Moon Over Manifest began as a story the author clearly needed to hear. Her inspiration was a line in Moby Dick that also influences Abilene: "It is not down in any map; true places never are."
On her website Vanderpool explains, "That really sparked my imagination. What is a true place? It conjured up ideas of home. Having lived most of my life in the same neighborhood, place is very important and for me true places are rooted in the familiar the neighborhood pool, the sledding hill, the shortcuts, all the places where memories abound. But I wondered, what would a 'true place' be for someone who has never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time?"
She based Manifest on the town of Frontenac, Kansas, where her mother's parents, Noah and Mary (Hughes) Rousseau, and her grandfather's cousins, Velma and Ivan DeVore, grew up. All four are minor characters in the story.
She wrote the story over five or six years while raising her four children, snatching time during their naps, episodes of "Sesame Street," even overly-long church services. It took her another few years to find a publisher. And then, one morning at 8:45, while she was loading her dishwasher, she got a call that she'd won the biggest prize in children's literature.
In their announcement of the 2011 winner of the Newbery Medal, the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association) said, "Vanderpool illustrates the importance of stories as a way for children to understand the past, inform the present and provide hope for the future."
Prior to her win, Vanderpool's book had sold 12,000 copies, according to a representative of the publisher. Afterward, it zoomed to #2 on the New York Times list and has received nothing but positive reviews.
Sometimes, when a prize committee picks a little-known book, like the National Book Awards' 2010 choice of Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, the choice is lauded as daring, and critics rush to praise a newly spotlighted author. But other times, such choices throw the motivations of the prize committee in question. The Newbery in particular has been criticized for representing the reading tastes of adults, not the children for whom the books were written.
This article in School Library Journal kicked off a controversy in 2008 about whether the fifteen-member prize committee favors books with adult themes like death over light-hearted subjects that children prefer to read. One professor of literary education examined 30 years of booklists by children and found only 5% of the titles overlapped with prize winners from the American Library Association (who give over a dozen awards each year including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals). Some prizewinners might simply need time to mature with readers. Lois Lowry's The Giver was awarded the Newbery in 1994 even though it was considered inappropriate subject matter for children; now, it regularly appears on booklists and has sold over 5 million copies.
To see what books kids think are prizeworthy, check out the Childrens' Choice Book Awards, in which children of all ages vote for their favorite authors and books of the year.
This article was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the
December 2011 paperback release.
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