Once Upon A Kite: The Crystal Kite Award

On Friday noonish I was sitting on the dock at Gooseberry Point waiting for the ferry to arrive and transport us to Lummi Island. I was listening to our new rescue cat, Marley softly meowing her discontent at being stuffed in a cat carrier for the two hour drive, and I was scrolling through email. When I saw an email from "Lin" with a subject that said "Hooray- Great news!" I squealed with delight as I opened it and read the first line, "Congratulations! Your book ONCE UPON A MEMORY has been awarded the Crystal Kite from your SCBWI region."

This email was copied to illustrator Renata Liwska, editor Connie Hsu and our local SCBWI Regional Advisors, Dana Armin and Brenda Winter Hansen. I also forwarded it to my lovely agent, Laura Rennert. I sat in that ferry line, oblivious to the sun sparkling on the Hales Passage, and emailed back and forth congratulating Renata and Connie, and thanking Lin, our incredible SCBWI President... and wanting to thank all of the West Region of the SCBWI who had voted for our book... but I had to wait until it was announced officially on Monday.

The Crystal Kite Award is a different sort of award- it is not like the Caldecott, which is chosen by a committee of fourteen librarians... it is more like the Oscar®- it is chosen by a large group of your peers, in this case they are the members of the SCBWI from your region. There are fifteen international regions in the SCBWI. The West Region comprises: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Northern Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota. 

I have won awards before, like the Parent's Choice Gold Award, Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York... and others. 

When I was a child, I decided by age nine- when I created this book, "The Unbearable Bird," that I wanted to be a children's book author and illustrator. I also dreamt that someday I would win a Caldecott award. After twenty years of having my books published I let go of that dream. I realized that it was a very arbitrary goal, and it was counterproductive. What mattered most to me was that my books were loved, and that they sold and endured. I found much more pleasure in experimentation- both in illustrating and writing. I kept trying to spread my wings and fly.

When I first submitted "Once Upon A Memory" the original title was "Does A Feather Remember?" I still love that as the title, but creating a book is a team effort and I've learned to be a good team player after all these years.

I also had to let go of doing the illustrations, which is very ironic for me. I come from a fine art background. My mother was an abstract expressionist painter. My father is a sculptor/collage artist and retired special-effects make-up artist. I majored in illustration in college, but I've always written: stories, poems, songs, concepts, whatever inspires. However, I thought of myself as "an artist who wrote." Funny how the tides can turn. Now I think of myself as "a writer who is also an artist." The truth is that is is ALL ART.

It was a truly incredible experience to collaborate on "Once Upon A Memory" with Renata Liwska. I think I can safely say that we both respect and love each other. Each of us brought so much to creating this book, and it could not have happened without the brain and vision of our editor, Connie Hsu at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I also must thank the amazing art director Patti Ann Harris, who I adore and respect. "Does a book remember it once was a word?" has so much meaning to all of us as we worked to fit the pieces together, which wasn't easy, but now looks seamless. Publishing a book requires magic and wizardry and so much talent- and then when the book comes out- you have to let it go- like a kite- and see if it will lift and fly...

I have always loved kites. In 1982 I was twenty years old, and I was a waitress on Martha's Vineyard. I was asked to create an illustration for the t-shirts and posters for the annual Kite Festival held in Oak Bluffs near the famous gazebo.

The SCBWI had called its' Bulletin "The Kite," and I don't know when the actual words, "The Kite" were dropped, but now each issue has a different illustrator who interprets their own idea of a kite for the full-color cover. I was honored and thrilled when SCBWI Presidents Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser asked me to create a Kite Cover for the March-April 2010 issue.

Lin told me she loved my book, "When Pigasso Met Mootisse," so I decided to use them in a creative kite battle scene.

The Crystal Kite Award is just what it sounds like- a beautiful, large crystal kite. It is quite heavy, though, and won't fly.

But that doesn't matter to me because that "Kite" has already made my spirit soar. It is such a magnificent feeling to feel the lift that all of my friends and peers have put under the sails of "Once Upon A Memory." I'm so happy that you have chosen this book to win the award for the West Region. This is one memory that I will never forget, and I send you all deep gratitude and hugs.

With Love,



  1. Nina! Once Upon A Memory is such a special book, and so deserving of the Crystal Kite! Congratulations!

  2. Congratulations Nina! So well deserved.


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