Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who will win?

Monday morning is a big one in the children's book world. It's when all the major U.S. awards for young people's literature – including the Newbery and the Caldecott – will be announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting.

Tonight might be a restless one for authors and illustrators. A number of them will be receiving a pre-dawn phone call with the news that their book has won an award. Unlike other awards we're familiar with, there are no lists of nominees. The committees for each award consider every book in that category published in the past year.

The ALA meeting is in Dallas this year and the award announcements begin at 7:30 a.m. Central Time. That's 5:30 my time. The ALA website runs a live feed and normally I'd be at my computer watching it. Last year I posted pretty quick updates as awards were announced. But this year, believe it or not, I have something else I have to do at that time.  I'll try to get the word out as soon as I can, though. If you're crazy like me you can go here and watch it yourself. I'll warn you, though, the librarians won't be wearing couture.

Each year there's a great deal of speculation over who will win the Newbery Medal, for distinguished contribution to children's literature, and the Caldecott Medal, for the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. There are mock Newbery and Caldecott votes by adults and children and everyone has fun making predictions.

Then the committees make their decisions (already made by now) and often the winners are a  complete surprise.

Once in a while, not so much. Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott in 2010 for The Lion and the Mouse surprised no one. But last year when Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery Medal for Moon Over Manifest, it took weeks for libraries that didn't have the book to get it because her publisher was taken off guard and had to print more copies.

This year the book I've seen mentioned most often as likely for the Newbery Medal is Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt. I read it a couple of weeks ago and it is indeed a special book.

Life is tough for Doug Swieteck, a minor character in Schmidt's Newbery honor book The Wednesday Wars. It's the summer of 1968 and his family has moved to tiny Marysville, N.Y. Doug calls it "the dump" and makes up his mind to be miserable. We soon learn he might have good reason for the lousy attitude. One big brother is in Vietnam, the other bullies him and his dad's a drunk. But as Doug begins to grow on us, the town begins to grow on him. He discovers Audubon prints in the library and a librarian who helps copy the prints and realize a talent as an artist. He meets a cool girl whose dad gives him a Saturday job. And once school starts, he finds teachers who offer him some desperately needed academic help.

The plot is lively, featuring humor and heartbreak, baseball and the first moonwalk. The characters, both major and minor are terrific. Doug is a winning protagonist. But even the people you hate at first get under your skin by the end.

We'll know by tomorrow if Gary Schmidt has won a Newbery Medal or another Newbery Honor.

-Rebecca Young

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