Excited young readers celebrate Willow Award winners at Gala

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Young Swift Current readers had a chance to celebrate wins for their favourite books at the Willow Awards Gala at the Lyric Theatre on May 7.

Loud cheers went up in the audience of mostly elementary school aged youngsters when the winning authors were announced at the Willow Awards Gala 2014 in front of a capacity audience. Awards were handed out in a trio of categories, with a total of 10 books nominated in each age reading category.

Susin Nielsen won the Snow Willow Award for The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, earning the award for the best book directed at students in Grades 7 to 9.

Earning a 2013 Willow Award allowed Nielsen to complete a hat trick of book awards as all three of her books have now won Sask Young Readers Choice Awards.

Her debut work Word Nerd won a Willow Award in 2010, while her second release Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom won in 2011.

Nielsen, who won the Governor General's Literary Award in 2012, said winning Willow Awards are meaningful because the recognition comes from her readers.

"I guess they're really connecting with my characters and there's always humour in my books. Even in this book, where the subject matter is a little darker, I do to try to incorporate humour as well," she said after collecting her third Willow Award.

She hopes that her books resonate with readers because of the character details she focuses on.

"I really try to get into the heads of my protagonists, so I think the characters feel hopefully very real, and relatable, to the readers," she said.

"My characters always tend to be not the most popular kids, they're certainly never the most athletic kids, and I think that the power of a good book, and I feel this way when I read a good book, it's to be able to walk in somebody else's shoes for a while and to experience life through their eyes. And maybe develop compassion for a different way of looking at the world. And I think that's the power of good books."

Nielsen confirmed she has a fourth book coming out in the spring of 2015, We Are All Made of Molecules.

The heartwarming Kate and Pippin An Unlikely Love Story earned Martin Springett a Shining Willow Award for the best book aimed at young readers.

The book is the real story which occurred when Isabelle Springett made a decision to rescue a fawn and introduce it to Kate her Great Dane while not knowing what would happen between the two of them.

"It's come as a huge surprise to my sister Isabelle and I that so many people seem to love the story," book author Martin Springett said following the Awards Gala.

In fact, the real-life story is getting international attention and has been featured in magazines like People and National Geographic, the story was picked up BBC, and videos produced to go with the story have been literally viewed from around the world.

"This story was just too hard to resist when my sister sent me the photographs," explained Springett, who is mostly an illustrator and musician. "It's been responded to all over the country."

Kate and Pippin An Unlikely Love Story has also been nominated for a series of other book awards, and Springett added a new edition of the book is scheduled for release in February 2015 for even younger readers.

The book Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier was the 2013 Diamond Willow Award winner for books written for upper elementary readers in Grade 4 to 6. As the only one of the three authors not at the gala awards, Auxier spoke about his first children's novel by video message.

"It's a huge honour. I'm really grateful. I do want to mention my gratitude and just my awe of the other authors on that list…all of these are great writers and it was an honour to be on the list with them."

Auxier explained in his message it took him a decade to finish the book, and his entire book began simply with a doodled picture.

"I want to encourage every single one of you guys, if you are story tellers, whether you're artists or writers or anything like that, I want to encourage you to take time out of your day, every single day, let your mind wander and ask yourself 'what if?'"

Ruth Garnett, Board of Directors President of the Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice - The Willow Awards, Inc., noted the gala honouring all 30 nominated authors and illustrators was an exciting day.

"Our focus is on the kids reading and choosing who the winners will be. So that's our special day is when we get to release that to the kids and they find out."

In fact, after each winning author was announced, there were certainly lots of oohs and cheers by the students in attendance.

"It was obvious they had read the books and they were waiting to see if their favourite won," Garnett said, nothing the young readers were obviously invested in these books and characters.

"You get so many experiences from books that you can't in real life. And I know I've often told students, books can be a dress rehearsal maybe for a tough situation you'll be in someday, or maybe your friend will be in and you'll be able to help them out. And it gives you a chance to experience other cultures and learn about things that others kids in the world are going through."

Ultimately, the bottom line of Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice - The Willow Awards, Inc. is to make sure quality literature gets in the hands of children. During the 13 years of the awards they have highlighted 390 books, and the next 30 books have been nominated for the 2014 Willow Awards.

"We try to choose a wide variety of literature. Age appropriate literature. Culturally sensitive and culturally exposing for others in the world. Basically we want to promote Canadian authors and we want to promote quality Canadian literate. So that's our mandate is to support the Canadian publishing industry, and encourage reading in kids."

In keeping with the theme of celebrating books and authors, Swift Current's own Lorna Crozier to serve as the keynote speaker at the Award Gala.

She enthusiastically shared with the students the importance of both writing and reading.

"There always will be room for spinners of tales, for readers of those tales, and for tellers to speak of this beautiful earth we occupy."

"I think that's a responsibility and a pleasure of all of us is to keep our stories alive, and to remember the good that stories can do. They don't just entertain and give us pleasure, which they should. We don't want to be bored by a story. But they also have benefits we don't even dream of. For one thing they remind us about where we come from, and who we are, and who our families are, and what we love, and what we want to be in our lives."

Crozier also told the students they are surrounded by things worth writing about.

"If there's any advice I can give you it would be for you to feel thrilled, to feel in fact rapturous about where you come from. Swift Current isn't New York or Paris. We don't have the Eiffel Tower or the ferry to Staten Island. But we know everything there is to know, already at your age, about love, about our mothers and fathers, about the animals we adore. We don't have the Eiffel Tower, but we have that big old Cottonwood tree 10 miles north of town. So that when people in Swift Current say 'The Tree' we all know what we mean. No one else does. It's our secret. We have the creek and its dam."

"And we here, and we in Saskatchewan have the biggest sky in the whole world. I've done a lot of travelling. I've been on every continent, except Antarctica, and there's no sky bigger than this one. There's room under this sky. There's space for 1,001 stories to root in the grass and grow, and be carried off by the wind. This is a place of stories."

Organizations: Lyric Theatre, Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice - The Willow Awards, Inc.

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current, New York Paris Staten Island Antarctica

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