Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Knew All This

Jen Bryant and I and our Zolotow Honors

On March 7, 2o09 I attended the awards ceremony for the Charlotte Zolotow Medal. Following are the remarks I made after accepting a Charlotte Zolotow Honor for my book, In a Blue Room. Several of the attendees encouraged me to post this on my blog (and indeed to make a picture book based on it.) So here it is. Oh... and a special shout out to Bridget Zinn. Your friend Julie thought you might enjoy this:

Thank you members of the CCBC for recognizing my book, In A Blue Room, with a Charlotte Zolotow Honor.

When the CCBC first emailed and told me I’d have 5 minutes to speak at this ceremony, I thought “ 5 minutes? What can I say in 5 minutes?” Then I sat down to write my speech, and after writing “Thank you members of the CCBC for recognizing my book, In A Blue Room, with a Charlotte Zolotow Honor.” I realized I still had 4 minutes and 54 seconds left to fill. And I thought “5 minutes? What can I say for 5 minutes?”

So I asked the members of my critique group, the Revisionaries, for some help.

My book is about a bedtime ritual enacted between Alice, a color-obsessed little girl, and her very patient mother. So when I asked my critique group friends what I should speak about, they said, “Tell them why you wrote the book. Tell them about your own childhood of peaceful nights and the calming rituals which sent you drifting off to sleep in your own blue room, and how that inspired you.”

And I told them, “But that isn’t true. My nights were nothing like Alice’s. Although my mother was just as patient, my nights were far from peaceful.”
As a child going to bed, I can recall feeling anything but safe. It’s because I knew that the world was full of monsters who came to get you when the lights went out.

I knew this because I read it in a book.

And my own bedtime rituals were built around this fact.

I knew that goblins might sneak into a room after dark, and steal a child from its bed.
How did I know this?

Because I read it in a book.

My older brother made fun of me, because each night I slept wedged in the crack between the mattress and the wall, with one arm and one leg jammed between the mattress and box springs. I reasoned that pulling me from my bed while I slept would be too much trouble for the average goblin, so they’d take my older brother instead. Goblins are essentially lazy.

I knew this because I read it in a book

Futhermore, I knew that when the lights went out, if you weren’t careful, your room might turn into a jungle with trees all around and out would pop some wild things who would roll their terrible eyes and grin their terrible grins and gnash their terrible teeth…

and you were basically screwed.

I knew all this because I read it is a book.

So each night before I went to sleep, I lined the perimeter of my bed with all my stuffed animals - my own wild things which would be my allies against any attack - each animal touching the one above and below it, or touching the wall against which the bed stood, because any gap in the perimeter provided a spot where these terrible wild things might slide in. It may seem like a lot of trouble to go to, but if the wild things got in they would eat me up.

I knew that because I read it in a book.

And I knew that, even if the wild things didn’t come on a particular night, there were also vampires to contend with. And when I was a child, vampires didn’t just sneak into a teenage girl’s room and pull a chair next to her bed as she slept to watch her in a creepy stalker sort of way.

The vampires of my youth were more ambitious. Their goal was to bite you on the neck and drain you of all blood, which would end with you becoming a vampire as well.

I knew this because I read it in a book.

So each night, after setting up the stuffed animal perimeter, I went about devising neck protection. My mother told me I would strangle myself if I wore my scarf to bed, so each night I donned a turtle neck under my pajamas, which may seem like it was protection enough against vampires.

But I knew some vampires also sucked blood by biting you on the wrist. And you know how I knew that?


Sorry trick question, I actually knew that because I saw it in a movie called “Queen of Blood” about these astronauts who pick up a green alien lady in a cat suit and a wicked pointy beehive hairdo who sucks blood from their wrists and then lays bright pink eggs on their ship as it is headed back to earth.

Anyway, I was fortunate because in those days, Catholic schoolgirls wore knee-socks and I just happened to have three sisters attending Our Lady of Victory grade school. So I’d sneak into their room (in a not at all creepy stalker way) and steal their knee-socks and wear them on my hands, rolled up past my elbows… just in case.

Now, you might think I was a terrified and rather odd little child, lying there in my turtleneck, with knee-socks up to my elbows, jammed between the mattress, box springs and wall, surrounded by stuffed animals lain out “just so.” And I suppose you’d be partially right. I was certainly odd, but perhaps less terrified that you might think.

Because I also knew I would survive.

I knew a child could cleverly defeat a goblin by getting it to reveal its true name…

and that children were stronger than vampires, because we could play in the morning sun, that they ran from for fear of turning to dust.

And I knew if you stared into the wild things’ eyes, without blinking once, you would conquer them and be their king and eventually find your way out of the jungle and back into your very own room, where your mother would be waiting with a meal, and it would still be hot.

So I knew a child could survive by being be resourceful and strong and courageous and smart.
And I knew all this…

because I read it in a book.


Yuyi Morales said...

Jim, what a speech! I am mesmerized, I am delighted, I am...did you really sleep like that? I should have known you when we were children. I needed protection against and a resourceful friend like you. Where were you when i needed you?

Yuyi Morales said...

I meant to say that I needed protection against aliens. But you already knew that.

Vaquerogirl said...

I can just picture the little boy with he socks on his hands and the turtle neck. Is that why you still wear one? lol!
Isn't it funny how something we have read sticks with us? For me it was a line out of ( What else?) Black Beauty, about how Little Joe the groom would brush Beauty's mane until it was as fine as any lady's hair.