Book Expo America, particularly BookCon, has been getting a lot of heat recently for its selection of speakers. It started a few weeks ago when they announced their all-star kidlit panel, Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids’ Authors That Dazzle, which featured exclusively white men. (I won’t go into too much detail here because fellow Rioter Kelly Jensen already provided a great rundown of the whole situation. Seriously, do yourself a favor and go read it now).
After some backtracking and promises to do better, BookCon found themselves under fire again yesterday when people looked more closely at their full slate of speakers and found no diversity whatsoever.
This prompted our editor, Rebecca Joines Schinsky, to take them to task, calling the whole fiasco inexcusable and embarrassing. To be clear, this isn’t to say that the individual authors that were chosen to speak aren’t worthy. This is about the fundamental flaws of the skewed selection process, which did everyone a disservice by not taking into account the diverse reality of the writing and reading community.
As Rebecca says, “It is not hard to do better than this.” Given the wealth of talented writers out there, she’s absolutely right.
So, let’s do better.
The other day, someone asked me: If you were to start from scratch and assemble your own all-star panel of children’s literature luminaries, who would you choose?
Which is an exciting, if daunting, challenge. Keeping in mind that it’s impossible to represent the full richness and diversity of the children’s literature community with only four panelists (though you couldn’t be any less diverse than BookCon’s original panel), the question really boils down to simply: Who would I be psyched to hear speak?
So, without further ado (though after much hand-wringing), here is my own personal Dream Kidlit Panel:
Sherman Alexie: Nothing against James Patterson (one of the original BookCon panelists), but I just don’t think of him as a children’s author. I imagine that his inclusion was driven in part by the desire to have a big name who could draw a crowd from the non-children’s literature world. Well, if you’re looking for a cross-genre literary superstar, you can’t do much better than Sherman Alexie. He has true children’s literature bona fides with his National Book Award winning Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian(which is also a stalwart on the annual Most Banned and Challenged Books list) and is one of the most well-known and respected voices in literature today. Plus, like Patterson (who famously donated $1 million to independent bookstores) Alexie is a big supporter of independent bookstores as the driving force behind Indies First, which gets authors to volunteer as booksellers for a day. An easy choice for any dream panel.
Kate DiCamillo: Any conversation about the royalty of children’s literature has to start with the only one with an official title: the current Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo. Her latest book, Flora and Ulysses, just won the coveted Newbery Award and it’s not her first time taking home the prize. If she keeps this up, there’s a good chance they’ll just rename it theDiCamillo some day. Also, in case you missed it when I said it the first time, she’s our AMBASSADOR. Obviously, she’s a no-brainer for the panel. The only problem will be allowing enough time for her Secret Service detail to secure the perimeter before starting.
(Note: DiCamillo, with Alexie’s blessing, has recently taken up the Indie First cause as well–which I take as a sign from the universe that this panel was meant to be. Thanks, Universe.)
Kadir Nelson: Not only is Nelson one of the finest artists in the field today, his influence extends well beyond the world of children’s books. Kidlit scholar Phil Nel recently wrote about that here, pointing out that “Nelson’s art also appears on U.S. postage stamps, magazine covers, album covers — including the latest Drake album. Indeed, he also may be the only children’s author to count Drake, Spike Lee, Will Smith and the late Michael Jackson among his fans. Indeed, his art not only hangs in galleries, but is in the private collections of Shaquille O’Neal, Venus Williams, Sharon Stone, and Stephen Spielberg.” Given his stature in the broader artistic community, it was no surprise when this past year, following the passing of Nelson Mandela, it was Kadir Nelson’s artwork that graced the cover of the New Yorker’s commemorative edition. All that is in addition to his breathtaking books and his growing treasure trove of awards. Clearly, any all-star kidlit panel without Nelson is really just kidding itself.
Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler): One of the original BookCon panelists, the prolific and funny Snicket gets a spot on my dream panel too. His groundbreaking Series of Unfortunate Events injected the field with a much-needed dose of the macabre and he continues to challenge the conventions of children’s literature with works like The Dark, a strangely beautiful picture book about, well, the dark. Also, anyone who goes out of his way to establish a special ALA Prize for Noble Librarians Facing Adversity gets an automatic spot on my dais.
So, there it is. After much deliberation, those are my final four choices. And as you can see, this is definitely not a matter of choosing diversity over quality. Not only is it not hard to do better, I’d say it’s infinitely harder (if not impossible) to look at the full pool of worthy authors and not end up with a diverse panel.
Okay. Now that I’ve had my say, I’m curious: Who would you put on your Dream Kidlit Panel?
Since I had such a hard time narrowing it down from the many outstanding names out there, here is a (still not exhaustive) list of other worthy names to choose from… you know, in case there are scheduling problems with my hypothetical dream panel:
Mac Barnett, Betsy Bird, Judy Blume, Peter Brown, Eric Carle, Bryan Collier, Christopher Paul Curtis, Louise Erdrich, Nikki Giovanni, John Green, Oliver Jeffers, A.S. King, Jon Klassen, Jarrett Krosoczka, David Levithan, Rush Limbaugh (kidding, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention), Lois Lowry, Meg Medina, Yuyi Morales, Christopher Myers, Walter Dean Myers, R.J. Palacio, Jerry Pinkney, Rick Riordan (who, as an original BookCon panelist, gets major props for taking it upon himself to point out the lack of diversity), Rainbow Rowell, Veronica Roth, Rachel Renee Russell, Alex Sanchez, Marjane Satrapi, Jon Sczieska, Peter Sis, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Phil & Erin Stead, Shaun Tan, Mo Willems, Gene Luen Yang…
Yesterday, a curious little character namedBeekle introduced himself to readers all over the world. And in my humble opinion, this marshmallowy figure with a scotch-taped crown stands head and shoulders above the rest of this year’s picture book offerings.
(Note: It’s unclear whether or not he actually has shoulders, but that’s beside the point.)
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend byDan Santat (which hit shelves on April 8, 2014), starts on an island where imaginary friends are born. There they wait for a child to imagine them into being, at which point they are whisked away to the real world. One character (the aforementioned marshmallowy fellow), grows tired of waiting and decides to take matters into his own hands… setting off for the real world in search of a friend.
It’s a book about bravery, friendship, the power of storytelling… and to top it all off, it’s pretty as all get out. Santat’s bold visual style provides the perfect balance to this very tender tale. As I mentioned before, this is my favorite book of the year so far and it would take quite a lot for another book to surpass Santat’s masterful blend of artistry, humor, and heart.
With yesterday’s arrival, Beekle has officially made it to the real world. To mark the occasion, I asked Dan Santat to take a few minutes out of his (unimaginably) busy schedule for a few questions about his latest book.
Minh: I’ve heard that Beekle is somewhat autobiographical… is that true? If yes, how so?
Dan: Beekle embodies a lot of metaphors relating to my life. In one respect, it’s a metaphor about the birth of my first son. I think every new parent imagines what their child to be will be like before they are born. You wonder what their personality will be like, what unique habits they’ll have and so forth. Then when you finally witness the birth of your child you meet this person whom you instantly love unconditionally and it just feels right and it’s at that same moment you give that child his/her name. In the story, Beekle is born on this magical island. There’s a gathering around him like when family gathers at a hospital when a birth is happening.
He then goes on a journey, a transformation in a sense, to discover who he truly is and during the entire time he’s nervous and excited at the same time, much like a first time parent. Then when Beekle meets his child all that fear suddenly disappears and he instantly loves this person he has just met and it feels just right.
The book is also a metaphor about the worry a child has about going out into the real world and making their first friend and wondering if there’s someone out in the world for them. Beekle is like my son at his first day of school worrying about whether or not he will fit in with the other kids in school, or if he can even make friends. In the end it takes is just one person to understand who he is and everything feels right.
