For the few of you who were privy to this blog before I officially launched in Sept. 2014, this image of the NYPL Lion with The Cat in the Hat may look familiar to you. I had it filling space at that time, simply to have an image on the page and stated I would eventually post the article I wrote for which I’d done this artwork. I realize you’ve been waiting with bated breath having suffered sleepless nights with the anticipation having been so overwhelming 😉 Well, your Patience (yes, we’ll consider this lion Patience rather than Fortitude) has been greatly appreciated and hopefully worth the wait.
This was originally written for our NJ SCBWI magazine Sprouts (no longer printed) way back in January 2010, though it had been heavily trimmed due to page space constraints. I chose to post it now, in its full version, in honor of National Library Week, April 12–18 🙂 Keep in mind that some things that were stated 5 years ago are no longer current in respect to the state of the market/industry, etc. I’d like to point out that at that time, the monthly events were known as the Children’s Literary Cafe, now known as the Children’s Literary Salon. Also, since that time I’ve had the privilege to meet Betsy (Elizabeth) Byrd at the recent Bank Street Book Store Grand Re-opening enabling me to give her a copy of this article including the artwork 😀 .
As you read, it will be obvious how much I enjoyed this event. If you are ever able to attend, you can search for upcoming events on their site. I highly recommend it! So here we gooooo…
TV at the Public Library…New York, That Is
I felt a mix of excitement, anticipation and nervous uncertainty as I made my way past the famous, majestic lions Patience and Fortitude, up the broad marble steps and through the regal entrance of the New York Public Library. Only three days before I had no intention of being anywhere but home that Saturday, but on Kathy Temean’s trusted blog, she announced the event I was about to attend: “From the Page to the Screen…Television Screen, That Is”, presented by The Children’s Literary Café*.
My being an aspiring children’s author and illustrator, the panel of guests had an irresistible, magnetic pull, each being very successful somewhere in the field of animation, children’s television and/or children’s literature. It wasn’t just the invaluable information and words of wisdom I expected them to impart that pushed me through the $8.00 toll to cross the G. W. Bridge and into a $27.00 parking lot in midtown Manhattan; it was the chance to network in yet another arena relating to the children’s publishing industry. I was unable to find out whether I’d have the opportunity to meet any of the speakers, but I went prepared—just in case.
I descended the very long, multi-level flight of glass steps to the ground level of the building and was pleasantly welcomed at the entrance to the auditorium by a rolling cart filled with children’s books—free for the picking! I don’t know about you, but children’s books—especially FREE children’s books—tickle and thrill me and in this case, if for no other reason, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the event empty-handed.
Upon entering I could taste the delicious anticipation that filled the brightly-lit space. I found a seat behind a friendly man whose book he was hoping would make its way onto the little screen. He’d driven from Massachusetts to attend the event with his co-author, making the cost of my toll and parking fees sting a little less. I also spotted a dark-skinned woman, several rows down, whose face I was positive I knew yet couldn’t place because I was stuck in the mindset that perhaps I’d seen her at one of the NJ SCBWI conferences, not stopping to think that at this event were people outside the children’s publishing industry.
Elizabeth Bird, the children’s librarian, took the podium, made her opening remarks then introduced the four guest speakers along with the mediator, Liz Nealon, who had brought the panel together, she having suggested this aspect of children’s literature as the focus of one of the Café’s monthly meetings. This esteemed panel included: Linda Simensky, Diana Manson, Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Jim Jinkins (**for bios). During the 1 ½-hour session, which ended with a brief question/answer period, a wealth of information was imparted, along with large-screen, PowerPoint video entertainment, all of which can only be highlighted here.
Supported unanimously were several aspects of the nature of the process of adapting picture books to TV animation, one being the fact that most picture book characters cannot be adapted, or not adapted easily. Sometimes the characters aren’t full enough, or there are too many or too few characters. The characters and world must lend themselves to original story lines that can carry a series. For PBS, if not already a part of it, curriculum has to be integrated. The idiosyncrasies of a particular cast of characters or setting determine how drastic the changes need to be to make the adaptation work.
Linda Simensky’s straightforward approach was delivered with soft-spoken warmth and touches of humor. She was sure to point out one key difference between the writing/illustrating process from that of TV animation: writing tends to be a solitary process, where as TV animation is inherently collaborative and it is not the author who has the final say. Generally the author gives up one’s rights and is often not a part of the collaborative process. Not having direct input is sometimes by choice, though Linda stated that when the author has some input, it can often make for a better outcome overall. She also stressed, for those considering pursuing TV animation on some level, to thoroughly research the industry and understand it before considering entering into it; you must be informed—know what you’re getting into!
Those who attended had the pleasure of viewing a 2-minute clip from the upcoming PBS series based on The Cat in the Hat. Linda described the decision-making process as to how to keep the series true to the books and Dr. Seuss’s creation. Being an avid, life-long fan of his work, I was warmed by what was on the screen; in my opinion, they hit it spot-on and I look forward to the series airing on PBS, Fall 2010.
Diana Manson pointed out how this industry is not immune to the effects of a suffering economy; the sponsors and broadcasters have also tightened their belts which makes the production process more difficult and selective. The panel agreed when she stressed that working in TV animation production is an arduous job; you invest much time and effort in projects, each of which can take on years of your life.
Her dry, Australian wit was the perfect segue as she generously entertained us with sketchy clips of the upcoming series Olivia, showing examples of the different style renderings (classic vs. CG, etc.). To say the least, the audience was impressed and laughing throughout. Watching Olivia strut to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was sheer perfection in animation characterization.
