Sophie Blackall: 2019 National Book Festival

Sophie Blackall: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Karen Walfall: The next
presenter is Sophie Blackall. Please give her a
round of applause. [ Applauding ]>>Sophie Blackall: Thank you. My introducer person
is not here yet. So I have a very good
friend, Susannah Richards who is a children’s
literature professor, she’s an extraordinary
person and she once said, “I would do anything for you”
and I have forced her to come up and she’s going to introduce
me, spur of the moment just>>Susannah Richards: Like
she needs an introduction. I’m so delighted that
you are going to get to hear two time Caldecott
award winning, Sophie Blackall. The 2019 winner of the Caldecott
Medal, which she received in Washington D.C. this summer
and so she’s going to hear and so for, Hello
“Lighthouse” and also many of you may remember, “Finding
Winnie” her 2016 Caldecott Book and you’re going to be
delighted to listen to her and have a lot of fun Sophie.>>Sophie Blackall:
Thank you Susannah. All right. Can you hear me if I
walk around over here? Can you hear me at the back? Excellent. At the back, you might not know, but there are really cozy
beanbags, they’ve got it sorting down here, they’re in
the good land down here. Thank you Susannah
for that introduction. I’m Australian so I could
never say anything, you know, like that, so I need
somebody else’s to do it. Oh, I don’t have my oh, we do have pictures
over there excellent. This is me age seven and I could
never have imagined, age seven, that I would be standing here
in Washington D.C. talking to you all at the
National Book Festival. Thank you to the
Library of Congress for organizing this
festival, for having me here. Thank you to the thousands of
volunteers who make this happen. To the interpreters
who are doing such a stellar job,
all day long. I’m thrilled to be here. So when I was seven,
I grew up in Australia which looks now I’m not working, which looks like
this, horrible, right? Imagine why I wanted
to leave that. And I spent most of my childhood
in a tree in the I mean, I have to do this, in the bush,
in a tree escaping my mother who wanted me to do chores,
clean my room, wash dishes and I wanted to read in a tree. My brother was also in a
tree, his tree was better because he was older,
but mine was squigglier. We spent most of our waking
hours with books in the tree. We had a rope strung
between them with a basket so we could exchange books
when we ran out of stories. We were extremely competitive and had survival
kits in our trees. These were some of the
things in our survival kits. I had a refresher towelette
that my father brought back in a plane, which was
a very important thing because you never knew when
you might need refreshing. I had one of those things
of safety pins all attached to another safety pin because in
an emergency a safety pin could save you. My brother, though had a pen
knife because he was older, which was so unfair and I
thought he had totally won until I found that rusty
camp set of utensils that clicked together, then
I was definitely in the lead. So we had this whole
survival thing in our tree with our books, but sooner
or later we would need food. And in Australia there’s
incredible inedible dusty, dry, it’s a cookie, but it’s
nothing like a cookie, which is why it’s
called a biscuit. And it looks like this inside,
its just it’s just awful, but it’s sort of like hard tack
that they would give sailors and we would gnaw on these
bush biscuits for hours. This looked to me a
little bit like Australia, which I think was
wishful thinking, but I’m clearly a
little bit homesick and I can’t believe I
just wasted three slides on bush biscuits. Anyway, it felt a little bit
like being in a lighthouse, up the tree, except we
weren’t doing anything useful like saving ships from
being wrecked or, you know, guiding people to shore, with
we were just being selfish and not doing our jobs. But there were similarities,
being in a remote place, having to wait for the
tender or, in our case, our mother to bring us supplies. Fast forward many years later and I started making picture
books and I’ve made forty five of them and some of them
not all pictures books, but some of them you might know. And some of you might know,
“Ivy and Bean” excellent. And, “Finding Winnie” and
the question I get asked more than any other is where do you
get your ideas to make drawings, to make books and the
first answer is really from other books. I love books. I love reading. You will hear this
again and again and again today every
writer is first a reader. I also love other
things like ducks, especially if I can catch
them and cuddle them, they can tell me their
jokes, ducks are hilarious. I like sad, flat marang babies. I just want to draw your
attention to the one in the foreground who is
the most chipper of all of the sad flat marang babies, even though he has
lost his foot, he’s just oh, pick me, pick me. I just saw this in a window in a
cake shop in Rome and I thought, maybe one day this will
