One of my favorite events of the year is the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium. This year’s conference, Out of the Box, included panel discussions and talks by authors about what’s happening in the world of children’s books. As always, it was an inspiring day – one that made me wish I could hide in a library for a week and read!
M.T. Anderson, author of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, was the keynote speaker and the story he told about what happened in Leningrad in the mid-1940s and how Shostakovich wrote his symphony as bombs were falling was a powerful reminder of the role the arts play in our lives. The room was silent as Anderson told his story. I bet everyone in the room was picturing the dramatic and tragic events he described so forcefully.
One thing Anderson said really stood out. I wrote it down so I could think about it on the train ride home: “How do we expect books to change the lives of readers,” he asked, “if they haven’t changed ours first?” It’s true. I’m not sure how anyone could work in a school library or a bookstore whose life has not been changed by reading. Kids know when you’re telling them to read because “it’s good for them.” And they recognize sincerity when an adult they trust says: “read this.”
I still remember the first “real” readers in my life. As a teenager, I visited my aunt, and her house was filled with books – something that I had never seen before. I felt a deep connection with her immediately – one that has deepened over the years. I remember a professor who asked what magazines or journals I read besides Newsweek. To be honest, it had never occurred to me that there were other sources of news and opinion outside of the Dayton newspapers and general interest weeklies. His question inspired my subscriptions to The New Yorker and The Atlantic. I remember my early visits to bookstores in Washington, D.C. when I would literally leave with a bag of books and a stomach ache at the thought of how much I wanted to know. Anderson’s question brought all of that back.
Another speaker was Steve Sheinkin, author of several respected nonfiction books for young readers. Sheinkin’s presentation focused on his most recent award-winning book, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.
Like Anderson, Sheinkin told a fascinating story – one that led me right to the conference book shop to buy his book. It was especially interesting to hear Sheinkin’s comments about the parallels between Ellsberg’s story – and that of Edward Snowden. It was not surprising to hear that Ellsberg is “pro-leaks” and supports Snowden’s decision to leak classified information.
Sheinkin’s new book, Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team, will be published in January.
There was also a presentation by the author and illustrator of Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Roxanne Orgill and Francis Vallejo told the story of “that moment” in 1958 when Art Kane gathered a large group of jazz musicians in one place for a group photograph.
The day was full of wonderful moments – and lots of signed books. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference!
In other news….
One of Inly’s cows is wearing a pencil costume!
And finally – three blue books recently published in England. They are so beautiful that I’m tempted to order the books and put them on display in my house!