In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
At the American Library Association’s midwinter conference last month, Tomie dePaola was named the winner of the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, awarded every two years to an author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature. I was lucky enough to be on that Wilder committee and, along with my fellow committee members, am full of admiration for the work of this beloved author-illustrator.
1. First of all, congratulations! As a committee we were bowled over by the emotional honesty that characterizes your books, whether in family picture books or chapter-book memoirs or legend retellings. How do you maintain such a direct line to your childhood experiences and feelings?
I’ve always been blessed with a very good memory, not only about things and events, but about how things felt, too.
This, I think, was all reinforced by a crowd of Irish and Italian storytelling relatives and the constant showing of home movies from the earliest days. I became very familiar with little Tomie in his snowsuit, little Tomie eating watermelon, little Tomie tap-dancing on our front stoop.
Then later, in 1967, I moved out to San Francisco to teach and to get a Master of Fine Arts degree. While there, I entered group therapy (everyone was doing it) and began to learn the popular techniques of role playing, Gestalt, etc., that further helped me unlock “secrets of childhood” — not a bad thing to do for someone who wanted a career in children’s books.
I sometimes struggle but am able to keep that direct line open.
2. Your illustration style is immediately recognizable, and yet it has definitely evolved. To what would you attribute the changes in your style over the years?
This question sent me back to an article I wrote for the September/October 1993 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. In it I wrote about my “style” or personal way of working. It still holds true today with the addition of some struggle with dexterity because of two carpal tunnel surgeries on my right hand — the dominant one — and a growing love of everything Matisse.
I still thrill over folk art of all kinds and still collect it. I’m trying to restrain myself somewhat because I finally had to build a new room onto my home to display some of my favorite pieces.
I’d have to add that increased non-book art painting and drawing are contributing to a slight refinement in my style, too.
3. Two of your books have been recognized by ALA award committees before: Strega Nona received a Caldecott Honor, and 26 Fairmount Avenue received a Newbery Honor. Has there been a book of yours of which you were particularly fond, that you wish had gotten more recognition by the powers that be?
But the best thing is that so many of my books are still in print, including Charlie Needs a Cloak, which was published in 1973. That’s the greatest compliment. And I really appreciate it!
4. The other committee members would have my head if I didn’t ask you about voice. Yours is so distinctive and so true. Can you speak to its source?
There is no way that I can take all the credit for my “voice.” All the editors with whom I have worked, and there have been quite a few, have coaxed and cajoled, taught and teased that Voice out of me. It’s really like young Tomie is in the room dictating to me, except of course when Strega Nona takes over.
5. You took The Call (about winning the Wilder) right in the middle of your annual holiday party. How did the party go after that?
I escaped into my bedroom and took THE CALL. Then I was sworn to secrecy. I was allowed to tell Bob Hechtel, my assistant.
I kept tearing up. Then I had to assure people that everything was fine. I was going to make up a tale and say that my cat was hit by a car, but I didn’t have a cat!
The next day, after the announcement was made, my assistant sent out notes to all seventy-plus people telling them the news.
—Martha V. Parravano
The Newbery Medal recognizes the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Historical fiction dominated the award this year, as the Medal winner and three of the four honor books are set in times past.
