Children's author and Park School of Baltimore graduate Adam Gidwitz picked up one of the highest awards in children's literature in the U.S. on Monday -- a Newbery Honor.
The former Baltimorean was honored for his fifth book, "The Inquisitor's Tale."
"There'd been a certain amount of talk about the book in connection with the Newberys," Gidwitz, 34, said Monday. "You try not to listen to it. But I didn't sleep very well last night. I got up at 6 a.m. and made blueberry-chocolate muffins either as a celebration or a consolation.
"Then when the awards committee called, I almost didn't hear the phone ring. My wife said, 'Aren't you going to answer that?' "
The awards committee noted that Gidwitz' book is told in multiple voices in a style reminiscent of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" It also commended that the book is illuminated as a medieval text would have been, with illustrations by Hatem Aly.
Gidwitz said that "The Inquisitor's Tale," which is set in 1242 at a French inn, was inspired by his wife, a professor of medieval literature who has traveled to France while researching the folklore of the middle ages.
In the book, travelers taking refuge from a dark night tell the stories of three children. William is on a mission from his monastery, Jacob is a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village, and Jeanne is a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. The latter character is based loosely on Joan of Arc.
Gidwitz' story "presents questions of belief and prejudice to young readers with historical context," Gidwitz' publisher, Penguin Young Readers, announced in a news release.
Though "The Inquisitor's Tale" didn't win the top award — the John Newbery Medal went to Kelly Barnhill's "The Girl Who Drank the Moon" — it was one of three runners up, or honor books.
The other two honorees were Ashley Bryan's “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan,” and Lauren Wolk's “Wolf Hollow.”
The Caldecott Medal for the best children's picture book of 2017 went to Javaka Steptoe for “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat."
Gidwitz, who lives now in Brooklyn, specializes in what he describes as "scary fairy tales." Previous books have re-written the Brothers Grimm and "The Empire Strikes Back," which, the author notes, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas originally described as a modern fairy tale.
His is the latest in a string of Newbery honors awarded to Park School alumni. Longtime librarian Laura Amy Schlitz, Gidwitz' former teacher, won the top award in 2008 for her historically accurate and evocative series of monologues, "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village."
In 2013, Schlitz was a Newbery Honor recipient for her Victorian puppet novel, "Splendors and Glooms."
"Laura was a huge inspiration to me," Gidwitz said. "She is a master storyteller, and I remember being transfixed by the lyrical quality of her storytelling.
"What Laura remembers of me is that she'd be in the middle of the story, and I'd be crawling around on all fours on the rug. I was in the fourth grade, and far too old to be crawling. What she didn't realize is that I thought I was in the midst of the world she was telling."
Gidwitz lived in Baltimore from age 2 until he entered college. He graduated from Park School in 2000.
He writes on his website that though Park was "a school without very many rules, somehow, I found a way to break all of them. I spent my entire middle school career in the principal’s office."
Though he began to take his studies seriously in high school, Gidwitz has been thinking of writing a kind of how-to manual of different ways to get in trouble in middle school.
"My next book," he says, "may very well be about my middle school years growing up in Baltimore."