Sunday, January 17, 2010

Brunching Before the Big Day

I should start by apologizing for the recent erratic schedule of Collecting Children’s Books. A family member has been in the hospital and I haven’t had the time nor had the right mindset to blog. The good news is that my family member is now out of the hospital and on the road to recovery -- and I’m back to blogging...just in time for Newbery Day! A bookseller friend recently told me, “I have decided that award day for the kids and young adults is my favorite day every year. It is so much better than my birthday.”

I agree...with one proviso: at least on your birthday you are reasonably certain that you’ll get a couple good presents. On Newbery Day you never know what you’re going to get.

Maybe your favorite book will win and you’ll end up doing a Happy Beagle Dance.

Maybe your least-favorite title will win and you’ll punch a hole through your computer screen. (Well, I haven’t done thatyet.)

Or maybe the winner will be a book you never even heard of...and you’ll spend all day (or all year) trying to track down a copy.

It’s always kind of fun when the winner comes out of left field, especially when that selection makes perfect sense in retrospect and has everyone saying, “Why didn’t we think of that one?!” However, in my experience, surprise winners often turn out to be among the worst Newbery picks. And from a collecting perspective, they’re extremely difficult to find. Gone are the days when a title could win the Newbery or Caldecott and you could simply mosey into a bookstore, order a copy, and be moderately assured that a first edition would arrive. Due to increased interest in the children’s award winners -- as well as the advent of cellphones, blogging, and Twittering -- news of the Newbery and Caldecott is instantly broadcast from the floor of the convention center and, within minutes, the winning titles sell out at every book warehouse. They shoot to the top of the bestseller list at Amazon and we’re told, “Book out of stock.” I’ve even ordered copies of potential winners from used bookdealers only to have the orders cancelled after the awards are announced.

But for all that fuss and frustration, I’m always excited when N/C Day rolls around -- and tomorrow morning I’ll be sitting right here at my computer, hitting “refresh” over and over until the news appears on my screen. In one hand I’ll have a pen and paper, to jot down the winners. In the other hand I’ll have a bottle of Mylanta or a roll of Tums.


For the past few months, Jonathan Hunt and Nina Lindsay have been keeping us apprised of possible Newbery frontrunners at the Heavy Medal Blog. A recent posting there said that Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME has already won fourteen Mock Newbery polls -- far more than any other title.

Here are some of the books which we may be hearing about tomorrow:

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
This story of a girl growing up in New York City during the 1970s features a fascinating time-travel element. Already embraced by many readers, this novel has the feel of a modern classic -- even without a gold foil seal on its cover. If it wins, it will be a very popular selection. The only criticism I’ve heard against the book is that the details of the time-travel subplot are not accurately developed; I’m not sure I agree, as this aspect of the novel worked for me...but then I’m not a technically-oriented person. WHEN YOU REACH ME will be a difficult book for collectors to acquire in first edition; it’s already in its fifteenth printing with well over 100,000 copies released. Good luck finding one of the earliest editions.

This nonfiction work, about an Alabama teenager who made an early impact on the Civil Rights movement, has already won the National Book Award. Over at Heavy Medal, Jonathan Hunt has deemed it the year’s "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I liked it too, especially because it marks the first time that Ms. Colvin’s life has been explored with depth in any type of book -- for children or adults. However, I also had a few small problems with the work. By focusing on two separate events -- Claudette’s initial trial for breaking segregation laws and, a year later, her participation in the Browder v. Gayle, busing case, the book never quite reaches a climax. Much of the story is told through Claudette’s own words, which certainly provides a sense of immediacy, but sometimes prevents the reader from seeing the bigger picture. For example, the organized efforts of Rosa Parks are not fully explored in relation to Claudette Colvin’s experiences. And some of those experiences need more context. We are told repeatedly that Claudette hopes to become a lawyer, yet we’re never (except for a brief throwaway paragraph) told why that dream died. The book is generally well-written, though I was bothered by the few instances of colloquial language (“gonna” instead of “going to,” etc.) in Ms. Colvin’s first-person passages -- something that, it seems, would either be consistently used throughout or not at all. Then there was occasional laziness in the prose (lines such as “Reporters flocked to Montgomery from all over the world to report...”, etc.) Still, CLAUDETTE COLVIN is a strong book -- a Newbery frontrunner that will no doubt receive other honors, such as Sibert recognition, at the ALA convention.

A Texas girl discovers the wonders of nature and science in this historical novel. I hear CALPURNIA has been picking up steam during Newbery season and would not be surprised if it won an Honor Award tomorrow, despite criticism that this promising debut novel is slow and a bit wordy.

WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS by Fran Cannon Slayton
Another striking debut novel, this episodic tale of Jimmy's discovery of self and family in rural West Virginia could receive some Newbery recognition.

PEACE, LOCOMOTION by Jacqueline Woodson
I found this epistolary novel, a sequel to the author’s LOCOMOTION, a little slight, but never count out Ms. Woodson at Newbery time; she’s had three Honor titles in the past four years.

Lots of buzz for this novel, which I haven’t yet read. Has anyone even seen a first printing? Every bookstore seems to have received this one in its second printing!

Like CLAUDETTE COLVIN, this book deserves huge kudos for tackling a topic in a children’s book before it appeared in an adult work. It’s wonderfully written, too, but doesn’t have a lot of kid-appeal.


Although the above titles are among the frontrunners, it’s always possible that a book no one has considered could swoop in out of nowhere to claim the prize. There’s certainly precedent for that. Looking over the past thirty years, I see that the winning titles are well-divided among books that many would deem inevitable or “sure things”; titles that seemed possibilities; and some that no one was really expecting.

