ALA 2009: So… the 2009 Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. How Was That Then?
Good. It was good.
What, you want more than that? Vultures!
No, I kid. You see, folks, every year there is a Newbery/Caldecott Banquet to celebrate the winners of said awards. This tends to be a big affair. People dress up. Make-up is applied. And goals stated.
Featured goal of this particular banquet: Find Neil Gaiman and tell him about the James Kennedy performance. Why do this thing? Because it is funny and Neil Gaiman has a sense of humor. Also, it gives me a good excuse to speak to the man.
Goal stated, it was time to dress up. Last year I started something that will probably haunt me to the end of my days. I created a band of tattoos of the Newbery winners of that particular year and placed it on my arm. Photographic evidence is sparse, probably because I spent most of my time interviewing folks on the red carpet and I normally do not like to pull out my camera. However we do have one shot shown here with Susan Kusel of Wizards Wireless (and now Booklights):
Needless to say, I needed to one-up that. The solution was obvious. I have two arms. Surely I can do more than just one band. I set about getting together what I needed.
Special Note: The following tattoo photos are from the morning after the banquet. They may have faded a bit in the interim. However, tattoos that you can make on your own have a remarkable ability to stay stuck fast to skin for long periods of time, until they start to shed in unpleasant, remarkably colorful ways.
Now the tattoo paper I use is cheap. Cheap and difficult to apply at first, before you get the hang of it. For that reason I made many many Newbery/Caldecott tats, sticking them to various parts of my body before I found any place where they would fit. Here, as you can see, is where I placed two of them.
I put on the Newbery first, before realizing that (A) It was the last one I had and (B) It was off-kilter. So I lay a Caldecott on top and batta bing. Instant difficult-to-figure-out-what-it-is tattooing.
I had a plan. One side of my body would be for the Caldecott. The other for the Newbery. We’re starting slow this year. Just arms. In the future (and after much concentrated exercise) we may extend this plan to other parts of the anatomy.
On the Newbery side of things I had prepared a band of covers. Last year I put the little buggers on one at a time with unfortunate results. Last year I also (and I don’t think you can make it out in the above photo) neglected to FLIP the images before printing them. Mo Willems took quite a lot of pleasure at telling me how much he enjoyed the work of Mr. SITRUC. Grrrr.
Unfortunately, this year I made the images larger than I really liked. They’re big, are they not? Here’s a quickie glimpse of what I’m talking about.
You can see the goosebumps on my skin working through the tattoos (it’s cold in this conference center!).
Another small dilemma… I had printed the band with the Newbery winner proper on the end. However, this meant that The Graveyard Book was now taking up residence somewhat near the vicinity of my armpit. Well, you can’t win ’em all.
To accompany the winners I decided that it would make sense to put the winners’ faces on my arm proper. Dilemma: Picking the shots. To be specific, picking a Neil Gaiman picture. The man is not exactly difficult to find online. And in all them, he is usually posing. I found that what I really wanted was a picture of Neil laughing. This, for all his photogenicness (photogenicality? photogenetics?) is not something one can find. You can’t throw a dart in a crowded room without hitting a Jon Scieszka laughing shot, but Neil? Stoic, that one. Broody. The solution?
Not Neil at all. The original plan was to print out this image of Neil’s daughter Maddy dressed up as Neil for Halloween and to include some caption along the lines of "Photo Unavailable. Visual Approximation". Which I even went so far as to print out, before realizing that no one really understood what I was talking about. It proved much easier to just say that instead of Neil I would just have someone playing him on my arm (though this photo would have worked as well, I suppose).
Matt Phelan called it my Dark Mark. How right he is.
Beth Krommes proved far easier. There are fewer photos, and her head was easily removed, Photoshopped, flipped, black and whited, and slapped on the inside of my forearm.
Author Kate Messner actually took the time to make a video OF the tats. So there you go:
Because I am staying with my sister I pretty much had to lug all available accoutrements around with me for the better part of the day. So once the Book Cart Drill teams ended (more on THAT later) I high-tailed it to a shuttle bus and sped over to the Sheraton where the show would begin. I had 45 minutes to kill, which was necessary. I was purposefully dowdy and needed to make myself look halfway decent. A tip of the hat to large hotel bathrooms. The tats were applied with relatively little difficulty. Then we began.
I guess my brain is a little fuzzy, but my impression is that wine doesn’t usually cost $9 at these events. I could be wrong, of course. Last year I have the sinking sensation that Susan Patron bought me a wine and didn’t let me pay her back. If it was $9 then I think my thanks to her was insufficient. Also, my agent Stephen wasn’t here. Stephen is very good about buying me drinks. I shouldn’t let him, since as far as I can tell I don’t really pay the man anything, but he was not at this conference (grr for many reasons, Stephen) so I bought it myself. $9 is sort of New York prices anyway, and I guess the high cost kept the librarians from getting smashed and drooling inordinately on the winners. My theory.
