I’m writing this just a few hours after having attended the 2012 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture, held this year at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I had been so looking forward to this rare and wonderful opportunity to see and hear one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators — Peter Sís — and this evening’s events did not disappoint!
Reading in the dark…this is how Peter Sís described growing up behind the Iron Curtain. Reading in the dark. Many of us have warm childhood memories of sneaking a flashlight into our bedrooms after our parents had given the last “lights out” announcement of the night, the thrill we had of reading when it was “forbidden”. For Peter Sís, however, this image does not connote warm fuzzy feelings. This evening, before a packed house, he described how books and stories were his lifeline — confusing and often contradictory, but a lifeline, nonetheless — during his childhood and young adulthood. He told us, his rapt audience, how difficult it was to obtain banned reading materials, yet how people risked so much to obtain them. He described what it was like to come to the United States and get a taste of the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted. He described the difficult decision to stay in the U.S., in direct opposition to the demands of his government. He described his new life in the U.S., how his family and the events of our day — like 9/11 — have influenced his work. And he described all of this with great warmth and humor and insight. Just like his art, his speech was articulate and detailed and colored with his own unique expression.
Overall, Peter made an impression on me of how critically important it is for us to realize and appreciate and make use of the freedoms we have. As a children’s librarian, I was reminded of the huge impact I have on the children I serve and for whom I am an advocate…how privileged we all are to have dedicated and talented artists like Peter producing outstanding art for children…what a significant role we play in seeking out books and getting them in the hands of children.
Thank you, Peter Sís, for sharing your insights. Thank you, ALSC, for providing this opportunity to me and everyone who was able to attend tonight’s lecture. As for this librarian, I’ll spend my days making sure no one has to read in the dark.
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