Lunch Before and Fun During the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

Alison Morris - October 9, 2008

It’s been a busy week of event preparations and crazy run-around at the store, both during the day and "after hours," which means I’m slow to report on timely matters this week. Alas!

Last Friday I attended the annual Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards ceremony, always one of my favorite book events of the year. Held in the lovely Boston Athenaeum, it has an air of orderly prestige about it, but zero stuffiness. The speeches are always blissfully short and even more blissfully sweet. The chatter afterward among those in attendance is light-hearted and lively, and the evening does not stretch out to great lengths, which is very much appreciated by those of us for whom this time of year feels like a lengthy marathon of nothing but books, books, books.

This year my Boston Globe-Horn Book "day" began earlier than usual, as I had the pleasure of being wined and dined by Little, Brown over a delightful lunch at Boston’s famed Top of the Hub restaurant. The gathering was in honor of Tricia Tusa and Nancy Coffelt, the talented duo behind Fred Stays with Me, one of two picture books selected for an Honor by the 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee. It was a treat to talk with both of these women, whose personalities are as warm and welcoming as the picture book that brought them together. Over lunch our topics of conversation ranged from picture books to politics (who can escape the latter nowadays?) while everyone present admired the fantastic views from the Fenway Room on the Prudential Building’s 52nd floor.

I stupidly waited until after we’d all finished eating to snap any photos for your enjoyment. I say "stupidly" because our lunch began with beautiful sunny weather and ended with heavy cloud cover, stealing a bit of the "punch" from my pictures. I think you’ll agree, though, that the view suffered little from the change.

First, a photo of the lovely Tricia Tusa…

and a photo of the lovely Nancy Coffelt.

Next, a shot of the room, so you can admire the height of its windows:

Here’s the always charming Andrew Smith of Little, Brown facing west…

No doubt taking a photo that looks very much like this one:

Note that they don’t call this the Fenway Room for nothing. (I zoomed in for the shot below, though if you look carefully you can see Fenway Park in the photo above too.)

Here’s the view looking northeast, toward Boston Harbor:

After lunch I wandered around downtown some, then made my way over to the Public Gardens, home to another famous Boston sight: the ducklings. (If you just asked yourself "What ducklings?" then you are probably in the WRONG business!) I ran into fellow children’s literature aficionados Susannah Richards and Rusty Browder snapping photos of the same local landmark—proof that even those of us who see these feathered friends on a regular basis never tire of seeing them again.

It’s unusual to get shots like these of the ducklings, because usually they are crowded with kids, patting them each on the head and taking turns sitting on Mrs. Mallard, whose head shines from the number of hands that have rubbed it over the years.

After my visit to the Public Gardens I strolled around Beacon Hill for a bit and then made my way up Beacon Street to the Athenaeum, whose entrance is marked by a studded red leather door, JUST LIKE the one at MY house!!

(That was a complete lie of course. Our studded leather door is purple. Yours too?)

From here I’m afraid there’s a break in the photo tour, as the Athenaeum does not allow your average Joe (or Alison) to take photographs inside. They DID, however, allow an "official" event photographer to capture the finer moments of the evening’s affair, and you can view the fruits of his/her labor on the photos page of the Horn Book web site. Better still, you can LISTEN to all of the speeches delivered that evening on the Horn Book web site’s audio page. (Oh the wonders of technology!) Soon you will also be able to view video footage and therefore be treated to a combination of the aforementioned two.

Highlights of the evening for me? Hmmm. I’ll choose just FIVE and list them here, seeing as how you can always just listen to the speeches themselves, and therefore don’t need me to recap ALL the highlights for you.

1. Listening to Jonathan Bean, author/illustrator of At Night, talk about his family’s bedtime rituals, and swooning over his metaphor relating ideas to birds and the writing process (or rather the idea-generating process) to bird-watching. The gist:
both patience and quiet are required, and there’s no guarantee of ever seeing exactly the bird/idea you were waiting for. (He expresses it much more eloquently in his speech, of course, than I have summarized it here.)

2.  Hearing Arthur Levine deliver Shaun Tan’s speech for The Arrival, and it was every bit as inspired as his books, I think. He said that books remind us of what we already know but are in danger of taking for granted. That "as readers we are always emigrating, stepping into the shoes of others." As adults we often think the world is ordinary—children know better and books show us otherwise.

3.  Musing over Frances O’Roark Dowell (Shooting the Moon) remark that this is the first book she has written from her own experience. She has an MFA in writing poetry and, as she explained, "No one tells a poet to write what they know. They say, ‘Make it up! Make it weird!’ "

4.  Watching Sherman Alexie’s video acceptance speech for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which was extremely clever and (of course) very funny too.

5.  Learning that Nic Bishop kept aquariums of frogs in his house when he was researching Nic Bishop Frogs. He wrote that "working on this book was something like a second childhood."

I snapped one last photo for you about half a block from the Athenaeum, as I headed back to my car following the awards ceremony.  Here’s the distinctive gold dome of the Massachusetts State House, as it appears at night. If you inverted the dome and turned it to silver, it would resemble the very elegant engraved bowls that Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners take home with them to display in their trophy cases. (You do all have trophy cases, don’t you? I mean, who doesn’t nowadays.)

And… there you have it. A few quick peeks at a wonderful ceremony, and (all told) a truly wonderful day.

I’d like to give one quick nod to the three judges who I think made outstanding choices for this year’s slate of Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards: Terri Schmitz, Lolly Robinson, and John Peters. Imagine reading all the books submitted in all of those different categories and managing not to lose your minds, your judging ability, or your good taste in the process…. I think that accomplishment in itself is award-worthy.

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