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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, Februrary 8, 2009

Youth Picture Books Taking Home Top Honors

The announcement of ALA's (American Library Association's) Youth Media Awards caps the most anticipated yearly event for librarians who work with children and young adults. At its' mid-winter conference in Denver last week ALA honored print and non-print materials produced during the previous year, including the Caldecott Medal, awarded to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book.

Leading up to the excitement of the official ALA awards, many library systems throughout the U.S. have been sponsoring their own Mock Awards programs. On January 8 EVPL's youth librarians as well as representatives from Willard Library, Spencer County Public Library in Rockport, USI, and other honored guests from Evansville met at Central Library to read and discuss over 50 outstanding picture books published in 2008. At the end of the 3-hour program, votes were tabulated and a "winner" and two honor books were selected. Our pick to win the 2009 Caldecott Medal? "Abe's Honest Words" written by Doreen Rappaport with oil paintings by Kadir Nelson. This picture book biography highlights some of the most significant events in Lincoln's life, from his Midwest boyhood to his days as American's Chief Executive. From the haunting cover art (oh, those eyes) to the stunning representation of Lincoln's second inaugural showing ominous clouds above the majestic U.S. Capitol, this is a book not to be missed. If you can only read one new children's book about Lincoln this year, this is the one to read. It's an absolute gem.

First runner-up in EVPL's 2009 Mock Caldecott was "Wabi Sabi" with text by Mark Reibstein and collage art by Ed Young. "Wabi" has been the pick to win the Caldecott Medal by numerous library systems around the country. Visually stunning in artwork as well as layout, "Wabi" tells the story of a Japanese cat who searches for the true meaning of her name. Her journey of discovery, in turn, becomes eye candy for the viewer. Not since the Caldecott Honor book, "Tops and Bottoms" has such an unusual layout been used so effectively. (Open the book and give it a quarter-turn!) Young, a former Caldecott Medalist (for "Lon Po Po") employs a variety of natural materials to compose his pictures: leaves, tree bark, pine needles, grasses, as well as other materials: color photographs, cloth, and cardboard. Highlighting each large two-page spread are haiku composed by Basho and Shiki. Translations of each poem as well as several other explanatory notes are included as supplementary materials.

Another highly favored picture book, "The House in the Night", is a visual mood piece written by Susan Marie Swanson featuring Beth Krommes' scratchboard and watercolor pictures. Adapted from a nursery rhyme that first appeared in Iona and Peter Opie's mid-1950s compilation, "The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book", "The House in the Night" focuses on a single color (a golden hue) to contrast the nighttime shadows created in the folk-like artwork. From the golden key that unlocks the house to the soft glow of the bedside table lamp, "House" is a perfect bedtime tale to be read again and again. The soft cadence of Swanson's spare text promises that gentle slumbers will surely follow.

And the official winner of the 2009 Caldecott Medal as announced on Monday, January 26? (Fanfare please!): "The House in the Night". "House" will be a worthy addition to the other distinguished titles that have been awarded the Caldecott Medal since 1938.