Sunday, April 9, 2017

Gene Luen Yang at the Carle Museum

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Gene Luen Yang. I've mentioned his name a couple of times recently here, and that's because he is the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and his platform in this position is a challenge he calls Reading Without Walls.

I saw him speak a few years ago when I was a grad student at Simmons, and I remember him being one of the best authors I've seen speak. He's funny and intelligent, he has a great speaking voice, and his powerpoint slides work flawlessly. He seems like a really nice guy- before he got on stage to speak, he was introducing himself to people in the audience, greeting them, and thanking them for coming out to see him. Plus, he's adorable.

He spoke a little about his own story: what led him to become the author and cartoonist that he is now. He is a self-proclaimed nerd, which he bases on his passion for comics books and computers. He talked a little bit about his experience as the son of Chinese immigrants, growing up first generation American and how he often felt that he inhabited two different worlds at once- kinda like Superman.

He points out the similarities between Superman and Asian-Americans: two different languages, two different names, black hair, a hyphen in his native name, etc. I'm no comic book expert, but when it was my turn to get my books signed, I pointed out that he missed a piece of evidence for this theory: Superman has actually been played by an Asian American actor before.

Dean Cain, who portrayed Superman in the 90's TV series Lois and Clark is half Japanese, his given surname is Tanaka.

I still think that Dean Cain was the most handsome Superman.

He also outlined the basic ideas behind Reading Without Walls:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn't live like you or look like you. Check- I did that with The Pact.

2. Read a book about a topic you don't know much about. Check- that's why I read The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda.

3. Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun.

I'm working on the third part of the challenge now. I'm pretty willing to try any format: chapter, verse, non-fiction narrative, graphic novel.  . .one of the formats I struggle with though is audio book. I guess it's because I'm a very visual person, and it frustrates me when I can't see the words on the page, and look at them as many times as I need to. When I listen to an audiobook, I don't feel like I'm absorbing it, I feel like it's just washing over me. But I guess I better find one to try now.

I brought the library's copies of Boxers and Saints and Comics Squad for him to sign, and I bought a copy of his book Level Up for my own personal collection of signed books. The book I had him sign years ago is titled Prime Baby, and I didn't see it for sale there so I'm glad I already had it.

The event was at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. It's over three hours away from my house, but it's one of my favorite places to go. I've seen some iconic authors and illustrators there, viewed art in the galleries that I would never be able to see otherwise, and every time we go there, we have a wonderful experience. It's even better now because I can share it with my son.

We looked at the current exhibit, which is from the Eloise books by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight.

We sat inside the giant caterpillar-

You can kind of see that John and I are both wearing tie dye shirts.

and then John sprouted some wings:

Of course, I had to buy some postcards in the bookstore. It's always a good time at the Carle.

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