Kids' art is fit for more than the refrigerator. We're reminded of this every year at the Kansas City Public Library during the annual Children's Bookmark Contest.
It's a time when crayons and colored pencils burst forth like the first shoots of spring, and all the branches end up furnished with batches of fresh, colorful, and 100-percent-kid-designed bookmarks.
In its fourth year of leading up to Children's Book Week (May 2-8), the contest ran from February 21 through March 18, 2011. The winners will be announced at the Friday Night Family Fun event on May 6 at the Plaza Branch, where all of this year's 119 entries will be displayed on the big screen in Truman Forum.
In February, bookmark design forms were distributed to all Library locations, where kids in two different age groups (grades K-3 and 4-6) were asked to make their own designs based on the theme "One World, Many Stories," which is the theme for the 2011 Summer Reading program.
Once the entries were collected, Director of Children's Services Helma Hawkins turned to her trusty panel of judges: Kansas City-based professional children's book authors and illustrators Laura Huliska-Beith, Jenny Whitehead, and Shane Evans, to choose the winners from each branch and age group.
The winning designs will be turned into bookmarks by the graphic designers in Public Affairs (see galleries of previous years' winners). "I'm always excited to see them every year," says graphic designer Jessica Didion. "It's good to know that kids are still interested in being creative."
After an early look at some of this year's submissions, creativity is not in short supply.
On Wednesday, March 23, Huliska-Beith and Whitehead (Evans was out of town) met with Hawkins to pick the winners. With the submissions spread before them on the table in the Courtney Turner Room at Central, the judges had their work cut out for them.
"I think kids are brilliant when it comes to art," said Huliska-Beith, who has lent her artwork to books such as The Adventures of Granny Clearwater and Little Critter.
"When I do school visits," she said, "younger kids all like to write and draw, but as they become older, they become more self-conscious and lose their spontaneity. As kids' book illustrators, we want to capture that spontaneity of children's art."
"It's so hard to choose," Whitehead said.
Criteria-wise, the judges usually look for originality, use of characters, use of color, the interpretation of the theme, and whether or not a sense of energy comes through in the artwork.
"What tips me off is when it looks like a child put a lot of thought into it and had fun doing it," said Huliska-Beith. "That's an indicator that the child may keep it up."
"That's the thing that's going to make a great artist - if the kid likes to do it and finds it a satisfying vehicle for expression," Whitehead said.
In addition to providing a means of expression, the Children's Bookmark Contest provides kids in the community with the chance to make some art.
"Kids are so busy now that you have to create opportunities to push the creative side," Whitehead said.
And for the kids who do make it to the final round, the reward is one that many adult artists dream of constantly: having their artwork seen by a lot of people.
"These bookmarks are so professional and beautiful that families are always amazed at the quality," Hawkins said. "It's important for kids to feel that their artwork is as valuable as anything that's done for adults."
After the winning designs are announced on Friday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, they will be posted at kclibrary.org/kids/gallery.
And though only a few will get reproduced, every bookmark is an irrefutable work of art.