In her Newbery Medal–winning debut novel, Moon over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool seamlessly weaves together two time periods: the Great Depression and World War I. In 1936, Abilene’s father sends her to his hometown of Manifest, Kansas, to live with Pastor Shady, a well-meaning preacher and former bootlegger. It’s there that Abilene uncovers secrets about her family and the community. Flashbacks, old letters, and newspaper articles entwine the two eras and illuminate the mystery. (9–12 years)
In Jennifer L. Holm’s honor book, Turtle in Paradise, Turtle’s mother has a new housekeeping job that doesn’t allow children, so she’s sent to live with her aunt in Key West. Though Turtle is a world-weary and bitter eleven-year-old, she comes into her own in her new setting. The episodic novel is sprinkled with 1930s cultural references, but contemporary readers will nevertheless find Turtle a relatable character. (9–12 years)
Rita Williams-Garcia’s honor book, One Crazy Summer, also received ALA’s Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction. Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters spend the summer of 1968 in Oakland, California, visiting their estranged and far-from-welcoming mother and getting an unexpected education in revolution from the Black Panthers. Williams-Garcia writes vividly about that turbulent summer in this poignant, funny, memorable celebration of community, family, and self-discovery. (9–12 years)
Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is the fourth Newbery honor book. From the opening poem, “To all of you who crawl and creep, / who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep, / who wake at dusk and throw off sleep: / Welcome to the night,” Sidman celebrates the world that comes alive after dark. An informative paragraph on the subject at hand accompanies each poem. Rick Allen’s skillful linocut prints in night-toned subtle hues are the perfect accompaniment. (7–10 years)
The Caldecott Medal recognizes the illustrator of the most distinguished children’s picture book of the year. While this year’s Caldecott honors went to well-known artists (one of whom, Bryan Collier, received his third), the Medal was awarded to a debut picture book illustrated by Erin E. Stead, and written by her husband, Philip C. Stead.
In Caldecott winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee, zookeeper Amos has a special relationship with each of his animal charges. When Amos stays home sick one day, his pals supply just the right medicine: a visit to their good friend. Erin Stead’s attentively detailed pencil and woodblock illustrations reveal character and enhance the cozy mood of Philip Stead’s gentle text. Kindly Amos has a Mister Rogers air about him, and the realistically rendered animals display distinct personalities without uttering a word. (3–6 years)
David Ezra Stein’s Caldecott honor book, Interrupting Chicken, finds a “little red chicken” interrupting Papa’s bedtime stories in order to save the day (e.g., “It was just an acorn!” to Chicken Little). In a reversal of roles, the little chicken discovers exactly how it feels to be interrupted when — “zzZZzzz” — Papa falls asleep. Humorously repetitive text featuring familiar characters draws readers in with just enough variation. Stein’s lush mixed-media illustrations (including Chicken’s own crayon artwork) exude warmth and affection. (3–6 years)
Honor book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Laban Carrick Hill, also won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Slave and accomplished potter Dave (last name unknown) left behind a legacy of artistic work in the form of beautiful ceramic jars. In lyrical poetry, Hill writes a tribute to the man; Collier’s majestic watercolor collages reflect Dave’s artistry. The book’s pacing is especially well conceived, the illustrations shown in tempo with the text’s descriptions of making a pot. (5–8 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 set in a range of times and places: 1968 Oakland, California; South Carolina in the 1800s; early-1900s Chile; and 1970s Spanish Harlem.
Claiming the 2011 Coretta Scott King Author Award is Rita Williams-Garcia for One Crazy Summer, which was also named a Newbery honor book (see above).
The CSK Illustrator Award goes to Bryan Collier for Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, which was also named a Caldecott honor book (see above).
Pam Muñoz Ryan takes the Pura Belpré Author Award for The Dreamer, a perceptive fictional account of poet Pablo Neruda’s early life. Although terrified by his autocratic father, Neftalí Reyes grows up with a voracious love of words, books, nature, and ideas. Peter Sís’s imaginative illustrations and the Chilean rainforest–green type are striking complements to Ryan’s lyrical prose, laced with imagery and onomatopoeia. (8–12 years)
The Belpré Illustrator Award goes to Eric Velasquez for Grandma’s Gift. In this story based on his childhood, Velasquez describes a memorable first visit with his grandmother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There they see a portrait that serves as young Eric's inspiration for an artistic career. Realistic-looking oil paintings show scenes of New York, from the barrio's markets, as Grandma buys ingredients for a Christmas feast, to the staid museum. (5–8 years)
The Robert F. Sibert Award recognizes the most distinguished informational books for children. This year’s winner and honor books highlight science, the arts, and biography.
