Arts & Culture

Wichita has ‘a treasure’ in local Newbery Medal winner Clare Vanderpool

In 2011 Wichita native Clare Vanderpool joined the ranks of E.B. White, Madeline L’Engle and Gary Paulsen, the authors of “Charlotte’s Web,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Hatchet,” in winning the prestigious Newbery Medal with her debut novel, “Moon Over Manifest.”

Earlier this month, the celebrated writer’s newest young adult novel arrived on bookstore shelves. To mark the release of “Navigating Early,” Vanderpool will speak at two local bookstores: Eighth Day Books and Watermark Books.

“It was kind of challenging jumping into a new book after winning the Newbery,” Vanderpool said.

But Warren Farha, the owner of Eighth Day Books, said Vanderpool didn’t let him down.

“I was completely impressed with ‘Navigating Early,’ ” Farha said. “I thought ‘Moon over Manifest’ was great, but this one is a little more complex.”

The novel’s action-packed tale begins at the end of World War II in Abilene. Jack, whose mother dies, is sent from the prairie to a boarding school in Maine, where he befriends a quirky kid named Early. Early is fascinated with the great Appalachian bear, timber rattlesnakes and a school hero that has not returned from war.

Soon, Jack and his new friend set across the Appalachian Trail in search of the elusive bear. What they find will make them view themselves and others differently.

“Jack has lost his bearings,” Vanderpool said. “He’s very lost. I needed to put him completely out of his element, so I sent him to Maine.”

Although the protagonists are young, Vanderpool said that her books appeal to readers of all ages.

“It is very expertly done,” Farha said. “There are several story lines, which make for both a great narrative and the mark of a skilled writer.”

Vanderpool, a graduate of both Wichita Collegiate School and Newman University, grew up in and still lives in College Hill. Although the story is not modeled after any of her four children, ages 12 to 18, a bit of their personalities and lust for life cannot help but enter into Vanderpool’s novels, she said.

“When I first started writing was when my first was born. I just kept plugging away,” Vanderpool said. “Now he’s 18. Having kids definitely helps get you into the mind of a child. I know the way they think. I know the way they talk.”

Just as the American Library Association committee members gave “Moon over Manifest” their seal of approval, teachers across the country assigned the novel as required reading. Vanderpool has spoken to students across the nation about the writing process.

The Newbery Medal, an annual award, is given to an author of that year’s most distinguished American children’s book. The award was named in honor of John Newbery, an 18th century British bookseller.

“I really think Wichitans should realize what a treasure we have in her,” Farha said of Vanderpool. “We should be very proud of her.”