Friday, November 12, 2010

Time Marching On and the Jefferson Cup Award

When I'm at the reference desk, I can hear circulation staff tell patrons their due dates. Ordinarily, this is no big deal. Three weeks is three weeks, right? However, there are two dates that cause a "ohboyohboyohboy" flutter in my heart:

"Your books are due June 1."

(Start of summer reading program registration.)


"Your books are due December 1."

Yikes! I know this is such a cliche, but where did the time go? Why does this surprise us every year? I was talking about this with a colleague the other day: the summer seems so endless (although, as public librarians, summer is our craziest time of the year), with only July 4th to serve as a reminder that time is passing. On the other hand, once September appears, we have numerous markers of important events: Labor Day in September, Halloween in October, and Veterans Day in November (and Election Day if it's an election year), which are little reminders that we're inching closer and closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah in December. And then, time to close the curtain on one year and ponder the possibilities of a new one.

I love this time of year; fall is my favorite season. I love the leaves turning and the cooler weather (although it's felt more like spring sometimes than fall!). I love farmers' markets in the fall and seeing pop-up pumpkin patches along our beautiful rural roads here in Virginia.

Luckily, I was able to take Rte 17 from Warrenton to Portsmouth for Virginia Library Association's state conference. It only added about 45 minutes to the drive (versus taking the interstate), and it's a much more interesting and easy drive. You drive through some incredibly beautiful country in Caroline County and drive through little bitty towns that are still hanging on to their Main Street(s); I recommend it (I got off track in downtown Fredericksburg, but if you find Caroline Street, which is the main drag, you can get back on 17). For the first time, I wasn't there to attend sessions; I was there as a member of the 2010 Jefferson Cup committee!

After a year (more or less) of reading hundreds of historical fiction novels, biographies, history books, and history/biography series, we decided on a winner this past May: Ann Burg's All the Broken Pieces.

For our final voting meeting, we were charged to reread the top 10-15 choices (sorry, can't remember how many) and be ready to advocate for a title if we felt strongly about a particular one. At that point, I had several titles in mind, but none that I strongly felt had to win, or else I would be disappointed. I reread the titles with a much sharper and critical eye.

I am beyond thrilled that All the Broken Pieces won.

Writing about any war must be a difficult task, but writing about the Vietnam War must be a monumental challenge. The scars of that war are still seared into this country's psyche. Ann Burg brilliantly shines a light on the multifaceted pain felt in the immediate aftermath of the war, circa 1977, through Matt, a Vietnamese orphan adopted by a Caucasian American couple.

Through Matt, we see the bewilderment of the adopted orphan from a war-torn country and the grief of a child with remembrances of home and family. We witness Matt bullied by his baseball teammate, who is grieving the loss of a brother killed in action. And we watch a family deal with the demons of the past and adjust to their new normal.

When reading contemporary children's and young adult novels, it's not unusual to read stories that incorporate too many "issues" into a story, resulting in a juggling act that the author cannot sustain. Ann Burg masterfully weaves together several underlying issues beyond the immediate issue of the Vietnam War; I was immensely impressed with scenes involving Matt's Vietnamese culture classes, in which he encounters traditional Vietnamese myths and holidays for the first time, and no mention is made of the war, creating an artificial connection to Vietnam. She also skillfully incorporates the underlying guilt felt by Matt's father in not serving in the war. Scenes between Matt and a disabled Vietnam vet will undoubtedly bring tears to your eyes.'s a verse novel. Verse novels don't always work, but it works *so well* here.

It is a magnificent novel, and it was such a pleasure to meet Ann Burg during the VLA conference. The committee was fortunate enough to have dinner with her at one of downtown Portsmouth's restaurants (the city has a neat little downtown area of shops and restaurants with outdoor seating, resulting in a fairly active Thursday night scene). We talked with her about her writing process, about the book and its themes, and more. Just a great time.

Friday was the big day; the luncheon and the Overfloweth presentation! Between driving all day Thursday, getting ready for dinner, having dinner, and returning to my hotel room to prepare for Friday's presentation, I had no time to attend sessions or workshops.

The luncheon was a splendid event, and Ann Burg gave a moving and delightful speech. I am so proud that the Jefferson Cup is her first award; I'm confident that it won't be the last.

Our Overfloweth presentation followed the luncheon, in which we presented our favorite reads from the year. I'll tell you about mine in next week's post.

Go read All the Broken Pieces!


Ann said...

wow what a lovely post Jennifer! I'm still so excited about the Jefferson was great meeting you too ~ thanks for all your kind words!


Jennifer Schultz said...

Ann, I'm so excited that you found this post! I was planning to contact Scholastic and ask them to pass the link along to you, but you beat me to it. :-) I know everyone had a terrific time meeting you in Portsmouth. Did Sue pass along our emails so that we can keep up to date on your latest projects?