Photo: Johnny Wolf Photography
On September 24, NCAC executive director Joan Bertin was celebrated as a Bridge Honoree at the 2015 Carle Honors, an event to raise funds for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
She delivered the following remarks at the festivities, which were held at Guastavino’s in New York City.
I'm deeply honored and flattered to be here tonight, in such distinguished company. It is wonderful to be in a room with so many people who appreciate the value of books, and in particular the way picture books inspire young children and introduce them to the lifelong joys of reading and art.
I've been privileged to have a job that allows me to expand childrens' access to books of all kinds, and to advocate for their freedom to read. In a conversation in the office yesterday, I pondered these questions: “Why does intellectual freedom matter, and why do we need it?" Different people will have different responses, but what popped out of my mouth was this: We need it to be fully human, to know ourselves, to relate to others, and to find our place in the world. It all starts with picture books and the creative art in them that captivates children, transports them to other times and places, and inspires their imagination.
As many of you know, much of our work at the National Coalition Against Censorship involves countering the idea that a book will give a kid bad ideas– like it's OK to curse, have sex, talk back, and question values just because a character does. It's not easy to persuade anxious parents, many of them well-intentioned, that books with profanity, sex, violence, and characters who drink, smoke and use drugs can open up opportunities to discuss difficult issues with their children– and that reading these kinds of books actually helps their kids make sense of the world and make better decisions.
But it starts much earlier. Picture books are not immune from similar attacks. I'm thinking of books like The Dirty Cowboy, written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex, a whimsical story about a cowboy whose dog runs off with his clothes when he takes his annual bath. Needless to say, he gets undressed to take his bath, so he's naked – although his so-called private parts are artfully concealed behind a bush, a rock or his dog's tail. That didn't satisfy one parent, who felt that the suggestions of nudity in the book would send the message to kids that it's OK to look at pornography. Then there was Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which elicited complaints because one page says "some families have two moms or two dads." You know what that's all about.
Or the objections to Robie Harris and Michael Emberley’s So Amazing books about bodies and sexuality. These books have guided generations of young readers up to and through puberty, and filled in for parents who didn’t tell their kids certain things they absolutely need to know. Not that all parents appreciate the help; one criticized the books because they "foster questions;" another claimed that the drawings are "child pornography."
This evening has special relevance for me as a parent. My daughters are now in their 30s – one of them is here with me tonight – but I still have a bookcase filled with the books their father and I read to them from the time they could sit up. Every time I walk by those shelves, a book catches my eye. It might be Miss Rumphius, The Kind Wolf, Brave Irene, No Fighting No Biting, The Reluctant Dragon, Eloise, Make Way for Ducklings, Frog and Toad, or a hundred others. Each one brings back memories of reading with them– at bedtime, on trips, or on a rainy day. They are unforgettable moments of precious times together.
So picture books have great resonance for me. Maybe my experience reading to my kids as a parent is in part what drew me to NCAC, and keeps me there– still passionate about children's books after all these years. I’m so grateful to Eric and his dear Barbara for providing us with this one-of-a-kind museum, and commend all that The Carle does to celebrate and advance this very special art form and storytelling. What a beautiful legacy to leave for future generations of kids and parents, whose lives will be transformed by picture books, as mine has been.