Sunday, September 22, 2013

Over The Years... A Great Scholastic Dinner

   Every autumn Scholastic Canada has a spiffy free dinner for their staff, book sellers, and those illustrators and authors whose book has come out as a new Scholastic title that year.
   Back in 1985 I was surprised, then delighted, then feeling no pain at my first Scholastic dinner. Following a thankless day of teaching my behavioral class in Scarborough, I drove to a mysterious address and found myself in the swank of an upscale Yorkville restaurant. Luckily I brought my tie. I was warmly welcomed by name by Scholastic people I'd never met and ushered into a lounge where tuxedoed waiters brought a constant round of beverages... "Fill your drink sir?" ...pouring tidy shots of fine amber liquids in my glass...  "...and would you like another..?"
   Over in one corner was Jean Little with her seeing-eye dog, talking to Beatrice Thurman Hunter and nearby stood other people whose faces I had only seen on book covers.  After a litany of single malt Scotch shots, the event blurred into a panorama of people and faces and fun. Another first-timer was Barbara Reid, whose book with amazing plasticine illustrations I had first seen a few days before.
Most of the writers and illustrators were like me;  looking a bit more threadbare and hungry than the bookstore and industry reps and, also like me, grateful for free exotic treatment. Leaving that night, listing like a stricken battleship, I was joined by John Melady, author of Cross of Valour, who made sure I got out at my proper subway exit. John would become a friend and neighbour a few years later when we moved to Brighton.
above my head the CN tower 
   Later books earned me invites to the Scholastic banquet in 1999 and 2000 and 2006.  I learned to pass on (some of) the free drinks offered and to have Shirley ready to drive me home. It was always lively, always good. Writing is a quiet and contemplative activity, so maybe my all-female table-mates were surprised at the Scholastic dinner in 1999 to have me lead them en-masse into the men's washroom to let them see for themselves the marvelous furnishings and exotic plumbing there. After more alcohol consumption the women reciprocated, showing me how well turned out the ladies facilities were. Judging by the noise all the other tables, particularly the one where Robert Munsch shouted out frequently, seemed to have as much fun.
Hugh Brewster's new book
   This year we were at the Bell Lightbox in the TIFF building on King W.  I was greeted at the door by Denise Anderson in publicity, who it was nice to see again.  Right after I saw Sandy Bogart Johnston, to whom I owe much success at Scholastic. Any other writer who has worked with her felt the same way. She just completed 40 years there, and later that night David Carroll, 100 mile marathoner and first time author of a successful page-turner; ULTRA, played a recording of a radio program he did in her honour.  The view from the Bell Lightbox was perfect, and since the Toronto International Film Festival had just ended, all the famous actors had been in that very location just a few days before. As Allison Burda, one of the marketing people remarked, 'we are breathing their air'.  Next to me sat Aldo Fierro who designed my book and many others for Scholastic this year. I was happy to thank him for his great work.  I also met Hugh Brewster, author of a compelling history on Dieppe. His book is thick with details and his research so thorough it can be easily sold as an adult book.  Creds to all the people for superb artwork and design on this excellent book.  I also got talking to Eric Zweig, author of the Big Hockey book for kids, and Mike Leonetti, who wrote A Hero Named Howe and who was at the same table as me for dinner. Mike and Eric talked hockey, as you might expect.  
Eric Zweig's hockey book

with Aldo Fierro
  Barbara Reid was there again, now very famous, and looking not as much aged as I am, with another  book to her credit.
   Much of our time was spent picking up other writer's books and getting them autographed for friends and family. I came away with my best haul yet, about 25 signed copies, and friends at Stockdale Public School will be happy with some books
dedicated to them. Jean Little signed a copy of her book with the words; "Keep reading a little"
Maybe in a few year's time I'll be at another Scholastic dinner.
If so, I'd better get to work.

Barbara Reid's artwork

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