be a story, I don’t know. I put all of these things
into a well of ideas. I love pigs, especially when
they look like their owners. This is my cat, some
of you may have a cat. I would bet, I would put money
on it that your cat is the kind of cat that you with
pick up and it purrs and you can stroke your cat. When you come home from
school, it might run and leap into your arms. Perhaps you even wear it
as a shawl, not this cat, this cat is what I
call a negative cat. I like maps, especially
if they have sea monsters. I am always wanting to sit
at the window seat of a plane because that’s where
you see everything. I like vending machines
in other countries. I can understand why people need
things after hours, spam, sure. Playing cards, maybe. I still don’t know why anyone
would need a Little Mermaid money kin after hours,
but who knows, in Italy anything can happen. But most of my ideas I get
from children and luckily for me I spend a lot
of time with them. I work with Save the Children
and UNICEF and I get to travel to countries like Bhutan,
where I meet children in their schools, we share
stories and draw pictures. Children in Congo, in
Indiana and in Rwanda. These are children reading the
very first book they’ve ever read in their lives. They are opening the book and
turning the pages and looking at the pictures and making out
the words for the first time, and it was humbling and
thrilling to be there. I love drawing with children,
it’s always unexpected, they always make
my drawings better. But mostly, it’s better just to
stand back and let them alone. I asked kids to draw me
visitors from outer space because that’s what my next
book is about and they drew them and then I helped them turn
them into designs in cut paper and I would be proud to
have made any one of these. So all of those ideas
I put into my well, sometimes they stay
there forever, sometimes I fish them
out after a while. Many years ago I found out
this cutout etching flea market and I saw it and for the
first time I started to think about life inside a
lighthouse and I thought, what can I do with this? I could maybe make a book,
but the time wasn’t right so I put it the in the well but
years later it came out again and it became this book. Hello Lighthouse is an
[inaudible] lighthouse, it’s a story about a new keeper
who comes to replace the old. He experiences all the
different kinds of weather. He experiences loneliness
and separation. He experiences storms and the
joyful reunion with his wife and fog and shipwrecks
and carpets of ice. He experiences illness
and near death and then the joy of recovery. His wife has a child. There’s this extraordinary
explosion of joy that that brings and then
there is the change that came to all lighthouses when they
became automated and life as they knew it would be
different forevermore. This book has been an
extraordinary experience sharing it out in the world. I have learned things that
children have pointed out to me that I intuitively probably knew
I was doing but it took child to show me that this picture
at the end of the book, a parent told me this story, but
she was reading with her child and she said to the child “It’s sad, isn’t it? This life of theirs is
over, they’re looking back at the lighthouse, they
were so happy there and now they can’t go back, they have to move
forward, but it’s sad.” And the child said, “Not really because after they finish saying
goodbye to the lighthouse, which is also kind of hello from
a different place, they’re going to close the door
and go up the stairs and behind their house
is the rest of the world” and I thought, oh,
kids are smart. Thank goodness we have them to tell us what are
books are about. I’ve realized that a lot
of people like lighthouses for all different reasons. In the 19th century they would
pile themselves into tours for photographs with them. You can find lighthouses
on everything from salt and pepper shakers, to
these weird crochet things, whatever they are, to people who actually even want
to be a lighthouse. And I think the reasons people
like lighthouses are varied. People see them as symbols,
something to guide us, something that is
constant and steadfast. This is Minot’s Ledge
Lighthouse in Massachusetts. It’s often called the
“I Love You Lighthouse” because its signal is
one flash, four flashes, and then three flashes. This is one of the
reasons I love lighthouses. This is what Minot’s Ledge
looks like when the sea is calm. And this is what it
looks like in a storm, and can you imagine being
inside that lighthouse when a wave hits the reef
and turns itself inside out and slams against the
wall of the lighthouse like a wrecking ball, and
you are inside all cozy in your round room with your
cup of tea and your supper. And it’s this contrast
that I found so compelling about lighthouses. In my research, I had
to obviously go and stay in a lighthouse and I chose this
one in Newfoundland in Canada on a tiny island in
the most Northern tip. It’s famous for its
