Event Recap: Newberry Winning Authors at Books of Wonder


October 2, 2012 by Heidi

Newberry Authors at Books of Wonder

I love Middle Grade literature for the same reasons that these authors love writing it.  When you are that age, every book has the opportunity to change who you are.  When you love a book, you really love it–you’ll read it over and over again, and if you don’t like it you’ll just put it down.  The books I fell for when I was a Middle Grade reader remain some of my favorites to this day, and as such, I still read quite a bit of what is written for this age group.  I feel like reading Middle Grade captures a bit of the magic that was being a child, along with the stress and heartache of some of the hardest years of my life.

This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this lovely event at Books of Wonder in Manhattan featuring Newberry Medal and Honor authors Shannon Hale, Avi, Ann M. Martin, Richard Peck, and Rebecca Stead.  Did your head just explode at that line up?  If it didn’t, I feel sorry for whatever went wrong in your reading childhood.  But–it’s not too late!  Each and every one of these authors has written critically acclaimed (and in my personal opinion, wonderful) books that withstand the test of time and transcend age.  Pick one up as an adult, or share one with your own kids, you won’t regret it.

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale book coverShannon Hale has just published what I believe to be her 8th work for Middle Grade readers (she also writes for other age groups–like the lovely Austenland for adults), Palace of Stone, a sequel to Princess Academy.  She revealed that her first book event was also at Books of Wonder, where she debuted alongside Christopher Paolini (who everyone cared about) and Suzanne Collins (who no one knew…yet).  She confessed that she was hesitant to write a sequel to her Newberry winning book because so many fans had made their own predictions about the futures of the Princess Academy characters–she didn’t want to take that away from fans.  But, she loves writing books that seem tricky or difficult, and so Palace of Stone eventually fell into place.

Richard Peck was unexpectedly delightful and hilarious.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read any of his books!  I can say the same for Rebecca Stead, but as she’s only published 3 books while Peck has published dozens and was doing so when I was young, it’s quite embarrassing.  I will certainly be rectifying this!  Richard claims that he writes each book six times.  He doesn’t outline because it would give him too much authority, and if a character isn’t comping up with unexpected words and phrases halfway through–they must be put to death.

Rebecca Stead described her writing process as akin to walking blindfolded off a cliff, and made a mental note never to have to follow Richard Peck again.  She and Shannon Hale also joked that they felt like such frauds sitting there with all of these authors they deemed truly great, but of course the other three were lovely toward them.

Sophia's War by Avi book coverAvi, who was the first author I ever met at the Wyoming Young Authors banquet something like 17 years ago, was wonderful.  He was early and went around talking to young readers he saw with his books, which made me incredibly happy.  I still have my beloved signed copy of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and his new historical fiction, Sophia’s War sounds wonderful.

Also–can we just acknowledge that I got to meet the author of the freaking Baby Sitters Club?!  I realize Ann M. Martin has critically ‘better’ books, but since BSC were the ones I read as a kid, I was more than a little excited by this fact.

Of course, after each of the authors introduced themselves and talked a little about their books, the evening got to my favorite part of any event–questions!  Many of these were posed by Middle Grade readers in attendance, which I love:

The Newberry is equivalent to an Academy Award for books–how did winning affect you?

Avi — Stated that the Newberry Award was a gift, to which all of the other authors emphatically agreed.  He said that his first thought when he won the medal was ‘Oh, God! The next one better be good.’  Although, his first thought upon winning the honor was ‘Oh good, they’re going to have to read the next one.’

Ann M. Martin — She agreed that it made it hard to write the next book, but said that after winning she began to think of characters differently and to look for stories in different places.

Richard Peck — Joked about how when he won he began receiving a number of letters saying ‘I just read your first book’…the book that had won was his 30th.  Some of these letters were from librarians. *Gasp*

Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin book cover

Rebecca Stead — Said it didn’t change the experience of her writing, but it did make her more self conscious.  She doesn’t like to think about people reading her work when she’s writing it.  She also stated that along with being a gift, the award has little to do with actually writing.

Shannon Hale — Equated it to Tolkein’s short story, The Smith of Wootton Major, in which a cake was served with a piece of star in one piece.  The child who ate that piece would get a star on their forehead that would grant them favor throughout their lives–but they didn’t do anything special–they just showed up for the cake.  Shannon feels like she just showed up for the cake, but as a result gets all of these amazing experiences.

Why did you decide to write for a Middle Grade audience?

Avi — They’re the best readers.  They’re very discerning and there is no debate.

Ann M. Martin — It just seemed like the most natural voice for her, and there is such an opportunity for working in a variety of genres.

Richard Peck — He actually began as a YA author–he was a high school teacher for many years.  When he transferred to Middle School, he felt as if there weren’t as many good books for that age group to read, and he also feels as if teachers and librarians are better about promoting Middle Grade literature both in and out of the classroom.

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck book cover

Rebecca Stead — She feels like with Middle Grade readers, she can do anything and they’re right there with her.  She feels that children this age are curious, open-minded, and able.  She was deeply inspired by reading at that age, and also feels her strongest memories come from that time.

Shannon Hale — Simply stated that that is the age when stories meant the most.  I couldn’t agree more.

If you could only pick one of your books to have been published what would it be?  

