Monday, June 18, 2012

Midnight Feast

One of the highlights of the Children's Literature Association (ChLA) conference for me personally is our tradition of the "midnight feast," inspired by the reading of classic British boarding school stories that feature illicit nocturnal parties, often occasioned by the arrival of a hamper from home, in defiance of the stern headmistress. I am a proud founder of the ChLA midnight feast, together with scholars Laureen Tedesco and Jackie Stallcup. 

The first-ever ChLA midnight feast was held at the conference in Buffalo in 2001. That was the year I met both Laureen and Jackie; there was a shortage of rooms in the conference hotel, so a call went out for volunteers to be roommates, and the three of us found each other. Laureen, being both someone who spends an inordinate amount of time in used bookstores and someone who is inordinately generous, brought gifts for both Jackie and me, based on our research interests. I don't remember what book Jackie received that year, but I got a biography of Lucy Fitch Perkins, because I had published a scholarly essay on her "Twins" series. That year we also had conference side trips to Niagara Falls. One of our trio went on the outing halfway through the conference and brought back some lovely fudge.

Fudge! Books! Girls who love books! We had all the makings for our first-ever ChLA midnight feast.

The midnight feast is not held at midnight. Who could stay up so late?  It's held after dinner on whatever evening of the conference works out for all of us, in one of our rooms (this year, we held it in the ground floor lounge of the dorm at Simmons University where we were staying). The feast is not on the conference schedule; it's more of a word-of-mouth gathering, but everybody is welcome. We bring candy, of course, and also some favorite book from which to read aloud.

This year, Alisa Clapp-Intyre read aloud Make Way for Ducklings, appropriate as it's set in Boston and several of us had made a pilgrimage to visit the duckling statues in the Boston Public Gardens earlier in the week. Laureen had brought The House Between: A Story of the 1850's, by Ethel Parton (published in 1943), to give to me as a gift (I told you she was inordinately generous), because she thought the voice of the book was so much like mine that I must have written the book in another life. By coincidence, Marilyn Olson (also at the feast) had presented a paper on that very book the day before. Although Laureen had brought the book, I was the one to read aloud from it, to test Laureen's theory about the voice of the book: theory vindicated! The scene I read involved a dispute over whether young ladies should be allowed to attend the circus, so Jackie hastily downloaded Edward Eager's Half Magic onto her handy Kindle and read another circus scene to follow upon it. Then Claudia Nelson decided we needed "improvement," so shared several exemplary tales of "golden deeds" from the 1912 Book of Knowledge. Throughout the evening I consumed a prodigious quantity of Raisinets.

Verdict: This was one of the nicest midnight feasts ever.

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