Red Cedar Book Awards Gala 2015

And your Roving Reporter is back (again) with news of another bookish event near you! Last Saturday was the 2015 Red Cedar Book Awards Gala.

What’s so special about the Red Cedar Book Awards? asks Skeptical Reader.

The Red Cedar Book Awards, unlike most other awards, are chosen by the readers. Young readers in grades 4-7 in British Columbia read from the nominated book lists and vote for their favourites. The nominated books are selected by a committee (adults have to be involved somehow, right?) to ensure they meet certain standards, for example that the author is Canadian and that the book was published in the right time frame.

Why awards? Why favourites?

Great question! There are two Red Cedar Book Awards given out every year, one to a fiction book, and the other to an information book.

Grades 4-7, huh?

The Red Cedar Book Awards are for students in BC currently in grades 4-7, yes. There is also the Stellar Award, which is chosen by BC teens (grades 8 to 12). Voting for the Stellar Award is currently open.

So why a Gala?

What better way to celebrate books and reading than by connecting readers with authors? This year’s Gala featured three Red Cedar nominated authors: Nikki Tate (information), Heather Stemp (fiction), and W. C. Mack (fiction).

Red Cedar Award

After the welcome and thanks to the sponsors, delivered by yours truly (the sponsors are worth mentioning, so I shall: VPL, which gave us the space for free, set up and took down the room, and provided tech support; Abe Books, which meant that we could pay the authors without charging the children; and Thrifty Foods, which donated a lot of cupcakes – yum!), the first of six masters of ceremonies took the floor. Our MCs came from the Red Cedar reading group at York House, and they did an excellent job of introducing presenters, authors, and at keeping the event flowing smoothly.

First up was a series of eleven persuasive presentations and skits, created by different children to showcase a different book in turn. I was impressed by the poise and clarity of speech these students demonstrated. Their enthusiasm for their chosen book was evident.

The first author to speak was Nikki Tate, whose Down to Earth: How Kids Help Feed the World was nominated in the information book category.

“I have to tell you, writing actually sucks.”

She spoke about her writing process: she sits alone in a room, determined to write 500 words. Just 500 words and then she can take a break. 500 words and she’s done for the day. Sentence by slow sentence, 500 words are written. The next day, “I look at those 500 words and think, 482 of those words are terrible.” Delete, delete, delete. So her 500 words a day actually ends up being around 18.

“Eventually you collect enough of those 18-word days to make a book.”

Send that book off to the editor, and relax.

“And the editor calls and says, ‘I have bad news… [The ending isn’t really an ending, the middle needs work.] The beginning is boring,’ and you think ‘it’s worse than I thought.'”

Joking aside, though,

“I don’t know about other writers, but I cannot imagine a better, more interesting job.”

Writing an information book meant she got to look up everything to do with food, especially the things nobody ever thinks about. I mean, what sort of plant do pineapples grow on? A tree? Actually, pineapples grow on small bushes, “like something you’d trip on.”

Did you know that “chicken eggs can be blue, green, brown, speckled [as well as white]… You can look at the outside of a hen and tell what colour of egg she is going to lay”? The children offered plenty of guesses as to what part of the chicken you should look at – the ear? the wing feathers? the wobbly bits by the beak? the part of the chicken the egg comes out of?

The answer: the earlobe. (Who knew chicken even had earlobes?) If the skin on the earlobe is white, the egg will be white. If the skin on the earlobe is brownish, the egg will be colourful.

Did you know that “each rooster has a different sound”? Nikki Tate, who lives on a farm, demonstrated her ability to imitate farm animal noises: roosters, turkeys, goats, sheep, horses, hogs…

Side note on hogs: “some of them weigh 300 kilos; they’re the size of a couch.”

She had the children guess what farm animal is the quietest of all.

“It turns out the quietest farm animal on my farm is the mighty worm.”

The audience giggled at the prospect of a mighty worm.

“The whole world is full of interesting people and stories.”

During the break that followed Nikki Tate’s talk, the children consumed cupcakes and juice, talked about books, threw bouncy balls, and generally enjoyed themselves.

The next author up was Heather Stemp, whose Amelia and Me was nominated in the fiction category. The protagonist of Amelia and Me is named Ginny Ross, who is so determined to become a pilot like Amelia Earhart that she runs away from her home in the Maritimes to meet Amelia in Boston in the hopes that the famous pilot will be able to ensure that she gets training when she turns 16. (Ginny is 12 at the time, and clearly a long-range planner.) Amelia, meanwhile, is about to attempt to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; the year is 1932.

