Those attending this morning’s Children’s Book and Author Breakfast will get their fill of entertaining fare. After an opening welcome from Walter Dean Myers, the reigning National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, breakfasters will listen to an impressive lineup of speakers: emcee Chris Colfer, John Green, Lois Lowry, and Kadir Nelson.
Chris Colfer, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on Fox TV’s Glee, takes to the podium today in his new role as children’s book author. Colfer, 22, will have a long-held dream realized with the publication of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, which Little, Brown will release in July with a 250,000-copy announced first printing. The novel introduces twins who leave their world behind and come face-to-face with fairy tale characters.
“This is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid, and I’m so relieved and happy to mark this off my bucket list,” Colfer says. “When I was five or six, I fell in love with a big book of fairy tales my mom read to me. I’d sit for hours and hours staring at the pages, imagining the adventures I wanted to have with these characters. Then a few years later, I began thinking up a story about a boy and girl who meet up with fairy tale characters, and I told my grandmother I wanted to write a book. She was very supportive, but when I tried to write it, I realized I didn’t have enough words to do the story justice, and I’d have to wait till I was more grown-up. So here I am!”
When agent Rob Weisbach approached Colfer to write his autobiography after his Golden Globe win, the actor replied that he’d rather write a children’s fantasy. “I could just imagine his face at the other end of the phone line,” Colfer says, laughing. “But he agreed and asked me to send him a sample of the story. I did, and within a couple of weeks I had my contract with Little, Brown.”
Though years have passed since Colfer took his initial stab at the story, writing The Land of Stories still wasn’t easy—especially given Colfer’s ample distractions. “Writing this book, keeping the story alive was difficult for me, though I was finally able to let it all flow,” he recalls. “The process was a bit crazy, since I wrote the novel while we were on a world tour for Glee. I’d write on planes, backstage—even under the stage. I’d jump up to sing a song and then go back and write for 10 minutes until the next song.”
Colfer is happy to have been asked to emcee at today’s breakfast—and to be at BEA. “This whole process of becoming a children’s book author has been so exciting for me, and I can’t begin to describe in words how much it means to me to be here,” he says. After the breakfast, Colfer will sign ARCs of The Land of Stories at the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers booth (3632), 11 a.m.–noon.
John Green is also at BEA for the first time as an author, having attended the show once before, a number of years ago, while working as an assistant at Booklist. His latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, landed in the #1 position on the New York Times bestseller list of children’s chapter books in its first week on sale in January and has more than 375,000 copies in print. A Dutton release, this YA novel centers on two teenagers battling cancer who fall in love. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000, with screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber signed on to adapt the book.
Two experiences in Green’s life inspired The Fault in Our Stars. “In 2000, I worked for five months as a student chaplain at a children’s hospital and spent time with many dying young people and their families,” he explains. “And the second experience that led to the novel was my friendship with a young woman, Esther Earl, whom I met in 2008, when she was 16. She was a fan of my books and of the online videos I make with my brother, Hank. Esther had cancer for several years and died in 2010. She was a really smart, funny, and tremendously empathetic person. I couldn’t have written The Fault in Our Stars if I hadn’t encountered a teenager who was as outwardly focused as Esther.” The novel, which is dedicated to Earl, took Green more than 10 years to finish and was, he says, “a very difficult book to write. I never want to do anything like that again.”
Green notes that he was surprised—but gratified—by the enormously positive response to his latest novel. “I never imagined that it would stay so long on the Times list,” he says. “Writers never know what the response to their work is going to be, and I’m very grateful to my readers. They’ve been very generous in their reading of my novel. I believe that books are a collaboration between authors and readers. Authors must do their job, and readers must read generously and thoughtfully. I am very fortunate to have that relationship with my readers.”
At this morning’s breakfast, Green expects to draw from his experience as one half (with his brother, Hank) of Vlogbrothers, the YouTube video project that has raised more than $1 million for charitable organizations. “I know a fair amount about the Internet and the relationship between books and the Internet, so I may talk about that,” he says. “And hopefully, work in some bits about The Fault in Our Stars along the way.”
