Sunday, June 12, 2016

Crossing Off Bucket List Items (I Didn't Even Know I Had)

In the past few days at the Children's Literature Association conference, I crossed off several "bucket list" items, things that I wanted most to experience before I die. Strangest (and best) of all, these weren't even items on my actual bucket list, as they were things I had never dreamed were possible.

Although I'm a children's book author, I come to the conference each year as a children's literature scholar, presenting papers not about my own books but about books by other authors I've long loved: Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maud Hart Lovelace, Eleanor Estes, Betty MacDonald, Rosamond du Jardin. But this year, another scholar on the program presented a paper about me.

Prof. Jean Stevenson of the University of Minnesota-Deluth frequently presents papers drawn from her archival research at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. It just so happens that I donate my own manuscripts to the Kerlan Collection. So this year Jean poked around into those materials and shared her findings in a conference session. It was bizarre, and humbling, to sit in the room and see my scribbled outlines, handwritten manuscript pages, and correspondence with my editor Beverly Reingold, there up on the screen of Jean's Power Point. I felt a bit exposed - appearing in public wearing only what ladies used to call their "foundation garments" - but mainly just so honored and grateful. Thank you, Jean, thank you, from the bottom of my heart for giving this loving attention to my work.

If that weren't enough, I gave my own presentation on my idol, Jeanne Birdsall, creator of the Penderwicks series. I was a judge of the National Book Award in 2005, in the category of Literature for Young People; Jeanne's first book in the series was our winner, and I think it's fair to say that I was the judge who loved it first and most.
This year the brilliant scholar Anne Phillips of Kansas State University created a ChLA panel on the "family story in the 21st century," centering on The Penderwicks, and invited Jeanne Birdsall to join us as the guest of honorSo in the last session on the last day of the conference, I gave my paper, "Exclusive vs. Inclusive Families: L'Engle's Austins vs. Birdsall's Penderwicks," with Jeanne sitting right next to me.The hug she gave me afterward is something I'll take with me to my grave,
Then that evening, at the awards banquet, I received the organization's Edited Book Award for my collection, Ethics and Children's Literature, a labor of love born out of a symposium I organized during my time at DePauw.
Shortly I'll fly back to my Boulder life, where I'll start dreaming and scheming about next year's ChLA conference in Tampa (theme: "Imagined Futures") and the year after that in San Antonio (theme: "Water"). But every conference for me has the theme "Happiness."

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