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The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the 2020 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction winner and finalists. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be
presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2020 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award winner is:

Lovely War by Julie Berry
(Penguin Random House/Viking)

The 2019 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
(HarperCollins/HarperTeen)

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
(HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
(Penguin Random House/Kokila)

White Rose by Kip Wilson
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt /Versify)

The winner and finalists will be honored at the 2020 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 23rd in Denver, CO, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2020 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2020 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 300 young adult titles throughout the process. The committee included ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Shaum, Committee Chair
K-8 Librarian
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Ann Arbor, MI

Wendy Stephens, Past Chair
School Library Program Chair
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, AL

Robert Bittner
SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Jodi Blair
Librarian
Alcoa High School, Alcoa, TN

Nicole Clawson
Visiting Professor
Brigham Young, University, Provo UT

Bryan Gillis
Professor of English Education & Literacy
Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

Sarah Mulhern Gross
English Teacher
High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Walter M. Mayes
Librarian
The Girls’ Middle School, Palo Alto, CA

Elizabeth Parker
English Teacher
Saunders Middle School, Manassas, VA

Jennifer Paulsen
English and Social Studies Teacher
Holmes Junior High School, Cedar Falls, IA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents: http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/.

Congratulations to the winner and finalists! We love this award so much, and are so happy to share this year’s recipients! 

Visit http://www.alan-ya.org/alan-picks-aprmay-2020/ for reviews of each of these books by members of the Walden Committee and a special video interview with Julie Berry!

Our posts about the Walden Award and our time on the committee: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=4361

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I was so honored to be on the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award jury!

The Schneider Award is given to books that embody “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

Today I wanted to share our choices for the 2020 awards because I recommend them all with all of my heart!

Schneider Award for Young Readers Honor

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, Illustrated by Mika Song

Summary: In Classroom Six, second left down the hall, Henry has been on the lookout for a friend. A friend who shares. A friend who listens. Maybe even a friend who likes things to stay the same and all in order, as Henry does. But on a day full of too close and too loud, when nothing seems to go right, will Henry ever find a friend—or will a friend find him? A story from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum.

Schneider Award for Young Readers Winner

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael López

Summary: Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful.

In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges—and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.

Schneider Award for Middle Grades Honor

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya

Summary: Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.

Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by the sparks flying from his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over to take a closer look. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.

But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend Gus, at the center of the conflict.

Schneider Award for Middle Grades Winner

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Summary: The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Schneider Award for Young Adults Honor

The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais

Summary: Deaf teen Maya moves across the country and must attend a hearing school for the first time. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she also has to adjust to the hearing culture, which she finds frustrating—and also surprising when some classmates, including Beau Watson, take time to learn ASL. As Maya looks past graduation and focuses on her future dreams, nothing, not even an unexpected romance, will derail her pursuits. But when people in her life—deaf and hearing alike—ask her to question parts of her deaf identity, Maya stands proudly, never giving in to the idea that her deafness is a disadvantage.

Schneider Award for Young Adults Winner

Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein

Summary: 14 year old Erica “Ricky” Bloom, is newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and pretty pissed off about it. Her body hurts constantly, her family’s a mess and the boy she’s crushing on seems completely clueless. The best coping mechanisms she can come up with are cursing and cutting school. But when her truancy is discovered she must struggle to catch up in school to avoid a far worse horror: repeating ninth grade.

Congratulations to all of the honorees! (P.S. It was amazing calling them all!)

To see the other other books awarded at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards, visit http://ala.unikron.com/about2020.php.

Now onto 2021 where I’m lucky to be co-chair of the jury!

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Today, I woke up with utter jubilation. As I told a colleague, the ALA YMA announcements are one of my favorite days of the year. I love the idea that all of the working committees report out their hard work and deliberation. Having served on a book award committee in the past, I know that it takes a significant amount of time and care to serve on these committees, so I am always appreciative of the honorees and winners, regardless of my own personal thoughts of who I hoped would win. I also love that the award lists give me such passion to read. I am itching to end this blog post to get reading!

