everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Leo Dillon’s Birthday

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It’s March 2, Leo Dillon’s birthday, and I’ve been thinking about him all day. Seeing his photograph warms me, and I call Diane to mark the day. Their accomplishments, and what they’ve brought into our complicated, sometimes broken world, are so bright and shining. As people, nothing every stopped them from doing the work they loved; they started out on a wing and a prayer with an abundance of brilliant talent, and over five decades created paintings and books that can never be forgotten. Even as books increasingly go out of print and become unavailable, I am certain the Dillons’ art and the stories they illustrated will outlast us all and will continue to bring joy and delight to children and adults around the world.

Happy birthday, Leo. I miss you. We all miss you. But your light continues to shine, and it always will. Love, Bonfire

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Anniversary of Virginia Hamilton’s Passing

On this day, February 19, 2002, the blazing spirit of magnificent Virginia Hamilton, friend, mentor, writer, confidante, and kick-around girlfriend, took off with the power of a comet and left this world for the next. Virginia was–and still is–the most distinguished writer of books for young readers in the world, and she was given every major award in her field, including some that had never been given before, such as her MacArthur (genius) Fellowship. As her longtime editor and pal, my life has been blessed more than words can say. And I don’t want closure. I want every door and window and drawer she opened inside my heart and mind to STAY open. Virginia, I miss you every day. You go, girl. You go…. You reconfigure the stars in the sky and keep on shining.

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Arnold Adoff: A Rememory of Walter Dean Myers

 This r e m e m o r y of Walter Dean Myers

That word: r e m e m o r y is one coined by Virginia [Hamilton] and you must know I always feel since her death thirteen years ago . . . that she should still be here . . . and Walter should still be here . . . and Leo [Dillon] and Fred [McKissack] and others gone too soon.

Walter and Virginia were warriors . . . literary warriors . . . with that glinting consistency of effort and excellence. . . we were friends and comrades and fellow travelers . . . actually coming together only a few times a year to participate at a conference or speak at a convention . . . but always connecting over the years and decades as we published and spoke and struggled to break down the walls . . . open some of the musty rooms of youth literature . . . presenting images and stories to many thousands of young people of the post–(first) civil rights movement . . .

We first met after Virginia had published her first novel, Zeely, in 1967, and was receiving a Nancy Bloch award from the downtown community school. Bradford Chambers was one of the moving forces behind these early efforts at inclusion . . . and he and others formed the Council on Interracial Books for Children . . . their oversized bulletin devoting its back page to photos and bios and examples of work . . . and one day there was Walter . . . and a taste of his efforts . . . and his beginnings in our world.

So much of my anger is as much disappointment as it is a kind of negative rage. To have to revisit the Voting Rights Act—the way we’ll soon have to revisit the Roe v. Wade decision—kicks in the solar plexus . . . especially as my gut is far more tender than it was in struggles past . . . although no less keen. Some of what I write is simply and complexly to point out that the emperor is not even wearing a shred of silk around his sizable metaphoric rump.

“Walter and Virginia were warriors . . . literary warriors . . . with that glinting consistency of effort and excellence”

But, I also think of this new generation of writers and artists working to create excellence, and the academics and parents who study inclusion and multicultural youth literature, the Children’s Book Council Committee on Diversity and the Diversity Matters/We Need Diverse Books Now initiative, and the fine people making those open-eyed and openhearted efforts.

That’s why I mention Brad Chambers and his group of dedicated educators creating the Council on Interracial Books for Children—fifty years ago. And I mention now an organization begun several decades ago by Walter Dean Myers and Virginia [Hamilton] and [Leo and Diane] Dillon and Pat Cummings and Nicholasa Mohr and myself and Sheila Hamanaka . . . the Center for Multicultural Children’s Literature.

Working out of a small office donated by Scott Foresman/Harper’s and with a small budget from them as well, we were able to employ a part-time grad student to do preliminary reading of manuscripts and art portfolios from people around the country who needed those connections and an opening of the door to enter our field.

