Dressed in book-themed costumes and hats, hundreds of enthusiastic librarians gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago to honor the winners of the 2013 Caldecott, Newbery, and Wilder Awards. Presented by the Association for Library Service to Children, the Caldecott and Newbery awards are considered by many to be the “Oscars” of children’s book publishing. This year, the celebration was even more special, marking the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award.
The Caldecott Medal was awarded to 32-year-old Jon Klassen for This is Not My Hat (Candlewick). In accepting the award, Klassen fondly referred to his book—about a sneaky fish and the stolen hat he adores—as his “little guy,” and said he was happy that its subtle humor and message had resonated with readers. Klassen is also a Caldecott Honoree this year for Mac Burnett’s Extra Yarn (HarperCollins); he is only the second illustrator with this achievement in the award’s history.
Katherine Applegate, winner of the John Newbery Medal for The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins), spoke about her long road to the Medal after a varied writing career, commenting that she was not ‘a late-blooming” success. The 56-year-old winner read from a Harlequin Romance novel that she once wrote. “A woman’s body is like a piano,” she said. “You are definitely a Steinway, baby.”
Unlike her early work, Applegate’s Newbery-winning turn is a poignant YA story of a long-captive gorilla. In her remarks, Applegate recalled her youth and specifically the time that she was introduced to Doctor Doolittle and Charlotte’s Web, books in which, like the Ivan of her book, the principal protagonists were talking animals. “You have to write the book that has to be written,” she quoted Madeleine L’Engle. “And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
Applegate went on to praise the optimism of children and to thank the members of the Nerdy Book Club, whose online enthusiasm brought recognition to Ivan.
In accepting the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, Katherine Paterson thanked “all the librarians and teachers,” noting, “many children would never know my books if it was for you.” The award is given to an author whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature. The 80-year-old Paterson is a two-time Newbery and National Book Award winner, and has served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The Wilder award comes forty years after the publication of her first book, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum. In closing, Paterson praised the audience and the event, which she said was for “celebrating all of you who nourish the lives of the young.”
The evening’s entertainment was not only found on the stage. The audience was filled with many librarians dressed in their Caldecott-themed fashions and accessories, such as Starr LaTronica, youth services/outreach manager at the Four County Library System (NY) and president-elect of ALSC, who sported earrings and shoes adorned with Caldecott Medals. Elizabeth Bird of the New York Public Library, picture book author and SLJ blogger, wore an outfit that featured all of this year’s Caldecott books. And all 75 Caldecott winners were present on the dress of Suzanne Walker from the Indiana State Library in the form of individual pins that she created for each winning book.
Katrina Taylor and Charlene Mckenzie, librarians from St. Paul, MN, are annual attendees of the dinner; both enjoy the event for different reasons, they told School Library Journal. While McKenzie appreciates getting to see the authors and illustrators who “create the magic of the book,” Taylor says, “it is so inspiring to have a celebration of children’s literature.”