New Writer Julie Fogliano
Most of my adult life was spent trying to write a children’s book. And for those of you who have ever tried to write something, you know that the harder you try the more difﬁcult it becomes. I spent a lot of time wondering what to write about. Something important enough…something interesting enough…something worthy of using up some of those sacred moments of someoneʼs childhood, so I tried and tried and surrounded myself with books in the process.
I worked as a kindergarten teacher, a marketing assistant in childrenʼs publishing and, ﬁnally, as an assistant manager at Books of Wonder, an independent childrenʼs bookstore in Manhattan. While I was there, I temporarily stopped trying and started reading. As Books of Wonder employees, we were required to read as much as we possibly could. Everyone I worked with was either an aspiring writer or illustrator, and we all took our jobs very seriously.
After four years and hundreds of books read, I ﬁgured out the perfect recipe for my childrenʼs book: I would need to be as free as Ruth Krauss, as funny as Jon Scieszka, as irreverent as Shel Silverstein, and as quaint and charming as Robert McCloskey. Then, Iʼd ﬁnd an illustrator who was the perfect combo of Maurice Sendak, Chris Raschka and Lane Smith. I had cracked the code.
Years passed, and still no book. My two boys were keeping me very busy and there was very little writing getting done.
One night, my friend George OʼConnor came to visit. We had worked together at Books of Wonder and he knew how badly I wanted to write for kids. Being a writer and illustrator himself, he understood about all the trying. He knew that this big idea I was waiting for was blocking my way. His birthday was that week, and as a gift, he asked that I write him one thought a day for one year. Just one thought a day for 365 days. It didnʼt need to be big or important. It didnʼt need to be for kids. Just a tiny something.
Something about this made sense to me, because I agreed. And Then Itʼs Spring was thought #156.
When I sat down at my computer that night, I didn’t have any ideas. I was tired and grouchy and desperate to go to bed, but I had to write my thought. While I sat there I decided to check out my friend Erin Steadʼs new blog. Erin and I had also worked together at Books of Wonder, and I knew she was ﬁnishing up the art for her ﬁrst book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The ﬁrst photo she had on her blog was of a table in the grass. It was where she worked on nice days.
I loved the idea but remembered that our yard didnʼt have any grass. It was brown. All around it was brown…when I was ﬁnished, I sent it to Erin. Just to say hello and thanks for the inspiration. It didnʼt occur to me for a second that she would see this as a book…a book she would want to illustrate. It wasnʼt really about anything. It was about waiting. And brown. Not exactly the most popular subjects for kids. But apparently Erin saw something, and when she secretly sent it to her editor, Neal Porter, he saw it too. They both saw something in what I thought was just a tiny nothing. When the book was completed and I sat down with the proofs, for the ﬁrst time I saw what Erin saw.
I realized that those quiet moments of wondering and waiting was where most of childhood happened. And certainly the parts of my childhood that I still carried with me. Yes, falling down a rabbit hole or getting swallowed by a whale could make for an amazing story, but they were not the kind of stories I was ﬁt to tell.
I was the kid who sat under a tree and waited for a gnome to run by. I was the kid who found a dead bird and spent my day giving it a proper burial. I was the kid who collected bright orange newts by the bucketful in hopes that a few of them would fall in love. And this is the kind of thing I had to offer, and I am so grateful to have people in my life, like George, like Erin, like Neal, who value those moments and thought they were worth writing down, because I donʼt think I would have come to that on my own.
After getting the news of this award and the initial shock subsided, I started thinking a lot about Ezra Jack Keats and how on earth I could have been given an honor in his name. I couldnʼt make sense of it at all. But then I started thinking about his books…The Snowy Day…Whistle for Willy…I must have read those a hundred times, each without ever realizing that all along, Ezra Jack Keats was trying to tell me something. The very same something I spent my whole life ﬁguring out: that those simple, sometimes solitary moments in a childʼs life are often the most magical, the most joyful.
Whistle for Willy was a book about a boy trying to whistle. The Snowy Day is about a boy walking in the snow, sometimes with a stick, sometimes without…feet in, feet out. So simple, so quiet but so absolutely magical, and those were the moments that I wanted to share. Those small moments were the big idea I was waiting for.
And for helping me ﬁnally hear what Ezra Jack Keats had been trying to tell, I have to thank everyone on the selection committee. Thank you so much. This is truly an honor. I also must thank Erin for her unbelievable vision. She was able to turn a thought about waiting into something truly beautiful and full of life. Thank you to Neal for trusting Erinʼs vision and taking a chance on a book where nothing actually happens. And thank you to my husband, Josh, and my two boys, Enzo and Nic, who are endlessly showing me where all those tiny moments like to hide.
New Illustrator Hye-won Yum
The Ezra Jack Keats award, and presented by Wendell Minor—it’s so unreal. Just a few years back, I saw these names—Ezra Jack Keats, Wendell Minor—printed on books, and I was dying to be one of them. But I didn’t know if it was possible. Since I was a little kid, I’d thought that people who make books, stories and pictures were some other kind of people, who make magic happen, like elves in the North Pole. I didn’t seem to be qualified.
Then I got into [the School of Visual Arts] MFA program and met many people who actually do this work, and my friends started getting their books published. If my friends could do this, then maybe I can too, I thought. So I casually sent an email to Frances Foster, as though I’d always been doing it, telling her that I wanted to show her my portfolio, and surprisingly she agreed to meet me. That’s how I met Frances Foster, who published all of my books.
It was Frances who opened this door to this wonderful world, and found my voice and found my words. I call her my fairy godmother, she did magic and published my books. My name on the cover! It’s like living in a dream.
Unfortunately she had stroke last year, and she lost her words. I really want to find her words as she did for me, but I can’t. I kept thinking how I can repay her. The only way is to keep making good books as she taught me. So when I heard that I got this award, I was happy that I can tell her the good news, that I’m doing alright.
I just wanted to say how grateful I am to Frances one more time, and I’m glad I can say it here.
Thank you again for this award that made this possible.