By GUY LAMOLINARA
A Very Unusual and Completely Amazing Story Pieced Together Out of So Many Parts That It Is Not Possible To Describe Them All Here So Go Ahead and Just Start Reading…
The National Book Festival Children’s pavilion was the place to be at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, for anyone who had been following “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure,” the exclusive episodic story on Read.gov.
The standing-room-only crowd had come to hear the final episode of the story, which had launched a year ago, at the 2009 National Book Festival. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Katherine Paterson wrote the final episode, and her predecessor as ambassador, Jon Scieszka, had written the first episode.
Along the way, this zany story took its unpredictable path across 26 episodes, through 16 different authors (and five illustrators), finally concluding at the 2010 National Book Festival, where Episode 27 had been adapted for a “Readers Theater” presentation by three of the Exquisite Corpse authors (Paterson, M.T. Anderson and Linda Sue Park) and two illustrators (Timothy Basil Ering and James Ransome).
Stephen Schneider of the Library’s Web Services Division designed a special poster for the program by taking pieces of the 27 illustrations and turning them into a collage poster that was given away throughout the festival grounds. The Web Services Division was responsible for the interactive book presentation of the story on Read.gov, which attracted hundreds of thousands of kids (and adults) from across the country and around the world who read the story.
John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book, which collaborated on the project with one of its reading promotion partners, the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA), opened the program by recognizing the schoolchildren from Prince William County Public Schools who had been bussed in just for the occasion. He then turned the program over to Mary Brigid Barrett, president and executive director of the NCBLA, who introduced the Readers Theater cast.
The familiar “Exquisite Corpse” characters were represented: Joe and Nancy Sloppy, Genius Kelly the pig, Hathi the elephant, Pirandello, Angel, Boppo the clown, Sybil Hunch and, of course, Roberta the robot—aka the Exquisite Corpse—and some new ones: the Eggy-Thing Chorus.
But first, the Exquisite Corpse had to be assembled. Barrett tested the authors’ knowledge of the story. Each time they answered correctly, another piece of the Corpse was attached to its body, until finally, its heart was added, completing Roberta.
Barrett’s executive program director, Geri Eddins, had been recruited to hold up signs for the audience, signaling them when to cheer or hiss. There were more hisses than cheers, however, such as when Hunch asked one of the Eggy-Things to “Give us your yolks!” And an Eggy-Thing replied: “Then, the yolk will be on you, old voman!”
Throughout the tale, the twins, Joe and Nancy Sloppy, who had run away from the circus where they were raised, had been searching for their parents, who were trapped in another time dimension. When the Sloppys were finally reunited, the Elephant Clown Party that had begun the story could now resume.
Eventually, the Eggy-Things were done in by “their own rotten humor.”
And as the narrator of the story concluded: “I won’t say it was the end of all their adventures, for Nancy and Joe were an adventurous pair, but it brings to a close ‘The Exquisite Corpse Adventure’—evil conquered, family united, and friends who lived, I’m quite sure, happily ever after.”
And finally, the audience stopped hissing and cheered.
Guy Lamolinara is communications officer for the Center for the Book and assistant author coordinator for the National Book Festival.