After the Call: A Cure for the Flu

That year, ALA Midwinter was in Philadelphia. It was very cold. I was very cold, too. Indeed, I had a bad case of the flu, the worst I have ever had.

I had been invited to the ­conference — the only time in my career I have attended Midwinter. The invitation came from Simon & Schuster to help promote an unusual book for me, a picture book, Silent Movie, which was just about to be released. The book was my attempt to replicate the experience of watching an early-­twentieth-century film.

One didn’t turn down such an invitation. So I left my Denver home (much warmer than Philadelphia!) and flew east. As I traveled, my flu got worse. I checked in to my hotel, informed my publisher I was there, and began my round of events to promote the picture book. There were social gatherings, meals, and, in regard to Silent Movie, a highly effective photo-show of the book, complete with music.

Between events, meetings, signings, and socializing, I hurried back to my hotel room. I was getting sicker. I wrapped myself in a blanket, drank hot tea, and tried to figure out the earliest time I could get back to Denver. Nothing I ate stayed down. I changed my airline ticket.

On Sunday morning I joined a breakfast sponsored by HarperCollins, hosted by the inimitable Bill Morris. I told him I needed to leave early to catch a plane. At my table were a couple of people from the ­Newbery committee. I was dull. I ate nothing. I kept checking the time. I just wanted to get out of there. At the earliest possible polite moment, I excused myself and, muttering multiple thanks, raced for the airport.

When I got home, waiting for me was the draft of a letter my college daughter had composed, in which she was applying for summer employment. She needed to have the letter by the next day. I promised to edit it in the morning. Still sick, I took to bed. ­Monday morning, I was up at six. Still sick. Being the dutiful parent, I set about rewriting my daughter’s letter. At 7:00 a.m. I was at my computer — ­editing that letter — when the phone rang. It was Starr LaTronica.

“Congratulations,” she said. “You have won the Newbery Award for your book, Crispin: The Cross of Lead.” There was cheering in the background.

My very first thought? Uh-oh, the next one had better be good. Then I burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” asked my wife.

“I won the Newbery Award.”

Things moved fast. (First, I finished my daughter’s letter.) There were many calls. Among them a summons from the book’s publisher, Hyperion, to come to New York City. Once I arrived, there was a round of meetings. With Donna Bray, my editor. The publisher. My agent, Gail Hochman. I was on the TODAY show, other interviews, etc. It was an exciting two-day whirlwind.

At some point — I’m not sure when — I suddenly realized something: my terrible flu had completely vanished.

What did I learn from this experience? If you get a bad case of the flu, the Newbery Award will cure it. (And my daughter got the job.)

From the May/June 2022 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: The Newbery Centennial.


Avi won the 2003 Newbery Medal for Crispin (Hyperion) and Honors in 1991 for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and in 1992 for Nothing but the Truth (both Jackson/Orchard). His latest book is Loyalty (Clarion/HarperCollins).

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