Summer institute, final post, part one

A week has passed since the first day of that three day institute at Simmons, and since it’s summer reading time, I’ve hosted three storytimes, one book group, a puppet-making workshop, Paws and Read, a Book Gobblers readaloud, the Robert Rivest comic mime show, and a movie night in that week.  Which means, of course, that my memories of the institute are fast becoming fuzzy.  So I’ll just write a brief recap of what I experienced on Saturday and Sunday at the institute, with my apologies for not remembering more details…

Saturday morning I arrived at 8:45 to an already full room, and so I claimed a seat at an empty table near the back – which also happened to be directly in front of Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier and directly behind Sarah Stewart, author and wife of David Small.  Pretty erudite neighbors for this small-town librarian.  Bryan Collier began the day with his talk about his illustrations for Dave the Potter.  The more I pay attention to this book, and the more I learn about it, the more I love it; and I was very impressed by Bryan Collier and his presentation.  I do wish I’d been a little braver and asked him to sign my book after he came back to his seat, because unfortunately he didn’t attend the evening’s speaker’s reception.

After Collier came the amazing David Small, who discussed his memoir Stitches.  He began with a short film he’d made of Stitches, and it was fascinating to watch the film and to also watch Sarah Stewart watch the film.  I was most impressed by David Small’s evident lack of bitterness over his harrowing childhood; few people could survive that youth with his grace and dignity.

Then came another professional connections session, and I chose to go hear Vicky Smith, editor of children’s book reviews at Kirkus, discuss interactive book apps for the iPad.  Very informative, and lots of useful information for me to bring back to my role at the library.

Then came lunch, a yogurt and sandwich brought from home, quickly eaten – then to sit outdoors and enjoy the perfect summer day.  Being a pale type of girl, I sat on a bench in the shadow of one of the buildings that has been built since my grad school years at Simmons, and I marvelled at how much the campus has changed.  Where there once was a parking lot is now a green quad with huge new buildings and an underground parking garage; the main campus building has a big glass pimple where there once was an outdoor patio and stairs down to the parking lot.  Inside that pimple is the new student union or whatever it’s called, and underneath that student union is the revised cafeteria area.  And sadly, it’s almost impossible to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum now from the parking lot-turned quad: I could only spot a small scrap of the museum in between the old main campus building and the new building where the parking lot valets used to triple park our cars underneath shady trees.

Barbara O’Connor got the after-lunch speaking spot, and I felt badly for her, since I and many other people were a little sleepy after eating.  The older woman sitting in front of me – she took the spot previously occupied by Sarah Stewart – fell completely asleep, though gracefully so with her head against the wall.  But O’Connor gave an excellent talk, and I’m thinking about using one of her books for one of my book groups this year.

Next up was Helen Frost, who treated us to a combination of PowerPoint presentation and poetry reading.  I love that the poetry she read to us was genealogically based – about aunts and uncles, great-aunts and grandmothers, great-great-uncles and nephews and grand-nephews.  Lovely stuff.

Before I knew it, it was 3:00 PM, and time for another professional connections session.  I was near the point of burn-out, and needed a break, so I wandered through the improvised book store for a minute, then mentally slapped myself and forced myself to leave before I bought any more books; then I found the double-wide brownies and decaf coffee that had been put out for us and found a quiet chair to settle into while reading Stitches.  I hadn’t read Stitches before, and wanted to dip my toe into it before meeting David Small at the speaker’s reception.  It’s a stunning work that lives up to all the praise and adulation that it has earned.

Two authors remained for the day, both of them excellent and funny speakers.  Sharon Draper came first, entertaining and enlightening us with talk about her work interspersed with reading from letters she has received from kids and teens.  I really like Sharon Draper, and would love to see her in action as a teacher, since I’m willing to bet she’s amazingly good at simultaneously motivating, engaging, and challenging her students.  And she’s a darn good writer, to boot.

Jack Gantos, of course, brought the house down with his witty imagining of his own mausoleum in the cemetery of children’s literature canon fodder.  I can’t and won’t try to replicate his talk here; the best that I can do is to recommend that if you’re given the chance to hear Jack Gantos speak, you should jump at it.  He’s not only funny, he’s also wise, and puts out thoughts of great substance disguised as pure entertainment.  I was also impressed that he attended the entire institute, listening attentively to every other author and illustrator who spoke; I believe that he was the only author/illustrator who did attend the entire weekend.  And he was kind enough to sign the two books of his that I brought, listening to me politely as I blathered on about how he signed books for me twelve years ago, but Pippa peed on those books when we first moved to our house and were still renovating, meaning that my books were in boxes and susceptible to the angry peeings of an uprooted semi-feral cat.  He even immortalized Pippa on the title page of my copy of Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph, drawing a cat on one of the colored bubbles and labelling it “Pippa.”  Nice guy.  (And, by the way, he sat directly behind for the second part of Saturday, after Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier had left.  I wonder if any of that greatness will have spread in my direction?)

Tune in tomorrow for the final post on my Boston adventure…