This weekend I attended the most wonderful event. BookFest.
In case the name doesn’t just say it all,
“BookFest is an event devoted to the celebration, discovery, and discussion of books for children and teens. This event, designed for adults, features luminaries from the children’s literature community. Authors, illustrators, editors, reviewers, and scholars will take part in panel discussions and breakout sessions.
BookFest was founded in 1971, by Frances Henne, a faculty member of the School of Library Service at Columbia University. The event was originally known as Let’s Talk About Books for Children and Youth Day, or Velma Varner Day, in honor of Henne’s close friend and colleague, Velma Varner, editor of Viking Press. The event has been hosted by Columbia University, Teachers College, and the New York Public Library. Bank Street College of Education is very proud to become a producer of this wonderful event.”
I mean really. Can you imagine anything better?
I saw and learned so much that that this will be the first in a series of posts this week- perhaps with a bit of interruption from the necessary Halloween pictures and an exciting guest post on a friend’s blog.
So where to begin? I suppose at the beginning.
And what a beginning! It has been years and years and years since I first read the Phantom Tollbooth but I remembered it fondly. Now I can’t wait to re-read it. I listened in awe for an hour as Leonard Marcus led a discussion with Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer. Very quickly, it became obvious that we were being treated to an hour of eavesdropping. Eavesdropping on two old friend reliving the good old days.
Juster and Feiffer were roommates in Brooklyn in the 1950s. During this time, Juster, an architect by training, received a grant to write a book on city design. Instead, he spent most of his time drafting the Phantom Tollbooth. A friend showed his draft to an editor and without any plan at all of doing so, he became a children’s book author. At the same time, Feiffer stumbled unknowingly into illustration. A comic strip illustrator by plan, he enjoyed playing with the illustrations of his friend’s story. Over time, Juster began writing things that he knew Feiffer hated to draw, like horses, just for the fun of it. Today, authors and illustrators often have never met. I find that sometimes in reading, this fact is painfully obvious. Imagine the wonderful tales that would be told if all creative endeavors were like the Phantom Tollbooth.
After letting us in on the creation of this wonderful tale, Juster and Feiffer spent time talking about their views on education. I came away from this conversation realizing that the debate on education will never truly be resolved. The two talked about their struggles in school to spit back the facts that their teachers wanted to hear. And then they railed against the lack of creativty in schools today. Sounds like not much has really changed… Sigh.
And then some of the most thought provoking part of the hour focused on community. Feiffer stated that “youngish people have been de-citizenized” as they know little of times before them and are largely unconnected from their communities. Juster told the story of walking down his Brooklyn block as a child and stopping at each stoop to listen to people talk about politics, entertainment and neighborhood gossip. He went on to wonder about our children that our missing this beloved sense of community.
I sat with this, feeling sad for myself and my girls- until a woman raised her hand and said, “There is great community in Facebook and Twitter. These kids have community. It looks very, very different but they have community.”
And I sighed a deep sigh of relief because she is right. We do have community. A very different and strange community but a community none the less.
So to my community, I hope you enjoyed our talk sitting here on the stoop that is my blog.