Laura Vaccaro Seeger described her personal experience of having her books transformed into animation. Her take was somewhat unique, having worked in animation before writing and illustrating picture books. Her clever use of die-cuts are very effective in her concept books: Lemons Are Not Red, One Boy, and her award winning First the Egg. The way in which First the Egg was adapted to screen proved interesting, effective and enjoyable. She offered a short clip showing the transformation from the egg to the chick to the chicken, retaining the soft, sketchy look of her illustrations. Also presented was the work-in-progress version of the adaptation of the first story from Dog and Bear, Two Friends – Three Stories. It was adorable and entertaining in animated form narrated by Laura herself (to be changed later).
A down-to-earth Jim Jinkins (creator of Doug) proved to be the entertainer at heart that he is, his passion for the work evident throughout. He took great joy in giving us a behind-the-scenes tour of the creation of all things Pinky Dinky Doo. His daughter’s rendering of the character, which served as the springboard for Pinky’s ultimate look, was displayed side-by side with his. Because the series incorporates traditional animation with photographic sets and images, a Canadian-based company developed a CG 3-D program to accommodate the effects. We got a sneak peek at the overhead graphic images of the Pinky Dinky Doo set and characters, along with the underlying “skeletons” of the main characters.
I sighed as Elizabeth announced that portion of the meeting was coming to a close at which time Liz Nealon posed a final question to the panel, asking each about what they would consider their “dream project”. In essence: Diana responded wistfully, wishing to again work with someone she’d worked with years ago; Linda mentioned someone by name, asking anyone in the audience who might know the person, to please put in a good word; Laura is hopeful and looking forward to her work being adapted to screen, and Jim has become passionate for an environmental project he is working on.
The meeting’s conclusion was a brief question and answer session, several questions being posed by librarians and teachers. One topic addressed was that of the need of more media inter-relation as in: videos created to correspond with book series, etc. The meeting seemed to end in the blink of an eye, and though one speaker feared she’d been long-winded and boring at times, afterward I had the opportunity to tell her I enjoyed every minute and easily could’ve spent the whole day listening to everything they had to say.
When all was said and done, members of the audience made their way to the guest speakers who were now milling about, on and around the stage area. I was the first to reach Linda Simensky; she gave me a very generous and thorough answer to my question, “Is it necessary to have an agent to propose an idea for a show?” Though her answer was “No, not initially…” she again emphasized how important it is to do research and learn about the industry before trying to become a part of it, suggesting that ASIFA was a good place to start.
During the course of the meeting, through occasional discourse between the speakers and individuals in the audience, it had become apparent to me that perhaps 25-30 percent of the attendees were people in the TV industry (such as executive producers, etc.). This is why, when working my way through the huddles toward Jim Jinkins, and met the dark-skinned woman I had recognized in the audience, I learned she was, in fact, a very personable Sonia Manzano—“Maria” from Sesame Street. Duh! She was attending with an executive producer of the show, who I also had the pleasure of meeting.
While waiting my turn to speak with Jim, I enjoyed the blips of conversation between him and those in line before me. Speaking with him was a sincere pleasure and by that time, the crowd was beginning to disperse; the guest speakers and “friend” attendees were getting the logistics straight as to where they were eating lunch. My next move was to spend some time in the magnificent building which is “the” New York Public Library, not leaving before visiting the Main Reading Room located on the 3rd floor. In all sincerity, if there were a recliner in that breathtaking room, I could spend an indefinite amount of time luxuriating in that “sea” of literature while gazing at the artistry of its stunning, mural-painted, carved, gold-decorated “piece of sky”.
That afternoon as I descended the broad, marble steps and bid the lions farewell, I was filled with a feeling of great satisfaction; the feeling that can only come from time spent surrounded by exquisite literature within a historic, magnificent building, having shared time with exceptional like-minded, creative people with similar passions.
- Gas, tolls and parking: $45
- Admission to the New York Public Library: FREE
- My morning at The Children’s Literary Café: priceless
From the official site of the New York Public Library:
- The Children’s Literary Café is a monthly gathering of adults who are fans of children’s literature. Professionals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, teachers. And anyone else interested in the field are welcome to attend our meetings. The Literary Café provides free Advanced Readers galleys, a rotating series of talks with professionals in the field, and great conversation. This program is for adults only.
**The following “bio blips”, as I call them, are directly quoted from The Children’s Literary Café handout:
Linda Simensky — As Vice President of Children’s Programming for PBS, she collaborates with producers, co-production partners and distributors throughout development, production, post-production, and broadcast for existing and new series including Curious George, Dinosaur Train, Super Why, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, Martha Speaks and Sid the Science Kid for PBS KIDS, and FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman, WordGirl and The Electric Company for PBS KIDS GO!. Linda has served as an executive for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Currently she is the head of programming for PBS Kids and is one of the most respected animation development executives in the industry.
Diana Manson co-founded Silver Lining Productions in 1998 which has since molded properties as diverse as the new Mr. Men series, Ian Falconer’s Olivia and the new series of Noddy in Toyland for the company Silver Lining Productions, which she founded in 1998.
Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a New York Times best-selling author/illustrator and the recipient of a 2008 Caldecott Honor for First the Egg amongst other honors.
Well, gang, I hope you enjoyed that article. It’s been a long time coming! I often wish I could attend more, but grab what I can get 🙂 Do you attend events such as these in your area? Have you ever attended a Children’s Literary Salon?