Last September I was on my way to Nebraska for a series of school visits, part of the Plum Creek Literacy Festival at Concordia University (a Christian institution). While at the Minneapolis airport waiting for my connecting flight, I received a call from a friend I had dinner with the night before in NY. He had just tested positive to Covid. So, instead of taking my plane to Nebraska, I self isolated for four days and then got tested. Fortunately I was negative, but I really felt bad not meeting those hundreds of children who were waiting for me. The festival got cancelled anyway, due to the withdrawal of many of the presenters in response to the university’s blatantly but not surprisingly disgusting anti-gay policies. I understand and sympathize with the people who chose to withdraw, but I had decided to still go because I believe it is extremely important for children to be exposed to different ideas and points of view, especially in communities where part of the adult world is so close-minded and malevolent. (To be clear, the festival itself does not follow those discriminatory rules, and if you want to know more about this issue, you can easily find a lot of information online.)
My school presentations are, of course, about my picture books and how I make them, but they are also about my personal story: where I come from, how I was as a child, what I like and dislike, etc. Without directly addressing issues that I would not be able to explain to five- or six-year-olds, especially in a crowd, I still get to talk about being different, choosing ways that are not conventional, having a natural preference for things that others might find weird, off, or not straight enough. Below you can see some of the slides that I would have included in my presentations at Plum Creek and that I hope I will be able to show to those same children in another occasion.
Many years ago, visiting the Rare Books Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I came upon this chapbook for children. I immediately fell in love with it and its crude, fascinating woodcuts. I knew I wanted to own my copy, but how can you find another copy of a flimsy little children’s book from 1840? Well, a bunch of years later, by chance, I did. And the book is as good as I remembered.