It was an auspicious night for children’s books last Thursday, with the sixth annual Carle Honors gala and presentation. Writers, artists, and industry professionals gathered to celebrate in style at Guastavino’s in New York City. The Honors, which are sponsored by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., acknowledge four individuals who have contributed their talents significantly to the world of picture books.
Awards are given in four distinctive categories: Bridge, Angel, Mentor, and Artist. As Christopher B. Milne, chairman of the board of trustees for the Carle Museum and Alexandra Kennedy, executive director, expressed in their opening remarks, the Carle Honors are designed to cast a “shining light” on champions of children’s literature and upon the valuable roles that they play.
This year’s honorees were: Karen Nelson Hoyle, curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota, for the Bridge award, Jeanne Steig, museum donor and multimedia artist, for the Angel award; Michael di Capua, children’s book editor and art director, for the Mentor award and Caldecott Honor winner Lois Ehlert for the Artist award.
Eric Carle spoke a few words of welcome, humbly referring to himself as a caveman who draws pictures on the walls of his cave, before welcoming the presenters to the stage.
Leonard S. Marcus, Carle Museum founding trustee, explained the significance of the Bridge award, which acknowledges an individual’s efforts to draw broader audiences to celebrate picture books. Calling her a"dreamkeeper," Marcus described Karen Nelson Hoyle’s integral part in expanding, curating, and archiving the Kerlan Collection of children’s literature, which contains over 100,000 items, including Judy Blume’s manuscripts and the preliminary art for Goodnight Moon. Materials from the Kerlan Collection are frequently exhibited at the Carle Museum.
Hoyle expressed her gratitude toward Dr. Irvin Kerlan, whose "vision to collect children’s books" led to the development of the expansive collection in the 1940’s. She also referenced the importance of artists saving their preliminary work, so that documents may be preserved, studied, and admired in "state of the art" homes such as the Kerlan Collection and the Carle Museum. "Thank you for this honor, given to a librarian-curator,"she said.
Holly McGhee, president of Pippin Properties, introduced her friend and colleague, Jeanne Steig, praising her generous support of the Carle Museum. McGhee spoke of Steig’s authenticity, her "rare talent for happiness," and devotion to art, including the works that she creates from discarded objects, as well as to the oeuvre of her last husband, William Steig.
"Shucks," Steig responded as she reached the podium. "Never thought I’d be an angel.... Bill would be pretty surprised, too." She went on to thank the Carle Museum for housing her husband’s collection, calling the opportunity to have his art "safe, seen, and studied," at the museum, "exactly what should have happened." She concluded by saying that she has an angel of her own, in Michael di Capua.
Maurice Sendak made an appearance via Skype to pay tribute to di Capua, his long-time editor. With characteristically dry humor, Sendak described his wonder at di Capua’s intelligence—especially for someone who spends "so much time reading books for children.... I can’t imagine anything more grotesque." On a serious note, Sendak articulated how di Capua is not only an editor, but a true artist, one who always pushes him to take his work further.
Di Capua cited the "lovely coincidence" that he received the Carle Honor in his 50th year of book publishing, and described the "heart and soul" of his career spent forging relationships with great writers and artists. He concluded by mentioning that previous honorees had been retired when they received their awards. Wondering if it might be a sign, he ended his speech with a quip: "As Tony Soprano would say, 'forgetaboutit.' "
Finally, picture book author and illustrator Ashley Bryan introduced Lois Ehlert, whose work he described as having a “purity of child-lifelike form,” and as seizing the “delightful adventures of the heart.”
Lois Ehlert accepted her Carle Honor by declaring that "picture book art and early literacy: it is my life." She thanked "Mother Nature" for inspiration and left the audience with the remark that we find the "flowers of tomorrow in the seeds of today."
The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a new bronze Very Hungry Caterpillar maquette designed by Nancy Shön, which will be offered for sale to commemorate the museum’s upcoming 10th anniversary. Alexandra Kennedy gave word that a sculpture of Mo Willems’s red elephant will be installed in the museum on October 1. A few lucky audience members also found postcards under their seats, entitling them to a free copy of Jeanne Steig’s Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies, & Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig, just published by Abrams/ComicArts.
As di Capua pronounced, the evening was indeed a "beautiful occasion."