Librarians and fans of children’s and young adult literature convened in Philadelphia, PA—and virtually all over the world—on Monday, January 27, for the “Oscars” of kid lit. Elated shouts and cheers of the audience in attendance followed the announcements of each winner of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards for books published in 2013, presented during ALA‘s annual Midwinter Meeting.
Kate DiCamillo, newly-minted National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and acclaimed author/illustrator Brian Floca took the top prizes, the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, for their books, the novel Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick) and the nonfiction picture book Locomotive (S&S).
DiCamillo’s illustrated middle-grade novel Flora & Ulysses made the rounds on several mock Newbery lists, is an SLJ Best Book and a Battle of the Kids’ Books contender, but librarians were still pleasantly surprised by the win. The title features an unlikely friendship between a comics-loving girl and a super-powered talking squirrel.
DiCamillo herself was in disbelief when informed of her win, she tells School Library Journal, playfully likening the announcement to being hit in the face with a soft playground ball, common to kickball games as a child. ‘It left you feeling kind of stunned. That’s the way I feel,” she says. “I just cannot believe it. It’s thrilling. I cried a lot, I can tell you that.” The author, who was still asleep when the Newbery Committee called at 5:30 a.m., adds, “I said absolutely nothing that made any sense to those people. And then as soon as I hung up, I thought, ‘I wonder if I imagined the whole thing?’”
John Schu—aka blogger Mr. Schu, K–5 librarian and member of the 2014 Newbery Committee—concurs with DiCamillo’s recollection of events. According to Schu, when committee members called the author this morning, “She said, ‘But it is a book about a squirrel.’ She kept saying, ‘Wow. Wow. Wow.’ She was weepy, and incredibly thankful,” he tells SLJ.
Once the shock wore off, DiCamillo tuned into the webcast, and was pleased to see that Weston Woods Studios’ production of Bink & Gollie: Two for One was named for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video. “By that point, friends who are in the neighborhood came over and we were watching the webcast together,” she tells SLJ. “The most exciting thing about that was listening to people in the audience laughing when they played the clip. It was great.”
Fresh off her surprising win, DiCamillo has a host of duties awaiting her as her tenure as ambassador begins, plus several new writing projects in the works, including a new novel and stories involving some of the secondary characters from her “Mercy Watson” series. And although she does not plan to write a sequel to Flora & Ulysses, she admits, “if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s ‘never say never’ and that anything is possible…. If the characters demand it, then I would do it.”
In the meantime, to be awarded the kid lit world’s top honor just weeks after being named ambassador is “all the zippier” and, simply, “incredible timing,” she notes.
For DiCamillo, writing for—and reaching out to—children in the middle grades has a special kind of appeal. “I defer to my better, Katherine Patterson…I’m sure it is she who said this, that when you write for kids, you’re duty-bound to end with hope,” DiCamillo says. “And I love that command. It makes me more hopeful, and the other thing I love about this age group is that the impossible can still happen.”
Like DiCamillo, Floca, who previously won the 2010 Sibert Honor for Moonshot (Atheneum) and the 2011 Sibert Honor for Ballet for Martha (Roarding Brook), was also stunned about his big win. He tells SLJ that he was still “in a dream state” this morning since the call from the Caldecott Committee—at 6:46 a.m.—left him feeling “stunned” and satisfied. “It’s a very happy, gratifying, thing,” he says. “I’ve been so happy and honored by the reception the book has had. There are a lot of great books out this year. I was aware there had been some conversation about [my] book, but also conversation about a lot of other great books.”
Locomotive was also cited for a Sibert Honor for best informational text for kids. The book focuses on the history of the transcontinental railway system through the eyes of an average family in Omaha, NE, 1869. The lush and detailed illustrations enhance the luminous text for train-lovers new and old.
