Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Call That Changes Everything – or Not

Jan 11, 2013 - PW Weekly

The scenario is by now familiar to those in the children’s book world. On a January morning—this year it’s January 28, from Seattle—one author and one illustrator will receive a phone call from the Newbery or Caldecott committee, naming them the newest recipient of the ALA’s prestigious awards. (This year’s announcement signals an additional milestone, as the Caldecott celebrates its 75th anniversary; its slightly older Newbery sibling has been awarded since 1922.) The attendant flurry of interviews and appearances follows, as does the predicted bump in sales for the freshly stickered books. But how do things change in the lives of the winners? We caught up with each of the Newbery and Caldecott medalists of the past five years to find out.

Jack Gantos – 2012 Newbery Medal
“After I received the Newbery, Katherine Paterson [a two-time Newbery winner] e-mailed me and wrote, ‘Welcome to the club,’ ” says Gantos. “So I think I did enter a very special club because she must be, with her multiple awards and talent, the Queen of the Club Newbery. I’d love to find the Club House and all the amenities it offers.”
Photo: Anne Lower
Jack Gantos, author of Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
A dedication to the “very solitary discipline” in which he works has helped Gantos keep an even keel in light of the increased demands on his time since winning his award. “I started another book immediately after turning in the manuscript of Dead End in Norvelt,” he says. “I was well under way with another manuscript by the time the Newbery was announced. But the new manuscript went to sleep on me because of all the Newbery touring and events, so when I woke the manuscript from its coma I had to start from the beginning. I don’t think I feel a new pressure. I’m just trying to work up to the high bar I always set.”
Gantos believes that if he felt compelled to make his new work measure up to the award in some way, “I may fall into the rut of writing the same book over and over and stop taking creative chances which lure me in unknown directions,” he says. “The award doesn’t suggest I slack off, nor does it carry the subtext that my previous books were of a lesser quality. I think the award recognizes Dead End in Norvelt and my achievement in writing it, and I think it is telling me to stay the course, which I will.”

Chris Raschka – 2012 Caldecott Medal
“On the one hand, my life has not changed a bit,” says Raschka. “I still walk to my studio every day, having the same doubts, finding the same fun, thanking the same lucky stars that let me walk to my studio every day. But perhaps that is precisely how my life has changed. The Caldecott Award has allowed me to keep doing what I’m doing for some time longer, for which I am ever grateful.”
Photo: Catherine Wink
Chris Raschka, author-illustrator of A Ball for Daisy (Random/Schwartz & Wade).

According to Raschka, getting back to the drawing board, so to speak, “is no more intimidating now than it has ever been. It will always take a certain audacity to write or to make art of any kind. The question always hangs in the air: Who are you to make art? Who are you to tell me anything, to show me anything? Well, in answer to that question, I’ve always done it—draw and paint—and I always will do it. Hand any four-year-old a fist full of crayons, and it is a very, very few who don’t get busy with them, drawing, coloring, scribbling. I have not stopped scribbling.”
And when the work pressure valve needs to be released? “My coping mechanism is to create a routine and then stick to it, and if things are going badly, change the routine,” Raschka says. Beyond that, he notes, “Editors can help enormously. They can also hinder enormously, even when he or she has no intention of doing so. Editors can be like parents—they are the parents of your books after all—you react to their every twitch overly much; one smile may make you veer sideways, one frown may make you tumble backwards. I have always appreciated Dick Jackson, who gave me my start and with whom I continue to work, for many, many reasons, but especially for never saying anything more enthusiastic than, ‘I think this will work.’

Full piece here.

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