“Out of nowhere late last week,” Daniel Nayeri said, he received an email from Antonio Cerna, head of marketing at Levine Querido, inviting him to participate in a Zoom conference call at 5 p.m. that afternoon to discuss some marketing ideas. The invitation “very much surprised” Nayeri as his latest book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (Levine Querido, Aug.) was published months ago.
“I just clicked OK and went back to my work day,” he said. Nayeri is the publisher of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group imprint Odd Dot. While Nayeri is a first-time American Library Association award recipient, he has written eight children’s books.
Everything Sad Is Untrue is Nayeri's semi-autobiographical tale of Khosrou, a 12-year-old Iranian immigrant to the U.S. who tries to explain himself to his Oklahoma classmates by telling fantastical tales about his family and faraway homeland. As PW 's starred review noted, “The text moves nimbly back and forth in time, depicting with equal vividness ancient Persian tales (a jasmine-scented village with saffron fields, courtyards, and fountains), family history (a legendary ancestral doctor), and the challenges of navigating life as an outsider in ‘a land of concrete and weathermen.’ ”
When Nayeri joined the video conference, he saw “seven unfamiliar faces; at first I thought, are these new marketing people? What’s happening?” Nayeri was informed that “in fact, it was not a marketing meeting, that Everything Sad Is Untrue had won the Michael L. Printz Award for the best 2020 book written for teens. The seven unfamiliar faces were those of the Printz committee members. Nayeri recalls “screaming for a while” and his wife running into his home office to hand him a bottle of champagne that Levine Querido had arranged to be delivered “exactly on time.”
“I’ve never been given a bottle of champagne before and I’ve never won an award of this size,” he admitted. “I’m sitting there holding the bubbly and I’m the only person in this room where my books are and my work desk is—so I started shaking it because that’s what I’ve seen athletes do. That’s the only context I had for such a thing.” Nayeri recalled that one of the committee members warned him not to shake the bottle—but too late, because when he popped it open, the champagne flowed out all over him.
“The interesting thing about a champagne shower in your house is that then you have to clean it up,” he said with a laugh, describing how joyful it felt to see and feel the liquid explode from the bottle like it did. “I got on my hands and knees and started mopping it up, but it was 100% worth it.” Fortunately, about half the champagne remained in the bottle, so he was able to drink a toast to his win.
Even though he was soaked with champagne, he said, he and the committee members “chatted for a little bit about the book.” He laughed as he recalled thinking, when asked if he had any questions for them about the selection process: “I don’t want to ask any questions for you that are going to make you rethink this.” Rather than asking any questions, he said, he wrote down in his notebook all of the committee members’ names. “I don’t know why, other than I just wanted to see them. I look at the list and I don’t know who they are. The job they got last year was to undeniably make history by handing the medal to someone: anyone and it would still be history. They must have spent the whole year with that weight on their shoulders. And they chose this book.”
When asked if he’d entertained any thoughts that his book might have a shot at winning a major ALA award, Nayeri confessed that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel too optimistic, though he was hopeful that “people would pay attention” to his book. But he disclosed that after the Zoom call ended and knowing that there were a few days remaining before the official announcement, he kept worrying to himself, “They’re not going to read any more books between now and Monday morning, are they?”
Asked about his future plans, Nayeri noted that he is currently writing a middle grade novel, this one set in the 11th century. He described it as a comedic-adventure taking place on the fabled Silk Road trade route linking Europe with the Middle East and Asia.
Other than working on that novel, he added, “In my culture, every statement about the future begins with ‘God willing’ because we have no idea what’s going on. Writing is my dream, but I did not think this book would get as amazing a reception as it has. And I am lucky enough to be a publisher at Odd Dot. For today, I am enjoying a lot of luck—and the rest is, God willing.”
This story has been updated with more information.