Tuesday, February 8, 2011;
Clare Vanderpool decided when she was in fifth grade that she wanted to be an author.
Now 46, Vanderpool says that childhood dreams really can come true, with good reason. Last month her first novel, "Moon Over Manifest," won the 2011 John Newbery Medal as the best children's book.
The mother of four says she spent "five or six years" writing the book, starting when her oldest child was 7 years old. "It's hard to find time to write with small children, so I wrote during 'Sesame Street,' at long traffic lights and during homilies at church," she says with a laugh. It took another few years for the story of 12-year-old Abilene Tucker and her search for answers about her father's childhood to get published.
Vanderpool recently spoke from her home in Kansas with KidsPost's Tracy Grant about what inspired her, what kids need to do to become writers and how cool it was to win the Newbery.
Your story is set in Kansas in the Depression and deals with a time in history - the 1930s - that kids today may not be very familiar with. Why did you choose this place and time?
" 'Moon Over Manifest' " is based on the real town of Frontenac, Kansas. My mother's parents are from that area, and they lived in the time I'm describing. There are a couple of characters based on real people . . . but more so it's based on the tone and the spirit of the people I knew growing up.
"[As for the history,] it's really the responsibility of the writer to . . . write it in a way that the reader will understand. You don't want to beat somebody over the head with the historical knowledge. The history in 'Manifest' serves the story and the characters."
What would you like kids to understand from your book?
"I hope they take away from it that this story is about looking beyond the ordinary and finding the extraordinary. These are very ordinary people, in a very ordinary town. It's in Kansas. By definition, we are the plains! But in this story, these very ordinary people show themselves through their story to be beautiful and extraordinary."
What advice do you have for fifth-graders out there who might want to be writers when they grow up?
"Make sure you love it, and the only way to make sure is to do it. So shut off the TV, the radio, the iPod, and spend some time writing down your ideas and thoughts. It can be anything: poems, little riddles, playing with words. If you want to be a writer, you need to be passionate about it. It takes time and effort, as all things do.
"And finally, read, read, read."
How cool is it to win such a prize?
"Very," she says with a loud laugh. "Part of the excitement was that my kids [they are now 10, 13, 14 and 16] all know what the Newbery award is. So to have this experience and have them share in it is wonderful."