The Super Bowl of Children’s Literature, 2/2/14

In case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is a big day for football. But there is another really big day early in the morning on Monday, February 2. No one will be spiking the ball, evaluating multi-million dollar commercials, or lip syncing at halftime. Nope, the question Monday morning will be “what will win?” as children’s librarians, publishers, and other folks gather for the Super Bowl of children’s book awards.

In cold Chicago, on Monday, February 2, the 2015 American Library Association Youth Media Awards will be announced. This rather dry and unassuming title is actually a very exciting event for those in the children’s literature world. This event brings together everyone who has anything to do with children’s books for one hour during which all of us sit on the edge of our seat, ready to spring up and applaud the winners as they are announced. Only about two dozen people will know the winners before they are announced, and the rest of us find out as one. (The award-winning authors and illustrators will also know – they get called between 5-7AM local time with the good news; earlier if they live on the west coast.)

For most people who aren’t involved with children’s books, at least one or two of these awards might be familiar – the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. The Newbery is awarded “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” And the Caldecott is awarded “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Or in other words, the Newbery is for writing and the Caldecott is for art. If you don’t know these awards, you probably know some books that have won them or have been an honor book – Madeline, Make Way for Ducklings, The Bridge to Terabithia, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, Holes, The Giver, Jumanji, Charlotte’s Web. These books are so special, they have dedicated sections in BookKids.

In addition to the Newbery and Caldecott, many other awards will also be announced. The Printz Award is for young adult literature. The Sibert for informational books. The Pura Belpre for books written & illustrated by Latinos and about the Latino culture. The Coretta Scott King Awards recognize the work by African-American writers and illustrators. The Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) award goes to outstanding books for beginning readers. There are also awards for audio books, books that depict disabilities, books that have been translated into English, lifetime achievement, video adaptations, and more. A list of and information about all the awards to be announced can be found here.

I’ve been lucky to have the wonderful experience of attending this press conference many times. I was there last year, but alas, not this year. I will be watching the live streaming of the announcements, which is open to anyone with an Internet connection.

In the case of the Newbery and Caldecott, each medal has a selection committee that is made up of only 15 people. That’s it. These committees change every year, but it all boils down to how 15 people interpret the terms & criteria of the award and use those to evaluate the piles and piles of eligible books they receive. What a daunting task these committees have – to judge the all of the eligible books and narrow it down to a handful.

We have no idea what the committee will pick. We do know which books we’d be cheerleading for if we were on the committees. Here are some of the books Meghan and I would love to see be honored in some way on Monday.

me with viva frida
Viva Frida! by Yuyi Morales
The artist and book I most want to see be honored with something from the Caldecott committee is Yuyi Morales for Viva Frida!. Yuyi is an artist who changes her style for nearly every book. Her creative abilities know no limits and for Viva Frida!, she combines paintings, dolls, and photography to express the ethereal, beautiful, and colorful spirit of artist Frida Kahlo. I love the expressions Yuyi creates on the doll faces, the colors that enhance the emotion of the words, and the details that are mixed into every tableau. Even though the artwork is detailed and full, I don’t feel like it overwhelms the page or the reader. It actually feels light – so the art and reader can soar just like Frida’s dreams. It is a visual treat! I had a hard time choosing between this book and Meghan’s pick for the Caldecott . . .

farmer and the clown
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
I’ve been really appreciative of wordless books these days since my toddler has gotten very into them. And I think that The Farmer and the Clown is an outstanding example of wordless storytelling. There are plenty of examples of gorgeous picture artwork out there pulling out the bells and whistles to command attention. And I love those books. But what amazes me about the illustrations in this book is how subdued they seem yet how powerfully they resonate. The palette is that of a dusty farm, with subtly textured illustrations that evoke the solid reality of daily life. The setting is simple and uncomplicated. The characters too, although drawn beautifully, are unadorned: the farmer in his overalls, the baby clown in his red onesie. And somehow every captured moment simmers with emotion. Marla Frazee has imbued her simple story with a remarkable depth of feeling, told entirely through two characters’ incredibly eloquent body language and facial expressions as they each experience in their own ways what it means to be lost, what it means to be found, and what it means to be home. I absolutely love this poignant, slightly bittersweet story about love, family, loss, and resilience. This is life. This is art. This is storytelling. This is everything I want a picture book to be. And, not incidentally since this is a book for children, it holds up to the true at-home toddler test of withstanding countless re-readings without losing its luster.

Other books we have Caldecott hopes for: Flashlight by Lizi Boyd; Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato; The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat; Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light; The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant, Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy; Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? illustrated by Kenard Pak, written by Rita Gray.

For Newbery, Meghan and Ellen both think Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson will win something. It’s a heavy favorite to be in the awards mix, and we agree with why. It’s poetic, moving, inspiring, and nonfiction account of Woodson’s family’s history, her childhood, and her development into the writer she is. Nothing even remotely like it was written this year. Even though it is a true personal story, it does not alienate the reader. Rather, it makes the events and emotions in Woodson’s life relatable and universal. Not a word is out of place or unnecessary. Ellen literally hugged this book when she finished reading it. It is one of the best pieces of writing this year.

Other Newbery contenders: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm; The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming; The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin; The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire; The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Meghan also has an “if only” pick for Newbery – The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett. To be eligible, the author must be an American citizen or reside in the U.S. Sonya Harnett is a wonderful Australian writer for children and teens, and while she has won other ALA awards for her writing, she is not eligible for the Newbery.

UPDATE 2/2/15:
So the awards were just announced and the winners are . . .

Caldecott Medal

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

Caldecott Honor Winners (there are six of them!)
Nana in the City illustrated and written by Lauren Castillo
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
Viva Frida illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant
This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki

Newbery Medal

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Newbery Honor Winners
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

For a complete list of all the winners, please take a look at the offical press release from the American Library Associtation.

Congrats to all the winners, committee, and publishers!

3 thoughts on “The Super Bowl of Children’s Literature, 2/2/14

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