We did two more things: 1) writers and artists would be paired with many of us already publishing for some communication and mentoring and encouragement 2) editors and art directors were encouraged to be in touch with the center as they sought writers of color from all ethnicities and cultures as well as artists to illustrate manuscripts, and so on . . .
Finally, unlike these previously mentioned, an institution which is still flourishing at Kent State University after more than thirty years of annual conferences: the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth. This is the oldest conference of its kind functioning annually as other worthy ones have been disbanded—Columbus, Boston, and San Francisco to name a few. This year the conference, which takes place on April 9 and 10, will feature keynote speakers David Macaulay, winner of this year’s Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, Rita Williams-Garcia, Newbery Honor winner, and Grace Lin, Newbery Honor winner. A host of others will speak and run workshops. Awards will be announced for academic articles and grants for those teachers and librarians who are working with multicultural materials on projects with their students.

Please go to their website at Kent State and you will find dozens of participants black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, young, and old . . . year after year representing that grand metaphor of inclusive emperor dressed in the deepest and hippest outfits.

Of course Walter [Dean Myers] was the first recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for the body of his work in 1999, just as a few years ago in 2010, Walter Dean Myers was honored at the Coretta Scott King/American Library Association conference with the inaugural Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award.

Finally, you should know I write some of these posts periodically—as the compulsion takes over—just to remind myself of positive efforts, accomplishments, frameworks, templates, and foundations.
Besides—as my son Jaime taught me years ago—you bop ’til you drop.
The struggle continues.

—Arnold Adoff

virginia hamilton Virginia Hamilton

Fred McKissack Fred McKissack

Leo Dillon  Leo Dillon

Walter Dean MyersWalter Dean Myers

If Kids Ran the World: Despite Pain and Brutality Across the Globe, People Are Helping One Another in Record Numbers

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Encouraging new statistics just released by volunteeringinamerica.gov:

Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered nearly 8 billion hours last year. (This service has an estimated value of $173 billion dollars, although that isn’t the point.) And more than 138 million Americans volunteered informally in their communities. Of course those statistics  include massive numbers of children. Congratulations again to Malala–for winning the Nobel Peace Prize at age seventeen!

Rodman Philbrick Answers a Few Questions about ZANE AND THE HURRICANE

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Rodman Philbrick’s newest novel, Zane and the Hurricane, has caught the attention of young readers, and it has received three starred reviews and inclusion on the Texas Bluebonnet Master List. Philbrick has been writing since he was a teenager, and it took him many, many years to finally have a book published…but he never gave up. I asked him to answer a few brief questions about Zane.  (BIV) 
Why did you choose to write a novel set during Hurricane Katrina?
Shortly after Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Florida, I had the germ of an idea for a story about a hurricane set in the Florida Keys, where I live for half of the year. By the time I got around to writing it, New Orleans had been hit by Katrina, and I thought that would make a bigger and more important story.

Is the process of writing a novel set during a famous event different than writing a novel set in a place of your own invention—such as the town where Freak the Mighty takes place?

Freak The Mighty was inspired by real people in a real place, but I purposely didn’t name the specific location in the hope that  readers might think it was set in their own back yard. But writing about a specific event – the Battle of Gettsyburg, or the devastation of New Orleans – means you have to get the details right. And that means lots of research. Lucky for me many of the survivors’ impressions and experiences are preserved on video, or in interviews with journalists such as Douglas Brinkley and Jed Horne, both of whom wrote terrific books on the subject. Those recollections and impressions helped me get inside the head of my character Zane–and see the flooded world through his eyes, in a way that I hope rings true to the experiences of the actual survivors.

Are there any autobiographical angles in Zane and the Hurricane?
None, I guess. Oh wait, Zane is a boy from New Hampshire. Me, too.
What are some of the more interesting comments and questions that have come to you about the book?

A couple of readers wanted to know if the strong and willful character Malvina was inspired by the young girl in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ The answer is no, because I began working on Zane’ in 2011, a year before the film was released, and long before I heard about it. Still haven’t seen the movie, but I hear it’s fabulous.

