May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Newbery Medal First At 2018 YMAs

The speculation is over, and the 2018 Youth Media Awards winners have been crowned.

In the biggest awards of the day, The Newbery Medal went to Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly; the Caldecott Medal was won by Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell; and We Are Okay by Nina LaCour won the Printz Award.

“I just have felt very loved and lucky all day,” said LaCour, who was told about her win on Saturday and had time for the honor to sink in a little longer before Monday’s announcements. Cordell and Kelly, however, were still trying to process it all on Monday afternoon.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed with disbelief and excitement,” a self-described “swampy-headed” Cordell said shortly after the announcement.

“I’ve just been pacing around,” said Kelly after joking that it was “just another Monday. Whatever.”

Kelly was part of a Newbery Medal first: the winning book and honor selections were all written by people of color.

Photo by Laurence Kesterson

“I think it speaks to what readers want and need in their lives and the kind of work that people of all backgrounds can produce,” said Kelly, who is Filipina-American. “It’s exciting to see the uplifting of all these voices, incredible voices.”

These books allow kids who may not have seen themselves in stories before to be represented and bring other kids into those worlds as well, Kelly said.

“It is always important, but even more important right now,” she said, noting the current political climate.

Several other books by authors and illustrators of color received recognition from the committees that make the selections.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, one of the day’s big winners, was named as a honor book for both the Newbery and Caldecot. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was an honor recipient for both the Newbery and the Printz. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was a Printz and Coretta Scott King Book Award honor book, along with winning William C. Morris Award and the Odyssey Award (for best audiobook). Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon was a Caldecott honor and Sibert honor title.

Crown, which won four awards on the day, was also named a Coretta Scott King author and illustrator honor book.

CONTINUING THE MISSION

Diversity and inclusion is a big part of the American Library Association’s (ALA) mission, and something president Jim Neal touched on in his opening remarks.

“As libraries in our society transform, never,never has our work to advance our core values to create an understanding and inclusive society been more important,” Neal told the excited crowd in his introduction to the awards ceremony. The work continues, he said, to “abolish ignorance, social injustice, and bigotry through all work in education and lifelong learning.”

Some of the most sustained cheering of the morning came when Neal told the crowd next year’s ceremony would include the award selections of affiliate organizationsAmerican Indian Library Association (AILA)Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL)–then introduced their leadership. Another big cheer went up when Debbie Reese was announced as the winner of the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. Reese, scholar, activist, and publisher of the American Indians in Children’s Literature site, will deliver the 2019 lecture.

While the topic of sexual harassment in the children’s literature community seemed to dominate the conversation in Denver before the awards announcements began, once the winners and honorees started being named, it was all celebration, with loud cheers going up for favorites throughout the morning.

Before the cheers, though, came the committee phone calls.

WHEN THE PHONE DIDN’t ring

Kelly never thought she would win and this morning seemed to confirm that belief, she said. “I know the call comes really early in the morning,” she said of the famous committee calls to the winners. So when her phone didn’t ring by 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, she knew it wasn’t happening.

So she got in her car and onto Interstate-95, hoping the Newbery winner would be Jack Cheng, who wrote See You in the Cosmos, Kelly’s favorite book this year. As she sat in traffic near Philadelphia, her editor called and asked where she was.

“I’m in my car going to work. Where am I supposed to be?” Kelly asked.

“In bed,” she was told.

Kelly had recently changed her cell phone number, and the committee had been trying to reach her at the old one. When they finally got through to her, they “said a bunch of words and something about the Newbery,” Kelly said.

She asked them to repeat what they had said and they did, even cheering for her again. After hanging up, she headed back home to watch the announcements.

“I was very stoic through the whole thing until they showed my book,” she said. “Then I just started bawling. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Cordell didn’t believe it either. He, too, thought the time had passed for any possible phone call.

About 7 a.m. Central time, he received a text from an author friend saying she hoped he had gotten a phone call. He hadn’t. Maybe there was another half-hour window when the call might come, he thought, but then that time passed, too. So when his phone finally did ring, he was truly shocked, jumping up and running into the other room so he wouldn’t wake his sleeping young son, who had crawled into his bed in the middle of the night.

The Caller ID read, “Colorado Convention Center,” Cordell said. “I was shaking, trembling, because I just wasn’t expecting it.”

After working through some speakerphone issues, Cordell was told that Wolf in the Snow was the 2018 Caldecott winner.

“I was speechless, literally speechless. I didn’t actually know that was a thing that could happen,” he said. “I couldn’t put a sentence together.”

Later, the author, his wife, their four-year-old son, and nine-year-old daughter watched the YMA livestream together while eating celebratory doughnuts. When his name was announced, Cordell’s kids jumped all over him, he said. Tonight, he and his wife will keep previous plans for a dinner out.

“We like to celebrate Valentine’s Day not on Valentine’s Day,” he said. “It’s easier to get a table and our first date was on this date. It’s a really nice coincidence.”

When they made their plans, his wife kiddingly said maybe they would be celebrating his Caldecott win, too. He told her not to even joke about that, he said, but “low and behold, here we are, going out to dinner for our first date/Valentine’s Day/Caldecott celebration.

“It’s still hard to say,” he added. “I feel like it’s going to get snatched away.”

A SPECIAL LITTLE SECRET

By Monday, LaCour may have sounded more at ease with her recognition, but when her call came, she was just as flustered.

“I was doing chores around the house and my phone rang,” she said. “I was just completely blown away. They told me it won the medal and I started to sob and I sobbed through the entire conversation. I honestly did not know if it was real and I had never had that experience before.”

Then came the challenge of not sharing her news with the world, but she didn’t have to keep it completely to herself.

“I told my wife and we got to talk about it a lot and go out to dinner and really celebrate,” said LaCour. “It felt like a really special secret I got to keep for a couple of days.”

As proud as she is of her book resonating with committee members, she also feels fortunate to be part of a group that includes Printz honor books by authors Jason Reynolds, Laini Taylor, Angie Thomas, and Deborah Heiligman.

“I’m just so thrilled with the breadth of the books that were recognized by the committee,” she said. “I love that we have nonfiction and we have fantasy romance and we have books about really important issues of injustice and brutality and then my book about grief and suffering in a different way. I think there’s a lot of hop in the titles and a lot of love in all of them and I just feel very honored to be among all of the other authors.”

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Kara Yorio About Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. You identify Erin Entrada Kelly as Filipino, but I don’t think that’s quite right. First, it’s Filipina. Second, she’s actually Filipina-American, as her website notes, with one Filipina parent and one American parent. She was born and raised in the United States, which I think makes her American, too. Please correct for future scholars.

  2. I can’t wait to get all of these titles for my library!

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