Kathi Appelt


Hello fellow book lovers

I'm Laurel Kathleen Johnston, Kathi's soon to be daughter-in-law. She regrets that she can't be here tonight in person, but since I'm "almost an Appelt" she asked me to tell you how very honored all of us are to be receiving the Judy Lopez Memorial Award for her book, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.

The book began with an email from Kathi's friend and fellow author, Cynthia Leititch Smith. One morning she awoke to find an email from Cynthia that read, "Write something funny." What? Funny? Where had that come from?

At the time, Kathi was not feeling at all funny. There had been a couple of years of health issues and on top of that one Labor Day weekend, during one of the worst droughts in a history, when the entire mid-section of Texas was on fire, the country place that had been in the Appelt family for close to 60 years burned to the ground.

There was no "funny" going on right at that moment. Which is probably why Cynthia sent that note. She understood that sometimes, we all need to recall that one of the wonders of story-telling is its ability to remind us of what is essentially human, and that includes humor. For Kathi, the very act of writing with such a light heart conjured up the muse of laughter. It restored her own sense of the bigger world and the importance of mirth.

More recently, Gail Kim sent Kathi an email that asked her, "Did the Sugar Man arise from the primordial soup of your own imagination or from some other older mythology?" Isn't that a great question? And the answer is: a little of both. The Sugar Man is based on Big Foot, who supposedly roams the forests of East Texas. But Kathi said to tell all of you that she loves the analogy of imagination as being a primordial soup. It's the same thing as saying that "anything is possible."

And that is one of the messages of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp: the good outshines bad any day; that hard work wins; that the Voice of Intelligence is inside each and every one of us, including raccoons; and that yes, if we are careful with our resources, including swamps, maybe, just maybe the Ivory Billed Woodpecker will return. Good Lord, we hope so.

I want to congratulate my fellow honorees—Cynthia, Liesl and Amy—for also giving us books that restore our faith in stories. Thank you to the Los Angeles Chapter of the Women's National Book Association for all that you do to connect kids with books and books with kids. And finally, I want to thank you to the judges for granting it to this the True Blue Scouts.

And in the words of Coyote Man Jim: "Have a good day, and a good idea!"