West Virginia Book Festival

Book awards, nominees and other news

A bunch of book award news lately:

| The most storied award in children’s literature, the Newbery Medal, was awarded on Monday to “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, a story for children ages 8 and up about a gorilla whose contented existence in a cage is upended when he’s joined by a baby elephant. According to the review in School Library Journal, the story is “a poignant, quietly powerful tale that sheds light on animal cruelty.”

| Also Monday, the Caldecott Medal for the top American picture book went to “This Is Not My Hat,” which was illustrated (and written) by Jon Klassen (who seems to be making a career of writing about animals and hats). School Library Journal said that “the brilliantly spare digital artwork conveys a parallel narrative with tiny telling details revealing that crime does not pay.”

Both the Newbery and Caldecott are awarded by the American Library Association. A list of runners-up for both awards, as well as honorees for several others, can be found here.

| Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies” has garnered more than its share of awards already. It won the Man Booker Prize, and it ended up on year-end best books lists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and many others. Mantel added to her haul on Tuesday, when “Bring Up The Bodies” won the Costa prize (and the 30,000 British pounds that come with it) on Tuesday.

The book is the second part of a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the clergyman and minister who helped bring about the English Reformation before (spoiler alert!) losing his head at the Tower of London in 1540. The first installment of Mantel’s trilogy, “Wolf Hall,” also won the Man Booker Prize.

“Bring Up The Bodies” was unanimously awarded the Costa (which was called the Whitbread Prize until 2005), becoming the first book to ever win both that prize and the Man Booker Prize.

| The annual list of nominees for the Edgar Awards, from the Mystery Writers of America, should be required reading for mystery fans. Besides the overall mystery category, there’s biography, first novel, young adult, etc. — including TV teleplay, where you’ll find the pilot episode of “Longmire,” the A&E television series based on the novels of 2012 West Virginia Book Festival presenter Craig Johnson.

| There’s also some news about book awards that doesn’t have anything to do with actual books. The National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards, is changing the process by which the winners are chosen. The judging panel will be expanded, and both a longlist and shortlist of finalists will be announced.

If that sounds familiar, maybe it’s because the Man Booker Prize is awarded in a similar fashion. National Book Foundation people say they want to integrate the award more into popular culture, and they want to goose sales not just of the eventual winner, but of the books that make the shortlist as well.

A Golden Delicious story to go with the stamp

The drawing of a Golden Delicious apple featured on a new postcard stamp.

News came last week of the relative immortalization (is that a word?) of the Golden Delicious apple, discovered in Clay County in the early part of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service is putting the apple — along with the Baldwin, the Granny Smith and the Northern Spy (which sounds like the coolest apple ever) — on a series of postcard stamps.

That makes this a good time to remind kids and their parents, teachers, etc., about “Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story,” the children’s picture book by West Virginia’s Anna Egan Smucker. The book tells the story of Anderson Mullins and his farm in Clay County, where the Golden Delicious apple was first grown.

Smucker was a featured presenter at the West Virginia Book Festival in 2008, the year “Golden Delicious” came out. Her book, according to Kirkus Reviews, is for kids ages 6 to 10 and is “a standout amidst the proliferation of apple books found in elementary classrooms.” If that’s not good enough for you, here’s a video of Smucker reading from her book (put online by Read Aloud West Virginia).

Fed from the Blade: Tales and Poems from the Mountains, 113 pages

Edited by Cat Pleska and Michael Knost

Woodland Press, 2012; $14.95

“Fed from the Blade” is an engaging collection of 28 crisp stories, tales, and poems fresh from the imaginations of authors of West Virginia, all members of West Virginia Writers Inc.

As a longtime member of the group, I searched out a copy in the vendors’ arena at last fall’s West Virginia Book Festival. As I purchased a copy, I learned 170 submission were culled before the collection took shape. The result is an enjoyable variety of prose and poetry with an intriguing title.

The title was a sticking point until the co-editors, Pleska and Knost, attended a poetry reading and heard poet Sherrell Wigal read her powerful poem, “I Am the Daughter.” One of the poem’s phrases, “fed from the blade,” resonated with them and a title was born. Wigal’s poem opens the collection and sets the scene for a baker’s dozen of eclectic poems. The anthology closes with the poignant poem, “New Choir Choice,” by Ethan Fisher.

Sandwiched among the poems are stories and tales of all descriptions. “Pee Wees’ Playhouse,” by Belinda Anderson, provides a wry humorous touch. If you’ve ever tried to outwit a persistent bird or yard critter, this story will bring back memories of the perks and quirks of living close to the craggy mountains and their abundant wildlife.

Maybe it’s the fog or the hollows but whatever the reason, West Virginians do spooky stories really well. Some of the tales in the collection are downright hair-raising scary. “Hallowmas” by Edwina Pendarvis offers a startling twist and ranks right up there with “The Tell Tale Lilac Bush,” a classic West Virginia ghost tale. “Splinters,” by G. Cameron Fuller, and “Puddles,” by Karin Fuller, are haunting tales in the style of Davis Grubb.

No West Virginia collection would be complete without well-told stories of families, tributes to coal miners, buzzard watching, rock climbing and caving. The anthology offers these and more.

“Fed from the Blade” is sure to find its way into classroom and living rooms. There it will showcase talented contemporary writers of West Virginia. Hopefully, it will encourage even more writing right here in the mountains.

The book is available from the Woodland Press, local book stores and and via the Internet.

Charleston Gazette holding book drive for W.Va. kids

The Charleston Gazette (a sponsor of the West Virginia Book Festival) is collecting gently used children’s books to share with children around the state.

