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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Awards

Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award Committee

Sigurd Olson Children's and Young Adult Literature ConferenceWe’re in the midst of award season, when best of the year lists and speculation about award winners proliferate on the social media platforms swirling around children’s and teen books. In November, we attended the award ceremony at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute’s Children and Young Adult Literature Conference, which takes place at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin (on the awe-inspiring south shore of Lake Superior). Inspired by the authors, naturalists, and librarians who speak at this conference, we interviewed the dedicated committee who select this important award each year.

How do you select the awarded books?

We have a committee of eight members who all have an interest in promoting both the natural world and high quality literature for children. Because committee members remain on the committee from year to year we have a dedicated, knowledgeable group of professionals. Each member first ranks books and then those results are tallied. The top ranked books becomes the focus of a committee meeting. A final vote is taken with numerical rankings following that in-depth discussion.

What are the criteria for this award?

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature is given to a published children’s book of literary nature writing (nonfiction or fiction) that captures the spirit of the human relationship with nature, and promotes the awareness, preservation, appreciation, or restoration of the natural world for future generations. (Here’s a full list of SONWA books since 1991.)

How do you gather the books?

Since most, if not all, publishers are on Twitter, we established a SONWA Awards Twitter account two years ago (@sonwa_awards). For the past two years, we’ve promoted the awards through our feed and by directly tweeting to publishers. We also post to the SOEI (Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute) Facebook feed periodically.

We actively ask publishers to submit books that fit the criteria. Since we’re one of the few nature writing awards for young adult and children’s literature, the publishers of this type of book are aware of us.

What selection criteria do you apply?

First of all, as the name of the award suggests, the book has to be about some aspect of nature and written for children appropriate to the age group. In addition, it has to be written in the year prior to the year the award is received.

After that, we look at:

  • Human Relationships with Natural World: Does the book capture the spirit of the human relationship with nature?
  • Literary Value: Does the book take on elements such as character development, metaphor, climax, allusion, theme, motif, etc?
  • Values: Does the book promote the values for nature this award seeks to promote for future generations: awareness, preservation, appreciation, restoration?
  • Illustrations: When books meet all the above criteria, then illustrations and the artwork are considered.

What is the impetus you feel for donating your time to this award process?

Living in the Northwoods, whether an outdoor person or not, creates a strong connection to the earth and concern for its future. Our committee is also well aware of how literacy can impact our humanity. This award process allows us to commit to two efforts that are important to us. We hope the chain from writers to publishers will be validated for their efforts. And we hope the reader will be enriched in multiple ways.

You are housed within, and sponsored by, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. Why is this a good fit for a nature-writing award?

The mission of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute is to promote experiences of wildness and wonder, while also working to protect wildlands for future generations. Literary depictions and accounts of wild nature and the wonder it evokes in people often inspire readers to seek similar experiences, or, if they’ve already had those experiences, the literary works help to further affirm the value of those experiences.

Sigurd F. Olson’s writing is one of the richest and most influential parts of his legacy, and the nature writing award is one of the ways that we carry that legacy forward.

Northland College

You’ll find the Sigurd F. Olson Environmental Institute on the campus of Northland College, Ashland, Wisconson (in the foreground of this photo). That’s Lake Superior in the background.

Your focus was initially regionally written adult books. Why did you develop a specific award for children’s books?

In part this was a circumstantial decision: each year publishers were submitting children’s books, even though they didn’t meet the criteria we had established for the original adult award. Although we could not consider these submissions for the adult award, we were impressed by their quality and wanted to recognize and promote the work of the authors and illustrators of the children’s books.

Of course, we also recognize how important it is to capture the imaginations of children and the role that stories can play in shaping their values and visions for themselves and their future. We want children to grow up having and valuing experiences of wildness and wonder in their lives, and the children’s nature writing award, as well as our children’s literature conference, help us to realize this goal.

Having read so many nature-themed children’s books, what trends are you noticing?

We do see topic trends from time to time. A few years ago it was whales and then water the next year. Just like publishing in other areas, the trends tend to follow what is going on in the world. This year we have a few hurricane books. Often times, grandparents are depicted as nurturer, guardian, or storyteller of nature.

 We are seeing more diversity and inclusion. There are more picture books with more white space but with detailed author notes or supplemental added value. In recent year, nonfiction books for older readers will have side bars, graphics, captioned photos, and more alongside the main body. This can be either an enhancement or a distraction.

What themes or topics do you wish were being addressed in children’s books?

We are always looking for books that have a strong relationship to human interaction with the natural world. Books for older children with this aspect are not as readily available. There are always some that stand out in this area but we would happily welcome more.

___________________

Thank you for your commitment to reading and recommending the very best in nature writing for children and teens. Your focus on human interaction with the natural world is critical to the lives of our children and our planet. Important work you’re doing!

[The submission deadline for 2018 award consideration is December 31, 2017. Learn more.]

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The Awards

 

In the children’s literature world, awards happened this week. They don’t receive quite the press or airtime (which is unfortunate) as The Tonys and Oscars, but they’re important and exciting all the same. Darling Daughter and I have just discussed them at some length over supper.

I love the awards. I love feeling like I predicted a few of them. I love that there are always a couple of surprises to put on my reading list. I even love that I can disagree with the selections, at times—I mean, really, that’s kind of fun. Most of all, I love that some of those that win feel extra special, whether it’s because I know the author, or because the award recognizes a deep specialness that really needs to be recognized in a book or an artist’s work over time.

