Reflections on the 2010 Newbery-Caldecott Banquet

"When does the life of a storyteller begin?"
asked Rebecca Stead, winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal,
at the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet
in our nation's capital on Sunday, June 27.

If you are Jerry Pinkney,
winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal
for The Lion and the Mouse,
a wordless tour de force,
a storyteller's life might begin
in the urban backyards and vacant lots of Philadelphia,
where a boy and his buddies could observe
insects and small creatures at close range.
It might continue in a florist shop,
at first, carrying flowers from sender to recipient,
and later designing arrangements with an artist's eye.
Flowers find their way into your stories,
if you are Jerry Pinkney.
Calla lilies witness a parade of ants lifting a feast for their families
past a mouse pausing in a lion's paw print.
Orange blossoms at sunset stand by as a mouse hears an owl's call
and scurries to safety--or is it?
Yes, a lion shows mercy and sets the mouse free.
Orange blossoms between the tracks of a dirt road
lead the hunters' jeep to the lion's domain where they set a trap,
and the mouse the beast set free returns the favor.
A storyteller's life might be shaped
by a field trip to the zoo as a child in the late 1940s
when animals with blank stares paced in "dark, musty structures."
"I knew little of big cats' natural habitats," Jerry Pinkney remembers,
"But something was not right."

A storyteller listens as well as he tells.
He hears a plump speckled grouse in the leaves feigning injury,
leading him far afield in a nature preserve
and remembers that this is a way mothers behave
to protect their young.
"One of many moments," Pinkney says,
"when it seemed as if nature were speaking to me."
Nature tells him her story
and he in turn tells us, in a tale that unfolds
only through animal sounds (and the putt putt of the hunters' jeep).
A story in which the lion and the mouse are both heroes.
"No act of kindness goes unrewarded," Pinkney explains.
"The story represents a world of neighbors helping neighbors."
The storyteller continues,
"The journey each reader traverses
parallels my creative process--
that of discovery."

If you are Rebecca Stead,
your life as a storyteller might begin at six
when you started to wonder,
"How am I me?
How did my particular self get in here?"
You might begin to feel less alone
because you read other people's stories,
Meg's story, for example, in A Wrinkle in Time.
"The people in books told me things
that the real people in my life either wouldn't admit
or didn't realize I needed to know in the first place," Rebecca Stead explains.
You might begin to wander your Upper West Side neighborhood
in Manhattan, seeing anew
your apartment building, your school,
and the homeless laughing man stationed on your corner.
You might know at the age of nine
that you want to be a writer,
but "like a lot of people who secretly want to write...
[become] a lawyer," as Rebecca Stead did.
Still you might type short stories into your laptop
until your three-year-old pushes it off the dining room table,
and there go all the stories.
But do they all go? No.

Then your life as a storyteller for children might begin.
You might create a character named Miranda
who might contain elements of a person named Rebecca,
and the laughing man might spring to mind
when you read an article in the New York Times
about a man with amnesia searching for someone he has lost.
You might assume that the Newbery Medal
would always "stay safely beyond my reach,"
as Rebecca Stead did.
Until, on Monday, January 18, 2010, the call comes
with the news that the medal goes to
When You Reach Me.

You could go walking up Amsterdam Avenue
and you might find Mira's school and apartment building
and perhaps a laughing man.
You could go for a hike in a nature preserve on the Hudson River
and perhaps discover a mother grouse
feigning injury to protect her young.
And might you also find a field of flowers that hides a mouse
about to be captured and freed by a lion?
The next time you hear a laughing man,
won't you wonder if he, too, has returned to save someone?
When does the life of a storyteller begin?
Does it begin with the one who shapes the story?
Or when their stories reach us?
--Jennifer M. Brown

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