Hanging Out With Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
And by "hanging out" I of course mean "seeing them speak in a large auditorium with a host of other fans". Same dif.
Anywho, if you know me then you know that at heart I am a penny-pinching old miser who would rather reuse a Ziploc bag for my sandwiches for weeks on end rather than pluck a new one from its box. I am also exceedingly spoiled and pretty much will refuse to see an author speak if it means shelling out cold hard cash. My saving grace is that I do make exceptions from time to time and one such exception was when I heard that The Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature was inviting author Mem Fox and illustrator Helen Oxenbury to speak in conjunction with the center’s 99th birthday of the Children’s Book Committee. The mind boggles when it considers whom they may have for the 100th.
To explain why I actually plucked my lazy carcass up and walked over to the center I have some good reasons:
1. It was at The Bank Street Center (naturally) which is a 13 block straight shoot south of my home.
2. It was not in Brooklyn. Do you know how many friggin’ events happen on weeknights in Brooklyn? Suffice it to say, if it ain’t in Brooklyn I am 75% more likely to attend.
3. It was Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury TOGETHER at long last. Lisa Von Drasek called them the "children’s literature supergroup" and she isn’t wrong.
Well naturally they were there to promote the book. It’s a cute little thing called Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes though I haven’t actually gotten around to reviewing it yet. Simple books like this one are a bugger to review, you know. There is nothing worse for a reviewer than an exceedingly sparse and perfect little picture book with a very young readership in mind. I have infinite respect for the reviewer who can find something original to say about such a title that is seemingly without flaws. Nine times out of ten I just end up flapping my jaws and calling it a day.
We were greeted first and foremost by Elizabeth D. Dickey the relatively new President of Bank Street.
And here is Alice B. Belgray, Chair of the Children’s Book Committee, who due to my fine photography skills looks as if she is mere moments from pitching sideways off the end of the world.
She was followed by Bank Street’s librarian extraordinaire Lisa Von Drasek who did the introductions. And then Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury spoke.
I am ill at ease at the prospect of describing the talk. In graduate school I was taught thoroughly and well that Mem Fox is akin to God in some way. I was not taught what way that might be (both God and Mem have three letters in their name, perhaps) but I knew right off the bat that it had something to do with her mode of speech. Apparently she’s good at it. This turned out to be true too, though I was pleasantly baffled at the start. You see, Ms. Fox hails from Australia and Ms. Oxenbury from England. All well and good, but I spent the first few minutes lazily pondering how odd it was that the English and Australian accents are so similar. Later it was explained that Ms. Fox had spent copious amounts of time in England and that was why she spoke the way she did, though I would not have consciously picked up on it had she not pointed it out.
Fox did most of the talking, but Oxenbury could put in her two cents if she cared to. Right from the start she stated dryly, "The trouble is that Mem doesn’t think illustrators can talk. The trouble is that she’s right." Yes, well. There was no denying that the writer had a way with words. Fox had made certain that the proceedings would progress smoothly by saying that when she works she cannot hear so much as a fly or she will be distracted. When she hears a fly she finds it and she kills it. You want to see how she does so? Regarding mobile phones we were told, "I will make you come down here. And I will kill you." Right-o.
Actually, the talk was particularly nice because after reading us the book together, Fox and Oxenbury (can I just say Fox & Ox to save time?) had the audience read it aloud as well. We were not as stylish in our reading but they seemed to be in a forgiving mood. After all was said and done they then signed all our books and I got one for my little niece and one for little me. I do not know where they will appear next, but if you happen to see that they are in your neighborhood do shell out the green stuff to see them. They really are quite worth it.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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