No, all you Olympics fans, not for flips, twirls, or crossing the finish line first, but for the most distinguished children's literature of 2013.
The Caldecott Medal, for the year's best picture book, was given to Brian Floca for his LOCOMOTIVE, an unusual but obvious choice. Unusual, in that it was only the 7th time in 76 years that a nonfiction book won the prize, and obvious, since it's been showered with acclaim since it was published. (Even I predicted it would win.) Children and their parents will find this beautiful book to be an enthralling introduction to the history of the American railroad.
However, the Newbery Award committee's selection for best children's novel was unexpected, but nevertheless a very popular decision. Kate DiCamillo received her second Newbery, for FLORA AND ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES. Flora and her two new friends - Ulysses, a squirrel (with superpowers) and the "blind" William Spiver - race around town getting in and out of trouble, and delighting readers with their wacky antics at all times. Most adults thought this book was just too much fun to win a "most distinguished" prize, but I'm glad to say we were wrong!
The Michael L. Printz Award for the best book written for young adults was a surprise as well - if disconcerting. It was won by Marcus Sedgwick, the author of many well-received young adult novels, for his book MIDWINTERBLOOD. Set on a vaguely Scandinavian island, MIDWINTERBLOOD is a collection of seven stories, loosely connected by the two characters Eric and Merle, whose identities in each tale are different in everything but name. The stories go back in time, concluding with the religious sacrifice of one of the two protagonists. The successive plots and characters were, in my opinion, so diffuse that it was hard to do more than admire the style of the book; the ending was a letdown. (Was it actually the "conclusion"?) But whether I liked it or loved it, I wonder - as have many other readers - why this is considered a young adult novel, as it has almost no characters or themes related to teens. A literary conundrum, or just a publisher's business decision? Read it and let me know what you think.
This year’s awards make it clearer than ever that the decisions of literary prize committees are difficult to predict. But lucky us, we now have a staff member who can provide some insight into the decision-making process. My colleague Allison Murphy is in her second year of service on the Connecticut Nutmeg Awards intermediate-level committee. For the second year in a row, she will read 175+ books appropriate for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and meet regularly with 14 other committee members to produce a list of ten titles, for young Connecticut readers to read and then elect their favorite. Lots of work but very satisfying, Allison says. (I say, when do you find time to sleep?)
Last but not least, here is Allison’s and my 2013 favorites list.