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In the stacks: Children's book awards

Posted: January 26, 2012 - 1:04am

This year’s children’s book awards have been announced. Here at the library, we’re always curious to see how our own favorites for the year stack up against books deemed national award winners. Most of the time, winners and honor books have already found an audience here, but in some cases, we are left frantically ordering titles we’ve overlooked. For a complete list of this year’s award winners, take a look at the American Library Association’s page (www.ala.org/ala/awardsgrants/index.cfm). For a completely biased list of titles that won that the public libraries own and love, read on!

“Sibert Winner Balloons Over Broadway,” by Melissa Sweet and “Honor Book Drawing from Memory,” by Allen Say, are both stars of informational literature. I was dubious that a book about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade could attract readers — and then I picked it up. Collages show the story of Tony Sarg, who had been fascinated by toys that moved since he was a kid and spent his life collecting marionettes, designing moving window displays for Macy’s in New York City, and, eventually, creating the first helium parade balloons! Say’s book is his own story about his childhood in Japan, his apprenticeship to his favorite cartoonist at the age of twelve, and his life as a young artist before he immigrated to the United States.

“Close to Famous,” by Joan Bauer, and “Wonderstruck,” by Brian Selznick, share the Schneider Family Award for the portrayal of the disability experience for kids. Bauer writes about Foster and her mother, who are running away from her mother’s latest boyfriend who can’t stand the fact that Foster is twelve, but still can’t read. That Foster is fast becoming an extraordinary baker with dreams of her own cooking show someday completely escape his notice, but Foster is holding on to her dream and working to make it happen. In words and pictures, Wonderstruck follows Ben, who’s been struck deaf by lightning, and Rose, who was born deaf and lives a sheltered life. For both kids, the American Museum of Natural History becomes a touchpoint.

“Both Dead End in Norvelt,” by Jack Gantos (which won this year’s Newbery), and “Inside out and Back Again,” by Thanhha Lai (one of the Honor books), are fictionalized biography. Life looks grim for 12-year-old Jack when he accidentally-on-purpose disobeys his father and finds himself grounded for the entire summer AND lent out to the elderly neighbor free of charge as further punishment. But things start looking up when Jack discovers that Girl Scout cookies, molten wax, Hell’s Angels, and Eleanor Roosevelt are all somehow involved in his neighbor’s project. Life looks grim in an entirely different way for 10-year-old Ha, who flees Vietnam with her mother and brothers, not knowing whether her father is dead or alive. They eventually end up in Alabama, where she spends lunchtime hiding in the bathroom and getting picked on for the flannel dress she wears that turns out to be a nightgown, but eventually making friends and settling in an agonizingly slow process.

“The Notorious Benedict Arnold,” by Steve Sheinkin, won both the Boston-Globe Hornbook Award and the award for Excellence in non-fiction for Young Adults. Sheinkin spent years collecting information and preparing to write this masterful mix of political thriller, intrigue, and war story. Want adventure? Heroism? Treachery? Backstabbing? And…shhh…history? The finalists for the award are also excellent and thrilling in their own ways — pick up “Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition,” by Karen Blumenthal, for a look at a law that turned parents into bootleggers and their kids into smugglers and brought us Al Capone. And, Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos take a world view of sugar production through the ages, and don’t shirk the role slavery, indentured servitude, and child labor play in giving us cookies, candy, and golden French fries in “Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science.”

“A Ball for Daisy,” written and illustrated by Chris Raschka and “Grandpa Green,” written and illustrated by Lane Smith. The contrasts between the Caldecott Winner (Daisy) and Honor book (Grandpa) are immediately obvious. Raschka’s blotchy, exuberant style brings Daisy, a playful dog with a ball, to bouncy, wordless life, while Smith’s much more restrained style and attention to detail creates an entirely different feel as readers follow a young boy through a garden filled with his great-grandfather’s topiary memories.

We missed the boat on the winner of the William C. Morris debut novel for Young Adults, “Where Things Come Back,” by John Corey Whaley, but we have three of the finalists. “Paper Covers Rock,” by Jenny Hubbard, asks what happens to a boy who couldn’t save his friend from drowning and what it does to him when a third friend convinces him to lie about the circumstances that caused their friend’s death. “The Girl of Fire and Thorns,” by Rae Carson tells the story of the king’s second daughter who is chosen for greatness by happenstance rather than birth. And, finally, “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys takes us to an unpredictable time when a Lithuanian girl’s summer could be interrupted by soldiers banging on her family’s door, sentencing her father to death and sending Lina, her mother, and her brother, into exile in Siberia.

• For information about our upcoming programs, or to place a hold on any of our material, please visit us at www.juneau.org/library or call us at 586-5249.

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