'Lucky' Winner: Newbery, Caldecott Awards Announced

Illustrator David Wiesner has won the Caldecott Medal for a third time, this year for
Illustrator David Wiesner has won the Caldecott Medal for a third time, this year for "Flotsam," the story of a boy who explores the ocean. (American Library Association)

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By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The two most prestigious awards for American children's books went yesterday to Susan Patron, a relatively unknown author who was awarded this year's Newbery Medal, and to David Wiesner, an illustrator who won the Caldecott Medal for the third time.

Patron won for "The Higher Power of Lucky," the story of a motherless 10-year-old in a tiny town in the California desert. Her win "was a big surprise to everyone, including me," she said, because it "wasn't a very splashy book" and "wasn't talked about in the field."

Wiesner won for "Flotsam," his wordless tale of a boy who finds an underwater camera at the beach and of the wonders that unfold when he develops the film it contains. The illustrator's earlier Caldecott winners were "Tuesday" (1992) and "The Three Pigs" (2002). He joked yesterday that his fellow children's book authors and illustrators -- "a really terrific community of people" -- may not be talking to him anymore.

Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel "American Born Chinese" won the Printz Award, a newer but increasingly significant prize for books in the young adult category. A surprised and gratified Yang, whose book was a National Book Awards finalist last year, said that while he'd heard of the Caldecott and the Newbery, he hadn't known about this one. After he won, he said, he looked it up online.

The Coretta Scott King Award for African American authors went to "Copper Sun," by Sharon Draper. The King award for illustrators went to "Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom," illustrated by Kadir Nelson. "Moses" was also named a Caldecott Honor Book.

The awards were announced in Seattle at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association.

More than any other children's book awards -- or any adult book prizes, for that matter -- the Newbery and the Caldecott are guaranteed life-changing experiences for the authors and illustrators involved. For one thing, winning titles almost always stay in print indefinitely.

"For most beginning illustrators, I strongly encourage them not to give up their day jobs," said Dinah Stevenson, the Clarion Books editor who works with Wiesner. After they've won a Caldecott, she said, that advice goes out the window.

Rick Richter is president of the children's publishing division at Simon & Schuster, which published "The Higher Power of Lucky." "Over time," he said by way of explaining what the Newbery win will mean for Patron, "we'll put something like 400,000 to 500,000 books into the marketplace in hardcover and paperback."

In other words, her book may not have been splashy last week, but it's splashy now.

Reached yesterday at the Los Angeles Public Library, where she is a collection development manager working with juvenile materials, Patron recalled a writing career that began in 1990 with a picture book called "Burgoo Stew." It was followed by three more picture books and a chapter book called "Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe." All are now out of print.

This is normal for children's book authors, said veteran editor Richard Jackson, who has worked with Patron her whole career. Jackson, too, was surprised when "The Higher Power of Lucky" won the Newbery. He'd always thought it was "a perfectly lovely" book, he said, but one that "probably was just too subtle for the world."


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