I’d prepared my students. We were going to watch the awards during class. They were also excited. I ferried my children to school and noticed that I had several emails about award winners. I thought, “Uh oh! Folks are releasing the details early!” I messaged Kellee, and she very kindly informed me that I had calculated my time zones two hours in the wrong direction. The awards were released at 6am MST rather than 10am MST. I think that was my first major time zone goof-up in the three years that I’ve lived in Colorado. Alas!

I told my students that we were going to watch the video and PRETEND we were watching live. We did work while the awards played in the background. As usual, I gasped at some of the winners and honorees and also nodded along at titles I’d hoped and expected to win other awards. Ah! It is just so exciting!

Our class talked about the ways in which teachers can generate Mock Newbery/Mock Printz/Mock Caldecott/Mock Sibert/Mock Schneider/Mock ____ committees among their students. Discussions like these always make me miss the classroom a bit. I long to run a Mock committee among students again! All in all, the books and awards bring me such joy. I nabbed the audio of one of the books that I didn’t read, I brought home a few books from my office home to read, and I reserved a few more from the library. Pure bliss.

 
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Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Published April 18th, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.

About the Author: Deborah Heiligman has written many books for children, including National Book Award Finalist Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith and The Boy Who Loved Math. She lives with her family in New York City.

AccoladesMichael L. Printz Award – Honor, School Library Best Books of the Year, CPL: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, NYPL Books for the Teen Age, Booklist Editors’ Choice, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner, BCCB Blue Ribbon Award, Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List

Praise: 

“A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love.” —Kirkus, starred review

“A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. ” —Booklist, starred review

“A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.” —The Horn Book, starred review

“An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry” —The Bulletin, starred review

Review: I could not stop talking about this book while I was listening to it. That, and that I couldn’t stop listening to the book–I would listen whenever I could, show me what a fabulous book it was. Hieligman does an amazing job making Vincent and Theo’s story come to life through such emotional narrative that the reader cannot help but feel as if we are living alongside the Van Gogh brothers. As someone who loves learning about history and art as well as an interest in brain health, this was a story that was more fascinating than I can even describe.

Also, I feel personally connected to this book in a fun way. In November, 2016 Deborah Heiligman and I had a dinner at NCTE, and we got talking about art since she had just finished Vincent and Theo. If you didn’t know, my dad has a BA in Art History and a MFA in Museumology and runs art museums (currently the LSU Museum of Art), so I have grown up around art museums my whole life and with art as a big part of it. One of the things we spoke about is the new information that a painting thought to be a self-portrait (right below) was actually the only known painting of Theo Van Gogh that Vincent painted. One thing that made it hard to determine this was that Theo is wearing the straw hat that Vincent is known to wear while Vincent is wearing Theo’s business felt hat. And this is where Deborah’s question came in: “The hats on the cover matched the hats the men are wearing in the photo although those are not actually their hats. Does it matter?” Now although I love art, I am not the expert, so I offered to ask my dad, and he responded with, “I like the cover as it is. I think it causes a questioning that evidences the new research in an interesting way. It defies previous thoughts and expectations.” Thus the cover stayed as is with an explanation on the jacket (below).

But I think what can show you about the book more than just me raving is all of the awards it received, ⇑ see above, and all of the amazing information about how Deborah researched for the book, ⇓ see below, and of course an excerpt from the book, ⇓ also below.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: View Deborah Hieligman’s research for Vincent and Theo and view all the articles & interviews about the book to use with students when reading this nonfiction text. There is so much that can be done with this story and the author’s writing process; use this amazing text in your classrooms, have it in your libraries, read it yourself–however you see fit, but read and share it!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How were Vincent and Theo’s life parallel with each other?
  • In what way were Vincent and Theo’s view of love part of their downfall emotionally?
  • Looking at the two portraits above and after reading the article about the portrait being of Theo, what do you believe? What similarities and differences do you see between the two?
  • How did Deborah Hieligman take all of the letters and research she did and turn them into a narrative?
  • I described this book to my sister as “A love story about two brothers.” Why would I call it a love story?
  • How did Theo’s short but mighty marriage set up for the current popularity of Vincent Van Gogh?
  • Why did it take so long for Vincent to find art?
  • In what way did finding friends in the impressionist art community help Vincent as an artist?

