Last week I headed down South to accept the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor at the 48th Annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi. My partner in crime, Ruth Chan, and I landed in New Orleans, Louisiana, and ate our way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
First, Little Elliot and I had a reading and drawing demo with our friends at Octavia Books.
It was Ruth’s first time in NOLA, so we walked around the French Quarter and ended the day with a show-stopping plate of shrimp & grits at Mr. B’s Bistro.
There’s no place quite like New Orleans. We enjoyed an impromptu after-dinner entertainment on this corner of Frenchmen Street.
First thing in the morning, we went to Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets, delicately deep fried to perfection.
Soon, we were off to Hattiesburg, MS, with our guide, Nadine. On the way we stopped at Paul’s Pastry in Picayune, MS, for some fried green tomatoes topped with crab and hollandaise.
We made it to USM just in time to hear Peter Brown speak at the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. The festival is widely attended by librarians and educators from all over the South and beyond.
Our escort Sherry took us to see the current exhibit at The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. Calling the collection “a gem” is an understatement.
“The collection houses original manuscripts and illustrations, produced by more than 1,300 children’s authors and illustrators, which document the entire creative process. The original materials are complemented by an ever-expanding book collection of more than 160,000 volumes dating from 1530 to the present.”
The next day, we got to see our friend and fellow Brooklynite, Paul O. Zelinsky, receive the 2015 Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. Paul has written and/or illustrated 35 children’s books, and won a Caldecott medal and three Caldecott honors. If you grew up with books, you’ve read his work. Paul is an active member of the kidlit community here in Brooklyn, and a fountain of knowledge to author/illustrator newbies and veterans alike. We’re so proud of you, Paul!
Next up, several other authors/illustrators and I received our Ezra Jack Keats Awards! Though it was the first time I met any of these folks, I feel like I can call them friends! The awards were established by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation “to recognize and encourage emerging talent in the field of children’s books.”
EJK New Writer Award for Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
EJK New Illustrator Award for Shh! We Have a Plan
EJK New Writer Honor for Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School
EJK New Writer Honor for A Boy and a Jaguar
EJK New Writer Honor for Firebird
EJK New Illustrator Honor for Grandfather Gandhi
EJK New Illustrator Honor for Little Elliot, Big City
After the award ceremony, the winners got a special tour of the archives at the de Grummond Collection. It was basically Christmas morning times infinity.
I was floating on cloud nine after our visit to the de Grummond. My heart aches for all of the other work that’s housed there that I didn’t get a chance to see. Later we got to hear Pat Cummings speak about Ezra Jack Keats.
The next day, I saw Gene Luen Yang speak about Asian Americans in Comics. It was inspired. Gene’s work has meant so much to me, especially American Born Chinese, and Boxers & Saints. I bought a copy of his latest book, The Shadow Hero, which he autographed for me as I yammered on about who-knows-what for 90 seconds. I’m a fan-boy. ‘Nuff said. I also got a copy of Bronx Masquerade signed by Nikki Grimes.
We listened to David Levithan give a dreamy reading of one of his earlier works before we cut out for the airport. It was a wonderful trip, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made lots of new friends in Mississippi! Needles to say, I will be back someday.