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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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