Have I told you lately that I love award season? Because I do. I'm a gambler by nature, and this year's bets were surprisingly on the mark. Let's go through the major categories, and I'll tell you what I predicted and the actual outcome. (No cheating by doctoring my bets, I promise.)
Caldecott Medal - The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney.
Whereas last year's winner, The House in the Night, was an utter surprise - and let me tell you, there is nothing like teachers and librarians desperately racing to grab copies of a book that has just won a prestigious award, but that they did not, at present time, carry, especially when that book goes into temporary back order because its publishing company didn't expect it to win said prestigious award either... but that's another story - this year's winner, The Lion and the Mouse, was a near shoo-in. What it lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in illustrations that transport you to the locale, pictures that draw the eyes in, reading illustration, reading lines of color and depth. I had this book on the "New Picture Books" display for months, because, with its striking gold-touched cover of the titular lion, it never failed to grab the passerby's attention.
My bet: Truly, this was one that I predicted, because the ALA love folk stories told anew, and when its done with caliber of artistry, there's really not much else in the way of competition. Not to say that other picture book authors haven't been doing a great job of giving folk tales and stories new contemporary life (my personal favorite is Rachel Isadora's The Ugly Duckling). But Pinkney has made a picture book that feels like it should have been around forever. And there's a reason why books like that are around forever - because they stick with you from childhood into adulthood into parenthood and the hands and eyes of more children.
However, Caldecott Honor book, All the World by Marla Frazee (illus.) and Liz Garton Scanlon, was another one of my top picks for this year. I love Frazee's illustrations, where every natural and non-natural thing in the world is brought into vibrant realization, and Scanlon's text ties it into such a pure, simply beauty. The JB Kids teams overall loved this book, and despite it being a difficult storytime read, we all tried to force it onto our audiences.
Michael L. Printz Award: Going Bovine by Libba Bray.
Let me say that I was underwhelmed with this one, but I'm still happy that it was selected for the Printz award. The Printz Award has been kind of dodgy in the past, and while I do really enjoy a lot of the books previously honored in this category, I've been largely disappointed by the standard set. Last year's winner, Jellicoe Road, really didn't deliver to expectations, and for every book they choose that is more than a coming-of-age story, they pick a book that is really just another coming-of-age story...
So I'm satisfied by Going Bovine, where a unrepentant slacker discovers that he has Mad Cow disease and goes on a crazy, mystical journey to find the cure and save the world. I felt uneasy about the book by the end - it felt kind of like stuffing your face with every kind of awesome food at once. There was so much stuff there, mostly appealing ideas, but it was difficult to keep it all straight while the book raced to its inevitable stark conclusion. I felt like it unraveled a bit, and what Bray needed to do was keep it as tight as possible.
But you have to give her proper credit that she didn't just write another paranormal, fantastical romance. She could have followed up the Gemma Doyle Trilogy with something along the same lines, but she stepped outside of her own box, and for that, I am glad that she has been properly recognized.
My Bet: I wasn't surprised to see two of the National Book Award for Young Readers nominees on the Honored list. Claudette Colvin and Charles and Emma both rightly deserved their places, and I admit that Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes has long been on my to-be-read pile. And I'm always glad to see Adam Rapp get some proper attention, even if I didn't care to immediately pick up Punkzilla.
Still, I read a lot of YA this year that will never get recognized by the Printz Award, especially since it seems to ignore anything too fantastic or in the realm of sci-fi. Kristin Cashore, Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfield, etc... they all wrote fantastic YA novels this year, and yet no credit given to the fantasy kids.
Also, didn't anyone else read A Brief History of Montmaray?!?!? Why am I the seemingly sole champion of this book?
The John Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
I'm happy with this.
Look, my girl, Jacqueline Kelly, got a Newbery Honors, and that's no slight matter.
She's a terrific debut author who will have many accolades coming her way in the future.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is bound to hit school reading lists, library reading lists, and be a longtime favorite of teachers, librarians, and fans of children's literature for decades to come.
So I'm not sad.
Although it would have been cool to have met the 2010 Newbery winner before she was the 2010 Newbery winner.
But enough of that. When You Reach Me is absolutely fantastic, and moreover, it's a book that kids are liable to want to read and read again. It's a coming-of-age story, a mystery, a time travel story, an ode to A Wrinkle in Time, and that rarest of era-specific novels, relevant and true for the kids it has been written for. In this slim novel, every word and character detail counts, from the seemingly tossaway dialogue between characters through the minute details of their streets and buildings and the beings that inhabit those surroundings. The nuance, the slight changes in voice and tone, and a narrator who is as full realized as she is likable.
Miranda's predicament is both absolutely common for kids her age - her best friend inexplicably stops talking to her, forcing her to find a new grounding amongst her sixth grade peers - and utterly fantastic - someone is sending her messages indicating that it is up to her to prevent a tragedy from happening, and that someone may or may not have traveled in time to do so. The book rewards its readers for their attention to detail, and on a second reading, the rewards are twice over.
I think it's a good step for the Newbery, and I'm glad that it has been given its due.
Oh, shut up.
Like I said, Newbery Honors! Come on! That's still fantastic!
On a personal note, I met Jacqueline Kelly last October, and she's fabulous. Her and her husband are the exact type of person I would like to be, once I've fully formed and gotten through this single-cell stage I seemed to be stagnated in. She was warm, funny, and her comments about her work were thought-provoking and introspective. It's wonderful to meet a fairly new author who has managed to strike gold in their own genius and talent.
Early on, when I had reviewed the book before it came out, I got a lovely email from her, thanking me for the kind words and offering to pay a visit to the store for an author event. If I could manage to get in touch with her now, I'd offer her my congratulations. Sadly, given the circumstances of my work redundancy, I did not have time to grab any of the email addresses for the wonderful array of authors, publishing reps, and children's book enthusiasts of all types that I had been fortunate to meet during my brief time running the Kids Department.
But, as multiple people have pointed out to me, there's no sense in crying over spilled milk or lost email addresses, especially not in a time where people are easy to access, through blogs, websites, other people's websites, professional profile websites, etc. And so, I will make a better effort.
But that does bring me to a greater point - It is high time we start interacting with our authors intellectually, and that is why I love the blogging community, because they seem to be dedicated to just that. Shortly before we were laid off, I had communicated to Maureen (our former marketing director) my wish to begin interviews for the Joseph-Beth blog and my own.
I need to begin this, because I do not wish my removal from bookstore life to mean that I am less engaged with the greater book life. I want the next stage of my life to be characterized by a proactive engagement with the books and authors that I adore.
And so... yeah... that's what I'm working on now.
For more information on the American Library Association 2010 Media Awards, just click the link.