I wrote about the Newbery Medal here. This is the second post illuminating children’s books awards in the series, Beyond the Newbery.
For a long time I thought that this award was about pretty pictures. It’s not. The Caldecott highlights picture books that excel in creating a synergy of words and images that together create something that is greater than the sum of its two parts.
First, a bit about Randolph Caldecott. In Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing, Leonard S. Marcus describes Caldecott’s life: In 1861, at the age of fifteen, Randolph Caldecott was an up-and-coming English bank clerk with a quick wit and pen. He doodled in his spare time, but it was more than just a hobby. He found mentors, honed his craft, and began peddling his drawings to newspapers and magazines. Before long, he became a sought-after book illustrator, equally famous for his sly humor and animated art style. Caldecott captured action, movement and speed in a way that had never before been seen in children’s picture books.
Maurice Sendak adds his take about Caldecott in The Randolph Caldecott Treasury when he describes what made Caldecott’s picture books so groundbreaking. Sendak wrote, “There is in Caldecott a juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out – but the pictures say it. Pictures are left out – but the words say it.”
In 1937 leading children’s librarians established an award honoring distinguished achievement by an American children’s book illustrator. They named the new prize the Caldecott Medal and awarded it for the first time the following year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
I have moved 18 times. In a few short weeks, that number will increase to 19 when I leave lovely Tucson, Arizona. I will have lived here about 5 years (though not consecutively). And these are the literary treasures I wish I had known about from the instant I arrived.
Tucson Festival of Books. This didn’t exist when I first moved here in late 2006. This festival is phenomenal. I will miss the festival more than anything else. The key to enjoying this festival is to pick up the TFOB insert in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper the weekend before (in the Sunday paper) and spend the week perusing its contents and making a plan. There is a huge mess of tents and vendors and chaos on the mall at the University of Arizona and I think that most people just show up and wander around while eating roasted corn and tamales – as if it’s a carnival. But, to get the most of the festival, you must attend the informational sessions with different authors and experts. It is a treasure trove. Often, I’ll put together my schedule and send my husband to one presentation to take notes while I head off to another session at the same time.
Worlds of Words. This little gem…sigh…I wish I had known about this years ago. I just discovered it in March 2013 and then they promptly stopped most (all?) of their programming because they are undergoing a massive renovation. The end result will, no doubt, be worth it. But, alas, I won’t get to enjoy it. Maybe you will.
Pima Community College puts together a kickass (i.e. good price, good experts) writer’s workshop each May that is not to be missed.
The Center for Creative Photography houses North America’s largest collection of fine art photographs. This isn’t exactly literary. But I am including it because I have relied on this prize multiple times for literary research. Its archives are astounding. Just last week, I examined a portion of the Hans Namuth archive to gather information (while I’m still here!) for some future books.
“You know,” I said, “a story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.” – Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story
I am neck deep writing the first draft of a story that I love. I am flailing wildly. I am fumbling. I am trying and writing and deleting and then sleeping and then waking up and realizing that what I thought was good is bad and what I thought was bad is good. And though I complain, I LOVE this stage of writing. The writing that leaves my cheeks flushed, my notebook full of questions, my head reeling with ideas and connections. That is, I love this stage of writing except for when I hate it. When I need them, I reach for buoys. Yesterday, as I flipped through Dear Genius to borrow a little bit of condifence from dear Ursula Nordstrom, I realized that I reach for these same buoys over and over. And I thought I’d share. These books are all brilliant for all different reasons. I wish them to all writers.
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard S. Marcus
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
My artist friend and I were standing in front of a Rothko painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. a while back when she said, “This does nothing for me.”
I couldn’t believe those words had come from her mouth because I was trying to think of ways to make the painting a part of me, as in, you know, eating it. I wanted it to be me. I wanted to point at it while yelling to the other museum visitors, “THIS! This is IT! This is how I feel!” I was trembling.
There is a lesson in this little anecdote, I’m sure of it. Maybe something about how as an artist you just need to create the thing that is true to you and not worry about what others think and also, needing to know that your art will resonate with some people and not with others and that’s OK.
written by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
I picked up this book because Melissa Sweet illustrated it. That woman has a way with watercolors and scraps of paper and color that makes me lean in a little closer.
