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>Tons of Fun

>The James Marshall evening at MIT–Susan Meddaugh, Susan Moynihan, Anita Silvey, David Wiesner, and me moderating–went fabulously. I’ve moderated many of these things, and sometimes it’s a lot of work to make the panelists a) stay on topic and b) have a conversation. This lineup was great: Susan Meddaugh was an old buddy of Marshall’s; Susan Moynihan reads his books to each new crop of kids in her school; Anita knew Jim from both her Horn Book and Houghton days; David met him when they each had their first Caldecott honors, in 1989. As we discovered at dinner prior to the event, that ALA banquet was germane for several reasons–David was there for Free Fall, Anita was chair of the Wilder committee that year, and I was sitting with Marshall for the speeches. Whose speeches? Oh, my friends . . . .

That’s one Caldecott acceptance speech you won’t find in the Horn Book, although maybe there is a recording of it buried deep, deep in the ALA archives at the University of Illinois. Winning for Song and Dance Man, Stephen Gammell spoke off-the-cuff for what I think was fifty-two minutes. At one point he introduced us to the lint in his pockets. Waiters cleared tables. The lights were flashed off and on. Poor Elizabeth Speare, winner of the Wilder medal, must have been wondering if she would live to give her speech. And James Marshall was kicking me under the table and barely suppressing his mirth.

Last night couldn’t match that one for drama but I was deeply impressed with the engagement the panelists brought to the subject. We talked about Marshall’s artistic techniques, lauded his sometimes overlooked gift for writing, assessed his impact on the field, and pondered just why kids respond with such immediacy to his books. What we didn’t get to was his legacy of smart-alecky back-talking–Scieszka and Smith owe him their careers (which they acknowledge) and don’t even get me started on Dav Pilkey’s Dumb Bunnies. Was Marshall the picture book’s first sarcasticist?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >It was 48 minutes. I timed it. Then Barry Moser at the next table started a food fight.I got the giggles. My agent,the redoutable Marilyn Marlow, shushed me like an abbess visiting the nun-taught school and scolding the Bad Girl.I put my head down on the table and convulsed in silent laughter. And STILL he went on.


  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >So Jane, what do you think: nerves or arrogance? (Of course the latter often is a mask for the former.)

  3. >What about good manners? Or was the giggler’s table invisible to other guests? (And perhaps no one knew who she was?) Oh, but I’m forgetting – other people at her table – did they all put their heads down and giggle, too? An interesting sidelight on ALA member manners.

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >It was kind of like giggling in church, anon. The fact that you weren’t supposed to made it all the more difficult to suppress. One might also consider that good manners should have started at the podium.

  5. victoria thorne design says:

    >Roger, I am not up to date enough on these things, but if you haven’t already, could you pleeeeeze write the Book of James? It would be…so right?
    Hope you don’t mind me asking.

  6. >Listen, folks–people were leaving the hall in droves around minute 31. At least I had the good manners to stay.

    Whoever was doing the lights, clicked them off 3 separate times as a kind of hint which he didn’t take.

    Gammell said a number of times, “Just one last thing” and then kept babbling.

    That was the problem–it was babbling. He said he wasn’t going to speak and everyone accepted that. There was no Horn Book article, nothing written down, no recorded Caldecott speech. They even gave Paul Fleischman an extra ten minutes to fill up the time, and he’d already spoken.

    So I agree with Roger–good manners should have started at the podium.

    Arrogance? It felt more like passive-aggressive behavior. Gammell is an absolutely brilliant artist.I love his work. But he treated his fans and his audience with a kind of bizarre disdain. If he had rambled for fifteen minutes we would all have been on his side. “Poor dear, not all artists should be heard, just seen” sort of thing. But as it went on, he lost us by ones and twenties and fifties. And when his name is mentioned now, the people who were there don’t say, “Great artist.” They say “Oh my God, do you remember that speech…?”


  7. >Now I understand – it was the speaker’s fault!

  8. >I guess you had to have been there! Oh what fun we had!

  9. >Sigh. I am going to try again.

