A boy and his grandmother take the bus. A live bear inspires a classic honey-loving character. A girl learns roller derby but her best friend wants to learn ballet. These are just a few of the plots of new award-winning titles in children’s literature. The Association for most prestigious awards given are the John Newbery Medal — for words — and the Caldecott Medal — for the art. There is one medal for each award, but every year a few honor awards are named.
In a surprising twist for the history of the Newbery Medal, a picture book wins. Matt de la Peña’s “Last Stop on Market Street,” with illustrations by Christian Robinson, follows a boy and his grandmother as they ride the bus after church, going to an unknown destination until the last stop on Market Street.
While previous winners were mostly novels, the length or difficulty of the text is never specified — just that the book is intended for children. The Medal goes to the book that has given the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” in the preceding year. It must be original; but it is not limited, because the text may be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. That’s how “Last Stop on Market Street” came out of the blue to many who didn’t expect a picture book to win the medal. Last year’s winner, “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander, is actually a novel of poetry and basketball.
The language de la Peña uses evokes beautiful imagery, and him and Robinson worked together to create a diverse cast of characters, including a guitarist, a blind man and his spotted dog, a tattooed man and more. The boy’s frank curious nature and the grandmother’s smart replies make this book a delightful read.
The Association for Library Service to Children awarded Newbery honor medals to “The War that Saved My Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradly, “Roller Girl” by Victoria Jameson, and “Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Each book is more interesting than the last: a historical WWII novel with children with disabilities, a graphic novel exploring friendship and roller derby, and a magical historical fiction that experiments with time and language.
What the winners of Newbery medal and honor books suggests is that the new wave of children’s literature is increasingly more visual than ever before: graphic novels, pictures books, or any creative way to get beautiful and impactful imagery included with the story. For any who believe the prestigious Newbery sometimes is too literary to actually appeal to young readers, maybe this change in trend can convince them otherwise.
Newbery focuses on story while Randolph Caldecott Medal looks at how the illustrations and art aide the story. The Caldecott winner for 2016 is “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear,” which was illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written by Lindsay Mattick. This picture book follows the real live bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh and is a charming story-within-a-story. Blackall uses wonderful watercolor art to show passage of time and changing, as well as exploring the path of Winnipeg the bear and her army veterinarian owner through a bedtime story.
ALSC named four Caldecott honor books: “Trombone Shorty” by Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews, “Waiting” by Kevin Henkes, “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hammer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” by Ekua Holmes and Carole Boston Weatherford, and — last but not least, and certainly familiar — “Last Stop on Market Street.” Each book has gorgeous illustrations that help the story become something beyond the words on the page.
The Heartland Library Cooperative makes an effort to include Caldecott, Newbery, and other award-winning books for children and young adults, so make sure to check the online catalogue or eBook collection for a title you want.