In the middle of January while children are settling back into classroom routines after the Christmas holidays, many of America's librarians gather in major a U.S. city for their midwinter convention. It is at this convention that the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association awards its prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals. It is likely that the winning authors or illustrator will appear on the morning programs of major television networks. Telephones will then ring in local libraries, and librarians will scramble to locate and purchase copies of the winning and honor books.
I enjoy reading these books that librarians like. More often than not, our library already has at least one copy of the winning books on hand. Newly ordered copies will arrive with gold seals affixed to the dust jackets. Even primary school students know why those gold seals are important. But more important to me is what children think about the books.
The John Newbery medal has been awarded annually since 1922 to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year, author Rachel Stead received the award for "When You Reach Me."
In this story set in New York City in 1979, Miranda carries around a worn copy of the Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." Like "A Wrinkle in Time," this novel is about time travel and invites comparison to this former Newbery winner. In the book, Miranda receives mysterious notes that predict future events while dealing with typical problems that arise in the life of a sixth grader. Although "When You Reach Me" lacks the richest in plot and imagination of "A Wrinkle in Time," the book's strength lies in its character development.
The Caldecott medal, given for the outstanding illustrated book, was first awarded in 1937. It's interesting to watch the reaction of children to a winning book while reading it during story time. Child-pleasing past winners include "A Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats, "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak and "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg.
Because the Caldecott Medal is awarded to illustrated books, sometimes a wordless book will take the prize. This year's winner, Jerry Pinkney's "The Lion and the Mouse" is a wordless adaptation of Aesop's fable. The much-honored Pinkney has created a legacy for future generations in retelling and gloriously illustrating traditional tales and legends. Wordless books are almost impossible to present during story time, so I will miss the comments of the most honest of critics, the 4 and 5-year-olds in Pre-K.
In addition to awarding the Newbury and Caldecott medals, the Association of Library Service to Children also names honor books. These are the books with silver seals on their covers. Among Newbery honor books that librarians like are some that children really like: "Because of Winn Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo, "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen and two of Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" books. Caldecott honor books include "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" by Dr. Seuss, David Shannon's "No David!" and Ludwig Bemelman's "Madeline."
While it is indisputably true that librarians love to read, they also love to share the best of what they read. Many of my favorite authors and illustrators of children's books have won at least one Newbery or Caldecott award. Oftentimes, a gold and silver seal serves to introduce children to an author with more great stories to tell. The books that librarians like will lead children to the authors that they will grow to love.
Gloria Barton is a librarian at the Lee County Library in Leesburg.