Amelia and Me actually came out of about 8 years of research into Heather Stemp’s own family history: Ginny is closely based on the author’s Aunt Jane. Heather Stemp spoke about the determination of her protagonist and of her aunt.

In the book, as in life, Amelia Earhart flew as a passenger to St. John’s, Newfoundland (as the easternmost point on North America, St. John’s was the base from which trans-Atlantic flights were made). The reason was that pilots and crew were recorded, but passengers were not, and Amelia wanted her presence kept secret. Another woman pilot, Ruth Nichols, also aimed to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, and Amelia was determined to set the record. She kept her plans a secret until the day she took off.

Amelia’s take-off, which was recorded by several sources, was a major point of research for Heather Stemp, who wanted to have her fictional scene as accurate as possible.

Then, as part of the story is set in Newfoundland, Heather Stemp taught the audience a few traditional dance steps. Soon everyone was singing, dancing, and clapping along to “Ise the B’y.” Ah, Newfie music!

Her favourite part of being an author?

“Probably being here.”

(Heather Stemp was a teacher for 30 years, and finds being around children fun.) Her second favourite part of being an author is going to museums to research. She agreed with Nikki Tate: being an author is hard work.

There’s an “old country and western song that goes, ‘some days are diamonds, some days are stones.'”

Then W. C. Mack, author of fiction nominee Mathlete vs. Athlete, took the stage.

The first thing everybody asks is Why are you W. C. Mack? she said. Well, she grew up with the last name Macdonald, which meant a childhood full of hamburger jokes. As an author she kept the name Mack, because it was the name she had at the age she is writing for. “W. C.” came into being because her editor thought boys wouldn’t run out to buy a book by Winnie Mack, which is what her books(s) for girls are published under (one released so far and more in the works).

It was a long route to finding the write right publisher. Fortunately, W. C. Mack persevered. The passage she read from Mathlete vs. Athlete had the audience laughing aloud and me resolving to read it asap.

“I wrote [Mathlete vs. Athlete] for fun. I write fiction so I get to make everything up. Also, I come from a very talkative family. If you’re reading* a book, nobody can interrupt you.”

“My dream when I was not an author was to be an author. There was a time in my was a kid when I wanted to be a vet. I thought it just meant I would play with cats.”

She credits her parents, who made her (and her brother) keep a journals from the age of five. This exercise taught her the possibilities of observing and recording her side of events.

During the Q&A period, the children were particularly fascinated with the concept of rejection letters; W. C. Mack had mentioned that she had 137 rejection letters.

“Some of them were just the word NO.”

“The thing about being a writer is you can’t take it personally.”

Rudest rejection letter?

“The word NO. With three exclamation marks.”

(!)

Weirdest rejection letter?

“I got a rejection a year and a half after a book was published.”

“I always have fun writing a book. But I have a lot of fun once it’s done.”

Then Jessica Doyle, Abe Books representative, took the mic to announce the Red Cedar Awards winners.

Drumroll, please.

The winner of the 2014/2015 Red Cedar Award for an information book is The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato.

The winner of the 2014/2015 Red Cedar Award for fiction is The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden by Jill MacLean.

Finally, another member of the Red Cedar planning committee took the stage to announce the nominees for next year’s awards.

The information books nominees are:

  • Escape From Tibet by Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio
  • Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics by Marilee Peters
  • If… A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David Smith; illustrated by Steve Adams
  • The Chinese Head Tax and Anti-Chinese Immigration Policies in the Twentieth Century by Arlene Chan
  • Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home by Michelle Mulder
  • Take Shelter: Homes Around the World by Nikki Tate
  • How to Save a Species by Marilyn Baillie
  • Tastes Like Music: 17 Quirks of the Brain and Body by Maria Birmingham
  • Why We Live Where We Live by Kira Vermond

The fiction nominees are:

  • Outside In by Sarah Ellis
  • The Elevator Ghost by Glen Huser
  •  The Cat in the Wall by Deborah Ellis
  • Zomboy by Richard Scrimger
  • Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint
  • Curve Ball by John Danakas
  • Dunces Rock by Kate Jaimet
  • The Night Gardener by Johnathan Auxier
  • Rocket Blues by David Skuy
  • Camp Outlook by Brenda Baker
  • Audrey (Cow) by Dan Bar-el
  • The Swallow by Charis Cotter

Red Cedar Award

* W. C. Mack might have said “If you’re writing a book…”; I couldn’t hear whether the key word was reading or writing.