This week, the American Library Association announced its 2016 list of authors and illustrators honored for their contributions to the world of children’s literature. There’s a host of awards, including the Randolph Caldecott Medal and the John Newbery Medal, recognizing excellence in children's book illustration and writing, respectively.
The awards are more than a temporary honor. “When you look at the Caldecott books of the past, they’re around for a lifetime and beyond a lifetime,” says Sophie Blackall, who won this year's Caldecott for her illustrations in Finding Winnie: The True Story Of The World's Most Famous Bear, according to Lynn Neary at NPR. “They’re around for a lot longer than any of us are.”
Here’s an introduction to some of the most noteworthy selections that the ALA picked to represent the best and brightest books published in 2015:
Matt de la Peña became the first Latino author to win the Newbery Medal for his book, Last Stop on Market Street. De la Peña tells Shannon Maughan of Publisher's Weekly that he was in shock when he got the call telling him he had won. “I just literally could not comprehend it,” de la Peña says. This is only the second time in the history of the Newbery Medal that the award has gone to a picture book (A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won the 1982 award). De la Peña's story, illustrated by Christian Robinson, follows a young boy who peppers his grandmother with questions as they ride the bus. The story came from de la Peña's own experience, he says. Despite growing up without much money, he was still able to see and appreciate the beauty around him. As the children's book critic for the Wall Street Journal, Meghan Cox Gurdon writes, “That material poverty need not mean spiritual or imaginative poverty becomes beautifully clear in the quietly moving pages of Last Stop on Market Street.”
The Caldecott Medal went to a new story about a familiar friend. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Blackall, follows the story of Mattick’s great-grandfather, a veterinarian and soldier named Harry Colebourn who adopts a female bear cub named Winnipeg, better known as Winnie—a portly bear who eventually makes his way to the London Zoo, where, as the story goes, he meets a boy named Christopher Robin.
“At some point, I knew I was going to have a child and I thought, there was no better way to explain to them this amazing family story than to do it as a picture book,” Mattick tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “And so when I found out I was pregnant a few years ago, I basically had this nine month kind of deadline to take my first crack at writing a picture book.”
It was fitting that Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Book Award for her book, Gone Crazy in Alabama, given that her series, the Gaither Sisters chronicles, have been pointed to as modern-day literary classics. The award, which is given to an outstanding book for children and young adults written by an African American author, commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honors his wife, Coretta for her activism. Gone Crazy in Alabama is the third book in the Gaither Sisters series and it follows the three girls—Fern, Vonetta and Delphine—as they travel from Brooklyn to Alabama to visit their grandmother, Big Ma, and her mother, Ma Charles. Williams-Garcia's book touches on family conflict, secrets, as well as traditions of storytelling and history, writes Ana Grilo for the Book Smugglers. During the course of the story, which is set in the 1960s, the girls come up against Big Ma’s internalized racism and learn that they have a white cousin who is a known member of the Ku Klux Klan.
“There is a lot to digest here and once again, Rita Williams-Garcia awes me with the complexity of her writing,” Grilo writes.
The Coretta Scott King Award for best illustrator went to Bryan Collier for his work on Trombone Shorty, written by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Bill Taylor. The “rags-to-riches” piece is based on the time when Andrews was six and led his own band “welding a trombone twice as long as he was high,” according to the publisher. Now, Andrews is a Grammy-nominated artist for his work on Backatown. The book richly captures the visual touchstones of New Orleans—gumbo, street parades and brass bands, writes Amy Broadmoore for Delightful Children’s Books.
“There is movement in every picture, from swirls coming out of Trombone Shorty’s trombone to balloons on the loose bouncing from one image to the next,” Broadmoore adds, “Collier’s collages, full of texture, warmth and energy, are perfect for depicting a neighborhood filled with brass bands.”
The genre-transcending Bone Gap by Laura Ruby received the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults. Ruby calls her novel a “rural fairytale,” one that follows the story of the missing “young, beautiful Roza,” in a tale loosely inspired by the myth of Persephone. As Maile Meloy writes for the New York Times, it's both a "rural coming-of-age story and a neurological mystery."
“It was also important for me to root the magic of the book in the geography and culture of the Midwest and the people that live and work there,” Ruby tells Epic Reads. “I wanted the Midwest to feel mythic."
Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López, won the Pura Belpré Award for illustration. The award, which goes to the Latino illustrator who best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience, went to the book, which is inspired by the experiences of the world-famous musician Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. Drum Dream Girl is set in 1930s Cuba, during a time when a girl could not be a drummer. This, however, does not stop the Chinese-African-Cuban heroine of the story from breaking with tradition. Kirkus Review praises Engle's “rhythmic text” for it’s lyricism and López's illustrations as “a color-saturated dreamscape that Millo dances within, pounding and tapping her drums.”
The stories recognized above are just a slice of the work by dozens of illustrators and writers who were honored this year. Check out the full list at ALA.org.