A couple of years ago, I was going about my Sunday chores and listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. A writer of children’s books myself and a lover of children’s literature in general, my ears always perk up when Daniel Pinkwater comes on the show to discuss a new children’s book. The one he selected for this program was I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.
I was captivated by the deceptively simple story and delighted in Simon and Pinkwater’s animated reading of the book and their descriptions of Klaussen’s illustrations. It seemed to me to strike the right balance of humor and a bit of angst, just right for the 4-to-8 year old set. (You can listen to that broadcast here.)
Of course, I wasn’t alone in my delight. Klaussen’s book went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller, winning a place on its list of “Best Books of 2011, and also nabbing the Theodore Geisel Honor (Dr. Seuss) that same year as well.
This year, Klaussen followed his runaway hit with This Is Not My Hat, and again found popular and critical success, ultimately winning the Caldecott Award, the highest honor for an illustrated children’s book. In this story, a tiny fish comes upon a round top hat which fits him perfectly…and all will be well, unless the enormous fish to whom it belongs wakes up.
Hats and children’s books have a long history. Here are some examples which you might also recall fondly:
Poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips had an enviable problem recently. He won both the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry AND was also chosen as one of the winners of the Whiting Writers’ Award. Ceremonies for both the awards were to take place on the same night. Decisions, decisions….
Using some powers not bestowed on mere mortals and non-poets, Phillips managed to attend both fetes (although he was a little late for the Whiting).
The title of Phillips’ multiple-award winning work is The Ground.
Here is one of the poems from that collection:
What were you doing at age 28? If you were author Eleanor Catton, you would be graciously accepting Britain’s highest literary honor, the Man Booker Prize. Catton won the prestigious award for her second novel The Luminaries. In addition to making her the youngest recipient in the history of the prize, Catton’s 832 page novel is also the longest work to ever win.
The Luminaries is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of 1866. Catton knows the country well, as she moved from Canada to New Zealand at the age of six.
Here is an excerpt from the novel, published by London’s The Telegraph. Click here to read the longer sampling:
“Oh yes!…The sweet summons of God to man. That’s when He calls you up to His arms. And it’s the most beautiful thing, a rebirth, a new life. But, just the same I’m in no rush to find out.” ― Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos
Oscar Hijuelos, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love , died yesterday of a heart attack while playing tennis, according to his agent, Jennifer Lyons. Hijuleos was 62.
Hijuelos was the first Latino writer to be awarded the coveted prize. The novel traces the journey of two Cuban brothers who leave Havana for a life in New York to pursue a career in music. In 1992, the novel was adapted into a film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.
Although the Pulitzer brought the author fame, it also brought hardships. Hijuelos felt labeled as an “ethnic” writer. In an interview on NPR’s Newshour in 2011, Hijuelos discussed his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes. He told interviewer Ray Suarez that he
sometimes felt like a freak, simply because the level of my success and traveling around the world as — quote — “a Latino writer” as much as anything, was sort of wonderful and also very strange for me at the same time, because, indeed, I’m — I came up as but one version of many potential versions of Latinos that there could be.
And I have never — as I say in the memoir, I have never intended to represent myself as a spokesman for anybody but myself. And yet I would be in a roundtable in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, at a live television show, and the host would come on and look around trying to figure out who the Latino guy was in the group. That kind of thing was both interesting and alarming at the same time.
Here is the complete interview. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hijuelos.
“A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows.”
Canadian writer Alice Munro has been awarded 2013’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Often heralded as “one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction,” Munro is best known for her short stories which are accessible yet complex narratives about the human condition. Her best-known works include “Lives of Girls and Women” (1973), “The Love of a Good Woman” (1998) and “Runaway” (2004). A collection of her work, “Too Much Happiness: Stories,” was published in 2009.
2009 is also the year in which Munro was award the coveted Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. Additionally, she has been awarded Canada’s literary honor, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, twice. She might have won a third but she removed her name from the contenders in 2009 saying that “she wanted to give younger, less-established authors an opportunity.”