Kathryn Erskine was filled with gratitude as she stepped up to the podium on Wednesday night to claim the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, for her novel Mockingbird (Philomel), about a 10-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome. She thanked the National Book Awards “for supporting reading and our culture,” as well as the judges, her publishing house Penguin, and “readers and friends and supporters and family.” She also thanked educators, for teaching children “to think critically and deeply, and think for themselves.” And she saved special thanks for her mother, for teaching her not only the “what” of the world, “but also the ‘why.’ ”

In a conversation Thursday morning before she boarded a train back to Charlottesville, Va., Erskine told PW what a surprise her nomination—and win—had been. “The National Book Award wasn’t even on my radar,” she said. “The other nominated books were all very strong and important books, and from really wonderful authors. I was enjoying the evening so much, and then someone from Penguin asked if I was nervous. I said no, I wasn’t. Because I hadn’t expected to win. Then when they called my name it was such a shock.”

Erskine said that the outpouring of congratulations she’s been receiving has been “really fun—so many emails and phone calls and Facebook postings and texts.” And now she's heading home, “back to reality, back to shopping at Kroger’s and running kids around town.” She has two, ages 13 and 17, who she said are “very thrilled” at the news and are “great supporters.”

And she has plenty of projects on her desk to keep her busy. “I have a middle-grade manuscript that’s with my agent [Linda Pratt at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency] that’s ready to submit, I’m writing another middle-grade novel, and I’m working on my first adult novel. I have quite a few things in the works, but there’s just never enough time.”

Asked if there was anything she wishes she could add to her acceptance remarks last night, Erskine said, “I wish I said what Patti Smith said. I hope publishers just keep publishing books. There’s nothing like smelling the book, hearing the crackle of the pages. Especially for kids, to be able to close a book they have finished, hold it in their hands, and feel that sense of accomplishment – that is huge.”

Also honored last evening was Children’s Television Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney, who was given the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. (“Is [literarian] even a word?” wondered emcee Andy Borowitz. “Apparently the NBA can make up words, like Sarah Palin.”) Cooney was introduced by author Jon Sciezska, and during her remarks shared the stage with Sesame Street star Elmo and his Muppeteer, Kevin Clash. Cooney encouraged parents to continue reading with their kids, saying, “Books ask us to see the whole, ponder the good, and recognize the real. And she told the audience it felt “great to be applauded by those who are trying to save civilization.”