The Eric Carle Honors, held on September 24, marked a milestone – the annual awards ceremony and art auction – turned 10 this year. The occasion was also an opportunity for guests and presenters to reflect on the life of Barbara (Bobbie) Carle, who founded the museum with her husband, Eric. She died on September 7 at age 76. Christopher B. Milne, chairman of the board for the Eric Carle Museum, spoke about Barbara Carle, calling her an “uncommonly genuine, kind, strong, and warmhearted woman of extraordinary grace and generosity.” The Carle’s executive director, Alexandra Kennedy, also cited her “vision, courage, tenacity, and passion.” The evening was dedicated to her memory.

The Carle Honors, created by children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus, recognize influential figures within the children’s book community. Each year, awards are given in the following categories: “Bridge,” for an individual who has worked to expand the readership of picture books through work in other fields; “Mentor,” for an editor, designer, or educator who advocates and promotes the picture book art form; “Artist,” for an innovator in the field; and “Angel,” for an individual who contributes resources to support picture book education programs, art exhibitions, and more. This year’s Honorees were announced in March.

Marcus spoke briefly about the Honors and noted how this year’s awards offer the “first international roster of honorees,” with the recognition of Helen Oxenbury, and described the Eric Carle Museum (using the words of E.B. White) as a place where “something is always about to happen or to hatch.”

Author and illustrator David Macaulay hosted the event. He described his personal experience as an artist exhibiting his work at the Eric Carle Museum. Currently on display is original artwork from Macaulay’s picture book Black and White. Calling the museum “obviously a very special place... and a very clean place. Maybe a little too clean,” he described how he took some creative license by decorating the walls of the museum with marking pens. After his outpouring of creative energy – “only two sections of wall were spared” – he wondered if he perhaps should have displayed more self-control. “This was a museum after all.” But Barbara and Eric had heartily expressed their approval, pronouncing his efforts a success.

Macaulay noted how “grateful and honored” he was to be a part of the Eric Carle museum’s legacy. Turning his attention to the honorees, he welcomed to the stage Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, whom he called an “equal opportunity listener” and defender of the rights of children.

Bertin spoke about the importance of intellectual freedom and the gratification she finds in working to “expand children’s access to books of all kinds and the freedom to read,” which she believes provides individuals with the chance to “be fully human, know ourselves, and relate to others.” She discussed her work to change the minds of often well-intentioned parents who call for the removal of a book, convinced that books will plant “bad ideas” in the mind of a child. Instead, she attempts to finesse such dialogues, urging adults to see that these books actually “help kids to make sense of the world and to make better decisions.” In closing, she discussed her own love for reading with her daughters and how her life has been “transformed” by picture books.

Next, Macaulay introduced the recipient of the Mentor award, Neal Porter, publisher of Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, saying “since the beginning, he’s worked for every publishing company in the Western Hemisphere and in every capacity.” Before Porter took the stage, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, author and illustrator of numerous books that Porter has published, presented him with an album of original artwork from many of the artists whose work Porter has championed over the years. She described how Porter has a way of “gently and knowingly nudging” his authors and illustrators along, pushing them beyond their comfort zones.

After thanking the contributors to the album, Porter described the many roles that editors often play, among them: “structural engineers, experts in crisis management, cheerleaders, and therapists.” He expressed his gratitude for working with the many creative people he has throughout his career, noting how appreciative he is to work in a capacity in which he gets to do all of the things he likes while “avoiding most, if not all, of the things I don’t,” and called the Eric Carle Museum “an absolutely necessary institution.”

Accepting the Angel award for the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University were Corinna Cotsen, the daughter of Lloyd Cotsen, who donated his collection of illustrated children’s books to the library in 1997; and Andrea Immel, the collection’s curator. Corinna Cotsen explained that her father could not be there because he was not well. She emphasized how the collection was truly a “joint venture” between her mother and father, which grew from their love of children’s books. Immel thanked the audience and committee members for “validating what we do at Princeton.” She also spoke about the “kinship” that exists between the Cotsen Children’s Library and the Eric Carle Museum in their joint promotion of the picture book genre, noting that “the Carle accentuates contemporary work” and the Cotsen “fosters the historical.” She finished by declaring that she has experienced “nothing but joy in realizing our vision.”

Inviting Helen Oxenbury to the stage, Macaulay described her work as possessing “deceptively simple looseness that turns a reader into a participant as well as a viewer.”

Noting how it’s been 50 years since she began illustrating children’s books, Oxenbury expressed how lucky she feels to love her work as much now as she did back then. She reflected that it was in meeting her husband, fellow illustrator John Burningham, that she first tried her hand at the art form. She thought: “What a wonderful thing to do. I’d love to give a go at that.” As she is often asked by fans whether she and John “consult each other” about their work, she shared some amusing insights about their respective talents: “John is very good at doing mechanical things and I’m not good,” so he helps her in that respect. She helps him with more organic illustrations. The other day, John asked her to help him with his efforts to draw a fairy. “I had a look at his fairy.... It looked like a terrible old bag lady with wings,” she kidded. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” She concluded by thanking the audience and saying “I shall be back in another 50 years.”

Macaulay closed out the evening’s speeches by saying to the staff of the Carle and all those involved in its efforts to support picture book art and children’s programming: “Keep doing what you’re doing for that extraordinary museum.”