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1998 CHILDREN'S BOOK FESTIVAL A ROUSING SUCCESS

 

by Pat Peterson

Elaine Konigsburg was honored as the 30th recipient of the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion at the Children's Book Festival held March 18-20, 1998. Visibly moved during the presentation of the Medallion, Konigsburg explained why this particular award is so important to her. She has written eighteen books and began writing when she was twice eighteen; therefore, this number has become significant to her. She has also learned that the number eighteen means "life" in Hebrew.

One day, while allowing the details of a new book to formulate, she discovered that she had chin hairs. At first this discovery was bothersome, but when she thought of her chin hairs "as being akin to the Himalayan mountain goats' hairs, which are gathered and woven into beautiful fabric for kings" she felt better, for "they are not lovely, but lovely things have come of them."

She is perhaps most famous for From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which won the 1968 Newbery Medal. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was designated as a Newbery Honor book in the same year - a feat not accomplished before or since. Even more astounding is the fact that these were the first two books she had ever written! They were published within months of each other, and the rest is literary history - a history that was recently enriched by a second Newbery Medal in 1997 for A View from Saturday.

In addition to being a critically acclaimed author, Konigsburg's artistic talent allows her to illustrate her own books. Her novels are illustrated with sparse pen- and-ink drawings, and readers are cautioned to examine her illustrations closely, as they often reveal additional dimensions of the stories. Two recently published picture books, Samuel Todd's Book of Great Colors and Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions, allow her to express herself in full-color double-page splendor.

In addition to the two Newbery Medals, a number of Konigsburg's books have been chosen as ALA Notable Children's Books and ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Several of her works have been adapted to film. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was released in 1973 as a motion picture starring Ingrid Bergman; "Jennifer and Me," based on Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was a television movie on NBC in 1973; and Father's Arcane Daughter was adapted as "Caroline?" by the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1990.

Despite her statement,"Nothing is what I'd like to talk to you about," her speech was complex and thought-provoking, so much so that it is impossible to do it justice in this summary. Alluding to principles of Japanese art, which she learned from a friend, Konigsburg pointed out the importance of "nothing," "emptiness," and "space" in art, literature, and life. "As we are glutted with information, with sounds, with sights, we need the richness of emptiness." While Western culture respects doers and busy-ness, doing nothing is time well spent. She said, "Going too far, too fast leads to disorientation. We need to determine where we were, where we are, where we want to be, and what's happening to ourselves psychologically. We have to step back and create the space to help us keep in touch with ourselves so that knowing ourselves, we can help the children (we work with) know themselves, too."

The former trained chemist explained that, despite her scientific background, she had a deep need for the printed word and had a great desire to write it herself. Her writing career began when her youngest child entered school. In describing her creative process, Konigsburg explained she attempts to set aside time each morning, becoming still, creating a void "pregnant with promise," an "unpainted corner" of her day. "I spend a lot of my time with my head slung over the back of my chair, picking at my cuticles," she confided. But she also warned that excessive space can be a burden and so can too much time - there must be a balance between filled and free time.

In closing, Konigsburg remarked, "Because all of us - toolmakers and tool users- who deal in children's books are shaping the imaginations and defining the esthetic good manners of the future, I can think of no kinder service to the future."

SCOTT COOK

Dancing marionettes, twirling sculptures, lavish paintings, fabrics, and strategic lighting dazzled the eyes of Scott Cook's delighted audiences. To a background of lively, catchy tunes, Cook playfully paraded his entourage of puppets - Barnaby, the old man; the lady goose; the frog - and concluded with the acrobatic moves and high-flying feats of the little teddy bear. His dynamic performance revived the child- at-heart in one and all.

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, and former student of Murrah High School, now living in Sandwich, Massachusetts, Scott Cook is an extraordinary picture book artist. According to a Booklist reviewer, his impressionistic oil paintings "are suffused with a golden glow. The blurred lines and impressionistic shadings make the art as soft as a kiss, yet filled with energy."

Scott Cook's childhood in Jackson was far from ordinary. He caught glimpses of esteemed author Eudora Welty shopping at the local supermarket and shared the stage with Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Beth Henley when they both played children in a Jackson Little Theater production of Summer and Smoke. During junior high and high school, Cook studied art with the late Jackson artist, Marie Hull and convinced his neighbor, Katherine Speed Ettl, to share her expertise in sculpture.

