In person, Gary D. Schmidt is a storyteller. Sometimes that’s an internal aspect of an author and it doesn’t extend to conversation or presentations. Gary shared a story at Spotlight on Books that came from his growing-up neighborhood on Long Island, NY. He engaged his listeners by giving them the responsibility for preserving the story, passing it on.
Everyone in the room settled in, knowing they were in the hands of a master. From our vantage point at the back of the room, we noticed that all motion stilled, all faces were alert, tilted up, eyes eagerly focused on the storyteller.
We were under the spell of a master as Gary moved from story to story. “Art is meant to give us questions, not easy answers,” he said. For this year’s fortunate attendees in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, many questions were evoked as we held Gary’s stories up to the light of our own experiences.
After his presentation, as people thanked him, I heard a number of people say “you were robbed.” Some didn’t even mention the book title, assuming Gary knew that Okay for Now should have won a major award, bewildered because it was that good and the award committees didn’t recognize it. Gary had already told us he didn’t feel this way: “The Newbery Committee works very, very hard for a long year, and then chooses the books it wants to honor; my response to that has always been to be grateful to the committee for its work, and then to read the books—which are always amazing.”
Even as we sat listening to Gary’s stories, the School Library Journal Battle of the Books was being decided by Jonathan Stroud. SLJ reported, “Jonathan Stroud, the final judge, or Big Kahuna, picked Schmidt’s coming-of-age tale over two other finalists, Between Shades of Gray (Philomel, 2011) by Ruta Sepetys and Life: An Exploded Diagram (Candlewick, 2011) by Mal Peet.” Tough decision, don’t you agree?
From the final three, Mr. Stroud chose Okay for Now, a confirmation of Gary D. Schmidt’s ability to capture an audience, hold them motionless, and leave them with questions. A lot of people are feeling vindicated.