I'm delighted to share Kena Sosa's story of receiving the coveted Children's Literary Classics Silver Seal honor. She traveled to South Dakota to participate in the Great American Book Festival and to be honored at the awards gala. Here is Kena's story in her words:
Never in my career as an author did I imagine following an enthusiastic live reader of a picture book about circuses with a chapter from my own book about a child escaping Nazis. Yet, at this year’s Great American Book Festival, I stood on a stage to do just that. It was one of just many unexpected twists and turns of life. I just had to smile, because books can do that. The readers take the audience from one world to the next just by turning the page.
I write because it is as natural as birth after a long gestation of ideas; anything else that comes along is a welcome bonus. A few months ago, I received the surprise of a lifetime to hear that my book, Kindertransport - a child’s journey was a finalist to receive an award. My attention span flickers constantly from working with young children for so long. Writing a chapter book was a challenge for me in that way. So to hear the book be so well-received was just the boost I needed. In my heart, there was only one option: I had to go in person to receive the award, the only way I could believe it. So, this year I attended GABFest in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Literary Classics Awards as a writer and as an award-winning author.
Winning for Kindertransport - a child’s journey is extremely special for so many reasons. The book was made possible by the Billie J. Levy Research and Travel Grant that I was awarded a few years ago, which allowed me to travel to Hartford, Connecticut to research the topic more in depth at the Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. There I was put in contact with three Kindertransportees, who by phone were gracious enough to share their personal experiences with me. We recorded the interviews to use as oral histories for others to learn from at the university. To my surprise and elation, one of the interviewees, Mrs. Eva Greenwood, came to my grant committee presentation at the end of my stay. Happy tears are not enough to express how grateful I am for the series of events and incredible people that set this story in motion.
Arriving in South Dakota, I was mentally ready to make the best of the entire agenda. I caught a terrible cold so my voice wasn’t honey on the ears, but I shared my tips and advice at the Authors Round Table on the 10th as best I could. The best thing for me about attending events like these isn’t showing off, but learning from my fellow authors and members of the publishing industry. I scribbled just as much in my notebook as anyone else about new ways to get publicity and various perspectives about agents, pitching, marketing, and apps. We all have room to grow.
Saturday the 11th was designated for us to meet voracious readers at the festival downtown and hopefully sell out our stock of award-winning books. The weather didn’t cooperate, but, boy, did it make for some excitement. And, I got to keep my vinyl banner with my name and award-winning status. I sold some books between spurts of rain, and that’s nothing to shrug off.
Although pushed back due to weather, I did have the privilege of doing my reading from Kindertransport - a child’s journey. I started off with my dedication to the three Kindertransportees I interviewed in order to research and create this book. If they hadn't shared their stories, writing this one wouldn’t have been possible. I followed by reading Chapter 3, depicting Helen’s packing and boarding the train, questioning herself and her parents’ decision to send her away. It had been a while since I read the words aloud myself. The moment took me right back to my time in Connecticut, conducting the interviews and hearing the details of their experiences for the first time ever. It is beyond touching that they shared with me and how honored I am to share pieces of their stories tied together as Helen’s.
The time at the festival included absolutely awe-inspiring sights nearby including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Badlands, and for those willing to cross into Wyoming about an hour away, one could see the infamous Devil’s Tower monument.
Sunday, we had the day to ourselves to get ready for the gala at night. Sunday night would make the award official.
We filled ourselves to the brims with hors d’oeuvres like beef wellington and Greek cucumbers, splashed with a glass of wine, as the excitement built around the official red carpet inside the Dahl Arts Center. As our names were called in front of loved ones, we walked the stage as happy graduates of successful books. Receiving our medals one by one and posing for photos, we heard the applause that many of us dream. Medals clanked as we walked back to our seats, inspiring giddiness and giggles in the audience.
At the finale we took a group photo, all dressed up in our finest and wearing our medals, blazing grins of accomplishment. Just like the rain and hail that danced with our booths on Saturday, the whirlwind weekend was suddenly over.
Driving back to Texas, the emotion was overwhelming. I can only hope now that I can return one day to relive it again.