Two, Two Twains

I just returned from the Missouri Association of School Librarians conference. What a nice bunch of folks. This is not a surprise, as librarians are some of my favorite people, and when they get together they usually throw a party of dangerous proportions. Some of you who read The 39 Clues have commented on the shout-outs to librarians embedded in The Maze of Bones, and what I loved is that the other authors in the series picked up on this entirely of their own volition so it has become a theme throughout the series. After all, authors couldn’t get very far without the help of librarians.

At any rate, the conference was a lot of fun. I did a workshop presentation in the afternoon and two book signings. So many librarians told me stories of kids who had turned into readers because of Percy Jackson. They would usually preface their comments with, “You must get tired of hearing this, but –”. Ah, how could I ever get tired of hearing that my books helped a child become a reader?

In the evening, I attended the banquet to receive the 2008 Mark Twain Award for The Lightning Thief. The award is voted on by 4th-6th grade readers throughout the state, and as I always say, these are the awards that mean the most to me, because they are decided by the people who matter the most – the young readers themselves. The big surprise, though, was the announcement of the 2009 award winners. I was stunned to learn that The Sea of Monsters won the Mark Twain Award for 2009! The award has been given for 37 years, but the organizers told me that this is the first time any author has won two years in a row. Wow, what an honor. Thanks to the young readers of Missouri – I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the Percy Jackson series!

Special appreciation to Marlys and Becky, who were my hosts during the conference and chaired the 2008 and 2009 committees, and to the two student presenters, Morgan (7th grade) and Kara (6th grade) who drove to the conference with their families, introduced me, and had better prepared comments than I did! The girls were very composed and professional speaking in front of 1000+ librarians. I couldn’t have done that in middle school!

If you’d like to see a video from the conference, here is a link to Mrs. Matzat’s site.
Hope you don’t mind, Mrs. Matzat! You can thank my mom, who is often on ‘web patrol’ and sends me various mentions that she finds.

So I came home yesterday and greatly confused the TSA screener at the Springfield airport. I had my two awards in my carry-on bag, and the guy could not figure out what they were. “Are those beer tap handles?” he asked. “No,” I said casually, “they’re busts of Mark Twain.” He looked at me pretty strange, but he let me go.

Well, really, if you’re going to carry an author around in your bag, it might as well be Twain. He’s always been one of my heroes, and he’s the perfect icon for a readers’ choice award. Twain was always a populist writer with little patience for literary pretension. Just this morning I found a previously unpublished essay by Twain on Twain talks about how the general public views a book versus how literary critics view it. He says he can determine how well his book will be received by running it past an assortment of ordinary people with different temperaments.

“But the man whom I most depend upon — the man whom I watch with the deepest solicitude — the man who does most toward deciding me as to whether I shall publish the book or burn it, is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within fifteen minutes, I burn the book; if he keeps awake three-quarters of an hour, I publish — and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my works is to entertain; and by making this man comfortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell within a shade or two what degree of success I am going to achieve.”

This really resonated for me, because when I wrote the Lightning Thief, I imagined reading it aloud to my own middle school English classes. I wanted it to be a book that would never put them to sleep or lose their attention. I still read the manuscripts to my sons for the same reason. If their attention wanders, I change the slow parts. “For the intent of my works is to entertain.”

Thanks to the librarians of MASL and the young readers of Missouri for making me so welcome in your state. And a special apology to the librarians of Oklahoma, who had their conference on the same weekend, so I could not attend, but I was equally honored to learn that Lightning Thief won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Award.

Someone at MASL asked me how many state awards the Lightning Thief has now won, and I wasn’t able to answer. Honestly, the last year has been a whirlwind, and I’ve been overwhelmed and so thankful for the votes of confidence Percy Jackson has received from young readers across the country. In case you’re curious, I went back and checked. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten any, but here’s a list of state awards The Lightning Thief has won:

Beehive Award (Utah)
Mark Twain Award (Missouri)
Sunshine State Readers Award (Florida)
Virginia Readers Choice Award (Virginia)
Maine Student Book Award (Maine)
Nene Award (Hawaii)
Sequoyah Award (Oklahoma)
Nutmeg Award (Connecticut)
Golden Sower Award (Nebraska)
Grand Canyon Readers Award (Arizona)
Rebecca Caudill Award (Illinois)
Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (Massachusetts)
Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award (Louisiana)
Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Alaska)
Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award (Pennsylvania)
South Carolina Junior Book Award (South Carolina)

Rick Riordan