By Annie Stone, Editor at Alloy Entertainment and VP of Programming, WNBA-NYC Chapter
I was so pleased to have the opportunity to attend the BookExpo America Children’s Book and Author Breakfast on Friday, May 13th, 2016. It was wonderful to see the proud booksellers being awarded the Women’s National Book Association’s Pannell Award for their exceptional creativity in fostering a love of reading among their young patrons.
This year’s winners of the WNBA Pannell Awards, co-sponsored by Penguin Young Readers Group are, Brookline Booksmith, in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the general bookstore category and Wild Rumpus Books, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the children’s specialty category. Each winning store was presented with a check for $1,000 and a piece of original art by a children’s book illustrator. Contributing the art for this year’s award are Diane Goode, illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, and Jeff Kinney, creator of the bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Susan Knopf, president and founder of Scout Books & Media and co-chair Sally M. Kim, senior marketing manager at Chronicle Books coordinated and presented the award at the breakfast. For Ms. Knopf, “presenting the Pannell Award at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast is the highlight of my year,” she says. “It is a great joy to celebrate these bookstores with the entire children’s publishing community.”
After the award presentation, we enjoyed moving speeches from the four children’s book authors being honored that morning—starting with the emcee for the event, esteemed actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis was there not only to introduce the other great authors but also to speak briefly about her new picture book, This is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From, coming this fall. The book features a show and tell day at a typical American classroom, in which the teacher explains that all of our ancestors at one point or another had to travel to America, leaving most of their belongings behind. The students, to learn more about immigration and the experience of migrant peoples today, must pack a suitcase full of items they would take with them on such a journey; and the book itself features a pop-up suitcase to use for that very purpose with young readers.
After Curtis’ presentation, Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame spoke about his new series, Dog Man. Pilkey opened humorously by discussing his oft-banned series: “This is an event that celebrates the most respected names in children’s literature. You may be wondering what I am doing here. You may think it’s a stretch to even call my books literature!” Pilkey also shared stories about his own childhood reading habits. As a child with ADHD, Pilkey found it difficult to read the more “literary” selections his teachers pushed on him, preferring comic books and magazines. Luckily, his mother supported his choices, and so we perhaps have her to thank for the many books Pilkey has written, and the many, many millions of reluctant readers who have discovered a love of books thanks to Captain Underpants’ antics.
Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes and the upcoming sequel A Torch Against the Night, spoke about the discrimination and hate she faced as a child in small-town America. It started as early as kindergarten, when her teacher tried to insist that Tahir was not capable of keeping up with the other students and indeed “didn’t even speak English”—a clear falsehood. Distraught, Tahir asked her mother why her teacher treated her this way; her wise mother told her that her teacher was afraid, because Tahir looked different than she did, and was from a different place.
“Fear can burrow like a sly shadow into every part of your life,” Tahir explained, and went on to tell us how she became increasingly fearful and angry as she grew older and the discrimination against her entire family continued. Luckily, a caring older brother introduced her to books, which was her salvation.In books like The Sword of Shannara, “it didn’t matter if these characters looked normal or not, because in fantasy there is no normal.” She ended her very moving speech with a call to all the booksellers and publishing professionals in the room: “We are creators of books and it is our duty…to make sure everything we have learned is preserved and not cast into the darkness. …Think of all the stories that are not told because of fear. We can change that.” I was wiping away tears by the end of her talk, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting emotional!
Gene Luen Yang, the recently-appointed National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, closed out the morning with a wonderful speech about how “books themselves are ambassadors”—teaching us about people, places, and cultures different from our own. He told a wonderful story about how, as a self-professed nerd who had always hated basketball, he discovered a love for the sport when reading about Chinese-American basketball players in San Francisco, a part of Chinese-American history he’d previously known nothing about. This book led to other great basketball books, which led to a friendship with the basketball teacher at the school where Yang taught, which then led to a new book project on Yang’s part… an inspirational story, which tied into Yang’s call to action: let us all “Read Without Walls” this year. By that, Yang means to read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you; to read a book about a topic you don’t know much about; and to read a book in a format you don’t normally read (such as a graphic novel or a book in verse). An excellent call to action, and an amazing end to a very moving BEA breakfast!
Annie Stone is an editor at Alloy Entertainment, the company responsible for such blockbusters as Gossip Girl, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The 100. Annie has the pleasure of working with Kass Morgan (The 100 book series), Adi Alsaid (Let’s Get Lost and Never Always Sometimes) and Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars and upcoming The Amateurs) among others. She also reviews submissions to the Collaborative program, a discovery engine for promising new authors and stories. A native of central Pennsylvania, Annie graduated Magna cum Laude in 2010 from Harvard College, where she completed her A.B. in Comparative Literature.