The 2012 Carle Honors: The Sweet and Low Down
I’m sure that by now you’ve already ready the PW recap of the 2012 Carle Honors called, so fittingly, Wit, Wisdom and One Very Drunk Puppet. Steeped as I am in edits for a book, I have not been as timely with my posts as I would like. As a result, the darn “drunk puppet” line has already been taken. Shazbot! That is okay. I make do.
Now this would be the seventh Eric Carle Honors to take place and if I’m doing the math correctly then I have been to six of them. As you may recall they are held once a year and are bestowed by the Eric Carle Museum. I was there in the early days when Mo Willems had to take a freight elevator to the Honors because he was wearing jeans. I was there when they made a ginormous cake in the shape of a caterpillar . . . and then did not proceed to chop him into delicious bits (I would’ve killed to gnaw on one of his eyes). I was there when it moved to Guastavino’s for the very first time, which also happened to be the very DAY I discovered I was pregnant with my first child, and I was there this time around in the same location.
There’s a trick to getting to Guastavino’s looking your best. You can either take a cab and arrived looking coiffed and composed and like a million bucks. Or, you can slip on your sneakers, listen to Gangnam Style on the radio, walk all the way over to the bridge the restaurant resides beneath, and then change from your sneakers into cute shoes at the outdoor seating area half a block away. Guess which one I opted for. The nice folks working the door didn’t even blink as I whipped out what must be the world grossest hairbrush (seriously, it could win its own not-under-a-bridge awards) to tap down the frizziest of frizzy hair for the scant 15 seconds before it would make its sterling recovery.
I had an ulterior motive to my visit to the honors this year. Not that I didn’t want to see the honorees. Each one was a delight. And not that I didn’t want to eat copious amounts of tiny food (it’s the only time I get to remember what caviar actually tastes like). And not that I don’t enjoy the fellow attendees and the art on auction and the ambiance and all of that. But my real intent this time around was to break in my matron of honor outfit. You see, this upcoming weekend I’ll be in the bridal party (my first) for my l’il sis (she of the previously mentioned mohawk). And l’il sis requested that her ladies wear 40s style black dresses and red shoes. Hence the black dress seen here:
Hence the red shoes, captured for posterity, by the quick pen of Paul O. Zelinsky (who drew them, if I’m going to be honest, because someone asked him about them and he was trying to show them what they were like).
Fun Fact: Standing for several hours in these shoes is less than entirely fun. The more you know.
The mingling that occurred before the Honors was much with the fun. I usually like to meet at least one new author or illustrator when I attend, but it’s tricky because you never quite know how to approach. Usually the best method is to get someone to say, “Oh, you don’t know [blank]? Come on over and I’ll introduce you!” That’s how I got Lois Ehlert last year. Imagine my life as a large unending Bingo card that will never be finished. That’s what it’s like trying to meet everyone. This year I met Kate Feiffer officially and then managed to have a singularly awkward talk with Lane Smith that was entirely my own fault. Sweet man that he is, he saw me peering at the auctioned art and struck up a conversation. Reader, I blanked. I almost never do this but he caught me off-guard and somehow I managed to do an utter talk-fail. You should have seen me. My lips, they were two pieces of fried baloney just jibber-jabbering away about nothing at all. The minute he turned to other folks with his lovely wife (with whom I was also equally mum) I realized that I should have complimented his new Abraham Lincoln picture book, which I actually like very much. I could have also brought up that subversive children’s literature blog he did with Bob Staake and which Roger Sutton had been asking me about a day or two before. ARG!! I went to drown my sorrows in very very tiny hamburgers. Seriously, it would take four of those things to make even a slider.
The art auction where I lost my composure was, as ever, a stunner. I am but a poor humble librarian. I have no money. So like most folks I stare in silent awe and envy at works of art that would look damned BRILLIANT on the walls of my home. I mean, just look at this Gabi Swiatkowska piece.
And then there was this Lucy Cousins:
If you listened very closely you could actually hear her squeak, “Betsy! Why won’t you put me on your child’s bedroom walls? Why?”
I’m also a big fan of seeing who DOES actually bid on the works. This year I saw Suzanne Collins’ name (though I think it was by proxy since the woman herself was not in evidence) and a guy by the name of Christopher B. Milne. I’ve seen Mr. Milne’s name before (I should considering he’s the museum’s chair) and like every other time I’ve seen it I couldn’t help but wonder . . . any relation to Christopher Robin Milne? Any at all?
