By Angie Brenner
Dateline: Friday morning breakfast at BookExpo
It may seem inappropriate for BookExpo America’s Jon Scieszka to welcome his early morning audience, booksellers and press members who arrived in droves to listen to their favorite children’s book authors, by thanking them for turning out at the “ass crack of dawn.” But this was not an ordinary audience, and Mr. Scieszka, who was named the country’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is no ordinary speaker. ”He’s done more then anyone in the business to promote book publishing for the young audience, especially boys,” said Melony, my friend and bookseller with more than twenty years experience.
Mr. Scieszka set the stage for the panel, authors of intelligent children’s books who refuse to dumb-down to their audience. Masters of Ceremony, a gimlet-eyed Irishman, author Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl book series), played off the early morning shtick by saying: “Jon, the reason we are writers is so we don’t have to get dressed at dawn.” With his droll Irish humor and crooked mouth, Colfer speaks of how his own children, two boys, influenced his writing choices by filling in the gaps of stories his kids wanted to read and what was available.
The two other male authors on the panel, Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman (whom Alexie refers to as having “that bad boy thing going on”) say that their children have similarly inspired their writing. Alexie, born an epileptic and has a son with special needs, writes frankly in both Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian about what its like to be a kid who is bullied. Gaiman, dressed in his standard black leather, tells us that his daughter liked scary stories, but he couldn’t find any to read to her. ”So I started to tell her a nighttime tale and had my pen and notepad by the bedside to write the story as I created it for her,” he says. That’s how The Graveyard Book came to be. “But the idea of this story came to me years ago when I lived in a narrow row house, you know, the kind where each floor is a separate room, next to a cemetery,” says Gaiman. “The only place where I could take my son out to ride his tricycle was on the grass among the gravestones.” Later Scieszka shows us a clip from the soon-to-be-released animated film, Coraline, based another one of Gaiman’s book that deals good and evil and lost souls behind the mirrors.
Prim Judy Blume (who Gaiman met in the Green Room and teased as ”having a serious potty mouth”) appears somewhat daunted, flanked as she is by these not-so-shy ’guy’ panelists. But her sweet stories and even sweeter success speak for themselves. She’s perhaps the most influential author of children’s books anywhere on the planet. For more than fifty years, Blume has been writing stories that children around the world understand.
With our first free stack of books under our arms, we head out “on the floor” to the almost 2000 publisher booths see what books will be in the stores this fall.
Who would know that the best of BookExpo was yet to come.