I'm cheating a little on the parameters of Children's Book Week, which technically runs from May 12-18 this year. Llama, Llama star Dewdney actually spoke at my library on Thursday, May 8. So it wasn't really Children's Book Week yet. But that certainly didn't matter a whit to the nearly 70 excited kids and their grown-ups that Dewdney delighted at her early-evening program, which was designed to showcase her newest book, Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too (Viking, $17.99, ages 3-6). Dewdney's appearance in our library's Children's Room was thanks to our partnership with Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C. The P&P folks are in the lucky position of having too many authors who want to visit, and so P&P uses libraries like ours as alternate venues. It's a win-win situation: we get to host authors whom we could never afford, while P&P can say yes to an author (and, of course, sell some books).
Then Dewdney launched right into an energetic reading of what is probably her most popular book, Llama, Llama, Red Pajama. It was a great way to warm up the crowd for her new book, which puts Nelly Gnu, a friend of Llama, Llama, in the spotlight. While the kids still clearly are partial to the Llama, Llama books, they also enjoyed hearing Dewdney read about how Nelly Gnu's dad helped her create a special playhouse using a box, some simple tools, and lots of creativity. As usual, Dewdney uses a lilting rhyme to tell her story, and her illustrations are bright and cheerful. Best of all, Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too might just inspire even more parents to spend time on hands-on creative projects with their kids.
In a mega-change of pace two days later, our library hosted Maira Kalman -- she of The New Yorker covers, The New York Times blogs, and such books as And the Pursuit of Happiness (for adults) and Fireboat for kids. (And yes, this was also before the official beginning of Children's Book Week, but we can be flexible....)
|Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan|
I wish I could say that Lois Lowry, winner of the Newbery Medal for not one, but two books -- Number the Stars and The Giver -- also was a guest at my library. But Lowry actually was the feature attraction at the Library of Congress' Children's Book Week celebration. On Monday morning, Lowry and Nikki Silver, producer of the forthcoming film adaptation of The Giver, spoke to a rapt audience of a couple of hundred school kids (and a smattering of adults like me). In addition to their discussion, we were treated to a fast-paced sneak peek of the film, which will be released this August and which stars Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, with a cameo appearance by Taylor Swift. Lowry herself has been involved with the making of the film. Here's one of the official movie trailers -- it's pretty stunning:
Lowry was her typical articulate, thoughtful self as Silver queried her about how she became an author for kids. The kids were fascinated to learn that Lowry, now 77, dropped out of college to get married, had four kids by the time she was 25, and didn't publish her first book until she was 40. Yet, Lowry said she wanted to be a writer from an early age; she told the audience that, in a letter she wrote at age 10, and which was published in a magazine, she said "I am writing a novel. It's called A Dog Named Lucky. I'm on Chapter 13."
Many years later, it was a magazine editor who convinced Lowry that she was actually a natural writer for kids and teens. At first, she resisted the notion, but then she realized several things: "I enjoyed it, I was pretty good at it, and when I began to get a response from kids, I began to perceive what a difference books can make in kids' lives. That makes me take what I do very seriously. I never think that it is a lesser thing to write for kids."
Asked by Silver how she got the idea for The Giver, Lowry said that it came out of her visits years ago with her elderly father. During one visit, "I perceived, for the first time, that memories were beginning to disappear for him. I realized that he had forgotten my sister" even though her death at an early age "was surely the worst thing that had happened to my parents." As Lowry was driving home from the visit, she began wondering "what would it be like if we forgot all our sad memories?" As she mulled over the idea, however, she also decided that "we need all those memories (sad and happy) because they make up who we are."
Although Lowry had no idea that she was creating a new genre of fiction, she generally is created with creating the first "dystopian" novel for teens. Since then dystopian fiction has become all the rage, as shown by the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and others. Those books have become successful films in recent years, but Silver noted that she had optioned The Giver years before that in hopes that she could produce a film version of it. Turning the interviewer tables, Lowry then asked Silver why she wanted to create a film from The Giver. "It's smart and there are great characters," Silver responded. "The idea of visually creating this world was very exciting."
Still it has taken years for the film to actually happen, Silver said,"noting that there were "many screenplays written." Lowry, meanwhile, noted that while she "cringes" at previous efforts to adapt her work into film, she is hopeful about The Giver movie. "I also happen to be a great lover of movies, so I don't automatically think 'Book good, movie bad.' But a movie can't ever be the same thin as a book." She noted that, while reading a book, "you form pictures in your mind about it, and those pictures are different for everyone. With a movie, everyone has the same pictures." Lowry also noted that in the book version of The Giver, "I could have an ambiguous ending, but in the film, there has to be more of an ending."