(Most-Read Blog Posts Countdown #12. Originally published on January 14, 2016, this essay begins my Summer Countdown.)
One of the things that go along with a Newbery award—and I am one of those lucky people—a lot of people ask, “Where were you when you heard the news? Was it a surprise?” Well yes, it was a complete surprise. It went like this.
As many of you know, the award is announced at the ALA midwinter conference. Compared to the annual ALA event, not a lot of writers are there. But I was in Philadelphia that weekend to promote a rare (for me) picture book, Silent Movie.
No sooner did I get there than I became sick, really sick, sick with the flu. I never had it so bad, before or since. I could not keep anything down, or in. I was cold. I was shivering.
I had a number of engagements, which I kept with as good a face (and stomach) as possible but, as soon as possible, I fled to my room shivering, wrapped myself in blankets, and was miserable. All I wanted to do was get home.
Sunday morning, however, I had promised to be at a breakfast event, and went, sitting as it happened, with a number of Newbery committee members. I don’t recall being able to say anything to anybody. Nobody said much to me.
As soon as it was socially acceptable, I fled to my room, packed up and fled to the airport. Once there I changed my ticket for the earliest possible flight and flew home to Denver. Home, I said hello to family. “Check your-email,” my wife said. I did so and found a request from my daughter to rewrite an application she had composed—an application for a summer job. “I need to send it in by nine next morning.”
I set my alarm for five o clock, and went to bed, still sick.
Next morning, I was sitting at my desk (still not well) working on my daughter’s application letter when, at about six o clock, the phone rang. It was Starr Latronica, that year’s Newbery chair, telling me I had won the Newbery.
I said “Thank you,” and immediately into my head flashed the thought, “My next book better be good.”
I put the phone down. I heard my wife’s sleepy call: “Honey! Who was that?”
“I just won the Newbery,” I answered, and burst into tears.
The next day I was in New York City, The Today Show, and on and on. Exciting, and fun.
At some point I suddenly had a realization. “The flu! It’s gone!” Indeed, all my flu symptoms had vanished.
The moral of this story: have the flu? Win a Newbery. It works.