Wednesday, March 14, 2012

FOCAL Luncheon, Celebrating Me, Frida

Carol Raby and Amy Novesky and Frida puppet

On Saturday, January 28, 2012, book lovers of all kinds–librarians, teachers, students, parents, authors, illustrators, readers–gathered at the Border Grill in downtown Los Angeles, across the street from the Los Angeles Public Library, to celebrate the wonderful picture book, Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz, winner of the 2011 FOCAL award.

As people arrived, a slide show prepared by Mara Alpert of the Children’s Literature Department flashed on the screen, reacquainting us with past winners, going back to 1980 when the first winner was Leo Politi for Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street.  On display at the front of the room was a striking black-and-white drawing of Frida Kahlo, created by David Diaz, available to the lucky winner of the opportunity drawing, enthusiastically promoted by Renny Day. David couldn’t attend the luncheon because of a scheduling conflict, but sent his best wishes.  Amy, who lives in San Francisco, had flown down for the day to accept the award.  I was lucky to sit with her at the head table.

Centerpiece made by art students of Ray Moszkowicz at Palms Middle School. Each showing San Francisco, the redwoods, an easel with one of Frida’s paintings, and a bird cage topped with a little pink bird and a purple ribbon inscribed with Frida’s words.
Caroline Gill welcomed us as the luncheon began and introduced Martin Gomez, City Librarian.  Then Barbara Metzenbaum conducted a brief business meeting.  We all then enjoyed the delicious Mexican style Border Grill food, perfectly suited to the occasion!  After the main course, Sandy Schuckett introduced the talented winners of the student essay contest.  Remarkably poised, the three students read their essays, telling us what they loved about the book and why they wanted to meet the author.

Frida puppet made by Carol Onofrio
Carol Raby then introduced the members of the award committee and showed a short video David Diaz’ visit to Paseo del Rey School in December.  Next, Carol Onofrio, who makes a puppet each year to go with the winning book, presented her puppet to Amy.  She had made a delightful Frida Kahlo in a flowing gold gown, red shawl, and jade necklace, just as described in the last scene of the book.

And, finally, Amy Novesky told us in her acceptance speech about herself and how she came to write Me, Frida.  She grew up in California near the beach and knew she wanted to be a writer from the age of nine.  She said she has always liked to tackle difficult subjects for her books and spent ten years working on Me, Frida.  She told how in the process of “turning a not quite story into a story” she came upon the image of the little bird as a theme to carry through the book.  She emphasized her life-long love of books and how much libraries helped shape her as a writer.

The day ended with autographing and a tour of the library for Amy.  Afterward, she wrote, “I really enjoyed taking a tour of the children’s wing of the library–what a gorgeous building–and seeing all of the FOCAL award-winning books and puppets.  To see Me, Frida among them really brought home the meaning of this award.”

Note:  FOCAL stands for Friends of Children and Libraries and is a support group of the Los Angeles Public Library.

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