Category Archives: awards

Andy Mulligan’s Ribblestrop

I am a big fan of Andy Mulligan’s Trashpublished last year in the United States to very positive reviews. (It also made it through two rounds in last year’s SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books; those elegantly penned decisions are here and  here.)  And now, having just read them, I’m here to report that Mulligan’s other two books, Ribblestrop and Return to Ribblestrop, are just as good (although as of this writing, they have not been published in the US and I don’t know of any plans to do so).  While I had the books on hand for a while it was the latter’s winning the Guardian children’s book prize that spurred me on to read it and then to go on to read the first one. Completely out of order and not recommended as such, but I admit that I quite enjoyed going backwards in learning about the characters and their circumstances.

The two books are part of a projected trilogy set in a most unconventional school, Ribblestrop. And so, yes, this is absolutely a school story and moreso a boarding school story.  There is a school song, uniforms, and so on.  But it is, in every way, a completely unconventional school and school story — there are lovely adults around who care about the students and do help in the end, but are also occasionally cluess. There are also hideous adults around who are out for absolutely no good as far as the children go.  These are serious badies, villains, meanies with no complicating factors to gain sympathy — they are completely and utterly bad, terrifyingly so at points.  More importantly, there are the students who can be considered in two parts.   First of all there is a motley group that includes Millie, a very angry thirteen-year-old and the only girl at the school; Sanchez, the son of a Columbian mobster; Sam, a sweet and vulnerable new boy; Ruskin (and, in the second book, his brother Olie) with his poor vision and smarts; and a few more. The second cohort are the orphans, a group from India, street children it seems (and somewhat related for me to the boys of Trash) who all seem to be incredibly capable at all sorts of things, not a weak one in the bunch.  Mulligan, a veteran international school teacher, on his website, writes of the orphans:

They are from India, with bits of Nepal thrown in. Like Millie, they are fusions of the various children I have met – especially the children I taught in northern India, with a work ethic so intense it was scary. And manners that used to shame my own.

Both books have intense plots; in both the children are put in tremendous peril. There are violent moments, very violent ones where children get seriously hurt.  While the good adults around them (the headmaster and a couple of their teachers) help, it is always the children in the end who save each other, working as a team to do so.  I’m not great at doing plot summaries by and large and with these two books the plots are complex and so I recommend going elsewhere for more specifics (and here to read an excerpt from the second book).

The books also have moments of absolute wonder and delight.  I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some wonderous places around and under the Ribblestrop estate, there is a ghost, there are glorious learning experiences, dramatic football games, remarkable acts of building and creation, wild animals, and delightful meals. Not to mention that they are funny in the best understated sort of way.

The first thing Sam noticed as he pushed open the laboratory door was a large pair of hairy knees sticking out from under a bench. He noticed them because in his exhausted state he tripped over them and, as he was carrying a box full of test tubes, the result was noisy.  (pg 117, Ribblestrop)

To my mind, the best description of the books is this one from Mulligan when accepting the Guardian prize:

“I never expected the Guardian to award such a stonker of a prize to a book that is dangerous, violent, irreverent, politically incorrect, joyously sentimental, anti-adult, pro-child and sometimes bizarre – but I’m very glad they have.

Me too.

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First Australian Children’s Laureates Announced

Drum roll….they are: Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor! More about the award, the new laureates, and more here.  Congratulations to all!  (Now we in the States have to wait with bated breath for the person who will be taking Katherine Paterson’s spot as our National Ambassador for Children’s Literature— to be announced January 3rd by the Librarian of Congress, James Billington.)

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Happy NOLA and ALA

Yesterday I came back to NYC from New Orleans in the early hours of the morning pleased to see my dog and a slightly cooler and less humid town. I had been incredibly disturbed at what I experienced and saw in 2006 so it was fantastic seeing tons of tourists, streetcars (weren’t there six years ago), and a city more like the one I remember from visits before Katrina.

I spent my first day with friends brunching at Dooky Chase, a fantastic place I’d been to many years ago and was so heartened to see revived after the storm; taking the St. Charles Street streetcar through the Garden District to the end and back; having drinks at Napoleon House; and visiting the Voodoo Museum, a place I first went to years back because of the connection to African spiritual beliefs and practices I knew of from my time in Sierra Leone.

