February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Humorist Bruce Coville Wins Empire State Award, Emphasizes the “Ripple Effect” of Reading

Bruce Coville accepting the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People. Photo by Sara Kelly Johns.

Following in the footsteps of Maurice Sendak, Linda Sue Park, and Madeleine L’Engle, Bruce Coville became the twenty-third recipient of the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People at the New York Library Association (NYLA) annual conference in Saratoga Springs, NY, earlier this month.

“Receiving this award validates humor,” said Coville. His numerous series for children include “My Teacher Is an Alien,” “Space Brat” (both S & S), and “Nina Tanleven” (Random).

Coville, a resident of Syracuse, NY, has written over 100 books for young people, and he and Elizabeth Levy recently coauthored Amber Brown Is Tickled Pink (Putnam, 2012), a tribute to Amber’s creator, the late Paula Danzinger. Coville is also the founder of Full Cast Audio, a company that creates unabridged recordings of great books for young people.

“Children are worth our best efforts,” he said, underscoring his conviction that society should put more resources toward young people, including through libraries. Teachers and librarians should be paid on the same scale as ballplayers, and vice versa, Coville said.

Given annually by the Youth Services Section of the NYLA, the award acknowledges a  body of work by a living author or illustrator residing in the state.

During the ceremony, Coville read a poem he had written, “Ripples.” Featured in the anthology Dare To Dream…Change the World (Kane/Miller, 2012), the poem explores how a single action can have a ripple effect—an enormous, positive impact.

Giving a child a book is such an action, Coville said, reading a letter from a woman who as a 10 year old had read his book My Teacher Flunked the Planet (S & S, 1992), about a group of children touring the globe with a mission to save the earth. The woman attributed her decision to join the Peace Corps and to work in Kenya to reading Coville’s book.

On the Common Core State Standards, Coville defended the use of fiction in the classroom, explaining that empathy can be taught through story. Children fear the unknown, he said, and through fiction, they can experience and understand those whose situations are dissimilar from their own.

“Bruce Coville is a great choice for this award,” said Joyce R. Laiosa, president of the Youth Services Section of NYLA. “He knows that stories draw young people to reading.”

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. CONGRATS, Bruce!!!
    YOU are a dream-maker and your writing and passion for children’s literacy has had and will continue to have a stupendous ripple effect for, well, forever.

  2. A well-deserved award! Way to go, Bruce!

  3. Congratulations Bruce. An award earned with hard work that seems effortless to readers, and, yes, filled with humor and interesting, involving storylines and ideas. Enjoy.

  4. Eric Carpenter says:

    well deserved recognition….One of my favorite memories of elementary school was getting to see the author of The Monster’s Ring in person. The fact that this incredible, famous author was a real live person from Liverpool really amazed the 9 year old me. Over twenty years later I still think back on that day in the cafeteria listening to Mr Coville tell our class about being a writer.

  5. What a wonderful honor, Bruce. So well deserved. Congratulations, my friend. Warmest wishes.