The following seemed inevitable, or at least very strong contenders, based on reviews, previous prizes won (NBA, BG-HB Award, etc.) and overall buzz:

2009 / THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
2004 / THE TALE OF DESPERAUX by Kate DiCamillo
2000 / BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis
1999 / HOLES by Louis Sachar
1996 / THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE by Karen Cushman
1994 / THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
1993 / MISSING MAY by Cynthia Rylant
1991 / MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli
1986 / SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL by Patricia MacLachlan
1985 / THE HERO AND THE CROWN by Robin McKinley
1984 / DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary
1983 / DICEY’S SONG by Cynthia Rylant
1981 / JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson

The following weren’t “sure things,” but they had been discussed -- and sometimes mentioned in Mock Newbery Contests -- in the months leading up to the awards:

2008 / GOOD MASTERS, SWEET LADIES by Laura Amy Schlitz
2006 / CRISS CROSS by Lynne Rae Perkins
2002 / A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park
2001 / A YEAR DOWN YONDER by Richard Peck
1998 / OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse
1997 / THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY by E.L. Konigsburg
1990 / NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry
1989 / JOYFUL NOISE by Paul Fleischman

These books had very little buzz before they won the Newbery and, I believe, would be considered surprise winners by most people:

2007 / THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron
2005 / KIRA-KIRA by Cynthia Kadohata
1995 / WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech
1992 / SHILOH by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1988 / LINCOLN : A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY by Russell Freedman
1987 / THE WHIPPING BOY by Sid Fleischman
1982 / A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE’S INN / Nancy Willard
1980 / A GATHERING OFDAYS by Joan Blos

...So, will this year’s winner be a sure thing, a sure thing, a possibility, or a complete surprise? Stay tuned.


Though the focus of today’s blog is the Newbery, I’m also very curious to hear what wins this year’s other awards.

Many think that THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney is a shoo-in for the Caldecott.

I haven’t heard much talk about the Printz Award this year, but I just hope the winner is something really enjoyable to read. I was the happiest guy in the world when they began this new award for young adult books in 2000, but too often I find the winners to be books I may admire but don’t always enjoy reading....

Regarding the Coretta Scott King Awards: I recently received an e-mail about the Coretta Scott King Book Award Online Curriculum Resource Center , a free website that contains “more than nine hours of originally produced audio with Coretta Scott King Book Award authors and illustrators talking about their books in two- to three-minute clips” as well as lesson plans for these books. This resource was created to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the CSK Book Awards.

Sounds like it’s worth checking out.


Remember a few years ago when everyone was complaining that the covers of young adult book were too pastel -- Milk of Magnesia Pink, Banana Milkshake Yellow, Easter Egg Purple? Well, yesterday I visited the young adult section of a chain store and discovered the predominant color of most young adult book jackets is now black. I guess that’s the influence of TWILGHT and ECLIPSE.


With Haiti on the cover of every newspaper and magazine this week, here is a list of children’s picture books and novels set in that country:

TI JACQUES by Ruth Eitzen
UNCLE BOUQUI OF HAITI by Harold Courlander
FRESH GIRL by Jaira Placide
A TASTE OF SALT by Frances Temple
TONIGHT, BY SEA by Frances Temple
PAINTED DREAMS by Karen Lynn Williams
BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS by Edwidge Danticant
TIP-TAP by Karen Lynn Williams


Someone asked if the reason I haven’t been blogging this week was because I was trying to catch up on my reading before the awards were announced. I wish! Every year I find myself facing N/C Day with an enormous pile of books I still haven’t read. This year is no different. But whether I’ve read all the books or not, tomorrow morning will find me sitting in front of this computer on a better-than-a-birthday day, excitedly awaiting the news. You too?

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Please return soon.


Lara Ivey said...

Just finished my second read of When You Reach Me. Loved it even MORE the second time. I had to look to see if I had a "first edition" or not...and I do! Guess I'll be holding onto this copy...definitely falls into the criteria for a Newbery. I also was intrigued by how well-written Love, Aubrey was. I honestly felt like I knew the characters when I was done. Can't wait until tomorrow morning...alarm is set!

Wendy said...

You put your finger exactly on all the vaguely felt issues I had with Claudette Colvin, thanks!

The three Newbery groupings were interesting to see. Lincoln: A Photobiography is such a good book; I wonder whether people just weren't thinking in nonfiction terms? I remember my elementary school class's puzzlement at the selection--"they can do that?" we asked.

Glad to hear your family member is doing better.

Bybee said...

I'm eager for the Big Day to arrive! Where's my evening gown??

Marge Loch-Wouters said...

Thanks for another insightful analysis. I especially enjoyed your take on Newbery winners of the past from inevitable to surprising. I was on the committee that chose Walk Two Moons and honored Catherine Called Birdy and the Ear, the Eye and the Arm and it was fun at the press conference to hear the reaction!

Roger Sutton said...

Hey Peter, we found about a dozen typos in the first edition of the otherwise wonderful Grace Lin book, and I know it was proofread again for the second printing. So ye shall know the first edition by its mistakes!

CLM said...

I did vaguely feel I should dress up for the ceremony this morning but after sleeping through my alarm and seeing there was snow on the ground, the most important thing was boots and my down coat! It was exciting to be in a room full of people who all seemed to have favorites yet applauded happily for all the winners and honorees.

lin said...

Re: Black is the new Pink: It's not just teen books that are having dark covers; childrens chapter books are also moodier (though rarely Twilight-black). I just made a display of Lucky Breaks, Flawed Dogs, Wizard of Rondo, Dragon of Trelian, Crimson Cap and Outcast (by Michelle Paver) and find myself needing to look at a cover of Rainbow Fairies to cheer myself up.