On September 29, supporters of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and members of the children's book community gathered in New York City to celebrate the 16th annual Carle Honors awards, in person for the first time since 2019. Celebrating its 20th year, the museum, located in Amherst, Mass., was co-founded by renowned illustrator Eric Carle and his wife Barbara as a way to champion picture books internationally. Carle died in 2021 at the age of 91, and Barbara, known as Bobbie, died in 2015.
This year’s Carle Honors was co-chaired by author Suzanne Collins and her husband Charles Pryor, who were unable to attend in person. The honors fall into four categories, including Artist, for impactful illustrators; Mentor, honoring librarians, editors, and others working behind the scenes; Angel, for those who inspire readers, artists, and writers; and Bridge, for translators, organizations, critics, scholars, and media professionals who bring readers and books together and increase understanding of the picture book medium.
Museum trustee and children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus led off the honors portion of the event. “The children’s book world has no shortage of awards and accolades,” he said. “But the Carle Honors, I think, is the only one designed to acknowledge the whole far-flung community of gifted and generous people and organizations that together perform the vital work of creating the best children’s books and getting them out to the children who need them.”
The 2022 honorees were introduced by Carle Museum chief curator Ellen Keiter. Mentor honorees were Wade and Cheryl Hudson, authors and founders of Just Us Books. The Hudsons founded Just Us in 1988 to address the dearth of children’s books reflecting Black history, culture, and Black children’s lived experience. Cheryl wrote the press’s first book and provided opportunities for other Black creators who went on to have distinguished careers, including Sharon M. Draper and Kelly Starling Lyons. In accepting the award, Cheryl Hudson said, “Good books make a difference. We hope that through our work in mentoring authors and illustrators and others in the industry, we’ve done just that.” Wade Hudson emphasized the importance of Black creators being able to tell their own stories.
Translator, author, and advocate for children’s books Ajia (阿甲) was honored in the Bridge category. The translator of more than 200 picture books from English to Chinese (including Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and the Peter Rabbit books), Ajia traded his career as a lawyer to translate and write picture books. He said that after the birth of his daughter, his quest to find the best books to read to her changed his life. Picture books give children “a kind of power” to learn about the world before they are able to read themselves, he said, adding that children’s books have “extraordinary value,” not only for children, but for adults. “Children’s books can help change the world,” he added. Receiving the honor, he said “In translating more than 200 titles, what impresses me most is not how different we are, but how similar we are. This is a lovely secret. I feel blessed to be able to share this secret with children and adults. I love to be a bridge.”
In the Angel category, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was honored. Founded in 1995, the organization gives more than 1.8 million books each month internationally by mailing books directly to children, and has given more than 180 million books since inception. Executive director Jeff Conyers said that the organization reaches one out of every 10 children under age five in the U.S., and aims to increase that number. The Library was inspired by Parton’s father, who didn’t have the opportunity for an education. Conyers quoted Parton’s “appreciation” that was included in the 50th-anniversary edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “Every child should hear, see, and touch books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is the moment when dreams of children are born.” Of the children’s book community, Conyers said, “What we all do is special. To everyone who has a role in helping to create and deliver children’s picture books, you are important, and we are grateful for you.”
Finally, the Artist honoree was 91-year-old Faith Ringgold, painter, mixed media sculptor, teacher, lecturer, and activist. Ringgold first book for children, Tar Beach, won more than 20 awards including the 1991 Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. She subsequently created another 17 children’s books. In introducing the award, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author and illustrator Bryan Collier offered a stirring tribute to Ringgold and her career, calling her “a world changer.” Ringgold wasn’t able to attend, but her agent Marie Brown accepted on her behalf, calling Ringgold “a beacon of peace.” Brown delivered a message from Ringgold: “Children have always been an inspiration to me. They have such a freedom of expression. They’re the main reason I made my books.” She added, “Remember, anyone can fly.”
In addition to the honors, the event featured an auction of work donated by renowned children’s illustrators including Jon Agee, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ekua Holmes, Ying-Hwa Hu and Cornelius van Wright, Thao Lam, David McPhail, Faith Ringgold, Susan L. Roth, Maurice Sendak, Mo Willems, and Eric Carle himself.
In his lifetime, Carle wrote and illustrated more than 70 children’s books. In 2002, he and his wife Barbara opened the museum to collect, preserve, and exhibit children’s book illustrations and encourage guests of all ages to read and create art. Since that time, the museum has developed a collection of more than 11,000 objects, including 7,300 works in its permanent collection. The museum includes three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book, and scholarly libraries. Nearly one million guests have visited since the Carle Museum opened and its traveling exhibitions have been hosted by museums around the world. “Eric and Bobbie loved the Carle Honors and believed that creating children’s books for a living was a great privilege,” said museum executive director Alix Kennedy. Through the Honors, the museum carries on their legacy, she added.