisher Dinah Stevenson, the always thoughtful Marjorie Naughton and others from Clarion. The food and wine were good, the company even better, and it was a lovely final celebration for us all.
I can’t thank enough everyone who made it possible for me to be part of this glorious experience. Those who nominated me, those who voted for me to go on the committee, everyone (faculty, administration, parents, and children) at my school who supported me so many ways, my dear friend Roxanne Feldman who brought me to this world, her 2002 Newbery Committee who took me in as their mascot, our wise and going-places-for-sure chair Nina Lindsay, the publishers and authors, and the absolute best group of people to do the hard work of trying to find the most distinguished children’s book of the year — the 2008 Newbery Committee. It was a great time indeed.