Only total kidlit geeks would do this: click the live webcast link on the American Library Association website and watch an hour of book geeks (I say that nicely, being one myself) announcing the winners of their Youth Media awards, while their peers clap, gasp, whistle, and cheer. Only a tiny slice of the general public has any interest at all in who won the Schneider family award or snagged the Coretta Scott King or Stonewall medals. But publishers are tuning in, because those gold and silver stickers on a book jacket get attention and SALES. Public and school librarians are tuning in also, to figure out if they have room in the budget to order some of the titles in the winners’ circle.
A few years ago I called Barnes & Noble, the day after the awards were announced, to reserve a Newbery honor book. I was told they didn’t have any in stock. All copies of the most coveted award—the Newbery and Caldecott medals—are immediately recalled so the publisher can slap that medal on them. (Notice how the cover image I got off Barnes & Noble just this morning already has the gold sticker on it.) It’s instant status. And SALES. And, I’ve always thought, an indication of what the tastemakers in children’s literature think is excellent and praiseworthy for that year.
Since we started RedeemedReader, I also want to know if we’ve reviewed any of the winners beforehand and found anything excellent and praiseworthy. The answer is usually Yes-and-No.
Random thoughts and links:
I thought some of the gay-themed books would get more attention this year than they actually did. Of course, the Stonewall award is all about GLBT, and while honored and lauded I’m not sure how many of them are actually read. Not that many, I think. Drama, a Stonewall honor book, has eye-appeal as a graphic novel, but the winner of this year’s award (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe) is very literary, with not a lot of action. Few of the young men it’s written for, I think, will even pick it up.
The Prinz award, given for excellence in literature for Young Adults, is a minefield for edgy teen literature, and Aristotle and Dante shows up on the honor list. But there are some real winners there too, particularly Code Name Verity. This was to no one’s surprise: CNV was one of the year’s most honored books, and deservedly so. But a couple of popular YA titles from last year, at least one of which I was sure would snag a Prinz medal, came nowhere near. Of the four honor books, one of them I never even heard of, and another I heard of but haven’t read. The winner of the award, In Darkness, is about the Haiti earthquake. I tend to shy away from YA books with Darkness in the title, because YA has a reputation of being too dark already, but this one might be worth a look.
On the lighter side, The Theodore Seuss Geisel award is always fun—it’s given for excellence in books for early readers, and the best way to draw an early reader is Fun! Mo Willems almost always gets a mention here, and sure enough, Let’s Go for a Drive!, featuring Elephant and Piggy, pops up on the honor list. The winner in this category is Up! Tall! and High!, which I hope to feature, along with the other Geisel award books, in a future post.
We’ve already reviewed three of the Caldecott-winning picture books—two of the honors (Extra Yarn and Green) and the big winner, This is Not My Hat, by John Klassen. Klassen is the king of children’s illustrators right now, with two of his books winning Caldecott medals this year (one silver, one gold). Last year he didn’t do too badly either. Three of the Caldecott honor books I haven’t seen, but hope to remedy that soon.
In nonfiction, there’s one big winner: Bomb. In both the YA and juvenile categories, Bomb swept the field. It was interesting to me that many of the same titles showed up on both age-group lists—an indication that publishers sink most of their resources and publicity efforts into fiction. But I suspect librarians do the same; they love “stories” as much as the kids do, but many fascinating “stories” are absolutely factual. Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb and last year’s winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold, is on a roll, and has pretty much staked out this publishing niche for himself. I suspect he’ll be appearing on these award lists for years to come.
Finally, the ALA’s oldest, brightest, and most coveted award: the Newbery. Of the four books on the list (three honors and one gold medal), we’ve reviewed three of them: Bomb (again!!), Three Times Lucky, and the big winner: The One and Only Ivan. (Splendors and Glooms, the unread honor book, we’ll get to later.) Ivan is a worthy winner: a distinctive voice, interesting characters, and thought-provoking story. I reviewed it, including thoughts on animals and dominion, here.
So: some good choices, some so-so choices, and others I’ll have to read. One interesting sideline: William C. Eerdman, a Christian publisher in Grand Rapids, is getting more notice from the ALA. Last year’s Youth Medial Award winners included a book with the Eerdman imprint. This year, two. Watch in the coming weeks for posts on those two, plus Geissel and Caldecott winners.