New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

War Boy to War Horse — Michael Morpurgo Visits Rochester in May

Michael Morpurgo

by Lisa C. Wemett, Chair, Local Arrangements Committee for the 2013 Arbuthnot Lecture

Day 1, May 16: the 2013 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture
Day 2, May 17: the 38th Annual YSS Spring Conference
Day 3, May 18: the 8th Annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival

Who is going to be at each of these events?  Author Michael Morpurgo.  You might not immediately recognize this British author’s name, but when put in context as the writer who brought us War Horse, the connection is made.  Perhaps you have seen the incredible stage adaptation of his story with life-size horse puppets manipulated by such talented puppeteers that you believe with every whinny, every gallop, every prick of the ears that the horses are real.  Maybe Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film captured this moment in history and helped you find empathy for a noble creature far outclassed by the new engines of war during World War One.

In either case, you will want to take advantage of this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Michael Morpurgo speak in Rochester this May.  His first appearance and primary reason for being in Upstate New York is the presentation of the 2013 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture at 7 p.m. in the Linehan Chapel on the campus of Nazareth College.  The Youth Services Section and the School of Education of Nazareth College were selected by the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association to be the hosts for this prestigious event.  Tickets for the event are free and will become available on March 1.

 Mr. Morpurgo will also be presenting a workshop on the research he completes for his historical fiction at the YSS Spring Conference on Friday, May 17.  “Among the Readers and Beyond” is the conference theme, with award-winning author Margaret Peterson Haddix as the luncheon speaker.  Nationally syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson will provide the keynote speech.  There will be an opportunity for participants to select three workshops from an offering of fifteen sessions specifically geared to library staff members working with children, tweens, and teens in both public and school libraries, in facilities large and small, rural and urban.  Attendance is limited, so register early to receive your first choice of workshop topics.  Registration is now open and ends on Friday, May 10.

The YSS Spring Conference is also being held in conjunction with the 8th annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival at Nazareth College in Rochester on Saturday, May 18, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.  This free event for teens and lovers of young adult literature will allow them the fortuitous opportunity to hear some outstanding young adult authors the day after the YSS Spring Conference.  Mr. Morpurgo will be making a special presentation at TBF.  No registration is necessary. 

To learn more about the YSS Spring Conference and the 2013 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture, go to  Choose “Events” in the left margin and then select the page you want to explore.  Further information on the Teen Book Festival, including the line-up of more than 30 nationally-known authors, the schedule for the day, and resources for teachers and librarians, can be found at

Advocating for “The Arbuthnot”

In the March/April 2011 issue of American Libraries, an article “Apply to Host 2012 Arbuthnot Lecture,” caught my eye.  Where have the past lectures been held?  Had New York State ever been a host?  I started by locating the host application on the ALSC Web site and looking at what needed to happen before YSS/NYLA could consider this venture.

In July 2011, I had a meeting with the soon-to-be chair of the 2013 YSS Spring Conference, YSS Director Cathy Henderson.  How could this Lecture fit with the YSS one-day conference?  Discussion ensued, with a final agreement that the Lecture would be offered the evening before the YSS Spring Conference.  In August, Cathy brought the idea to the YSS Executive Board and an ad hoc committee was established to work on the Lecture application.  YSS President-Elect Joyce Laiosa had served on the 2010 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee for ALSC and eagerly embraced this opportunity for New York State.  The YSS Board voted to set aside funds to support the Lecture as a separate expense in the 2012-2013 budget.  Our two year journey was underway!

 I got together with the founder and director of the Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival, Stephanie Squicciarini, in October 2011.  We brainstormed how the Arbuthnot Lecture and the Teen Book Festival (TBF) could “bookend” the YSS conference.  What a trifecta it would be: “more is more” as Stephanie put it.  She urged me to partner with the School of Education at Nazareth College where TBF had been hosted for several years.  Later in the month, a letter was sent to Dr. Laura C.S. Jones, Ph.D., to float the idea of Nazareth becoming YSS’s academic partner for this application and the site of the Arbuthnot Lecture.  Dr. Jones currently serves as the liaison from Nazareth to TBF.  Would she be willing to add another community project to her schedule?  The answer was “yes” by the end of the month.

One other aspect of the ALSC application process: at this point in the fall, we did not even know who the Lecturer would be!  The announcement of the speaker for the Arbuthnot Honor Lecture is made annually at the American Library Association’s Midwinter meeting.  We would not find out until the end of January 2012 who ALSC had invited for this honor.  Once we learned it was Michael Morpurgo, we began trying to make connections from him to Rochester to bolster our application.  In February, Dr. Jones and I met for the first time face-to-face and we talked how YSS would proceed on the application with Nazareth’s help.

There is something about writing an application where you lay out everything you will do IF you get selected.  You first need to get your partners to write letters of support agreeing that they will do these things IF you get chosen.  It is a fair amount of work to tackle when the selection is so “IF-fy.”  But we had academic institutions, state associations, local non-profits, and others that readily stepped up to add their voice to our application with eloquent letters palpable with excitement for a visit by the former British Children’s Laureate.

On May 8, 2012, the completed application was submitted to ALSC.  And now we waited.  A year later, May 2013, would we have Michael Morpurgo at the podium on the Nazareth College campus?  Patience was the order of the day.

The announcement of the host for the Lecture is made at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association.  A YALSA Board member, Stephanie Squicciarini was in the room when ALSC made the announcement on June 25, 2012, in San Diego, California.  Stephanie immediately called me: “We got it!”  She was so excited her hands were shaking as she tried to place the call.  I sank back on my couch and took it all in.  A year’s work up to this point and now the REAL work would begin.

If you want to know how much more time we have to complete this process, take a look at the countdown clock on the Teen Book Festival’s Web page:  Now subtract 3.  That’s how many days it is before Michael Morpurgo arrives in Rochester.  YIKES!  I think I better get back to work!