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.
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.)