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Annual Book Awards Celebration Will Be Virtual

Book covers, "Events in the Life of a Cactus" and "Restart"

The William Allen White Children’s Book Awards will move to a virtual space for the 2020 celebration on Oct. 2.

“We truly want to make this year’s celebration an inclusive event for as many schools as possible across the state,” said Michelle Hammond, dean of ESU University Libraries and Archives, which organizes the WAW Children’s Book Awards.

The 2020 winners of the awards are two authors whose books speak to personal identity. Kansas schoolchildren in Grades 3 through 5 selected “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” by Dusti Bowling, while students in Grades 6 through 8 selected “Restart” by Gordon Korman.

“Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” tell the story of Aven Green, a girl who was born without arms and is tired of answering questions about them. When her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown Western theme park in Arizona, Aven knows she will face more questions in her new home.

Aven’s new adventure includes making friends with Connor, a classmate with his own disability, and together solving the mystery of a special room at Stagecoach Pass.

“Restart” is the story of Chase, a school bully who gets a do-over thanks to falling off the roof of his house. Because of amnesia, he doesn’t remember more than his name. When he returns to school, he doesn’t understand why the kids he wants to hang out with are scared of him.

Chase has to face not the question of who he is, but who he was — and who he wants to be now.

The first weekend in October is the traditional date to celebrate these awards. The event brings buses of schoolchildren from across the state, with those traveling the furthest arriving on Friday and spending the night.

For the 68th annual celebration, the COVID-19 pandemic with its limits on large gatherings and requirements for social distancing has provided an opportunity, Hammond said.

“This online environment could potentially provide us with a much greater reach,” she said.

The William Allen White Children’s Book Award program began April 22, 1952, eight years after the famed journalist’s death on Jan. 29, 1944 — Kansas Day. 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 insights to quality books for children.

Gagliardo’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.

Additional resources:

Publishers — “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” is published by Sterling Publishing: “Restart” is published by Scholastic Publishing:

Authors — Dusti Bowling is online at Gordon Korman is online at