Flagged Passages: 1. TWO BROTHERS, ONE APARTMENT, PARIS, 1887

There was a time when I loved Vincent very much, and he was my best friend, but that’s over now. —Theo van Gogh to his sister Willemien, March 14, 1887

THEO’S BROTHER VINCENT has been living with him for just over a year, and Theo cannot take it anymore.

It is “almost intolerable for me at home,” he writes to their sister Wil in March 1887. Even though Theo has moved them to a larger apartment, this one still feels too small to hold Vincent’s outsized personality and Theo’s desperate need for quiet. He’s dying to tell Vincent to move out, but he knows if he does, Vincent will just be more determined to stay.

Dogged. Contrary. Stubborn. Vincent.

Theo van Gogh is the manager of Goupil & Cie, a successful art gallery on the fashionable Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Theo is good at his job, but it’s terrifically frustrating for him right now. The owners of the gallery want him to sell paintings in the traditional style because they’re popular and bring in money. Though Theo certainly needs to make money—he has to support himself and Vincent and help their mother—he wants to sell art that is truly exciting to him, paintings by the Impressionists and their crowd, friends of his and Vincent’s: Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Soon, maybe even paintings by Vincent himself.

But these modern painters don’t bring in enough money, so it’s a constant battle with his bosses. Theo haspersuaded them to let him set up a little display of Impressionists on the entresol. The entresol is not the ground floor, and it’s not the first floor. It’s the floor in between. It’s as if the paintings are there, but not quite yet, a glimpse into the future. It’s a start. But he spends his days working hard and comes back to the apartment at 54 Rue Lepic exasperated and exhausted. What he needs at home is rest and peace, but instead he gets VINCENT.

Theo loves his brother’s brilliant mind, his gregariousness, even his fiery temperament. Vincent can be a good antidote to Theo’s own inwardness and tendency to melancholy.

But after so many months of the cold Parisian winter spent indoors with Vincent, Theo is a wreck both mentally and physically. A few months back, in December, he was actually paralyzed—he couldn’t move at all for a few days. Although Theo knows he can’t blame his bad health on his brother, to get better he needs a break from Vincent’s gusts, his squalls, his constant talking and lecturing.

And, to make matters worse, lately Vincent has been furious at him. “He loses no opportunity to let me see that he despises me and I inspire aversion in him,” Theo tells Wil.

A portrait done of the brothers at this time would be sizzling with streaks of red-orange paint.

* * *

WHEN VINCENT AND THEO were young, growing up in the village of Zundert in the Netherlands, their father, a pastor, had written a special prayer. All the Van Gogh children had to memorize it and recite it when they left home:

“O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.”

Theo has valiantly been living up to that prayer. He’s been Vincent’s best friend for most of the last fifteen years, ever since they made a pledge to each other on a walk. And through many ups and downs and storms, for the past seven years, Theo has been giving Vincent money for paint, pencils and pens, ink, canvases, paper, clothing, food, and, until he moved in, rent.

On March 30 Vincent turns thirty-four; on May 1 Theo will be thirty. They’ve made it this far in their journey together—how can Theo kick him out now?

* * *

VINCENT AND THEO VAN GOGH look a lot alike: They both have red hair, though Vincent’s is redder, Theo’s more reddish blond. Vincent has freckles; Theo does not. They are both medium height—around five feet seven—but Vincent is broader, bigger; Theo slighter, thinner. They have pale blue eyes that sometimes darken to greenish blue. They are definitely brothers.

But they couldn’t give more different impressions.

Vincent in his workman’s clothes spends his days painting, outside if it’s not too cold, or inside the apartment. He is covered with Parisian soot and grime, overlaid with splatters and spatters of paint: ochre, brick red, orange, lemon chrome, cobalt blue, green, black, zinc white.

He doesn’t bathe often, which is typical for a nineteenth-century man, but it’s even less often than he should. He stinks—of body odor, dirt, food, paint, turpentine, wine, and tobacco. He usually has a pipe in his mouth, though he has very few teeth left, and those that are left are rotten.

And yet Vincent looks healthy: he’s robust, sturdy, and vehemently alive. Passion pours from him, as if the world he’s trying to capture is inside him, bursting to come out.

Theo is tidy, well dressed in a suit, looking very much the proper Parisian businessman. His features are finer, more refined. He would be handsome if he weren’t so sick: he’s thin and pale; he looks as though the life is being sucked out of him. He feels that way, too.

