Books Save Lives picks winner: 'Learning to Breathe'Virtual event features Janice Lynn Mather’s young adult novel

Learning to Breathe isn’t just a breath of fresh air in the young adult literature space; according to the Joan F. Kaywell Books Save Lives Award selection committee, it’s a potential lifesaver.

Janice Lynn Mather’s young adult novel is set to join the USF canon of lifesaving books on February 4 at 2 p.m. EST during a free virtual event open to the public.

“Books saved my life,” says Kaywell, the award’s namesake. “They show you another viewpoint, another way out.”

Janice Lynn MatherKaywell has been part of the award process since 2012. A former USF Professor of English Education, she and the award selection committee annually identify particularly effective books that guide young readers through difficult experiences. Past honorees have tackled subjects like violence, abortion, LGBTQ, and teen crises. 

Indy, the protagonist of Learning to Breathe, is a young pregnant girl who feels alone in her predicament. Indy discovers a yoga retreat, and with it, a possibility of home in another form. It’s a story that has the potential to change a reader’s outlook, Kaywell says; one that illustrates that even when someone finds themselves in a rut, good people can be sought after to help.

“Literacy itself changes lives; also, if a teacher suspects a child is dealing with a challenge and recommends a book that addresses it, that can reveal solutions to the reader,” Kaywell says. “When you read about a character’s struggle in a book, it can feel safer to watch their reaction to the issue.”

Approximately 100 other books were considered for this year’s award, which requires an adolescent rising above a situation in a memorable, hopeful manner for consideration. The 2021 finalists include The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher. Mather receives a plaque and $1,500, and Kaywell hopes to expand the endowed prize.

The winning author usually enjoys tours of the Tampa area before a live reception that involves their book being added to the Hipple Collection of Young Adult Literature in Special Collections at the University of South Florida. That won’t occur this year, but the public can attend the virtual event from anywhere. Mather will answer audience questions about her book throughout and the event will be recorded and available to view afterward.

To learn more about how to support the USF Libraries or the Dr. Joan F. Kaywell Books Save Lives Award, email Christina Wisz, USF Libraries Associate Director of Development, or call 813-974-3888.

Gifts can be made securely online to the Joan F. Kaywell Books Save Lives USF Tampa Library Award endowment.

Register for the virtual event here.

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Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.