The following day Sarah Ketchersid, the editor for Africa is my Home,  and I went to the Amistad Research Center to look at the original Amistad materials. Since the book is going to be interactive — Ology-like with flaps and envelopes and such — we wanted to see if we might use some of the materials in the book.  The staff was incredibly helpful — thank you so much, Chris and Andrew — and seeing and handling the materials again (as I’d first done in 2006), this time with Sarah who has been equally immersed in the story for a couple of years now, was moving beyond belief. We read Sarah Margru’s letters as well as those from other Amistad captives, their supporters, and even John Quincy Adams.  One side note — editors read differently than you and I.  That is, I read fast and scan and so I would take a look at a letter with its faded-difficult-to-make-out copperplate-script and figure there was nothing for us in it. But then Sarah would keep looking and suddenly point out a reference to the “children” or “the girls.”  Editors know how to hone in and read in a way we don’t!

The convention itself was grand — seeing friends and their books, learning about forthcoming ones, connecting with new folks, eating (and eating and eating and eating…) terrific meals, and enjoying the touristy parts of NOLA.  I don’t wish to make anyone reading this too terribly jealous, but some especially memorable experiences were:

Thanks to all for making my NOLA and ALA time so delightful!

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Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children 2011

A bit under-the-radar, the Orbis Pictus Award is one that shouldn’t be.  Awarded yearly by NCTE,  it recognizes outstanding nonfiction writing for children.  The recently announced 2011 winner is, tada, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring illustrated by Brian Floca (Roaring Brook Press).

Honor Books

  • Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek)
  • Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell (Charlesbridge)
  • If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Mark Aronson (National Geographic)
  • Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook Press)
  • Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age by Cheryl Bardoe (Abrams Books for Young Readers).

Recommended Books

  • Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown & Company)
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press)
  • For Good Measure by Ken Robbins (Roaring Brook Press)
  • Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press)
  • Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (Houghton Mifflin)
  • Polar Bears by Mark Newman (Henry Holt and Company)
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin).

Congratulations to all the winners!

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The Oscars of Children’s Literature

Last year The Today Show noted that the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards are often called the “Oscars of children’s literature.” Certainly, the awards are highly regarded and, like the movie ones, result in significant increases in sales.  As of this writing, two weeks after the awards were announced, the Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest, is number five and the Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, number two on the New York Times best seller lists.  Yet despite the endless concern expressed about children (most recently by President Obama in his State of the Union address), the contrast between the media attention for this Monday’s announcement of the Oscar nominations versus that two weeks ago for the Newbery and Caldecott winners could not be more extreme.

This year, while the Today Show did enthusiastically cover the Oscar nominationsthey passed on those “Oscars of children’s books.” The result was a lot of discussion within the children’s book world as to whether it mattered or not.  Those who felt it did wrote letters and emails, started a Facebook campaign, and otherwise tried to get the show to reconsider.  Others argued that the brief and often awkward Today Show segments were no longer relevant and that there were plenty of other places to promote the books. Indeed the winners were celebrated in industry publications like PW, heavily blogged, enthusiastically twittered, celebrated on Facebook, and featured in other media outlets, old and new.

I’m one who feels the Today Show still matters. A lot. It matters because there are still many people who depend on it for their information. I’m thinking of parents, grandparents, teachers and other viewers who care about the children in their lives and pay attention when something related to them shows up on a major television show that they watch daily.  I am certain it meant something to them when the show took a few minutes to interview winners of awards they remembered from their own childhood.  I’m sure many of those busy folks getting ready for the day thought as they caught one of those brief segments: “Hmm…I need to check out those books for my kids/grandkids/class/friend’s kid” just as many of us thought this past Monday, “Hmm… I’ve got to check out True Grit/Social Network/The King’s Speech.”

Bottom line for me: giving children’s book awards even a smidgen of the attention the Oscars get sends a message that our children matter.

Cross posted at Huffington Post.

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Today Show — No Newbery and Caldecott Award Winners?

Please, please don’t tell me Snookie bumped the Newbery and Caldecott winners from yesterday’s Today Show (as someone suggested to me on twitter when I wondered about the absence).  Hoping they might be on today I did a search, but there is nothing.  Not even something to inform those on the site about the winners.   As clumsy as some of those brief interviews from the past were they sure brought the award and children’s books to a much bigger audience than we ever could.

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The Quiet Before the Announcements

In less than 24 hours members of the 2011 Newbery and Caldecott Committees will be doing one of the coolest things ever — call their winners. And then shortly after that they will be at the press conference where the rest of us will learn of their decisions.  Today everyone involved will try to be nonchalant, try to go about their regular lives, and think of other things.  And tonight — I can only imagine how hard it must be to attempt to sleep with the knowledge that it just might be you that will get that call and then how hard to go on when you don’t.  My heart goes out to everyone involved this anxious day.  And my very best to all the writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, designers, marketers, publicists, agents and everyone else who work to create these wonderful books, these wonderful works of art, for children.

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