Krista Russell was officially presented with the 2012 Massachusetts Book Award for Children’s/YA literature for her wonderful middle-grade novel Chasing the Nightbird, in a ceremony held at the venerable New Bedford Free Public Library last night.
Chasing the Nightbird is an historical adventure story centering on Lucky Valera, a 14-year-old Cape Verdean sailor who gets trapped into working in a New Bedford textile mill. While there Lucky meets up with Daniel, a runaway slave, and Emmeline, a Quaker sea captain’s daughter, who decide to work together to help Lucky get back to his beloved whaling ship, the Nightbird.
From the Massachusetts Book Awards reading and discussion guide for Chasing the Nightbird: “This action-packed book introduces the reader to the bustling, commercially vibrant city of New Bedford in 1851; the perils of runaway slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad; the political climate and regional nineteenth-century attitudes towards slavery; and to the cultural diversity of New Bedford, which has survived into the twenty-first century.”
After receiving the award from Massachusetts Center for the Book executive director Sharon Shaloo, Krista Russell spoke briefly, saying that she had planned to write about whaling, but when she started researching the history there was so much more than whaling in New Bedford history. She learned that New Bedford in the early 1850s had the highest proportion of fugitive slaves in the Northeast – higher, even, than New York or Boston – and read about how the 1850 passage of the second part of the Fugitive Slave Act made life suddenly much more dangerous for slaves from the South who had escaped to make a new life in New Bedford, where the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act had been largely ignored.
“[Lucky] pulled his cap down, hoisted his duffle, and walked quickly over the dawn-lit cobbles, eager to get to the wharf where the Nightbird waited. Feeling undone as a frayed line, Lucky yearned to get back to sea. He’d grown up before the mast and, now that Pa was gone, the ship’s hands were his only friends in this unfamiliar city. And though it was still a week from his fourteenth birthday, he’d be sailing as a full member of the crew this time, not a lowly cabin boy. He breathed in the early morning sea air and the smell of whale oil and tar.
A copy of Chasing the Nightbird, along with other Massachusetts Book Award winners, will be deposited in a special collection at the State Library of Massachusetts, thanks to former state librarian, Stephen Fulchino, now the director of the New Bedford Public Library.
Part of AHA! – a celebration of the art, culture, and history of New Bedford on the second Thursday of the month, the Massachusetts Book Award presentation ceremony was attended by many families with children who were given their own copies of Chasing the Nightbird signed by the author to take home and read.
Save the date! Other 2012 winners and Must-Read authors will be celebrated along with the new 2013 honorees at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, October 17, at 2:00 p.m. This event is open to the public. Everyone is invited, and welcome to attend!