Lastly, it’s the metaphor about how two people can collaborate to make a story together. Beekle is the writer, the girl is the illustrator, and they meet under a tree. Paper. Life. A book.
M: As an artist, do you relate more to Beekle or to the child who imagines him into being?
D: As an artist I embody both characters equally. The child imagines this entire story and draws the entire adventure which is fully inspired by her surroundings and life experiences. For example, the stars in the sky bring imaginary friends to their child, which is inspired by the star shaped leaves in the tree she is sitting under.
Beekle’s journey is much like my transition from science into a career in art. There was a lot of uncertainty going through my mind about whether or not I was making the right decision for my life, but I pressed on in hopes of realizing what I truly wanted in my life. It wasn’t until years later after art school and working professionally that I changed into someone who I was happy to be and fully understood my purpose.
M: At the end of the book, you attribute the name “Beekle” to a boy named Alek. Can you tell us the story behind that?
D: Alek is my oldest son who is eight years old. Years before he was born, the idea of an imaginary friend who couldn’t be imagined was something I was tinkering with for years. There was never any real substantial ideas because I was always too busy with other projects to tackle the project and so it basically just sat as a one line concept. I didn’t even have a name or a look for the main character. Even the original working title for the book was “Unimaginable”.
When Alek was born, and when he could finally speak, his first word was Beekle, which was his word for bicycle. At the time, my wife mentioned that it would be a great name for a children’s book character and I immediately realized that I had a name for my new character. Once I named the character the rest of the story flowed right out of me naturally and because of that the scene where Beekle learns his name is especially precious to me.
M: Did you have imaginary friends as a child? Or, for that matter, do you have any imaginary friends now?
D: It’s funny you mention that because I never had an imaginary friend that I made up on my own while growing up. I was an only child so one would probably think that it was natural to make up a friend but when I played make believe with myself I would often pretend the imaginary friends I was surrounded by were things I had seen on TV. Smurfs and Bugs Bunny were a particularly popular play dates for me at the time. I couldn’t get enough of them. As an adult you’d be surprised. I don’t even have dreams, or on the rare occasion that I do they’re really plain dreams. I’ll have dreams about eating cereal and that’s the whole dream. Real creative, Santat. Real creative…. sigh.
M: You were the author and illustrator of this book, but in the past you’ve often illustrated other people’s stories. How does the process of working on your own story compare with illustrating someone else’s text?
D: The most obvious thing that I notice is that I stress out a lot more about all the decisions I make when I’m serving as both author and illustrator of a book. When my primary task is to just illustrate a book then I know that I’m only shouldering half the responsibility. Lately I’ve had the luxury of being able to accept only those projects that I’ve read and I’m truly in love with and so the task is much easier., but if I’m doing both tasks then whatever reviews come out then it’s like a full reflection on me. I find myself second guessing a lot when I try to illustrate my own text because I think it’s my need for everything to be perfect.
M: Which authors/artists (not limited to children’s lit) do you consider as influences?
D: William Joyce for his skill in composition and lighting, Saul Bass for his graphic simplicity in symbology, Chipp Kidd for his brilliant thinking for covers, David Sedaris for his sense of humor, NC Wyeth for his narrative abilities in illustratin, JC Leyendecker for his energy in dynamic posing, Dean Cornewell for his form, and Masamune Shirow for being so darn skilled with pen and ink
M: What are you working on now?
D: I just completed re-illustrating the first four books to Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey and I’m in the process of re-illustrating the next three and then moving on to illustrating two new Ricky Ricotta adventures after that. I’m illustrating the sequel to Crankenstein called A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger as well as books five and six of the Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors and, at some point this year, starting on art for Invasion of the Fluffy Bunnies (the sequel to Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies) by Andrea Beaty. As for my personal projects, I’m working on my next picture book entitled, Are We There Yet with Little, Brown and my next graphic novel with Scholastic called, The Aquanaut. All in a day’s work.