    He was NOT prepared to give what would have been the biggest speech of any children’s book illustrator’s life. He had said–and the ALA Uber-Librarians agreed–that he needn’t give a speech. No prolem. If he was uncomrfotable doing the speech, there was precedence. McClosky hadn’t given one either.

    So he prepared no written speech. Said he would only say thank you and sit down. Recorded nothing to be given out at the dinner. AND EVERYONE WAS COOL WITH THAT.

    The acceptance speeches are usually 10-12 minutes, no more. People write them out and time them carefully. They often get help from their editors in the crafting of the talks. Since Gammell was definitely not going to speak, Paul Flesichman was given extra time so the attendees didn’t feel cheated. (This was a year there was to be a third speech, the Wilder winner, afterwards.)

    And then Gammell stood up and started to ramble, sans notes, for 48 minutes and no one could stop him. Or would. He was the Caldecott winner after all. Attention must be paid. He began by saying that as he understood it, this was an award given by librarians and he knew that librarians helped kids find books. There was not a hint of irony or satire in what he was saying. He rambled on about a statue his grandfather had given him that he had carried up to the podium in a shoebox and put on the top of the podium. Or so I remember. I was not close enough to see what he was talking about and this was long before the large screens showing the winner 40 feet high.

    And it went on and on and on this way.

    The poor Wilder winner had to speak
    around 10:30/11 pm and then there was the receiving line for an hour after that.

    Make of all that what you will. I think I am finis.


  10. >Oh, I am SO on Jane’s side on this one! Anonymous, we are humans, not robots. I have sat with my eyes glued politely while someone described the plot of their novel to me for 1/2 hour and haven’t flinched, even though I’ve said “just tell me the premise” or “mail me the manuscript and I’ll read it.” I have spent an entire Newbery banquet talking to a librarian who insulted books I worked on, and I even kept a straight face the time a young librarian at my table asked me (I kid you not) why Roger and I weren’t married since we got along so well. So, please don’t lecture us about ALA banquet manners! We are honored to be at the banquet and celebrate our field. But my heart was dying, dying, for the people sitting at Gammell’s table, with his relatives, who had to try to keep it together. I was liking watching an implosion of someone you admire very much. But with time, that particular “speech” (and I use that word loosely) has become legendary.

    I think everyone learned a lesson at Stephen Gammell’s acceptance–if your author or artist wins, make sure they have a prepared speech. For his or her sake as well as for everyone else’s. And given how high feelings run on that night, it doesn’t hurt to keep your sense of humor, either.

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m still–legally–a free man, Lawzy! We could be the Mr. and Mrs. Fogelman for a new generation.

  12. >I am sorry that Jane Yolen feels she has to defend herself from the nastygrams of an anonymous troll, but on the upside, her responses were enlightening. Future train wrecks may be averted.

    new anon

  13. >New Anon speaking! Clearly Yolen is right; equally clearly everyone who was there has a great time reminiscing. It must have been a never-to-be forgotten event

  14. >totally new anon, with a naive question: does someone literally check EVERY comment (for libel, obscenity, bibliographical errors) before it’s posted? does that person (sing. or plural) have a life, or is it a machine? just wondering!

  15. Roger Sutton says:

    >Totally new–all the comments pass by me for approval, mainly as a way to weed out Chinese gold farmers, sexy girls from Ukraine who want to meet you, and other spam. As far as flame wars go, this one is tame!

  16. >Interesting–Liz and Roger and I use our real names and are professionals in the field who could so easily decide to be anonymous. It would be safer, of course. Others of you choose the anon route so we have no idea if you are professionals in the field, trolls, wannabee writers/ editors/illustrators/critics or just having a laugh.

    I am curious why you chose to go that way.

  17. >Jane,


    anon 8:34 am

  18. >Yes, cowardice – but also because one can thus give the impression of being part of a large group. That is, is it one anon. or are there many anons who all think the same way? An invented majority!

  19. victoria thorne design says:

    >Well, I sorta wish I had posted as anon, because my comment, now, looks beyond random. Random hall of fame, here I come…as anon, from now on? (Probably not. I blush, actually, to have my name up there with you greats and not be counted as a Ukrainian gold farmer. Thanks for not hitting delete, dear sir. Though feel free to do it with this one, which probably deserves it.)

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