The 2013 Winners Speak
Peter Reynolds kicked off the 2013 Irma Black Award and Cook Prize ceremony last Thursday, with an inspiring opening keynote speech, urging audience members to “Make your mark!” He said, “My mission is to get people to be braver,” young people, and “grown-up kids” alike.
His book The Dot, which received a 2003 Irma Black Award Honor, kicked off a “creatrilogy” that includes Ish and Sky Color. The Dot is his story of young Vashti who, with a teacher’s encouragement, discovers her inner artist. The book launched a global movement, International Dot Day, celebrated annually on September 15. Dot Day began with a teacher whose students noticed The Dot‘s publishing release date, and asked if that were like the book’s birthday. This year, as The Dot turns 10, Dot Day will involve nearly 1 million people around the globe. They, like Vashti, will be encouraged to “Make your mark.” Sign up here to join in the festivities.
Reynolds credited his seventh-grade math teacher, Jim Matson, with starting him on his journey. Instead of getting upset with Peter for drawing in class, he asked Peter to use his art to explain a math concept. Where Peter thought he’d created a comic strip, Mr. Matson saw a storyboard. “You’ve got the beginnings of an animated film, if you’re interested,” Mr. Matson told him. Peter was interested, but Jim Matson didn’t know how to create an animated film, so he sought out an expert. Teachers came back to school that summer to help Peter complete his film. That experience formed the foundation of what is now FableVision, a media and interactive development studio dedicated to “helping all learners discover their true potential.” (Peter’s identical twin brother, Paul, serves as its president.)
Peter read The Dot while Bank Street Children’s Librarian Allie Jane Bruce played the part of Vashti. Peter then showed the audience how animation works, using his downloadable software, Animation-ish.
Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon each spoke of how the other made a unique contribution to their Irma Black Award–winning title Big Mean Mike. Scott cited how well Mike’s built-up machismo gives way in “a gradual and wiley turnaround” in the story, and how he tried to emulate that in the artwork. Knudsen said that, as an author, she knows that her private personal vision of the characters will change; someone else will draw them—and “that was always the plan.” But Magoon’s characters made her “cry with the cuteness” of them. “Have you seen what Mike wears to the gym?” she said. “The kids’ favorite scene is the matching sunglasses on the bunnies at the end.” Knudsen said she hopes kids will take away the theme of the book: “Be true to yourself and have the friends you want to have.
Roxie Munro, in accepting her Cook Prize Honor citation, spoke of how her cover insect on Busy Builders (Two Lions/Amazon Publishing) is her favorite: The Australian weaver ant. Not all insects or spiders build their own homes, she said. These were tough to find.
Kate Hosford’s own children inspired her Cook Prize Honor book Infinity and Me (Carolrhoda/Lerner), illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska. When her boys asked what infinity was and there were no books to help Hosford answer their question, she decided to write her own.
Growing up in Philadelphia, author and artist Gene Barretta was constantly reminded of all the contributions Ben Franklin had made to society and science–the library, the post office. He wanted to give kids that same sense of excitement. That wish led to his first book in what he calls his inventor series, Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. This year, he received a Cook Prize Honor citation for Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives (Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt). Barretta said that, of all his books, Thomas was the most challenging to write about, to discern what he invented versus the inventions of his colleagues. He found a great resource in Paul Israel, director of the Edison papers at Rutgers.
Husband-and-wife team, author Andrea Menotti and artist Yancey Labat set out to show what 1 million looks like in their 2013 Cook Prize winner, How Many Jelly Beans?: A Giant Book of Giant Numbers! (Chronicle Books). Menotti said she kept wondering, are we there yet? It was “like clowns getting out of a clown car.” They wanted to choose something fun to count, so they settled on jelly beans. Yancey comes from a comics background, and he had to embrace the idea of being “messy.” He said everything was fine “until we got to 5,000.” He photo-shopped the jelly beans, choosing them for color, but he felt he couldn’t guarantee that the right number appeared on a page. Then he found a program that counts objects. Labat described the engineering involved in producing the book, to accommodate its many folds for that last image of the 1,000,000 jelly beans.
That brings us full circle to the idea that solving a math problem resulted in a creative endeavor. The morning’s celebration brought home for all of the audience members just how important creativity is in problem-solving, whether it be a math concept or demonstrating to a child that he or she is an artist.
In the Bank Street Library, the winning authors and artists admired the picture books created by the 9s/10s after they studied the Irma Black Award finalists. The seed of inspiration continues.
–Jennifer M. Brown
Photos courtesy of Cheryl Simon and Mollie Welsh Kruger