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Utahn relishing Newbery Award

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Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has saved every one of her crushing rejection letters, so winning the most prestigious prize in children's literature — the coveted Newbery Honor Award — is sweet indeed.

"I could tell it was the real person calling," Hale said, recalling the day she was notified of the award. "But I was shaking so much I could barely hold the phone. I started to cry. Dean, my husband, wondered who was so rude to call his wife and make her cry."

The formal presentation will take place in New Orleans in June. "I'm going to buy a formal dress that you don't get to wear in Utah. There will be dinners, luncheons and book signings. It's a strange sort of thing — the wine-and-dine treatment. It's such a change.

"As a writer, I work alone. I sit in a chair in the hall and write while my child naps. The actual work of a writer is very solitary and frustrating. So to step up suddenly for the red-carpet treatment is amazing. I'm so excited!"

Hale, the 32-year-old mother of 2-year-old Max, has written three children's books in the past three years: "The Goose Girl," "Enna Burning" and "Princess Academy."

The Newbery Honor Book is her third, "Princess Academy." And a fourth book, "River Secrets" will appear in September, all published by Bloomsbury Press in New York City.

The University of Utah graduate's favorite fairy tale was "The Goose Girl" by the Brothers Grimm. The original tale is very short, but she expanded it into a lively first book. "I like the excitement, the page-turning feel of fantasy." But she never dreamed that very soon she would be a prize-winning writer.

Publicity and recognition are new to Hale. She is going on a major book tour during late February and March. "When I went on a pre-publicity tour for 'Princess Academy,' no one knew who I was. There will be more foreign sales and a film option.

"We live in a condo now, and we're building a house in Daybreak. Frankly, it will be a relief that we can afford it now! But I don't expect it to change much in my life. To people outside the book world, it won't mean much. When I was walking around in a daze after the phone call, I realized no one would come and mop my floor for me!"

Hale said she just plans to focus on her writing. "You just have to keep working on the next book. I'm so blessed to be able to keep writing books. It's a complete miracle! I was the worst writer in the graduate-school program at the University of Montana! Don't listen to people who say you won't make it!"

According to Barbara Barstow, chairwoman of the Newbery Selection Committee, Hale is "a remarkably talented woman with the uncanny ability to create a world that seems realistic enough to exist someplace on this Earth. Her characters are fully realized, her settings believable, and her story one that will captivate readers and surprise those expecting — from the title — a fluff piece."

"Shannon is as nice as her books are good," said Julie Bartel, a librarian at the Salt Lake City Main Library. "She is so personable! And her books appeal to both the teacher/librarian/critic, as well as to young people. She uses language in such an amazing way. Her books are page-turners. She is no one-hit wonder. She has both literary merit and readability."

Bartel is coordinator of the Library's Young Adult Galley Project, in which a group of Salt Lake teens are selected to read advance copies of children's books sent by publishers. Currently, the group has 40 students and is one of 15 libraries in the United States participating in the program.

The students range from 13-18 and come from various Salt Lake schools. Because they like Shannon Hale's books so much, they are the only group in the country that will receive advance copies of her new book, "River Secrets."

Bartell shared several of the teens' comments from the project's Web site:

"Shannon Hale is an inspiring writer. I find her approach to magic is unique among fantasy novels. Her characters are well-developed and I feel as if they could walk off the page and talk to me, and I would love to meet them. I love all her books." — Whitney Wallace, age 17

"Shannon Hale is my favorite author in the entire world!! She ROCKS! I met her last year and got two of her books signed. She is totally amazing!" — Coco

"I LOVE Shannon Hale! She's one of my favorite authors!!!! I LOVE "The Goose Girl!!!" —Sarah

"All hail Shannon Hale!" —Elizabeth

"I LOVED 'Princess Academy'! It was AMAZING!!! Shannon Hale ROCKS MY SOCKS!" —Katie

If you go . . .

What: Reading, Shannon Hale

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

How much: Free

Phone: 484-9100

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com