It's gonna be a great day! The sun is bright hot, the birds are chirping.
By nightfall, I sat at a table encircled by friends at the 54th Annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards ceremony. The food was great. My purse was on the table near me, and inside it were three index cards. I had written an acceptance speech--just in case. My category was first up. The judge for the Children's Book category was Carmen Deedy. The winner of the finalist award was Dan Carlton and his book, Ollie and the Wise Old Owl. I didn't get the finalist award, but I was still hopeful. I had poured my heart and soul (and some cash) into creating Little Bird & Myrtle Turtle, and I loved it. When I heard my name called out, I went into some kind of automatic mode. It was really hilarious.
I knew my friends were cheering, but I couldn't celebrate until I had that award in my hands. I grabbed my little purse and unzipped it like a woman on a mission. Pulled out two, then three cards. Each one folded on the bottom corner, so they wouldn't stick if this occasion actually happened. It was happening! I felt giddy. Then I put myself in check. I had a message to deliver.
I strode--make that floated--to the front of the audience and waited patiently at the bottom of the steps for Michelle Khouri, the emcee, to finish her remarks.
Ms. Khouri read the judges statement about the winning book, "The tale of a character that cares for an unhatched egg--with surprising results--is not an uncommon theme in children's literature. Hans Christian Anderson's The Ugly Duckling, Oliver Butterworth's The Enormous Egg, and Emily Gravett's wickedly delightful, The Odd Egg, are among the most memorable of these adoption stories. McEntire's gentle wisdom in the treatment of this theme is worthy of commendation. When the bird asks its adoptive turtle mother if it belongs to her, her reply is simple, "...you do not belong to me or anyone else. Your life belongs to the wind under your wings..." These unselfish words reassure the young reader that the turtle, wanting only freedom and happiness for her young charge, is a marvelous parent. And the little bird is fortunate indeed to have her for a mother."
She was talking about my beloved book, but I didn't hear a word she said. Then I dropped one of the index cards!
I remained steady and calmly bent over and picked it up. It was a dream come true to finally step onto that stage and accept such an honor. I paused with my trophy and the emcee for the photographer and felt as if I were gliding over to the podium. I was so nervous, but I spoke with all the confidence I could muster and delivered my speech.
"Over 12,000 children are in foster care homes across the state of Georgia. I wrote the story, Little Bird & Myrtle Turtle, for every child who grows up with people other than their biological parents. They may look different from their caregivers, but with love and support, they can appreciate their own identity and find their purpose in life. Thank you, Georgia Writer’s Association, for this opportunity.
I am also grateful my parents read to me; I am thankful that Amber Lanier Nagle taught a class about writing family stories; grateful that Karli Land founded Calhoun Area Writers; and I appreciate that my husband, Dave, does an unequal amount of household chores while I write. I am thankful for all of these things, but I’m most grateful for the power of words.
We all know the importance of early reading and mentoring. I was recently reminded of that importance and the power of words, when a caretaker of a four-year-old who had been placed in a foster care home for troubled children, said to me, 'We go through the same routine every night. He won’t go to sleep until I read him the book you wrote.'
I recently watched a video of Ron Howard about directing. He said, “Find a story you love, and tell it.” That’s what we do as writers. I encourage each of you to continue to write the stories you love. There are readers waiting for you to use your power. Just remember, it’s not about us, the writers, but the story and letting go to give the story a voice. Thank you for listening to mine."
I will never forget that night. I went back to my table and laughed like a silly school girl. I said "I love you" to my husband who has supported me every step of the way. I hugged everyone at our table, and texted friends and loved ones who couldn't be there. My "Little Bird" is flying high!