How I Spent My Weekend Vacation: The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards & The Scott O’Dell Award Ceremony
Serving on award committees is a time-honored tradition amongst children’s librarians. The award ceremonies that come after? Gravy. This past weekend I was delighted to attend the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony, the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, and the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award all in one fell swoop. To do this I had to travel in Boston. For whatever reason they did not pick up these three events and move them to Evanston for my own personal convenience. I shall have a word with the management, I assure you.
But in all seriousness, it was delightful. In particular Katrina Hedeen was delightful, somehow managing to simultaneously put out fires (metaphorical, though I’m sure she could wield an extinguisher with aplomb), calm nerves, and keep everything on schedule. She even typed up a handy little schedule which listed absolutely everything I would need to know during my time in MA.
For my part, I came to the town with two additional goals:
- Meet Laura Amy Schlitz, Sharyn November, and Jeanne Birdsall for lunch. Those of you familiar with all three individuals are probably now wondering if the heavens themselves would split asunder at the conjoining of this magnificent triumvirate. More on that in a second.
- Record an episode of the Horn Book Podcast with the multi-talented Siân Gaetano. In course of said recording, find a way to take over Roger’s job.
So there was an element of timing to this trip. Neither of these things, you see, were on Katrina’s original schedule for me. I would have to be quick, slick, and on time.
Now in any good story, there can sometimes be outside forces which throw your protagonist (notice I didn’t say “hero”) off their chosen path. In this case there was a bit of a baseball game of an important nature happening on Friday when I arrived. It didn’t slow me down much but it did mean that while most of my delightful lunch happened, I just missed Sharyn November by a hair when I had to book it to the podcast. Hence the lack of a killer selfie in this slot:
The podcast was a lot of fun. Julie Danielson, who spoke with Roger and Siân not long ago on her own episode, had advised me to eat the mic. Just devour it. Take large chunks out of it with my teeth. That really is the only way to be properly heard. I thought maybe I’d have some natural mic magnetic abilities that would allow me to draw it to my lips unbidden. This did not seem to be the case but Siân has this incredibly subtle way of drawing attention to the fact that you’re beginning to drift away while you are recording that is commendable. She’s a class act, that one. Our topic was “religion”, which should give you pause right there. I’m an odd candidate to talk about it but we had lots of interesting things to say. I’ll let you know when it’s up. They’ll be discussing VOYA on the podcast next (as is right) so I’ll be the week after that. It’s all good.
Roger, for the record, was not present at the recording since he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get everything in place for the ceremony that night. That meant that in addition to taking his place on his podcast (the first step, as I’ve mentioned, in my plan to supplant him on it entirely) I got to creep around his office like . . well . . a creep. And there, on the wall, was the cutest photograph of all time. I got Roger’s permission to post it here. It’s of Roger a number of years ago doing a storytime when he was still a children’s librarian. Check it out:
My plan for attending the ceremony consisted of following people who would know where we were supposed to go. This was a good plan. So I ducked into the ladies restroom to change. After a quick change we headed over, drank champagne, and I got to ogle the prizes that the winners of the Boston Globe-Horn Book receive when they win.
I don’t know if any of you have attended this particular award before. It’s Boston-based so a fair number of New Yorkers were able to travel up with relative ease. Still and all, I’d never been. As it turns out, winners of the awards receive silver bowls with their names engraved on the side. Honor winners get silver plates of much the same thing. And unlike awards like the Newbery and Caldecott, both the authors and the illustrators of each book received their own reward and make their own speeches. Pretty sweet.
As I was to learn, also unlike other professional children’s awards, the judges of the BGHB awards are placed upon the stage upon chairs that look like they hold more professional degrees than anyone whose tuchas they happen to cradle. The judges were placed in the front with Roger in the back.
I was therefore very glad indeed that I’d opted to switch out my ratty, fluff-infested, possibly pungent black tights for my sleeker blue ones. I do not have particularly interesting legs, but at least they could claim to be colorful.
In case you have forgotten, here were this year’s winners:
NONFICTION AWARD WINNER:
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan)
FICTION AWARD WINNER:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams)
PICTURE BOOK AWARD WINNER:
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph written by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick Press)
NONFICTION HONOR BOOKS:
- Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick Press)
- Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)
FICTION HONOR BOOKS:
- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press)
- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House)
PICTURE BOOK HONOR BOOKS:
- Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
- One Day, the End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press)
Three of the honorees couldn’t attend the ceremony. Each one sent in a nice little acceptance speech video in lieu of their actual selves. I will now proceed to rank their reasons in order of increasing extremity:
- Sherman Alexie – Unable to attend due to a prior family commitment. Totally understandable.
- Frances Hardinge – Unable to attend because she was officiating a wedding. Totally and completely understandable.
- Yuyi Morales – Unable to attend because she was donating a kidney to a complete unknown stranger simply because it was the right thing to do. This is what we call in the business the greatest, most understandable reason a person could produce for not being able to attend an event.
