More than the Golden Globes, more than the Academy Awards, the awards many children’s librarians most look forward to each year are the winners of the Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal. These prestigious honors are decided by special committees assigned by the American Library Association after much deliberation and discussion. Sometimes there are obvious favorites over the course of a given year, but more often than not, the winners can be quite the surprise when announced at the annual American Library Association’s mid-winter conference. This was certainly the case with one of this year’s winners.
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Peña was the winner of this year’s coveted Newbery Medal, and in doing so confused children’s librarians throughout the country. This is the wonderful story of a young boy named CJ and his nana, who ride a city bus together for much of the book. CJ asks his nana many questions over the course of the story, and she always has a beautiful answer for him. CJ sees people driving cars and wonders aloud why they do not have one; his nana replied with a clever answer about why the public bus is more interesting. A blind man enters the bus, spurring another question from CJ, and his nana explained “Some people watch the world with their ears.” A bit of envy appears when CJ sees two older boys listening to their iPods, but his nana is quick to point out that there is a man with a guitar sitting on the bus who could sing them a song. This story paints a beautiful picture of really making an effort to use all of one’s senses and to dig deeper into the world. This sort of sensory use can be lost in the hustle bustle of today’s world, but CJ’s nana gently reminds him that it is an important way to learn about the world around him. So much of this book resonated with me, especially the line “To feel the magic of music, I like to close my eyes.” This book is a unique way to introduce children to even the simplest beauty in the world around them.
With that explained, why is it so surprising that this book won the Newbery Medal? Quite simply, it is a picture book. The Newbery Medal frequently gets awarded to a children’s novel, and sometimes to a children’s nonfiction title. This year marks only the second time in Newbery Medal history that a picture book has won this honor, with the first time taking place in 1982 with A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Last Stop On Market Street was a controversial win, especially because the Caldecott Medal is awarded to a picture book with the highest quality illustrations and Last Stop On Market Street also won a Caldecott Honor this year. As much as I loved this book, I am unsure of the reasons behind its Newbery Medal win. Why did this book not win the Caldecott Medal and leave the Newbery Medal to another deserving title? I certainly do not want to take away from de la Peña’s win, as his book was beautiful, poignant, and relevant to today’s world. I just wonder if the committee was striving to be controversial with their decision, or to keep people on their toes by not picking a “typical” winner. Either way, my congratulations to Matt de la Peña for his accomplishments and for writing a children’s book that will surely resonate with its audience.
Winnie-The-Pooh is one of the most beloved characters in the history of children’s literature, but did you know that there is a true story behind this lovable bear? I had no idea that there was until I sat down to read what became this year’s Caldecott Medal winner, Finding Winnie: The True Story Of The World’s Most Famous Bear, written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The book is actually a story within a story, with a young boy asking his mother to tell him a bedtime “true” story about a bear. And so, the story begins. At the train station about to leave to help take care of the soldier’s horses during World War I, veterinarian Harry Colebourn sees a man with a bear cub. He instantly feels that there is something special about this bear, and he offers the man $20 (a great sum in those days!) to take the bear with him during his wartime travels. After being unsure of having a bear with the regiment at first, the Colonel conceded and allowed Winnipeg (Winnie for short!) to come along for their travels. Winnie stayed with the regiment even as they voyaged across the ocean into England, but when it came time to fight the war, Harry knew that it would be unfair to the bear to keep him in such conditions. He ended up taking Winnie to the London Zoo, said a sad goodbye, and left to fight the war in France. Shortly after, a boy named Christopher Robin Milne visited the zoo with his father, Alan Alexander Milne. Christopher immediately took to the bear, expressing that there was something special about him. He visited Winnie at the zoo frequently and even took his own stuffed bear (named Winnie after the bear at the zoo) on all sorts of adventures. His father wrote children’s books about all of his son’s wonderful adventures and the bear in the stories became known as Winnie-The-Pooh. Eventually, the war ended and Harry Colebourn was able to visit his beloved bear at the zoo. He was relieved to see that Winnie had made a good friend in Christopher Robin, and went on to start a family of his own. As the book ends, we learn that the little boy who is being told a goodnight story is a descendent of Harry Colebourn and that ultimately, sometimes the best goodnight stories turn out to be true.
This book is filled with heartfelt illustrations done in rich watercolors and true to Caldecott Medal criteria, the illustrations add a beautiful richness to an already poignant true story. In addition to the illustrations, there are pages in the back of the book that are dedicated to primary source photographs collected by the author. This adds an extra element of depth to this lovely story.
As aforementioned, children’s book award season is a coveted time in the library world, and it is always interesting to see how each respective committee votes. It is surely an arduous task to pore over the many great and deserving contenders in order to come up with the best of the best. Ultimately, what is most important in literature, especially literature for children, is the way it resonates with the reader. There are many great children’s books from the past that were passed over for major awards, but their beauty lies in how they captivated a child’s attention. Awards are a great honor, but my hope is that people will be open to thinking beyond award-winning books and delve into reading books that may not have won a medal, but that may end up winning their heart.
2016 Newbery Honor Books
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan – Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica–and decades later three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California find themselves caughtup in the same thread of destiny in the darkest days of the twentieth century, struggling to keep their families intact, and tied together by the music of the same harmonica.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson – For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.
In her graphic novel debut, real-life derby girl Victoria Jamieson has created an inspiring coming-of-age story about friendship, perseverence, and girl power!
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – A young disabled girl and her brother are evacuated from London to the English countryside during World War II, where they find life to be much sweeter away from their abusive mother.
2016 Caldecott Honor Books
Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson – described in above blog post.
Trombone Shorty written by Troy Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier – A visual profile of the musical child prodigy and Grammy-nominated headliner at the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest relates, through sumptuous artwork and text, the story about his childhood dream of becoming a musician against the odds.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes – Presents a collage-illustrated treasury of poems and spirituals inspired by the life and work of civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.
Waiting written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes – Five toy animal friends sit happily together on a windowsill, patiently waiting for anticipated weather changes that are orchestrated by their young human companion.