See, I wasn’t kidding when I said his schedule was unimaginably busy.
As you can tell from his responses, Beekle is a true labor of love and it shows on every intricately illustrated page. Now, having finally arrived, the first leg of Beekle’s journey is complete… but I’m pretty sure that his adventure is just beginning. I recommend that you venture out and introduce yourself.
We’re heading into another wedding season, which means a lot of you are in the thick of planning for the big day. Which also means that soon you’re going to have to make the all-important decision about what (if anything) will be read during the ceremony.
In addition to my own wedding, I’ve had the honor of reading for several dear friends, so I understand the exciting and daunting challenge that comes with finding just the right words to mark the occasion.
While there are some bookish lists floating around out there already (including a 2012 Book Riot post), I figured it wouldn’t hurt to put together another resource for those of you on the hunt for something with a literary bent.
So, here are thirty readings (in no particular order) that could add a little bookish flair to that special day. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg, so if you have other suggestions, please join the conversation and leave them in the comments.
“This is where I have always been coming to. Since my time began. And when I go away from here, this will be the mid-point, to which everything ran, before, and from which everything will run. But now, my love, we are here, we are now, and those other times are running elsewhere.”
“No one knows very much about the life of another. This ignorance becomes vivid, if you love another. Love sets the imagination on fire, and, also, eventually, chars the imagination into a harder element: imagination cannot match love, cannot plunge so deep, or range so wide.”
“It has made me better loving you… it has made me wiser, and easier, and brighter. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I did not have them. Theoretically, I was satisfied. I flattered myself that I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid sterile hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I really am satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better. It’s just as when one has been trying to spell out a book in the twilight, and suddenly the lamp comes in. I had been putting out my eyes over the book of life, and finding nothing to reward me for my pains; but now that I can read it properly I see that it’s a delightful story.”
“Here’s a profundity, the best I can do: sometimes you just know… You just know when two people belong together. I had never really experienced that odd happenstance before, but this time, with her, I did. Before, I was always trying to make my relationships work by means of willpower and forced affability. This time I didn’t have to strive for anything. A quality of ease spread over us. Whatever I was, well, that was apparently what she wanted… To this day I don’t know exactly what she loves about me and that’s because I don’t have to know. She just does. It was the entire menu of myself. She ordered all of it.”
“Love is tricky. It is never mundane or daily. You can never get used to it. You have to walk with it, then let it walk with you. You can never balk. It moves you like the tide. It takes you out to sea, then lays you on the beach again. Today’s struggling pain is the foundation for a certain stride through the heavens. You can run from it but you can never say no.”
“To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth–
–Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, towards which the conscience of the world is tending — a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.”
(Note: I love this passage, but full disclosure, it actually refers to death… so it might not the greatest choice if your guests are familiar with Wolfe.)
“What most people call loving consists of picking out a woman and marrying her. They pick her out, I swear, I’ve seen them. As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of the courtyard. They probably say that they pick her out because-they-love-her, I think it’s just the opposite. Beatrice wasn’t picked out, Juliet wasn’t picked out. You don’t pick out the rain that soaks you to a skin when you come out of a concert.”
“His face contained for me all possibilities of fierceness and sweetness, pride and submissiveness, violence, self-containment. I never saw more in it than I had when I saw it first, because I saw everything then. The whole thing in him that I was going to love, and never catch or explain.”
“For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person—it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distance…
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distance exists, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of seeing each other as a whole before an immense sky.”
Conjunction, assemblage, congress, union: Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. A life apart is a desperate fiction. Life is an intermediate business: a field of light bordered by love a sea of desire stretched between shores.
Marriage is the strength of union. Marriage is the harmonic blend. Marriage is the elegant dialectic of counterpoint. Marriage is the faultless, fragile logic of ecology: A reasonable process of give and take unfolding through cyclical and linear time.
A wedding is the conjoining of systems in which Neither loses its single splendor and both are completely transformed. As, for example, The dawn is the wedding of the Night and the Day, and is neither, and both, and is, in itself, the most beautiful time, abundant artless beauty, free and careless magnificence.
