|The 2016 Fall Gala: Connect, Support, and Celebrate
by Rita Zobayan
Something about being in a room packed full of book lovers speaks to my heart. Maybe it’s the like-mindedness, the understanding that books are important not only in education but also in life. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that whether your favorite genre is picture books, middle grade, or young adult, your appreciation of children’s literature provides a common ground. So it was with a happy heart that I attended the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California’s 2016 Fall Gala held in the Luminarias Restaurant.
President Laurie Reese welcomed the attendees--librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, book reviewers, and literature lovers. She recognized the Board and presented the organization’s mantra of “Connect, Support, and Celebrate.”
Katherine Loeser, Co-First Vice President, then introduced the keynote speaker, the venerable Sharon M. Draper, explaining how Out of My Mind “changed me as a person. These are real people. Thank you for introducing me to histories and stories I didn’t know.” Ms. Draper, an author with a multitude of honors to her credit, began by describing her appreciation for the connection between books and learning. She spoke about the power of a story, the power of words and how words “make us whole. We have the privilege of reading, writing, and sharing them. If you know how to tell a good story, you can do anything.” Ms. Draper’s exposure to the power of words began at age three, when her mother took her to a library. The gleaming floors, sunlight dancing through windows, smell of books, and the card catalogues written in perfect cursive mesmerized Ms. Draper, and she knew she’d found a place for herself. By age ten, she’d read all the books for elementary students, and was given a card for the adult section. Ms. Draper explained, “I learned a lot at the library.” She never noticed as a child that there were no books with children that looked like her. No one questioned it because that was the world they knew. At age 12, Ms. Draper read Forbidden City, which was her first venture into a culture outside of the USA. She recalls that the book “stayed with me,” and she later became the State Department’s Literary Ambassador to the children in China. She read chapter one of her book, Out of My Mind, and explained, “I knew I had to give voice to someone who was voiceless. The books come to me.” A very touching story was Ms. Draper’s recollection of her father’s request to write a story about his mother, who had to quit school at age 10 to work. She kept journals and would write on her porch, and one of the journals was passed down to Ms. Draper. Stella by Starlight is the product. Ms. Drapers’ grandmother’s words aren’t in the book, but the premise of Stella writing a journal on the porch is. Ms. Draper concluded her speech with “There is a book for a child. Just one book can make an impact.”
Maxine Lucas then presented the award for Outstanding Work of Fiction, which was awarded to Pam Munoz Ryan for Echo. Ms. Munoz Ryan was on tour and sent her thanks for the honor.
The Outstanding Picture Book Award was presented by Meredith Kent McGowan to Antoinette Portis for Wait. Ms. Portis recalled her journey to becoming an author/illustrator from writing and drawing in sixth grade to working in advertising and for Disney to taking classes at UCLA Extension and the Art Center.
Katherine Adams presented the winner for the Excellence in Illustration Award, Vincent X. Kirsch for Gingerbread for Liberty. Mr. Kirsch recounted his work as a designer of gingerbread cookies for Dean and DeLuca. He stated, “I had so much fun with this book. It was a game for me. I am in the business of ‘wild imaginings’ and they can turn into anything. Pursue your wildest imaginings because you never know…they could become a book one day.”
The Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature was presented by Rachel Lizotte to Noelle Stevenson for Nimona. Ms. Stevens was unable to attend but sent her thanks.
Laurie Reese took the stage once more to present the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Children’s Literature to Marjorie Arnett. Ms. Arnett is a former educator and one of the three individuals who helped found the annual Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival. A major influence on Ms. Arnett was her parents’ examples of hard work and community service. Her father read a lot of Little Golden Books to her, and by age four, Ms. Arnett was reading to her younger siblings. Her parents advised her to “follow whatever path made you happy,” and that lead to education. Her siblings and she were the grandchildren of sharecroppers, and all of them went to college. Ms. Arnett’s mission has been to bring children and books together through “mirrors and windows”: having children see themselves portrayed in literature. Whatever she has been involved in, she has pursued with the lesson she learned from her family: “to attack life with a passion.”
The event ended with the joy of feeling connected, supported, and celebrated.