Not convinced that he could make a living with his artistic talents, Cook tried a number of different professions before being hired to teach art at Friends' Central School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An art project designed for his middle school students gave Cook a new inspiration. He created three-dimensional papier-mfch, figures of a goose and a frog that he then used as models for oil paintings. It took only a small leap forward to see these characters gracing the pages of a children's book, so Cook sent photographs of his project to Alfred Knopf Publishers in New York. Editor Anne Schwartz was so impressed with his work that she immediately contracted him to illustrate The Gingerbread Boy (1987).

This first book was a resounding success, named a "Best Book of the Year" by School Library Journal and an "Editor's Choice" by Booklist. His next book, Nettie Jo's Friends by Patricia McKissack, was also named a best book of the year by a number of journals and magazines. In addition, one of the paintings was awarded a prestigious Silver Medal by the Society of Illustrators. Paintings from the book were chosen as covers for the spring 1989 Knopf catalogue and the October 1989 Wilson Library Bulletin. These two successful titles were soon followed by A Christmas Carol (1990), Mother Goose (1994), A Net to Catch Time by Sara Harrell Banks (1996), and, most recently, With a Whoop and a Holler by Nancy Van Laan (1998). Advance praise for this compilation of Southern folklore comes from Eudora Welty, who calls it "delightful - full of energy, wit, and life. I love the sense of commotion in the illustrations, and the music of the language, and I imagine it will be enjoyed by adults every bit as much as children."

FAYE GIBBONS

Faye Gibbons was born in Carter's Quarter, deep in the Georgia mountains, in 1938, and spent her childhood in mill towns and rural areas of Dalton, Savannah, and Atlanta. These Southern roots, her childhood memories, and her family's stories are the inspiration for her books and storytelling.

Because of economic hardships, her family's lifestyle did not include running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, automobiles, or even television. Although she felt deprived and ashamed of this situation while growing up, as an author she later came to value the experiences gained through hardship.

During the Children's Book Festival, Gibbons shared with her audience that her parents, both mill workers, were not in favor of their children getting an education. She did not attend school until she was nine years old and it was then that, with the aid of teachers and librarians, she discovered a whole new world of stories through reading. She read to her four younger brothers and sisters and even made up her own stories to entertain them. These stories were not written down but served to express her dreams of getting an education and leaving the Georgia mountains far behind. With the moral and financial support of her teachers, she enrolled in college. One former teacher even drove her to Berry College.

"Anytime you can take the time to read to a child, do it," she urged the audience. Gibbons cited the difference teachers can make in children's dreams, their awareness of life's possibilities, and their choices of careers. As an example, she proudly related that her brother was now the vice president of the mill in which her parents worked.

Gibbons attended Oglethorpe University and Emory University and received her bachelor's degree from Berry College in 1961. She then went on to graduate study at Auburn University in 1965. She taught elementary and high school classes at several different schools in Georgia and Alabama during the 1960s.

Her professional writing career did not begin until much later, after college, teaching, and marriage. Her first story, Some Glad Morning (1982), is rooted deeply in the Georgia mountains and depicts the eccentric, colorful country people she had grown up with. After writing the book, Gibbons was able to acknowledge that she was part of those people and, more importantly, that she felt good about it. Favorable reviews in the New York Times, the Horn Book, and Booklist gave Gibbons the confidence to begin Mighty Close to Heaven. The idea for this story came from a trip she made in the 1940s when she and her parents, unemployed and unable to purchase bus tickets, traveled by foot through the Georgia mountains to visit her grandparents. The titles for her first two books come from gospel songs because of the large part that religion has played in her life.

Other works include King Shoes and Clown Pockets (1989), Night in the Barn (1995), Mountain Wedding (1996), and Hook Moon Night: Spooky Tales from the Georgia Mountains (1997). Her work has been recognized by the American Library Association, USA Today, and the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists. In addition, her books have often been nominated for the Alabama Children's Book Award and the Georgia Children's Book Award.

Many of Faye Gibbons dreams have come true. During school visits, she tells the students to go for their dreams, whether those dreams are to write, paint, make movies, or fly jets. She has found through her own personal experience that people can do all of the wonderful things they want to - if they're willing to work for their dreams.

DAVIDA ADEDJOUMA

Palm of My Heart was Davida Adedjouma's editorial debut in the field of children's books. A collection of poems written by forty African American students who define what being black means to them, Palm of My Heart has won the Coretta Scott King Award and is an ALA Notable book. Her second "children's" book, In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall, is another anthology of poems by adult authors writing about the bond between father and child. Despite these accomplishments, she emphatically states that she does not write for children, but instead, writes adult fiction and currently writes erotica. Besides her editorial skills, she is also a writer, an actor, a director, and a teacher.

