Thursday, July 7, 2016

ALA, Post 4: A Place in the Picture

After the amazing buzz of the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet, after listening to Sophie Blackall and Jerry Pinkney and Matt de la Pena give absolutely fantastic speeches (they're online as audiofiles), my friend Vicky Smith grabbed me by the hand and we ran for the women's room as fast as we could.

That's because the banquet ends with a receiving line, and I was supposed to stand in it.

Every awardee at the banquet had been assigned an American Library Services for Children (ALSC) board member as a handler and assistant. Vicky asked to be assigned to me, because even though up until that night we had never actually met, we are old good friends. She's the Children's Editor for Kirkus, and I'm one of her reviewers (I just outed myself; a few of my friends reading this are not gonna be happy. Sorry, guys. I promise that if I know the author personally I never ever review his or her books, so don't blame anything on me. Really.). Vicky and I have corresponded for years. She sends me the most delicious honey. Like most writers, I'm a crashing introvert, though a chatty one, and the receiving line became a lot less daunting with Vicky by my side.

But, as I said, being sensible women, we ran to the restroom first. There an even more quick-thinking ALSC board member was guarding the door, keeping out anyone that wasn't Sophie Blackall, Ekua Holmes, Pam Munoz Ryan, Victoria Jamieson, or me, so that we could go and get the receiving line started. Then we went out into the enormous foyer adjoining the ballroom and stood where we were instructed to stand, and people lined up to shake our hands. Really, they did.

They lined up for hours. Actual hours. I was at the very top of the line, next to Matt and his handler, Ernie Cox (who was also chair of the Newbery Committee), and every so often I'd lean back and see how long the line still was, and it was always the same length. It never got longer or shorter. Eventually I figured out that this was because, for most of the banquet attendees, this was not their first rodeo. Some left right away, and some got in line for the receiving line right away, but plenty more stayed inside the ballroom, visiting friends and finishing up the wine that had been set out on all the tables (2 bottles each of red, white, and champagne, per table, times 100 tables). No one was in a hurry. Everyone was having fun. ALSC members went down the line and brought everyone drinks, and then eventually set up little banquet tables behind the line so we had somewhere to put our glasses down, and even longer after that my editor brought me two glasses of water, which I shared with Ernie.

At some point I grabbed Vicky's wrist and lifted it to look at her watch. (I wasn't wearing mine.) I blinked and tried to rotate her wrist--the numbers weren't making sense to me. "No," Vicky said, "That's right. It really is 12:30."

I didn't check when the receiving line started, but it was somewhere around 10:00, possibly as late as 10:30. And 12:30 was not the end. The end came a titch after 1:00.

By that time I'd met librarians from all around the country. I met librarians from Alaska. I shook hands with Sara Pennypacker, and Lynne Rae Perkins, and CeCe Bell. I never got to speak to Kevin Henkes, who was standing in the Caldecott section of the receiving line, but I met his wife and told her how much my children loved Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. It was a giant lovefest of children's books, and I was so honored, so incredibly happy to be standing there.

When the receiving line finished, ALSC asked us awardees to pose for a photograph. They set out chairs and arranged us all. You can see many slight variants of this photograph online, because about fifty people actually snapped pictures. In every single one, the ten of us look, for a group of writers and artists, remarkably relaxed. That's because none of us had any muscle tone left. It was already morning.

In the back row: Sophie Blackall, Caldecott winner for Finding Winnie; Kevin Henkes, Caldecott honor for Waiting; Brian Collier, Caldecott Honor for Trombone Shorty; Christian Robinson, Caldecott Honor for The Last Stop on Market Street; Matt de la Pena, Newbery winner for The Last Stop on Market Street. Front row: Pam Munoz Ryan, Newbery Honor for Echo; Victoria Jamieson, Newbery Honor for Roller Girl; Ekua Holmes, Caldecott Honor for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement; Jerry Pinkney, Laura Ingalls Wilder honoree for lifetime achievement in the field--and me, for The War That Saved My Life.

I can't tell you how cool it felt, to be in that photograph. Sitting next to Jerry Pinkney, for heaven's sake.

I was too buzzed to go to sleep. A group of us went in search of the only bar in the giant hotel complex still open at 1:30 in the morning. I slid out of my dress sometime after two, slid into bed, and slept fast, because I had a book signing less than eight hours away.