Caroline Pignat’s The Gospel Truth nominated for award in English Children’s Text category

Photo: Courtesy of MCpl Jean-François Néron 

In 2009, University of Ottawa alumna Caroline Pignat received the Governor General’s Literary Award for her historical children’s novel, Greener Grass. This year, she receives her second nomination for the prestigious national award for her newest book, The Gospel Truth.

Set in 1858 in Virginia, The Gospel Truth follows Phoebe, a young slave on a tobacco plantation. The novel uses six different narrative voices including Phoebe, her master, and a number of bystanders.

“The issue changes depending on whose point of view you’re looking through,” says Pignat.

Pignat’s award-winning first novel, Egghead, is also a youth novel that’s often studied in schools. Egghead was written in the multi-narrative style that Pigant has used in many of her books.

“It helps kids have empathy for other points of view. Your truth is true to you—it changes depending on who you are,” she said.

The narrative style of The Gospel Truth is not its only noteworthy feature. The novel is also unique in its writing style, with the entire novel written in free verse. The poetic style is much more emotional and free flowing than prose, which makes it undoubtedly unique for children’s literature.

“It’s a very different form than what I’ve done before, but it fit the voice I wanted to use in the novel,” Pignat says.

A graduate of English and religious studies at the U of O, Caroline Pignat went on to complete her B.Ed. at the university before beginning her writing career. Pignat’s years at the U of O inspired her to start writing professionally. “It was the first time someone thought what I was writing was good. It was a huge affirmation.”

Pignat wrote her first children’s book while teaching fourth grade, and says that her audience has grown up over the years. Her upcoming work, Shooter, is a teen fiction novel that revolves around students in grade twelve, the same year she now teaches.

As for themes, The Gospel Truth will be Pignat’s fourth historical piece. Three of her novels, including Governor General Award-winning Greener Grass, are set in nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland, which is her country of birth.

A fan of historical fiction, Pignat says the genre has taught her “it’s more about the person rather than the event.”

“They’re going through the same emotions any person would, but in their historical context. I love stories from the past and what we can learn about ourselves from looking at them.”

The author of seven novels, Caroline Pignat has developed her writing style over her career to include a diverse selection of literature that breaks the classic restraints in children’s literature. Her nomination for the Governor General’s Award is one of only five in the English Children’s Text category.

While thankful to be receiving such a prestigious national award alongside talented writers, Pignat is most excited about being nominated for narrating a story not commonly found in children’s literature. “It is free verse, it is historical,” she explains. “To know that it resonated with the readers and felt authentic is huge. I’m very proud that it made the list.”