Neil Gaiman is a storyteller.
The kind of storyteller
Who causes you to lean in
And listen to the story of a hand in the darkness
Holding a knife
And a child called Nobody Owens
Raised by ghosts in a graveyard--
The story that won the 2009 Newbery Medal.
On a Sunday night in July in the Windy City,
Neil Gaiman tells the story of a boy in a Sussex town in England,
"Raised by librarians among the stacks."
During his school holidays,
His parents would drop him at the library on their way to work,
Where he sometimes ate a sandwich in the library car park
But mostly feasted on J.P. Martin, Margaret Storey, Nicholas Stuart
"Victorian authors, Edwardian authors."
He loved A Wrinkle in Time, he said,
"Even though they messed up the first sentence in the Puffin edition:
'It was a dark and stormy night
In a small town somewhere in America.' "
Young Neil had a graveyard in his Sussex town,
Where a witch was buried.
Well, not a witch, he later discovered,
But rather three Protestant martyrs
Burned by order of a Catholic queen.
But the legend stayed with him.
Gaiman began his graveyard story 20 years ago
When his son Michael rode his tricycle
Among the headstones of that same graveyard.
But the author felt he wasn't ready yet to tell that tale.
He resumed it in December 2005.
He finished the story in February 2008.
Michael is now taller than his father;
He is 25; the same age Gaiman was when he started
The Graveyard Book.
As he wrote the last two lines, he realized,
"I had set out to write a book about a childhood . . .
I was now writing about being a parent.
The fundamental most comical tragedy of parenthood:
If you do your job properly . . .
They won't need you anymore.
If you did it properly,
They go away . . . .
I knew I'd written a book that was better
Than the one I had set out to write."
Ashley Bryan is a storyteller.
The kind of storyteller
Who causes you to shout out
To find the music in language.
"You are my people!" he begins, on that same July night in Chicago.
He leads us in a reading of Langston Hughes' "My People."
Ashley Bryan tells the story of a boy raised in the Bronx,
Among four- and five-story buildings, where
"Everyone looked after everyone as family."
"You are my family," says Ashley Bryan.
"Family need not be based solely on blood."
As its most recent winner,
He spoke of being humbled and deeply moved as a member of
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award family.
As a small child, he and his two siblings,
The first three of six children,
Used orange crates to cart books home from the library.
In kindergarten, he made his own first book,
An alphabet book.
He was writer, illustrator, binder and . . .
"It was the rave reviews
For these limited editions, one-of-a-kind, that kept me going."
Years later in the 1960s, when Bryan was in his 40s,
Jean Karl, founding editor of children's books at Atheneum ,
Visited him in his studio.
She "was excited by my varied approach to texts," Bryan recalled.
She offered him a contract and encouraged him to
Tell the African tales in his own words.
Bryan's challenge was "to find a way
To keep the voice of the oral traditions alive
As it is carried over into the book."
His lead was poetry.
In elementary school in the Bronx, he'd been taught,
"The soul of poetry, like song, is experienced in hearing it."
He leads us then in a call-and-response to
Eloise Greenfield's "Things."
Though a candy gets eaten
And a sand castle washes away,
The lines of a poem stay:
"Still got it
Still got it"
He says the refrain in a na-na-na-na-na
We do, too.
When one leading art institute told a 16-year-old Bryan
That "it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person,"
He applied to Cooper Union,
Where the artist prepares an exam in three parts:
Drawing, architecture, and sculpture,
Displays it on a tray,
Then leaves, letting the work speak for the unseen artist.
Ashley Bryan was accepted.
He leads us now in
"Dreams" by Langston Hughes.
"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly . . . "
Since he left Cooper Union, Ashley Bryan has experimented.
He used tempura paints in his first book of African tales,
In the tradition of African sculpture, masks and the Bushman rock
Swift line brush paintings inspired by Hokusai
For The Dancing Granny.
Woodblock prints for his spirituals
And, in Beautiful Blackbird, collage.
"Although now my books are printed in the thousands," he says,
"It is the feeling of the handmade book
That is at the heart of my bookmaking.
I'd like you, holding one of my books, to feel that I am offering you
A one-of-a-kind gift that you'll treasure and share."
Neil Gaiman and Ashley Bryan are storytellers.
They tell stories that cause you to lean in,
Stories that cause you to shout out,
Stories for child and parent.
These join us together, the storytellers say,
And make us family,
Raised by our neighbors in four-story buildings,
Raised by librarians among the stacks."--Jennifer M. Brown