whales and its icebergs. There was also a family of
foxes living on the island. There was a hut with a big glass
window where you could look out at the icebergs
and the whales. That is a whale vertebra, that
round thing in the window. And this is where
I wrote the first of twelve drafts of
Hello Lighthouse. It was when I was staying in
the lighthouse that I noticed in five days there that we
experienced all different kinds of weather. There was a day when the sky was
blue and the sea was turquoise. There was a day where
it was still and grey and the sea was silvery
like a mirror. And there was a day when the sky
was railing with thunderclouds and the sea was black
and turning, but the lighthouse was
always the same constant, steadfast, in the same place. And so as I started to think
about the form of this book, I decided the lighthouse would
always be in the same place. On alternate pages, we
would tell the story of the outside world of
weather and seasons and storms. And the inside world of
the lighthouse keeper and his family would be in
circles in the round rooms of the house, the circles
and cycles of life. So I had my structure ready,
I’d written my manuscript, I’d done my research, it was
time to turn it into the a book. This is a little paper
book we call a “dummy” which is a practice book so you can see how the
pages work together. And maybe you recognize
some of those paintings in these early sketches. The dummy done. This is the fun part for
me, the painting part. I use Chinese ink. Has anyone used Chinese
ink before? The big black rectangle
is a stone and the skinny rectangle is the
ink stick, you dip it in water and grind it on the stone
and it makes a paint. And I’m going to show you a sped up practice painting
of a lighthouse. That’s the Chinese ink that
goes on first, all the shadows, the stuff in black and white. And you can see where the black
dots are pulling, that’s a piece of film, it’s like plastic
film that’s sticky on one side and you can cut out shapes to
keep the paper white underneath where you want it to go. If you look very closely you’ll
see me peal it off at one point. It’s coming up soon. There it was. I said before that one of the amazing things is
being showing this book to people around the world. I went to Maine in the spring. I’ve never been to Maine
before and I worked with an organization called
Island Readers and Writers. And we visited tiny islands
in Maine and there were a lot of them, and they
had lighthouses and these are tiny schools
with maybe five kids. And they are underserved
schools, they don’t have many resources,
but each kid gets a book. And we went out on little boats and these are kids whose
grandparents were lighthouse keepers or worked in the Coast
Guard or were lobster fishermen, and it was amazing to work with kids whose real life was
deeply connected to lighthouses. As I said, each kid gets a book,
at the end one girl said to me, “Where should I put it?” And I said, “Well, you could
put it in your backpack, you can take it home”
and she said, “But I have to bring it
back tomorrow, right?” And I said, “No, you get to keep
it” and she said, “Forever?” And I said, “Yes, forever.” And she said, “I’m going
to read it every night for the rest of my life.” And I said, “I hope you
get some more books” but we laid lighthouses
together. And then just two days ago, I
got back from two weeks in China on a book tour with
Hello Lighthouse, which was as different as
you might expect to being in tiny islands in Maine,
but two stories came out of this trip in China. One was a woman came up to me
and she was at the very end and she said, “I don’t have
a book” we had a translator and she said, “But
I want to tell that you this book helps
me see that there’s light in the darkness because I see
a lot of darkness in my life, but this reminds me that
sometimes there’s light and to remember to look for it.” Which kind of made
my knees buckle. And then another young man
came up to me and he said that I had left the village
where he lived to come to the big city and
picture books are kind of newish in China. I had many parents ask me, how
do I read this book to my child? This young man said, “I
came from the village, I left my parents but I’m
going to send them this book. They can’t read but when they
will look at the pictures and they will know the thing
that I can’t say in words. Which is, that I
am the lighthouse and they are my keepers. And even though we
have been separated, I will always be shinning
my light back towards them.” Which again, was incredibly
moving and one of the joys of making a picture book
that goes out into the world and has unexpected results
and you hear these things from children and
from grown ups. We don’t need lighthouses
anymore the way we used so. They used to be almost
like paramedics or firemen, lighthouse keepers. But we still have the
lighthouses themselves and I think they are a symbol
of all of those things. But even more important, we
have books and we have books into which we can escape