The Gazette’s Happy Valentine’s Children’s Book Drive runs from now until Feb. 14.

Donors may drop off books at the newspaper’s lobby at 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, seven days a week. Children’s Home Society of West Virginia and Read Aloud West Virginia have agreed to help distribute the books to children who need them.

“Books are so important,” said Gazette Publisher Elizabeth E. Chilton, who created the book drive. “If you love books, you just want to share them.”

Having books at home actually makes a difference in how far children go in school, according to a 20-year study published in 2010.

Children in homes with their own books go further in school than those with no books at home, according to a study of families in 27 countries led by Mariah Evans, sociology professor at the University of Nevada.

Having books at home made a difference whether families were rich or poor and whether parents were highly educated or not.

In families with libraries of 500 books or more, children averaged another 3.2 years of education compared to those who had no books.

Even smaller book collections made a difference. Families with as few as 20 books still showed a significant educational difference.

Children need opportunities to practice the skills they learn in school, said Mary Kay Bond, executive director of Read Aloud West Virginia.

“You don’t fall in love with books if you don’t see them and you don’t have access to them,” she said.

Other research has shown that children who read for pleasure read more often than kids who don’t read for fun. Kids who read on their own also improve with practice and tend to make better grades and test scores than children who do not read for fun.

“We have a lot of research out there that suggests some of the simple and most effective ways to raise readers are overlooked,” Bond said.

Motivating students to be interested in reading, giving them reading materials of interest to them and then giving them opportunities to read can spark new habits.

“Those three things, whether you’re applying it to reading or sports, have to be there,” Bond said.

Donated books will be distributed to children in many different circumstances. Some may be in foster homes or staying in shelters because of abuse or neglect. Many more donations will go to children in families whose biggest problem is poverty, who have nothing left after paying bills and buying groceries.

“When you are trying to survive, you’re not thinking about buying books,” said Mary White, chief operating officer at Children’s Home Society.

But poor children need access to books, too, and her agency routinely tries to put books in the hands of children who do not have easy access to them. She answers calls from families, other agencies and teachers looking for extra help for needy students.

“We want children to learn to read because if you learn to read your opportunities are far greater than if you don’t learn to read,” White said.

The Happy Valentine’s Children’s Book Drive welcomes new books, but used books are fine. Books should be clean and in good shape and appropriate for children.

Books that appeal to all kinds of readers are wanted. That means picture books and novels, but also board books for little ones, and non-fiction books about horses, dogs, cats, bugs, sharks, dinosaurs, pirates, sports, space and anything else that kids enjoy reading about. Joke books can be popular and inviting among new readers, as are “strange but true” science books.

“Very often the opportunity for children to read for fun gets drowned out with overscheduled children or because children are plugged in all the time,” Bond said. In busy classrooms, many teachers feel like they cannot spare 15 minutes a day for students to read something just because it is of interest to them.

“Yet, we know when they do, they catch that reading habit, and the benefit extends beyond the school day,” she said.

Jon Meacham coming to Charleston

Hope that after recent months, you’re not getting tired of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers coming to Charleston, because there’s another one on the way.

Jon Meacham — author of last year’s “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” as well as “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” which won the Pulitzer for biography in 2009 — will speak at this year’s Charleston installment of the West Virginia University Festival of Ideas, co-sponsored by The Charleston Gazette. Meacham will be here on March 12 at the Clay Center; the time is still to be announced. The event will be free.

Meacham has also written books about the relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the civil rights movement and the role of religion in the lives of America’s founding fathers. He’s the executive editor at Random House and used to be editor-in-chief of Newsweek magazine.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s film version of “The Hobbit.”

Last month’s release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the latest film by Peter Jackson based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, was another chance to remember one of the cooler things put out by the West Virginia University Press.

Nine years ago, just after Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy brought Tolkien into the popular consciousness in a way he hadn’t been in decades, the WVU Press began publishing an annual collection of academic studies on Tolkien’s works. The first edition came out in 2004, and subsequent editions featured, among other things, a “major essay on Tolkien’s Elvish languages” (which is awesome).

The arrangement began under the original director of the WVU Press (and my freshman adviser), Patrick Conner, who understands that some people don’t understand why Tolkien is a subject worthy of scholarly study. Conner notes that Tolkien also wrote about the great medieval Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf. As Diane Mazzella of WVU Today wrote:

Conner, a medievalist, has studied Tolkien’s connection with Beowulf. In fact Tolkien published one of the most influential essays on the topic.

“He challenges the prevalent notion held then that medieval stories filled with various unworldly events were, in fact, stories for the nursery,” Conner said. “He understood these stories to be studies in very real human feat and conflict.”

In a way, Tolkien was rescuing the discussion about the first epic written in the English language from being solely about the language it was written in.

“His detractors often cannot get past the machinery of little hobbit people and dragons and wizards, but I’m not sure that should be harder to get past than what much of modern literature demands of its readers,” Conner said. “It’s just that Tolkien’s machinery all too quickly is thought to have come from the nursery. It didn’t. It came from his study.”

But why the WVU Press? What’s the connection between Tolkien and the Mountain State?

Well … there isn’t one. But as current WVU Press Director Carrie Mullen pointed out to Mazzella, the Press focuses on West Virginia, but not exclusively. And “Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review” was the first of its kind when it started, and has garnered WVU Press some international attention.

So it’s very cool. But be warned, it’s probably not something that your average Tolkien fan will pick up; for example, the first article in the latest review, by Dallas Baptist University professor Philip Irving Mitchell, is titled “Legend and History Have Met and Fused: The Interlocution of Anthropology, Historiography, and Incarnation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy-stories.’” Maybe it’s better to just go read “The Hobbit” again.