Monday, January 23, the American Library Association (ALA) announced their awards for the top books for children from their Mid Winter Meeting in Dallas, Texas. Each year, committees made up of librarians from throughout the nation meet to discuss the new books that have been published the previous year. After much discussion, a winner is announced for each of many medals, with honor books in each category also mentioned. Of these many honors, the Newbery and Caldecott Medal-winners are most frequently sought after by teachers, parents and others seeking throughly vetted, excellent children's books.
The John Newbery Medal is "awarded annually to an author, who is a citizen or resident of the U.S, of the most distinguished contribution to children's literature published by an American publisher during the preceding year." The committee considers all forms of writing - ficiton, non-fiction, and poetry.VReprints and works that have previously been published in other countries are ineligible.
The winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal is Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. A mix of fiction and autobiography (the protaganist's name happens to be Jack Gantos), this story introduces us to a 12-year old boy who is fated to spend the summer in the town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania working for the arthritic town historian, typing up obituaries for the town's aging citizens. Almost against his will, he learns a great deal about the town, its inhabitants, and himself.
One of two Newbery Honor Books named, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is set in Vietnam, at the time of the fall of Saigon. 10 year old Ha, her mother and three brothers manage to book passage on a ship and eventually land in Alabama, where they have to adapt to a strange, and often hostile, world. This lyrical novel, written in verse, should be required reading for all.
The second Honor book, Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, takes place in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Sasha, also 10, idolizes his father, a devoted Communist, but when police take his father away and leave Sasha homeless, he is forced to examine his own perceptions, values, and beliefs.
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is presented to the artist responsible for the most distinguished American picture book for children. "There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. A 'picture book for children' is distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience."
A Ball for Daisy, illustrated and written by Chris Raschka, is the 2012 Caldecott Medal winner. This wordless book tells the story of Daisy, an exuberant small white dog with black ears, whose body language exquisitely conveys each emotion she experiences. Her joy at playing with her big red ball is contagious, until a dog-friend joining in the fun inadvertently pops it. She immediately droops with woe; her sadness overwhelming. The ending brings her a happy surprise, and she is soon back to her romping. This book is a pure delight!
Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named. Blackout, illustrated and written by John Rocco, tells the tale of a busy modern family living in the city. The youngest daughter wants to play a board game, but everyone else in the family is doing his or her own thing. A sudden blackout gives the family time to spend together, sharing simple joys and heading up to the cool roof where they encounter other families. After the power is restored, they manage to remember their special time together and recreate it.
In Grandpa Green, illustrated and written by Lane Smith, a young boy shares in his great grandfather's fading memories of personal events through viewing the topiary the older man has created for his garden. Using words sparsely, this beautifully illustrated book lovingly captures the love and respect between the young and old.
Me … Jane, illustrated and written by Patrick McDonnell, is a fictionalized biography of a young Jane Goodall. Carrying her stuffed toy chimpanzee, reading Tarzan adventure stories and dreaming about living in Africa and helping animals, the child Goodall is portrayed as an ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams... which are ultimately realized.
The annual announcement of these awards are always a time of great excitement in the children's library world. The discussions, both before and after the ceremony, are generally spirited and well-informed as to the merits and deficiencies of each work. The fact that there are so many well regarded books being published each year speaks well of the state of children's literature. Come into the Library to check out these award-winners and other fine titles published within the last year.