The Newbery and Caldecott winners were announced yesterday in Boston, and I could not be happier with the winners. The Newbery – which is awarded to the best children’s literature – went to Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, a twisty, marvelous, utterly original mystery starring an intrepid 12-year-old detective named Miranda; the Caldecott – which goes to the year’s best illustrated book – went to Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse, the classic Aesop’s fable rendered wordlessly and simply, in beautiful watercolors. Pinkney, who has never won the Caldecott, had been a heavy favorite. I was rooting for him: He lives in the same small river town that I do, well north of New York City on the Hudson, and I often see him about town; he researches his books in our local library, speaks there, sometimes displays his art there. Libba Bray took the Michael J. Printz award — given for excellence in YA fiction — for Going Bovine, which I loved, loved, loved. (It’s about a teen with mad cow disease.) And talk about another coincidence: Libba and I grew up in the same dusty Texas town, and even went to the same high school. It feels funny to have a personal connection to not one but two of the winners.
No other literary awards connote excellence like the Newbery and the Caldecott, which were initially created so that people would take children’s books as seriously as adult books. As writer Elizabeth Cosgriff has pointed out that “although [the Newbery] itself does not include a monetary payment, it can double the sales of the book, as well as increase sales of the author’s other books. It will also keep the book alive. The average shelf life (time in print) of a children’s book today is eighteen months. But of the seventy-seven Newbery medal books, seventy-two are still in print today, including the second recipient, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, published in 1922.”