I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few Newbery–Caldecott banquets, and I wouldn’t have missed a single one, but — let’s be honest — there can be low-lights as well as highlights. An introduction may go on too long; a speech may be less than scintillating; the food may be bland at best; and the hour may become very late, especially in the years when a Wilder acceptance speech is added to the program.
This year, however, it was all highlights. Even the food seemed okay — although I admit I did not sample the Caldecott medallion–shaped dessert made out of white chocolate (or was it marzipan?). From the very beginning there was an unusual energy in the room. Where did it come from?
For one thing, those who got into dressing for the banquet especially for the Caldecott’s 75th anniversary really got into it. Two of my favorites were Roxanne Hsu Feldman’s hat (and, early in the evening, dress) made out of newspaper, an homage to David Macaulay’s 1991 Caldecott Award–winning Black and White; and Virginia Duncan’s elegant black-and-white polka-dot wrap, in honor of Kevin Henkes’s 2005 winner Kitten’s First Full Moon; and librarian Suzanne Walker’s brilliant solution for representing all the Caldecott winners. There were also a host of perky little bowlers (referencing the current Caldecott winner This Is Not My Hat) sprinkled throughout the room — even ALA President Maureen Sullivan wore one.
Also, the room just seemed younger this year — lots of fresh and up-and-coming librarians and teachers and editors and bloggers — and less sedate than usual. Because I was the Wilder committee chair, I had the privilege of sitting on the dais next to Wilder Medal winner Katherine Paterson, who was sitting next to Caldecott winner Jon Klassen, and so we witnessed the steady stream of very pumped and very numerous and very non-sedate Klassen fans, friends, and family who came up before the speeches to wish him luck.
There is no one more genuine and less pompous (and perhaps younger ) than Jon Klassen, and his speech and un-stuffy delivery of same set the tone for the evening. You can read the actual speech in the July/August 2013 Horn Book Magazine (and also the Newbery and Wilder speeches), along with a profile of Klassen by his pal and co-conspirator Mac Barnett; suffice it to say that his talk was insightful and humble and heartfelt and original, and also that I’ve never seen Jon Scieszka laugh so hard.
The gracious Katherine Applegate came next, with a Newbery speech that started out with a little autobiography and a lot of funny, especially when she read aloud from a cheesy romance novel she wrote early in her career, which brought down the house (redux Jon Scieszka). Her speech got more serious toward the end, touching on the nature of humanity; the state of the world, especially as it affects children; and the importance of the work of those in the room, connecting children to books. (Here’s the profile her proud husband Michael Grant wrote for the Magazine.)
So by the time Katherine Paterson got up to accept her Wilder Medal, the emotion in the room was palpable. And she delivered a speech that validated that emotion and then some, a speech that referenced the past but looked to the future; that reminded us of why her books have been so beloved for so long. I looked out over the sea of tables and saw many faces literally streaming with tears. And in the receiving line afterward, which went on for an unprecedented two and a half hours, I stood next to Katherine Paterson and witnessed an equally unprecedented outpouring of love. Truly, I have never seen the like: old friends, longtime publishing colleagues, fellow writers, lifelong fans, new young librarians and teachers and editors — they all came to thank her for her work and tell her how much she meant to them. As Leonard Marcus said, “We’re so lucky to know some of the people we consider heroic.” (Read the profile by Paterson’s chum Nancy Graff to get another perspective on the indefatigable Great Lady.)
It was an extraordinary end to an evening I’ll never forget.
For more on ALA 2013, including Martha’s preconference report, visit our ALA Round-Up page.