Chris Raschka (right), winner of the 2012 Caldecott Medal for A Ball for Daisy (Random), delivered a thoughtful acceptance speech Sunday night, while Jack Gantos, this year’s Newbery Medal winner for Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar), had the room howling with laughter as he recounted his own experiences—and the sordid pasts of former Newbery winners.
The two spoke at an awards banquet during the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, with Raschka saying he “never dreamed” he would win the prize awarded to the most distinguished picture book for children. But, he explained, he always dreamed of being an artist.
“Or maybe what I dreamed of was seeing like an artist,” said Raschka. “I have never known a time when I didn’t want to look at things, wanted to see things and draw them.”
Raschka went on to explain what being an artist felt much like traveling to a foreign country, especially on the first days of a trip. “You look about you, and nothing registers properly. You walk around in a kind of daze, and then some hand grabs you from behind.”
He best described it as an “almost an out-of-body experience.”
Making picture books, Raschka said, is to “remember a particular emotion, heighten it, and then capture it in some painted vocabulary, so that the same emotion is evoked in the child, in the reader. I must make you feel what I feel, and maybe even more.”
Raschka said he’d been working on A Ball for Daisy, a nearly wordless picture book that deals with the anguish a dog named Daisy goes through when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog, for so long that he could hardly remember its beginnings. The ball in the book was based on one that belonged to his son, Ingo, who was very small at the time. Daisy, the big black dog who lived on the tenth floor of their building, bit down a little too hard on Ingo’s beloved yellow ball and popped it. “That I remember well,” Raschka says.
“So this is how I see making my picture books today,” he said. “First I’ll draw what I see. Then I’ll draw what I remember. And finally I’ll draw what I feel.”
Gantos (right) said that he hadn’t felt more earnest winning the Newbery, given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, since he surprisingly won the first-place medal for religious studies in second grade.
He went on to recount several important events that took place in history on January 23. For instance, it was the day in 1737 that John Hancock was born, the day in 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first medical doctor in the United States, and in 1912, it was the day that the International Opium Convention was signed.
And on the morning of January 23, 2012, Gantos was in his kitchen feeding his cat, Scootch, some treats and glancing at his cell phone. The week before, Dead End in Norvelt, a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, had won the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction.
“And so the Newbery was toying with me like the fruit that Tantalus could never reach or the water he could never drink,” Gantos said.
When his phone rang, he stared at it and thought, “If this is my mother calling me to tell me again where she hid her life insurance policy, I’m going to put that policy to work.”
When Gantos picked up the phone, it was Viki Ash and a chorus of excited voices in the background, and she told him that Dead End in Norvelt had been chosen as the John Newbery Award book for 2012.
Gantos said he had wanted to ask if the book won the gold or silver medal because he wasn’t sure about what he had heard—but then stopped himself because he thought it was rude.
“So I just said, ‘Why, thank you. I’m very thrilled that I wrote a book about history that made history,'” Gantos recalled, adding that the call was over in a flash.
It wasn’t until Gantos and his wife went back to bed and turned on their laptops that they found out what had really happened.
“In about two hours we watched the live feed and there it was: Dead End in Norvelt had won,” he says, thinking that the book had just squeaked in because it was the last one announced.
“No,” his wife told him. “They saved the best for last, you moron.”