* * *

IN MANY WAYS, Vincent’s move to Paris has been good for both brothers. Thanks to Theo’s influence, to the artists he’s met, and to his own tenacious work, Vincent’s paintings are better than ever: they are imbued with color and light and Vincent’s own particular style.

And Vincent has given Theo more of a life. He’d been lonely in Paris, so lonely, and now, even though he doesn’t have a wife and family, Theo at least has a circle of friends through Vincent. For that he is grateful. So even though he’s desperate, Theo doesn’t kick out his brother. Yet.

In April, Theo acknowledges to another sister, Lies, that he’s been ill, “particularly in my spirit, and have had a great struggle with myself.” If he were well, he could deal with Vincent.

In fact both brothers do better with sun and warm air and hours spent outside. The Parisian days are getting longer—by minutes, anyway. If only spring would arrive! But there’s still too much gloom outside and in.

Gloom and fire.

It’s as if there are two Vincents, Theo has told Wil. He knows both sides of his brother very well. Sometimes Vincent is ebulliently happy and kind, sometimes furiously angry and difficult. He has a huge heart, but he’s stubborn and argumentative.

Vincent argues not only with Theo, and with himself, but also with friends and people he admires. One cold and fiery night in the near future, Vincent will fight with another roommate. And that argument will end in blood.

Read This If You Love: History, Art, Brain health, Van Gogh, Heiligman’s writing

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2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.  

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Winner is:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(HarperCollins/ Balzar +  Bray)

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
(Penguin Random House/ Crown Books for Young Readers)

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
(Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
(Simon & Schuster/ Simon Pulse)

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
(Penguin Random House/ Philomel Books)

The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2018 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 19th in Houston, TX, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Scanlon, Committee Chair
Teacher
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff, Past Committee Chair
Teacher
South Ft. Myers High School, Ft. Myers, FL

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Robert Bittner
SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Marie LeJeune
Professor, Literacy Education
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Librarian
Casa Grande Elementary School District, Casa Grande, AZ

Sarah Mulhern Gross
Teacher
High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Kerry Neuberger
Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

Jennifer Paulsen
Teacher
Holmes Junior High, Cedar Falls, IA

Beth Shaum
Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Wendy Stephens
School Library Media Specialist
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/

Congratulations to Angie Thomas and the the finalists! 

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2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.  

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
(Penguin Random House/ Crown Books for Young Readers)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(HarperCollins/ Balzar +  Bray)

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
(Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
(Simon & Schuster/ Simon Pulse)

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
(Penguin Random House/ Philomel Books)

The winner will be announced on Monday, July 30th. The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2018 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 19th in Houston, TX, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Scanlon, Committee Chair
Teacher
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff, Past Committee Chair
Teacher
South Ft. Myers High School, Ft. Myers, FL

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Robert Bittner
SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Marie LeJeune
Professor, Literacy Education
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Librarian
Casa Grande Elementary School District, Casa Grande, AZ

Sarah Mulhern Gross
Teacher
High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Kerry Neuberger
Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

Jennifer Paulsen
Teacher
Holmes Junior High, Cedar Falls, IA

Beth Shaum
Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Wendy Stephens
School Library Media Specialist
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/

Congratulations to the Walden Award committee and to the authors and publishers of the honored books! 

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The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: David Small
Published May 6th, 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Newbery Honor (2009), National Book Award Finalist (2009)

Summary: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love, and its opposite, hate; the fragility of happiness; and the importance of making good on your promises.

Author: Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Review: Anyone who has read a Kathi Appelt book knows that she is amazing at two things: weaving a story together in a way that only she can & pulling at heart strings causing definite mood swings while reading. The Underneath is the epitome of her excellence, and I am sad it took me so long to get to this book. Once done, I was very excited to ask Kathi about this masterpiece, and my questions and her answers show more about what makes this book the award winner that it is.

Interview: 

Kellee: How do you work to weave different elements into your story such as mythology, the natural world, and contemporary stories? 

