WOWZERS, or when the call comes

February was quite the month! Well, let me back up to November. In November, Calkins Creek Books released my newest title, TWELVE DAYS IN MAY: FREEDOM RIDE 1961. It was a quiet release, too late to be considered even for the California Eureka! Award. There were many nice reviews, even a few great ones, that understood what I was trying to do, but I was busy writing another book and didn’t have time to worry about the one just released. You know, you send your child into the world and hope that it will survive and find its proper audience.

In February, Sunday February 11th to be exact, in the middle of somebody’s ice dance routine on NBC’s Olympic coverage at around 8:00 p.m., the phone rang. I don’t know how you handle phone calls, but I don’t pick up unless I recognize the number because I get an awful lot of telemarketers. Typically, I wouldn’t even have had my phone with me, but for some reason as I walked out of my upstairs office I shoved my phone into my pocket. I hesitated, hearing the familiar ring and the vibration against my thigh. Finally, I pulled out the phone and noted the call was coming from a New York number. It continued to ring, as I thought about who I knew in New York. That was easy: Nobody who would be calling. Still, hesitantly, I answered. It was the Robert F. Sibert Committee calling from Denver and the Youth Media Awards. I was making my way back upstairs to the quiet of my office. Mid-stairs, I heard the lovely person–I’m sorry but the name came and went by what happened next–say “Robert F. Sibert Committee,” “Freedom Ride 1961,” and “medal” all in the same sentence. It took three or four beats for those words to register, and she repeated that the book had won the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Medal. I literally could not breathe. I sat down on the stairs. I rose. I sat. I rose. I paced the landing, trying to catch my breath. My hands began to shake uncontrollably. For some reason I thought the Youth Media Award calls came early on the morning they were announced, and the release had been so quiet I didn’t think the book was on anybody’s radar.

If you know me, you know that I am generally pretty calm and unemotional. Not so the night of February 11th. I managed a half-dozen thank-yous, mentally bleeping the joyful expletives that wanted to rush out of my mouth–Holy s**t was prominent among them–and mumbled that I was speechless. True enough. My throat constricted, and every time I attempted to utter more than a single-syllable word, the sobs and tears threatened to flow. And then the person on the other end of the call said such beautiful things about my book, about my words, and about why it was chosen, and I could hear the laughter and cheer of the committee in the background. The sobs came–even as I tried to stifle them. Speaking was not possible. I am not accustomed to receiving praise, but if I’d been able to speak I may have said, “Can you call back in half an hour to give me time to process this?” Of course, I didn’t. I just blabbered a few more thank-yous and disconnected. It was the best phone call ever!

The next morning as I watched the live streaming of the announcements alone in my office, I cried with abandon. Thank you, Robert F. Sibert Committed for recognizing my work. I promise not to be such a wreck in June when the medal is presented.  Or at least I’ll try.

Sibert Medal_Yoon



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