Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vt's Dorothy Canfield Fisher Still Inspires Young Readers

Five-hundred middle school students fill the room with enthusiastic chatter as they wait for the chance to meet some of their literary heroes. This is the 56th annual ceremony for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, which was held earlier in June at Vermont Technical College.

The DCF award is voted on by the middle school kids who are the target audience of the nominated books. The 2013 winner was “Running Dream” by Wendelin Van Draanen.  But this ceremony is focused on the newly nominated books that are vying for the 2014 award.

The kids in this room are readers. And they’re lining up to get autographs from the Vermont children’s authors whose books have been named to next year’s list. Many of these kids will read all – or at least most – of the 30 DCF books that are nominated by a volunteer committee of the Vermont Department of Libraries. The students read the books on the list throughout the summer and school year, then vote for their favorite the following spring.

Grace Greene runs the DCF Book Award program and says the system of have kids choose the winner has stood the test of time: generations of Vermont students have voted for the DCF Award. Green says the DCF award is the second-oldest child selected book award in the country, named in honor of Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Fisher lived a century ago, in Arlington, and wrote books for both children and adults. Her most renowned book for children was "Understood Betsy," a story that Greene says still resonates with kids today.

“It’s just such a wonderful experience having kids, really from all over the state, in one room,” Greene says of the award ceremony. “Kids who love books, kids who love reading, who are excited to meet the authors, who have lots of good questions. It’s a great day.”

Library teacher Meg Allison brought two carloads of kids from Moretown Elementary School. She says her students compete for her coveted invitations to the ceremony. They have to write me persuasive letters about why they think they deserve one of my golden tickets to come,” says Allison. “These are all kids who are big readers, they want to meet authors.  They love the opportunity to meet authors,” and skipping science and math class, she says, might be an added benefit.  Allison says her students are in awe of the authors they get a chance to meet. “Just as we get that rush of connecting with people whose work we admire, so do the kids. Authors are their rock stars. One of my students said coming to see Jo Knowles would be like going to see a Taylor Swift concert.”

Jo Knowles is one of the four Vermont authors who attended the June ceremony and who have book on next year’s DCF list – the most Vermont writers in the award’s history. Knowles, Rebecca Rupp, Phoebe Stone and S.S. Taylor all signed books, talked to kids and shared their love of reading. “This is my first time on a state list, so it’s just such a thrill and I still can’t believe I’m here,” says Knowles. “It was so special to be able to talk to such a big group of kids who all love books. I feel like I’m brimming with happiness right now.”

Knowles has written several Young Adult titles, but her new book “See You At Harry’s” is her first story for middle grade readers. The book takes on big themes like grief, bullying and homosexuality. Knowles says, so far, “See You At Harry’s” has been well received by kids and adults. “There were a couple of teachers who came with their kids in the signing line and kind of leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Thank you for writing this kind of story. We really need them,’” says Knowles. She says her purpose in writing it was to connect with a middle school audience that is always questioning itself. “I know that’s just about the time when they’re starting to figure out who they are. And if they can read a book about a kid who’s gay, and it’s okay, and his friends love him and his siblings love him and their parents – even though they struggle at first – they come to love him,” says Knowles, adding that she hopes the book will give hope to students who see themselves in its pages.

Many of the books on the DCF list take on serious issues, and the titles by Vermont authors are clearly no exception. The main character in Rebecca Rupp’s book "After Eli" is learning how to cope with the wartime death of his brother, even while his mother is lost in her own grief. Phoebe Stone’s 13-year-old protagonist in "The Boy on Cinnamon Street" has changed her name, given up the sport she loves, and moved in with her grandparents after a tragedy that she has blocked from her memory. And in S.S. Taylor’s "The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Cavern," three orphaned siblings, with half a map, try to beat an oppressive alternate-future government to a secret gold-filled canyon.

Over at the autograph table, S.S. Taylor is literally surrounded by young fans, some of whom you might call DCF regulars. Is this the first time you’ve come to one of these?” Taylor asks a girl named Becca. "Um, no. I’ve been since fourth grade," the girl answers amid a noisy crowd of students. "Wow!" exclaims Taylor, "you're old pro at this!”

Becca’s in eighth grade, the last year she’s eligible to participate in DCF voting. But next year, she can look forward to voting for the Green Mountain Book Award, which is chosen by high school students. Most importantly, she’ll continue to be introduced to good books written for kids her age.

S.S. Taylor told the kids at this year’s DCF ceremony that her younger brother was the one who introduced her to great books. “Looking back, my younger brother, when he was old enough to read, I got into great books through him,” she told the assembled students. “It makes me really sad to look back and realize that when I was a kid, people gave girls certain books and gave boys certain books. My brother got all of these fabulous fantasy books, like the Lloyd Alexander books and, you know, somebody gave him 'The Hobbit' when he was seven or eight years old.” Taylor tells the students that nobody gave her those books, and says that is a travesty. She adds, “I don’t think that happens so much anymore, but through him I got into all those great books.”

And because she read all those great books, S.S. Taylor has become a children’s book author in her own right. And judging by the DCF crowd, "The Expeditioners" may become the next new must-read series. One student asked her if she thought her book might be the next big thing, like the popular series Percy Jackson. S.S. Taylor gave an honest answer, “One can only hope!”

Now that school is out, kids who love books can dive into their summer reading with 30 recommendations from the Dorothy Canfield Fisher book list.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Latest Stories