The power of the imagination was the theme of the Children's Book and Author Breakfast Friday morning, beginning with the awarding of the WNBA Pannell Awards to this year's winners: Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, in the general bookstore category, and 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., in the specialty bookstore category.
Young People's Literature Ambassador Kate DiCamillo set the tone by telling a story about giving away her copy of R.J. Palacio's middle-grade novel, Wonder, to a stranger she encountered in a hotel elevator after the woman commented on the book DiCamillo was holding in her hand. Expressing delight as only the irrepressible DiCamillo can, she concluded, "People ask me what I want to do as ambassador—I want to stand in an elevator and hand out books."
Emcee Jason Segel, noting that he felt "right at home in a room full of people who love children's books," thanked his coauthor, Kirsten Miller, for her assistance in writing the first novel in a planned trilogy for middle-grade readers, Nightmares! (Delacorte). "I think books in themselves are collaboration," Segel said. "It's the collaboration between the words of an author and the imagination of the reader." Segel, who is best known for writing movie scripts, including The Muppets Movie, explained that Nightmares! was inspired by two recurring nightmares he had until age 13.
Carl Hiaasen told the assembled that he "probably should not be allowed to write books for younger readers," but that, after his teenage son read some of his adult novels and found Skink (first introduced in 1987 in Double Whammy) to be "an entertaining and interesting character," Hiaasen decided to let "this character loose on the youth of America." He has done so, in Skink—No Surrender (Knopf). Hiaasen's debut YA novel features the eccentric ex-governor of Florida, who now lives in the woods and collects road kill—a subject obviously near and dear to Hiaasen's heart.
Mem Fox, who had flown in from Australia to speak about her latest book, Baby Bedtime (S&S/Beach Lane), related how when she picked up sleeping pills from her pharmacist before the flight, she'd been offered a senior citizens discount. "Doesn't she know that baby boomers are never going to be old, never going to be senior citizens. We're going to be young forever," she declared, before saying that Baby Bedtime was inspired by the premature birth of her grandson in 2010. During one of her daily visits to the hospital where the baby spent the first two months of his life, she said that she realized that his ears "didn't stick out" and she was "so happy for him" that she cooed to him about wanting to eat up his body parts, starting with his ears. "I realized I'd accidentally composed a love poem and eventually those verses became the book."
The morning's final speaker, Jeff Kinney, said that he was "lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books." His mother was an educator, he explained, and recalled that she brought home "anything with a silver sticker on it." His father's comic book collection inspired him to draw cartoons, and he aspired to be a newspaper cartoonist after college. Recalling that, at the time, he was only reading Harry Potter novels, Kinney was inspired to create his first Wimpy Kid novel. "What if there was a kid more like me, a kid with flaws, than a powerful wizard like Harry Potter," he said he thought at the time. A fortuitous meeting with an editor during a Comic-Con right resulted in the publication of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. "The excitement of getting published is the excitement of validation: coming to understand that others value your work." Kinney's latest is Diary of a Wimpy Kid 9: The Long Haul (Abrams/Amulet).
Kinney officially announced that he and his wife are opening a bookstore in the small town in which they live, Plainfield, Mass. "The reason we're doing this is to get rich," he joked.