Even if I ran into them, my interest in reporting encounters with Angelina Jolie, Martha Stewart, or Jay Leno would be practically nonexistent. Interest rises a notch for Michelle Kwan, Alex Trebek, or any football-playing Manning. But names that really impress me and will be dropped in this blog are people who take me places with their words – names like Gary Schmidt.
Last year I read his book Wednesday Wars in preparation for his de Grummond Lecture that opened the festivities for the annual Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi [www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival]. My de Grummond friends [www.lib.usm.edu/~degrum] assured me that his new companion book Okay for Now, due for release the first day of the festival, was even better. I protested that was not possible, so they loaned me an ARC (advanced reading copy) and proved their point.
The protagonist Doug Swieteck reminded me of the children I called “survivors” from my classrooms. They brought baggage with them every day from an overwhelming life struggle (dysfunctional families, poverty, and various ways of not fitting in). But they also brought a determination to make lemonade of the lemons allotted to them. I enjoyed all of my students, almost without exception, but these survivors touched my heart, earned my admiration, and made me proud.
On Wednesday night, survivor Doug Swieteck by way of Gary Schmidt in Okay for Now, stood tall as a finalist for the National Book Award. I see him as a shout-out to survivors. Gary, an educator as well as a writer, must have seen quite a few himself.
I complete my name-dropping with a picture as Gary Schmidt signs some of his books for my grandsons. You’ll see the same picture with the same name dropped again if Okay for Now wins the Newbery Award. So far it’s on the short list of the Mock Newbery blog I’ve been following, and if anybody’s asking, it has my vote.