2015 EJK Book Award Acceptance Speeches

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Highlights of the winners’ heartfelt words*

New Writer Chieri Uegaki

ChieriUegaki_intvWinning this award and learning about the history and people behind it has been a humbling, inspiring and exhilarating experience. In my work life, I deal with things that fall as far as you can imagine from the joyous, hopeful world of children’s literature. So I will treasure this award, and all of the kind words with which people have been so generous.

I am especially proud to receive this award for this particular book because, in all honesty, this is the book that makes me finally feel like I might be a proper writer. When I got the email saying Kids Can Press wanted to publish it, it was like landing a boat on a beach after years adrift at sea.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, was inspired by my two grandfathers, most especially my maternal grandfather, who passed away long before I was born. This grandfather, whom we all referred to as “Hashimoto-no Ojiichan,” was a professional violinist, but he gave up his musical career when he married my grandmother. He continued to play regularly, all the time, according to my mother, and it’s her stories and memories that helped me most in creating the character of Ojiichan in the book.

When I wrote this story, I had two goals in mind. I wanted to write a story that would honour my grandfathers and act as a kind of companion to my first book, which was a tribute to my maternal grandmother. But I also wanted to write a story that would reflect my own childhood experience somehow and create a character and a world that, growing up, I hadn’t seen on any bookshelves.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to all of the writers and illustrators, including the superlative Ezra Jack Keats, whose books I have read and pored over and been, and continue to be, inspired by. I feel privileged to be able to say I write for children. If I were to compare having a young reader tell me how much they liked one of my stories to being treated to a homemade slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie, still warm from the oven, which is to say, pretty great, then this award would be like adding a gigantic scoop of hand-cranked, full-fat vanilla bean ice-cream on the side. Which is to say, over-the-top awesome. Thank you.

New Illustrator Chris Haughton

ChrisHaughtonIntvIn my book Shh! We Have a Plan, there is a group of four characters on a mission to capture a bird. The littlest of the four has the courage to stand up to the others. The message I was trying to convey is the power of kindness, the courage to do things differently and the conviction to stand up against the status quo. These are messages that can be seen throughout Keats’s life and work, and it is such a huge honour for me to be associated with him through this award.

I’ve always been in love with the idea of telling stories, but as an illustrator I found it difficult tell a story with words and was very self-conscious about my own writing. To get around this I thought it would be best to avoid words completely and instead to try tell the story through pictures. Shh! We Have a Plan has only 98 words, and 10 of those words are “shh!”

At first I felt I was covering up for a lack of skill as a writer, but that was actually the strength of the book. The youngest children cannot read and have a limited understanding of spoken language, but can understand almost everything of the story from the pictures and actions. Three year olds regularly tell me that the sneaky hunters in the forest don’t deserve to catch the little bird. They instinctively cheer for justice when the hunters are chased away by the bird’s friends at the end. When told as a story, we can all recognise an injustice. Stories shape our understanding of fairness and of the world.

What I love about the format and art form of picture books is they allow for such flexible and diverse ways for expression and for understanding. Anyone who has ever read a book to the very young will find themselves making funny faces or noises or acting out some of the actions. They are part performance, rhythm, sounds, actions, words and pictures.

The stories i have grown up with as a child, those of Ezra Jack Keats and others, are stories that I have kept with me all my life. I still remember the very first stories my Mum used to tell me as a small boy in Dublin. I feel extremely lucky to be able to make artwork and stories for children. To me, it is such huge honour to be able to work in this wonderful industry at all. But it would be a special honour to think my work was contributing to pass something of these stories and messages that fired my imagination along to children now growing up. Thank you very much for this honour and I hope to continue to do this work with all my heart.

*The variant spelling of certain words reflects how they are spelled in Chieri and Chris’s respective home countries of Canada and Ireland.