EMPORIA – The spirit of the supernatural is the common denominator between the two books selected by Kansas schoolchildren for the 2021 William Allen White Children’s Book Awards. Voters in Grades 3 through 5 selected “Small Spaces” by Katherine Arden. Voters in Grades 6 through 8 chose “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

The 69th annual celebration of the WAW Children’s Book Awards program, directed by Emporia State University and supported in part by the Trusler Foundation, will be Oct. 1 and 2, 2021. For the second year in a row, the events will be presented virtually with a fireside chat with authors on Friday, Oct. 1, and the awards ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2.

Arden’s “Small Spaces” is described by R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series this way: “Is it a mystery? A fairy tale? A horror thriller? As the suspense gripped me, I just wanted to know one thing-WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Terrifying and fun.”

“Small Spaces” tells of 11-year-old Ollie and her friend who rescues a book from the river. That book tells of a love triangle and a deal made with “the smiling man.” Ollie soon discovers that the fictional tale she loves may not be fiction after all. While on a school field trip, Ollie and two classmates take the advice of the strange bus driver: “”Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you. Avoid large places. Keep to small.”

Rhodes’ “Ghost Boys” presents contemporary themes in the fictional account of 12-year-old Jerome who is a ghost after being shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. Now a ghost, Jerome learns from another ghost: Emmett Till, who died in an earlier time but under similar circumstances. Also central to the tale is Sarah, whose father is the police officer who killed Jerome.

The William Allen White Children’s Book Award program began April 22, 1952, eight years after the famed journalist’s death on Jan. 29, 1944 — Kansas Day. Emporia State University launched the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, which was guided by Ruth Garver Gagliardo, who was hired by White to write for The Emporia Gazette.

Passionate about books, Gagliardo wrote a regular column that commented on books, music and art, and often concentrated on books for children. She was one of the first to review children’s books for a newspaper, which gave parents, teachers and librarians insights to quality books for children.

Gagliardo’s column led to “The Children’s Bookshelf,” a book review column in the Kansas Teacher magazine. She also started the Children’s Traveling Book Exhibit, which helped introduce children all over Kansas to good books for 23 years.

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