The Children's Room Blog

The Exquisite Afternoon!

Posted on: December 12, 2011

Seventh grade!  It’s a big year for anyone– you’re OFFICIALLY done with elementary school!  You’re finally old enough to go to a PG-13 movie!  Or better yet, it might be time for braces!  (No, seriously!  I always wanted braces.  I loved those really cool brackets that you could wear to match the time of year: silver and blue in the winter!  Orange and black in the fall!  NOT TO MENTION RED ON VALENTINE’S DAY!)  Anyways.  For me, seventh grade was a real milestone, because that’s when I changed schools for the first time.  And, more importantly, that is when my diorama career began.

The book was Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting.  The assignment was to write a book report and complete a story-related craft.  So I decided to make a diorama.  It was glorious!  A lush green construction paper field!  An azure blue magical stream, enhanced by Saran Wrap, which gave it a sparkling sheen!  But the crowning glory was my brainstorm to create waves on the stream… with Crisco.  I thought that my little wavey dollops of lard were strokes of genius.  Not shockingly, my teacher was a little grossed out.  And although I don’t have any recollection of the grade that I got on that diorama, I haven’t been able to forget that book.  The world that Natalie Babbitt created in Tuck Everlasting was the most fantastic and exciting place that I had EVER considered.

And that’s how it is with children’s literature.  The stories that you hear or read when you’re young can shape you for decades to come.  Which explains why I knew I had to visit the Kresge Auditorium at MIT  a few weeks ago– not only was my beloved Natalie Babbitt going to be there, but she was going to be joined by some more of my idols in the world of children’s literature, including M.T. Anderson, Susan Cooper, Timothy Basil Ering, Steven Kellogg, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and James Ransome!  We’re talking about the authors of Feed! The Astonishing Life of Octavian NothingThe Dark is RisingSarah, Plain and TallJacob I Have Loved!  And Bridge to Terabithia!  Yes, that’s right– BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA!  Not to mention the illustrators of such amazingness as The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, the Pinkerton series, The Tale of Despereaux,  and The Creation!

In my mind, this was basically like if you were to combine all of the greatness of a giant ice cream cone, roller coaster, adorable litter of baby kittens, and Game 7 of the 2004 World Series into one solitary event.

Now, you might wonder why all of these famous names came together.  Well, well, well, it was obviously for an amazing reason, which was The Exquisite Corpse Adventure!  Not too long ago, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure was  published as part of a national reading and writing initiative created by The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) and the Center for the Book in the Library of CongressTwenty of the nation’s most celebrated authors and illustrators combined to create “episodes” of one story and then passed them along to the next person to continue.  According to the NCBLA, “In order to try and retain the spontaneity… The Exquisite Corpse Adventure’s contributing authors had only a couple of days to brainstorm and then write their individual episodes. Each episode was then lightly edited and sent back to the author for a quick rewrite… Even more fascinating, the illustrators operated in something of a blind… Each illustrator read the current episode, as well as the previous episodes, but they did not see the illustration that their colleagues have created for the previous episodes!”

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure was originally published on the Library of Congress’ website.  Now it’s available in hardcover, paperback, and audio formats.  In fact, we have just ordered a copy for the Arlington library!  So keep an eyes out for this EXCITING story in upcoming weeks!

But back to MY story.  As you might have guessed, all of the authors and illustrators at MIT that afternoon were participants in this great adventure in children’s literature.  And they wanted to share stories about this process, as well as their own writing processes, with us!  Imagine!  The most famous names in the business!  Sharing their secrets!  With us!

They all had different pearls of wisdom to dispense.  For example, Susan Cooper got the idea for the classic The Dark Is Rising from a photograph of a young boy walking through the snow.  She likened the process of creating a story to “grabbing a butterfly as it flies past.”  (Also, can you IMAGINE just SAYING something like that, completely off the cuff?!  No wonder these people are famous!)  Meanwhile, my friend Natalie Babbitt said that she often gathers material by reflecting on the unanswered questions of her childhood– a childhood that she remembers so vividly that she STILL can recite the members of her fourth grade class.

Above all else, what all of the individuals who graced the stage at MIT that day claimed was most important to their writing and illustrating was one thing: THE KIDS.  Babbitt remarked that she has spent her storied career fighting the perception that children aren’t influential in the world of literature.  That’s simply not true!  All of the authors agreed about the importance of kids– Learning to love reading at a young age creates a foundation for a lifetime of literacy.

When asked how she writes books, Natalie Babbit said, “It’s like MAGIC!”  I couldn’t agree more.  There is an element of magic in children’s literature that captures you at an early age, and like my seventh grade wave of Crisco, sticks with you for a very long time.


1 Response to "The Exquisite Afternoon!"

Oops… there was NO game 7 of the 2004 World Series. I think you are thinking of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Sox won their 4th staight game to beat the Yankees. The Red Sox went on to sweep the 2004 World Series in 4 games. 🙂 I understand your excitement though about all of these authors coming together. I’m looking forward to reading more of this blog.

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