Five Years Ago
On January 23, 2006, five years ago today, that most awesome of Newbery committees–yes, dear readers, I speak of the 2006 Newbery committee–revealed to the world that Lynne Rae Perkins had won the John Newbery Medal for CRISS CROSS and that WHITTINGTON by Alan Armstrong, HITLER YOUTH by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale, and SHOW WAY by Jacqueline Woodson had earned Newbery Honors for their respective authors.
CRISS CROSS came up in our recent discussion of rereading, popularity, and child appeal. It’s definitely a book for a special reader, probably an older special reader in the junior high grades, and I don’t think it lends itself well to reading aloud or class discussion. Since winning the Medal, Perkins has published two picture books (PICTURES FROM OUR VACATION and THE CARDBOARD PIANO) and, this year, AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH, which we discussed here. The Greenwillow question: Can Lynne Rae Perkins win the Caldecott before Kevin Henkes wins the Newbery? Hmmm.
WHITTINGTON is probably the most conventional of these Newbery books, fitting squarely in the juvenile fiction category, but I worried that its audience would not extend beyond third grade teachers looking for CHARLOTTE’S WEB readalikes. I’m surprised to see it has circulated quite well in our junior high library–I think it’s a combination of the paperback cover and the page count–but I think we are the exception rather than the rule. Armstrong has since published two more novels, RALEIGH’S PAGE and LOOKING FOR MARCO POLO, but neither one has been greeted as warmly as his first.
Conversely, HITLER YOUTH seemed better suited for junior high grades, but it had high circulation statistics in my elementary libraries, and I had students as young as third grade checking it out. Bartoletti published THE BOY WHO DARED, a fictionalization of one of the profiles in HITLER YOUTH, and then, this year, THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, which we also discussed here. Will we really have to wait another five years for the next Bartoletti? I hope not, but if they’re all going to be this good . . . well, okay.
Shannon Hale has been the most prolific of our authors, publishing two more Bayern books (RIVER SECRETS, FOREST BORN), another standalone (BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS), two graphic novels (RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, CALAMITY JACK), and a pair of adult novels. Like WHITTINGTON, this one did have a couple starred reviews, but was nevertheless something of an idiosyncratic pick (i.e. the unique product of these 15 committee members, perhaps not as likely to be replicated by other random groups of 15 people–okay, you can probably lump SHOW WAY in this group, most committees would have recognized it for the art rather than the text). The thing about prolific fantasy authors is that their name functions as a brand name, and I think the recognition has turned PRINCESS ACADEMY readers into Shannon Hale fans. The Monday morning calls are one of the best parts of the committee experience, and Shannon has preserved hers for posterity here.
Since SHOW WAY, Woodson has received Newbery Honors for FEATHERS and AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER, but has also published PEACE, LOCOMOTION (a sequel to LOCOMOTION) and PECAN PIE BABY (a picture book). SHOW WAY was our fourth and final honor book announced, and it was quite a surprise (and a bit of a lovefest for Jacqueline with her also winning the Edwards Award earlier in the morning). It was the first picture book recognized by the Newbery committee since LIKE JAKE AND ME twenty-one years earlier. But it was a pleasant surprise: many people expected the book to be recognized by the Caldecott committee. As much as we “hyped” DARK EMPEROR here, I think most people suspected it had a better shot at the Caldecott, too. I’m not sure that I would call SHOW WAY a free verse narrative poem, but it comes awfully close. So I do feel a little deja vu . . .
I couldn’t stay mad at the Caldecott committee for long, however, because they did recognize a couple of my favorite picture book texts in ZEN SHORTS and SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN. The Printz committee selected JOHN LENNON and A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL. The Coretta Scott King recognized DAY OF TEARS. And months earlier, THE PENDERWICKS had won the National Book Award. So I felt pretty lucky that most of my favorite books that we didn’t recognize got some major award love elsewhere.
And speaking of deja vu, that feeling is compounded by the fact that ALA Annual (and thus the Newbery/Caldecott banquet) was held in New Orleans just nine months after Hurricane Katrina. And ALA Annual this year? Yep, New Orleans. It will be good for us to see how the city has been able to rebuild itself these past five years. New Orleans, here we come!
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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