On May 24, 2011, my school hosted the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards. Our students were the young jurors that selected the winners of this illustrious and coveted prize. We were super-fortunate to have both winning authors come to our school to accept their award and address the student body. The winners were:
Melanie Watt for "Chester's Masterpiece" in the Picture Book category.
Kenneth Oppel for "Half-Brother" in the Middle Reader / Young Adult novel category.
It was a wonderful opportunity for our students. Our grade 3-4 and grade 7-8 judges took their responsibility very seriously. They read their books and kept their decision secret. They were so excited to meet these authors in person. (To be honest, I was just as excited. I've met both Melanie and Kenneth before, but having them in my own school was an added treat.)
The Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Foundation were very pleased with the caliber of the judging and the commitment of our school to making it the best possible awards ceremony we could manage. We had our school percussion ensemble perform as part of the event and ensured that the little things were present to make things special, like food in the "green room" / library for the authors, publishing house representatives and council members, signs in the hall and gym, over-sized cheques perfect for photo-taking, and special seating arrangements.
Our principal wanted to arrange to purchase copies of the winning books so that each staff member could own the pair of winning titles - in a delightful and surprising turn of events, Kids Can Press and Harper Collins offered to donate copies to the staff. It was totally unexpected and much appreciated. (If your school is lucky enough to be chosen to be the jury for this event, don't think this is a regular situation! We were prepared to pay full price for these autographed gems.)
This was the 35th anniversary of the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards. The very first winner was "Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang". I have to admit, however, that until my school was invited to be a part of this awards process, I knew very little about it. I had seen the award mentioned on the backs of Canadian books: "nominated for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award" - but I didn't know it was chosen by a selected few students. I didn't realize that it was a substantial monetary donation. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable teacher-librarian - why wasn't I more aware? I was also surprised that, despite the invitations and notifications sent out, not a single media outlet came to report on the event. Why is that? Are newspapers and TV stations swamped with press releases advertising this gala and that showcase that it just wasn't newsworthy?
I made a promise to myself - I need to arrange to write (or have written) an article featuring all the Canadian children's literature awards that currently exist, so that I can publish it in "The Teaching Librarian" magazine (the official magazine of the Ontario School Library Association). I need to educate myself about the different opportunities out there to celebrate Can-Lit and Kid-Can-Lit in particular. If it weren't for author Anna Kerz (who should be a subject of a future blog post), we might not have had the chance to participate in this great event. Everyone we had the chance to deal with, from the Ontario Arts Council folks to the publishers, to the gracious and patient authors, were just wonderful. If you are lucky enough to get that invitation from the Ontario Arts Council, grab it up!
(Just in case you were wondering if I just always say nice things about authors ... I don't like every author I meet but I make it a point of honour to be as positive in my public writing as I can - the Internet is too full of negativity as it is without me adding to it - plus, I'm married to an author and I've seen what thoughtless harsh ignorant words can do. Having said that, both Melanie and Kenneth were super to work with, even when they had to hide backstage!)