What do you consider the main themes of this novel? When you were weaving the story, were there specific issues in the story that you wanted your reader to think about?

I don’t really think about themes while writing (or much of anything but the narrative itself), but on reflection all of my stories seem to be about overcoming adversity. This is no exception. And if the story illuminates injustice, and class and racial divides, or makes readers think or want to read further on the subject, so much the better.

 

Zane and the Hurricane is popular among young readers for many reasons. Some of them are its fast pace, interesting characters, dramatic scenery, and real-life setting. How did you manage to balance these and other story elements?

Writing a novel is like juggling flaming bowling balls while riding a unicycle on a tightrope strung across the Grand Canyon. Lots of things can go wrong, and do. I concentrate on making each scene as crisp and visual as possible. My intention is that every scene – and every conversation – carries the story forward. I very much have my fifth-grade self in mind as a potential reader. Would I read this? Would I be intrigued? Would I want to turn the page? Does it ‘sing’ when read aloud? (By the way, Jerry Dixon did a fantastic job as narrator of the audio version.)

Thanks to Rodman Philbrick for answering these questions–but most of all, thank you, Rod, for continuing to write for young readers! (BIV)
(just for fun–proof of upcoming Zane and the Hurricane paperback cover)

USHER reads IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD by the Dillons’ Book to 2 million children

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Today the R&B superstar Usher graced Scholastic with his typical generosity and warm respect for people of all backgrounds. In an event to promote reading–called “Open a World of Possible”–Usher spoke to an auditorium of excited students and also read Leo & Diane Dillons’ If Kids Ran the World. It was the perfect message of love, peace, feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, giving medicine to the sick, and providing good schools and loving homes to all children–something Usher has been doing in his own very powerful and inspiring initiative: Usher’s New Look.

Here is a link to the event, a webcast that occurred today:

http://usherwebcast.scholastic.com/

And here’s an article from Vanity Fair, covering the event.

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/11/usher-book-reading-tour:

We Watched Usher Read a Book to a Crowd of Screaming Children

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” he said.

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Usher treated an excited, decidedly pro-reading crowd of schoolchildren to a reading and performance in New York on Thursday. The kids were packed into an auditorium at Scholastic’s Soho offices for a “BiggerThan Words” Web cast, which marked the launch of the book company’s “Open a World of Possible” campaign.

“You’re all Internet stars,” Scholastic’s Billy DiMichele told the audience, who was quite pleased to hear that “as many as 2 million people” were watching the live-stream of the proceedings.

“I read to escape the reality that I have in my day-to-day life,” Usher said after emerging to a frenetic reception, telling the audience that his favorite books include Green Eggs & Ham and the Winnie the Pooh series. Usher said that while his mother and other relatives would read to him, it was his first-grade teacher, Ms. Harris, who first showed him “how to use my imagination beyond what’s on the page.”

He then read If Kids Ran the World, by Leo and Diane Dillon, and performed a stripped-down version of “Without You.” Scholastic peppered the event with pre-taped video interviews with children who explained what they think “possible” means. One boy said he thinks “possible” is about making the unusual normal, “like, pigs flying, or fish out of water.” Another pint-size reader offered this rationale for why he liked books: “There is no limit. Like in a car, there’s a speed limit. But there’s no limit on reading, you can read forever, unless if you have to go to a birthday or something.” Indeed.

VF Hollywood caught up with the performer and father after the event, and asked if he was able to reconnect with Ms. Harris as an adult. “I’ve tried my hardest to reach out to family members who had a connection, because the school I actually attended was torn down,” he said. “Ridgedale was the name of the school.”

Usher offered an eclectic group when asked by a student member if he could name five people he would invite to a book club: “Morgan Freeman, because he has the coolest voice, Scarlett Johansson, and not just because she’s hot, SpongeBob, Oprah Winfrey, and my kids.”

