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Friday, May 7th, 2010

Acclaim over debut novel grows for rural Celina writer

Scholastic buys paperback rights to children's book

By William Kincaid
CELINA - In just two years, special education teacher and mother Michelle Houts has become an-award winning novelist who travels from her Celina country home to conferences and appearances throughout the United States.
Mostly recently, Houts was in Chicago to receive the International Reading Association (IRA) Children's Book Award for Intermediate Reading for her debut novel, "The Beef Princess of Practical County." This weekend she's at the governor's mansion in Columbus for the fourth annual Ohioana Book Festival.
The novel was submitted to the IRA by Hout's publisher, Random House.
"I really had no idea they submitted it," she said. "Being a larger publisher, they have departments that handle those things."
Houts was traveling home from a speaking engagement when her cell phone started ringing incessantly as a series of text messages and calls of congratulations bombarded her phone. She soon realized she had won the award.
"I was very honored because to me, the International Reading Association is the premiere stamp of approval for literature," she said.
Houts had previously attended the event - but on the other side of the booth as an educator looking at newly-released books.
"That was wild," she said about the role reversal.
Publishing giant Scholastic has purchased the paperback rights to the book released in April 2009. The company sends book sale flyers to most public schools and sponsors book fairs for students.
"I'm very excited about that because as a mom, that's where I buy most of my books," she said, adding they are quality, affordable books.
Not every hardback book is guaranteed translation to paperback.
"A lot of books go out of print within the first year," she said.
The book currently is only printed in English and only available throughout the U.S., but Houts said she has received requests for translations overseas, including a call from a Turkish publishing house.
The book has been warmly received by children and teachers in urban and rural schools, she said.
"I think it's because it's a very friendly school book," she said.
City kids are curious about 4-wheelers and horse manure, while country students can relate to the story - which Houts describes as a grown-up "Charlotte's Web." It's about 12-year-old Libby Ryan, who raises two steer for the Practical County Fair. But leaving the animals, whom she names despite her father's advice, proves to be difficult.
As attention on the book increases, so does invitations to discuss her work at schools.
"It's really interesting because the school visits are two extremes," she said.
At an urban school the children were amazed at the way farmers live, she said.
"Those kids embraced the story with the same enthusiasm because it was all new and different and totally unusual for them," she said.
The book provides children from California to Ohio a universal message about courage, persistence and following dreams, she said.
It also provides a positive slant on agriculture.
"We live in a rural area and this portrays a positive image of feeding the world," she said.

Book festival set for Saturday:
The 4th annual Ohioana Book Festival will be 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ohioana and State Library of Ohio's facility in the Jeffrey Mining Center at 274 E. First Ave., in the historic Italian Village and Short North Arts District of Columbus.
The event is free and open to the public; no tickets or advance registration required.
Festival activities will include panels, roundtables, author readings and discussions, a book fair, book appraisals, food, and a special area for children's programming.
In addition to Celina resident Michelle Houts, other authors scheduled to appear include novelist Dan Chaon, a Cleveland Heights resident and professor of creative writing at Oberlin College whose book "Await Your Reply" was named one of the Test Best Books of 2009 by Publisher's Weekly. He is an Ohioana Book Award finalist in fiction.
For more information about Houts or her book, visit www.michellehouts.com.
For more information about the book festival, visit http://ohioanabookfestival.org/.
- William Kincaid
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