Hello! My other Inkpot posts have all been essays we might file under “business of the writer’s life.” I wrote about going to the AWP conference, the National Book Awards, and the Texas Library Association conference – three different literary events of the type you might find yourself attending if you end up making children’s books your profession. This post is in a similar vein – I want to tell you about the Eric Carle Honors event I went to a couple weeks ago.

Dore illustration for Little Red Riding Hood

It’s in Amherst, MA and is devoted to the art of the picture book. For example, right now they have an exhibit on Gustav Doré, the 19th-century fairy tale illustrator, an exhibit on Harriet the Spy and an exhibit on Simms Taback. They do all kinds of school and family programs and they have shows which travel, too. The site is well worth a look on a regular basis if you want to keep on top of what’s important in the world if children’s book illustration.
They also have an awards ceremony each year. I was my friend Maria’s date, so I didn’t have to work or speak or anything – but I went because it was interesting and fun, and a good chance to connect with people in the field I might not get to see or meet otherwise. It was in New York (it used to be in Amherst, I think), and it was charming and there was nice food and people milling around in cocktail attire. After all the eating was done, we all sat down for an awards event with our charming hosts, illustrator TonyDiTerlizzi and author Angela DiTerlizzi. They were erudite and funny. Here’s an article on the event that was in School Library Journal that includes fun video. If I had known Hilary Knight was in the room I might have had a heart attack, so it’s good I only found out later.
The Carle honors celebrate four individuals, and seeing the event and the recipients reminded me why I am glad to be working in children’s books – which is why this whole event seems worth recounting to you. There is an illustrator award, which is just for total awesomeness and innovation in a lifetime of work. Jerry Pinkney won it, as well he deserves to. There is a mentor award, which my beloved late editor Frances Foster received a few years back, and which was this year received by the distinguished librarian Henrietta Mays Smith.
The Bridge award was this year given to Françoise Mouly, publisher of TOON books and art editor of The New Yorker. Mouly’s imprint is all graphic stories for the very young, and she has done a ton to bring comic-book style work of high quality into classrooms and homes, and to destigmatize this art form that so many children connect to.
As she spoke, I was thinking about Hamline MFAC’s own Gene Luen Yang, whose American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to win the ALA’s Printz award, and how graphic novels and memoirs have taken their places on the National Book Award finalist lists first in the Young People’s Literature category (American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints, and Stitches by David Small) and this year in nonfiction (Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?) This year, too, AlisonBechdel (Fun Home) became a MacArthurfellow for writing graphic memoirs.
This art form has found respect by our mostfancy-pants institutions, and that means that the landscape of literature is really changing, with children’s literature helping lead the way. It also means that the work Mouly has been doing is making a difference in how kids’ reading is perceived by adults, and how graphic storytelling is perceived in general.
So all this was going on in my head, and I felt so happy to be a part of a community where a revolution of this kind was quietly happening and now being celebrated. The other honor was for Reach Out and Read, a charity organization which partners with pediatricians to get books into the hands of kids and to help parents feel confident and comfortable reading with their little ones. They teach storytelling at well-child visits! They tell parents who might not have many books at home that it’s okay if the kid wants to hear the same story 10 times in a row, that it’s okay if a baby chews on a board book, that it’s okay if kids run away halfway through the story. They distribute 6.5 million books per year.
I was nearly in tears over this, it made me so happy to learn about how doctors and publishers found a way to partner to reach children.
Then there was dessert, so I pulled myself together. I ate tiramisu, talked with an illustrator friend and met some new people, ate a red velvet cupcake and finally went home with a goody bag of TOON and Pinkney books. It was a good night and it made me feel lucky to have the job that I do.