Thoughts on Newbery: Today’s Announcements

This was only the second time I wasn’t at Midwinter for the announcements. I went to school figured I’d see if I could watch the live stream or perhaps peek at my phone. Happily, someone was doing something with my class and I was able to watch all of it. And, boy, did I end up happy and pleased. Congratulations to all the honorees and committee members!

Here are some quick responses (while my class is out for a few minutes):

First and foremost — I’m over-the-top pleased with Erin Entrada Kelly  receiving the Newbery medal for Hello, Universe . I fell in love with this book last March and have been advocating for it ever since.

And then there are the Newbery honors, all beloved by me:

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down. Another I fell madly in love with, but since I didn’t read it until late December I wasn’t able to advocate for it on Heavy Medal until after they made up their list.
  • Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. I read and liked this, but it took participating in my school’s first ever Faculty Mock Newbery this past Saturday to really appreciate it. So much as we selected it as our winner.
  •  Derrick Barnes’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. So so happy about this as I’d been arguing that it should be considered as much for Newbery as for Caldecott.

I haven’t read the Printz winner, so can’t comment, but I adore all the honors:

  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  •  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Among the CSK honorees, all fabulous, I was especially pleased to see Charly Palmer honored for  Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song, a book I reviewed with great enthusiasm.

Jackie Woodson for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.  Absolutely!

Angela Johnson getting the Edwards — hurrah!

Debbie Reese for the Arbuthnot. Yes, yes, yes!!!



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Gentleman Bill Teale

I am remembering the intelligent, kind, pensive, thoughtful, quiet actor, beautiful, wonderful Bill Teale. I knew him first as a smart leader in the field of literacy education, later as a fellow mascot to the 2002 Newbery Committee (we both were connected to members of that legendary group and so allowed to hang around:), then as a trailblazer in educational technology who invited me to present with him, as one who so loved his wife Junko, and of his sense of fun. My sympathies to his family, friends, colleagues, and all who knew this very special man.

I spent many delightful times with Bill over the years. The photos below are of a favorite memory. During the 2012 IBBY Congress in London, Junko, Bill, Claudia Söffner, and I entered the Victoria and Albert via a back entrance and came across these spinning chairs. May you spin in joy, Bill.


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The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece is coming to NYC’s Museum of Illustration

This looks completely awesome!

The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece
On display at the Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators
February 28 – June 30, 2018.


The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece walks visitors through the story of Congressman John Lewis’s experience in the civil rights movement as depicted by the pen of MARCH trilogy illustrator Nate Powell. This landmark exhibition of Congressman Lewis’s celebrated graphic novel memoir, co-written with Andrew Aydin, takes visitors on a visceral tour of the movement, illuminating pivotal moments, people, and philosophies through the display of over 150 pieces of original art, interactive materials, and new exhibition essays by Jonathan W. Gray, Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination: Innocence by Association (The University Press of Mississippi. 2013).

The exhibition gives a glimpse into how this graphic novel was created, with behind-the-scenes process art and artifacts from Powell’s illustration process. A portion of the exhibition also shows how Eisner Award-winning Powell evolved from an SVA student steeped in the punk zine culture into the illustrator of MARCH.

The Society of Illustrators will be organizing events open to the public in conjunction with the exhibition. An opening reception will take place on Thursday, March 1st, beginning at 6:30 PM. A schedule of lectures, panels, tours and workshops geared toward students, teachers, as well as the general public will be announced in the coming weeks. More information on the exhibit and related events can be found here.
In addition, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin will be Guests of Honor at MoCCA Arts Festival. This 2-day multimedia event, Manhattan’s largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival, draws over 8,000 attendees each year. Held on April 7 and 8th, the Fest will include speaking engagements, book signings, and parties. Further scheduling information for MoCCA Arts Festival will be available in future announcements.
The MARCH trilogy has been recognized for its groundbreaking storytelling with numerous accolades. MARCH: Book One became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, MARCH: Book Two won the Eisner Award, MARCH: Book Three is the first graphic novel to receive a National Book Award, and the trilogy has spent a combined 99 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. MARCH is published by Top Shelf Productions, an imprint of IDW Publishing.