“Kids, by the way, are what keep me young,” Usher told VF Hollywood. “One thing I will say about inner-city kids, is that a lot of what they say is, ‘When I have tough days, or I want to escape my reality, I go to reading.’ You might not realize it, but kids internalize things differently than we do . . . They’re just innocent, man. That’s what I keep in tact, and reading does that.”

Usher said he tries to read with his sons, ages five and six, as much as possible. “They’re now at the age where they want to participate,” he said. “It could be any of the library of books that we have in the house, but now it’s more about engaging them instead of just reading it to them. But sometimes they use that as an excuse to stay awake.”

“The imagination of my kids is pretty hard to keep up with,” he admitted. VF Hollywood asked if Usher thought he’d still be putting out music when the youngest elementary-school children in the crowd on Thursday grew up to attend high-school dances. “As long as I can make music, and as long as I have my voice, I’m going to continue to make it,” he said. “I could be any age.”

At 36, Usher is somewhat of a premature veteran (his self-titled debut studio album turned 20 years old this August). He recently kicked off his first tour in three years, though he’s doing so without a new album to promote. “When we finished rehearsing, we had an idea of what could happen,” Usher told us. “It’s kind of like you add water and stir—or milk, because it’s a little bit creamy. But it’s been a good trip back for me.”

“I was so happy that I didn’t have an album to promote, because this is really about talent,” he continued. “It’s about being able to communicate and connect through conversation. Maybe we talk about where inspiration came from, or an offbeat tribute, or a drum solo, or an ultimate soulful moment. All those things are what I wanted to introduce to my fans . . . every night is a different journey.”

“The reaction to ‘You Got It Bad,’ ‘Let It Burn,’ ‘Yeah,’ ‘D.J. Got Us Fallin’ in Love,’ and ‘Without You’ is just incredible, on a consistent basis,” he said. “I feel like I’m living in a golden moment, man.”

In hyping up the crowd for Usher’s arrival, DiMichele told the children that, if children actually did run the world, “I guarantee it would be a better place.” They screamed their agreement.

Eat Spam, You Dumb Bunnies! Dav Pilkey and the Funny “Good Night Moon” Room Story

 

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A friend who loves Dav Pilkey’s funny books about the Dumb Bunnies recently asked me how we were able to get permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the first book, The Dumb Bunnies. Her question reminded me of a wild and unexpected series of events that happened as we created that cover. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I was not laughing.

Dav sent me the dummy for The Dumb Bunnies long ago before The Adventures of Captain Underpants made him a household name. I put the dummy in my work bag and took it home. I remember it was raining, because I was standing in my NJ kitchen in my wet, black raincoat when I pulled the package out of my bag and put it on my kitchen counter. I was still wearing my coat when I read the whole thing.

You probably don’t know my sister JoAnn, but one of the things we share is a passion for Jim Marshall’s picture book The Stupids Die. A million years ago when we both lived in Boston, we used to read that book together, over and over, with peals of laughter. I had the same kind of laughter when I read The Dumb Bunnies, and I knew my sister would love it. I had tears streaming down my face, and I called her on the kitchen phone to tell her about it.

In-house we had many discussions about this controversial book. Other than Marshall’s The Stupids Die and the other Stupids books, I’m not sure this kind of humor had seen the light of day very often in children’s books. But Jean Feiwel and Barbara Marcus both understood great humor and both had a wonderful sense of what appeals to children. They could see what was appealing about the book, and they both backed Dav and me–so we were able to proceed.

We were in a meeting talking about marketing and publicity one day when Barbara came up with the idea of putting a sticker on the cover—a gold sticker that would be the kind we use when one of our books wins an award. It was her suggestion that the sticker should say something to this effect: This book is too dumb to win an award.

Geniuses, both of them. So we found a nice spot on the side of the front jacket for the sticker and proceeded to have them manufactured.