“If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweller’s felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does.”
“The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point.
It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love.”
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
The fountains mingle with the river And the rivers with the ocean, The winds of heaven mix for ever With a sweet emotion; Nothing in the world is single, All things by a law divine In one another’s being mingle— Why not I with thine?
See the mountains kiss high heaven, And the waves clasp one another; No sister-flower would be forgiven If it disdain’d its brother; And the sunlight clasps the earth, And the moonbeams kiss the sea What are all these kissings worth, If thou kiss not me?
“Love is like a wind stirring the grass beneath trees on a black night,’ he had said. ‘You must not try to make love definite. It is the divine accident of life. If you try to be definite and sure about it and to live beneath the trees, where soft night winds blow, the long hot day of disappointment comes swiftly and the gritty dust from passing wagons gathers upon lips inflamed and made tender by kisses.”
“Love is by definition an unmerited gift; being loved without meriting it is the very proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you’re intelligent, because you’re decent, because you buy me gifts, because you don’t chase women, because you do the dishes, then I’m disappointed; such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer it is to hear: I’m crazy about you even though you’re neither intelligent nor decent, even though you’re a liar, an egotist, a bastard.”
“This was love at first sight, love everlasting: a feeling unknown, unhoped for, unexpected–in so far as it could be a matter of conscious awareness; it took entire possession of him, and he understood, with joyous amazement, that this was for life.”
I wanted to take your hand and run with you together toward ourselves down the street to your street i wanted to laugh aloud and skip the notes past the marquee advertising “women in love” past the record shop with “The Spirit In The Dark” past the smoke shop past the park and no parking today signs past the people watching me in my blue velvet and i don’t remember what you wore but only that i didn’t want anything to be wearing you i wanted to give myself to the cyclone that is your arms and let you in the eye of my hurricane and know the calm before
and some fall evening after the cocktails and the very expensive and very bad steak served with day-old baked potatoes after the second cup of coffee taken while listening to the rejected violin player maybe some fall evening when the taxis have passed you by and that light sort of rain that occasionally falls in new york begins you’ll take a thought and laugh aloud the notes carrying all the way over to me and we’ll run again together toward each other yes?
“Love, to her, was something that comes suddenly, like a blinding flash of lightning – a heaven-sent storm hurled into life, uprooting it, sweeping every will before it like a leaf, engulfing all feelings.”
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”
“Truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love. The gaze of love is not deluded. It sees what is best in the beloved even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light.”
“This love, this mortal love, is of their own making,” Hermes muses, “the thing we did not intend, foresee or sanction. How then should it not fascinate us? . . . It is as if a fractious child had been handed a few timber shavings and a bucket of mud to keep him quiet only for him promptly to erect a cathedral. . . . Within the precincts of this consecrated house they afford each other sanctuary, excuse each other their failings, their sweats and smells, their lies and subterfuges, above all their ineradicable self-obsession. This is what baffles us, how they wriggled out of our grasp and somehow became free to forgive each other for all that they are not.”
“But so fluid a thing was love. It wasn’t firm, he was learning, it wasn’t a scripture; it was a wobbliness that lent itself to betrayal, taking the mold of whatever he poured it into. And in fact, it was difficult to keep from pouring it into numerous vessels. It could be used for all kinds of purposes…. He wished it were a constraint. It was truly beginning to frighten him.”
Love? Be it man. Be it woman. It must be a wave you want to glide in on, give your body to it, give your laugh to it, give, when the gravelly sand takes you, your tears to the land. To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.
“Finally he spoke the three simple words that no amount of bad art or bad faith can ever quite cheapen. She repeated them, with exactly the same slight emphasis on the second word, as though she were the one to say them first. He had no religious belief, but it was impossible not to think of an invisible presence or witness in the room, and that these words spoken aloud were like signatures on an unseen contract.”