I can’t even begin to tell you
how proud I am that A Northern Light has been
chosen to receive the 2006 Charlotte Award for Young
A Northern Light has won some
really nice awards, but this one, given by the children
of New York State, means the world to me because I was
once one of those children. I was born and bred in New
York. I attended public schools in Lewis and Westchester
counties, and graduated from the University of
Rochester. I now live in Brooklyn and Tivoli, New York,
and I can’t imagine living anywhere else but here.
A Northern Light was written as
a love letter to New York’s north country and to its
people, and to know that New York’s children have
embraced the book so passionately means the world to
When I was a child growing up here, I
loved books and I wrote stories and poems, but I never
really saw myself becoming a writer. That was for other
people. Better people. Smarter people. More exciting
people. At least, that’s what I thought until another
New York writer showed me I was wrong.
I spent part of my childhood in Port
Leyden, a very small town at the western edge of the
Adirondack mountains. And while I lived there, I heard
about Walter Edmonds, a writer who lived one town over
in Boonville. I remember being very puzzled by that.
After all, writers came from New York City, or London,
or Paris – didn’t they? What on earth was one of them
doing in Boonville?
And then I started reading Edmonds, and I met characters like Tom Dolan from Bert Breen’s Barn, and Lana and Gil from Drums
Along the Mohawk, and I realized that books could be
about people from places like Remsen and Utica. And
writers could be from places like Boonville. Maybe even
from Port Leyden.
In A Northern Light, Mattie, the
main character, a teenaged girl who lives in Eagle Bay,
is frustrated by always having to read books set
somewhere else. “Why is it always other places and other
lives that mattered?” she wonders.
Reading Edmonds showed me that the
local and the personal are universal. He told me that
books are for us, but also about us. He taught me that
the place where we live matters. And that the lives we
live matter. Even my place. Even my life.
Books show kids – all kids – that they matter. They tell kids that their hopes and
dreams have merit, that their lives have meaning. And
when kids believe that they matter – there is no stopping them.
No stopping them from reading. And
writing. From painting. And singing. From making books
and movies, buildings and bridges and gardens. From
leading and inventing and discovering. From reaching
higher than they ever thought they could. From dreaming.
And working to make those dreams come true.
I want to thank you, all of you, all
the librarians and educators and volunteers, all of the
parents and caregivers who participated in the program,
and of course the Charlotte Committee members, for
making the Charlotte program such a success. You’ve
worked so hard to encourage our children to get involved
with books. You’ve encouraged them to read, and then to
think and to talk about what they’ve read. You’ve gotten
14,000 kids – 14,000 of them! – to vote for their
favorite books. The Charlotte program is growing and
succeeding brilliantly and it’s because of you.
But most of all, I want to thank the
children, all 14,000 of them, who read the Charlotte
books and voted for their favorites.
I know that sometimes children feel
that they don’t have much power, much say in things. But
you kids have shown the world otherwise. You’ve done an
amazing thing. With your passion for books, your voices,
and your votes, you’ve sent a message that reading
It’s hard to believe that message
sometimes. With all the noise in our lives, it’s
sometimes hard to even hear it. But nonetheless, that
message is true – reading does matter. The
seemingly small, simple act of picking up a book and
reading it is neither small nor simple. It’s huge. It’s
astonishing and incendiary, even revolutionary. It’s an
act that blazes with meaning and hope.
Read and you exercise your most
precious freedoms – the freedom to feel and think as you
please, to learn and grow, to question, debate and
protest. Read and you honor all children in the world
today who do not have these same freedoms. Read and you
defy ignorance, repression, despair, and violence.
Books can work magic. They can change
lives. They can make us think and feel when so much of
the world conspires to numb our minds and emotions.
Books can break boundaries – the ones inside of us and
the ones outside of us. They can bring us closer to our
fellow human beings – whether they reside here in New
York State or half way around the world.
Thank you guys for reading. Thank you
for caring about books. And thank you for this