V O L U M E 3 , N U M B E R 2 • F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 0
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link
Matt Phelan has won the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a $5000 prize for “a meritorious book” written by a U.S. citizen, published by a U.S. publisher, and set in North, South, or Central America. The award was created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland, is administered by Elizabeth Hall (who was married to the late author), and is currently judged by Ann Carlson, Hazel Rochman, and me. After some blogosphere discussion about whether The Storm in the Barn, a graphic novel with some ambiguous fantasy elements, was historical fiction, I decided to see what the author/illustrator himself thought.
1. Congratulations on winning the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Do you think of The Storm in the Barn as historical fiction?
2. What difference did you most notice between working on a picture book and creating a graphic novel?
From an illustration standpoint, they are fundamentally the same. Both are about rhythm and tone. The page turn is important in both. The illustrations have to convey the beat of the scene (or panel) in a clear and effective way. Of course, the really big difference is the number of illustrations needed for a 200-page graphic novel. The drawing time is much longer, and you need to stay focused and disciplined month after month.
3. How do you think the reading of a graphic novel differs from reading a book that is all text?
You are giving yourself over to the author/illustrator in a way similar to when you see a movie. The author presents the images and words in a carefully laid out order designed to create a reading experience. But it’s still up to the reader to connect all the dots, blend the pictures with the words, and find the rhythm and tone that the author has indicated. Some readers might zip past the silent panels to get to more words, but if you do that, you aren’t really reading the book. The silent panels need to be read just as carefully.
4. Have you ever seen a ghost?
No, but maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places. I don’t get out much.
5. What do you like best about rain?
I love the sound of rain: from drizzle to thunderstorm. This is unfortunate because the sound of rain is very difficult to convey in a book. The chances of an audiobook being made from The Storm in the Barn are slim, but I’d love to hear it as an old-time radio show filled with wind, barn door creaks, and storm sound effects. I wish we still had those radio shows.
The Newbery Award recognizes the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s diverse honorees include a sci-fi story set in 1970s New York, two works of historical fiction, a Chinese folklore–inspired fantasy, and a nonfiction narrative about the civil rights movement. One thing they all have in common? Seemingly ordinary kids standing up to great challenges.
Sixth grader Miranda, the main character in Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Award–winning When You Reach Me, appears to lead a pretty normal life. But when she starts receiving anonymous notes that seem to foretell the future, it’s clear that all is not as it seems. Closely observed relationships among the characters make the mystery matter. The plot’s various threads come together superbly, and after finishing the last page, readers may want to go back to the beginning and catch what they missed. (10–12 years)
Named one of four Newbery honor books, Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is set in 1889 Texas. Eleven-year-old Calpurnia wants to be a scientist; trouble is, gruff, intimidating Granddaddy is the only other family member interested in the subject — and in Charles Darwin’s new and controversial book, The Origin of Species. Side-by-side, grandfather and granddaughter investigate the natural world, culminating in a thrilling discovery. Readers will cheer for the spirited Callie, a young woman who’s refreshingly ahead of her time. (10–12 years)
The title character of Rodman Philbrick’s The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, along with his older brother Harold, are looked after by Squinton Leach — just about the meanest man in Maine. When Squint enlists Harold in the Union Army, Homer sets off after him. Whip-smart — and a prodigious liar — Homer knows how to deal with all manner of people he encounters along the way. His entertaining narration creates a captivating read. (9–12 years)
Grace Lin’s beautifully designed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an original fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore. Minli seeks the Old Man of the Moon to ask him to change her family’s bad fortune. On her journey she’s assisted by a dragon, who becomes her closest compatriot. Interspersed with the main text are many folktales and other stories that move the plot along. Lin’s lovely illustrations in blues, reds, greens, and luminous golds are influenced by traditional Chinese art. (10–12 years)
In 1955 Montgomery, Alabama — nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested — fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus. Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice tells the teen’s largely unknown but no less inspiring true story. Many photographs and sidebars, plus excerpts from the author’s interviews with Colvin as an adult, help readers explore the civil rights movement beyond its iconic figures. (11–14 years)
The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book. This year’s winner and honor recipients celebrate the power of books that allow opportunities for shared reading experiences between adult and child.
Wordlessly retelling Aesop’s fable The Lion & the Mouse entirely in his signature pencil and watercolor art, Jerry Pinkney encourages closer exploration of the well-known story. On every page, this beautiful book suggests even more than it tells about its Serengeti setting and about a world where a mouse may rescue a lion. Don’t miss the careful and cunning use of the jacket, covers, and endpapers to extend the story. (4–8 years)
In Liz Garton Scanlon’s All the World, a family visits the beach, a farmers’ market, and a park, then hosts a gathering of friends and family whom young readers will recognize from previous pages thanks to Marla Frazee’s attentively detailed illustrations. Scanlon’s rhyming text has a child-friendly simplicity perfect for reading aloud while allowing Frazee’s illustrations to build a satisfying narrative. The West Coast seaside setting showcases not only Frazee’s affectionate mix of people but also her familiar pastel skyscapes, glowing with color and shaded with horizontal lines that lend a sense of both movement and endless connection. (4–8 years)
Children can explore the way nature’s colors, and how we perceive them, change with the seasons in Joyce Sidman’s picture book Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. In spring, “Shy. / Green peeks from buds” while “Yellow shouts with light!” In winter, “Green waits / in the hearts of trees.” Pamela Zagarenski’s mixed-media spreads add texture and extend the imagery with the use of fabric patterns and bits of newsprint that sustain the playfulness of the text and its awe, mystery, and beauty. (5–9 years)
The Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré awards honor outstanding achievements by, respectively, African American and Latino authors and illustrators. This year’s winning books are celebratory, affirming, and good reading beyond the confines of Black History or National Hispanic Heritage Month observances.
