CSL Connection interview with California's 
Susan Patron, winner of 2007 ALA Newbery Award

Susan Patron, who recently retired from the Los Angeles Public Library where she served as a senior children's librarian for collection development, is the recipient of the prestigious Newbery Award for her book The Higher Power of Lucky.   The Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the author of the best written children's book in the U. S. and it is administered by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.  The award was recently presented at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Washington D.C.

CSL Connection interviewed Patron for inside points-of-view from an award-winning librarian and writer:

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born and grew up in Los Angeles.  As a child, I spent lots of time in LAPL branches, and my first "real" job after graduate school, in 1972, was as a children's librarian at LAPL's Granada Hills branch.  Eventually I promoted to become the library's Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager, a position I held for over 25 years. I retired in March 2007. 

What writing projects are you working on now?

I'm working on a sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky.  Also, I enter the New Yorker's joke caption contest occasionally (but have never even been a finalist).

What one thing in your life has changed as a result of winning the Newbery Award?

Now, as I'm writing, flocks of critic-reviewer-crows land on my shoulders, dig their talons into my skin, and caw into my ears.  They were always there, but I could dispatch them more easily before the award. 

How do you go about doing research for your books?

Two examples: to learn about knot tying and knot tyers (for the character Lincoln in both Lucky and its sequel) I joined the International Guild of Knot-Tyers, attended their annual convention, received their newsletters, and corresponded with members, who gave me crucial advice.  I also checked out knot-tying books from the library, but they made my eyes cross.  (It's a hard-won skill.) 

A few weeks ago, a wild burro walked into a chapter of my current project, so I began research on these interesting desert animals.  I discovered that many people are passionate on the subject, and the Bureau of Land Management runs an active burro adoption program.  I'm hoping to visit a ranch to meet some adopted wild burros up close.  I guess what I do, in conducting research, is to get as involved as possible on the topic.  Research is fun and seductive because it's a "legitimate" way (as opposed to, say, spending all day making Marcella Hazen's lasagna) of avoiding the hard job of writing the book.

What insights have you gained from the uproar earlier this year over the use of the word “scrotum” in The Higher Power of Lucky?

In 1993, I wrote a book for an even younger audience, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe, in which I used the word "uterus."  The book was an ALA Notable, a SLJ Best of the Year, and generally well received.  No one ever raised the issue of that word or worried about problems children might have understanding it.  What's different with "scrotum" in Lucky?  Some adults evidently feel that the Newbery should be "safe," that is, a book that doesn't reflect the world in which children live - a book that doesn't raise questions.  Of course, this is precisely what literature should do; it should be honest in the deepest sense.  I'm grateful that so many librarians and parents came forth in defense of intellectual freedom and freedom of access for children; grateful that our profession values and defends the right of children to explore their own hearts and the mysteries of the universe through fiction.

 

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