By Zach Colten
Last Thursday, Nov. 2, approximately 70 members of the FSU community gathered in the Forum to attend the 31st annual Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival, an event celebrating the power and importance of children’s literature.
The afternoon was taken up by various workshops and book signings, culminating in a dinner with the presenters of the evening, acclaimed author and illustrator – and husband and wife duo – Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney.
After the meal, the pair were introduced to raucous applause, and for the next hour and a half, the whole audience fell under their spell.
Both were physically expressive and animated, commanding the Forum with ease.
Andrea began the talk with a participatory exercise with the audience, having them close their eyes, become perfectly silent and think about the happiest thing they could.
“Welcome to my morning at 4 a.m.,” she said. “You were doing it for a little bit of time. I do it for 30 minutes every day, and that is the way I can begin my process of writing and editing books.”
Andrea said that having those 30 minutes of silent focus on happy thoughts allows her to create her “best writing.” And the reason she needs to create her best writing every day – to work towards the powerful hashtag: #BooksBuildHope
Andrea went on to discuss a potent issue in today’s social discourse: diversity.
She chose to address this topic via a love letter to diversity. This humorous but sharp analysis of the loaded term, cautioned the audience against forgetting about the importance of diversity after so much discussion about it.
“Diversity, I hope this isn’t your 15 minutes of fame ... then, poof! You, diversity, become yesterday’s news as people move on to other things.”
Once Andrea finished reciting her letter, the focus shifted to Brian Pinkney, as a large and colorful drawing appeared on the overhead screen – a self-portrait drawn by a 15-year-old Brian.
The image was painstakingly detailed, and as Brian explained, told a lot about him at that age.
For example, “I loved kung-fu movies and I wanted to be part of The Jackson 5,” he said. “I was left-handed, too, as you can see I’m doing my little kung-fu chop with my left hand.”
Brian’s art attempts to bring its subjects to life. “I like my artwork to look like it’s actually alive ... because energy’s always moving.”
Brian’s formative years spent learning art from his father and honing his skills in an empty walk-in closet turned studio, eventually led him to the creation of his first book, “Max Found Two Sticks.”
He found the courage to venture into the world of writing based on the encouragement he received from Andrea, demonstrating the positive impact their marriage has had on their respective professional endeavors.
“I said, ‘Honey, how would you like to write a book about a boy that plays the drums? And she basically said – ‘No.’ She said she couldn’t do it because it was about me, and I should write it.”
“She said, ‘I believe you can do it.’
“I said, ‘Hmm, my wife believes in me? I’ve got to give it a try.’”
After two years of drafting and revising his work, the half-page story was finally published.
Brian went on to read his book, but first, he treated the audience to a live drum demonstration, giving a peek into his personal creative process.
From there, Andrea took command of the presentation again, booming out the opening lines to her book, “Sojourner Truth’s Step – Stomp – Stride.”
“She was big. She was black. She was so beautiful.”
Andrea said when she writes a book, she has “a job, which is to invite the reader in quickly and succinctly and keep them on the journey.”
Andrea achieves this end, while simultaneously telling the story of famous civil rights activists, in a way that children can more readily understand.
The pair spent the remainder of the presentation going back and forth, discussing more of the books they have collaborated on, such as “Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down,” which tells the story of the famous 1960 protest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
They read the book’s “Recipe for Integration,” with such steps as, “start with love, add conviction and season with hope,” designed specifically to relate to children, who might be familiar with basic recipes around their homes.
The talk concluded in dramatic fashion – with a song.
Andrea led the audience in a call and response style song chanting,
“I’m on my way, to freedom land!”
Junior John Ford attended the talk as a requirement for a children’s literature course, and said that he loved how the authors “made books more diverse,” and that he “respect[s] their vision.”
Senior Hee Jeong came because of her interest in the study of children’s literature, and said she found the presentation “touching.”