After the Call: The Big Yes

Every now and then, I think about a conversation I had many years ago with one of my professors. We were talking about travel. He was saying how important he thought it was to venture beyond the main tourist paths.

“You don’t even have to go very far,” he said. “Just two blocks away, and you’re in a completely different world.”

I’m sure many people have said something similar. I think it was the “just two blocks away” part that has made it stay in my mind for so long. Because that could be a metaphor for almost everything. And it’s such an easy starting point.

Two blocks at a time, you can find yourself in a lot of interesting places. While I was working on Criss Cross, I found myself telling the story in the usual ways, but also through drawings, songs, haiku, altered photographs, and parallel narratives. It felt right for the story to tell it that way. It came from my heart. And it was fun.

At one point, I built a model of the Civic Arena, a sports venue that used to be in Pittsburgh. It had a round sectional roof that could be opened in nice weather. I wanted to use it to illustrate my character Hector’s state of mind:

But he still felt as if the world was opening, like the roof of the Civic Arena when the sky was clear.

As I glued tiny beads in the bleachers, to look like spectators, it occurred to me that I might not be on the main tourist path. I might not even be two blocks away. I might be right off the map.

"The Civic Arena when the sky was clear." From Criss Cross (c) 2005 by Lynne Rae Perkins.

I sent photos of my model along with the story in all of its other forms to Virginia Duncan, my editor, and waited for her to say, “What on earth are you doing?” When she didn’t, I took it as a Yes. I said to myself, in an under-my-breath kind of way, “I can do anything.” Not in the Superman sense of that statement, but in the sense of: all the paths are open.

When the Newbery committee awarded the Medal to Criss Cross, it was an even bigger Yes. The Big Yes. A green light. A go-for-it. The Newbery said (or seemed to), “Go make books with beauty and meaning and humor that come from your heart. Tell the stories the way they want to be told. So many paths are waiting: the traveled one, the one less traveled, and a whole bunch of others.”

I felt as if the world had opened, like the roof of the Civic Arena when the sky was clear.

When I think about what the Newbery has meant to me, aside from my great gratitude that a group of thoughtful people who care deeply about books found mine worthy (no small aside), I think that it encouraged me to be brave. Adventurous. A spirit which I hope osmoses its way to the readers of my books and encourages them to go explore the world that’s just two blocks away. And then maybe two blocks more.

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

Lynne Rae Perkins

Lynne Rae Perkins won the Newbery Medal in 2006 for Criss Cross. Her book Violet & Jobie in the Wild (both Greenwillow) is forthcoming.

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