Priscilla Cummings is receiving wide recognition for her novel `Red Kayak,' which is set on the Eastern Shore

Making a splash among schools, libraries, teens


After 20 years of writing children's books, Annapolis resident Priscilla Cummings might have a breakout young adult novel on her hands.

Her 2004 book Red Kayak has been generating a buzz in library circles.

Voice of Youth Advocates, a magazine for librarians, called the book "a gem." The New York Public Library put the book on its 2005 list of notable books for teens. Now the American Library Association has placed the book on its 2006 list of Best Books for Young Adults.

Cummings said she is delighted with the recognition.

"I was so happy when I saw it on the list," she said. "It is wonderful news because the list is used all year long by libraries and schools across the country, and Red Kayak is on four or five state reading lists; it's all over the place."

Red Kayak, which is set on the Eastern Shore, was required reading last summer for incoming freshmen at Severn School in Severna Park, and was on the suggested summer reading list for Boys' Latin School in Baltimore.

In all, 91 young adult novels made the American Library Association's list. Fifteen librarians, including Deborah Taylor of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, voted. Being named to the list means a boost in sales for Red Kayak, Cummings said, and more attention for her other books, including Chadwick the Crab (1986) and Saving Grace (2003).

Red Kayak is about three adolescent boys who must come to terms with their role in an accident on the Corsica River. At its core, the novel is about friendship, loyalty and truth.

Cummings, who was a newspaper journalist for 10 years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland, said she got the idea for the novel from reading frequent newspaper accounts of river drownings and cold-water exposure deaths.

She said that part of the reason the book has such wide appeal is its authenticity.

"People say that the boys seem so genuine and real, and that's every author's goal," she said. "If you don't have believable characters, then you can't convince readers."

Cummings credits her two children, William, 19, and Hannah, 16, for helping her write credibly about the lives of adolescents.

She also does extensive research. For her latest novel, What Mr. Mattero Did, Cummings spent three weeks at Indian Creek Middle School in Crownsville to get a sense of how adolescent girls sound, act and dress.

That book explores accusations of sexual abuse leveled at a teacher by three best friends. Reading about such weighty issues gives teens a chance to examine difficult situations without having to deal with them firsthand, Cummings said.

"One of the great things with books is that you can let kids explore," she said. "They can safely see what could happen and what they might do in a situation."

Red Kayak comes out in paperback next month.

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