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Banquets and bling

Continuing with this series of behind-the-scenes of the Caldecott committee, I thought it would be fun to give you peek at the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet, which took place just last month at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. (If you haven’t yet, please read Javaka Steptoe’s Caldecott speech and Martha’s post about it.)

You may have seen various blog posts about banquet attendees accessorizing their outfits to match the winning books. This may have started with the staff of The New York Public Library in the 1990s. Staff would buy a table together, and NYPL librarians would get to work making matching hats, usually inspired by the Caldecott winner. During my days at NYPL, I was lucky enough to see the hats inspired by Rapunzel and Officer Buckle and Gloria still on display in the library, but, unfortunately, since these creations happened before the blogging/social media era, there is no online record. Too bad. More recent banquets have inspired DIY accessories made with Shrinky-Dinks. Sophie Blackall made beautiful poppies for our 2016 committee to wear, with a hand-painted Winnie inside.

Rhonda Gould, chair of the 2017 committee, turned a Basquiat-patterned make-up tote into an evening bag.

Recently, this accessorizing has gotten a bit more permanent. Several members of 2015 committee got tattooed with images from Dan Santat’s Beekle.

The 2016 and 2017 committees took a less permanent route and created temporary tattoos to commemorate the evening. This year’s committee created tattoos of Basquiat’s crown. When the 2016 committee asked Sophie Blackall and Little, Brown if we could use the art from Finding Winnie to make a temporary tattoo, Sophie went above and beyond. She designed three different tattoo designs.

Once the banquet gets started, it is kind of like being at wedding, and being on the dais as a chair is kind of like being the maid of honor or best man. While everyone can see you, you are not the center of attention. The irony of it all is that the award winners, the ALSC and ALA presidents, and the chairs get the best service of anyone in the room, but no one can eat anything due to nerves. I think I only ate half of my chicken and drank two sips of wine.

Chairs of the three committees — Caldecott, Newbery, and Wilder — have to write brief introductory remarks. While it is difficult to condense a committee’s year of work into a few lines, it is necessary to do so. It is a long evening, and committee chairs do not need to make it longer. The medal winners have the hardest job. They have to write, pre-record, and practice their speeches before the big night. Weston Woods always produces a wonderful recording of the speeches, and banquet attendees receive a code to listen to them online.

The speeches! I always cry during them, wherever I am sitting, and I never seem to bring enough tissues in my impossibly small evening bag. Luckily, on the dais there is a box of tissues squirreled away under the table, in case any of the honorees have the need. (Kelly Barnhill spilled the beans about this during her Newbery acceptance speech!) This year the cries of a baby punctuated Javaka Steptoe’s speech in just the right places. Caldecott chair Rhonda Gould later shared that this child was in fact her own 18-month-old granddaughter.

Continuing with our wedding analogy, the evening wraps up the with the receiving line. I never know what to say at these things, but luckily the job of the chairs and the ALSC board members is to help move the line along. I think I said, “Have you met Sophie Blackall…” a hundred times, but it was not actually necessary. She knows everyone!

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for the receiving line. Do: Have something short and pithy to say to the illustrators and authors. Don’t: Ask them to sign your book. Do: Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t: Pitch your book idea to one of the illustrators (yes, this actually happened when I was in the line). Once the last guest has gone through the line (brave soul), the authors and illustrators have their picture taken together, and then the party breaks up.

If you are ever at the ALA Annual Conference at the end of June, go to the banquet! And I’ll let you in on an open secret. You actually don’t have to pay the $90+ for a ticket. You can slip in after the food is served and sit in the free seats at the back of the room and listen to the speeches. And make sure you get a peek at the banquet program. It is a work of art in and of itself.

Any stories to share about your N/C/W Banquet experience? Please comment below!

 

About Rachel G. Payne

Rachel G. Payne is coordinator of early childhood services at Brooklyn Public Library. She has written for School Library Journal, Library Trends, and Kirkus and was a contributor to Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos (2013) and Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start (2015). Rachel served as chair of the 2016 Caldecott committee and as a member of the 2009 committee.

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