word craft


Reflection on Winning the Newbery

When you win a New­bery award one of the ques­tions you are often asked is, “How did you react when you learned of your award?” 

Not long ago the Horn­book pub­lished an issue devot­ed to the New­bery, ask­ing those who won it their reflec­tion about that time. 

This was my response—somewhat edited.

Newbery Medal

That year (2003) ALA Midwinter—when the New­bery is announced—was in Philadel­phia. It was very cold. I was cold, too. Indeed, I had the flu, a bad case of it, the worst I have ever had.

I had been invit­ed to the con­fer­ence, the only time in my career I have attend­ed Mid-win­ter. The invi­ta­tion came from Simon and Schus­ter to help pro­mote an unusu­al book for me, a pic­ture book, Silent Movie, which was just about to be released.  The book was my attempt to repli­cate the expe­ri­ence of watch­ing an ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry film.

Unlike Covid days, one didn’t turn down such an invi­ta­tion. So, I left my Den­ver home (much warmer than Philadel­phia!) and flew off. Even as I trav­eled east my flu got worse.

I checked in, informed my pub­lish­er I was there, and began my round of events. If I recall cor­rect­ly my oth­er pub­lish­er, Hype­r­i­on, with whom I had pub­lished a book the past year, was not involved.

There were social gath­er­ings, meals, and in regard to Silent Movie, a high­ly effec­tive pho­to-show of the book, com­plete with music. 

Between events, meet­ings, and sign­ings, I wrapped myself in a blan­ket, drank hot tea, and tried to fig­ure out the ear­li­est time I could get back to Den­ver. Noth­ing I ate stayed in. I changed my air­line tick­et for the best flight home.

On Sun­day morn­ing I joined a break­fast spon­sored by Harper­Collins, host­ed by the inim­itable Bill Mor­ris. I told him I need­ed to leave ear­ly to catch a plane.

At my table were a cou­ple of peo­ple from the cur­rent New­bery Com­mit­tee. The con­ver­sa­tion was dull. I was dull. I ate noth­ing. I kept check­ing the time. I just want­ed to get home.

At the ear­li­est pos­si­ble polite moment, I excused myself and mut­ter­ing mul­ti­ple thanks, raced for the airport.

When I got home wait­ing for me was the draft of a let­ter my col­lege daugh­ter had com­posed, a let­ter in which she was apply­ing for sum­mer employ­ment. In those days she was a pret­ty poor writer. She need­ed the let­ter the next day. I promised to do it in the morning.

Still sick, I took to bed.

Mon­day morn­ing, I was up at six. Still sick. But being the duti­ful par­ent, I set about re-writ­ing my daughter’s letter.

At sev­en AM I was at my computer—editing that letter—when the phone rang. It was Starr Latron­i­ca, some­one I had nev­er heard of.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions,” she said. “You have won the New­bery Award for your book, Crispin: The Cross of Lead.” There was cheer­ing in the background.

I remem­ber my very first thought. Oh-oh, the next one bet­ter be good. Then I burst into tears.

Roused from sleep, my wife asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I won the New­bery Award.”

Things moved fast. (First, I fin­ished my daughter’s appli­ca­tion let­ter.) There were many calls.

Among them was a cheer­ful sum­mons from Hype­r­i­on to get me to come to NYC. Once arrived, there was a round of meet­ings. Meet­ings with Don­na Bray my edi­tor. The pub­lish­er. My agent, Gail Hochman. The Today Show, inter­views, meet­ings, etc., etc.  It was an excit­ing two-day whirl.

At some point—I’m not sure when—I sud­den­ly real­ized some­thing: My ter­ri­ble flu had com­plete­ly van­ished, nev­er to return.

What did I learn from this expe­ri­ence? If you get a ter­ri­ble case of the flu, the New­bery award will cure it.

 (And my daugh­ter got her job.)

1 thought on “Reflection on Winning the Newbery”

  1. One of the most excit­ing events I’ve ever had the plea­sure of attend­ing. Dr. Nixon and I enjoyed every moment. I will nev­er be able to thank you enough.


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