As he tells it, Morton Schindel can thank his children for his livelihood.
It was his kids' captivated attention as he read illustrated books to them in the late 1940s that brought Schindel to his profession - filming and animating children's literature - and perhaps, in some roundabout way, is also responsible for his winning the lifetime achievement award Sunday at the Connecticut Book Awards Ceremony.
"It was strange to me," he said. "But they wanted those books night after night, even memorizing the text."
Since 1953, when Schindel founded Weston Woods studio in Connecticut, he has reproduced children's books ("The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats; "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak) on film in a way that preserved their original integrity, by simply passing a camera over the illustrations while narrating the text and adding music and sound effects. He eventually branched into animated films, and his movies were shown in schools throughout the country, some even appearing on "Captain Kangaroo."
"Children's books, I would say, selected me," he told an audience of 100 in the atrium of the Hartford Public Library. "I didn't select them."
Schindel was one of the winners Sunday at the 2007 award ceremony. The awards, started in 2002, honor books published the previous year and are given to authors who live, or have lived, in the state or whose books have a Connecticut setting.
In the heavily contested fiction category - Philip Roth's "Everyman" (Houghton Mifflin) and Chris Knopf's "Two Time" (Permanent Press) were runners up - the award was given to Katharine Weber, author of "Triangle" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
This book, set in 2001 with the Sept. 11 terror attacks as a backdrop, weaves history with fiction. It was inspired by the disastrous 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City that killed 146 of the company's employees, mostly young women, and led to improvements in worker safety.
Weber's grandmother had worked at the factory for several years before the fire. The book's lead character is 106-year-old Esther, the last survivor of the fire, and the story follows her relationship with her granddaughter Rebecca and her partner, an eccentric musician, and with a historian researching the fire who uncovers hidden truths.
Weber said Sunday that winning the award was very gratifying.
"When you write novels you sit alone and make stuff up," she said. "It is really validating if it has meaning for other people."
While not her original intention - she had already started writing the book months before Sept. 11 - the attack "hovers over the story," she said, offering a kind of parallel.
"People in a workplace fire having to make a split-second decision of jumping or burning, whether it is the 9th floor or the 99th floor, it is the same decision, whether it is 1911 or 2001," she said. "It is the same situation."
Winners in other categories were:
Biography & Memoir: Denis R. Caron for "A Century in Captivity: The Life and Trials of Prince Mortimer, a Connecticut Slave" (University of New Hampshire Press, University Press of New England).
Caron tells the story of a slave captured in Guinea in 1730 and brought to America. At age 87, the slave was convicted of trying to poison his master and spent 23 years in prison in Connecticut, at Newgate Prison and Wethersfield Prison, where he died at age 110 in 1834. The book tells his history and that of the two prisons, revealing horrific conditions for prisoners at Wethersfield.
Children's Author: Lane Smith for "John, Paul, George & Ben" (Hyperion).
This book takes an entertaining look at school-age versions of the country's founding fathers - John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, too, despite not being in the title. Knitting history with humorous explanations for how they got their reputations - Hancock's big signature on a chalkboard in school - Lane delves into the characters who shaped America.
Children's Illustrator: Barbara McClintock for "Adèle and Simon" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Through spectacular pen-and-ink drawings with watercolors, this is the story of a girl, Adèle, and her younger brother, Simon, as they meander home from school through Paris. Despite warnings from Adèle not to lose his possessions, Simon loses something at every stop, including a hat, book bag and glove.
Design: Wendell Minor for his design of "Rossiter: Country Houses of Washington, Connecticut" (Gunn Memorial Library).
This book documents the work of Ehrick K. Rossiter, a local architect who influenced New England aesthetics and whose buildings can be found throughout the region. The design of the book showcases the homes as they exist today.
Nonfiction: David Brion Davis for "Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World" (Oxford University Press).
Written by a Pulitzer-prize winning Yale University professor, this book offers a global look at slavery, its origins and influence on American politics and world economic markets.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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