Highlights from BookFest@Bank Street 2011

Posted by Claire Daniel on November 01, 2011

Despite the unseasonable pre-Halloween snow, this year's BookFest@Bank Street participants enjoyed a delightful day indoors discussing children's books.

Photo: A BookFest@BankStreet participant gets her book signed by Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster & Leonard Marcus.

Keynote—Phantom Tollbooth’s 50th Anniversary

Festivities commenced with a celebration of the Phantom Tollbooth, the classic children’s novel that marked its 50th anniversary that day. Bank Street was honored to have writer Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer discuss their collaboration on a panel moderated by children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus.

Both creators spoke at length about their struggles as young students, and the unsusal partnership between writer and illustrator. Later, the two jovially sparred whilst answering Marcus’s probing questions—giving the audience a glimpse of their life and half-a-century-long friendship. Juster even joked that towards the end of making Phantom Tollbooth he began creating characters just to stump Feiffer!

Breakout Sessions

Photo: Rita Auerbach presenting The Arrival by Shaun Tan

After grabbing a quick cup of coffee, which was provided throughout the conference courtesy of, participants broke out into discussion groups. Led by respected teachers, reviewers and librarians in the field, these bunches assembled to examine both timeless and timely topics in children’s literature.

  • Jenny Brown of Shelf Awareness facilitated a discussion of “sleepers,” otherwise known as books that appear under the publicity radar;
  • Rita Auerbach, member of the Children’s Book Committee and former chair of the Caldecott Award, asked the question, “Are pictures worth 1,000 words?” assembling a diverse collection of highly illustrated books;
  • Randall Enos of Ramapo “weathered the storm” for Middle School Mischief, the first group to sell out; 
  • Luann Toth, managing editor of the School Library Journal refereed an intense debate asking “What qualifies a book to be a Caldecott winner?”; and
  • Jennifer Hubert Swan, Elisabeth Irwin/Little Red librarian and Reading Rants blogger examined YA horror without the bloodsuckers.

Comics for the Very Young

After a delicious lunch prepared by none other than Bank Street’s very own Chef Chad, the program resumed in Tabas Auditorium with a panel discussion on Comics for the Very Young. There, Chris Duffy, Editor of Nursery Rhyme Comics, and Calista Brill, Editor for First Second Books, spoke on the art and science of persuading award-winning and nationally known comics to illustrate nursery rhymes.

The presentation included a few edgy interpretations, like Mike Mignola’s take on Solomon Grundy, and some familiar faces, like Nick Bruel’s bad kitties in Three Little Kitties. The time sped by and all too soon it was time for the final panel of the day.

Greek Myths Retold

Kate McMullan, author of the kid-favorite Mythomania series of fractured retellings, moderated BookFest’s closing panel, which included remarks from a disparate group of Greek Myth re-tellers. Romance language scholar Donna Jo Napoli returned to the original language to mine additional nuggets of detail. Filmmaker Christopher Ford fractured further using the illustration genre of the “stickman” to retell the Odyssey. Graphic comic illustrator George O’Connor revealed that retelling the Olympian stories was an epiphany for him, as the Greek stories enthralled him as a child. G.Brian Karas described how essential it was to actually visit Greece for his researching Young Zeus.

Kate was able to elicit childhood memories of authors’ first encounters with these characters, as well as the development of each panelists’ specific titles. The program wrapped up with George O’Connor’s hilarious 30-second summary of why Odysseus was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Many thanks to our Gold Sponsor, Capstone Publishing, whose support enabled us to maintain an affordable registration fee. For more information about next year's BookFest, literature events and programs check out the Center for Children's Literature.