Jon Scieszka sees himself simply as an author supplying the material needed by teachers and librarians "who go to work everyday” to inspire their students and other young people to read.
"My job's easy," Scieszka said. "I just sit in my office and write, but they're the ones in the trenches motivating kids to want to be readers."
Scieszka is the author of the acclaimed The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He was on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus this week to receive the top honor given at the annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, the Southern Miss Medallion.
The annual festival is attended by hundreds of teachers, librarians, writers and lovers of children’s literature. It began in 1968 as the Conference on the Writing, Illustrating and Publishing of Children’s Book and the next year became the Children’s Book Festival. In 2001, the festival was named in honor of the late Fay B. Kaigler, a longtime supporter of the event.
Of the medallion, which bears his image and that of one of his fictional characters, Scieszka expressed gratitude. “This is fantastic,” he said. “I’ve been honored with other awards, but there’s nothing else like this. Where else could I get a medallion with my mug on the front and The Stinky Cheese Man on the back?”
After being presented with the medallion, Scieszka spoke to festival attendees about his work, what he loves about the genre of children’s literature and the inspiration he receives from readers. A winner of the 1993 Caldecott Award for his work in children’s literature, he insisted that those who deserve praise are the teachers and librarians who work every day “connecting kids to reading.”
Scieszka graduated from Albion College in 1976 and obtained his MFA from Columbia University in 1980. In addition to The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Math Curse, and Robot Zot have also won multiple awards. He is the founder of Guys Read, a literacy program designed to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers. In 2008, Scieszka was named the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress.
This marks the second year of hosting the Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards, co‐presented by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the Southern Miss deGrummond Children's Literature Collection. Julie Fogliano of Olive, N.Y. received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award for and then it’s spring, while the New Illustrator Award for Children's Books went to Hyewon Yum for Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten. The awards recognize the contributions and influences of Keats' works and highlights the scope of the de Grummond Children's Collection as a repository for Ezra Keats works.
“I’m a lifelong Ezra Jack Keats fan, so to be honored with an award bearing his name is quite amazing,” Fogliano said.
“I’m really appreciative of this honor,” Yum said. “I feel very lucky to be a recipient.”
Known collectively as the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the New Writer Award was established in 1985, and the New Illustrator Award in 2001 to recognize and encourage authors and illustrators starting out in the field of children's books.
Other award winners included the musical group Trout Fishing in America, which took the Colleen Salley Storytelling Award; and Madison (Miss.) Public Library Children’s Specialist Elizabeth Turner, recipient of The Fay B. Kaigler-Ruth Lamont Award.
F.T. Bradley, a writer from Biloxi, Miss. was one of the festival’s workshop and breakout session presenters. Bradley's presentation focused on ways to change mindsets about reluctant readers, including strategies for bridging the gap for children between required reading assignments and what they enjoy.
“I love the breadth of knowledge about children’s literature that is here, and the positive atmosphere and spirit,” said Bradley, who also attended last year’s festival. “I always come away inspired.”
For more information about the annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, online visit http://www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival.