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Drumroll, please… the new Newberys are here February 14, 2009

About a month ago I wrote about complaints that the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery award was stuck in a time warp. Does this still hold? Read on for the newly announced 2009 winners (and the Honor books, which often surpass the “winner” in terms of quality and sometimes even commercial success:

Here it is, direct from the ALA:

“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

2009 Medal Winner
The 2009 Newbery Medal winner is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.

“A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising,” said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.

2009 Honor Books

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Underneath the canopy of the loblolly pines, amid the pulsating sounds of the swamp, there lies a tale. Intertwining stories of an embittered man, a loyal hound, an abandoned cat and a vengeful lamia sing of love, loss, loneliness and hope. Appelt’s lyrical storytelling heightens the distinguished characteristics of this work.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle (Henry Holt & Comapny)

The Surrender Tree utilizes compelling free verse in alternating voices to lyrically tell the story of Cuba’s three wars for independence from Spain. Combining real-life characters (such as legendary healer Rosa La Bayamesa) with imagined individuals, Engle focuses on Rosa’s struggle to save everyone–black, white, Cuban, Spanish, friend or enemy.

Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group in partnership with Walden Media, LLC

This rich first-person narrative draws readers into a wild bus ride, winding through the countryside on a journey of self-discovery for Mibs Beaumont and her companions. Newcomer Law weaves a magical tall tale, using vivid language and lively personalities, all bouncing their way to a warm, satisfying conclusion.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Books for Young Readers)

This tightly woven novel looks back on two years in a New York City neighborhood, where life changes for two 11-year-olds when a new girl joins their game of double Dutch. Bonded by Tupac’s music, the three girls explore the lure of freedom and build a friendship that redefines their own identities.”

And here’s my take: wow, sounds fresh, exciting and eclectic all around, doesn’t it? And the winner… incredibly creative and intriguing. Can’t wait to check it out.

Posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever


Kids’ Election Suggestions September 20, 2008

I blogged last week about presidential election books I don’t recommend for children (because these titles are really just campaign propaganda disguised as juvenile nonfiction — and one so-called biography I’d go as far as to classify as straight fiction).

But in sorting out some Caldecott and Newbery-award winning books for the Magic Bookshelf store, I ran across two real winners — one from each of these highly respected award programs at that.

From the picture book category (for which Caldecotts are generally awarded, primarily for illustrations) comes 2001’s So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small. This very fun and approachable book for ages 7+ serves up lots of trivia and humorous anecdotes about what being elected President really does take (and not always what you think).

For example, being named James (like six former presidents) is a help (I’ll be sure to tell that to my older son, James Riley); as is being born in a humble dwelling. A log cabin, preferably, like the birthplaces of a whopping eight Presidents. (Would a triplex apartment in midtown Atlanta, circa post-WWII count as humble enough? I’m still thinking about young Riley’s chances.)

Best of all, the Presidents have come not only from all walks of life but all kinds of occupational backgrounds. I certainly never knew Andrew Johnson had been a tailor, nor that he didn’t learn to read until the ripe old age of 14.

Moving on to the Newbery winner, and a rarity here because Newberys typically are awarded for fiction, is Russell Freedman’s lovely 1988 work, Lincoln: A Photobiography.

Lincoln offers plenty of text for older elementary-age and middle school readers, but includes fascinating photos to go with the full coverage of Lincoln’s life, as well as samples of the former President’s writing. One interesting page illustrates the ravaging effects the Presidential post has on aging.

So when stocking a home or classroom library, or searching your local library catalog for books to satisfy the curiosity of young election-followers, I’d urge parents and teachers to stay clear of the newer spun-sugar offerings and go for the real meat and potatoes.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever