A Children’s Illustration Celebration: 30 Years and Counting at this Northampton Gallery

R Michelson 30th Annual Children's Illustration Celebration Speech

Rich Michelson delivers opening remarks at the 30th Annual Children’s Illustration Celebration.

Last May, I blocked off time on my calendar: November 10th, 4-6pm, R. Michelson Galleries. I was sitting in the audience at the NESCBWI Spring Conference, and a number of speakers had raved about this annual children’s illustration exhibit. I remember hearing things like, “Everyone is there!” and “You just have to go.” So, with very little information, I decided I would.

And so I did. Sunday evening, I ventured up to Northampton, oh the lovely artistic community it is, to visit the 30th Annual Children’s Illustration Celebration at R. Michelson Galleries. Parking was miraculously quick and the evening was what I had hoped for and more.

First, there was the art. I spent a good hour taking in everything. This year, the billed highlight was a collection of work from Virginia Lee Burton. I was fascinated by the many “photostat” copies with color and technique notes from the illustrator. There was a bounty ofMike Mulligan pieces to behold. This morning, I’m cracking opening my copies of Katy and the Big Snow and The Little House to take in all the stippling I hadn’t remembered! (There were a lot of photostat notes regarding the necessary addition of stippling!!)

There was art from Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, Grace Lin, Peter Sís… oh, and not to mention, all four artists were among those in attendance!

Illustrators at R Michelson 30th Annual Children's Illustration Celebration

A children’s literature who’s who. Can you name all of the children’s book creators in attendance for the evening?

As a Springfield resident, I was excited to see pieces from Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) that I had not yet seen, being that Seuss grew up and lived in the neighborhood in which I now reside. Also among the seemingly permanent collection were pieces from children’s literature darling Maurice Sendak, including a bronze statue of Max and a beast (from Where the Wild Things Are).

At 5pm, gallery founder (and children’s author himself) Rich Michelson graced the podium on the second floor to deliver the opening remarks. Flanked by original Sendak The Love for Three Oranges opera set pieces, Michelson thanked and introduced his staff and multiple illustrators in attendance for the first time. He announced that Ekua Holmes could not attend due to the flu (get well, Ekua!). And he introduced the works of Virginia Lee Burton, noting that for many of the pieces, this exhibit marked the first time they would be seen by the public.

Next up, pervasive author Jane Yolen read an original poem about the founding of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), introducing its co-founders Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser to add a few special remarks about the importance of supporting children’s creators. Oliver shared that SCBWI now has more than 27,000 members across the world, with the two most recent chapters sprouting up in Nigeria and Turkey.

Yolen herself is the founder of New England SCBWI, of which I am a member, and for which I became in-the-know about this gallery event in the first place! It is always a joy to see her speak—as of the latest count, she is the author of 379 books… there’s always something to be learned from such a seasoned vet!

Throughout the night, book lovers perused the pop-up book store—provided by the Eric Carle Museum, another children’s illustration institution in the region—at the center of the ground floor.

Within the packed room, I wasn’t sure if I’d see anyone I knew, but indeed, I saw many colleagues from the Simmons University Children’s Literature Program, including professor/authors Elaine Dimopoulos and Megan Dowd Lambert and classmates Leah Ordonia and Lynn Bruning, among others. It was great to see George Brown, executive director of the Highlights Foundation, in our neck of the woods, too—all the way over from Honesdale, Pennsylvania! He introduced me to author Lesléa Newman, whose work I only realized this morning lives in my library: Heather Has Two Mommies! Newman is a recent Highlights Foundation faculty member of the “Writing the Rainbow” workshop on LGBTQIA+ picture books.

As I left the Children’s Illustration Celebration that evening, I stopped one more time at my favorite piece of the exhibit: the cover of Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakeable Mathematician Sophie Germain, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (the book was written by Cheryl Bardoe). As a picture book biography lover, I am always astounded how illustrators bring such imagination to the visualization of someone’s life. And this book is one of my favorites from last year, particularly because the illustrations show how Sophie Germain saw numbers everywhere. Heck, the illustrations make math look FUN! That’s quite the feat! What an absolute joy to see one of the book’s original illustrations in-person.

I’m now on the Michelson gallery email list… I hope to see you all again at the Children’s Illustration Celebration for many years to come!

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