Although the process of researching such a fact-filled tome was daunting, the project also held unique pleasures for Floca, he says. “I was really sorry to finish it, to be honest,” he tells SLJ. “I looked at a lot of original material and photographs. I got to ride on some replica steam locomotives—up in the cab—in Utah. I got in touch with the curator at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and [visited] the museum before it opened up. I got to climb up on all the engines that you’re usually not allowed to touch. That was fantastic.”
The Caldecott Committee greeted the audience with toots on a train whistle as they were applauded for their work this year. Dr. Nancy Johnson, professor at Western Washington University and a member of the 2013 Caldecott committee, said about Locomotive, “The pleasure for me this year was seeing the emergence of nonfiction, and not just for the nonfiction awards. It’s about time.”
Candlewick, the publisher of Flora & Ulysses, also garnered other youth media awards for its authors and illustrators. For example, Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass won the Pura Belpré Author Award for a Latino/Latina writer whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience, while e. E. Charlton-Trujillo’s Fat Angie tied with Kristin Cronn-Mills’s Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (Flux) for the Stonewall Book Award, which celebrates books with “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.”
The first time that the Stonewall for Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award to two titles, it was a difficult honor to bestow, says Don Yarman, a member of the 2014 committee, because “it was the strongest YA category we’ve ever encountered.” Charlton-Trujillo’s editor Joan Powers said about Fat Angie, “When I first read this book I knew that it was unlike anything I’ve ever read. And it still is.”
And debut author/illustrator Aaron Becker was one of the three Caldecott Honors recipients for Journey, also published by Candlewick. Mary Lee Donavan, Becker’s editor, says “Aaron’s homage to the power of imagination calls for repeated reading. He’s always thoughtful about his creative decisions and gave up a lot for his work. It’s proof that you should be doing what you love doing.” Sharon Hancock, executive director of the publisher’s school and library marketing shares with SLJ, “I’m still just so gobsmacked. I’m so incredibly happy for all of these wonderful authors and illustrators. From a first-time illustrator to the national ambassador of children’s literature—and everything in between—they have given us wonderful books.”
Neal Porter, editorial director for Roaring Brook Press and publisher of Printz-winner Marcus Sedgewick’s Midwinterblood, also was celebrating the books that received recognition from his imprint. “Viva Niño! And hooray for George! I’m completely and utterly thrilled for Yuyi and Sandra and Jan,” he tells SLJ. Yuyi Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, while The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, won a Sibert Honor.
It was also a big day for HarperCollins, whose authors and illustrators took home seven awards, including a Newbery Honor for Kevin Henkes’s The Year of Billy Miller, and the Coretta Scott King Award for Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven, the companion novel to One Crazy Summer and a National Book Award finalist.
So far, it’s been a “thrilling day for our authors and for all of us at Harper,” Patty Rosati, director of school and library marketing for HarperCollins, tells SLJ. She also calls Henkes’s win “the biggest delight/surprise.” She adds, “It had a bunch of starred reviews and did well in mock Newberys across the country, but the Newbery has gone to novels for older kids in the past few years. We’re really happy that they chose a true gem for the younger crowd!”
Award-winning authors that were crowd favorites at this morning’s event include Williams-Garcia, Rainbow Rowell, and Tim Federle. Rowell’s novel Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s Griffin) scored a Printz Honor for young people’s literature as well as an Odyssey Honor for best audiobook. Federle’s novel Better Nate Than Ever was named as both a Stonewall Honor Book and as an Odyssey Honor Recording; Federle narrated his own work for the audiobook. A few surprises included a Printz Honor to Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early (Delacorte), which was often cited as a Newbery contender. Also, all three of the Caldecott Honors were given to wordless picture books: Journey, Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle), and David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion).
The full list of winners is on SLJ.com. And, if you missed SLJ‘s first-ever broadcast pre-game and post-game show hosted by Fuse#8 blogger Betsy Bird and former librarian and Scholastic editor Lori Ess, check out what they had to say, along with viewers’ comments at the Google Hangout show archive. Toggle between the pre-game, post-game through the “playlist” at the upper right.