The Arizona Press Club announced this week that Raising Arizona Kids writer Debra Citron won a first-place writing award in the “community personality profile” category for her September 2017 story about children’s author/illustrator Molly Idle.
The judge, Lauren Williamson, a senior editor at Chicago magazine, wrote: “This lively profile, in vivid language, tells a story that’s entertaining, engaging, and sweet. Idle’s resourcefulness is clear—her evolution as digital media takes over is one so many creative workers can relate to.”
Debra has been writing for RAK on and off for 28 years, and this is not her first Arizona Press Club award. That one came way back in 1994. After tackling a tough topic — “Talking to Children About Death” — she was awarded a prize in the feature-writing category. That article was applauded by the judges for “tackling a difficult subject with great care and sensitivity.”
Debra first embraced the mission of RAK in 1991, when she took on the challenge of writing a regular book-review column then called “In the Stacks.” (It had previously been written by a Phoenix librarian, hence the reference to “stacks.”)
I found Debra where I found many of our early staff members: She was a fellow preschool mom. Her two sons were younger than mine, but I had run across her at various school functions. I knew her as a thoughtful, reflective person who had a voracious appetite for books and an abundant love for sharing them with her boys. She was at that time leading a frantic life — parenting her two preschoolers while commuting part time to Tucson to work on master’s level studies in library science.
Debra cherished the task of writing about books for children and, from the beginning, took our column to a new level. A student of “bibliotherapy” — the many ways books can help children process and understand the events of their lives — and a gifted writer herself, Debra brought a new depth and richness to the project. Her first column, which ran in December 1990, tackled a universal problem parents face: “Does encouraging a belief in Santa Claus constitute lying to my child?” Her unique blend of information, heart-warming personal anecdotes and great appreciation of quality children’s literature educated and inspired us all.
Debra’s approach to writing is the antithesis of today’s “click bait” topics. She takes her time. She thinks. She ponders. She draws connections. She seeks real-world application. She treasures the meaning of words and is extremely thoughtful in choosing her own.
Some examples I found while quickly combing through our archives:
- “If parents truly want their children to make saving the earth part of their lives, they must touch their hearts as well as their minds. Stories that evoke and reflect feelings of joy and wonder about our incredible world might be the spark necessary to fire a passion for environmental reform.”
- “Books give us beautiful words of love to use when we are fresh out, and pierce our dull, everyday armor with bright swords of wonder. …When my 4-year-old repeatedly responds to the smallest slight — “No, you may not have a Popsicle” — with the biggest weapon in the preschool arsenal — “You don’t love me!” — I know it’s time to trot out the ‘love’ titles.”
- “There are many wonderful books that say, in many different ways, that girls are as special as boys. We must use them — along with discussions and actions — to help remedy society’s insidious sexist messages. If we fail, our daughters may fail to develop their potential and our sons may fail to develop their humanity.” (Keep in mind this was written decades ago, long before the #MeToo movement.)
For the story that won this recent award, Debra spent several hours at the home of renowned local children’s author/illustrator Molly Idle, who is widely known for her breakthrough (and completely charming) 2013 book, “Tea Rex.” In classic Debra fashion, she described what it was like to arrive at Idle’s house with photographer Rick D’Elia:
“With a load of photographic equipment, and notes, notebooks and pens poking out every which way, Rick and I could easily have been opposite ends of a large, costumed dinosaur thumping and banging our way through her house.”
Debra doesn’t bang. She tiptoes. She chooses her words with great care and insight. We are all the better for it.