A Visit to Emporia, Kansas
I was honored to learn earlier this year that A Dog's Life, the life story of a stray dog named Squirrel, had been named one of the two winners of the 2008 William Allen White Children's Book Award. A Dog's Life was honored in the 3rd to 5th grade category, and Airball: My Life in Briefs, by L.D. Harkrader, was honored in the 6th to 8th grade category. The award was founded in Kansas in 1953 to encourage children in the state to become enthusiastic readers. Along with this honor came an invitation to Emporia, Kansas, to join children from all over the state in a two-day celebration, including a parade!
This celebration is the culmination of a year-long reading adventure. Each fall, elementary school students in Kansas begin reading from a master list of new children's books. Once the books have been read, the children are asked to vote for their favorites. I'm especially happy that they enjoyed A Dog's Life because it was inspired by my own dog, Sadie. Sadie was born to a stray, and I've often thought about how hard her life might have been had her mother not been rescued before she gave birth to her puppies.
After a welcome dinner at Emporia State University, I met with kids who had traveled to Emporia by bus that day, some traveling for as long as eight hours. We had a fun question-and-answer period, and then I was asked to read an excerpt from the first Main Street book. Later that evening, the kids had a gigantic sleepover at the local community center, although I doubt they got much sleep! When I returned to the university the next morning, I couldn't believe how many more students had arrived. I spent the morning chatting with them and signing lots of autographs. In addition to my books (current and old), I signed bookmarks, pictures, t-shirts and quite a few hats.
After lunch, everyone gathered to line up for the big parade. The weather cooperated, and it was a perfect day to be outdoors. The kids had a blast as their schools competed for awards for best cheer and most school spirit. With the Emporia Middle School band leading the way, we soon arrived at the auditorium where the awards ceremony took place. After a very nice introduction by one of the students, I spoke for a little while about A Dog's Life. In addition to discussing the plight of stray animals, I talked about my involvement with fostering stray cats and about animal rescue organizations. The program concluded with the announcement of winners of a poster contest and school spirit awards. All in all, it was a fun time for the authors and for the students, and I'm very honored that I was invited to join in the celebrations.
For a reading list that comes highly recommended by the students of Kansas, I encourage you to check out the complete list of winners of the William Allen White Children's Book Award dating all the way back to 1953. I saw many of my all-time favorites on the list! And be sure to check out my pictures from my visit to Emporia.
P.S. For those of you who enjoyed A Dog's Life, you may be interested to know that a companion book will be published in the fall of 2009. It will tell the story of Squirrel's brother, Bone.