Adedjouma explained that she loves to teach and tithes each year by doing creative workshops in schools. Palm of My Heart was the upshot of an intensive nine- month creative writing workshop grant. Armed with the Kinko-published manuscript, she journeyed to New York to give it to her funding agency. Months later, to her amazement, they called her, wanting to publish the "Black Is" section.

Adedjouma's talk was based on tips for teaching students to write. Pointers included: "Have students read aloud to hear their own voices, have them read lots of different writers. Provide them with a safe environment, a different space (the library), and different paper - colored or butcher paper. Play music, tell them there are 'no mistakes,' allow them to write in their own languages and then have them translate to you. They need to talk about stuff in a safe environment, or they find a way to get it out. Art may be the only way."

She encourages students in the oral tradition. "After writing and revising, and writing again, there comes that special moment when the sound and the rhythm, and the texture of words becomes uniquely yours - your voice .... It's my goal to help students seize hold of a living language, enabling them to tell their own stories in their own way."

EVELYN COLEMAN

Evelyn Coleman acknowledged Faye Gibbons, fellow speaker at the Children's Book Festival, with nurturing her in the beginning of her writing career. Coleman, a retired psychotherapist, is author of The Foot Warmer and the Crow (1994), The Glass Bottle Tree (1995), White Socks Only (1996), Cymbals (1995), and To Be a Drum (1998). Due out in fall 1998 is The Riches of Oseola McCarty, a picture book about the famed Hattiesburg laundress who became a benefactor to The University of Southern Mississippi. Miss McCarty has been transformed from a shy, quiet woman to a catalyst for many people. In the book, Coleman has tried to focus on Oseola's love of work and love of God. She hopes that her story will transform children, letting them know that "all they have to do is be a human being on this earth."

Coleman wants her books to touch people's emotions: "when I write, I want to either make people laugh, cry, or piss them off." The Southern sense of humor is a joy to her, and she wants to add new elements to Southern literature, such as Civil Rights, so that children of today and tomorrow won't make the same mistakes. Her own parents taught her that she was of "no color," that it was people's thoughts that separated people, not their skins. "Children need to be taught to think for themselves," she urged, " to be aware of who they are, and then they won't let themselves be abused."

ROGER SUTTON

Roger Sutton, editor of Horn Book magazine, was the thirteenth Ezra Jack Keats Lecturer. Formerly the editor of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Mr. Sutton has published reviews of children's books and articles in national periodicals and professional journals, including the New York Times Book Review and School Library Journal.

Mr. Sutton is a member of the American Library Association and is serving on the 1999 Newbery Committee. A former consultant for the Children's Literature Center at the Library of Congress, he has taught children's literature at Simmons College, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago. In 1996, he became editor of Horn Book, considered to be one of the most authoritative journals in children's literature. Sutton is also the author of Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community (Little Brown), and coeditor of Evaluating Children's Books: A Critical Look and The Best in Children's Books 1985-1990: The University of Chicago Guide to Children's Literature.

Sutton credited E.L. Konigsburg with planting the seeds for this lecture 18 years ago, at his first professional conference, when he heard her speak about the censorship of her books. The title for his lecture was "'Problematic Ideologies' and Other Adventures in Children's Book Reviewing." Sutton addressed the responsibilities and difficulties of reviewing books. Reviewers can be selective in reviewing, choosing not to review something. A non-review, like silence, speaks louder than words. Critics can also give readers reason not to buy a book. However, Sutton believes that reviewers should be "equal opportunity esthetes." "A book review has responsibilities to two parties - to the book itself and to the reader of the review. Neither should have reason to feel cheated." He said that there is always a balancing act - the responsibility to represent the book but to represent it fairly. The reviewer should evaluate how well the author has done what he has set out to do.

"Should a reviewer take a stand on a book's message?" Mr. Sutton asked. Sex and language can be problematic, but for whom? Censorship can come from "inside." If librarians don't approve of certain aspects of a book, they shouldn't buy it. He feels that the reviewer does need to give an idea of a book. " We don't condemn, but we quote." There should be willingness on the part of the critic to get out of the way of the book.

In summary, Sutton acknowledged that books can change lives for better - or for worse. But, in his opinion, "Reviewers are there to stay out of opinions - they are not there to judge social mores."


 

 

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