To: The Women's National Book Association/LA Chapter
and the Judy Lopez Memorial Foundation
Many thanks to the Judy Lopez Award committee for giving Sign of the Cat this lovely honor. I must apologize, first off, for the lateness of this response! I'm not sure if the notification went to my spam folder, or perhaps is still floating around in the ether somewhere, but please accept my heartfelt, if belated, thanks for this recognition for a book that is very special to me.
I will always remember this book as tied inextricably with my parents' final illnesses and deaths. It took longer to write than most of my books, because I was so involved with caregiving and making the multitude of decisions that come up when people one loves are slowly declining. So there are lots of little references to my mother and father throughout the book. The land of Arvidia, for example, is named after my dad, Arvid, and there are deeper themes related to my parents, as well. The book may be a swashbuckling adventure, but it had roots in pain and anxiety and illness.
But that is all personal to me. It doesn't have much to do with what the book means to someone else. And yet, perhaps it does. I have discovered that, when I follow the themes and images and snatches of dialogue that resonate most strongly with me — the particular things that are deeply private, whose roots I will never publically explain — those themes and images are what make the book come fully alive to complete strangers.
I heard a story last summer, from a woman who had given The Sign of the Cat to her niece. The book was still on the counter, unopened, when the child suddenly became very seriously ill. The mother, frantically running about to pack things they might need at the hospital, grabbed the book at the last minute.
There were tests, some frightening. There were invasive procedures. The little girl was in pain, and she was finding it difficult to breathe. The parents tried to comfort her; but soon they discovered that the only thing that would keep her calm was if they read aloud from the book they had brought.
After several hours, a new nurse came in to prepare the girl to transfer to another unit. The child, barely able to speak by this time, tried to say something to the nurse. The nurse bent her ear down to the girl's mouth, and heard a small voice whisper hoarsely, "I know a boy who can speak Cat."
Oh, that was magical for me to hear! Somehow, some way, something had gotten into my book that grabbed and held a particular child in the midst of pain and anxiety and illness. I didn't know how it had happened, but I was oh so glad it did.
But would it have happened if the mother hadn't packed the book? If the aunt hadn't bought it? And how many other children would never, never connect with that one special book for them if the librarians, the teachers, the book lovers in their lives hadn't first placed that book in their hands?
On the Judy Lopez website there is a short description of her life. It includes the statement that she was deeply interested in seeing that children have access to quality literature, and it adds this final statement in bold type: Judy Lopez loved books.
That's a powerful epitaph. And her life, and the lives of all the book lovers who live to connect children with books, count for something special in this world. And so I thank you again, for the work that you do, and for the honor of this award.
Oh, and I thought you might like to know. The little girl recovered.