In spite of a rainstorm, and heavy traffic from the U.N. General Assembly, artists and members of the children’s publishing community gathered in droves for the Carle Honors on September 26 at Guastavino’s in New York City. Each year, honors are presented to individuals whose work has elevated the art of picture bookmaking. The annual gala and art auction benefits the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass.
Author-illustrator Eric Carle, who turned 90 this June, gave a warm welcome to attendees. His beloved picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar is also celebrating a milestone this year, after 50 years in print. Carle began his presentation by honoring his mentor, the late author Leo Lionni, whose granddaughter Annie Lionni was in the audience. “With tremendous care, she is keeping Leo’s work and legacy alive,” he said.
Next, primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who serves as honorary co-chair of the Carle Museum, appeared in a video tribute. “Believe me, I’m with you in spirit,” she told the audience. And in a message to Carle, she said, “We share so much in common: a love of animals, nature, and, of course, books and reading.”
Leonard S. Marcus, children’s literature historian and founder of the Carle Honors, then took the stage to explain the four awards categories: “Artist” (for an exceptional picture book creator), “Mentor” (presented to editors, educators, and designers), “Angel” (for an individual who has supported and advocated for picture book writers and artists), and “Bridge” (presented to individuals who have taken innovative approaches to expanding picture book readership). Introducing the previous honorees who were in attendance, he said that the awards “give us a chance on a luminous evening like this one to raise a glass to picture book creators around the world.”
Serving as the night’s co-hosts were childhood friends and frequent collaborators Grace Lin, author-illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown), and Alvina Ling, v-p and editor-in-chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Ling quipped, “You get to see Grace and me do our best imitation of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.” Through a photo montage and a parody of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the duo reminisced about their shared passion for children’s lit. “It’s always been about the books,” Lin said.
Takeshi Matsumoto, founder of the Chihiro Art Museum in Japan, accepted the first honor, for Bridge. The museum was established in 1977 in memory of his mother, renowned artist Chihiro Iwasaki (1918–1974). With more than 27,000 pieces by artists from 34 countries and regions, the museum’s International Collection has become one of the largest repositories of picture book illustrations in the world. Accepting the award, Matsumoto thanked Carle for his early support of the museum, during his visit to Japan in 1985. “I told him about my dream,” Matsumoto recalled, “and he said he’d donate art. I thought he was joking, but it arrived the very next day.”
Accepting the Mentor award was David Saylor, v-p and creative director at Scholastic, and founder and publisher of Graphix. Explaining the impetus for the graphic novel imprint, he said, “I loved comics when I was a kid. I was an eclectic reader. And I thought [as publishers] we should cater to all reading experiences.” He described the value of visual storytelling for young readers, saying, “Comics are not just for reluctant readers of boys. Comics are books. Comics are literature.” In addition to thanking his team at Scholastic and authors such as Kazu Kibuishi and Dav Pilkey, Saylor expressed his gratitude for his own mentors “for launching me in my career. No amount of thanks is enough.”
Kenny Garcia accepted the Angel award on behalf of REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. Established in 1971 as an affiliate of the American Library Association, REFORMA co-sponsors the Pura Belpré Award, which is given to Latinx children’s writers and illustrators whose work affirms the Latino experience. The organization has also spearheaded efforts to provide books for refugee children. Garcia said, “I hope folks will continue to support these initiatives to reflect brilliant talent in our communities.”
Finally, author-illustrator Melissa Sweet—whose illustrated biographies include Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, and the Caldecott Honor books The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and A River of Words: William Carlos Williams, both by Jen Bryant—was presented with the Artist award. “Wait a minute. This is a lifetime award? I have more work to do!” she told attendees. For Sweet, work is an honor in itself. “The ultimate privilege is going to the studio each day.” She also voiced her gratitude for the Carle and its programming, saying, “The museum was designed for kids like me.” Concluding her remarks, she alluded to a line from Charlotte’s Web, and told fellow book lovers and creators, “You have been my friends. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”