Every year since 1922 the American Library Association, and specifically the Children's Librarians' Section, (now ALSC, the Association for Library Service to Children) has awarded the Newbery Medal to the best book written for children from the past year. The Newbery Medal was the first award. It was followed by the Caldecott medal for best illustrations, in 1938. Recently there have been other awards: the Sibert Award for works of nonfiction, the Seuss award for beginning readers, and the Printz award for Young Adult Literature. It is very exciting to be a youth librarian and be at the news conference when the award-winning books are announced. Some people cheer, others scream with delight, while others look around in astonishment. It is a room filled with energy and enthusiasm for books and reading. I usually know some of the winners, but I rarely have read all the award-winners. During the year I try to read them all, and decide for myself if the committees chose wisely.
This past year I kept putting off reading Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt. It not only was a Newbery Honor book, but a Printz honor, too. How can a book appeal to both children and young adults? Well, there is a crossover age to the medals, and when that happens one can say that the book appeals to older elementary kids right through middle school to high school. I hesitated reading this book because I didn't care for the cover. It didn't interest me. But I was so wrong. I finished this book over a month ago, and it has stayed in my thoughts long after it was back on the library shelf. It is historical fiction that takes place in the community of Phippsburg, Maine, in 1912. A new minister arrives from Boston with his wife and son, Turner. Turner knows almost immediately that he is going to be friendless and lonely simply because he is the "preacher's" son. He finally makes a friend of Lizzie Bright, the first African American he has ever met, who lives on Malaga Island, an impoverished community settled by freed or possibly escaped slaves. Lizzie shares her love of the Maine coast with Turner even though he incurs the town's disapproval. The town elders want to attract tourists to their town and destroy the shacks on Malaga island and remove the community. Although the story is hauntingly sad, there is quite a bit of humor, but more than that is the humanity of Turner's character. It is a beautiful book. And now I appreciate the cover art, too. It truly fits the book and the story.
This week I am off to San Antonio, Texas for the ALA midwinter conference. On Monday, January 23rd, the awards will be announced and I will be one of those librarians screaming, cheering, or looking around in bewilderment. I can't wait. Check out the blog on Monday to see the winners and my reactions. Let me know what you've read and if you agree with the committees that chose the books. Joyce Laiosa