FAIRFIELD — Newbery Award winner Susan Patron is the author behind this year’s Solano Kids Read book, “The Higher Power of Lucky.” In 2007, it earned the highest honor for children’s literature, the Newbery Award.
The book is a New York Times Bestseller and an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book.
The story, recommended for ages 9 and older, centers on a 10-year-old girl named Lucky. She lives in a small desert town in California with a guardian. She dreams of being a scientist, but doesn’t always understand what she discovers. Lucky also eavesdrops on 12-step meetings, hence the meaning of a “higher power.”
Lucky runs away, fearing the loss of her guardian.
Patron penned three books featuring the title character. The other two are “Lucky Breaks” and “Lucky For Good.”
Patron will visit the area March 19-21.
The retired librarian shared the following in an interview.
Q: Do you think a lot of children, like Lucky and others, want to run away? Did you ever have that feeling? If so, when and why? If not, why not?
A: I used to fantasize often about running away when I was around 10. Maybe I used these fantasies as a safe way of testing my mettle, of imagining how brave I would be if faced with danger. If we think of the job of children as growing up, which means learning about the world and how it works, then running away (or fantasizing about it) makes a kind of sense. It appeals to kids as a way of expressing independence from parents while at the same time contemplating the delicious and terrible loss parents would feel when their child is gone.
Q: How did your job as a librarian evolve over 35 years?
A: One example: When I started as a children’s librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library in the early 1970s, we structured the Summer Reading Club so that kids were rewarded for the number of books they read. We didn’t allow kids who were old enough to handle novels to “count” picture books toward their reward, nor were comic books and commercial series, such as “Nancy Drew,” considered valid reading. I was very uncomfortable with this, since as a child I was (and still am) a slow reader with wide tastes in books. As a 9-year-old member of the Summer Reading Club, it took me a month to read a novel, so I did not “succeed” in the club. As a librarian, when I was promoted to a senior position, I helped to shift the focus from numbers to rewarding reading for its own sake. Picture books can be magnificent for any age, comic books and graphic novels expand the story on a visual level, series books can be comforting, and reading is reading. It’s all good.
Q: Do you often hear from adults who have read the “Lucky” books? What are some of the things they say to you?
A: People ask me to write novels with the beautiful Frenchwoman character, Lucky’s adopted mom, as the protagonist: Brigitte telling the story of coming to the tiny desert town of Hard Pan from her own perspective. Some adults have been struck by the passages referring to 12-step programs; they are surprised but (usually) pleased to find this in a children’s book.
Q: You were incredibly shy as a child. What advice do you give to a shy child?
A: Ah, well, if you’re shy I don’t think there’s much you can do to change that except to realize that the opposite of shyness is confidence. Books were my solace and stories allowed me to be brave and bright and un-shy in my mind. Writing lets me train to become an athlete of words. I think the salvation for shy people is to find work they love to do and try hard to become as good at it as they possibly can.
Q: In what ways has your life changed since you won the Newbery Award?
A: I retired (as had already been planned) shortly after receiving the award, so there were two huge changes in my life simultaneously. I segued from a nine-to-five civil servant to a full-time writer, and that was pretty glorious. I was still working hard, with contract deadlines and book tours and interviews and I was often asked to speak to groups of writers and librarians and teachers. That first year I was so overcommitted that I complained about it to my husband. He said, “Congratulations! You just won the Newbery Whiner Award!” I wish I could say that the award made me more confident as a writer, but it didn’t. Each new book is as much of a challenge to write as the last, and I have to learn how to do it all over again.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m writing what I call a domestic fantasy. The idea came when I thought about how our human species is the only one that cooks. What if the cultivation of food, the farming and ranching of it, the packaging and transporting of it to markets, the preparation of meals in homes and restaurants, the time we spend eating – what if we didn’t do any of that because we were fueled by something other than food? It’s a bit of a wild idea, but fun to play with.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.
www.solanolibrary.com or www.susanpatron.com