Claiming the 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award is Vaunda Micheaux Nelson for Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. This is a riveting picture-book biography of the escaped slave turned legendary law enforcer, and R. Gregory Christie’s strongly textured, bold portraits convey Reeves’s undeniable authority. The included documentation, glossary, timeline, bibliography, recommended reading, and historical author’s note ensure thorough understanding of this magnetic character. (8–12 years)
The CSK Illustrator Award goes to Charles R. Smith Jr. for My People. Smith’s captivating photographs complement poet Langston Hughes’s powerful celebration of African American culture. The sepia-tone images set atop stark black backgrounds portray African Americans across generations, with delicate, elderly hands representing the past, a mother and child as the present, and fresh-faced, joyous youths offering hope for the future. The dramatic images are flawlessly tied to Hughes’s timeless words: “Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.” (5–8 years)
Julia Alvarez, well known for her adult book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, takes the Pura Belpré Author Award for Return to Sender. In this dramatic novel, Tyler’s father suffers a debilitating injury, threatening their livelihood on their Vermont dairy farm and forcing the family to employ a Mexican family of immigrants (some illegal). Tyler’s close and unexpected friendship with the oldest daughter is just one of the book’s nuanced relationships that convey the power of tolerance and understanding. (12 years and up)
The Belpré Illustrator Award goes to Rafael López for Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day / Book Day / Celebremos el día de los niños / El día de los libros, written by Pat Mora. The Mexican observance of El día de los niños (The Day of the Child) combines with a celebration of books (El día de los libros) to extol reading anywhere and everywhere. Mora’s bilingual rhyming text and López’s joyous, bright paintings set the tone for this all-out celebration of children, imagination, and books. (3–6 years)
First given in 2001, the Robert F. Sibert Award recognizes the most distinguished informational book for children. This year’s winner and honor books are all inspired by and rooted in post–World War II American history, a period of political upheaval, social change, and scientific discovery.
Tanya Lee Stone wins the 2010 Sibert Award for Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (also a 2009 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor winner). Using first- and second-hand sources, Stone tells the story of the “Mercury 13,” women who were part of an early NASA program aimed at training female astronauts. Though these women never made it into space, Stone captures their determination and courage and their story will fascinate readers young and old. (12 years and up)
With stunning artwork and a thoroughly researched text, Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 is a thrilling celebration of the first moon landing. Floca’s spare lyricism and watercolor and ink pictures manage to convey facts and inspire readers. Even the endpapers contain information, making this book of particular interest to aspiring astronauts and scientists. (5–8 years)
The third Sibert honor book (and winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature), Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, is also a Newbery Honor Book — see above for its details.
The Michael L. Printz Award is for excellence in young adult literature, and teens are treated to innovative storytelling, unforgettable characters, and virtuoso prose in this year’s winner and four honor books. The range extends from biography to horror — the latter genre rarely recognized by award committees.
In Printz winner Going Bovine by Libba Bray, sixteen-year-old Cameron, diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob (a.k.a. mad cow) disease, breaks out of his hospital room and, with a hypochondriac dwarf for a companion (and possibly a punk rock angel named Dulcie), goes on a mission to save the world. Or . . . does he? Bray gleefully tosses a hallucinogenic mix of elements into this wild ride, leading teens to ask themselves the question at the heart of it all: even if Cameron’s experiences are imaginary, are they any less real? (14 years and up)
With empathy and humor, Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith examines Darwin’s legacy through the unique lens of his domestic life. Charles’s wife Emma, devoutly religious, supported him but feared for his eternal welfare. Charles, in turn, wanted to please Emma, but not at the expense of science. This timely, relevant book works as a history of science, a biography, and — not least — as a romance. (12 years and up)
In Tales of the Madman Underground (An Historical Romance 1973) by John Barnes, Karl Shoemaker relates his heroic efforts to be “normal” over the first six days of his senior year. Flashbacks make clear how difficult this will be, since Karl is part of a long-running high school therapy group, in which just about every dysfunction known to humankind is represented. Yet these eclectic, eccentric, and endearing characters navigate their troubled lives not with teenage angst but with youthful insouciance and gallows humor. Catcher in the Rye meets On the Road. (14 years and up)
With quirky idiomatic expressions, striking word choices, and stream-of-consciousness prose, Adam Rapp in Punkzilla unfolds the story of fourteen-year-old Jamie, traveling to visit his brother who’s dying of cancer. In a series of letters, Jamie’s troubled history gradually emerges: time on the streets, punctuated by drugs, sex, and crime. Nobody writes about disposable, marginalized youth quite like Rapp. (12 years and up)
In The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, the journal of Will Henry, who lived to be well over a hundred years old, is discovered after he dies. In it, he relates his boyhood as the orphaned assistant to a “monstrumologist” — his adventures and studies, the horrors he witnessed. The highly gothic stories, written in a formal, old-fashioned style, are absorbingly gruesome. (14 years and up)
—Martha V. Parravano
While the Printz Award for young adult literature passed over the widely touted front runner (Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork), the Newbery and Caldecott award committees did not offer surprises in their respective choices of When You Reach Me and The Lion & the Mouse as medalists. This confirming of expectations is neither a good nor bad thing; far from holding a finger to the wind, the award committees rightly work in private with explicit criteria and their own well-considered judgments to make their choices. But because the awards in this particular year go to books already embraced by children and parents and teachers and librarians, they offer something other than surprise: validation and community. It needn’t — and shouldn’t — happen always, but when the prize goes to the favorite, it’s a reminder that we are indeed all in this together.
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