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William Allen White Children’s Book Winners Announced

Two book covers side by side

The two books selected by Kansas schoolchildren for the 2023 William Allen White Children’s Book Awards center around the journeys of children with eccentric fathers. While one journey is supernatural, and the other is of survival, in both “Scritch Scratch” by Lindsay Currie, and “96 Miles” by J.L. Esplin, it is discovered that the fathers’ eccentricities weren’t unwarranted.

The Grade 3-5 selection, “Scritch Scratch” is described by R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps and Fear Street series in this way: “This is a teeth-chattering, eyes bulging, shuddering-and-shaking, chills-at-the-back-of-your-neck ghost story. I loved it!”

“Scritch Scratch” is a chilling ghost story based on real Chicago history about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.

Lindsay Currie is an author of spooky middle grade novels. While she’s never experienced anything truly paranormal, Currie enjoys researching her city’s forgotten history and learning about the events that shaped the many ghost legends in Chicago.

When she’s not reading or writing a mystery novel of her own, Currie can generally be found taking long walks with her family, chilling with one of her dogs or searching the graveyard for her next antagonist.

In “96 Miles,” the Lockwood brothers are supposed to be able to survive anything. Their dad, a hardcore believer in self-reliance, has stockpiled enough food and water to last for months at their isolated Nevada home. When they are robbed of all their supplies during a massive blackout while their dad is out of town, John and Stew must walk 96 miles in the stark desert sun to get help. Along the way, they’re forced to question their dad’s insistence on self-reliance and ask just what it is that we owe to our neighbors, to our kin and to ourselves.

“Fast-paced, believable, funny, and poignant. ‘96 Miles’ is a great read from the first sentence to the surprising and satisfying ending. I give Esplin’s debut novel 100%. Don’t miss it!” is the review that Roland Smith, New York Times bestselling author of “Peak,” gave Esplin’s novel.

Much of “96 Miles” is inspired by Esplin’s childhood. Growing up in a family of six children, her dad, a U.S. Secret Service agent, was passionate about emergency preparedness. They had food and water storage that took up half of the garage and emergency backpacks with survival gear in the hall closet. He gave her and her siblings a survival tip that she never forgot: If you’re ever in a desperate situation, it’s OK to drink toilet water, you just have to boil it first. While contemplating scenarios in which she may be faced with having to drink toilet water, Esplin sat down and wrote the first sentence of “96 Miles.”

Esplin lives in Las Vegas with her husband and children. She enjoys teaching guitar the fun way, traveling new places and coming back home to the desert.

The William Allen White Children’s Book Award program began after the famed journalist’s death on Jan. 29, 1944 — Kansas Day — when two memorial foundations were created in his name. Emporia State University launched the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, which was guided by Ruth Garver Gagliardo, who was hired by White to write for The Emporia Gazette.

Passionate about books, Gagliardo wrote a regular column that commented on books, music and art, and often concentrated on books for children. She was one of the first to review children’s books for a newspaper, which gave parents, teachers and librarians the chance to know about quality books for children.

Galiardo’s column led to “The Children’s Bookshelf,” a book review column in the Kansas Teacher magazine. She also started the Children’s Traveling Book Exhibit, which helped introduce children all over Kansas to good books for 23 years.

The 71st annual celebration of the WAW Children’s Book Awards program, directed by Emporia State University and supported in part by the Trusler Foundation, will be Oct. 7. During that day, schoolchildren from across the state of Kansas travel to Emporia for special events including author readings and book signings. Many teachers use travel to the book awards as incentives in their school reading programs. Registration is free.

Student representatives present the winning authors with their White Award medals during the award ceremony that concludes the special day.

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