Crowds of appreciative librarians, teachers, and other
afficionados of children's literature gathered on
the campus of The University of Southern Mississippi
to welcome their favorite authors and illustrators
of children's literature. Acclaimed author Virginia
Hamilton, recipient of the 2001 Medallion was joined
by author/illustrator Denise Fleming, author/illustrator
Vera B. Williams, storyteller Evester Roper, Dr. Patsy
Perritt, and poet Jaime Levi Adoff.
University of Southern Mississippi Medallion was presented
to Virginia Hamilton in recognition of her outstanding
contributions to the field of children's literature.
There is not an award, prize, or honor given for writing
that Hamilton, America's most honored writer of books
for children, has not received.
writer was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1936, one of five
children, growing up within the warmth of a loving family.
Her mother's side of the family was descended from a fugitive
slave, Levi Perry, who settled in this southern Ohio Miami
Valley town. Mother, father, aunts, and uncles were all gifted
storytellers, giving Hamilton the foundation for the stories
that she would later write.
of realism, history, myth, and folklore, Hamilton's writing
is inventive, daring, and challenging. Critics applaud her
accurate depiction of contemporary African-American life that
reveals its true historical and cultural heritage. Her body
of work now includes some forty titles written for children
of all ages. From the retelling of folk and fairy tales to
realistic fiction to painstakingly researched biographies,
Hamilton's writing is reflective of her experiences as an
African American. Her characters come to life through her
skillful use of dialogue and, when appropriate, dialect.
is an important theme in Hamilton's work and familiar surroundings
contribute to the mastery of her craft. In a biographical
essay found on her Web
page, Hamilton elaborates on the importance of place to
her writing: "Here on the land is the best place for me to
write. I love the old trees, the great old one in which brother
Bill had his tree house. Being an Ohioan means that I have
a long kinship with so many people here, with the landscape
and the Ohio sky. For me, there is nothing quite like an Ohio
sunset. I write books because I love chasing after a good
story and seeing fantastic characters rising out of the mist
of my imaginings. I can't explain how it is I keep having
new ideas. But one book inevitably follows another. It is
my way of exploring the known, the remembered, and the imagined,
the literary triad of which all stories are made."
ideas are as stirring when delivered in person as they are
when written in her books. She introduced the concept of rememory,
which is our interpretation of what happened, rather than
what really happened. This concept resonated with the audience
and soon became a catch word repeated many times during the
crowd greeted Evester Roper, guest speaker at the Fay Kaigler
Storytelling Celebration. In 1990, after eight years as a
public librarian, Ms. Roper began her career as a full-time
storyteller. She demonstrated this talent by delighting all
present with her vivacity and charm, while adding much to
her presentation with audience interaction. After an initial
serenade, Ms. Roper told of a graduation exhortation that
changed her life. The speaker had told the graduates that
in the end ". you will die, be dropped in a hole, have dirt
thrown on your face, and the people will go back to church
to eat potato salad." He went on to explain that people would
attend their funerals, not because of the degree they received
that day, but because they made a difference in someone's
life. Ms. Roper emphasized this message and encouraged those
present to make a difference in children's lives. She then
related several family stories as well as acting out a few
stories written by Molly Bang, with the story of "Chicken
Girl" bringing gales of laughter from the audience.
author/illustrator Vera Williams entertained the audience
with stories of her childhood. These early experiences greatly
affect her view of the world and thus her writing. She related
the importance of art, books, music, and love in her family,
as well as the way in which imagination was worked into every
situation. In this way, Ms. Williams felt that she grew up
with the characters she encountered in the books she read.
They were her friends and she related to them personally.
Because of this, in her own books she puts herself in children's
shoes as she reaches out to include them in her imaginary
worlds. It is this manner of storytelling in which she excels;
her stories contain so much that is not emphasized, but is
simply there because it should be. An example is found in
More, More, More, Said the Baby:Three Love Stories, where,
though each child is a different race, it was not her intent
to express a theme of racial equality. Her theme is simply
that there can never be too much love. It became clear to
those in attendance why Ms. Williams' work is loved by children
and adults alike.
of Denise Fleming, children's author and illustrator, is unique
in that she creates her own artwork mediums. By doing so,
she can control how each element is portrayed. She literally
makes each piece of paper, first determining what the illustration
will be since this will influence the materials used. While
demonstrating her papermaking technique, Fleming told stories
of the unique ingredients used in her paper production, which
included everything from horsehair and grains to leaves and
coffee grounds. Her books, designed by herself and her husband,
David Power, focus on animal characters rather than people,
for the homemade materials make lines more difficult to control.
Fleming and her husband are an excellent team, and if the
energy seen on stage was any indication, there will be many
more books to come.
State University professor Dr. Patsy Perritt delivered the
2001 Ezra Jack Keats Lecture. Her slide presentation, "Learning
to See," was designed to teach people to see what is truly
behind an illustration. She conveyed the importance of examining
an illustration with the full realization of what is before
us. Not only does the illustrator have something to add to
the story, we must also realize what we bring to the illustration
ourselves, for our own experiences color everything we see.
A striking remark made by Dr. Perritt was that, unfortunate
though it is, book illustrations are often the only artwork
that some children may ever see. Because of this, excellent
illustration in children's books is a necessity. Dr. Perritt
discussed balance, clarity, color, texture, and rhythm in
illustrations, giving examples of each in children's books.
She challenged everyone in the audience to become visually
literate so that the powerful combination of words, illustration,
and design can be fully understood.
Levi Adoff, son of Virginia Hamilton and poet Arnold Adoff,
was the featured speaker at Thursday's luncheon. Filling in
for his father, who was recovering from back surgery, Mr.
Adoff first read familiar poems written by his father. He
then read several poems from his first book, to be published
in fall 2002. Mr. Adoff currently has two other books that
are in various stages of completion. Participants were quite
receptive to his poems, and a great future in writing is predicted
for this second generation poet.
was delighted with Chuck Galey's pre-Festival seminar, "The
Illustrator as Storyteller." Galey, a graphic designer living
in Jackson, Mississippi, has illustrated the covers of more
than thirty books, the most familiar being for R. L. Stine's
Fear Street series and several of Beverly Cleary's
titles. He can now add children's book illustrator to his
list of accomplishments with the September 2001 publication
of Jazz Cats, written by David Davis. Galey instructed
those attending on the various mediums used by artists, showing
the varying viscosity and transparency of oils, acrylics,
gouache, and watercolors and then moving on to pastel and
graphite pencils. He demonstrated the different abilities
of each medium and showed how various children's illustrators
have used these differences to express the story in their
Children's Book Festival was indeed fortunate to have hosted
such a group of talented and delightful speakers. Participants
received a rare treat and left the festival with a greater
enthusiasm to spread the pleasure of reading children's literature.
Mark your calendars for April 3-5, 2002, and join us at next
year's Children's Book Festival when our Medallion winner
will be author/illustrator Rosemary Wells.