from Charlotte’s Web
written by E. B. White
illustrated by Garth Williams
Harper & Row, 1952
I spent my childhood and adolescence as a five on a ten-scale. I did not stand out. I was not outstanding. I liked it like that, a little bit invisible. I was a steady B student, except for math, but that’s a different story. I didn’t enter contests, so I didn’t win any prizes, and that was okay. It was intentional.
Being “the best” was not on my list of goals. I didn’t have a list, anyway. I learned about bell-curves, the 80-20 rule, and law of averages. I predictably fell in the middle of it all.
Please don’t feel sad. I worked at being unnoticed.
The irony of all of this is I have always wanted to be famous. Not Famous, just a little bit, like in my own circle of friends. But I wouldn’t have minded the capital F Famous, if it should come my way. And there’s the rub. I lived in the tension of wanting something that I thought was unattainable.
We’re in the midst of Award Season. Grammies, Oscars, Super Bowl Champions, and the Newbery, Caldecott, and the rest of the American Library Association’s picks for the best children’s literature of 2022, to be awarded Oh! right now. It’s 9:00 Monday morning in Northeast Ohio. I’m about to tune in.
And now, here's a complete list of the winners posted by School Library Journal. I have to admit that I’ve only read one of the winning titles, Wildoak by C. C. Harrington and one that I expected to win didn’t. Wildoak took the middle grade Schneider Family Book Award prize for an outstanding work that deals with a disability. Maggie’s stutter makes school really hard for her. She’s sent to live with her grandfather where she spends time in the woods of Wildoak. She discovers a snow leopard in trouble, the woods at the brink of extinction because of “progress,” and her voice by speaking up for them both, dispite her stutter. The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill was a finalist for the 2022 National Book Awards for Young People's Literature, but didn’t take home an ALA award. I really loved the book until the ending. It felt a little forced.
While we wait to find out how the rest of “the best,” Grammies, Oscars, and Super Bowl LVII play out, I wonder, what makes someone the best, a champion?
Most lists that identify traits of champions or what qualities you need to be a champion are sports related. No surprise there, but really?
The following traits are common to many lists and we can use them to identify those same qualities in ourselves and those we care about.
1 Attitude is everything. “If you think you can or you think you can’t,
you’re right” is a quote from Henry Ford who stated it in a
2 Confidence brings to mind the phrase, “Fake it till you make it.”
3 Courage, not be confused with bravery, is acknowledging fear
and doing the right thing (whatever it is) anyway, like the “good
trouble” John Lewis(1940-2020) encouraged us to make.
4 Discipline to stick with a schedule, to check off items on a do-
list, to say “yes” and mean it or to say “no” for good reasons
are marks of a champion, too.
5 Concentration is difficult in our multitudes-of-distractions
society. Champions must wear blinders to stay focused.
6 Intelligence is different than wisdom. Gathering, storing, and
applying facts are some facets of intelligence. Wisdom
implies the ability to act morally, ethically, and intuitively. A
champion needs both of these.
7 Relentlessness is summed up best by the aphorism: If at first
you don’t succeed, try, try, again.
8 Integrity, honesty, and truthfulness are all sides of the same coin.
(Wait! What? a 3-sided coin?)
9 Compassion and empathy embody the golden rule based the
Mosaic law: “Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any
other person.” (I include animals and plants, too.)
10 Champions are gracious. They win, but they don’t gloat about it.
11 Champions dream BIG.
That’s it. We all have all of these qualities in different measure. The trick is to hold them all at once and use them to make a better society. The best champions are champions for a cause. They’re ambitious.
For me, the opposite of ambition is contentment. I’m mostly happy with my lot in life. I enjoy spending time with my cat and my grandchildren and my husband, not necessarily in that order! I dream, but at 70 (I’m still trying to understand the reality of that big number) I’m more realistic than I was when I was young, more willing to live each day as it comes.
So while I’m not driven by the fire of ambition, I appreciate the comfort of contentment. I’m still not outstanding, really. I still don’t really want to stand out. But I do try to be the best Me I can be.
For me, kindness says it all.
-—be curious! (and true to yourself)
This morning I will finish reading Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. It’s a YA memoir noting the experiences and memories of a young refugee from Iran to Oklahoma. The author won many awards including the 2021 Michael L. Prinz award for Young Adult Literature. Recommended for YA readers and us “grownies,” too.