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New York City
June 2002

Children's Book Awards Bestowed by Bank Street
By Joan Baum

How apt that the 30th annual Bank Street College of Education presentation of The Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature should have been held at The Algonquin Hotel. As the president of Bank Street College of Education, Augusta (“Gussie”) Souza Kappner noted in her welcoming remarks, “we're both literary landmarks.” The book awards are certainly “one of the most exciting things we do at Bank Street,” she rhapsodized, as teachers, publishers, literary agents, librarians and trustees filed into the Algonquin's cozy Library and Gallery Suite for breakfast. Indeed, the fit was even more significant, given the fact that the Black awards are for books that stimulate the creative imagination through learning and art, the very mission of the Bank Street College of Education.

A man who identified himself simply as “a parent of a child who had attended Bank Street,” mentioned how an award-winning book of some years back — “a story about a girl who wore green shoes,” created such an indelible impression on his daughter that he and his wife had to go out and buy her a pair of green shoes, not an easy find, even in New York. Black Awards always go to memorable books. The publications of the legendary guest speaker Vera B. Williams are so well known and loved, that people who heard she would be speaking that morning, called to say they would be attending and carting with them dog-eared copies of More, More, and More Said the Baby to be autographed.

In her keynote remarks, Williams, a short (“can you see me?”), feisty and deliciously accomplished teller of tales, who did not have to ask if she could be heard, spoke of the picture book as a “wonderful invention” unfortunately relegated to childhood. Such “marvelous creations of our humanity” educate, entertain, challenge and transfer all of this “through affection, through love,” she said. We live in a “golden age of picture books,” an interesting phenomenon considering that “we also live in a dark age of so many inventions that can destroy us.” But in just 32 pages “we can live in a humanistic and adventurous world.” We also live in an education world that is quantitatively obsessed, she continued. “We who love picture books and art know that in picture books there is much that cannot be measured.” And Bank Street, she added, “is in the forefront of this understanding.” A compelling story teller, Williams made the turning of a page a wondrous act — noting that a double page spread allowed for s-l-o-w reading. Lacking a child for immediate verification, she seemed nonetheless pleased with the adult substitutes before her that day.

Black awards are unusual because the final judges of the wide-ranging competition are children, ages 7-10. There were, as always, hundreds of books to consider, and indeed the three Honor Book Awards that were also presented that morning so testified to the richness of submissions. The honorees were Sharon Creech, author, and Harry Bliss, illustrator, of A Fine, Fine School; Susan Stevens Crummel, author, Janet Stevens, illustrator, of And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon; and Jon Agee, author and illustrator of Milo's Hat Trick.

In presenting the 2002 Black Book Award to David Wiesner for his remarkably engaging The Three Pigs, which had already won several other awards, including the Caldecott, Gussie Kappner spoke of it as a “boundary breaking book.”
In Wiesner's world, the pigs are blown into limbo by the wolf and enter other tales just as the illustrations also break out and soar beyond their frames. Beautifully drawn and colored, playful, full of wit and humor, the pictures capture the
spirit of their author/illustrator who loves to work on “flying things that don't really fly, changes in scale, and shifts in reality.” Again, with more than a courtesy nod at the Black Awards sponsors, Wiesner gave thanks for schools such as Bank Street which treasure “books, art and creativity,” a world quite different from his own. He recalled an annoyed 4th grade teacher who reported him for wanting to be drawing rather than doing schoolwork” and an 8th-grade Career Day which had nothing about the arts. The spirit of Bank Street, which sees no such dichotomy, was very much in evidence at the Awards Breakfast. “Are your books really for children?” Wiesner said he is often asked. To judge from the interest in The Three Pigs, the answer that day was a resounding No and Yes.#


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