"Always grab the reader by the throat in the first line," says Bruce Coville, author of "Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Hatcher," winner of the 1994 Utah Children's Book Award. The popular writer of dozens of children's books says to "sink your thumbs against his windpipe in the second line and hold him against the wall until the tag line." That's what Coville does, too, making the "hook' or tag line so enticing from one chapter to the next that the young reader can't put it down.
More than 45,000 votes (45,371 to be exact) were submitted to make "Jeremy Thatcher . . . " (Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books, 1991) the winning book announced by the Children's Literature Association of Utah (CLAU) recently in its annual meeting. Stephen Biesty's "Incredible Cross-Sections" (Knopf, 1992) was given the award for the best informational book, and "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" by Avi (Orchard, 1990) was noted as the young adult novel for the year.This is the 14th year that CLAU has named winners voted on by children throughout the state. During 1993-94, 150 schools and four public library systems participated in the children's list and informational list - which had more than 8,000 votes cast - encouraging children and their parents to read and share books and then vote on their preference. Twenty-two schools and the library system submitted more than 2,000 votes for the young adult list.
This is how it works. During January three committees decide on lists of recommended titles that offer a balance of interests, genres and relevant contemporary issues. These lists are distributed to all schools and libraries throughout the state. Twenty titles are on the children's list for grades 3-6 - 10 for the informational books (all ages) and 10 for grades 7-12, the young adult list. Readers are urged to vote on each title they read (or listen to). A "weighted" scoring system allows discrimination between "really like it," "it was OK" and "didn't like it." This assures that all books are recognized, even if one is not a favorite.
"The book awards enable good books to be put in the hands of children both in school and public libraries. Our goal is to get children and young adults to read more," says Children's Book Award chairwoman Julie Bentley. "Once the list is posted and the books are on the shelves, I never see them again! They are really in demand."
As a school librarian Bentley gives a special incentive (a free book) to children who read all 20 books on the children's list during the summer. She recommends that parents locate the special shelves where these books are placed in libraries and book stores and make these titles a part of the family reading for the summer. These are great books, and children will enjoy casting their ballots for the 1995 winners.
JEREMY THATCHER: DRAGON HATCHER by Bruce Coville, Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, 1991.
"Jeremy swallowed. He didn't really believe the thing upstairs was an egg . . . Tonight he would try to hatch a dragon."
And he does! Trying to feed the beast with burnished copper scales, glittering green eyes that "looked like a pair of intelligent emeralds" and a body that had "a ridge of pointed plates, none more than a quarter of an inch high, ran from the top of the dragon's head to the tip of its tail" was a chore. Sometimes it took a gallon of milk and most of dad's chicken livers.
As Taimat (the name taken from the mother dragon in mythology that created the world) grows, so does Jeremy's love for her. He knows he must evidently return her to her rightful magical world. The decision to do so will bring gulps from the young readers.
Dragon stories have been popular for all ages and in all cultures. "Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Hatcher" may be the beginning of a lifetime of dragon stories for young readers.
THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by Avi. Orchard Books/Avon. 1990.
The Utah Young Adult Reader Award joins more than 20 other prizes and special national recognition for this book. It is the story of a girl who in 1832 sails on her father's ship, the Seahawk, bound for America from England. As the only passenger, she soon learns that the crew is afraid of Captain Jaffary because he caused the death of a shipmate earlier on a voyage.
Charlotte tells the captain about a mutiny but finds that the captain is not an honorable man; and she is accused of murdering the first mate.
STEPHEN BIESTY'S INCREDIBLE CROSS-SECTIONS with text by Richard Platt. Knopf, 1992.
The book awarded the best informational book by the Utah Children's Literature Association is a glimpse into 18 amazing buildings and machines from castles to the Empire State Building. In "Observatory" there are more than two dozen captions that follow a general description of an observatory with Mount Palomar near San Diego cited as exemplary. The two-page spread illustrations show the inner workings from mirrors, platforms, equipment and shutters.
Also featured are two fold-out pages (four-page spreads!) with details that take hours to investigate and explore.
The artist specializes in historical and architectural cutaway drawings and claims that he takes "things apart to find out what goes on inside." He also admits that he has a large box of parts left over from these investigations with which he hopes to build an aircraft carrier!