Meanwhile I was biting my nails because we still needed permission to use the famous Good Night Moon room on the cover of the book. Good Night Moon is about as sacred and treasured a classic as any children’s book can be, so I was hyperventilating about getting permission from both Harper and the Hurd estate to use Dav’s funny parody of it. I had been Editor-in-Chief at Harcourt prior to coming to Scholastic, and it was my private opinion that at Harcourt I would not have had a prayer of getting approval to use that cover parody. Jean assured me that Scholastic had very good relationships with Harper, in part because of our book clubs and book fairs, and that she didn’t think they would object. Another major difference between Scholastic and every other children’s publisher—I was constantly being amazed by the contrast.

Time passed, and the job of designing The Dumb Bunnies was given to Kathy Westray, who was either freelancing or had just joined Scholastic full-time after designing From Sea to Shining Sea. Her office was a cubicle, and she brought the finished mechanicals to my desk and left them for me to proofread. She’d done a lot of innovative, interesting things with the cover and interiors, and it was the first book of mine she’d designed. I could immediately see her brilliance—in my opinion, she is the best living book designer in the world—and after I carefully checked the mechanicals, I went to her cubicle, dazed.

“In all my years of being an editor, this is the very first time I have ever received a set of mechanicals that is perfect,” I said. It was true. Every design choice she’d made on the book enhanced it. For more than a dozen years, I was used to designs that had to be done again and again with typeface changes, margins off, ugly borders, unreadable titles…and The Dumb Bunnies was perfect in every way. (I would soon ask Kathy to become the Art Director for my imprint, the Blue Sky Press, and more than twenty years later, she still designs all my books…and I am thankful every day.)

Not long after, I got the amazing green light from Jean Feiwel that she had gotten approval for me to use the Good Night Moon room parody on the cover. So we went to press.

And I am trying to remember when exactly it was that I saw I had made a very big mistake on the book cover.

It was so big a mistake that I have probably blocked it out of my mind.

There, on a table next to the fireplace, was a can of Spam.

Yes, Spam.

     A trademarked can of ham—or something like ham–manufactured by Hormel.

And had I gotten permission from Hormel to use Spam on my book cover?

No.

     I was so occupied with getting permission from Harper and the others for the Good Night Moon room parody that I hadn’t even thought about the Spam. There it sat, and the book was printed—not shipped, but printed—and I dashed out a letter to Hormel and politely gave them all the reasons why it was an excellent idea to have Spam featured on the cover of The Dumb Bunnies.

     I was very, very, very worried about getting permission, but I could not imagine that they would deny it. Surely they would see the humor, and there wasn’t any harm in it, and it was a relatively small print run of a book by a relatively new talent….

Permission denied.

Hormel did not see the humor in the way its “food product” (I quote) was presented on the cover of my book.

I drafted more letters. Made phone calls. Begged. Pleaded.

Permission denied.

     I believe we shredded 30,000 posters that featured Spam on the cover of the book. We used to make a lot of posters back then, and I remember that our Marketing/Publicity Director, Doris Bass, was sympathetic. But what to do about the cover?

Barbara Marcus had saved the day with her idea of a sticker on the book. The sticker looked great, and miraculously the glue on the sticker was like cement. Once pressed onto the cover, it would not come off.

And although we had not planned to place the sticker so close to the center of the book jacket, it did a terrific job of eliminating the can of Spam. (This isn’t a great reproduction, but you can see where the sticker was placed on this first edition/first printing. As well, you may be able to see that the author, Dav, called himself “Sue Denim,” and it was always interesting that a vast number of people wanted to know about “Sue”–I hope you get the joke. If you don’t, think about it. In later editions the credits both went to Dav Pilkey, and the display type was changed to match The Adventures of Captain Underpants.)

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So that is why, if you are lucky enough to have a first edition/first printing of The Dumb Bunnies, you now know that under that sticker is hidden a can of Spam. “This book is too dumb to win an award” is the perfect gold medal to cover it up, don’t you agree?

We removed the Spam in the second printing, and the third and fourth and fifth and who-knows-how-many since; all these years later the book is still fresh and popular–because Dav had created a magnificent book that gave millions of children (including my sister and me) many more opportunities to laugh.

And I was—and still am—the happiest Dumb Bunny of all.

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