Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Ezra Jack Keats Honor Adventure

Janusz, Owner of C'est la Vie, and Anna

Remember? My book, I Love You, Nose! I Love You, Toes! won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award. So my publisher Allyn Johnston (you probably already know this, but she's the best publisher) decided to send me to Hattiesburg to attend the celebration.

Five of us who won awards arrived from all over the country––and each of us was assigned our own personal "escort" for all three days. Anna was mine, and she picked me up at the airport in Gulfport. Since the airport was over an hour away from the hotel and she knew I'd be hungry, our first stop was a French bakery owned by her friend Janusz.

This was only the beginning, and it set the tone for all three days.

Thursday at noon the awards luncheon was held. The five of us were called up to the stage one at a time to receive our medallions and to speak. The bad thing was that I was the first one called up on the stage and it wasn't mentioned to me until the night before that I might be speaking. So after I said, "Thank you, thank you," I turned to sprint off the stage. But Ellen said, "Wait wait wait."

Before my trip I had imagined we Silvers would simply receive our prizes and say, "Thank you." Luckily Judy had told me always to be prepared with a one-to-two-minute speech about my book just in case something squirrelly happened. She had also warned me not to have too many glasses of wine.

I probably slouched the whole time I talked about my body book. My talk lasted at least two minutes (a long time) and I left out key phrases––but I didn't trip or fall off the stage.

And that evening, can you believe it? They had a dinner for us at the newly renovated train depot downtown. This had not even been on the itinerary. The food was drop-dead delicious––all home made: roast pork with vats of barbecue sauce and mustard sauce, tomato basil soup, yeast rolls, all kinds of salads, pecan pie, sweet iced tea (of course), and wine.

After dinner we all moved into another part of the depot, where a completely different buffet and wine bar had been set up. There was a string quartet playing, and everyone ate and drank some more. I felt obligated to help myself to another glass of red wine along with a small chunk of caramel cake.

Later Ellen pointed me in the direction of a long table against the back wall that I hadn't noticed. There were five chairs behind it. I saw my book and my name in big letters in front of the first chair.

"A lot of people who are here tonight couldn't be at the luncheon," she explained, "And I want to re-introduce you all."

My heart sank. There was no way I could remember my one-to-two minute speech now. But luckily she picked up on this fact and the only people who stood up were the Goldens, who simply said how happy they were and thank you, thank you.

Silver Me and Golden Ame monopolize the food table.

Above are a few of the incredible people I met: Christian Robinson, awarded the gold medal for illustrating Rain! pictured with his mom; Ame Dyckman, gold medal for writing Tea Party RulesK.G. Campbell, silver medal for illustration (he happened to be the illustrator for Tea Party Rules!)

2nd row: Pat Zietlow Miller, silver for writing Sophie's Squash; OMG Christopher Paul Curtis; OMG M.T. Anderson

3rd row: Carolyn Ward, Best Dressed; OMG Leda Schubert; and OMG David Small and Sarah Stewart

4th row: The women without whom there would not have been an Ezra Jack Keats award ceremony at all: Claire Thompson, otherwise known as Betsy Ray, Deborah Pope, and Ellen Ruffin, curator of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection.

p.s. The best thing of all was that our awards were celebrated in the midst of the University of Southern Mississippi Children's Book Festival, and I got to take full advantage. The writers and illustrators who spoke were sensational.

p.p.s. But the very best thing was scoring a tour of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, which was like walking into a giant treasure chest. The collection contains boxes upon boxes of the letters, notebooks, early manuscripts, and sketches of writers and illustrators. People like Ezra Jack Keats, Margaret and H.A. Rey, Lois Lenski, and George Marshall (seven boxes !!!!!!!). Thank you, Ellen Ruffin.