The Art of MARCH: A Civil Rights Masterpiece exhibition is co-curated by John Lind (Creative Director, Kitchen Sink Books, an imprint of Dark Horse Comics) and Charles Brownstein (Executive Director, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund).. The mission of SI/MI is to promote the art and appreciation of illustration and its history and evolving nature through exhibitions and educational programs.

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Thoughts on Newbery: My Wishes for This Year

Before anything else I must say — I will admire and honor and applaud the winners, whether they were my personal favorites or not. For all awards are given subjectively. That is, every group of people will have their own tastes and orientations that are bound to affect their decisions, however hard they try for impartiality. As a reminder, here is a post I wrote a few years ago for the Nerdy Book Club giving a sense of how things happen: Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award. Being on an award committee is exciting, but also challenging as anyone who has served on one well knows. So let’s celebrate the work of those doing their final preparations for ALA’s Youth Media Awards — they will be making their decisions this coming Friday – Sunday and these will be announced on Monday. (ETA I wrote this before the Heavy Medal 15, of which I was one,  completed their work. Thrilled that I‘m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense was our winner. Congrats to all!)

The following are titles I’d personally be pleased to see honored this year:

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down. From my review:  “I thought it magnificent.”
  • Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello Universe. From my review: “It may be this is a book for introverts? I can’t say, but it provided all that I want in a book for children — an intriguing plot, beautifully articulated characters, tight and elegant sentences, wit, and opportunity for thought.”
  • Chris Harris’s I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups. From my goodreads review: “Chris Harris is a worthy heir to Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, A. A. Milne, Ogden Nash, and more I can’t think of right now.”
  • Eucabeth A. Odhiambo’s Auma’s Long Run. From my review: “Odhiambo relates Auma’s story in clear and direct prose, as practical and realistic as her protagonist. Her descriptions of Auma’s life are vivid and authentic, her scenes raw and real.  While there is indeed sorrow and sadness, there is also humor and joy.”
  • Dave Eggers’ Her Right Foot. No review, but I thought this outstanding for the voice, the information, and the theme. So did my students when I read it aloud.
  • Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride. From my review: “Best of all is the sentence level writing which is a delight.”
  • Derrick Barnes’ Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. This is getting a lot of Caldecott buzz rightly for illustrator Gordon C. James, but I think the writing is superb too.
  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. I think the sensibility of this title is remarkable; what a feat to communicate the blues, musically, emotionally, and in prose no less.
  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won. I’d enjoyed this, but it took my fellow Heavy Medal  Mock Newbery Committee members (especially here) to convince me that this an elegant and beautifully constructed work worthy of the medal.
  • Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School. Just delightful.
  • Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. In my review I wrote, “A piercingly honest view into the complicated social life of one young girl that is certain to resonate for all who have observed, participated, or otherwise experienced the difficult dynamics of school friendships.”
  • Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo. In my Horn Book review I wrote, “The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.”




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In the Classroom: Teaching About Slavery Redux

I’ve written about the teaching of slavery before and will again. It is a topic I feel is urgently important for us to grapple with in the classroom.  A couple of years ago I wrote the blog post, “In the Classroom: Teaching About Slavery” in which I described my unit with my fourth graders on this challenging yet critical topic. Since then I’ve learned more and adjusted my teaching accordingly, especially after spending a week this past summer at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Here are links to a couple of posts about that experience:

Now I’m preparing to teach my unit on forced migration from Africa and using what I learned at the museum and more to set it up anew. In particular, I’m doing a large presentation on the Atlantic World, giving a greater sense of the African Kingdoms and agency prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. And then giving a greater context for it, reaching beyond the United States.

And so how amazing to find the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance new project, Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery  working off a thorough study on what is done now as well as what we can do in the future. Here are some excellent links related to this:

I highly recommend taking the time to read all of these, especially if you are teaching.





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Thoughts on Newbery: Ten Years On


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It is the tenth anniversary of my Newbery.  Of course, it is really Laura Amy Schlitz’s and  honor-winners Christopher Paul Curtis, Gary M. Schmidt, and Jackie Woodson’s, but serving on that 2008 Committee was so very special that I do feel it is also mine somehow. What an  experience. That intense time of reading and thinking and reading and thinking. The tragic death of one of our original committee members, the wonderful Mikki Nevett. Our deliberations in a hidden-away room at Philadelphia’s Ritz Hotel where, during breaks, I would look out the window at the glorious view while eating the many sweets we all had brought; will-power be damned. The quiet celebratory drink a committee member and I had at the hotel’s classy bar.

