Friday, December 21, 2012

An Interview with Newbery Medalist Karen Cushman

54 - the number of Newbery Medal winners I have read during 2012.

3 - the number of Newbery-winning authors who have visited my school library. 

0 - the number of Newbery Medalists I interviewed before today

!!!!!! - how excited I am to change that zero to a one. 

Mr. Schu: You’re browsing Secret Garden Books when you spot a patron eyeing Will Sparrow’s Road. You’re not sure if you should deliver a short book talk. Thankfully, you decide not to pass up this wonderful opportunity. What do you tell the patron about Will Sparrow’s Road?

Karen Cushman: Will Sparrow’s road takes him on a journey through the lively, colorful world of Elizabethan England. His adventures can move us to consider the intriguing idea of who we are as individuals separate from our families, from our homes, from any adult help. What would we do if left, like Will, to our own devices? How would we survive?  Would we be sad and whiney or resourceful and courageous? Would we be the same people we are now or would we grow to be different? What kind of family might we create for ourselves?


Mr. Schu: Thank you for keeping me glued to Will Sparrow’s Road. I could not put it down. I spent thirty minutes re-reading and re-reading and re-reading two of the most beautifully written pages of 2012.  

Karen Cushman: I am intrigued.  What two pages might those be? (pages 34-35)

I could smell Will’s surroundings, taste his food, and feel his pain. If I ever create a SHOW, DON’T TELL poster, I will place your photograph in the center.  What advice would you give to a ten-year-old boy who wants to SHOW, DON'T TELL.

Karen Cushman:  Oooo, I could write for a loooong time about that. I guess the short version might be use all five of your senses. Don’t depend on sight alone. It’s fine to tell us how a room in an abandoned house looks.  Just be sure to add how it smells (musty?  like flowers or fresh baked bread?), what sounds you hear (the wind whistling through a window?  old-time music on a broken phonograph?), what someone might touch (a spider web? cracked glass in the window?) or taste (dust on the tongue?). Be selective. Choose two or three details that help us be there in that place.

Click here to listen to the podcast.  
Mr. Schu:  I think Kirby Larson, Jennifer L. Holm, and you are the masters of historical fiction. Please recommend three must-read historical novels for children.

Karen Cushman: Thank you--you've put me in very good company. Since you’ve already suggested Hattie Big Sky and the May Amelia books by your first sentence, I’d then pick Patricia MacLachan’s splendid Sarah Plain and Tall, Lizzie Bright and theBuckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt, and TheWatsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Mr. Schu: Congratulations on winning the Newbery Medal for The Midwife's Apprentice. What does it feel like to win the coveted Newbery Medal?

Karen Cushman: I couldn’t have been any happier with a Nobel Prize—unless it was the prize for peace.  See my November 6 blog post on the Nerdy Book Club for a story about the early-morning Newbery phone call.  It is not an overstatement to say the Newbery changed my life.

Karen Cushman reads an excerpt from Will Sparrow's Road
Mr.Schu: Please complete these sentence starters:

Historical fiction is just stories about other people in other places and other times.

Reading is the very best education.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about Elvis!  I wrote a lot as a child but never thought about being a writer.  I wanted to be Elvis’ wife—that was the extent of my career plans.

I am giving away one copy of Will Sparrow's Road.

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 12/20 to 11:59 p.m. on 12/24. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. :) 

Borrow Will Sparrow's Road from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops


  1. What a fun and fabulous interview! Now I must re-read pages 34-35. And I loved learning Karen's early career aspirations: I think she makes a much better writer than a wife for Elvis. But I bet she makes awesome peanut butter and banana sandwiches. ;-)

  2. Great interview. Karen and I must be soul sisters. I,too, wanted to marry Elvis!

  3. Great interview. Karen and I must be soul sisters. I, too, once wanted to marry ole Elvis!


  5. Wow, I REALLY want to read pages 34 and 35 lol Great interview, especially being a rookie Newbery interviewer ;) I see this as the start of something BIG! :) Thanks, John and Karen :D