Grades 3-5: Loser, Jerry Spinelli, Joanna Cotler Books

Grades 6-8: Surviving the Applewhites, Stephanie S. Tolan, Harper Collins

Press Release


Books by Spinelli, Tolan selected as 2005 White Book Award Winners

EMPORIA, Kansas – A story about a budding juvenile delinquent who is sent for home schooling at an eccentric family's house and a story about the childhood of a young man from the first through sixth grades have been selected as the 53rd annual William Allen White Children’s Book Award Winners.

Loser by Jerry Spinelli is the 2005 White Award winner in the third to fifth grade category and Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolen is the winner of the sixth to eighth grade 2005 White Award, according to Joyce Davis, dean of the University Libraries and Archives at Emporia State University and Executive Director of the White Awards Program.

The White Awards Program, which is the nation’s first statewide reader’s choice award, is directed by Emporia State University and is supported by the Trusler Foundation.

More than 57,000 Kansas boys and girls in the third through eighth grades participated in the voting for this year’s awards. The boys and girls voted for their favorite book from master lists chosen by the White Awards Book Selection Committee, which is made up of representatives of educational institutions in Kansas, Kansas educational and professional organizations concerned with children, classroom teachers, and school or public librarians working with children.

Spinelli’s Loser, winner of the third through fifth grade award, is the story of Donald Zinkoff, a young character who demonstrates great self-acceptance and who is not afraid to fail. With the encouragement of his family, he learns to approach life with a positive spirit and to enjoy all that it has to offer. Donald faces the familiar challenges of elementary-aged children—disagreeable teachers, peer pressure, social conformity, and competition. By maintaining a strong sense of self through his experiences, Donald Zinkoff teaches us all about important and unforgettable lessons of self esteem and happiness.

Jerry Spinelli is the author of Maniac Magee, winner of the 1991 Newbery Medal and 1993 White Award winner, and Wringer, named a Newbery Honor Book in 1998. He went to Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He and his wife, Eileen, also a writer of children’s books, have seven children. Jerry Spinelli’s books are funny and true to life. Whenever students ask him where he gets his ideas, he replies, “From you. You’re the funny ones.” Spinelli enjoys writing about the adventure in the typical experiences of children and young people.

Tolan’s Surviving the Applewhites, winner of the sixth through eighth grade award, is the story of Jake Semple, a budding juvenile delinquent, who is sent for home schooling to the arty and eccentric Applewhite family's Creative Academy. Jake Semple is a scary kid. Word has it that he burned down his old school and then was kicked out of every other school in his home state. Only weeks into September, the middle school in Traybridge, North Carolina, has thrown him out, too. Now there's only one place left that will take him -- a home school run by the most outrageous, forgetful, chaotic, quarrelsome family you'll ever meet. Each and every Applewhite is an artist through and through -- except E.D., the smart, scruffy girl with a deep longing for order and predictability. E.D. and Jake, so nearly the same age, are quickly paired in the family's first experiment in "cooperative education." The two clash immediately, of course. The only thing they have in common is the determination to survive the family's eccentricities. In this hilarious tale, a local production of The Sound of Music directed, stagecrafted, choreographed, and costumed by Applewhites -- brings the family together and shows E.D. and Jake the value of the special gifts they've had all along.

Stephanie S. Tolan is familiar with the artistic temperament. Not only is she herself an artist, the author of many exciting books for young readers, but she is also related to two theatrical directors--her husband, Robert, and their son, R.J. Her books range from first-rate ghost stories, such as Who's There? and The Face in the Mirror, to riotously funny novels like Surviving the Applewhites. Her most recent book, Flight of the Raven, continues the story of Elijah, one of the Ark kids from Welcome to the Ark. School Library Journal calls it a "confrontational and thought-provoking read deserving much discussion." She also writes about a fundamentalist family in Save Halloween! and Ordinary Miracles, the latter of which was the only novel chosen for ALA Booklist's Top 10 Religious Books for Youth. Stephanie S. Tolan lives with her husband in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Since 1952, more than 2,800,000 votes have been cast by the children of Kansas to select the annual winners of the White Book Awards. The White Award Program was founded by Ruth Carver Gagliardo, a specialist in Children’s Literature, to honor the memory of one of the state’s most distinguished citizens by encouraging the boys and girls of Kansas to read and enjoy good books. Gagaliardo’s dedicated and inspired leadership guided the White Award Program from 1952 until her death on January 5, 1980.


Loser. Spinelli, Jerry; Harper Collins, 2002.
Grade level: 4-6
ISNB & Cost: 0060004835 $15.99

Beginning in first grade, Daniel Zinkoff's offbeat, zany behavior causes classmates to consider him strange and eventually they label him a loser. However, with the support of a loving family along with his optimism and exuberance he does not allow himself to believe what others think of him.

General Review: 
Loser is written by Newbery Medal Award winning author, Jerry Spinelli, whose main character, Daniel Zinkoff, is not like other kids. Loser is a touching book about the human spirit, the importance of failure, and how any name can be replaced with "hero."

Themes: Misfits, Bullying, School

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What are some of Daniel’s personality traits that set his behavior apart from other students his age?
2. How does Daniel’s personality and behaviors make him a target for teasing at school?
3. How does Daniel react when other students tease him and call him names? Do you think his reactions help him or hurt him? Why?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Select an event from the book and retell it from Daniel’s point of view (first person). How does changing the perception to first person change the story? Standard 5, Benchmark 1.
2. Fold a sheet of paper in two and Illustrate two events from the story in which Daniel demonstrated compassion for others. Standard 3, Benchmark 1.
3. Pretend that Daniel is your friend; write him a letter giving advice on how to handle being teased. Standard 3, Benchmark 1.
4. Other books to read about misfits: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Standard 5, Benchmark 1.


Surviving the Applewhites

Surviving the Applewhites
Stephanie S. Tolan
HarperCollins, 2002.
Grade Level: 6th – 8th 
ISBN 0-06-623602-9 
Awards: Newbery Honor Book 2003

Thirteen-year-old Jake Semple’s parents are in jail and he has been expelled from one school after another. The eccentric Applewhite family agrees to let him live with them and attend their Creative Academy, a totally unstructured home school. Twelve-year-old E.D. is the only non-artistic member of the outrageous Applewhite clan, and the lone member of her family with organizational skills. She and Jake both discover their special gifts when they are drawn into the family’s off-the-wall production of The Sound of Music. 

General Review: 
The offbeat humor and outrageous characters will appeal to middle school readers. Told from the alternating perspectives of the two main characters, the story makes a terrific read-aloud for two voices.

Themes: Creativity, Eccentrics, Theater, Family Life, North Carolina, Home Schools

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

1. This story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of the two main characters, E.D. Applewhite and Jake Semple. Discuss how different backgrounds and life experiences can influence an individual’s point of view.
2. Jake learned the power of words at an early age, and knew how to use them to affect people adversely. Create a list of words that he might use to attain a favorable response instead.
3. Jake used his hair to make a statement and force people to notice him. In what way do you assert your individuality?


1. Working in groups of two or three, assign each student a character in a short pre-written scenario, then have them write a response to the situation presented in the scenario from the point of view of their assigned character. Standard 2, Benchmark 2 
2. E.D. and Jake were not the only characters in the story to exhibit new talents. Govindaswami abandoned his fast and introduced the Applewhites to Indian cuisine. Do some research and discover what curries, yogurt, chutneys, and flatbreads are and how they are made. Standard 1, Benchmark 1 
3. Emulate E.D.’s Butterfly Project with butterflies that are local to your area. Standard 3, Benchmark 1