ALA SAN FRANSISCO ROCKS!

I just returned from an amazing event:  The Annual American Library Association Convention which was held this year in San Fransisco.  Thousands of people from all over the country gathered together to celebrate books. It was a thrill to be part of it all as an author, spectator and fan of other renown authors of children’s books.  While it is impossible to capture the whole spirit of the event, I hope these photos will give you an idea of the excitement and high energy the comprised the weekend.

It was my first visit to the beautiful city and especially memorable since it was also Pride weekend.   I didn’t get a chance to see the GLBT parade but felt the love, support, and good will that was everywhere.  

Outside the Moscone Center.

Outside the Moscone Center.

t the Creston Books Booth.

at the Creston Books Booth.

With Fellow Creston Books author Georgia Lyon.

With Fellow Creston Books author Georgia Lyon.

Star Spotting! Dan Santat signing BEEKLE. (Wanted a copy, but the line was soooo long)

Star Spotting! Dan Santat signing BEEKLE. (Wanted a copy, but the line was soooo long)

With Author Debbie Ridpath Ohi

With Author Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Rainbow Flags outside the Moscone Center where the ALA event was held.  Rainbows and goodwill was everywhere.  SOMETIMES WE HUMANS GET IT RIGHT!

Rainbow Flags outside the Moscone Center where the ALA event was held. Rainbows and goodwill were everywhere. SOMETIMES WE HUMANS GET IT RIGHT!

Author Laura Sassi's new book on display

Author Laura Sassi’s new book on display.

Breakfast with uber librarian John Schumacher AKA Mr. Schu, Marissa Moss, Robin Newman, Marcia Goldman and Lola at TRACE Restaurant.

Breakfast with uber librarian John Schumacher AKA Mr. Schu, Marissa Moss, Robin Newman, Marcia Goldman and Lola at TRACE Restaurant.

Fellow Creston author Muon Van and Illustrator April Chu.

Fellow Creston author Muon Van and Illustrator April Chu.

Mouse detectives, Wilcox and Griswold were out in search of missing food...

Mouse detectives, Wilcox and Griswold were out in search of missing food… 

Walking to the FERRY Building for the Book Passage signing.

Walking to the FERRY Building for the Book Passage signing.

Signing Books at BOOK PASSAGE in the FERRY BUILDING on the SF waterfront.

Signing Books at BOOK PASSAGE in the FERRY BUILDING on the SF waterfront.

With Katherine Applegate, author of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, and CRENSHAW.

With Katherine Applegate, author of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, and CRENSHAW.

With Jacqueline Woodson, Newbery winner for BROWN GIRL DREAMING.

With Jacqueline Woodson, Newbery winner for BROWN GIRL DREAMING.

With Paul Czajak, author of SEAVER THE WEAVER.

With Paul Czajak, author of SEAVER THE WEAVER.

Animals as Fictional Characters by Jody Staton

Books, most especially children’s books, are full of all sorts of animal characters. Their portrayals cover a long continuum, from completely realistic, to being so anthropomorphized that the animals are depicted as nearly human.

In Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, the title character is a mutt. When ten-year-old Opal Buloni encounters him running loose in a grocery store, his scruffy charm wins her over. He’s a real dog, no fantasy about him, and yet even in this most realistic of contemporary middle-grade novels, he has a touch of humanness about him: “Winn-Dixie looked up at me while I was telling him everything, and I swear he understood,” Opal says. That’s not a surprising thing for a child to say, and yet how many of us have thought the same thing about our pets?
Published by Candlewick Press in 2000, Because of Winn-Dixie was a Newbery Honor Book in 2001.     winn dixie

In DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux the animals are mostly anthropomorphized. Despereaux and his fellow mice show a range of imagined human characteristics, as do the rats in the story. Although their behavior is consistent with the nature of their species, they talk among each other and to a small extent to the humans in their story. The mouse families act like human families, and their social structure includes a Mouse Council with the power to discipline individuals who don’t obey the social codes of their community.
The Tale of Despereaux, published in 2003 by Candlewick, won the Newbery in 2004.

Falling somewhat between the two DiCamillo books in degree of the humanizing of its characters is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan, from whose point of view the story is told, is a gorilla living in a cage in a dreary mall. He talks to the other animals in his exhibit, primarily the elephants, old lame Stella and baby Ruby, and to Bob, a feral dog. None of them speak to the humans. But Ivan is an artist, drawing crude pictures with the crayons and paper given to him by Julia, the daughter of the mall’s janitor.These pictures become a form of communication that ultimately lead to the transfer of Ivan and Ruby to a zoo after Stella’s death, reflecting what Stella had once said: “A good zoo is how humans make amends.”

The One and Only Ivan, published by Harper in 2012, won the Newbery in 2013. Applegate also wrote and/or edited Scholastic’s popular Animorph books, a series of adventures in which teens morphed into animals—perhaps the exact opposite of anthropomorphy?

Whether an animal drives a car, like the eponymous mouse in E.B. White’s Stuart Little, stuart littlered ponyor is totally, starkly realistic, like Gabilan in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, animal characters can add an extra dimension to fiction. They remind readers not only what it means to be human, but also that the real natures of animals are not so very different from ours.
Johanna Bilbo Staton, known to everyone as Jody,  Jodyis half English, half hobbit. She was a circus aerialist in high school, an English major at Rollins College, took the Radcliffe-Harvard Publishing Procedures Course, and got her masters in magazine journalism at Northwestern University. She came to Philadelphia as an editor at Jack and Jill magazine, married Rich Staton, and moved to New Jersey. When Christopher and Valerie came along, she switched to freelance copy editing, which she still does. She writes mostly middle-grade fiction, usually about animals, and either history or fantasy or both. She is working on a blog about animals in fiction.