What changed right away was that strangers stopped her in the grocery store wanting to talk about the award, Perkins says. That isn’t happening so much anymore, but the demands on her time have not eased up. Book tours, speaking engagements, interviews — Perkins can expect to be very busy until the next Newbery winner is announced in January, Duncan says.
"You can’t win this award and go crawl into a cave," Perkins wistfully told one interviewer.
She admits to ambivalence about the new experience of "going out into the world." Meeting her readers at book-signings and other events is a pleasure, she says. Talking to 15 different radio hosts back-to-back, like she did in a radio tour set up by her publicist, is much less enjoyable. She would just as soon pass on the public speaking gigs, and says she has had to "draw a line" to separate her public and private obligations.
Still, her friends say she is handling her bout of fame with humor and aplomb, as expected. All along, they say, Perkins has shown a remarkable ability to stay focused on her creative goals while nurturing her kids, connecting with her friends and working in the community.
I meet Perkins on a cloudy day toward the end of winter when she invites me into the tiny bayside cottage that she and her family have rented since last fall. They are building a new house, but progress is slow because her husband, Bill, has been working mostly by himself, and because they are using mostly salvaged materials, out of principle and preference. By way of explanation, Perkins quotes Andy Warhol, who says, "living in New York City gives people real incentives to want things that nobody else wants — to want all the leftover things."
She starts to say that maybe her books are like that, too, since she writes about kids growing up in a little town where nothing happens. But her thought is interrupted when daughter Lucy comes into the room, ready for a ride to school. On our way out, we pass three snowboards leaning against the house — for Lucy, Bill, and son Frank. Perkins doesn’t snowboard; she goes to the gym.
We pile into her green Ford Focus, a John Kerry sticker on the bumper, and she puts on the CD Discozone, a musical hand-me-down from her kids. We only hear "ma-ia hii, ma-ia huu" a few times because the trip from the cottage to the school to the coffee shop is only a matter of blocks.
Town living is an adjustment, Perkins explains, sipping her latte. For nearly 18 years the family lived in a house Bill built on a hill near Cedar, about 10 miles away. They walked up about 100 steps to get to their door — the steps memorialized in Perkins’s picture book Clouds for Dinner — but put 25 miles on the odometer for every trip to town. "That house was so important to both of us," Perkins says, "but we drove all the time."
They ferried kids, of course, but also drove to their own activities. For Bill — the Boy Scouts, the county Solid Waste Commission and the Suttons Bay Art Fair Committee. For Perkins — a book club, a knitting group and the Friends of Fine Arts booster club at the high school. Perkins is FOFA secretary, where she takes notes "filled with wonderful little doodles," says group president Jan Ostrowski.