I opened my email on Wednesday morning and found a message from Deborah Stevenson telling me that ALL HE KNEW is the winner of the 2021 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
I had not been expecting any awards for either of my 2020 books. Though I love them both, and feel they hold their own in a room with other books I love, I hadn’t seen anyone else suggest that they might win any major awards, and I was comfortable with that. (I always picture conversations about books around this time of year when awards are announced as a room: authors gathered in appreciation of one another, knowing that a few people will be called into a little more limelight than most of us are used to.) I’ve read a number of excellent 2020 books in every category that includes ALL HE KNEW: novels-in-verse, historical fiction, middle grade novels, stories about children living with disability. I hadn’t really thought much about the possibility that someone would select my book as the best in any category. But suddenly, here it was: a committee of three people whose opinion I value greatly had decided that I was the winner of an award that has been given, over the past 40 years, to many other books I admire. I was awed that this committee had placed me and my book into that company.
It was a secret for a little while, and that was lovely. It gave me time to sit quietly with the news and with the book. I wonder if other authors do this: I read the book from beginning to end, including the jacket flaps, the copyright page, the story itself, right through to the last acknowledgment–thinking about each person who had helped bring the book into being, about Maxine and her brother, and their mother, remembering how I had first been touched by their story. Appreciating the power of poetry, the strength of story. I held the book, and felt, in this affirmation from others, yes, this book holds its own. Isn’t that a beautiful expression? To hold what is your own, to stand in the company of others on solid footing.
It is, for me, a gratitude, a deep calm breathing.