Every year, the American Library Association honors the best in children's and teen literature with a suite of awards collectively known as the ALA Youth Media Awards. The most famous of these awards are the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, given to the "most distinguished contribution to children's literature" and the "most distinguished picture book," respectively. The Newbery is awarded to a book's author, while the Caldecott goes to the illustrator.
This year, I was there at the ALA Midwinter Convention for all of the excitement. When I came back, I went on the radio with host Tom Hall and talked a little bit about the awards - Laura Amy Schlitz called in! It was cool! But I have, as usual, MORE TO SAY...
The 2013 Newbery Medal was awarded to veteran author Katherine Applegate for The One and Only Ivan, a beautiful chapter book about a lonely gorilla. Applegate has had a long and varied career. As K.A. Applegate, she co-wrote Animorphs, a book series that some librarians I know turn up their noses at, but which has a cult-like following among 8- to 12-year-old boys and the men that they have become. More recently, Applegate has written the affecting immigrant tale Home of the Brave.
Ms. Applegate's frequent writing partner is her husband Michael Grant, a man prone to occasional bouts of larger-than-life-ness and an unabashed fan of his wife and her work. Upon exiting the auditorium after the awards, one librarian was overheard to say, "So happy Ivan won it, but there'll be no living with Grant now!" Grant tweeted that his "brilliant wife" "will now make me do dishes for the rest of 2013."
In addition to the Medal, the awards committees are at liberty to bestow Honors. This year, Honors went to local hero Laura Amy Schlitz for her lush, old-fashioned adventure Splendors and Glooms; Sheila Turnage for her cheerful but poignant small-town mystery Three Times Lucky (a favorite of Children's Bookstore proprietor JoAnn Fruchtman); and nonfiction author Steve Sheinkin for his book Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon.
It's not every year that the Newbery books include such readable, appealing titles - sometimes the awards go to books that are more admired by adults than loved by children. Congratulations to all the authors and to the hard-working Newbery Committee!
Author-illustrator, nice guy, and total stud Jon Klassen scored the kidlit equivalent of a hat trick this year, winning the Caldecott Medal for his book This Is Not My Hat, and one of the five Caldecott Honors awarded this year - for Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. This Is Not My Hat follows a little fish who thinks he has gotten away with a crime - but the illustrations tell a different story. The last time a two-fer like this happened was in 1947 - an artist named Leonard Weisgard won a Caldecott Honor for a picture book about the Black Dahlia written by Tennessee Williams, and the Medal for illustrating Thor Heyerdahl's picture book autobiography. Those were the days, eh?
It can be a little confusing that the Caldecott medal and honors are awarded to the artist of a book but not the writer (when they are different people - they aren't always, an example being This is Not My Hat, which Klassen wrote as well as illustrated). It seems hard to imagine a beautiful picture book with a weak text being singled out for honors by the committee. Honors ought to be shared by both creators.
Other Honors winners included Peter Brown, Laura Vaccaro Seeger for her book Green, Pamela Zagarenski for Sleep Like a Tiger, the cover of which looks NOT AT ALL like Go the F**k to Sleep (a book which was, by the way, beautifully illustrated - wouldn't that have elicited a gasp it had earned an Honor!), and David Small - nominally for One Cool Friend, which I love very much, but let's face it if you had a chance to give David Small a prize for anything, wouldn't you? after reading Stitches and The Gardener and The Library?
Coretta Scott King
This award recognizes "an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults," and this year the librarian community was thrilled that Andrea Davis Pinkney won the author award for her book Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney. Ms. Pinkney also won the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture, which means that she will travel the country this year delivering a speech on the subject of children's literature to librarians and students. This is one of those under-the-radar awards that librarians get really excited about - some practitioners in our industry are absolutely fantastic, inspiring orators.
The Coretta Scott King illustrator award went to Eastern Shore native and all-around wonderful guy Bryan Collier for his interpretation of Langston Hughes's poem “I, Too, Am America." This is a beautiful book. You can see Collier's work in the flesh at the Reginal F. Lewis Museum, at an exhibit called Defining Moments: An exhibition of works by Bryan Collier.
Notably, two books this year really cleaned up at the awards. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, a nonfiction book about the atom bomb, won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award "for most distinguished informational book for children" as well as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and a Newbery Honor.
I am personally hoping that getting so many awards will prompt a new cover for this book, as I have trouble convincing kids that this static, symmetrical cover with its bland color scheme and prominent word is actually a suspenseful, entertaining read. PUT THE BOMB ON THE COVER. Thank you.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, won the Stonewall Award for a book of "exceptional merit relating to the GLBT experience," as well as the Pura Belpré Award "honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience." This book also won a Printz Honor, "for excellence in literature written for young adults." Look at that cover - that is a beautiful cover! But no way there's enough room on this cover for three award stickers! A nice problem to have.
I think the boundaries are blurring as books with what we used to call "diverse" characters become more commonplace - a book whose main character is a non-heterosexual Latino boy is less likely nowadays to be about that boy's sexuality or ethnic identity, and frickin Hallelujah to that!
Mock Newbery and Caldecott lists
The awards committees can only recognize a maximum of six books per category - but there are dozens of wonderful books published every year. Libraries, bookstores, and schools have started putting themselves in the committee members' shoes by forming their own Mock Newbery and Mock Caldecott clubs. Members read all year, nominate books, discuss the nominees, and vote. Even kids as little as seven and eight can participate in a Mock Caldecott process. Some notable Mocks:
Heavy Medal, a Mock Newbery blog online at School Library Journal.
John Schumacher and Colby Sharp did a Mock Caldecott with their students, and the results are posted on the Watch. Connect. Read. book trailer blog.
Travis Jonker did Mock Caldecott with 2nd graders and posted the results on 100 Scope Notes.
The Eva Perry Mock Newbery Club has been Mock Newberying since 1998.
Horn Book's Calling Caldecott blog.
Some people take this award stuff a step further, inventing their own awards that embrace participation by the public. The online Nerdy Book Club offers the Nerdies Book Awards, with more categories than the ALA (including poetry!); ditto for the Cybils Awards, which invites the public to nominate books in any or all of ten categories.
No matter who wins the coveted Medals and Honors, the best aspect of the ALA Youth Media Awards is the excitement that they generate. Keeping the conversation going is the real value. Unless you're one of the authors who have won the golden tickets - holy crap, watching Katherine Applegate and Jon Klassen vault to the top of the bestseller lists this week has been mind-blowing! Also? Now they get to write ANYTHING THEY WANT. You think theft is an unusual theme for a children's book? You watch, Klassen's next book is going to be about ARSON.