Newbery Honor Author Rajani LaRocca
Happy Monday! I am launching my ninth annual Newbery series today. Hooray!
Click here to watch the 2022 ALA Youth Media Awards press conference.I asked Donna Barba Higuera, Rajani LaRocca, Darice Little Badger, Kyle Lukoff, and Andrea Wang to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. First up is Rajani LaRocca.
Hello, Rajani LaRocca! Congratulations on winning a 2022 Newbery Honor for Red, White, and Whole! I love hearing about the CALL. What was running through your heart when the Newbery committee was clapping and cheering for you?
Rajani LaRocca: Hi, John! I’m so excited to be talking to you!
Now, for the CALL. First, I got a call from a Chicago area code. I answered and a man introduced himself, saying he was from the American Library Association. And I said, “Oh my goodness!” He then said there was a whole committee that had some very good news for me and asked if it would be okay for them to call me back from a different number. And I, of course, said, “yes!”
I told my husband, who was watching TV, that A COMMITTEE FROM THE ALA WAS CALLING ME BACK! He immediately shut off the TV.
I didn’t dare think that this might be the Newbery Committee; I couldn’t let myself believe it yet.
The next call came very quickly, and I picked up, but no one seemed to hear me. I realized it was a conference line that had automatically muted me. I kept trying to listen to the instructions for how to unmute, but due to my nerves, I couldn’t figure it out until the third time I tried!
Once I finally managed to unmute myself, someone joyfully told me that Red, White, and Whole had won a Newbery Honor! I was crying and babbling, but I think I replied that I was overwhelmed with happiness, and that I had poured my whole heart into the book. They said they could tell. They instructed me to keep the secret (only telling my family; my publisher already knew) until the next day’s ALA Youth Media Awards announcement.
Then the whole committee unmuted and congratulated me, and I think my mind left my body at that point. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my entire life!
I freaked out to my husband. We called our kids, who are both in college, and they freaked out with us. I told my parents, who live with us, and to whom Red, White, and Whole is dedicated. They blessed me and said they were so proud of me. Then I spoke with my editor and my agent and freaked out all over again!
And I realized that nothing would ever be the same. . . in the best possible way. My husband and I went out to dinner, and we had some champagne!
What does a Newbery Honor for Red, White, and Whole mean to you?
Rajani LaRocca: I’ve said all along that Red, White, and Whole is a book of my heart. Although it’s a work of fiction, I put so many emotions from my own life into this story: feeling divided between different worlds, dealing with hardship and tragedy, and finding hope and peace through family and friendship. To see this book recognized by the Newbery Committee as the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” is beyond my wildest dreams. It means that this story — this very Indian American story — will live on and reach so many kids in libraries and schools across the country, now and in the future. It is an incredible honor. It is staggering and humbling and mind-blowing. It is everything.
Please finish the following sentence starters:
Story is what connects us to other people across space, time, and culture.
School librarians are heroes who present young people with worlds of possibility, who help both reluctant and eager readers find stories they love, and who help all children see themselves reflected in the pages of books. When I was a kid, I thought my school librarian was magical…and I was right.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers. Her middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole, is the winner of the 2021 New England Book Award, the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award, and a 2022 Newbery Honor. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks.