By Amanda Yesilbas
I was an unlikely attendee of the Caldecott/Newberry/Wilder banquet, unlikely because of age and vocation.
I mean no offense when referencing age. Instead it is a matter of economics. Few new professionals, librarians in particular, could afford the eight-five dollar ticket price for themselves much less a companion. I certainly couldn’t. I was there on charity. My companion, my mother, bought her own ticket.
The banquet hall was a sea of publishers, children’s librarians, and educators. My own mother is an elementary school guidance counselor. I am a technical service librarian, specifically academic and specifically serials. What was I doing there? The only answer I can give is the essay I won the banquet ticket with:
There is an ugly, half-finished manuscript for a beautiful story sitting in limbo on my hard drive. My mind sees the illustrations with vivid clarity. The illustrator has less of a vision. He hasn’t even seen the words he is suppose to breathe life into yet.
I know it’s a good story. I know it teaches a lesson every child should learn. Actually it’s a lesson everyone could benefit from including me. So what is the lesson? You have to save yourself. In the end you must choose your own way and not wait for a prince charming to save you. Funny then I should be looking for a prince now.
Sometimes after choosing your path it is hard to follow. I wanted to tell this story. I chose to tell it. I even started the telling. Life is a tricky thing sometimes. Lovely dreams have a hard time growing in the dirt of daily life. It is difficult to find the passion that led me to put pen to paper.
I think attending the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet might be the thing to spark that ember. Certainly it demonstrates the worldly honor one can achieve in the endeavor of children’s and young adult writing, but I think there is something more I can find there. I think I can find the simple love of storytelling from the tellers and their audiences.
Maybe I’m not looking for a prince. I just need a sturdy mount to aid me on the way.
So it was by this essay I came to be sitting at the table of Marshall Cavendish -- the publisher who so generously sponsored and ran the contest -- at the banquet. To one side of me sat another essay winner, a lovely school librarian, and the other side Brian Buerkle, a charming marketing manager from the publisher. My dear mother was exiled to another table.
I felt something of a fraud in truth. What was I doing here? Well, to be honest I was there to try to pitch my book and get tips in publishing. It bothered me how shallow it seemed next to the noble sentiment of my essay, and I have to admit I wasn’t terribly good at the entire pitching thing. I made a half-hearted attempt but found myself too self conscious to speak in detail. As an unpublished author who doesn’t even have a finished manuscript, what did I have to offer? I smiled and tried though. I was determined to at least have a good time at the banquet, something made easier by the lavish number of wine bottles and decadent dessert. I must say Marshall Cavendish spared no expense.
Finally after dinner the lights dimmed and we got down to the business of the awards. The event began with the obligatory dignitaries. Gretchen M. Wronka, President of the Association for Library Service to Children, and Carol Brey-Casiano, President of ALA, opened up the proceedings by thanking everyone for attending, and emphasizing the extreme importance of bringing literacy to children and young people. I squirmed a little at this point because I wasn’t personally doing much to help this cause.
Next the ceremony went on to the individual awards. The structure was the same for each award. The chair of the selection committee spoke and presented the honor awards before presenting the medal. The one exception to this was the Wilder award, which only had the one recipient.
The first award presented was the Caldecott, which honors exceptional illustration of a children’s book. Elizabeth Hearne, the committee chair, presented the honorary awards to Barbara Lehman for The Red Book, E.B. Lewis for illustrating Coming Home Soon, and Mo Willems for Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. The winner of the Caldecott medal was Kevin Henkes for Kitten’s First Full Moon. The program to the banquet was charmingly made using illustrations and themes from this book.
The second award was the Newberry, an award honoring exceptional juvenile and young adult literature. Susan Faust, the chair of the committee, presented the honorary awards to Gennifer Choldenko for Al Capone Does My Shirts, Russell Freedman for The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, and Gary D. Schmidt for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. The Newberry Award winner for 2005 was Cynthia Kadohata for Kira-Kira.
The final award presented was The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, an honor that recognizes lifetime achievement in juvenile and young adult literature. Janice del Negro, chair of the committee, presented the award to Laurence Yep for his body of exceptional work.
All of the medal recipients gave incredible acceptance speeches. I will never remember the exact words they used, but I will never forget their stories. I will always remember how Bill Henkes went to New York at nineteen with nothing but his portfolio and received a job at the first publisher he had an interview with, or how the editor made him call his mom immediately. I’ll remember his mention of how Kitten’s was based on a failed experiment. I won’t forget the rush of empathy I felt for Cynthia Kadohata as she teared up when speaking of her father. I can clearly see the shimmering beautiful things she means with the words Kira-Kira. I will always remember her vivid description of her infant son vomiting on her as she wondered if this world in which she won the Newberry award was real or not. I won’t forget Laurence Yep’s father, and how he searched the newspapers looking for English professors who died so his son could get a real job as a professor and not something as insecure as a writer.
Each artist came from a completely different place culturally and economically. They were separated by gender and experience, but each of them wore the same expression as they accepted the award, a mixture of gratitude, happiness, and amazement. All three of the award winners and everyone in the room were united together by the sharing of their stories, experiences, and lessons. It wasn’t about writing for children. It was about creating connections and understanding though the storytelling of pictures, written language, and spoken words from speeches. I didn’t feel like an outsider anymore.
I did leave that night with the invitation to send my manuscript into Marshall Cavendish for consideration, but most surprisingly I left with exactly what I had come looking for. I left with inspiration. It is possible to work with "real life" and create something. It is possible to be a successful storyteller.
I have two things to do now. I have to finish my little story, and I have to budget for a ticket to next year’s banquet.