. . . And Nothing Did Not Happen. A 2009 Newbery/Caldecott Wrap-Up.
The champagne has been served. The celebratory parties thrown. The winners plunged into great joy/great despair while the losers sip their tea and gurgle. And with the full knowledge that my #1 Newbery pick and my #1 Caldecott choice didn’t even get any frickin’ HONORS this year, I plunge into a recap of our favorite award winners in a cleansing ritual of sorts.
The winner of the full-on golden award was The Graveyard Book, thereby answering the question of whether or not it was even eligible. Oh, not because author Neil Gaiman is British. No no, Mr. Gaiman lives in Minnesota, thereby making him eligible as an American resident (take notes, Cornelia Funke and Oliver Jeffers). Actually, a chapter of The Graveyard Book appeared previously in a short story selection. That meant that it was up to this year’s Newbery chair to decide if it was eligible or not. And clearly, they gave it a big old smackeroo on the lips. This bodes well for other fantasies. After all, a straight up fantasy hasn’t won the Newbery Award since . . . since the 2004 winner The Tale of Despereaux. Damn. There goes my non-fantasy winning theory. Interestingly, my husband informs me that the comic blogs have not lit up with the information that Gaiman just won the Newbery. Crossover, it would seem, isn’t as common as I would like it to be. By the way, Gaiman is (I believe) the very first author to win the award while remaining a regular blogger. You want to know how the phone call went? Hear it from the horse’s mouth then.
Honors went to:
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt – I said it couldn’t win the award, and I was right. I suspect it split the vote in some way. However, I am pleased to see it get an honor. Mighty deserving it is, and beautifully written. However, I cannot help but notice that the Texan twang puts it in mighty similar company to . . .
Savvy by Ingrid Law – I mean think about it. Both Savvy and The Underneath sound mighty similar on the page. They both sport a Southwestern drawl. Savvy was one of the most surprising inclusions on the Honors. I didn’t think it had a chance, but clearly I misjudged it. Even more surprising was the inclusion of . . .
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle – I reviewed her The Poet Slave of Cuba years ago. It was a meticulous, thoughtful novel but so clearly teen that I pooh-poohed a thorough reading of her follow-up. When Henry Holt sent it to me I assumed it was YA yet again. My mistake. The Newbery says that it is appropriate, at the very least, for 14-year-olds. And since I removed it from my To Be Read shelf at the end of the year, I will need to determine if this is true or not. Thank goodness the YA departments of my library system bought multiple copies early on.
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson – Problematic. Not the book, I like the book. But we have a problem here. In 2006 Woodson wins an Honor for Show Way. In 2008 she wins an Honor for Feathers. In 2009 she wins an Honor for After Tupac and D Foster. And have any of you read her Peace, Locomotion? Either Woodson is going to win the record for Most Honors Recorded in a Five Year Period, or she’s finally going to get the Newbery gold with her 2009 book. And since my predictions fared so poorly this year, I cannot say. Speaking of which . . .
Biggest Disappointment? Clearly I am biased, but no Honor for Chains? Was I correct when I wrote that the committee would focus on a single factual "error" (heaven only knows what it would be) and would keep it from winning as a result? Was it the narrator’s voice, which some found difficult to sympathize with? Dunno, but at last night’s Kidlit Drink Night a continual confusion surrounded the lack of Chains in the running. Mind you, Anderson won herself a lifetime achievement award yesterday and also has a mighty attractive Scott O’Dell Award and National Book Award finalist listing to the book’s name. But I am still sad that it didn’t get that final honor. This was a pity, to be believed.
The House in the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes got itself the final gold in the long run. I was pleased, if a little surprised. I had certainly thought it was a stunning book, though almost more a tribute to Wanda Gag than anything else. With its black and white imagery and sole use of a single color, the book reminds one of nothing so much as Kitten’s First Full Moon. B&W moon-based literature is a popular Caldecott topic, I see.
Honors went to:
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee – Sure. That’s it Caldecott committee. Make me kick myself a couple more times for not reviewing this book when I had the chance. Heck, I even have a friggin’ signed copy on my shelf. What is wrong with me? The fact of the matter is, Frazee’s book made for no easy review. It’s smart and complicated and so incredibly realistic that I couldn’t wrap my brain about it. Clearly the Caldecott committee had no such problem. Beautiful.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz – I wouldn’t have been surprised if this had gotten the award proper. New York Public Library made this book the cover illustration for this year’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing list, and with good reason. Shulevitz is a legend and this book a gorgeous autobiographical testament to great storytelling. I was very pleased with the selection.
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet – I sent an email off to Anita Eerdmans congratulating her on this win. I am always inordinately pleased when a small publisher wins a major award. I do believe I featured this book very briefly at the last ALA meeting in Anaheim in a v-blog post, you know. Yep. There it is.
Biggest Disappointment? I correctly called the fact that We Are the Ship would not get a Caldecott. And I was happy to see it get a Siebert and a Coretta Scott King (though no Newbery Honor, which I’d sorta been hoping might happen on the off-chance). But for me, it was far more disappointing not to see Wabi Sabi on the list. One cannot imagine the reasons the Caldecott committee might have come up with to exclude such a book. Last night I’d try to bring up a reason, and then would be shot down by my fellow enthusiasts, leaving us all uniformly baffled. A real pity too.
Tomorrow: The other award winners. Tonight, me sleepy.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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