Posts Tagged ‘children’s book’

The 2008 Newberry book began as a 5th grade classroom project in 1997

January 26, 2008

Newbery Medal winner

Fairy tales do come true at Park School

Laura Amy Schlitz

Park School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz enjoys the fanfare for her book “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village” winning the Newbery Medal. The annual award is for the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. (Sun photo by Algerina Perna / January 14, 2008)

 

 | Sun reporters

When Park School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz arrived at work yesterday, she was presented with a tiara borrowed from the theater’s props department – a fitting tribute for the newly anointed queen of children’s literature.

Schlitz, 52, of Baltimore, learned that she had won the 2008 Newbery Medal, given annually for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for the under-18 set.

During an all-school assembly called yesterday afternoon in Schlitz’s honor, the entire student body of nearly 900 students stood and cheered for at least 30 seconds. The applause went on and on.

  • Park School librarian Laura Amy SchlitzPark School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz

  • Laura Amy Schlitz

    Age: 52 

    Born: Baltimore 

    Personal: Single; no children 

    Lives: Loch Hill section of Baltimore County 

    Current achievement: Winner of the 2008 John Newbery award 

    Occupation: Novelist and playwright; Park School librarian and storyteller 

    Education: Goucher College, bachelor of arts in aesthetics, 1977 

    Publications: Four children’s books published by Candlewick Press in 2006 and 2007. A romance novel for adults, A Gypsy at Almack’s, was published in 1994 under the pseudonym Chloe Cheshire. 

    Plays: Eight or nine, by Schlitz’s count. Her scripts have been produced at Stage One in Louisville, Ky., and by at least two Baltimore troupes: Pumpkin Theatre and the Children’s Theatre Association.

Other honors, though more local in scope, were no less cherished. During Schlitz’s noon-hour session with the second grade, the pupils in Mr. Rollins’ class presented her with a poster they’d decorated and autographed in honor of the Newbery award.

“Have a good life!” wrote a boy named Donald.

Several students clearly wanted to wish Schlitz “congratulations,” though a few had trouble spelling such a long word. An occasional stray consonant, such as a “P,” leapt the fence, wandered in where it didn’t belong and had to be crossed out with a firm hand.

“For someone who doesn’t have children, she’s incredibly insightful about what’s going on in a child’s head,” said her friend Judith Schwait, who works in publications at Park School and is Daniel’s mother.

Betsy Leighton, the lower school principal, said the same qualities that Schlitz brings to her writing make her a passionate and insightful advocate for children.

“When a child is having trouble, sometimes we seek a perspective from an outside staff member,” Leighton said. “Laura always has something useful and valuable to say. More often than not, she’s right on the mark.”

Schwait’s 18-year-old son Daniel, a 12th-grader, has known Schlitz since he was 3 years old, and the two have become close friends.

“She’s like no one else I’ve ever known,” said Daniel Schwait, who discovered before he was in second grade that he and Schlitz share a passion for opera.

“We would swing on the swings and sing arias from The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute,” he says. “Laura would sing in Italian, and I would sing sounds that sounded like Italian to me.”

Schlitz’s novel is characterized by that quirky sensibility. Not only does it have an unconventional structure, it has footnotes – unheard of for a children’s book, though they are some of the most delightful aspects of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! The selection surprised some who expected the Newbery Committee to gravitate, as usual, toward more traditionally styled fiction.

But Newbery Committee chairwoman Nina Lindsay called granting the medal to the monologues easily a “rock-solid decision.”

“What makes it fabulous is the language she uses to bring these characters alive,” Lindsay said, praising Schlitz’s use of varied poetic forms and literary styles, leavened with humor.

She added that the awards committee was impressed that Schlitz had transformed the book form from a sedentary pursuit by encouraging young people to read aloud, perform and play-act with others.

“It comes to life as you start reading it,” Lindsay said.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But the end, it’s like a pageant of characters.”

The daughter of a retired federal court clerk and a homemaker with many part-time jobs, including stable hand, Schlitz has been a local girl all her life. She is single and lives in the Loch Hill section of Baltimore County. Schlitz is no taller than many of her students, but her most striking feature is her nearly waist-length silver hair, which curls around her shoulders like mist.

Yesterday’s announcement culminates a momentous period in Schlitz’s life that began in 2006 when four children’s novels were accepted for publication by the Boston-based Candlewick Press. Her previous three books are A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, The Hero Schliemann and The Bearskinner.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was the third to be published, though it was the first to be accepted.

An editorial assistant plucked the monologues from the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts and brought it to the attention of Candlewick editor Mary Lee Donovan. She called it “the most exciting submission that I’ve had in my 23-year career.”

Almost immediately Donovan knew she had something special. The nimble writing. The vivid characters. The meticulous research. And, above all else, a story that children would find irresistible.

“It’s one of those fairy tale stories that people love to know happen every now and then,” she said.

“My heart definitely beat faster. I was overwhelmed by the clear talent. It was almost a perfect manuscript.”

For a writer, one of the nicest aspects of winning a Newbery is that your book will always be available in bookstores alongside other Newbery winners, including such acknowledged classics as Dr. Dolittle and A Wrinkle in Time.

But as exciting as that is for Schlitz, she is trying hard to keep her priorities straight. And the fifth-grade class was due in the library at any moment.

“My head is full of the champagne bubbles of happiness,” Schlitz said, “but I have a story to tell in five minutes.”

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com jill.rosen@baltsun.com