If you are a librarian or teacher (or neither, but you love to keep up with children’s literature), then you know that Monday will be a big day. It’s when the American Library Association will announce their Youth Media Award winners—such awards as the Caldecott, the Newbery, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Sibert, etc. (Here’s a comprehensive list.) For those wanting details, in fact, the awards will be announced from ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, and here’s the low-down.
Many of us librarians get ridiculously excited about the awards. I found myself agitated in a most irrational manner yesterday, downright twitchy over the possibility that I’d have to schedule a meeting for work during the time the awards are announced. Doesn’t the rest of the world have “ALA Awards!” written on their calendar for next Monday morning? I had to stop and wonder about this, at least momentarily.
Someone commented to me recently that he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand why librarians get so excited about the awards. I think it doesn’t help his perception of things that, in the months leading up to the awards, bloggers and writers make rampant predictions about whom they think should win, and everyone gets enthusiastically worked up over the whole endeavor.
But here’s why it matters: The awards are a huge, happy celebration of what we love the most—stories. Heaven knows I’m not here to toot the Reading Is Good for You horn, which so many schools today make the mistake of doing (too much lip service, not enough actual conviction). But I do think we live in a country that values stories less than, say, consumerism. Or, if we want to keep talking about most schools today, testing. At least that’s how it feels a lot of the time.
When the award is announced for an author who has made this year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” (the Newbery Award), when the book named “the most distinguished American picture book for children” is announced (the Caldecott Award), and when we all cheer, it’s because we know that groups of people (mostly librarians and some teachers) read these books closely. And they discussed them. In great detail. All throughout the year. With passion and enthusiasm and care. And they are telling us: Here’s a potential new classic for the canon of children’s literature. That’s hardly a trivial thing. In fact, it’s a very big deal and a mighty exciting thing.
And whether or not you agree with their choices, what matters is that this all happens because they care about stories.
Here, they are saying, is a great piece of nonfiction, what we think is the year’s most superb (the Sibert Award). Here is a well-crafted story about the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience (the Stonewall Book Award). Here are beginning readers for very young children that are such fun or touching (or whatever else) stories, and oh right, they’ll help your children learn to read, but mostly they are great stories.
Here, let’s stop the noise of the world for a while and talk about how a great book—and outstanding picture book art—can transport you to another time and place, take you out of yourself, perhaps bring you new insights, maybe haunt you or make you laugh or make you angry or even make you care about something new.
In his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech, author Philip Pullman said, “There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy.” I have always loved that.
Here’s to Monday. To the rest of you waking up to watch the live awards webcast from home, I’ll raise my coffee mug to you.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.