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BookFest @ Bank Street 2013

November 20, 2013

A sellout crowd greeted Phil Nel on October 19, 2013, in Tabas Auditorium.

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The author of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, in conversation with Bank Street archivist Lindsey Wyckoff described a marriage of opposites. Nel said that a gregarious Ruth Krauss often got her book inspirations from the children she taught, while the introverted Crockett Johnson tended to travel internally for his ideas. Nel said that, while he was conflicted about the idea that the FBI kept a file on the authors, he granted that the agents conducted “meticulous research,” which he found helpful in his work on the book (he gained access to it thorough the Freedom of Information Act).

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New York Public Library’s Betsy Bird, moderator of the panel “Visual Storytelling for the Middle Grades,” kicked off the discussion with a quote from Scott Westerfeld’s essay “Warning: This Essay Does Not Contain Pictures,” from Breakfast on Mars. In it, he states that the decision not to include illustrations in middle-grade fiction was a financial one. All of the panelists have written and illustrated books for middle-graders. Henry Neff described his delight in being able to include his black-and-white drawings in his The Tapestry series. Jeff Mack, who has written and illustrated full-color picture books as well as his Clueless McGee series, said he wanted to create black-and-white drawings that kids would feel they could also draw. Grace Lin believes each project calls for its style of artwork: black-and-white drawings work well for her Pacy Lin novels, while her Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, with its tales within a larger tale, needed full-color full-page illustrations.

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Nathan Hale uses digital color to fill in the backdrops for his Hazardous Tales graphic novels. When Grace Lin said that she still works in more “traditional” mediums, such as pencil and paints, Nathan Hale pointed out that an artist can do nearly everything digitally now that can be done with “traditional” mediums, but you can’t learn the crafts of drawing and painting digitally–you can only take what you’ve learned in traditional mediums and transfer them to the digital realm.

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Former Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature director and children’s librarian Lisa Von Drasek interviewed Herman Parish, who has carried on the work of his aunt, Peggy Parish, in continuing the adventures of Amelia Bedelia, as well as the family members of late artist Fritz Siebel. Everyone in the crowd joined in when editor Virginia Duncan made a “toast” to Herman Parish, Peggy Parish, Fritz Siebel and the artists who have carried Amelia Bedelia to her 50th Anniversary this year.

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Amelia Bedelia Toast

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Jenny Brown, current director of the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature, moderated a lively discussion of illustrated information books with Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers, Flora Straus winner (and Cook Prize seal creator) Brian Floca, and author-artist team Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (their book River of Words won a Caldecott Honor). They talked about how their research shapes the way they present a topic, and all of them said that research is its own art–they clearly revel in it (even though sometimes a fact sends them back to the drawing board).

Information Bks Panel

Keynote speaker and Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo made audience members laugh through their tears as she discussed the seeds for her latest novel, Flora & Ulysses. DiCamillo spoke of her mother’s declining health and preoccupation with the fate of her beloved Electrolux vacuum cleaner, and a squirrel that the author discovered on her front stoop and her quandary about what to do with it. These ideas commingled, and, with humor and poignancy, DiCamillo described how they made their way into her novel.

Kate DiCamillo @ Podium

Photos courtesy of Samantha Kelly.

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