The Caldecott and Newbery Awards Banquet, 2008

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Caldecott and Newbery Awards banquet in Anaheim, California. It was an experience I’ll never forget. As you certainly know, this is the “Oscars” for children’s book writers. The participants were first wined and dined in a great ballroom and then the awards were officially presented.

Brian Selznik received the Caldecott Medal for his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. He explained that his intent was to use cinematic elements in a chapter book where pictures helped tell the story. He said that one of his inspirations was author Remy Charlip, whose book Fortunately, Unfortunately uses the power of page-turns as a tool to build suspense. Brian initially wanted to create one picture per chapter, but ended up with 300 pictures in a 500-page book. It's a unique work, and I can remember months ago that some people were questioning whether it really could be classified as a picture book at all. In the end, his ingenuity won over the Caldecott Committee who reported, in so many words, that they had never seen anything quite like it before, and doubted they would ever again. If you haven’t picked up a copy, you should. This is a book full of suspense, hope, adventure, with wonderful pencil illustrations that depict cityscapes, expressive characters, and fun surprises. It'll be great to read this with my children.

As part of his acceptance speech, we watched a funny PowerPoint presentation using Mr. Selzniks' illustrations set to dramatic music. Young Hugo wakes and seems to be startled to learn that Brian is at the awards banquet instead of him. We see Hugo running through the Paris streets and riding a train. It was very funny, and ended to thunderous applause.

We also were entertained by the truly marvelous Laura Amy Schlitz, recipient of the 2008 Newbery Medal for her book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Her talent for storytelling was more than apparent in her delightful speech. She stood to the far right of the podium to address the audience in monologue-fashion, and related an experience of catching a child on the playground who had climbed too high and was afraid to get down. Laura had underestimated the force of that 55-pound falling child, who knocked her on her behind, then got up, dusted herself off and told her simply, “Thank you.” Laura related the story as being similar to the wallop she felt after first learning she had received the Newbery award. First the wind was knocked out of her, but then she appreciated the warmth that came from the acknowledgement.

She shared a funny account of how she would often answer students who questioned her about a scar on her forehead from having moles removed. "Do you want the true story, or the interesting story?" she'd ask. She'd then tell a marvelous, magical story about an encounter with a bear, leaving the children mesmerized. But despite reassuring them afterwards that the story wasn't true, the students seemed to WANT to believe it, anyway. Facts are important, she said, but stories are what really move us. Her acceptance speech was so entertaining that we listened with rapt attention, laughed, and were touched. Later there were whisperings that these were the "best" Caldecott and Newbery speeches ever given.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is another must-have, and will certainly be used for years and years to come by classrooms and schools all over the country. It’s a collection of short one-person acts, highlighting various characters from medieval times, from noblemen to peasants to thieves. She wanted to provide a way for students who were studying medieval times to each be a star. It’s a truly remarkable piece of work.

The awards banquet left me inspired, overwhelmed, and wanting to reach within myself to become a better writer. Every author dreams of winning such an award, but for me what was most inspiring was learning about two authors who had a particular vision and didn’t set out to do what everyone else has already done. Their unique books break the mold and certainly earned these distinctions.

“Write the book you want to write,” Brian Selznik reminded us.


Anonymous said…
Thats Awesome Kristyn, I am really happy for you. It sounds like a very inspiring evening! Did Steve get to go with you?

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