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'Lucky' Winner: Newbery, Caldecott Awards Announced

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."

Patron said she worked on "Lucky" over the course of perhaps 10 years. For a long time she had the characters in her head but didn't know what they would go on to do. After her mother died a few years ago, she realized that her title character "was really dealing with losing her mom." The writing started to go faster at that point.

She was booked on a flight to New York yesterday, for a "Today" show appearance this morning that seemed to her a mixed blessing. "I'm not a good flier," she said -- not to mention that she has never even seen"Today" before. Still, she was a believer in the American Library Association's awards long before she won hers, and she appreciates the chance to talk them up.

The association announced numerous other youth media awards yesterday. Among these, Lois Lowry ("The Giver," "Number the Stars") and the late James Marshall (author and illustrator of the "George and Martha" books, among many others) were recognized for their lasting contributions to young adult and children's literature, respectively.

Folk singer Pete Seeger, along with two collaborators, was honored for embodying "the artistic expression of the disability experience" in a book called "The Deaf Musicians."

The award winners:

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature: "The Higher Power of Lucky" by Susan Patron. Illustrated by Matt Phelan and published by Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: "Flotsam," illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang and published by First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults: "Copper Sun," by Sharon Draper and published by Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

King Illustrator Book Award: "Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom," illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The book was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children.

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award: "Standing Against the Wind," by Traci L. Jones, and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences:

For ages 10 and young: "The Deaf Musicians," written by Pete Seeger and poet Paul DuBois Jacobs, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

For ages 11 to 13: "Rules," written by Cynthia Lord and published by Scholastic Press.

For teens: "Small Steps," written by Louis Sachar and published by Delacorte Press.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Beginning Reader Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book: "Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways," written and illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and published by Candlewick Press.

Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults: Lois Lowry, author of "The Giver," published by Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin Co.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children: "Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon," written by Catherine Thimmesh and published by Houghton.

Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children's video: Author/illustrator Mo Willems and Weston Woods Studios, producers of "Knuffle Bunny."

Mildred L. Batchelder Award for the most outstanding children's book translated from a foreign language and published in the United States: Delacorte Press, for "The Pull of the Ocean" by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated by Y. Maudet.

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