In a necessary departure from its annual in-person Carle Honors Benefit Gala, due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., hosted the Very Virtual Benefit & Auction on September 24. Opening with a video of a scenic drive en route to the Carle Museum and featuring western Massachusetts children’s book creators Jane Yolen and daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple, as well as Grace Lin, the event proceeded with introductory comments from Alix Kennedy, the Carle’s executive director. “Children’s books remind us in these very uncertain times that there is still so much we do know,” Kennedy said. “Kindness matters, laughter is essential, caring for each other is everything.”

Kennedy then introduced the benefit portion of the night: a live auction, consisting of a piece by Eric Carle and a piece by Bryan Collier, began later in the program, while the silent auction permitted bidding throughout the event, featuring 17 works created by Sophie Blackall, Sandra Boynton, Diane Dillon, Tony DiTerlizzi, Vashti Harrison, Oliver Jeffers, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Grace Lin, LeUyen Pham, Jerry Pinkney, Christian Robinson, Maurice Sendak, Don Tate, Raúl the Third, Evan Turk, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems.

After giving an overview of museum updates, Kennedy passed the virtual mic to actor and author Julie Andrews and her daughter and co-author Emma Walton Hamilton, who collaborate on a picture book podcast and who spoke about the benefits of picture books and reading aloud. Walton Hamilton began with a quote by read-aloud advocate Jim Trelease: “There are two ways to educate the heart: life experience and stories about life experience.”

“Great picture books do educate the heart, as well as the mind,” Andrews said. “They offer children insight into the world around them and provide reassurance and coping strategies for life’s challenges.”

Walton Hamilton continued, “Picture books offer children a multilayered way to engage with story—nuances and subtleties, new vocabulary and meaningful ideas, all become available in the read-aloud experience, for which picture books are inherently designed.”

“Who doesn’t love picture books?” Andrews enthused in closing. “They are a candy store, a secret garden, a best friend, a map, and a set of wings, all rolled into one.”

Auction highlights with Mark Bodah, preparator for the Carle since 2002, came next. Bodah displayed two-time Caldecott Medalist Blackall’s art of this summer’s comet; Boynton’s hand-drawn reproduction of the cover of her 1982 bestseller The Going to Bed Book; a folktale illustration by Dillon, who won two consecutive Caldecott Medals with her husband, the late Leo Dillon; a drawing of a dragon reading Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar by DiTerlizzi, the artist behind the Spiderwick Chronicles; a papercut collage of a Black girl reading, set in acrylic, by filmmaker, character designer for Oscar-winning short “Hair Love,” and bestselling book creator Harrison; a print from The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable by author-illustrator and environmentalist Jeffers; art of Ki-ki from Our Seasons by Newbery and Caldecott Honoree Lin, a 2016 White House Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling; and a study from Bear Came Along by Caldecott Honoree Pham.

The Carle’s development director, Rebecca Miller Goggins, who has run the gala for more than 12 years, then gave her thanks to picture book creators, teachers, librarians, members, and supporters before yielding the digital stage to chief curator Ellen Keiter, who spoke about “Art in Place: Social Distancing in the Studio,” the museum’s first virtual exhibit, which was suggested by Mo Willems and featured 21 artists and their art experiences during the pandemic. Keiter also shared images from “Now & Then: Contemporary Illustrators and their Childhood Art,” the most recent in-person exhibit, curated by Lin and Krosoczka, which featured 19 artists and a piece of their childhood art alongside a piece of their contemporary work. Finally, Keiter played “Mooing Home,” a pandemic-born collaboration between Boynton and Yo-Yo Ma, in which “a cow who sounds suspiciously like a cello” performs the “Going Home” theme from Dvořák’s New World Symphony (here renamed “the Moo World Symphony”), accompanied by a pig and chicken in characteristic Boynton style.

Next, Tami Charles gave an exclusive read-aloud of her forthcoming picture book All Because You Matter, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Orchard, Oct.).

Auction highlights resumed with Eliza Brown, manager of the museum bookshop, who covered the rest of the artists: 2014 Carle Honors Artist and 2016 Children’s Literature Legacy Award winner Pinkney contributed a circa-2000 watercolor illustration from Aesop’s Fables; Caldecott Honoree Robinson offered a blue-toned New York Times illustration of a family dinner; Sidney Iwanter donated a signed, limited-edition lithograph featuring banned books by Sendak; Don Tate provided an illustration from Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons; Raúl the Third gave a portrait of luchadores El Toro and La Oink Oink from the latest El Toro and Friends adventure, Tag Team; Evan Turk offered an illustration from A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead; inaugural Carle Honors Artist and Max and Ruby series creator Rosemary Wells donated three of the seven cover designs for her newest series, Kit & Caboodle; and Mo Willems gave an illustration from The Duckling Gets a Cookie. Plus, 2010 Carle Honors Bridge sculptor Nancy Schön offered a bronze cast of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The live auction commenced with auctioneer Pat Tully, who reported guests from at least 43 states and 10 different countries. Bids were sent via text. Bidding for museum trustee and four-time Caldecott Medalist Collier’s work, an illustration from Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, closed at $3,000, and Eric Carle’s contribution, a 2011 alternate cover of an orange elephant for The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, went for $7,500. Tully subsequently narrated live texted-in donations with names and messages, which totaled over $4,600.

Proceeds from the night, which came to $158,752, will support the Museum and its online and in-person art and literacy programs, including picture book art exhibitions, art projects, and educational resources.

Publisher and author Andrea Davis Pinkney, who is a museum trustee, was up next. She opened by singing a Civil Rights song before introducing guests to the exhibit she guest curated: “Picture the Dream: Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Children’s Books,” a collaboration between the High Museum in Atlanta and the Carle Museum.

“A word of warning,” Pinkney stated. “When you view the ‘Picture the Dream’ exhibition, you may experience one or all of the following emotions: intense feelings of anger, frustration, hope, exultation, and a sense of urgency to make the world a better place. But ultimately, as you witness the power conveyed through the work of picture books, you’ll be brought to a place of revelation. ‘Picture the Dream’ invites you to rejoice in the legacy of social justice. And that is a dream worth following.”

Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner gave guests a preview of an upcoming Carle exhibition, discussing the history behind wordless picture books in anticipation of “Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books,” an exhibit opening next summer curated by Wiesner and Keiter. “To borrow a phrase from Uri Shulevitz, we are writing with pictures,” Wiesner shared, mentioning a few of the artists featured.

Finally, 2019 Carle Honoree Melissa Sweet congratulated the 2021 Carle Honorees.

The Carle Honors Benefit Gala is planned to resume on September 23, 2021.