Avi and Shannon Hale both said they would choose whatever book they’re currently working on (they’re always in love with what they’re writing).

Ann M. Martin — A Corner of the Universe (her Newberry Honor winning book).

Richard Peck — The River Between Us (He says emphatically that it is his best book).

Rebecca Stead — When You Reach Me (Her Newberry Medal winning book).

Dessert Island Book:

Avi — The Wind in the Willows and/or Great Expectations

Ann M. Martin — To Kill a Mockingbird

Richard Peck — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Rebecca Stead — To Kill a Mockingbird and/or So Long, See You Tomorrow

Shannon Hale — The collected Calvin and Hobbes

I kind of love that all of them chose books that feature young characters.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead book coverEach of the authors weighed in on inspiration, which came from reading, parents, and life experiences, and they also discussed reading for fun vs. reading in the classroom.  The authors seemed in agreement that reading is a very personal experience, and they hope to find a balance between reading for fun and being analytic.  They wish that more of the creative process were taught in school and that kids could learn to love books and reading without the pressure to learn something specific.

All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon and I am overjoyed that I was able to attend.  It was great to see so many young readers there, but also nice to see so many my own age who haven’t quite gotten over their love of Middle Grade literature–and hopefully never will.


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  1. Elizabeth says:

    My inner 10 year old is super jealous that you got to meet Avi and Ann M. Martin! I was a huge fan of their books as a kid, though I don’t really remember anything beyond BSC for Ann M! It sounds like a great experience and it was nice to be reminded of some of the better reading memories I have… middle grade was definitely the time when I read the most devotedly and loved books without feeling the pressure or need to turn a critical eye toward them!

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! I love that that’s what the authors loved about writing for this age group, and it helped remind me why I absolutely love this age group. I read tons of Avi and Ann M. Martin growing up as well! I actually had a hard time finding a book of Avi’s at the bookstore that I hadn’t read to buy. :)

  2. janicu says:

    oo, Calvin and Hobbes is a great answer to the desert island question!

    Really great event recap (as always). I am sorry I wasn’t able to make this one.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I wasn’t sure how widely this one would appeal to bloggers since not as many that I know read MG–though so many of us do read Shannon Hale! She was really sweet, I told her I loved her adult books as well and she was really excited to see how the Austenland movie came out (as am I). I agree that Calvin and Hobbes was a great answer! It’s big, and would keep things light. 😛

  3. Melanie says:

    You know, I’ve read Hale’s Austenland but haven’t gotten around to any of her MGs. Princess Academy sounds like it could be pretty cool, from what I’ve heard.

    • Heidi says:

      Princess Academy was her Newberry Medal winning book, and she said she’s surprised that to this day it’s her most beloved. I do suggest reading it and not listening to the audio–I think the audio killed it a bit for me. I’ve also heard wonderful things about her Books of Bayern series, which is why I picked up The Goose Girl and had it signed at the event!

  4. Oh wow, I’m so jealous. I’ll never ever ever EVER forget reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle as a kid. The ending of that book BLEW MY MIND. Great write up Heidi! I wish I could have been there!

    • Heidi says:

      I know!! I pretty much fangirled all over Avi and told him that he was the first author I ever met and how much it meant to me as a young reader and that I still have my copy of Charlotte Doyle that he signed for me when I was like 12. It was such a great event.

  5. elena says:

    AHHH this event sounds absolutely EPIC! Thanks so much for sharing this recap, I think the question about if they had one their books published is an interesting one. Also, how awkward for Richard Peck being congratulated on his “first” book.

    P.S. I am going to Books of Wonder for the Stefan Bachmann event, by any chance will you be there?

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, wasn’t that an interesting question? That was one of the middle grade readers that asked that one! Richard Peck had such a charming personality and sense of humor, he made everyone laugh–I really want to read his work now!

      I will not be at the Stefan Bachmann event, I’m out of town that day, but I’m definitely going to the YA Fantasy event on the 25th!

  6. Holly says:

    Wow, that is quite the lineup! Books of Wonder seems to have THE best events. I would’ve loved to see Rebecca Stead and Shannon Hale. Good thing I will be seeing her on Friday! Great recap. I loved reading all their responses.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Holly! Yes, this was a mind blowing line up. Books of Wonder has absolutely fantastic events, I wish I lived IN the city so that I could swing going to more of them.

  7. My gosh, I am so far behind on commenting that I hassled you to post this and then didn’t even read it for two weeks! I’m the pits. I loved your recap, Heidi. I would’ve been so excited to meet the BSC creator! (even if I should be excited for her other stuff) I never had to read Avi in school, nor have I read anything of Peck’s:-/ I’ve read a few Hales and I LOVED When You Reach Me. Judging from this panel and the middle grade panel I went to at Northwest Bookfest, I think middle grade authors are some of the loveliest people around. They write with great intent and appreciation of their audience and don’t write down to them.

    • Heidi says:

      Middle Grade authors are incredibly lovely! I completely agree, they totally respect and love their audience. Sure, they like us adults who read their books, but we aren’t who they’re writing for, and I’m 100% okay with that. Hoping to go to another MG event next week! I picked up When You Reach Me at the event, it’s one I’ve really been wanting to read for a while now, so I figured what better time?

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