Children’s books honored — does it matter?
To paraphrase St. Paul, when I was a child I spake as a child– but I read like an adult as soon as I could. As a result, I didn’t gain an appreciation of children’s literature until I had children of my own. Yesterday’s 2010 Newbery and Caldecott winners — a much-laureled veteran illustrator and a debut novelist — got me thinking about the importance of children’s books.
For example, I don’t really have any favorite children’s books from my childhood like my children do– but I love those same books, even though I was grown when I read them. Do you have children’s books that were important to you then and remain important to you today?
Back to yesterday’s awards: Jerry Pinkney, one of the best illustrators of the past 30 years, won his first Caldecott Medal after five Caldecott Honors (essentially second place), for The Lion & the Mouse, a gorgeous watercolor retelling of Aesop’s fable. When it came out last year, the Christian Science Monitor termed the book “magnificent,” adding: “colors glow, emotions sing, and each detail entrances as the tiny mouse finds a way to help his majestic friend.”
First-time novelist Rebecca Stead took the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, a “sharp, clever young adult mystery” focused on a 12-year-old New York girl and her single mom. A surprise bestseller, it was praised by The New York Times, School Library Journal and others periodicals.
The American Library Association has bestowed the Newbery since 1922, the Caldecott since 1938. In 2000, it added the Printz Award for Literary Excellence, which this year went to Going Bovine, by Libba Bray, “a contemporary dark comedy with supernatural elements featuring vividly characterized boys,” according to Bookslut.
Four runners-up were tapped for Newbery Honors: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.
Two books were selected for Caldecott Honors: All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon; and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman.
And four Printz Honors were awarded: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman; The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey; Punkzilla by Adam Rapp; Tales from the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973 by John Barnes.
To give you a notion of the importance of these awards, past Newberry winners or Honors recipients include Hugh Lofting, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.B. White, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Madeleine L’Engle, Randall Jarrell, Isaac Bashevis Singer, E.L. Konigsburg, Julius Lester, Virginia Hamilton, Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia MacLachlan, Richard Peck and Neil Gaiman.
The Newbery came under criticism in 2008 from children’s literary experts for selecting books too hard for children to read. I say, if that’s true, then the Newbery is a lot like the Nobel Prize in Literature. Besides, the important thing is the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz recognize excellence, however imperfectly, and that keeps the conversation going about books in general.
What do you think?