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Automobile assembly lines and children’s books usually are worlds apart, but author Christopher Paul Curtis literally has crossed that bridge to become an award-winning writer whose characters are near and dear to the hearts of young readers.
Curtis, who is releasing his latest adventure in January 2007 — “Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission” — is a native of Flint, Mich., the setting for several of his books. After he graduated from high school, Curtis spent 13 years on the assembly line at the historic Fisher Body plant in his home town. He hung 80-pound car doors on Buicks for 10 hours each day while he attended college at night — and squeezed in some writing during work breaks to escape the monotony of the factory. His debut novel, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963,” was discovered among a pile of other editorial works and subsequently published; it was named a Newbery Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book in 1996.
“Bud, Not Buddy” was next among Curtis’ successful works; the 1999 novel earned the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2000, marking the first time that one novel received both prestigious awards in the same year. Curtis was the first African-American man to receive the Newbery Award as well. (“Bud, Not Buddy” also has won a number of honors from the American Library Association, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and the New York Times.)
The guest presenter also has written “Bucking the Sarge,” “Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money” and its sequel (published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of the Random House Children’s Books division of Random House Inc.), which he is promoting during a national book tour that includes a stop at the Dallas County Community College District’s 2007 African American Read-In. “Bucking the Sarge” received a Golden Kite Award for fiction and was named among the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year and a Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice. “Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money” was a Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner.
Curtis says, “To me, the highest accolade comes when a young reader tells me, ‘I really liked your book.’ The young seem to be able to say ‘really’ with a clarity, a faith and an honesty that we, as adults, have long forgotten. That is why I write.”
Becoming an entertainer comes naturally to Curtis through his grandfathers: Earl “Lefty” Lewis was a pitcher in the Negro Baseball League, and Herman E. Curtis Sr. was bandleader for the 1930s group Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. The author’s hobbies include playing basketball, listening to music from his collection of 2,500 albums and, of course, writing — often in the children’s section of the library. Curtis lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, with his wife, Kaysandra, and their two children, Steven and Cydney.