Monday, February 2, 2009

Newbery & Caldecott Winners 2009

The major children’s book awards in the USA are the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. The winners of both awards were announced recently. This is a quick review of the awards and the outcomes this year.

The Newbery Medal is without doubt the most prestigious award for children’s literature in the USA and is known internationally. The Newbery Medal was named after the eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) awards it annually; this is a division of the American Library Association (ALA). It is presented to the author of the book judged to have made the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. A committee of librarians and literary experts is chosen each year to select the winner and the runners up. The books can be works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The author must be a citizen or resident of the United States and the work written for children up to and including 14 years.

Worthy runners up are acknowledged as Newberry Honour books. The Newbery Medal was first announced in 1922 and was the first children’s literature award developed in the world. Though the Newbery Honour book list was not initiated until 1971, previously cited runners-up for the Newbery Medal were named retrospectively as Newbery Honour books. The full list of previous Medal winners and honour books can be found here.

2009 Newbery Medal Award and Honour books

Like many awards in the arts, the Newbery has not been without controversy. In recent times it has been criticised by some for honouring difficult books that critics might like, but which some children may find difficult (read one recent critique along these lines here). In a recent Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss she discusses this issue. She echoes the comments of some that:

'…..the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading. Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.'

The Newbery Medal this year will cause much discussion given its content. The winner is 'The Graveyard Book' by Neil Gaiman (Harper Collins Children’s Books). Dave McKean illustrated it. Gaiman is renowned for his science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels. He is well known for his 'Sandman' adult comic-book series. He reportedly worked on the "Graveyard Book" off and on for more than 20 years. He is author of more than 20 books and the winner of prizes for science fiction, fantasy and horror.

In this work he has created a ghostly tale in which Nobody Owens, the hero of story, is raised in a cemetery by ghosts after his parents are killed near the beginning of the novel. While some critics have praised it for its 'mix of murder, mystery, humour and human longing' others will question the choice. Given Gaiman's own comments in his online journal (here) this debate will be fuelled by the choice. He comments:

'I think The Graveyard Book is a book for pretty much all ages, although I'm not sure how far down that actually starts. I think I would have loved it when I was eight, but I don't think that all eight-year olds were like me......There is some really scary stuff in there, and a few of the people (all adults) who have read it have written to tell me they cried in the last chapter.....But it's not a children's book. It's a book that I think children will enjoy, but there's also stuff that's there for adults too. It's a book about life and death and making families. It has ghouls in it, and the Hounds of God, and the Sleer, and the Indigo Man, and a lot of very dead people.'

Newbery Honour Books in 2009

'The Underneath' by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). In a story that touches on significant themes such as love and hate, a hound dog befriends an abandoned calico cat that is about to have kittens. The dog urges her to raise her kittens underneath the porch of his owner's house, where they will be safe, as long as they stay in the Underneath.

'The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom' by Margarita Engle (Henry Holt and Company). Engle uses compelling free verse in alternating voices to tell the story of Cuba's three wars for independence from Spain. She combines real-life characters (e.g. legendary healer Rosa La Bayamesa) with imaginary characters.

'Savvy' by Ingrid Law, (Dial Books, Penguin in partnership with Walden Media). The book is a first-person narrative that takes readers on a wild bus ride, winding through the countryside on a journey of self-discovery for Mibs Beaumont and her companions.

'After Tupac and D Foster' by Jacqueline Woodson (G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin). This story focuses on two years in the life of a New York City neighbourhood. The novel shows how life changes for two 11-year-olds when a new girl joins them. The girls form a bond around Tupac's music and build a friendship that impacts on their own identities.

The Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal was named in honour of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) awards it annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The awards commenced in 1938.

The 2009 Caldecott Medal

This year’s winner is Beth Krommes, a painter who has been working on children’s books for 20 years. She was named the recipient for her work in the ‘The House in the Night, which was written by Susan Marie Swanson and published by Houghton Mifflin Co. In the ALA media release it is described as follows:

'Richly detailed black-and-white scratchboard illustrations expand this timeless bedtime verse, offering reassurance to young children that there is always light in the darkness. Krommes’ elegant line, illuminated with touches of golden watercolour, evoke the warmth and comfort of home and family, as well as the joys of exploring the wider world.'

The book will be enjoyed by many young children but it is ideal for 2-4 year-olds. It was commended by the Committee Chair Nell Colburn who suggested that 'with her clear artistic vision, Krommes has created visual poetry.'

The art features richly detailed black-and-white scratchboard illustrations that are illuminated with touches of watercolour.

2009 Honour Books

As with the Newbery Medal, a number of distinguished runners up are named as Caldecott Honour books.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
’, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Harcourt, Inc.). This book features detailed, subtly retro cartoons, which the artist uses to make fun of adult expectations as two friends experience a parent-free summer adventure.

How I Learned Geography’, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz (Farrar Straus Giroux). This book recounts memories of the author’s family flight from the Warsaw Blitz and his years as a refugee during World War II. He uses watercolour and ink to depict a boy who is inspired by a map his father buys in the village market.

‘A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
’, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). Sweet uses a mixed-media collage and simple watercolours to complement the author’s text to reveal the ordinary, yet extraordinary, life of Williams, a doctor and poet.

Related links

Full list of 2009 Newbery & Caldecott awards here

Australian Children's Book Council Awards 2008 here

An earlier post that I wrote on Australia's controversial winning children's book in 2008 here

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