Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eureka! Awards for Nonfiction: How They Came to Be

But first, I can’t resist…..

Plus ça change…..

A few weeks ago a buzz went around about a book from a major publishing house that neglected to include Israel in a map of the Middle East.  The buzz increased when it was reported that a “bored out her mind” intern proofreader was probably responsible.  Well, the buzz reached England where the Guardian newspaper coolly put it all in perspective:

“Pity the poor publisher of the "Wicked Bible" which, in 1631 contained the most famous proofing error of all: "Thou shalt commit adultery." 
On its first appearance, the errant publishers were fined £300 and had their printer's licence revoked. King Charles I was furious, and George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, thundered:
"I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned."
How tymes change.”


Now back to our regular program.

Dr. Helen Foster James has recently changed hats.  She used to be Coordinator of LibraryMedia Services for the San Diego County Office of Education and a supervisor of student teachers for San Diego State University, until her recent retirement. Now she is a fulltime children’s author.  She is also the creator of the Eureka! Awards for Nonfiction, given each year by the California Reading Association

I like all things about the Eureka! Awards, not the least of which is that one of them hangs in my office.
I like that they honor many types of nonfiction – those closely tied to the curriculum and those that are not.
I like that all age levels receive Eureka! Awards: K-12.
I like that small presses are liberally represented among the prize winners.
I like that awards go to books with clever, often multi-disciplinary approaches to a subject.

Here is all this came to be.


Dr. Helen Foster James: 

As a former supervisor of student teachers and coordinator of library media services, I noticed teachers always seemed to direct students to the fiction shelves of the library. In fact, sometimes they insisted students check out only fiction books. I even noticed some teachers wouldn’t allow their students to wander through and browse the nonfiction shelves. Some teachers only allowed fiction to be read for book reports. Other teachers only read fiction during read aloud time. Our state children’s book award, the California Young Reader Medal, is for fiction, not nonfiction.

All of these observations made me wonder.

I’m a big-time, nonfiction lover and have always been. This focus on fiction to the exclusion of nonfiction concerned me. Surely there were students, just like myself, who would love to read nonfiction and they weren’t having the opportunity.

I have very vivid memories of reading a biography of Molly Pitcher when I was in third grade. This book set me off in the direction of reading many biographies. Truth is awesome! Real lives are amazing!

I decided it was time to help both teachers and students find the nonfiction shelves of their school and public libraries.

I thought creating an award for nonfiction books would help shine a spotlight on nonfiction books. As a long time member of the California Reading Association, I reasoned that CRA would be the appropriate vehicle for sponsoring the award. I developed a plan for a nonfiction award program and took it to CRA’s board of directors. My plan was immediately and completely embraced! I was so thrilled. CRA rocks!

The Eureka! award for nonfiction is open to all books that are not “fiction.” That is, all the books shelved on the nonfiction shelves of a library which include expository text, biography, memoir, poetry, folk tales, reference books, joke books, cook books, and more. There is a stunning array of fabulous finds waiting for readers on those nonfiction shelves.

It’s my hope the Eureka! award helps teachers get a variety of genres into the hands of their students. I hope it also helps students realize there is a fabulous variety of books waiting on the shelves of their school and public libraries. Additionally, I love that the Eureka! program gives nonfiction authors and illustrators a chance to showcase and celebrate their books which are so frequently overlooked or ignored in other award programs.

The Eureka! award program has just completed its fourth year. Each year a different committee works to identify a list of fabulous books and each year the list has been fabulous. The list is presented at the California Reading Association’s annual conference and posted on the California Reading Association’s website.

It’s my pleasure to be a part of a program that focuses on the joy of nonfiction books.

Gretchen: Next month I’ll review some of the 2013 Eureka! Award books.


Susan Kuklin said...

Such an interesting post, Gretchen. Looking forward to learning who receives Eurekas! Hope it includes many INKers.

Happy Thanksgiving

Susan E. Goodman said...

I have spoken at length to Helen Forster James. She is a marvel. And isn't it amazing what one person can do when she puts her mind to it? Something to remember.

Helen Foster James said...

Thanks for sharing information about Eureka!

lvharris said...

Always wondered what the story was behind creating the Awards--thanks for sharing. Looking forward to meeting you this weekend at SCBWI's Santa Barbara Retreat!