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Roger’s ALA 2017

My ALA began on a sad note when, while Richard and I were on the way to the airport, Martha texted to tell me that Robin Smith had died. This is such a loss – I knew no one as good as Robin at connecting children and books. I saw it in her many years of writing for the Horn Book, and I heard it in our occasional meetings. Robin’s death is a personal loss as well; I hope our kids have a photo of our first grandchild dressed in a onesie created by Robin complete with a snappy bow tie. You will find tributes to and memories of Robin here.

Thursday evening saw us dining on takeout in Hyde Park with Hazel and Hymie. We talked about Booklist, where Hazel is still reviewing the occasional adult book from or about Southern Africa; I told her about this great travelogue-memoir I’ve been reading, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, in which the Britain-raised author, Noo Saro-Wiwa, visits the country she had only mainly known from summer visits in her childhood. The writing is wonderful.

Clockwise from me: Ann Carlson, Betty Bush, Jenni Holm, Elizabeth Hall, and Deborah Stevenson

On Friday I was a guest of Random House at an afternoon tea honoring Jennifer Holm for her receipt of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for her novel Full of Beans. Elizabeth Hall, going strong in her nineties, gave Jennifer the award and some beautiful remarks about the book, and we all enjoyed the company and food and setting.

Al and Richard

Al and I did our rounds throughout the weekend: he looks for advertising, I talk to friends and only-semi-grudgingly listen to brief pitches. While everybody was exceptionally well-behaved this time, let me just use my podium to point out that I have a limited attention span. I also recorded three short interviews on Al and our advertisers’ behalf; I liked all the books and I liked all the authors: Chelsea Sedoti, Lauren Wolk, and Tracey Baptiste. Our sisters from New York also recorded a bunch of interviews at the booth, including one by LJ’s Meredith Schwartz with my old library school friend Carla Hayden, who has moved from greatness to greatness with her warmth and sense of humor intact (as we hugged we speculated what Atheist Zena was thinking as she watched us from Heaven). I’m reminding Carla here (with you as witnesses) that she there promised – while Zena watched – to sit down for a Horn Book interview about her youth-services roots.

Carla and Roger

My Sunday began very, very early with the Coretta Scott King breakfast, where I was a guest again of Random House. Last year, I was ten minutes late and CSK Chair Pauletta Bracy was already in full and fine oratory swing. This year I was ten minutes early, phew. I could watch from my seat award recipient Congressman John Lewis on the dais, and I certainly would not play poker with him. (I could also watch Martha up there but did not attempt to distract her.) The morning was long but had a great sense of community and even majesty – “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” will do that to you.

Congressman John Lewis, Nate Powell, Rudine Sims Bishop, and Pauletta Bracy

And I finished the weekend off with the Banquet. Oh, what pages in my memoir the Banquet will inspire. (Not yet; I’m still gathering material.) We bring you all the speeches (plus profiles of the winners) here, although the evening itself where those speeches were given – and thank God we didn’t screw up again and publish them early – has made me start wondering about what it truly means when a scholar cites an award speech in a paper. Kelly Barnhill’s delivered speech included an appeal to feminism that isn’t in the speech as printed (and recorded by Weston Woods), so is it lost to history? I hasten to point out that the delivered speeches frequently differ in particulars from the document of record, and it’s not like there’s a rule saying you have to stick to what you wanted almost three months ago to say.

It is interesting to consider a point Newbery Chair Thom Barthelmess (and Jonathan Hunt in the July/August Magazine) made about The Girl Who Drank the Moon: it is the first high fantasy to win the Medal since The Hero and the Crown in 1985. How are we defining “high fantasy”? If by it we mean an invented world and essential moral seriousness, then yes – but how many of those have won in the Newbery’s history? I count five, and even that includes wiggle room.

My only beef (cuz we ate chicken har har) this year at the Banquet, which I attended courtesy of Abrams (who were great company, thank you!) was the out-of-control standing ovations. Although maybe the problem was too much control: when the first Caldecott Honor recipient, Carson Ellis, was read into the record, the audience rose as one. (Almost one.) It’s hard to then back down, right? I saved mine for Ashley Bryan, because he is indisputably our reigning Grand Old Man, and Nikki Grimes, because the Wilder is exactly that kind of award. Nikki, like the other Medalists, got a second standing o at the close of her speech but in this case I joined in because she gave the best speech of the night and because we could all then go to bed.

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. Those standing ovations! Is it an American thing? Happens so much during Bway musicals. Drives me nuts. Appreciated it NOT HAPPENING in London. Sigh.

  2. Sam Juliano says:

    What a fabulous, spirited wrap, a touching remembrance and tribute and a celebration of children’s books on the stage of stages. Much enjoyed reading this.

  3. Therese Bigelow says:

    I think Robin was saying good bye to all of us. She suffered for such a long time and it was beautiful that so many of us had someone to hug when we heard the news. I still remember the first time I met her. She was in my book discussion at a CLNE. Both her spirit and her brilliance shown.

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