The speeches, as you might imagine, were lovely. Laura Amy Schlitz, for example, did hers on the floor beside mic and without notes and I could only wish Frances had been there to hear her since I think those two would have gotten along like gangbusters.
Afterwards the judges had been invited to a Candlewick dinner, so we climbed onto what appeared to be a Candlewick Party Bus and made our way to a lovely little restaurant. No idea what the name was, but it was one of those places that try to make classic dishes interesting by throwing in peculiar little touches. For example, I got the chicken and waffles, but the chicken was topped off with guacamole. Not a bad addition by any stretch of the imagination but not something you normally see.
It was that nice, blearily checking in to my hotel room, that I realized I’d left my glasses, my only glasses, in the restroom across the hall from the Horn Book offices. Pfui.
The next day was cloudy, gloomy, and just packed with that kind of nasty misty rain that drifts under your umbrella and somehow manages to soak you in a low-level sheen of wetness anyway. But it could have been blue skies and birds singing sweet songs for me. I was going to meet someone for breakfast that is, to me, quite the celebrity.
I don’t know how many of you listen to the NPR Podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. For me, it is the only way I am able to understand any of the current goings on in the pop culture world. What is Steven Universe? What happened at the Emmys this year? What’s You’re the Worst? They answer all and they occasionally have a librarian on for her expertise. Her name is Margaret H. Willison and in addition to working full-time in a library she also records the podcast Two Bossy Dames. The kicker? She knew who I was and was willing to do breakfast with me! Bonus! I’ve always admired Margaret’s aplomb on PCHH since she is able to keep up with a quick and lively crew on a variety of different topics. Thinking on your feet in this manner is an enviable skill, but she wields her tongue adeptly. And, I am happy to report, she is just as sweet, funny, intelligent, and smart as you would hope her to be.
After this, I had to get my glasses back. Long story short: I did, but Simmons may wish to consider how easy it is to bypass those doors that require cards. Some of them simply aren’t turned on. Hence my recovery of my own glasses.
Meanwhile, back at the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium the theme of the day was “Out of the Box”. Cathryn Mercier, the Director and Professor of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College gave the opening and welcome alongside Roger Sutton. Now if you watched Cathryn throughout the day, you would have seen her writing down a variety of different notes, longhand, on a pad of paper. These notes were then, by the end of the day, transformed into a speech that wrapped up all the pertinent points. It was extraordinary. She didn’t even transfer it all to a laptop and edit it. So well done there.
M.T. Anderson started off the day with a speech called “What’s Actually in a Box”. It may have discussed his intense dislike of Little Women. “Unboxing Nonfiction” was a panel conducted between Roxanne Feldman and Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes. During the course of their talk they spoke about the dire need to break wide open “the canonical boundaries of biography.” Then Steve Sheinkin spoke on the topic of “Get Me Out of the Health Food Aisle!: Rethinking Nonfiction”. LEGOs were involved in some manner. After lunch Roger Sutton moderated “How Jazz and Picture Books Are the Same Exact Thing” with Roxane Orgill and Francis Vallejo and then I got to interview Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler about their book One Day, the End. Turns out, they are a hoot. As a moderator you always worry that your subjects will just give one word answers to your questions. Rebecca and Fred worked like a perfectly tuned engine. You’d think they’d been friends for years, rather than a lucky pairing of author and illustrator by an editor. We were also able to determine once and for all whether or not the girl in the book picks up the ice cream that falls from her cone and places it back on that same cone from the ground or not. Squeamish readers may not like the answer.
“Unboxing Fiction” was a truly fascinating talk conducted by Joanna Long with Laura Amy Schlitz and Rebecca Stead. We found out that both authors were descended from hired girls who married above their stations. We learned what a bundling board is, as well as chaperoned kissing parties. Oh, it was amazing stuff. I can only hope the day was recorded in some way.
Finally Cathryn Mercier gave her (longhand) final speech and this was immediately followed up with by the presentation of the Scott O’Dell Award to Laura. There was champagne and chocolate cupcakes with blue frosting. Everything, in short, that makes life worth living.
My trip to the airport would have been in an overpriced taxi. Instead, winner Francis Vallejo, his girlfriend, his mom, and his dad all drove me to the airport themselves. They not only saved me money but were lively and wonderful companions en route, and I’d be an unappreciative beast if I didn’t thank them here. We got to talk a little Detroit, which always caps off a trip well.
And a thank you to the fine and fabulous folks of the Horn Book for babysitting me, putting me up, and generally allowing me to have a wonderful time. Thank you to Roger for selecting me for this committee. To the winners for your time and speeches. And to the attendees for coming up afterwards to say you read this blog from time to time. That’s awfully nice to hear. So thank you one and all, and if anyone reading this is so inclined, do be so good as to sign up to attend next year’s BGHB Award Ceremony. It’s supposed to be the official 50th anniversary, so you know the cupcakes are gonna be good.
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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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