Green will autograph copies of The Fault in Our Stars this morning, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 26 in the autographing area at a ticketed signing.
Published in 1993, Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal–winning The Giver was written as a stand-alone novel, yet the author followed up that book with 2000’s Gathering Blue and 2004’s Messenger. The trilogy becomes a quartet in October, when Houghton Mifflin will publish Son with a 150,000-copy first printing.
“I said many times publicly that The Giver would not be more than a single book, but time passed and I began to write a second novel, which I also viewed as a single book,” Lowry explains. “It was not until I was three-quarters through Gathering Blue that it connected to The Giver. I made that link explicit at the end of the book when I mentioned Jonas, but my editor, Walter Lorraine, asked me to take out his name, since he didn’t want the second book to be dependent on the first. So I just referred to him as ‘the blue-eyed boy.’ But many readers saw the connection.”
Messenger then followed, Lowry explains, “partly because I was captivated by the character of Matt from Gathering Blue, who became Matty in the third book.” She was certain that the sequence would remain a trilogy but reconsidered when she continued to receive a lot of mail from readers asking about Gabriel, who was a baby in The Giver. “I had mentioned him in the third novel, so I’d write back and say that he was alive and well, but that didn’t seem to satisfy readers,” remarks the author. “So I sat down to write a fourth book, focusing on Gabriel as a teenager.”
Lowry notes that as she wrote the fourth novel, “Something surprising happened.” She became curious about a character she’d never introduced to readers: Claire, the young woman who had given birth to Gabriel. “She then became the main character of the first two sections of Son,” says Lowry, “and the final third of the novel answers questions about Gabriel.”
Wrapping up the story arc was satisfying for Lowry. “I loved doing it, which I suppose means I subconsciously have been wondering about these characters all these years,” she says. “Even though I wrote other books, they stayed with me, and I kept wondering what happened to them.”
Lowry remembers fondly an earlier stint as speaker at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast—back in the days of ABA. “The other speakers were Cynthia Voigt and Robert McCloskey, who got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth,” she recalls. “I would have been the baby of the group then, and it was a great honor to be there. I’m happy to be back, now as the grande dame. It is nice to think about the fact there was a progression of authors who’ve gone before me, and that there’s a progression of others coming after me.”
Following today’s breakfast, Lowry will sign a keepsake broadside of Son, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at the HMH booth (3447).
Kadir Nelson is pleased to be back at BEA, which he hasn’t attended for a number of years, and calls it “a tremendous honor” to be asked to speak at today’s breakfast. He plans to talk about creating the art for I Have a Dream, an October picture book from Random House’s Schwartz & Wade imprint that presents the iconic excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
Being asked by his publisher to illustrate King’s words was also important to the two-time Caldecott Honor illustrator and Coretta Scott King Award winner. “I thought that doing a picture book around this speech was a great idea, and I am honored to have an opportunity to illustrate it,” he says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime project.”
Nelson concedes that creating art to accommodate King’s monumental words was “a bit daunting at first. The speech is certainly very far-reaching, and in many ways very abstract. There isn’t a clear narrative or story. I tried to figure out what his words meant to me, and what they might have meant to all who actually heard it. With a bit of contemplation, meditation, and soul searching, I finally had more clarity on that.”
In preparation for illustrating the speech, Nelson visited Washington, D.C., and made a tour of the newly unveiled Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. “It was great to walk along the Reflecting Pool, and stand on the steps where Martin gave his speech, and look over the landscape,” he says. “But what drove the images in the book more than anything were his words. I really tried to give the images as much power as his words have.”
Readers of I Have a Dream will also have a chance to hear the power of those words, as the book is packaged with a CD of King delivering his speech, which Nelson views as a great bonus for children. “These great words stand by themselves, of course,” he observes. “But his voice has such resonance, and to hear that voice—with its emotion and strength—makes his words infinitely more powerful.”
After the breakfast, booksellers can meet Nelson at the Random House booth (3940), where he will sign f&g’s of I Have a Dream, 10:30–11:30 a.m.