The Sterling North Book Festival Achievement Award
THIS YEAR’S 2019 FESTIVAL COMMITTEE HONORS THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF ACCOMPLISHED CHILDREN’S AUTHOR
I grew up snug as a bug, a very small girl in a very small town--Grafton, Wisconsin. My childhood was close to idyllic. Our little neighborhood was nestled beside the Milwaukee River where there were plenty of kids to play with, and an endless array of things to do; fishing, fort and raft-building, apple fights, staging plays, creating the imaginary worlds of “Witch Hazel” and “Land of Green Ginger.” In the fifties kids ruled the land, blissfully free from the vigilant gaze of parents. The vast, green outside was our kingdom, but for the noon whistle which called us in for lunch and the Angelus which called us in for dinner.
In that place, in that time, Sterling North’s Rascal reigned supreme. It may have been one of the only books my father read. Thus, it became the catalyst of a million bedtime stories. With Rascal as inspiration, each evening Dad would ask, “What animal should star in our story tonight? A squirrel? A fox? A lion?” And so began rich tales spun from Rascal, ours featuring the place we lived and the people we knew. And so began my love of animals and my love of story.
My first job was in the small town bank where my Dad was an officer, but after a series of mishaps, I was demoted to the newly created position of Bank Librarian. My family agreed I was cut out for less numbery--and more imaginative--positions. I got a job working at the Ozaukee Press in Port Washington. I loved writing. Anything. Features. Weddings. Obituaries. I loved words. I loved creating tales. And I’ve never looked back.
Shortly after my first child was born, I found myself wanting to write about her and for her. I found kids endlessly fascinating then and now. So I began to write picture books--hiring after school baby-sitters, then putting on my coat and leaving through the front door, circling to the back and sneaking into the basement to write. Within two years, I sold my first picture book, The Thinking Place.
My first stories were inspired by my family of five. But as time passed, I found my interest becoming more universal. When my youngest, Rob, was two, I read Goodnight Moon, a beloved tale of a young rabbit who tries to run away and have adventures--becoming a sailboat and climbing a mountain. But with each outing, Mama catches up and brings him home, finally settling him into their nest to eat carrots. My son hurled the book across the room--an outrageous act for the child of an author! So I had to think: Why?? What was so egregious that Rob needed to stage that kind of protest? It occurred to me that for Rob--as the youngest, with two doting sisters and a vigilant mom--this was his worst nightmare. The kid worried he’d never get away from us. And worse! We’d bring him home to eat carrots.
I thought about what Rob might prefer to hear and what I’d like to say to him. At two, he tested my patience at every turn. What I wanted to say was, I love your adventuresome spirit. And I love you . . . no matter what. This was the seed that grew to be Mama, Do You Love Me; a best-seller of over 3 million books in twenty languages, set in Alaska among the native people.
Several years ago, I was approached by a music producer from Nashville. My playful, lyrical language suggested to him that I might be good at writing song lyrics. He sent a team to write with me. I’d never written lyrics before, and waited for writing partners, Nathan and Burton, with five sharpened pencils, a clean yellow tablet and a very good attitude. Within three days we’d written five songs, most of them inspired by my picture books. One of the songs was Lovabye Dragon.
I’ve had a lifelong dream of creating a musical and began to hatch a clever plan. I’d write sequels to Lovabye Dragon, each a stand-alone book, but when stitched together, would become One Big Story--a musical! Nathan and I wrote more songs and I approached First Stage Children’s Theatre in Milwaukee. Jeff Frank, the creative director, agreed to produce the show, and he and I wrote the musical, Lovabye Dragon, which was awarded a Jim Henson Family Grant. I was blissfully involved in the entire production, from costumes to setting to script. Now, this fall, another musical will debut at First Stage, inspired by my book, Ghost Wings. The show is called On the Wings of a Mariposa.
I may be afraid of heights and speed and squishy hairy spiders, but I’m a fearless writer. I’ll try anything, most recently two screen plays and a mini-series. There’s no safety net for an author. I may sell these scripts, or I may not. I may sell my next picture book, or I may not. Every writing project is a gamble, but each one is crazy-fun to try, and I can never resist.
This I know: Just as Sterling North did for eight-year-old me, I will do for a child I’ll never see and never know. Authors write with the belief that our stories will go to the right person at the right time. It is an act of faith and an act of joy.
Opportunities to meet this year’s Sterling North Book Festival Achievement Award winner include:
Saturday, October 26, 2019
9:50 Lower Library: Craft Talk
10:40 Children’s Library: Reading
11:30 Book Signings
9 – 4 Book Sales