There’s only been one other time that I’ve been as nervous as I was before the Golden Kite speech, and that was just before giving the plenary speech at the Danish IBBY Congress.

Actually, that moment was more intense–at least this time I wasn’t going to say anything controversial. (I’d already done that on Friday.)

The Golden Kite Luncheon is kind of the epitome of the conference.

It’s held on the last day of the conference, Sunday, and it’s a full sit-down dinner with what many of the veterans fondly refer to as ‘rubber’ chicken.

It’s the kind of chicken breast that’s been cooked en masse and has had to be kept warm for a while.

I sat beside the charming Jerry Pinkney, who’d recently won the Caldecott award for his book The Lion and the Mouse.

In the children’s lit world he’s basically among the ‘royalty’.

I could hardly breathe. There was a tingling in my chest, and I kept telling myself to calm down, I’d be fine.

But nervousness of this sort is a very good sign. The more nervous you are, the more it means that you respect your audience, and boy did I respect my audience!!!

Did I mention that Richard Peck and his wife were also sitting at our table? For those of you who don’t know, he’s won the Newbery.

Yup. There was definitely royalty in the audience.

It’s funny about the lady who won for best picture book illustration. I thought I recognized her work.

About eleven years ago I’d attended Kindling Words. It’s an absolutely fabulous retreat/conference that began by being held  in upstate New York.

I went the year of Y2K.

It was freezing that weekend in the end of January when we drove out to Albany New York, I think it was. The venue for the conference was obviously used for summer camps. The buildings weren’t very insulated! And when I entered there was a lady who was sewing!

She was sitting there, in a comfy chair, sewing away for all the world like Betsy Ross.  She used some very interesting fabrics, and her name was Sally Mavor.


She came up to me and I congratulated her. As soon as I saw her I remembered our meeting at Kindling Words.

She was awarded her Golden Kite first, then came Tanya Lee Stone, who won for her book The Good the Bad and the Barbie, fantastic title!

Front Cover

And all this time I’m getting more and more nervous, whispering to myself, “Outhu billahi minishaitan nirrajeem”, which means ‘I seek refuge in God from the devil’, and I kept asking God to help me, help me, help me!

Then Steven Mooser got up and introduced me. And he started by saying that if someone told you they’d just read a book about greed, temptation, sibling rivalry and forgiveness, you’d ask them what novel it was. But this wasn’t a novel, this is a picture book. He was talking about Big Red Lollipop. (I’m paraphrasing–my heart was beating so hard at this point it was hard to hear him)

I got up and made my way to the stage, carrying a copy of Big Red Lollipop and my novel Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile. While climbing the stage I had my right hand on my chest, I was so surprised and touched by what he’d said and I kept telling myself, “Don’t fall flat on your face! Watch your step! And don’t forget to breathe!”

But the funny thing is, once I’m on stage, and I look out at the audience, whether it’s ten people or, in this case, it was thirteen hundred, all my nervousness flies away, and something within me switches on.

I started by saying that good things come in three’s.

Last November, when I was on Hajj, in the holy city of Mecca, I first got the news that Big Red Lollipop had been chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best picture books of the year.

Big Red Lollipop

Then when I got back and I was no longer sick, I got the news that it had won the Charlotte Zolotow award for best picture book text.

Then a few months ago, I’d come home from a long day of school presentations and my hubby had told me that Lin Oliver had called and I should call her, so I did.

“Are you sitting down?” she asked. “Um, yes.” Then she told me that I’d won the Golden Kite award for best picture book text.

The Charlotte Zolotow and the Golden Kite awards, as far as I know, are the only two awards in America for picture book text, and I’d won BOTH of them!

I was pretty calm on the phone, but as soon as Lin hung up, I started singing, (and here I demonstrated right there in front of them all) at the top of my lungs, “We are the CHAMPIONS my friends!”

The whole audience burst out laughing. It really is a funny sight if you think about it. Me, this middle-aged hijabi, grandmother, Muslim, belting out this hard rock classic!

I told them that I figured if I was them, sitting in their seats listening to me, I’d want to know how I did it. So I told them about the evolution of the story. How Big Red Lollipop began as just an incident, a paragraph on page 50 of my novel Dahling If You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile.

And how I’d been invited to some writer festival way back when I only had two or three books published and I needed to fill an hour so I thought of turning it into an oral story.

Then I said how I was an author and a storyteller, and all of a sudden a group in the audience laughed. I thought it was strange, but I continued on. I’ve learned that mostly when something like that happens, there’s some private joke going on and it’s got nothing to do with me and sure enough there was. A lady came up to me afterwards and told me how when I’d said that I was a storyteller, someone in her section had called out, “Really?” because it was so obvious that I was a storyteller, and that’s why they were laughing.

I told them the first two thirds of the story, because that’s what I had for the longest while. And then I told them that it wasn’t finished. It needed an ending, and I thought and thought and remembered how years later my sister Bushra had intervened on my behalf when I’d come running home waving a birthday invitation.

Voila! I had my ending.

I began using Big Red Lollipop  as a really good workshop story. I’d give a group of kids or sometimes adults, the first two thirds of the story, up to the point where I ate the triangle lollipop too, and then ask them to come up with an ending.

One time I was doing a workshop with some adults in the Yukon and I gave them the story to workshop and one of the ladies said the ending should involve Sana running with the jagged triangle, and then tripping so that the triangle would pierce the skin of her cheek and the red droplets that oozed out were red just like the red lollipop she had pilfered and that was a kind of atonement.

I told the audience I had just looked at the woman and said, “Lady, this is a CHILDREN’S book!”

Again the audience roared with laughter.

Unfortunately I only had fifteen minutes. I had timed my talk beforehand and I had enough time to get it all in, but when you’ve got thirteen hundred people laughing on cue, you have to wait till they quiet down to continue, and that made me go long.

The last bit I told them was about how I’d told the Big Red Lollipop in front of my sister Bushra at a bookstore event and in the whole audience she was the one who’d laughed the loudest, then she came up to me afterwards and took me to task for the one thing I’d changed in terms of what really happened. She’d said, “Wait a minute! You never gave me that big green lollipop!” I told her, “I know, but I should have.”

I told the audience that for ten years I’d been telling this story as an oral tale and trying to get it published but it kept getting rejected. I’d even written it as an easy reader and an editor had said it was too complex. Then finally I sent it to my editor at Viking, Catherine Frank, the same who’d edited The Good the Bad and the Barbie, and she’d said to me, “Rukhsana, why don’t you let Rubina tell the story? She’s a more sympathetic character.”

I rewrote the story in fifteen minutes, sent it off, and thought nothing of it. And that’s the one that won the trifecta! So this story took me ten years and fifteen minutes to write.

By this time the next speaker was weaving her way through the tables, towards the stage and I waved at her. “I’m just about done! I’m just about done!”

Finally I urged the audience to look into their own past and find story ideas and I thanked them once again for the Golden Kite award.

As I sat down, the people around the table smiled encouragement, some of them reaching out to clasp my hand.

Linda Sue Park, an old friend of mine, came up and hugged me, telling me that I’d done a wonderful job.

And for the rest of the day, and the next, and even the next, I had people stopping me and telling me how much they’d loved my acceptance speech!

I was riding high till my plane touched down in Toronto.

Even now, there’s a warm flush that comes over me when I think of that moment.