A young lawyer-turned-novelist and a veteran illustrator yesterday won the top awards for best children's books of the year.
Rebecca Stead was awarded the John Newbery Medal, given to the best-written children's book, for her novel "When You Reach Me" (Random House, $15.99, ages 9-12), while Jerry Pinkney won the Randolph Caldecott Medal, given to the best-illustrated children's book, for his picture book, "The Lion & the Mouse" (Little, Brown, $16.99, ages 4-10).
In a fitting tribute to yesterday's Martin Luther King holiday, Pinkney, who has been creating children's books for more than four decades, became the first individual African-American illustrator to win the Caldecott Medal since it was established in 1938, according to children's book expert Anita Silvey. An interracial couple, Leo and Diane Dillon, have won two Caldecott Medals, but Pinkney is the first individual African-American artist to do so.
"It's very confirming," Pinkney, 70, said in an interview. "I've always thought about myself and about my work as a being a role model and a teacher."
The Caldecott and Newbery medals, awarded annually by the American Library Association, are considered the Academy Awards of the children's book world. The awards confer fame and fortune on winning authors and illustrators, as medal-winning books become instant best-sellers and rarely go out of print.
The awards' financial power was demonstrated yesterday when "The Lion & the Mouse," which ranked No. 929 in sales at 9 a.m. on Amazon.com, zoomed to No. 115 just three hours later. A similar shift took place with "When You Reach Me," which began at No. 613 and was No. 78 by noon.
Pinkney's winning book, "The Lion & the Mouse," is a masterfully illustrated adaptation of an Aesop's fable highlighting how one good deed -- a lion decides against eating a mouse -- begets another. The mouse later frees the lion from a trap by chewing through the rope. Pinkney's version, created in lush watercolors and set in the African Serengeti, is nearly wordless, except for some animal sounds.
"The Lion & the Mouse" had been widely expected to win the medal, but Pinkney said he had tried to keep his hopes in check.
"This book has attracted so much attention, especially from children, that that in itself is what it's all about," he said.
Stead's novel, her second, was considered a favorite to win the Newbery, having won a majority of "mock" Newbery events held by librarians, students and other children's book lovers over the past month in libraries and schools across the country.
Set in 1970s New York City, Stead's novel depicts an eventful year in the life of a sixth-grader named Miranda, whose favorite book, the 1963 Newbery Medal-winning "A Wrinkle in Time," provides clues about the mysterious notes Miranda receives that correctly predict future events.
In a brief telephone interview from her New York City home, Stead said she was awakened early yesterday by one of her children and was looking for the telephone when it suddenly "exploded" with sound, shattering the morning quiet. On the line were members of the 2010 Newbery committee, telling Stead that she had won the coveted medal.
"I'm not at my most articulate right now," Stead said. "I feel like it's still sinking in. It's incredibly moving."
The ALA made the award announcements at its midwinter conference in Boston. A number of other children's book award winners also were announced, including: "Going Bovine" (Delacorte, $17.99) by Libba Bray, which won the Michael Printz Award for best young adult novel; "Almost Astronauts" (Candlewick Press, $24.99 hardcover, $17.99 paperback) by Tanya Lee Stone, which won the Robert Sibert Medal for best children's nonfiction book; and "Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!" (TOON Books, $12.95), written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes, which won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for best early-reader book.
The winners of two new awards also were announced. "Charles and Emma" (Holt, $18.95) by Deborah Heiligman won the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Excellence in Non-Fiction Award, while Walter Dean Myers was awarded the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Other winners include: "Bad News for Outlaws" (Carolrhoda, $17.95) by Vaunda M. Nelson, which won the Coretta Scott King Author Award; "My People" (Atheneum, $17.99), written by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Charles Smith, which won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; "Return to Sender" (Knopf, $16.99) by Julia Alvarez, which won the Pura Belpre Author Award; and "Book Fiesta!" (Rayo/HarperCollins, $17.99) written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael Lopez, which won the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award.
The 2010 Newbery committee named four honor books:
• "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" (FSG, $19.95) by Philip Hoose, which also won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature awarded in November;
• "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" (Holt, $16.99), a debut novel by Jacqueline Kelly;
• "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" (Little, Brown, $16.99), written and illustrated by Grace Lin;
• "The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg" (Blue Sky/Scholastic, $16.99), written by Rodman Philbrick.
Two honor books were named by the 2010 Caldecott committee:
• "All the World" (Beach Lane/Atheneum, $17.99) by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, who won a Caldecott Honor last year for her book "A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever."
• "Red Sings From the Treetops" (Houghton Mifflin, $16) by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Karen MacPherson, the children's teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com . First Published January 19, 2010 5:00 AM