Last weekend, I had the privilege of receiving the FOCAL award for my middle grade historical novel, Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh. The award is given by the Friends of Children and Literature, a group that was founded in 1979. Its founding was a radical act. LA Public Library was considering doing away with the children’s section and the group was formed to raise awareness of children’s books in the community and to bring families from all over the area to the library for reading related programs, including puppet shows. Membership has grown from a dedicated group of twenty volunteers to hundreds of participants. Their energy and vision was evident at the award luncheon.
For starters, the award is a puppet. Yes, that is correct. This puppet, my main character, Maria. I got to meet the puppet-makers, Jesse Kingsley and Moira Lael Macdonald. For each year’s award, the organizers commission two puppets. One goes to the author of the winning book, the other resides in the library in a special cabinet dedicated to the nearly four decades that the award has been given to exemplary books with California content. Susan Patron, David Klass, Beverly Cleary–my book was in the best company!
Then there were the essays. I sat at a table with the young writers of three winning essays about my book. They got to read their essays out loud. Each one was touching, genuine, personal, and keenly voiced in the way that only children’s writing can be. So that’s two art forms–puppetry and nonfiction writing–threaded into the afternoon.
A third artistic creation was on each table–a centerpiece lovingly designed and crafted by students from Nobel Middle School. Each depicted the same scene from the book, all the details drawn from a careful reading. I got to meet the readers–Dylan, Enna, Allison, Miranda, Yume, and Eliana– who created the center pieces, along with Ray Moszkowicz, the art teacher who has adopted this project.
So thank you, FOCAL President Caroline Gill and the award committee. I learned so much by being a part of this year’s luncheon. This wasn’t just about one book. It was about weaving creative thinking into a year-long process. It was about the building of community.