everything grows with love

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

Archive for Leo & Diane Dillon

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!

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.

NOVEMBER 6, 2014 4:46 PM

BY STUART RAMSON/INVISION FOR SCHOLASTIC/AP IMAGES

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Going to the printer on Monday: Leo & Diane Dillon’s IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD

Going to the printer on Monday: Leo & Diane Dillon's IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD

If peace begins with a smile, then children are our greatest hope for the future. All roads lead to kindness in this warm, uplifting celebration of generosity and love. A rainbow of children lend a helping hand to make our global village a happier place, where food, shelter, medicine, and education can be had by all. Leo Dillon was working with Diane on this, their final collaboration, when he died in May of 2012. If Kids Ran the World will be published by the Blue Sky Press on September 10, 2014. (Story about the fascinating road that led to this book will follow when I get a chance to take a breath!)

Leontyne Price: AIDA

The paintings by Leo & Diane Dillon are finished for Leontyne Price’s picture book: Aida. It is my job to carry the carefully wrapped package of art on a train from New York City to Baltimore, where I’m to show these originals to Ms. Price. Of course I know her voice and her music, especially her role as Aida, but I don’t know her well; we have spoken on the phone and have corresponded back and forth to finalize the manuscript, but I have no idea what to expect. Her brother, Army General George Price, has arranged my trip, and I am to check into my hotel and then attend her concert that evening. After the concert, her family will gather at a restaurant for dinner. All day on the train I am holding the Dillons’ art on my lap, and I keep thinking about the  story of how Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, gathered every scrap of his first novel, packed it up to surprise him, and took it to him on a train–where she lost the suitcase. It was never recovered, and he didn’t finish that novel; I’m guessing it put a strain on their marriage. I do not want to lose or damage the Dillons’ magnificent art. Every painting is a miracle.

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Cover of AIDA

The concert is more than memorable. Leontyne Price repeatedly brings the eager audience to tears; her presence is larger than life. Afterward, the restaurant is elegant. Of course she is thrilled with the art, and so is the rest of the family. The power at that table–the accomplishments of her relatives–make the table seem to float with the glow of it all. We are sipping champagne. At one point in the dinner, Ms. Price sings a single note. The restaurant stops. Time stops. The note is the kind that shatters crystal. She laughs. And then everyone goes back to eating.

Months later, when we have a party at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to celebrate the publication of her book, I will escort her from her home in New York in a long stretch limo to the opera house. As we walk up he broad stairs, she will make a sweeping, dramatic gesture with her arm and smile at me. “If you have to die,” she will say, referring to her role as Aida, “there is no place more splendid to die than the Met.”

Leo & Diane Dillon: The Heart with Wings

My love for Leo and Diane Dillon is so deep it is woven through the fabric of my entire being, and when I try to find words to explain it, I don’t know where to begin. My trust and faith in them is such a part of who I am that I don’t know if I could publish books without them. Leo died in May, and I have not accepted that yet. He was, with Diane, my mentor and soul mate for almost three decades. When I try to write about it today, the words elude me. I am reminded of the last page of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. “‘It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.’/ Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them…. /Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs./I am haunted by waters.”

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So I will begin at the beginning, on a cold New York City day in 1987, when we are supposed to meet at Cafe des Artistes, and I am running down a street in my short black skirt, ripped black sweatshirt, velvet-trimmed black wool coat, and an off-white scarf woven by my great grandmother that is really a shawl, and it is so long I wrap it around my neck and it still drapes down to my feet. My hair is long, and in my right ear I have earrings made of bones and beads, and in my left ear I have only three studs. That is the rock ‘n roll fashion. My black suede heels are from the 40s, from the same vintage shop as my coat, and I am terrified because I am dressed like the wife of a rock musician–which is what I am–rather than dressed like a publishing executive–which is what I also am. I have never met the Dillons, and I don’t think they will like the rockstar wife blowing into their lunch. They are hugely famous and distinguished in my field of children’s books. I desperately want to work with them on a particular project I’ve cooked up, and I do not have time to take a cab back to the Algonquin to change into more appropriate clothes. I am already on the edge of running late.

