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Calvin Prof's Book Wins Newbery Honor
January 17, 2005
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy was named both a 2005 John Newbery Honor Book and a 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
By Gary D. Schmidt
A book for young adults by Calvin College professor of English Gary Schmidt has been named one of the top books of 2004 by the American Library Association, winning two prestigious awards.

Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (published by Clarion Books) was named both a 2005 John Newbery Honor Book and a 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book.

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, won the 2005 Newbery Medal - named for 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery and awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association) to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy was one of just three books named as winners of the 2005 Newbery Honor Award. These are books, says the ALA, that are also truly distinguished.

Schmidt's book also was named a 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, one of three so selected. The newer Printz award — established in 1999 — recognizes excellence in literature written for young adults. The 2005 winner is "how i live now" by Meg Rosoff.

Susan Faust, chair of the Newbery Award committee, said Schmidt's book is superb.

"Steeped in imagery and laced with surprising humor, Lizzie Bright and the Buckmister Boy explores powerlessness, possibility and the profound impact individuals can make," she said. "We spent a year studying the universe of eligible books, and it is a thrill to name this as one of our honor books. We feel honored."

Schmidt, whose book was the only one to make both lists, was humbled by the attention.

"It's a tremendous honor," he said, "in a year when the books are strong and wonderful."

Remarkably, Schmidt was on hand to hear the awards announced today at 8:15 a.m. eastern time at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting at Boston's Hynes Convention Center.

That's because Schmidt is in Massachusetts for the month of January with a group of Calvin students on the college's annual New England Saints interim, a three-week-long January class that focuses on American literature. In fact, he planned to celebrate today with his students after dealing with a few of the details that surround being named a Newbery winner, details like dealing with numerous reporters and publishers.

Reached today by phone at the convention center, Schmidt said his immediate plan, after completing several interviews, was to change into some comfortable clothes and hang out with his students. But he did take the time to reflect on his book and the honors it received today.

"This one (book) is very close to my heart," he said simply. "It took three years to write — longer than I've ever spent on a creative book."

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is based on an actual historical event — the eradication of a small African American community.

It is also the story of a friendship between two teenagers: Lizzie Bright Griffin, an African American girl from Malaga — an island adjacent to the town of Phippsburg, Maine — and Turner Buckminster, the son of Phippsburg's new minister.

"She loves the island, loves the lifestyle," Schmidt said. "He is a preacher's kid with all that brings."

In 1912, the town of Phippsburg evicted the mostly African American community from Malaga, placing many of the residents in a mental hospital, razing the island’s homes and digging up the graveyard. The eviction was a beautification measure for the town, which planned to lure in more tourists with the construction of hotels. Turner's relationship with Lizzie leads him to a relationship with Malaga.

Schmidt said the book echoes a unifying theme in all his writing.

"It's what I always write about," he said, "what it is that makes a child move from childhood to adulthood. It's when a child starts to say, 'This is my decision. I make this call.' It's the message a child has to get — that there's a moment when you have to become your own person."

Schmidt credits his wife, Anne, with unearthing the Malaga story in a guidebook while on the family's annual vacation in Maine — her birthplace. It's another reason the book — and the awards—resonate so strongly with him.

And Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is dedicated to his editor, Virginia Buckley, renowned editor of multiple-Newbery award-winning author Katherine Paterson.

The honors for Schmidt continue Calvin's tradition of excellence in children’s literature. Meindert De Jong, who graduated the college in 1928, won the Newbery Medal in 1955 and the Hans Christian Anderson Medal in 1962.

"It is sort of unusual for a college our size to have two Newberys," Schmidt said.