An Open Book

Phillip Hoose visits the Washington Middle School for Girls thanks to An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation

Recently I visited the Washington Middle School for Girls, in Washington DC. The appearance was arranged through An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization formed “to improve literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving schools and students books and access to authors and illustrators.”  I was the author to whom the students had access on that day.

Phillip Hoose visits the Washington Middle School for Girls thanks to An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation

I presented slides from my book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice to eighty or so middle-school-age girls.  After my presentation, we had a long and vigorous back-and-forth which felt more like a conversation than a question-and-answer session. We talked about Ms. Colvin’s courage, the danger she accepted by putting her name on a lawsuit challenging Jim Crow, how I located her, why she decided to work with me, Dr. King, teen pregnancy, her children and grandchildren, the tactical decision to challenge segregated bus seating in federal court, how the Montgomery Bus Boycott worked, what the life of a writer is like, my family, Maine, and many, many other topics.  It was a rich, deeply satisfying opportunity for me.

Phillip Hoose visits the Washington Middle School for Girls thanks to An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation

The Open Book Foundation indeed gave a copy of Claudette Clovin: Twice Toward Justice to each and every student. The students came in to meet me class-by-class, lining up to get their books signed. While there was an Amy, a Christina and two Londons, most of the names were unfamiliar to me and difficult for me to spell. “What’s your name?” I would say. “Lakeisha,” would be the reply. And I would try to spell it. I got better, but didn’t come close to getting half right. More and more I would hear girls whispering to each other in the back of the line, “He’s never gonna get YOUR name.”

Phillip Hoose visits the Washington Middle School for Girls thanks to An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation

One girl gave me a poem. It’s beautiful and emphatic and hopeful. I will seek her permission to share it with you.  It was just one of those days when I had to kind of pinch myself to be so lucky. To share an afternoon with the wonderful young women of the Washington Middle School for Girls, talking about things that matter…it just can’t get any better than that. –Phillip Hoose

Phillip Hoose Given Katahdin Award for Lifetime Achievment

Phillip Hoose receiving the Katahdin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Maine Library Association at Reading Roundup.

With the announcement today of the Katahdin Award by the Maine Library Association, Phillip Hoose becomes one of the most honored writers in Maine’s history.  In its announcement of The Katahdin Award, designed to honor an author’s body of work of outstanding merit, the Maine Library Association acknowledged that Phillip Hoose’s books for children, young adults, and adults have “brought the under noticed and overlooked to stunning clarity and inclusion with the power of his storytelling.”

Hoose became known nationally when his book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, won a National Book Award in 2010.  Read by both children and adults, the book was the most honored title for young people that year, also bringing home one of the most coveted of prizes in children’s literature, the Newbery Honor.  The book presented the pioneering courage of a teenage girl in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, bringing nuance and context to accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Hoose first discovered Colvin’s story while researching the 66 profiles which became the National Book Award-nominated book, We Were There Too!: Young People in U.S. History.  Hoose began the six-year research and writing project after being told by a middle school student that not seeing anyone her age in her history books made her “feel invisible.”  Hoose’s book restores youth to the national story.  Studs Terkel called it, “maybe the most exhilarating and revelatory history of our country.”

Social activism has been at the heart of Hoose’s work.  His first book for young adults, “It’s Our World, Too!” Young People Who Are Making A Difference, is a gallery of young people who created positive social change at all scales.  It won the 1993 Christopher Award for “artistic excellence…affirming the highest values of the human spirit.”

Phillip Hoose with Lupine winners Melissa Sweet and Jennifer Jacobson at Reading Roundup.

Hoose’s dedication to telling the tales of the “under noticed and overlooked” began by giving voice to one of the smallest of creatures, the ant.  Twenty years ago, Hoose teamed with his then 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, to compose a conversation in song between an ant and a child “with a raised-up shoe” about to casually squish it.  The song, “Hey, Little Ant,” became a picture book in 1996 and since has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into 10 languages.  The book’s conclusion, “What do you think that kid should do?” has spawned thousands of classroom discussions and essays and artwork by children.  Teaching Tolerance Magazine called the book, “A masterpiece for classroom guidance…a terrific tool for fostering tolerance and respect for diversity in children of all ages.”

Dr. Marc Aronson of Rutgers University, also an award-winning author of non-fiction books for young people, observes that Hoose has been, “driven by his passion for nature or for history—to find truths we need to know, cloak them in vivid words and compelling pictures, and to share them with young readers.”

Hoose’s literary consideration for the perspectives of non-human species has been deeply influenced by his work with the Nature Conservancy, on whose staff he has served since 1977. In 2004, Hoose grippingly recounted the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s slide toward extinction in his Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winning title, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird.  Said the Washington Post Book World, “There is probably more passion, sadness, villainy, heroism and sheer suspense in this account of the decline of the ivory-billed woodpecker than in any other book, of any genre, destined for young readers’ shelves this year…a magnificent book, and not just for kids.”

Seeking to draw attention to a bird that could still be saved, Hoose will release Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 this summer.  It is the true story of a particular bionic-seeming shorebird, first banded in 1995, that has migrated from the bottom to the top of the earth and back about forty times.  Identified by the inscription B95 on his left upper leg, this amazing animal racked up a total mileage exceeding that between the earth and the moon—and at a time when his subspecies is rapidly losing ground.
“I always know that a book by Phil Hoose will take a complex subject and make it understandable, while maintaining a sense of awe and wonder,” says David Allen Sibley, author of the bestselling Sibley Guide to Birds.

Katahdin Award Winner, Phillip Hoose (center) with Lupine Award Winners (left to right) Lynn Plourde, Ben Bishop, Melissa Sweet, Barbara Walsh, and Jennifer Jacobson at Reading Roundup.

Phillip Hoose’s reading audience has always extended beyond young people.  Many booksellers have sold The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and his biography, Perfect, Once Removed—about his connection to his baseball-hero cousin Don Larsen—to both children and adult readers.  Hoose also has two successful adult titles: Necessities: Racial Barriers in American Sports, hailed by USA Today as, “The essential primer in any serious discussion about racism in sports,” and Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana, hailed by Sports Illustrated’s Alex Wolff as, “the one book about high school basketball in Indiana that has lasted and will last, with good reason.”

“As soon as a new Phil Hoose book is published, my house erupts in a nerdy clandestine battle of who-will-read-it-first,” say Chris Bowe, owner of Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, “At my bookstore, I know a new Hoose book will mean well fed booksellers and well read customers.”

From the smallest of creatures, ants and shorebirds, to the under noticed yet crucial acts by young people throughout history like Claudette Colvin, Phillip Hoose has brought Maine readers and readers across the globe a lifetime of stories of perseverance, justice, and courage.

(Thank you to children’s author Lynn Plourde for the photos!)

Robert H. Jackson Center

Our many thanks to the righteous folks at The Robert H. Jackson Center for keeping the honorable Supreme Justice’s civil rights legacy alive.  The center honored Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice with  state-wide book donations to schools in New York and an essay contest.  Phil was happy to be on hand to congratulate the essay winners and talk with hundreds of students live in Jamestown, NY and statewide via broadcast.

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