I once heard a well-known Newbery author say that you can only receive something like the Newbery award as a gift. You can’t pretend for a second, this author said, that you earned it somehow. The reason? It sits on the shelf with so many other truly awesome books. The author/illustrator has certainly done something astounding—written/illustrated a spectacular book—and to have that recognized, well…that’s about as wonderful as it gets. But it’s grace. It’s gravy. It’s gift. I like that—it strikes me as being True.

One of the other things I love about the awards is the amazing work teachers and librarians do with kids to get them ready and drum up some excitement—the Mock-Newberys, Sibert Smack-downs, The Beardecotts etc. These lucky students learn how to appreciate illustrations critically, learning about and sometimes trying various art techniques. They read multiple novels and study multiple subjects in the weeks and months leading up to the awards. They learn about the process of bookmaking. They make nominations, they argue, they vote, they declare their undying love for certain authors and illustrators….. I learned none of this as a child—I’m so grateful kids do now. What an education! And what fun!

So, congratulations to all the award winners. Huzzah! to teachers and librarians everywhere. Hurray for the readers! And thank you to all of the authors and illustrators, editors and designers, agents and publishers, some of whom are never recognized with a special award. But we are grateful—so very grateful!—for your work. Our bookshelves groan in appreciation. Our minds are opened, our hearts touched. Thank you for all you do.

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Perspective

Pippi LongstockingAt Bookology, we believe the adage about “the right book for the right reader.” Those are not necessarily the books that we see in advertisements, in the bloggers’ buzz, or on award lists. Only by listening to each other, and especially to kids, talk about books do we find those gems our hearts were looking for but didn’t know existed.

When you think about your favorite books, what’s your perspective? Do you remember the story first? The characters? The cover? The illustrations?

For many of us, it’s the book cover. Yesterday, I was looking for books about cats. I wanted to recommend some classics. I remember a book from the 1960s that had a boy and a cat on the cover. Both of them were facing away from me, looking at a neighborhood. I remember that the cover is yellow. Do you know the book I’m talking about? I asked Steve, because he frequently talks about this book. When I described the cover, he knew right away: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville. (I’m not publishing the cover here because I don’t want to give it away. Take a look at the bottom of this article.)

Often it’s the illustrations. Who can forget the thick black outlines of My Friend Rabbit? Or the clear, bright colors of My Heart is Like a Zoo? Or the pen and ink drawings of Lois Lenski?

gr_myheart

Sometimes it’s the characters. The book with the spider and the pig. That one with the adventurous red-haired girl with pigtails. That book where the high-school kids share their poetry in class. That autobiography of the author growing up in Cuba and the USA. Those characters are so memorable that, once read, we can’t forget them. (The book covers are posted at the end of this article.)

When we’re meeting with the Chapter & Verse book club each month, the last half-hour is a time to recommend books we’ve enjoyed. I always add to my reading list. Do you have an intentional, set-aside time for talking with other adults about the children’s books they’re reading and are thrilled to recommend? I particularly love it when they’re books that aren’t on the buzzers’ radar. I feel as though we’ve shared a secret.

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

I also hunt through the state lists. These are books that educators and librarians are choosing because they know they have kid appeal. So often, these are not books that have been on award lists … but they’re passed along, buzzed about among child readers, recommended by the adults in their lives.

State Choice Awards

Not all books need to be new. There are fabulous books hiding on the library shelves and in used bookstores. Do a subject search. It’s amazing what you can find by looking at a library catalog or doing an online search.

Everyone’s publishing booklists these days. How do you know which ones to follow? Do the titles resonate with you? Do you find yourself eagerly adding their suggestions to your TBR pile? Then bookmark those lists! Visit them frequently or sign up to receive notifications when they publish their next list.

The award books and books with stars are one way to find good books but don’t rely solely on those sources. Don’t forget the wealth of fabulous books that fly under the radar.

Talk to each other. Adult to adult. Child to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Old or new. Hidden treasure or bestseller. We learn about the best books when we hear recommendations from another reader, another perspective.

books described in the article

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Chapter & Verse picks the winners … or not

In CLN’s Chapter & Verse, with six of our bookstores reporting, we had no clear winners for our mock Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards. Steve and I have visited many of these locations, talking with the book club members. Each book club has its own character. The members bring different life experiences, different reading preferences, […]

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An Artful Storyteller

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, […]

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Monday Morning Roundup

A CLN welcome to author Cynthia Cotten, our newest member. Cyndy lives in Virginia. Her books include Rain Play (illus by Javaka Steptoe, Holt), Abbie in Stitches (illus by Beth Peck, FS&G), and Snow Ponies (illus by Jason Cockcroft, Holt). I’m looking forward to the Ramona and Beezus movie due to release on July 23rd. […]

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Bank Street’s 2010 Choices

We eagerly await the annual list of books chosen by the Bank Street College of Education as books that work well with children from birth to age 14. Each year, the Children’s Book Committee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accuracy and literary quality and considers their emotional impact on children. It chooses the […]

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Monday Morning Round-Up

From Wendell Minor comes this news (applause, please),  “It′s official: the original art from Look to the Stars will be included in the permanent collection of The New Britain Museum of American Art, and the original art from Abraham Lincoln Comes Home will be included in the permanent collection of The Norman Rockwell Museum. Watch […]

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2010 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards

What a pleasure it is each year to discover which books the Jane Addams Peace Association has chosen to honor. Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually acknowledges books meeting standards of literary and artistic excellence, published in the U.S., with themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world […]

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Monday Morning Roundup

Barbara O’Connor‘s book How to Steal a Dog is a real children’s favorite. This book about a homeless girl’s plan to save her family by stealing a dog has, to date, been nominated in twenty-one states for a children’s choice award. We’ve recently learned that the book is a winner in three states, receiving the […]

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