Oh, it feels good to get it right. Earlier this week the winner of the 2011 Newbery Medal was announced at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in San Diego. Four honor books were announced—Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm; Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus; Dark Emperor* by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen; and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia—to enthusiastic applause. Then came the big winner—Moon Over Manifest by debut author Clare Vanderpool. The person shrieking from the very back of the room? Yes, that was me.
Sometimes, it’s hard for debut books to get a lot of attention, particularly when, as was the case this year, established authors are delivering some pretty fabulous books—each of the honor books is by more or less well-known authors, several of whom have received other awards in past years. I read Moon Over Manifest after I received the review, which was so clearly the work of a reader deeply in love that I had to see firsthand what excited her so. You try reading the last line of the review without wanting to pick the book up yourself: “The absolute necessity of story as a way to redemption and healing past wounds is at the heart of this beautiful debut, and readers will cherish every word up to the heartbreaking yet hopeful and deeply gratifying ending.”
What goes on behind closed doors in meetings of the real Newbery committee is top secret. Its members have been charged to read all eligible titles—that is, all books by U.S. citizens or residents published in the preceding year for children zero to 14 years old—so I was pretty confident that they would encounter this book I loved so much. But “the Newbery Buzz” leading up to Monday’s announcement just didn’t include Moon Over Manifest, much to my regret.
I hasten to add that the Newbery Medal is a bit of a false god. It is extraordinarily difficult for one group of 15 people to anoint The One book that is “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” and everyone I know who’s ever served on the committee (myself included), has wished it could pick, say, 15 or 20 distinguished contributions. Just because a book doesn’t go home from ALA with a sticker on it does not mean it is unworthy of attention or love. This year in particular was a banner year for the traditional Newbery readership of 8- to 14–year-olds, and I urge people interested in exploring beyond the Newbery to take a look at our list of the Best Children’s Books of 2010. I think I would’ve been very happy to see any number of other titles go home with the Newbery.
That said, however, this year, I will enjoy being right.
*Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night was received too late to be reviewed by Kirkus.