Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everyone's a Winner!

It was still dark when I awoke Monday morning and sat down in front of the computer in my pajamas. Then, for the next hour or so, I followed the book award announcements live -- right hand scrolling down the Twitter feed, left hand holding my cellphone to relay the results to a friend in her darkened bookstore some ten miles away.

She was doing the two-handed thing as well, pressing a phone to each ear. I was on the right-hand phone, shouting out, " CALPURNIA TATE just got an Honor!" Then she'd turn to the phone in her left hand and tell her book distributor, "I want to order ten copies of THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE." Then I'd yell "MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON got an Honor!" in her right ear and she'd turn to the left and add, "I'll need fifteen copies of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON."

Sibert, Printz, Caldecott, was a frantic morning.

But by the time the sun was fully up, we knew all the winners and my friend had ordered everything she needed for her store.

I was very glad to help her out. In these uncertain times, independent bookstores -- the kind where they know your name and make personal recommendations -- are having an terrible time competing with the big chains and dealers. When Awards Day rolls around, everyone -- from local libraries to first edition collectors -- calls or drops by my friend’s store, trying to find the winning titles. So it was very important that she have these books in stock; her business depended on it.

It wasn't until the event was over and I'd turned off the computer and cellphone that I actually had time to reflect on the winning books. I thought the Newbery slate (winner WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead and Honor Books CLAUDETTE COLVIN by Phillip Hoose, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin, and THE MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG by Rodman Philbrick) was a good one. And, with the exception of the Grace Lin book, which a friend found for me over the weekend and will mail later this week, I already owned all the other books in first edition. I was glad that I'd picked up a copy of HOMER FIGG months ago when I first heard someone of the 'net mention it as a Newbery possibility; it's now in at least its fourth printing. And WHEN YOU REACH ME is in at least its fifteenth printing, with first printings selling for over $100. On the other hand, the Printz list (winner GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray and Honor Books CHARLES AND EMMA by Deborah Heiligman, THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST by Rick Yancey, PUNKZILLA by Adam Rapp, and TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND by John Barnes) contained some real surprises. I had only read a couple of these and didn’t own many of them either.

Then I started thinking about all the strong books that weren't recognized by Newbery or Printz. TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA. CROSSING STONES. WINTERGIRLS. FIRE. WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS. MARCELLO AND THE REAL WORLD...on and on. When we talk about which books “won” this year’s awards, it’s natural to think of everything else as having “lost.”

But of course that’s not true.

There are so many factors that come into play when choosing a book for an award: the pool of possible contenders…the composition of the award committee…even luck.

In truth, all the books considered for an award are winners in their own way. Hey, just having a book accepted for publication out of the thousands and thousands of submissions is a kind of victory. And the day the awards are announced –- one of the few times a year that kids’ books get any national attention -– shines the spotlight not just on the handful of winning titles, but on the entire field of children’s literature.

So everyone's a winner on Newbery Day!

...Though I have to admit I spent part of Monday feeling like a loser.

About an hour after the award announcements, someone knocked at the front door and returned my wallet, which they had found tossed beside a dumpster down the street.

It was great that someone returned it, but…I never knew it was missing!

The previous evening I had made my usual Sunday-at-midnight midnight grocery run. As I struggled from the car with several heavy packages, my wallet had apparently wiggled out of my pocket and landed on the sidewalk. The next morning, some jerk found it, removed all the money, and then tossed it into the dumpster.

I was pleased that it was found with credit cards still inside –- but furious about losing the money. I never carry more than $20 or so with me, but of course that happened to be the one time that I had over $100 in my wallet! And I can’t even understand the mentality of anyone who’d find a wallet full of identification and take all the cash inside. Is the world full of immoral opportunists?

The next evening, still feeling a little despondent, I stopped at my friend’s bookstore on the way home from work. She’d just received the shipment of the award books she’d ordered the previous morning. It did perk me up to see the entrance way was crowded with stockpiles of Siberts, piles of Printzes, stacks of Steads, and pyramids of Pinkneys. Because I didn’t have any cash (thanks a lot, wallet thief!) I took out my credit card to purchase the couple Sibert and Printz books I still needed for my collection (now come on, did anyone predict PUNKZILLA and MONSTRUMOLOGIST would win anything?) Then my bookstore friend handed me a book and said, “This is for you –- for helping me out with ordering the books yesterday.”

“You don’t have to give me anything—-“ I began. But she insisted and pointed at the stacks of award-winning volumes in the aisle, saying, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would never have gotten my order in early enough yesterday to receive all these books today.”

I looked down at the book in my hand. It was the brand-new Newbery winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead. I said, “No, really, that’s okay. ...Besides, I already have this book.”

She said, “I know, but this is a special copy. I held back a handful of first editions when the book was released last summer, and I really want you to have it –- to trade or resell or whatever –- because you helped me with the order yesterday and have been a good friend to the store.”

It's funny how things turn out.

I lost over $100 on Monday...but ended up receiving a book worth more than $100 on Tuesday!

Newbery Day even made me feel like a winner this year.


Unknown said...

I work one of those chain bookstores, and we only have three of the award winners in the store and only one copy of two of them. I was sad to see I wasn't even able to order more copies.

Anonymous said...

I love your plug for independent, local bookstores. You're fortunate to still have some in your town.

Bybee said...

That's a nice story!

Word verification is "Shane" that YA lit?

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Wow, what a great story. What goes around comes around, eh? Glad you got a first printing of WHEN YOU REACH ME. Such a wonderful book.

I work in an indie bookstore. Thanks for much for showing your support.
My Brain on Books

Vonna said...

I have a treasured ARC of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and a dearly loved copy of The Evolution of Calpunia Tate (friends are hounding me to lend it to them but I'm feeling rather miserly about it) but I have not yet purchased When You Reach Me. I was at one of Those Chains the day after the announcements and the @(%*^&#! store didn't have a single copy of ANY of them. Fortunately, I was just looking. I always buy my books at the wonderful indie around the corner from my house.

Carm said...

Had to stop at the only bookstore left in town--a B. Daltons and they had one copy of Stead's book and didn't have a clue that it had won an award. Same thing at the library in town. I had to inform them who the winners were. Strange times. Doesn't everyone pay attention to these lists--look forward to the day of their announcement? Sheesh.