Park School libraryian and children's author Laura Amy… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Park School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz on Monday joined a select group of authors to be twice honored with one of the nation's top prizes for children's literature.
Her 2012 Victorian gothic, "Splendors and Glooms," was named one of three Newbery Honor Books by the American Library Association during a morning news conference in Seattle. An honor book essentially is a runner-up; the winner of the 2013 award was Katherine Applegate's "The One and Only Ivan," about an easygoing gorilla who rescues a baby elephant from a rundown mall and a life of neglect.
"I'm walking around in a happy haze," the 57-year-old Schlitz said.
"I had my hat and coat on and was about to go out the door this morning when the telephone rang at 9:31 a.m. When I picked it up and didn't hear anyone at first, I thought it was someone asking me for money. I almost put the phone down."
Monday's award puts Schlitz in distinguished company. Five years ago she won the big prize — the 2008 Newbery medal — for "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village," a series of monologues about life in an English village in 1255 as told by the local children.
The Newbery and the Caldecott award, for picture books, are the two most prestigious prizes that can be won by children's authors writing in the United States. Since the Newbery Prize first was handed out in 1922, fewer than half of the medal winners have been honored more than once.
The 2008 award came as a bolt from the blue for the previously unknown author. The recognition this year was a different matter. Schlitz has described "Splendors and Glooms" as her magnum opus; the 400-page manuscript consumed more than six years of her life.
"Some part of me wanted dreadfully for this book to win something because I worked so hard on it," Schlitz said. "I loved it so much and hated it so much. I hoped, and tried not to hope. Yesterday, I cleaned my whole house. I was up at midnight on my hands and knees scrubbing the top of my trash can. But I thought, 'If I'm going to be disappointed, it's nicer to be disappointed in a clean place.' "
Steven Englefried said that the Newbery selection committee, which he chairs, sifted through more than 500 children's books before narrowing the pile down to the top four.
"The language in 'Splendors and Glooms' is so perfect," he said, "rich and eloquent and clever. The author uses a sort of Victorian Dickensian storytelling style, but she makes it very accessible to young readers. You feel like you're really there in 1860s London. You feel the cold and the damp. There's a dramatic scene at the end of the novel that takes place on the ice, and you feel like you're right out there with her characters."
"Splendors and Glooms" is the story of a poor little rich girl named Clara Wintermute who falls under the spell of an evil puppeteer named Gaspare Grisini. It's up to Grisini's two orphaned assistants, Parsifal and Lizzie Rose, to free her — and themselves.
The other two Newbery honor books for 2013 were "Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin and "Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage.
A celebration in Schlitz's honor was held at the end of the school day Monday at Park School, where the author works part-time as the librarian and resident storyteller.
"Our kids are remarkably lucky that Laura is one of ours," said Park School's top administrator, Daniel Paradis. "I speak not only as the head of Park School, but as a dad whose son thinks that Laura walks on water. I wish every student had a Laura Schlitz in their lives."
Because of Monday's ice storm, school opened two hours late on Monday. When Schlitz arrived shortly after 9:30 a.m., a colleague presented the author with a pearl tiara. Schlitz said she demurred for only a second before allowing herself to be crowned.
"If you're not going to wear a tiara when you win a Newbery Award," Schlitz said Monday, "when are you going to wear one?"