to other worlds and, perhaps find calmer or safer or
more joyous worlds than the one that we’re living in right now. And we have five minutes left. That was a gallop. Thank you for staying with me. I hope you have some questions. [ Applauding ] Oh, yes excellent. All right. I’m putting my glasses on so
I can see you all the better, you’re very sparkly. Yes, what is your question?>>Guest: Where did you get
the idea from Ivy and Bean?>>Sophie Blackall: Where did I
get the idea for Ivy and Bean? I got the idea from Ivy
and Bean from Annie Barrows who is the author of
Ivy and Bean and one of my very best friends
and she is one of the funniest people I know
and I can’t take any credit for the idea because it was
all her idea and I just got to bring it to life in
pictures right behind you. Yes?>>Guest: What was it like
to work with Annie Barrows?>>Sophie Blackall: What was it
like to work with Annie Barrows? It was too much fun. For the first three books, they wouldn’t let us
even meet each other because they knew it
would be like the kids who were not allowed to sit
next to each other in class. Have you ever had
that experience? It would be like that. So they pretended that
they didn’t I’d say, can I talk to Annie? Oh, we don’t know her address,
you know, sorry, I mean, we’d let you know, but no. And then we found each
other because, you know, we’re smart like that. It’s fantastic. It’s a lot of fun. Yes?>>Guest: How does
the Chinese ink work?>>Sophie Blackall: How
does the Chinese ink work? The big block is a stone, the skinny one is a
stick, it’s dry and hard. And it doesn’t do anything
until you dip it in water and then you grind
it on the rectangle and it turns into
ink like magic. It’s really fun. I don’t paint with it
in a traditional way like calligraphers do, I
used it more like watercolor. Yes?>>Guest: Tell us how it
feels to win the Caldecott.>>Sophie Blackall: It feels, it
feels see, I don’t have words, even after all this time,
I don’t really have words. It’s something that you
never expect to happen to you once, let alone, twice. It’s an amazing thing and I
go days and weeks and months without thinking about it and
then I kind of remember, like, this amazing thing happened and
then I have to kind of forget about it again because if I look at it too closely
it might evaporate, I might wake up from a dream.>>Guest: And you’re books
will always be in the library.>>Sophie Blackall: Thank you. Thank you. Yes? Oh are we going
to alternate? We’re going to alternate. I will come back to you. Yes?>>Guest: What’s your
favorite lighthouse?>>Sophie Blackall: Oh,
my favorite lighthouse. It would be a tie between
the one I got to stay in on the island called
Quirpon Island in Newfoundland. When nine children were
born, can you imagine that? Not just one, but nine
in that lighthouse. That was really fun because I
got to see whales and icebergs and we got to go in a
canoe and fish a little bit of iceberg out of the sea. That was really cool and then we
put it in our drink and it kind of exploded and fizzed and they
were there ten thousand year old air bubbles. And then the other
one is Minot’s Ledge with the big waves
that I showed you. That’s a very good question. Yes?>>Guest: What’s your
favorite book that you made?>>Sophie Blackall:
Favorite book that I made, I think it’s Hello Lighthouse
and also maybe the one that I’ve just finished
working on, I like that one too,
that’s not out yet. Yes? Oh, no, we’re
doing alternate. I’m not very good at this. Hello oh, one minute quick, yes?>>Guest: How did you
get involved with UNICEF to spread the joy of
reading around the world and double double question, why
do you feel like it’s important for all kids to have
books in their hands?>>Sophie Blackall:
Great question. I was incredibly fortunate
that UNICEF came to me and it was actually for a
project on measles vaccination. It was an immunization campaigns that I went originally
with UNICEF. And then it turned into
literacy campaigns. All of the reasons for reading,
we know them all and yet, they cannot be stated enough. That a child who reads will grow
on to become an adult who read, and adults who read are more
likely to have rewarding and fulfilling lives
in their communities, all of the darter is there. But also it’s just
reading promotes curiosity, screams passive, they
do everything for you. Whereas, reading a book allows
you to your imagination. Kids you can you can
picture things yourselves, makes your brain work
in a different way. It’s just altogether
better I think. Last one. Last one. Wrap it up, yes?>>Guest: I was drawing so
many connections to your work and Brian Selznick’s work as
you talked and your pictures, have you work with him?>>Sophie Blackall: I have
not, but he is a friend and I admire his
books very much and so that is an incredibly
flattering thing to say. And thank you. And I’m going to
be signing at 1:30 and if you have more questions
for me then, I would love to try and answer them. Thank you all so much.

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