Dorothy's List: Alan Gratz Wins Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award For Second Straight Year

Jun 4, 2019

Each spring, upper elementary students schools in the Mt. Abraham Unified School District travel to the middle and high school library for a Jeopardy!-style trivia competition about the books nominated for Vermont's Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award.

But before the gathered students from the five different elementary schools got to play the game, there was an announcement to be made: the 2019 winner. 

"This year, for the second year in a row, Alan Gratz has won, with his book Refugee," Beeman Elementary School librarian Susie Snow announced, as the room broke into applause.

The annual award is voted on by Vermont fourth- through eighth-graders (and actually next year, the Vermont Department of Libraries plans to ask students to weigh in on a new name for the award).

A sign in the Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School library lays out the schedule in one of the locations where teams faced off to answer trivia questions about books nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award on May 14.
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

As Snow mentioned, Gratz also won last year’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award for his historical novel Projekt 1065.

In addition to being the reigning champion, Gratz actually had two novels on this year's list of 30 nominees: the winning Refugee, and also Ban This Book

As Lincoln Community School sixth-grader Greyson Dennison points out, having two titles on the list increased Gratz’s odds of winning — but the odds have nothing to do with why Refugee was Greyson’s favorite book on the list. Greyson said it's one of his favorite books he's ever read, period.

Greyson Dennison: "I loved the suspense. ... I stayed up to 3 a.m. reading it."

Refugee weaves together three story lines of different families escaping dangers in their homelands. The stories take place in different time periods and different parts of the world.

Dorothy's List interviewed author Alan Gratz for an episode about Refugee earlier this season. Here’s what the author had to say about the message behind the novel:

Alan Gratz: "The real lesson, I hope, of the book is that we’ve been doing the same thing — making the same mistakes — generation after generation. And that if we don’t do something now to change that, tomorrow’s gonna be the same for the next group of refugees, wherever they’re from and whatever they’re suffering from and wherever they’re trying to get to."

Author Alan Gratz at Blue Ridge Public Radio, in western North Carolina. Gratz answered questions earlier this year from 'Dorothy's List' readers at Kellogg-Hubbard Library, in Montpelier.
Credit Courtesy

Refugee’s chapters rotate through the three storylines — so when one chapter ends, that thread won’t be picked back up for a few more chapters. As Greyson points out, there are a lot of cliffhangers.

Greyson Dennison: "Every single chapter would end at a climax, and you’d just be like, ‘Oh, what happened in the last one?’ And then you realize ‘Oh, now I get to go to this next story that is absolutely amazing.’ And then when that one’s done, it also ends at a different climax."

More from Dorothy's List: 3 Kids From Different Eras Flee From Their Home Countries In 'Refugee' [January 2019]

Beeman Elementary School fifth-graders Maxwell Goodfellow and Maris LaPerle also expected Refugee to win the statewide vote; they said it won in their school’s tally.

But they each had other favorites: Max’s favorite book on the list was Kevin Emerson’s Last Day on Mars, while Maris favored Kimberly Willis Holt’s Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel.

Maris LaPerle, left, holds 'Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel,' her favorite nominated book from this year's list. Maxwell Goodfellow, right, was a fan of 'Last Day on Mars' (but the book is not pictured as it seemed to be checked out at the library on this day!).
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

Although Max preferred the science fiction offering on this year’s book list, he said he really liked Refugee too.

Maxwell Goodfellow: “Alan Gratz is a great author and his books are all really well written."

Maris said her favorite storyline in Refugee is about a girl named Isabel who escapes Cuba in 1994.

Maris LaPerle: “Because you really wanted to, like, find out what happened to like the boat and stuff because the boat was sinking. And I just liked where it took place."

Beeman Elementary School librarian Susie Snow shows students the answer to a question in their tournament about Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award nominees. Snow had announced the winner to the students gathered at Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School earlier that morning.
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

Maris, Max and Greyson, along with their classmates, put their knowledge of the books to good use at the Mt. Abe trivia competition last month.

They broke into teams named after Vermont counties, which mixed up the students from the different schools in attendance.

The teams then set out to answer questions in categories like "Unusual Names," "Goals," "Jobs" and "Name The Author."

In that last category, the 500-point question asked which author had two nominated books on the list this year — and the students were ready to answer "Alan Gratz," the chosen winner yet again.

Want to catch up on more Dorothy's List? Find episodes from this past season — and prior seasons — here.