The 2011 Sibert Award goes to Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, written by Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop. Author and photographer trek to Codfish Island off New Zealand’s coast to bring us a marvelous account of the efforts of naturalists to save the endangered kakapo, a “sweet-smelling, beautiful, big, soft, trusting, and playful” bird. Montgomery’s in-depth descriptions and Bishop’s glorious photographs cover all aspects of the conservation effort. Layered into the account is information on New Zealand’s history, its unique biodiversity, and the devastating consequences of human settlement on its fragile ecosystem. (8–12 years)
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, a Sibert honor book, is written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. After choreographer Martha Graham asked composer Aaron Copland and sculptor/set designer Isamu Noguchi to collaborate with her on a new ballet, the iconic Appalachian Spring was born. Using spare, concise sentences, the authors echo Graham’s approach to dance: nothing’s wasted, and in such exactness lies beauty. Brian Floca’s fluid, energetic line and watercolor illustrations also echo the plain boldness of Graham’s choreography. (7–10 years)
The Michael L. Printz Award is for excellence in young adult literature. All five books recognized this year offer a harrowing look at humanity’s darker sides.
Printz winner Ship Breaker, by debut YA author Paolo Bacigalupi, examines a dystopian future America where climate change and humankind have wreaked havoc on the land and society. In this gripping novel vividly depicting a “whole waterlogged world . . . torn down by the patient work of changing nature,” it’s difficult for characters to know who to trust as money and greed separate the haves from the have-nots and dictate loyalty. This thriller will grab and keep the reader’s attention. (12 years and up)
Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, which was named an honor book by the Printz committee, explores the complex relationship between a captive and her captor. Ty has stalked Gemma for six years when he kidnaps her from a Bangkok airport and takes her to a desolate house in the Australian outback. The raw emotional tension throughout makes for an engrossing read. (14 years and up)
In honor book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A. S. King crafts a multi-voice narrative about what happens to high schooler Vera after her once-best-friend Charlie dies. Mainly written from Vera’s perspective (with brief commentary from ghost Charlie, Vera’s dad, and an inanimate pagoda), this quirky tale, filled with dark humor, emotion, and originality, allows Vera to work through her own demons as she recalls memories of the friendship and decides whether or not to reveal Charlie’s secrets. (14 years and up)
Marcus Sedgwick’s honor book Revolver takes place in a barren landscape north of the Arctic Circle. A man arrives at Sig Andersson’s small cabin demanding the gold Sig’s dead father owes him from their days in the Alaska gold rush. Alternating between 1899 and 1910, Sedgwick effectively portrays the violent legacy of the past and its hold on the present. This tightly plotted mystery has a memorable finish that goes out with a bang. (12 years and up)
Written by Janne Teller and translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken, honor book Nothing involves a nihilistic seventh grader who asserts that “nothing matters” before climbing into a tree and refusing to come down. He pelts his classmates with philosophical arguments (and plums from the tree), and the kids in turn try to refute his arguments by compiling an increasingly horrifying “heap of meaning” (items include the dug-up casket of a baby and a classmate’s freshly chopped-off finger). This stark meditation on mob mentality and life’s meaning is devastating and provocative. (12 years and up)
—Cynthia K. Ritter
Award followers will want to get a copy of the just-published In the Words of the Winners: The Newbery and Caldecott Medals, 2001–2010. Compiled by the Association for Library Service to Children and the Horn Book and published by ALA, the book contains the Medalists’ acceptance speeches, the profiles of the winners first published in The Horn Book Magazine, and the Magazine or Horn Book Guide review of each winning title. In addition, Oakland, California, children’s librarian Nina Lindsay examines the decade’s Newberys as a whole, Horn Book reviewer Joanna Rudge Long does the same for the Caldecott, and yours truly takes a look at the dramatic changes in children’s book publishing over the decade — J. K. Rowling, I’m looking at you.
This year’s speeches and profiles of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King winners will appear in the July/August issue of the Magazine. As I congratulate Clare Vanderpool, Erin Stead, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Bryan Collier, let me also say: your speeches are due April 1st (no foolin’). Get busy.
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