Kathi: It’s always interesting to me to learn what sets a story off. Some authors swear that they start with characters. And I would say that characters are definitely a good place to start. But when I reflect over my many years of writing, I feel like I mostly start with place. I ask, what is it about this place that lends itself to story? What is the history of it? The social and cultural importance of it? Who has lived here? Who was here a thousand years ago? What were they doing? How did they survive? What impact did natural forces play on this place? What is the flora and fauna? Are there ghosts? Are there particular features of it? So, it seems to me that place creates the basis for most of my stories.

In The Underneath, one of my story lines occurs a thousand years ago, which means that my mythological characters (who were interlopers), would have encountered members of the Caddo/Hasinai nation. Theirs was a sophisticated, highly organized society. But a couple of things happened. One was a massive earthquake that caused a devastating flood which wiped out an entire city, thousands of people. Another was the encroachment of European settlers who brought in disease and ultimately drove the Caddo/Hasinai out of their ancestral lands.

The Caddo were—and still are—known for their pottery, so it made sense to feature a significant jar in my story. That way, I could more clearly link the characters to each other across time periods. One thing leads to another. But in the end, it goes back to place.

Kellee: The Underneath has multiple stories that are interwoven and meet at the end. How do you plan writing a novel like this? 

Kathi: Extended narrative has always been difficult for me. I started my professional writing life as a poet and picture book author. As a result, it seemed like everything I wrote tended to finish at the bottom of page three. It was why writing a novel eluded me for such a long time. I always thought that a novel meant writing long chapters, strung together chronologically, and moving from point A to a final point Z. But it wasn’t in my nature to write like that. Long chapters weren’t the way I rolled. Finally, after many failed attempts, I figured out that if I was ever going to write a novel, I would have to go with my grain as opposed to going against my grain. So, I adapted to “writing by snapshot.” In other words, I write in small, significant scenes—I call them SSS’s. I can get a lot done that way without worrying about word counts or chapter lengths, or even transitions. Plus, they’re easy to manipulate. A small scene can be moved hither and yon until it finds the right place in the story.

I think that one of the reasons that writers fail is because they haven’t found their own natural way of working. Long narrative passages aren’t my strength. I’m not saying that I can’t write them, only that they’re not where my strengths lie.

So, finding the form that fits both our natural strengths and that suits the story, is one of the keys to unlocking a book . . . and a writer. Not all of us are meant to be poets. Not all of us are meant to be soaring prose practitioners. It could be that I’m a little ADD, and the short scenes suit me.

At any rate, making this discovery was how I finally finished a novel.

I also want to say in regard to planning, I do make very loose outlines when I embark upon a new project. Those outlines tend to flex as I move through the draft. But I always try to at least have a vague idea of how the story will end. Otherwise, I’ll just write myself right off the cliff. If I can see the destination, I can get there eventually.

Kellee: Personification allows the setting to become its own character in the story. How do you plan this and implement it well when you are writing? 

Kathi: I spend tons of time researching the plants and animals that populate the setting. And to me, a living organism, such as a tree, is just that—living. If you spend enough time around trees, it seems like they each have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own ideas. I’m just saying. So, unless something is inanimate—like a rock, say—I can usually find the heart of that living organism. That is always my goal.

Kellee: What about The Underneath do you think resonated with readers 10 years ago and still remains today? 

My true hope with The Underneath is that my young readers can see the value of making a good choice. In my story, both the hero Ranger and the antagonist Gar Face have similar experiences, similar fates if you will. They’ve both been badly treated, both been isolated, and yet only one of them turns towards love. Grandmother too, finally, at long last—after the longest time out in history—chooses love. I think that young readers are tuned in to this. I think they’re built for love. What I hope my story does is to give them the courage to make that choice.

Kellee: What feedback have you gotten from readers over the years about The Underneath? What stands out about what the book means to them? 

Gosh, it’s hard to say just one thing, but it seems to me that mostly what I hear over and over from them is how much they love the relationship between Ranger and the kittens. That small sweetness seems to be the key that opens the story up. To me, it’s proof that we don’t all have to be the same or look the same or smell the same or whatever to become best friends. And no matter how small we are, we can make a difference for those we love.

Book Trailer: 

GIVEAWAY!

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

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Thank you, Kathi, for your thorough and beautiful answers to my interview questions, and thank you to Blue Slip Media for the giveaway and trailer!

 

 

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