Then we were all persuaded to go upstairs, sit in a room bathed in cool green light, and watch smart people bestow awards on smart people. The Carle Honors are very fulfilling awards in this way. There’s never a time someone receives an award and you think to yourself, “Why did they get an honor?” They know how to pick ’em. Can’t help but think it would be a fun award to help select folks for.
To introduce Mr. Eric Carle himself, up to the stage came Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster. Jules was smart, Norton acerbic. The location of Guastavino’s provided last year’s honoree David Macaulay to wax rhapsodic about the very structure above us. This year Mr. Juster noted that this event meant that at least one dire prediction his parents proclaimed when he became an author had come true: They knew he’d end up under a bridge someday.
So it was that Eric Carle took to the stage and was his usual charming self. He’s Eric Carle. He is not going to breathe fire or lambast the attendees. He is going to be a sweet and good presence in this cold cruel world. That is who is is. That is what he does. Nuff said.
Which brings us to the drunk puppet. I had glanced at the program that evening but had not registered the special guest, one Joey Mazzarino. Even if I had I don’t think his resume would have stood out to me. So up onto the stage leaped Mo Willems to present Bridge (“individuals who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields”) award recipient Christopher Cerf. I met Mr. Cerf years ago when I attended a Street Gang book signing. Nice fella. Since Mo used to do work for Sesame Street before he went the picture book route he was a natural presenter for Mr. Cerf. Alas, he was interrupted midway through by a sock puppet named (and spellings vary on this but I think I’m correct in calling him) Saki. The minute Saki opened his big sock mouth I could tell we had a professional puppeteer on our hands. You can just sorta tell. A guy doesn’t spend his entire life with his arm above his head without coming across as better than the average sock puppeteer. This was the Joey Mazzarino I referred to earlier and I enjoyed him very much. Though, truth be told, I like any awards event that involves Muppeteers at some point (National Books Awards, etc.).
After Mr. Cerf spoke it was Floyd Cooper who stepped up to introduce Angel (“whose generous financial support is crucial to making picture book art exhibitions, education programs, and related projects a reality”) Kent L. Brown, Jr. Now Cooper is definitely a guy I should have taken time to speak to since his work on this year’s Brick by Brick by Charles L. Smith is superb. Some of his finest stuff. Alas, no Cooper time did I receive, though I would be seeing quite a lot of Mr. Kent L. Brown in a couple weeks. You see, he’s the executive director of the Highlights Foundation and I had the pleasure of speaking at one of their events just this past weekend with the likes of Leonard Marcus, Linda Sue Park, Deborah Heiligman, and Patti Lee Gauch. So I am very pleased to see the man get big awards. Though, to be frank, I’d be pleased even if his Highlights folks didn’t ask me to come and talk.
It was an evening of buddies when Barbara McClintock and Natalie Merchant (yup, THAT Natalie Merchant) took the stage to sing the praises (not literally) of legendary editor Frances Foster. Frances was receiving the Mentor (“editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form”) award and the two were downright giggly as they quoted extensive quotes from Frances lovers the world over. She was, as you might imagine, class incarnate. It’s not like I’m even an editor, but I still want to be her someday. When I grow up anyway.
It was Anita Silvey who introduced the Artist (I’m not going to quote the description on this one . . . it’s fairly obvious, no?) of the evening. Yup. Mr. Lane Smith. Having survived my onslaught of awkwardness he gave a lovely talk. One might have been a bit surprised that Ms. Silvey was introducing Mr. Smith and not . . . *sigh* Ah well.
Then it was time to go downstairs and attempt to eat lots and lots of tiny desserts without appearing to be a complete and total barbarian. Tiny puddings. Tiny slices of cake. Tiny little fudgey brownie things. After stumbling out of the place with my comfy shoes reattached and Gangham Style still, inexplicably, blaring from the radio, it was time to go on home. Another year, another great event.
Special thanks to the Carle folks for allowing me to lurk amongst the heavies. And mighty congrats to those honorees. Even those I do my darndest to baffle. Thanks too to Sandy Soderberg, Jane Curley, and all the good folks at The Eric Carle Museum for yet another wonderful year.
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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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