The James Marshall evening at MIT--Susan Meddaugh, Susan Moynihan, Anita Silvey, David Wiesner, and me moderating--went fabulously. I've moderated many of these things, and sometimes it's a lot of work to make the panelists a) stay on topic and b) have a conversation. This lineup was great: Susan Meddaugh was an old buddy of Marshall's; Susan Moynihan reads his books to each new crop of kids in her school; Anita knew Jim from both her Horn Book and Houghton days; David met him when they each had their first Caldecott honors, in 1989. As we discovered at dinner prior to the event, that ALA banquet was germane for several reasons--David was there for Free Fall, Anita was chair of the Wilder committee that year, and I was sitting with Marshall for the speeches. Whose speeches? Oh, my friends . . . .
That's one Caldecott acceptance speech you won't find in the Horn Book, although maybe there is a recording of it buried deep, deep in the ALA archives at the University of Illinois. Winning for Song and Dance Man, Stephen Gammell spoke off-the-cuff for what I think was fifty-two minutes. At one point he introduced us to the lint in his pockets. Waiters cleared tables. The lights were flashed off and on. Poor Elizabeth Speare, winner of the Wilder medal, must have been wondering if she would live to give her speech. And James Marshall was kicking me under the table and barely suppressing his mirth.
Last night couldn't match that one for drama but I was deeply impressed with the engagement the panelists brought to the subject. We talked about Marshall's artistic techniques, lauded his sometimes overlooked gift for writing, assessed his impact on the field, and pondered just why kids respond with such immediacy to his books. What we didn't get to was his legacy of smart-alecky back-talking--Scieszka and Smith owe him their careers (which they acknowledge) and don't even get me started on Dav Pilkey's Dumb Bunnies. Was Marshall the picture book's first sarcasticist?