It’s the most exciting awards show of the year! …if you’re a kidlit geek.
Every year at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference, committees of youth services librarians hold secret meetings, discussing and arguing and trying to determine the most Distinguished Books for young people published in the United States in the past year. Early Monday morning, they call the winners. Then, once the sun comes up, they tell the rest of the world, in a live-streamed announcement and press release!
The two oldest and most famous of these awards are the Newbery and the Caldecott. The Newbery is awarded to “the author [emphasis mine] of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Caldecott is awarded to “the artist [still mine] of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” So, Newbery is for words, Caldecott is for pictures. Got that?
Here’s what makes this year special. The 2016 Newbery Medal went to a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña. This book also snagged a Caldecott Honor (the Honor books being the runners-up to the Medalists) for its illustrator, Christian Robinson.
The last–and only other–time this happened was for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, in 1982. And even that book is a 48-page book of poetry, not a standard 32-page picture book like Last Stop On Market Street.
So often we confuse “best words” with “mostly words” and “best pictures” with “best picture book.” But last year’s Caldecott Honor for YA graphic novel This One Summer and the 2008 Medal for the 526-page The Invention of Hugo Cabret showed that pictures don’t have to be for kindergarteners to be distinguished. This year our Newbery Medalist shows that you don’t need a lot of words to have the most distinguished words, either!
This year’s Caldecott Medal proper went to Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick. It’s the story of the bear adopted by a Canadian soldier in WWI, whom Christopher Robin Milne later decided to rename his stuffed Edward Bear after when he saw her in a zoo (curiously, that wasn’t the only well-regarded picture book on the subject released in 2015: there was also Sally M. Walker’s Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. I kind of feel sorry for it now that the other one has won the Caldecott, so get both for your Pooh-lovers!)
The Newbery Honor books were The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson (another graphic novel!); and Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. All three of these are what my library calls “Intermediate,” or upper-middle-grade fiction, older elementary level–or, the level that usually takes the Newbery. The other Caldecott Honors besides Last Stop on Market Street were Trombone Shorty, illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Troy Andrews; Waiting, illustrated and written by Kevin Henkes; and Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes and written by Carole Boston Weatherford. All are standard picture books in format, though Trombone Shorty and Voice of Freedom are both nonfiction biographies.
But Wait, There’s More!
The Newbery and Caldecott are only the oldest and most famous awards announced at the YMAs–there are dozens more! Before you go, allow me to introduce you to some newer awards that might be just what you and your children are looking for!
Nonfiction geeks? Check out the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for the “most distinguished informational book for children,” and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (or The Award With the Most Unwieldy Title. A librarian friend of mine has suggested it should be named the Steve Sheinkin Award, as he has won exactly half of them since the award’s inception in 2010, including this year’s). The Silbert goes to another picture book, Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, by Duncan Tonatiuh; and the young adult award goes to Sheinlin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. See full lists for more!
Got teens (or, let’s be honest, prefer reading YA fiction yourself)?
The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature went to thriller Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby. The William C. Morris Award goes to a debut book by a first-time author writing for teens, and this year’s is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. Then there are the lists–so many great lists! The Alex Awards go to the ten best adult books with teen appeal (last night’s Golden Globe winner The Martian was based on one of last year’s Alex Award winners). Other lists that are decided at the Midwinter conference but are not announced at the YMAs include Best Fiction for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. Keep an eye on those pages: the new lists should be up within the next week!
But my favorite award of all the YMAs is for the other end of the reading spectrum: the Geisel. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award—you recognize that name, don’t you? Of course you do. That’s the real name of a guy who went by “Dr. Seuss.” So naturally the award named after him goes to “the most distinguished beginning reader book.” Well-written early readers are a favorite underappreciated book category of mine. Like a picture book winning the Newbery, sometimes less words are better than more.
To write an actually compelling story using only the most basic words and simple sentences is a real art, one that Dr. Seuss excelled at. Nowadays Mo Willems is the reigning master, but shockingly he didn’t get a Geisel this year. A completely different Mo did. Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler is the Geisel winner, with honors going to A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, by Jonathan Fenske; Supertruck, by Stephen Savage (one of my favorites: it’s about a snowplow superhero!); and Waiting, by Kevin Henkes.
We’re Still Not Done Yet!
Like to listen to your stories? Check out the Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults.
Want to read something from a non-English-speaking country, but don’t know the language yourself? See the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children’s book translated from a foreign language and published in the U.S. (The title of this year’s winner, The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy, is so fabulous I wish I knew what the original “Le merveilleux Dodu-Velu-Petit” sounds like to someone who speaks French).
Interested in exploring (or supporting) the experiences of particular groups of people? The Coretta Scott King Awards recognize African American authors and illustrators with Book awards for an author and an illustrator, the John Steptoe awards for new talent (author and illustrator), and a Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award.* The Pura Belpré Awards do the same for a Latino writer and illustrator whose books “best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.” The Schneider Family Book Award spotlights books “that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience,” honoring books about not only visible disabilities, but everything from learning disabilities to mental illness. The Stonewall Book Award is given to “English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience”—it should be noted that this is not just for teens/about sexuality: this year’s winner, George, by Alex Gino, is a young-middle-grade novel about a transgender girl who just wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, even though everyone thinks she’s a boy.
Some of the individual award links I’ve included here have not yet been updated, but the full list of all winners, including honor books and lifetime achievement awards, is here. Click through and find an award-winning new read!
*I cannot mention Virginia Hamilton without adding: This one time at a lecture Virginia Hamilton was two people behind me in line for the restrooms. Now that I’ve said so on such a well-read forum as GeekMom, maybe I can stop. Or not. It’s a compulsion.