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Children's Book Reviews

1998 Baltimore Book Fair

1998 Baltimore Book Fair

Kate Marley

You and your children shouldn’t miss the Baltimore Book Fair! There are going to be so many interesting authors to meet, fun costumed characters to see, and lots of fascinating activities to watch and participate in. Not to mention all the books available! September 26 & 27th will be the weekend to mark on your calendar, and it will be held at historic Mount Vernon Place, rain or shine. Sure, there’s going to be plenty of stuff for the grownups… respected authors, bookstores and vendors, a coffee bar, poetry readings, writer’s groups…but since I’m more interested in the kid angle, I’m going to talk mostly about what will be there for the younger set. To start, kids will be encouraged to be part of a Storybook Parade with costumed book characters such as Arthur, Madeline, a Wild Thing, Clifford and Lily when the fair opens at 11am on Saturday, September 26. For the next two days, children can revel in different activities and displays that will encourage literature, reading and books. Griots and storytellers will be there to enthrall kids with the rhythm and drama of oral literature. On the other end of the spectrum, there will also be a place for kids to practice with a software program that lets kids personalize stories. There will be facepainting, and puppeteers. Naturally, there will be books for sale, and all sorts of book related stuff..

A big part of this book stuff will be the author visits and the programs they do. Jack Prelutsky (The Dragons are Singing, etc.), Paul Zelinsky (Rapunzel, etc.), Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Shiloh, etc.) and David Wisniewski (Golem, etc.) are some of the talented and well known authors that will be appearing. Lesser known, but equally deserving of your notice, will be Jerdine Nolen (Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm, etc.), Irene Smalls (Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel), Kevin O’Malley (Velcome, etc.), Monalisa DeGross (Donovan’s Word Jar) and James Priomos (Joe’s Wish).

Just to whet your appetite for meeting a children’s book author, let me paint a word picture for you of David Wisniewski. I met him at his home, a comfortable place near Frederick, Maryland. It’s decorated with all kinds of artwork…a Japanese scroll, a soapstone sculpture, and his own intricate cut paper illustrations. His coffee table has what seem to be Ukrainian Easter eggs in a Tlingit potlatch bowl, with Legos scattered around.

The man himself fulfills his own expectations of what an artist looks and acts like…someone you’d meet at the mall, or the PTA meeting. Seemingly very ordinary, with a round face and wireframes…until you realize, as he talks, that he has a lively sense of humor (check out the author notes on the dust jacket of his latest book, The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups). He credits this puckishness to his English mother, and his brief career as a professional clown. He thinks that being a clown also taught him to keep his perspective; not to have a big ego. This last lesson is handy now that he’s won the Caldecott last year for Golem.

David Wisniewski doesn’t see this prize as a pinnacle of his ten year career in children’s books, but as an acknowledgment of the hard work that he intends to continue. "A lot of this" he says, waving his hand towards the artwork …the house…, "has been unrelenting labor. I have a certain amount of talent, and I work hard to shine it." A little later he notes dryly that, "Paying the mortgage focuses the mind." and laughs.

Yet this practical adult started out reading comic books as a kid, which aimed his budding literary appetite towards science fiction. To this day, his favorite book is The Martian Chronicles. So helping the reader to experience another world, whether Mayan, Polish or African, is part of that tradition. For him, myth has a language, and I think this partially explains why his folktales have been so popular. His intricate illustrations and adroit adaptations breathe life into these stories from all around the world. And now that he is successfully branching out into books other than folktales, there’s no saying what he’ll come up with next.

Meet him, and lots of other interesting authors, at the Baltimore Book Fair.

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