Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

An Artful Storyteller

Gary D. SchmidtIn 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.”

Okay for NowEven 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.

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