November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Carle Honors Gala Celebrates Oxenbury, Porter, Bertin, and Cotsen Library

 

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Left to right: Corinna Cotsen, Neal Porter, Robert L. Forbes, Joan Bertin, Lydia Forbes, Helen Oxenbury, David Macaulay, and Andrea Immel.  Photos: Johnny Wolf Photography

The 10th annual Eric Carle Honors Benefit Gala on September 24 was an opportunity for kid literati and Eric Carle Museum supporters to mix and mingle, look at art, and celebrate this year’s honorees, while soaking in the atmosphere at Gustavino’s restaurant, in an architecturally dramatic setting underneath the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan.

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Joan Bertin.

While celebrating the 2015 honorees—artist Helen Oxenbury, editor Neal Porter, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) Joan Bertin, and the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University—the event featured an auction with 22 original artworks whose proceeds benefited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Located in Amherst, MA, the museum collects and presents exhibits of picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world, as well as offering educational programs.

The night was dedicated to Barbara Carle, educator, wife of Eric Carle, and cofounder of the Carle Museum, who passed away on September 7. Barbara Carle’s “nurturing personality set the stage for us,” said Carle Museum executive director Alexandra Kennedy at the start of the evening’s award proceedings. Robert L. Forbes and Lydia Forbes were the Carle Honors cochairs.

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John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, and SLJ reviews managing editor Luann Toth.

Illustrator/author David Macaulay, a 2010 Carle honoree who introduced this year’s celebrants, then took the stage. Before his introductions, Macaulay described his own experience working with the Carle Museum on a show featuring his Caldecott Award–winning book Black and White (HMH, 1990). After Macaulay had perused the tidy display of his works in the museum galleries with some dissatisfaction, the museum allowed him to transform the space into “an extension of rule breaking” that characterizes his groundbreaking picture book. Paintbrush in hand, Macaulay took to the white gallery walls, creating giant illustrations in swaths of black paint.

Bertin was the first to be recognized, with a Bridge honor, given to individuals who have “found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields,” according to the award description.  Bertin, NCAC’s executive director since 1997, said in her speech that it is “a privilege to have a job that supports the freedom to read.” She noted that while adult gatekeepers often like to keep books involving sex, drug use, and other material they find objectionable away from children, “reading these books actually helps kids,” a conviction that fuels her anti-censorship work.

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Neal Porter.

Bertin then described the plot of a challenged picture book that the NCAC helped defend, The Dirty Cowboy (FSG, 2003), by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex. It’s about “a dog who runs off with all of [a cowboy’s] clothes when he takes his annual bath,” Bertin said, to laughter. “The parent thought it sent a message that it’s OK to look at pornography.” She then noted that authors from Robie Harris to Todd Parr have faced censorship of their books. Recollecting the many beloved pictures books she read to her now-grown children, including her daughter, in attendance, Bertin said, “I’m still passionate about picture books after all these years.”

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2014 Carle honorees Henrietta Smith and Perri Klass. Photo by Sarah Bayliss

Next, picture book author/Illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger introduced Neal Porter, the influential children’s publisher who founded Roaring Brook Press and currently runs Neal Porter Books, a division of Roaring Brook at Macmillan. Seeger presented Porter with an album filled with art by 70 of the artists he has worked with over his 35 years in publishing.

After embracing Seeger and thanking Macaulay for earlier “embarrassing remarks” about him, Porter, who recently participated in the SLJ webcast “Behind the Scenes: SLJ In Conversation with Top Children’s Book Editors,” noted that editors are like “actors, cheerleaders, anxious parents…[and] therapists,” along with a long list of other things. He thanked his own mentors, including editors and publishers Michael Di Capua, Jean Karl, and Richard Jackson; the acclaimed artists he has worked with; as well as his Macmillan supporters, for allowing him to do “a job that I enjoy and avoid doing things I don’t.” Porter received a Mentor award, for editors, designers, and educators who champion the picture book art form.

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Andrea Immel (left) and Corinna Cotsen.

Andrea Immel, curator at the Cotsen Children’s Library, was joined by Corinna Cotsen to accept the Angel honor, for an institution or individual that generously creates picture book art and education programs. Immel noted that the Cotsen Library, which charges no admission, has materials dating back to the 15th century in over 40 languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, Navajo, Korean, Albanian, and many more. Cotsen emphasizes that while her father, Lloyd Cotsen, is most associated with the library, her mother was the driving force to launch it in the 1950s.

Immel also recalled a visit that Eric and Barbara Carle paid to the Cotsen while they were contemplating opening their own museum. On display was a “14-foot tall book.” Immel noted that their decision to create a different kind of museum related to children’s literature probably saved them some of the technical headaches associated with the oversized book.

“I got into children’s books because I married John Burningham,” said acclaimed British author Helen
Oxenbury, while accepting the Artist award. And “I [still] enjoy it as much as I did 50 years ago,” when she first began illustrating books for children.

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Editor Regina Hayes and Neal Porter. Photo  by Luann Toth

Oxenbury had originally started a career in theater design, she explained. Inspired by her husband’s career as an illustrator, she changed course when she and Burningham started a family. Creating her first artworks, Oxenbury said, she didn’t care whether they got published or not.

Describing life married to a fellow artist, she said, “John is good at mechanical things, cars and trains.” She went on to regale the audience with stories of how she had given her husband artistic advice over the years—helping him rescue a “terrible” picture of a fairy and another image that was “absolutely dreadful.”

“[It is] scary but a pleasure to be up here,” Oxenbury told the audience in closing. “I shall be back in another 50 years.”

Read more about the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the 2015 Carle Honorees.

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