It filled up nicely. I spent much of my time surreptitiously slapping tattoos on other people in corners. Alyssa (spelling?) was one of my victims. If it looks illicit, all the better.
Furtive even. And here we are showing them off.
I am still awake and cheery at this point. Having gotten 5 hours of sleep for the last two nights I was fairly certain I would crash at some point. This turned out to be correct, but not for another couple of hours.
Here are Jenni and Matt Holm. Note their cupcake accoutrements.
I was reunited with some of my Newbery year’s winners and folks.
Kirby Larson, Matt Holm, me, Marian Creamer, and Jenni Holm.
And then it was time for the show to begin!
As I am a spoiled little bratty librarian with her nose forever poking in places where it does not belong, I have not had to scrounge for a table at one of these events recently. But I had met up with a couple folks (including author Kate Messner) and we all decided to sit together. Unfortunately we had waited too long. Many a table was taken. But NOT one in the far far far left side of the room. Here is our view of the head table.
Do you see it? Distantly even?
Fortunately, there was a monitor to consider. Here is our ALSC President Pat Scales speaking. I have a new theory brewing that ALSC Presidents are required, by law, to sport awesome hair. In the past I have seen purple spikes and now this fabulous bang-work. Manifique.
And the food . . . am I going to actually offend someone if I discuss this? I think not. Friends, there is a fact surrounding Newbery/Caldecott dinners that you learn when you attend enough of them. The food is often touch and go. Some years (New Orleans, for example) it is an exemplary view of the local region’s cuisine. Other years you play a game we like to call Guess That Dish.
This year, Guess That Dish was played in three parts. We had no menus to give away the answers. My compatriots and I decided that the best thing to do was to wait until someone else had tried a part of the dish and then ask. So, you find yourself with a flat salad and sugared walnuts sitting in the hole of some much maligned fruit? Guess That Dish! Turned out, the fruit was an apple. Applause all around. Round Two: A steak-like meat (sorry, vegetarians) beside a cone of somethingness just across from a white . . . quiche? Guess That Dish gives a blare of an alarm. I’m sorry. You guessed quiche but it was really fish. Fish? Fish and steak on one plate? Hoo boy.
Final round: The dessert. This one’s for the gold folks, and it looks quite good, yes? We have a hard little ball of something that is actively, almost sentiently, attempting to resist my fork’s attempts to pierce its hard little hide. You do and a white liquid emerges. Mmmm. White liquid. As for the cake, it’s tasty but it’s not chocolate. So to paraphrase The New Yorker, I say it’s toffee and I say the hell with it.
Moving on, mingling begins again. I worked the room, impressed Jacqueline Woodson’s daughter with my tattoos (next year I’ll make a bunch of extra Peace, Locomotion ones for her), said hi to bunches of folks, and had a good time.
Speechifying. Remember, dear readers, that last year we sort of had the best speeches of all time. First Brain Selznick came in with his multimedia presentation, then ripped our hearts out of our chests when he pointed out Remy Charlip in the audience. And just as we were sewing those same hearts back into our innards, here came Laura Amy Schlitz to deliver what will live on in history as perhaps the greatest Newbery speech of all time. Memorized, storytold, NO PODIUM, and with heart and life and hope.
So. No pressure then.
Beth Krommes was first and gave a simply lovely talk. She discussed her win, how she came to the art, and delivered a great line for any scratchboard artist (though I cannot remember who came up with it): "Beth Krommes has scratched her way to the top." It was also very gratifying to know that she WAS aware of the potential for a Caldecott call the morning it happened. Sometimes it feels like every winner was caught blind.
Her Honor winners all took their awards and looked smashing. And Uri Shulevitz was the only dude there, so none of this Ladies-Never-Win-the-Award nonsense, y’all.
That was cool. Then it was Newbery’s turn. The Honors took their awards and we cheered accordingly. Neil stood up to speak.
I have the speech on CD, as all of them are recorded beforehand and presented with the dinner. That is probably the real advantage OF buying a dinner ticket, now that it occurs to me. You see, anyone can walk in the room and watch the speeches. Really! There are seats in the back and you just plunk yourself down to watch. I saw Libba Bray and fam come in to do just that, actually. It’s one way to avoid fishy quicheness, after all. But the room was packed with such folks. They lined the walls. All to hear Mr. Gaiman speechify in his lovely lilting British tones.
And lilt he did. His discussion of the call rang true for me because around this time I was beginning to feel the effects of little sleep. I felt very understanding of his mindset when the call came. I mean, the guy’s in bed for just a couple of hours and then his phone is ringing. He’s anticipating getting a full eight hours after an exhausting press run and then he has to not only be coherent, but awake and running around the country all within a matter of hours. Note that I am putting this in my own sleep deprived terms. He was not whiny when he told us all this.
