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When’s My Birthday?: Author Julie Fogliano’s 2018 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

Ask any kid and they will tell you that waiting stinks. And they are right: waiting does stink. And never in a million years would I have imagined that I would someday make a career of writing children’s books about waiting for things to happen. Not about the actual happening, but the parts in between. My first book, And Then It’s Spring (which received this same Boston Globe–Horn Book honor six years ago), is about waiting for a garden to grow. My second book…waiting to see a whale. My third…waiting for the seasons to change.

For years, I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was about waiting that captured and held my interest. And why on earth I kept writing about it for children, of all people. As we know, kids are not known for their patience. In fact, kids are known for their impatience. They complain and fidget. They incessantly ask: how much longer? And: when will we get there? They stand on their heads. And tap their fingers. They huff and puff and sigh. And all of that can be pretty exasperating and exhausting for adults. But if you can look past their grumping and groaning, you’ll see that kids are actually the very best kind of waiters.

They may be frustrated and bored while waiting for the bus, but, “Hey, mom, that cloud looks like a hot dog!”

They may be whining about the never-ending car ride, but really, they’re in the backseat playing a game they made up out of a bottle cap and an old Cheerio.

Kids are masters at finding joy and beauty in the most unlikely places, and waiting gives them the time and space to make those discoveries. And that is what I found at the heart of my fascination with waiting. Which brings me to the book that brought me here today: When’s My Birthday? As a mom of three kids, I hear a lot of birthday talk at my house. So for years I kept a list of their birthday hopes, dreams, and wishes: cake choices, fantasy presents, party menus, guest lists. These things changed constantly and rarely stuck around long enough to make it to my kids’ actual birthdays. As excited as they were for their big day, they never seemed as invested in the end result as they were in the anticipation of it all.

Years ago we were in the car, driving home from my daughter’s birthday party. She was in her party dress, icing still smeared all over face, and she asked, “When’s my birthday?” My husband and I looked at each other. “You haven’t even opened all your presents yet! It’s your birthday right now!” And still she asked, “When’s my birthday?” It was as if she were trying to get through her actual birthday so she could get back to the part where she could wait and imagine and dream. She was totally speaking my language.

I ran inside, grabbed my laptop, dug out that birthday list I’d been keeping, and wrote the first draft of When’s My Birthday? standing there at the kitchen counter. At the time, I didn’t recognize it as a book. It was too loud and persistent. Months later I sent it to my editor, Neal Porter, for his birthday. Not as a submission, but as a “something” I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. I think it was at that point that he referred to me as Julie “Anticipation” Fogliano — and my fourth book about waiting was underway.

But no picture book’s journey is ever complete without its illustrator. On its own, the text was basically the relentless questions and demands of an impatient and boisterous child. But in Christian’s hands, it became a joyful celebration of anticipation that perfectly blends his childlike sensibilities with his exceptional sense of color, composition, and design. Thank you, Christian!

Of course, a big thank you to Neal Porter and my agent, Steven Malk, who always seem to find the books in whatever chaos I send them. And an extra-special thank you to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for this fantastic honor.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read When’s My Birthday? illustrator Christian Robinson’s speech here. For more on the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB18.

Julie Fogliano About Julie Fogliano

Julie Fogliano is author of the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Honor book When's My Birthday?

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