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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Wisconsin

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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Skinny Dip with Marsha Qualey

 Joni MitchellWhich celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

Joni. And I’d come prepared with questions about her painting, not her music, because then, just maybe, she’d see beyond the gobsmacked fan. Maybe she’d draw something on a napkin for me.  

If she didn’t show, I’d be okay because I’d have a back-up date with Louisa May. 

buttered toastWhat’s your favorite late-night snack?

Buttered toast, but I can’t indulge that often now. Once upon a time, though, it was a nightly thing. Then when I was diagnosed with celiac disease I went years without it because the bread I made or could find in stores just didn’t cut it. And then along came Udi’s.

Most cherished childhood memory?

I had the best best friend any quiet, introverted, bookish girl could have. Mary was just the opposite of me, and when I was with her, adventure wasn’t just something that happened in books, it was something we made together.

earthwormsOne first grade day we were walking the six to seven blocks home for lunch. It had rained all morning and we were excited by all the earthworms still on the sidewalks. What if we gathered them all and sold them as bait? We began collecting the liveliest ones and putting them in the pockets of our raincoats. The pickings were grand and we didn’t notice the time pass. When we neared our houses, conveniently across the street from each other, something made us realize how late we were (A beckoning family member? Church bells? Kids returning to school? This detail is lost.).  We rushed to our respective homes for a quick lunch and met up again at her family car for a ride back to school—we were that late.

The sun was shining and we were in a car and neither of us wore a raincoat. The sun prevailed for many days thereafter. Only when at last we again needed our raincoats, did either of us remember the grand plan to make a seven-year-old’s fortune by selling worms.

The worms were dust in the pockets of our size 6x raincoats. There’s an old woman’s somber metaphor about dreams in there somewhere, but it wouldn’t have registered with Mary and me.  We laughed then and we still laugh about it now.  

Morning person? Night person?

Night, now and forever.

What’s the strangest tourist attraction you’ve visited?

Mary Nohl HomeI love environmental art—the concrete and bottle constructions that an individual artist builds over the years on his or her property. Thanks to the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and the Kohler Foundation several such installations in Wisconsin have been preserved. Any one of these would qualify as strange, and they are all worth a visit.

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Libraries in the USA are at Mission Critical

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” —Andrew Carnegie

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Libraries in the USA are at mission critical. Those who went before us worked hard to establish free public libraries so we could have access to what we need to know. How can we let their legacy erode?

We’ve already seen our public school libraries damaged by budget shortfalls in which libraries are deemed non-essential and degreed librarians are considered easily replaced by a volunteer.

Public libraries have suffered as well via consolidation, replaced by pick-up-your-book kiosks, and outright closure.

For readers, it is understood how vital libraries are as a free source of education, essential services, and entertainment that might otherwise be too expensive for families and individuals. Beyond books, public libraries offer free programming in education, crafting, music and dance, citizenry, and business. Some libraries have become a place to check out seldom-needed but important items like fishing rods, electric drills, sewing machines, and gardening tools.

gardening tools library

Reading is still at the heart of the library. The ability to learn, whether by fiction or nonfiction, and the privilege of asking a librarian who can help you find what you need and what you don’t yet know that you need—that is a library. No computer algorithm, no matter how well-meaning, can take a librarian’s place.

Many of us take our public library for granted. We walk a few blocks, ride our bikes, drive a few miles or 30 miles to check out books and magazines. We can call the staff on the phone to make sure they know what we’re looking for and have it. If they don’t have it, they can order it from a library far, far away. This is one of the most reliable services of being an American citizen.

This access to information and resources was hard-won. The generations before us recognized how vital books and reading are to a healthy, citizen-engaged country.

Down Cut Shin CreekIn Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer (Harper Collins, 2001), we learn the riveting true story of women, primarily, who were hired by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1935, during the height of the Depression, to ride horses or pack mules to the often inaccessible small communities and individuals of eastern Kentucky. Eventually these librarians would serve more 100,000 people in 30 counties as part of the Pack Horse Library Project. It’s an inspiring book. Reading the account of how important these librarians were because they knew their communities, their readers’ tastes, and felt a sense of duty … it’s easier to understand why libraries have been so vital in America.

A congressman from Kentucky, Carl D. Perkins, sponsored the Library Services Act in 1956 “that made the first federal appropriations for library service.” More than likely, he was influenced by a Pack Horse Librarian while he taught in rural Kentucky.

That Book WomanFor a picture book about the Pack Horse Librarians, read Heather Henson’s That Book Woman, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008). Written by a Kentucky native, this story of Cal, living high in the Appalachian hills, depicts a young boy who wants nothing to do with reading until he realizes the extraordinary lengths his Pack Horse Librarian is achieving to bring him books.

Books in a BoxIn northern climes, Stuart Stotts wrote the marvelous Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005). Lutie Stearns grew up near Milwaukee, reading all the time. She is drawn to library service where, thankfully, she has big ideas. She teams up with Frank Hutchins (another big idea person, he started the Wisconsin State Forest Department, and introduced Easter Seals to the Anti-Tuberculosis Association) to create traveling libraries.

Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Decimal System) introduced publicly-funded traveling libraries in New York State in 1893. (The first traveling libraries were likely those in Scotland and Wales in the early 1800s, but they were part of a schooling system.)

The next year, Lutie and Frank petitioned lumber baron and Wisconsin state senator James Stout to fund traveling libraries in Dunn County. They wanted him to introduce a bill in the legislature to fun the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. You must read this book for the engrossing experiences Lutie encountered as she tried to establish traveling libraries, books in a box, around the state in post offices and stores.

Later, Lutie would help citizens apply for funds from Andrew Carnegie to construct a library. These Carnegie libraries, some of which are still in use, brought education and entertainment to generations of citizens, taxpayer supported but otherwise free, throughout the United States. Lutie Stearns could celebrate the growth of books-in-a-box to full-fledged libraries through her persistent efforts and those of Frank Hutchins.

Dunn County

Democrat Printing Company – (1897) Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin: The Story of Their Growth, Purposes, and Development; with Accounts of a Few Kindred Movements

“The desire to have a good influence and a decent place to go, instead of the many saloons and dance halls, led me to visit one community no less than twelve times before I could get the town president, also owner of a dance hall, to appoint a library board.” (Lutie Stearns, Books in a Box, pg 49)

Twelve times? That’s determination.

Can we do less?

MORE RESOURCES

“The earliest libraries-on-wheels looked way cooler than today’s bookmobiles,” by Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian.com

“Traveling libraries,” by Larry T. Nix, Library History Buff

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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Sometimes I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know everything the author knows, share their lifetime of experiences, and be able to emulate their creativity. Scraps: Notes from a Colorful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feeling and texture of the paper because I want in! For […]

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bk_ice140.jpg

Alongside the Books We’ve Loved: Venom and the River

This week, join me as we continue to look at books that orbit the constellations of children’s series books much-loved by adults: Louisa May Alcott’s books, the Little House books, the Anne of Green Gables books, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books. A brand new novel, Venom on the River, is now available from my favorite […]

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