Celebrating Books on the National Mall

This past weekend, I attended the 11th Annual National Book Festival sponsored
by the Library of Congress. This was my 10th festival and the first spanning both days of the weekend – more time to be inspired by authors, my “rock stars”!  http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/

Here are some highlights:

I was blown away listening to Brian Selznick – he is such an enthusiastic artist, both a writer and an illustrator! He described all the research he did for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which is a novel that won the Caldecott in 2008 – yes, the Caldecott, the award for best illustrations and tends to therefore go to picture books but this is a novel, a very long novel). I highly recommend this 500+ book containing tons of full page illustrations. It is a unique picture book filled with detailed charcoal drawings, a historical fiction novel and adventure story all magnificently told. What a talent this man has!

Then he talked about how the book is being made into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese. I immediately came home to watch the movie trailer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGTfCw1x98A

It’s coming out in 3-D for Thanksgiving and I definitely plan to see it!

Finally, he shared all that went into his next book – Wonder Struck. I can’t wait to read it. He explained his extensive research on what it is like to be deaf. Then he used all that he learned through making the Hugo Cabret book, and put it together with his love of museums and his love of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (he has at least six references to this favorite book in his book). It took him three years to complete Wonder Struck. It is really three stories…a story told in just text, another story told in just pictures, and then the intersection of the two stories. He said, “My goal – when you got to the end, I want you to not remember what part was drawn and what part was told in words.”

I had a great seat to listen to Tomie dePaola! He told how he remembers stating at age 4, “I’m going to be an artist!” Now, 73 years later, he has written / illustrated 250 books. Wow…that’s an example of following your dream!

A child from the audience asked him if he got in “time out” when he wrote on his sheets (he tells of this in his book The Art Lesson). He laughed and said, “My mom wasn’t too happy. But that big white space of the sheets seemed the perfect place to draw and I never even realized that the sheets ever got changed!”

He has a new Stega Nona book coming out – Stega Nona’s Gift. And he taught the whole audience how to blow the three kisses, like a real Italian!

Advise for those who want to follow in his footsteps: “As an artist, practice, practice, practice. As a writer, read, read, read, and then read some more!”

What a treat it was to hear Carmen Agra Deedy again (I heard her give the final Keynote at the TCRWP August Reading Institute). As I sat down, the older gentleman next to me asked, “Are you here to see John?” and I said, “No, Carmen.” Quickly I realized that Carmen’s husband, John McCutcheon, is also an amazing talent. She introduced him by saying that in college, “he traveled abroad to Appalachia and fell in love with the music.” He played for the audience the banjo, the guitar and the cool instument in the photo. I was moved to tears as they ended, having us all sing, “This Land is Your Land”, the song written by Arlo Guthry. John  made a CD to celebrate the 100th birthday of this great singer, too.

Carmen reminded the crowd of the importance of the story. As humans, we NEED story. A machine (like a TV or a computer) can give us a narrative. But only a human can tell a story. And you can’t lose a story. Its survival hangs on only being told. So important because stories teach us how to live!

She told a story about a time in high school. As a Cuban refugee, she was still learning English. Yet, she had a teacher who did not dumb things down for her. Even though she couldn’t put her thoughts into English words well, this teacher still believed she could think. She gave her Macbeth and with a dictionary in hand, Carmen devoured that story. She returned to that teacher and asked, “Did he write anything else?” Her love of Shakespeare and the classics, including Charles Dickens happened because of that teacher!


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