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The Blue & Gray Press | November 20, 2017

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Watkins winds the kite

KJ ADLER

Six-year-old Claire Watkins introduced her father to the crowd with “A lot of kids might think my dad’s book is boring, but it’s not. It’s really great.“

Associate Professor of English Steve Watkins then read from a chapter of his book before answering a few questions and signing copies.

On March 3, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announced that “Down Sand Mountain” had won the Golden Kite Award for fiction.

“I’ve done a number of readings and talks and signings for “Down Sand Mountain” already, and I’ll be in Kentucky doing a book thing next month,”  Watkins said. “Then Florida a couple of times after that, California in August, some things back here in Virginia, and back down in Florida in the fall. But Riverby is always my favorite.”

The Golden Kite Award is the only award presented to children’s book authors and artists by their peers. The award includes a cash prize of $2,500 and an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend an award ceremony at the SCBWI Summer Conference in August.

With increased attention generating around his award-winning book, Watkins has high hopes for the future of his book.

Over 50 people gathered at the Riverby Bookstore March 26 to listen to Watkins read his award-winning young adult novel “Down Sand Mountain.”

UMW students and Fredericksburg residents alike listened to Watkins read 12-year-old Dewey Turner’s perspective on his town in Polk County, FLA., from the characteristics of the neighborhood kids to the history of the giant sand pile found at the edge of town, where kids could slide down on pieces of cardboard. In the novel, Dewey must face issues concerning politics, racism and romance all the while dealing with the difficulties of growing up.

“I hope that “Down Sand Mountain” resonates with readers, and stays in print for a long time,” Watkins said. “Beyond that, I want what any writer wants, I suppose: huge movie deal,” he added with a smile.

Many aspects of the story in “Down Sand Mountain” have similarities to Watkins’ own childhood. The town of Sand Mountain is a fictitious version of the small central Florida town Watkins lived in during the 1960s with a giant sand mountain made from sand discarded from phosphate rock in the extraction process. The racial issues, the family dynamics, and the geography described in the book are based on reality as well.

“My brother is pretty weirded out by the book and keeps asking me if certain things really happened, because he doesn’t remember them if they did,” Watkins said. “The older brother’s name is Wayne in the story, and that’s my brother’s name as well in real life.”

Along with experiencing growing success from critics and publishers on his work, Watkins has also received a great deal of support from his daughters Claire, 6, and Lili, 4.

“Claire has been carrying around a copy, with the Golden Kite sticker, and an article with pictures from the Free Lance-Star, and showing everybody who will listen,” Watkins said. “She says her dad is her favorite author—she’s actually read a hand full of pages and has some idea of some of the characters—and that’s about the highest compliment I think I could ever get. Much better than any Golden Kite or Newbery.”

Currently Watkins is working on another young adult novel called “Goat Girl;” a contemporary piece with a 16-year-old female protagonist named Iris.

Goat Girl has already sold, and is scheduled for publication next year by Candlewick Press.