I give up on the Algonquin idea and decide this will just have to be another low point in my career, and they will think I am fluff and flighty, which goes with the fact that I live in Santa Monica with my guitarist/songwriter husband, Ira Ingber, who tours with bands like the Eagles and Rita Coolidge and writes songs for Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, to name a few. I whoosh into the restaurant on the heels of a big gust of wind, and there, at a table against the wall, is Leo Dillon.

Click.

I know from the moment I see the man, from the first time I set eyes on him, that he will be one of the most important people in my entire life, and I am dead right about that. I sit down, apologize for the way I look, and without any pretty introductions, we launch into a discussion of what I can only describe as the many masks of God and the broad things people have dreamed up to try to capture God in words and stories, and it is a kind of Joseph Campbell investigation, and then Diane Dillon walks in the door and joins us. She, also, sends an arrow straight into my heart, and they will be my friends and partners in book creation as long as we live. Good times, joyful times, frustrating times, horrible times, we are connected for life.

How about that?

So it is fitting, in 1992, when I begin building the Blue Sky Press at Scholastic Inc., that the first people who join up are Leo and Diane–and Virginia Hamilton, who actually was the first. And when the company does not like Angel City Books, my name for the imprint, but agrees to The Blue Sky Press, I am OK with that name as long as the logo is a heart with wings. Because the heart with wings will say it all. And Leo and Diane draw the logo. I have their original drawing hanging on the door of my home office. If you look at it closely, it is clearly their work.

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By the time I start Blue Sky, we have already published Leontyne Price’s Aida and Nancy Willard’s Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymous Bosch at Harcourt.

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We launch Blue Sky with Nancy’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and will go on to publish a stunning and powerful body of work,

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including many books the Dillons will write themselves, such as Jazz on a Saturday Night and Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles, Think of That! There will be collaborations with Virginia such as Her Stories and The Girl Who Spun Gold, a miraculous picture book that shows a broad range of art styles as it reveals the span of human emotion in To Every Thing There Is a Season, which for me is partially an attempt to make a book that can help people through grief. Leo and Diane helped me through the loss of my parents, as they help me through everything that happens in my tangled life. They still do. In my bedroom I have two black-and-white photographic portraits Leo took of me more than twenty years ago at their kitchen table, which is where we have shared endless meals and discussions that have gone late, late, late into the night, talking about life, death, love, family, politics, writing, and–most of all–art.

Cover of

Cover of The Girl Who Spun Gold

Cover of

Cover of To Every Thing There Is A Season

Today I will call Diane and check in with her to say hello and see how she’s feeling. We both have birthdays coming up. Last week she sent me the last pieces we needed to discuss for If Kids Ran the World, which is the picture book she was working on with Leo when he had to pause to have his unexpected surgery. The paintings are fanciful and light-hearted, and they leave me breathless. Leo caught a staph infection in the hospital after his surgery, if you are wondering why he died. Do I sound angry? I am.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

When things have been rocky, Leo always said the same thing. “Just do the work.” It is a refrain that has enabled me–and countless others, I’m sure–to drop my resentment about the sticky mess of corporate encounters and instead push it aside so I can focus on the books in front of me. They are ultimately what feed my soul, not the clapping of critics or the encouragement of some publishing executive. It always comes back to the books. Always. The Dillons have always been Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena,” and in everything they do, they dare greatly. Which is not to say that critics understand it. A lot of the time they don’t. “Just do the work” is an antidote for the people who will always feel more comfortable with the art on Hallmark cards than they do with a multicultural book that challenges

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

the reader the way To Every Thing There Is a Season inevitably does.

There is no tidy way of ending this essay by putting my relationship with Leo and Diane into a neat little gift box to display, and there is so much more to say about the limitless genius, kindness, and generosity of these artists that I will continue to write about them. More than anything, I feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity and the blessing of having them beside me all these years. Together and apart, they are the rock foundation upon which everything else has been built…my roots, my heart, my wings.

Art from the book Leo & Diane Dillon were finishing up last May; I'll be publishing this in Fall 2014.

Art from the book Leo & Diane Dillon were finishing up last May; I’ll be publishing this in Fall 2014.

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