Gaiman went on to discuss feral children raised by librarians, A Wrinkle in Time (a theme this year) and how the first sentence was changed in a Puffin edition, books, the importance of books, and so on and such. It is very good. You will be able to read it in an upcoming Horn Book soon.
This may have also marked the first time The Three Investigators series (a continuing theme on this blog) was mentioned in a Newbery speech. Granted, the books were mentioned as one of those titles that Gaiman loved as a kid and probably weren’t any good today. Objection from the peanut gallery! We shall defend Jupiter Jones unto our grave! Three Investigators forever!
Note to publishers: Should you wish to republish this series now, I suggest you merely swap out the character of Alfred Hitchcock for Neil Gaiman. It would be seamless. Failing that, get ‘im to write a blurb for the cover. Even if it says, "I’m not entirely certain that these books are any good" they will still sell.
But that’s not all! When the speech ended the Gaiman die-hards decided they’d seen all they needed and cut out of town. Which meant that they did NOT get to see Ashley Bryan give his acceptance speech for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. More fools they.
Here is the situation: I am sitting in my chair. I am cold (tattoos are surprisingly incapable of properly maintaining one’s body heat). I put on my sweater, but the past few days are starting to catch up with me. I am now warm, and tired, and my body is slumping 45 degrees going on 90 to the right as they introduce Mr. Bryan. I have an advantage here, however. I have seen him speak before. I know how his talks go. So when he stood up, looked at the crowd, and began with, "MY PEOPLE!" I was one of the (many) folks who knew to respond, "MY PEOPLE!" right back at him. Ashley Bryan is caffeine to the ears. He woke me up, got me sitting up straight, and off we went. A great speech. A great man.
The instinct at this point was to make a break for the receiving line where the winners would be standing to shake hands. Fortunately, the folks in charge were prepared for this. We were told to sit and watch a Carnegie winning film first, and when it was done we could go out and shake the hands meant for shaking. We did. We went. And the line was already a good 25 people long when my far back table (there are advantages to edges) got in and ready.
I was tired still. My little feet hurt in their big pointy shoes. But I was fairly certain that the winners were also tired. And almost none of them were allowed to sit. Many had removed their shoes and I’m certain that they probably could have used some water bottles as well.
Also, Mr. Gaiman was at the head of the line. This seemed odd. I would have assumed he’d be at the end, so that it wouldn’t bottleneck up around the man. Then again, maybe it was a good thing. The Gaimanites could have their fill and move on and it would all be very civilized. As I moved up I contemplated moving my Stephen Colbert bag to my left to show it to Mr. Gaiman when I approached, since he had mentioned Stephen in his speech. But since this felt like it would entail a lot of work I didn’t in the end.
We got closer. And by the time I met him I wasn’t certain he’d know who I was. The man meets lots and lots of people. Lots of people are hard to remember. I remember talking to someone about how they met this famous cartoonist three times and each time they were incensed that the guy didn’t remember them. Eventually, however, they realized that they were at a huge advantage to the guy. When you meet a famous person you have to assume that they do NOT know you. Your life will be easier that way.
In any case, Mr. Gaiman did seem to remember me. He said he enjoyed my blog, which was very nice of him to say (I kept replying, "I like yours too!" like an automaton, as if that were quite the same thing). I had enough brain cells to talk up Mr. Kennedy and had the strange moment of Mr. Gaiman asking me if I was on Twitter with me saying no. Damn. In any case, he was very nice. Insofar as I can tell there was no notice of the tattoos, which was for the best. I don’t know about you but showing men that you have images of their daughters affixed to your skin may not be the best idea in the world. Later, Barry Goldblatt would tell me that he has seen Neil sign someone’s skin, only to have that person run to a tattoo parlor, get the autograph tattooed on, and come back to show him. Note to Self: Do not reach that level of fame.
Other folks were lovely, many of them people I’d been meaning to meet. I’d never spoken to Ingrid Law, Margarita Engle or Melissa Sweet before. The tattoos proved to be invaluable conversation pieces. If nothing else, we would have that to discuss. Ms. Krommes’ daughter had even taken pictures of them earlier that evening, which was pretty funny. Look! It’s your mom! On my arm!
When I reach Ashley Bryan he gave me a big ole hug. My impression is that Ashley Bryan gave everyone big ole hugs. He’s just that kind of guy. Then it was done and I crashed hard. Changed into comfortable heels. Went home. Slept. Wrote up this report.
Next year’s is in D.C. (again) so I’ll see some of you there again. I may have to figure out an entirely different take on my outfit, though.
Coming up . . . how to participate in a Book Cart Drill Team.
Filed under: Uncategorized
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.
SLJ Blog Network