Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Excitement Builds

The ALA Youth Media Awards also recognize authors' works over a lifetime. The Wilder Award, named for Laura Ingalls Wilder, was awarded to Ashley Bryan. Mr. Bryan (named when Ashley was still considered a boy's name-remember Gone With the Wind?) is the author and illustrator, best known for his African folktales.

There was a big eruption when Laurie Halse Anderson was named the winner of YALSA's (Young Adult Library Association) Margaret Edwards award, which honors a young adult author's select body of work. Frankly, I was amazed that she hadn't already won. Although she writes primarily for teens (Speak), I regularly recommend her historical fiction novels (Fever 1793 and her latest, Chains) to middle schoolers. She is an amazing and engrossing author (I've already made plans to attend the luncheon-cannot wait to hear her speak).

The other awards are important and appreciated, but the two biggies are saved for last: the Caldecott and Newbery. I didn't really have a major favorite for the Caldecott (if anyone asked, I usually said that In a Blue Room was my favorite). However, The House in the Night is a beautifully illustrated book using black and white scratchboard technique.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever is a delight, so I was happy that it was named as an Honor book. If you were fortunate enough to enjoy parent-free summer vacations at your grandparents' home (as I was!), you'll love this book.

And for something completely different, How I Learned Geography recounts the author's childhood as a World War II refugee. It's probably not something that most children would opt to read on their own, but it's a distinguished and worthwhile read.

I haven't read A River of Words, but I'm looking forward to it.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy fabulous picture books as much as anyone else(especially if it's a fine read aloud). However, there's a reason why I joined the middle grade fiction reading group (10-14) for Capitol Choices and why I avoid reviewing picture books. I lack the knowledge and vocabulary to talk about a picture book at length. Fortunately, for the majority of patrons I work with, this isn't necessary. Parents (the ones that usually pick out the picture books) usually only want good read alouds when looking for picture books. They don't really care about the specific techniques used by the illustrator. They'll appreciate anything that's unique or interesting, but they aren't interested in me talking to them about it while they have a toddler hanging off on one arm and they need to get home in order to drive kids to Scouts or ballet class. However, when discussing picture books with librarians and reviewers who know what they are talking about, I tend to do more listening than talking. It's a different story with chapter books, children's nonfiction, or teen literature. But for picture books, I can't really carry the conversation beyond, "Wow. Those are some really beautiful/unique/amazing illustrations." Now, granted, I'm not alone. Critiquing illustrations is not something that is regularly taught or emphasized in children's literature classes for library school students. If you come from an art background, you have a definite advantage. Otherwise, it's something that you have to teach yourself, and it's something that takes time.

Which is why I had more anticipatory excitement over the Newbery. Oh, I could go on and on about my Newbery picks. Which NEVER EVER win. I'll sometimes get lucky and pick an Honor book. There was one book that I really hoped would not win the Medal (a mean thought, but it's true), and it didn't.

I was a bit surprised that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won (not that it hadn't been named on prediction lists and blogs, but this was a very strong year). There was a hugely positive reaction when it was announced. Now, I haven't read the blogs yet, but I'm thinking that there might be some that think it's a squarely YA book (we do shelve it in YA). It's important to remember that the Newbery includes books for readers up to 14 years of age. While I do think that the medal might be trending toward the older end of the spectrum (now that we have the Geisel, I don't think we'll see a book on the reading level of Frog and Toad Together be considered), The Graveyard Book still meets the criteria of the Newbery Medal. It's definitely a creepy book at times, so it's not for younger readers.

Now...about the Honor books...

Younger readers, however, will love Savvy. It's a deliciously funny fantasy by a first time author. Lots of fun.

The Underneath is a very quiet, poetic, and lyrical tale.

After Tupac and D Foster was one of my favorite reads for Capitol Choices. This is also definitely a YA novel, and one that appeals to many teens.

I am looking forward to reading The Surrender Tree, which was also named as an Honor book.

Later on, I'll blog about the Printz. I've only read one of the named books, so I don't have that much to talk about....


Wendy said...

You echoed pretty much my thoughts exactly, when I started trying to read the Caldecott possibilities! And my background IS in art. But I think it's hard for me to separate my thoughts about the illustrations as art from thoughts about the book as a whole--like with We Are the Ship, which probably has the most distinguished art in it, but isn't necessarily the most distinguished "picture book" by the Caldecott criteria. I'm going to try to learn more about this before the next awards season comes around.

Jennifer Schultz said...

Wendy, from what I understand, the pictures have to help tell the story (which is why The Invention of Hugo Cabret was eligible-there are significant parts of the book that are told through illustration...not that you don't know this, but I'm including this for the benefit of Kiddosphere readers, such as a few of my coworkers, who haven't read the book). We Are the Ship is extraordinary, and I was so happy to hear it recognized again and again at the announcement.