Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz

Yesterday, on the vernal equinox, there was a memorial service for the two great librarians who died at ALA Midwinter in January. Brian Selznick created a wonderful piece of art for the occasion -- a cross between Giotto and Rousseau. The black & white reproduction above does it no justice! There were storytellers at the service, and kids, and library volunteers, and a politician. Pat Scales gave a dignified and moving account of Kate and Kathy's professional influence, and Brian Selznick told us an uncanny story of a baby born at the Denver Public Library the very day that Kate and Kathy left us. I have written about Kate before on this blog, but a number of people have asked for the text of the comments I was honored to deliver at the service. Here it is:

Memorial service for Kathy Krasniewicz and Kate McClelland Old Greenwich, Connecticut, March 20, 2009

My name is Brenda Bowen, and I am honored to speak on behalf of the children's publishing community.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote on the ALSC site after hearing the news of the death of Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz: "Deepest condolences to all of you who knew them well from one who admired them so much and loved their work and generosity to so many in the realm of READING and THINKING and BEING. The world has darkened utterly. What can we do to keep them alive?"

Today's celebration is keeping Kate and Kathy very much alive. Every single one of us carries a piece of their spirits in the way we read, how we think, who we are. To know Kate and Kathy was to be inspired by them. These ladies had style, and class. Kate -- who at 71 years old (and who knew she was 71?) -- was an agent of radical change. She was not content with the status quo. She rewarded risk and venturesome creativity. Kathy was a beacon of warmth and intelligence. She was the practical application of our work as publishers. Children always first with Kathy.

And children and young adults all over this country have found books to love because of Kathy and Kate's work and passion. We publishers have made better books because of them. We can still feel the grip of Kate's hand on our forearms as she leaned in close to ask..."What is Jinny up to?" We can see Kathy with her dazzling smile and her regal bearing, eyes bright with excitement about what was coming out next season. "Tell me about your books, " she'd say. They never stopped, never got tired of hearing what was coming next.

They pushed us, these ladies. They pushed us into bringing authors to conferences to speak to other librarians. They pushed us to get artists to talk to kids about drawing. They were so pushy on behalf of books. They had passionate opinions. They couldn't let a good story go unnoticed. They could not stop working to spread the word of children's books to the world. They were working, it is safe to say, up to the moment they died. They are working now.

The great English writer Virginia Woolf had something to say about women like Kate and Kathy, in a line Kate liked to quote: “I have sometimes dreamt…" Woolf wrote, "that when the Day of Judgment dawns…the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these have no need of reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’”

Woolf had her picture of heaven (only Kate and Kathy would have appeared at the Pearly Gates with galleys, not bound books); I'll add to Woolf's vision with mine. I think Kate is up there right now, getting up to mischief with Bill Steig. Conspiring with Lloyd Alexander and -- whoa! -- maybe she's making peace between Anne Carroll Moore and Margaret Wise Brown. She could do it!

And Kathy is right there next to her, the sensible one, the steady, constant companion and quiet leader. She's reading to the young children and booktalking to the older kids and writing letters home to her girls, her beautiful girls.

I think any of us in publishing has had the thought: I don't think I can face another season. Not another list. Is there really anything new under the sun? And then you're at your desk, and you open an email attachment from a new writer, and you start reading on the screen, and you can't stop reading, even though your eyes hurt. Because there in front of you an amazing story is spinning out -- a story you've never read before, told in a voice you've never heard. And your heart actually quickens with excitement.

Or you get back to your office to find a huge brown-paper-wrapped package, and you carefully, nervously undo the wrapping to discover a picture book from years ago that you thought would never get delivered and you open it and it is astonishing -- and you think, Oh my God: This is why I'm in it. This is why I love making books.

And right away your mind goes to the next thought: But who's going to get this? Who's going to read it and love it and spread the word and get it to kids? Oh -- there's Betty Carter! And there's Karen Breen! And there's Kathy and Kate!

But now there's not Kathy and Kate any more. Which is why it is so urgent that we leave this place with Kathy and Kate on our shoulders. One on each. We'll take Kathy's red coat and Kate's fabulous kimonos and wrap them around ourselves as armor. We'll recall Kate's chunky jewelry and Kathy's beautiful family rings when we see a literary gem in the rough. We'll peer over Kate's half glasses and look at the world half full; more than half full. We'll steal their enthusiasm, their drive, their optimism and use it to fuel ourselves. It's uncertain times these days. Radical change is in the air. But the stories and the songs and the pictures will go on because they must go on. Our job as publishers, writers, artists, readers is to imbue our own endeavor with the fierce love of Kate and Kathy felt for children's literature and children themselves.

It's the least we can do for them.

A book Kate loved was Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse. It's the vernal equinox today -- such a good day for a celebration of life. Here is a poem about spring from Karen Hesse's book that evokes Kate and Kathy and the gifts they will continue to give us, as long as we live.

"Apple Blossoms"

has been nursing these two trees
for as long as I can remember.
In spite of the dust
in spite of the drought,
because of Ma's stubborn care,
these trees are
thick with blossoms,
delicate and

My eyes can't get enough of the sight of them.
I stand under the trees
and let the petals
fall into my hair,
a blizzard
of sweet-smelling flowers,
dropped from the boughs of the two
placed there
in the front yard by Ma
before I was born,
that she and they might bring forth fruit
into our home,


GraceAnne LadyHawk said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I couldn't be there, and this means so much. It is near perfect. Thank you.

crchronicles said...

Yes -- thank you for representing all of us and thank you for sharing this tribute. It's beautiful. xoxox, carol