Then there we were writing up the press release, making the Calls, and waiting to see the reaction to our choices at the YMA announcements. And of course there was that unique and amazing Banquet. How lovely that Travis and Colby are also reminding us of this in their latest episode of The Yarn, “Everything is Upside-Down: The 2008 Newbery and Caldecott Medals.

It was while on the committee that I started my “Thoughts on Newbery” series. This is from my first of these:

To help me along my own particular Newbery road, I planned on using this blog to work out my ideas about what a great book really is, more specifically — what a great American children’s book really is. I thought I’d do this with eligible books, but the recent controversy about award committee members blogging has me skittish; therefore, I’m going to use older books instead —- previous winners and honor books, other books I think perhaps should have won or been considered, and just any older book I admire and think is distinguished. However, even if I don’t write about eligible books in these Thoughts on Newbery posts, you can certainly write about them in the comments. Please, please do —- your thoughts on this year’s books will be incredibly helpful to me as I continue on my perhaps quixotic quest to find the best children’s book of the year.

Here are links to the posts I wrote during that special Newbery year:

Remembering with enormous fondness, gratitude, and awe my fellow committee members (as listed in the ALA press release though I know some of them are doing different things now):


Chair Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, Oakland, Calif.; Yolanda Foster Bolden, Forsyth County Public Library, Winston Salem, N.C.; Barbara Jones Clark, Birmingham Public Schools, Southfield, Mich.; Monica Edinger, The Dalton School, New York; Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library; Tami Chumbley Finley, Bettendorf Public Library, Bettendorf, Iowa; Kathleen Isaacs, children’s literature specialist, Pasadena, Md.; Bonnie Kunzel, youth services adolescent literacy consultant, Germantown, Tenn.; Cindy Lombardo, Cleveland Public Library, Ohio; Martha V. Parravano, The Horn Book Magazine, Boston; Michael Santangelo, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Victor L. Schill, Harris County Public Library, Houston; Dean Schneider, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tenn.; Luann Toth, School Library Journal, New York; Maureen White, associate professor, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Canyon, Texas.

Since then I’ve continued the series, mulling over Newbery issues, indicating what I’d like to see win on a given year, and reflecting on winners. Soon I will be doing one for this year. Can’t wait to see what this year’s committee selects!

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R.I.P Julius Lester

The great Julius Lester died yesterday, peacefully and surrounded by family.

I first met Julius in the mid-1990s in  rec.arts.books.children — an Internet space similar to Reddit where all manner of groups formed. Not long thereafter we both joined the child_lit discussion group and became online friends. Julius was the sage amongst us, willing to ponder, engage, and smooth ruffled feathers in an intelligent, elegant, and remarkable way. Those wise posts were lost with the end of child_lit, but fortunately,  they continue to live in our hearts.

Once the discussion was about classic books we hadn’t read and I, shamefaced, said the Bible causing Julius, a devoted converted Jew, to send me his favorite edition which I treasure. Another time, a debate on the racism of Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo inspired Julius to retell the story as Sam and the Tigers  illustrated by his frequent collaborator, Jerry Pinkney. Wrote Julius in his author’s note:

The biggest challenge for both of us was history. Many whites had loved Little Black Sambo as children and were afraid their love for it made them racists now. That is not so. Many blacks, angered and shamed, resolved it be thrown into the garbage. For many years so had I.

Yet what other story had I read at age seven and remembered for fifty years? There was obviously an abiding truth in the story, despite itself. I think it is the truth of the imagination, that incredible realm where animals and people live together like they don’t know any better, and children eat pancakes cooked in the butter of melted tigers, and parents never say, “Don’t eat so many.”

Today to honor this remarkable man I read Sam and the Tigers  to my 4th graders and they, of course, loved it.

We met once in person — at an ALA convention where he was receiving a CSK award. His publisher, knowing of our on-line friendship, seated us together at the Newbery-Caldecott banquet where I also met his wife. It must have been there that he signed my copy of Sam and the Tigers.

Thank you, Julius Lester, for all you did for humanity and me too.

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