Publishers, picture book authors, artists, and advocates gathered on September 18 to celebrate eminent figures in the world of picture books and children’s literacy during the 2014 Carle Honors, held at Guastavino’s in New York City. Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus welcomed the eager audience of picture book lovers to the ceremonies. Marcus, a founding trustee of the Eric Carle Museum, created the Eric Carle Honors and continues to chair the committee that selects the winners each year. The honors acknowledge individuals who have contributed significantly to children’s literature and education, with awards given in four categories: Mentor, Angel, Bridge, and Artist.

This year’s honorees were Henrietta Mays Smith for Mentor; the organization Reach Out and Read for Angel; Françoise Mouly for Bridge; and Jerry Pinkney for Artist.

Eric Carle and his wife, Barbara, could not make it to the gala this year, but sent their regards with a warmly enthusiastic statement, read by Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the Carle Museum. Eric Carle was especially regretful that he could not be at the event because his long-lost childhood friend, Florence, who was an inspiration behind his picture book, Friends (Philomel), was in attendance. “It means so much that she is here. It has been a delight to get back in touch after more than 80 years,” he wrote.

Masters of ceremonies Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi delivered a rousing, humor-speckled presentation, complete with a slideshow of picture book/contemporary fiction mashups, which included “50 Shades of Fancy Nancy,” “A Very Scary Scarry” from the “Wrong Side of Busytown,” and “Eloise in the Hunger Games.” But on a more serious note, the DiTerlizzis shared the joy of being welcomed into the Carles’ home for a visit prior to hosting the Carle Honors, like “old friends, though we were new friends.” Angela believes that, the same way she and Tony were made to feel at home in the Carle residence, guests of the Eric Carle Museum are similarly embraced.

Angela introduced the year’s Mentor award recipient, Henrietta Mays Smith, selected for her work as a librarian, professor at the School of Information, University of South Florida, Tampa, and committed member of the ALA. Angela described Smith’s “passion for words, poetry, and literature” throughout her rich and storied career as a children’s librarian.

Joking that “I have two minutes to speak. And I stood up for one of them,” Smith expressed brief yet whole-hearted gratitude for being chosen to receive an Eric Carle Mentor award. “To all the people who have been in my library,” she said, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Reach Out and Read representatives Brian Gallagher and Perri Klass took the stage to collect the honor for Angel. The Reach Out and Read program pairs pediatricians with reading materials to provide to children and their families, with the goal of emphasizing to parents how reading with a child is an essential part of that child’s overall development. Gallagher told the audience, ‘It is such an honor to accept the Angel award. Reach Out and Read works to share a love of reading books written and illustrated by many of the authors and illustrators here tonight.” He also noted the “passion and dedication of medical professionals” that support Reach Out and Read’s promotion of literacy as “an essential component of primary care.”

Perri Klass, national medical director of Reach Out and Read, said, “I stand here before you with a stethoscope and a carefully chosen picture book. It’s what I go into an examination room with,” she added, when preparing to see a patient. She shared some of the advice that she provides to parents when she hands a child a book: “Your two-year-old is going to want it read over and over. Your baby is going to love the book because it’s in your voice, on your lap.” She went on to say that “from the beginning, beautiful picture books are at the core of what we do and we what we want to send into children’s lives.” She believes that “through “many small interventions” such as these, both parenting and pediatrics share the same potential to “change the world.”

Angela DiTerlizzi welcomed Françoise Mouly, the year’s honoree for the Bridge award, given to her for her “ambitious and admirable mission” of bringing comics to children’s lives. Mouly is the art editor at the New Yorker and publisher and editorial director of TOON Books.

Calling it “an uphill battle” to erase some of the stigma attached to comics, Mouly shared her gratitude, not only the honor she received that evening, but for “so many rewards” that she reaps from getting to “do what I love.” She noted that, increasingly, “cartoons are at the center of cultural dialogue.” She also referred to a “bridge” as being “an apt metaphor” for the type of role she plays, in getting books in the hands of children, and forging a path for comics to be an integral part of reading in years to come. “A future with books for kids is a better future for all of us,” she said.

Next, Tony DiTerlizzi introduced the recipient of the year’s artist award, saying “No one shines like Jerry Pinkney” and calling him a “steadfast servant of the arts.”

Pinkney spoke with great admiration about the Eric Carle Museum, reflecting on its very early days, when he was first introduced to Carle’s “bold new vision.” The museum “stirred something in me,” Pinkney said. And he wondered: “How many young minds has the museum fired up and expanded? How many will it continue to awaken?”

The museum, Pinkney feels, highlights what is so enriching and potentially life-changing about picture books themselves, by presenting exhibits that enter into a “dialogue with young readers, challenging them at a time when their imaginations are still limitless.” He concluded by remarking, “How privileged I am to work in the world of book making.”