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“The Whole Sky” only young adult book to ever make short list for prestigious literary award

From a nice write-up by the Advocate-Messenger‘s Bobbie Curd:

Local author Heather Henson has made it to the semi-finalist list for a 2017 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award. Her book, “The Whole Sky” is the only young adult book on the list of those being considered. 

As a matter of fact, it’s the only YA book ever considered for the award. 

“It’s very exciting,” Henson says. 

The award is organized through Castleton Lyons, a horse racing stable and breeding business in Lexington known best as Castleton Farm. All the books considered for the award are equine-related topics. 

“So much of Kentucky is about horses, and the people who work with and care for horses,” Henson says. “I set out to capture a bit of that world in ‘The Whole Sky,’ and I hope I succeeded.” 

Henson’s book details the story of a 12-year-old girl who can talk to horses, and she helps find the cause of mysterious foal deaths happening throughout the thoroughbred industry. Henson wrote the book after researching the 2001 thoroughbred crisis, called Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, that hit Kentucky. 

More than 500 thoroughbred foals died in one foaling season in 2001, in and around Lexington. 

“It struck me as I researched the book, how fragile both horses and humans can be, and yet how resilient,” she says. 

As far as she knows, there was no one person like the main character she developed for her book who ultimately helped connect the dots to solve the MRLS mystery. 

“There was no one girl who talked to horses. But I’m a writer, so I like to imagine there was — or is.” She had already done research before attempting to write “Dream of Night, her first book, which was written in the “voice” of a horse. That gave her the idea for “The Whole Sky.” At that time, she had a neighbor who rescued horses, and she found the sight of them galloping in the fields near her home as a “breathtaking sight and visually inspiring.”

Henson’s grandfather, the late Robert Hutchison, was a horse trainer in Mercer County. The farm where he trained is where Henson and her family live today. 

“I always heard stories of how he was a true horseman — it definitely influenced me as a writer.”

In the release from Castleton Lyons, it said for the first time in the award’s 12-year history, every honoree is a work of fiction, and that since its inception, only two novels have ever won. 

The award was named for Ryan, a “globally-known businessman, sportsman, and philanthropist who loved horse racing and fine literature.” Although Ryan died in 2007, the award has been continued by his son, Shane.  

Henson had not heard of the award before last year. Someone mentioned it to Henson’s publisher after they read “The Whole Sky,” that it should be entered into the race since the award specifically celebrates the horse and horse racing industry. 

“My publisher submitted it, and we just found out it’s a semi-finalist. I’m truly honored, because it’s the first book for younger readers to be included,” Henson says, and adds — not to mention, there are “some pretty big heavy hitters on the list.” 

Read the rest

 

Lovely feature on Heather and “The Whole Sky” in Advocate-Messenger

Bobbie Curd of the Danville Advocate-Messenger, Heather Henson’s hometown newspaper, has written a terrific in-depth profile and discussion of The Whole Sky.

An excerpt:

Heather Henson can cite various inspirations for her new book for middle school readers, “The Whole Sky.” Her second book involving horses, it’s not a true story — but was inspired by true events. 

Back in 2001, more than 500 thoroughbred foals died on farms in Kentucky from Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS), with the cause of it a mystery for a long time. 

“As far as I know, there was no one person (like Sky Doran, the main character in the book) who ultimately helped connect the dots and solve the MRLS mystery; there was no one girl who talked to horses,” Henson says. “But I’m a writer, so I like to imagine that there was — or is.” 

One of the reasons Henson began writing about horses — her first book about them was published in 2010, “Dream of Night,”  also for middle school readers — is actually because her editor suggested it. 

“I’d just moved home to Kentucky after living in New York City and Brooklyn for 17 years, and I was talking to my editor at Atheneum/Simon and Schuster about book ideas and also describing living on a farm and seeing horses every day —so different from my city life.  She suggested that I think about writing a novel that was literary but would also appeal to young horse lovers.  She felt that since I had moved back to the middle of horse country I would be able to tap into that world, and she was right.”

Read the entire article on the AmNews website….