Thursday, May 15, 2014

Children's Book Week 2014

What a Children's Book Week this has been! And it's not over yet. For me, it's been a celebration involving an amazing mix of talented authors, including best-selling Llama, Llama author/illustrator Anna Dewdney, the quirky genius Maira Kalman, and two-time Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry. A crazy-quilt of styles, right? But a great way to highlight the breadth of children's literature, especially when two of the authors -- Dewdney and Kalman -- made their appearances at *my* library!

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).

Dewdney clearly knows her audience, some of whom came clutching love-worn stuffed Llama Llamas. She started by drawing Llama, Llama on easel paper, to "invite" him to join the event. The kids loved watching Llama, Llama take shape as Dewdney drew him, and my library loved that she later signed the portrait "Llama, Llama loves the Takoma Park Maryland Library." A signed piece of original artwork from an author who has sold millions of books -- it made our night! Of course, we'll frame it and put it up in the library for all to enjoy.

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
The multi-talented Kalman actually came to town to talk about her non-fiction books for kids, which -- in addition to Fireboat -- includes Looking at Lincoln and her newest book, Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything (Penguin, $17.99, ages 7-10). I plan to write specifically about Kalman's talk in another blog post, but suffice to say that she brought down the house with her wry, self-deprecating humor, witty observations about life, love and history, and her brilliantly-hued gouache illustrations. My talented neighbor Jeffrey MacMillan, a professional news photographer, attended the event and took this great photo of Kalman in action.

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."

 And thus was born The Giver, in which Lowry tells of a world that is seemingly perfect, in which no one has sadness or cares, and also no real emotional life. But there is one person, "The Giver," who holds all of the society's memories, in case they ever are needed in the future. When a 12-year-old boy, Jonas, is chosen to become the next Giver, he realizes there is a cost to the placid society in which he lives, and he eventually has to choose whether to stay there or flee in a bid to restore his own humanity.

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."

 As the event with Lowry and Silver wrapped up, one student asked Lowry what she thought was the message of The Giver. "I don't like the idea of messages in books," Lowry said, noting that "you ruin a book" by beginning with a message. "Yet once the book is finished.... messages will arise for readers." In the case of The Giver, Lowry said she believes the story is a cautionary tale demonstrating that "we should be very, very careful in the choices we make in this life... and the compromises too."

No comments:

Post a Comment