In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Newbery nerves

Dear Annie,

Thanks to Kim for her Llama Llama entry.  I'm fond of the cover of Llama Llama Mad at Mama: if only we could all flatten our ears when we're mad -- so expressive!

There's a rhythm to the year in bookselling: the slow build-up in the fall to the tidal wave of holiday shopping, then coming up for air at the end of December, followed by scrambling to re-order to fill the shelves.  And in the middle of this stage: aack! Newbery nerves!

On January 23 -- a week from tomorrow -- the American Library Association announces its many awards for children's books published during 2011.  The announcements create instantaneous and prolonged demand for the winners of the two big medals: the Newbery for literature and the Caldecott for illustration.  As I mentioned last year at this time, it's the hope of every bookseller that the winners are books which we already have in stock.  No finalists are announced, so there's intense speculation about dozens of books which may or may not be in the running.  This year I've been fascinated by School Library Journal's awards blog, Heavy Medal.

Every year I tell myself I won't get panicky and bring in five or ten books I haven't read and don't know much about because they're on someone's list of what might win.  I confess that I just ordered a few copies of The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman -- a book, author and publisher I've never heard of -- based on this entry in the Heavy Medal blog.  It sounds interesting, and if it does win, its little publisher will take months to get it reprinted.  Ten days from now I'll be kicking myself for having done that.

Over the course of any year, a handful of the many many books I read strike me as special.  I'll think, this is it: here's next year's winner.  And I have yet to guess right.  I was close with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, which seemed like a clear winner.  It won a Newbery honor, and still got a good deal of the attention that it deserved.  So here are my guesses this year:

Jefferson's Sons
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  It's a novel imagining the lives of Thomas Jefferson's slave children.  I wrote about it here.

Okay for Now
by Gary Schmidt has stayed with me since I read it and wrote this back in February.  It's set in 1968: the story of a struggling kid dealing with abuse from his father and his brother.  He finds redemption and growth through the caring actions of several adults in his small town, and with his discovery of the prints of John James Audobon.  One really cares about the people in this book.

And then there's
by Brian Selznick, about which I wrote in May even before I had finished reading it.  It tells parallel stories of two young people -- one in 1927, the other in 1977 -- who run away from home and end up at the Museum of Natural History in New York.  The 1927 girl is deaf: her story is told entirely in pictures, in Selznick's totally absorbing style.  The 1977 boy's story is entirely in words.  At the end their paths intertwine. 

Wonderstruck has been the subject of speculation about its eligibility for the Newbery.  The Medal is for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children," but the rules refer specifically to the text of a book.  So is a book which is told half in pictures and half in words eligible?  Selznick's previous amazing book told in pictures and words, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was the subject of this kind of speculation the year it came out too.  It ended up winning the Caldecott Medal, for best illustration.  We shall see what, if anything, happens with Selznick's work this year.

In the meantime, I'm off to bite my nails and order more books which I probably shouldn't.  But just maybe one will be the right one...



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