Category Archives: awards

Thoughts on Newbery: What I’d Like to See Honored a Week from Today

Next Monday morning the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. Many wonderful books came into the world this year, some receiving a great deal of attention while others were appreciated more quietly. And as is true for all the hardworking committee members, those charged with selecting the Newbery will have spent an enormous amount of time considering the eligible titles before making their careful decision. (See this post for more about the criteria and their process.)

Because it is fun to see if any of your own favorites get the nod here are eight of mine. While there were many more I loved this year (including some on this list), based on recent conversations, hard thinking, and irrational feelings from the heart these are the ones I’d be preparing for the most if I were on this year’s committee.

  • El Deafo  This is probably a long shot, but I can dream, can’t I? My arguments for this wonderful graphic novel memoir are here.
  • West of the Moon Way back last March I wrote in my review, “Mixing fairy and folktale with harsh historical reality, Preus has created a gorgeous story of migration set in 19th century Norway.”
  • Brown Girl Dreaming  I wrote here that it is “One of the most lyrical and moving books of the year.”
  • The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza  “By the time this final book of the series—as elegantly and propulsively written as the others—draws to a close, you know that no matter what the future holds, Joey’s inner strength and smart, sweet nature will prevail.” is how I concluded my starred Horn Book review.
  • The Madman of Piney Woods  In another starred Horn Book review, I wrote,” Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
  • The Crossover About this powerful verse novel, I wrote here, “The poetry is energetic and the story compelling — a sure-fire hit for a wide range of readers.”
  • The Family Romanov Of this elegant work of nonfiction I noted here, “Balancing the over-the-top lifestyle of the last Russian royals with firsthand accounts of the rest of the populace, Fleming provides a fascinating and highly readable version of this tragic story.”
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish In my New York Times review I wrote, “Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and — oh yes — goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel.”

 

 

 

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Congratulations to the Kirkus Prize Finalists

On October 23rd, the winners of the new Kirkus Prize will go home with a whopping $50,000. While I’m sure that award will be much appreciated it is about the honor as well. Yesterday the finalists were announced and I am absolutely delighted with those in the young readers category. They are:

El Deafo by Cece Bell. I was waiting for the finished copy to post about this fantastic graphic memoir and so will soon. The more I think about it and read about it the more I admire it, so much so that I’m now planning to use it with my 4th graders in a literature circle unit later this year. I have never done a whole class look at a graphic novel so it should be interesting.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryan, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I’ve raved here already about this one. It is my top choice for the Caldecott and I think it is a worthy contender for the Sibert as well.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. My professional review for this is forthcoming, but I will say that I am very happy that the Kirkus jury is celebrating this finale to an original and complex series. Joey and Jack rule!

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnson. I read this ages ago thanks to the recommendation of a goodreads friend and thought it an extremely clever novel indeed. This honor should, for good reason, definitely kick up the buzz that is already building around this highly original title.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell.  This is the only finalist I have not yet read, but the enthusiasm even before this honor has made me eager to rectify that as soon as possible.

Avian Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth.  I took a quick look when I first received this and have been meaning to return to read it properly. I recall beautiful illustrations and puzzling over audience. Now must go back and figure it out.

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: Patrick Ness’s CBAITS

Some of you may bristle (or already have) about this topic, but I think it is one to take very, very seriously. It is Patrick Ness‘s provocative point in his SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Book decision this week about what he has termed CBAITs:

Crappy Books About Important Things; you know exactly what I’m talking about: books with either important subject matter or important formats that are so terrible-but-worthy they turn reading into medicine for young people.  People tend to be far too afraid to give these books bad reviews and they often go on to win prizes.

I think Patrick has a point, an important and enormously complicated one. First of all, what Patrick may consider a CBAIT may not be what someone else does. That is, our criteria may be different, our idea of what is good, our taste, and so forth. Which is why, presumably, some end up winning prizes. That is, enough people on a particular award jury may have the same sense of what is good even if it isn’t what others think. And so they are going to give an award to a book they sincerely think is good not crappy.

And that gets to the heart of Patrick’s issue: what do people consider to be a good book? Many indeed think a book is good if it takes on an Important Thing and will dismiss questions about the quality of sentence level writing that would be something I’d be paying attention to . While Patrick and I probably would agree that something with painfully poor sentence level writing is crappy there are some who might feel differently. Not to mention what I might consider overwrought writing might be something someone else would think is wonderful, and vice versa.

That said, I do think there is a tendency for those of us who review and/or participate in selecting best books, award books, and such to pay a lot of attention to books that deal with topics that we feel need to be more known. And sometimes we excuse weaknesses in such books because we think they are so important. Because they are so few and because we so badly want young people to take in the topics, to know about these Important Things.

I think this has special resonance when considering the Newbery award. While the criteria are clear that it is for literary merit not popularity or didactic intent, I suspect most  of us can look back at the books that have received the medal and find one we’d call a CBAIT.

Thank you, Patrick, for pointing out that metaphorically children’s book award emperors sometimes have no clothes.

 

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Africa is My Home: A 2014 Children’s Africana Book Award Winner

Yesterday I was over the moon after learning that Africa is My Home had been honored with a 2014 Children’s Africana Book Award (also know as CABA). I have long been familiar with this award and have often discovered new books through it. So to be honored with one myself is amazing.

