May 17, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

Okay for Now, a novel by English professor Gary Schmidt has won a Children's Choice Book Award.

English professor Gary Schmidt was in the audience at the fifth-annual Children’s Choice Book Awards when the time came to present the book of the year in the fifth-to-sixth grade category. First, a young man and woman read excerpts from each of the nominated books. Then a young woman delivered an envelope to the host, who read the name of the winning book: Schmidt’s young adult novel, Okay for Now.

“This is so much more than okay, guys,” Schmidt began his acceptance speech. He went on to praise the authors and illustrators present at the awards ceremony, held on May 7, 2012 in New York City, as “artists who speak to and for children.”

“In a culture that has, in many quarters, ceased to see our children as our greatest and most precious national resource,” Schmidt said. “This artistry fills me with an almost unspeakable gladness.”

The Children’s Choice Book Awards are literary awards chosen entirely by children. The event—part of National Children’s Book Week—is co- sponsored by the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and Every Child a Reader. The books nominated for the awards were screened and voted on at schools around the nation. More than 900,000 children from around the country voted on this year’s winning tomes.

Okay for now

Schmidt’s winning book is the story of 14-year-old Doug Swieteck, a kid from a troubled home. Doug learns that the people from his hometown are selling plates from the library’s first edition of Birds of America by John James Audobon, and he sets out on a quest to recover the illustrations. The character of Swieteck was introduced in Schmidt’s 2008 Newbery-Honor winning book The Wednesday Wars.

“I loved revisiting this character,” Schmidt said. “It was a great voice you could hear really clearly … . I knew he was a beat-up kid, and beat-up kids have a story to tell—and they don’t always get to tell them.” Okay for Now was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.

Schmidt enjoys writing for the middle-school genre. “I find that whole turning toward adulthood to be really, really interesting,” he said.

He is also very intentional about using his writing to reach a middle-school audience, said his English department colleague William Vande Kopple: “One of the most significant things we need to know about Gary as a writer is that he’s trying to reclaim this lost generation of readers because he feels they’ve been overlooked and neglected. It’s a real mission for him,” VandeKopple said.

Schmidt’s other literary honors include a 2005 Newbery Honor award for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. His literary achievements are a benefit to the department, VandeKopple said: “As more honors come to him, he keeps finding ways to make connections to colleagues and give them opportunities. That’s a wonderful thing.”

As Schmidt accepted his award, he spoke of his love for his wife, Anne, who was present, as was his daughter, Rebecca. He thanked his longtime editor, Virginia Buckley and his publishers. And he expressed his gratitude to the CBC:

“That an organization such as the Children’s Book Council exists and flourishes, that it creates and oversees a Children’s Choice Book Award to give children a voice on the American Literary Scene, is remarkable,” he said. “I don’t even know how to thank its members enough for their vital work, their vital service, their vital presence.”

Schmidt lives in a restored farmhouse in Alto, Michigan. His other children are James, Kathleen, David, Meghan and Ben.

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