This is the kind of book it is: while writing this post I spilled my entire mug of coffee on it. The book was destroyed. Yes, the words were still legible. But, goodness, the art was wrecked. And I realized, holding my coffee-sodden copy, that one of the reasons that I love picture books is they are such beautiful objects. I immediately ordered a new copy. It will be here Tuesday.
But, as I was saying…My favorite kind of picture book biography leaves me feeling like everything is possible – even, no, especially for fumbling me. These favorite books make me realize that the one heart that I have and the two hands that I have are enough.
The world, the media, the swirling blahblahblah of our consumer culture would have us believe that we must have an advanced degree, a wealthy family, a massive online following, organized shelves, effortless beauty and unremitting encouragement to do something valuable.
The truth is we are enough.
I just need to put my one heart and my two hands to work where I am standing.
Mrs. Harkness and the Panda is a book that affirms our “enoughness.” It is the story of Ruth Harkness, an unadventurous, unathletic, tea gown designer, who in 1934 inherits an expedition from her husband: the hunt for a panda in China. She succeeds. But that hardly seems to matter. What matters is the journey, the struggle, the possibility that she could have fallen on her face but tried, tried, tried anyway. What matters is her story. Go read it to your kids, just leave your coffee at the table.
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” – Annie Dillard
The mass quantity of awards for children’s literature stresses me out.
There are so many awards that their original purpose – to highlight high achievement in writing for the young AND help point children, parents, readers to those books – has been lost.
This bothers me.
I have published two children’s books. I read kid’s books every day. I attempt to keep up with industry news. I write every day. I am a (mostly) informed reader and writer and mother and the sheer number of awards for kid’s books seems like just another mess in my life that I need to tease apart.
A recent industry publication listed winners of 34 awards with no explanation as to the meaning of the awards. I guess they expect their informed readers to know what the awards mean. But, I don’t.
To that end, I am beginning (here & now) an effort to illuminate some of the most important awards for kid’s books. My coverage won’t be comprehensive (if it were, I would be writing a book about this topic, not a series of blog posts), chronological ( because this isn’t particularly relevant in this case), or perfect (because perfect is the enemy of good). But, I hope, it will be helpful. And that seems like enough.
So, let’s start with the Big Daddy of children’s literature awards: the Newbery Medal.
We can all thank Frederic G. Melcher for the creation of the Newbery.
Melcher had his fingers in many literary pies: he was a bookseller, coeditor of The Publisher’s Weekly, secretary of the American Booksellers Association and by 1921, he represented the National Association of Book Publishers at his first American Library Association convention where he took part in a program promoting Children’s Book Week.
When the categories for the Pulitzer Prize were announced in 1917, Melcher was disappointed, though not surprised, when children’s literature had not been included as a category.
On the day after his scheduled talk at the ALA convention, Melcher asked for the chance to speak to the audience again. According to Leonard S. Marcus in Minders of Make-Believe, when he spoke, “Melcher told a rapt audience that the time had come for children’s literature to have its own Pulitzer Prize as a vehicle for encouraging – and publicizing – high achievement in writing for the young, and that librarians, having no commercial stake in the fate of any particular book, constituted, ‘the jury which could give value’ to it.”
He proposed they name the award the John Newbery Medal in commemoration of the 18th-century English bookseller-printer-publisher who had popularized the notion that children’s books should offer their readers delight and instruction in equal measure.
The response to his proposal was wildly enthusiastic. When the American Library Association’s Executive Committee met later that same day, they voted to authorize the awarding of the first Newbery Medal at the next year’s (1922) conference in Detroit.
The Newbery Medal is awarded for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
The list of winners (also known as a reading list) can be found on the ALA’s web site.
However, I am a girl who loves a list. So, let me shine a light on my very favorite Newbery winners that I think you’ll like:
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
The King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Interestingly, as I was reviewing my “best of” folder, I noticed that the majority of my favorite chapter books are not Newbery Medal winners. There are many Newbery winners that I don’t even like. So, keep that in mind. Or heed the words of Jim Trelease, author of “The Read-Aloud Handbook.” He said, “Don’t be fooled by awards.” Wise words.