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'Criss Cross' Nets Newbery Medal for Perkins

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'Criss Cross' Nets Newbery Medal for Perkins


'Criss Cross' Nets Newbery Medal for Perkins

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A coming of age novel about a group of friends is this year's winner of the John Newbery Medal, awarded to outstanding writing in children's literature. Criss Cross tells the story of fourteen-year-old Debbie as she wishes something would happen to make her life different. Lynne Rae Perkins wrote Criss Cross. She joins us now on the line from New York City. Congratulations.

Ms. LYNNE RAE PERKINS (Author): Thank you.

CONAN: When did you hear? And how did you hear that you'd won the prestigious Newbery medal?

Ms. PERKINS: I heard Monday morning at about 7:23. My kids were eating breakfast, getting ready to go to school, and the phone rang.

CONAN: And who was calling?

Ms. PERKINS: It was Barbara Barstow of the American Library Association, and about fifteen people in a room on a speakerphone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I wonder did you know that you were on the short list, that you were up for the award?

Ms. PERKINS: I only knew that a couple of days ahead of time.

CONAN: And were you nervous?

Ms. PERKINS: Well, I was trying really hard not to think about. We're building a house with some old materials, and I spent a lot of time scraping paint.

CONAN: To take your mind even off the possibility.

Ms. PERKINS: Right.

CONAN: Because this is a big deal.

Ms. PERKINS: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about this book. Teenagers as they try to find their way in the world, a classic theme.

Ms. PERKINS: Right. Well, one of the things, I think, is important to me about it is it begins with the quote from Midsummer's Night Dreams, which is: "What thou seeist when thou does wake, do it for thy true love take," and I think that fourteen is a time or around there where kids are waking up to a new kind of, you know, adult way of thinking, and whatever they encounter when that happens, they're really taken by it. And it might be a girl or a boy, or it might be a guitar, or it might be a motorcycle, and they think that that thing or person is really important, but the really important thing is what's happening to them.

CONAN: The initial quote there from Shakespeare, but I understand the title Criss Cross has something to do with radio.

Ms. PERKINS: Oh, well, there's a radio, no, the Criss Cross part doesn't.

CONAN: Oh, all right. Then I was misinformed.

Ms. PERKINS: There's a radio show in the book that the kids listen to on Saturday nights and the Criss Cross has to do with how we so often miss connecting with people. We look at them, and they look at us, but our looks miss by about half a second, and we miss the connection, and sometimes we do connect.

CONAN: And this is not just a book of prose. There are poems, haiku drawings, question and answer formats.

Ms. PERKINS: Right. And photographs. I got to build models. I got to write songs. I had a lot of fun writing this book.

CONAN: Why did you decide to involve all those other media?

Ms. PERKINS: You know, I think it was a question of once I did one thing, I thought, well, boy, I could just do anything I want, and then nobody told me I couldn't, so I kept going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: As you look ahead, I mean, are you working on another book?

Ms. PERKINS: Right now I'm working on a picture book, which would be for younger readers, and I do plan to write another novel, but I have to do this picture book first.

CONAN: And what about your kids? How did they respond to the news that you'd won the Newbery Medal?

Ms. PERKINS: They're very happy. They danced around the living room.

CONAN: How old are they?

Ms. PERKINS: My son is 12, and my daughter is 14.

CONAN: And do you derive inspiration for your books by observing something about their lives as well as remembering your own?

Ms. PERKINS: Sometimes. The picture book that I'm working on is about an experience we had as a family, but I think a lot of their adolescent experiences might be too fresh. It's easier for me to look to the distant past of my own adolescents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PERKINS: And have some perspective on it.

CONAN: Maybe some perspective on it. It's a little difficult sometimes to work that out as well.

Ms. PERKINS: Right.

CONAN: And speak to us for a moment. There is a business aspect to this. You put Newbery Medal Winner on a big stamp on the front of the book, sales pickup.

Ms. PERKINS: I'm going to get a new watch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: A new watch. Is that all?

Ms. PERKINS: That's the first thing I'm going to get, I think.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much and congratulations again. This is a great honor, and I know you've been working at it a long time. Good luck.

Ms. PERKINS: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Lynne Rae Perkins is the 2006 John Newbery Medal winner for outstanding children's literature. The name of her book is Criss Cross. If you'd like to read an excerpt of Criss Cross, just go to our website,

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