Here’s more about them:

In 1991, Africa Access in collaboration with the Outreach Council* of the African Studies Association created the Children’s Africana Book Awards  with three major objectives (1) to encourage the publication of children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues, (2) to recognize literary excellence, and (3) to acknowledge the research achievements of outstanding authors and illustrators. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Today over seventy-four titles have been recognized and more than 100 authors and illustrators are members of our Winners Circle. Each winning title has been vetted by our awards jury which is composed of African Studies and Children’s Literature scholars.

There will be an award ceremony on Saturday, November 8, 2014 at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. From this cool slideshow of last year’s celebrations, I’m expecting that it and the other related activities are going to be wonderful.

My great thanks to the committee for honoring Africa is My Home this way.

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott

In case you don’t regularly follow Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott, I suggest that if you are interested in the two awards or just in thinking deeply about children’s books, you might want to reconsider. I do know it can be challenging to read hard-hitting critical analysis of books you adore, but the moderators of these two blogs are really only putting out in public what happens during both committees’ deliberations in private.  Right now there are a couple of posts that are particularly thought provoking, at least to me.

First of all, there is Jonathan Hunt’s guest post over at Calling Caldecott, “In defense of graphic novels.” Now, of course, as it is Jonathan he is being provocative, but he is making some very powerful points. I thought he’d convinced me until today when commentator Brandin took Jonathan on sufficiently well to make me step back a bit and rethink the whole thing. That is, I’d been all behind Jonathan’s argument for GNs being Caldecott contenders until Brandin made some very good points on how different they are from picture books.

And then there is Nina Lindsay’s post over at Heavy Medal, “It’s an Honor,” in which she addresses the way some (Jonathan, for one) who comment that they think a particular contender would be a great honor book, but not the medal. I wrote:

Hear, hear. I am completely in agreement with you, Nina. When I was on the Committee I nominated seven books I felt deserved to win — gold or silver, it didn’t matter. However, of course, there is also strategy going on (as Jonathan has written about when describing his decisions for mock nominations here) and so what ends up where is a result too of individual strategy and working toward consensus. I have never been able to understand how someone could go into the process already having decided something is an Honor but not the Medal.

and

Nina, I always remember something you said to our 2008 Committee regarding the oppositional tension we needed to have — to both be fierce in our passionate love and arguments for our nominees and equally open to letting them go without misery as we worked toward consensus. My personal goal (which I achieved) when on that Committee was to be happy with our choices. I just wonder how you can do that if you go in having two tiers of books.

Good comments on all sides of the issue there too.

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Bunnies ‘n Tiaras

So let’s start with the bunnies. While Battle Bunny (my review here) isn’t yet out, its fiendish villain has already received a movie treatment thanks to the always brilliant Pink Me.

As for tiaras, dust yours off for this year’s Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet where everyone who is anyone will be heading down the red carpet all decked out in attire celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award.  Need a little help figuring out what to wear?  No need for Stacy and Clinton — there’s Betsy and Jim to the rescue!

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2013 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts

This wonderful list of thirty titles is selected by a committee of NCTE’s Children’s Literature Assembly. Congratulations to all the honored book creators and to the members of this year’s committee for their fine work: Tracy Smiles, Chair; Donalyn Miller, Patricia Bandre, Yoo Kyung Sung, Barbara Ward, Shanetia Clark, and Jean Schroeder.

43 Cemetery Road: the Phantom of the Post Office, by Kate Klise, illustrated by Sarah Klise, published by Houghton Mifflin.
A Leaf Can Be, by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija, published by Lerner.
and then it’s spring, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead, published by Macmillan.
Bear has a Story to Tell, by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead, published by Macmillan.
Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis, published by National Geographic.
Cat Tale, by Michael Hall, published by HarperCollins.
Chopsticks, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon, published by Disney/Hyperion.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, published by Penguin.
Encyclopedia of Me, by Karen Rivers, published by Scholastic.
Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer, published by Scholastic.
Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It: False Apology Poems, by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordellpublished by HarperCollins. 
Hades, Lord of the Dead, by George O’Connor, published by Macmillan.
His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, by Louise Borden, published by Houghton Mifflin.
House Held Up by Trees, by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick. 
I Have the Right to be a Child, by Alain Serres, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty, published by Groundwood.
I Lay My Stitches Down, by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood, published by Eerdmans.
Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine, published by Penguin.
Moonbird, by Phillip Hoose, published by Macmillan.
No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, published by Lerner.
Obstinate Pen, by Frank Dormer, published by Macmillan.
Sadie and Ratz, by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Ann James, published by Candlewick.
See You at Harry’s, by Jo Knowles, published by Candlewick.
Snakes, by Nic Bishop, published by Scholastic.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, published by HarperCollins.
Unbeelievables, by Douglas Florian, published by Simon & Schuster.
Unspoken, by Henry Cole, published by Scholastic.
Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky, by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, illustrated by S.D. Nelson, published by Abrams.
Water Sings Blue, by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So, published by Chronicle.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, published by Random House.
Z is for Moose, by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky, published by HarperCollins.

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More Awards

The Cybils were announced on February 14th, Valentine’s Day and a grand bunch they are. Given by the children’s literature blogging community in a wide range of categories, this award is intended to provide another selection of great books for parents and children and all who love children’s books.  This year I was tickled that two of the books I nominated ended up winners:  Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat and Candace Fleming’s Amelia Lost.

This year’s British Red House Children’s Book Award has just gone to Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, another personal favorite from last year.  This award is given by children — that is they nominate titles from which a shortlist is created and then vote for the winner.

Still to come are:

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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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