In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book festivities

Dear Annie,

Happy first birthday to the delightful Isabel.  I hope you've been having a special day.

I had quite a lovely day yesterday down at the National Book Festival on the Mall here in D.C.  It's basically a series of readings in the heat under huge tents by lots of different authors, each presenting every 45 minutes or so.  Laura Bush is credited with starting the festival ten years ago, "the best legacy of the Bush Administration," said Rosemary Wells, in a not-so-subtle dig.

 Rosemary Wells, best known as the author of the Max and Ruby books, ran a real pep rally for reading.  "I write to cause children to look at a book and open those pages and love what's inside....I don't want to write a book about what you should or shouldn't think."  She talked about the ability to read being the foundation of a democracy -- lots of good stuff that I agree with.

She eventually got around to good old Max and Ruby, though.  One kid asked her how she came up with them.  She replied that they're non-fiction, based entirely on her two children.  She wrote the first book when Ruby was five years old and Max was nine months.  "Ruby is 37 years old now, the mother of three, and still really bossy.  An Max is 32 and teaches horticulture at Cornell and still really dirty."

Judith Viorst, best known for Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, read from her new and wacky
Lulu and the Brontosaurus
. I'm quite fond of that one -- lots of opportunity for parents to ham up a read-aloud.  (It might show up at your house in my Christmas box.)  She says the idea was born on a rainy day on vacation with two of her grandsons.  They demanded that she make up stories for them over the course of several hours, and eventually Lulu and the brontosaurus appeared.  Someone in the audience asked about Alexander, the subject of several of her books, at which point she said, "Alexander's going to kill me for this," and pointed to a forty-something man in the front row with a small boy in his lap.  He smiled and waved at the crowd.

Mem Fox, author of some wonderful books for little ones --  most notably Time for Bed, Where is the Green Sheep?, and my current favorite,
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
-- spoke about her childhood. Born in Australia, she grew up in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), the child of missionaries and the only non-African child in her school.  Her classroom, she said, was a space under a tree.  The teacher would trace the letters of the alphabet in the air and the children wrote them with their fingers in the dirt under the tree.  Eventually they graduated to slates, which had the attraction of needing to be spat upon to be erased.  She spoke about the intense thought that goes into creating the economy of language in her board books.

I'm going to save for my next post a wonderful presentation by a great graphic novelist. 



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