Wednesday, September 26, 2012

JOYS OF NONFICTION: A Retrospective on the Children’s Book Guild Award Winners

An engraved glass cube is given to each awardee
In 2005, I was honored to receive the Nonfiction Award from the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C., which celebrates an author’s body of work.  It is one of the few children’s book awards designated specifically for a nonfiction author.  Kem Knapp Sawyer, a member of the Guild, recently interviewed award recipients of the past twelve years and has written a wonderful article highlighting the joys, challenges, surprises, and rewards of being a nonfiction writer for children.  It is called Cleopatra and the Man-Eating Tigers:  A Retrospective on Past Winners of The Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award. In my conversation with Kem, here are some of the questions she asked:

How did you feel about receiving this award? What do you like most about what you do? What is one of the most memorable (or surprising) experiences you've encountered while doing research? What is special about writing books about science (and animals) for children? If you had to choose a favorite book (that you wrote) what would it be? What is one of your favorite books for children (that you did NOT write)? What's the best part about writing a non-fiction book? The worst part? What tips do you have for non-fiction writers?

Find out how I and other authors answered these and other questions by reading Kem’s article at the Children’s Book Guild website. 

Here a few quotes from the article:
Caroline Arnold enjoys starting a book project because it gives her “an excuse to ask questions.” She also likes nearing the end: “When you know it’s ready to go out and have someone else read it, there’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. The book takes on a life of its own.”
Peter Sis, the Guild award winner in 2012, had a very difficult time naming a favorite book—like most writers I interviewed. As Diane Stanley points out, “authors generally pour their hearts and souls into every book they do.” Or, as Caroline Arnold explains, “Every book is like a baby. How do you love one child better than another? You love them all for different reasons.”

Receiving the CBG Award, 2005
The Children’s Book Guild Award is presented by the Award Committee chair and a representative of the Washington Post at an annual luncheon now held in the spring. (It used to be in the fall.) Award winners that Kem interviewed and wrote about in her article are: Peter Sis, Kathleen Krull, Sy Montgomery, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Doreen Rappaport, Sneed B. Collard III, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, Steven Jenkins, George Ancona, Diane Stanley, and Laurence Pringle.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Project: Teotihuacan Mask

Paper mask inspired by stone mask found at Teotihuacan
Not far from Mexico City, lie the ruins of another great city, Teotihuacan, the center of an ancient Mexican culture that developed 2,000 years ago (long before the Aztecs) on the high plateau of central Mexico.  A rich and diverse culture thrived at Teotihuacan.  The remains of stone and adobe buildings show where people lived, worked, and worshiped.  Sculptures, carvings, and multicolored paintings help us to learn about their beliefs and customs.  Pottery, tools, baskets, jewelry, and other items tell us about their daily lives.  One of the most beautiful treasures discovered at Teotihuacan is a stone mask, encrusted with turquoise, red shell, mother of pearl, and obsidian.
Teotihuacan Mask, Photo by R. Hewett
When I visited Vintage Science Magnet School recently in Los Angeles, I learned that a fifth grade class had read my book City of the Gods: Mexico’s Ancient City of Teotihuacan, illustrated with photos by Richard Hewett.  Then, using a photo of the mask as a guide, they had created their own work of art using pieces of colored paper to reproduce the mask shown in the book.  It is a stunning piece of art and helps call to mind the glory of this ancient culture.

My book is out of print, but you can look for it in your library. (Teotihuacan is pronounced Tay-oh-tee-wha-KAHN.) And, perhaps, you can make your own version of the beautiful mask in the book!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Junior Library Guild Selection: TOO HOT? TOO COLD?

I just learned that my new book Too Hot? Too Cold? has been selected for the Junior Library Guild fall 2012 list. The Junior Library Guild designation is unique in that it is typically awarded so early–often in advance of publication.  Subscribers to the JLG can order books and have them delivered shortly after publication.  Of the more than 3,000 books submitted to the JLG every year, fewer than twenty percent are selected. I am delighted to have my book on the list!

Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping Body Temperature Just Right, illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings by Annie Patterson, will be published in February 2013 by Charlesbridge. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

ICEFALL by Matthew Kirby, Winner of the PEN Award

Update Oct 24, 2012:  Read about PEN and the Award Festival held on October 22nd at the Beverly Hills Hotel at the INK blog in the October 24th post by Gretchen Woelfle, finalist for her book All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts.

September 5, 2012
I was honored this year to be one of the judges for the 2012 PEN Center USA Literary Awards for Children's Literature.  With the other judges, writers Jamie Lee and Rene Saldana, we had the enviable and challenging job of selecting one winner and three finalists from many wonderful books.  The winner is Icefall by Matthew Kirby, a powerful and suspensful novel set in Viking times on an icy fjord in Norway.  I'd like to share Rene Saldana's commentary on this book and the reasons it made it to the top of our list:

One English/Language Arts teacher in deep South Texas always offers up the following challenge to her students at the beginning of the school year, aimed specifically at reluctant readers: “Give a book, any book, at least 10%; if a book is 200 pages long, read at least the first 20 pages before making the very important decision to put a book aside.” She believes that a good writer will do what it takes to build up enough interest in that first 10% so that a reader will know to keep going or to return the book to the library and check out another. Matthew J. Kirby’s Icefall is a book that will appeal to a reader, even a reluctant one, well before the opening 10%. This Viking saga runs 324 pages in length, but by page 5, Kirby has already sucked the reader in: the kingdom is at war, and the king’s children, including Harald who is in line for the throne, are hiding in a fjord which is quickly freezing over and provisions are running low. By page 20, a boat arrives, “a drekar, a dragon-headed longship. A ship of war.” To make things worse, it is “an army of bears and wolves” that disembarks, berserkers, the king’s “personal guard,” who terrify Solveig, our narrator. But she is a storyteller in the making, a would-be skald who must become “the poet of the living past, bearer of our ancestors’ history, their tales of sacrifice and valor,” a responsibility oftentimes as burdensome as leading the kingdom into war. It is through this storytelling that Solveig must distinguish herself, but can she learn the craft while certain destruction surrounds her?
Among the various reasons the judges chose Icefall as this year’s winner, Caroline Arnold stated that because “even though the story is set long ago, the basic human problems are universal.” And, indeed, young adolescent readers will identify with Solveig in many ways. For one, she suffers from middle-child syndrome. As a result, she goes through life unnoticed; she feels she’s taken for granted by everyone. Her older sister, Asa, is the beautiful one, and Solveig has nothing of value to offer those around her. To further complicate her already confusing situation, Solveig begins to feel stirrings for members of the opposite sex. René Saldaña, Jr., felt that “this is a writer’s book.” In it, Kirby describes what it takes to become a storyteller. For instance, storytelling is both “exhilarating and terrifying,” but nevertheless, a writer’s task is to write. Jamie Lee was impressed that the story could read like a mystery novel and yet hold the lyrical quality of the writing throughout.  
With so much going for this story, it is no surprise, then, that all three judges in this category voted for Icefall.

Congratulations to Matthew Kirby for his wonderful book, Icefall! Congratulations also to the three finalists:  Trent Reedy: Words in the Dust (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Allen Say: Drawing From Memory (Scholastic Press)
Gretchen Woelfle: All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts (Holiday House)