Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dancing at the Children's Literature Prom

When we moved to St. Paul, MN, I joined the Children's Literature Network, an association devoted to reading, writing, promoting, teaching, illustrating, and loving all aspects of children's books for every age level.  An incredibly decent bunch of folks.

Each winter their newsletter appears with a photograph of authors and illustrators who have been invited to speak at the annual breakfast.  It looked like a literary prom to me, and these were the faces of the handpicked court.

Oh, that I should ever be chosen.

In 2013, I was asked to dance.

Because there were 20+ of us, along with other speakers, we each had two minutes.  I practiced with a kitchen timer, trying to cover the brief but meaningful truth about Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale.  In case you don't know this, two minutes pass like a finger snap.   I memorized it so I could look around the room at faces, not down at notes.  I wanted to sound casual, friendly, endlessly charming, and spontaneous.

I am rarely all of these things at the same time.  It took practice and more practice.  Here's how it went.

Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale is based on a true thing that happened.  My husband and I adopted a baby girl from China in 1997.  We did not, however, pluck her from the river like the baby Moses. (The huge screen behind me carried Patrice Barton's beautiful cover of a baby floating in a basket down a river.)  For better or worse, that subtitle can get in the way of this book.  Many people assume it is only meant for certain families, so if your children are not adopted, the story will have no appeal.

But the people in this room know that a book is never about just one thing.

I recently re-read Horton Hatches the Egg, one of my childhood favorites.  I hadn't looked at it in decades, but suddenly I discovered for the first time that it, too, is really an adoption story.  What if only adopted children ever read it?  I would have missed it entirely.


A mother told me she bought a copy of my book to support local authors even though she knew her five-year-old son wouldn't be interested in the story.  She read it at bedtime and put it on the shelf.  The next night he asked for it again and the night after that and the night after that.  Finally she asked, "Why?  You're not adopted.  We've never been to China."

He said, "I like how all the animals help the baby get home.  I would help her, too."

She was stunned.  Not only had her little boy found the heart of the story, a story that wasn't about firetrucks or dinosaurs or baseball, but it truly mattered to him.

But no one in this room is surprised by that.  What child wouldn't want to believe that when you're lost in the world, someone will always help you find your way home?

If Horton were here, he would say, "The boy meant what he said.  And he said what he meant.  Children know best about books.  One hundred per cent!"

4 comments:

  1. Oh, well done, Karen! This is such an important reminder about all books that might be considered "niche."

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  2. I appreciate it, Joyce. Several other authors and librarians thanked me that day, too. I'm pleased to know I've helped.

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  3. I love your book! I am so happy you were at the Book Breakfast so I was able to learn about it and buy it! ~Bonnie

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  4. It was an incredibly important day in my life to be included with so many people devoted to children's books. I'm glad you enjoy SWEET MOON BABY.

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