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Rankin author captures children's literature award

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, November 26 2008

RANKIN INLET - Famed children's author Michael Kusugak of Rankin Inlet was presented with the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature during a gala ceremony in Toronto, Ont., this past week.

The award, and the $20,000 that goes with it, were presented during the Writers' Trust of Canada's eighth annual Writers' Trust Awards.

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Children's book author Michael Kusugak of Rankin Inlet was presented with the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature in Toronto this past week. - photo courtesy of Media Profile

The Rankin author, originally from Repulse Bay, had been on tour since Oct. 28 before accepting the award.

Kusugak said after writing for 20 years, it's incredible to have his work recognized by his peers.

He said the award was completely unexpected and greatly appreciated.

"Gerry (Pflueger) and I finished lunch a little early one day and when we returned home there was a message on our answering machine," said Kusugak.

"I really wasn't that attentive at first because it sounded like somebody trying to sell me a bogus something or other, but then I heard the voice say the Writers' Trust of Canada and that's when I started paying attention.

"I called back and was asked if I had heard of the Vicky Metcalf award and when I said I did, they congratulated me and told me I was this year's winner.

"It was hard to believe at first and I don't think I truly did believe it until they gave me the cheque."

Kusugak, 60, wrote his first book, A Promise is a Promise, in 1988 with Robert Munch.

Since then, he has completed eight more and is working on his 10th.

Kusugak said out of the first nine books, Baseball Bats for Christmas is the nearest and dearest to his heart.

He said the book is autobiographical and was a great deal of fun to write.

"I was working on an autobiography, but I never really got into it because my life story had a beginning and a middle, but, being only 40 at the time, I wasn't ready for it to have an end.

"One day I was re-reading it when I came across this little story I decided to take out and re-write, and it turned into magic.

"It was the first book I did all on my own and that made it very special to me.

"The Curse of the Shaman was also really, really fun to work on right up until I sent it in to the publisher."

Kusugak released his ninth book, The Littlest Sled Dog, about a month ago and said he never really intended it to be published.

He said he wrote it for his granddaughter and grandson so he'd have something to read to them, especially his granddaughter.

"I really didn't expect it to be published. Because there's so many picture books out there these days, publishers are reluctant to publish them.

"But Orca Press liked it and decided to publish it and that was very, very nice."

Kusugak spends a great deal of time touring to promote his books and reading to kids across Canada and the United States.

He said seeing the kids' reactions to his work is still one of his favourite parts of his craft.

"Being able to read to the kids is one of the reasons why I do this.

"When you have all those kids in front of you and they're looking up and listening to every word, that's when you realize storytelling is a real art.

"I can hold kids spellbound for an hour because, as an old writer friend once said to me while we were on tour together, 'When you have good material, it works.'

"That writer was Alistair MacLeod and those words are very special to me."

Kusugak's 10th book has a working title of The Mean Knight.

He said the book is a work of historical fiction on explorer James Knight, who arrived at Marble Island about 300 years ago and was never seen again.

"I took that setting and looked at it from the point of view of Inuit who were there and reportedly chased away by the mean Knight.

"I don't have a schedule yet, but I do have a contract with HarperCollins.

"I start touring again in mid-January and I want to get at least the first draft done before then."

Kusugak said he's had a number of memorable occasions over the years, citing a time when a group of kids sang O Canada for him in Portville, NY.

He said winning the Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award for his book, Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, was also very special.

"The most wonderful thing about the Schwartz award is the winning book is chosen by children.

"When you write children's books you want children to like them, and that year children across Canada decided my book was the best in the country.

"That was very special, but this latest award is right at the top too, because being recognized by your peers is a wonderful feeling.

"And the money's not bad either."