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Highlights from BookFest @ Bank Street 2011

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

Keynote - The 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 children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus moderate a discussion between writer, Norton Juster, and illustrator, Jules Feiffer.

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 The Phantom Tollbooth he began creating characters just to stump Feiffer!

Breakout Sessions

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 w/out 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 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 for their support enabling us to maintain an affordable registration fee.



Featured Speakers

Featured speakers for BookFest 2011 include

  • Leonard Marcus

    Leonard Marcus is a highly respected and versatile children's book expert and historian. A founding member of the board of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, he is one of the most trusted critics in the field. Leonard served as Parenting magazine's book critic for 21 years and is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. He is a three–time judge of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year Prize. Leonard has been a featured guest on numerous radio and television programs, including ABC's Good Morning America, BBC Radio 4, C–SPAN 2's Book TV, and National Public Radio's All Things Considered as well as Talk of the Nation.

    Leonard, who is known for his witty and highly accessible style as a presenter, speaks about children's books and literacy issues to parents and professional groups throughout the U. S. and around the world. He also enjoys giving talks and workshops for school children, especially for the lower and middle–school grades. Recent appearances have included programs at the Sidwell Friends School, the American Library Association convention, Yale University, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' National Conference, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the New York Public Library, and the national libraries of France and Japan.

    He is the author of many of the most highly acclaimed books about children's literature and the authors and artists who create them, including Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon; Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom; A Caldecott Celebration; Side by Side; Pass It Down; Storied City; The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy; Minders of Make–Believe; and Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy. His lavishly illustrated Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way was published to commemorate the sixty–fifth anniversary of Little Golden Books and established him as an expert on that beloved and revolutionary line of children's books, which is also the subject of a major exhibition that Leonard co–curated, and is currently touring nationally.

    Leonard was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York. He holds degrees in history from Yale and poetry from the University of Iowa Graduate Writer's Workshop. In 2007, Leonard was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Bank Street College of Education. He and his wife, the picture–book artist Amy Schwartz, live with their son, Jacob, in Brooklyn, New York.



  • Norton Juster

    Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression.  There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

    He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

    After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York.  He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier.  Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia.  He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

    He began writing seriously while in the Navy.  His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961.  Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children's Books Award, it is recognized as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world.  It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical.  In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C..  The nationwide tour will start in 2008

    Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the Wise; Otter Nonsense; As: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window.  His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

    Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write.  He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

    Norton Juster is married and lives in Western Massachusetts.  He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

  • Jules Feiffer

    Cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and children’s book author & illustrator Jules Feiffer has had a remarkable creative career turning contemporary urban anxiety into witty and revealing commentary for over fifty years. From his Village Voice editorial cartoons (see Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips, 1956-1966) to his plays and screenplays including Little Murders and Carnal Knowledge, Feiffer’s satirical outlook has helped define us politically, sexually and socially.

    The first cartoonist commissioned by The New York Times to create comic strips for their Op-Ed page, Feiffer has since shifted his focus towards writing and illustrating books for children and young adults including The Man in the Ceiling, A Room with a Zoo and Bark, George!

    He won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award for his cartoons; an Obie for his plays; an Academy Award for the animation of his cartoon satire, Munro; and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Writers Guild of America and the National Cartoonist Society. Feiffer has taught at the Yale School of Drama, Northwestern University, Dartmouth, and presently at Stony Brook Southampton College. He has been honored with major retrospectives at the New York Historical Society, the Library of Congress and The School of Visual Arts.

    In these challenging political times, Feiffer’s presentations mix personal anecdotes, current events and satirical commentary. His memoir, Backing into Forward (Doubleday), relates how persistent failure inspired him to reinvent himself as an artist over and over.

  • Donna Jo Napoli

    Donna Jo Napoli is a highly acclaimed author of both novels and picture books. Her many award-winning titles include STONES IN WATER, winner of a Golden Kite Award and the Sydney Taylor Book Award; Zel, which was named a Best Book by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal; SIRENA, an ALA Best Book; BEAST, a School Library Journal Best Book; and, recently, THE GREAT GOD PAN. After writing NORTH, she discovered that a good friend of hers actually owns Matthew Henson's snowshoes.

    Donna Jo Napoli earned both her B.A. in mathematics and her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, where among her courses she teaches workshops in writing fiction and poetry. She lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

  • Kate McMullan

    Kate McMullan taught fourth and sixth grades, and loves writing for middle graders. She is the author of SCHOOL: Adventures at Harvey N. Trouble Elementary, the Dragon Slayers’ Academy series, and MYTH-O-MANIA, the Greek Myths as retold by Hades.

    For new readers, Kate created Fluffy, the Classroom Guinea Pig, as well as a bunny-mouse duo, Pearl & Wagner. The latest Pearl & Wagner adventure, One Funny Day, is a Geisel Honor Book, awarded for the best books for beginning readers.

    Kate and her illustrator husband, Jim McMullan, have collaborated on several best-selling picture books, including I STINK!, I’M MIGHTY!, I’M DIRTY!, I’M BAD! and I’M BIG! I’M FAST! will be out this spring, featuring a wild race between a car and a freight train.

    Kate and Jim live in Sag Harbor, New York, with two inspirational bulldogs, Toby and Pinkie. You can view the whole crew if you visit her Web site, You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

  • George O’Connor

    George O'Connor's first graphic novel, Journey Into Mohawk Country, used as its sole text the actual historical journal of the seventeenth-century Dutch trader Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, and told the true story of how New York almost wasn't. He followed that up with Ball Peen Hammer, the first graphic novel written by playwright Adam Rapp, a dark dystopian view of a society's collapse as intimately viewed by four lost souls. Now he has brought his attention to Olympians, an ongoing series retelling the classic Greek myths in comics form. In addition to his graphic novel career, Mr. O'Connor has published several children's picture books, including the New York Times best-selling Kapow, Sally and the Some-Thing, and Uncle Bigfoot.

    He lives in Brooklyn, NY. ?

  • G. Brian Karas

    G. Brian Karas was born George Brian Karas In Milford, Connecticut In 1957. He is the prolific and versatile illustrator and writer of many children's books including Atlantic, an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book, Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley, and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor title, Home on the Bayou. The New York Times decribes his work as "...depicted In a childlike style that belies the sophistication of the drawings. Exquisite and moving in its subtlety." He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with his family.

  • Calista Brill

    Detroit, MI native Calista Brill is an editor at First Second, where she works with artists and writers to create great graphic novels for readers of all ages, interests, and temperaments. She started her career at The Walt Disney Company, editing books for young readers about Princesses, Fairies, and Pirates. In her imaginary spare time, she makes stuffed animals and pies.

More Featured Speakers

  • Christopher Ford

    Christopher Ford is a graduate of NYU's film school. He co-founded Waverly Films, creating Webby Award winning animation, television pilots and an upcoming feature film "Robot & Frank", starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon. Stickman Odyssey is his first graphic novel. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

  • Chris Duffy

    Chris Duffy is a writer and comics editor. He worked as Senior Comics Editor at the award-winning Nickelodeon Magazine for 13 years and currently edits SpongeBob Comics for United Plankton Pictures, as well as other projects. Chris was part of the board of advisors for Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. His comic book writing includes scripts for Bizarro Comics, Bizarro World, Superman Adventures, Scooby-Doo, What If?, Rugrats Comic Adventures, and Batman Chronicles. He wrote comics strips for Family Dog Magazine. Comics that he has written and drawn have appeared in several anthologies, including Awesome, Awesomer, and Dragons! He lives with his awesomEST family in Cold Spring, New York.