Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Those Medals and Medallions!

I confess: my heart quickens this time every January when I think about the children’s book creators whose lives are about to be fortuitously changed, thanks to the awarding of a literary medal.

The night before the American Library Association announces the recipients of its awards for distinguished children's books, I fall asleep contented, knowing someone somewhere is about to be surprised!

[Note: ALA announces the awards Monday, January 23, at 7:45 am CST from the Dallas Mid-Winter Meeting.]

Two of last year’s winners, first-time author and Newbery medalist Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest, Delacorte Press) and first-time illustrator and Caldecott medalist Erin Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Roaring Brook Press) gave all book creators hope.

To me, giving hope to the reader is what our Children’s Book World is all about.
Jeanne Marie said it best in her Monday post when she reminded us we are writing for children.
To my way of thinking, a children’s book must always leave the reader hopeful. Not with the proverbial happily ever after ending; simply with the possibility that we could live happily ever after.

The brilliant editor Jean Karl, who headed Atheneum and discovered award-winning authors Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Judy Viorst and E.K. Konigsburg, wrote, “A good children’s book respects a child’s intelligence, his pride, his dignity, and most of all his individuality and his capacity to become.”

I have but one Very High Bar when it comes to choosing award-winners: Is this a book I’d want to passionately read aloud to my fifth graders, were I teaching? Is this a character who could and would change the way my students view themselves, each other, the world?

For those reasons, I so wanted Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) to win the Newbery. There’s an ADD Joey in every classroom, waiting to be understood.

For that reason, I so wanted Ruth White’s Little Audrey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) to win too. These are Hard Times in which we live; wouldn’t it be nice to know that if Audrey could make it in her depressed Virginia coal-mining town in 1948, so could we today. Booklist editor and reviewer Ilene Cooper starred this book, describing it as “tough and tender.”

Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s as small as an elephant (Candlewick Press, 2011) is tough and tender too and my hopeful Newbery pick.

Here’s the press release:
“Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and "spinning" wildly until it's over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself — starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties — and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all.

Here are but two of the many starred reviews:

This simply written but emotionally rich tale of an 11-year-old boy abandoned by his bipolar single mother will kindle profound responses in young readers." — Booklist Starred Review

“…Jacobson has great success putting readers inside Jack’s not-always-thinking-things-through mind, and by the end of the story, nicely tied together by the elephant theme, Jack comes to realize that he hadn’t been alone, that family and people he didn’t even know were there for him in a 'makeshift herd.' The happy yet realistic ending leaves Jack (and readers) 'light-headed with hope.'” – Horn Book

And here’s what Jennifer wrote:

"I believe in Jack and his ability to understand his mother in shades of gray. I believe in his ability to be fiercely independent: to try and try and try . . . and at the same time to recognize that he needs others. That others are right there, waiting to catch him."

I want young readers everywhere to know Jack, to take heart and hope from his quietly-powerful story.

Ironically, I’m cheering on between shades of gray (Philomel, 2011), Ruta Sepetys’ first novel, for Prinz attention.
The novel is based on Sepetys’ family. It tells the story of 15-year-old Lina who in 1941 is pulled from her Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp.
The concluding Author’s note begins with the words of Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

I am obviously, unabashedly all about Hope. 
(Were this post about the Cubs, I'd tell you this year is The Year!)

Yesterday, the Association of Jewish Libraries announced the 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners.
Hurrah! and Mazel tov! to Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda for their Younger Readers winner Chanukah Lights (Candlewick), Susan Goldman Rubin for her Older Readers winner Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein (Charlesbridge) and Robert Sharenow for his Teen Readers winner The Berlin Boxing Club (Harper Teen/HarperCollins).

My fellow TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland and her picture book New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009) won this honor in 2010.

As luck would have it, one very cold January afternoon in 2003, I was one of those “someone’s, somewhere,” when AJL’s Dr. Libby White phoned to tell me my picture book Chicken Soup By Heart (Simon and Shuster, 2002), gorgeously illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger, would be wearing a Sydney Taylor gold medallion.

I hadn’t even known the book was being considered!

I sat on my living room couch for 30 minutes, waiting for Dr. White to phone me back, to tell me she’d made a terrible mistake.
When she didn’t call, I finally pinched myself, teared a bit, then out-and-out wept.

2011 saw more than 10,000 children’s books traditionally published.
I smile thinking about all those stories,
medaled or not,
making their way to readers,
there for the taking,
and the handful of deserving creators about to be surprised.

I offer my Hurrahs! early, often, sincerely.

Esther Hershenhorn

You can win too this January!
Don't forget to enter our latest TA Book Giveaway (from April's most recent post):
To enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th. Good Luck!


Linda B said...

I loved reading your post this time, how much love you gave to the books you spoke about, meandering through the feelings of award time. It must be such a thrill to get that call. I haven't read As Small As An Elephant, but it's on my list. I did read Shades of Gray, & thought it was one to be considered for the Newbery, & one I certainly would offer to students often. Thanks also for telling about the Sydney Taylor winners. Good to know!

Jen Klein said...

Embarrassingly, I get a little teary at things like awards for writers, especially when watching the Emmys or Oscars. Sad but true.

Madigan Mirza said...

"Tough and tender" - yes, that neatly sums up what a lot of awards judges are looking for.

I'm looking forward to seeing who wins this year. I couldn't begin to say who I think is a contender!

Russ Cox said...

I really enjoyed your post on the awards and it is very true on how someone's life will be changed forever when their name is called.

Carmela Martino said...

I haven't heard much about SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT--thanks for sharing with us about it, Esther.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Here's the link to Anderson's Bookshop's Mock Newbery/Caldecott, where I first discovered Jennifer's as small as an elephant:

I know the Kidlitosphere will be abuzz early Monday morning, announcing ALA's winners many winners.

Thanks for stopping by.

Michelle Cusolito said...

I, too, loved "Shades of Gray." I've recommended it to many people- teens and adults alike.

I haven't read "as small as an elephant", though I will now.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Esther, this is lovely - thanks for sharing about when you learned YOU'D won big! And "a children’s book must always leave the reader hopeful." is so true!
Namaste and a Hug,