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Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" Wins Newbery Medal for Children's Literature

There were some false starts. Gaiman put the idea away a number of times, thinking he wasn't a good enough writer yet to pull it off. Four years ago, he found himself "sitting on a deck chair on a beach" with his latest two-page attempt when his daughter Maddy, then 10, came by.

She asked him to read her what he had. Then she sealed the deal by asking, "What happens next?"

Many children's books dispense with parents, violently or otherwise, because kids like stories in which adults aren't calling the shots. Gaiman's raised-by-ghosts notion, in fact, comes straight out of the raised-by-wolves tale that one of his favorite childhood authors, Rudyard Kipling, created more than a century ago in "The Jungle Book."

"I loved Kipling, and still do," Gaiman said. Writing "The Graveyard Book" was "almost like having a conversation with Kipling."

In the United Kingdom, Gaiman pointed out, there are separate editions of "The Graveyard Book" aimed at adults and children, and he likes to think of it as an "all ages" book. That said -- in part because of that "amazingly scary opening" -- he said he would not recommend it to most children younger than 9.

Speaking of the U.K., what's Gaiman doing winning an award intended for Americans anyway? Why him and not J.K. Rowling? It turns out that Gaiman has maintained a home in Minnesota, where his ex-wife's family was from, for the past 16 years, and residence counts under Newbery rules.

Printz Award winners, by contrast, need not be American at all. Marchetta is from Sydney, Australia, and before "Jellicoe Road" won yesterday, she was not well known in the United States.

Neither, for that matter, was Caldecott winner Krommes, who lives and works in Peterborough, N.H.

"Boy, I'll tell you, it's a competitive field," Krommes said happily when reached by phone yesterday. Caldecott winners, like Newbery winners, tend to stay in print forever and can dramatically alter an illustrator's bottom line.

"The House in the Night" is an unusual picture book because it is mostly black and white, though Krommes, who used a technique known as scratchboard, did add yellow for dramatic effect. She cited classic children's illustrator Wanda Gag ("Millions of Cats"), who also worked in black and white, as a major influence.

King Award winner Nelson said he worked on the paintings in "We Are the Ship" for more than seven years. In the beginning, he wasn't even thinking of the project as a book, much less one for which he would win a writing award. (He got two awards for it, actually, because it was named a King Illustrator Honor Book -- essentially, a finalist -- as well.)

"I just fell in love with the subject," Nelson said. By the time he decided to use his paintings to tell the story of Negro League baseball, he knew too much about how he wanted it done to let someone else write it.


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