I spent the weekend in a version of kids’ book heaven—the Children's Literature Summer Institute at Simmons College in Boston. Somewhere in the vicinity of 20 authors and illustrators of books for children and teens were in attendance, speaking about their work and mingling with conference attendees. Among the latter were teachers, librarians, academics, publishers and book reviewers, as well as people who simply have a deep and abiding love for kids’ books, both for their own sake and the power that they have to enrich and change children's lives.
Read what children’s and YA editor Vicky Smith thinks about rating books.
My own contributions have something of a split personality: One day I spoke about some of the books I've seen so far this year that I'm excited about, and the other day I spoke about iPad apps, thereby encompassing the great anxiety that pervades the publishing industry today. Just what is the role of a book in the digital age?
I'm not sure I have any easy answers, though I am in agreement with the brilliant M.T. Anderson (author of the eerily prescient Feed, 2002, and the National Book Award–winning The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party, 2006) that whether printed on paper and bound in a cardboard case, or formed of pixels on a screen, the story will keep going strong.
Humans crave stories. From the beginning of language, we have told stories to explain the world around us, to communicate needed information and to entertain—the best of them, obviously, manage to do all three. And for millennia we successfully created and transmitted stories without the benefit of the printed—or even written—word. I would argue it's the story that nourishes us, not its means of transmission.
Nearly every author and illustrator who spoke at Simmons indicated at some level how the stories they encountered as children shaped them as creators. Grace Lin spent her childhood reading European fairy tales, which led to her Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009), which sets young Minli on a fantasy quest informed by the folk and fairy tales of China. T.R. Simon spoke of her early love for Caddie Woodlawn, which impelled her to approach her best friend Victoria Bond to collaborate on Zora and Me (2010), to give her daughter an African-American heroine as tough and vivid as Caddie.
And Bryan Collier, Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator of Martin's Big Words (written by Doreen Rappaport, 2001) and Dave the Potter (written by Laban Carrick Hill, 2010), spoke of his physical reaction when he first encountered Peter in Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day: "It was a jolt that went through my whole body."
No, I don't fear that we are at the end of narrative. Because we are human animals, and we crave stories.
Vicky Smith is the children's and YA editor at Kirkus.